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Mar 04 2009

Do Moderate Christians Enable Fundamentalist Agendas?

I have a theist friend who thinks I’m too quick to blame some of the world’s ills on religion. After all, he was raised in religion. He believes in god, and he doesn’t care if anyone else does or not. He isn’t trying to force it onto anyone else. He isn’t writing to legislators to ask them to incorporate his beliefs into laws that impact anyone else. And none of his friends or family has ever done anything like that, either. Christianity isn’t impacting U.S. policy. I’m simply imagining things.

My friend is an example of what Sam Harris discusses in his writings when he describes how moderate Christians act as a buffer—a safety net—for fundamentalist Christians who are pushing their agendas into public policy and legislation. To criticize such a Christian agenda insults moderate Christians (like my friend) who are quick to defend that their religion should not be blamed for public ills. After all, what moderate wants to be held responsible for harmful public policies and legislation?

Say that religion is at the root of such a problem, and you get shot down before you’re even out of the gate (if I can mix my metaphors)—not by overzealous fundamentalists, but by moderate, liberal Christians—like my friend. Point out where religion harms society, and you’re met with the shout down—from moderate, middle-of-the-road Christians—that you’re guilty of painting religion with too broad a brush. You’re cherry picking lunatics and fanatics and trying to impose that dysfunctional mess upon all Christians, who are, for the most part, socially benign.

To be honest, I have no idea if the majority of Christians are “moderate”—in the sense that they have personal beliefs they don’t try to spread around or impose on others. I have no aversion to assuming most Christians fit that bill. Certainly most believers I have met personally aren’t any different. But whether they have majority numbers or not, it’s the fanatics that are running the program, invading politics, and shaping law and policy in this nation to bend it to a fundamentalist Christian agenda.

If a silent majority doesn’t like being represented by a squeaky-wheel faction—I recommend they should learn to speak up against their brethren whom they condemn privately as “lunatics” and “fanatics.” Instead, from what I can see, moderates would rather use their collective, “majority” voices to speak out against anyone else who condemns their fanatical members publicly. And here I have to excuse (and applaud) more responsible, moderate Christians—few though they may be—who do actually counter fundamentalism publicly, such as Barry Lynn Executive Director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

But it can no longer be denied, by any reasonably informed person, that public policy is being shaped by Christian agendas—whether it is the work of a fanatic, but highly politically efficient, minority of Christians or not. And if the moderate middle rebuffs criticisms of their more fanatic brethren, denies there is any problem in their midst, and refuses to join anyone in confronting the negative elements within their own camp—how are they not part of the problem? These moderates aren’t just guilty of letting the fundamentalist element run roughshod while they sit silently by, they’re actually protecting fundamentalist actions against legitimate criticisms by throwing the accusation “gross generalization” and “prejudice alarmist” at anyone who dares claim there even is a problem to criticize within the Christian ranks.

In the editorial section of this morning’s Austin American-Statesman, there are two articles that address the statistically observable supreme failings of Texas’ abstinence-based sex education in public schools. One article, “Learning Sex the Texas Way,” has this to say:

“Gov. Rick Perry’s office said he is comfortable with the abstinence-based approach. ‘We oppose any sex education other than abstinence until heterosexual marriage,’ said his spokeswoman.”

Make no mistake, Perry has won re-election in the past. I cannot claim that he is unpopular. And I’m guessing he knows who his supporters are. What politician doesn’t? If he put forward policies not backed by the majority of voting Texans—how would he remain in office? Any thinking person might legitimately then ask, “what constituency would support failing programs and policies that put their own children at risk of deadly STDs and unwanted pregnancies?”

Let’s examine that question.

At the American Family Association (AFA) online, in their article, “Abstinence-Only Education Proves Effective,” it states, “there is no logical reason why abstinence-only education would not be effective in reducing sexual activity among teens.”

Logical or not, we come pretty close to abstinence-only in Texas—and it’s not working as it “logically” should.

Just to cement that this is a Christian organization, in their section “Does AFA hate homosexuals?” the site states:

“The same Holy Bible that calls us to reject sin, calls us to love our neighbor… AFA has sponsored several events reaching out to homosexuals and letting them know there is love and healing at the Cross of Christ.”

Make no mistake AFA is a Christian coalition.

Another supporter is The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. On their site is an article “Support Abstinence Education,” that says, “Don’t let the Senate jeopardize the future of abstinence education. Call or e-mail today!”

Do I need to keep going? The religious right has code words as well, such as conservative, family values, traditional, moral, and so on. They have less overtly religious organizations as well, such as the National Review—which bills itself as a “conservative” media source. Not every group is an outright Wallbuilders. But the more you educate yourself about these issues, the faster you begin to recognize the words that equal “Christian.” Doubt me? Try following a few of these sites for a month to see if you don’t start seeing particular words and phrases that begin to stand out as secular, yet repetitive.

Why use codes? Why not simply say, “This is my religious belief, and I’m going to do all I can to promote it in public policy and legislation”? AFA pretty clearly does this—so why not all organizations with a Christian base?

There is one clear advantage to hiding a religious agenda. Ask Intelligent Design proponents. When the courts tell you that teaching Creationism in schools is using the government to promote religion, and you can’t do that, you are forced to find more subversive, secular-sounding means to reach your goals. You take out “god” and put in “Intelligent Designer.” (Just make sure to double-check the search-and-replaces in your documentation really well before going to court.)

Still, today I realized something different and new and as enlightening as it is disturbing. I realized that even powerful mainstream critics of these religious fundamentalists have learned to pretend that this is actually a battle between secular ideologies—Republican vs. Democrat—and religion plays no part. In both opinion pieces, religion is oddly absent—as is any mention of who might be promoting such policies. Why call out Perry alone? Yes, he’s a politician, and his performance should be examined in the paper. I can’t deny that. But is a public official who has won re-election really the cause of bad policy or is he merely the elected representative for it? Again, without the support of the majority of voting constituents in Texas—he could not have won re-election. Perry is doing the will of the (voting) majority in Texas. And when his office can issue a statement such as the one quoted earlier—can there be any doubt it’s a Christian Right majority he intends to please?

What would happen if the paper
published an editorial critical of the “Christian” agenda to promote abstinence-only education? In addition to raising the ire of far right groups like AFA, Wallbuilders, Liberty Commission, and so on—they would upset, as well, huge numbers of “regular” people—like my friend—who would cry “foul” at being lumped under the umbrella of the fundamentalist “lunatic fringe” who are causing this harm.

But if I say Christians are at the root of the abstinence-only policy, I’m not generalizing any more broadly than if I were to say that horses run in the Kentucky Derby. The group promoting these policies consists of self-identified Christians. And the animals running in the Derby consist of horses. Do all Christians support these policies? No more than all horses run in the Derby. So, what’s the problem? I don’t care if some Christians—even most Christians—aren’t supportive of these policies. It’s no less true that the policies are, by the largest margin, Christian created, promoted and supported. But if we say that, nobody will hear—not because the Religious Right will shut us down, but because religious moderates will.

My friend made this point loud and clear. “There’s nothing religious in those articles. It’s just about the schools and education. Where do you see religion even mentioned?”

He’s right that I don’t see religion even mentioned. But I have to ask if he sees any mention of who is at the root of these policy directives? Does my friend imagine Perry just made this up himself?

Fundamentalist Christians use public policy and legislation to push their religion onto everyone else. Anyone who criticizes the far right source is immediately shot down by the moderate middle. And, for the most part, we all pretend religion has no bearing on public policy—to the point that many people actually believe this is true. Anyone who says otherwise is just an overly excited alarmist. And the fundamentalists proceed, without mainstream majority opposition or interference, to push their religious agenda onto everyone else, with absolute gratitude toward their moderate brethren—the ones who would never do anything to push their religion onto anyone else.

