Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Aug/10

30

Judge them by their actions

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Recently on bloggingheads.tv Michael Brendan Dougherty, a professing Catholic, suggested that anti-Catholic movements in 19th century America had a point. In this Dougherty seems to be aligning with Ross Douthat’s implication, that American reaction drove American Catholicism to counter-reaction, and through the synthesis emerged a genuine American faith. But, there is one aspect of what Dougherty is saying which I think we should be cautious of: he observes that the process of assimilation of Islamic religiosity into the Protestant-Catholic-Jew trichotomy will result in recitations of unpleasant verses of the Koran, just as Protestants quoted back some of the less liberal declarations of the Papacy in the 19th century.


I think that this is the wrong tack: listen not to what they say, but watch what they do! The reality is that the 19th century Papacy did not just oppose liberal democracy, but that organized Catholicism as a whole was an active force against the liberal democratic order in much of Europe, and that Catholic Europe in particular was somewhat retrograde in the evolution toward a stable liberal democracy. This last was in large part due the opposition which the Church demanded from faithful Catholics in relation to the nation-state of which they were citizens (e.g., Italy). In majority Catholic republics the state which did not have the loyalty of the religious majority would naturally be more fragile.

Therefore, the Muslim world should be judged in its actions, not scriptures which most of them do not read in any case. So the Lina Joy case is instructive, a Malay woman who wants to officially convert from Islam to Christianity, but is being blocked by the political consensus of the Muslim majority. This is the sort of action in a “moderate Muslim” nation which makes one wonder as to the separation in values between the world of Islam and Western liberalism. In a classic Jeffersonian mode we shouldn’t care much about the nature of the beliefs of organized superstition, rather, we should focus on the material consequences.

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19 comments

  • Sam Schulman · August 31, 2010 at 3:30 am

    So in the contest between Bismarck (representing a modern, but wholly authoritarian state) and German Catholicism, the Catholics were completely to be despised? That Roman Catholic opposition to the totalizing claims of the state in France (both Imperial and 3rd-Republican), Germany, and elsewhere had no virtue or no usefulness in resisting the claims of Hegelian statism, in its left-wing or right-wing manifestations (both, by the way, highly Protestant in feeling)?
    What happened to the “right” part of Secular Right?

  • Author comment by David Hume · August 31, 2010 at 7:11 am

    So in the contest between Bismarck (representing a modern, but wholly authoritarian state) and German Catholicism, the Catholics were completely to be despised?

    not completely.

  • Polichinello · August 31, 2010 at 3:58 pm

    What happened to the “right” part of Secular Right?

    Well, you’re changing the terms of the debate. For example, given a choice between Muslims and full-on Soviet Communism, I’d favor the former. But that’s not at issue. We’re looking at modern secular society and Islam, and whether the two are compatible. Both have their discontents, so we have to compare them and them alone, not introduce some third party.

    Hume was looking for an historical analogy, which is why he went back to 19th-century Catholicism in America. The U.S. is often bashed over its anti-Catholic prejudices of earlier years, but those prejudices did have some justification. That you could find someone worse than the Catholics doesn’t change that, even if that worse party happens to be secular.

  • Sam Schulman · August 31, 2010 at 8:19 pm

    I was suggesting that the “worse party” not only happens to be secular, but it was, in Germany and more often than not, precisely the party that was bashing the RCs. And that the anti-RC party was worse in every way that should count to a conservative, even more so than to an (nineteenth century) liberal. The Kulterkampf and Blaine’s war against the Catholics in the US was wrong in every respect – not only inhumane, but tended to promote illiberal, unconservative curtailments of individual freedom.
    This is an important question not because of the historical truth or falsity, but it crystallizes the weird angle at which SR looks at the world. Wny is it not enough to be proud infidels – I don’t see what forces you further to take an unthinking line against any and all manifestations of religious feelings in human history, even – perhaps especially – the manifestations that are good and wise and have been fruitful for secular society?

  • Polichinello · August 31, 2010 at 9:33 pm

    The Kulterkampf and Blaine’s war against the Catholics in the US was wrong in every respect – not only inhumane, but tended to promote illiberal, unconservative curtailments of individual freedom.

    And you could say the same thing about extreme anti-Communisms, such as A. Palmer Mitchell. However, that does not mean that they were not reacting to a real problem. Hume is talking about highlighting a particular problem we face with Islam, and in the nineteenth century there were some problems attendant with Catholicism’s rapid increase. Most of these worked out alright because the natives made it clear there were limits.

