Crusader Complex

A Fool, Even in Thought, Is A Fool

Here’s an article about the moral crisis allegedly affecting Australia and the western world.It’s interesting because it shows there’s a philosophical sense of crisis being addressed, but with inadequate tools.

”Sometimes Western civilisation is treated with outright hostility,” read the invitation letter. ”Cultural relativism has led to our education system often undervaluing the achievements of Western civilisation.”

”The rise of the nanny state is undermining our freedoms of association, of speech, of liberal democracy.”

John Roskam, from the institute, said the evening tapped into a debate about values, where they come from and what they are grounded in – Western civilisation.

”It’s rounder than the concept of a threat, it’s under challenge,” he said.

This is some pretty paranoid thinking. I am hard-pressed to think of anybody who is a cultural relativist who thinks that the values of Western civlisation are not worth preserving. Even Johnny Rotten in his rotton-est hour would concede that Western civilisation is pretty cool in parts. The single hallmark of John Howard’s time as Prime Minister was his utter defensiveness about these things, and his language that almost reeked of a victim’s complaint when it came to things to do with say, Aboriginal Reconciliation and Feminism. You have to take a somewhat culturally relativist position (but not much really) to let Aboriginal Reconciliation happen and be a good thing and let feminism advance. Indeed it’s arguable that these kinds of things are good things that are the fruits of Western tradition.

But no, John Howard is worried.

Howard spoke off the cuff. According to those present, he argued that Australia has a secular tradition with no established church. But, while that tradition must be respected, it was his personal belief the Judaeo-Christian ethic has been the most profound moral and cultural influence in this country and it should be preserved. Other religions could be embraced and welcomed without in any way diminishing the Judaeo-Christian influence.

Howard, who never wore his faith on his sleeve, gave examples of where he saw erosion caused by a combination of factors such as post-modernism and people who think the values of Western civilisation are not worth preserving.

Really now. Again, I seriously doubt people on the Left from the champagne socialists out to some hardcore communists in Australia think that the “values of Western civilisation are not worth preserving”. The extreme wing of the environmental movement probably want the West to renounce heavy industry but it’s seriously questionable if they want the West to renounce, say, Socrates or Pascal or Kant or Freud.

What’s really funny is that this meeting is somehow a meeting of people trying to preserve the Western civilisation and they’re actually raging against the Enlightenment, so to speak. note especially John Howard’s call to have more taboos. If that’s not a backward step into the medieval darkness, I don’t know what is.

Then you have Cardinal Pell, he of the kiddy-fiddlers-anonymous Catholic Church:

Pell went further, saying he felt suicide today was being ”celebrated”. Faith and values, he said, meant you’re living for some reason other than yourself. He lamented that a secular view is legitimate but a religious view should not be heard in a public place, and that is was deemed permissible to speak openly of a green god but not a religious God.

Beyond religion, Julia Gillard’s proposed national history curriculum was singled out for a belting, because it supposedly does not place enough emphasis on British and European influences.

Howard cited the recent push for a human rights charter in Australia as a consequence of a lack of understanding of our system of parliamentary democracy and an independent judiciary.

Both he and Pell acknowledged the flaws and blemishes of Western civilisation and the ”black spots” these had left in Australian history.

But Pell referred to China, where he said an erosion of values was also occurring as capitalism took hold. ”This radically different culture is now searching for the secrets of Western vitality to provide a code for decency and social cohesion compatible with sustainable economic development.”

He quoted the Chinese economist Zhao Xiao’s ”fascinating comparison with the selfism of Western radical secularism”.

”These days, Chinese people do not believe in anything,” Zhao asserted. ”A person who believes in nothing can only believe in himself. And self-belief implies anything is possible – what do lies, cheating, harm and swindling matter?”

This is just too rich.

I’ve never heard the Catholic Church in Australia champion Confucianism. Ever.  Cardinal Pell lamenting the passing of the old values of Confucianism is therefore a new development. You sort of wonder how he reconciles that with his Catholic beliefs, after all Confucius clearly states that belief in the mysterious, the strong, the chaotic and gods is not a rational course of action. i.e.  a proper person does not run to cults and religions.

That China is losing its old ways as a result of capitalism is sort of interesting, as it is China’s attempt to reap the fruits of Western civilisation without taking on board the core values of the west that provided for them. Like, good old liberalism. Indeed, it is the free-marketeering profit-above-all-decency kind of economic rationalism that is enabling the contemporary economic animal of China, that is being so disparaged here. Not so long ago, these were the exact western values people like John Howard and Cardinal Pell were peddling to a God-less, communist China. Surely they can’t be too shocked at the results! Not if they had any continuity of thought. But of course if you listen to these people it’s the fault of ‘cultural relativists’.

And that’s just the bit that pertains to China’s modernisation. It strikes one that perhaps the biggest problem with John Howard and Cardinal Pell talking about  Western civilisation is that they don’t understand its historical significance and only want to keep the bits that suit their personal political positions and agendas (“no, you don’t say, art!”). This is why they’re willing to admit there are ‘black spots’ in its history and yet they don’t really want to deal with those black spots too much. Doesn’t this show that the very malaise in the Western civilisation they’re talking about with much alarm  is also showing up in their own discourse in their inability to recognise the faults of their own system?

Then there’s the complete  muddling of religious doctrine with philosophical and historical traditions of the so-called Western civilisation. It is true, that historically the Church has played a large part in the history of Western Europe and the colonial states they have spawned. It is also true that the Judeo-Christian faith has provided the largest framework from which thinking on ethics and philosophy has been undertaken. Nonetheless, it is totally fallacious to claim that all of this has been good. We only need to look as far as Gallileo’s or Darwin’s experiences in having to explain scientific findings to the retrograde faithful. The Church and Judeo-Christian thought cannot lay claim to all of Western civilisation, just as Western civilisation cannot lay claim to just the good bits and not the ‘black spots’. It certainly can’t own all of science and therefore modern technology. It can’t even own epistemology these days.

