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The Public Square

Arthur Martine on True Politeness

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Politeness has been defined as an “artificial good-nature;” but it would be better said that good-nature is natural politeness. It inspires us with an unremitting attention, both to please others and to avoid giving them offense. Its code is a ceremonial, agreed upon and established among mankind, to give each other external testimonies of friendship or respect. Politeness and etiquette form a sort of supplement to the law, which enables society to protect itself against offenses which the law cannot touch. For instance, the law cannot punish a man for habitually staring at people in an insolent and annoying manner, but etiquette can banish such an offender from the circles of good society, and fix upon him the brand of vulgarity. Etiquette consists in certain forms, ceremonies, and rules which the principle of politeness establishes and enforces for the regulation of the manners of men and women in their intercourse with each other.

I Beg to Differ

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How do we communicate with people who disagree with us? In today’s polarized world, friends and strangers clash with each other over issues large and small. Coworkers have conflicts in the office. Married couples fight over finances. And online commenters demonize one another’s political and religious perspectives. Is there any hope for restoring civil discourse? Communications expert Tim Muehlhoff provides a strategy for having difficult conversations, helping us move from contentious debate to constructive dialogue. By acknowledging and entering into the other person’s story, we are more likely to understand where they’re coming from and to cultivate common ground. Insights from Scripture and communication theory provide practical ways to manage disagreements and resolve conflicts. We can disagree without being disagreeable. And we can even help another see different points of view and learn from one another. Find out how.

Evan C. Rosa on Achieving Disagreement

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“Achieving disagreement.” That’s a curious phrase. Is disagreement really something to achieve? It’s intriguing because it implies you can’t safely assume that all ideological conflict counts as legitimate disagreement. And it’s provocative because it seems to suggest that disagreement is something to seek after, to embrace. We don’t always achieve disagreement. We often fail. When we don’t truly understand the other — if we can’t articulate their view charitably — we fail genuinely to disagree. So what’s the difference between really, actually disagreeing—entering into a shared conversation—as opposed to a competition of monologues?

The Global Charter of Conscience

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The Global Charter of Conscience has been drafted and published by a group of followers of many faiths and none, politicians of many persuasions, academics and NGOs who are committed to a partnership on behalf of “freedom of thought, conscience and religion” for people of all faiths and none. ¶ A growing number of academic studies and reports show that “freedom of thought, conscience and religion” is widely neglected and threatened today. A recent Pew Forum report, for instance, says that three quarters of the world’s population live in countries where is a high degree of menace to their faith – sometimes through government repression, sometimes through sectarian violence, and sometimes through the mounting culture wars that we are now seeing in Western countries. ¶ In our global era, it is said that “everyone is now everywhere,” and that “living with our deepest differences” has become a massive global problem, especially when those differences are religious and ideological. This is a huge problem for the future of humankind that must be resolved.

Princeton Faculty Statement on Free Speech

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Because the University is committed to free and open inquiry in all matters, it guarantees all members of the University community the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn. Except insofar as limitations on that freedom are necessary to the functioning of the University, the University fully respects and supports the freedom of all members of the University community “to discuss any problem that presents itself.”

Several Religious Leaders on Religious Liberty

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In recent days we have heard claims that a belief central to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — that we are created male and female, and that marriage unites these two basic expressions of humanity in a unique covenant — amounts to a form of bigotry. Such arguments only increase public confusion on a vitally important issue. When basic moral convictions and historic religious wisdom rooted in experience are deemed “discrimination,” our ability to achieve civic harmony, or even to reason clearly, is impossible. ¶ America was founded on the idea that religious liberty matters because religious belief matters in a uniquely life-giving and powerful way. We need to take that birthright seriously, or we become a people alien to our own founding principles. Religious liberty is precisely what allows a pluralistic society to live together in peace.

Freedom of Conscience Is For Everyone

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There are virtually endless scenarios in which an employee, a small business owner, or a sole proprietor might decline to participate in a business activity or deny service as a matter of personal convictions or corporate values. In the absence of compelling reasons to punish such conscientious objection, they should be free to do so. The First Amendment guarantee of freedom of religion (i.e. freedom of conscience) is most necessary when it protects a minority with whom others strongly disagree. In the “land of the free”, the burden of proof should be on those who would use the power of government to coerce another to do their bidding. Here’s a couple dozen of the endless instances in which an individual or business should be able to make decisions in keeping with their ethical commitments. Such decisions inescapably discriminate (i.e. make a distinction or judgment) — not against vendors, customers or clients, but rather — against particular products or services that, for the provider, have an ethical dimension.

