Sex, Violence, Nudity, Profanity & Religion: You know you’re in China when…

In my (riveting) “Movie Class” this afternoon, I ask the students to tell me the kind of content that affects a movie’s rating. They start throwing out answers.

“Violence.”
“Nudity.”
“Sexuality.”
“Bad words.”
“Religion.”

“What?”

“Religion.”

“Why do you put religion in the same category as violence, nudity, profanity and sexuality?”

“Because it is harmful to the children.”

“Who told you religion is harmful to children?”

“My primary school teacher. She said we must believe in the science…”

“Well, who told her?”

Awkward giggles, but not too awkward. The students (all adults) know where I’m going with this. “You know a lot of scientists are also ‘religious’, right?”

My university age student isn’t trying to argue a point; he’s just repeating the answer he’s been told. He actually doesn’t know that religion doesn’t factor into movie ratings. Neither does a lot of the class,

“No, wait,” say some of the girls in the front, “They go to church at the end…”. The movie we’re discussing is Lassie, and they’ve just realized that the church scene apparently isn’t enough to tarnish its G rating.

“Right. Outside China religious content doesn’t affect a movie’s rating. Now, who remembers the proper word for ‘blood and guts’…?”

When I hear someone use “religion” and “harmful to children” in the same sentence, I immediately think of the “New Atheists”, not China’s education system. It’s funny — and telling — that I was reminded of them in this way. Apparently Chinese Communist Party education and New Atheist propaganda share certain similarities — who knew? ;)

22 thoughts on “Sex, Violence, Nudity, Profanity & Religion: You know you’re in China when…

    • It’s amazing how “religion” is always killing people, but explicit and aggressive 20th and 21st century atheism apparently never has. And I’m pretty sure the arguments against exposing children to graphic nudity in movies don’t include “because they’ll go out and kill people.”

      I knew there was a reason I put this post in the propaganda category…

  1. Well, when *has* atheism ever killed anyone? And I honestly don’t have the least idea what anybody could possibly have against nudity..

  2. Maybe it was once brave and intellectually sophisticated to dismiss those who believe in God as deluded, unthinking fools. Now it just seems outdated, arrogant and intolerant.

    I hope we can move beyond shopworn rhetoric and have a serious discussion about the evidential basis for atheism and its future.

    As a former atheist myself, though, I wonder how much longer it can rely on recycling the weary and increasingly unconvincing cliches of yesteryear while overlooking the shocking legacy of institutional atheism in the 20th century.
    God is not dead yet

    I know what you’re going to say-—atheism didn’t kill these people; they were murdered by confused individuals who just happened to be atheists—-but then that pretty much lets us all off the hook, now doesn’t it?
    Our Smear Campaign

  3. The first one article is simply a page for what could be said in one sentence: Dawkins says God is dead but I beg to differ.

    The second one is a lot of ra-ra and quite some BS. Saying that people that happened to be not religious killed for atheism? Let’s use a metaphor of which Christians are so fond: We have three groups of men. Men with books that say goatees are awesome, men with books that says moustaches are awesome, and people that think beards are stupid altogether. Moustache-men go around and kill many people because their book says they should. Then goatee-men go around and kill many people because their book says only goatee-guys should be allowed to live. Then some of the men without beards want power or simply go crazy and kill some people that happen to stand between them and what they want. And then some stupid article comes along and says they killed because of their non-beardedness (never mind that they killed indiscriminately of beard style and that they didn’t try to further non-beardedness and that there was no book or prophet telling them to do so). What’s wrong here?

  4. I’ll break it down:

    1. The criteria by which people (usually Dawkins-esque atheists) often implicate “religion” (usually Christianity) in the evils committed by religion-professing governments equally implicates atheism in the evils committed by atheism-professing governments. (Whether or not the given ideology of a particular instance of evil was the primary cause of those particular evils is beside this particular point.) Point being that people who let atheism off the hook for the evils of atheist governments but condemn “religion” for the evils of ‘Christian’ governments are employing a blatantly prejudicial double standard. Personally, I don’t use that criteria; I think it’s simplistic.
    2. A better and more scientific approach would be to look at each instance of ideologically-aided evil on its own terms, in its particular cultural-historical context. In this way we can examine the particular ideology used at the time and what role(s) that ideology actually played, how it was used or abused, and if the actions done in the name of that ideology are or aren’t consistent with the core content of that ideology. In this way we can see quite clearly that the evils committed in the name of Christianity are blatantly contrary to the actual life and teachings of Jesus. However one has a much more difficult time just producing the concepts of “good” and “evil” from within an atheistic framework, never mind producing a moral imperative to condemn the evils of 20th century communism or demonstrating that those evils are somehow contrary to and incompatible with an atheistic worldview. Many would say that an atheistic worldview at least enables such evil, if not outright encourages it.
    3. I wouldn’t call most atheists, especially explicit and aggressive atheists like the New Atheists or 20th Century atheist governments “people that happened to not be religious.” Atheism is a core component of their worldview and ideology, not merely an absence of “religion.” Communism and atheism are not associated by accident. I find it ridiculous, actually, that professing atheists blame Christianity for the evils committed by various governments while at the same time claiming that atheism had/has nothing to do with the evils of 20th and 21st Century communism.

  5. Hey, thanks for your answer.

    1. we can ignore, because that’s really a stupid idea. I can’t say people or governments just happened to be atheists if they did anything wrong, but blame people or governments for being religious if that has nothing to do with their actions.

    2. Is the concept I was after. But first I’d like to clarify that I’m not talking about Christianity in particular, but about religion in general. Not only because in my opinion religion is religion*, but also because I’ll readily admit that Christianity is definitely one of the better ones of the bunch. I have no idea either how Christians that admitted atrocities could reconcile their actions with the teachings of Jesus, but I suppose that’s a topic for another day. After all it seems to be possible for people to read the same book very differently. I hear a lot about honor killings and the like, and at the same time people are giving me flyers about ‘the religion of peace’ in the streets.

    Atheism is simply not connected to any kind of morality, which you see as something bad, but is only an objective fact. It’s actually very simple to derive a moral framework
    without any God having to enter the equation at any time (and it might very well be even stricter than that of any religion), but that is simply not connected at all to atheism. How I have my hair cut has nothing to do with my beard style, even if your mustache-book tells you that your hair has to touch your ears but mustn’t touch your eyebrows.
    In the same way I really can’t see how atheism has anything to do with one style of government over another, which is yet another thing entirely. I’d actually be really interested in how you see atheism’s role in promoting evils of communism**?

