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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

Religion, public life, postmodern shopfest « Previous | |Next »
December 24, 2007

Since Xmas is upon now is a good time to reflect on the role of religion in public life. A good place to start is Tina Beattie's The end of postmodernism: the “new atheists” and democracy in Open Democracy on the conflict between science and religion in postmodernity. I quote two passages that describe Beattie's understanding of the current postmodern condition in liberal democracy:

religious zealotry can be interpreted as the other face of the metropolitan fancy-dress parade which constitutes the consumerist lifestyles of postmodern urban elites, reflecting as they do the banality and homogeneity of a global market which is no respecter of boundaries, cultures and traditions. Instead of freedom we have choice, and instead of values we have labels and lifestyles. We citizens of the western democracies have become solipsistic consumers indifferent to the squandering of our hard-won freedoms and rights by governments for which terrorism has become a byword for ever-more draconian strategies of surveillance and control. As democracy withers and the political forum is colonised by the suave-speaking mediocrities of the soundbite era, as blatant self-interest on the part of the world's most powerful nations becomes an excuse for every kind of collusion in the politics of corruption and violence, we in whose names the battles are being fought have allowed our horizons to shrink so that we see no further than the nearest shopping-mall.

This ignores the ethical life that we live whilst inhabiting a consumer culture and the way this shapes our ethical judgements about right and wrong beyond the shopping mall. But it is Beattie's narrative.

Beattie describes that the counter religious response thus:

For many others, it is religion - particularly in its more dogmatic forms - that offers a potent alternative; those drawn to it include people both disenfranchised from the beginning because they are too poor or too oppressed to participate in the postmodern shop-fest, and people who are afraid of what they perceive as the moral meltdown of modern western culture. In these forms of religion, people can find certainty instead of confusion, clear rules instead of ambiguity, tight-knit communities instead of shifting and transient relationships; and all this is presided over by a wrathful male God who hates all the things they hate - particularly gays, feminists and libertarians of every description - and who sanctions violence in order to keep His values safe from corruption.

Beattie says that the most pressing question confronting us lies here: how to respond to the slow death of democracy, and adds:
The recent confrontation between religion and science is in this context a smokescreen which is distracting us from much more urgent political and intellectual issues. It allows the secular intelligentsia to hide behind a convenient and inflated - where not fabricated - myth of religious extremism which masks from us our own complicity in the murder and mayhem by which western global supremacy and our own privileged status within that are now maintained.

I agree that the recent replay of the confrontation between religion and science is a smokescreen which is distracting us from much more urgent political and intellectual issues. All that cultural wars stuff about needing to return to religion to get some ethics is blowing in the wind. Modernity has its secular ethics--rights based and utilitarianism--and, as Nietzsche pointed out , it is the highest values of Christianity that are being devalued.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 1:46 PM | | Comments (1)


About the way I'd see it, in general terms.
Has me in mind of Hobsbawm's cultural amnesia and Eagleton's comments about no meta narrative itself being necesarily a metanarrative; also the articles of the late Dr. Dennis Denny in "Dissent", which sought to place historical, epitemological , ontological and metaphysical contexts suitable to an updated understanding.
It's ok as far I'm concerned to reverse the notion of " there is no God" as something proven beyond doubt. One statement is probably as silly as the other.
Personally, if a benevolent conscious(?) force exists, I hope this power is on my side ( part of the job description, unless am wrong ). the other thread of religin of course emphasises the punisher-God as pect and perhaps this dichtomy has to exist for religion to get its weltanschuang and program across.
Nietszche's sobering repost to the nineteenth century ( including to Liberalism and Marx, as to morality ) as to "God being dead- we killed him" is now joined by "prove it", though, to create a new dialectic ( why make an enemy out of a friend , when as Socrates more or less says, it requires so much more effort to be evil than good ).
It is a paralysing thing if one sees it throughthe eyes Bayle-ian scepticism, so I'd reinclude Marx, because right or wrong, one still gets out of the way of an oncoming truck and that is what Marx was basically common-sense suggesting, as far as I'm concerned. So for me things have to stay between twopoles and that's that comfortably off thogh imay be,I'll kark as as surely as an angry, poverty-stricken Islamcisct in Karachi, when it comes down to it.