Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Attack on Thinking

Yesterday's attack on Paris was an attack on thinking and reason. It was an attack on the ideas of the Enlightenment; an attack on Voltaire, on Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir; an attack on philosophy.

Religious fanaticism has always despised reason and the intellect. What religion demands is unquestioning faith. Whenever one examines the details of laws and tenets of religions, often established centuries ago, the result is awareness of absurdity, or at least that such laws that are no longer meaningful or reasonable. The laws of most religions are a product of their times, of the prejudices  or the hardships of the culture in which they were written. 

Of course, Marx was correct in his assessment of how religion came to be the tool of people in power to consolidate their authority. Promise people a happy afterlife and they will suffer gladly to increase the power of your state. Rulers luxuriate in the devoted work of their citizens who believe the state religion. Illusion is a persuasive elixir.  

As many religions now ignore the unreasonable and absurd laws of their sacred texts, religious fanaticism with its insistence on the letter of religious law appears mad. We think those who practice such fundamentalism are out of touch with reality, psychopaths, fools. Yet, especially in the case of fundamentalist Islam and fundamentalist Christianity, both of which seek to control those outside of the religion, extremism is becoming more pronounced and widespread. In the U.S. presidential candidates like Marco Rubio attack philosophy, telling people to weld rather than think for themselves. Rubio recommends building a huge army to confront Islamist fundamentalism much the same way that the Islamic State seeks to build a powerful caliphate. 

Is it possible, as Eleanor Roosevelt and other great liberals and philosophers thought, to elevate human rights above the oppressive tenets of many world religions? Did world leaders make a mistake in establishing a Jewish state in the very heart of the Islamic Middle-East? Is it possible to have most of the world's countries teach human rights and respect for others over the narrow-minded views of specific religions? Are we able to praise what is good, creative, and loving in religions, while ruling out those laws and restrictions of religion that contradict our human rights? Can we convince those brought up in this or that religion that thinking for ourselves is essential to becoming fully realized persons? Is it even possible to have religious leaders around the world give up the paternalism and male-oriented prejudices ingrained in so many scriptures? 

Philosophy is not the enemy. The enemy is the rut of out-dated dogma. The enemy is the idea that war ever makes things better, that might makes right.  The enemy is intolerance and the failure to recognize and respect the human rights of others. The enemy is materialism that requires the suffering of many to succeed. Compassion for our fellow humans is the most essential need these days-- compassion for others, compassion for all living beings, compassion for the planet itself. 


The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a declaration adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1948 at the Palais de Chaillot, Paris. (click)

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