    At any rate, can you really deny that religion (as a whole) is directly(!) to blame for many atrocities throughout the centuries? Whereas it’s hard to find any instances where the same happened because of nudity? (And in my opinion the same can be said for atheism, but I’ll await your answer about communism first).

    -Max

    * Religion is very much dependent on which society you are born in. You may disagree, but I dare say that if you had been born in the Middle East, you probably wouldn’t have found Jesus, but Mohammed.

    ** And what’s that anyway? Communism is a political idea, not something intrinsically evil. It happens not to work very well in real life, and it happens that terrible people have used this idea to reach their goals (as they have religion or millions of other ideas), but communism itself is no more connected to morality than, well, atheism.

  6. I’d like to clarify that I’m not talking about Christianity in particular, but about religion in general. in my opinion religion is religion…

    Right away you have a major problem, I think. Define “religion.” If you mean “the various ideas and traditions people traditionally associate with the term ‘religion'” that’s fine, but then we’re back to necessarily dealing with each one individually on it’s own terms, and unable to speak of them generally as if they were all just local variations of the same basic thing (they’re not, at least not as that traditional distinct category) — “Religion is religion” doesn’t make sense given this meaning. So you’ll need define what you mean by religion and justify your categorization of “religion” as an actual thing before a lot of what you’re saying will have much meaning.

    It’s actually very simple to derive a moral framework without any God having to enter the equation at any time (and it might very well be even stricter than that of any religion)…

    OK, I’ll bite. Show me; produce a moral imperative. I get that, from within an atheistic worldview, you can describe how things are. But I have a hard time understanding how it makes sense to use words like “should” and “because” in the same sentence.

    As for atheism, communism, Christianity, and morality — I think my main point there was that you have to misuse/abuse/ignore/violate Christianity in order to use it to oppress people, because the life and teachings of Jesus are inherently opposed to such things. Atheism, however, is not. It can offer no reason (that I can see) why anything is wrong or right, good or evil. Therefore which worldview the powerful are employing is very important; with one kind they do evil in spite of it, while the other kind at best provides no barriers to evil and at worst provides excuses for it.

  7. [Define Religion]
    I’ll go with what the Oxford American dictionary says, which is pretty much how I would have defined it for myself, only that they sound much more eloquent: “Religion: the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal God or gods”. Of course I won’t deny that there are stark differences in the religions when it comes to propensity for violence, but 1) I don’t think that there is any religion that hasn’t been used as an excuse or reason for violence* and 2) each of these ultimately “worship a superhuman controlling power” which, in my opinion, is bad and detrimental to the progress of mankind as a whole (more on why I think it’s bad in the next part)

    [Moral without God]
    The most famous moral framework is probably Kant’s ‘categorical imperative’**: “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law”. Following this has the result that everyone is better off, which is a good enough reason for ‘should’ and ‘because’ for me. I’m sure you could construct some counter arguments to that, but the reality is that this is good enough for me and many other people to act nice and moral, even ignoring that most of us have a dependable internal moral compass, that helps us decide what to do, even without fearing hellfire. Which brings me to my second point: I can’t help but feel that religiously-motivated kindness is hypocritical. Religious folks are not good because it’s the right thing to do*** but because they fear hell, because they want to get 72 virgins, or because they don’t want to be born a toad in their next lives. And because they apparently need to be told what to do and why, this can, it seems, often enough be perverted, by constructing exceptions: Jesus said say to be nice to each other… unless the pope, his voice on earth tells you differently. The Koran says strive for peace.. but only after the infidels are no more, one way or another. That kind of thing. Of course you’ll now have a thousand reasons why this is not what the respective holy books _actually_ mean, but the point is that the believers have given up thinking for themselves and require guidance to be told what is good and what not, and this belief can apparently tragically often be bent to serve the will of others, and end in tragedy and bloodshed.

    [Worldview]
    I see where you’re coming from, but unfortunately that is only a nice theory. There are Christian governments that do well (you can probably think of more examples than me), Christian (and other religious) governments that do harm (let’s say our friend G.W. Bush who was convinced that an angel told him to attack Iraq), atheist governments that do harm (let’s go with North Korea) and atheist governments that do good (I’d say Germany, and I think religion doesn’t play much of a role in Canada either). At any rate, I would very much prefer a government that derives its morality from philosophy and simple but universal rules, than from a bunch of books, that are thousands of years old and open to interpretation.

    * I used to think that Buddhism was a religion that really didn’t do any harm, but some time ago I read an article that contended that. I don’t remember which one, or what exactly it said, but I don’t feel I’m in the position anymore to say such a thing

    ** http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Categorical_imperative

    *** or if that’s not the reason, why would they need God(s) to tell them what’s right and what’s wrong?

  8. I. [Define Religion]

    I’ll go with what the Oxford American dictionary says, which is pretty much how I would have defined it for myself…

    Dictionaries don’t work in philosophy because dictionaries don’t define reality. They’re not authoritative in that way; they just tell us how people use words. But regardless of where you get the definition, conventional definitions of “religion” are far too inadequate for a serious discussion about reality for two main reasons:

    1. The various ideas and traditions that typically come to mind when we think of “religion” are far to diverse to warrant being categorized together. If these phenomena are studied with any seriousness at all (not something many atheists are willing do, in my experience), then it becomes clear that they are not just variations of the same basic thing. You’re proposed characteristic (“the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal God or gods”) is not the primary defining characteristic of some of those phenomena, something that is seen if we look at fundamental characteristics and function of those phenomena (ideas, traditions, whatever) in individuals’ lives and societies as a whole, rather than assume things based on a superficial glance. And any definition that really could include all the major “religions” would have to be so broad that it would necessarily include all manner of things that aren’t typically thought of as “religions”, and “religion” by that definition would be much less useful for atheist/anti-theist polemics.
    2. The second reason “religion” fails as a category is that some things that are typically grouped as religions have more in common with certain things that are not considered religions, while other ideas, ideologies, theories, (etc.) that are not considered religious sometimes have very much fundamentally in common with what is usually considered a religion. If we’re going to debate reality, it makes more sense to categorize things according to their defining, fundamental characteristics, not conventional, inaccurate speech habits or polemics designed not to explain reality but to serve as propaganda for a particular belief system.

