Saturday, February 25, 2006

Fear this, and tremblingly obey…

Further to Google’s recent capitulation, more high-tech leaders are identified as having made their own pacts with the ChiCom devil.

Microsoft, Skype, News Corporation, Cisco, Sun Microsystems, and Nortel Networks join Google in the dock. At least Yahoo didn’t attempt to airbrush its own name from the list. If it was a secret policeman it would be up for an award by now, having recently helped bag its second journalist. The upshot is that the US Government and many dedicated democracy activists are spending taxes and the donations of ordinary Americans to break spyware and firewalls built and maintained by American companies.

Some of these captains of digital industry argue before Congress that they have no choice if they are to have access to the Chinese market. They also point out that if they don’t respect Chinese law, the Chinese are less likely to respect those laws around copyright and patents upon which technology companies rely.

Copyright and patent protection vs 20 years in a gulag. If our business and political leaders can’t see the difference then we the people had better keep a tight grip on our constitution as well as our wallets. If we can’t sell nukes or anthrax or advanced satellite gear to the ChiComs, why are the technology companies allowed to sell them the weapon of ignorance? The Soviet Bloc eventually collapsed from within, and it was knowledge of the free world that slew the beast, not the M-1 Abrams.

China is a pre-Judaeo-Christian dictatorship where politics and business operate in a state of nature and only might is right. The West, on the other hand, is largely post-Judaeo-Christian now, and our cultural norms are increasingly detached from their ancient moorings. Leave a ship unmoored and it will drift with the tide – no prizes for guessing which way it’s flowing at the moment.

Obviously we can’t rely on CEOs or politicians to show the integrity and self-restraint of a snapping turtle. The Chinese government certainly won’t. As long as that’s true, technology can’t fix the problem. But as culture is the real root cause here, perhaps that’s where we need to focus. There are somewhere between 55 and 90 million Christians in China, Catholic and Protestant, and more every day. And God knows we need them to hold their government to account before our own sells us down the river. You want to safeguard democracy and freedom of speech? Find a mission to China and donate.

Some saviours of Western civilization, yesterday.


PI said...

'Find a mission to China and donate'. Sorry to be dumb but can you enlarge on that a little?

Ivan the Terrible said...

As in support missionary efforts to the PRC...

And you have never been dumb yet :)

PI said...

Maybe I should quit whilst I'm ahead.

Aunty Marianne said...


Encouraging fervency in faith. Last year's faith-based values, next year's fundamentalisms?

Anonymous said...

From generously spreading crumbs of British wit on trifling matters to calling for the spread of democracy in the benighted East--that's some transformation, Ivan.

I say, encourage Chinese capitalism. The desire for freedom will come with it. I'm still to see a democratic revolution spearheaded by Christians. Especially if they're Catholic.

Bit afraid of the choppy seas of secularism, ain't we? Well, fear not, Ivan, the ship was set free about two centuries ago, and it's been sailing pretty damned good since then. Plus, they had democracy in Athens under Solon and in Rome post the Tarquins, without eschatological tales to oil the engines of Senatus Populusque Romanus. In fact, I guess you Brits may be the only people who've managed to combine healthy democracy with reasonable Christianity. But post hoc is not propter hoc, and don't extrapolate from the kindly Anglo-Saxons to the rest of the Christian tribe. Russia and Spain used to be most fervently Christian, and blindingly undemocratic. Eh?


Anonymous said...

That paragon of republican thought, Niccolo Machiavelli, saw first that Christianity puts fetters on political 'virtus', and effeminates the soul with promises of an afterlife.

"And if our religion asks that you have strength in yourself, it wishes you to be capable more of suffering than of doing something stong. This mode of life thus seems to have rendered the world weak and given it in prey to criminal men, who can manage it securely, seing that the collectivity of men, so as to go to paradise, think more of enduring their beatings than of avenging them. And although the world appears to be made effeminate and heaven disarmed, it arises without doubt more from the cowardice of the men who have interpreted our religion according to idleness and not according to virtue."--'Discourses on Livy', II.2


PI said...

I just love it when you boys talk brainy.

Anonymous said...

That's very flattering, Mrs. Pi. But I'm afraid I'm mostly bluffing my way through it all. Anyway, I'll see Ivan's Edmund Burke, and raise him another Machiavelli. Plenty where that came from. :-)


Ivan the Terrible said...

