Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Dissecting a Theist’s Strawman



In his article, Media Images of Religious Americans: Elitist, Condescending and Wrong Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie defends religion from the insidious Pew Research Center.  He has three “points.” His original comments in bold.

1) The first is that the Pew Study was mostly silly. It did not demonstrate widespread ignorance at all. Only a minority of the questions dealt with the Bible or the day-to-day concerns that touch upon the lives of religious Americans. As a Jew, I am not overly worried if my non-Jewish neighbors do not know who Maimonides is.

The Pew Study was not “silly.”  It simply demonstrated that Americans, by and large, are ignorant of not only their own religion, but of their neighbor's religions.  This is important when you consider how much of our daily life and politics are intertwined with religion.  As an atheist it seems like we are bombarded with religion, but of course I am going to notice all the little things.  A believer isn't going to notice everything because it doesn't sound like nails on a chalkboard to them.  The Rabbi cannot sit there and say that it is unimportant that the majority of Americans, who consider themselves religious and make decisions and choices (that effect everyone) based on that religion, do not understand the tenets of their own religion.  That is crazy.  Being ignorant of your own religion or that of your neighbor’s while professing a deep-seated belief in a religion gets you Salem Witch Trials, Creationism, and the ridiculous “Ground Zero” Mosque debate among countless others.  The Rabbi says he doesn’t care if his
“non-Jewish neighbors do not know who Maimonides is.” Maybe that specific piece of information is unimportant, but the Pew Research Center used that question among ~65 others to gauge the sample population’s knowledge.  Nice straw man, Rabbi.  

2) The second is that religion is about behavior as much as it is about knowledge. And religion does an exceedingly fine job in promoting good behavior. As Robert Putnam and David Campbell demonstrate in their just-published "American Grace," religious Americans make better neighbors than non-religious Americans by virtually every index. They are more generous, more trustworthy and more civically active. And this is not surprising, despite the stereotypes of popular culture. Religious Americans are particularly adept at building communities that are characterized by compassion and caring.

From the
homepage of that book: Religious Americans - are better neighbors than secular Americans more generous with their time and treasure, even for secular causes - but the explanation has less to do with faith than with communities of faith. (emphasis added)

Aside from this being a complete falsity from the mouth of a believer it is nice example of quote-mining.  So it has to do with communities of faith.  There are no communities of secular people since non-believers are a) ostracized or worse and b) tend to be “loners” or really just “non-joiners.”  This is changing however, and I look forward to seeing the progress and inroads secular Americans make in the future.  


3) The third is that religion cannot be understood without reference to religious belief. Finding God is a significant benefit of religious engagement -- a powerful, life-changing and life-affirming experience. Some Americans may resist theological language; they may speak of connecting with the sacred, creating holy community or giving expression to the spiritual dimension of life, but they are still speaking of an encounter with God. Committed secularists, of course, find all of this hard to comprehend. Experience of this type cannot be measured in the way that knowledge can be measured. Nonetheless, it is no less important on that account, and according to all the evidence, the great majority of Americans welcome the holy in their lives.

I fail to understand the Rabbi’s point here.  
“Religion cannot be understood without reference to religious belief.”  Does this not affirm the importance of religious knowledge?  Religionists and apologists are really starting to blur the lines between religion and spirituality in defense of their beliefs.  In doing so they are helping create “watered-down” versions of the religions they hold so dear.  This eventually will be good for secular America.   A relationship with the supernatural is “spirituality.” Structuring that spirituality in rigid systems of belief is religion.  This structure is what provides religions the mechanism to “propagate” itself.  Without that structure the esoteric ideas and beliefs will fracture into myriad other ideas and beliefs.  Eventually, religion will be the minority.  Keep it up.  


Finally, the Rabbi states:



We should see religious belief, for all who are inclined to embrace it, as a virtue and a blessing.

No. No we should not.  Religion is superstition and magic wrapped in a robe and called “Truth.”  It is delusion.  

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