      For everyday use, of course, you can’t avoid using dictionary-type definitions so I don’t try. But to label certain ideas or traditions or -isms as ‘religious’, and others not religious — as if all ‘religions’ were just variations of the same thing while fundamentally different from other ideas, -ism, traditions, ideologies, etc. that are not considered ‘religious’ — that’s a convenient but not a very accurate grid through which to view reality. Some atheisms are very much like some ‘religions’ in their character and behaviour, and some ‘religions’ have much more fundamentally in common with things that we typically don’t call religions than they do with other ‘religions.’ Even within one ‘religious’ tradition, you have different branches that developed in different historical-cultural contexts so that even though they may share similar labels and a historical connection with all the branches of their tradition, in fundamental character and function they may be closer to ‘non-religious’ developments from the same time and place than they are to some branches of their greater historical tradition (or the other way around).

    If we have to categorize, I’d rather categorize things according to how they actually are and how they function, not according to rhetoric, or in the case of anti-theists, according to what most makes the best propaganda for my particular ‘religious beliefs’. But it might be better to simply stop trying to speak so broadly. I think it’s much closer to reality to see atheism as one idea in competition with others rather than as something special and distinct in kind from “religions”. Does it really make sense to categorize “there is a God” as a ‘religious’ statement, while “there is no god” isn’t considered ‘religious”?

    When I ask you to define “religion”, I’m challenging the legitimacy of that thought category. It’d be much easier, imo, to criticize a particular idea. It’s much more meaningful, I think, to say, “The concept of a creator God is harmful because…” or “Belief in absolutes is wrong because…” than it is to say, “Religion is bad because…” Basically, when people say, “Religion is…” or “Religion does this or that…”, I don’t think what they’re saying is very meaningful.

    II. [Moral without God]
    A common critique of atheism is that the concepts of “good” and “evil” make no sense assuming an atheistic framework, and that the existence of morality (your ‘internal moral compass’) can’t be explained from within an atheistic perspective, and even if its existence could be explained, an atheistic worldview can’t provide a rationale for why we should try be moral:

    Following [Kant’s ‘categorical imperative’] has the result that everyone is better off, which is a good enough reason for ‘should’ and ‘because’ for me.

    Why should we care if other people are better off? Why should we attribute more inherent value or dignity to human individuals than to an ant? What I’m asking you to do is tell me what the right thing is, how you arrived at that conclusion, and why we should care about doing the right thing — purely from within an atheistic perspective, without plagiarizing commonly held assumptions (commonly held at least in Christianity-influenced Western cultures) that grew out of and are dependent on a theistic worldview.

    III. [Simplistic Generalizations and Straw-men]
    I’m not going to respond specifically to each of the following bits, because in addition to running into the “religion” category problem from Part I, I find these statements/arguments to be too simplistic, gross generalizations, cheap shots, and/or blatant straw-men.

    …fearing hellfire. Which brings me to my second point: …Religious folks are not good because it’s the right thing to do but because they fear hell, because they want to get 72 virgins, or because they don’t want to be born a toad in their next lives.

    or if [hellfire]’s not the reason why would they need God(s) to tell them what’s right and what’s wrong?

    the point is that the believers have given up thinking for themselves and require guidance to be told what is good and what not, and this belief can apparently tragically often be bent to serve the will of others, and end in tragedy and bloodshed.

    I would very much prefer a government that derives its morality from philosophy and simple but universal rules, than from a bunch of books, that are thousands of years old and open to interpretation.

    The simplistic blanket statements and sweeping assumptions about people’s thinking and motives make it sound like you don’t understand the people, the nature of the traditions, or ideas that you’re criticizing at all. It’s a popular mistake among atheists in my experience: arguing against straw-men. If, in the quotes above (or anything else I haven’t addressed), you feel you have a really important point that I ought to address directly, let me know and I will, including your bit that supposedly compared “Christian” and atheistic governments.

    This part, I just don’t understand:

    [Worldview]
    I see where you’re coming from, but unfortunately that is only a nice theory.

    I’m not so sure you can see where I’m coming from or what I mean, and I’m not sure what you mean here. What’s only a nice theory? That the worldview of the powerful matters? That it’s better for the powerful to have a worldview that has within it solid rationale for attributing inherent value and dignity to all individuals, rather than a worldview in which there is no reason to respect or value individuals? When human beings have too much power, bad things happen no matter what the claimed ideology of the day is — that’s just how human beings are; they’ll ignore or otherwise pervert and co-opt ideas that don’t serve their selfish purposes or promote/require ideology that does.

    No rush to reply. The blog will be around for a long time, and I’m busy and don’t have time to read or reply quickly anyway. Seriously… take you time!

  9. Joel,

    (1) I am not sure how to say this, so I will just be direct about it.

    I (just like anyone) read blogs for a number of different reasons. With some blogs, I read them for the clever and imaginative phrasings of criticism of other views. Some people can be delightfully witty in their put-downs. But with your blog, I return to read it because I greatly admire your “cultural sensitivity” abilities. You appear to have an extraordinary ability to see (or at least strive to see) others in the best possible light, and understand them from within their own perspective. You are a very careful writer, who is good at avoiding overgeneralisations and negative stereotypes.

    So, this exchange (and the articles you linked to) surprised me somewhat. It is out of character for how I have seen you on this site.

    I realise that some of Max’s comments are ridiculously laughable in their straw-person bashing (though somewhat understandable given the inflammatory and unhelpful article you linked to). I also realise that one only requires a few seconds on the Internet to discover many abusive anti-religion tirades. And I also realise that there are a few public intellectual atheists who are overly vocal in their far out extremism. But to then conclude that this type of ignorant ranting is what constitutes the core of atheism … well, it is disappointing.

    If this really is your experience of atheists (as you say it is), then I am saddened. I hope that in future you will meet more of the millions of sensitive, intelligent and respectful atheists who are out there in this world simply living normal lives. I also hope that you will read some of the huge and excellent literature written by some of these atheists. I hope that you won’t focus quite so much on the foolish atheists (just like it is best to try to ignore the Beckwiths and Dempskis of the Christian world).

    I’d also like to see you apply your usually impeccable cultural sensitivity abilities to this co-culture called atheism. Try it out, and please don’t let the vocal minority trick you into thinking they are the majority (just like us foreigners in China don’t let all the abundantly obvious spitting and littering trick us into thinking that all Chinese are dirty!).

    (2) A brief comment on the connection between morality and God (what you say is your main point here):
    This is a big topic that has been discussed for a few thousand years. Some 400 years before Jesus, Plato wrote a dialogue called the Euthyphro, presumably in response to people who thought similarly to you. In it, the character Socrates asks:

    “Is conduct right because the gods [God] command[s] it, or do [does] the gods [God] command it because it is right?”

