Saturday, July 26, 2008

Children's Minds & Crackers

With tongue mostly in cheek, Daniel Davies at Crooked Timber strikes back at PZ Myers' recent sacrilege:

[A]t some point this weekend, I plan to tell a small, credulous child (about whom I will provide no other information) that a rainbow is a special sign from God that he promises never to flood the world again and that this proves that God exists. And PZ Myers will have this on his conscience that as a direct result of his actions. I think this rather than writing to somebody’s boss or soliciting a deluge of hatemail, might be considered a proportionate retaliation.
Maybe. But in Davies' struggle to come up with a proportionate response, we see the fulfillment of Myers' Grand Plan: to get people thinking about what counts as sacred, whether and to what degree people agree on the sacred, and whether sacred is a useful or meaningful category at all. When Myers declares flatly, "nothing must be held sacred", it takes some effort and charity to salvage what he means from what he might be taken to mean. I would not want it to be taken to mean that nothing and no one deserves reverence.

What's reverence? Just another weasel word? Maybe. Reverence is the quality at play when we approach a person differently from the way we approach a rock. Davies' example -- the receptive mind of a child -- is due some reverence, and that attribution requires nothing supernatural, but merely a sober reckoning of how humans are and how, according to our best understanding, humans develop from youth to adult. Whereas the attribution of sacred implies a supernatural agency who authenticates it.

Maybe this is mere question-begging. Maybe it is futile to try to retain reverence while discarding sacred; but it seems extremely important that crackers really aren't 2000-year-old man flesh, whereas children really do rely on adults for intellectual guidance.

1 comment:

Mike said...

Once again, Merriam-Webster -
reverence: honor or respect felt or shown.

As you said, it does not imply anything sacred; just a recognition that the person or subject is worthy of high regard.