    I don’t see what forces you further to take an unthinking line against any and all manifestations of religious feelings in human history, even – perhaps especially – the manifestations that are good and wise and have been fruitful for secular society?

    How is a strain of religion that not only refuses to tolerate apostasy, but uses the state to punish it, “fruitful for secular society”? Mind you, this is in one of the more “moderate” Muslim societies.

    Look, Dr. Schulman, I agree generally with the gist of your columns on religion that I read years ago in the NY Press, but I don’t think we should shut up entirely in the face of a religious movement that is pretty uniformly anti-secular and quite hostile to free expression.

    We don’t need to erect interment camps or enact mass deportations, but I don’t see any reasons not to identify a certainly population as posing a societal challenge, and further stating that said population should not be let into the country in large numbers. If that’s another Kulturkampf, then so be it.

  • Author comment by David Hume · September 1, 2010 at 3:15 am

    don’t see what forces you further to take an unthinking line against any and all manifestations of religious feelings in human history,

    that’s just a lie. we don’t do that.

  • Polichinello · September 1, 2010 at 8:54 pm

    Listening to that diavlog. That UCC dork makes me feel sympathy for the French Revolution’s view of clergymen. The guy hits ever sappy, liberal talking point, even proudly citing Karen Armstrong as a resource on Islam.

  • CONSVLTVS · September 1, 2010 at 11:47 pm

    The period of history under discussion is not the one in which I’m best read, but I sure can spot tricks of rhetoric when I see them. Take a look:

    “So in the contest between Bismarck (representing a modern, but wholly authoritarian state) and German Catholicism, the Catholics were completely to be despised?”

    This is a classic false dichotomy, the either/or fallacy. It’s also a useful trick in the rhetorician’s toolkit.

  • Sam Schulman · September 2, 2010 at 1:05 am

    For better or worse, I happen not to have the honor of being a member either of the Roman Catholic or the Islamic persuasion. But as I have written in the New York Press, I am grateful to reside in the ruins of Christendom rather than in Dar-al-Islam, and I am appreciative of the characteristics of those dear Catholics and Protestants that make it possible for me to live in freedom. And I suggest that the Secular Right crowd are like libertarians in that they pretend that a pure form of existence is attainable without a religious framework,just as libertarians like to believe that a pure form of existence is possible without policemen and SS-20s. My respectful puzzlement about the SR stance is really about its corporate incuriousity about (and lack of appreciation toward) those manifestations of religious belief that are relatively constructive – even saving graces – and its querulous indisposition to make distinctions between the good and the bad parts among religious beliefs.
    May Allah remind you of the curate’s egg.

  • Joshua · September 2, 2010 at 2:31 am

    Therefore, the Muslim world should be judged in its actions, not scriptures which most of them do not read in any case.

    Indeed, even most of those American Muslims who do read the Qur’an are presumably reading it in either English or their native tongue, which by fundamentalist standards amounts to heresy anyway, as only the original, classical-Arabic version is considered to be the “true” Qur’an. (Of course, this notion severely undercuts another fundamentalist claim, namely that Islam is a universal religion meant for all of humanity, but that’s another discussion altogether.)

  • Author comment by David Hume · September 2, 2010 at 4:27 am

    And I suggest that the Secular Right crowd are like libertarians in that they pretend that a pure form of existence is attainable without a religious framework,j

    you’re just making stuff up. what do you think this is, usenet? what kind of person writes stuff like this when the previous post on the blog he’s accusing of believing in a pure areligious existence states: Religion or, to put it more loosely, “spirituality”, will always be with us. The only question is the form that it will take. what a repulsive creature, simply taking for granted that their fiction will be taken at face value.

    This is a classic false dichotomy, the either/or fallacy. It’s also a useful trick in the rhetorician’s toolkit.

    yeah, but not only that, he’s stuffing a strawman into my mouth. there’s an interesting discussion to be had about the kulturkampf, but not to be had with the likes of sam schulman.