Richard B. Hays on Practicing Faiths in a Public Way

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In accordance with the intention of the University’s founders, Duke Chapel maintains an explicit Christian identity and mission. For many years, the Chapel has been a center of faith Trinitarian Christian worship. Its architecture and iconography identify it unmistakably as a Christian place of worship. … In the context of these clear historic Christian commitments, Duke University is quite properly a place where people of many different faiths, as well as those of no religious faith, work and study together. The University is committed to creating a shared, mutually enriching life in which various historic religious traditions can thrive and learn from one another as part of a common commitment to education and the pursuit of wisdom. The University is not a community in which differences are suppressed; it is a vibrant “city” in which the particular ideas and traditions of different communities can be expressed openly, discussed respectfully, and evaluated critically. In this spirit, we in the Divinity School strongly support the presence of various spaces on campus where diverse historic religious faiths can be practiced in a public way. Such a commitment does not, however, necessarily lead to endorsement of the decision to explicitly identify the Chapel with another faith tradition.

Jacob Merrill Manning on Half Truths

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This work is not undertaken in a controversial or partisan spirit. I am no dogmatist or polemic, though my point of view, to which much patient study has led me, is the supernaturalism of Jesus of Nazareth. It seemed needful to say this at the outset, owing to the acrimonious and denunciatory style in which, for the most part, the questions between Christianity and its assailants have been hitherto debated. The natural presumption, in view of the past, is, that whoever appears on this field has only entered into the strifes of other zealots; that he comes as a warrior thirsting for victims, and in no sense as an inquirer. The terms which this ancient debate has bequeathed to us, and to some of which a certain odium still adheres cannot be now laid aside. They have such a currency, in the language of the day, that no candid person will charge it to bigotry or unfairness, but purely to the necessity of the case, that they continue to be used. It will be seen, in the title which I have chosen for this work, that I regard many forms of infidelity as half truths, at least in their origin. Believing that the human intellect naturally craves truth, I shall not easily be persuaded that any body of doctrines, which has been put forth by earnest thinkers, is unmixed error; nor shall I fail, so far as the nature of my undertaking will permit, to point out the merits of writers whom, as to their main tenets, I may feel bound to condemn. Some of those writers manifest, at times, a calm spirit of inquiry which their critics would do well to emulate. It is not only lawful, but often greatly for our advantage to learn from those with whom we disagree. Truth has not as yet revealed itself wholly to any finite mind; and the remark of Him who was the Truth, about the beam in the eye which sees the mote in a brother’s eye is not altogether inapplicable to those who are defending scriptural doctrine against the assaults of infidelity.

Kindly Inquisitors

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“A liberal society stands on the proposition that we should all take seriously the idea that we might be wrong. This means we must place no one, including ourselves, beyond the reach of criticism; it means that we must allow people to err, even where the error offends and upsets, as it often will.” So writes Jonathan Rauch in Kindly Inquisitors, which has challenged readers for more than twenty years with its bracing and provocative exploration of the issues surrounding attempts to limit free speech. In it, Rauch makes a persuasive argument for the value of “liberal science” and the idea that conflicting views produce knowledge within society.

Irreverence

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One of the most trying defects which I find in these — these — what shall I call them? for I will not apply injurious epithets to them, the way they do to us, such violations of courtesy being repugnant to my nature and my dignity. The farthest I can go in that direction is to call them by names of limited reverence — names merely descriptive, never unkind, never offensive, never tainted by harsh feeling. If they would do like this, they would feel better in their hearts. Very well, then — to proceed. One of the most trying defects which I find in these Stratfordolaters, these Shakesperiods, these thugs, these bangalores, these troglodytes, these herumfrodites, these blatherskites, these buccaneers, these bandoleers, is their spirit of irreverence. It is detectable in every utterance of theirs when they are talking about us. I am thankful that in me there is nothing of that spirit. When a thing is sacred to me it is impossible for me to be irreverent toward it. I cannot call to mind a single instance where I have ever been irreverent, except toward the things which were sacred to other people. Am I in the right? I think so. But I ask no one to take my unsupported word; no, look at the dictionary; let the dictionary decide. Here is the definition:

David Brooks on Protecting Offensive Views at Home

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In “I Am Not Charlie Hebdo“, David Brooks challenges us to live up to our self-proclaimed commitment to freedom of speech: “The journalists at Charlie Hebdo are now rightly being celebrated as martyrs on behalf of freedom of expression, but let’s face it: If they had tried to publish their satirical newspaper on any American university campus over the last two decades it wouldn’t have lasted 30 seconds. Student and faculty groups would have accused them of hate speech. The administration would have cut financing and shut them down. ¶ Public reaction to the attack in Paris has revealed that there are a lot of people who are quick to lionize those who offend the views of Islamist terrorists in France but who are a lot less tolerant toward those who offend their own views at home.”

