2010-06-27

Politics and religion, questioning the similarity of my positions

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by Neil Godfrey

Julien Benda

I have often questioned myself over a certain kind of similarity of my positions on both religion and politics. The similarity has forced me to ask myself whether I am responding to “everything” from some sort of knee-jerk desire to be different. So I am constantly questioning and testing my own methods, facts and assumptions to see if I am being as fair as I can hope to be. How likely is it that any of my views might be sustainable after I am gone?

My political views are more easily subject to reality checks than my views on the Bible. “Political” can be a confusing term. What I mean by it are my views on human rights and justice. People suffering, being dispossessed of their homes and rights, and being killed, are objective realities that one has to simply say Yes or No to. Surprisingly, most people do say Yes to these things in the real world, even though they say “no” to them in theory. The reasons vary. But for many, it is because their grasp of reality is shaped by their “tribe”, or the larger groups with which they primarily identify.

I witnessed a classic example of the dynamics of this some years back when I attended presentations first by an Israeli and then by a Palestinian expressing their different perspectives on the conflict between them. The Israeli presentation was held in an upper floor lecture room, with security guards posted at several points one had to pass to reach the venue. The identities of each attendee were recorded. The talk spoke of grand sweeps of historical and geographic portraits, and fear and threats. Then after several delays, the Palestinian view was allowed to be expressed. This was held in an open ground-level hall, with no security guards, no recording of identities of those attending, and the talk was all about personal experiences, daily life, photos of people (not maps), harassments and punishments.

One side spoke of fears and a historical view; the other side spoke of daily life and personal experiences.

That is, one side spoke of beliefs; the other of evidence and facts.

And that, I am coming to realize, is exactly the same schizoid dichotomy at the heart of biblical scholarship, too. Facts are replaced by “criteria” in order to manufacture “facts” to support beliefs.

This morning I caught up with a statement by Ken O’Keefe on his P10K website:

. . . . in a fair and public forum I will debate on any subject I speak, with anyone on this planet, no matter how high and mighty their “credentials.” In fact, the more “credible” the “expert” the better. While I am at it, I hereby challenge Jonah Goldberg, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Kofi Annan, Tony Blair, George W. Bush (boy would that be fun) and whoever else who might be “offended” by my conclusions. I do realise however that none of the above ever enters into a genuine debate or forum, that might expose their shamelessly criminal policies; but one can always dream.

Exactly. This is the reality. Those people who say No to inhumanity in theory, but in practice they say Yes to it, never honestly allow their views to be tested openly. Recently several more Australians were killed in Afghanistan while on patrol. The Prime Minister came out and defended his decision to keep them there and face more certain deaths on the grounds that it was necessary to “train” the Afghans to take care of themselves. Yet it was clear as day that those recently killed were not in the business of training anybody. So how is it that such public lies go unchallenged, and are routinely repeated by Pravda-like media channels that all speak with one voice?

It’s a giant leap from this world of reality to the games of religion. But Ken’s quote helped me realize what is is that the two have in common, and why it is that my stance in relation to both has a certain synchronicity.

Some biblical scholars ever enter into a genuine debate or forum, that might expose their pseudo-scholarship and intellectual dishonesty.

The attitudes of the political authorities to their radical critics, and the misrepresentations and false accusations levelled against those critics, bear some resemblance, I think, to the attitudes and misrepresentations coming from certain biblical scholars.

Those in positions of power and influence over the thinking, the attitudes and beliefs of “masses” need to be challenged. Their claims need to be tested. Public leaders and intellectuals need to be held to account and made to justify their words and decisions. Even in the comparatively innocuous area of religion, lies and beliefs that stand apart from evidence and reality, while largely unchallenged, are an invitation to fan more lies and irrational beliefs that really do harm people.

Julien Benda should be remembered as a leading light:

Benda is now mostly remembered for his short 1927 book La Trahison des Clercs, a work of some notoriety in its day. The title of the English translation was The Betrayal of the Intellectuals, although “The Treason of the Learned” would have been more accurate. This polemical essay argued that French and German intellectuals in the 19th and 20th century had often lost the ability to reason dispassionately about political and military matters, instead becoming apologists for crass nationalism, warmongering and racism.

Nothing has changed except the details of the issues propagated. The same could be said for those scholars who serve to keep primitive, anti-intellectual Biblical texts and religious beliefs in a place of honour in our society. And not only in honour, but even taken seriously as being of practical daily relevance for millions.

Ken O’Keefe

 

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Neil Godfrey

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