[FoRK] reas. conv. 11/7: Against Theocracy

Dr. Ernie Prabhakar < drernie at radicalcentrism.org > on > Tue Nov 7 13:18:32 PST 2006

Hi all,

A pretty quiet week, but Stephen and Matt did raise one point that I  
think a lot of people are concerned about:

On Oct 31, 2006, at 6:23 PM, Stephen D. Williams wrote:
>  Ernie wrote:
>> To be honest, I don't know whether other people think we are  
>> discussing:
>> a) ontology -- what _is_ true
>> b) epistemology -- how can we _know_ what is true
>> c) ethics -- how can we know/do what is _good_
>> At this point, I'm still responding to the (perceived) claim that  
>> atheism is "obviously" superior to Christianity by trying to  
>> define exactly what that means...
> Why, it means that it is better for a), b), and c) of course.  ;-)   
> (Speaking of panrational enlightened scientific secular humanism  
> (PESSH, related to FSM) as the ideal atheistic state, where  
> enlightened means adequate training in psychology, sociology,  
> logic, science, the art of deception, etc.)

Sounds a lot like Plato's philosopher kings[1].  Think you can do  
better with that than he did? :-)

> The other category that is close to b) that Matt mentioned is d)  
> which is better for the elite to control the masses?, or  
> alternately d) should we believe in something that allows the elite  
> to control the masses or should we have a belief system that makes  
> all of us elites with no uber-elites?

Okay, this sounds like it is getting back to Dawkin's original  
argument. Let me see if I can summarize/syllogize it:

I.  The greatest threat facing the modern world is authoritarian  

II.  Theocracy is the natural outgrowth of religious belief, which  
inevitably concentrates power it the hands of a few

III.   The solution is for those of who understand rational truth to  
work together to destroy the influence of religion

Is that a fair summary? If not, could someone please present a  
concise alternative?

The funny thing is, I actually half-agree with Dawkins[2].   I too  
see religious demagoguery as a grave problem -- even within  
Christendom.  Heck, some of my dearest enemies and bitterest friends  
(yes, you read that correctly) are Christian Reconstructionists[3].

Ironically, I think Dawkins argument might've seemed plausible in the  
early 1800's, but since then we've managed to amass a lot of  
empirical data about non-theistic societies which contradicts some of  
his hidden assumptions.  I believe a more accurate diagnosis would be:

I'. Every viable society needs some Shared, Transcendent, Unifying  
Beliefs (a "STUB" :-).

Note that this can just as easily be tribalism, nationalism,  
Confucian morality, or dialectical materialism as any sort of  
theism.  Absent such, I honestly don't see how you can sustain a  
bridge partnership[4], much less any sort of modern society.

II'. Individuals who develop expertise in that STUB wield  
disproportionate power over other adherents

III'.  When adherents to a STUB perceive a threat to their collective  
identity, they tend to respond violently, often leading to great evil.

As far as I can tell, this problem afflicts *all* societies that  
survive long enough, so it seems a bit unfair to pick on theism.  In  
fact, I would argue it is precisely _because_ theism was potent  
enough to survive despite this problems (in contrast to, say, the  
self-destructiveness of Marxism and despotism) that we face such a  
threat from theocracy today.

The question then becomes, "How to develop a STUB that is  
sufficiently deterministic to allow coherent action yet still  
flexible enough to prevent ideological authoritarianism?"

 From discussions on this list, the ideal STUB would need to:

a) Place a high value on benevolence towards all humans -- including  

b) Promote benevolence and virtue as being of *intrinsic* value,  
regardless of who is watching

c) Portray virtue as susceptible to universal rational inquiry, not  
solely the province of learned experts

This is a lot harder that people seem to think. After all these ideas  
have more-or-less been suggested[5] before. Sure, I concede that  
Christian conversion is often only of "temporary" value in promoting  
virtue -- if by "temporary" you mean "only a couple generations."   
But, do you know anyone that has managed to do better?

And to be clear, I completely agree we *must* do better; I'm just  
wondering if you have any concrete suggestions[6] *how* -- and the  
data to back up your claims!

-- Ernie P.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosopher_king
[2] http://ship-of-fools.com/Features/2006/dawkins.html "1 1/2 Cheers  
for Richard Dawkins"
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_Reconstructionism
[4] http://www.kantarbridge.com/humor.htm
[5] http://urlx.org/biblegateway.com/7258c
[6] My proposal, such as it is, is at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ 

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