Tag: Religion & State (Page 1 of 2)

China’s ‘social credit system’: What would Lao Tzu say?

By: Brannon Gerling

Can China’s new ‘social credit system’ ethically enlighten its citizens? How would Lao Tzu (6th c. B.C.E.), the central figure in Taoism—that cherished self-exiled sage sapped by the stultifying monotony of the Zhao dynasty—treat all this ado?

Unlike Confucius’s style of virtue-based ethics which rest heavily on the sharpening of moral character, Lao Tzu’s less earthly Taoist ethics individually and transcendentally induce ethical development and hence resist the groupthink requisite for social engineering. The Chinese people’s best means to contest the regime’s new method of domestic persecution lies in their nexus to Tao. They must, as Tzu says in the Tao teh Ching, “hold fast to the original path in order to control the realm of the present.”

The Basics

Many Westerners referring to China’s new social credit system relate it to the dark-humored Black Mirror episode “Nosedive,” and the characters’ angst caused by the manic ritual of social rating isn’t unrealistic. Some of the penalties for an inadequate score will bear similar resemblance to the show: travel restrictions, throttling of Internet speeds, banning (citizens or their children) from choice schools, employment obstruction, difficulty securing loans, and, of course, public shaming.

Who might comply with the story’s credit system or cathartically screw it like the main character does in a mortifying maid-of-honor speech at her pseudo best friend’s wedding? Who really cares?

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) cares and is designing the system with ideal timing: deep learning is wielding big data to digitize everything from genome editing to reconstructions of human thinking. Perhaps the meek or stalwart will be able to ignore the credit system by living inconspicuous or prudent lives, but they will still be scrutinized. A growing network of 200 million CCTV cameras across the public and private domain will use facial recognition, body scanning, geo-tracking and other surveillance tech to track the massive swathe of addicted gamers and screen timers ushered into the largest digitally organised personality heist in history.

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Lady Gaga and Moral Reasoning

By: Hendrik van der Breggen

Lady Gaga’s popular song “Born This Way” (sometimes described as a “gay anthem”) affirms and celebrates various diversities as good, including sexual diversity—homosexuality, bisexuality, and transgender sexuality. Why? Because, according to Gaga and many of her fans, this is how one is formed at birth, and, according to Gaga, “God makes no mistakes.”

Is this good moral reasoning? I think not. I have two arguments to support my view: one philosophical, one theological.

A philosophical argument

Here is some philosophical reasoning—which applies whether one believes in God or not.

Lady Gaga rightly encourages us to respect and accept all people, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. After all, each person has great intrinsic moral worth (Christians would say that this is so because each person is made in the image of God, but one needn’t be a Christian to recognize this worth). So far, so good.

But at this juncture Lady Gaga’s thinking become problematic.

Respecting and accepting all people doesn’t automatically also mean that we should accept and affirm all the behaviours of all people. Nor does it also mean that we should accept and affirm all their (our) dispositions and urges to behave in various ways.

Why not? Because not all urges and behaviours are good—some urges and behaviours are harmful to one’s self and/or others.

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Much Is Lost

By: Hendrik van der Breggen

At the beginning of the film Lord of the Rings, as forces of darkness gather strength, Lady Galadriel whispers sadly: “The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the Earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it.”

I think our society no longer remembers some important truths. Here are some examples.

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What Is Truth?: On the Need for an Old Paradigm

By: Richard Oxenberg

I. Introduction: What Is Truth?

In the Gospel of John, Jesus says to Pontius Pilate: “I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” Pilate famously responds, “What is truth?”

This question has reverberated through the ages, not least because different religions and different cultures – as Pilate’s question suggests – have presented us with very different versions of what they have called “the truth.” Muslims, Jews, Protestants, Catholics, and others have fought violent battles to promulgate and defend their particular version of “the truth.”

These bloody ‘truth’ battles played a significant role in motivating the scientific revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It was the hope of the early scientists and their champions to find a reliable and verifiable method of distinguishing true from false, a method based on generally available evidence that would yield truths of universal validity – truths that all informed, intelligent, and rational people would be able to agree upon.

The sciences have been hugely successful in their endeavor. Our ability to predict and control events in our physical environment has advanced immeasurably due to the employment of modern scientific methodologies. There can be no question about this.

