Wednesday, September 27, 2006


Keeping a crazy idea to itself

Sam Harris wrote a brilliant op-ed piece in last week's L.A. Times, but he engages in a bit of lazy moral equivalence when he writes:

Indeed, it is telling that the people who speak with the greatest moral clarity about the current wars in the Middle East are members of the Christian right, whose infatuation with biblical prophecy is nearly as troubling as the ideology of our enemies.

Troubling? Indeed. But "nearly as troubling"? Hardly. The comedian Bill Maher may have said it best when he said that "their" religious fanatics are scary while "ours" are merely funny. (I'd be grateful if someone knows his precise words, or can link to them, would post this in the comments.)

So why should we find Christian rightists less scary? Besides the obvious, when Christian rightists hold political offices in this country (the U.S.A.), they do not discuss Biblical prophecy in their official capacity. I don't much care what they say in their churches on Sunday, although I'm not aware of anything significant any politician has said there either. One might argue that I should be scared by "the end is near preaching" even if politicians are smart enough not to endorse it in public.

But I'm not scared because Americans (who are hardly unique here) of all kinds of ideologies seem pretty good at compartmentalizing their irrationalities. And this is a good thing! That is, many, if not most of us, have some loopy thing we believe. But we are still able to be competent, intelligent people, because we keep our crazy idea isolated. That is, someone can believe the end is near on Sunday, and then work and save for the future from Monday to Friday.

So it's not mere irrational beliefs that scare me. (I suspect that we all have those.) What scares me is those who fail to contain those beliefs.
Hey Doug, that is a good insight aobut how people compartmentalize their irrationality. "Someone can believe the end is near on Sunday, and then work and save for the future from Monday to Friday" -- hilarious.
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