I have been committed to addressing and making headway on certain big problems. Over the last several months I've been writing about Socrates. Well, I've been trashing him non-stop to tell you the truth. I've done this because I think he deserves it, and it hasn't been done enough.
Recently, I've been interested in the idea of "mutually exclusive world views." I've supported the observation that political as well as philosophical and religious debates have seemed unsolvable because they're like these "mutually exclusive world views" butting heads, but never finding resolution. I support this kind of finding because it supports my contention that commitment to the Socratic account of knowledge and values is pervasive and corrupting.
I have also been interested in the issue of religious tolerance. Or, the idea that on the issue of gay marriage and homosexuality, in general, Christians should be tolerant. I am interested in this issue because it shows an important consequence of Socratic thinking.
A two part series appeared on Counterpunch, a political website edited by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair, written by Dr. Teresa Whitehurst. These pieces can be found here and here. Commentary to these articles, because of their religious interest, appeared on Jesus Politics here and here.
I wrote a fairly long comment here, posted by Steven. My comment was,
For various reasons, I am not a christian, or a Jew, or a Buddhist. I think there are good reasons to reject these religions. My rejection is based on thinking about their significance, and the arguments I find in them.
I have found myself, however, almost driven to a peculiar reading of religious and philosophical texts. It's that reading of the literature that makes me resist the efforts of Dr. Whitehurst on behalf of christian tolerance.
I am not impressed by it because I do not share her belief that Christianity has a lock on knowledge and values.
She thinks that Christians should be tolerant of gays and of women who have abortions. For her, it's inappropriate to aggressively make their lives miserable, as she sees conservative Christians now advocating. Like I said, I am not impressed.
The possibility that Jews were mistreated in Auschwitz would not be the only problem of life in Nazi Germany, nor would it have been the most important to be concerned over.
The possibility that some camp guards treated Jews kindly, that is, they didn't spit on them or trip them up as they marched them into the showers, says something on the guards behalf, but not much.
As well, the concern by Dr. Whitehurst that conservative Christians be tolerant of gays and abortionists, for example, begs the question whether gays and abortionists should be singled out for this consideration in the first place.
Her argument is not that conservative Christians are wrong to condemn homosexuality or abortion, but that Christians should not go out of their way to make them suffer in this life. She says, for example, in talking about her own conservative experience,
"While obviously we were on the far right side of conservative, in important ways the times were different, and church teaching reflected that difference. First, the goal of our evangelism was usually spiritual conversion, not political restriction. Second, going about things the old-fashioned evangelical way, we confronted sin not with hateful placards, threats of violence, bombings of clinics, or powerful political lobbies, but through prayer and our genuine if naive attempts to model Jesus' love for all.
It's the method that makes the difference between the respectful evangelism of those days and the confrontational evangelism of today."
So, her position is much like the camp guards who do not object to the fact that the Jews were enslaved or murdered, but thought that they needed to be kind to them on the job.
The similarities between Dr. Whitehurst's position and her modern conservative opponents has, I think, much to do with a fairly cruel distinction, and are more important for us to consider.
Tolerance, for the Dr., is a matter of not challenging people or making them suffer for their sins in this life because that will be God's job in the next. Intolerance, on the other hand, is a matter of actively making people suffer for their sins in this life because they pose a threat in this life to believers. The very seductiveness of their sins may displease God, or cause a sinner to themselves sin.
This distinction is behind the idea that early immigrants to America were escaping the religious wars in Europe, which were a matter of people of one position on religion protecting themselves by going out and killing or making believers in other positions suffer.
My problem with Dr. Whitehurst isn't just that she advocates tolerance for gays, but that she thinks it isn't necessary to make them suffer now because that will happen soon enough after her god gets ahold of them. And it isn't just gays who will be so treated, in her system. She as well as her christian opponents thinks there's a fairly definite standard that will make any non-christian, gay or not, similarly suffer eternally.
As I see it, Christians are committed to the view that they are camp guards, and the rest of us, gay or not, are pretty much walking slowly to the showers.
