Saturday, October 22, 2011

Religion and Culture are Complicated

Whenever you read or hear phrases like "The Arab mind is...", substitute a similarly broad cultural group you are more familiar with. For example, "The Anglophone mind is..." Unless hedged with qualifications, could you confidently say much that was both useful and true?

If you can't, treat simple, unqualified statements about other cultures with suspicion.

Likewise, "Islamic ideology..."

Substitute "Christian ideology..."

I would hope, if you either are a Christian or know many, that you would respond that self-described Christians hold very diverse beliefs, and generalized statements without qualification should be made with caution.

I believe that Muslim belief is equally diverse.


Hugh Knight said...

What you say is very true. It is, however, a fact that societies can be characterized by broad-brush statements about general trends within that society.

Can we say that as a general rule, muslims do not eat pork? Of course we can, and any manufacturer of hot dogs who wishes to sell to a Muslim community would do very well to be aware of this fact. Is this a universal truth? Of course not; we simply have to recognize that this is a useful generalization, and nothing more. Only a fool would pretend that all muslims absolutely abstain from pork, but only a greater fool would ignore the general rule. That's the thing about general rules: The fact that they must be applied with a healthy dose of common sense does not make them untrue.

Will McLean said...

Societies can be characterized by broad-brush statements about general trends. Sometimes the simplification is helpful and sometimes it's a crude stereotype that does more harm than good.

Not only must they be applied with common sense, they must be expressed in a reasonable form.

If you say "The culture of the American South tends towards a higher level of lethal violence than the Northeast", that's one thing. If you say "the Southerner is violent" that's another.

Hugh Knight said...

Exactly my point, G.

Will McLean said...

And my point is that the dubious FBI training material that the ACLU has been complaining about is often like the second hypothetical example I gave, not the first. And some of it goes downhill from there.