Austin Dacey is an interesting fellow who has written a book on the non-religious basis of morality, The Secular Conscience: Why Belief Belongs in Public Life(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll), and he is going to be on Atheists Talk radio this morning at 9am Central time. He’ll be talking specifically about the Islamic threat to secular government. Tune in! I suspect he’ll have something to say about the UN resolution to condemn defamation of religions, but if he doesn’t, call in and ask. This is another day of traveling for me, so I’m going to have to miss it, but you probably don’t have that excuse — and if you do have an excuse, do like I will and get the podcast later.
I didn’t know how Dacey was using “Belief”: that title could equally indicate that he wants religions to be endorsed by the state, so I had to go look at the book description.
It’s obvious from a historical point of view that gods are conceived of as supporting the current morality, whatever it is. So tolerance for non-religious morality should be a given. Religion simply tries to reinforce existing morality by adding divine authority to our natural inclination to love family, help friends, deal honestly within our community — and disregard outsiders. Our current scientific knowledge and secular point of view help us to extend “community” to the whole earth
Monado in Toronto says
I have it queued up, for once. You need a Minnesota zip code to listen. The zip code for Morris, MN, is 56267.
Whoa,wait,a radio reminder without SC doing the timezone honors??
And PZ,you have some gardening to do in the email thread,there was homicidal trolls all over the place last nite….
Islamic threat to secular government? I think the Christian threat is a little more urgent here.
This is OT, but I’m not sure if we’ve crashed this MSNBC poll yet (they’re all starting to look the same at this point. It’s about whether “In God We Trust” should be taken off of our currency. There are emails going around encouraging Christians and Jews to “surprise MSNBC” by crashing the poll:
And that’s a funny coincidence about the radio show, because I’m going to a humanist book discussion group this evening, and Austin Dacey’s book is the topic. He has been interviewed a couple of times on the CFI podcast, too.
I have his book on my wishlist for Christmas.
Although I already have several books on “morality without God,” I put Dacey’s work here because I’ve read that he makes a particular point very well, and I’d like to see how he does it. As Sam Harris described, “The Secular Conscience reveals how simplistic notions of privacy, tolerance, and freedom keep dangerous ideas sheltered from public debate.”
From what I understand, instead of insisting that religion is a “private matter” which should never be discussed in public, Dacey points out that it does need to be discussed in public, because when we shove it off as sacred and inviolable, people become smug, certain, and confident when they apply it to politics anyway. Look at how Sarah Palin tried to act all persecuted because people were daring to bring up her “personal faith” in the campaign — even though her “personal faith” evidently included the belief that we were living in the End Times, and the coming destruction of the wicked in a world war was inevitable.
And “keeping religion a private matter” absolutely kills atheists when it comes to public acceptance. Tolerance = “Never criticize anyone’s religion.” Which means that atheists can’t explain to anyone why they’re atheists. Which means that misunderstanding, confusion, ignorance, and bigotry about atheism will continue unchecked, because only one side is understood.
I don’t like to listen to interviews on radio or podcasts. I know — I should, but I don’t. If I buy his book anyway, though, I’ll probably get the same stuff as in the interview, and in more depth.
Sastra, you already understand his main point pretty well. He argues that we don’t have anything to lose by opening up to public debate issues related to religion, because we already hold the moral, factual, and pragmatic high ground on issues such as abortion, stem cell research, and the whole range of moral issues. He says we just have to insist on these guiding norms for debate: honesty consistency, rationality, evidence, feasibility, legality, morality, and revisability.
But I have one concern about that: if we had the ability to get the religious right to conform to those guidelines for debate, we already would have won all of the battles in the culture war. The problem is that if you open the floor to debate on such issues, they’re not going to constrained (or affected) by reason. You can’t win a debate with the type of religious people who are trying to codify their religious beliefs in the laws of the land, because they just keep saying “god says so,” while pulling bible verses out of their asses. I don’t know if or how that can be resolved.
