Tag Archives: Religion

The infinite city, cont’d: Terry Jones versus the Beatles

Documentary filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady capture a moment of hate — and love — in a city big enough to contain both:

I love this town.

(via The New York Times)

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Why “Because my God says so” doesn’t cut it in a democracy

Scott Aikin and Robert Talisse offer a clear, excellent argument for why discussion and deliberation in a democracy must be predicated on public reasons rather than exclusive, religious ones:

[T]he main function of public deliberation is not to prove that one’s views about the public good are true, but rather to show one’s fellow citizens that one’s views about the public good are justifiable.  And to show one’s fellow citizens that one’s views about the public good are justifiable is to show that they are justifiable to them.  In order to show that one’s views about the public good are justifiable to your fellow citizens, one must articulate the case for one’s views in terms that do not presuppose one’s own particular moral, metaphysical, or religious commitments.  For your fellow citizen may reject these commitments without thereby disqualifying themselves for democratic citizenship. […]

We may say that public reasons are of the kind that cannot be dismissed as irrelevant or unintelligible by democratic citizens.  Thus there is a fundamental difference between a reason such as “The Bible forbids it” and “Equality requires it.”  One who dismisses the former does not thereby disqualify himself for democratic citizenship; one who dismisses the latter does.  Accordingly, a group of citizens that insists on a public policy that can be supported only by means of nonpublic reasons thereby shows disrespect for their fellow citizens.  Put otherwise, to affirm a public policy that cannot be supported by public reasons is in effect to say to one’s fellow citizens “Because I said so.”  And that’s to deny that one’s fellow citizens are one’s equals. […]

Knowing that deliberation occurs against the backdrop of deep disagreement, we must on the one hand be willing to recognize the diversity of religious, philosophical, and ethical commitments available to democratic citizens.  On the other hand, we must be able to explain the basis for any policy we advocate with reasons we can expect any of those diverse individuals to endorse as consistent with their status as a fellow free and equal citizen.  That’s the tightrope of democratic justification.  Democratic deliberation, then, requires us to argue from a public perspective.

I emphatically agree; the entire essay is here and worth reading.

I think it’s worth noting that Barack Obama has eloquently made this argument in the past, and it’s an argument worth making often:

Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. What do I mean by this? It requires that their proposals be subject to argument and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, to take one example, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I can’t simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all. This is going to be difficult for some who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, as many Evangelicals do. But in a pluralistic society, we have no choice. Politics depends on the ability to persuade each other of common aims based on a common reality.

(via The Dish; image via Echr Blog)

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Science versus dogma

Click on the image (or here) for the full sequence. If there’s a simpler or cuter way to summarize the conflict between the methods of science and the claims of fundamentalist faith, I’ve yet to see it.

I found this via Phil Plait, who says: “Not everyone is so unwavering in their dogma, but enough people are (especially those who run this country) that this should be required reading by the time every US citizen reaches elementary school.” I concur.

(A note: from the comments on Plait’s site, there seems to have been some debate about whether the artist was reinforcing gender stereotypes. Well, maybe — though I’m not aware of any perception that women are more fundamentalist than men, and there are certainly plenty of fundamentalist males in the news today. As always, though, please correct me if I’m wrong. And you can check out PZ Myers’ post about it and his readers’ reactions, if you’re interested.)

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The Dalai Lama, “beyond religion altogether”

Wow. Here’s the Dalai Lama:

[T]he reality of the world today is that grounding ethics in religion is no longer adequate. This is why I am increasingly convinced that the time has come to find a way of thinking about spirituality and ethics beyond religion altogether.

And also this, from his book The Universe in a Single Atom:

My confidence in venturing into science lies in my basic belief that as in science so in Buddhism, understanding the nature of reality is pursued by means of critical investigation: if scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims.

Fantastic — and this comes from a source I’d never have expected. What other major religious leader would have had the courage, confidence, and humility to make this assertion?

I must admit here that I’m shockingly ignorant of the tenets of Tibetan Buddhism and the beliefs of the DL. More for me to learn and catch up on, hooray!

(via io9; photo via Inquire)

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Humanism and secularism, defined

So what’s humanism? I had a go at this question way back when I started this blog, but this video by the British Humanist Association offers a much clearer introduction:

And from the always-lucid British YouTube user QualiaSoup, here’s a very clear presentation on secularism and its views on church/state separation, gay marriage, and education — as relevant (or perhaps even more so) in the US as it is in the UK:

(via Tim Minchin)

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“We are a thinking species”: Carl Sagan on creationism, skepticism, and why science is the birthright of everyone

In 1981, Carl Sagan — astronomer and science educator par excellence — was named Humanist of the Year by the American Humanist Association, and delivered his acceptance speech at the association’s annual conference in San Diego. The AHA has now made the audio of the entire speech available online, and if you have 45 minutes, it’s absolutely worth your time. (If not, I’ve transcribed some excerpts below.)

The speech is wonderful for the same reasons that Sagan’s remarks and writings are always wonderful: his gift for eloquent, inspiring — and often humorous — prose; his powerful argument for the fundamental importance of science in our lives; his ability to communicate a clear-eyed and rational view of the cosmos that is yet open to poetry, astonishment, and wonder. But this particular speech is also notable for a couple of specific things. First, Sagan refers early and often to the accomplishments of the woman who introduced him to the audience: the astrophysicist Margaret Burbidge, who, like many female scientists, deserves much more public recognition for her scientific contributions. And second, Sagan takes particular aim at the threat of creationism — 1981 being the year of McLean v. Arkansas and the movement to have “creation science” taught in American public schools, a movement that sadly still has traction today.

I find it fascinating that Sagan’s decades-old speech still feels fresh and relevant today: not just his argument against the creationists, but also his stirringly democratic notion of science as every person’s birthright, and his description of “cosmic evolution” and the deeply intimate connection between humans and the universe — concepts that Neil deGrasse Tyson, considered by many to be Sagan’s heir, has been communicating to great effect.

Some lengthy excerpts below.

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Bill Moyers: “Freedom of and from religion”

Bill Moyers offers a sane and spot-on assessment of the contraception debate and the president’s compromise:

My previous posts on this here and here.

(via Richard Dawkins)

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