Monday, April 29, 2013

(WR) The Practice of Religion as Applied Literature

Many people assume that belief, in the sense of subscribing to certain propositional claims about ultimate matters, is at the heart of religion. This course, on the other hand, has treated most such religious claims as importantly literary or mythic rather than literal. There are several reasons for treating religious beliefs in this way: taken literally most such claims are epistemically dubious, and dogmatic insistence on them thus tends to be divisive. Apparent contradictions soften when we view such statements as dramatic elements in culturally informative stories rather than descriptions of ultimate reality.

In contrast to doctrinal beliefs, then, we have emphasized faith – not as blind adherence to dogma, which again tends to divisiveness, but rather in its etymological sense of trust. Trusting in something does expose us to an element of risk, but at the same time a healthy trust roots itself in some ground of trustworthiness, so experience and evidence are always relevant. Faith in this sense keeps its feet on the ground; far from slavish belief, it is an informed and willing suspension of disbelief, leveraged to a practical end.

Our greatest emphasis in this course has therefore been on the social practice of religion, viewing the enactment of faith through a lens of social engagement, as expressed in textual and historical interpretation, moral ideology and practice, and the divine possibility of human justice. I am aware that this approach has cut across the grain of most of your expectations, but I trust that you will at some point come to see its usefulness.

(CLP) Anthony Lewis

Legal journalist Anthony Lewis (author of Gideon's Trumpet, on which the film we saw was based) died on March 25th, and David Cole in the New York Review of Books writes:
"Lewis had a particularly sympathetic ear for those whose cries the majority was least likely to hear, and repeatedly called on the rest of us to consider their claims. He believed that by telling their stories, he could appeal to the nation and its leaders to live up to our highest ideals. You can search the Op-Ed pages of today’s newspapers for a similar voice, but you will not find it."
Here is the full article:

Friday, April 19, 2013

(CLP) Conservatives and the Law

A piece in the current Chronicle of Higher Education surveys the remarkable success of the conservative Federalist Society in dominating the judiciary:
Of interest for our purposes is the Society's official "originalist" view of constitutional interpretation, "... exemplified by the jurisprudence of Justice Scalia. That view posits that to interpret the Constitution, one must search for the original meaning of its provisions. The argument is that the original meaning of words may be objectively determined by recourse to historical sources that reveal how the words were used at the time, and that the original meaning is the only legitimate method of interpreting the document."

Monday, April 15, 2013

(WR) Gays and Christians

Here's a (fairly critical) review of a new book by Jeff Chu on the complex relationship between gays and lesbians and various Christian churches in the U.S. An excerpt:

"Chu spent a year traveling all over the country, but it wasn’t God he sought on his pilgrimage. He has never lost his faith. Instead he spent a year meeting with preachers, pastors and ministers who fall all over the map when it comes to the issue of homosexuality, despite the fact they cite the same Bible. Some churches Chu visits are actively hostile (the crowd at Westboro Baptist); some are passively hostile (gay and lesbian worshipers are welcome to attend — and to tithe — so long as they understand that they are not a part of God’s perfect creation); and some fully embrace gay people and approve of gay sex — but only in the context of a committed, monogamous relationship, of course."

(CLP) Selective Prosecution

There are far more people arrested than the courts can ever try, and prosecutors have broad discretion about whom to prosecute, and how harshly to charge them. We've seen the effects of (legislatively enacted) disparities between powder and crack cocaine sentencing, an example of how apparent due process can get far out of step with justice. In this article on so-called Hacktivism, the philosopher Peter Ludlow discusses some of the odd prosecutorial choices in internet misuse cases. An excerpt:

"In a world in which nearly everyone is technically a felon, we rely on the good judgment of prosecutors to decide who should be targets and how hard the law should come down on them. We have thus entered a legal reality not so different from that faced by Socrates when the Thirty Tyrants ruled Athens, and it is a dangerous one. When everyone is guilty of something, those most harshly prosecuted tend to be the ones that are challenging the established order, poking fun at the authorities, speaking truth to power — in other words, the gadflies of our society."

Here's the whole article:

Thursday, April 4, 2013

(WR) More Detachment

Confucius doesn't speak explicitly about detachment, as far as I know, but I think there's something implicit in crafting daily life as a ritual performance that presupposes an analogous frame of mind.

Consider depression, which most of us will have experienced to one degree or another. Pretty much the worst thing about being depressed is that it feels permanent and inevitable when you're in it. The philosopher William James compares it to the weather -- comprehensive, overarching, inescapable. One of the key realizations that helps us to manage depression is that it isn't permanent, despite how it feels while you're in it. That is, once you get some distance from your immediate feelings, a little perspective on them, they're not so oppressive. This is where the metaphor of a Self or Atman representing the real you -- or the you that you aspire to be -- and underlying the feelings of the moment, becomes rather useful.

When your daily interactions with others is a dance, and you really know the moves, its seems likely that this will help you avoid getting sucked into your small-s self and stuck there.