If it is it doesn't matter

Monday, February 27, 2006

MPwI 3.2 Infectious literalism

Finally I get to the point of this section -- though if you have read the earlier posts, you know I'll be doing some dancing around it as well.

What is the problem with fundamentalism, both in general and in the specific Muslim variant? The answer is the effect not just on a person's religious views -- as I've said, I support the right to be wrong -- but on the overall way he views the world. For me, one of the most important mental skills a person needs to develop is 'critical thinking,' the ability to weigh a statement against the evidence, against facts and the 'real world,' the ability to accept that people, even religious leaders, political leaders, teachers, and parents can be wrong. (Even to take the first step of understanding that religious leaders, politicians, teachers, and parents are people first, and not labels, is useful.)

Now I am not saying that we should automatically reject what such people tell us, any more than that we should automatically accept it. The person who says "Politicians are all liars' is just as stupid as the one who says "Our President tells us... and Presidents wouldn't lie." Both are using labels rather than looking at people, they are just using different ones. A skeptic, at least in the sense I use it, is not just a 'doubter' or all the alternate medicine cranks and holocaust deniers would qualify. He's someone who insists on checking statements against facts.

And that skill is the one thing any fundamentalist finds difficult to develop. Difficult and dangerous. Because if you have the skill, there's always that temptation to use it on your religion, on your religious leaders, on your 'sacred-text.'

And no fundamentalist viewpoint can stand up to that. (The other parts of the spectrum can. The 'conservative' and 'liberal' views -- I defined them in Part 3.1 for newcomers -- can accept the allegories, the simple errors and contradictions, the fact that the writer was a 'product of his time,' and says things that fitted then but we've grown out of -- like Paul's defense of slavery and the prohibition against wearing clothes made from two different types of cloth, even (easier for liberals than conservatives) the sexism, homophobia, and myths, creationist, floods, etc.)

But a fundamentalist can't use critical thinking on his sacred text without his world-view being shaken. If the works are 'God's Word,' how can they have errors?

It's a difficult and dangerous balancing act at best. Maybe some can train themselves to think critically about some things and build a 'Chinese Wall' sealing off religion. Some can see the problems, can raise the objections, and then be told by their religious leader to just 'have faith,' and they'll get through their period of doubt. (A friend of mine from the old forum, a person who I called 'the best advertisment for Islam I had known,' told me he'd gone through that stage and survived with his faith intact.) And some simply accept the problems and say, in the Catholic phraseology, "Credo quia incredibile." (I believe because it is incredible.)

But those, I would expect, are the exceptions. Most literalists simply make sure they never pick up the skill. For them, the 'voice of authority' is enough. If a person with the right label, or the right costume, or the right oratory tells them something, they'll believe it, especially if the person plays to the right prejudices.

And there's a joker in the deck there. The one way NOT to convince this sort of person, frequently, is to parade evidence before him, to demonstrate the way critical thinking supports your position or criticizes his. Again, if he accepts the benefits of critical thinking, he's in the danger I discussed above.

(This may be why so many non-critical thinkers will accept the wildest crackpottery or medical quackery on mere say-so, but will dismiss anything a scientific investigator or someone who actually knows something about medicine has to say.)

What i've written here would fit a fundamentalist Christian perfectly well -- or even a fundamentalist, uncritical atheist and there are such.

But Islam's particular type of fundamentalism/literalism has extra aspects, and it is one of the reason why I worry that Islam cannot change, why I do fear the rush to a serious, dangerous clash.

But that will go into the next post -- and why do I think this doesn't surprise you?


Anonymous jim blyler, Franklin, NC said...

Yes, you are long-winded. But, then so am I.
You don't seem to get any comments. Do you s'pose it's because you are? (long winded) or that you (and I,too) have little really to say on this subject. Does anyone really want to care? Would it mean then that they should DO something about it? Do you have a hit counter to see if anyone even reads your thoughts?
Just curious. I, too, have thought of doing a web-site similar to this, only critiquing critical thinking in the West, mainly the US.
I conclude my comment with this thought: Does anyone REALLY think critically? I have come to believe (?) that even the "greats"; Sagan, Dawkins, Asimov, etc. all had points beyond which they would not travel. I sort of know what mine is. Do you know, or acknowledge, yours?
Jim Blyler,

7:01 AM  

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