Monday, April 14, 2008

[Xanga] thoughts

Abstract: My intent here is to argue apologetically that the charge of
Christianity being an intolerant religion, even if true (which I gladly
admit to being plausible, if not even perhaps probable, under a
specific definition of ''intolerant'' not to be here strictly
discussed), fails to raise a strong objection to the Christian religion
in itself. The reason for this is that it fails to take into account
both (a) differing definitions of of intolerance and (b) differing
foundational metaphysical beliefs.

This is going to be vague. I apologize in advance.

I don't understand why people seem to have an issue with certain ramifications of holding a Christian worldview; specifically, the charge that it is an "intolerant" religion. Well, that's not true. I
think I understand why. But I disagree that it's a strongly justified objection to the orthodox Christian religion.

The arguments against intolerance (and for pluralism or inclusivism) seem, on the whole, to be drawn at heart from a moral valuation of actions and choices derived from a particular belief set. As such, they take certain tenets of a relativist worldview, most comonly that a choice implies the soundness of its outcomes; that fairness is equivalent to
equality and, moreover, to be desired very (if not most) highly; that an individual's identity is the sum of their life choices; and that morality is socially defined. To wit: I will admit that Christianity is intolerant, inasmuch as I believe in a God who will
not tolerate sin. I just think that the logical intermediary between "Christianity is intolerant" and "Christianity is not a valid theology" fails to compel assent.

Questions like "How can God damn men to hell for making a choice [to sin] that he presented them with in the first place?" (the same question is also phrased as "So, just because I made choice X, God is going to send me to hell?") seem to take as a noninferential premise that we are to be treated equally (not to mention, some particular misunderstandings of Christian doctrine). That is, if God was really good or loving or fair, he would grant unqualified mercy to unlimited people. At the very least, this question takes as noninferential premises properly basic beliefs that support this premise, beliefs which, I would argue, are not, in their totality, in the set of foundational beliefs which I, and a majority of other Christians, do
not subscribe to. [I'm not too happy about this example of an polemically atheological question. I just can't think of a better one right now.]

The fact that the crucial distinction lies in two disjoint sets of properly basic (and therefore either irrefutable or
very difficult to refute) beliefs implies that, while the Christian (or, generally, theistic) interlocutor may not provide satisfying answers to the polemicist, this is not due to her theology lacking empirical or rational completeness. Rather, it proceeds from an intuitive disagreement; and while intuition is obviously widely-held (outside of skeptical circles) to be a good guide towards tracking the truth, it is certainly not reliable all, or even most, of the time. As such, it bears strong consideration that, when questions are raised akin to those presented in form and specifics above, the issue is likely not one which may be argued out rationally, but instead one which proceeds from prima facie beliefs. The discussion must then turn to the warranted apprehension and dismissal of such first premises. One thing is clear: using logical (as opposed to pragmatic or empirical, and not as opposed to illogical) arguments, once this point of contention has been reached, is at best frustrating.

Or am I raising up a straw man? Does the atheologian have a more compelling argument for holding his properly basic beliefs than I do?

Addendum I: The argument for intolerance.

Abstract: Not only does the charge that Christianity is intolerant fail
to compel disbelief in the propositions of the Christian religion, but
I go on to argue that every coherent belief set requires intolerance (a
definition of which I lay out, but fail to justify beyond its intuitive
reasonability) as a foundational belief. Therefore, I claim, any
attempt to malign a belief set because of its supposed intolerance is
actually a fatal misconception of both intolerance as well as one's own
belief set.

Above and beyond what I argue above, I would moreover like to sketch out a defense of the following:

Every set of beliefs is intolerant.

The outline of the argument is as follows:

(1) Every set of beliefs contains propositions which are subscribed to as true.

(2) An intolerant belief set may be defined as "not accepting as internally tenable non-empty belief set [x]"

(3) It is incoherent for a belief set to accept as true a proposition which is the negation of a proposition contained within the belief set.

(C) Therefore, every set of beliefs [b] is intolerant to a second belief set [btwo], [btwo] being the set of beliefs [~b1, ~b2,...,~bn].

(Note that this is an overly rigorous (C). It is sufficient to prove that [b] is intolerant to any belief ~bm, m < n+1).

The strongest objection to this argument lies in the belief that there may exist propositions of a class who admit their negation; phrased in another way, the natural line of argument in opposition to mine is that there exist belief sets [c] who admit belief in contradictory propositions (an example of this is some construals of Buddhism, wherein seeming
opposites are embraced as koans or paths toward Enlightenment).

Such a vaguely-held belief set would accept the plausibility of [b1] and [~b1], but merely withhold judgment as to which obtains, or claim somehow that the inconsistency between [b1] and [~b1] is due to our ignorance. Such belief sets of vaguely-held beliefs (formulations of religious pluralism among them)
are, however, intolerant towards at least one proposition: [~c1], belief in [b1] and belief in [~b1] is not compossible ([c1] being, of course, the foundational set belief that belief in both [b1] and [~b1] is possible).

The choice between a "tolerant" and "intolerant" belief set is thus fatally misconstrued by those arguing against Christianity, theism, or even, in general, "intolerant" belief sets. They would claim that their belief sets apprehend some intuitively praiseworthy concept of tolerance, whereas my belief set is fundamentally flawed because it
lacks this tolerance. What they fail to comprehend is that they are equally intolerant (in the sense of
failing to admit belief in x) as I, merely towards a different class of proposition. Instead of being intolerant towards moral propositions or formulations of moral (or metaphysical) fact, they are intolerant towards propositions regarding the tenability of certain belief sets.

Now, it is very possible that my sort of intolerance has some intrinsically discrediting flaw, whereas their sort is either praiseworthy or neutral. Regardless, saying that "am tolerant; you are intolerant" is a radically different claim than "we are both intolerant, but my form of intolerance is better than yours.

In the words of Shawn Carter, "just my thoughts, ladies and gentlemen/ Just what I'm feelin at the time, you know what I mean?"

No comments: