Friday, October 1, 2010

Sauce for the Goose

Should Jews build a synagogue near a site of Jewish terrorism? - By William Saletan - Slate Magazine:

None of this has persuaded Newt Gingrich to pause from his hyperbole about American Sharia and recognize the spread of Jewish extremism in the West Bank. In fact, at the Values Voter Summit two weeks ago, conservative speakers defended Israeli settlements even as they condemned the Manhattan Islamic center. The lesson of Hebron is that the campaign against the Islamic center was never about sensitivity or respect. It's about Islam.
This is a complicated one, sort of. Not for me, but it cuts both ways for two of the sides in "The Great Terror Mosque Debate of 2010." The argument for religious freedom trumping "sensitivity" would seem to force acceptance of the Jewish desire to build a synagogue on the site of Jewish terrorism against Muslims -- hardly desirable for that side of the argument I suspect. For the bed-wetting How-Dare-You-(Exist) crowd, to be morally consistent, they'd need to condemn the Jewish side here -- vehemently. Fat chance of them taking sides with Muslims against Isreal.

Hebron is not New York. The location (geographical, political & historical), scale, and the concomitance of the terrorist acts with the interests of power, put these two buildings in two very different contexts. Figuring how to apply a standard of what's just to both is difficult when you need the outcome to be either (1) both should be built, or (2) one should and the other shouldn't be  ... because in both those case you're underlying interest is in promoting a heady mix of superstition, ignorance, hatred and fear. That is to say, theists and their apologists will struggle with the morality here. If you start from a position that accepts the alternate premise that support for organizations that promote extreme out-group bias offensive to both reason and compassion is undesirable, then the dilemma reduces to: when is it a good idea to build a structure to promote ignorance, intolerance, and hypocrisy?

The challenging part for me here is I believe in the inherent value of  the freedoms of speech and assembly. I'm not convinced there's any value to freedom of religion as a subset (the overlapping areas of  irrationality and malevolence in the Venn diagram of protected freedoms) of those, but I'm forced to defend it. What I'm left with is trying to point out the deficiencies of religion in such a way that holders of those beliefs feel the appropriate level of shame for holding them. I'm not saying society should ever outlaw religion, clearly that would be unjust, but there is a never a reason to coddle superstitious bigotry either. We shouldn't applaud each other for our failings.

Sounds harsh, doesn't it? Wanting someone to feel shame. I'm the same guy telling you what those two college kids did to the one's roommate was wrong when they tried to shame him for being gay. Let me very clear hear: expecting religious people to feel shame is not equivalent to expecting homosexuals to feel shame. You've got to work some real mental gymnastics to equate a person's private sexual practice that harms nobody, is nobody's business, and is not chosen but an aspect of who they are with someone's religious practice, which is chosen, which should be kept private, and is nearly always harmful when applied to any sort of public policy.
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