The affair of Garda Singh’s turban

manjit.jpg

So the latest news is this big barney about the Sikh reserve garda who wants to wear his turban, only to find that the Boys in Blue aren’t having it. Incredibly, the claim from the guards is that the turban isn’t allowable under the National Action Plan Against Racism.

My view on this is very simple. I think this fellow should be allowed to wear his turban. While there are Sikhs who wear turbans as a cultural symbol, my understanding is that the man in question is a baptised Sikh, which makes the uncut hair and turban a very big deal in religious terms. Now, almost everywhere you go in the world where there is a Sikh community, there are Sikh cops. You see them in India and Pakistan, of course. You see them in London. You see loads of them in Vancouver. Yet the gardaí, it seems, are the only police force in the world that can’t accommodate a turban-wearing Sikh.

There are some objections that could be made, that I don’t think hold much water. One is that we should support secularism – well, the 1937 Constitution does separate church and state, but it doesn’t enshrine the sort of hardcore secularism they go in for in France. In any case, if there are religious pressures on the Irish state, they don’t come from the 1500-strong Sikh community. Then again, this is an area where enforced uniformity doesn’t help minorities – Sikhs, Muslims and Orthodox Jews may have religious dress codes, but Catholics don’t. Not unless they’re clergy, and even then it’s sometimes hard to tell these days.

It’s a bit of a test for modern anti-racist Ireland, not to mention a bit of a test for the guards. I mean, the cops have been trying to build bridges with the Sikh community for a while now. They can’t very well square their community relations programme with not cutting Garda Singh a bit of slack.

More on this from Wednesday.

Rud eile: Liam has an entertaining account of Swiss Toni’s address to the broad masses last week.

33 Comments

  1. Idris of Dungiven said,

    August 28, 2007 at 12:39 pm

    The affair of the turban only goes to show that under the veneer of liberal middleclass-ism, our fellow countryman have a mile-wide streak of small-minded, scared bigtory.

  2. frank little said,

    August 28, 2007 at 1:59 pm

    “it doesn’t enshrine the sort of hardcore secularism they go in for in France”

    Which doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be working towards it.

    As the Irish Times reported on Saturday:

    “The Garda is to review the wearing of ashes on the forehead on Ash Wednesday, of crucifixes and of pioneer pins with the official uniform, a spokesman for the Garda has confirmed.”

    I would strongly disagree with Idris’ point that people oppose the Sikh turban on the grounds of small-minded, scared bigotry. I routinely work with people from the immigrant community and their representative organisations. I think the state has not done nearly enough to accomodate them and to welcome them.

    But I am also absolutely opposed to the encroachment of religion into the state. Accepting that ‘Sure the Catholics are here anyway’ is a defeatist argument and ignores the work that has been done in establishing Educate Together schools, undermining the power of the Catholic Church and moving towards a more secular society.

    A commentator in a magazine article I was reading on Turkey today made the point that one can have freedom of religion, or one can have freedom from religion. I believe the latter is what progressives and socialists should be working towards, not mealy mouthed accommodation with superstition cloaked as liberalism.

  3. Idris of Dungiven said,

    August 28, 2007 at 2:28 pm

    I understand where you’re coming from, but. . . I think religion is always going to be a feature of human societies. The Big Guy upstairs may or may not exist, but the human sense of the sacred definitely does exist, and I think it exists for ineradicable human reasons.

    Now, given the record of the de facto established religion in the 26 counties we should incline towards the view that a more secular society is desirable. If that’s the case, our targets ought to be chosen very carefully – and picking on a guy who wants to do his bit for his adopted country while cleaving to something that’s a big part of both his social and personal identity is not the way to do it.

  4. frank little said,

    August 28, 2007 at 2:44 pm

    Actually, I don’t accept that religion is always going to be a feature of human society any more than previous generations accepted that living in caves was the height of human evolution or sacrificing people to the sun. Obviously, I don’t see it disappearing in my time, anymore than I see socialist appearing. But I don’t plan on stopping working on either one.