    I won’t bother stepping through the reasoning, but basically it means that (supposing God exists) either:
    (a) God’s commands are morally arbitrary, and it is meaningless to call God “good”, or
    (b) Right and wrong are independent of God’s will.

    Faced with a choice, most Christians choose (b) over (a). Your puzzlement about how atheists can develop a coherent morality independent of God then becomes equally an issue for theists. We are all in the same boat together.

    But fortunately, there is also an equally long history of moral theory which explains, in many different (and often competing) ways, how one might understand good independently of God. There is a huge literature out there. I hope you get around to reading some of it. It will answer your questions you posed at the end of your comment 8 and in your point II of your comment 10.

  10. Thanks, Glenn. I appreciate your reply.

    I’m well aware that the New Atheists, whom Max is apparently reading, aren’t the best apologists/representatives for atheism, and I understand how it feels to have people who don’t represent your views, or the views of the majority of people they are claimed to represent, held up as representatives in the mass media. For example, I’ve never in my life read, heard or been taught anything from mainstream media go-to guys like Robertson and Falwell, except in unflattering mainstream ‘news’ reports and editorials. I definitely don’t think Dawkins-esque ‘New Atheism’ represents the best of atheism; it just represents the atheism I’m most likely to encounter online (and I don’t go looking for it!). I have no idea which atheists are in the majority, but when it concerns intellectual challenges to theism, the quality of the argument is more important than its popularity, imo. My first two replies (2, 4) are direct reactions (and not attempts at opening dialogue) to ideas often propagated by that specific kind of atheism, but I don’t see where I implied that all atheists (or the strongest atheisms) rely on those kinds of arguments; that’s not something I would intentionally do.

    You’re right, linking to that “Our Smear Campaign” article doesn’t encourage dialogue, but it isn’t meant to. It’s just meant to call New Atheism out. I’m actually not familiar with the magazine behind the first article, but it seemed a deserved fit for where Max is coming from. (I probably should have done better. :) )

    I wouldn’t call my questions regarding an explanation for morality and a rationale for moral behaviour as puzzlement. I know there are lots of reasons for why we should behave morally in an atheistic universe — but at the end of the day I just don’t find any of them compelling, or find the concept of morality to be coherent in an atheistic universe.

    As for Euthyphro, the classic Christian response is that it’s a false dilemma. I have no idea what other kinds of theology do with it, though.

    Anyway, I appreciate you taking the time for a sincere and thoughtful reply.

  11. Joel,

    (1) I was motivated to reply because of things you wrote such as: “If these phenomena are studied with any seriousness at all (not something many atheists are willing do, in my experience)”, and “It’s a popular mistake among atheists in my experience: arguing against straw-men”. To charge that most atheists are not serious or they argue against straw-persons is unfair. The same thing is probably true about *any* group of believers in some idea, but for you to specifically pick out atheists suggests some kind of inappropriate bias.

    (2) The Times Higher Education (your first article) is extremely well-known in academic circles, and quite respected. Their university ranking list is one of the best in the world, and very frequently cited by universities. The article you link to is not especially bad, but just, as Max says, empty.

    (3) Re your not finding any atheistic moral theory compelling. All I can say is that I hope you read a little more, because I can assure you (and this was a big part of my university graduate studies) that the case is very solid. The high-level debate is not about whether there *can* be an atheistic moral theory, but about which of the many competing plausible accounts has the stronger reasons.

    (4) If Plato’s point is a false dilemma, what is option (c)? Seriously. Because I just don’t see it.

  12. “Many atheists…in my experience” really is my experience; the people most stridently and loudly claiming to represent “science” are entirely unscientific when it comes to their favourite scapegoat. I qualified it that way on purpose to avoid implicating all atheists; obviously such people don’t represent the best. I’m mostly aware of the smarter and more intellectually sincere variety only because our philosophy and theology profs had us read some of them in undergrad and grad school (though even some of the higher calibre atheists can still be surprising when it comes to ‘religion’ — I remember reading one where his discussion veered into religious territory for a page or two and it was jolting, because it was like he’d suddenly transformed from an intellectually stimulating Ivy League philosopher into a fundamentalist). I have no idea which kind of atheist is in the majority, and I can’t control what kind I happen to encounter, especially as I don’t go looking for them.

    I wouldn’t mind taking a glance at a particular theory if you have a link you want to throw my way. If there’s something out there better than the stuff I’ve read so far I’d certainly want to know about it. I’m not meaning to sound flippant when I say I find the concept of and rationale for morality ultimately incoherent and uncompelling in an atheistic universe, just that I remain unconvinced. But if obnoxious “‘religion’ kills”-type insinuations show up on my blog, well, I’m gonna ask some questions.

    You’ve apparently looked at the Euthyphro dilemma as it applies to theism/religion so I’m surprised you haven’t come across this before. Euthyphro, or at least the basic idea it represents, was rejected as a false dichotomy by the Old Testament prophets and early church fathers like Augustine. There are differences in those related traditions and other rejections of it, but the basic idea has to do with the standard and existence of goodness being an expression or extension of God’s nature rather than God’s will, therefore goodness is neither independent of God nor arbitrarily designated by divine fiat. But if you want to get deeper into it I suggest you look up readings from more knowledgeable people; I’ve been out of school too long to provide a good, detailed explanation of it now. Also, I don’t remember if the OT prophets were consciously rejecting that argument in their writings or not; it may have been that the nature of their theology just happened to be that way.

  13. Joel,

    Back to front replies :-)

    (1) Re Plato: If the *standard* of goodness is an expression or an extension of God’s nature, then this seems to me to be a variant on answer (a); if it is just the *existence*, then it is more like (b). I still don’t see that it is a third alternative. (I know there is a lot more to be said about it, so I hope I am not appearing arrogant or disrespectful of the discussion.)

    (2) Literature on the subject? Any particular theories? Ouch. (a) I don’t know your background; it is hard to know where to start. And (b) it is not really about giving any one theory, but more about getting wider familiarity of the literature to build up a map of the possible approaches, their interconnections, their weaknesses and their strengths. It is still an open question as to which theory is best.

    To start the ball rolling I’ll give four names, progressing from more accessible for beginners to more difficult. No idea if these are appropriate for you. These are not intended to be the best and only, but as representative members of the current debate. Going further, look at who they reference and who references them. If you wish, http://www.jstor.org/action/cookieAbsent is useful for literature research.

