Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Hilzoy on Violence, and God

(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)

It's hard to keep up with all the great blogs out there, but I wanted to highlight two great posts by Hilzoy over at Obsidian Wings. She's a philosophy professor, and often writes thoughtful dissections of important stories (and debunks of major disinformation campaigns), but two of her posts in the past couple months really struck me. When pundits go on a knee-jerk anti-blog tear, I have to think — where the hell are the pundits that are producing pieces this thoughtful and thought-provoking? There aren't many.

"Liberating Iraq" (2/27/07) considers the belated and incomplete realizations of Iraq war hawks such as The New Republic's Peter Beinart:

Violence is not a way of getting where you want to go, only more quickly. Its existence changes your destination. If you use it, you had better be prepared to find yourself in the kind of place it takes you to.

...liberation is not just a matter of removing an oppressive government. It can seem that way when you live under tyranny. Nothing is more comprehensible than people living in apartheid South Africa, or under Saddam, thinking: if only that government were removed from power, things would be better. They would have to be. After all, how could they possibly be worse?

Non-violent resistance and conflict resolution really do demand an entirely different moral, emotional and social vocabulary, utterly foreign to the insecure, unreflective neocons and their many chickenhawk allies. Imperialists and other bullies can never truly win over hearts and minds or foster peaceful coexistence — they only understand the language of domination. Even violence with "the best intentions" — if such a thing is possible! — will change the path.

Trusting In God's Judgment (3/14/07) considers the dynamics of George W. Bush's professed beliefs in God, and the actions of the religiously certain in general:

What is a problem is to have someone in office who claims to care only about what God thinks and how God will judge him, but who doesn't actually take this idea seriously. Someone like that will use the thought that only God's opinion matters simply to dismiss human criticism, without actually worrying about God. He will regard God as a convenient excuse, someone he can assume agrees with him. But to believe in a God who is, in fact, you, or who is so unreal to you that you don't need to bother taking His views seriously, is not faith; it is the opposite of faith.

Suppose you actually believe in God. You believe, that is, in a being who is omniscient, who knows not just what you do, but what is in your heart. Moreover, He cares deeply about goodness; in fact, his opinion of you will be based entirely on whether you are actually a good person. He is generous and loving, and so you don't need to worry that He will judge you in a mean-spirited way, taking what you think in the least charitable light. When you are genuinely trying to do the right thing, He can be counted on to know that.

On the other hand, since God does know your heart, He can also be counted on to see through your excuses. He is not interested in whether you can convince yourself, or even other people, that you are a good person. He is interested in whether or not you really are a good person. And, as I said before, He knows everything there is to know on this subject. You can fool yourself, but you cannot fool Him. Not only can you count on Him to give their proper importance to those things you do that you know are wrong but that other people are prepared to laugh off; you can count on Him to see through all the excuses for bad behavior that convince even you.

If you believed this, the idea of being judged by God would be genuinely terrifying. Even if you think you are basically a good person, you might be adopting too easily the lax standards of people around you, or convincing yourself that you are doing what's right when in fact you are not. And the flip side of the fact that God can be counted on not to be unduly harsh on you is that he can be counted on not to let you off the hook too easily either. He will make all the allowances that really ought to be made, but no more.

She adds in the comments:

Moreover, it is not inconceivable that someone might believe that God asks us to respect others even when we disagree with them, and/or to preserve the separation of church and state, and/or to protect democracy. On most accounts, He certainly prohibits accepting jobs one cannot in good conscience fulfill conscientiously, and if being a conscientious President requires protecting and preserving the Constitution, then one is obliged to do so, having given one's word.

As I commented over at Obsidian Wings, personally, I've always been struck by the lack of humility among the religious right. Also, despite their more literalist bent toward the Bible, they seem to ignore much of its content to a striking degree. I don't think "fearing" God per se is necessary, but I've always felt that a close reading of the Bible and reverence toward its God would engender a greater drive to try to be open, to think matters through and act wisely, rather than deciding that everything one does or thinks is divinely blessed or inspired...

I've always been fond of a saying that "I don't trust the person who says he or she has found the light, but rather the person who's still searching."

(I'll add here that that principle is precisely why I value bloggers who are thoughtful over mainstream pundits who are asinine.)


Little Miss Know it All said...

Vagabond, seriously, why aren't you submitting for Carnival of the Liberals? I would have LOVED to put your posts front and center for all to read. This is excellent, as are most of your blogs!

Faded said...

Great link! Thanks. Outstanding post as well.

The Answer, by the way, (as far as tv pundits go, anyway) is that people watching MSM don't have the time or the attention span to concentrate long enough on complex positions. And why don't they? Because for years, a seven course meal of a complex issue has dissected into smaller and smaller bite-sized bits in order to fit them between ads and the latest sex scandal. Marginalized, Homogenized, and every story given a straw man to blame by default, just so a viewer won't have to decide for themselves. Anyone who wants some truth or some depth goes to the blogs first, and after that books. TVs and Newspapers are just entertainment anymore. They are a outdated medium and they realize it, which is why they are so scared of the blogs.

Soon enough, Fox will just end EVERY Newscast with simplistic us against them lingo, Like "those damn liberals!"

Terrorists bomb Iraq. Those Damn liberals!
Bigots unable to racebait. Those Damn Liberals!
Diplomacy with Iran brokers peace deal. Those Damn Liberals!
Stormfront coming. Those Damn Liberals.

It's all they've got.