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← Russel Blackford reviews Attack of the Theocrats

Viveca's Avatar Jump to comment 17 by Viveca

Comment 15 by AtheistEgbert :

[Russell Blackford]- However, let me state clearly that anyone who buys or reads Freedom of Religion and the Secular State hoping for advice on how secularists should organise will be disappointed.

Nor is the book a political manifesto. It's what it purports to be - a philosophy book, with all that that involves (attempts to define terms, draw important distinctions, and understand concepts; attempts to analyse arguments as objectively as possible; attempts to be honest about such things as not misprepresenting the other side's arguments, and about addressing their apparent strengths, rather than their weaknesses; and so on ...). It's written in a style that's intended to be accessible to a wide audience, and aspects should even be entertaining, but it's still a philosophy book, with the sorts of rigours that involves.

I also think your book is important for us to get a theoretical understanding of secularism. It's already obvious that many people are confusing the meaning of secularism when arguing for it.

Within the intellectual or academic realm it is undoubtedly important to try and make sense of the world, and to argue, as coherently and rigorously as possible, for some normative position, or to rest content with offering a purely descriptive account. But there's a problem with this approach (on its own) if (like me) you are already convinced of the superiority of a "secular" polity, but too few of your fellow citizens agree with you for reasons other than intellectual scruple.

e.g. Aristotle argued that it was "natural" and "just" that certain people be slaves, and such a view was far from notorious for most subsequent western history. It is impossible for me to believe that Aristotle and those who came after him simply made an "intellectual" error, and that if any well-educated contemporary liberal could go back in time to converse with Aristotle they would find it rather easy to change Aristotle's mind and show him the error of his ways. I just don't believe it. America's Founding Father's also kept slaves.

Another example: All of the contemporary West practises a version of "capitalism", but where are the widely read and revered political texts that "justify" all of these distinct practises? No such texts exist. The practises are legitimised by means other than this. Where are the preeminent texts where the legitimacy and desirability of "multiculturalism" and "political correctness" was established? No such texts exist. The world doesn't work like that. There are no philosopher-kings.

For most people most of the time "reasons" and "justifications" come later, the intellect is the servant of the will; and if the collective (and political) will is set against abolishing religious privilege and exceptionalism (which it currently is) I doubt any piece of writing, no matter how brilliant, will persuade it otherwise. Abstract reasoning is important and necessary, but only as a supplement to practical endeavors which will advance your aims more concretely. It is far from sufficient. And what worries me greatly is that in the practical sphere we are deficient, unlike our opponents.

Sat, 31 Mar 2012 20:32:22 UTC | #931561