73 comments

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  1. 1
    KaylaKaze

    Hambydammit has a very good post from a little over a month back on moderate religion. http://hambydammit.wordpress.com/2009/01/25/moderate-religion-two-lies-in-one/

  2. 2
    Sparrowhawk

    Hey, Tracie. Good post. I especially like what you said here:But is a public official who has won re-election really the cause of bad policy or is he merely the elected representative for it?This is something I always end up wondering when I think about issues like this. Does the agenda create the official or does the official create the agenda? I think it’s some of both. On the one hand, an elected official, in order to get elected has to “court” his electorate. I’m not saying all politicians are empty husks who just pick a stance in order to get votes, but a guy like Perry probably got elected in large part because he knew what needs to cater to when running for office. He knew what type of demographic he was working with, so he made sure to say things that would go along with that demographic. Either way, I think once the ball gets rolling, it becomes a self-perpetuating system. If we start from a “blank slate” so to speak, it either means someone like Perry gets elected and then instills this agenda in the minds of supporters, or he gets elected because the supporters already had this agenda in mind. Either way, though, it eventually becomes a chain reaction where as the elected official works to push the agenda that got him elected, the supporters of that agenda become even more supportive of that agenda and that official, which enables them to re-elect that official or elect someone knew who perhaps supports that agenda even MORE, which leads to more perpetuation, etc etc etc.

  3. 3
    Sparrowhawk

    Gah!knew=new in that post.

  4. 4
    Guillaume

    It is funny, I am not sure if I am being relevant here, but this remind me of the Atheist Catholic (well, of Catholic upbringing) who called at the #493 show (I think), who said that his family did not believe in evolution even though the Church’s authorities and the Pope do, and that since at least John Paul II (when it comes to the non-literal interpretation of the Bible, one can go as far as Origen). I witnessed this in the past in Québec where I grew up: a priest/nun mentioning that science had value and that the Bible should be interpreted literally (not when it comes to Genesis anyway) and practicing Catholics who often are literalists. I think the religious authorities always tacitly encourage ignorance that leads to fundamentalism, even when such ignorance is archaic even in the Church’s POV. I think there is a bit of envy and transfer (can’t think of a better word right now) playing there: the “moderate” wished he could be as passionate as the fundie and hopes that the fundie can do the “dirty work” of promoting his faith, however excessive he may be.

  5. 5
    cipher

    I also take issue with progressive evangelicals such as Jim Wallis of Sojourners. They don’t think we’re exaggerating the dangers of the Religious Right’s agenda, and they oppose it publicly – but, at the same time, they want to engage their conservative brothers and sisters and allow them to feel as though they’re part of the process. A few years ago, I heard Wallis speak; he made it clear that he wants to bring the fundies to the table. This is exceedingly dangerous, as they don’t understand the nature of compromise. As I told Kazim – you offer them a cookie, they’ll grab the whole jar and tell you it’s God’s will.I agree with the fundies about one thing – this is a war. There can be no truce, no neutral zone; one side must win, the other must lose. For the sake of the continuity of humanity (because I truly believe that’s what is on the line), it had better be us.

  6. 6
    cipher

    Guillaume,It has always been this way with the Catholic church, especially since John Paul II – when it leans, it invariably leans to the right. Liberal scholars such as Hans Kung and Edward Schillebeeckx are censured and forbidden to teach, while entire communities of schismatic, reactionary, raving fundamentalist lunatics are quietly tolerated. We have one such community in central Massachusetts, not far from where I live in the Boston area. They’re the followers of Father Leonard Feeney, a notorious misanthrope and rabid antisemite who rebelled against the church when it began to liberalize its policies. He was particularly enraged by the teaching that salvation is possible outside of the church. He was excommunicated, then quietly brought back into the fold when no one was looking. Today, his community is thriving, and they support themselves in part through the sale of literature that promotes his hateful theology.My point in bringing this up is that they’ve been there for over fifty years, violating church teaching on a daily basis – yet the church, from the local bishop on up, looks the other way. If they were passing out condoms, however… .Christianity has always been far more tolerant of the reactionary bastard than it has been of the well-intended progressive.

  7. 7
    Eric Ross

    Two years ago, when I decided to start my own blog, I touched on this very issue. The main thrust of my argument is that religious moderation begts insecurity, which stifles honest, forthright conversation and ultimately shields fundamentalists from scrutiny and criticism.http://proudatheist.blogspot.com/2007/10/honest-conversation.htmlSadly, I have not yet found the time or motivation to continue the blog, but this post is a quick read, and I think you’ll find it worthwhile.

  8. 8
    Dwight

    Given that the Episcopal church is about to split over gay inclusion issues, that liberals in churches are placed in heresy trials for standing up for what they believe in, I don’t think it’s a question of whether liberals are willing to stand up to the right.

  9. 9
    TheBrainFromPlanetArous

    I think the problem is, and always has been, that the Moderates are trying to square a circle.They denounce the Extremists readily, but won’t confront the source of their extremism.WHAT are they taking to extremes? Well, the teachings of their religion. And for the most part, the Extremists are being true to the source material. Their scriptures DO in fact make all sorts of bizarre, stupid and abhorrent statements. As Sam Harris said so well, these “Moderates” are simply apostates who have decided that their holy books don’t actually mean some of things which they clearly DO.Whatever their other failings, the Extremists are not simply making things up. The Moderates know this but cannot acknowledge it for fear of cutting off the branch they are sitting on. (Thanks, CS Lewis.)By setting the conflict in terms of Moderation vs Extremism, the harsh light of scrutiny is moved from the Bible itself to the behavior of (certain among) its adherents.Presto! The cake can now be both eaten and possessed.

  10. 10
    Kazim

    Ugh. It’s bad enough to have that crackpot David Mabus constantly writing email spam that has nothing to do with me, I won’t allow him to infest this blog too. COMMENT DELETED.

  11. 11
    Dwight

    Sam Harris’ reading of scripture is rather dubious, but he and other posters here assume Christianity=Bible. But there’s a 2000 year tradition to draw from, some of it helpful, some of it not. But it’s bigger than the Bible. The Bible is not the object of worship, presumably the God of Jesus as expressed in this tradition, scripture and beyond scripture is.

  12. 12
    tracieh

    Dwight:>The Bible is not the object of worship, presumably the God of Jesus as expressed in this tradition, scripture and beyond scripture is.To fundamentalist Christians, the Bible is the only legitimate source of information about god. My post regards fundamentalist Christians. The god they worship is wholly a product of the Bible.>I don't think it's a question of whether liberals are willing to stand up to the right.I said in the post that I applaud those few who are willing to call their fundamentalist brethren wrong. But in the case you offered, it's less about moderate vs. fundamentalist and more about an internal doctrinal dispute of the Episcopalians. But even if you use that as a moderate/fundie divide–I did credit such individuals. I didn't disregard them. I simply suggest, and hold to this suggestion–that most moderate Christians don't take a public stand in any way against fundamentalism. They may express it privately–but they act as though the fundies are not really a force to be reckoned with, only a lunatic fringe. And anyone who studies U.S. politics for more than a few weeks will begin to see this is so.

  13. 13
    cipher

    Dwight, I’m tired of religious liberals and moderates telling us that fundamentalism/Bibliolatry does not equal Christianity. Fundamentalism as a movement may be barely 100 years old, but what today’s fundamentalists believe – substitutionary atonement, salvific exclusivism, eternal damnation – is what most Christians have believed for most of the past 2,000 years. I certainly prefer liberal Christians – but, like it or not, the fundies have more legitimate claim to the franchise.And, frankly, I’m tired of the laissez faire attitude as well. If you guys were out there in the streets, publicly denouncing them, you’d have a lot more credibility in my eyes.