    (i) James Rachels. An extremely clear and easy writing style, and his “Elements of Moral Philosophy” is often used in Intro to Ethics courses (“Elements” sets the scene well for first-year students, but as with *any* first-year text, not everything can be said and some presentations are simplistic … don’t get offended, as this is equally true of *all* aspects, not just religion). http://www.jamesrachels.org/ gives a few more essays and links (again very readable for non-professionals). Or search for more at jstor.

    (ii) J. L. Mackie. His “Miracle of Theism” is often used in upper-level undergraduate religion courses. Or again look at jstor.

    (iii) John Bishop. He was my Master’s thesis supervisor. He is a Christian. Of the four names mentioned, my views are probably closest to his, though I happen not to be a Christian.

    (iv) Michael Smith. I could have chosen many names here, and this was somewhat chosen randomly. But I think this is a useful example of the clarity and precision of the high-level professional debates, which are nonetheless often impenetrable to undergraduates. Doing a search for his name on jstor gives a sample of the conversations that were going on in the mid 90s (approx the era of my studies!). Don’t just look at his work, but also look at the various replies back and forth, to see the fine-detail questions being addressed and debated. It is both admirable and intimidating!! I especially like the way that the participants freely admit that the subject is extremely difficult, and that they are working together politely and cooperatively, expressing their positions tentatively when required, and never trying to be deceptive about the difficult challenges to their ideas (they will directly tell us if they don’t know the answer to something).

    This will do!!

    (3) I don’t doubt that “in my experience” really is just that. But it seems to me that when you are discussing Chinese culture, you bend over backwards to avoid these sorts of negative generalisations about peoples. What I admire about you is that you seem to try to see the best in people. Even if you have had a bad experience, you will write about it as an amusing quirk, or start out assuming that this person was basically good-willed, but was just doing things differently, etc. But in your initial post and consequent comments, I believe you have not applied this principle of charity to the same extent you usually do. Well, anyway, I won’t labour this point anymore.

    (4) Some brief thoughts on your initial post:

    According to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motion_picture_rating_system), some countries’ movie rating laws *do* mention religion.

    Also according to Wikipedia, China’s movie rating laws haven’t been passed yet. Do you know what they do?

    Furthermore, some countries *don’t* base their movie rating system on nudity. New Zealand, for example, (see http://www.censorship.govt.nz/about-censorship/new-zealands-censorship-law-the-films-videos-and-publications-classification-act-1993.html focuses on sexual content, and not at all on nudity.

    So, anyway, if we question religion, we should also equally question nudity, with respect to the laws associated with movie ratings.

    But I wasn’t clear whether you were just meaning to be talking about the North American rating systems, or other systems around the world.

    But also you weren’t just talking about the law(s). You also got into the topic of which type of content *should* be included (the moral issue). As such, “harmful to children” is one relevant consideration (among many).

    With respect to your last paragraph, I really felt puzzled with the way you felt the need to link the students’ idea to those so-called “New Atheists”. It didn’t seem relevant to the otherwise fascinating story. Mentioning that idea alongside both the New Atheists and the Chinese Communist Party struck me as something of an ad hominem — that is, tarnish the appearance of certain ideas/groups by saying that other, untrustworthy groups happened to also think the same thing. (Also, the idea that religion is harmful is not new at all, and if you are going to link it to anyone, probably Marx would be more relevant.)

    (I can’t speak for Max, but I wonder if his antagonistic initial comment was because he felt a little miffed by this implied rhetoric of dismissal in the final paragraph. You weren’t exactly Mr Sensitive on this one! :-)

    Finally, as Max suggests, we can again parallel religion with nudity. Morally speaking, if we are going to question the claim that religion is harmful, then we could equally question the claim that nudity is harmful.

  14. Movie Ratings

    But I wasn’t clear whether you were just meaning to be talking about the North American rating systems, or other systems around the world.

    I use the American movie rating system in class because that’s the one my
    students are most likely to encounter. Canada has its own system, too, but I don’t bother with it in the classroom.

    According to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motion_picture_rating_system), some countries’ movie rating laws *do* mention religion. […] Furthermore, some countries *don’t* base their movie rating system on nudity. So, anyway, if we question religion, we should also equally question nudity, with respect to the laws associated with movie ratings. […]But also you weren’t just talking about the law(s). You also got into the topic of which type of content *should* be included (the moral issue). […] Morally speaking, if we are going to question the claim that religion is harmful, then we could equally question the claim that nudity is harmful.

    I’ve already mentioned why I find it lacking in real meaning to use “religion” in this way, so I won’t repeat it, but here it means I can’t think of any good reason to single out “religious” ideology for special discrimination alongside violence and sexual content. However as an individual and as a parent, I want to know what kind of ideology I’m exposing myself or my kids to. Probably wouldn’t support this in practice because I can’t imagine how it would actually adequately and fairly happen in practice, but in theory I have no problem with the accurate and explicit I.D.-ing of entertainment media’s ideological content, and that would include what people typically think of when they say “religious.”

    Obviously there are different kinds of nudity – when I was in primary school, for example, one of our bedtime story books had full nudity in it, which was entirely different from 99.999% of Hollywood nudity. But that’s part of what I point out to them in the class: different kinds of nudity affect the ratings differently.

    Euthyphro & Morality

    If the *standard* of goodness is an expression or an extension of God’s nature, then this seems to me to be a variant on answer (a); if it is just the *existence*, then it is more like (b). I still don’t see that it is a third alternative. (I know there is a lot more to be said about it, so I hope I am not appearing arrogant or disrespectful of the discussion.)

    As I remember it (and you’re getting a lay take on it here because I’ve been out of school for too long; you’ll have to find better than me if you want to really dig into this one), locating goodness/morality/Moral Law/etc. in God’s nature dodges both horns of the dilemma because (a) the moral standard is it not arbitrary, and (b) it’s not external to or over God, therefore the moral standard is both fixed and located in God. Therefore created beings who “bear the image and likeness of God” (i.e. humans) necessarily reflect the nature of their Creator. I can’t think of a better way to put it, but I’m certainly not the authority on this. To my mind there’s quite a difference between locating the source of morality in God’s nature and divine command theory.

    Literature on the subject? Any particular theories? Ouch. (a) I don’t know your background; it is hard to know where to start.

