Recently religion has entered the public agenda in (at least some) Western countries to such a degree and in such ways that the very conditions for public discourse have once more become an issue of critical importance. Taking my point of departure in the so-called ‘cartoon-crisis’, I will address, in a philosophical approach to religion, the question: what is at stake in this situation? The questions we face point back to key issues in philosophy of religion, issues that we should be challenged to rethink. One example is the question: how is re-introducing taboos in a public discussion possible? This leads us back a pivotal question in philosophy of religion: what does it mean that something is holy? On closer reflection, this issue shows that a religion is not something monolithic. How the holy is to be understood is at issue within religion itself. Thus, the question is not simply how to deal with religion in public discourse, but also how religions themselves deal with the world which we as humans more or less share. In a sense, religions are themselves about sharing or not sharing a world. In religion, humans can re-situate themselves in the world in which they are already situated. The question then is: in the optics of religion, how do we as humans come to see the world of humans?
The main part of my article will discuss the issue of religion and humanity, arguing that religion, as a human enterprise, bears witness to human ambiguities, but also that in religion, human ambiguities can be articulated and turned into a question of human self-understanding. That is in a sense what humanity is about: acknowledging human ambiguities, the problem of humans in being human. The article argues for a double approach to religion: in religion humans are interpreting what the holy means, but this does not imply that the holy simply is what humans take it to be. We should distinguish between the fact of interpretation and the character of interpretation. Religions are human enterprises: humans interpreting what the holy means (the fact of interpretation), but religions are concerned interpretations in the sense that in religion, humans interpret what concerns them as humans, in dealing with limits to being human (the character of interpretation). The article concludes by reviewing the relation between religion and public discourse, arguing both that religion can point to interiority that is a condition for public discourse and that a critique of religion that seeks to do justice to the complex human character of religion is needed.
In this paper, I consider two possible rejections of the epistemic reality of blasphemy and heresy. I argue that these rejections fail. First, I consider a relativistic rejection of heresy and blasphemy by considering a general objection to epistemological relativism coupled with a brief account of the possibility of epistemic neutrality between competing religious claims. Given neutrality, it is possible that a particular religious claim may really be blasphemous or heretical. Second, I consider a realistic (i.e., non-relativistic) rejection of heresy and blasphemy. I argue, following Eleanor Stump, that if one's epistemology is to be both coherent and true, including an epistemology that rejects blasphemy or heresy as real, there must at least be the possibility of blasphemy or heresy. These ideas are then connected with the general notion of how the epistemic reality of blasphemy and heresy function in free and pluralistic societies which desire truth and coherence in their religious belief.
Religious tensions in America, as well as abroad, are nothing new. Yet, in this current epoch various cultures around the world are involved in internal clashes between religious and secular groups that pull at the attention of the public more often than not. Though a myriad of issues confront anyone interested in investigating these tensions, one must first wonder what, exactly, blasphemy means to both sides of the debate. In the course of doing so, one interesting question arises: What does it mean to consider speech against a secular group’s belief in a given object, text, or even another belief as blasphemous? The point of this paper is to inquire into the semantic status of blasphemy. First, I will outline various possible definitions of blasphemy and take into consideration what such definitions mean to those on the opposite side of the fence (atheistic and secular groups). Second, I will explore how extending such a definition to both parties (i.e., allowing secular groups to assimilate the label “blasphemy” into their vocabulary) would change the semantic landscape of the current cultural debates. Last, I will propose a modest solution to how one should view issues surrounding blasphemous speech and the freedom of expression.
In this paper I argue for a secular conception of blasphemy as a grave moral wrong. I argue for this conception on the basis of a neo-Aristotelian conception of virtue ethics. Specifically, I argue that there is a virtue of intellectual fidelity to matters of great importance: morally permissible ends. In order to structure our lives around such ends, which is essential to living a characteristic human life, we must consistently bear in mind what we know to be true about our ends and not succumb to a temptation to belittle our ends when we struggle in our attempts to realize them. Conversely, a disposition to believe falsehoods about morally permissible ends is a vice, and acts that express that character trait are blasphemous and wrong. Likewise, I argue that it is wrong to belittle or promote falsehoods about the morally permissible ends of others, for we must recognize that in pursuing morally permissible ends of various sorts, people are realizing their humanity in worthwhile ways.
I assume a presumption in favor of free speech in liberal societies and attempt to refute possible objections against publishing the Danish cartoons of Muhammed that appeal to (1) offense, (2) insult, (3) harm, (4) the speech act wrong of subordination, (5) the illusory nature of “free speech,” and (6) legal inconsistencies that favor Christianity. The notions of offense and insult are unclear. Moreover, the offended and insulted play a role in constituting these acts. Legitimate restrictions on harmful acts are limited to behavior that poses a clear and present danger; such cases can be handled without violating viewpoint-neutrality, to which liberalism is committed. Altman’s notion of a speech act wrong of subordination makes unwarranted assumptions about speakers’ intent and offers no rational way to discern intent or gauge the expression’s emotive force. Policies for prohibiting speech based on content are inherently vague and overly broad; their underlying justifying reasons overreach. Fish’s arguments for showing that the notion of free speech is confused are inconsistent; they also move fallaciously from well-defined exceptions to free speech to sweeping conclusions that make speech negotiable. Legal inconsistencies can be removed simply by repealing laws that show partiality toward a certain religion. The Danish cartoons expressed justified outrage over Muslim abuses of individual rights in liberal countries, and did so in a peaceful manner. The cognitive content of the cartoons is inseparable from the cartoons’ satirical mode of expression. Muslims’ complaints over expression critical of Islam amount to special pleading that is rooted in bad faith. Publishing the cartoons was a virtuous act that protected the tolerant, liberal ethical environment of Denmark.
