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Austin Dacey - The Secular Conscience (merged)
Posted: 24 March 2008 08:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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One more quick note…

I did eventually get around to asking my sister about respecting her beliefs. It went something like this; “You do know I am openly calling for not respecting your beliefs, right?” She replied by turning the question back on me, she said; “Don’t you feel your beliefs and morals are disrespected on a regular basis in our society?” She went on; “You gave your reasons why my belief in God is wrong, at least you want to debate them openly, I don’t care if you don’t respect my belief, just let me express them when ever and where ever I want.”

It’s time to open the “public square”.

[ Edited: 24 March 2008 09:09 AM by bob james ]
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Posted: 24 March 2008 09:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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Are we supposed to bring relgion & politics back to the dinner table and the workplace?  This could get ugly, and maybe that is the point.  Lets stop bandaging the thorn in our foot and get out the tweezers.  Cognitive dissonance has festered for too long.

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Posted: 24 March 2008 10:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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The only way to dismantle supernaturalism is to allow it into the cold light of day. It must be allowed that people of faith be given the freedom to express their beliefs openly without threat of some sort of litigation. In a war between naturalism and supernaturalism and science vs. religion, we can’t really get to freedom from religion until the religious are free to express their beliefs. It is here they can be openly criticized, and given that the naturalistic arguments are better, then victory in the war will eventually be ours. We may lose some ground in the short term, but as Dawkins and Harris make clear, the battles are just part of the larger war. This is the importance of Harris’ message that identifying ourselves by useless labels can only hinter the effort, because the number of people who may be willing to join the war may initially hesitate if they see the arguments coming from beleaguered minorities filled with ideological curmudgeons. There’s no reason to defend “atheism” when it is naturalism we are fighting for. The “secular conscience” must continuously offer the strong and reason based moral arguments as better than the superstitiously based moral dogma.

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Posted: 24 March 2008 12:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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It’s time to open the “public square”.

This whole line of discussion is abstracted not just from the U.S. government’s criminal wars against Iraq and Afghanistan (which is bad enough) but from reality altogether. Are you people seriously arguing against the fight to maintain Church/State separation? Dacey also manages to avoid this basic point altogether.

I’m sorry to break this to you folks, but if the levees holding back the political influence of reactionary religious bigots break down even a tiny bit further, atheists (not to mention women, leftists, gays, buddhists, Muslims etc.) will surely find themselves - sooner rather than later - in a much worse position than we are in today.

Defend the Wall of Church/State Separation!

[ Edited: 24 March 2008 12:35 PM by Balak ]
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Posted: 24 March 2008 12:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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Balak,

No one I have seen who is advocating what I am putting forth is ignorant of the risk involved. That there will be loses in the short term is nearly predictable, but the larger war must be waged in order for the skirmishes to dissolve . I think the fear of what will happen must be kept in check for several reasons. For starters there is a vast supply of reasonable people who when confronted with a war between supernaturalism and naturalism will accept the more reasoned arguments. Here we can take Daniel Dennett’s masterfully thought out theory of “belief in belief” as a sound ballast. “Belief in belief” as laid out by Dennett tells us that there are more people then we realize that do not actually believe in God, but only believe in the belief of God. In short, they just don’t know better and by opening the “public square” they will be confronted with choices and science must win out over religion.

Where the separation of church and state must play it’s part is in the state simply not allowing for a favoritism in the war. That’s the crux of the matter, the political battles will undoubtedly become more pronounced, but we can not abstain from keeping our eyes on the ball. I would argue, from seeing your other post here, that you may agree that to topple an unjust political system is to allow absolute free inquiry.  We simply can not allow the religious moral values to control the debate, we must decide that the “secular conscience” is not being tolerant in stifling a debate that needs to happen. A war between supernaturalism and naturalism is happening whether we like or not, the best we can advocate for now is to open the “public square” and engage.

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Posted: 24 March 2008 02:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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No one I have seen who is advocating what I am putting forth is ignorant of the risk involved.