    Yeah, I know. Sorry! :) It’s like asking you to suddenly pull the syllabus for an Intro class out of your pocket. I appreciate the references, and will take a look when I can. Don’t worry about pitching it too low; I’m not going to take it personally, and it’s not like I have time to take a whole nother grad course anyway. Intro stuff is a fine place to start.

    And (b) it is not really about giving any one theory, but more about getting wider familiarity of the literature to build up a map of the possible approaches, their interconnections, their weaknesses and their strengths. It is still an open question as to which theory is best.

    Right, I assume that. One area where I have a lot of trouble is attributing any intrinsic value and dignity to human beings in an atheistic universe. And without that, I have a hard time finding the concept of morality, never mind building up to moral imperatives.

    Unfair to Atheists?
    Skip this if you like. Seems so narcissistic to bother with it. Short answer: I should have been more charitable, don’t see any unfairness on my part, didn’t go out of my way to make anyone look bad, and Chinese culture and New Atheism propaganda are apples and oranges.

    I don’t doubt that “in my experience” really is just that. But it seems to me that when you are discussing Chinese culture, you bend over backwards to avoid these sorts of negative generalisations about peoples. … But in your initial post and consequent comments, I believe you have not applied this principle of charity to the same extent you usually do.

    That’s a fair observation; I certainly treated them differently. But I don’t understand why I would respond the same way to a whole culture as I would to particular aggressive malignant ideological propaganda slogans.

    Also, I’m trained to be hyper-sensitive and forbearing to cultures not my own, so surely that’s part of it.

    Our epistemology prof always made the point that, epistemologically speaking (issues of civility aside), there’s not really any justification for arrogance and cockiness among any of the major theories in play. It doesn’t mean that all these competing ideas are equal or that we’re all doomed to agnosticism, just that we all ultimately have to make some judgment calls without absolute certainty at the end of the day.

    But in this instance, I’m still unrepentant. ;) I don’t see where I was unfair, but I can see where I was fair but less charitable to Max than I ought to have been.

    With respect to your last paragraph, I really felt puzzled with the way you felt the need to link the students’ idea to those so-called “New Atheists”. It didn’t seem relevant…

    I didn’t feel a need to do that; the connection/association is there on its own. I didn’t go out of my way to make that connection; it just happened, and it’s part of the story. As I originally wrote, in passive voice, I was reminded of the New Atheist charge that religion is harmful to children (specifically, that raising kids in a religious home should be considered a form of child abuse). New Atheism was first association in my mind when I heard that bit of communist propaganda. I don’t see any obligation to self-censor this kind of experience.

    Mentioning that idea alongside both the New Atheists and the Chinese Communist Party struck me as something of an ad hominem … (Also, the idea that religion is harmful is not new at all, and if you are going to link it to anyone, probably Marx would be more relevant.)

    Right, most of New Atheism isn’t new, except for perhaps the levels of volume and vitriol. Anyway, I wasn’t making an argument, I was relating an experience. If that experience makes New Atheism look bad, then they can explain for themselves, but that’s not my obligation. If they took that which they criticize more seriously, then I don’t think we’d have this problem. If they don’t want these associations “rising unbidden” in people’s minds, then perhaps they should re-think their public strategy.

    (I can’t speak for Max, but I wonder if his antagonistic initial comment was because he felt a little miffed by this implied rhetoric of dismissal in the final paragraph. You weren’t exactly Mr Sensitive on this one! :-)

    I can’t deny that I was less charitable than I should have been in the initial one or two comments, because for me how charitable I ought to be and what is fair or what someone deserves are two different things. I could have and should have diffused that rhetoric when I had the chance, and I didn’t.

    In this particular case with Max, that same week I’d had worse stuff from New Atheists appear unsolicited in a China forum I was in, news articles I was reading, and even my personal Facebook page, so when it looked like it might be showing up on my blog, I didn’t respond as well as I should have. That’s not an excuse; it’s just what happened.

  15. Joel,

    I’ll make this quick, as we are going to Beijing tomorrow for a few weeks (sick Ma-in-law).

    I get the sense that we are mostly in agreement, and it is often just the tone, degree or emphasis where we differ.

    (1) Movie Ratings:
    I pretty much agree with you.

    Fair enough to just talk about the US rating system. Though, parenthetically, when I teach English here in China, I consciously do so from a New Zealand perspective, while also explicitly pointing out how the world Englishes differ—pronunciation, vocab, spelling, grammar, culture, laws, etc. I do this especially *because* the students are often very US-centred in their understanding of English.

    A second difference in emphasis between us, I think, is that since you are culturally from a religious background, you immediately thought of religion when the students gave you the list. I am not (I left organised religion over 20 years ago), and so I, personally, would be just as likely to ask a follow-up question based on nudity as I would be to ask about religion.

    (2) Euthyphro:
    I agree that the will is different from personal nature, and locating the standard of goodness in God’s nature is different from the divine command theory of ethics.

    However, if we are talking about arbitrariness, then the point is the same. Option (a) of the dilemma got its arbitrariness because God could equally will the opposite, and then that opposite would be what we call good. And in the same way, if the *standard* of goodness comes from God’s nature, then if God’s nature happened to be different, then so too would be what we call good (saying that God’s nature is necessary doesn’t help, because that seems like a mere stipulation, and the stipulation similarly creates the arbitrariness).

    (BTW, I am no expert on this either. I just try my best to make sense of it.)

    (3) Morality:
    You say: “One area where I have a lot of trouble is attributing any intrinsic value and dignity to human beings in an atheistic universe. And without that, I have a hard time finding the concept of morality, never mind building up to moral imperatives.”

    One answer is that this view of the intrinsic value of humans is not a necessary part of morality (in fact it is quite a controversial moral claim). Denying this claim does not make one’s position either amoral or immoral.

    (4) Unfair to Atheists?
    Okay, fair enough. “Aggressive malignant ideological propaganda slogans” are indeed bad, wherever they come from. I sympathise with you that you have been getting abused in this way.

    That said, (i) the basic atheistic idea of negating some particular religion or religious view is respectable. And (ii) the tougher atheistic view that such a religion or religious view is *bad* as well as *wrong* is also respectable. That is, the statement “religion is bad” (or similar) need not be a mere slogan (of any type), as there is enough research and discussion behind it to make it deserving of consideration when it is uttered by someone with a solid background in the area (such as with Dawkins).