  14. 14
    ls

    Well, the important feature to note here is that Chistianity = the Bible when it’s convenient. The appeal to “tradition”, “interpretation” and whatever is “beyond scripture”, and deemphasizing the Bible is merely a convenience also.This is the main critique of the moderate position as I see it. It’s little more than selective adherence to the most politically/socially acceptable folklore at a particular time and place (or what’s most suitable for a particular goal).Dawkins talks a lot about the shifting “zeitgeist” as an account of changing “traditions” even tho they’re based on static dogma like the Bible.The key thing to note is that Christianity changes but the Bible doesn’t. This is inconsistent with the notion that the Bible is the revealed word of god and that the moderate position is little more than cherry-picking from the Bible or “tradition” according to the prevailing need.However, my personal opinion is that the moderate position is a good development. It’s people acting rationally based on their own moral principles and denying the hard-coded nonsense of their religion. Cherry-picking the good out of the huge sea of bad and ignoring the edicts of the Bible is a good thing.It’s the proper functioning of the rational mind and the sense of self-preservation, IMO.LS

  15. 15
    tracieh

    Eric:>For the most part, the adverse effects of religion, which I touched on in my Introduction, are the result of fundamentalism. Most moderate (and liberal) believers would agree that fundamentalism is a bad thing, but by failing to discus religion in an open and honest way, moderates shelter fundamentalists from any serious intellectual challenge and give them relatively free reign.This from your blog. I couldn't agree more. My friend I describe in my post will not discuss his belief and says outright that he feels no need to defend it to anyone or discuss it with anyone. He also admits his reason is that it would be foolhardy for him to do so, since he cannot offer any evidence to support his beliefs that would convince anyone else.One has to wonder then how he has been convinced by this same ineffectual "evidence" or "reason"?I had a friend who was open to discussing her views. I was amazed and told her that it was a rare find to come across a rational person willing to delve into their moderate religious beliefs. When I asked some particularly probing questions, she told me she'd have to give some thought to it and would write back once she'd given it proper consideration. I found this to be quite exceptional and commendable. I've heard back from her since on mundane subjects, but after more than a year, my religious e-mail remains unanswered.

  16. 16
    Dwight

    A few thoughtsMany of us are in the streets and in the public arena. Not enough folks of course. But couldn’t that be said of most atheists, most liberals, most anyone? Most of the work are done by a few folks. Look at evolution sunday. Over 1000 congregations involved in making a stand for evolution. My own experience in organizing a religious coalition for reproductive choice on our campus, or our campus ministry organizing with the GLBT student group and the local Pagans a Day of Silence dinner. We’re out there. We may not get the attention the religious right does. And I don’t doubt that they have more numbers but if the media blacks out liberal religious voices, that says as much about the media and it’s narratives that it’s invested in as anything else.Any protestant group’s use of scripture will have some continuity and discontinuity with the church tradition. Yes liberal protestants for instance would have been heretics burned at the sake 1000 years ago. Um, so would evangelical protestants. I don’t think either has a more valid case to make, except for the good test Augustine gives us; does our reading of scripture and the tradition increase love of God and love of neighbor?And if folks have questions for liberal christians (presumably like atheists we all vary a bit) I think there are folks, including myself, who are willing to give it a stab. But I agree with the basic premise; all of us, liberal religious folks, atheists, other folks need to be more involved, more reflective, more willing to stand up for human rights, science, equality and the like.

  17. 17
    cipher

    I’m not saying you aren’t involved in social activism. Jim Wallis has done more for the poor and disadvantaged than I ever will.What I am saying is that his rhetoric would have more weight with me if he were also out there saying, “Pat Robertson is fucking psychotic”.But he won’t – because, ultimately, he hopes to bring Pat to the table. And, when he does, Pat will try to undermine what little progress Jim and his cohorts have managed to make. Because they have a divine mandate. Because God told them so.You guys are always glancing backward over your collective shoulder at the fundies. You want their approval – or at the very least, you refuse to criticize them publicly, as you consider them to be your “brothers and sisters in Christ”.The friend of my enemy is my enemy, Dwight. It isn’t pretty, but that’s the way life works.

  18. 18
    ls

    Re: Eric's comments:>For the most part, the adverse effects of religion, which I touched on in my Introduction, are the result of fundamentalism. Most moderate (and liberal) believers would agree that fundamentalism is a bad thing, but by failing to discus religion in an open and honest way, moderates shelter fundamentalists from any serious intellectual challenge and give them relatively free reign.<This is certainly true, but isn't a moderate position more reasonable than a fundie one?What I'm suggesting is this moderation is a symptom of the intrusion of reason into what was formerly a completely unreasonable one. It's the initial resurrection (as it were) of the proper functioning of the mind in the religious.Think about it: The fundie position admits absolutely no question or thought about the dogma – it has to be blindly obeyed no matter how awful it may be to anyone's sensibilities including one's own. If it ain't in the Bible, it oughta be illegal and the infidels executed!The moderate position, OTOH, _does_ exhibit the beginnings of the application of reason to Xian dogma in the Bible. They actually read Leviticus and go "hmm… that really is some awful shit, I'm not going follow that". Instead they go read the touchy-feely stuff like the Sermon on the Mount and so forth and don't perpetrate the horror in the rest of the book.To my mind, this is by itself a huge advance away from the medieval brutality of the fundie Christian mind towards a more reasonable position. In fact, this appearance of a cognitive dissonance in the minds of the religious at least opens the door to convincing them further away from it (or at least allowing us who don't believe it more social/political freedom).I agree that it offers shelter to the fundies, but I also think it's a great advance over what we could have – being surrounded by ONLY Pat Robertson style fundamentalists.They might even be convinced at some point that the 700 club shouldn't be allowed to run the govt. as a matter of principle rather than merely a matter of tolerance.And etc….So personally, I see this as a good thing. At least, I'm cherry-picking the good from all this ;).LS

  19. 19
    Dwight

    I think Spong qualifies for using harsh rhetoric against fundamentalism. Admittedly I think it has limited value. I certainly have and will continue to confront a certain set of politics but presumably we’d want to recognize the humanity of the folks we’d disagree with. I assume many atheists and liberal religious folks can find agreement on things like the separation of church and state, glbt rights, the importance of science. To try to sever that over religion doesn’t make sense to me, or is less ecumenical then your average fundamentalist who is willing to find other conservative religionists for their cause. Presumably in all this though I’m out to make a difference on certain issues, I’m not out to make enemies. They may be made, that is a cost but it’s not something to be celebrated. As Nietzsche suggests (bad bad paraphrase); be wary of the monsters you fight, you may become that monster.

  20. 20
    cipher

    I certainly have and will continue to confront a certain set of politics but presumably we’d want to recognize the humanity of the folks we’d disagree with.They think they’re going to get to stand on a mezzanine in heaven watching in glee while God roasts us alive for all of eternity. They actually believe this, and look forward to it with great eagerness.You recognize their “humanity”.

  21. 21
    Dwight

    I don’t think that describes all evangelicals. I don’t doubt there are some sick and twisted folks out there. But as I note, I’m standing up to a set of politics, or beliefs that marginalize others. But I still recognize their humanity. I take this as a Christian moral obligation and a humanist moral obligation, one recognized by everyone from the stoics to MLK. If their humanity was subject to having “right beliefs” and right practices, we’d be in a world of hurt and no better than our protagonists.

  22. 22
    cipher

    The VAST majority of them (despite what Christine Wicker believes) still believe we’ll be cast into the “outer darkness” where we’ll wail and gnash our teeth – and they aren’t terribly broken up over it. They may not have the stomach for physical torture – but the sentiment is the same.You want to think well of them. You want to believe that Christianity, even in its regressive forms, produces loving, caring, morally-responsible beings most of the time.No.

