Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Strong Blogging Finish

This week is the last chance to demonstrate what a thoughtful, imaginative, productive course blogger you can be. Let's sprint through the finishing tape with 150% participation, if only to leave the professor in a gratified state of mind when he has to sit down and calculate scores for the course.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

(WR) Morality Without Religion?

Many people learn basic moral rules in a religious context, so naturally they associate the two. But nonreligious people generally subscribe to moral rules as well, so clearly it is possible to separate them. Here is the outline of a philosophical argument for the independence of morality from religion.

Suppose the God or religious text to which you subscribe has a rule about stealing being wrong. So you think stealing is wrong, and you think God says so. But notice that this is not the same thing as stealing being wrong because God says so.

Setting God aside for a moment, you can probably think of a number of reasons why stealing is generally a bad idea, and some of those reasons are clearly moral in nature (such as that stealing harms the people from whom you steal, or that it undermines the trust that enables a community to nurture its members, etc.). Now suppose for a moment that you re-read your religious text and become convinced that it has long been misinterpreted -- that God actually endorses stealing. You now inevitably confront a crisis of faith, because you know -- that is, you have many compelling, extra-religious reasons to believe -- that stealing is wrong, but God now seems to be commanding you to steal. You might be tempted to go ahead and launch a crime spree, but with luck the cognitive dissonance will drive you to take another look at the text instead.

Ask yourself:  Is stealing wrong because God says so, or does God say so because it is wrong? A little reflection suggests that the first option can't be correct, for if God were to say stealing wasn't wrong, God would be mistaken!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

(WR) Boston Woman Runs Marathon in Hijab

Here's an inspiring story about someone who converted to Islam after last year's marathon bombing, and participated in this year's event. We cannot have too many reminders of the difference between the vast majority of  practicing Muslims and the handful of fanatical bombers. (Likewise, it's important to distinguish between the general run of Christians and a few murderous anti-Semites).

(EE) ... Or Not So Much

This piece on environmental activist Paul Kingsnorth expresses the opposite of Krugman's optimism. It is an odd, rambling bit of journalism, but there are some striking quotations about letting go of hope for the future.

Friday, April 18, 2014

(EE) Grounds for Hope

On today's Times op-ed page, economist Paul Krugman suggests not only that all is not lost, but that addressing carbon emissions may not even cost very much. We can talk in class about the limitations of his analysis; nonetheless it is a nice counterweight to the sense of impending doom we have encountered lately:

Friday, April 11, 2014

(WR) Eighth Century Papyrus mentions Jesus' Wife

Recent studies suggest that a famous fragment of text from the eighth century may be authentic rather than a modern forgery. If it is genuine, it would tell us nothing much about whether the historical Jesus was married (none of the none gospels say anything about that one way or the other), but could say quite a bit about the early controversy over whether Christians should get married at all. Part of this controversy concerned lingering apocalypticism (why have a family if the world is ending?), and part may be about the practicalities of Christian organizing work (we discussed the concept of a "sister wife" as missionary traveling companion earlier).

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Competing Worldviews and Global Climate Disruption

I'm more than a little suspicious of sweeping generalizations about the ideology of a particular tradition (especially when people speak of the "Judeo-Christian" worldview -- I get concerned for what will happen next to the Judeos...). But there does seem to be a Dominionist strain in a large swath of Christianity that contributes to ecological degradation -- even embraces it.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

(EE) Years of Living Dangerously

If you've got a spare hour for a slick, Hollywood treatment of climate disruption, here's a link to the first episode. It will be interesting to see how and whether this shifts public support for dramatic public changes.

(WR) Muhammad and Re-Sacralization

As you think about the many facets of re-sacralization, it's worth considering that at least some of what Muhammad was attempting to do (e.g.: prostrating in prayer three, then five times a day) was an effort to make everyday life part of a sacred experience. Perhaps he lacks Confucius' caution about mysterious beings, and perhaps also there's something heavy-handed and apparently arbitrary about many of his rules and regulations, especially from the later period in Medina. These can make his program seem somewhat less appealing. But the impulse -- to unify a community in just, mindful relations, and to reconstruct the individual as habitually attentive to principles -- are at least analogous.

(EE) The Cost of Speaking Up

Here is a fairly creepy story about a philosopher who mildly suggested there might be“good reason to consider” that “the funding of climate denial” was morally and criminally negligent. What's creepy, though not terribly surprising, was the reaction he got.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

(EE) More Allies

Global Climate Disruption has many consequences, and one useful way to view it is as a public health threat. This perspective potentially brings many powerful allies to the effort to address the situation: