[FoRK] reas. conv. 11/7: Against Theocracy
Dr. Ernie Prabhakar <
drernie at radicalcentrism.org
> on >
Tue Nov 7 13:18:32 PST 2006
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
>> 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. 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
The funny thing is, I actually half-agree with Dawkins. 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.
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, 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 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 *how* -- and the
data to back up your claims!
-- Ernie P.
 http://ship-of-fools.com/Features/2006/dawkins.html "1 1/2 Cheers
for Richard Dawkins"
 My proposal, such as it is, is at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
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