Robert P. George on Friendly Disagreements

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Like my Swarthmore peers, I wanted to be sophisticated and enlightened — and to be regarded by others as sophisticated and enlightened. So a lot of what I believed simply as a matter of tribal loyalty was reinforced by a tendency to adopt views that conformed to the beliefs of what the late Irving Kristol dubbed “the knowledge class” — professors, elite journalists, and the like. With the exception of abortion, which I had thought about a lot, I hadn’t really thought myself into the positions I held. Rather, I had taken the short cut: I was content to believe what I thought sophisticated and enlightened people believed, or at least were supposed to believe. I simply, and rather unselfconsciously, assumed that an approach of that sort would reliably place me on the correct side of the issues. And, of course, it would give me access to a world I wanted to enter more fully — the elite world of important people who really counted and made a difference. If I got the right credentials, beginning with a Swarthmore degree, and held the right views, I could be someone who mattered. It was then, as it is now, a common motivation for students at elite colleges and universities.

The Economist on Heresy

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To most Western ears, the very idea of punishing heresy conjures up a time four or five centuries ago, when Spanish inquisitors terrorised dissenters with the rack and Russian tsars would burn alive whole communities of ultra-traditionalist Old Believers. Most religions began as heresies. Today the concept of “heresy” still means something. Every community built around an idea, a principle or an aim (from fox-hunting enthusiasts to Freudian psychotherapists) will always face hard arguments about where the boundaries of that community lie, and how far the meaning of its founding axioms can be stretched. But one of the hallmarks of a civilised and tolerant society is that arguments within freely constituted groups, religious or otherwise, unfold peacefully. And if those disputes lead to splits and new groups, that too must be a peaceful process, free of violence or coercion.

Not Quite Voltaire On Defending to the Death Your Right To Say It

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What the book could never have done for itself, or for its author, persecution did for them both. ‘On the Mind’ became not the success of a season, but one of the most famous books of the century. The men who had hated it, and had not particularly loved Helvétius, flocked round him now. Voltaire forgave him all injuries, intentional or unintentional. ‘What a fuss about an omelette!’ he had exclaimed when he heard of the burning. How abominably unjust to persecute a man for such an airy trifle as that! ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,’ was his attitude now. [Editor: Emphasis added. Though Tallentyre’s summation of Voltaire’s view has been misattributed as a quote by Voltaire, Voltaire did say much else in his Treatise on Toleration.]

Classical Rhetoric, Contemporary Science and Modern Civil Discourse

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Pathos or emotion-based appeals are common and often effective in political life, but emotion and cognition are deeply intertwined, and emotion need not detract from, but rather may be a prerequisite for, “reasoned” deliberation. Consistent with this, perhaps we can draw on the force of the emotions underlying our commitment to civil discourse to help create an ethic, culture and set of institutional incentives for civil discourse. These would aim to dramatically reduce purposive or careless deception, falsehood and “misinformation,” exaggerated claims, verbal abuse and intimidation, ad hominem attacks and personal vitriol, while enhancing issue-focused discussion, empathy and mutual respect, as well as willingness to debate in good faith, listen as much as we speak, consider the evidence, explain the reasoning behind our points of view, and remain open to ideas and evidence suggesting that our established opinions could be wrong, so that we can hear and consider seriously the reasons of those with whom we disagree. All of this would be consistent with the necessarily passionate debates, fundamental disagreements, and First Amendment principles that characterize a vibrant representative democracy. Read the full brief.

Mayor Kasim Reed on Not Tolerating Discrimination

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I was surprised and disappointed to learn of this book on Friday. I profoundly disagree with and am deeply disturbed by the sentiments expressed in the paperback regarding the LGBT community. I will not tolerate discrimination of any kind within my administration. We are conducting a thorough review of the facts surrounding the book and its distribution. In the interim, I have directed that the following steps be taken: Chief Cochran will be suspended for one month without pay; Chief Cochran will be required to complete sensitivity training; Chief Cochran will be prohibited from distributing the book on city property; and Deputy Chief Joel G. Baker will serve as Acting Fire Chief in Chief Cochran’s absence. I want to be clear that the material in Chief Cochran’s book is not representative of my personal beliefs, and is inconsistent with the Administration’s work to make Atlanta a more welcoming city for all of her citizens — regardless of their sexual orientation, gender, race and religious beliefs.

