Monday, 11 January 2016

Because (ir)Religion

I am a little tired (and bored) of people saying 'Oh, so Because Religion!' as a rebuttal. It is cheap, thoughtless, and ignorant.

Am I supposed to defer to them, on the grounds that their personal lived experience, and their reading of the Guardian (or the Daily Mail, come to that) is real, whilst my conviction that Christ is God-made-man, and the associated philosophy built on the wisdom of centuries, is insubstantial and meaningless? It seems odd to me that anyone might expect that.

In fact, I fear that we are raising an (or another) uneducable generation, by teaching them that everything can and should be the subject of their personal 'informed' decision making.

It is made worse by the fact that most people who say Because Religion have no notion that their own philosophy, such as it is, is also based on assumptions; or indeed that they have a philosophy at all. There is frequently a naive belief in science and progress (not amongst real scientists, who are often both wise and aware of the limitations of their discipline, but in society more broadly) that does not stand a moment's scrutiny; and that is often married to an incompatible belief that everything is relative. When I ask them to name their assumptions, they are typically unable to do so.

So I discern both a paucity of thought and a staggering arrogance. It was Maslow, of all people who nailed it. We are raising, he lamented, a generation that has lost that great Jewish virtue: respect for the teacher, for the wiser man.

Whilst Isaac Newton was not the first to say it (Wikipedia tells me the idea can be traced back at least as far as Bernard of Chartres), Newton's understanding that If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants is a great insight. Yet by encouraging 'independent learners' to work everything out for themselves (in the humanities, less so in the sciences, perhaps) we are depriving them of that high vantage point and encouraging them to squirm in the mud, all the while believing that they are wiser than their forebears (and anyone contemporary who has the temerity to disagree with them) Because Science (or sometimes, Because Progress).



spraffmeister said...

I often try and lead people to the fact that we all rely on authorities outside of ourselves for knowledge. An amusing way of doing this is asking them how they know the earth goes round the sun (after all, it's contrary to our experience). They are then forced to admit that they have relied on an external authority for this knowledge. Hopefully this prompts some introspection and examination of their own philosophy.

Part-time Pilgrim said...

Ben, I think you are doing damage to the laudable intent to develop "independent learners". It doesn't mean people who make stuff up as they go along but individuals who are capable of gathering facts and evidence, weighing arguments and developing their understanding on their own; the way most adults learn in fact.
No teachers I know advocate developing ideas without reference to the authority of the already learned (partly because that would be folly but mostly out of self-interested - it would be sawing off the branch their income is sitting on.
In any case the "because religion" repeaters are those who have uncritically accepted other external authorities (such as Dawkins who actually have very little authority) uncritically rather than coming up with their ideas independently.