June 20, 2005

Raising the Level of Discourse

“The Commenter” says, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, that his blog is “feverishly committed to lowering the level of discourse.” So many blogs actually do this that’s nice to find one that doesn’t. His new post on religion and ethics is your latest required reading assignment.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at June 20, 2005 05:30 PM


commentator quotes the old testement, which is indeed pretty bloodthirsty. The gospels, however, are the basis of Christianity. I don't recall where Jesus calls for the sacking of cities.

That little point aside, the stoics and various other Greek philosophical schools taught ethics without gods. It could be said that the English public schools did the same. I think one can conclude that ethics need to be taught, they don't just fall out of the sky. So who teaches ethics these days? Religions, no? The grand theorizing common to the intelligentsia hardly serves to train people in ethical behaviour, especially as it relates to the personal level. Supporting the masses is hardly a substitute for kindness to the individual.

It would also be interesting to compare religious charities against the secular ngo's. I don't think the religious folks would come off badly. My impression is that their convictions run deeper.

Posted by: chuck at June 20, 2005 06:08 PM

Thanks for the plug, always appreciated.

I don't mean that religion and moral behavior are always distinct - I simply meant that moral behavior does not stem from religion. Nor does immoral behavior. Religion, like everything else, is an amoral tool - it's how we use it that gives it worth. If someone uses religion as justification or inspiration for great works of charity, art, or what have you, then it's good. If someone uses religion as justification or inspiration for mass murder, it's bad.

Posted by: The Commenter at June 20, 2005 06:23 PM

Religion, like everything else, is an amoral tool

Is religion a tool? It seems to have arisen spontaneously with music, dance, and the arts. Indeed, the Greek plays were originally performed as part of religious festivals. I would argue religion, or at least the spiritual urge, is part of human nature, no more a tool than, say, love.

Is religion amoral? Perhaps. I don't think shamanism, which I would consider religious in the most basic sense, concerned itself with morals. Rather, it dealt with the spirit world. So I suppose it could be said that religion is a tool for dealing with the spirit world. I don't think you had this particular application in mind, however.

Posted by: chuck at June 20, 2005 06:33 PM

The standard line in cultural studies is that culture (pretty broadly understood) affects religion more than religion affects culture.

With that in mind, I'd say ethics and religion are autonomous but interacting systems that will tend to influence each other.

I'll also repeat for the approximately 80,000-th time, that I think the highest service that theologians of any religion can do is to water down and dilute the message of holy texts as the more literally they're taken, generally the worse off everybody is.

I also like Dan Savage's take on Benedict XVI's recent pronouncement:

"The headlines should have read something like this: "Pope Condemns Majority of American Heterosexuals for Private Sexual Conduct, also Gay Marriage."

Posted by: Michael Farris at June 20, 2005 11:45 PM

Re the Pope comment:

There are only two categories left in today's pc-world to hate and condemn, and you can do it quite openly and without further consequences: The Catholic Church and white men.

How come every two-bit halfwit philosopher sees it as his or her right and privilege to puke on the Catholic Church?

If you're not a Catholic; Shut the fcuk up. You have no vote in what way the Pope should say and do what he says and does.

If he condemns gays, then he condemns gays. None of your business. Either agree or disagree, applaud or eat your heart out. But keep it to yourself. No one from the Catholic Church is meddling into the doctrines and ideas of other religions, so stop meddling into theirs.

Or do you believe that the CC is a democratic institution and that everybody has a saying in it, never mind what church he belongs to? In that case you should know that you're wrong.

If you're a Catholic: Then you should know better that biting the hand that gave you a major part of what now is your spiritual self.

I think that the CC and white men are considered fair game to hate and attack because the generally perceived image of both is of achievement, structure and excellence.

And we wouldn't want that, would we? When we can belittle and drag everything else into the mud.

Jealousy, that's what it is. Plain and simple.

Posted by: Tatterdemalion at June 21, 2005 09:04 AM

Tatterdemalion, I would agreee with you 100 % if the pope's comments were circulated only among catholics and non-catholics would have to actively seek out his pronouncements. In the real world, however, the pope's comments are picked up in the mainstream media, which makes him a kind of political commentator.

That, being the case, he has to take his public lumps with any other public commentator, whether you like it or not.

And get a grip Savage's comment is more a criticism of the media than the pope. Only the delusional would expect pro-gay comments from a pope, but singling anti-gay comments out of a litarny of other complaints about modern mores for the headline says more about the press than it does about the pope.

Posted by: Michael Farris at June 21, 2005 10:40 AM

"There are only two categories left in today's pc-world to hate and condemn, and you can do it quite openly and without further consequences: The Catholic Church and white men."

"I think that the CC and white men are considered fair game to hate and attack because the generally perceived image of both is of achievement, structure and excellence."

Just for a minute there I thought I was going to have to suffer another bout of sanctimonious and audible self-pitying from eternally whiny white christian males. In that context I find the subsequent platitudes of white supremacy and catholic arrogance refreshing!

Posted by: Dustin Ridgeway at June 21, 2005 02:09 PM

Commentator might be interested in Pelagianism:

Pe·la·gi·an·ism ( P )
The theological doctrine propounded by Pelagius, a British monk, and condemned as heresy by the Roman Catholic Church in A.D. 416. It denied original sin and affirmed the ability of humans to be righteous by the exercise of free will.

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