  23. 23
    Dwight

    I’m not endorsing their religious beliefs. It may be that folks are better than their beliefs. I won’t say that their beliefs make them better (in fact it may make them worse). All I’m saying is that by virtue of being human, all people deserve some level of regard. As someone who is gay and has received plenty of hate from many in the religious right, the principle of regard for the person qua their personhood becomes all the more important to me.

  24. 24
    cipher

    Well, you’re still young (I assume). As I said above – this is a war, Dwight. They are correct about that. Eventually, you’ll have to make some hard decisions. Fortunately, today is not that day.In the meantime, you’re a better man than I.

  25. 25
    ls

    >All I'm saying is that by virtue of being human, all people deserve some level of regard. As someone who is gay and has received plenty of hate from many in the religious right, the principle of regard for the person qua their personhood becomes all the more important to me.<This is actually kind of supporting my point: This is NOT a Christian position, it's something else, a kind of mish-mash hybrid of Xian dogma mixed with personal interpretation. The Christian position on homosexuality and individual liberty vs. the edicts of Christian dogma are, as we all know, pretty clear – among many other things, it certainly doesn't admit alternating interpretations like this one.As for MLK, et. al, they did NOT adhere to the core principles of the religion to which they aligned themselves and we can all be very, very happy that that was the case. You are also, apparently from your comments, being guided not by the moral edicts of your religion, but by your own. I don't necessarily mean to be condescending (I suppose I'm obligated to be, tho, because I'm so opposed to the hate and violence of Xian theology), but I take this to be the (possibly unwanted) intrusion of reason into your mind regarding what your religion tells you is the case.You're assuming a moderate position: acting and thinking _independently_ of the edicts of your religion and following your own moral/ethical/socio-political principles.Again, I take this as a good thing. As Matt D. once told a similar xian on the show – you're better than your religion and that's good!I grant that moderation masks the true evil of fundamentalism; I also am not endorsing any of the xian beliefs here. I'm concentrating on your apparent chafing against the beliefs you hold dear. This is a good thing. This is also how minds and cultures change – they don't overhaul themselves overnight upon the realization of mass inconsistencies.Change starts off as a kind of splinter in one's mind concerning a belief here and there, and eventually grows into something gangrenous (according to the measure of the evil or inconsistency of the belief system). Eventually it can't be ignored anymore and then change begins.So again, I have an alternate perspective here of the moderate position (as is my right as an atheist hah!). I of grant that it tacitly endorses fundamentalism, but I think as a practical matter, it can/will lead to better consequences. I think it's beginning of the unshackling of the mind from religion.LS

  26. 26
    Dwight

    LSI’d take it as a core Augustine’s dictum in his work On Christian Doctrine and Jesus in the Gospels who says that the sum of the law is love of neighbor and love of God. In that I think I’m pulling something more significant than the religious right is from the tradition. :)

  27. 27
    Dwight

    “following your own moral/ethical/socio-political principles.”And where does this come from except from the Christian and western traditions that inform me and shape my history and sense of things?

  28. 28
    ls

    >And where does this come from except from the Christian and western traditions that inform me and shape my history and sense of things?<That, my friend, is _exactly_ the right question (except for the "except" part ;)).I leave it to you as an exercise to come up with the answer.Hints: – read the Bible, but all of it – OT and NT. Don't leave out Leviticus, Paul, etc. Take- study non-xian traditions and religions, I'd also recommend some reading up on atheist thought as well.Again, don't mean to be condescending, but you're well on your way now….LS

  29. 29
    Dwight

    So in other words I should take Paul’s advice when he says”whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”It’s a lifetime of work really but worth it imho.

  30. 30
    ls

    Ah, but remember you also have to take Rom 1.18-32 along with because it’s also in Paul’s letters. I.e.”And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.”Is that worth a “lifetime of work”?You don’t have to answer out loud – you _should_ tho, really ask yourself what this contradiction means to you and how _you_ really feel about it.Just because it’s in the Bible doesn’t mean it’s right!LS

  31. 31
    Dwight

    LSAristotle says that you can’t be friends with women. And yet when I teach Intro to Ethics I always assign Aristotle’s Ethics. Mainly because there is a very helpful system of thought in there. Despite the limits within it. My recognition of the value of Aristotle wouldn’t mean I’d endorse every idea. Same with Paul. I find Paul to be hugely important in thinking about the meaning of Christian faith. But he also says lousy things. To claim a tradition is like claiming a family, you get the good stuff and the warts too. But I don’t think there’s a way to avoid that, a tradition to escape such dilemmas.

  32. 32
    ls

    >Same with Paul. I find Paul to be hugely important in thinking about the meaning of Christian faith. But he also says lousy things. To claim a tradition is like claiming a family, you get the good stuff and the warts too. But I don't think there's a way to avoid that, a tradition to escape such dilemmas.<I submit you're answering your original question (where do my moral/ethical/etc. standards come from….) yourself right here.In your own words, some of Paul is "good stuff" and some of it is "lousy". Think about it: where is that judgment coming from? (Hint: certainly not from the Bible – it's all the same status in there!)LS

  33. 33
    Guillaume

    @cipher:”It has always been this way with the Catholic church, especially since John Paul II – when it leans, it invariably leans to the right.”I very well know that, heck, I grew up in a Catholic society, I saw how reactionary the Church gets and I don’t expect them to change their mind on abortion, homosexuality, feminism or actually any moral issue you can get. I do, however, find it apalling that when something such as evolution is now recognised by the Church, some of its members deny it. At this point, they have not the shadow of an excuse. But yes, they wouldn’t do this if moderates as well as religious authorities were not tacitly letting them be. “I certainly prefer liberal Christians – but, like it or not, the fundies have more legitimate claim to the franchise.”I would disagree with that. Fundies have no more legitimate claim to the interpretation of the Bible than moderate Christians or indeed atheists. As a literary text, the Bible is subject to interpretation that cannot be falsifiable. The problem with fundies is that they think they have legitimacy over a text. They have none: it belongs to anyone who can read it. Then the value of the literary interpretation will depend on how well analaysed the text is and how well defended the interpretation has been, not on how much faith you put on the actual veracity of a text (which is irrelevant and can be evaluated objectively with different approaches). But there is no absolute notion of falsibiability in literature, unlike science (and to some extend history).

  34. 34
    Dwight

    It is from the Bible. Sometimes even from Paul himself. Also other Christian sources(Augustine, Calvin, Schleiermacher, etc), the western philosophic tradition in general, the norms and mores growing up a liberal democracy, etc.

  35. 35
    Dwight

    But the Bible is not a unitary voice. And often I find authors and stories that go counter to another tradition in the Bible (Job against the Proverbs, Ruth vs Nehemiah, etc) That’s what makes the text so rich in the first place. So disagreeing with a biblical author does not necessarily mean that the disagreement is not rooted in the Bible itself.

  36. 36
    ls

    >But the Bible is not a unitary voice. And often I find authors and stories that go counter to another tradition in the Bible (Job against the Proverbs, Ruth vs Nehemiah, etc) That's what makes the text so rich in the first place. So disagreeing with a biblical author does not necessarily mean that the disagreement is not rooted in the Bible itself.<Rich is not the best adjective to use here – contradictory is a much better term.Speaking of disagreement (namely yours with the Bible), where in the Bible does it codify the judgment you've made about the "lousy" parts of Paul and the "good stuff" in Paul? Could you cite it? And does it jive with your delineations of "lousy" and "good stuff"? Why or why not?LS

  37. 37
    John Stabler

    Some of you may disagree with my personal view which is:Moderates are possibly worse than fundies. Not only have they lost the logical skills to realise that it is all nonsense, they can’t even stomach the nonsense which their beliefs are based on.If the fundies want to believe the bible and then tell me that my friend’s homosexuality is wrong then I can understand that warped logic more than the arbitrary morals of the moderates.The moderates are still resisting things like equal rights for homosexuals and stem-cell research, yet they seem to have lost their appetite for stoning their unruly teenagers. This cherry picking still acts as a brake to social and scientific progression.Let us not lose sight of the fact (and I know some people will not like me saying this) that theists of all strengths are intellectually challenged. Anybody who has to seek guidance from such narrow points of reference (bible, church) when developing morals and opinions, instead of invoking their own reasoning skills loses all respect in my eyes.If you don’t like my point of view, I’d love to know why.

