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Daily Maverick Morality Religion

The dangers of tolerance

As published in The Daily Maverick, a companion piece to my previous post entitled Suffer the little children (some overlapping content, sorry).

Julian Barnes’ novel “Nothing To Be Frightened Of” opens with the sentence “I don’t believe in God, but I miss Him”. This echoes a question asked by Daniel Dennett in “Breaking The Spell” – that of whether we care more about being able to believe that our beliefs are true, or about those beliefs actually being true.

We might have rational doubts about all sorts of beliefs, yet still want them to be true. Or find value in living our lives under the assumption that they are true. It would be impossible – or at least exceedingly difficult – to live your life feeling that your job was meaningless, that you were not loved or that you had no free will and no actual soul, despite the fact that one or more of those statements may be true. We seem to seek out (and perhaps that indicates need) some transcendence or metaphysics in our lives.

But those desires and/or needs do not make their objects true or real. We need to bear in mind the possibility that certain beliefs serve a social or psychological function only, and that “belief in belief” may take us as far as we can go. In other words, that no value is added by insisting on the actual truth of some of our beliefs. In particular, we need to contemplate the possibility that treating some beliefs as literally true could be harmful, rather than neutral.

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Morality Religion

Suffer the little children

There are, of course, evil people in every organisation. Some school teachers, scout masters, etc. have abused children in the past (and are currently doing so), but that doesn’t yet tell us anything about those professions in general. We’d be indulging in the logical fallacy of guilt by association if we were to assume that “the Church” is evil or complicit because of the actions of a few members who have recently been all over the news for being all over the children who were in their “care”.

However, it’s in the Church’s response to these allegations that its moral character, rather than the moral character of the abusing priests, is revealed. And here’s where we have a problem. It should surely not be the case that wearing a funny hat grants you immunity from legal processes.