teisipäev, märts 23, 2004

Soulless Utility-Maximizers

As far as I can tell, what David Brooks is saying is that George W. Bush is just like Martin Luther King because he's religious. The whole thing is about the pledge of allegiance and school prayer, but that seems to be subtext. Given that this is David Brooks, it's not surprising that much of the column makes no sense at all. Although, to be fair, most of the argument is just stolen from someone else's book. I would agree, though, that teaching objective comparative religion in public schools wouldn't be a bad thing, no more than teaching secular philosophy is.

If you believe that the separation of church and state means that people should not bring their religious values into politics, then, if Chappell is right, you have to say goodbye to the civil rights movement. It would not have succeeded as a secular force.

This is an argument I'll never understand. Does he really think that non-religious people simply couldn't grasp the idea someone of another skin color deserves to use the same water fountain as them? Does believing in God flip a switch in your brain that enables you to see the blindingly obvious? Clearly, though, religious people have a much better grasp on civil rights, as evidenced by their warm acceptance of homosexuals.

King had a more accurate view of political realities than his more secular liberal allies because he could draw on biblical wisdom about human nature. Religion didn't just make civil rights leaders stronger-- it made them smarter.

Yep. Look what religion did for the intelligence of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. Sometimes I turn on the 700 Club and I could swear I'm watching a MENSA meeting.

Whether you believe in God or not, the Bible and commentaries on the Bible can be read as instructions about what human beings are like and how they are likely to behave. Moreover, this biblical wisdom is deeper and more accurate than the wisdom offered by the secular social sciences, which often treat human beings as soulless utility-maximizers, or as members of this or that demographic group or class.

Yes, the Bible is especially useful for understanding how one will behave: on an ark during a 40-day flood, inside a whale, when spoken to by a bush, when every firstborn son in their village is mysteriously slaughtered, when confronted by an angel in a field, or when risen from the dead by God's son. I'm not saying there isn't useful information in the Bible, but this is a bit much, isn't it? Then again, secular types consider human beings to be soulless utility-maximers, so what do I know? Brooks is correct about the social sciences. Let me tell you, in every social sciences book I ever read, there were references to human beings as soulless utility-maximizers on nearly every page.

For example, it's been painful to watch thoroughly secularized Europeans try to grapple with Al Qaeda. The bombers declare, "You want life, and we want death"-- a (fanatical) religious statement par excellence. But thoroughly secularized listeners lack the mental equipment to even begin to understand that statement. They struggle desperately to convert Al Qaeda into a political phenomenon: the bombers must be expressing some grievance.

What about "You want life and we want death" does Brooks think Europe doesn't get? He seems to miss the point that there is actually some grievance that makes them desire our deaths over those of others. To pretend there isn't a political element to their fanaticism is perhaps even more dangerous than to pretend there isn't a religious element.


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