Re: MD secular humanism and dynamic quality

From: David MOREY (
Date: Fri Mar 26 2004 - 18:50:30 GMT

  • Next message: David MOREY: "Re: MD secular humanism and dynamic quality"

    Hi Matt

    What you say seems deeply inaccurate and inconsistent to me.
    Quite simply what are these strange isolated vocabularies that you are
    referring to? Once upon a time we all spoke using metaphors developed
    within a religuious context, then we gained new secular and scientific
    metaphors that have done a great deal to change religious conversation in
    Tomorrow the most exciting part of our culture might be some
    new religious metaphors and off we go in a post-secular direction.
    You seem to want to erect artifical barriers hat cultural history shows
    do not and cannot exist. You are too pessimistic about how interlinked
    all our vocabularies are, all religions have lots of different things
    in common, and so do many secular vocabularies with themselves and with
    religious vocabularies, that's why you can get some very odd alliances in
    history and politics as you know. You are putting up a position your
    will not support if you step back and think about it. It is one great value
    market, the main thing
    is to stop claiming that we can justify our positions in terms of something
    other than value.
    You certainly can't justify me not using any vocabulary I want, sure you can
    say you don't
    understand, but we have that problem all the time anyway. We are bound to
    talk politics based on our
    values, these have many sources, one key one being religion, if we disagree
    about values we are
    probably going to have to understand each others religions to progress our
    dialogue and attempt to
    reach compromise/agreement. In the end I wonder if views like 'being kind to
    each other' or
    'avoiding cruelty' may in fact prove to be shallow, or hard to really make
    sacrifices for.
    But that's another story. You are suggesting we may find more common ground
    on secular ground
    but that is only a contingent matter that may be true today and false
    tomorrow, it is not entirely looking
    like common ground at the moment on a world (rather than a US) basis.

    David M, from the uniquely secular UK

    ----- Original Message -----
    To: <>
    Sent: Thursday, March 25, 2004 11:03 PM
    Subject: Re: MD secular humanism and dynamic quality