On the contrary. I see no sign whatsoever that you are aware of the risks involved in abandoning the fight for separation of church and state, a precious - and highly endangered - legacy of Enlightenment Rationalism and the bourgeois democratic revolutions. Nor does the discussion above about dinner table chit-chat with family members show any grasp whatsoever of what is really at stake.

I have now listened to the Dacey interview several times. His head is either in the clouds, or perhaps some other place (rarely illuminated by daylight).

Perhaps you remember the case of Matthew Sheppard, the gay kid who was beaten, strangled and left to die on a barbed-wire fence in Colorado a couple of years ago. Perhaps you recall the dozen or so abortion providers, nurses and clinic workers who have risked and lost their lives to ensure womens access to safe and legal (for the moment) medical proceedures. The time when women sought to bring about abortions with coat-hangers or by throwning themselves down flights of stairs is still within the living memory of millions of people.

The the right of privacy in matters of conscience is a precious beachhead won through generations of struggle by ordinary working people, behind which are protected many other rights. Your and Dacey’s arguments simply revert to abstractions based on what? - the superior explanatory power of science and reason? - as if the world was some vacuum tube in which the ‘best idea’ will always win out (Dacey actually says this - what touching naivete!). The ‘free marketplace’ of ideas is not free (any more than ‘free market’ economics)... it is a battleground of competing material interests in which outcomes are decided not by competing ‘memes’ or other such nonsense, but the heavy artillery of political and economic power, backed up by cops, prisons - and death squads when push comes to shove.

The cornerstone of bourgeois democratic legal tradition is the right to private property. This is where I’m seeing a thread of continuity. To be sure, when you have your way and the wall protecting equal rights of minority and oppositional views is swept aside, only the poor and workers will be subject to compulsory religious, ideological and sexual regimentation in every aspect of their daily lives.  The rich will continue, in their gated communities, to enjoy their privileged access to reproductive health, education, media - hey, even ‘secularism’ as long as they keep it strictly a private matter, of course.

Gradually the pieces are starting to fall together here (- apologies, I’m a slow learner). Dacey (and many others like him) raises the bullhorn to denounce Islam on the other side of the world as “the main enemy”... while with the other hand quietly hands over the keys to the legal protections of working people to the unholy alliance of religious bigots, neocons and robber barons who are busy trying to finish off what remains of the people’s liberty at home. No wonder the priests see him as their ally!

If Dacey wants to find a perfect example of what he calls “the moral bankruptcy of secular liberals” - he should go and take a good look in the mirror.

[ Edited: 24 March 2008 02:08 PM by Balak ]
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Posted: 24 March 2008 03:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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Balak - 24 March 2008 12:14 PM

This whole line of discussion is abstracted not just from the U.S. government’s criminal wars against Iraq and Afghanistan (which is bad enough) but from reality altogether. Are you people seriously arguing against the fight to maintain Church/State separation? Dacey also manages to avoid this basic point altogether.

I must support you, Balak, in stating that I allso regard the US led slaughters in Iraq and Afghanistan as immoral.  And I think that is a good topic for discussion.  But I do not think that is at all the topic or substance of what this podcast is talking about.  In addition, and speaking entirely for myself, I most certainly do not argue against the fight to maintain church/state separation.  Religion has no legitimate place in government and it should be kept out.

I advocate bringing religious matters “into the public square” in the sense that religious and non-religious persons ought speak freely about matters of conscience.  That means free of the common American social taboo about making cosmological and moral assertions.  More importantly, it means being expected to substantiate assertions, in public conversation and debate, with good reasons.  It means opening them up public scrutiny and to ridicule.

Let us not forget that the religious ideas that most of us have problems with are not rationally indefensible.  The surest way to destroy the social influence of those ideas is to expose them to public discussion, which will force all sides to actually consider one anothers criticism.  Shucks… as non-religious persons, some of us might even find ourselves fortunate enough to learn a few good things from religious persons over the course of the dialog.  Otherwise, religious and non-religious persons can be expected to just remain in our own separate corners of America, and continue to allow the most proficient breeders (who will most certainly belong to one religious cult or another) to hold unchecked and unbalanced sway over America’s political machinery.

