Tuesday 7 September 2010

Religion, Suffering and the Pursuit of Wealth (2)

Posted by Peter:

Some Critical Thinking issues
This entry is one of an occasional series to raise Critical Thinking issues associated with Café Philo topics, or other discussion threads. The origin for this entry comes from Café Philo on 28/08/10, and subsequent blog ‘Religion, Suffering and the Pursuit of Wealth’.

1. Straw Man fallacy
Statements criticising the pursuit of wealth often produce apoplectic responses from free-market fundamentalists, economic neo-conservatives and similar demographics. A typical response is to accuse the speaker of wanting everyone to go back to living in caves, repudiating the technical / medical advances of the last two centuries. This is an example of a Straw Man fallacy i.e. deliberately mis-representing someone’s position, and then attacking this distorted position. In fact it is perfectly consistent to wish for a basic standard of living for everyone, taking advantage of core benefits of modern science, while still criticising the pursuit of money as the ultimate goal. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is an example of a more balanced view of what it means to be human.

Two associated ideas aiming to justify the pursuit of wealth are also open to challenge, but are not developed here for space reasons. (1) Trickle-down effect (2) Facilitation of philanthropy.

2. Cognitive Dissonance (holding inconsistent thoughts) / Information Bias
Particularly popular amongst certain sections of the American religious community, the theory of the Prosperity Gospel takes wealth as a sign of God’s approval, thereby attempting to square the unsquareable circle between right-wing economics and the Christian ethic ‘love of money is the root of evil’. It provides the glue between religious fundamentalists (representing God…) and the Republican Party (representing wealth and privilege…). There is no shortage of Biblical references for the polar opposite to this view, so Information Bias (ignoring these embarrassing counter-examples) has to be used in order to avoid Cognitive Dissonance (the Bible can’t be both pro and against the pursuit of wealth).

3. Slippery Slope fallacy
An interesting recent example of the Catholic Church’s attitude to material wellbeing comes from the Liberation Theology movement in Latin America during the 1970s/1980s. The motive power for this came from a core of brave Catholic priests, looking to improve the economic situation of their people in the face of huge disparities of wealth and power, under oppressive right-wing regimes. Their natural allies were left-wing parties. Led by Pope John Paul, the Church institution (allegedly) suppressed this movement, on the basis it would inevitably lead to atheistic left-wing governments, if successful. The Slippery Slope fallacy says that taking one step on a certain path will inevitably lead to a (worst-case) scenario. Better to support repressive right-wing regimes, nominally Church supporting.

1 comment:

  1. Why am I surprised at Vatican's attitude towards the Liberation Theology movement in Latin America, knowing that Vatican is arguably the richest Landlord in the world and notorious for its connection with some demi-monde societies...

    As for Cognitive Dissonance, it's another interesting point: the likes of Tony Blair and George Bush, both devout Christians, never have a moment of hesitation in amassing their personal fortune...