In the article ,’All States in Europe are Moving Toward Secularism‘, we read about David Pollock’s speech praising the progress of secularism in Europe. (David Pollock is President of the European Humanist Federation)
In Pollock’s speech, which can be read in its entirety here, he says that a secular state is a state that is “neutral as between different religions and beliefs…not taking sides for or against religion or atheism, for or against one belief or another.” Secularism as such “is the best guarantor we have of freedom of religion or belief.”
The logical problem is that it is incoherent to speak of government being neutral towards religion and non-religion, or towards belief and non-belief. Frederick Mark Gedicks explained why this was in an article for the William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal, titled, ‘Religions, Fragmentations, and Doctrinal Limits.’ In the article Mr Gedicks explored the logical impossibility in the very concept of a government adopting a neutral posture towards religion and non-religion. While he was writing in the context of American government, his observations are equally pertinent to the question of secularism in Europe:
I mean, really, what sense can one possibly make of a rule that requires the government to remain neutral between a proposition and its negation? One may agree or disagree about what it could mean to be ‘neutral’ between various religions, but it is at least possible to have a sensible conversation about this. By contrast, there has always been something decidedly weird about the requirement that the government be neutral between religion and nonreligion, or belief and unbelief. Indeed, the requirement seems to constitute empirical proof that even the dumbest things can start to make sense if they’re repeated often enough.
Consider then what government neutrality might mean in the context of professional baseball. It is, of course, completely sensible to require that Congress be neutral between the Red Sox and the Yankees, or that the California Legislature be neutral between the A’s, the Angels, the Dodgers, the Giants, and the Padres, or, indeed, that Congress and all of the state legislatures be neutral with respect to all thirty major league baseball teams. But what could it possibly mean for Congress and the states to be neutral as between baseball and ‘not-baseball’?
For starters, I suppose, this would mean that baseball could not be treated any differently than not-baseball. So, Congress could not grant an exemption from the antitrust laws to baseball unless not-baseball got one, too. It would, therefore, be crucial to ascertain the referent of not-baseball. Would it be the National Basketball Association? Well, it is clearly not-baseball. The American Ballet Theatre? Also not-baseball. Fly-fishing? Watching public television? Cutting my lawn? All not-baseball. The Southern Cal defensive team against Vince Young in the 2006 Rose Bowl? Still not-baseball (and also not-defense).
Logically, ‘not-baseball’ encompasses everything except ‘baseball.’ Accordingly, neutrality between baseball and not-baseball requires that every activity in the United States be exempted, like baseball, from the anti-trust laws and more generally, that every activity in the United States be treated the same as baseball. Not only is this nonsensical from a policy standpoint, it is nonsensical from any standpoint.
Get the picture? What Gedicks is saying is that if we are really serious about government being ‘neutral’ with respect to religion and non-religion, then our laws would have to interact with the entire portion of reality that comes under the “not religion” category (from the colour of my shoes down to the screw that popped out of my computer earlier today) in the exact same way that government acts towards religion, even as neutrality with respect to baseball would require that the state interacts with the Dodgers in the exact same way that it interacts with the Yankees (American teams, but I trust you get the picture). Even putting aside the problem that to decide what goes in the non-religion category is first to presuppose certain tacit religious presuppositions, we might ask whether our secularist policy-makers have really given adequate thought to what a consistent application of such neutrality would look like in practice. I think it’s safe to say that they haven’t.
At least, that is what Kathleen Parker argues in her book Save the Males: Why Men Matter Why Women Should Care.
Combining humorous anecdotes with scholarly research, Parker makes a convincing case that the men of our society are in danger, not so much of becoming extinct, but of ceasing to be men in the fullest sense.
Here is what Publisher Weekly had to say about the book:
According to columnist Parker, men are an endangered species struggling against everything from mere hostility to literal emasculation. Starting in elementary school, where a teacher most likely a feminist will demand that boys sit still and listen and continuing through college, where freshmen must endure rape awareness workshops, men are besieged by disrespect. Belittled by bumbling portrayals in sitcoms, their importance as fathers is so devalued that they are perceived as little more than sperm and a wallet. Parker trots out the usual suspects—mass culture, unspecified feminists, The Vagina Monologues, Murphy Brown, metrosexuals and girlymen—to propose that a feminist campaign is afoot and eager to effeminize, denigrate and destroy American men.
I think Parker is onto something, not least because the feminization of men is something that we have covered here at Salvo. (See S. T. Karnick’s article ‘Girly Men: The Media’s Attack on Masculinity’ for starters.)
For years the advocates of gender neutrality have been complaining against gender stereotypes. You know, the usual sort of thing: girls like to play with dolls and boys like to play with guns. Or: it takes a female to be a mother and a male to be a dad. That sort of thing.
In 1993, the organization BLO decided to become militant in undermining gender stereotypes. (BLO stands for Barbie Liberation Organization.) In the Wikipedia article about the group, we read:
They gained notoriety in 1993 by switching the voice boxes on talking G.I. Joes and Barbie dolls. The BLO performed “surgery” on a reported 300-500 dolls and then returned them to the shelves of stores, an action they refer to as “shopgiving.” This action resulted in girls opening their new Teen Talk Barbie to hear it say phrases such as “vengeance is mine” and boys hearing their G.I. Joe say “the beach is the place for summer.” …The BLO was originally conceived in an effort to question and ultimately change the gender stereotypes American culture is known for after Mattel released a speaking Barbie that said “math class is tough.”