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Posted: 25 March 2008 04:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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Thomas Donnelly - 21 March 2008 05:46 PM

His new book is The Secular Conscience: Why Belief Belongs in Public Life.
http://www.pointofinquiry.org

Thanks for a great interview and an introduction to an interesting book.

Here is a 2006 article about Dacey exploring what atheists “believe in”
[NY Times Opinion piece 2/3/2006]

Here is the Neuhaus review D.J. refers to in the interview (a Catholic critique):
http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/?p=989

Here is Dacey’s thesis: “Secularists have the moral high ground, if they will only claim it, and in so doing break the religious monopoly on the language of ethics and values. . . . 

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Posted: 25 March 2008 06:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
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Thanks for those links Jackson.  Dacey’s voice strikes me as somewhat unique in our times in its ability to open dialog between non-religious and religious persons, as is startlingly evidenced by the second link that you provided.  I admire his ability to establish the sort of constructive tone that I wish many of us, and in particular myself, could better produce.

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Posted: 25 March 2008 08:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
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It is more important at this point to make clear there is a war between naturalism and supernaturalism, a war between science and religion. Richard Dawkins has made this point time and time again and the battles can in most cases be put aside. On another thread here, American Atheist conference critique, Richard is said to put forth the idea that, “Dawkins made his new point that we should put on hold more trivial issues such as fighting against the “In God We Trust” on our money, which trivializes our position, and focus on the more detrimental and larger issues.”  That’s the point here, there is a larger war we need to fight, Richard knows his position has placed him outside the debates over evolution in any type of political sense. He has made the sacrifice and I don’t think it’s to much to ask that the rest of us make sacrifices, which means taken this to important areas of our own lives. People like Sam Harris do not title his papers with such provocative statements such as “Science Must Destroy Religion” for nothing.

That is the message to send, imagining no religion means religion be destroyed. Richard Dawkins also doesn’t say this is a war without realizing what is at stake. Sure we can talk to the religionist about certain issues, but like erasmusinfinity has pointed out, lets argue these points right down to their preposterous conclusions, such as with abortion, “souls do not exist”. It’s ok to dance around the edges here, but it is the core beliefs we are being called out to criticize and ridicule with increased vigor, as I said, this means taken this to the important areas of our lives, if we wish to open the “public square” then just talking about matters such as creationism in a political sense is not recognizing the greater war, go the step further and say as Sam Harris has advised, tell them it’s bullshit, not because of their tactics, but because their core beliefs are bullshit.

These brave individuals who put out the message that “religion poisons everything”, that “science must destroy religion” and “there is a greater war, it is a war between supernaturalism and naturalism” shouldn’t be minimized with casual talk of “working together.” Richard Dawkins made that clear at a conference when he said to a Christian apologist and evolutionary biologist who is trying to persuade creationist by using the language of the bible (what their feeble beliefs understand) that the message should be “why bother”. He didn’t mince words in denouncing her efforts or her Christian beliefs, and neither should we.

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Posted: 25 March 2008 08:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]
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I also want to say that the sacrifice that Richard Dawkins has made has propelled him to a leadership position in perhaps the most important movement humans have faced. The war between supernaturalism and supernaturalism that brave individuals such as Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett, and Sam Harris have forced us to face has in a short period of time has made more progress then decades of playing nice. This is recognized by Richard himself. Playing nice, as someone else has pointed out, has been an utter failure. It has failed us on many levels and as we watch the insane religious beliefs causing people to fly planes into building to start wars to kill all the infidels, I can’t help but to question the apologetic approach.

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Posted: 25 March 2008 09:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]
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bob james - 25 March 2008 08:00 AM

Richard Dawkins made that clear at a conference when he said to a Christian apologist and evolutionary biologist who is trying to persuade creationist by using the language of the bible (what their feeble beliefs understand) that the message should be “why bother”. He didn’t mince words in denouncing her efforts or her Christian beliefs, and neither should we.

I want to add to this by saying, Richard didn’t say, hey that approach may make inroads into the creationist movement, no he deftly used criticism and ridicule to denounce the effort. That is the power of ridicule, it works to humiliate such an approach and reminds us that there is in fact a larger war at hand. It is a war between science and religion, supernaturalism and naturalism, so such an attempt only works to allow the poison of religion to survive. That is not what is wanted, it is the religious beliefs that keep such insanity going, it is the religious beliefs that need to be criticized and ridiculed. If Richard can do this with such great effect at public events, surely it’s not asking much to do this in our personal lives.