  38. 38
    Dwight

    LsWhen I look at Paul’s understanding of love in 1 Corinthians and know glbt relations marked by this, when they give indication of “the fruits of the spirit” this to me provides a corrective against positions used against all glbt folks. But in the broader sense, my sense of things as indicated come from a broad range of resources within Christianity, the western tradition, and forms of moral reasoning that we probably share.Angry AtheistI think your position is ahistorical, to cut us off from whatever may be worthwhile in the bible because you find deficiencies in it. In which case, there is no tradition, including the new atheism which is safe. I still enjoy Hitchens even as he supported the war in Iraq. I did not support it. But that doesn’t mean I toss aside his work. I think a lot more charity is required of us in terms of how we engage traditions and the resources we have, historical and current. Otherwise what we call “reason” could be whatever prejudices and ideas pop into our head, instead of being corrected and modified by a wider range of people, history, experiences, etc.

  39. 39
    ls

    >But in the broader sense, my sense of things as indicated come from a broad range of resources within Christianity, the western tradition, and forms of moral reasoning that we probably share.<And how do you distinguish the good stuff from the lousy here? I have no doubt that you do but I'm looking for specifically what you're appealing to to make such judgements.It sounds like you've ruled out the Bible as a source at this point which should be very troubling omission to have to make. Unless you can provide the citation I asked for a moment ago (i.e. the Biblical source for your judgment about what parts of Paul's writings are "lousy" and which are "good stuff")?LS

  40. 40
    John Stabler

    Dwight,A couple of things I picked up on:“whatever may be worthwhile in the bible”If there is anything worthwhile in the bible it can be reached with common sense and reason. Cherry-picking depending on what your pastor or peers says is dangerous in it’s arbitrary approach.“I think a lot more charity is required of us in terms of how we engage traditions and the resources we have”I treat all tradition with scepticism. It is usually taught because it benefits one group over another.Reason doesn’t pop into my head. Reason is a continuing process of evidence gathering and theorising. I know this because I do it all the time. I don’t need a book to stop random thoughts becoming what I consider truth.A book that can give me evidence and information is helpful to me in my lifelong-theorising if the book can be revised when errors are discovered or even thrown out if the basic premise is found to be false. A holy text is not one of these books.

  41. 41
    Dwight

    I’d include the Bible as part of the Christian tradition. And to engage the scripture in this case is not something done to shortcircuit the process of moral reasoning. It’s instead engaging more voices in helping shape that reasoning. There’s no shortcut to be had by a proof text. But when I look at Paul’s description of love and the fruits of the spirit in Romans and 1 Corinthians, I think we have something meaty there. But just as in a philosophy class, there is no passage to look up the right answer. It’s a culmutative process of trying to engage some of the best minds and coming to a judgment in light of this.

  42. 42
    Dwight

    Angry AtheistTo consider what counts for evidence, certainly theorising suggests some level of interpetative play and it presumes a community in which you are engaged in doing such. In that, we’re not so much in a different boat. I’ve included to stand in and engage a different tradition then yourself. And yes correction is needed, whether its in engaging scriptures or anything else. And that’s a benefit to having a liberal approach to religion, the possibility for correction.

  43. 43
    Dwight

    To continue..reason becomes informed, doesn’t exist in isolation from a community and a history. So to argue against my reading of the Bible because I’m shortcircuiting reason doesn’t make sense to me.

  44. 44
    John Stabler

    “To consider what counts for evidence, certainly theorising suggests some level of interpetative play and it presumes a community in which you are engaged in doing such.”Real world evidence I can evaluate for myself.“And yes correction is needed, whether its in engaging scriptures or anything else. And that’s a benefit to having a liberal approach to religion, the possibility for correction.”Reinterpreting is not correcting. The fundies still have their hate manual. The moderates are just hypocrites.Reason exists in communities and not in communities. It is different though because how could you reason about matters of community if you do not know what a community is.

  45. 45
    ls

    >I'd include the Bible as part of the Christian tradition. And to engage the scripture in this case is not something done to shortcircuit the process of moral reasoning. It's instead engaging more voices in helping shape that reasoning. <I would argue that this is NOT a Christian position by any stretch of its theology (tho I do understand that when it comes to who's a True Christian literally anything goes).Putting the Bible on par with other "voices" in terms of its veracity as the revealed word of god or its authority as the one true codification of Christian (or indeed all) morality is not an acceptable doctrine in any variant of Christianity that I"m familiar with. Or if it is accepted, it's with a tremendous level of tolerance and restraint.Putting that aside, tho, how did this come about (the sidelining of the Bible as the one true authority in Christianity)?Putting it another way, Christians (and indeed anyone) used to be burned at the stake for saying what you just did. What changed, and more importantly, how and why?>There's no shortcut to be had by a proof text.<why not? I"m sure you get asked that all the time – why is all the "interpretation" necessary?>But just as in a philosophy class, there is no passage to look up the right answer. It's a culmutative process of trying to engage some of the best minds and coming to a judgment in light of this.<I think you're on to something here, but I'm sure you know where I"m going with that. Since there is "no passage to look up the right answer", what does that tell you about the veracity of that source? Think about why you have to consult other sources and what those are. Also, think about the inadequacy of the extant ones central to Christianity, like the Bible. Why the need to verify the Bible's contents elsewhere?LS

  46. 46
    Hambydammit

    Great article. As someone has already mentioned, I’m totally on board with you on this. I’ve written several articles with the intention of exposing the religious middle as exactly what they are — slightly less wacky than fundamentalists.Let’s be clear on this. When we allow faith as a virtue, or worse, as a legitimate way to gain knowledge, we prevent ourselves from ever having a legitimate leg to stand on when we criticize anyone at all. Far from promoting “real family values,” or “real morality,” or anything else concrete, giving any lip service at all to religion simply creates an impossible muddle of “revelation” through which we can never hope to wade. The “moderates” are simply applying their own slightly more rational views of the universe to the exact same formula — there are some things that are true despite all evidence to the contrary, and faith is the way to know what is true and what is not.

  47. 47
    Dwight

    Angry AtheistSo there is no common or shared criteria in what counts for evidence? If there is, where do you get it from? And why are moderates hypocrites again? Presumably that means I’m acting against what I say my ideal or belief is. If so, where is that happening?LSI’d argue that liberal Protestantism (which has been around for a number of centuries) is committed(certainly my seminary is) to a method of engaging the Bible and the tradition apart from proof texting. I’d get in trouble if I just wrote a paper for class pointing to a verse as if my work was done, as opposed to have just begun. Why the interpetative work? It’s required of any discipline, engaging in any text. Why engage other authors, sources, etc. Because otherwise whatever strikes me as good (however good or badly informed) is in no position to be corrected. It presumes a wider world that should check, modify our conclusions. The point is to engage that wider world. Which is why I’m not keen on tossing out the Bible. The Bible’s story is central in Christian faith. But outside of a few fundamentalist sects it has never been the only source. And it’s been a source read in light of the wider community. Augustine describes this process, of study with the good bishop of Milan, Ambrose, as central to making sense of scripture.Christianity, like other communities, don’t do a good job with dissent. Partly the relativization of the tradition in the enlightenment and the explosion of religious diversity has done a lot to modify that. But the first came out of the soils of Christian europe (blood drenched as they may have been). But that too should tell us about Christianity, that such traditions of dissent and toleration found root there. And my protestantism, comes out of that tradition. And impressed by what has been gained by the sciences, the enlightenment (as well as noting the limitations), it’s helped shape how I’ve taken up Christian faith. So how I’ve engaged the Bible is not that unique. It’s different from fundamentalism but that’s all. It has it’s own roots, history as well in the british enlightenment, german pietism, the anabaptist tradition, some Calvin as well (most liberal protestants have a similar history).

