Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Atheists Gone Wild

Dear Rabbi Hirschfield

Your ideas are not sacred anymore than the books in which they appear are sacred. Since the Enlightenment, we've understood that people are worthy of some baseline level of respect. The industrialized world has codified this idea in various ways through enactments of law, and social customs.  It is entirely true that a person who has an opinion on which the entire rest of the world disagrees must be allowed to freely represent that idea.  Note, the right is attached to the person, not his or her particular idea.

That is because it is people who are worth a certain minimal level of respect. Their ideas, however, have no such claim. When I am told that there exists an idea so profoundly important to someone that it must in turn become important to me, it is my original inclination to push back against this. Not all ideas are made equal, but they are all, as they must, susceptible to criticism - even in some cases extremely robust criticism.

A book, at best, is nothing more than a collection of ideas. The smattering together of a series of closely interlinked ideas cannot demand a greater level of deference than any of the ideas in it. Even in the aggregate, a book is no more entitled deference than the ideas contained within it covers, for the ideas inside themselves carry with them no dictate of respect on anything other than their merits. If the idea is able to survive an onslaught meant to tear it down, then that idea survives to defend itself another day. For as long as the ideas in a book can withstand an assault, the book similarly survives to defend itself another day.

In the not so long ago and far away, it was possible to limit the propagation of an idea by destroying the medium through which the ideas were carried (which the Rabbi concedes in his op-ed). This is why book burning leaves such a bad taste in our mouths: the symbolism of one group attempting to extirpate the hardscrabble knowledge we've managed to reduce to writing is perverse. It's oppressive and disgusting. Well, it once was. With the inception of the internet, it is no longer possible to do this and as such our base attachment to the paper inside a book must be let go of.

If there is anything worth salvaging for future generations in a book, it is not the page. It is the idea on the page, and that idea is no longer vulnerable to the destruction of the page. The Rabbi goes on to complain that the atheists in question in California aren't having their rights abridged by the religious and thus he's not on their side. Were it otherwise, he thinks--though he seems uncertain--he'd take up their side notwithstanding the disagreement over his god's existence. What the good Rabbi forgets is a little something called Proposition h8, funded entirely by the religious in their attempt to foist upon a secular society the dictates of their religions. Whatever else one chooses to say, it is laughably naive at best for the Rabbi to claim that atheists in California haven't a good reason to protest the dogmas of his religion, and others considering how frequently the churches, mosques and synagogues somehow mysteriously are found demanding that our society be engineered in a way that favors them, and some holy text or other.

He decries the fanaticism of atheists destroying copies of books, not even the pages inside the book!, as being an insult to him personally. His religion. His group (read collectively the religious). He wasn't mentioned in the video by name, nor was his faith singled out. Yet he is taking personal offense atheists in California dare to publicly show their disgust of the monstrous book of immorality he demands must be treated oh so delicately. Why, not treating his holy scriptures as being divinely inspired--as does he--is to be a fundamentalist, a fanatic, and, of course, cosmically wrong.

Accepting that the destruction of a copy of some lines from a book as a gesture for one's condemnation of the idea is not a fanatical stance to take. Accepting that one shows his or her rejection of a repugnant idea by symbolism is not fanaticism. Demanding that one is entitled per course to a degree of respect so large that his or her ideas are beyond the remit of sharp, brutal criticism is, on the other hand, actually fanatical.  There is a fanatic in this conversation, and it isn't the ones who attacked an idea. It's the one who demands that to attack an idea is to personally trespass the baseline level of respect to which one is entitled by virtue of life.

As Jerry Coyne put it in his writeup--which incidentally is how I came to know the op-ed here--we are reminded that religion is a special idea. Unlike all the other ideas in the universe, this idea is delicate and needing vast undertakings to keep it safe from bad things which might be said about it. The aim of the so-called new atheists is to make it clear that religious ideas are no different than any other idea, at least in principle. They are like all other ideas: vulnerable to attack. One's personal liberty to demand a measure of respect is not so profound and powerful as to shield from attack any of his ideas.

The cornerstone of our great republic is founded upon the idea that all ideas are amenable to challenge. You do yourself no favors by whining that in a world where your ideas are constantly attacked without your having any effective means--despite having an equal platform and opportunity--to riposte only demonstrates the utter vacuousness, the gratuitous fatuousness your out-moded ideas actually are.

Left without an argument, all the religious seem to have left is taking offense at being constantly forced to retreat.

If the good Rabbi wants his book of fables treated with greater respect, the burden is on him to make the ideas in it meritorious.  As it happens, it is entirely appropriate to treat ideas in direct proportion to their merit. That said, I will take up the Rabbi on his advice:

The issue is making the choice to read as seriously those teachings which dignify the lives and faiths of those with whom we disagree, as we do those teachings which don’t.

This is the only sensible thing he's really said. And I want to assure the Rabbi that I am perfectly willing to meet him on common ground. To that end, I will treat the ideas, and the medium through which they're transmitted, of the religious precisely with the seriousness the ideas are due.

And here it is - if you want to skip my commentary and sarcasm, the relevant bit starts around 3:35.


Davidbyron20 said...

I replied to you at ERV's place but since she's censoring comments now I'll repost here:

@justicar you're a royal dumbass

I quoted the first two paragraphs in full.  Your reaction?  I am "quotemining".  You actually cut her quotes down far more narrowly than I did.

You are too stupid to breathe. 
You are NOT barely literate.

I really have to wonder what kind of mind is as dumb as you regularly prove yourself to be.  This isn't the first time.  You're so stupid its hard to believe you can type English.

I guess you just have a mental block where you can cope with things when it comes to this sort of conversation.

If I wrote shit one tenth as fucking stupid as you I'd be so embarrassed I'd hide for a year.

Seriously I'd like to know what the process was here that led you to fuck up so obviously.  Did you perhaps miss where I quoted Scented?  Easy to do because I only had it as a separate paragraph preceded by the word "QUOTE:" in capitals each time.  Easy to miss, right?  And then I quoted her entire paragraph -- both first and second -- in toto and un-edited (unlike you btw, no "emphasis added"; I didn't need it as I felt her words spoke for themselves)

Please give me insight Justicar into how the other half live here.  Because I have never in my life been such a moron as you have just been and I'd be interested in knowing how it feels and how you manage to come out of that and still pretend you're the fucking shit.

Do you have meds for that?

The Justicar said...

Gee, if only you'd read over at ERV's where I answered your post to me which appears quite noticeably on her blog.

For someone who is censoring you, she certainly has a funny way of showing it.

Davidbyron20 said...

I was mistaken about the censorship.