What might be questioned, however, is whether the sort of truths the modern sciences provide are the truths we fundamentally seek. Aristotle writes, in his Metaphysics: “The science which knows to what end each thing must be done is the most authoritative of the sciences, and more authoritative than any ancillary science; and this end is the good of that thing, and in general the supreme good in the whole of nature.” When Jesus speaks to Pilate of “the truth” he is not, of course, speaking of what we would think of as “scientific” truth, he is speaking of the truth concerning “the supreme good.” Indeed, it might be argued that the very success of the physical sciences has led to an obscured understanding of just what we seek when we seek “the truth.”

My contention in this essay is that we need a paradigm shift in our conception of ’truth’ – one that will return us to the philosophical insight that the highest truths are those concerning “the good.” Let us call this “philosophical truth.” The pursuit of philosophical truth employs different methods and procedures than are offered by the sciences, methods and procedures that must be, by the very nature of what they pursue, less rigorous and reliable than those of the hard sciences. Still, to recognize the importance of pursuing these higher-order truths is, I believe, an imperative of our time. We have increasingly become a culture that – as the saying goes – knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. We know, as never before in human history, how to do what we want. Our problem is that we don’t know what to want.

How do we begin to think meaningfully about truths pertaining to “the good”? First we must endeavor to locate the domain of value within our own experience. Let us, then, turn to a consideration of this.

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Faith vs. Reason?

By: Hendrik van der Breggen

For some people, the relationship between faith and reason is like oil and water—they don’t mix. On this view, religious beliefs cannot and should not be subject to rational evaluation.

I disagree with this view.

To defend my disagreement, I will look at some objections to the use of reason when it comes to matters having to do with God, then I will set out some replies.

Objections to the use of reason

Objection 1. At the core of a religious belief system are some fundamental assumptions about the world, and these cannot be tested by reason.

Objection 2. Rational inquiry is open ended: on an ongoing basis we need to consider newly turned up bits of relevant evidence, so a proof is never had, and so a reason-based decision about God must be put off indefinitely—hence reason is of no help.

Objection 3. When it comes to God, we must make a leap of faith. Faith involves risk and commitment, and faith is purely subjective—these are different from reason.

Objection 4. God is “wholly other” (utterly transcendent) and thus beyond the capacity of reason to grasp.

Objection 5. Using reason makes reason one’s God, placing reason above God—and thereby one commits idolatry.

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Cultural Anglicanism: A Pleasing Illusion

By: Glen Paul Hammond

The first effect of not believing in God is to believe in anything.G.K. Chesterton

Sonia Maria Pavel, in her recent article on Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, examines the way the 18th century Irish statesman, author, political theorist and philosopher, expressed concern for the dismantling of the old decent draperies of life by what he saw as the “new conquering empire of light and reason” (Pavel). Pavel’s article focuses on two dimensions of Burke’s argument: The first is his historical and anthropological account of both the origin and function of “pleasing illusions” within a culture, and the second is his justification for the intentional revival of those illusions, which he saw as necessary for the establishment of social cohesion. Pavel’s two-dimensional perspective is offered as a lens for the examination of political deception and what Burke saw as the instrumental value in having a politically beneficial fiction. In my view, however, this approach also serves to highlight a part of Burke’s argument that is most necessarily applicable for the maintenance of free societies today, and one that Pavel does not address in her article. Namely, that human beings are religious animals by their constitution and that, in the case of the West, without the Christian religion there would be a void left in the minds of people that would soon be filled by some other more pernicious superstition. Ultimately, this would undermine the existence of Western liberal democracy (Burke 75). Recently, this opinion has even been reasserted by the most unlikely of sources: the intellectual atheist, Richard Dawkins.

According to Pavel, Burke defended the necessity of prejudices, and the conventions that they generate, as a means to produce “a common moral heritage that engendered stability through feeling of familiarity and belonging.” She argues that such pleasing illusions “surrounding power” were “not designed as ways of deceiving people into obeying authority,” but rather evolved alongside a mechanism of mutual obligation that produced a societal system of functional requisites. Through an investment in the requisites of the community, a cultural ethos was produced that was gentler and more liberal than any system could be if the same behaviors were enacted through a set of laws, enforced by an authoritarian agency. Prejudices such as these, which evolved not through calculated planning for any particular end, but rather “emerge and develop historically,” provided individuals with a means to negotiate the world that, in their absence, would leave members of a society “alone and afraid” with nothing but what Burke called their “naked shivering nature” (Pavel).

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On the Biblical God: A Brief ‘Transreligious’ Reflection

By: Richard Oxenberg

Let me begin with a simple observation: The God of the Bible – or, better, God as he is literally depicted in the Bible (and here the use of the masculine pronoun ‘he’ is entirely appropriate) – does not exist.

