Sympathy for the Devil (reason #6243 that I'm not a "conservative")

Saturday, March 04, 2006
As regular readers (both of them) know, I'm a Buddhist and Stoic, and very much not a Christian. (Not that there's anything wrong with being a Christian, and after umpteen years of Baptist sunday school, and extensive reading since then, I think I understand Christianity reasonably well.)

But ever since I gave up Christianity at 11, I've been made conscious, perforce, of some of the difficulties that not being in the majority religion can bring. Not too long after that I met my lifetime friend Anil, who was the other non-Christian in my sixth-grade class, and which made me ever more conscious of the ways in which belief in Christian doctrine is subconsciously expected. So I tend to be a little more sympathetic of the ACLU's position about religious instruction in school and the like than a lot of "conservatives". An awful lot of what I see people, conservatives, say about other religions and beliefs seems to me to be, charitably, ignorant; often it seems flat out bigoted.

Thus, when I read this article in powerline, and came upon this:
The Associated Press has seemingly tried to make the riot at least somewhat comprehensible by describing the Basilica of the Annunciation as "one of Christianity's holiest sites." But Christianity doesn't really have "holy sites" in the way that, say, Islam does. And, while Nazareth is of course famous as Jesus's home town, I'm sure that not one Christian in a hundred has ever heard of the Basilica.

That was a stopper.

"Christianity doesn't really have 'holy sites' in the way that, say, Islam does."

This seems just a bit hard to credit, at least if we admit Christianity includes Catholicism and the various Orthodox sects. You know, from outside, the hajj and the many pilgrimages to the Holy Land (and the people who go to Jerusalem to do the Stations of the Cross) seems awfully similar. The Shrine of Imam Ali and Saint Peter's --- hard to see much objective difference.

In fact, from my point of view, it's a little hard to figure out just what their point was. Unless it's that, well, Christianity's a real religion and Islam's just a fake.

The point about "one Christian in a hundred" rang a little odd too. Maybe it's true --- but I'm willing to bet there weren't a lot of Lutherans from Waseca in Nazareth that day. I suspect that the Christians in Nazareth were a lot more generally aware of the Basilica than one in a hundred. Should they have rioted? No, but the main thing it seems to me to suggest is that there's a general impulse-control problem in the area.

As I say, though, it points out one of the strains of "conservatism" that make me confident I'm only a conservative fellow traveller. Too many conservatives seem to base their "conservatism" on the notion that "if it's different, it's bad." An "inside the beltway" mentality can cripple us --- whether it's inside DC, or inside Minneapolis.

23 comments:

gumshoe1 said...

StY -


Buddhism has its
Hinnayana/Mahayana/Therevada
distinctions.

two of those qualify as
"idol worshippers"
in the eyes of the third.

the truth that globalization
seems to repeatedly reveal is that allegiance to a tribe(religion)and the practice of a totalizing belief system(a religion)tends to make one functionally blind to the eyes and world views of the other "tribes".

the parable of the 5 blind-folded men and the elephant
seems appropriate here.

or,to repeat a quote i once heard:

on cannot "practice" comparative religion...but only a specific religion.

your comment originating this
thread is StY
practicing his buddhism.
(and proclaiming its superortiy in some low-key manner,i might add).

peace.

gumshoe1 said...

BTW -

the errors in powerline's
story aside...what did
Asoka say about
"the religions of others"?

Eric Blair said...

F'n Minnesota Lutherans is what that is.

Seneca the Younger said...

Gumshow, did you ever hear the story about the zen master serving tea? You should look into it.

Seneca the Younger said...

Oh, and yeah, "You should listen to and respect the religions of others."

Good lesson.

Barry Dauphin said...

I also think that Powerline seemed to cross the line, unfortunately. (My take is a bit different. I grew up Catholic in New Orleans, so drinking, eating and gambling were pretty OK, but sex..., well that's what Bourbon Street was for. I'm a "lapsed", agnostic Catholic since college. I suppose many would say that psychoanalysis is my religion. I don't think of it that way, but I understand someone saying that. Sorry for the digression, but I thought this might shed some light on my biases.)

I wonder how many Christians aside from Catholics invest much energy in Holy sites. I believe that many Evangelical Christians seem to be doing some of that now, although I wonder if this is a more recent development. Catholics, tradionally, treat certain places, artifacts, people, etc. in a sacred/mystical/magical way. However, my sense is that many Protestants felt that Catholics were way too caught up in that "mystical" stuff and looked askance at that. I think there are significantly large sections of Protestants (Christians) that are unhappy with religious groups that invest a lot of energy into things or places as "holy". Chrisitanity is far from being "unified" (although I think a lot of Protestants went to Bourbon Street too:>).)