Hi all - sorry to have left you all so long! I have a guest in town, so we were out and about.

Aunty M: Christian fundamentalism rarely steps beyond moaning that there's too much skin on Love Boat, and has lately taken to berating Republicans for failing to observe God's command to exercise proper ecological stewardship. Headhackers they aren't. And I'm always a little saddened by how few on the left remember or care that Socialism was originally Christian Socialism, and that nothing on its non-totalitarian wing makes sense unless you understand its roots in Christianity. If Christian belief would turn the Chinese into psychos, why didn't it do that to us?

Des, the whole problem is that China is *already* capitalist, and very successfully so, without democracy, human rights, property rights or the rule of law. I say again - if our own elites learn from the Chinese example that they don't have to put up with a free press to have a free market, they will not be long in finding ways to "go Chinese".

And I'm afraid that citing Russia and Spain just proves my point for me. Communism and Fascism were the 20th Century's two entirely secular savageries, both of which explicitly rejected Christianity, and with it the concept of the individual and the call to mercy.

And finally, if "religion ... wishes you to be capable more of suffering than of doing something stong", well, no-one would think that grounds for despising Gandhi, or Nelson Mandela. Why then hold it against Christianity? Christians don't spearhead revolutions. They change the world without them. Less bloody, but longer-lasting results.

Epicene Control Freak said...

Bah! The difference between bitching about skin on Love Boat and blowing up crowds of little kids is just a matter of degree: The former is Hitlerianly evil, while the latter is just a perfectly understandable pecadillo, and besides, they're Freedom Fighters, and anyway, the devi^H^H^H^HAmericans made them do it, and besides, that's their culture.

Or something.

A friend of mine, a Southerner, once gave me that line about Christian fundies and Islamic fundies both being fundies, so, like, they're pretty much the same. So I asked him, Frank, how many small towns in the Bible Belt did you set foot in growing up? "Quite a few!" How many had a football field? "Every damn one!" Okay, how many barrels full of severed human hands did you see on those football fields? "Uh...."

Ivan the Terrible said...

Hi ECF. Nothing like a little local colour to crystallise the issues. That would be Afghanistan, I presume? I seem to recall that they outlawed soccer but used the stadiums for executions and amputations.

Anonymous said...

Ivan: these issues are so general and vaguely phrased, that we're always running the risk of talking past each other here. I'm no enemy of Christianity--at least in its reformed, Protestant embodiment. In fact, I come from a mixture of fervent Protestantism and sturdy skepticism about religion. Maybe it's the latter that prompts me to doubt the connection (causal or otherwise) between Christianity and the rise of democracy. As far as I'm concerned, the admirable devotion Northern European people have had to a culture of rights and liberties is far from being explainable by the 'softening' influence of the teachings of the Nazarene carpenter. There's still a compelling case, made many decades ago by Max Weber, for a strong connection between Protestanism and capitalism (in virtue of the former's work ethic rather than some intrinsic truth of this religion). But, to my knowledge, no one, with the misguided exception of some German Idealists, have made a convincing argument for Christianity as a breeding ground of democracy. Furthermore, the fact that Socialism (a political view for which I have hardly any sympathy) may have evolved from Christian Socialism is, again, no strong argument for a return to the latter.

The fact of the matter is that two very strong factors tend to deeply undermine any successful prospects for Christianity in the modern West: the existence of secular humanism, and modern natural science. The former argues forcefully that one can be a fully moral person without recourse to a transcendent fundament (God) to ground my ethical beliefs and behaviour. In fact, it is entirely contrary to the spirit of the Enlightenment to argue for the moral law on theological grounds: ultimately, the injunction to follow God's commandments rests on the threat of punishment in the afterlife. But basing a system of ethics on fear is a non-starter from the very beginning, in the modern world. Obeying the moral law must be a dictate of reason, not of the fear of punishment; I could beat a dog into complete submission, and the poor animal will do as I say, for fear of further discipline--but are we to say that the dog has thereby become a moral person, insofar it has learnt to obey the injunctions of a higher instance?

