A Little Mood Music

From Richard Posner’s The Problematics of Moral and Legal Theory (1999), pp. 67-68:

Every academic moralist believes implicitly that his is the right approach and everyone should follow it….But given the variety of necessary roles in a complex society, it is not a safe idea to have a morally uniform population.  On the one hand, we need soldiers, police, jailers, judges, spies, and other operators of society’s security apparatus; also politicians, entrepreneurs, managers of huge enterprises, and administrators of lunatic asylums.  On the other hand we need mothers, nurses, forest rangers, kindergarten teachers, zookeepers, and ministers of religion.  We need gentle, kind, and sensitive people, but we also need people who are willing to employ force, to lie, to posture, to break rules, to enforce rules, to rank people . . . . We need people who are empathetic and sympathetic but also people who are brave, tough, callous, and obedient–and others who are brave, tough, callous, and defiant . . . .

A related point, one that can be tied back to moralists’ inability to resolve moral dilemmas in a convincing fashion, is that they disvalue conflict and hence tragedy . . . . The law has to deal with these tragic situations somehow, but it does not have to yield to the moralist who believes that no moral dilemma is beyond the power of moral reasoning to resolve.  It is better for the law to adapt to the elements of ineradicable conflict in modern social life than to submerge them under a factitious intellectual harmony.

Religion in the National Intelligence Council Report

One often hears that America’s foreign policy elites don’t understand religion. Mostly secular themselves, they dismiss religion as a factor in world events; at most, they believe, religion operates as a pretext for other, deeper motivations, like politics and economics. This attitude can blind policymakers to reality. Even after 9/11, some foreign policy experts continue to minimize the religious roots of Islamism.

Some of this attitude is on display in the most recent National Intelligence Council Report, Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds, released earlier this month. The report, prepared every four years for the incoming administration, is meant to highlight medium and long-term trends in world affairs. Global Trends 2030 has received a lot of attention, primarily for its prediction of a decline in American power and a shift to a multipolar world. The report is also noteworthy, though, for the way it downplays religion’s role in shaping events.

It’s not that Global Trends 2030 completely ignores religion. The report discusses political Islam — we’re now paying attention to that phenomenon, at least — though some of the analysis might strike readers as optimistic, for example, the assertion that the protesters of the Arab Spring “acted in the name of democratic values, not in the name of religion.” (Apparently the report was prepared before recent events in Egypt). The problem is that the report minimizes religion. In 140 pages, Read more

Wheeler, “How Sex Became a Civil Liberty”

In America, sex has been constitutionalized. In a series  of opinions over several decades, the Supreme Court has held that the Constitution protects sexually explicit speech, contraception, abortion, and, latterly, homosexual conduct. The Court may be about to declare same-sex marriage a constitutional right. All this has put significant pressure upon traditionalist religions. More and more, fights about religious liberty involve the right to dissent — and to act in ways that reflect that dissent — from the legal consensus on sexuality.

How did this conflict develop? A new book from Oxford University Press, How Sex Became a Civil Liberty (2012), traces the role of one particular organization, the American Civil Liberties Union. Leigh Ann Wheeler (Binghamton University) argues that “creative individuals” at the ACLU “wrote sexual rights into the U.S. Constitution, a document that made no mention of them,” and helped change American culture. She does not simply celebrate these developments, however; she “shows how hard-won rights for some often impinged upon freedoms held dear by others.” Here’s the publisher’s description of the book:

How Sex Became a Civil Liberty is the first book to show how and why we have come to see sexual expression, sexual practice, and sexual privacy as fundamental rights. Using rich archival sources and oral interviews, historian Leigh Ann Wheeler shows how the private lives of women and men in the American Civil Liberties Union shaped their understanding of sexual rights as they built the constitutional foundation for the twentieth-century’s sexual revolutions.

Wheeler introduces readers to a number of fascinating figures, including ACLU founders Crystal Eastman and Roger Baldwin; nudists, victims of involuntary sterilization, and others who appealed to the organization for help; as well as attorneys like Read more

“Religious Broadcasting in the Middle East” (Hroub, ed.)

If you are promoting a political and legal blueprint for society, it helps to have a media outlet. Islamists in the Middle East have become very adept at using media networks to advance their aims. In Egypt, for example, the Muslim Brotherhood operates its own TV station, Misr25. A new collection  of essays from Columbia University Press, Religious Broadcasting in the Middle East (2012), investigates Muslim, Christian, and Jewish religious programming in the Middle East. The collection is edited by Khaled Hroub (Cambridge). The publisher’s description follows:

Religious broadcasting in the Middle East has benefited tremendously from new transnational media networks and the widespread availability of satellite broadcasting technology. Dozens of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish religious channels are now on air, advocating different forms of religiosity and shaping public perceptions through dialogue and debate. Mainstream news channels, such as Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya, broadcast popular religious programming, in some cases filled with highly politicized content. Others feature more apolitical commentary and are concerned only with preaching God’s word.

The Middle East’s highly-charged religious and political ferment has certainly been propitious for such broadcasters as they seek to convey their message. This has, in turn, reinforced the link between the dominant “religious atmosphere” and religious broadcasting. Monitoring the content-analysis of some of the region’s most influential religious channels and programs, the contributors to this volume provide pioneering insights into the Middle East’s burgeoning religious media market. They explore the themes, discourses, appearances, and “celebrities” of this rapidly expanding phenomenon and how its complex dynamics have transformed the region and the world.