The Standard Blog Critique

Chris has a good post at CT on some of the omissions and blind spots in the ‘standard blog critique’ (cf. ‘Standard Social Science Model’) of the proposal to criminalize incitement to religious hatred. We’ve been talking past each other for some time, B&W and CT, but in this post I at least see Chris’ point, or rather points. The part about media ownership and access to the airwaves as a crucial part of free speech I completely agree with and always have. It’s always irritated me when free speech is defined in an such an impoverished way that it just means a cop doesn’t handcuff you for saying something. The next part, about hate speech and intimidation, I’m not so sure about, because the law itself seems like such a form of intimidation.

But then in item 2, I think he does point out some genuine problems for the SBC (not that I necessarily agree that B&W’s critique is a ‘standard’ one, on account of I’m far too vain and conceited to think I’m standard and predictable – but never mind that).

Many advocates of the SBC write about religion being a matter of choice, or religion consisting of a body of doctrine which ought to be open to critique etc. I basically agree, though I think people sometimes overstate the chosenness of religion. But their insistence on these points amounts to an almost wilful neglect of another, namely that even if religion is a matter of choice, religious identity may not be. There are societies where “Are you a Catholic atheist or a Protestant atheist?” is a sensible question…

I think that’s a fair point about overestimating how chosen religion is. I’ve been discussing religion (and its chosenness) as a system of ideas that adults can rationally consider and accept or reject – which of course it is, but equally of course that’s not all it is. It’s also what your parents teach you (or don’t), what you grow up in, your history and past and memory bank. And looked at in that way, it’s obvious enough how extremely difficult it can be to choose to reject it. Just for one thing it’s bound to be all tangled up with issues of class and education and upward mobility, with abandonment and loyalty and love. Especially for people from marginalised or underprivileged or impoverished or excluded groups – immigrants, the poor, the working class. The parents work and slave to get the children an education, and then the educated children become alienated from the parents: it’s a familiar pattern, and a heart-breaker. How can the children reject the religion of the parents without implying that the parents are stupid and just don’t know any better? Not easily. So that is one factor that makes the chosenness of religion a lot less easy or automatic than I’ve been saying. I needed brackets or something, or an automatic ceteris paribus or some such stipulation. Religion is chosen considered in the abstract as a set of ideas independent of family history and affective ties. (The argument applies to football, as well. A guy I used to work with once informed me that one can’t choose not to support a football team one has always supported, from earliest childhood; it’s simply impossible. Thus so is free will, I think he added, but I could be misremembering.)

The point about religious identity is also true, I think, but there are complications. For instance there’s a difference between our internal ideas of our own identity, and what other people take to be our identity (though of course the one can reinforce or even create the other: one may not think about one’s own identity in such terms at all until other people make an issue of it). Yugoslavians used to think of themselves as Yugoslavians, and then they started (or reverted to or revealed that they always had been) thinking of themselves as Serbs or Bosnians, and look what good came of that. It seems to me at least possible that the proposed law would reinforce the conflation of race with religion that’s already prevalent, and that that would just promote a sort of Bosniazation. That’s going on anyway, but the law and the way it’s being viewed and discussed could help that process along, and make it more entrenched and hard to counter. At least I think so.

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