The other factor that militates strongly against a bright future for Christianity is modern natural science. It has proved its credentials more than enough by virtue of its explanatory-predictive power and technological applications. But, if contemporary science is true, then a great deal of the empirical statements of the Scriptures are strictly false. The ridiculous cosmology of the Old Testament becomes discredited, and biblical anthropogony obsolete. Now, one can have two attitudes toward this reality. You can, as some American Christians, turn schizofrenic and live in denial, accepting simultaneously the truth of the theory that explains how your fridge operates (by appeal to electrons, molecular forces, and so on) AND the movingly naive stories about the creation of animals and man that some Levantine tribesmen devised about 3,000 years ago. But I think that, ultimately, that avenue is the way to intellectual suicide--and possibly a sin against the Holy Spirit, insofar one refuses to use one's reason, God's most precious gift to man.

The other option would be to confront the predicament lucidly and manly, and honestly ask what could still be salvaged from the heritage of Christianity, given that modern science has disproved so many of its statements. This isn't anything new: some German Protestant theologians pondered this question already in the 1930s--the movement of ideas associated with Rudolf Bultmann and his notion of 'Entmythologisierung.' In short, Bultmann saw that quantum mechanics and contemporary gravitation theory simply make the empirical world-view of the Bible untenable like so many ancient myths (hence 'de-mythologisation'). But he thought there is something uniquely positive to the Christian message: the selfless sacrifice of Jesus for the whole of humanity can be the basis of an ethics of solidarity and self-denial in the name of one's fellow man. That's all very dandy, but then (1) the Christian who accepts that claim will have to prove his credentials through good works and virtuous thoughts rather than mumbling some obscure credo or speaking in tongues and handling snakes, and (2) the post-Enlightenment Christian will have to ask himself really hard what he can still keep from the Bible in terms of words to live by.

Above all, I like me the kind of Christian who reads and meditates on things like Dietrich Bonhoeffer's commentary on the Sermon on the Mount rather than the nonsensical pronunciamentos of Leviticus or the bloody, barbaric stories about the whimsical, jealous sky-god of the Old Testament. No offense to any Christian who may read these lines. I really mean them no harm.

Given that they've trained me in the dark arts of reasoning (just like Randall, except that he works for the forces of evil :-), I'd like to go ahead and anticipate (and refute) two possible objections to my contention:

[1] Yeah, OK, but we can still interpret the Bible alegorically and metaphorically, just like the theologians of medieval Latin Neoplatonism advocated--there's no need to discard it. My answer is: sure, don't let me stop you. But this may work perhaps in the case of highly educated Christians with a penchant for reflection and imagination; however, the average Protestant, Joe Q Pious who loads his kids every Sunday morning in the minivan to go to the local megachurch doesn't want to know about St Bonaventure splitting hairs about the mysteries of the mystic ascent of the soul. he wants factual truths, and he wants them now.

[2] We know from the history of science that physical and biological theories change, while the words of the Scripture have remained unchanged for 2,000 years. There's a possibility that current science may be revised in the future to reflect, at a different level, the cosmological story of the Bible. My answer to this is: I wouldn't bet my graduate stipend on that. There are good reasons to believe that any successor to quantum mechanics will be an equally non-eterministic, weird theory (it's guaranteed by Bell's theorem). Also, the theory of general relativity (GTR) has been confirmed to an excellent degree for the last century (it's still a work in progress: at the present, they have a fancy instrument mounted on a satellite, the Gravity Probe B, to test one of GTR's strangest predictions, namely that a massive rotating body will drag space and time around with it. Check it out at, it's very cool). Furthermore, Darwinian biology is here to stay, and whoever thinks that 'intelligent design' has a chance to challenge it is laboring under embarrrassing illusions.


Aunty Marianne said...

Anon, there is a link between Christianity and democracy, but it lies in the Reformation. When churches took control of their forms of worship, lay preachers and altar-moving etc, it wasn't long before the same people were seeking to take control of local affairs at a parish level and demanding their local landlord suffer a council of burgesses. The relatively structured Church of England remained episcopalian, which is what drove people to seek to build alternative communities away from its jurisdiction. Cue the Pilgrims. Weber's point is that in Protestantism the accent is on works and not prayers. Your work, and your active presence as a community pillar, is essentially the way in which you serve God. Political activism or at least action therefore becomes a duty. Voila! the religious encouragement to democracy in protestantism.