    I don’t think we’re picking on anyone. We, those of us who support Church and State being separate, simply believe that servants of a republic should not be endorsing one religion or another while on duty. One of the possible happy outcomes of this is that the Sikh case is going to lead to a move away from Gardaí displaying religious iconography on their uniforms.

    I applaud the man for wanting to serve his community. No-one is preventing him from doing so. If he wished to be a Reserve Garda tomorrow, he can be. He is choosing not to.

  5. Idris of Dungiven said,

    August 28, 2007 at 2:51 pm

    That’s the whole point, if you’re a Sikh, the turban isn’t an optional extra.

    Would you let someone prevent you from living in a mud cabin, or subsisting on a diet of blighted potatoes, or otherwise expressing your identity?

  6. ejh said,

    August 28, 2007 at 4:01 pm

    The Big Guy upstairs may or may not exist, but the human sense of the sacred definitely does exist, and I think it exists for ineradicable human reasons.

    So do I but there is a simple solution.

    Carry on.

  7. frank little said,

    August 28, 2007 at 4:08 pm

    No, but choosing to be a Sikh is your own business.

    If you permit a Sikh to wear a turban on duty because it is his ‘religious’ symbol, why prevent Hindus and Buddhists from using swastikas? Or a Muslim from wearing a burqua? Or a fundamentalist Protestant from working on Sundays?

    I honestly don’t care what imaginary creature the Sikhs or anyone else for that matter choose to worship. I strongly defend their right to do so in private and in public.

    But I believe that the state should be separate from religions. State institutions should not be places for religious symbols.

    You either tolerate every single possible religion equally, because none is less ridiculous than the other, or you take a secular position that your religious beliefs stay outside.

    As for the last paragraph, are you at all aware of the irony of making what could be construed as a racist remark while attacking others for ‘small-minded, scared bigtory’.

  8. ejh said,

    August 28, 2007 at 4:19 pm

    You either tolerate every single possible religion equally, because none is less ridiculous than the other, or you take a secular position that your religious beliefs stay outside.

    Or you could demonstrate a little bit of nuance?

  9. Idris of Dungiven said,

    August 28, 2007 at 4:48 pm

    YES, believe it or not I *was* aware of the irony, which is why I posted it. Am I edgy or what?

    And while my tactical move there may have been a bit on the childish side, at least I didn’t resort to spurious slippery-slopen arguments of the sort you resorted there. A christian can choose whether or not to wear a cross; there is nothing in the Koran that makes the burqa or even the veil or headscarf compulsory; but for Sikh men the situation is very different. As as has already been explained to you they *have* to wear the turban. And who, precisely is hurt by that? Nobody that I can see.

    I see no reason why allowing a believing Sikh to wear the turban while serving as a civic guard involves elevating a religious symbol to an exalted position in a state institution. I’m sure there are guards who like Star Trek – when they serve on duty does that constitute a state endorsement of Trekkie-ism?

    Like you I can remember when the consensus was that all we had to was break the power of the church in Ireland and everything would be alright. Well the power of the church was broken and what did we get in return? The Ahern-Harney-McDowell axis of evil that’s what we got. Stop fighting the last war.

  10. Cian said,

    August 28, 2007 at 10:10 pm

    Its not really freedom from religion if you force it on people, is it.

    “Actually, I don’t accept that religion is always going to be a feature of human society”

    Okay, but that’s more a statement of faith than an argument. I don’t accept that capitalism is the end state of human societies, but I don’t actually change anything by saying that. More to the point, there’s increasing evidence from anthropologists and neuroscientists that suggests there’s something innate about religion.

    I really see the problem with the Sikh turban. This man is not going to remove his turban, or for that matter crucifixes, or ashes on the head. The state can tolerate many things in its functionaries, without necessarily endorsing them. I think there’s a danger in mistaking symbols for actual power. What power over the state does some individuals wearing crucixes give the Catholic church? What changes if they can’t? They still have the influence, the Catholic functionaries in senior positions, the respect, etc. Hell, you could eradicate all the symbols in government and it wouldn’t change anything.

