This post that consists of three parts: First, I will give a brief review of Jonathan Haidt and his publications – this section is optional and can be skipped if you like. Second, I will summarize “Microaggression and Moral Cultures,” an article by Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning concerning the nature of microaggressions and the emergence of “victimhood” culture – this is the main meat of the post. Finally, I will use Nietzsche’s master/slave moralities to apply Campbell and Manning’s paper to the differences between victimhood culture and the gospel.
“The man whom we believe is necessarily, in the things concerning which we believe him, our leader and director.”
– Adam Smith, A Theory of Moral Sentiments
This post is a summary of the first chapter in Steven Shapin’s A Social History of Truth: Civility and Science in Seventeenth-Century England. While Shapin’s book is largely about the sociological origins of scientific truth, his account easily generalizes to a discussion of truth, trust and dissent within religious communities.
Shapin is a leading figure in the “strong programme” of the sociology of knowledge associated, primarily, with the University of Edinburgh. This school largely defines itself in terms of its claim that the truth-value of a claim does not causally explain it. Thus, claims that are true must be causally explained in a way that is “symmetrical” to false claims… which is exactly what makes many people on the other side of the science wars more than a little nervous. Thus, Shapin says:
“There is a massive mismatch between dominant characterizations of the sources of our factual knowledge and the ways in which we actually secure that knowledge. Both seventeenth-century and present-day ‘moderns’ widely advertise direct experience as the surest grounds for factual knowledge, just as they identify reliance upon the testimony of others as an insecure warrant for such knowledge. Similarly, both sets of ‘moderns’ celebrate proper science as a culture which had indeed rectified knowledge by rejecting what others tell us and seeking direct individual experience. In contrast, I argue that no practice has accomplished the rejection of testimony and authority and that no cultural practice recognizable as such could do so.” (xxv) (more…)
The infallibility (or lack thereof) that can be attributed to priesthood leaders is not different from that which can be attributed to scientists or any other community that pretends to cultural authority. (This would include political parties, activist groups, nations, ethnic minorities, social identities, etc.) In both cases, the party in question fully acknowledges that they are imperfect and completely open to critical review. Neither party claims absolute and unyielding certainty.
While each community is open to critical review of its imperfect claims, they also insist, however, that such critical review must come from WITHIN their own community – through processes that they recognize as legitimate. This inevitably places the community beyond the scope of “outside” criticism. Indeed, within our modern, liberal society such communities will tend to moralize any such external criticism as an illegitimate or oppressive interference with their autonomy or academic/religious freedom within their “rightful” stewardship or domain. (Non-modern moralize such interference in different moral terms – moral pollution, etc.) Each community is thus fully open to correction, but only through the rules, means, techniques, values, persons and truths that define, structure and differentiate it from other communities. (more…)
Within the famous novel/film a mother, Sophie, is forced to choose which of her two children she will save from the gas chambers at Auschwitz. In a certain sense, the most gut wrenching aspect of the story is not that she chooses her son over her daughter in order to prevent them both from being killed. The most gut wrenching aspect is not which child she choose, but that she had to choose at all. She loved both of her children, which is exactly what made her choice so horrible. (more…)
“The scientific investigator does not preserve the cleavage between the sacred and the profane, between that which requires uncritical respect and that which can be objectively analyzed.”
Institutions shape and form who we are as individuals. The more habituated we become to working and living within an institutional structure, the more we will internalize its rules and the less we will consciously make decisions with regards to our obedience to those rules. With this in mind, it is important to our individual freedom and responsibility that we make explicit – in other words externalize – the rules of science and the ways in which they clash with those that regulate church activity. Both of these institutions have rules that regulate behavior within them and to the extent that these rules contradict each other we who are institutionalized within both will be compelled to navigate our ways through various forms of cognitive dissonance, compartmentalization, strategic equivocation, etc. (more…)
“Here what we see is the perpetual conflict of different gods with each other. This is how it was in the ancient world, before it was disenchanted with its gods and demons, only in a different sense… Depending on one’s ultimate standpoint, for each individual one is the devil and the other the god; the individual must decide which one is the god for him and which is the devil… The many gods of antiquity, disenchanted and hence assuming the form of impersonal powers, rise up out of their graves, reach out for power over our lives and begin their eternal struggle among themselves again…
“[A]s science does not, who is to answer the question: ‘What shall we do, and, how shall we arrange our lives?’ or, in the words used here tonight: ‘Which of the warring gods should we serve? Or should we serve perhaps an entirely different god, and who is he?’ then one can say that only a prophet or a savior can give the answers. If there is no such man, or if his message is no longer believed in, then you will certainly not compel him to appear on this earth by having thousands of professors, as privileged hirelings of the state, attempt as petty prophets in their lecture-rooms to take over his role.”