Ivan - have read Mounier (core text on EU formation, Monnet deeply influenced by his thinking) and you're right about Christian Socialism - but even that's recent and arose from industrialisation. But would still like to point out that Torquemada could possibly be considered somewhat of a psycho. The Crusades were pretty messy too. Historically and sadly Christianity has served as no greater preventer of headhacking.

Desargues - what I don't get is why Joe Q Public turns to the Church for facts. Faith is about the numinous by definition. The Church does faith, not fact. You're perhaps going to point out science suffers Kuhnian paradigm shifts and cannot provide the rock-hard certainty Joe needs on issues of fact. It is in short an intellectual security blanket problem. All I can do for that is share my own. The applicability of complexity theory to just about every field of science should be taught in all schools. That's my security blanket and where the numinous and the factual hinge for me.

R. Sherman said...

Now this is what happens when you go away. You come back looking for a little humor and only to find that a political philosophy class has broken out.

Re: the link between Judeo/Christian values and democracy. May I point to the preamble to our letter to Daddy George III saying we were packing up and leaving for good.

"We hold these truths to self evident: That all men were created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life liberty and the pursuit of happiness; that governments are instituted among men, deriving their power from the the just consent of the governed..."

Whether one believes in God or not, there seems to be a connection between such a belief and democratic processes.

In the meantime, let me tell a joke about Baptists, as I am one:

Why to Baptists not make love while standing up?

Because they're afraid someone will think they're dancing.


Ivan the Terrible said...

Hi Des. I hope you got some sleep last night :) Your points about Christianity and science are all good ones, but not for me a barrier to faith. As for secular humanism, I would only point out that no-one would ever have arrived at secular humanism without having passed through Judaeo-Christian morality first.

BTW, I'm not a Socialist either, but the point is that the hostility of many left movements to Christianity has an element of parricide to it that is pretty perverse. All mainstream politics, left and right, is underpinned by Judaeo-Christian assumptions.

Hi M. Thanks for the info re Mounier. The caveat about Christian Socialism being recent is true but not relevant, tho': the fact remains that industrialisation has swept the world, but only given birth to secular humanism in (post) Christian countries.

As for Torquemada and the Crusades:
- they were medieval phenomena and no-one else was any nicer at the time
- the others are still no nicer, but Christians are
- the Inquisition killed a few thousand people over the course of six centuries, whereas militant Islam has killed several times that number in the last ten years, and
- it's only fair to remember that the Crusades sought to reconquer formerly Christian lands that the Muslims had taken over and converted through terror and mass slaughter.

Hi Randall - nice quote - a good example of the general point. Good joke, too :)

Eliot Bridge (formerly Epicene Ctl Freak) said...

D.A., reason isn't enough. You can't have a civilization, democratic or otherwise, without civic virtue. In a nation-state, civic virtue isn't in the individual's interest because the effect of any one individual slacking off is just a drop in the bucket. Sometimes even in a relatively small group, civic virtue is not in the individual's interest.

You talk about reason like it's axiomatic that more reason is always better, but how's that an axiom? In fact, if you look at the decline of religion in secularized societies, it seems to correlate well with a decline in civic virtue.

I think you're also assuming that "reason" is somehow incompatible with a fervent belief in deranged bullshit, but a quick survey of scientific [sic] theories [sic] of history doesn't bear that out. Faith in reason is fine as long as it's not boundless. The Enlightenment brought us not merely faith in reason, but faith in faith in anything persuasively marketed as reason, and that sort of cargo-cult reason-worship has done us very little good. But that's the human race for you. "They have neither the time, the training, nor the inclination for strategic thought."

Joe Q. Pious doesn't, and shouldn't, spend much time ratiocinating about Big Issues: A society composed entirely of Dietrich Bonhoeffers would starve. Furthermore, intellectuals have a shockingly bad record of providing meaningful answers to questions that can't be settled with a cyclotron. Betting on form, Joe's horseback guess is more appealing than anything Bonhoeffer's likely to have. You observe that physical science derives its credibility from the existence of iPods, and that's absolutely true, but I don't see why "secular humanism" should bask in any reflected glory there.

Is it rational to be rational? Frequently, no.

Back to Christianity, I agree about the protestant work ethic sort of mentality being a crucial element in modern European democracy [sic], but modern Japanese democracy [sic] seems to get along fine with an entirely different work ethic. Ancient Athens [ditto] might be another counterexample, I guess.