But while we can’t debate on reasonable terms with some people, we can be ever more open in calling them on their bullshit. The etiquette rule against discussing religion in public can’t work for us, because only one side of the secular/religious divide has been observing that courtesy. But everyone here knows that.
That was great. He sounded a little tired, but the information:words ratio was astoundingly high.
Before I comment, I wanted to give the links to Dacey’s blog, The Secular Conscience
the “CFI at the UN” page
and an interesting interview with him about “Moral Values after Darwin,” from earlier this year, which I’ve recommended here before
OK, one more link (I received an email about it the other day), since the issue of press freedom was raised in the interview:
Reflecting the rising influence of online reporting and commentary, more Internet journalists are jailed worldwide today than journalists working in any other medium. In its annual census of imprisoned journalists, released today, the Committee to Protect Journalists found that 45 percent of all media workers jailed worldwide are bloggers, Web-based reporters, or online editors. Online journalists represent the largest professional category for the first time in CPJ’s prison census.
Dave M says
His book is excellent; and he’s got a Ph. D. in philosophy, so he’s clearly someone whose opinions matter 8-)
OK, so for anyone interested but who missed it or doesn’t have time to listen, the interview focused on the UN resolution PZ mentioned above, in the context of broader efforts by the OIC – which represents a group of authoritarian governments – in this general direction. They are attempting to present “oppression of Islam” or “Islamophobia” as the most important human rights issue today, and promoting an “alternative system of human rights” to that represented by the UDHR and other existing declarations and covenants. In essence, Dacey says, their documents and proposals seek to “add a giant asterisk” to existing rights recognizing their subservience to religious, particularly Sharia, law.
They’ve been very successful to date, not only in terms of passing resolutions but in gaining the support of the UN Council in silencing dissent within the UN itself. They’ve even transformed the role of one UN Special Rapporteur from a position responsible for monitoring and reporting on violations of human rights to a sort of “blasphemy police.” He argues that even resolutions that are not binding are extremely dangerous in that they give to these ideas and practices (blasphemy prosecutions, etc.) a “moral legitimacy” that would otherwise be lacking, and thus support domestic repression.
He makes the point that it is not the “Western” governments who have formed the small opposition to these efforts (in fact, they’ve often remained on the sidelines), but human rights NGOs and groups, and particularly those in Egypt and other predominantly Muslim countries. As he notes, these people are well aware that their governments can and will use any such successes in furthering the suppression of “dissent, doubt, or free dialogue” at home.
One problem I had with this discussion – aside from the fact that these groups and NGOs weren’t discussed as much as I would’ve liked – was the lack of attention to the more fundamental problems of a state-based system of rights protections. Such a system has been criticized for decades now (including by me :)). (There already is a “giant asterisk” following each right enumerated in these documents, recognizing the rights of states and the importance of state security.) But in more immediate terms relevant particularly to this issue, I think this case illustrates how little people can or should rely on governments, even “democratic” ones, to promote and defend their rights. This must be done collectively, on the ground, as the global networks of local rights organizations are increasingly finding. I do think we need an alternate system of human rights, but this rant has gone on long enough.
Emmet Caulfield says
Thanks for the summary, SC.
There’s a similar problem with the ECHR. It is almost entirely defanged by “with due regard” clauses, restrictions “in accordance with law”, and other exceptions that much of it is utterly meaningless. Under Article 10.2, Freedom of Expression “may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the Interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.” In other words, you have the right to freedom of expression except when you don’t, which is about as useful as a beeswax frying-pan.
'Tis Himself says
Unfortunately, I can’t think of any other organizations with the clout to promote and defend rights. Do governments, including supposedly “enlightened” ones like the US, Britain, and Canada, run roughshod over civil rights? Of course. Jose Padilla and Maher Arar are examples of governments violating their citizens’ rights.
However, and this is a major however, the foremost defenders of our freedoms and rights, which you apparently overlook, are our governments. National defense, police, courts, registries of deeds, public defenders, the Constitution and the Bill Of Rights (or their equivalents in other countries), etc. all are government efforts that work towards defending freedoms and rights.