There is bias in what the Powerline put up. I know for myself, if I post something too quickly, I say something stupid (I say stupid things posting more slowly, but at least it's better written stupidity). They should slow down before posting, but maybe that wouldn't help too much.

One of the problems in the WoT is a labelling issue. There are groups that take their ideas on some version of Islam and claim it is unimpeachable and the 'true" Islam. Many Muslims disavow the bin Ladin/Zarqawi mindset, but what to call it? Frankly after 4+ years of the WoT there is no universally agreed upon name for the enemy. Hitchens, early on, coined "Islamofascism". There is a great deal of accuracy in that, but it still misses something, and more importatnly, it hasn't caught on in the general public. In WWII we fought "Nazis", during the Cold War it was "Communists". Except for some spies, Communists and Nazis were self identified by party membership. Bin Laden claims his mission is a religious one instead of a political one and says it's "Islam". I think he wants to promote a clash of religions and wants "moderate" Muslims to be forced onto the side of the radicals because the West is labelling "Islam" as the enemy. All misunderstandings or appearances of our predjudices (and we all have them to some degree) play into his hands. He hopes to pit us against ourselves. He is succeeding to some degree in that mission. He actually has little to offer except some return to a time that never exisited.

I think that making overgeneralizations, as Powerline did, can lead to oversimplifications. And yet it is hard to fight "hot" wars using hypercomplex rationales. War brings out the most elemental in all of us, with Bush Derangement Syndrome being one such manisfestation.

Syl said...

on[e] cannot "practice" comparative religion...but only a specific religion.

Oh, but you must define 'practice'. I don't know, but I suspect, StY practicing Buddhism isn't quite the same as a Christian practicing Christianity.

I think it's natural and inevitable for Christians to become more fervent as Islam's influence rises and all these conflicts abound.

The same for the fierce pushback from the secularists.

Perhaps everyone else is simplly noticing this phenomenon.

Seneca the Younger said...

I have to think about this some.

Here's the bullet points, though.

* We shape our world by our thoughts. I'm not claiming that there is no underlying reality; I'm saying that we shape our own worlds with our own thoughts. The difference between my Kaleo and a random tuxedo cat is what I think about him --- and, I suspect, what he thinks about me.

* With that in mind, I think we have to be careful not to let our realities be shaped against our will and our own best interests.

Rick Ballard said...

"(although I think a lot of Protestants went to Bourbon Street too:>).)"

"Well, if yer gonner witness to sinners and publicans where else would you go?"

Said the pastor to the deacon as he exited the bar.

chuck said...

Some of you may have wondered about the mystic significance of the number 6243. Well, wonder no more.

gumshoe1 said...

excerpt:

The Edicts of King Asoka
An English rendering by
Ven. S. Dhammika


http://www.accesstoinsight.org/
lib/authors/dhammika/wheel386.html

"12

Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, honors both ascetics and the householders of all religions, and he honors them with gifts and honors of various kinds.

But Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, does not value gifts and honors as much as he values this — that there should be growth in the essentials of all religions.

Growth in essentials can be done in different ways, but all of them have as their root restraint in speech, that is, not praising one's own religion, or condemning the religion of others without good cause.

And if there is cause for criticism, it should be done in a mild way.
But it is better to honor other religions for this reason. By so doing, one's own religion benefits, and so do other religions, while doing otherwise harms one's own religion and the religions of others.

Whoever praises his own religion, due to excessive devotion, and condemns others with the thought "Let me glorify my own religion," only harms his own religion.

Therefore contact (between religions) is good.

One should listen to and respect the doctrines professed by others.

Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, desires that all should be well-learned in the good doctrines of other religions."
___________________________

and yes,StY i'm familiar with
the story of the
zen master serving tea.

i think my point in quoting Asoka above,is not that your criticism of powerline was wrong...clearly there are Christians who consider
particular places and shrines holy.

the are believers and practitioners
of many paths that are prone to error. we're all human.
well,most of us.

pointing out the error in a "mild"
or helpful way is likely the only constructive way to communicate,
given the subject matter (religion)
of both the powerline post and your post here at YARGB.

contacting the powerline author directly with your observations, rather than posting the beginnings of a rant about here,
might have been more effective.

instead,here i am posting in a way
that is likely "lecturing" and offensive to you.

hopefully it's
a bit more constructive than that.

flenser said...

You know, from outside, the hajj and the many pilgrimages to the Holy Land (and the people who go to Jerusalem to do the Stations of the Cross) seems awfully similar.