  11. chekov said,

    August 29, 2007 at 12:11 am

    I’m with Frank on this one. A sikh no more has to wear a turban than a catholic has to indulge in symbolic cannibalism once a week. People choose to do these things. In practical terms too, the sikh’s compulsion to wear a turban is far less strong than women’s compulsion to dress in a certain way in many christian and islamic communities.

    It’s also simply not the case that sikh’s have to dress in certain ways. Many sikh’s who have settled in the West do not wear a turban and there are various offshoot belief systems which don’t either. Sure, he may be a baptised sikh, but that label is once again chosen and is only meaningful within the belief system itself. It’s exactly the same as if a sect of baptised mormons were to decide that their members were to wear top-hats in memory of john smith’s magic hat, or if pastifarians were to insist on dressing up as pirates and being allowed to staff public sector positions in them.

    Since all evidence-free, unfalsifiable theories have equal probabilities of being true, if you want to distinguish between the turban of the baptised sikh and the giant meatball outfit of the sworn pastifarian, you have only got base prejudice to go on. They are equally as probable to be requirements based on total, arbitrary nonsense.

    Of course, many of those objecting to the symbols of sikhism on the gardai are probably doing so on straightforward biggoted catholic xenophobic lines, and I don’t personally care at all whether cops wear turbans or not, but the bonus of these types of fusses is that it gives people an opportunity to complain about the pervasiveness of horrible catholic symbolism throughout our public sector. Our hospitals and primary schools are full of statues of a man suffering an agonising and bloody death and imagery of brutal suffering abounds.

    “More to the point, there’s increasing evidence from anthropologists and neuroscientists that suggests there’s something innate about religion.”

    That’s not really accurate but even if it were, would you really want god to be reduced down to a feature of our neuronal architecture? Personally I think it’s obvious that belief in god is manifested in particular patterns of neuronal activity, but the interesting question is how and why the relevant neuronal architecture evolved.

  12. ejh said,

    August 29, 2007 at 7:52 am

    It’s exactly the same as if a sect of baptised mormons were to decide that their members were to wear top-hats in memory of john smith’s magic hat

    No it isn’t, and I really doubt that putting it in such a flippant (not to say crass) manner contributes a great deal towards the sympathetic discussion of the problems involved.

  13. Cian said,

    August 29, 2007 at 8:33 am

    I agree with Justin, and if you want to set the cause of disestablishment back such a flippant attidue is a good way to go about it. Like it or not, the people whose minds you need to change, are the ones you’ll alienate with such language.

    “That’s not really accurate”

    Actually it is. The neuroscience evidence is still relatively weak (hey, it’s a young field), though its strengthening. The anthropological evidence is pretty strong (some of the more interesting stuff is what replaces formal religion in western societies. Many of the same patterns of thought attach themselves to things which would not formally be considered religious). There’s also a mixture of evidence from social psychology, though personally I think that’s a lot weaker due to the nature of the studies.

    “Would you really want god to be reduced down to a feature of our neuronal architecture?”

    Not quite what I said. This isn’t the place for what is quite a subtle philosophical argument, but the feature would be the need for God/god/gods. Which would be part of the sense making apparatus in the brain. How we explain/interpret events, which has the side affect of making us prone to religious explainations. Secular people are as prone to this as anyone. Marx is a religion for some. I mean Labour theory of Value? Give me a fucking break… 🙂

    Whether I want it, or not, is irrelivant. The question is whether it is true. I don’t particularly like the fact that free will is semi-illusory, but unfortunately I didn’t get a say on that either.

    And whether we like it or not, much of what we do, think and how we operate is due to features of our brains. Free will is semi-illusory, we don’t think rationally, we are affected by our emotions when we make decisions (and if we were not, would be unable to make decisions), prejudice is innate to how we operate (call it heuristics if you want, but its the same thing). I think its the height of folly to pretend otherwise. Of course our political and legal systems do pretend otherwise, but that’s another story…

    “Personally I think it’s obvious that belief in god is manifested in particular patterns of neuronal activity, but the interesting question is how and why the relevant neuronal architecture evolved.”

    Its amazing how many things that are obvious aren’t in fact true; hence the scientific method (even allowing for Law, Latour, Woolgar etc). And I can think of plenty of other interesting questions. Actually the evolved question leads to evolutionary psychology, which is a dead end of bad science, speculation, prejudice and delusion.

