"Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and the Sultan of Johor are seen in a blue Proton Saga... "When asked whether there is any tension with the sultan, Dr Mahathir said: “No, I don’t see anything because I went to see him and he drove me to the airport. I don’t want to comment on the sultans because if I say anything that is not good then it’s not nice because he is the sultan”"

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Saturday, January 31, 2009

"Every generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it." - George Orwell

***

"There are in fact at least four distinct worries about morality...

Would anything be valuable if there were no beings doing the valuing?... Can the same moral claim he “true for” one community, society, or time period but not others?... Do an individual’s attitudes alone make it the case that something is valuable?... Are there any moral obligations to anyone other than one’s self?...

Freshman ethicists also conflate the making of a truth-claim with the determination to force others to believe it. But there is nothing illiberal about asserting an objective truth, a claim that is made true by the way the world is. You do it every time you give the time of day to someone who asks. You don’t thereby coerce your neighbor into believing it is noon, you give him a reason to believe it. Consider these six statements:

1. I’m right, but I could be mistaken.
2. I’m right.
3. I’m right, you’re wrong.
4. I’m right, you’re wrong, here’s why you should change your mind.
5. I’m right, you’re wrong, go to hell.
6. I’m right, you’re wrong, change your mind or be killed.

... The relativist’s impulse is to broadmindedness, but there are some things that a mind cannot fit no matter how it is stretched. When I claim that Connaught Place is in New Delhi. and you claim it is in Dublin, then my being right will amount to your being wrong. If condom use is advisable, then those who hold it to be morally abominable must be mistaken, as moral abominations are not to be recommended. One cannot make a claim without being committed to denying its denial, any more than one can wish one’s team to win the World Cup without wishing that everyone else’s will lose...

Every serious argument is at least a statement of type (3), and often, under favorable conditions, a statement of type (4).

Benedict is correct. Secular values can turn a society inside out. In post-Christian Europe, entire nations have been plunged into endemic health, skyrocketing education, and hopelessly low rates of violent crime. Perhaps a future papal encyclical will target the kind of relativism that leads to real harm. This is the misguided multiculturalism that keeps Western liberals from criticizing the oppression of women, religious minorities, and apostates in Islamic societies for fear of being accused of “Islamaphobia.”... [Benedict] can accuse secularists of believing in the wrong things, but that’s not the same as believing in nothing.

What about love? Isn’t love enough? What more do we need for meaning, for morality?... [Agape] was not invented at all, but discovered, in many places and many times by many peoples. Not all of them made love an ethical ideal. Aristotle was not a fan; the Greeks and Romans esteemed temperance, prudence, courage, and justice... Surely, love—agape, ren—is not enough. We need reason and truth, for we can be mistaken about how and when to love, about what do to about it...

When someone fails to recognize the force of the reasons of love, can we say he is objectively wrong? Some would say that even in its domain, ren is not sovereign, that its authority is the grant of somehiuig transcendent. Ethics, some suggest, cannot make use of love without first laying its metaphysical anchor outside of ordinary human experience.

I submit that this is not how we ordinarily experience love. Ask yourself, if there were no divine creator or life everlasting, would you love your friends or family any less? Would your care for a child be diminished by the discovery that you were the only one caring? Were the heavens empty, would your heart no longer be full? It is worth wondering what sense can be made of the religious alternative, that the objective moral worth of humanity depends on God. How would that work? Could it be that God simply decides that we have value? That doesn’t seem right, for we don’t suppose that God could simply decide that a lump of coal is as valuable as a person. Rather, it must be that God recognizes something about us that is morally important: maybe our capacity to suffer, or to have interests and plans. But if that is so, then God drops out of the picture. It is these morally important features that determine our value. And these we have in virtue of facts about us, not facts about God.

What Would Jesus Do? is a good question. But a more important question is, why would he do it? Presumably Jesus’s injunction in Luke 18:22 to “sell all that you own and distribute money to the poor” was not a whim. He must have had some reasons for it (for starters, he thought the world was coming to an end soon). If there are such reasons, then they must be binding on Jesus’s choices and therefore exist independently of those choices.

Why Would Jesus Do What Jesus Would Do? is what Socrates would want to know...

Take another look at the story of Abraham and Isaac and it becomes a meditation on the nature of conscience. For although Abraham faces the Almighty, he remains free to disobey... When Abraham reflects on the reasons that flow from his love of Yahweh, and on the reasons that flow from his love of Isaac, and still in freedom chooses to obey, then and only then could his action be pleasing to God... Read in this way, the story of Abraham and Isaac turns on its head the conventional belief that conscience depends on religious faith...

The second-most generous nation on Earth as of this writing (measured both in individual charitable contributions and in government aid to developing countries) also has one of the lowest rates of regular church attendance (and the highest level of self-reported fulfillment in life): Denmark. Christopher Hitchens’s challenge remains unmet: name a single morally praiseworthy act by a believer that could not have been performed by an unbeliever...

