Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Nonbelieving Literati #1a

I liked The Exterminator's post about Julian, It can be found here.

Can a “liberal” political leader who professes faith — even one who picks and chooses practices from various different religions — be truly tolerant? Or is there something inherent in every system of supernatural belief that causes its adherents to be enemies of those with differing worldviews?

As might be expected, The Exterminator answers in the negative. And further, he makes clear that he doesn't think the character of Julian as Vidal presents him is the man for the job, so to speak, of implementing policies of tolerance and peaceful coexistence.

The pre-Christian Ancient World generally regarded apparently similar deities as equivalent. Jupiter of the Romans was the same deity as Zeus for the Greeks, for example. For the Greeks, "Jupiter" was simply what the Romans called Zeus, and if the Roman rites were different? That was between the Romans and the Deity in question. Further, there have been religions and social systems in the past that were unabashedly eclectic.

There is a phrase that gets bandied about from time to time: the prejudice against prejudice. The rhetorical thrust of this phrase goes to the heart of the matter: Is the preference and bias for policies of tolerance and diversity over policies of intolerance and hatred just another irrational prejudice? That in following policies of tolerance and diversity fewer people would get hurt would seem to be not insignificant. But tolerance and diversity can also be the arguments of the delicate and the cowardly who are afraid of getting hurt physically or otherwise.

There is a way out of that paradox: a commitment to values, ideals, and institutions of tolerance and diversity. This would require, of course, the recognition that conflict, misunderstanding, and strife are inherent to human social life. No doubt such thoughts strike many as immoral. This recognition can be less controversially phrased: instead of beginning with the belief that it is possible in principle to remove completely from public life egoism, strife, oppression, and the like, or in the worst case to hide these all too human qualities in private life. humanity's less than presentable rather than being removable are the mud and clay from which a body politic is to be sculpted. If this thought strike readers as bizarre or proto-fascist, I cannot recommend The Federalist Papers strongly enough.

However, in exacting a commitment to values and institutions, there is a corresponding loss of transcendental justifications for one's institutions. The commitment to the values and principles embodied in one's institutions does not flow from (a) God's commandment, but rather from
love in the same way that parents of a severely handcapped child loves their child: because it is one's own. Love of the fatherland is like any other human passion: it can be phenomenally stupid, blind, ignorant, intolerant, and the like. And it can also be love of the principles embodied in a way of life.

If sectarians do not themselves profess a similar love, then that is the limit of tolerance.

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