See, it’s not the proper mainstream
It’s the loonies at the fringe;
I can listen to the former
But the latter make me cringe
As it’s painful to the both of us,
A wound we ought to heal,
I’m proposing a solution—
Yes, I want to make a deal.
Professors of biology
Who go to such extremes
That they see religious practice
As evolving social memes
We will gladly just ignore them
When they say a bit too much
If you’ll just ignore Pat Robertson
When he goes off a touch
And Ph. D. philosophers,
And physicists, and more;
And others by the score
We’ll listen to their ranting
And we’ll try to stifle moans
If you’ll ignore their counterparts—
For instance, Terry Jones.
Extremists do not speak for all—
You understand, I hope—
It’s such a silly strawman
When you criticize the pope!
Let’s peel apart the radicals;
Dismiss them, one by one,
And look for truth in what remains
When all the culling’s done
Rachel Held Evans wants to make a deal. She noticed Dawkins’s comments about “mild pedophilia”, and feels our pain.
As tempting as it is to classify Dawkins’ views as representative of all atheists, I can’t bring myself to do it.
I can’t bring myself to do it because I know just how frustrating and unfair it is when atheists point to the most extreme, vitriolic voices within Christianity and proclaim that they are representative of the whole.
So, atheists, I say we make a deal: How about we Christians agree not to throw this latest Richard Dawkins thing in your face and you atheists agree not to throw the next Pat Robertson thing in ours?
Now, while you may have noticed multiple posts here at FTB and elsewhere calling out Dawkins for his words, he is still seen as one of our leaders (especially by those trying to equate atheism with religion). And don’t think that Christians don’t criticize Pat Robertson on occasion, like when he blames natural disasters on sin, or when he’s too liberal in his political endorsements. So, yeah, the two are roughly equivalents–you see politicians courting Dawkins’s king-making endorsement all the time, and retirees sending him all their money in return for his good word greasing their way into the afterlife, and there’s Dawkins’s television network, too. (I can’t find a comparison of book sales numbers–if anyone has that information, I’d love to see it.)
Pat Robertson does not represent all Christians. But the one-time Most Dangerous Man In America is not, in any way, the opposite number to Dawkins. I can see why agreeing to dismiss both of them would be a tempting offer… for Christians.
But what if we resist the urge to use the latest celebrity gaffe as an excuse to paint one another with broad brushes?
What if, instead of engaging the ideas of the most extreme and irrational Christians and atheists, we engaged the ideas of the most reasonable, the most charitable, the most respectful and respected?
My goodness, if you want extreme and irrational atheists, don’t use Dawkins as your example. He says stupid things on occasion, but believe me, we have some who seemed to have carved out a comfortable niche wholly immersed in stupidity. But again, I can see why you would wish to call this an even trade.
So, yes, Richard Dawkins is an atheist. But so is ethicist and humanitarian Peter Singer. So are authors Greg Epstein and Susan Jacoby. So is my friend and fellow blogger Hemant Mehta. So is Sir Ian McKellen.
Yes, Pat Robertson is a Christian. But so is Nelson Mandela. So is acclaimed geneticist Francis Collins. So is Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee. So is Barack Obama. So is Stephen Colbert.
I think it was the eminent philosopher Batman who said (stole) “it’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me”. When someone does or says something that is worth criticizing, then it doesn’t matter if it is Robertson, Dawkins, or Cuttlefish (yes, I put them in order of number of things worth criticizing); criticize.
As for getting rid of “extremists” on both ends, and looking in the middle… “When two opposite points of view are expressed with equal intensity, the truth does not necessarily lie exactly half way between. It is possible for one side simply to be wrong.”
But then, that was said by an extremist.