Monday, February 8, 2010

Just For The Hell Of It...My Answers To Feser's Questions

So, first things first, we will be back to more standard fare on Wednesday, with a post on J.C. Beall's discussion of the difficulties dialetheists have with saying that some things are "just false."


Remember What's Wrong With The World? That's the blog where Ed Feser said that a doctor murdered by a domestic terrorist had it coming (because, y'know, every sperm is sacred), then accused me and a few others of "libel" for pointing out that he'd said what he said.

So, as you can imagine, the recent decision by the APA to kind-of-sort-of-penalize institutions that discriminate against gays and lesbians didn't go over particularly well over at W4. In a discussion over at Philosophy Smoker, a question was raised about whether the sorts of views regularly expressed at W4 are typical of Christians in philosophy. Given that the great majority of philosophy academics are atheists or agnostics, and that the bloggers at W4 make a huge deal of the alleged Christian basis of their extreme misogyny, support for institutional discrimination against gay and lesbian job applicants, etc., etc., it's natural for people to start wondering whether these views are actually typical of their theist colleagues. Fortunately, the answer to that question mostly seems to be "no."

Brian Leiter quoted the questions a commenter at the Philosophy Smoker asked about whether other Christians in philosophy agreed with the hateful interpretation of Christianity spouted by folks like Professor Feser, as well as a sample of answers that other commenters gave. (The gist of all of which was 'no, no we don't.') Feser responded by interpreting Leiter's quoting and linking to this discussion as Leiter attempting to "smear" W4. (What the "smear" is supposed to be, I have no idea. One of the funny things about Feser is that he blogs at a place that advertises itself as being on a "crusade" to save "the remains of Christendom" from "liberalism and the jihad," but whenever Christendom's enemies notice the existence of W4 and say something critical about it, instead of wading into the fray as a happy warrior for Christ, he tends to whine about how he's been misrepresented, he's being stalked, the critics must be "obsessed" with him and his co-bloggers and so on.) In any case, the ever-so-clever response he endorsed (from an anonymous correspondent) goes like this:

I think it might be fun if you all decided to simply respond in kind. That is, ask your Atheist friends some questions and see whether Leiter's views fall within the "mainstream" of atheist philosophers. Maybe some questions like the following:

1) Did you think the collapse of the Soviet Union was unfortunate, politically and morally speaking?

2) Do you think that there is a noteworthy moral difference between heteronormative sexual morality and believing that homosexuals should be executed?

3) Do you believe there is a noteworthy moral difference between the Taliban and people who think it should be legal to voluntarily pray in public schools?

4) Do you think it is morally appropriate for a notable professional philosopher to personally attack graduate students and untenured faculty in a highly public and visible forum?

5) Do you think it is misogyny to acknowledge genetic differences between men and women?

6) Do you think it would have been a gross exaggeration to say that George W. Bush is a theocrat and/or a fascist who was planning to "imminently" reinstate the draft or "imminently" bomb Iran?

7) Do you think it would be a gross exaggeration to compare Bill O'Reilly with Joseph Goebbels?

8) Did the clips of Jeremiah Wright's sermons make you more favorably disposed towards Obama?

Now, the clumsiness of all of this, and the extreme disanalogy between asking Christians if they agree with the views of academics who constantly use Christianity to justify their bigotry, and asking atheists if they agree with the unrelated political views of a blogger who rarely references his atheism, is striking. That said, just for the hell of it:

(1) Stalinism was bad, and free speech and multi-party elections are good. That said, the impoverishment of the Russian people as their country's resources were sold off to a tiny handful of, basically, mafia families, was not so good. During the Cold War, the domestic regime of the Soviet Union was, of course, vastly more authoritarian and objectionable than that of the United States, but, on the other hand, the brutality of the American management of the U.S. sphere of influence in Latin America greatly exceeded that of the Soviet management of their sphere of influence in Eastern Europe. (When Lech Walensa spoke to Congress after the fall of the USSR about how the U.S. is a beacon of freedom for the world, a Salvadoran Jesuit priest pointed out that, if Walensa had tried to organize Solidarnosc in El Salvador instead of Poland, he wouldn't have been put in prison. The death squads would have left him in little pieces on the side of the road.) I'd also point out that, for example, the war in Iraq would have never happened in a two-superpower, Cold War world. Whether Russia ultimately ends up being sufficiently less authoritarian under Putin than it was under Gorbachev to make the fall of the USSR "worth it" despite the human costs of economic "shock therapy," the bodies piling up in Iraq, the risks involved in massive post-Soviet nuclear proliferation, etc., is, I would think, a question on which reasonable people can disagree.

