5 dic. 2010

The Problem with Moderation

I find the notion of moderate belief to be problematic. William Egginton is well-intentioned (and an extremely accomplished scholar in his own field) and it seems difficult to argue against moderation, when fanaticism is the rule of the day. I guess I agree that if people have to be religious, that it is best if they aren't fanatical fundamentalist crazies.

So what is my problem? If religious beliefs are actually true (for the believer), then they are profound and radically transformative truths about the very nature of human existence and reality itself. Religions are not all the same: they come up with different answers to fundamental questions. By the same token, if I believe a religious belief not to be true, then I am also implying that it might have harmful consequences as well as being nonsense. Moderate belief, or moderation in belief, doesn't really resolve this dichotomy for me, especially when its proponent, Egginton in this case, believes that this belief is good for other people. He himself does not participate in organized religion. He seems to be motivated more by anti-atheism than by theism.

6 comentarios:

Joseph Hutchison dijo...

It seems to me that Egginton is getting at a distinction between moderation and fundamentalism—the former allowing the possibility of error in one's opinion, the latter disallowing it. Fundamentalism—in religion, science, politics, aesthetics (pick your favorite areas of belief)—may simply be an overwhelming obsession with attaining and preserving certainty in an uncertain world. Or it may be a mental illness. In any case, it's evident, at least to me, that fundamentalism can "have harmful consequences as well as being nonsense." Unfortunately, there is no cure for it.

Thomas dijo...

The strength of people's beliefs is measurable only in the actions that people take. And there is no "absolute" action (no perfect expression of a belief in a deed). There is therefore no such thing as a "fundamental" belief. All beliefs are "moderated" in action. And everyone has some deeply held beliefs that they act on with great consistency. In that sense, all sane people are "fundamentalists" about something (that they won't discuss the truth of with you) and moderate about other things (that they will).

I don't know what it would mean to get people to hold all of their beliefs "moderately", except that it would make everyone's mental lives boring. Luke warm.

I imagine Billy Collins is a moderate believer in everything he does. Nuff said.

Jonathan dijo...

Moderate belief ends up being almost identical with agnosticism: "Faith for religious moderates is a constant reminder that human knowledge is always capable of improvement, of progress, that there is always something more, something other to know."

If you take the second half of this statement, then it would be a very good definition of a kind of radical agnosticism such as my own. As a definition of religious faith it seems more of an anti-definition.

Almost everyone realizes that their aesthetic preferences are contingent on when and where they were born and a host of other factors. Scientists know that additional evidence can come along to alter human knowledge at any time. A fundamentalist scientist is simply a bad one. The notion of relativity and progress, however, seem oddly at odds with religion. How do you "improve" religion except by importing secular, progressive values into it until it becomes palatable?

Progressives will make their religion progressive and conservatives will make their religion conservative. In other words, everyone will associate the values they already hold with the authority of religion (if they are religious.)

Jonathan dijo...

And I have been accused of being an aesthetic fundamentalist because of my intolerance of Billy Collins! It fits perfectly.

Jordan dijo...

I'm a fundamentalist for the idea that adults don't tell other adults what to do, think or believe.

Jonathan dijo...

I have a hard time telling even children what to do.