We should all be aware of the truism that “ideas have consequences”, and I have admired Richard Weaver’s work of that name for its insight into the origins of a number of ideas that have had negative consequences over the past several centuries. About three years ago, the cover story in Foreign Policy magazine featured a survey of eight leading thinkers on their suggestions as to the ideas that will be most destructive in the coming years. The eight dangerous ideas suggested were the war on evil, undermining human free will, the continuing irrelevance of the concept of the United Nations, spreading the system of democracy, the pursuit of transhumanism through the biosciences, religious intolerance, the irresponsibility of free money, and anti-Americanism. Obviously, these are pretty eclectic, having been suggested by a range of highly respected observers, and I don’t intend to get into the pros and cons of each, although I will say that some of these are very dangerous indeed and some seem quite acceptable to me.
Another and even broader effort of this type is being conducted by a blog called The Edge, whose founder, John Brockman, has written a book named What is Your Dangerous Idea? Today’s Leading Thinkers on the Unthinkable, in which he asks 108 thinkers and scientists to describe their most dangerous idea, and invites readers and bloggers to suggest their own. I haven’t yet read the book, but I look forward to at least reviewing it for a flavor of the dangerous ideas identified.
Finally, I have recently completed a first reading of The Regensburg Lecture, by James V. Schall, which is an in depth analysis of Pope Benedict XVI’s lecture that created such a stir in the Arabic Muslim community last fall. More about the book later, but relevant point here is that in this lecture the Pope has his own thoughts about dangerous ideas and he identifies one idea that he describes as the single most dangerous to our kind, which is the idea that God approves violence in His name. And, upon returning from his recent visit to Turkey, he discussed the challenge that this idea poses for us: “On the one hand, we must rediscover the reality of God and the public relevance of religious faith; on the other, we must ensure that the expression of this faith be free, exempt from fundamentalist distortions and capable of firmly repudiating every form of violence.” Think about this, for it is this dangerous idea of violence in the name of God and the sources of its propagation that we should ponder as we contemplate our future approach to relations with Islamic cultures.
By the way, what is your dangerous idea? Send me your thoughts.