Indeed, the mere fact that we’re even talking about Darwin today as a controversial figure in certain circles suggests that the Catholic Church still has not come to terms with science, let alone the enlightenment, and that the true fear of the cultural relativist is actually a fear of the Church’s own irrelevance to thought.

What’s really frightening is that people like this have so much influence in our society.

What Is This? A Religious Putsch?

The SMH also had this stupid little column, with this hysterical closing bit:

Secularism is certainly not neutral and those who wish to expunge Christian values from our schools and public institutions should more fully explain the worldview from which their alternative values derive.

In the mean time, if we are going to continue to recognise and celebrate our Judeo-Christian heritage, the state government should not dilute the influence of Scripture classes because they are the one opportunity in life the majority of young people have to understand what it is all about.

I don’t know why religious types think that they have a monopoly on thinking about goodness. It is the single most repugnant thing about the article. A lot of Christians I know would probably balk at the degree of intellectual hubris of this writer.

Here’s news for some people. Ethics is a difficult thing for religious types precisely because it seeks to address and critique morality; and morality is often defined by things like scriptures such as the Bible or the Koran. You can’t have ethics unless you’re willing to get objective about morality and where it comes from. It’s not a big claim, it’s just logic.

The simple version of ethics comes down to questions like “religion X says it’s okay to do X, but religion Y thinks not. How do we address the goodness and badness of doing X”? If X is male circumcision, nobody bats an eyelid. If it’s female circumcision, we all get uptight about it and rightfully so. The question then becomes, what makes it “rightfully” so? That very question is where ethics sits.

So, it’s probably important to address what is considered moral under the Judeo-Christian framework of morality, but to do teachings of ethics correctly, you must critique whether thee claims to goodness or badness within the moral frame work stand up to analysis. For instance here’s an ethics question for Catholics, was it good for the Pope to have covered for pedophiles when he was a Bishop? The Pope is currently trying to say, it’s okay because he ended up as Pope and how dare we question the representative of God? Is this really ‘good’?

What’s really disturbing is that columns such as the one the SMH put up shows a clear attempt to muddle the water between what is ethics and what is morality so as to shoe-horn religion – in this instance Christianity of this particular dudes’ particular denomination – back into the middle of discussions. Once again, this is such a backward step that even if you weren’t a strident secularist, you have to combat it by saying how 1) misguided it is 2) how politically motivated it is in its misguidedness 3) and how deliberate it is in its confusing argumentation because it deliberately seeks to muddy the waters.

The long and short of it is, ‘secularists’ are not trying to sideline religion because they think it’s bad. They’re trying to sideline it from discussions of ethics because ethics can only begin when we stop harping about morality, and we cannot go there while the religiously motivated keep on trying to bring ethics back to “My God is Better Than Yours” routines of religious thought.

So, Mr. Jim Wallace, please stop trying to corrupt the youth of today with your opiate for the masses!

Apprehend That Pope!

Which brings me to this interesting article today.

Two leading atheists are investigating the possibility of arresting the Pope for “crimes against humanity”, lawyers have confirmed.

Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens are paying lawyers to investigate whether Pope Benedict XVI should be arrested when he visits Britain in September.

Mr Dawkins and Mr Hitchens believe the Pope should face charges for the alleged cover-up of sex abuse in the Catholic Church, The Guardian reports.

The Guardian reports that a letter written by the Pope in 1985, when he was then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, urged that a paedophile priest in the US not be exposed for the “good of the universal church”.

Mr Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, told The Times: “This is a man whose first instinct when his priests are caught with their pants down is to cover up the scandal and damn the young victims to silence.”

Mr Hitchens, author of God Is Not Great, added to the London-based paper: “This man is not above or outside the law. The institutionalised concealment of child rape is a crime under any law and demands not private ceremonies of repentance or church-funded pay-offs, but justice and punishment.”

Well, right. Somebody’s got to be held accountable for all this grief. I say, book him, Danno.

2 Comments

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2 responses to “Crusader Complex

  1. jeronimus1

    Hi Art. It’s a great idea to arrest Papa Ratzy but I don’t think even Dawkins and Hitchens and Geoffrey Robertson QC (with whom they checked the legal aspects) really think it will happen. Firstly Ratzy is the head of a state (the Vatican) which though not recognised as such by all countries (or by me) at least has observer status with the UN, and so he’s pretty much immune to arrest. Secondly even if people tried to arrest him, say if he visited the UK, there’s no chance any politician is going to back it, especially with an election looming.
    Thirdly, unfortunately there is still no specific crime with which he can be charged. Though he is no doubt complicit in covering up child abuse, he can just say he never saw the memos etc, and get others to be fall guys for him, as it’s recently been alledged has happened. He’s morally bankrupt, but unfortunately you can’t arrest someone for being morally bankrupt.
    They could try for crimes against humanity (fiddled kids do constitute a human population against which crimes have been committed) but I don’t think it will be that easy to arrest him on that without political will.
    Some people have said that because there’s little chance of success, and Dawkins et al must know it, they are just pulling a publicity stunt. I say, who cares? If it draws attention to this terrible inequality of justice: go for it. Any CEO of a secular organisation would be in the dock by now.

  2. jeronimus1

    As Gandhi famously replied when asked what he thought about Western civilisation:
    “It’s a good idea.”

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