The Economist - In Gods name

Discussion in 'Current Affairs' started by Karma, Nov 5, 2007.

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  1. Economist article, makes for some interesting reading.

    Religion will play a big role in this century's politics. John Micklethwait asks how we should deal with it.

    THE four-hour journey through the bush from Kano to Jos in northern Nigeria features many of the staples of African life: checkpoints with greedy soldiers, huge potholes, scrawny children in football shirts drying rice on the road. But it is also a journey along a front-line.

    Nigeria, evenly split between Christians and Muslims, is a country where people identify themselves by their religion first and as Nigerians second (see chart 1). Around 20,000 have been killed in God's name since 1990, estimates Shehu Sani, a local chronicler of religious violence. Kano, the centre of the Islamic north, introduced sharia law seven years ago. Many of the Christians who fled ended up in Jos, the capital of Plateau state, where the Christian south begins. The road between the two towns is dotted with competing churches and mosques.
  2. The central point, rightly made, is that Western Europe has abandoned religion in favour of secularism. We now base our value system less on Christianity than on the idea of natural rights. Our political ideologies aren't about tussles between kings and popes, but are constrained within a deomcratic process. We identify ourselves with nation states- structures that have only really been created in the last 200 years.

    We shouldn't be surprised that in the rest of the world these things have not taken place. For the majority of people for the majority of history, religion has defined who you are and how you live your life.

    Think of it like this:

    Religion- a set of ideas (more or less coherent) which you live your life by

    Ideology- a set of ideas (more or less coherent) which you live your life by

    The question is do we deal with it by adopting pragmatism to the exclusion of our secular values (just because they're secular ddoesn't mean they are wrong) and do deals with / fight against whoever gets in our way?

    Or do we openly admit that ours is a better way (for all its imperfections), and try to encourage the rest of the world that secularism is better than a society in which religion is key.

    If I was feeling controversial I'd argue we've lost the confidence to do the latter, and are regressing to the former.
  3. It very much depends on what you mean by "admit". That rather sound apologetic. That said, it is a non-confrontational way of announcing that we will see and do things our way and would be happy for others to follow a similar pattern. The problem starts when people or groups become evangelical. To live in harmony and prosperity, we don't have to share each others beliefs. We do have to share some common points of morality and ethics, though. To some extent it is the effect that our personal actions have on other people.

    The Economist piece does make that recurring point that Muslims identify with their religion first and their Country second. I can't identify any time in post Roman history where that has been the case with Christians. Living within a Christian Nation with allies and close trading partners who are themselves predominantly Christian, we are immediately off balance. It has certain similarities to dealing with Communism and International Socialism. Do they not believe that the brotherhood and comradeship of man is paramount over Nations? We've spent at least the last 80 years keeping Communism in check so has it not prepared us for handling Islam as well? Probably not because, whatever one thinks of it, Communism is for, by and in the name of Man. Christianity, Judaism and Islam, on the other hand are centred on an omnipotent deity for whom Man is but a servant. Accepting that many Communists may consider themselves Secular, the rest of us occupy the buffer zones as best we can.

    There seems far more scope for conflict around who serves best and provides most respect to a shared God. To deny the existence or dominance of that God must be the ultimate insult.

    Perhaps I digress.
  4. Natural rights are themselves derived from theological ethics, and cannot be seperated in the strict sense. You first encounter the topos of natural rights with Cicero and it was developed in the Christian context by Aquinas. The UN was founded upon the principals of natural rights derived from Grotius, the father of "modern" human rights (he lived in the 18th century) and developed by Locke and Hobbes.

    Natural rights have historically competed in the legal sphere with legal positivism, though Fuller offers a way of incorporating rights within the framework of positive law. Natural rights are subjective topoi, whereas legal positivism focusses upon what it calls objective (rational) law.

    It is also worth remembering that the process of democratisation, a key demand of the Levellers, was itself the consequence of the philosophical dynamic of the Reformation wherein the old received wisdom of the Church and the Divine Rights of Kings were replaced by debate, the process of Parleying and decision making through deliberation and voting.
    Interestingly whilst the Protestant tradition has focussed upon the democratic process of decision making, the Roman Catholic tradition still seems at times to cling to a preference for theocracy, an anti-democratic position taken from the 1860s to well into the 20th Century by sucessive Popes.

    Of course the very notion of "natural" rights is itself an oxymoron as the topos of rights is, like law itself, a synthetic social construct without parallel in the rest of the animal kingdom. In strictu sensu, human rights are inheritantly unnatural.

  5. Thingy, I enjoyed your post but as a non expert in this subject I would like to question your conclusion. Firstly, as I understand it, 'natural rights' do not refer to nature at all so why assert they are "inherently unnatural"? Perhaps the 'natural' in 'natural law' or 'natural rights' means 'universal', such universal laws becoming legal rights by implication? Secondly, I'm not sure it is correct to describe them as synthetic since synthetic truths are contingent truths i.e. they're capable of being false, but how can universal truths be deemed false? Surely universal or natural rights are analytic truths ie they are true come what may and are not open to revisions, discoveries or recalculations. Then again I could be tired and a bit pissed :dwarf: Interesting though, so I shall endeavour to read more!
  6. Harry, I have a fundamental problem with the very concept of rights when this entails the privileging of norms. Well actually I have a problem with the concept of rights too and the notion of universality in law, norms and rights. What other people call 'rights' I regard as legal privileges, that is the entitlement for A to do or to abstain from X, whether or not X is being done to B or is an orphan action. I see law as a social construct which merely reinforces the legal privileges of the powerful against those without influence, though this is not a universal fact. The problem I have with 'universal' and 'natural' are that they both imply a particular type of normativity, the words themselves being loaded with ideologically determined significance. Thus, when we say the snow is white we are assuming that snow is white whilst ignoring the possibility that either our perception or interpretation is false. Like Kant's notion of the Universal Law, both Aquinas's and Grotius's notion of natural law is highly problematic, not to mention Finnis with whom I have some pretty fundamental disagreements.

    Natural law is conditional upon a universal topos of a notion. So A might regard abortion as killing another person who is thereby being denied their natural right to life whereas B might see abortion as nothing of the sort. Whether or not killing is occurring depends upon whether you regard a fetus as a person or a cell mass.

    Right I need a drink after that!

    PS: Harry, I am willing to defer to your superior philosophical knowledge. :)
  7. Argh, anyone got an aspirin?
  8. I know what you mean, I am glad I didn't try to read that lot yesterday, just after getting off the overnight bus from London.
  9. We certainly do not want to privilege the Norms; singular nor plural!

    Thingy. Haven't you identified there the basic difference between Totalitarian and Free societies?

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