  • Andrew Stuttaford · September 2, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    No-one can be expected to be familiar with everything that gets posted up on this site, so with reference to the discussion between Sam Schulman and Razib/Hume, I thought I might note this from a post I put up last year:

    “Belief in a deity (or deities), and the desire to worship it or them, is an almost universal aspect of human nature. This not something that can be wished or indoctrinated away, and it’s pointless and maybe even destructive to try. It’s far better, surely, to channel that impulse by giving children some sort of gentle religious grounding, preferably in a well-established, undemanding, culturally useful (understanding all that art and so on) and mildly (small c) conservative denomination that doesn’t dwell too much on the supernatural and keeps both ritual and philosophical speculation in their proper place. Better the vicar than Wicca, say I.”

    http://secularright.org/SR/wordpress/?tag=human-nature

  • Sam Schulman · September 2, 2010 at 5:50 pm

    I did indeed miss Andrew’s comment of last year, and I hope many others – and I would say that I would sign on to it. But I did see Hume’s previous post, which is very different in tone. I was speaking not of an SR “action plan,” but of an underlying ideal, which takes the form of irritation, unstudied remarks, a general air of deep dissatisfaction with humanity, and above all, disillusion. Disillusion of course suggests the existence of an archaic, buried set of illusions. I hear it most in Heather’s entries and some of her early pieces – and I hasten to say that Heather is someone I admire completely.
    Now what irks me about most criticisms of Islam is not that I favor theocracy or Sharia, etc., but that the critic goes on to say some version of this or that blemish on Islamic faith is also present in Christianity, Judaism, etc. etc. Usually this is said in a mealy-mouthed, self-abasing fashion, out of some combination of anxiety to be thought superior and physical cowardice. Now Hume and the (of course mythical) typical SR writers do NOT write about Islam from physical cowardice and social anxiety, but they still link Islam’s faults (if it has any, I hasten to add!) to the faults of every other religion and religion in general. My problem with this approach is twofold. First, it tends to make SRites “objective” allies of those irksome meliorists, and second, it’s just not very interesting or enlightening. To use another example: yes, every one of Mayor Bloomberg’s faults are part of our human nature. But does that truism really illuminate a discussion of the astonishing collection of hateful attitudes, proclivities, mendacities collected in one man?
    So please forgive me, Hume, for being more interested in the SR project as a whole – and the degree to which it can succeed – than I am in the useful and true things you say about Islam. (To err is human, but to forgive is … never mind.) After all, you do write what you do about Islam and other things under its banner. And in my view, the expressions of ‘pas devant’ that are scattered throughout your writing and Andrew’s (but not, I think, in Heather’s?) are tangential to that project, but I am glad to see them when I do, glad to be reminded of them, and I agree with them wholeheartedly.

  • Author comment by David Hume · September 2, 2010 at 5:56 pm

    sam, you’re projecting upon me various sentiments and opinions i don’t have. since you keep doing that, that’s my last comment in response to you. you may be a nice person, but you’re argumentation style is not very nice (you toned it down, but you’re continuing the pattern of self-serving imputation that you started out with).

  • CONSVLTVS · September 3, 2010 at 12:00 am

    To Mr. Stuttaford: Where can I find the church you describe? I have left the Unitarians because, well, although it’s possible to be a Unitarian while also holding views sympathetic to Humanism, Islam, Judaism, Wicca (maybe the easiest option) or Buddhism, one cannot be a Unitarian and a Conservative.

  • Author comment by David Hume · September 3, 2010 at 1:23 am

    one cannot be a Unitarian and a Conservative.

    unitarian church’s vary by region. from what i have heard new england church’s are less politically charged cuz they’re locally rooted. in much of the rest of the nation the UU churches is almost a left-liberal meeting club.

  • Andrew Stuttaford · September 3, 2010 at 2:27 am

    Consvltvs, you could have found that quite easily in the Church of England in around, oh, 1935. Not so easy these days…

  • CONSVLTVS · September 3, 2010 at 11:48 pm

    ” in much of the rest of the nation the UU churches is almost a left-liberal meeting club.”

    Yes, that’s certainly true in Texas. I’m all for the religious skepticism in the UUA, but the rest…it’s not a good fit. Actually, these days many UUs are not even skeptical. They reject Christianity, of course, but embrace spiritualism, crystals, and every New Age pseudo-religion that comes along. At least the old fashioned capital H Humanist UUs understood some science.

    “you could have found that quite easily in the Church of England in around, oh, 1935. Not so easy these days…”

    Your description sounded CoE. I once tried an American Anglican service. It was six octogenarians in a school gym. I’m all for their success, of course, but somehow it didn’t fit any better than the UUs.

  • Randall Parker · September 6, 2010 at 4:55 am

    I suspect the watered down churches are not stable. They do not offer enough for those seekers really looking for a strong set of beliefs, either about the afterlife or about what is a moral life here.

    Since voids and needs differ religious institutions will differ. In a society where religious differences are tolerated (and I’m not sure that’s sustainable either) we’ll have a wide range of denominations offering different messages.

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