(2) Sure, the same way I think there's a significant difference between garden-variety anti-Semitism and gas chambers. That said, both are things that I'm against, and Feser & Co.'s support for institutional discrimination against gay people doesn't start to sound reasonable just because he stops short of advocating their extermination.

(3) It is legal to voluntarily pray in public schools. Go to a public school cafeteria, get some food, and say grace before you eat it. See if anyone stops you. School-sponsored prayer, prayer that's institutionalized as part of the school day, even if student participation is nominally 'voluntary,' is (and should be) illegal. The Constitutional ban on state promotion of religion is a very good thing.

Now, taken by itself, the proposal that we go back to the days where you either stuck around for the prayers or you had to mark yourself for social isolation by leaving the room with the Jewish kids, as vile as it is, obviously isn't nearly as bad as what the Taliban did. On the other hand, a good many of the people who most fervently support that proposal--like, say, Ed Feser--support it as a small part of a much larger and scarier theocratic agenda, parts of which (like executing abortion doctors) would quite properly inspire Taliban analogies.

(4) Yes, I do. If a graduate student or untenured professor says something ridiculous in a visible public forum, then they can't turn around and whine that it's not appropriate for people who find it ridiculous to say so because of their professional status. As a graduate student who blogs, I've never thought I had some special protection against tenured professors (or anyone else) saying unkind things about me.

(5) Nope. Then again, put like that, no one else does either. Now, for the sake of contrast, I do think it's misogyny to want to legally force women to bring every pregnancy to term regardless of their wishes, and I think that objecting on principle to your city council hiring a female chief of police, because this means that a woman will be exerting authority over men, displays an almost psychotic level of misogyny.

(6) Those predictions would have been mistaken. As it turned out, in the eight years he had to work with, Bush "only" cluster-bombed, invaded and occupied two nations full of people whose children will now grow up hating us. Of course, he did endorse as his would-be successor a man known to gleefully sing "bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran," so it's safe to say that Bush wasn't, like, horribly opposed to thought of bombing Iran.

(7) It's not a comparison I would make. On the other hand, I think it's a whole lot less ridiculous than comparing a secular Jewish political economist who never held state power, who never killed anyone, and who consistently spoke out against things like censorship and the death penalty to Adolf Hitler because you disagree with him about public vs. private ownership of factories.

(8) They certainly didn't make me less favorably disposed to him. Some of what Wright said was dumb (endorsing conspiracy theories, etc.), but in most of the clips I saw, he was saying true and important things about the history and current reality of racism and imperial bullying of the third world. (Many of these true and important things, sadly, seem to have been lost on parishioner Obama, given the depressing degree of continuity between the foreign policies of the Bush and Obama administrations.) Now, as a Christian, Wright mixed in his message with a theology that says that God "damns"/punishes nations whose leaders do sinful things. Obviously, as an atheist, this is a place where my views diverge from those of the Reverend. On the other hand, I don't understand how anyone who considers themselves to be a Christian, and who has even casually skimmed the Old Testament prophets, could find that theological stance objectionable. And yes, presumably, a just God would object greatly to cluster-bombing Iraqi civilians, torturing people picked up on suspicion and holding them for years without charges, torture, etc., etc, etc.

So, no, Obama's former Reverend having these views doesn't make me think less of Obama. This is not to say, of course, that there's nothing that could have gone on in that Church in Chicago that would make me think less of the guy. For example, if there was a youtube video of Jeremiah Wright laying hands on Barack Obama to give him a blessing to protect him against "witchcraft," while Obama had his head bowed and his arms upraised and was generally giving every indication that he thought what was going on was perfectly sane and reasonable, then that would make me think a lot less of him. Not to put too fine a point on it, it would make me think that he was fucking crazy and that he probably shouldn't be trusted with the amount of power and authority vested in a local police chief, much less the Presidency of the United States.

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