Tuesday, September 23, 2008

teach the controversy (but try a few others too)

The phrase "teach the controversy" has gained considerable currency in the media lately, and usually refers to differences between evolution and creationism. While some controversies are real, others are created where in actuality no controvery exists. But whatever. So, without promoting any single viewpoint on the issue (anekantavada, gotta love it) I would like to present two additional perspectives on life, one from St. Francis (cue music from Enigma - "Return to Innocence"), founder of the Franciscan Order, and another from Mikhail Bakunin (cue Mussorgsky - "Pictures at an Exhibition"), Russian revolutionary.

First, the Friar:

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

And next the anarchist (from "God and the State"):
The idea of God implies the abdication of human reason and justice; it is the most decisive negation of human liberty, and necessarily ends in the enslavement of mankind, both in theory and practice.
Unless, then, we desire the enslavement and degradation of mankind... we may not, must not make the slightest concession either to the God of theology or to the God of metaphysics. He who, in this mystical alphabet, begins with A will inevitably end with Z; he who desires to worship God must harbor no childish illusions about the matter, but bravely renounce his liberty and humanity.
If God is, man is a slave; now, man can and must be free; then, God does not exist.
I defy anyone whomsoever to avoid this circle; now, therefore, let all choose.
(Um, Voltaire, a deist, was a bit more charitable.) Aha! The controversy: How could anyone fault St. Francis for such noble sentiments, which have been embraced by many from AA to Mother Theresa? And what of Bakunin? Surely he has found some reason to express these thoughts.

Wherefore the difference? Can none say?


Aratina said...

What pops into my mind is that you have to consider the audience that these two people were preaching to. The friar is obviously pushing the Catholic line on how God is love and how monks and nuns are just the most lovable, kind people ever. The revolutionary is trying to stir up a war against the Orthodox theocracy ruling Russia by casting priests as slaveholders. I think they are somewhat right in different respects and somewhat wrong.

Another thought:
Atheists realize that religion and spirituality are fairly silly, simplistic ideas. Yet, atheists also cultivate a deep respect for life as something time consuming and delicate. A true atheist would very much agree with Saint Francis because of the utterly fundamental knowledge that there is only one chance at life for every lifeform, that no two lifeforms have the same experience (conscious or not). The doubt/faith line, too, is wholly consistent with an atheist perspective if faith is not in a god but in the belief that whether good or bad, the experience is what counts.

Atheists may be more prone to depressive realism, but in times that demand care due to long-term consequences, atheists would surely be more courageous than someone who thought there was an afterlife, continuation of essence, or a rebirth after death. And that ties back into the slave mindset talked about by Bakunin, a slave will depend on its master while a free person will forge their own future as long as they are alive and physically/mentally competent.

Aratina said...

Oh, I have to say something about "teach the controversy", too. As has been pointed out in the blogosphere, calling for the teaching of creationism in biology class as an alternative to evolution is the creationist agenda. A better approach is the one that Daniel Dennet proposes where students are free to take or not take a religions course that studies creationism among other religious beliefs--and not just Christianity. The controversy has no place in a science class but who would complain if it was taught in a philosophy course or a religions course? Well, nobody, frankly. The fact is that there is no science to back up creationism, and the only reason people want it to be put in biology classes is to belittle the theory of evolution. So let's not teach the controversy in science classes.

Keir said...

As much as I have at different times liked each of these perspectives, I find that if I want to be able to engage anyone in a meaningful conversation on the topic I cannot speak from only one point of view. Since it is the conversation about these ideas that I think is even more important than the ideas themselves, I want to simply present a few of the best advocates for each side and then see what happens (or doesn't happen. The unexamined life is just as enjoyable isn't it?) Some people jealously guard their beliefs, others don't care, but most people have developed an opinion on the subject that has changed or grown over time, and which they continue to modify.