-Max Weber, Science as a Vocation
If you have not done so already, I strongly recommend that anybody interested in social or political thinking go and read Isaiah Berlin’s classic: Two Concepts of Liberty. Within this paper he lists 4 premises by which modern thinking can and at times has transformed into the very opposite of freedom. I will then state my views regarding the (in)compatibility of these premises with the religious tradition found in the scriptures. (more…)
I haven’t been posting much, and I plan on keeping this one short too.
In previous posts I have developed a four-fold taxonomy of moral discourse and I would like to basically apply this same taxonomy to the sources of our stewardships. From what source do we derive our shared ideas regarding the boundaries of our responsibilities and freedoms? Here are four non-exhaustive and non-exclusive options: (more…)
[Jesus’ cures for medical illnesses] are all miraculous, and the same power was granted to the apostles—”power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease.” And more than this, not only the blind received their sight, the lame walked, the lepers were cleansed, the deaf heard, but even the dead were raised up. No question of the mandate. He who went about doing good was a physician of the body as well as of the soul, and could the rich promises of the Gospel have been fulfilled, there would have been no need of a new dispensation of science.
-William Osler, The Evolution of Modern Medicine
When I speak of “drawing valid inferences” or “making legal moves” in a language game, you should not automatically think that these inferences and moves could simply be made by anyone in the linguistic community. For example, in Foucault’s scenario, the patient’s submission to the psychiatrist’s authority is by no means enhanced by his ability to reason exactly as the psychiatrist would about his condition. On the contrary, such “simulations” of rational discourse would tend to underscore the depth and complexity of the patient’s mental disorder. Thus, not only must a psychiatric diagnosis be articulated according to a fixed set of rules, but it must also be articulated by someone who has been authorized to issue a diagnosis of that kind. And so, it is crucial to the patient’s having submitted to the psychiatrist’s authority that he remain silent while the psychiatrist speaks on his behalf.
-Steve Fuller, Social Epistemology
The first passage above illustrates the historical, zero-sum displacement of religious authority by science with regards to how we ought to behave and to whom we ought to look for such instruction. The second passage above illustrates the asymmetrical nature of scientific authority as it exists within society today. Before continuing I first must say that 1) I think and hope that we all treat modern medicine with the amount of respect that it has clearly earned and 2) I have no intention of pitting medical science against scriptural religion. I do, however, want to use our modern deference to the authority of medical science to illustrate the nature of priesthood authority. (more…)
While this claim does make perfect sense to our modern ears, the scriptures tell a very different story. In the Bible, for example, God promises to visit with vengeance various people and the generations that come after them when the latter clearly did not have any choice in the matter. (Adam and Eve are the most obvious, although not the only example.) We also read of Jesus cursing a tree for not giving fruit when it was not in season. (It was Voltaire, I believe that thought this proved Christianity was absurd.) Indeed, we might say that the whole problem of theodicy is that we cannot understand why some people are allowed to suffer when they have seemingly done nothing wrong. (Both Job and Joseph Smith were great examples.) The fact of the matter is that even if something is not anybody’s choice, this does not mean that God is pleased with it or that we should be perfectly accepting of it. Claims to the contrary are of modern and quite secular origin.
This is not, however, a straight forward argument for or against the acceptance of SSM within the church. If anything, mine is an argument that arguments should play no role in deciding the issue, and if the church fully accepted SSM tomorrow my point would still remain the same. My fear is not SSM but that arguments like those at BBC and W&T are attempts to domesticate and constrain the church through science (showing SSA to be innate or not) and human reason (people should or should not be punished for what is innate). No matter what science says, or what makes sense to our modern sense of morality, we should follow the Lord’s righteous prophets in whatever it is that they say the church should or should not do.
Clark has mentioned in a couple threads how he thinks my position is very similar to that of Soren Kierkegaard. There are several important parallels between Kierkegaard’s thinking and my own, but this should not blind us to the important differences. At the heart of our differences is that Kierkegaard follows the Protestant thinking of his time – the same thinking that he so strongly disagrees with is other ways – in assuming that religion in deeply and irretrievably individualistic. This individualism is exactly what makes Kierkegaard the father of existentialism, while I on the other hand, am much more of a pragmatist of sorts.
A convenient way of looking at the differences between myself and Kierkegaard can be found in his reading of Abraham’s being commanded to sacrifice Isaac. For Kierkegaard, this story illustrates how God and our faith in Him is neither reasonable nor moral, at least not in any human-centered or social sense that Kant, Hegel or any other modern thinker would recognize. Abraham did not explain himself to Isaac for the simple reason that he could not explain himself. There was, quite frankly, no reasons to give on the matter. Any attempt at explaining, discussion or arguing, according to Kierkegaard, would have inevitably brought Abraham’s faith back into the realm of socially regulated reasons and morals. (It is very much worth noting what Sartre also noted: that Abraham never for a single second questioned his interpretation of God’s commandment.) (more…)
“[After Newton t]he universe is one great harmonious order; not, as for Thomas and the Middle Ages, an ascending hierarchy of purposes, but a uniform mathematical system…
“Nature was through and through orderly and rational; hence what was natural was easily identified with what was rational, and conversely, whatever, particularly in human society, seemed to an intelligent man reasonable, was regarded as natural, as somehow rooted in the very nature of things. So Nature and the Natural easily became the ideal of man and of human society and were interpreted as Reason and the Reasonable. The great object of human endeavor was to discover what in every field was natural and reasonable, and to brush aside the accretions irrational tradition that Reason and Nature might the more easily be free to display its harmonious order.”
