Friday, December 10, 2010

Moderate Theists: Yes I Am Rambling

Is this a completely random banner image that has nothing to do with the post?  Yes.  Yes it is.  

I keep going back and forth on my opinions of the average (i.e. moderate or progressive) religious believer since they rarely reject science and generally have their own “live and let live” attitudes about other beliefs or non-belief.  In a sense; they are benign.  While I strongly disagree that any deities exist, let alone their very specific one and I contend that faith is irrational; I do not see them as an actual threat to a secular nation and rational world.  On the other hand I also believe that all theists tacitly enable fundamentalist/extremist beliefs and their completely irrational denials of reality.  Additionally, all theists consciously or unconsciously make the same judgements of non-believers.  They just either hide it better or bury the negative emotions.  I go back and forth all the time arguing with myself. You should have seen the first several drafts of this.

I have been bouncing this argument around in my own head for a few weeks now not knowing how to formulate it.  As with most things, I think I figure it out as I write.  If it looks stupid or crazy in print; it probably is.  Here goes:

What kick-started this from unformed idea to poorly formed post was an email I received from a relative who, presumably, thought I would be interested in something that makes the attempt at bridging the gap between religion and science.  It was an invitation to an online tele-series from Evolutionary Christianity.  I won’t copy the email in whole here since that isn't important and you can get the gist of what information it contained from the website.  I had to groan at the thought of listening to something akin to Deepok Chopra, but I have to tell myself  “well, they mean well and they aren’t completely rejecting physical reality.”  This doesn’t really help since they are adding what I know to be a supernatural untruth to it.  However, it could be worse.  It’s like the infamous Templeton Prize - I really don’t like it; but all in all, its better than the fundies who reject reality all together and insist their worldview is the truth and your evil if you disagree.  Yes, I am conflicted.  

I do have to address something that I think is a problem with how progressive/moderate theists think and act.  For example, the following is an excerpt from the email:

Your involvement will help make this event a catalyst for furthering public awareness of a religious approach to life that celebrates the findings of science and that transcends the polarizing voices of scriptural literalists at one extreme and the “new atheists” at the other.  

I take issue with the placement of "new atheists" as the polar opposite of scriptural literalists on a spectrum; at least in the way that it meant in this context.  If the author was trying to describe a spectrum of rationality then it would be accurate.  They are not.  What they are implying is incorrect and intellectually ignorant.  New atheists, for all their piss and vinegar (“polarizing voices”), use scientific methods, historic analysis, philosophy and logic to formulate their worldview and subsequent critiques of religious claims, belief and behaviors. Scriptural literalists have no such rational approach. They are clearly wrong, have no evidence of any of their claims, reject reality and no amount of political correctness towards their beliefs changes that.   It might be easy for the moderate/progressive theist to place new atheists as the opposite of fundamentalists on a spectrum to describe their “moderate/progressive” vision of the truth, but it is not a valid statement.  You can’t prove an atheist wrong.  You can easily prove a scriptural literalist wrong.  

If so-called "moderate/progressive theists" wish to have an open dialogue concerning science and religion they need to look in the mirror and, at a minimum, think about the following two issues.  First, if they truly wish to accept science and be involved in progress then honest, objective, scientific study of religion (origins, social evolution, neuroscience, sociological, etc.) cannot be “off the table.”  Too often this type of research is vilified or the funding is denied due to the “faithful’s” sensitivities.  As long as it is an objective scientific study then their should be no objection.  That is if you truly wish to “celebrate the findings of science.”  Second, they must publicly and vehemently reject  fundamentalist claims (creationism, young earth, flat earth, etc.), the related scientific denials and political strong arm tactics.  These are actions that threaten the well-being and religious freedom of everyone: theists and atheists alike. The continued coddling and quasi-acceptance of fundamentalist claims only allows extremists to continue and hardens the stance of the faithless towards all believers.  It is my opinion that “new atheism” would not have evolved into its current confrontational stance against all religion if religious lunatics were not so prevalent in the world. The liberal theist position of cultural/religious relativism is wrong and allows extremism to grow.

Part of the problem is that theists, all theists, will not honestly step back and analyze their beliefs.  They may have doubts and questions - I think only the patently insane do not - but I mean they need to question in a scientific, systematic, logical and rational way that really challenges not just the existence of their god, but the likelihood of any benevolent, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent god that answers intercessory prayer. Of course I am hoping they will come to their senses and reject faith, but even if they do not they should at least understand the sheer lunacy of absolute, blind faith and the dangerous consequences of it.

One of the largely incorrect responses to this suggestion is that atheists will not do likewise.  It is often claimed that atheists will not even entertain the possibility that a god may exist.  We have. That is why we are atheists.  This misunderstanding is due to a fundamental difference in reasoning and how we come to a conclusion.  It is highly improbable (if not impossible) that you can make a scientific, systematic, logical and rational argument as to why atheists should abandon scientific, systematic, logical and rational approaches in order to have faith and then to subsequently believe in a deity.  It is antithetical to reason and the new atheist approach; if you can say there is one.  My other problem with this external critique of atheists is that I would make an educated guess that most atheists were at one time or another believers and have since rejected their previous faith.  I know some people that were raised atheist, or more accurately raised without religion, but they are few and far between.  Nearly all atheists I have ever been in contact with were at one time religious in one way or another.  Most found the inconsistencies and irrationality to be too mentally strenuous to continue with these beliefs.  In short: we’ve been there.  We know what it is to believe.  Don’t patronize us by saying we do not understand.  Additionally, I find it more than a little irritating that atheists are looked at as crazy and irrational when the reasons for rejection of belief are based on logic, evidence and rational thought.  We are asked to suspend that in order to believe?  Do you realize how that sounds?

In order for moderate theists to be taken seriously by their atheist neighbors (I realize this is a ridiculous notion given the numbers, but I still think many people genuinely want to “just get along”) they too have to fight the spread of extremism in their own religions. They too must stand up to those those who deny science.  They too must stand up for and preserve secularism. As I have stated before this is not just for the benefit of scientists, atheists, agnostics, secularists, etc. It is for the benefit of everyone. The fundamental extremism that is growing all over the world will stop tolerating moderate, progressive religion once they have gained power and have vilified, persecuted and eliminated their other enemies. Probably starting with the apostates: your atheist friends, family and neighbors.  Once that threat is eliminated they will turn their attention to the heretics: you.  In this there is no doubt as history has shown.


Steve said...

I hate when I review something multiple times and only find typos after I post. *sigh*

their = there

As always, I make no claims in accuracy of punctuation.