    (BTW, it is amusing that China blocks http://www.richarddawkins.net

  16. You may not be interested in following this up any further, but anyway … :-)

    Below is a link to a bibliography on Religion and Morality. The compiler tells us that “The purpose of this bibliography is to provide a comprehensive list of all academic articles published on the relationship between religion and morality.” And it looks like a pretty good list to me. I am guessing that most of the articles will be available free at http://www.jstor.org/action/cookieAbsent

    Here it is:

    (BTW, it seems that China is blocking this site, so for those on the mainland an anonymous proxy server is required to view it.)

  17. actually i’ve had a reply written for ages, but just haven’t posted it because I wanted to read it over and cut it down so it’s not punishingly long. been super busy the last couple months but Jessica and our daughter just went to the States to see her parents for a month, so I might get it up here in a couple days.

  18. Euthyphro & Judeo-Christian Theism

    (BTW, I am no expert on this either. I just try my best to make sense of it.)

    Neither am I, and I appreciate the way you go about it.

    However, if we are talking about arbitrariness, then the point is the same. …if the *standard* of goodness comes from God’s nature, then if God’s nature happened to be different, then so too would be what we call good (saying that God’s nature is necessary doesn’t help, because that seems like a mere stipulation, and the stipulation similarly creates the arbitrariness).

    I see two basic parts to your reply: “What if God’s nature happened to be different?” (rephrasing Euthyphro) and “It’s arbitrary to merely stipulating that God’s nature is necessary (or ultimately leads to moral arbitrariness).” I’ll reply to both.

    The short answer is that as soon as you start talking about God’s nature being different, you’re no longer talking about the Judeo-Christian God. That’s why I think the Euthyphro dilemma doesn’t get much traction with Christian (and I assume Jewish) theists. But I don’t think it’s a matter of arbitrarily stipulating that God’s nature is necessary or otherwise unalterable. The elements of Judeo-Christian understandings of God that split the horns of the Euthyphro dilemma are core and foundational elements, not optional or peripheral or later add-ons, and their articulation predates Euthyphro. Changes to God’s nature would not result in a different version of the same basic being, but a lesser being that by definition is not the universe-creating-and-transcending God of Judeo-Christian theism. Longer answer below.

    If a person wants to demonstrate that a Judeo-Christian understanding of God necessarily results in a situation where morality is ultimately arbitrary, then they have to do that using a Judeo-Christian understanding of God. But fundamental to Judeo-Christian understandings of God is the idea that God is necessary and unique, the greatest possible Being, and therefore unchanging. This God creates and transcends all possible universes, in which the nature/character and unique position of God remains the same. Any change in God’s nature/character or unique position would result in, by definition, a lesser being that would not be God. It doesn’t make sense to talk of this God having a different nature/character.

    “Well, you’re wrong about God” is a separate issue from whether or not a particular understanding of God provides logical grounding for objective morality. A person could of course assert that it doesn’t matter when or why certain understandings of God were developed, because any understanding of any sort of God, whatever its assorted features, is just one big collection of arbitrarily stipulated fantasies. But this objection, which here questions whether or not the Judeo-Christian understanding of God is true, is a different issue. The point here is that the Judeo-Christian understanding of God, if true, provides coherent grounding for universal moral standards, just as it has for ages.

    It’s not a matter of the ancient Greeks just having different names for (or more than one of) what are essentially the same thing as the Judeo-Christian Being of worship; the Judeo-Christian God is, by definition, a wholly different and unique Being, unalterable in nature/character. This all may sound like an arbitrary stipulation conveniently tailor-made to dodge the Euthyphro dilemma, but articulation of these core, foundational characteristics of the Judeo-Christian God predate Euthyphro (originally articulated in part to distinguish God from the deities of Ancient Near East polytheism, who like the Greco-Roman pantheon were capricious and arbitrary, among other things).

    So it comes across as incoherent, or at least irrelevant, to Judeo-Christian theists to rephrase Euthyphro using the term “God’s nature” because God’s nature is unchanging; as soon as we say “but if God’s nature were different”, we’re no longer talking about the Judeo-Christian God but some other kind of thing.

    There’s more that could be said from a specifically Trinitarian standpoint, but I’ll leave that for now.

    For the sake of the argument, I’ve replied above as if your objection (that merely stipulating that God’s nature is necessary would render morality based in that God arbitrary) is valid (by explaining that said characteristics are core and foundational, and predate Euthyphro, and therefore are not arbitrarily stipulated in order to deflect Euthyphro) because as far as I know that very well may be a valid point. But I’m not entirely sure that it is.

    Are the reasons for attributing various characteristics to God relevant to the question of whether or not a given understanding of God provides a firm grounding for objective morality? Even if I deliberately constructed a definition of God for the sole purpose of evading Euthyphro, would that matter to the question of whether or not such an understanding, if true, provided a foundation for objective morality? Whether or not there is a God at all, and if there is then what God is like, and how we can know what God is like — these are all separate questions from what we’re discussing here. Similarly, “your understanding of God provides a logical foundation for objective morality but that is irrelevant because your God doesn’t exist (or your description of God is inaccurate)” is a much different objection from “regardless of whether or not your God exists (or your description is accurate), your understanding of God does not provide a logical grounding for objective morality.”

    As I understand it, the question at hand is: Do Judeo-Christian understandings of God provide adequate grounding for objective morality? And your specific objection to that is to (a) apply Euthyphro to “God’s nature” as the defining source of morality and (b) state that claiming that God’s nature is necessary is a mere stipulation that ultimately renders the entire thing morally arbitrary. My reply is essentially that if you do (a) then you aren’t talking about the Judeo-Christian God, and (b) the Euthyphro-splitting characteristics of that God are core and foundational, not arbitrary add-ons, and were articulated pre-Euthyphro.

    My apologies that’s so repetitive; I’ve only got so much time to write these days.

    Applying Euthyphro Beyond Theism
    Euthyphro is a decent argument where it applies, I suppose, and I think it could apply to any proposed grounding for morality that doesn’t claim the unique character and position of the Judeo-Christian God. So it’s curious to me that Euthyphro is so popular with some atheists. Do atheists not realize that it’s an argument they also have to answer if they want to make moral claims? Just replace “the gods” with whatever it is we’re trying to ground our morality in and away we go.