As for China, it's true that they've got the beginnings of capitalism without democracy, but so at one time did Europe.

Eliot Bridge said...

Er, lemme rephrase that: Reason has a fantastic track record in addressing a particular class of very simple problems. Therefore, people mistake it for a sort of universal solvent. Some of them waste their whole lives doggedly sawing away with it at other classes of problems, which are immune to that set of tools.

"Gee, that sledgehammer's a real whiz at pounding tent stakes — just wait'll I get one to peel my tomatoes!"

Anonymous said...

Wow, looks like my posting made a bit of a splash. :-) Many thanks to those who took the trouble to react to my ramblings of last night. But now you guys raise an entire host of other problems, which I can't really answer in one post. So I'll just try to catch my breath, and come back with more. One thing is transparent, I guess--I'm clearly a child of the 18th century Enlightenment (just like some of the Founding Daddies, in fact). So yeah, for me more reason IS always better, I'm afraid. And even if we don't like that, it's not like reason will listen to us and stop her inexorable dialectic. She's a pretty cunning lady. In the end, we're left with a disenchanted world, but there's not much we can do about it.

Now excuse me while I have to go back to some really dry, soulless stuff.


Ivan the Terrible said...

I'm beginning to feel like the eponymous Joe Q. Pious here - I'm not sure I'm equipped to do justice to the points been raised in these very fine comments. I could take the easy way out and just say that Des, Eliot, you guys have stuff to share that should be on a front page somewhere, not buried in my comments - whenever you're ready to start a blog, let me know and I'll be there :)

But I shan't chicken out entirely. Eliot is to my mind right to question whether reason is always the best way to explain the world, especially when many if not most other actors in the world do not use reason in the same way, if at all. I'm a great believer in the power of narrative, having seen many times how a bandwagon can make an observeable falsehood into a generally accepted truth. And to me the key narratives of the moment are:
- China will soon be a superpower, there's no point trying to change its behaviour, and so we should accommodate it instead, and
- the West cannot defeat Islamism and so we should accommodate it instead
We played that game in the '30s, until it was almost too late. And when we finally got around to creating the counter-narrative, it involved 1000 bomber raids on Dresden and the A-Bomb on Hiroshima. I really don't want us to have to go there again. Let's draw the line a little earlier this time.

Anonymous said...

Well, that's mighty fine of you to suggest I should start a blog, but, as I was telling the world's leading anthropological ape, there's too many blogs out there for me to start another one. Plus, easy charm has never been my forte, British wit is not in my chromosomes, and a good handling of English still eludes me. Then why bother? Instead, I'll just lead a virtual existence in the comments section, parasitic upon the postings of people who write better than me.

I'm not sure I understand what makes you think China is such a great danger. That country is pretty inward-looking, and I don't think they have the expansionist ambitions the evil Soviets had. Of course, as they develop militarily, they may feel the need to assert their presence in the area--but then this is what military powers tend to do, and again, I'm not sure why the United States, which claims to be a republic, needs to assert a military presence in all parts of the world. Above all, I really don't think the Chinese want a stand-off with the West (their economic ties with the Atlantic world would work against that, anyway). As an ideology, Communism is utterly dead (if you discount Cuba and a few humanities departments at some universities in the West). In China, it only serves purposes of population control--those mandarin gerontocrats don't trust a billion people to think for themselves, just like Russian leaders never trusted the muzhiks to handle self-governance. This is not to say that I applaud in the least the cowardly stance of business leaders at Google, Yahoo, etc. Indeed, they just wasted an excellent opportunity to apply some political pressure in the most indirect of ways, by wielding the economic weapon. After all, it's not like the Chinese government can turn to its home market for services that Google and Microsoft can provide. Oh well. At any rate, if worst comes to worst, we can always change tack and make friends with North Korea, then unleash them upon the Chinese. ;-) I suspect some neocons these days regret they can't give Saddam a call any longer and ask him to do something about Ahmaddinejad--a true pain in the ass that no one knows how to keep in check.

