18 December 2006

The Battle of the Gigantomachia

Jodi Dean has posted a diary on Gingrich's desire to institute "patriotic" teaching of American history from a religious perspective over at the marvellous I Cite. The diary has generated a lot of heated exchanges that are probably less than flattering to all involved. What I find most interesting in this whole discussion is not the question of which side is correct, but rather how certain forms of criticism seem to be entirely off limits no matter how carefully crafted or qualified. Where certain groups should be aligned with one another in fighting a common menace, there's instead a series of mischaracterizations and sophistical insults. What is it about our identifications that lead us to such mental contortions, sophistries, and distortions of clear thought? And to take yet another low blow, why is it that the Christian seems constitutively unable to avoid viewing themselves as a victim beset upon the wicked forces of paganism and secularism, regardless of whether they have all the power? Perhaps this discourse of the victim is the first thing that needs to be overcome. Then again, after having been up for over 24 hours grading (the joys of having a 5/5 teaching load), I suspect I'm not thinking all too clearly either.

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5 Comments:

Blogger Anthony Paul Smith said...

Perhaps it's the fact that you claim "they have all the power" when in fact most of the Christians I knew back home had no more power than you did. It's not a victim complex for me, I like or dislike pagans and secularists depending on who they are, it's a victor complex. Look, in two years the Democrats will be back in control of the government and we can all go back to bitching about how they're not really left. We can put this long national nightmare of arguments over religion behind us.

December 19, 2006 2:25 AM  
Blogger Sinthome said...

Both institutionally and socially, Christians are the ones with the power. They make up the vast majority in the United States and enjoy a privileged place here where religious belief is concerned. If the statistics are to be believed, then atheists make up some 2% of the total population. Now generally I have no problem with this. It is a particular group of Christians, those on the Christian right, that are of concern to me. When it is suggested that Christians are under assault by secularists, this just belies reality. Usually this sort of argument is advanced in the case of some conflict where planted school board members are trying to get intelligent design taught in the schools or institute school prayer. When they don't get their way, it is then argued that this is an assault by secularists bent on banishing religion. Nevermind the fact that a Catholic parent might be very opposed to having a Pentacostal lead their child in prayer, or even be opposed to intelligent design (the Catholic church endorsing evolution). This argument functions rhetorically as a way of trying to stifle dissent against a very specific set of religious practices.

I do agree with your final sentence about how it would be nice to put this nightmare of arguments over religion behind us. Somewhere the German Sociologist Luhmann talks about the manner in which morally based forms of communication generate conflict and antagonism, rather than diminishing it. The same holds true when religious belief is used as a ground of policy for obvious reasons (that it's not a matter of collective deliberation, but of fidelity to a certain set of beliefs). I take it that this is one of the issues the Enlightenment thinkers were responding to-- Is there another way of collectively deliberating that doesn't lead to these endless religious wars and persecutions? This, no doubt, is one of the reasons that epistemology became such an important discipline for them: What grounds of deliberation can two persons share, independent of revelation?

December 19, 2006 3:17 AM  
Anonymous pebird said...

Sinthome:

You are a glutton for punishment.

BTW, having "power" is having potential to move things - there is no doubt that in the US if you label yourself Christian you have more power than if you do not, regardless if you choose to use it. This should not even be a point of contention.

I must admit that after reading this entire exchange (more than once), I know less about what religion is than when I started.

Perhaps that was the purpose.

December 19, 2006 10:15 AM  
Anonymous Jodi said...

Ooh, PE Bird, snap!! (That's my pathetic attempt to seem 'with it' as I commend the last line of your comment! Well done, sir.

December 19, 2006 4:49 PM  
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