Over the past several years, the intelligent design/evolutionism debate (the “ID” issue) and a collective national reckoning with Islam as both a religious confession and a political force (the “Islamophobia” issue) have both become significant issues in public discourse in the United States. In my paper, I argue that philosophy can begin to determine a connection between extremist, Islamophobic rhetoric and extremist, pro-ID rhetoric. The connection is that both these forms of extreme rhetoric, while they deal with different issues, tend to corrupt reason and show the darker side of human nature – surely if we suppose that the extreme rhetoric expresses falsehoods, and even if we suppose that the extreme rhetoric expresses truth.
Shortly after he was banished for heresy from his nation-state of Prussia in 1723, Christian Wolff (a predecessor of Kant) published an overview of his philosophical system, known in English as the Preliminary Discourse . In the last chapter of this work, Wolff gives an extended argument for the importance and necessity of academic freedom. In the paper, I reconstruct and evaluate Wolff’s argument and maintain that the strength of Wolff’s view resides in his naïve optimism for intellectual discourse.
Can a religion be imagined in which heresy and blasphemy are impossible? Would such a religion need to be beyond a transcendent God and instead based on the freedom of the self and other? What would it mean to respect the “religion” of “Saint Baruch” and “Saint Jacques,” both who may, in a sense, “rightfully pass for atheists” and heretics? After examining the heretical perspective of each “saint,” I then identify and present for praise what we can learn from each “heretic”—namely, a saintly “ethics of love” that emerges as fundamental to a “pure religion.” Thus, I argue that what Spinoza understands as “true religion” is centered on the ethics of love, and that what Derrida writes of as “religion without religion” may be interpreted as a dream of a “pure religion” analogous to his dream of “pure forgiveness.” What also emerges as an important practical consequence of these views, which seek not to deplore and denounce, but to understand and affirm, is that the other who is a religious crusader, a narrow-minded fundamentalist, a bigoted politician, a secular cartoonist, a violent terrorist, etc. should be met with calmness and love, not hatred and anger.
In this paper, I perform a critical post-structuralist reading of the Muhammad cartoon, analyze the concrete effects the carton has on Arabs, and explore the cartoon as an example of Louis Althusser’s Ideological State Apparatus. I attempt to deconstruct the west’s one-dimensional discourse that serves both to create and legitimate the Muslim identity by utilizing the writings of Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, Guy Debord, Jean Baudrillard, and queer theory. I will attempt to make the “freedom of expression” defense of the Muhammad cartoon problematic, and argue that exposing this defense as problematic is the responsibility of intellectuals and philosophers.
In 2002, the Quebec National Assembly voted unanimously to extend equal parenting rights and recognition to same-sex parents. This paper draws on my research for my documentary film: Politics of the Heart (2005, 68 minutes), a moving portrait of the parents and their children who were at the forefront of the movement in Quebec. This work provides an in-depth look at the broad-based social movement that led to same-sex parenting rights and recognition, same-sex marriage and civil union in Quebec.
Using a modified Aristotelian virtue ethics, I critique Darfur activism, especially in its use of online media. In the common perception of the Darfur crisis, the violence is at once spontaneous and ancient, a sudden rupturing of ephemeral ethnic peace and an inevitable return to the strife of antiquity, Africa’s eternal crisis phase. This logic relies on colonial narratives of tribalism and primitivism that short circuit a deeper understanding of political turmoil in contemporary Africa. An elision of Sudanese history results, thereby excising British and American imperialism, Sudan’s civil wars, and developments in the surrounding region from the list of factors contributing to the Darfur crisis. Information technologies such as websites and interactive games can function as strong tools for activist interrogation of these misperceptions, but games like Darfur is Dying and groups like STAND, Save Darfur, Be A Witness, and Human Rights Watch have reified rather than challenged these popular narratives. Failure to interrogate the historical, political, and cultural assumptions surrounding the Darfur crisis has yielded a responsive time lag, where consideration of recent regional developments has been slow or nonexistent.
Such reporting is consonant with a rising trend of consumerist activism, wherein big business, entertainment, and fashion collude to create campaigns like “I am African” and (PRODUCT) RED™ and games like Darfur is Dying. These initiatives, often supported by corporations with dubious human rights records, constitute a convergence of humanitarianism and consumerism that fundamentally jams any true comprehension of or compassion for human rights crises. In their fetishization of African clothes, makeup, and skin, these campaigns reinforce the tribalism and primitivism narratives that inform Western understanding of Africa and, by emphasizing consumption, turn shopping and gaming alone into acts of charity.
The way in which the theory of “group selection” was treated as a heresy in evolutionary biology during the latter part of the twentieth century is considered as itself being an emergent group phenomenon, and some possible reasons why this particular theory had to be repudiated by the dominant group are explored. Then the process of “heresy-hammering” in general is examined as a behavior that can block important feedback, allowing the group to engage in a form of collective selfdeception, and is therefore judged to be epistemically irresponsible and potentially maladaptive in terms of the group’s long-term survival. Some possible methods of foiling this process—which seems to operate largely below the level of full conscious awareness—are proposed.