Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Is religion a one-way-street in the traffic of political thoughts?

...and are liberals going the wrong way because idealism holds that it should be a two-way street?

Lindsay's caught another fine thread of comments over at Majikthise. This one, prompted by her own observations on the matter, is on the asymmetries of right wing uses of religion vs left wing treatment of religion. I am satisfied enough with the perception this thread called forth from my experience to repeat my comment here:

There are some assumptions so wide spread and taken so much for granted that they seem to bias perceptions across the political spectrum.

One of these assumptions appears to be that pro-religious statements, which includes everything from affirmations of Christianity as one's fount of charitable social "values" to very narrow definitions of "life" to be enforced on all citizens...what ever is said in the vein of "this thinking is brought to you by my religion" are either assumed to be hypocrisy or felt to be oppression by the jaded audience our body politic has become. Who wore them into this state it is fruitless to determine. Why so many let them selves be this jaded a slightly more fruitful investigation.

The other side of this assumption or bias that affects this nation's consumption of news and opinion regarding religion and its place in civic life is that denouncing things religious, i.e. anti-religious statements are always given and taken in dead earnest. The atheist is taken at her word and not accused of not really believing her own statements or of failing to act according to the claimed moral compass of her own words. The statements, for instance, dismissing or discrediting bans on abortions or gay marriage as policies fit for every human in the country, are regarded as meaning all they say and more, rather than positions some convention or pro forma political rhetoric require.

There is more to develop on the idea that the issues only seem beyond civil discussion because many people have mouths and keyboards and unexamined emotional attachments but few have more than the rhetorical equivalents of "blunt instrument" in their kit:
  • Ad hominem confusion of person with position
  • Confusion of non-religious stance with anti-religious stance.
  • Mild to severe group paranoia, believing your own press releases.
  • Cynical zeitgeist, categorical believability of various kinds and contexts of statement.
  • "he hit me first!" [no sh_t, this is a huge derailer of dialog]
... but by now you either disagree with me or you too start to see our problem here.

Do go read.


etbnc said...

I was fortunate to work in the field of information technology during a time of "religious wars" over competing technologies. Those experiences were valuable to me because I became accustomed to seeing religion as a set of attitudes and behaviors rather than a vocabulary or a building.

I find it useful to evaluate people by their behaviors, by the consequences of their behaviors, and by the attitudes that seem to motivate their behaviors. Harmful behavior is harmful. Period. Affiliations with churches, gods, political parties, boy bands, or sports teams serve mostly to distract. Attitudes and behaviors create consequences: sometimes beneficial, sometimes hurtful, often both.

Looking at situations that way helps me to cut through the distractions of affiliation. I see plenty of good, decent folks whose decisions backfire badly. And I see plenty of obnoxious jerks who promote causes that I support with behaviors that I condemn.

In particular, I see many self-proclaimed atheists whose behaviors seem functionally indistinguishable from religious fanaticism in the service of a god named No. I find their behavior obnoxious, and too often, harmful. I don't want to live in their world any more than I want to live in Pat Robertson's.

And I learned another useful lesson from religious technology wars. While noisy crowds rallied to cheer technology A and to bash technology B, and their counterparts praised their beloved B and burned the hated A in effigy, agnostics quietly created technology C. They combined the best attributes of technology A and technology B, and they cheerfully eliminated the drawbacks of each. And they became quietly successful by making Things That Just Work.

I want to live in a world where Things Just Work.


GreenSmile said...

I really like these thoughts, Etbnc. You are on the path I am looking for.

BTW, I am a mossbacked microcode programmer from the days of discrete transistor computing. The wars over VI vs EMACS, for instance, were indeed literally described with the language of religious conflicts. I think that actually implies we partisans were aware of how arbitrary and disproportionately one-sided our disputes were...but we enjoyed the bickering in many ways more than we were inconvenienced by the incompatibilities we were erecting. That enjoyment is near the heart of the sickeness you are cataloging in your comment.

So you are dead on target: there is a pervasive tendency to confuse issues with identity, percieve an essentially emotional stake in a particular position on what is actually a broad and nuanced set of problems and dig in...to no one's benefit. I am not satisfied to shrug and say "thats just how people are". I think its pernicious effects are visible enough, as your and my dismay attest, that maybe some way can be found to circumvent the tendency.

I am working on a project [or you could say my interests have veered to yet another distraction] to find ways to discuss exactly the "undiscussible" matters. I am looking for some way to automate the protocols implicit in proposals such as "Nonviolent communication". A blog is probably not a good platform on which to implement a software embassador between parties that tend to enflame each other, but it cost me nothing but time to try it. [if only I had some!]

Gerry said...

And some of us have experienced too much, seen too much, and continue to see too much, for us to feel anything except rage or despair.

Its all very well to intellectualise from the lofty platform of experiential detatchment.

It's easy when the ugly stuff is only on a screen, in a newspaper, or a book.

I'd like to see you stay calm and balanced after wiping you dead buddy's blood out of your eyes, or after you've spent a day digging through the bombed-out rubble of what was once your house, looking for your dead family.

Yes, by all means denounce our anger and our "negativity", but please, only AFTER you've lived lives similar to those who don't quite measure up to your lofty philosophical expectations.


Gerry said...

The PTSD sufferers, they too have their tale... They just tell it emotionally "wrong".


GreenSmile said...

Gerry, somewhere, not too long ago, but well before I had seen "The Ground Truth", I remarked in some post or comment that for many returning veterans of the Iraq war, their battles were just beginning. I meant that two ways: they had to deal with the demons the experience saddled them with and they had to deal with a chiseling, cheap veterans administration that figured to wear them out...our current scandel at the VA proves the latter, The Ground Truth documents the former. I don't, I can't, claim the insights and scars born of your experience but I hope I can make clear my genuine sympathy for the men and women who have personally and literally been run through the meatgrinders of empire. I do not for one minute discount or discredit [as if I had the moral authority to do so!] what you say or the way you say it.

The emotions I am tilting against in my post and comments are those that permit short cuts, assumptions and dehumanizing as we take sides in conflicts. The emotions I think you are defending here are the consequences of that brainless taking of sides. I see you apply those emotions to see, with a seared vision, what those "sides" were: lies. The poor of the "capitalist" world killed and were killed by the poor of the "communist world" and we were told the sides were capitalist and communist but in fact the losing side was the poor as is now all too obvious to some. The emotions you apply here, I recognize and I do not disparage.

'nuf said?

BTW, I did email the contact address offered by the producers of The Ground Truth to suggest that any English speaking country would be a good market for the film. Region codes/dvd lockout should either be nulled out or the .UK and .AU versions should be manufactured...no response.

Gerry said...

You're very generous, GS. I think I was actually reacting more to things etbnc said, GS. In any case, I was making excuses for my often inexcusable rudeness and offensiveness.

Thanks for trying to get something happening about Ground Truth. I had also sent them an email, and I too have not heard from them yet.