More on thought bubbles

Liberals are worried about them too.

I notice, here and in other writings by liberals on this subject, that their concern is with large-scale effects.  What will cognitive segregation do to the country?  How will democracy be able to operate?  Will democracy provide a corrective to this effect, as the above article hopes?  These are good questions, but I tend to be more focused on my own case.  I’ve seen how totally wrongheaded the majority is in its knowledge of conservatives and Roman Catholics.  How do I avoid misjudging other groups this grievously?

The most obvious way is to find the best writings of the other sides and give them a sympathetic reading.  My father-in-law, a liberal, sometimes encourages me to read newspaper editorials.  This is just too painful, though.  I don’t mind having my beliefs challenged, but that’s now what happens.  My beliefs just get insulted.  Okay, New York Times, I get it:  all Catholics are child molesters, and all conservatives are Nazis.  Fuck you.

It seems like listening to the other side shouldn’t have to be so painful.  I have read excellent noncombative books where I’ve seen others explain their belief systems:  Islam and the Destiny of Man by Gai Eton, The Orthodox Church by Timothy Ware, and even A Theory of Justice, for that matter.  These sorts of books are very valuable to sympathetically curious outsiders.  They’re also hard to find, particularly for me, being a Catholic.  It seems that just about every other religion and ideology puffs itself up by disparaging us.  I know I should be able to put that aside and just try to extract valuable information, but as I get older, my fuse gets shorter, the sensation of anger gets more unpleasant, and the temptation to avoid it gets stronger.  On the other hand, I don’t think that I can just trust people on “my side” to explain other belief systems to me.  That’s no substitute for a genuine encounter with other positions.

I have been toying with the idea of doing something for my opponents who may be in an analogous situation.  It might be useful to write a nonpolemical introduction to conservatism:  “Conservatism for Liberals”, if you will.  The idea is that I explain what we believe but don’t push it and don’t attack other beliefs.  Then a liberal could read this without any unpleasant rise in blood pressure and come out of it knowing a bit about what his enemies actually believe and what motivates us.  I’m probably not the person, though.  I’ve obviously staked out my position on the fringe, and no one not already on the far Right would think me a reasonable guide to anything.

What books have you read that managed to explain a rival belief system without pissing you off?

14 Responses

  1. I’m slightly horrified that you have put a book by Bp Ware about Orthodoxy in the same category of “the other side” as a work on Islam. Your excessive RC-ism is always a tad grating, but this is ridiculous.

    Not least because Benedict is a great admirer of Orthodoxy, theologically speaking, as was JPII.

    And if you are not clear why Orthodoxy isn’t wild about Rome, you know very little actual history (versus RC propaganda).

  2. Hello Thor2011,

    I don’t understand your objection. You clearly see the RC and EO churches as distinct, and you seem very hostile to my faith. What I’m saying is that it is good if members of one communion can learn about the other without having to endure to much hostility for their troubles. Bishope Ware has done an excellent job presenting his faith to the world. Learn to accept a compliment, man.

  3. I would recommend “The Orthodox Way” by Bishop Kallistos Ware rather than “The Orthodox Church”. The two books are as different as chalk and cheese, in spite of the similarity of their titles. The latter is an attempt to explain Orthodoxy to us materialistic Latins, and the latter is a more candid exposition of the Orthodox faith.

  4. *latter/*former, obviously.

  5. A reasonable introduction to Judaism is This Is My God by Herman Wouk. Or you could watch videos on bejewish.org. Sir John Bagot Glubb was a Christain who wrote excellent books about Islam including The Life and Times of Muhammad. My favorite book on Buddhism is What the Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula. Everyone should The Analects of Confucius directly. Thinking of a liberal book that doesn’t piss me off is quite a challenge. The best I can think of is On Liberty by John Stuart Mill.

  6. Actually, I don’t remember which one it was that I read.

  7. “The Orthodox Church” addresses doctrine and ecclesiology whereas “The Orthodox Way” majors on prayer and spirituality. I had the privilege of having the opportunity of meeting Bishop Ware in my student days in Cambridge, and I can honestly say that we western Catholics could learn a few lessons from him.

  8. Democracy won’t survive because it’s an absolutely ridiculous system which relies on pleasant-sounding nostrums (universal education!) or abstractions that don’t reflect actual human behavior (since when have major issues been decided through rational discourse alone?).

    The far right needs to do everything possible to hasten its collapse and ensure that a system more congenial to our side replaces it. The conflict between the religious right (like you) and irreligious right (like me) might be difficult to resolve, but for now it’s prudent to put those differences aside and focus on the common enemies on the left.

  9. “I have been toying with the idea of doing something for my opponents who may be in an analogous situation. It might be useful to write a nonpolemical introduction to conservatism: “Conservatism for Liberals”, if you will. The idea is that I explain what we believe but don’t push it and don’t attack other beliefs.”

    That’s an admirable goal but I’m afraid you won’t win many over. As I argued in a recent post over at my own blog, the vast majority of truly devoted liberals aren’t really wired in a way that would enable them to understand conservatism. Even being genial won’t help matters because, again, the vast majority would read it in bad faith and take offense merely at your ideals.

  10. I want to add two movies to my suggestions, A Life Apart: Hasidism in America, and Arranged which is about how Orthodox Judaism and Islam contrast with liberal culture, especially in dating.

  11. “This is my God” looks really good.

  12. I’m interested in where you see Chinese culture fitting into this, Drieu, for the obvious reason that that is where the current challenge to Western culture lies. Do you see Confucianism-communism as a welcome solvent for Western democracy, or do you see Western culture as something which is inherently worth preserving, as against the Chinese threat, through the medium of an authoritarian political system?

  13. G.A. Cohen’s “Why Not Socialism” and Terry Eagleton’s “Why Marx Was Right” are both defenses of classical socialism that I read without feeling that my intelligence or my ideals had been insulted.

  14. Regarding Islam, Gai Eaton’s “Islam and the Destiny of Man” is excellent, as Boland has noted. I might also mention as additional resources Sachiko Murata and William Chittick’s “The Vision of Islam”, which offers an extremely clear and approachable exposition of the Qur’anic worldview and Seyyed Hossein Nasr’s “Ideals and Realities of Islam”, a brief, solid introduction to Islam from a preeminent contemporary scholar, to which might be added for possible addition consideration his more recent “The Heart of Islam” and “The Garden of Truth” (on Sufism). For an understanding of the origins of Islam, Martin Ling’s “Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources” is a highly acclaimed narrative treatment.

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