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Posted: 25 March 2008 10:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]
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I appreciated the links provided by Erasmus above. Reading them gives more depth to my concerns about what Dacey is promoting, partcularly on the relationship between the assault on separation of church and state and the colonial wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Neuhaus review especially deserves careful reading!

Dacey ... is strikingly on target in calling fellow liberals to account for their pusillanimity in the face of the radically illiberal challenge of Islamic Jihadism.

Notice the shared viewpoint, which turns everything on its head: “liberal pusillanimity”, we are told, is not about grovelling at the feet of the War Party, not about accepting the FoxNews framing of every foreign policy issue, not about Democrats in congress voting time and time again for war funding, untrammeled executive privilege, tax breaks for the rich, trashing constitutional rights etc. No: ‘liberal pusillanimity’ according to both Neuhaus and Dacey is expressed in one thing only: the failure to sufficiently denounce… Islamic Jihadism (i.e. to show properly full-throated enthusiasm for Washington’s colonial wars). So Dacey’s ‘liberalism’ is pretty close to that of McCain advisor Joe Lieberman: i.e. the Neocon/Likud worldview now hegemonic throughout the mainstream media, and (with slight differences in emphasis) in both of the property parties.

Dacey’s tacit support for imperialist war thus sets the scene for his touching reconciliation with right-wing extremism on the church/state issue.  At the heart of the"naked public square” argument, shared with Neuhaus, is a sleight of hand:

(Neuhaus approvingly quoting Dacey:) “The first idea is that matters of conscience—religion, ethics, and values—are private matters. . . . By making conscience private, secular liberals had hoped to prevent believers from introducing sectarian beliefs into politics. But of course they couldn’t, since freedom of belief means believers are free to speak their minds in public.”

Notice the cheap rhetorical trick: i.e. recasting the democratic fight for church/state separation as a supposed (futile) effort by secular liberals to ‘gag’ the voice of believers in public life. This not only buys into the rightwing mythology depicting christians in the U.S. as a persecuted, hounded minority, but sets up a smokescreen for Neuhaus/Dacey to insert their argument for privileging of religion and its sanction by the state. Let’s just ‘level’ the playing field, ‘remove the gag’ so that the religion and the absence of religion are treated equally. May the best idea win… the battle of public opinion!. (Notice the other rightwing religious cant underlying the Neuhaus/Dacey argument i.e., ‘secularism is its own religion, unfairly privileged by the state.’)

Now how does that look in practice? Dacey and Neuhaus exchange a nod and a wink here - wouldn’t want give the game away. How will the outcome of our “respectful exchange of ideas” determine public policy?

If the power of its ideas were all religion had, there wouldn’t be much left of it by now. But religious ideas have always been closely tied with the church’s political function - cultivating and tapping into deep-seated ignorance, fears, racial and sexual hatreds, and mobilizing believers in large numbers for ideological goals essential to maintaining a social order based on extremes of economic inequality.

Ten Commandments over the judge’s bench? (Why not?). Strike down laws against religious campaigning for political candidates? (What’s the fuss, nobody enforces them). Teacher-led prayer in public schools? (Hey, who needs ‘public’ schools anyway!). Evolution in the science class? (Teach the controversy!). Crosses raised here there and everywhere on public lands? (a victimless crime if ever there was one!). Roe v Wade, gay rights, equality before the law? (Forget it!). What capitalism needs right now is a population of stupifed, credulous and fearful workers dutifully producing cannon fodder for imperialist wars.

Once again - and no one has yet addressed this point - the defense of democratic rights is not a product of the ‘secular liberal’s’ reflections as he explores his nose with this finger, but depend on the outcome of struggles between classes with conflicting social interests.  The “Wall of separation” has always been an imperfect, vulnerable and porous barrier to open tyranny by the religious majority, and it has been upheld in the courts only in periods where capitalism’s stability was threatened by massive class and other social struggles (the mass strikes of the 1930s, the Civil Rights Movement etc.). These struggles are for the moment pretty moribund, but will inevitably rise again. In the meantime, those ‘liberals’ who jump at the chance to further rubbish the democratic protections won by the blood, sweat and tears of others are operating in something other than ‘good faith’.