  14. chekov said,

    August 29, 2007 at 11:33 am

    “No it isn’t”
    Yes it is. It’s exactly the same principle.

    “Actually it is”

    No it’s not. It’s not at all accurate to say that religion is innate in humans. The anthropological evidence merely shows that human groups have at certain stages of their historical development, come up with supernatural concepts. You can’t validly extrapolate this to the general case that all human groups in all possible contexts would similarly arrive at such concepts. For example, nobody could possibly know if we were to eliminate the concept of god from the world now, whether people would spontaneously reinvent it in the future – I think that this is highly unlikely.

    One can consider God to be a simple consequence of our hardwired subject-action-object analytic framework when one is confronted with a situation where there is no obvious subject. Such an explanation sits happily with all the anthropological, socio-linguistic and neuro-scientific evidence and does not suggest that religion is innate.

  15. ejh said,

    August 29, 2007 at 3:19 pm

    It’s exactly the same principle.

    Ah, the term “principle” has been magicked into a sentence that formerly lacked it. Well, it is not the same thing because in one case, you have made something up which nobody actually believes in whereas on the other hand we have a very real practice followed by very real people for a very real period of time.

  16. chekov said,

    August 29, 2007 at 3:24 pm

    “Ah, the term “principle” has been magicked into a sentence that formerly lacked it.”

    And pedantry has been prosaically inserted into this thread.

  17. ejh said,

    August 29, 2007 at 4:24 pm

    Not pedantry, no: the point is that what was “the same” has changed and importantly so.

  18. chekov said,

    August 29, 2007 at 4:53 pm

    Err, no, I thought it was obvious that I was comparing the principle. As there are an infinity of details of any two situations which are different, I would have to be an idiot to declare that any two things are exactly the same, unless they are the same thing. I sort of assumed that would be obvious.

    But, anyway, now that it’s obvious what I meant, are you just being pedantic for fun or do you disagree with something? I’m sort of guessing that you don’t think that the principle of having to wear a turban is the same as any other arbitrary belief about appearance, but since you are limiting yourself to wee snipes, I may be inferring too much.

  19. chekov said,

    August 29, 2007 at 5:00 pm

    Incidentally, with regards to this common point:

    “if you want to set the cause of disestablishment back such a flippant attidue is a good way to go about it. Like it or not, the people whose minds you need to change, are the ones you’ll alienate with such language.”

    I think it’s a nonsensical line of argument. If you want to convince somebody that an idea is not to be taken seriously, you must take that idea seriously?

    Furthermore, I know that almost nobody actually follows this advice when dealing with the nonsensical stuff that they don’t believe in themselves, it’s pretty much an argument that depends on double-standards by definition. Exhibit A is the archbishop’s hilarious attack on new age mumbo-jumbo. I’d bet that nobody here would hesitate for a second before flippantly dismissing the idea that the star-signs in the newspapers are an accurate predictor of the future.

  20. ejh said,

    August 29, 2007 at 5:03 pm

    do you disagree with something?

    Can I refer you to my post #15?

    If you want to convince somebody that an idea is not to be taken seriously, you must take that idea seriously?

    Yes, surely? Demonstrating the absurdity of a proposition is a serious business.

  21. Idris of Dungiven said,

    August 29, 2007 at 5:11 pm

    Here’s a wee question for you chekov. Imagine a member of Ireland’s Jewish community aspires to join An Garda Siochana. Are you going to demand that he drop his trousers and prove that he’s uncircumcised, so that there can be no chance of religious symbolism polluting the purity of your new wholly secularised state?

  22. ejh said,

    August 29, 2007 at 5:50 pm

    I suspect the initiation rits would cover that eventuality.

  23. chekov said,

    August 29, 2007 at 5:53 pm

    “Here’s a wee question for you chekov. Imagine a member of Ireland’s Jewish community aspires to join An Garda Siochana. Are you going to demand that he drop his trousers and prove that he’s uncircumcised, so that there can be no chance of religious symbolism polluting the purity of your new wholly secularised state?”

