Monday, November 22, 2004

Conference on Secularism at NYU

It just sounds terrible. I have great respect for the participants as individuals, but this conference sounds pretty painful. What is the point of sitting around and debating in public whether intelligent people are allowed to believe in God or not?

In my view, the debates on secularism that have been happening in places like India are actually much further along conceptually than the kind of post-election hand-wringing that has been occurring amongst Disappointed Dems. in the U.S. lately.


jimvj said...

It is very disappointing to read a member of the intellectual class be so biased. The schedule of speakers/topics never once says anything that remotely implies a ban on belief in god.

In a nation where 45% of the populace prefers creationism to evolution, geology, paleontology, etc; and where "faith-based" programs (based on fudged statistics) are dismantling the wall between state and church, it is all the more imperative to discuss these topics from a secular perspective. We need very much to be aware of the dangers inherent in mixing religion with either science or state.

Btw, your brief critique of Irshad Manji's NYT piece was equally disappointing. The many specious arguments in her piece are more evidence that the Old Grey Lady has truly lost her stature. Manji's most fallacious argument? That she is religious because otherwise she would be a consumptive materialist. This is the kind of false dichotomy one would expect from a high school student. I, an atheist, am very conscious of the environment and the ill effects of rampant consumerism. The mostly secular (or nominally religious) Europeans consume much less and are much more environmentally conscious than their very religious American cousins.

Amardeep said...

We need very much to be aware of the dangers inherent in mixing religion with either science or state.Yes, exactly. The church/state divide is exactly the point of the secularism I'm trying to promote.
But does that necessarily mean anything for individual religious believers? Does that mean their beliefs must be rendered invalid? No, it doesn't.

I didn't realize from the article in the Globe that this conference also had people like Manji and Akeel Bilgrami. Perhaps it was more interesting than the writer makes it seem (this often happens in the newspaper, actually). But the comments quoted from Richard Dawkins seem counterproductive to me.

There is an inherently extra-rational or irrational component to any espousal of faith. That is not an insult to believers; it is the definition of faith. So the use of "rationalist" arguments against religion strike me as both ineffective and wrong on the merits.

Though I am a strong supporter of state secularism, I am 'soft' secularist on the cultural front. Have you read Charles Taylor on secularism? (He has an essay in the volume "Secularism and its Critics.") I tend to follow his line. Perhaps I'll post a summary of his argument in the next few days, and you can respond to that.