Defend the Wall of Church/State Separation!
All U.S. Troops out of Afghanistan and Iraq Now!

[ Edited: 25 March 2008 11:49 AM by Balak ]
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Posted: 25 March 2008 11:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]
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As it has been pointed out in the podcast, by Sam Harris, and by others on this forum, of course there are parallels between what certain secularist and religious fundamentalist (nearly fascist as pointed out by Sam Harris) want in that they share a common goal. Islamic religious fanaticism has shaken us awake, the time to become proactive and allow beliefs to go to war in the “public square” is now. We can no longer sit quietly by while “secular liberals” pronounce the public square off limits when a war between science and religion must take place. Religious dogmatic morality has become unchecked in the name of tolerance. But, even the most religious fundamentalist amongst us know that it’s a smoke screen, and threats of over stepping the lines leaves them pushing political inroads. Now the quest for a tolerant “multicultural” society has left gapping scars on the intellectual landscape. You don’t see Sam Harris, Dacey, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens shying away from a fight, nor should we. We know the risk and it’s a risk that needs to be taken even in our private lives. How many amongst us let religious beliefs go unchecked because it is coming from someone in our lives. Richard Dawkins is putting his reputation on the line, Sam Harris has said time and again his life has been threaten, is it really to much to ask to push a little harder when we know our criticisms and ridicule may work. We must take the message into our lives because it is one thing to say liberal and moderate religionist allow the madness to continue but leave those in our lives go unscathed. Imagine no religion, remember it is a war between naturalism and supernaturalism. Richard Dawkins doesn’t call it a war for nothing, the language of war is powerful, just as declaring science must destroy religion. The little skirmishes will go on, the larger war is at hand.

[ Edited: 25 March 2008 11:41 AM by bob james ]
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Posted: 25 March 2008 12:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]
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Wow, I really like this topic.  I find myself being persuaded by the rhetoric from both sides, thus forced to read deeper.  Thanks Jackson for the extra links on this topic. 

A major problem when defenders of logic and reason “eat their own”, is that we are so good at making everything black and white.  We sort of walk right into false dichotomies.  This is understandable; carving up new ideas with metaphors is an effective and efficient means of internalizing information.  So, correct my false dichotomies if I make them, but this is how I see it.

I agree that we should bring the religious ideas to the table and I also agree that we should continue to defend the separation of “state and church” (please note that putting state before church instead of the more common reversal is a subtle method of bringing religion to the table, it is the same as referring to God as a she, it raises consciousness).

Where is the public square?  How do we bring ideas to this public square or in other words how do we put ideas or interests on trial?  Bringing or allowing ideas to sit at the table shouldn’t and doesn’t mean permitting bigotry or infringing upon our freedoms or liberties.  When and if those infringements happen all sides should be quick to make an example.  This is why both religious and non-religious should rally together against the bigotry and hate crimes committed in the Middle East, the same way blacks and whites rallied against the same issues not that long ago.

The principle behind this “bringing ideas to the public square” is the same concept that brought concepts such as freedom and liberty to full fruit.  There is a problem with this.  Progress was made on freedom & liberty because everyone at the table and in the public square agreed to follow the rules of logic and reason.  This is not true today.  Rational thought and even the things our nation made famous, freedom & liberty, are under attack by faith.  I have seen a number of debates involving William Lane Craig, be downgraded to a contest of who can close their eyes, put their hand in the air and get a dopamine overload on demand.  This is a clear violation of the rules of the public square that has been repeated countless times in countless ways.  If the system can’t recognize this injustice, how do we hold these actions in contempt of court?

Dacey says remind them of the rules and focus on the issues every american can easily recognize as a sort of “training wheels for consciousness raising”.  Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins say if parliamentary procedure is incapable of raising consciousness, maybe ridicule in the form of humor can work.  Bring back Stork Theory!

I love all approaches.

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