Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Friday, June 15, 2007

Responses from the Norm

I hope Norman Geras won't mind my posting an email exchange we have just had, as I did say I would be posting a clarification. Further to my post on his post, he sent me this:

Dear Rob

Thanks for the link and the discussion. I'll have to read the post again and when I'm less pressed than right now, but I certainly don't agree with this...

To deny the divinity of Jesus would be harder to prize apart from mere anti-Christian bigotry, especially if it were done in deliberately offensive terms (such as describing Christianity as a religion of sublimated cannibalism).

I do deny the divinity of Jesus but don't consider myself an anti-Christian bigot, and while I try not to be offensive about the religious beliefs of others, people can be offensive about beliefs without vilifying those who hold them.

Best, Norm


Dear Norman

Reading it again, I don't agree with it either. I don't think I meant to use "deny" there; I suspect I was trying to avoid repetition of "criticise" and got the wrong word. "To castigate belief in the divinity of Jesus...." is the idea I had in mind, my point being that it's a central tenet of the religion rather than one which is the subject of debate among adherents. Now one can disagree with it (and non-Christians obviously do) but it's a difficult trick to do so without suggesting that
holding the belief is in some way worse, or less valid, than not holding it. Beliefs imply believers, and it then gets very easy to impute stupidity, or worse, to the latter if one is careless in one's criticism.

I remain unconvinced, for example, that one can describe a religion as "backward" without implying a similar backwardness in those who choose to follow it. And as a religion in itself has no way of being "violent", the violence can only come from its followers. I don't deny the possibility of an impersonal critique such as you describe, but I cannot agree that Hirsi Ali's attacks can be viewed in that light.

When I get home I'll clarify my meaning, but feel free to comment before then.

And I'm quite sure you're not an anti-Christian bigot. I don't suppose Richard Dawkins is either, but from time to time his rhetoric runs away with him and he falls in to the trap I describe above.




Dear Rob

Dawkins certainly does fall into the trap - but then he just does stray from criticizing religious belief to ridiculing people who are religious.

It may well be that if I say upfront that a particular belief is nonsensical, someone who holds that belief will feel hurt. I have sometimes found that, myself, when people dismiss Marxism in very belittling terms. But this doesn't mean anyone is obliged to speak gently when they speak about beliefs - so I defend the distinction. Otherwise we'd all have to be respectful of all beliefs, however wrong we may think them, for fear of offending people.

Best, Norm


So: thanks to Norman for pointing out that I hadn't written what I intended (DOH!) and for the interesting exchange of views.

I don't think, though, that we need to be respectful of all beliefs for fear of offending people. Sometimes people deserve to be offended, or shamed. But let's be clear about when we're making respectful points about beliefs and when we're firing salvoes. I have no doubt that Norm can tell the difference, but Ayaan Hirsi Ali? Not so much, in my opinion. Her collaboration with Theo van Gogh makes it at the very least a credible supposition that she is deliberately denigrating the holders of the beliefs she despises.


***I hope Norman Geras won't mind ***

...and he didn't, though he was a little surprised at my breach of blogging etiquette for which I have duly apologised.


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