I guess that just shows the limitations of the outside perspective. No doubt from an outside perspective, all Americans can be viewed as essentially the same. Conservative, liberal, libertarian, secular, religious - these are all internal distinctions which are a big deal to Americans but invisable to outsiders.

So I'm sure that to some atheists all religious people can indeed be seen as essentially the same.

But the fact remains that Christianity does not mandate that its adherents vist holy sites, while all Muslims are supposed to visit Mecca at least once. So Hinderakers observation is factually correct. The same applies for the "one in a hundred" remark. I doubt if even that many Christians have heard of the Church in question. It's probably more like one in a thousand.

truepeers said...

One can practice comparative religion, but the practice is known as anthropology, or religious studies. While i can't neatly distinguish religious thinking from thinking about religion, i don't believe the latter alone can be the basis for any kind of strong faith. What all humans and all faiths share in common is too minimal to serve as a concrete foundation or model for one's life. The life of faith must entail a commitment to particular historical events and the specific beliefs and institutions that emerge from them, a commitment that cannot exclude somewhat arbitrary and even absurd elements.

The choice is ultimately between a particular tradition with some arbitrary and absurd elements - prejudices, if not bigotry - or an empire of abstract reason that in trying to capture the essential essence of everything leaves one with nothing concrete, nothing bounded, no discipline.

So faith is a question of finding one's models in one or another particular tradition of revelation and reason. While all religions share and remember the common human origin (I believe in a monogenesis) - and this can serve as a basis for inter-faith discussions - each faith interprets the common origin through the prism of their own historical revelation(s).

I'd say anyone who works to maintain one or another historical revelation, by using it as a model for his own life, is some kind of conservative. Furthermore, i think for people to put their faith in a particular tradition, they have to believe they have found the best such tradition of revelation and reason - at least the best for their life. And so, i guess i'm saying that "conservatives" - people working to conserve a particular historical foundation - cannot be liberal in the sense of thinking that all faiths are equally good. They can humbly respect other faiths, wisely assuming their own faith or reason may be lacking in some ways of which they may or may not be aware, and also thinking that the life of faith is superior to one of nihilism or weak faith on the margins of any particular tradition. But anyone who has a particular faith only holds on to it because he believes it is true and better than the alternatives available.

No one here, i'm sure, would show respect to a religion that still practiced child sacrifice - as perhaps all our ancestors once did, and arguably some people still do. Religious beliefs are hypotheses about the nature and progress (or purpose) of humanity, and these hypotheses must be able to change and progress over time - as they learn from history and meet new historical contexts that put them to the the test, in various respects - or they will fade away. The concept of progress, while an article of faith in the modern secular marketplace, is perhaps more applicable to religious than any other kind of institution.

There are certain religious beliefs common in the world today that i think are now past due for their time of fading away, because I believe (knowing i may be wrong) they fail in various ways the causes of human self-understanding, freedom, and equality. I think such an assumption is inherent to all monotheisms. Hopefully, we do not have to kill each other en masse in attempts to prove our own faith superior (though war has often been the marketplace in which faiths and the institutions that hold them must prove themselves). But it seems to me that if people have religious freedom, the marketplace of ideas, in tandem with the markets that demand human productivity, will in time prove some faiths more successful than others, for reasons that speak both to pragmatic and fundamental human truths.

terrye said...

seneca:

I noticed the same thing. It just kind of gave me a pang, not a big one but a since that something was not right.

I will admit that I know very little about Buddhism. I am woefully ignorant of many of the religious beliefs of non Christians and that is one reason I feel uncomfortable with the broad criticisms of Islam by certain socalled conservatives. I admit, I am no expert and maybe some of them should do the same thing.

Christians do not all look at these things the same way. I know fundamentalists and Amish who are very simple in their worship. They may not even allow music in their churces. At the same time I also know Catholics whose adoration for the late Pope was almost mystical as is the pomp surrounding many of their ceremonies. The Byzantines had serious debate as about the use of images while the Orthodox have their icons.

So of course some Christians have their holy sites, some even believe in visions and relics and saints on earth.

But Christians also believe they worship the one true God and because of that while they might tolerate other religions, they will never consider them Truth.

And conservatives in this country whether they are practicing Christians or not do tend to take the idea that the basis of our law is Judea Christian and therefor other religions represent something a tad alien. Not quite to be trusted. I also think this is largely unconcious.

But what the hell do I know?

loner said...

I called my mother to get a recipe early last week. While we were talking I told her that I'd be making my pork loin on Wednesday. Her response was: But it's Ash Wednesday. I reminded her that it's been at least 25 years since I observed Ash Wednesday.

