David Thompson
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July 07, 2008

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R. Sherman

I once asked a very well-meaning person why withholding information from others is any worse than imposing something upon others. If we take the view that all cultures are equal and worthy of preservation, do we not, living in a culture which generally provides us with health and happiness, fail to see the essential humanity of others to the point where there's "us" and all the rest of the wogs in some anthropological zoo? Who's the racist then? I, who wish to say, "Look at this! It's better!" or you, who wishes to keep the masses as ignorant children incapable of making choices for themselves?

Got no response to that either.

Regards.

David

There is, it seems, an assumption that by acknowledging the obvious shortcomings of certain cultures and systems of belief, one must somehow be denying common humanity and be seething with irrational fear and hatred. It’s a strange formulation, for sure, and possibly says something about the person who leaps to that conclusion.

Anna

Once it's been spelled out, you realize you see this kind of thing everywhere.

David

Anna,

It is fairly common. For instance, it underpins a great deal of religious protectionism, as if it would be “unfair” to register just how stupid and unpleasant some religious convictions are – especially if the adherents of the religion in question happen to have brown skin.

Explicit versions of this nonsense inform much of the Guardian’s commentary, including that of withered Communist Martin Jacques - who repeatedly uses (but never defines) the term “cultural racism”. It also informs the blathering of Madeleine Bunting, whose pretentious disdain of capitalism leads her to argue that women in the developing world should forgo the opportunities Ms Bunting herself enjoys but bitches about continually. It clearly informed her hagiographic interview with the Islamist cleric, Yusuf al-Qaradawi. In order to avoid the man’s obvious primitivism - the noting of which simply wouldn’t do - Bunting swooned over any number of ludicrous and imaginary attributes. It really was quite vile, like rhetorical fellatio.

Softer versions can be found quite often on mainstream TV. The BBC’s “Tribal Wives” series, which I’ve mentioned before, comes to mind as a fairly typical example. In one episode, a self-preoccupied Oxford woman spent a month living among the Kuna Indians of Panama. Viewers were repeatedly told that the Kuna are a “deeply spiritual” people and that their lives were “in tune with nature,” etc. Much was made of how “authentic” and “spiritual” the experience would be. But judging by what was filmed, this “deep spirituality” basically entailed a belief that painting one’s nose black would ward off “bad spirits”.

In my experience, this patronising romanticism often comes from people with egalitarian leanings, who seem to find it “unfair” that some cultures are quite grubby and monotonous. Thus, there’s an urge to overcompensate by banging on about “authenticity”, “spirituality” and being “close to nature.” Which very often means having little culture to speak of and shitting in the forest.

Peter Risdon

"... an assumption that by acknowledging the obvious shortcomings of certain cultures and systems of belief, one must somehow be denying common humanity"

Of course, the opposite is true. A willingness to judge other societies as we would judge our own is founded on a recognition of our common humanity, and a refusal to view people from elsewhere as some kind of mysterious "other".

John Gillmartin

"just how stupid and unpleasant some religious convictions are"

David -

Would that be classified as a generalization or as a specific reference?

There are many "religious convictions" which I consider stupid and unpleasant; yet, I must acknowledge, I'm not fully informed on many of them, thus my consideration is opinion-based and not knowledge-based.

Is there any room in our intellectual debate for faith-based religious convictions concerning man and his cultures? If there is not, are we not guilty of ignoring the vast intellectual and humanitarian contributions of faith-based members of those cultures?

How would Diane West be able to insert "liberty and penicillin" in her NRO comment above were it not so?

Peter Risdon

I'm not David, but...

"yet, I must acknowledge, I'm not fully informed on many of them, thus my consideration is opinion-based and not knowledge-based."

What are you *fully* informed about? Isn't this a bit of an exacting requirement for comment, and one that would prevent many faith-based people from participating in a great deal of debate?

"Is there any room in our intellectual debate for faith-based religious convictions concerning man and his cultures?"

Surely, but not in a way that rests on the authority of their beliefs, rather on the secular basis of the merits of their arguments. In fact, I can't think of any of the "vast intellectual and humanitarian contributions of faith-based members of those cultures" that rest entirely - even at all - on their beliefs. Any genuine contributions have other merits too. Contributions that live entirely in the world of faith have no relevance for those who do not share even that particular faith.

David

John,

The “stupid and unpleasant” comment could refer to many specific things. If you rummage through the archives, I’m sure you’ll find aspects of Islamic theology that would qualify:

http://davidthompson.typepad.com/davidthompson/2008/07/the-cost-of-pie.html#comment-121288456

But I was thinking, for instance, of some Jehovah’s Witnesses refusing life-saving medical treatments for their children based on taboos regarding blood and blood products, resulting in prolonged suffering, disability and unnecessary death. And, insofar as FGM is, by some, considered a religious practice, I’m guessing that would count too. Ditto the ritual beating of children to exorcise “bad spirits”.

