Sunday, November 21, 2004

Wieseltier on God and Morality

Leon Wieseltier of The New Republic has written an excellent article about the recent election for the November 22 issue of the magazine. Sadly, they make you pay to get the article on line. Here are a few excerpts:


It is not the triumphalism of the Republicans that is so distasteful (victory indeed is theirs), it is the sanctimony; and this is owed to a further refinement of the Republican worldview, according to which moral values are finally religious values. It is philosophically and historically obtuse, of course, to think that morality cannot exist without religion, or that immorality cannot exist with religion; but for the Republicans “values” are the entailments of “faith”. The good are with God, the bad are without God. And since winners are good and losers are bad, it follows that the winners are with God and the losers are without God. What clarity!


And later:


Moreover, the “faith” that is being praised as the road to political salvation, the Bush ideal of religion, is a zealous ignorance, a complacent renunciation of proof and evidence and logic and argument, as if the techniques of reason were merely liberal tools. A few weeks before the election David Brooks explained to his readers that Republicans and Democrats have different notions of leadership. Republicans admire “straight-talking men of faith,” whereas Democrats prefer leaders who are “knowledgeable and thoughtful.&rdquo Brooks was serenely unaware of what a damning admission he had made. There is no reason why liberals, even in defeat, should entertain such a surrender of intelligence.


Perfectly said. I would only add that the problem is not restricted to religious voters. The hallmark of modern conservatism is the simplemindedness of its platform. It is based entirely on slogans. Cut taxes and revenues go up. More guns less crime. Let people keep more of their own money. You can't conserve your way out of an energy crisis. If you dare suggest that the reality is far more complex than these slogans suggest, people's eyes glaze over and the media accuses you of being too complex and nuanced.

One final quote: After a discussion of stem-cell research in which he points out that it is only Catholic and evangelical Christian religion that is offended by this sort of research, not religion generally, he writes:


When I complain about the scanting of my religion in the bioethical debate, I am not being altogether serious. Obviously I do not expect Congress to act on the sanctity of Judaism when it makes laws about stem-cell research or abortion. This is not only because Judaism has too few adherents to carry the day. It is not the politics of a democracy, but the philosophy of a democracy, that requires me to accept these limitations upon the reach of my faith. For my faith is my faith, even if I believe it to be universally true. The reasons of my religion cannot compel the assent of people who do not share my religion. They have the reasons of their religion, which cannot compel my assent.


If all religious people agreed with these thoughts I'd stop worrying so much about religion.

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