  48. 48
    ls

    And my protestantism, comes out of that tradition. And impressed by what has been gained by the sciences, the enlightenment (as >well as noting the limitations), it's helped shape how I've taken up Christian faith. So how I've engaged the Bible is not that unique. It's different from fundamentalism but that's all.<No, your position is VERY different from the fundamentalist one. You:- consult, as a matter of _principle_ and not merely _tolerance_, other sources than the Bible for your moral (and other) positions.- accept and are guided by (for all practical purposes) extra-religious and even secular sources in that inquiry, such as history, "tradition", the writings of other human beings than the Bible, and most importantly your own sense of right and wrong.- even accept the principles of science as an authoritative source of information about your world.- place the Bible on par with these other sources.If that's truly a Christian world view only mildly different from the fundamentalist one, I'm a flying pig.Again, I think you make my point for me. You arrive at your conclusions about the world and your moral code _elsewhere_ than from the Bible. It just so happens the Bible contains a few codes that are congruent, but that by no means establishes the Bible (or Christian doctrine) as the source of your morality.Finally, everything that you've said strikes me as perfectly reasonable. You CAN tell the evil from the good in your religion and holy book _despite_ its contents rather than because of it.This is why I personally think a moderate position isn't the hindrance that we might be making it out to be. Instead, I think it's the unshackling of the intellect from the chains of the medieval Christian barbarism of the Bible and its awful, horrible churches. It's a restoration of the proper functioning of the intellect (or beginning of it anyway).And you are one of the best examples of this I've read in recent times.That's my view anyway,LS

  49. 49
    TheBrainFromPlanetArous

    Dwight wrote:”Christianity, like other communities, don’t do a good job with dissent.”The calcification of thought and enforcement of groupthink are indeed human problems, but the Abrahamic religions add something to the mix: the idea that dissent is not merely wrong in the factual or logical sense, but in service (if unwittingly so) to the Forces Of Evil.”Partly the relativization of the tradition in the enlightenment and the explosion of religious diversity has done a lot to modify that.”You mean the explosion of historical and critical inquiry which came to be focused on Christian texts, beliefs and practices… after the power to suppress such questioning was ripped from the hands of the clerics? “But the first came out of the soils of Christian europe (blood drenched as they may have been). But that too should tell us about Christianity, that such traditions of dissent and toleration found root there.”Again, they found root only after the True Believers lost the ability to tear them up and salt the earth they grew from – not to mention torturing and killing any gardeners who allowed them to be planted in the first place.The rediscovery of classical learning and philosophy and the great continental Humanist movement of the 14-15th centuries had far more to do with the ascension of modern religious tolerance than any innate characteristic of Christianity.Indeed, the Protestant Reformation was as much a reaction against the more cosmopolitan vision of Humanism as to the hideous corruption of the Catholic Church.The plain record of history is one of significant victories for individual freedom of thought, conscience and expression being won against the determined opposition of ecclesiastical authorities and “people of faith.”So now, after several centuries of such progress, we should give Christianity an ‘attaboy’ for its tolerance? No.The exact OPPOSITE is true; the so-called Moderate Christians should thank secularists, scientists, empiricists, humanists, etc. for rescuing THEM from the intellectual, ethical and doctrinal cul-de-sacs into which dogma had led their predecessors.You don’t get the Gravity Award for falling on your ass.

  50. 50
    Dwight

    BrainI don’t take it as a boast or a condemnation, only that the strict division between Christianity and the enlightenment and modernity that someone the right and left hold isn’t tenable. And as a protestant I claim that heritage as much as someone like yourself does. And that heritage is not unambiguous but it’s brought forth something worth chershing. As for the humanism of the 16th and 17h century, again Luther might not have much to relate to such a movement but John Calvin was in the thick of it, gave us some of the earlier translations of Seneca (and his study of the classics are apparent in his Institutes). Zwingli and Melcathon studied Plato and took some significant ideas from him.But more often then not it was Christians getting killed by other Christians that echoed the need for toleration, such as the Mennonites, Quakers, and the like. In the end given this heritage isn’t the point to work together to defend those values worth cherishing from that experience? Instead, I’m being told that I’m the enemy because I still consider myself a Christian. I don’t have an interest in moving you from your atheism but some atheists are rather evangelical in regards to my position.LSI’d take original sin as developed in Augustine with seeds in Paul to be unique and something I’d hold to (not the mythic language but the idea of what’s wrong with us as constitutive of our world and being human). That’s different then other systems of thought. But yes I hope that some ideas come from a range of sources (that’s how the Bible came to be). To understand Paul’s moral sensibility I think means knowing something about Stoicism, for instance. So creating clear lines of the Bible against it’s wider context is not easily done.

  51. 51
    ls

    >I'd take original sin as developed in Augustine with seeds in Paul to be unique and something I'd hold to (not the mythic language but the idea of what's wrong with us as constitutive of our world and being human). That's different then other systems of thought.<I'd be willing to bet that, if pressed, you'd ultimately buck the idea of original sin as well. I havn't met a Christian yet that really believes it strongly enough to truly act upon it against themselves or others (most still have sex with one another for example and enjoy it too). Your qualifier above already betrays some doubt about it in you too. >But yes I hope that some ideas come from a range of sources (that's how the Bible came to be). To understand Paul's moral sensibility I think means knowing something about Stoicism, for instance. So creating clear lines of the Bible against it's wider context is not easily done.<Spoken like a true moderate. A widening of one's reliance on investigation (with a concomitant contraction in reliance on revelation) as a means of discovering the world around us is definitely NOT doctrinal Christianity. I believe that can even be amply confirmed in the Bible. Instead, it's a step off the road to heaven and onto the path of reason.Again, as I've stated before, this is a good thing. In fact, some of us abandon heaven altogether and become completely free of it. It's the logical last step to freedom ;)LS

  52. 52
    Dwight

    I think maybe a wider sense of Christianity is needed. Everything I’ve said could have and have been said by any number of theologians, assumed by any number of denominations over the centuries. I won’t say it’s a dominant trend, but it’s a live one that has shaped and contributed to the religion in some small measure. A life of “reason” and “heaven” need not be juxtaposed.

  53. 53
    cipher

    Dwight, let me try a different tack. If God exists, is of a personal nature and wants desperately to have a relationship with each of us (I’ll leave out salvific considerations, as that doesn’t appear to be what motivates you – to your credit) – why don’t we believe? Why doesn’t God introduce himself to each of us in a way in which he or she can understand?I myself spent decades exploring the world’s faith traditions. Every one of the theistic traditions has some way of saying, “For every small step you take toward God, he’ll take a giant step toward you.” That wasn’t my experience. Frankly, I think it’s one of the greatest lies in history. It’s a greater lie than “the check is in the mail”.We aren’t all closed to the possibility of God’s existence, and those of us who are weren’t always that way. I wasn’t even always the vindictive asshole I am now! I was actually a very sweet child; the fundies made me evil!(And, for the record, I would like to reiterate: Biblical interpretation aside, what today’s fundamentalists believe is what most Christians have believed for most of the past two millennia – so, yes, I do still feel they have the right to claim the franchise. Liberal Protestantism came along a scant century and a half ago and tried to change the rules in mid-game. I happen to prefer your rules – but that doesn’t mean your predecessors had the right to change them and still call it “Christianity”.)

