3.24.2006

Shellfish or No Shellfish? St. Paul and Muhammed Cartoons

I posted this on my other site too.

Ok, so I've been thinking of an interesting issue in community dynamics. In some interactions, some people seem to be the limiting agents, and their preferences seem to take priority over others. Here's a couple of examples. St. Paul (A.K.A., Paul of Tarsus, a.k.a., Saul of Tarsus, a.k.a. Jimmy the Rat), wrote to one of his start-up cults about some problems they were having. It appears that the gentile-oriented Christians wanted to eat meat and have sex all the time like the rest of the hellenistic culture. They took a more liberal attitude toward the old Law, interpreting Christ's death and resurrection as an abolition of the dietary and cultural proscriptions. Many of the Jewish Christians, on the other hand, wanted to still keep Kosher and all that good stuff. So, Paul basically told the Gentile Christians, "You know, between you and me, that dietary stuff is all bologne (bad pun intended). But, it's not going to kill you to refrain from pork and shellfish, so if it bugs the other folks so much, just give it a rest." (this is the literal interpretation of the Greek). Here the people with the qualms, with the compunctions, with the misgivings (read the sissies) won the day. There was no compromise. Here's a modern day version. I'm hanging out with my buddies. One of them is a vegetarian, and four of them are not. We all love steak, and want to go to Little Zagrebs. But, we like our veggie buddy, and don't want him to starve or to be forced to eat a potato with relish or something lame. So, instead, we go to Moonbeam's Golden Tofu and Tobouli Shack, where I eat a pretty good Falafel and bean sprout sandwich. It's ok, but I really want a big, perfectly seasoned steak. Again, here the person with the most limits sets the rules for the community. You can think of some other examples. Roomates who are extremely sensitive to noise or messiness, group outings where people refuse to go to McDonald's, people with allergies to peanuts...I don't know, you get the picture. I find this phenomenon interesting because minority opinions seem to be able to win out over majority opinions, usually without much compromising. It is this lack of compromise that intrigues me. It seems like communities are overly willing to grant some inalienable right to groups or individuals who arbitrarily draw some line in the sand over which they declare they will not cross. Why do communities let these strong opinions dictate where the line is drawn, rather than insisting on a democratic process of negotiation? Of course, as in the case of the person with the allergy, they really do have a strict line. I think this recent cartoon hubub is an example of this issue. The sacredness of Sharia Law to Muslims does not give them an absolute right to draw the line of decency for the rest of the world. Ok, I should stop now, before I get too political. The short version is, I think this is an interesting community dynamic.

2 comments:

Mark said...

I find it interesting that the constraints for minorities are usually accepted by the majority rather than forced upon them from an outside authority, at least in small group settings. As you mentioned, your veggie friend didn’t require the meat-lovers to eat falafel, but rather it was the meat-lovers who chose to compromise out of care for their friend.

I also agree that there is often an imbalance of compromise. To take your situation again, the meat eaters gave up meat, but what did the vegetarian give up? Nothing. And while it wouldn’t be fair to ask a vegetarian to eat meat, there are other creative ways of compromising that can keep the respect amongst friends’ preferences mutual instead of always one-sided.

Andrew said...

Actually from what I was taught in Catholic school and Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_of_Tarsus), Saul pretty much split the difference between the hippy Christians and the Jews for Jesus. They (Saul and Jesus’ half brother) sent a letter accompanied by some leaders from the Jerusalem church back with Paul and his party to confirm that the Gentile believers should not be overburdened by Mosaic Law beyond abstaining from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality. (Acts 15:29). I think this set up a standard of common sense in the establishment of the larger church. While it made sense for Jews to continue their dietary traditions, it really doesn’t for those of us with no cultural background of them. So Paul simply kept the stuff that made sense (orgies are not a good idea for anyone) and chucked the stuff that didn’t (circumcisions are not a good selling point).

I think this is a good standard to follow for just about everything. I believe we all have an instinct of fairness (http://sciam.com/article.cfm?chanID=sa003&articleID=000C1A68-BA52-11F6-BA5283414B7F0000) which prevents us from feeling good about seeing someone being made the odd man out. When we perceive a single member of the group would suffer disproportionately if the majority ruled, in most situations this instinct would prevent the group from acting in accordance to their wishes. While this might mean completely satisfying the wishes of the minority, most often I think it involves a solution where the majority can get what they want without feeling guilty. Hey, I hear Outback has some good salads…..

What I think most people find so ironic about the Muslim Cartoon brouhaha is that the rights to free speech were created entirely to give otherwise marginalized groups the ability to get their positions heard; to appeal to the majority’s innate sense of fairness on their behalf. The reality is that the Muslim’s screaming for the cartoonist’s heads know the societies in which they live have been much more than fair but they certainly don’t want fairness they only want their way. To reuse Joe’s restaurant analogy one more time, they not only want to go to Moonbeam's Golden Tofu and Tobouli Shack all the time, they want us to pay for the priviledge.