"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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Thursday, January 29, 2009

"There is hopeful symbolism in the fact that flags do not wave in a vacuum." - Arthur C. Clarke

***

"What started as the confirmation hearing for the federal court appointee William Pryor in July 2003 soon turned into a holy war of words... limits? In a letter to the New York Times, the chairman of the Senate Republican Conference condemned the judicial committee’s treatment of Pryor by describing any questions regarding “deeply held beliefs inspired by religious convictions” as “dangerous.” Secular liberals would be forced to agree, if they insist that religion is a private matter. One key meaning of private is “personal,” and personal matters are just those to which we may deny others access...

At the same time, in a free society everyone has a right to access information about religion, as your local librarian can tell you... they mean [that] you can’t bring information about my religiosity into view without my consent. But suppose I put it there in the first place. When President Bush tells Ladies Home Journal that he takes great comfort from reading Charles Stanley devotionals every morning, he has effectively invited the public in for a look around the interior of his woridview. Whenever citizens or politicians voluntarily present their own religious beliefs in politics, it makes no sense for secularists to object on grounds of personal autonomy...

It may be an invasion of a person’s privacy to disclose his homosexuality, but it is not therefore an invasion of his privacy to engage in political debate or action concerning homosexuality...

Many liberals draw the conclusion that political decisions must be made on the basis of public reasons... appeals to conscience constitute an illegitimate use of political power and therefore are inappropriate... liberals often use [conscience] to cry foul when religion is invoked on behalf of a cause they oppose, but not otherwise. You don’t hear anyone protesting about the privacy of conscience when the pope calls for world peace, or Episcopal ministers cite scripture in defense of gay marriage. This invites the charge of hypocrisy. It also suggests that what liberals actually find objectionable is the content of certain claims of conscience, not their source. Why not identify these objections for what they are and let honest debate ensue?

A number of commentators have also observed that a rule of public reason would unduly restrict the liberty of religious citizens by requiring them to refrain from acting on their beliefs in public. Freedom of conscience means nothing if it does not include the freedom to speak and act socially and politically as conscience compels, even when its conclusions are not universally shared.

Another serious problem with restricting debate to public reasons that everyone agrees on is that not everyone agrees on what counts as a public reason... Is the opposition to antibiotech religious? It is not easy to say. Critics claim that it springs from a quasi-spiritual, nondoctrinal melange of environmentalist politics, Mother Earth worship, Romantic idealization of nature, and the voodoolike farming techniques of Rudolph Steiner. Activists on the other side prefer to think, instead, that their views are based in objective factual assumptions and oncern for public health. Here again, the secular liberal rule of public reason is of no use. Antibiotech is a complex mix of factual reasons md nontraditional, post-Christian spirituality, and the parties to the debate disagree on where one ends and the other begins. A better approach is to forget about what kind of arguments they are and concentrate on whether they are any good.

Finally, the strictures of public reason would not only cut against the religious conscience. A filter fine enough to keep religious ideals and values out of political debate will also keep out fundamental moral convictions, such as the ideals of freedom, fairness, or benevolence. Matters of morality, as much as matters of faith, are subject to disagreements among sincere and sensible people. Therefore it would be arbitrary to single out one but not the other for political exile. Yet to exile both would leave citizens with next to nothing to discuss... There is no nonarbitrary way to bar religious conscience alone from politics. Either bar no claims of conscience, or bar them all. Unless liberals are ready to abandon moral discourse altogether, the choice is plain...

American Airlines flight 1304 was scheduled to leave Southwest Florida International Airport for Dallas, Texas, one afternoon in March 2004 when the Transportation Security Administration received a call that there might be a bomb onboard. The caller was a self-professed psychic who had apparently received this information via extrasensory powers. The TSA and Port Authority police investigated, delaying and consequently canceling the flight, but nothing was found...

The point of this story is not that psychics are a serious threat to air safety. Rather the story illustrates something important about subjectivity; namely, that the source of a belief in an intuitive or first- personal experience does nothing whatever to remove that belief from the realm of interpersonal scrutiny and accountability... The fact that a belief originates in a subjective experience does not inoculate it against interpersonal criticism. Would it change our moral condemnation of the three Rwandan Roman Catholic nuns convicted of aiding the slaughter of ethnic Tutsis to discover that they were impelled by secret spiritual visions?

So long as the reasons we introduce into public discourse—reasons of conscience included—are regarded by all as open to public scrutiny, then the challenge of subjectivity can be grappled with, if not totally eliminated. Ideally, conversation in politics abides by the norms of all reasoned conversation. Unless we are willing to present others with reasons for what we say that are open to analysis by them, we are engaging in monologue, not dialogue. A serious, earnest claim of conscience should be held to the same standards as any other: honesty, rationality, consistency, evidence, feasibility, legality, morality, and revisability...

