Thursday, May 12, 2011

Catch of the Day

Goes to Matt Yglesias, for a (typically) wonderful post about heroin, penguins, and other fun stuff like that. He's taking down a Michael Gerson piece, and concludes sensibly that "Religion, I think, is not a good guide to definitive policy conclusions and that’s especially true when you try to make it an ecumenical theocracy."

However, and to have a bit of fun, he should be more careful. I don't know from Catholics, but I'm fairly certain that Yglesias is at best imprecise in stating that "Jews...think it’s required to drink wine on some occasions." Since he identifies as Jewish and thinks so, he's technically correct, but if he's thinking of (say) the Passover seder, grape juice is generally considered just fine -- for more, see this article on "Is it better to drink wine or grape juice at the seder?" (and note that it's helpfully labeled "Breaking News"). That does however leave Simchat Torah and Purim...a quick googling yields this clarification, which may or may not be helpful to the discussion (don't forget that different traditions within Judaism have different interpretations of the rules).

Actually, I have a point here, which mainly is that all of this discussion only reinforces what Yglesias says about a "ecumenical theocracy." People completely underestimate just how deeply weird religious practices can be to those who follow different faiths; the myth of a "Judeo-Christian" consensus is just a mess that ignores very real differences, usually (in my experience) by assuming that everyone else holds the same seemingly perfectly obvious values that you hold. And that's just among Jews and various forms of Christians, without even getting to all the other various religions you get in a immigrant, free, nation of 300 millions.

My favorite example of this is the Ten Commandments, which (despite sharing the same original text) are simply different for different religions, as this handy-dandy chart shows.

So, yes, any time that someone tells you that something is "the teaching of classical political philosophy and the Jewish and Christian tradition," odds are that they are going to turn out to be dead wrong.

Excellent catch!

[Restored after the Great Blogger Glitch of May 11-12]

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