Wednesday, August 29, 2007


"To criticize is not to reject. This point must be emphasized, for it is the dividing line between the free mind and fanaticism. It is the doorway to a universal religion that rigorously seeks the truth, and yet is also inclusive and welcoming to all." Kenneth L. Patton

The other day I was reading a Wikipedia article and noticed this citation:

The neutrality of this section is disputed.
Please see the discussion on the talk page.

I have also been reading about the burgeoning field of peace studies and mediation efforts around the world, and the necessity of neutrality in negotiations. We hear over and over today about ‘gender neutrality’ and ‘religious neutrality.’ Sometimes the word ‘tolerance' is used, or ‘politically correct.’ It is a maxim in public schools, “Public schools, as government institutions, must be religiously neutral. They must be neutral among religions, and they must be neutral between religion and nonreligion.”

This doctrine of religious/cultural neutrality or tolerance is posing a problem in parts of Europe where growing numbers of outspoken Muslims are telling the schools and social agencies to keep their noses out of Islamic religion, even when they practice female circumcision, enforced marriages, marital rape and the execution of homosexuals, adulterers, disobedient children and religious apostates. For an excellent treatment of this, see While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within by Bruce Bawer.

Modern democracy was not founded on this kind of neutrality. The Declaration of Independence clearly identifies tyrannical religion and politics, and declares the right not only to judge, but to break free from such oppressions, by force if necessary. These founders were not advocating thoughtless violence, but they were far from neutral. They used their heads and hearts to discriminate between freedom and tyranny. When you see someone being abused or tortured, you do not remain neutral. When you hear an idea or doctrine which promotes abuse or torture, you do not ‘honor’ it. If by tolerance you mean the allowance of difference opinions, I am with you – but if you mean that you should not debate, critique or use logic and compassion to judge and openly evaluate the merits of the idea, I completely disagree. Some modicum of tact is fine, but personally, I prefer a direct broadside to a bad idea rather than a simpering smile and neutral response.

The simple fact is that some political systems and religious doctrines are superior to others, some are more humane and ethical. Any ideology that uses forceful violence on men, women or children ought not be viewed neutrally. I grant that the moment you open the door for critical positions on religion and politics, you will have arguments and disagreements and fine lines of distinction. So what? We have become so concerned over conflict that we would have ‘peace’ at any cost.

You cannot find any ancient archetypal God or Goddess of Neutrality. If one exists, I’d love to know. The ancients were much smarter than we moderns in this regard. They recognized that life is conflict – that ideas and positions are frequently antithetical. It is through such struggles that we advance. Mars (violence) and Aphrodite (beauty) were lovers; Penia (poverty) and Porus (Plenty) co-habited and bore the child Eros (love); Zeus (sexual freedom) and Hera (sexual faithfulness) were married. Even Jesus said, “I came not to bring peace, but a sword.” In other words, he had an opinion about what was good, better and best.

This burgeoning philosophy of peace and neutrality is creating a generation of dolts, depressives and road-ragers. We ought not be shocked when incidents like the Columbine massacre, gang violence and a host of other atrocities explode all around us. When you cram all of your judgments, opinions, anger and emotions into the psychic closet, the door is going to burst off of the hinges somewhere. America’s favorite TV programs are based on critical non-neutrality – from Law and Order to American Idol, these shows are all about right and wrong, opposing positions, judgment and verdicts. Why? Because our cultural ideological Persona is advocating neutrality, and our collective repressed politically correct Shadow is craving some sort of non-neutral release.

James Hillman and Michael Ventura speak of much modern therapy as a way of channeling creative energy away from strong judgments which ought promote corrective action. In their book, “We've Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy--And the World's Getting Worse,” they note that the client who feels outraged at the political system or crowded freeways should not go dissipate his anger in therapy, but use it to initiate changes in the soul of the culture.

I am not in favor of a return to past forms of ignorant prejudice or abusive discrimination, but neither am I in favor of the opposite extreme of absolute neutrality on all sensitive issues. J. Budziszewski speaks of the two errant extremes:

“In the first group are the ordinary bigots, who are always among us. The second are a kind of modern backlash - call it the reaction - found principally among the "cultural elite." For instance, whereas the bigots respond to Nietzsche’s quote (‘If men took God seriously, they would still be burning heretics at the stake.’), by saying, "Yes, that's why we should burn heretics," the reactionaries respond to it by saying, "No, that's why we should suppress the public expression of belief in God."

More recently, Sam Harris has addressed the error of neutrality in his controversial book, The End of Faith. While I think Harris goes a bit overboard in his evaluation of religion, I find his general principle to be sound, namely that we simply postpone inevitable disaster by avoiding smart critiques and public evaluations of sensitive topics. So please, feel free to neuter your pets, but not your heart or mind.

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