More than 25 years ago we lived next door to a family that was Seventh-Day Adventist. Some among them occaisionally tried to get under my skin regarding such Roman Catholic practices as no-meat Fridays, the veneration of Mary, and the weekly bingo game. I mostly shrugged. I never questioned their practices as I never forgot that when I was still a fairly impressionable child I was assured by them more than once that the Second Coming would be occurring that afternoon.

Look at me. I'm fat, black, can't dance, and I have two gay fathers. People have been messing with me my whole life. I learned a long time ago there's no sense getting all riled up every time a bunch of idiots give you a hard time. In the end, the universe tends to unfold as it should. Plus I have a really large penis. That keeps me happy.

from Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle

Were I to throw in with another organized religion at this late date it'd probably be one of the Eastern ones where mostly we'd dance.

Alan said...

I've always considered politics a distraction from Christianity and Christianity a distraction from conservatism. This is why I have a problem with the current GOP--too many Republicans seem to think a big government is fine when it comes to enforcing their religious beliefs, i.e. the pro-life agenda. As a conservative I'm against all forms of "big" government.

Seneca the Younger said...

You know, Flenser, I just don't find the argument about the hajj at all convincing. The requirement is that you travel to the Qaaba once if you can. Catholics have a specific ritual to make a site "holy" --- sanctified --- and have a requirement to travel to those sites on several occasions every year.

Gumshoe, I actually contacked powerline first. It was after he called me an ignorant jerk that I wrote the post.

Seneca the Younger said...

Plus I have a really large penis. That keeps me happy.

Damn.

Seneca the Younger said...

Actually, I thought the mystic significance of 6243 was that it was the rant that came after rant 6242.

flenser said...

Seneca

Catholics have a specific ritual to make a site "holy" --- sanctified --- and have a requirement to travel to those sites on several occasions every year.

How very odd. I was brought up Catholic, was given religious instruction in Catholic schools, and yet I never heard of these requirements. Maybe I can sue those priests for not instructing me properly in the tenets of the faith. It is true that the Church has a specific ritual to make a site "holy". All individual churches are sanctified upon being completed. And the faithful are of course expected to go to church. So I suppose in a certain hyper-technical sense it could be said that the Catholic Church requires the faithful to "make pilgrimages" to "sacred sites", when all that is meant is that they have to drive a mile to the local parish church. Is that what you are getting at?

Within the Catholic Church (a subset of Christianity) there is a long established custom of some believers visiting certain shrines, such as Lourdes, which are held sacred. But unlike the Muslim Hadj, which is one of the Five Pillars of (Sunni) Islam, pilgrimage is not considered a requirement for salvation in the Catholic Church. I can't make it any plainer than that.

Of course, the Protestant wing of Christianity does not even contemplate the existence of any sacred sites. I believe that Judaism is more akin to Catholicism in many respects. Jaime or truepeers can speak as to wheher they are required to make piligrimages

Seneca the Younger said...

How very odd. I was brought up Catholic, was given religious instruction in Catholic schools, and yet I never heard of these requirements. Maybe I can sue those priests for not instructing me properly in the tenets of the faith.

Wow, Flenser, they didn't tell you about consecration of churches and about Days of Obligation, like the Feast of the Assumption? Maybe you should sue them.

It is true that the Church has a specific ritual to make a site "holy". All individual churches are sanctified upon being completed. And the faithful are of course expected to go to church.

I thought you were just messin' with me.

So I suppose in a certain hyper-technical sense it could be said that the Catholic Church requires the faithful to "make pilgrimages" to "sacred sites", when all that is meant is that they have to drive a mile to the local parish church. Is that what you are getting at?

I think you're making my point for me. I don't think it's "hyper-technical" to say that a religion which has places which are "set apart and made holy", and days on which one is "obliged" to attend these places if one is physicially capable. The distinction between being told one should attend on the Qaaba once in your life, or travel to a secified spot three or four times a year seems, to an outsider, very subtle. Hardly hypertechnical.

Maybe the Basilica in Nazareth isn't particularly dear to some guy in Minnesota, but it's sure not hard to find some pretty harsh words about the Palestinians in the Church of the Nativity, even in powerline.

In any case, though, the point isn't to make fun of Christianity; it's to make fun of aggressive provincialism, of which Hinderocker's comment just reeks.

gumshoe1 said...

i'm a member of
the Pedestrian Church:

my church is wherever my feet are.

gumshoe1 said...

"Gumshoe, I actually contacked powerline first. It was after he called me an ignorant jerk that I wrote the post."

StY -

thanks for that.

reason is sometimes having
a tough time winning the day lately.

i appreciate that you took the
direct and diplomatic approach first,
and well to your credit.