Thursday, January 8, 2015

What Does Charlie Hebdo Mean For Us?

The free press and the right to report, dissent or satirize without fear of criminal prosecution is often confused with the right to do so without facing the consequences of those actions. Terrorists aren't constrained by the law. I look forward to reading comments on political sites and blogs. The passion that some people write with is palpable. With that said, trolling a blog or social media sight is quite different than attaching your name and identity to an article or cartoon that terrorists find offensive. The tragedy that unfolded at Charlie Hebdo in Paris was a brutal wake up call to those who choose to stand on principle.

I'm willing to admit my intellectual limitations, but saying all Muslims aren't terrorists is akin to saying all black people aren't criminals: no serious person disputes this sort of claim. But where are we? In the face of rising fears in the western world, attacks like the one in Paris validate (for some) the distrust and hostility directed towards young Muslims. This is a negative synthesis. If stricter laws are imposed, more Muslims will feel pushed to the margins of society- which creates an atmosphere where further radicalization can occur. 

In my opinion we suffer from a lack of critical thinking and brutal honesty.
Religion, like race, is such a sensitive issue that important questions are often trivialized or outright avoided. Telling the truth isn't a Pat Robertson one size fits all jingoistic rant, nor is it a liberal utopian diatribe about getting in touch with the feelings of the perpetrators of these attacks. Any attempt to tell an "objective" truth, or set of truths, about radical Islam has to be focused on historical context. We didn't just arrive here. This doesn't mean the west should be punching bags for past offenses, but we shouldn't disconnect their influence on today.

I could be wrong, but the message I took from Charlie Hebdo was that standing on principle in the face of violent opposition can end in tragedy. I understand the willingness of some to put their lives on the line for an idea. Comedy has a way of broaching taboo topics in a way that straight dialogue can't, but the truth is: everyone wasn't laughing or willing to laugh. Now, fear has taken hold, and when we get scared in the west we cede more of our freedoms and double down on hatred. I sincerely mourn for the families affected by this tragedy. Sadly, this won't be the last clash between civilizations and ideologies.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Is There A Spiritual Path To Reason?

It's been my experience that faith rooted in cautious optimism and doubt is less likely to devolve into dogmatism. All of us believe something: especially those trapped in nihilism who profess not to believe anything. The amount of certainty one places in their worldview, coupled with an inability to accept or even process information contrary to that worldview, leads directly to a solipsistic position that makes civil discussions about religion almost impossible. The inability to consider ideas that don't originate from people who share your worldview is symptomatic of deep dogmatism.

I often hear Christians say we need a national religious awakening. This position assumes that all of our problems could be solved with a rededication to spirituality. I've been chastised for pointing out that we (as a nation) have never lived the religious fantasy many Christians are hungry for. It's more reasonable to hope or pray for a unified commitment to critical thinking and civility. If the Christian narrative of original sin is true, then believers who are calling for this Christian renaissance should know it's doomed to fail. Greed, avarice and hostility are built into our DNA.

We have religious, political and media organizations that are invested in systematically misinforming people. The university, scholarship and intellectualism have become sacrificial lambs at the shrines of religious and political ideologies. I write this as a religious person who is actively engaged in theological studies. Is there a way to balance metaphysical faith with scientific reason? I don't know if there's a yellow brick road everyone is capable of following. Any believer attempting to walk such a path should ask themselves what am I willing to give up?

If there's a spiritual path to reason it has to be built on humility. Faith and reason don't have to be part of any positive or negative synthesis. They can be independent postulates that function together. Religious faith doesn't equate to moral superiority, and a belief in scientific theory doesn't equate to intellectual superiority. It's possible to walk and chew gum at the same time, but too few are willing to risk biting their tongue.