The evidence for this is overwhelming. Perhaps the most telling is, simply, that if such an entity existed he would make it clear to us. The Bible tells us, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Dt. 6:5). It tells us “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me” (Ex. 20:3). It presents us with command after command to be followed on the authority of this God. Clearly, this is a God who wants human beings to know that he exists and to trust him and obey him.

So, then, why would such a God hide himself from us? Why would he allow us to flounder about in confusion? Why would he allow us to wonder whether Judaism, Christianity, Islam, or atheism has it right? Why would he not make his existence as clear to us as the sun’s existence, or the moon’s existence, or the existence of anything whose existence we do not question?

Theologians twist and turn trying to answer this question, but the bottom line is that there is no good answer. The reason this God does not make his existence clear to us is because he does not, in fact, exist – at least not as he is literally depicted in the Bible and in Western religion in general.

This forces upon us the following conclusion: Either the depiction of God as presented in the Bible is entirely bogus, or it points beyond itself to something true and real that somehow lies behind the literal portrait.

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Lorde’s Crusade

By: Caleb Mills

Here’s a story whose cast of characters couldn’t be more odd: The Washington Post, “America’s Rabbi”, and Lorde. Even though it may sound like the beginning of a bad joke your uncle would tell (The Washington Post, a Rabbi, and the ‘Lorde’ all walk into a bar…) the spat between the singer and the rabbi is actually a perfect encapsulation of a serious problem in contemporary political discourse.  

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Memory and History

Memorialization and politics in Germany seventy-two years after the Second World War

By: Aditya Adhikari

Today the Holocaust stands as the epitome of political evil. The German people’s effort to renounce and atone for their past is often held up as exemplary. “Never again” – these words first appeared on handmade placards put up by inmates at the Buchenwald concentration camp shortly after the Nazi defeat in 1945. In the following decades, the slogan radiated out into the world and was repeated in Cambodia, Argentina, Rwanda, Bosnia. The trials of war criminals in post-war Germany, the reparations provided to victims and the memorials erected in their name have become lodestars for what is now called ‘transitional justice’.

I participated in a seminar organized by the Robert Bosch Stiftung on Truth, Justice and Remembrance in late 2016. During our excursions in Berlin and Nuremberg, I had the sense that Germany’s sites of commemoration did not just evoke the horrors of the Holocaust but also showed how German attitudes had evolved in the post-war period.

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A People’s Buddhism?

America can learn much from B.R. Ambedkar’s liberation theology. But it first must get beyond bourgeois dismissals of the Dalit leader’s revolutionary dharma.

By: Daniel Clarkson Fisher

Over the last decade, a collection of social change efforts — including (but not limited to) Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, the climate movement, third-wave feminism, LGBTQ rights activism, Fight for $15, and the Moral Monday protests — have helped focus much-needed attention on many painful realities about life in the United States today. With Donald J. Trump’s ascension to the White House, many more are and will be engaging with these and other causes: the recent Women’s March on Washington was the largest demonstration in American history; organizations like the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and the Committee to Protect Journalists have seen unprecedentedly large donations; Fight for $15 and Black Lives Matter are preparing to launch their first joint action as part of a “broadening of the coalition”; and the membership of the Democratic Socialists of America has tripled since last year.

It should not be a surprise, then, that, within religious communities, liberation theologies (those in which the emancipation of the oppressed from all forms of suffering is centrally important) seem to be having a moment. For example, in 2015, Gustavo Gutiérrez, who is considered one of the founders of the movement, was invited by Pope Francis to be one of the main speakers at a Vatican gathering of Catholic charities. In addition, as part of the process towards canonization, the Church is currently looking into a miracle attributed to another key figure, El Salvador’s assassinated Archbishop Óscar Romero. Harvard anthropologist and physician Paul Farmer recently spoke at length about the influence of liberation theology on his international humanitarian nonprofit Partners in Health as well. Looking at events in Ferguson, Baltimore, and Cleveland in 2015, divinity student Daniel José Camacho also authored a powerful piece at Religion Dispatches, underscoring the percipience and enduring importance of black liberation theology. “Will Christians who have long dismissed [movement founder James H. Cone] ever admit that he was right?” he asks.

As Buddhist Americans begin to grapple with their theologies in the era of Trump, it seems to me that they could stand to ask themselves a very similar question: “Will those who have dismissed the dharma of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar finally give it a fair shake?”

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