    Yes, of course I am. Although if he’ll wear a yellow star on his shirt, I might let him in after all.

    ejh: your post number #15 was pursuing a pedantic line of semantic argument and it appeared to be dealing with some unspecified thing as distinct from the principle that I was talking about.

    If you were just being pointlessly pedantic about that distinction and really do think that you have produced a major objection, you can feel free to substitute any actually existing religious dress requirement that you like, such as the burqa, without changing the point that I was making. I also think that the principle also applies to dress requirements which nobody happens to believe but which could possible be believed – they’re all essentially arbitrary and are equally as nonsensical as the rest. In fact, most people would have a hard time even imagining some of the bonkers belief systems that actually exist. We live in a world where death cults are not uncommon, after all.

    “Demonstrating the absurdity of a proposition is a serious business.”

    Sheesh, that looks like more tedious semantic pedantry to me. I have been criticised for a flippant attitude towards religious beliefs, not for any laxity in how diligently and seriously I argue my point.

  24. Idris of Dungiven said,

    August 29, 2007 at 6:10 pm

    OK, here’s an anecdote I was once told by an old teacher of mine, who was in the Sudan Communist Party for years. Before he had to run for his life from the Islamic fundamentalist regime in Sudan he’d been involved in campaigns against Female Genital Mutilation in Sudan. What he told me – and this is the point – is that he realised their methods of agitation and propaganda were erroneous. They consisted of going into villages and saying ‘you people are just ignorant peasants and we’re here to show you what’s what’. This tended to get people’s collective back up, and did not in fact aid in the struggle to end FGM fully and completely (which is a highly desirable goal, as I’m sure you agree).

    That’s why even views you disagree with and find absurd deserve serious consideration, and even the people who hold those views deserve respect (though not, for obvious reasons, Respect). Telling people ‘you’re religious views on dress are absurd’ is unlikely to produce a modification of their views in a way likely to make them agree with you. They’re far more likely to think you’re a dick.

    There are, as you point out, death cults in the world (one of the earliest news stories I remember is the Jonestown mass suicide). You’re not seriously saying that Sikhism is one of them, are you? And you’re surely not saying that if one man is allowed to wear a turban while on service with the Gardaí, poisoned kool-aid will be compulsory throughout the Free State?

    And you know, I don’t think bandwagonning on the anti-turban theme isn’t going to advance the secular cause in Ireland. It will reinforce the Irish bigot fraternity, who are far more numerous than the secular leftists in Ireland. Any gains for secularism will be limited at best.

  25. ejh said,

    August 29, 2007 at 6:18 pm

    In fact, most people would have a hard time even imagining some of the bonkers belief systems that actually exist

    They would. But they do exist and therefore it’s necessary to deal with the rel-world belief systems which exist rather than – in this context – comparing them to systems which do not.

    I might be inclined to start a religion in which we would worship cats and the priests would be librarians. But as it happens there are no adherents of this religion and none are likely to apply for posts within the Gardai. Of course, somebody might try to do something simlar, but they would be playing silly buggers, wouldn’t they? And it’s not a situation for silly buggers, it’s a situation which is serious and has serious implications.

  26. chekov said,

    August 29, 2007 at 6:46 pm

    “I might be inclined to start a religion in which we would worship cats and the priests would be librarians. But as it happens there are no adherents of this religion and none are likely to apply for posts within the Gardai. Of course, somebody might try to do something simlar, but they would be playing silly buggers, wouldn’t they?”

    You couldn’t actually tell from their stated beliefs whether they were playing silly buggers or not. Since the only real way that anybody can know what anybody else thinks is by observing what that person says and does. If somebody presented themselves to the garda recruiting seargant and claimed to have a particular religous belief and acted in accordance with that belief, there really is no possible way for the garda to discriminate between what is a real religious belief and what is playing “silly buggers”.

    You might object that “genuine” religious beliefs have both many adherents and that they have some history, but that creates a situation where new genuine religious beliefs must logically evolve from non-genuine religious beliefs, thus destroying the distinction.