    The only (imagined) benefit I can see to atheists bringing in Euthyphro is if said atheists have already conceded that they have no objective grounding for morality but think they can still hammer out some sort of worthwhile description and prescription (crucially different things!), so long as they eliminate the need to demonstrate an objective grounding for morality. And the only way to do that — since arguing that all morality is ultimately arbitrary but individuals should still ‘be good’ is hardly compelling, especially in the face of arguments claiming objective moral values and the 20th century legacy of institutionalized atheism — is to level the playing field by stripping opposing (theistic) arguments of their ‘objective’ status. Essentially, it looks like an attempt to move everyone, particularly the theists, to the opinion that ‘morality is ultimately arbitrary but that doesn’t matter because we’ll all just agree to ignore that and make do with what we’ve got.’ But if it really is the case that morality is ultimately arbitrary (and I don’t think it is), then I think we ought to own up to it. And if all hell breaks lose… well, what’s it matter? Chaos or no, it would still be meaningless.

    Morality in a Materialistic Worldview
    (Trying to boil down my issue with atheistic morality)… I think, “at bottom” (to reference a popular and relevant Dawkins quote), I can’t imagine how to generate a moral imperative — an obligating moral prescription — solely from within a materialistic worldview that applies a moral obligation to anyone other than the individual prescribing it. For starters, I can’t imagine how to generate the very concepts of morality, good, evil (etc.) from within a materialistic framework; those ideas just seem meaningless to me within that context. For example, if materialism is true then I see no morally relevant difference between the Rwandan genocide and two ant colonies going to war. Even if a coherent concept of morality could be generated from within a materialistic worldview, I don’t see how it could avoid arbitrariness and crippling relativeness, nor do I see how we could move from our description of the existence and perhaps origin of morality to an actual prescription for moral behaviour that others would be obligated to follow.

    New Atheism/Anti-Theism

    That said, (i) the basic atheistic idea of negating some particular religion or religious view is respectable. And (ii) the tougher atheistic view that such a religion or religious view is *bad* as well as *wrong* is also respectable. That is, the statement “religion is bad” (or similar) need not be a mere slogan…

    I agreed with you right up until the last sentence quoted above, where I think there was a major misstep.

    Two main things: (1) In originally responding to Max, I wasn’t responding to general atheistic ideas as you present them here, I was responding to similar-sounding but very different ideas (see 2) a la New Atheism/anti-Christianism and CCP propaganda. (2) The statement “a (particular) religion is bad” is totally different from “religion is bad”, yet you seem to equate them in your last sentence quoted above. With Max I responded to the latter idea, which, as I’ve already said, is a false universal and makes much less sense than the former, and, these days online, is most likely to come in forms inspired/influenced by New Atheism/anti-Christian-ism.

    That is, the statement “religion is bad” (or similar) need not be a mere slogan…

    “Religion is…” doesn’t make sense. For one, it’s religions — plural. And considering the diversity among all the things we typically think of when we think of religions (and all the other ‘ideologies’ and ‘metanarratives’ and ‘traditions’ that aren’t considered ‘religions’ but might as well be given their character and function), it’s almost pointless to generalize. And two, “religion” isn’t a thing; it’s a colloquial and false thought category that (a) people like me sometimes use merely for convenience’s sake to mean many different things depending on the situation, and that (b) lends itself to New Atheist/anti-Christian propaganda as an easily-constructed and propagated (though imaginary) strawman/boogeyman/scapegoat because most people won’t think critically about the thought categories and framing smuggled in on the snappy New Atheist slogans and talking points. When New Atheism makes statements like “religion is bad”, what it really means is “anything that isn’t what we believe — i.e. materialism/scientism/modern 19th century Enlightenment prejudices — is bad.” Instead of burning strawmen, they ought to be making the case for why we should take Western thought back to the 19th century.

    there is enough research and discussion behind it to make it deserving of consideration when it is uttered by someone with a solid background in the area (such as with Dawkins).

    There’s enough research and discussion behind what, exactly?

    I’m a little surprised you referenced Dawkins. Solid background in what area, exactly? Evolutionary biology, sure, and that’s an understatement. And from what I understand, he’s also extremely skilled at explaining complex scientific concepts for a popular audience via metaphor and analogy. But in philosophy, theology, epistemology, history? In those areas I think (as do some of his theist and atheist peers) that he checks most of his intellectual authority and competence at the door. And that’s an understatement (Stephen Hawking’s philosophical statement “Philosophy is dead” also comes to mind).

    I’m refraining from unloading my own laundry list of New Atheism complaints here, which would be based on what I’ve personally read from the gurus of New Atheism and their believers, and the main ideas, which are ubiquitous. If I wanted an informed critique of New Atheism (and I haven’t read any of the anti-New Atheism books), I’d look to people like Alister McGrath or John Lennox. A quick google around turned up this summary of McGrath’s Why God Won’t Go Away: Is the New Atheism Running on Empty?, which seems to provide a (long) list of the usual grievances. Appropriately, the summary is written by a professor at a Young Earth Creationism-prescribing university. I say appropriately because YEC-ists critiquing “evolution” and New Atheists critiquing “religion” are pretty much in the same league, imo (except the New Atheists are meaner; this is maybe unfair to the TEC crowd).

    ESL & Movie Ratings

    A second difference in emphasis between us, I think, is that since you are culturally from a religious background, you immediately thought of religion when the students gave you the list.

    I don’t understand this part (maybe I didn’t write clearly enough in the original post). When I was teaching about movie ratings, I wasn’t thinking about religion at all. Different students called out different things (violence, sexuality, etc.), and one of the students called out “religion.” It got my attention because I wasn’t expecting it; I only thought of religion because a student said “religion.”

    Maybe you mean I took extra notice when the student called out “religion” because I have a ‘religious’ background? No doubt that’s part of it, but I think it would have stood out to most Anglo-Americans regardless of their beliefs about reality, and especially those teaching ESL in China, because they’d find including religion in movie ratings to be novel and they’d immediately attribute it to China being officially anti-religion.

    when I teach English here in China, I consciously do so from a New Zealand perspective, while also explicitly pointing out how the world Englishes differ—pronunciation, vocab, spelling, grammar, culture, laws, etc. I do this especially *because* the students are often very US-centred in their understanding of English.

    With intermediate and higher-level classes I give them spelling options. For lower-levels, which spelling I give them depends on how much I’m missing home that day, I guess. :) I like Canada. I’m glad, usually, that it’s not the USA. I used to be more intentional about teaching from a Canadian perspective, but I burned out on the dysfunctional “not American” flavour of much of Canadian identity and patriotism long ago. Given a choice I’d choose Canada, but it’s not something I feel extremely strong about. I’ll highlight differences when they’re relevant to the conversation in class (mostly to make the point that laowais aren’t all the same).

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