Response to Ibrahim Lawson
I struggled a little bit to understand Ibrahim’s latest post.
In the first part, Ibrahim seems to do exactly what I thought we said we wouldn’t do: go nuclear. I have already pointed out why I consider this an intellectually dishonest strategy. But perhaps I’ve misunderstood. Can Ibrahim explain why he hasn’t yet again, just reached for the nuclear button?
The second part of his response is a direct response to my arguments for being liberal in our approach to moral and religious education. Ibrahim says (his stuff in italics):
Having rehearsed these preliminary ideas, and arrived at the Enlightenment, I would like to turn to your recent postings, and in particular the idea of liberalism.
Much of what you recount strikes me as revealing of the almost naïve utopianism of liberal thought, which is characteristic of much similar ‘technological’ thinking. By this I mean the kind of thinking that sets up an idealised, theoretical description of some human situation which it then finds impossible to justify or to implement in practice.
Ibrahim, surely we could quite easily introduce critical thinking about religion and morality in schools. It has been done, and the results, as I have pointed out, have been very successful. You seem to be suggesting it can’t be done “in practice”. Er, it can, and has.
But perhaps you are making a deeper point – Rawls now makes an appearance:
John Rawls provides an example in his proposal of the ‘veil of ignorance’ in his attempt to justify our intuitions concerning justice and fairness. The bare, rational intellect which he posits as the essence of the human being behind the procedural veil of ignorance – neither male nor female, young nor old, black nor white, straight nor gay, rich nor poor, Muslim nor Christian etc – and therefore able, indeed obliged, to judge impartially and fairly, exists only as a theoretical construct.
Yep. Well-known criticism of Rawls’ “original position” by communitarians and others. But this Rawls-bashing is irrelevant – as I am not recommending that each child adopt a tradition-free Rawls-type “original position”. I am merely recommending children be encouraged to think critically about whatever values, beliefs and traditions they already happen to have. They can do this, and when they do it, it appears to have real social, emotional and other educational benefits. And remember, this kind of thinking can be, and is, even done within a faith school setting.
Moreover, the perfect society we might imagine such intellects, once embodied, would then go on to form is a lovely idea, but frankly, isn’t going to happen. Most people are never going to be able to be their own authorities, however much we might like that to happen.
I have already explained why we are all our own ultimate moral authorities, like it or not. You haven’t dealt with that argument.
But in any case, I don’t believe a perfect, utopian society is achievable. I believe a better society is achievable. I have provided grounds for supposing a better society can be achieved by encouraging children to think critically about morality and religion. Ibrahim – you have not dealt with those grounds. You’ve just insisted that perfection is not achievable. But again, that’s beside the point.
In short, your response is almost entirely irrelevant. What isn’t irrelevant appears simply to be denial of what has already been established – that thinking critically about morality and religion can be done in schools (to great effect).