Freedom from Speech

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In Freedom From Speech,  author and First Amendment lawyer Greg Lukianoff offers a troubling and provocative theory on why we can expect challenges to freedom of speech to grow in the coming decades, both in the United States and abroad. Lukianoff analyzes numerous examples of the growing desire for “intellectual comfort,” such as the rise of speech restrictions around the globe and the increasing media obsession of punishing “offensive” utterances, jokes, or opinions inside the United States. To provide a preview of where we may be headed, Lukianoff points to American college campuses where speakers are routinely disinvited for their opinions, where students increasingly demand “trigger warnings” for even classics like The Great Gatsby, and where students are told they cannot hand out even copies of the Constitution outside of “free speech zones.” Lukianoff explains how increasingly global populations are arguing not for freedom of speech, but, rather, freedom from speech. ~ Publisher’s Description

Ryan T. Anderson on Liberty in One’s Religious Quest

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One of the hallmarks of religious liberty protections is that they protect people of all faiths, even if their beliefs seem unfounded, flawed, implausible, or downright silly. Recognition of a right to religious freedom does not, however, depend on religious skepticism, relativism, or indifferentism. Rather, it rests on the intelligible value of the religious quest — the activities of seeking to understand the truth about ultimate questions and conforming one’s life accordingly with authenticity and integrity. … [It is not] the idea that “error has rights.” Rather, it recognize[s] that people have rights — including the right to pursue religious truth and, within the limits of justice and the common good, to act on their judgments of what truth demands. All people possess these fundamental rights, even when they are, in some respects, in error.

Pigliucci’s Exhortation to Skeptics, Atheists, and Secularists

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No matter their cause, every group falls short of its aspirations. Amongst skeptics, atheists, and secularists, some less fêted voices like Michael Ruse and Julian Baggini have lamented the rise of a cavalry of imperious and hostile firebrands that have become the face of atheism. More recently, Massimo Pigliucci, a member in good standing of said community, echoes their concerns. He calls upon his cohorts to reject scientism, anti-intellectualism and a number of vogue theories and instead embrace classic epistemic virtues like charity, respect, and civility. Notably, he draws particular attention to the irony that it is the so-called “community of reason” that is so often hostile to the discipline of reason: philosophy.

Robert P. George on Why Academic Freedom Matters

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We want our young people and those responsible for teaching them to be free from repression or invidious discrimination, but we should fight for these freedoms for a reason that goes significantly beyond them. We should fight for freedom from oppression on our campuses because we believe that academic freedom is freedom for something, something profoundly important—namely, the intellectual excellence that makes self-mastery possible. We should struggle to destroy political correctness on college campuses so that students and scholars can pursue understanding, knowledge, and truth more robustly across the arts and sciences and appropriate the great goods of human intellectual striving more fully into their lives for their benefit and for the sake of the common good. We should honor academic freedom as a great and indispensable value because it serves the values of understanding, knowledge, and truth that are greater still.

Andrew Sullivan on a Reversal of Intolerance

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Of course Mozilla has the right to purge a CEO because of his incorrect political views. Of course Eich was not stripped of his First Amendment rights. I’d fight till my last breath for Mozilla to retain that right. What I’m concerned with is the substantive reason for purging him. When people’s lives and careers are subject to litmus tests, and fired if they do not publicly renounce what may well be their sincere conviction, we have crossed a line. This is McCarthyism applied by civil actors. This is the definition of intolerance. If a socially conservative private entity fired someone because they discovered he had donated against Prop 8, how would you feel? It’s staggering to me that a minority long persecuted for holding unpopular views can now turn around and persecute others for the exact same reason. If we cannot live and work alongside people with whom we deeply disagree, we are finished as a liberal society.

Sincerity

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It is not easy to speak the truth; it is less easy still to speak the truth in love, that is, to be sincere. For, as I understand them, sincerity and the speaking of the truth in love are almost equivalents. Some men speak the truth and are rude. Others speak the truth and are blunt. Others speak the truth and are frank. The sincere speak the truth not with rudeness, not with bluntness, not in frankness, but in love. There is no sincerity except that which springs at once from a love of truth and from brotherly love. Sincerity does not exist apart from charity. Love of truth untempered by love for man is a harsh mistress, apt to scold and quarrel, effecting less for all her scolding than sincerity effects by a smile. ~ An Excerpt

John Stuart Mill on Silencing Opinion

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If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind. Were an opinion a personal possession of no value except to the owner; if to be obstructed in the enjoyment of it were simply a private injury, it would make some difference whether the injury was inflicted only on a few persons or on many. But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.