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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Flail Against Theocracy

Blog Against Theocracy - Darkblack
Image from Darkblack
Excerpted:
...this debate regarding Theocracy is further complicated by the fact that the State is not (yet) "properly constituted." We (the "secularists") have not settled our own internal debate regarding vice and behavior - the "invisible" harms. We as well point to the nebulous "good of society" when we criminalize gambling, prostitution, drug use. A truly "secular" approach would be to acknowledge and regulate these weaknesses. Attempts to purify them out of existence only embolden and legitimize the theocratic scolds among us.

We have to clean up our own house before we can credibly criticize Theocracy.
I would like to thank the folks at Blog Against Theocracy for the opportunity to post something that might actually be read :).

Before I begin, I think I should explain where I "stand" on religion. There are aspects of our experience which, while objectively impossibly to point to and quantify, are profoundly real to the experiencer. I feel that the roots of religion are a legitimate attempt to create a framework so that these "intangibles" can be thought about and discussed. Love is an obvious and relatively non-controversial example of this.

To repeat, I think that these things are real. Attempts to characterize them as delusional artifacts of some howl-at-the-moon past (read: the behavioralism-obsessed 20th century scientific community) are offensive and sophomoric. And just as much an intrusion on inner-life (religion, by my definition), as this BAT community sees Theocracy is on society in general.

I am of the opinion that in the nanosecond it takes to crystallize, think about, discuss and organize these (very real) "intangibles" sets a contradiction into motion. So I don't play with "organized" religion, and I don't want it to play with me. This could be considered "my" religion.

That said, I don't think that my "prejudice" against organized religion is a factor in my analysis regarding Theocracy. While I don't think that my prejudice is wrong, I can say that it may very well be so. And even if I'm not wrong, my brand of "religious logic" will most certainly derive fallacious corollaries that, while perhaps fascinating to debate, would be completely inappropriate in defining the social order... the State.

That would be stopping the debate (not the debate about Theocracy, but rather that which is occurring within the framework of religions.) This is not the sort of debate which is won or lost. It's sole purpose is thought-clarification, and it must continue in perpetuity (or at least until we grow up enough to realize that thought is an inappropriate "container" for such things, but that's a whole 'nother matter.)


And so:

This is about managing harm.

The State - the government, the collective, the caretaker of public space, securer of personal rights and freedoms - when properly constituted, concerns itself with the mitigation of "visible" harms. Mammalian bio-social imperatives aside, the collective most probably found its cohesion in facing the dangers of a morally neutral and untamed ecosphere (which will always remain with us). These groups, of course, created the meta-problem of clashing cultural values, a result of the collectives germinating in isolation of each other. And so, the protection from the harm of "others" becomes a natural function (albeit, one that ideally has an expiration date as wisdom evolves). Finally, as a group becomes more complex, the focus turns towards the members of the collective itself, assigning rules of interaction designed - again, when properly constituted - to create and preserve a fair and just society, as free from violence and exploitation as possible (also, to some degree, a temporary condition - although even with "perfect" enlightenment and education, there will always be that roughly 5% of psychopaths among us).

These are broad strokes, but I think I've got that about right.

Religion, on the other hand, is concerned with "invisible" harms. It dictates that we "love our neighbor." If you do not, then you are harming him. I actually think that this absolutely true, by the way. The problem is, this directive is completely unenforceable. Sure, you can, with sufficient coercion (and cruelty) enforce the outward expression of "love," but sincerity is not guaranteed. A failure of the original intent of the "love law," right out of the box. Not to mention that the whole approach creates a pretzel of contradictions regarding the loving of the non-lover neighbors and whether forcing them to love is very loving after all and well maybe it is for their own good... so one settles on, again, the insincere proclamation of "love" towards their victims, while all the time utterly bankrupt of the actual love that would prohibit such cruelties.

Of course, theocratic movements never begin with such obvious absurdities. As a sort of appeasement to secular society, they adapt the language of "visible" harm. For example, I personally see gambling as a bad thing (I actually do). If I were a certain type of (religious) person, I might make the credible claim that it is "bad for society" to permit gambling. While that's a pretty incredible leap in thought in and of itself, I must then throw compassion under the bus in order to justify outlawing the impulses of those "less enlightened" than myself on the matter. Once again, Theocracy contradicts itself.

It should be clear at this point that Theocracy has nothing whatsoever to do with those legitimate "intangibles" that are the very soul of religion. Theocracy has nothing to do with religion.

Theocracy itself is a secular operation, saddled with hypocrisy. It is the cooption of religious language for purely political, secular reasons.

Not incidentally, this debate regarding Theocracy is further complicated by the fact that the State is not (yet) "properly constituted." We (the "secularists") have not settled our own internal debate regarding vice and behavior - the "invisible" harms. We as well point to the nebulous "good of society" when we criminalize gambling, prostitution, drug use. A truly "secular" approach would be to acknowledge and regulate these weaknesses. Attempts to purify them out of existence only embolden and legitimize the theocratic scolds among us.

We have to clean up our own house before we can credibly criticize Theocracy.

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