To Sign or not to Sign

Over yonder (like here) people seem baffled about why Julian Baggini didn't choose to sign a letter to the  Guardian protesting the Pope's being allowed an official state visit to the UK last week, but his explanation strikes me as being clear enough.  He makes his case with an analogy involving Pastor Jones, the infamous would-be Koran burner.  Burning a Koran is  is bound to be interpreted by Muslims as an attack on all of them, instead of as a criticism of specific aspects of Islam.  Though in many ways very different, Baggini alleges that protesting the visit was likely to be seen by Catholics as an attack on all Catholics.  He'd rather make common cause with liberal Catholics who are critical of the Pope's many deplorable policies.

Another point he makes is that a sort of piling on would be involved in signing the letter--the pile being not just the signatories but the whole protest movement that had been growing over time (and came to a head this past weekend).  If a few would be good, how could a lot of voices be a problem?  I take it the idea is that the bigger (and angrier) the group of protestors, the bigger the problem if they're perceived as anti-Catholic instead of anti-Pope. 

So--the nature of the argument is clear, but is it cogent? By all means, when you write a letter or participate in a protest, you want to think about how it will be construed, not just what's literally being said.  If you're trying to send a message, you should carefully consider what message will be received, not just what message you officially intend to send.  But here's what I'm less sure about.   I think Baggini is on solid ground about Koran burning--yes, of course Muslims take it as anti-Muslim, not just anti-facets-of-Islam.  I'm not sure though about anti-Pope protests.   I'd like to know the facts here--are they perceived as anti-Pope or more generally anti-Catholic or even anti-religious?

Maybe Dawkins weekend speech can serve as a good test case.  It's classic Dawkins: eloquent outrage, beautifully delivered.  But what is this--a tirade against the Pope, or an attack on Catholics as a group?  If any Catholics from the UK are reading this, I'd especially like to know how you see it.


s. wallerstein said...

I took the statement, "party lines are the death of rational free-thought movements; divided we stand, united we fall", as the key to Julian's position.

He wants to preserve his intellectual independence. Thus, he refuses to join either the pro-Pope mob or the anti-Pope mob.

Jean Kazez said...

You're ignoring the Koran analogy--that's the heart of his argument. Clearly he's anti-Pope--he just doesn't want to be seen as more generally anti-Catholic. I don't think he's against joining protest movements across the board, as if independence were some sort of virtue.

s. wallerstein said...

Julian wrote a book on atheism. Evidently, he is not a fan of the Pope or of Catholic theology. I said not that he was pro-Pope, but that he does not want to participate in what he sees as "the death of rational free-thought movements": in my terms, a mob.

I'm not sure that intellectual independence is a virtue per se, but in some situations, it becomes a form of mental hygiene.

Of course, I may be projecting my extremely negative opinion of the new atheists onto Julian. However, he has publicly expressed his own lack of sympathy with the new atheists.

Sometimes, it's just a question of "with these people, no way", even if the people referred to are right.

Jean Kazez said...

What's the point of all the speculations? He gives an explanation in the column. I wanted to focus on that explanation and discuss whether its fits with the facts about how Catholics perceive the protest.

s. wallerstein said...

I don't know Julian at all. I have never even exchanged a personal email with him. I took his statement, "party-lines are the death of rational free-thought movements", to be the key to his motivation. You focus on other aspects of his article and if you want to do that, fine.

I don't think that it is illegimate to speculate about people's motives, if there is some evidence about them, in this case, the statement about "party-lines". However, I will refrain from further speculation, since you are leading the discussion.

Jean Kazez said...

You have to look at every argument in the column to understand the explanation he's giving. If something's unclear, then you start speculating. But what's unclear? Do you not agree with my representation of the argument he's making? Why not start there?

s. wallerstein said...

I think Julian makes two separate kinds of arguments, political ones which you focus on and a declaration of intellectual independence (party lines are the death of rational thought) which I focus on.

I don't live in the U.K. nor do I understand enough about society in the U.K. to comment on whether Julian's political arguments (common cause with liberal Catholics; let's not appear anti-Catholic, etc.) are good ones or not in the current U.K. context.

s. wallerstein said...

Now if you ask why I'm willing to speculate about the motives of a man whom I do not know, Julian, and not about the political situation of a country I don't live in, the U.K., I don't have an answer.

Jean Kazez said...

I don't think any declaration of independence from "parties" is actually in there--if it were, it would be very foolish. There are movements you absolutely ought to join, and I think Baggini knows that--and does join some movements.

s. wallerstein said...

Julian does say "party-lines are the death of rational free-thought
movements; divided we stand, united we fall".

If he does know, as you claim, that there are movements that one absolutely ought to join, then
he does not number the current anti-Pope movement among them.

J. J. Ramsey said...

"But what is this--a tirade against the Pope, or an attack on Catholics as a group?"

There's a bit of both. The parts where Dawkins springboards off the Pope's Godwinning to go on about Hitler being Catholic and where he rails against a (straw-man?) of the doctrine of original sin look more like an attack on Catholicism in general, rather than just the Pope.

If Dawkins really wanted to squarely aim at the Pope, he could have said something along the lines of, "I obviously believe Catholicism to be false, but what the Pope has done is an embarrassment even to his own religion." He could even have mocked the Pope using Jesus' own words about having a log in one's eye.

(It's also interesting to note the sign half-hidden in the background that looks like it says, "Don't like your beliefs made fun of, then don't have such ridiculous beliefs.)

Jean Kazez said...

JJ--Sounds right--nice observation about the sign. I never seem to be able to hear the nasty acerbic Dawkins that other people do. He starts talking and my reaction is instinctively positive. So I seriously need "informants" to tell me how this would strike the non-Dawkins-ophile.

Unknown said...

agree with JJ, the majority is specifically anti-pope, but parts of the centre of the talk attack Roman Catholicism more generally so

"the vile obscenity at the heart of the catholic faith... [the doctrine of original sin]... this disgusting theory..."

"what a revolting, inhumane and depraved theory to base your life on"

I think the language makes Dawkins' sentiments very clear


Jean Kazez said...

Dom, Thanks for that. I was hoping you would comment.