Perhaps the secular conscience is taking too much credit for itself. Ethical secularists in the West, it could be argued, are spending the moral capital accumulated by millennia of Judeo-Christian civilization. The moral knowledge and practices of the secularist—such as the affirmation of the inherent dignity of the person—are actually parasitic on religious tradition. According to this moral capital argument, European societies have survived secularization because they remain culturally Christian. First, setting aside the historical experiences of China, South Korea, and Japan, where civil morality obviously is not the afterglow of monotheism, it must be said that the moral capital argument gives short thrift to contributions to European civilization by the pagan Greeks and Romans, to say nothing of literal capital— values such as prudence, temperance, and honesty probably flourished in bourgeois society in part because they are nurtured by capitalist commercial activity...

Despite its elegance, the Categorical Imperative fails as a reliable test of right action. Some maxims that do not pass the universalizing test are not obviously immoral; other maxims that are morally problematic pass it. “Always arrive ten minutes late” would not survive universalizing (if everybody did that, no one would be late). Yet it is impolite at worst, not wicked...

[Khatami] delivers a lecture at Harvard University titled “The Ethics of Tolerance in the Age of Violence,” saying, “We should not be thinking about how we can kill each other better. We should be thinking about how we can live and coexist together.” What he neglects to say is that during the two terms of his presidency, over a thousand citizens were executed by the Islamic Republic of Iran, and that the regime held more prisoners of conscience than any other state in the world, closing down 150 Iranian newspapers while remaining the world’s largest state sponsor of Islamic terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah.

Even Khatami’s name, as presented to the American audience, is a disguise. He drops the traditional title Hojat al-Islam wa al-Moslemeen (“Proof of Islam and of Muslims”) and Sayyed (“Master”). which designates him as a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. He chooses his words carefully so that the listeners in Cambridge hear one thing and those in Tehran hear another. While Khatami’s English interpreter speaks of “Osama bin Laden,” Persian speakers hear "that gentleman" (Aan Agha). Talk of “sodomy’’ becomes “gay sex’’ in English...

For this former president, who refuses to be interviewed by memers of the Iranian-American media during his US visits, “dialogue” requires no precondition of openness, honesty, and transparency... Certain Western liberals seem to need this character too, to make guest appearances in their morality play in which everyone, in the end, wants the same thing, and love and understanding are enough...

Fearful of the taint of American imperialism, most [Liberals] are submerged in silence. The result? Public discussion of Islam tends to veer between chauvinistic denunciations by conservative Christians (“Muhammad was a child molester”) and useless generalizations by politicians (“Islam is a religion of peace”)...

Receiving a life sentence in court, Bouyeri [the murderer of Theo van Gogh] clutches a copy of the Quran and declares, “The law compels me to chop off the head of anyone who insults Allah and the prophet.”

Mohammad Bouyeri has a final message for secular liberals, but so does his victim. Witnesses report that in his last moments, van Gogh attempted to engage his assassin, imploring: “Surely we can talk about this.” The life and death of Theo van Gogh teaches that the invitation to dialogue must always remain open, but never for the mere "celebration of difference"; that the culture of conversation cannot survive the toleration of intolerance, intimidation, and violence. From the outpouring of shock, grief, and outrage after his murder, there are signs that the European public is beginning to understand this. Not so with the majority of spokespersons of the European establishment and the “international community.” Well-practiced postcolonial guilt, dogmatic adherence to a blinkered multiculturalism, and sheer craven fear will lead them into a cycle of self-blame and appeasement... In Rotterdam, a street mural featuring the date of van Gogh’s death and the words “Thou shalt not kill” is removed by the police after the leader of a nearby mosque calls it racist...

If there is a fault to be found with Huntington’s formulation, it is not with the “clash” but with the “civilizations,” for civilizations cannot be parsed neatly along religious lines. The world that jihad seeks to undo is not Christendom as such; it is secular modernity—the world built ot critical reason, science, and humanist values. From Iraq to Bangladesh, the contest of the culture of totalitarian faith with the culture of secularism is also a struggle within Islamic societies, and its warriors claim the highest number of innocent casualties among fellow Muslims. Of the victims of terrorist attacks between 2002 and 2005, 10,615 were in the Middle East, 994 in Southeast Asia, and 3,639 in East, Central, and South Asia. Fatalities in Western Europe for the same period were 272 and in North America, 3.

In March 2007. nearly two dozen leading intellectuals and activists of Muslim heritage gather for the first Secular Islam Summit in the United States... The event is covered by Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya, and Kuwait News, and meets with an outpouring of support from people across the globe. But Western moderate-liberal media are derelict. The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), whose self-described mission is “to enhance understanding of Islam” and “encourage dialogue,” denounces the meeting as “illegitimate” and “anti-Muslim.”"

--- The Secular Conscience: Why Belief Belongs in Public Life / Austin Dacey
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