    Anyway, all lines of argument which attempt to draw a qualitative line between genuine and non-genuine religious beliefs are doomed. The church of the flying spaghetti monster is an elaborate refutation of the possibility of drawing such a line. It is constructed precisely in order to make it impossible to come up with a means of separating ‘genuine’ beliefs from non-genuine ones. There is not test of religous beliefs which leaves all of those that are normally considered to be genuine from pastafarianism.

    http://www.venganza.org/

  27. ejh said,

    August 29, 2007 at 6:53 pm

    The church of the flying spaghetti monster is an elaborate refutation of the possibility of drawing such a line.

    Yes it is, and simply as a means of demonstrating the absurdity of religious beliefs I like it very much.

    As a means of working out how to deal with real-life religious practices it is less effective.

    We will now all say Miaouw.

  28. chekov said,

    August 29, 2007 at 7:00 pm

    “he realised their methods of agitation and propaganda were erroneous. They consisted of going into villages and saying ‘you people are just ignorant peasants and we’re here to show you what’s what’. This tended to get people’s collective back up, and did not in fact aid in the struggle to end FGM fully and completely (which is a highly desirable goal, as I’m sure you agree).”

    You are once again missing the distinction between respecting an idea and respecting those who hold the idea. I have not expressed anywhere that somebody who believes in hocus pocus of whatever sort is an idiot, ignorant, a peasant or whatever. I haven’t expressed this as I don’t think it. There is relatively little correlation between intelligence and religious beliefs. Very smart people are capable of believing silly things.

    What I am being criticized for is the fact that I don’t take religious ideas seriously – basically people are saying that there’s something wrong with me dismissing the profound religious beliefs of others as total nonsense. As I see it, to apply the argument to FGM, I’m being told that I should not express outright opposition to the idea but should accept that there’s something to it. No thanks!

  29. Cian said,

    August 30, 2007 at 8:04 am

    “You are once again missing the distinction between respecting an idea and respecting those who hold the idea.”

    Which is fine in the ivory tower. Back in the real world… Look, if you disrespect people’s religious beliefs, they’ll think you’re disrespecting them. Which kind of makes it difficult to work with them. You telling them that their religion is silly, or made of spaghetti, isn’t really going to endear you. Once you’ve alienated them, it will be hard for you to persuade them of anything.

  30. Cian said,

    August 30, 2007 at 8:30 am

    “It’s not at all accurate to say that religion is innate in humans.”

    I said “suggests”. When I use a word, I use it to say what I mean. If I had said “proved” then your naive positivism might be vaguely valid, but I didn’t. Thanks for playing.

    And religion is some variant on catholicism, or christianity, as you seem to think on this thread, btw. Catholicism is a subset, but its not the prototype for all religions.

    “The anthropological evidence merely shows that human groups have at certain stages of their historical development, come up with supernatural concepts.”

    Actually it doesn’t. It shows something rather more complex, and among other things it shows what religion (or rather different types of religion) are, and how they relate, the two way relationship between culture and religion, and the ways that different and conflicting belief systems (ranging from mythic to practical) can coexist. There’s also the whole problem of spirituality, trance, etc.
    And religion does not have to have a supernatural element. It almost always does, but there are exceptions.

    “For example, nobody could possibly know if we were to eliminate the concept of god from the world now, whether people would spontaneously reinvent it in the future – I think that this is highly unlikely.”

    Well yeah, given that monotheism is a comparatively rare form of religion, I think it probably would be.
    To turn it around, what makes you think that if this “experiment” was to be run, that some form of religion wouldn’t appear? Any evidence for this? Or is this just your faith in human progress, the move towards rational man?

    “One can consider God to be a simple consequence of our hardwired subject-action-object analytic framework when one is confronted with a situation where there is no obvious subject.”

    One could, but “one” would be wrong. Assuming “hardwired subject-action-object analytic framework” police actually means anything (I’m at a loss).

    “Such an explanation sits happily with all the anthropological, socio-linguistic and neuro-scientific evidence and does not suggest that religion is innate.”

    An argument which would be slightly more convincing if you demonstrated that you actually knew what the anthropological and neuro-scientific evidence actually was (I’ll let you explain to me what the socio-linguistic evidence might be).