I don't see kindness in my camp guard as much of an improvement.
There were several issues that I now want to expand upon. One of them was introduced by a previous post, wherein The Atheist said,
There are people who will argue that homosexuality is not a sin, is not morally wrong...however, people such as yourself will never be swayed, no matter the argument, because you believe god has already spoken his piece and that is that.
So at the moment I will not argue whether or not homosexuality is a sin.
But what rational basis can there possibly be to outlaw being gay or gay marriage?
I am concerned to point out that The Atheist assumes that Chameleon3, a previous commentator, and defender of christian contempt for homosexuality, would not allow himself to change his mind on this issue,..."no matter the argument." I doubt that The Atheist can point to any evidence about Chameleon3 that would support his charge. It may be, come to find out, that Chameleon3 could come to see that there is nothing wrong with homosexuality, despite what the Bible says, on the basis of an argument that The Atheist might provide. I cannot rule out this possibility. I don't know Chameleon3.
However, I don't believe it is the text of the Bible that would dissuade a christian from arguments provided by The Atheist. I think the Bible would be fairly conflicted about whether we should pay attention to arguments.
On the one hand, Jesus seems to recommend that we rely on arguments. He gives us parables, for example, and expects his teachings to make a difference to us. He provides us with sermons. He makes points that challenge the points of others. He couldn't expect us to ignore argumentation and also expect us to understand what to do with arguments that he gives us.
On the other hand, we are to believe that, as Chameleon3 suggests, the fact that the Bible recommends some position should be enough to settle all epistemological and moral questions. There should be no arguing with the word of God, if you know what's good for you.
All I'm saying is that it's a contradiction for Jesus to act like arguments and argumentation should be important to us, and yet have Christians like Chameleon3 say that our arguments are futile as all we really need to do is listen to their authority.
And so, there is good reason to think that Christians will not be impressed by arguments, especially if they are presented by atheists, yet wonder if that rejection of argument is supported by an examination of Jesus's life.
This is an important issue for me because I argued that Dr. Whitehurst's condemnation of christian intolerance, and her implicit condemnation of homosexuality, stands naked and in need of some kind of justification. The fact that she did not reject christian intolerance because said Christians were wrong to condemn homosexuality reflects the fact that she does not feel the need to justify her moral position.
We who do not share her reading of the Bible may require some kind of an argument before we go along with the persecution of anyone. But she, who believes that the Bible's words do not need any argument on their behalf, apparently does not similarly hesitate.
The Bible says it, she believes it, off with their heads.
I am not impressed with Dr. Whitehurst partly because I think homosexuals are innocent victims of her deeply held fears, but mostly because we disagree about what it means to be the messiah, and ultimately, what it means to have knowledge and values.
Of course, I'm going to argue that Jesus's teachings and christian beliefs are two entirely different things. The difference, on my view, is that christian beliefs are based mostly on the Socratic view of knowledge and values. It's the Socratic basis for their beliefs that has given Christians this "holier than thou" attitude about the rest of us, and their contempt for argument.
And since I believe the "principle of charity" and the "holy spirit" are pretty much the same, I think the rejection of argument is about as far from what Jesus would recommend as possible.
Why is it that Christians adopt the view that if the Bible says it we gotta believe it? Because they believe it's the inspired word of God. And why is it that Abraham can question whether God was just in his plan to kill everyone in Sodom and Gomorrah, despite the fact there were a lot of innocent people therein, and we who are supposed to be so much more compassionate aren't supposed to utter a peep?
I am impressed that we have gone backwards from the example set by Abraham to the example set by Chameleon3, Dr. Whitehurst, and others. If Abraham can win deals from God because he showed a certain insight about morality, it seems God should allow us no less.
I have an account of the difference between the moral courage of Abraham and the fact that Christians think of themselves as camp guards. The difference is that, in the interim, Socrates made more of an impression than the Teacher of Righteousness.
We should not be surprised. The idea that swords are better at assuring our own survival than words is powerful. It seems right.
It's just not what I think Jesus would want for us.