As to Islamofascism, I suspect few people who have any sense left maintain any illusions about the possibility to appease it. (I dunno, maybe there's a great deal of them and I just don't know them; I lead a pretty isolated, unassuming life). But I suspect that, with the possible exception of your run-of-the-mill multiculturalist and some readers of the 'Guardian', by now everyone has realised that these crazy bastards mean us no good. The problem isn't that some of us may be still in denial about this crazy ideology--rather, it's that there isn't any obvious solution to eradicate it (I, for one, don't know what that solution is).

And I know what you mean by the power of narrative, and how people turn to stories rather than arguments to make sense of their lives and a hostile history. But, ultimately, what distinguished good from noxious narratives must be some criterion based in reason. For about half of the last century, it was two narratives of unreason that held sway over Europe--the story of unadulterated race and the competing tale of an egalitarian technological paradise on Earth. Both failed miserably (while claiming the lives of millions), but they were destined to fail because they were irrational.

Darn it, I'm here babbling my head off instead of struggling with the intricacies of region-based topology and stuff. I blame it on you, Ivan! :-)


Ivan the Terrible said...

I promise to stick to pure nonsense for a while, Des, so you can study in peace :)

But really, there's nothing at all wrong with your English.

Anonymous said...


No offense, but some of the dichotomies in your argument are untenable and demonstrably historically false. For instance, regarding natural science, while the charmingly naive Western Europeans may have read the creation stories as factual, St John Chrysostom remarked that the creation stories in the Bible were 'after the manner of a popular poet,' which is to say fictions for the mass market. The idea that literal readings of every word of the Bible are the only tenable reading is a reaction of Protestantism againt Roman Catholicism, and as such an artifact of the 16th century, rather than of general Christian history. It survives as an appendix in modern American religion because of the overwhelmingly Protestant history of the USA, but is a dead letter throughout the small-c catholic world; for instance, Orthodox Christians generally consider young-earth creationism to be heretical.

Again, your allegation that revealed religion depends of the fear of hell to enforce its moral teachings is a widely-believed error, but nothing more than an error. Notably, early Jews do not appear to have believed in a personal afterlife; in fact, the existence of an afterlife was still controversial among Jews at the time of Jesus, with parties for and against. C S Lewis argues from this premise that the Jews believed that God was the summum bonum and that walking in His ways was eudaimonia, if I may, so that following God and the Law were the highest aspirations a man could have during his life, without the need of a heaven to bribe him into virtuousness.

But it doesn't stop there: the classical Christian teaching is not that God damns his enemies to eternal torture (this is a late-medieval notion that can ultimately be traced back to hyperrational readings of St Augustine and Islamic philosophy, notably the Islamic Aristotelians; it is not current among any Eastern church, whether Orthodox or not.) Rather, the doctrine of the early church, clearly laid out in the writings of the church fathers, is that the process of union with God is lifelong and depends on cultivating the virtues assiduously (which explains, eg, why monasticism is unintelligible to Protestants: if you are saved by juridical fiat, then you need not live basically in prayer and repentance; see Martin Luther on 'the crazy monks and nuns' for a complete exposition of this position.) Look up 'theosis' or 'Orthodox soteriology' for more details.

In short, while I respect your attempt to make a 'manly' and ethical response to the inadequacies you perceive in Christianity, I think that you have bought into unjustified criticisms of Christianity from people with hidden biases; eg, Bultmann saw modern society as morally superior to medieval society, as was the fashion at the time, and thus felt entitled to criticize its naive and silly folktales from the perspective of a society that was demonstrably enlightened through reason and virtue. Put so bluntly it sounds like a sick joke today, now that the Enlightenment's logic has been worked out to the bitter end in the USSR and Nazi Germany, and now that Europe is simply giving up on renewing its population, spending its senescence in hedonistic revels and grotesque perversities as the horrid shadow of Osama looms overhead like the Brockgespenstphanom. Nonetheless, the Enlightenment vocabulary of reason and progress is still taken seriously by people who are willing to allow these terms to remain undefined and who have not read Hegel's /Philosophy of History,/ and is thus irresponsibly propagated by feuilletonistes and gossipmongers to the next generation.
- 'Cantemir,' not logged in

Eliot Bridge said...

Ivan (some ways back), yeah, I was muttering about Afghanistan. You're much too kind in suggesting that I should have a blog. I did once have a political blog, but nobody read it. I took that to mean it was crap.

I wouldn't write off reason as a way to explain the world. Even in fields that are pretty obviously a waste of time due to sort of... computational infeasibility, if you will, there's no better option available. I got semi-carried away above.

