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Ch. 7: Current Issues of Religious Exp. vs. Competing... 
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Post Re: Ch. 7: Current Issues of Religious Exp. vs. Competing...
Rose: Mad, does this mean that you have no intention of addressing the issues this discussion raises?

In my own way, I have been, but I realize that leads to a number of tangents that probably aren't directly related to the chapter this thread is about, so I'm willing to back off. If you're asking whether or not I have any intention of addressing the issues you guys have emphasized, the answer is, I don't know enough about the subject to comment intelligently. If someone wants to give me a summary of the topics involved, I can give it a try, but I'd mostly be spouting bullshit if I really tried to engage some of what you're talking about. I'd even be inclined to look at some secondary sources if you could recommend some. But since I haven't been able to track down a copy of the book (the library copy isn't due back until next month), and don't feel inclined to bother with mail ordering, it looks like my information is going to have to be second hand or not at all.

Outside of condoning or condemning best interest determinations for dependents, do you think such determinations should give religion special accommodation?

What I think is, that there is a potential conflict of interest between a Constitution that protects freedom of religion and a society structured (whether intentionally or not) so as to limit actual religious practice or belief. I'd rather "special accomodation" not be the best available solution to that conflict, but I'm not sure that there are any viable alternatives.

garicker: This discussion has wandered rather far away from the specific question of whether a parent's religious beliefs ought to be allowed to place the life of a minor child at risk.

I recognize that, and I won't feel offended if you decide to remove any point of interest to another thread -- most likely in the politics or religion forums.

The issue involves religious beliefs specifically because that is what the book under consideration is about and that also seems to be the only area in which the state seems willing to tolerate an exception. A parent who simply refused necessary medical treatment for their minor child because of some other reason probably would find themselves in a heap of trouble, legally speaking.

Assuming that this portion of your post is tolerably germaine to the chapter, I do wonder if maybe religion isn't the only exception. It seems to me as though reference to "culture" might also serve as a possible exception, although I'm not immediately familiar with any particular case in which that was so. For example, might not a family belonging to a given culture withhold Western-styled medical care in favor of something more traditional to their culture, as, say, homeopathic medicine? Apart from the strictly moral and religious issues that arise in the case of a Christian Science family, does the state accomodate for differences in opinion about the efficacy of Western medical technique?

I think that's wrong. I'm not sure what you think about it. You seem to prefer to talk around the issue than to address it directly.

I'm not working from the same assumptions that you and Rose are working from, and in the case, the difference appears to be philosophical (specifically political philosophy) as opposed to religious. If you can address the concerns that I raised, then we can talk about whether or not it is wrong for the government to accomodate for religiously motivated departures in child care. If trying to lay a foundation in political theory is "talking around the issue", then I'd prefer to tal around the issue a little before I get to the specifics.

As to the more general question of how we, as a society, make such determinations, I think the best answer is the one I've already given. There is no new approach. Human societies have always dealt with such questions on the basis of biological imperatives, evolutionary history and social negotiation.

I think the novelty of modern approaches is likely masked by the generality of your terminology -- so much could be implied by the tripartate shema of "biological imperatives, evolutionary history and social negotiation" as to make the terms in themselves fairly unhelpful in addressing the question -- but this is one of those topics that we'd probably be better continuing, if your interest permits, in another thread.

After all, human morality had its beginnings long before either idea existed.

On what evidence do you base that claim? I'm not arguing that theism predates morality, but that particular assumption does seem to me particularly unsubstantiated.




Mon Jul 09, 2007 3:08 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 7: Current Issues of Religious Exp. vs. Competing...
Mad: If someone wants to give me a summary of the topics involved, I can give it a try, but I'd mostly be spouting bullshit if I really tried to engage some of what you're talking about.

Earlier in the thread I actually did give a summary of the three cases Haiman specifically addresses in his book. And to be perfectly honest, if I thought you had any intention in addressing the relevant issues here I would go into further detail, having read all the cases myself. However, after I gave the brief description of the actual cases involved, and directly asked, "So what role do you think free religious expression should play in these cases?", you raised the following point:

Quote:
Without outright championing either side, I will say that I think any attempt to cut directly through the debate on either side is problematic here. I think it very likely that most of the participants in this thread would balk (and probably have balked) at any attempt to justify, say, anti-abortion legislation by reference to a moral argument. And "the well-being of the child" is, so far as I can see, a moral argument.


When I explained that the issue wasn't really moral but that it was in the state's interest to protect the physical life ("best interests") of its dependent citizens, and again reiterated my question, you ventured into a world of rhetoric and hypotheticals that I don't think are particularly relevant to the specific question this chapter raises. If you really are not able to answer the question of whether religion should be accommodated in a way that other ideologies are not with regard to medical treatment for dependents, without fully discussing the virtue of current judicial "best interest" determinations for dependents, then I understand. I was just making sure you hadn't lost sight of, or forgotten, the original issue.

