Monday, June 23, 2008

liberté, égalité, fraternité

A posting at the Sydney Atheists message board:

Hi Ansgar

Thanks for your thoughts on that article. I posted it in resources as the original article seemed a good summing up and I also thought German-speaking people might enjoy the original in German.

A couple of days ago and out of curiosity, I attended a church service at the Anglican cathedral. I was brought up Roman Catholic and had never attended Protestant church services, so I'm curious to see how it is there. I was appalled. It was like nothing had changed since I was 16 and walked out of my own church. The people there seemed to me to be alien, as if coming from another planet.

When I read accounts of, for example, an atheist's encounter with a Jehovah's Witness person, I get a similar impression. It's like talking to an alien.

My apologies for giving a wrong impression of the article but Habermas gives quite a bit of space to what needs to be done from the religious side. He points out the liberal developments in the Christian churches and expects that, in time, something similar will happen for Islam. Patience is needed for coercion would likely slow things down rather than speed things up.

He seems to me to be a European secularist writing to other European secularists, so it makes sense that his main message urges a change in consciousness on their part.

I fully agree with his conclusion as an ideal - and it matters not what label is attached to that ideal. I just can't see it in myself and nor, in your own post, can I see it in you. Talk of deity makes sense for you when translated into secular language. This is a kind of reductionism, closely akin to material reductionism: oh, the soul and consciousness make perfect sense once you see them as ("mere") epiphenomena of brain functioning. How often do you hesitate and wonder how secular language makes sense in or can be likewise translated into metaphysical language?

It sounds to me like a German speaker talking to an English speaker and showing off how well he can translate the English into German (while the English speaker is slyly doing the same in reverse, of course). The German is confident that one day only German will be needed as the English will become obsolete (this because German is clear and precise while English is thoroughly bastardized). Likewise, the Englishman expects the German language to die out (this because it is now a minority language soon to be taken over, in any case, by Turkish or Arabic).

Seriously, Ansgar, do you see any real future for the religious mindset and its language? Do you have any real sense of égalité with theists?

Sure, you would uphold liberté by defending theists' rights to self-expression (except when lapsing into attempts at disrupting a Pope's visit). Sure, you would uphold fraternité by acknowledging that you feel hunger, thirst, lust, drowsiness, ambition, self-loathing, wonder, hope, despair, etc, etc, just like any other human being, religious or otherwise. But honestly, can you make a claim for égalité? Can any of us make such a claim?

Doesn't the future lie with those who will know how to survive the next holocaust (planetoid impact, flood, plague, earthquake, war, cold war, whatever) while the past will become the dustbin for the dinosaurs who cannot? Don't we, each and every one of us, believe we are privileged to belong to the future?


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