  31. Cian said,

    August 30, 2007 at 8:59 am

    “you can feel free to substitute any actually existing religious dress requirement that you like, such as the burqa, without changing the point that I was making. I also think that the principle also applies to dress requirements which nobody happens to believe but which could possible be believed – they’re all essentially arbitrary and are equally as nonsensical as the rest.”

    Well yes this is true. But then its true of all dress requirements. Why do businessmen have to wear ties to be smart? That’s pretty arbitrary. Why do the Garda have to wear hats? that’s pretty arbitrary. Hey if they didn’t wear the hats, we wouldn’t be having these arguments because the turban wouldn’t be a problem.
    And what’s I find most silly about most of the arguments slamming religion, is that the proponents seem to think that religion holds back rational objective man. To which the only sensible response is, does it buggery. Irrationality, arbitrariness surrounds us. Most of it we don’t even notice, because we grew up in these societies. I study human interaction with technology, and I’m always coming across supernatural beliefs. Of course nobody calls them that, but they’re no different. People doing arbitrary things because the last time they brushed their nose the computer didn’t crash. We live in a world where for most of us technology is magic. We don’t understand it. Scientists get mystical about the things they see. Members of certain far left political parties display all the classic behaviour of members of religions, etc, etc.

    The other thing, is that almost all athiests seem to think that religion can be seperated from culture, which is ludicrous. The two are tightly entwined. Female circumsion is a cultural thing, rather than a religious one. Sure religion is used to justify it, something else would be used in its place.

  32. chekov said,

    August 30, 2007 at 1:30 pm

    “Look, if you disrespect people’s religious beliefs, they’ll think you’re disrespecting them. Which kind of makes it difficult to work with them. You telling them that their religion is silly, or made of spaghetti, isn’t really going to endear you. Once you’ve alienated them, it will be hard for you to persuade them of anything.”

    How does this apply to stuff like FGM or widow-burning?

    “I said “suggests”. When I use a word, I use it to say what I mean. If I had said “proved” then your naive positivism might be vaguely valid, but I didn’t. Thanks for playing.”

    Right so, you should substitute “one possible interpretation of the evidence is that…” for “suggests…” if you want to be accurate.

    “And religion is some variant on catholicism, or christianity, as you seem to think on this thread, btw. Catholicism is a subset, but its not the prototype for all religions.”

    How on earth did you infer that? I certainly don’t think such a thing and am well aware that animism of one sort or another is a much more normal, historically speaking, variety of religion.

    “Actually it doesn’t. It shows something rather more complex, and among other things it shows what religion (or rather different types of religion) are, and how they relate, the two way relationship between culture and religion, and the ways that different and conflicting belief systems (ranging from mythic to practical) can coexist. There’s also the whole problem of spirituality, trance, etc.
    And religion does not have to have a supernatural element. It almost always does, but there are exceptions.”

    Erm, it was a one line summary – one that I still think is largely accurate. You also don’t have to go anywhere near anthropology to know that conflicting belief systems can happily co-exist, it’s pretty obvious from the briefest of glances at the newspaper. Also, this ‘religion’ that does not contain supernatural elements is new to me – and I’m about to be very surprised if it’s anything more than a classification oddity – what is it?

    “Well yeah, given that monotheism is a comparatively rare form of religion, I think it probably would be.”

    It may be comparatively rare, but it is currently completely dominant and that is the case for a reason. The various animisms, for example, are dying out in the face of an onslaught from christianity and islam, the reason being that they just aren’t very useful in a modern world where people have a high degree of mobility and migrate frequently. Animisms are simply too particular to a local environment to be of much relevance once its adherents leave the village for the big city.

    My point is that universal monotheisms are much more likely to re-evolve than any other coherent types of religion, since they are far more useful than their competitors in a world that looks like this one.

    “To turn it around, what makes you think that if this “experiment” was to be run, that some form of religion wouldn’t appear? Any evidence for this? Or is this just your faith in human progress, the move towards rational man?”