Mad: I'd even be inclined to look at some secondary sources if you could recommend some.

Actually I would recommend you read the caselaw involved rather than others' interpretations of caselaw. I find that to be more useful in forming opinions on these matters. Secondary sources are informative, but the actual issues come from the caselaw.

Mad: What I think is, that there is a potential conflict of interest between a Constitution that protects freedom of religion and a society structured (whether intentionally or not) so as to limit actual religious practice or belief. I'd rather "special accomodation" not be the best available solution to that conflict, but I'm not sure that there are any viable alternatives.

I think this point is similar to the one raised in the Snowbowl thread, which I have preliminarily addressed there.

Mad: I'm not working from the same assumptions that you and Rose are working from, and in the case, the difference appears to be philosophical (specifically political philosophy) as opposed to religious. If you can address the concerns that I raised, then we can talk about whether or not it is wrong for the government to accomodate for religiously motivated departures in child care. If trying to lay a foundation in political theory is "talking around the issue", then I'd prefer to tal around the issue a little before I get to the specifics.

George, I asserted and I agree with your assertion that discussing the value of "best interest" determinations is ancillary to the specific questions raised by the chapter. However, I think we are unlikely to continue any useful conversation with Mad on this topic, without determining the value in such "best interest" determinations. Since you and I seem to agree, at least generally, on many aspects of this discussion, and in such agreement probably won't get very far in generating new ideas, I am no longer dissuading such diversions of topic. This book discussion is technically overdue and, for the most part, we've stayed on point. If you're interested in getting to the root of the necessity for "best interest" determinations, you're welcomed to it. I'll probably continue with the conversation myself at some point, as I've been involved in at least a hundred such determinations. Although, Mad, I urge you to find some sort of practical application for this discussion. This book topic is not a purely theoretical debate; it is about actual practices in American law and constitutional discussions on the religion clauses. Sure it's interesting to talk about political and legal theory, as we have done on many of these issues; but, eventually we have to address the actual current practices. I think it only fair that you, at some point, attend to such topics in a practical way. (Actually, fair or not, I just want to know your answer to some of these questions that have been raised. I stuck my freakin neck in the guillotine answering your question



Mon Jul 09, 2007 7:39 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 7: Current Issues of Religious Exp. vs. Competing...
Me: After all, human morality had its beginnings long before either idea existed. (note: the ideas referred to are ideas about gods and religions)

Mad: On what evidence do you base that claim? I'm not arguing that theism predates morality, but that particular assumption does seem to me particularly unsubstantiated.

Probably one of the best summaries of research on the origins of human morality that I have read recently is Michael Shermer's The Science of Good and Evil.

It seems evident that what we call moral behavior has its antecedents in our own biological history. Many animal species display behaviors that are labeled "moral" in humans. Such things as pair-bonding for life or for long periods, caring for the young, defending the smaller and weaker members of one's group, and so on. We call such behaviors "instinctive" in animals, but I think such instinctive behavior may well be related to our own so-called moral sense.

Closer to home in the evolutionary story, the behavior of primates, especially our closest relatives, the chimpanzees, bears many striking similarities to human behavior. The group dynamic exhibited among chimps is suggestive of behavior patterns that appear to have continued in early pre-human societies.

Although nature is certainly brutish and often "red in tooth and claw," it's also true that, particularly among social animals, there is a good bit of cooperative effort exhibited. I suspect the earliest pre-human groups realized their prospects for survival would be enhanced if they weren't constantly savaging other members of their own group. As the groups, which probably began as extended families and clans, grew larger and more complex, so did the rules they needed to follow in order to ensure their survival.

New research appears to be suggesting that things like "empathy" may have been hard-wired into human biology before humans even existed. There was an interesting piece in the Washington Post in May If It Feels Good to be Good, It Might Only be Natural that suggests, among other things, that "empathy" may have been hard-wired into our biology before humans existed. I've seen similar news stories in other sources, but let me add the caveat that I haven't read the original research.

So all of that leads me to conclude that human morality had its beginnings long before we had ideas about things like gods and religions.

George

http://www.godlessinamerica.com

"Godlessness is not about denying the existence of nonsensical beings. It is the starting point for living life without them."

Godless in America by George A. Ricker




Tue Jul 10, 2007 10:22 am
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Post Re: Ch. 7: Current Issues of Religious Exp. vs. Competing...
I have also seen a host of material that suggests (if not outright claims) exactly what George is saying. Some of the evidence is observation and comparison as George highlights here, but there are also many prehistory archeologists coming to that same conclusion based primarily off of their own findings.

Later

Life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well
preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out,
shouting..."Holy Crap...what a ride!"




Tue Jul 10, 2007 11:25 am
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Post Re: Ch. 7: Current Issues of Religious Exp. vs. Competing...
Rose: If you really are not able to answer the question of whether religion should be accommodated in a way that other ideologies are not with regard to medical treatment for dependents, without fully discussing the virtue of current judicial "best interest" determinations for dependents, then I understand.