Thanks for the reminding me after the event.
How about posting this on Saturday evening?
Nerd of Redhead says
Otto, the podcast is better. You can quickly scan through the commercials. Unless, of course, you enjoy the commercials.
I overlook nothing. If you’ve studied the history of rights – which I have extensively, in the US and abroad – you would realize that the only force capable of promoting and defending rights are people themselves, acting collectively. The Bill of Rights would be a dead letter and those institutions (police? really? I’m guessing you’re white, but I may be mistaken) would be even more ineffective, or even more rights-abusing, than they are now if people didn’t come together and monitor and challenge their actions. Furthermore, once you invest the rights-defense function in a state agency (at whatever level), you’re giving it more power and control than it had before, and increasing its potential for rights violations. There are many more aspects of this complex issue that I don’t have time to go into right now, but I would be happy to provide some suggestions for reading.
(I’ll also note that you didn’t address the specific point I made about this case: the supposedly rights-defending governments are not standing up in opposition – it is citizens of both Muslim and non-Muslim countries who are organizing in transnational movements to defend human rights.)
Perhaps you didn’t see it until after the event, but the reminder was posted prior to the show.
Bjorn Watland says
Podcast has been posted.
Which promotes and defends workers’ rights?
The police, who have traditionally fired on them when they’ve fought for their rights?
The NLRB, founded specifically with the partial intention of protecting workers’ rights, but which has become largely a governmental tool used by companies against workers?
And I won’t even go into the human rights atrocities committed and abetted by these so-called enlightened, democratic governments against those who are not citizens of their countries (another fundamental problem with a nation-state-based system of rights).
Oh, damn. I’m probably the last one to know but that poll is old, and the numbers don’t change when you vote in it. And I bet we did all vote in that way back whenever it was still alive.
But I guess the joke is on the religious, since that email is still going around getting them to vote in a closed poll.
Dacey’s book: No matter whether you agree with his premise, the book is still a really good read. It goes into a light historical and philosophical overview of the history of how we got where we are with religion and politics in this country, and I wouldn’t call it a light or flimsy read even though it is only 211 pages long.
Thanks, Nerd at #16.
Now I have to find the podcast.
Well, I guess I can manage that.
Nerd of Redhead says
Otto, check the previous weeks announcements. One of them will have the link.
Bjorn Watland says
Atheists Talk Podcast RSS Feed:
Nick Gotts says
There’s a similar problem with the ECHR. It is almost entirely defanged by “with due regard” clauses, restrictions “in accordance with law”, and other exceptions that much of it is utterly meaningless. – Emmet Caulfield
True, but it’s still of considerable use. It has just ruled that the UK government’s practice of holding fingerprints and DNA samples of people arrested but never convicted of any offence indefinitely is in violation of Article 8 – the right to respect for private and family life – of the European Convention on Human Rights. The UK government will have to destroy about 1m DNA samples; and the ruling will restrict what the EU can do in the way of setting up international DNA databases. (Note: the court is not attached to the EU but the 47-member European Council – the EU is not yet a member of the council, but its highest court, the European Court of Justice, treats the Convention as part of EU law.)
Hmm. I bet you all really needed to know all that ;-)
Actually, I did a refresh, and I note that the responses do change:
Although the percentages don’t change, perhaps because the number of responses has to change by a lot in order to shift that by more than the amount of rounding.
I suspect that they might well be shooting themselves in the foot, though: The “No” vote, “The motto has historical and patriotic significance and does nothing to establish a state religion” (which I think summarizes the Supreme Court decision), means that despite the words being on the money, America is not a Christian nation! The words “do nothing to establish a state religion”, after all…
When looking up the “Combating defamation of religions” UN resolution, I noticed that a resolution by that name has been adopted by the General Assembly annually the last three years, and it looks like the tradition continues this winter.
These resolutions can also be found at UNdemocracy.com for easy viewing, for example resolution 62/154.