In yesterday’s post, I cited an animal rights activist who said, referring to apes, “they are just like us.”
I thought that was about as extreme as you could get. But then I watched Richard Dawkins in the video below. He takes the argument one step further. “Human beings are not just like great apes” he says. “They are great apes.”
C.S. Lewis made a good argument in one of his essays (I forget which) for the fact that a theistic worldview is necessary in order to make a consistent and logical case against animal cruelty. Within an atheistic worldview, it is hard to say how the cruel action of a human is ultimately wrong any more than the cruel action of a guerrilla or tiger is objectively evil. (I develop this further in my review of The God Delusion and in my review of The Moral Landscape.) Thus, while an atheist can advocate kindness to animals, he does not have consistent grounds for doing so.
This point comes out clearly in the video above, when Dawkins admits that he can only justify being nice to animals by an appeal to emotion. Dawkins explains that when he is wearing his scientist hat, there is no reason why cruelty cannot be justified, and to do that he has to put on his human hat and appeal to what he feels.
This is significant since it illustrates a point made again and again by Francis Schaeffer, namely that all non-theistic worldviews have to introduce some kind of dualism in order to account for meaning and significance. Richard Dawkins is no exception.
It is probable that if the video was taken today Dawkins might adopt a different position, since his views about ethics have modulated after reading Sam Harris’ book The Moral Landscape, which I explain about in my review of Harris’ book.
Getting back to the video. In addition to arguing that human beings ARE apes, Dawkins suggests that a key issue of our age is speciesism. In the past, he points out, people had to realize that racism was wrong, leading to equality between the races; people also had to learn that sexism was wrong, leading to equality between the sexes. Now, the great issue we are facing is to realize that speciesism is wrong. Once our society has overcome the speciesist impulse, there will be equality between humans and their animal relatives.
Yesterday I posted about the Human Zoo Project. Today I want to tell you about another project that is related to the same philosophy: the Great Ape Project.
Pioneered by animal rights activist Peter Singer, the project consists in “an international organization of primatologists, anthropologists, ethicists, and other experts who advocate a United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Great Apes that would confer basic legal rights on non-human great apes: chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans.” (From the Wikipedia article about it)
Legal rights for apes? Actually, that’s only the beginning. In the book The Great Ape Project that Peter Singer edited with philosopher Paola Cavalieri, the authors address the division placed between humans and great apes, and discuss the ramifications of conferring personhood onto great apes.
That’s right: personhood.
The concern that apes are persons has found quite a resonance throughout the worldwide community, as evidence by The Great Ape Personhood Movement which exists, according to Wikipedia, in order “to create legal recognition of bonobos, common chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans (the non-human great apes) as bona fide persons.”
The project describes itself as wanting to create a “moral community of equals” among human beings, gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans, and bonoboos, and in their mission statement they condemn the use of these animals in circuses as “a kind of slavery.”
Now don’t get me wrong. I am passionately against cruelty to animals apart from in cases where such cruelty has the potential to save human lives (as is the case with some industrial experimentation concerning the effects of certain products). In fact, I would argue that my theistic worldview gives me more grounds for asserting the necessity of being kind to animals than the materialist worldview of someone like Singer. But that is a different subject. What interests me right now is the idea that anything less than conferring personhood on apes is a form of ‘speciesism’ and animal abuse.
This isn’t just a bunch of wacky nut cases from Yale and eco-nuts from California who are calling for this ‘moral community of equals’ between humans and gorillas. In 2007 the Parliament of a Spanish province passed legislation granting personhood to great apes. Thomas Rose’s CBS News report about the legislation defended the practice with a curious bit of logic that, quite frankly, is difficult to answer:
Consider that under most international law corporations are recognized as legal persons and are granted many of the same rights humans enjoy, the right to sue, to vote and to freedom of speech.
What enables an inanimate object like a corporation to enjoy personhood is a nicety called a legal fiction.
A legal fiction is something assumed in law to be fact, irrespective of the truth or accuracy of that assumption. Corporate personhood is recognized the world over, so why not ape personhood?
More than 2,000 years after Aristotle declared that Mother Nature had made all animals for the sake of humankind, that assumption might soon be stood on its head.
I’m not sure of the tenuous link from corporate personhood to ape personhood, but it’s hard to deny that this logic is intriguing. But what interests me (and what II may one sometime write about in an article for Salvo magazine) is what this reveals to us about ourselves and how it relates to human exceptionalism. If I ever do write an article for the magazine about this, I will dwell on the utter inconsistency of a someone like Professor Singer who can think that infanticide is sometimes justified yet whose Project condemns using apes in circuses. For the time being, however, the basic problem has been summed up very succinctly on the mission statement for the Great Ape Project. I quote word for word: “To sum it up, they are just like us.”