  54. 54
    Dwight

    CipherI think Catholics and the Orthodox might have some point along the lines you suggest, but I don’t think any Protestants including fundamentalists could claim ownership of the franchise. The moment you become a protestant, it’s kind of hard to do that (being a protest against the church and all). As for belief in God. I think the way the term God has been used and described became unintelligible with the advances in the sciences, when the all too human sources of scriptures became clear, etc. I don’t take that to mean that God does not relate to all of us (in him we move and have our being) but it does mean that our language to describe such a saving reality has been inadequate. And maybe too sullied to be recovered. I’m hoping not, but everyone’s estimating of that question will be different.

  55. 55
    ls

    >I think maybe a wider sense of Christianity is needed. Everything I've said could have and have been said by any number of theologians, assumed by any number of denominations over the centuries.<Well… there already is a wider viewpoint available of Christianity – atheism ;)In fact, I'd assert that it's the best POV obtainable for critical analysis of Christian doctrine and beliefs. It is so precisely because it maintains full skepticism of Christianity's core claims and is therefore under no obligation to obey or accept any of it.We don't have to battle the endless conundra of this theologian disagreeing with that theologian or all the churches fighting each other and trying to decide which one really has the correct scoop on whether we fry in hell or not, etc.We're skeptical of them all, so we have an objectivity that's simply not available from within them. We're completely free to look for the truth behind it all and only the truth ;). >I won't say it's a dominant trend, but it's a live one that has shaped and contributed to the religion in some small measure. A life of "reason" and "heaven" need not be juxtaposed.<They _can't_ be juxtaposed – their missions are entirely at odds with each other. Reason is the business of investigation, but heaven is only concerned with, and available through, revelation.This is the central point of the entire history of the struggle between science and religion. They involve mutually completely incompatible and irreconcilable goals.The difference is, one side can back up its position on the Truth with evidence and the other cannot. Religion may have a lock on revelation, but that's about all it's got.PS I do have to grant the Catholics the best music of the bunch….LS

  56. 56
    cipher

    Dwight, are you trying to say you don’t believe that God is of a personal nature – that he is an impersonal, or transpersonal, absolute?Because I will deny vigorously that that is what was meant by the authors of the Bible, in every generation. In other words – it ain’t Christianity.

  57. 57
    ls

    >As for belief in God. I think the way the term God has been used and described became unintelligible with the advances in the sciences, when the all too human sources of scriptures became clear, etc. I don't take that to mean that God does not relate to all of us (in him we move and have our being) but it does mean that our language to describe such a saving reality has been inadequate. And maybe too sullied to be recovered. I'm hoping not, but everyone's estimating of that question will be different.<My take is, a more humble approach is to consider the possibility that we (rhetorical "we" here, meaning believers) simply got it wrong – we believe in something that simply doesn't exist and the belief arose for reasons _other_ than that god exists.The circumstantial evidence for this possibility far outweighs the support for any of the other positions that try to explain the profoundness, hiddeness and utterly recalcitrant inaccessibility of the god, its heaven, hell, devils and angels and on and on.That explanation seems to be the best fit with the data (which is none). The rest that exclude this possibility devolve into Rube Goldbergian explanations even in their simplest forms. But skepticism that it exists at all seems to work the best and suffers the least.LS

  58. 58
    Dwight

    LSI don’t think atheism gives you objectivity. It’s still a standing point, just like where I’m at as a Christian. There isn’t a neutral place to be, to survey everything in “objectivity”. There’s just us, our histories, our context. We’re in the same boat in that regard. And yes theologians argue about. So do philosophers, so did E.O Wilson versus Stephen Jay Gould, I can’t imagine a field where there isn’t that vigorous debate. I don’t think much could be gotten out of it, if it wasn’t. If as the scriptures say, the truth will make you free, then it does no good for Christians or anyone else to block inquiry, to block the sources we rely on, to say no to critical reflection of any kind. That’s an insight to be had which ought to be common to all of us.CipherI was quoting Paul actually. There are theologians from Anselm to Tillich who say God is not personal. Obviously God is quite a personal in the Bible. For myself, I think the term is an odd thing when trying to apply it to God. I do think we meet God in other persons (thus the incarnation?) but I wouldn’t want to say much beyond that.

  59. 59
    cipher

    I don’t recall Anselm saying that God is impersonal – and I’m skeptical of that – but I’m not all that familiar with his thought (other than that he was a mean-spirited bastard who consolidated the concept of substitutionary atonement and made it part and parcel of Christian orthodoxy).In any case, what I perceive you as doing is cobbling together your own belief system, based loosely on Pauline Christology – and calling it Christianity. Which is, as some of the others here keep saying, what liberal “Christians” do.That’s it for me; I’m out. I’m not interested in arguing about this any longer. Call it whatever you like.

  60. 60
    Dwight

    I think we’re all trying to cobble together something.

  61. 61
    ls

    >I don't think atheism gives you objectivity. It's still a standing point, just like where I'm at as a Christian. There isn't a neutral place to be, to survey everything in "objectivity". There's just us, our histories, our context. We're in the same boat in that regard.<Actually, no, that's a bit of propaganda – we're actually not in the same boat. You, as a Christian, have a vested interest in Christianity and everything it involves – the beliefs and doctrines bind you to accept them whether they turn out to be true or not, no matter how ridiculous.Used to be you were under penalty of death if you didn't do so, and even today there are definite penalties if you reject Christian teachings.You're also obligated to reject the beliefs and doctrines of other religions, particularly when they conflict with your own. And you have to justify those conflicts and why you reject them.The atheist position has no vested interest in the success or failure of any system of theology. We're free to doubt the entire thing and continue to do so until supporting evidence is provided by a plaintiff.Until then, we're under no obligation to the religion, its god or its followers.That's a big difference.>And yes theologians argue about. So do philosophers, so did E.O Wilson versus Stephen Jay Gould, I can't imagine a field where there isn't that vigorous debate. I don't think much could be gotten out of it, if it wasn't.<Again, this is a VERY non-Christian viewpoint – an attitude of debate, consideration of alternate viewpoints (particularly any that may be in evidence) and etc. is as close to heresy as you can get in every version of Christianity I've ever come into contact with.No such thing as any Christian sect that just loves to embrace anything contradictory – such things are virtually always only tolerated with much restraint either because of changes in the prevailing Zeitgeist or the simple use of force (i.e. the Bill of Rights in the US).Again, I don't doubt that your personal allegiance to alternate considerations, but I most definitely do think they go against the religion you've also aligned yourself with.>If as the scriptures say, the truth will make you free, then it does no good for Christians or anyone else to block inquiry, to block the sources we rely on, to say no to critical reflection of any kind. That's an insight to be had which ought to be common to all of us.<Much has already been said in response to variants of statements like these. The one thing I'd pick out is that belief – the acceptance as true of something merely held in the mind and not in evidence – by definition certainly _does_ block inquiry into the unknown. Specifically because it asserts that there _is_ no unknown under consideration. It's all explained in the Bible or other revelations to the believer or (insert doctrine here). Full stop. A belief that you already have the answer to a question and that that answer is immutable stalls any further inquiry right there.OTOH, The situation of _not_ knowing is the best (and probably only) prerequisite to successful inquiry into the unknown. This alternative to blind belief is anathema to religion; it was fought against tooth and nail throughout the centuries and is still being fought against today.So, no, the insight you're talking about really _isn't_ freely available to all of us. The religions already assume the answers have been found and that no further inquiry is needed or wanted. In fact, they'll always resist further inquiry for those exact reasons. The ideas of freedom of mind and thought, embrace of the unknown and the development of the scientific method of its investigation came from outside religion and belief. The religions adopt it because either the prevailing Zeitgeist shifts so heavily away from the doctrinaire ways of belief that they're politically forced to do so, or the rule of law simply forces them to do so. Everything religion has ever let go of in favor of scientific replacements has huge claw marks all over it. This is attested all throughout the history of religion and it continues on to this day.LS