John Herman Randall Jr., The Making of the Modern Mind, p. 260,76
Within the scriptures we find very little, if any mention of some “problem” with interpreting (personal) revelation. While we do find numerous example of how problems arise from interpreting scriptures (JS-History), we also find that revelation is always the clarifying solution to such problems of interpretation. Why is it, then, that the interpretation of revelation is mentioned so often within the bloggeracle? What assumptions and values must be in place for interpretation to be construed as a problem and what was the historical emergence of these assumptions and values? In order to approach the “problem” of interpretation I will first draw a conceptual trichotomy and will then draw a brief historical sketch of how the problem of interpretation was invented. (more…)
I assume all of our readers here are familiar with the Stanley Milgram experiment. (If not, I strongly recommend that you plug it into a google search and watch the numerous fascinating articles, summaries and (especially) youtube videos. I guarantee that it will not be a waste of your time.) Essentially every reference made to this experiment within the bloggernacle uses it as a sort of smoking gun for the dangerous possibilities to be had in “blind” obedience to our priesthood leaders. I want to push back, not so much against this specific application of the experiment (such dangers do exist), but against the worldview that motivates such an application.
For starters, the Milgram’s was a psychological experiment in that it was meant to speak to our shared human nature and our (unfortunate?) inclination toward trusting authority figures with moral decisions that are rightly ours. It is this psychological interpretation that justified its generalization to our obedience to and trust of authority figures that simply happen to lie within the church’s priesthood structure.
The problem is that the experiment did NOT involve religious authorities. Instead, it was an experiment regarding our obedience to and trust in scientific authorities of a fully secular stripe. A more sociological interpretation of the Milgram experiment would thus not be that human beings are (unfortunately?) naturally inclined to defer to authority figures, but rather than us Westerners have (unfortunately?) been taught to defer to scientific authorities and that this trust in lab coats is far more dangerous than we often assume.
Indeed, even if one were to generalize the experiment to religious authorities, one can only do so by equating scientific authorities in religious authorities in some important sense. I am fully on board with this, but it has interesting implications and contradictions for those who would appeal to the scientific authority of Milgram in order to critically examine appeals to religious authority. Since the Milgram experiment is more relevant to science than it is to religion, it is likely the case that such people are cutting off their own noses to spite their faces.
Most Mormons in this country vote conservative and there is a good reason for the harmony between these two stances. I’m not saying that these good reasons are the actual reasons why most Mormons vote the way they do. I can’t help but agree with the many criticisms and suspicions from left-leaning Mormons bring against this strong correlation. While I do not wish to reduce all the political differences between each side to economic issues, the case of private property makes for a very generalize-able example.
I have no doubt that, in practice, many right-wing Mormons do indeed vote Republican because they are against the redistribution of wealth. I have no doubt that there is some selfishness at play here. I’m also convinced that many right-wing Mormons are against it because they honestly believe that a free market wherein the individual rights to private property are strongly enforced are either better for society overall, or simply the morally right social arrangement. None of these reasons account for the harmony that I see between conservatism and Mormonism.
The reason why Mormons ought to be against the compensation of property by the state for the sake of redistribution is because that property belongs to the Lord and His kingdom to which we have consecrated it. Right-wing Mormons want to limit the secular state as much as possible since that state is not the sovereign in which they have placed their faith. It is the church and not the state that Mormons think ought to redistribute property. In other words, right-wing Mormons ought not to privilege their individual rights, but those of the Lord and His kingdom over the state.
While this is clearly a criticism of some left-wing claims, I think this also functions as a badly needed criticism of many right-wing claims from within the church membership. To the extent that they presuppose and endorse the individualism of capitalism and classical liberalism they also depart from the collectivism of Mormonism to that same extent. Of course the individualism of capitalism, while not ideal, is still much more harmonious with the voluntary collectivism of the church than the compulsory collectivism of the state ever could be, practically speaking.
When Joseph Smith ordered the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor, he was quite clearly participating in the censorship of others. Whether he was commanded by God to do this or not is largely irrelevant for the purposes of this post. Rather, I would like to focus on the continuity which exists between this case and other scriptural examples of censoring or compelling speech. With this continuity in mind we should be able to better conceptualize the tensions between apostasy and censorship that we see in the bloggernacle today. (more…)