Monday, March 10, 2008

Western moral superiority?

The Livelink atheist has had a full-on rant about the moral inferiority of Islam compared, in this case, to 'Europe'.

People do tend to forget that only a half century ago homosexuality was illegal in Britain and women were expected to stay at home. (Granted however that we weren't stoning adulterers and chopping people's heads off Saudi-style, as my father pointed out when I last deployed this argument.)

Spain, with its comparatively late destape, is a particular case in point I think:

− 1964: First woman in a bikini appears in movie approved for Spanish viewers
− 1976: First bare nipple visible in print
− 1978: First sex shop opens in Madrid.

Iberian Catholicism has always taken on board the intellectual gunk of bodily mortification discharged from St Paul's somewhat twisted, misogynistic worldview. And while they may have legalised gay marriage in the past four years the Church remains a powerful player in Spanish politics and the state still pays the wages of the priesthood.

Anyway, what is really interesting in these cases is the gap between the producers and consumers of righteousness. In Spain it widened gradually to the point that the vests painted on to the naked torsos of boxers on the sports pages of Spanish newspapers became a public joke. (And Franco's Spain had one of the world's highest pregnancy termination rates: 35%)

However, in other more resiliently traditional societies, the general population and the killjoys often have little to disagree about. And the typical secular reaction to honour killings in the suburbs may perhaps work to harden this consensus.

Richard Dawkins's response to the apparent intellectual backwardness of people with a fundamentalist religious outlook has generally tended to be mockery. He does however admit that this makes him a "bad politician" and that he is probably a recruiter for the other side.

This admission was teased out of him by Madeleine Bunting of the Guardian in their recent debate. Unlike the ranting atheist in the video she feels that disrespecting the minds of the deeply religious is largely unconstructive and a renunciation of our political responsibility of communicating across cultural barriers and seeking out common solutions: a very difficult process of negotiation, she insists.

In the case of British Muslims she notes that "splitting our sides laughing at a minority who are economically very marginalised and very insecure" is almost certainly not going to help.

What Dawkins calls the "inferiority complex" of the religious nutjobs she softens into "a sense of insecurity" which, she adds, is being fed by a traumatic and ultimately humiliating encounter with Western modernity and globalisation.

It's a very interesting clash of views. My natural sympathies lie with the atheists and I agree with the proposition that many of my fellow citizens have been "conditioned to believe that what they should think is more important than what they do think" and that secularists are in some political and cultural danger themselves from the creeping demands of the righteous. However, outright dissing of the non-secular worldview (and personal identity) of the vast majority of people alive on Earth today really isn't the best practical way forward with this crucial issue of our times.

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