    I refer you to your bit about words and their meanings above 😉

    I said god wouldn’t re-appear, by which I meant monotheistic religions. If you adopt a definition of religion that is wide enough to encompass random bits of superstition, then I don’t think that will ever disappear. I reckon monotheism really only survives nowadays due to its institutional inertia – there is no longer any need to come up with a teleological agent to answer the question “why are we here” and thus I don’t think that religions which are focused on supplying that agent would retain any of their glamour. Random bits of superstition are, in my view, qualatitively different, and are merely a manifestation of our brain’s pattern matching functions which are false-positive biased.

    “One could, but “one” would be wrong. Assuming “hardwired subject-action-object analytic framework” police actually means anything (I’m at a loss).”

    You can’t possibly declare this hypothesis wrong unless you can prove some other hypothesis. If you want to get all nitpicky about accuracy, then you should follow through.

    The ‘hardwired analytic framework’ that I refer to is a generalisation of the basic structure of the universal grammar. The sequence subject-action-object is the basic linguistic construct, and some people even plausibly maintain that all language statements can be reduced to this single archetype. It is generally accepted that whatever language processing machinery we have in our brains must be basically hard-wired into us – due to the amazing consistency in which the patterns of the universal abstract grammar assert themselves in actual language – even when the subject has never heard an example of the pattern in action before.

    So, the theory that I am discussing is an extension of this. Rather than language being hard-wired, brains are built to analyse the world in a subject-action-object sort of way and language is merely an expression of this deeper neurological structure. In addition to the linguistic evidence, there is also sorts of sociological evidence which suggests that humans basically understand the world by applying a subject-action-object template to whatever context they find themselves in.

    This theoretical framework then views the supernatural as an application of the framework to situations where it is impossible, given existing knowledge, to identify a subject. The nice thing about it is that it also explains why the locus of the supernatural tends to evolve towards higher levels of abstraction. For example, Animism positions the supernatural inside every thing, meaning that the subject can always be identified as the spirit of the thing in question. multi-theistic religions tend to take hold in societies where ideas of cause and effect are much more worked out and the supernatural subjects are limited to a collection of entities who have dominion over broad areas – sky gods, harvest gods, sun gods, etc. The supernatural provides a subject to explain the inexplicable variations in the world.

    “Well yes this is true. But then its true of all dress requirements. Why do businessmen have to wear ties to be smart? That’s pretty arbitrary. Why do the Garda have to wear hats? that’s pretty arbitrary. Hey if they didn’t wear the hats, we wouldn’t be having these arguments because the turban wouldn’t be a problem.”

    No argument there.

    “what’s I find most silly about most of the arguments slamming religion, is that the proponents seem to think that religion holds back rational objective man. To which the only sensible response is, does it buggery. Irrationality, arbitrariness surrounds us.”

    You’re confusing two things here I think. Religious belief does obviously hold back rationality and objectivity due to the fact that it’s not rational or objective. On the other hand, if people stop believing in a particular formal religion, it doesn’t mean that they’re going to adopt a more rational belief, which I agree with and which is what I think you’re getting at.

    To be honest, I think that in many places you are not really arguing against me or the things I’m arguing. I simply don’t accept many of the characterisations of my position that you have put forward. I do not think religion can be separated from culture, I do not think christianity is a typical religion, I fully accept that brains are inherently prone to superstition (due to the fact that they are essentially big pattern matching devices with a bias towards false positives) and so on. I think you are arguing against a composite version of Richard Dawkins and an enthusiastic prosletysing trot and not me.

  33. Idris of Dungiven said,

    August 30, 2007 at 1:42 pm

    >How does this apply to stuff like FGM or widow-burning?

    1. FGM and widow-burning are deplorable practises that should be ended, because they cause serious and grave harm to those on whom they are practised. When an observant Sikh male wears his turban, by contrast, no similar harm is perpetrated against anyone. You do see the difference don’t you?

    2. Unfortunately, practises such as FGM are strongly embedded culturally in the societies where they are practised. That’s why simply swanning into communities and giving the people there the high hand is not appropriate. The only effective solution to FGM is slow, patient campaigns of education against the practise, such as have been going on in Eritrea since the country was liberated in 1991.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: