Today I had lunch with a group I have organized at work, called the Ideological Lunch Club. We meet every other week for lunch, and discuss politics and religion, or any other controversial subject. The goal is to understand the viewpoints of others, and to put forth your own perspectives and arguments. Ad hominem attacks are not welcome, and we aim to be civil.
In the group right now, we have six people, only one of which is a female. We have
- a conservative with Catholic sentiments (anglo)
- a moderate conservative with evangelical sentiments (me, anglo)
- a social liberal with Christian sentiments (female, anglo)
- a "South-Park Conservative" – really, socially libertarian/moderate with eclectic beliefs (anglo)
- an anti-religionist, ex-catholic liberal (and East-Indian)
- a liberal Catholic (Filipino descent)
Today’s conversation was free form, and quite lively. Here’s my recap, and what I learned…
1. Labels like "liberal" and "conservative" attached to a stereotype don’t work.
It is better to say "my perception of the liberal camp is that, in general, they operate like so…"
2. If you claim your opponent, or the monolith that is your opponent, holds certain views, you better have references to back it up.
Which organizations or web sites represent the various viewpoints being discussed?
3. Making finer distinctions, and agreed upon terms, makes a big difference in your communications.
For example, it is not useful to say that all religionists are the same. We must distinguish between those who are fanatics, those who are fundamentalists, those who are cultural religionists, those who have or stress outward religion v. inward piety, etc. Other distinctions, such as that between moral disapproval and hate speech, should be made, lest we confuse disagreement with hate. Etc.
4. People definitely hear what you say through their filter, and assume your motives.
I was surprised at how my positions were being interpreted, based on other’s assumptions about my motives (motivated by religion, by racist thinking, by self-justification). We may implement a reflective listening clause, whereby any member who feels that they are being misrepresented must ask the presenter to first repeat what he thinks he heard before presenting his rebuttal. Until the two parties come to agreement on what was initially said, the rebuttal can not be presented.
TOPICS DISCUSSED TODAY
1. Did any good come out of the English colonization of India?
It was argued that India’s current economic opportunities in the world market are directly tied to the common use of the English language across the region, which can in turn be tied back to the colonization of India. A discussion ensued about trying to justify colonization, and the greed and injustice it served up. It was countered that perhaps bringing western-style government to the region brought social justice to replace clan and ethnic warfare, as well as social order and infrastructure. It was then countered that before colonization, India was prosperous, and after, it was not.
2. Did any good come out of slavery in America?
It was argued that, despite the evils of slavery, good came out of it. The blacks in America are better off, per capita, than those left in Africa. It was also argued that slavery existed in Africa long before the white man came. It was countered that this line of reasoning was offensive, and amounted to trying to justify slavery. Could this same reasoning be applied to the Holocaust? Why would you want to even explore this line of thought?
3. Much of the evangelical movement is merely trying to rewrite history and science to make it match their faith.
It was argued that Hindu’s also reject certain science, esp. the science related to origins because they have their own creation myth to defend, and that evangelicals are merely doing the same thing. It was countered that this may be so, but that there is a more important motivation – that of correcting liberal revisionist history. Mention was made that since the Renaissance, and in response to Catholic abuses, much of history and philosophy has been dominated by humanistic, anti-religionists like Voltaire, and so much of our history is skewed against religion, and more recently, against the evil, imperialist, anglo devils. The example of the crusades was brought up – while it is most often presented as a selfish land-grab pursued by greedy Christians, recent scholarship has offered the opinion that it was more probably a response to 400 years of Muslim aggression and oppression of conquered lands – that is, a defensive action. Such "politically incorrect" history, however, goes both ways (conservative and liberal), and history is written by the victors (look at how American history often omits the atrocities against the Native Americans). It was argued however, that the pendulum has swung the other way to where the whites are always and only bad.
4. But why even consider the positives of history’s malefactors?
What motivates a person to try to justify slavery or colonialism? The proposed answer was twofold. First, we can learn from not taking a one-sided, negative moral view of our opponents. Seeing these malefactors as objects rather than humans gone astray hinders our understanding of how human nature works.
But more importantly we see how good can come out of bad. This is an important lesson. Good can come out of bad in two ways.
(a) Through the positive response of the victimized. If my trauma leads me to a more idealized life of activism, that event may have been difficult but formative. That’s why we hear people say things like "getting cancer was the best thing that has happened to me."
(b) Through the providential downstream opportunities. Sometimes an event that is negative puts the victims or their desescendants in an opportune place in the future, without their effort or knowledge. For instance, it was argued that American blacks are now very prosperous compared to most of the their brethren back in Africa, and perhaps they are more able to fund and fuel reform in their home countries now – perhaps the alternate path would have been continued slavery in their home countries.
5. Evangelicals and Politics
Regarding evangelical political action, the word "theocracy" came up, as well as comparison to Islam. A distinction was presented – (a) legislating values justified by a common ethic is OK, even if motivated by religion, as long as religios arguments are not used in public policy, and (b) legislating religious laws is really theocracy.
There was more, but that’s what I can remember. Next one should be even better!