    > Sam,
    > Sam said:
    > What I really want you to explain is how you distinguish the sort of
    language which religious criticisms of secular humanism might use, from
    those sorts of language which are necessary for allowing the Dynamic
    evolution of secular humanism. It seems to me that they're the same sort of
    language. In other words, the sort of 'basic tenets' criticism of secular
    humanism is _of necessity_ something like religious speech. Different
    vocabularies between the different religions (or even the MoQ), but a
    distinct family resemblance - and it's that family resemblance which I'm
    getting at, which I think you have disallowed with your pragmatic
    boundaries. Or is your boundary more fine-grained than I'm appreciating?
    > Matt:
    > What your saying does make sense and I got the feeling of the direction
    you'd come back with as I was writing my first reply. "But Matt, didn't say
    a while back that religous, or even philosophical, discourse shouldn't be
    allowed in politics?" Like the problem I had in describing to people
    "non-reductive physicalism," the pragmatic part isn't the physicalism, it's
    the non-reductive part. The focus shouldn't be on physicalism and all its
    failings. Physicalism is just the current trend. Same thing with "secular
    humanism." The pragmatism in this case isn't really the secular part and
    that's not where the focus should be.
    > I don't really have any particular fondness for the term "secular
    humanism," and since it got Platt's panties in a bunch, I'd just as well get
    rid of it. Let's call it liberalism. The point of liberalism is that we
    want certain liberties, certain freedoms, i.e. we want some privacy. Well,
    as a matter of historical happenstance, one of the freedoms early Western
    societies wanted was a "freedom of religion." So religion became one of our
    liberties, we had the liberty to choose any religion we wanted, if at all.
    After this occurence, it becomes hard to talk about religion when discussing
    political matters because the person your talking to may have no frame of
    reference and it is entirely his choice whether to have that frame of
    reference or not.
    > This is the problem for religious discourse _in_ politics. I have yet to
    have one person explain to me that this isn't a problem. I have yet to have
    one person take the bull by the horn and tell me, "Matt, when I say I want
    religious discourse in politics, my point is that I want to debate God on
    the Senate floor." My only point is the opposite of this. If you aren't
    saying that you want to debate God on the Senate floor, then what are you
    saying? What is religious criticism of liberalism's basic tenets? _How_
    are we to take it seriously if we aren't religious?
    > What gets people riled on this issue is because the only way for
    religiously inspired criticism of liberalism to reach liberal ears is
    criticism that is reformulated into secular terms. They don't want to have
    to reformulate. Yet the sword cuts both ways. If we wanted to debate
    religion we'd have to reformulate into your terms. Rorty's term for such
    insistence on your own terms is _sincerity_. It is not arbitrary that we
    choose one vocabulary over another, and its certainly not the case with
    liberalism. What liberals want to know is how they can be included in
    making policy decisions if they don't understand the vocabulary it is voiced
    in. And then they want to know why they should drop the secular vocabulary
    to employ another one.
    > The secular vocabulary is the one used in politics. Can we criticize that
    vocabulary from outside of politics? Sure we can. That happens all the
    time. Alasdair MacIntyre, I think, has formulated one of the most powerful
    critiques of liberalism in his After Virtue by sketching three liberal
    personality Archetypes, three different kinds of people that result from the
    liberal tradition. This is typically the best kind of critique and the one
    typically leveled by religious criticism: look at the type of people we are
    becoming. But what really causes a shift isn't critique, but concrete
    proposal. What vocabulary should we be using? What type of people should
    we become? And I still don't think a religious vocabulary is the way to go.
    If you say that people are becoming spiritually shallow because they don't
    take God seriously anymore, I would understand that as a specific religious
    criticism. Can you reformulate your point? Yeah, I think so. For
    instance, people are b
    > ecoming spiritually shallow because they watch too much TV. This is a
    point I can agree with you on and we can then try and think of ways that we
    can rectify this. If it doesn't matter what religion it is (as you've
    alluded to), then I begin to fail to see the difference between being
    "religious" and the typically more general "spiritual." If this is the
    case, then I would submit Literature as the new Religion of America, best
    exeplified by people like Rorty and Harold Bloom, and that it holds enough
    of the family resemblances with the other widely different, but officially
    declared, religions of the world. I agree with Eisenhower, America is based
    on a religious foundation, and it doesn't matter what religion it is.
    > Okay, enough of my reasons for thinking that a secular vocabulary is still
    the best vocabulary that we have at hand. As I mentioned before, that we
    are using a secular vocabulary is a sideshow to the Deweyan point that
    politics is primary. Politics functions by using a thin vocabulary that is
    moreorless shared by its participants. (People have denied this point.
    But, the question is then, how do you have a fuller vocabulary in the face
    of diversity? Madison sketched two answers: either get rid of liberty or
    give everyone the same opinions. And I think Madison's reply is still in
    point: the cure is worse than the disease.) This vocabulary can change over
    time. That's what I mean by the Dynamism of liberalism. Unlike Marxism, it
    doesn't freeze our vocabulary. The liberal political vocabulary is fuzzy, a
    changing thing, what Sartre called "metastable."
    > The point on which, then, I disagree with you is in thinking that Dynamic
    insight is necessarily religious insight, i.e. automatically in a religious
    vocabulary. I can't see that this is the case at all unless you stretch out
    religion to be synonymous with "insight" or "change." Can sociologists be
    Dynamic? If they can, are they then being religious? Was Einstein using
    religious criticism of Newtonian mechanics when he suggested that e=mc2?
    Were the Marxists being religious when they criticized the basic tenets of
    liberalism? I think you have to say that if you want to take Dynamic
    insight to be religious insight. It seems to me that Dynamic evolution
    generally occurs wherever it wants to. Sometimes it occurs from within,
    i.e. using the same vocabulary, sometimes it can occur from without, i.e.
    another vocabulary overlapping and saying something offkilter. The beauty
    of liberalism is that it allows, in fact desires, this.
    > Matt
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