My main thing with reason objection-wise is I reject it as a source of ethics, is as what I reject it. For that it's worthless. Reason didn't get anybody over the seawall at Tarawa, barring maybe a few suicides.

When it comes to ethics, reason serves best as a generator of excuses for letting the other guy go get shot at.

That having been said, I still think your suggestion that Christianity is going to democratize China is a bit weird. Even if it's necessary, it would seem to be a long way from sufficient. I would on the other hand suggest that the more Christian China is, the more mutual sympathy there's liable to be.

Also, it's been argued that a censored Google is still a hell of a lot of information, much better for the Chinese people than nothing at all. That's not like handing journalists over to the regime, which is actively and hideously evil, rather than passively good-but-not-ideally-so.

Anonymous said...

Tsar Ivan, Eliot, and (Dimitrie?) 'Cantemir':

thanks for responding to my blathering. I do have some timid answers to all your objections (well, plus ou moins, as they say in Ile de la Cite). I'm far from being theologically astute, but, as it happens, I grew up exposed to all three major Christian confessions, so I hope I won't entirely embarrass myself if I presume to discuss doctrinal points. Unfortunately, all I can do now is to write all of you a promissory note--I'm just a poor slave on the academic plantation, and the crack of my advisor's whip is most fearsome. I gotta do some research to keep him happy, but I'll get back to all of you as soon as I'll be able to. I just don't know what the occasion will be--perhaps Ivan could oblige us with anothher post on these matters, or maybe good Randall Sherman will find the time to explain, in a post on his blog, how he chose to reconcile Christian Neoplatonism mit der Beruf eines Anwaltes. Anyway, to paraphrase a most famous Jew, ask, and thou shalt be answered.


Anonymous said...

In the meanwhile, I'll leave all of a conservative frame of mind to ponder some of the musings of the father of political modernity, one of the sharpest minds of the Italian Renaisance. I'm not sure yet to which camp I myself belong--while I have little but contempt for the relativism of the multi-culti bunch, I'm not always one to wax nostalgic about ages past.
Yeah, you guessed it, it's Machiavelli again--but not the writer of the dark, wicked 'Prince', rather the luminous author of 'Discourses on Livy':

"Men always praise ancient times--but not always reasonably--and accuse the present; they are partisans of past things in such a mode that they celebrate not only those ages known to them through the memory that writers have left of them, but also those that once they are old they remember having seen in their youth. When this opinion of theirs is false, as most often is, I am persuaded that the causes that lead them to this deception are various. The first I believe to be that the truth of ancient things is not altogether understood and that most often the things that would bring infamy to those times are concealed and others that could bring forth their glory are rendered magnificent and very expansive. [...] besides this, as men hate things either from fear or from envy, two very powerful causes of hatred come to be eliminated in past things since they cannot harm you and do not give you cause to envy them. But the contrary happens with those things that are managed and seen. Since the entire knowledge of them is not in any part concealed from you, and, together with the good, you know many things in them that displease you, you are forced to judge them much inferior to ancient things, even though the present may in truth deserve much more glory and fame than they. I am not reasoning about things pertaining to the arts, which have so much clarity in themselves that the times can take away or give them little more glory than they may deserve in themselves, but am speaking of those pertaining to the life and customs of men, of which such clear testimonies are not seen."


staghounds said...

To lighten things up, what's the difference between Jews, Episcopalians, and Presbyterians?

Jews don't recognise Christ as the messiah.

Episcopalians don't recognise the Pope as leader of the church.

Presbetyrians don't recognise each other at the liquor store.

Interesting thread, this.

Ivan the Terrible said...

Hi Eliot. I think we're on the same page, except that to your "the more Christian China is, the more mutual sympathy there's liable to be" I would add that "the more Christian China is, the more she will share the ethical underpinnings and habits of thought that gave rise to democracy in the West". Christianity doesn't guarantee democracy, but it has the best record for providing fertile ground for it.

And of course, from my point of view, it has the added advantage of being true :)

I'd like to echo Staghounds and thank everyone for their contributions to this one - especially Eliot and above all Des, who I fear has taken far too much time away from his studies for this! I'll try and stay light for a while, Des, to let you get caught up - don't let the supervisor lay it on too hard...