  62. 62
    Dwight

    LsChristianity was born in dissent (leader killed for it), Protestantism was born in dissent, this isn’t new. That doesn’t mean the church has worked well with it, most often like most humans, it hasn’t. But it does mean there are resources to be had to challenge orthodoxies. My own denomination is non creedal, allows for a wide range of beliefs, there are a number of liberal protestant bodies. Now they are smaller than fundamentalists but they are there. As someone who has worked in seminary and with my regional denominational entity, my beliefs are known and accepted as well within the range of that church.I have a fundamentalist sister who is certain I’m headed straight for hell. But in my own church going experience, I’ve always found congregations, pastors who are sympathetic, open to my concerns, view points and the like. Outside of a few places in the south, it’s not hard to find (especially in urban areas)”A belief that you already have the answer to a question and that that answer is immutable stalls any further inquiry right there.”I agree. That shouldn’t be the case. Christianity presents us with problems, not ready made solutions. Or should if it’s true to life. Remembering the words of Paul again, we see in part, through a mirror dimly. That’s our lot as humans. Fallibleness is an expression of humility, a religious calling found in the NT.I don’t think any religion hinges on a propositional belief. So yes I feel equally free to critique my faith, more so because I have a certain responsibility for it. Which is one point made in this post. Religious liberals have to stand up, take some ownership when the religion goes awry. I don’t critique other religions so much because I’m not in them. In that sense I feel freer then I think some atheists may be.I think your history is off, science emerges in the Christian west. It becomes disconnected from it of course later on. But there is still marks of its parentage. And yes now science has provided a basis for critique and revision of Christian faith. It should. And it has. And liberal Protestantism is a living example of that engagement with the sciences and other disciplines.

  63. 63
    cipher

    Off topic: Dawkins is speaking at the University of Oklahoma, and PZ has a post about some fuckwit in the OK House of Representatives proposing a resolution to condemn him. Someone posted a link to an article in the University’s newspaper, from a few months ago, announcing the event. Look at who left a comment:Oh man, I'm looking forward to his coming. I've got a couple of questions, if he makes himself available for public Q&A like Dembski did back in Sept 07. Fun stuff.Posted by anonymous / Rhology on November 13, 2008 at 1:33 p.m.

  64. 64
    ls

    >I think your history is off, science emerges in the Christian west. It becomes disconnected from it of course later on.<It first emerged as a workable world view in the west, but as I think we all know by now, it developed independently and in spite of Christianity, not the other way around.Christianity only accepted it later on mostly because of the mere weight of its efficacy at explaining the natural world around it. Later, once the grip of religion on government and society finally began to loosen, political pressure reinforced the need for Christianity to accept it.It's still mostly only tolerated by religion, tho, and not willfully accepted. In the US, Christianity's teeth are still firmly clenched in tolerance. It is still trying to displace science and restore the dark ages of theology and revelation in its place to this day.>But there is still marks of its parentage. And yes now science has provided a basis for critique and revision of Christian faith. It should. And it has. And liberal Protestantism is a living example of that engagement with the sciences and other disciplines.<Er, ok, whatever you say… Doesn't sound even remotely like Christian theology or politics to me, but ok….LS

  65. 65
    cipher

    Er, ok, whatever you say… Doesn’t sound even remotely like Christian theology or politics to me, but ok….Yeah, that’s about where I am in this now.I really do wish liberal Christians would just cede the territory to the fundies already and start using another label – as the Unitarians did.(Yes, I’m aware that some Unitarians consider themselves Christians – but they’re on the correct side on most social issues, so I’m willing to overlook it.)

  66. 66
    Dwight

    CipherGiven that the United Church of Christ has the same social stands as the Unitarians, maybe you could also over look that as well?LSTwo cites worth checking out:http://www.butler.edu/clergyproject/rel_evol_sun.htmhttp://www.ucc.org/not-mutually-exclusive/pdfs/pastoral-letter.pdf

  67. 67
    cipher

    CipherGiven that the United Church of Christ has the same social stands as the Unitarians, maybe you could also over look that as well?Change your name to just “United Church” and I’ll think about it!

  68. 68
    Dwight

    There is a United Church in Canada, and they also have the same social stands, so there ya go. But I have to admit being puzzeled why so many atheists as well as fundamentalists seem invested in giving the religion over to the fundies.

  69. 69
    cipher

    ‘Cause, again – they have the credentials, the line of continuity. It’s their franchise. What you’re doing is better – but it was invented last week.

  70. 70
    Dwight

    Liberal protestantism and fundamentalism are literally about the same age…about 200 years or so, at most 300. About the only folks who could claim age is Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. It may fit for some purposes that the crazy form of religion must be the one, since it was rejected. But some of us in the religion are concerned for it not to be crazy. To the degree that share similar values, I’m not sure what this move to go after religious liberals is about.

  71. 71
    ls

    >But some of us in the religion are concerned for it not to be crazy. To the degree that share similar values, I'm not sure what this move to go after religious liberals is about.<Well the main difficulty is that there's nothing internal to religions like Christianity, Islam and etc. that differentiates "crazy" – using only the tenants of the religion, you can make arguments in favor of clearly "crazy" brutality like slavery and genocide just as well clearly not "crazy" principles like Do Unto Others.Perhaps ironically (tho not to atheists), one has to go outside the religions to find ways to distinguish good from bad, crazy from not crazy (this was my original point actually, that believers already tend to do this, _particularly_ moderates).So we really can't leave them to their own devices if we want to live in a civilized world – history has shown us this. They can and should be free to believe what they want, but their behavior has to be watched and censured carefully via an external source of morality and ethics.Hence the movement against moderate positions (so called liberal sects I suppose).The argument Traci originally made about moderates aiding and abetting the fundies is, I think, a pretty clear statement of the problem. I do disagree slightly, mainly about practical matters, such as how we should look at moderate attitudes and what should be done about them (I don't see them as all bad developments as I've stated earlier). But the critique of the moderate position seems to be right on to me in its essence.LS

  72. 72
    cipher

    Dwight, I have no problem acknowledging that liberal Protestantism is older than fundamentalism – as a movement. As a set of beliefs, however, fundamentalism is the torch-bearer of Christian orthodoxy. As I said the other day, the beliefs of today’s fundamentalists – original sin, salvific exclusivism, substitutionary atonement – have constituted the doctrinal basis of Christianity for 2,000 years. There’s just no way around this.Now, if you want to say that human beings have misunderstood God, that he isn’t quite the rat-bastard we’ve made him out to be these past few millennia – well, you can say that. Despite eight years of Bush/Cheney, it’s still (nominally) a free country.(“It ain’t just a question of misunderstood;Deep down inside him, he’s no good!”)Or, if you want to assert that what we call “God” is not a person, but in actuality some sort of impersonal absolute, you’re free to do that as well – but I’d argue that it isn’t Christianity.In either case, as we hell-bound atheists are fond of saying – the burden of proof is on you.

  73. 73
    Mayhemm

    Excellent post, Tracie!This very issue was instrumental in my becoming more outspoken in my atheism.I began to see the harm religion was doing in education and politics as well as on the broader, international stage.As you say, regular, everyday religious people can be part of the problem and not just “people who believe differently”, which used to be my view of them.The question I have is how do we express this to our “moderate” friends and family without being dismissed as a raving atheist, blaming religion for everything?

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