On Their Own Terms

‘On their own terms’ again. Such a handy phrase that is (see ‘Dyslexia in Excelsis’ below). It’s behind so much woolly thinking – the notion that if we’ll all just see all ideas and truth claims ‘on their own terms’ then no one’s self-esteem will be damaged and all will be well. Of course the idea doesn’t apply everywhere – which is indeed the oft-noticed contradiction in relativism, which is the same as the old Cretan liar’s paradox. Relativists want everyone to think that relativism is non-relativistically true. Same thing with ‘on their own terms.’ We’re not supposed to take, say, skepticism about taking things on their own terms on its own terms. But religion, now that’s another story. And if we have to hem and haw, shove inconvenient things under the sofa, change the subject, rush quickly past sensitive topics, and omit vital bits of information, why…it’s all in a good cause. Protecting religious fanaticism, what could be a better cause than that?

Witness this touching article about fundamentalist Jews and Muslims transcending their many differences because of the one core thing they have in common: unwavering belief in a lot of nonsense. The article is remarkably uncritical oh excuse me ‘non-judgmental’ about it all. But at one point that amounts to downright evasion.

When the Farm Animal Welfare Council recently proposed banning the traditional Muslim and Jewish methods of animal slaughter, where the animal is not stunned before it is killed, the two bodies co-operated in their response. Iqbal Sacranie, the Muslim Council’s secretary general, who also describes relations as “reasonably good”, reels off several other examples of Muslim-Jewish unity, including sitting together on government committees on inner-city regeneration.

Notice how briskly, even indecently, we rush away from the subject to talk about something completely different. What did the two communities say in their response? Who knows. We can guess, but clearly the author of the article doesn’t want to get explicit about it. Why is that? Could it possibly be because what they said was disgusting? Could that be it? Could the author be worried that if it were put down in black and white on the page that these nice religious people we’re being invited to approve of so warmly were insisting on their ‘right’ to go on slaughtering animals in an inhumane manner, we the readers might be a little repelled by that? Might that lead us to stop taking them on their own terms and start taking them on our own terms, where religion should not trump preferences for humane treatment of sentient beings? Who knows. I don’t know, I don’t know that that’s what happened. But I can’t help wondering.

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