“Is there any room in our intellectual debate for faith-based religious convictions concerning man and his cultures? If there is not, are we not guilty of ignoring the vast intellectual and humanitarian contributions of faith-based members of those cultures?”

I’m not sure what you’re getting at here. I’m not dismissing all of religion and its products wholesale, if that’s what you mean.

Trimegistus

"Multiculturalism" is nothing but pure racism. It's the belief that we can't hold dark-skinned or non-Christian people to the same standards of behavior we apply to Americans or Europeans. In other words, that they are somehow incapable of meeting those standards. The same attitude underlies the idea that poverty somehow "drives" people (dark-skinned people) to crime in American cities.

It is nothing but racism. Adherents and advocates of multiculturalism believe dark people are subhuman, but they feel guilty about that belief and so cloak it in terms of "respecting differences" and "not imposing our beliefs."

To hell with them.

John Gillmartin

David -

The final statement in your response is what I was concerned about.

Far too often, I find myself (an openly serious Christian) dismissed as an anachronism in intellectual discourse, once my worldview is revealed. I'm not intending to whine here, just making an observation.

For example: in the ID controversy, the scientific community seems hell bent on burning other scientists at the stake, not for their science but for their beliefs.

BTW I agree with your anecdotal citations ... and, sadly, there are many more.

Appreciate the response ... I am so looking forward to reading your regular posts!

Andy

Talking about racism, Engage posts an article on 'anti-muslim' racism, here;

http://www.engageonline.org.uk/blog/article.php?id=2001

from CIF:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/jul/06/islam.religion

on the third anniversary of 7/7. erm. Look at the comments, see how many comments have been removed. Look at the comments on Engage - they really don't get it.

David

John,

“Far too often, I find myself (an openly serious Christian) dismissed as an anachronism in intellectual discourse, once my worldview is revealed.”

Despite what may seem to be the case, I’m not terribly interested in a person’s private beliefs; I don’t usually regard them as my business. And I’d like to think my dismissals are based on what a person says and how they argue a point. The issue, of course, is whether religious beliefs inform (or misinform) a person’s argument or involve lower expectations of verification and coherence. For instance, if someone claims to know what God wants and makes demands based on those claims, I expect those claims to be explained in meaningful terms and subject to appropriate testing. I might, for instance, ask the person to explain *how* he knows whatever it is he claims to know.

John Gillmartin

Peter -

I'm sorry, you seem to have taken umbrage at my comment to David. I'm not sure why? I'm a new subscriber of DT and knew many of you have been here for a long time ... I guess my concern for making sense backfired.

If you thought I was attacking David, you are quite wrong! I was simply probing the climate for discourse regarding those with faith-based worldviews.

RE being "fully informed" on something:

I'm not as fully informed on giving birth as a mother yet I'm informed enough (six kids) to carry on a decent conversation with one. But to debate the intricacies of childbirth with a woman would seem to me to be arrogant and foolish.

Likewise, I'm not as fully informed on transubstantiation as say a Catholic or Lutheran priest yet I'm informed enough to carry on a very decent conversation with one. However, to publicly debate the doctrine with one would require me to become fully informed, which I can do.

Regarding the subject of abortion or homosexuality, on the other hand, I'm fully informed and quite prepared to debate the subject from the position of my worldview at any time and in any place ... assuming the earnestness and genuineness of the parties.

RE the authority of beliefs: I heartily agree with your first sentence, but from that point on I began to feel sorry for you (reread my response to David above re dismissal out-of-hand)!

John Gillmartin

David -

Would not expect less of you.

erm

John..
would just like to add that a mother has *real* experience of giving birth, which is the source of her information.
On the contrary, a priest has no more experience of actually changing bread/wine into body/blood than you or i have, or can ever have, therefore such 'knowledge' is never 'fully informed' in any real sense.
He may be informed about rituals and theory, but thats not experience.

Sue R

Even talking about differences is seen as some people as 'racist'. I don't see why one can't talk about differences without ascribing moral worth to them. It is this anti-spirit of enquiry that is so debilitating and erodes intellectual progress. Can't the practitioners of 'non-standard' habits justify them?

David

Sue,

“Even talking about differences is seen [by] some people as ‘racist’…”

Ah, but that’s the thing. We are, apparently, meant to fixate on how different some people are - just as they apparently do - and fixate on how those differences must be accommodated in the name of fairness and sensitivity. Everyone should be as hung-up as possible on all of this difference while avoiding social gaffes. But anyone who registers difference in a way that’s not authorised is to be leapt on immediately as a Hatemongering Xenophobe™.

georges

When I first heard the word "multicultural" it was always next to the word "society", as in, "we live in a multicultural society". Gradually the word "society" got dropped. I wonder why. Is it a tacit admission that we now have a multitude of cultures but no connecting bond that would make us a society?

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