Honest religious believers have nothing to lose and much to gain by treating their faith as objective in this sense. Susceptibility to criticism is the price of admission to serious public life. But it is a price that they should be willing to pay, for convictions take their strength from surviving trials, not from avoiding them. Anything less would be a trivialization of religion, the notion that “religion is like building model airplanes, just another hobby: something quiet, something private, something trivial—and not really a fit activity for intelligent, public-spirited adults.”...

The argument [against stem cells] favored by the President’s Council on Bioethics, and its chairman, Leon Kass (an MD and the author of a hook called The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis), was that techniques like cloning violate the “dignity of human procreation.” Of course, since 1972 Dr. Kass had been making similar warnings about an emerging reproductive technology called in vitro fertilization, or IVF... Has human life lost its humanness? Apparently it... has not...

The conviction that zygotes are not just biologically human tissue but full moral persons is indispensable to the stem cell and cloning debate in America. But it is an utter failure as an argument against the practices... if week-old embryos are persons, then we should prohibit not only stem cell research but IVF as well, which also involves creation and destruction of excess embryos, hundreds of thousands of them. The only “compromise” in such a situation would be to stop the practice and conduct proper burials for the thousands of frozen embryos now stored in the nation’s fertility clinics. In vitro ad absurdum. Suffice it to say that if any one of us were passing by an in vitro fertilization clinic in flames and we had the ability to save a five-year-old girl trapped inside, or save two or even ten thousand frozen embryos instead, no one would hesitate for even an instant...

It is impossible to seriously engage the opposition to stem cell research without taking on the question of the moral status of the embryo... This exchange from the debates in the US Congress is typical. An opponent of embryonic stem cell research invokes the sanctity of life... A defender responds with anecdotes of medical miracles... Is the legislator advocating the state-sanctioned killing of a large number of people to benefit the health of one? That is what is at stake, unless zygotes are not persons...

John Calvin, the great Protestant theologian [had] Michael Servetus executed in 1553 for denying that Jesus was his own father... The Iranian revolution that would usher in a clerical tyranny under the Ayatollah Khomeini was embraced by the fashionable French structuralist thinker Michel Foucault, who said it represented the “perfectly unified collective will” of the people...

In the Laws, Plato... [says that] piety is important for virtue. So the regime ought to use its power to encourage right religious conduct.

None of these ideas is honkers. Most of us believe that governments are legitimate to the extent that they accord with some more fundamental, prepolitical norms. We believe that murderers are punished because murder is wrong; not that murder is wrong because murderers are punished. If homosexuality were gravely immoral, why shouldn’t this, too, be reflected in law in the same way?... Many of us believe that the state ought to have a hand in inculcating certain traits of character, necessary to self-government, such as trustworthiness and civility. But if fidelity to one’s word is important, fidelity to one’s God must be paramount...

"Scripture demands nothing from men but obedience, and condemns not ignorance, but only obstinacy." Even Moses was more lawyer than philosopher. He presented the Jews with a covenant, not an argument. Rather than attempting to persuade them of the truth of doctrine by reason, “He induced the people to obey the Law under threat of punishments, while exhorting them thereto by promise of rewards.”...

America was the project of heretics, but they were not secularists. The Massachusetts Puritans came not to escape theocracy but to escape someone else’s theocracy. They soon set about erecting one they could call their own...

From its beginnings, Christian thought placed a wedge between the temporal order and the spiritual order: “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God what is God’s.”... This foundational Christian dualism has no analogue in Islamic civilization. Muslim life took its blueprint from the Quran and the sayings and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad and his companions... Sharia presents itself as a comprehensive path for living. It is a self—help manual, municipal Code, and Constitution combined, legislating everything from personal hygiene and diet to the running of a judicial system— Augustine’s two cities merged, Gelasius’s royal and priestly powers fused into one hegemon. Muhammad was simultaneously the spiritual, civil, and military leader, a tribal chief...

Islam cannot simply be “restored” to the personal sphere since, unlike Christianity, it was never there to begin with. As practiced by the majority sects, Islam is essentially political. How could the faith be privatized without being obliterated? Here it is important to distinguish between so-called moderate Muslims and reform-minded Muslims.* While moderates condemn violence and repression but deny that Islam is in any way responsible, the reform- minded take it as their religious duty to change their religion.

* - Islam's Other Radicals: "Canadian author Irshad Manji... whose documentary "Faith Without Fear" airs on PBS next month, describes herself as a "radical traditionalist" and draws a sharp distinction between Muslim moderates and reformers: "Moderate Muslims denounce terror that's committed in the name of Islam but they deny that religion has anything to do with it," she says. "Reform-minded Muslims denounce terror that's committed in the name of Islam and acknowledge that our religion is used to inspire it."""

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