I took "best interest" determinations to be central to the courts justification for intervention. If that's not the case, then I'll gladly reconsider my position on the matter. As it stands, it looks to me as though the question shouldn't be that whether or not religion should be accomodated, but that of how, precisely, religion is taken to be at variance with the aims of secular government. I can see how it might be interpreted thus, but I'd like to know precisely how it's being interpeted by the courts to do so.

Although, Mad, I urge you to find some sort of practical application for this discussion.

I can't find a practical application for others. It's of interest to me because it coincides with a number of other personal interests, but it's probably not worth your while to try to trace the biographical lines that lead to those interests.

garicker: Probably one of the best summaries of research on the origins of human morality that I have read recently is Michael Shermer's The Science of Good and Evil.

Having read Shermer before, I shudder at the thought of reading more by him. He has an ideological agenda, similar to that of Dawkins or Dennett, that makes me suspect the bias of any of his interpretations or conclusions. Personally, I'd think a writer like Richard Wright a more lucid and competant source of information on the biological roots of morality.

That said, I think most authors following that line of thought have erred in conflating morality as a system of beliefs with patterns of bahavior that are assimilable to morality. That a person might instinctually tend to act altrusitically towards other individuals by virtue of their degree of kinship or so forth is certainly an interesting theory in its own right, and we can certainly see evidence that would tend to confirm it. But it does not necessarily have any bearing on the fact that we, in turn, codify such behavior into a system of concepts and imperative language, nor that we consider those codes in making rational, voluntaristic choices. More to the point, the fact that may behave "morally" due to genetic dispositions does little to explain why we should feel the need to abstract those behaviors into cultural forms -- if anything, the fact that we do so by nature would seem to negate the need to impose those behaviors culturally. I put "morally" into quotations makes because, when it comes right down to it, I (and I think this is probably true of most people) don't see any reason to treat instinctual behavior as though it had, de facto, any positive moral content. Behavior is only moral if your decision to behave in conformity with morality was made in reference to morality. Otherwise, we could say that a pig who eats its young is immoral (and example made vivid by Steinbeck's "To a God Unknown") or that an soldier ant who protects its queen from an invading spider is acting morally.

Beyond which, the degree to which theories which have sought to base all moral behavior in genetic evolutionary theory seem, to me, to have the fault of relying too heavily on Dawkins' "The Selfish Gene". Needless to say, I have some theoretical problems with the actual thesis Dawkins raises, mostly in terms of the way the retrospective, statistical viewpoint he posits as the most rational way to view natural selection and the best basis for defining the gene as a unit tends towards a distorting interpretive effect.

Many animal species display behaviors that are labeled "moral" in humans.

Which I'm more than willing to admit. What seems decisive to me, though, is that other animal species apparantly have not developed a morality from those behaviors. So pointing out that morality has biological antecedents does nothing to explain how we, first as a species, developed morality in general, and, then as distinct cultures and populations, determine the content of specific instances of morality.

So all of that leads me to conclude that human morality had its beginnings long before we had ideas about things like gods and religions.

Your survey doesn't seem, to me, to indicate as much. It certainly indicates that certain behaviors have their origin earlier than the development of religion, and even that they took on instinctually patterned forms before hand. But as I've argued above, morality isn't simply a pattern of behavior -- it's a codification of concepts and imperatives that form a reference point for voluntary action. We could even suppose that morality as such is a figment -- that no humans actually make decisions about their behavior in reference to such mental constructs -- without illuminating how those constructs first arose.




Wed Jul 11, 2007 5:47 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 7: Current Issues of Religious Exp. vs. Competing...
Me: So all of that leads me to conclude that human morality had its beginnings long before we had ideas about things like gods and religions.

Mad: Your survey doesn't seem, to me, to indicate as much. It certainly indicates that certain behaviors have their origin earlier than the development of religion, and even that they took on instinctually patterned forms before hand. But as I've argued above, morality isn't simply a pattern of behavior -- it's a codification of concepts and imperatives that form a reference point for voluntary action.

You asked, and I answered. I didn't imagine you would agree with the answer. Even though you seem to implicitly endorse it while disagreeing with it.

I did not say that morality was "simply a pattern of behavior." I did say that what we have come to regard as human morality has its beginnings in such patterns of behavior. I think there's good support for that position.

Now if you want to have a discussion about the codification of moral codes and how and why that happens, that's a related but different subject. Personally, I don't think such a discussion is likely to be productive since you and I obviously come at these issues from widely different perspectives and seem to spend most of our time talking past one another.

So, with that, I will bid you a cordial adieu.

George

http://www.godlessinamerica.com

"Godlessness is not about denying the existence of nonsensical beings. It is the starting point for living life without them."

Godless in America by George A. Ricker




Thu Jul 12, 2007 10:02 am
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