And after having said, “I don’t have anything to say about Cee Lo Green’s revision of ‘Imagine’ that my friend Rebecca didn’t already say,” I’m finding that I have something else to say.
This whole incident is a perfect example of what’s wrong with ecumenicalism.
This notion that “all religion’s true”? This notion that everyone finds their own path to God — even atheists, in our own way? This notion that people can hold religious beliefs that are not only different but totally contradictory — Jesus both is and is not the son of God, dead people both go to Heaven and are reincarnated, homosexuality is both loved and despised by God, there are many gods and there is only one God and God is a sort of three-for-one deal, Catholicism is the one true faith and Mormonism is the one true faith and Islam is the one true faith and no one faith is the one true faith — and that, somehow, all of these contradictory beliefs can be true?
This attitude isn’t just something Cee Lo Green came up with on his own. It’s ridiculously prevalent among the ecumenical/ interfaith crowd. There’s a very common idea that all religions are true in some sense, and/ or that all believers are finding their own path to God in their own way.
Except that different religions aren’t just subtly different, or stylistically different, or different in trivial matters, or orthogonally different and concerning themselves with different arenas of existence. Their differences are, in many cases, central to the very foundation of the beliefs. Especially when you look at the number of religions that have, as a central defining tenet, the idea that their religion is the one true religion, and that believers in all other religions are damned to perdition. And when it comes to the ecumenical, “all religions are sort of true in their own way” sort of belief, these differences reveal a deep crack in the very foundation of the faith.
So when ecumenical believers blithely ignore or gloss over these differences, they’re basically saying that they don’t care very much whether the things they believe are true. They’re saying that sure, there are differences, but it’s divisive and unpleasant to look at those differences too closely — and let’s forget about trying to actually resolve them and figure out who’s wrong and who’s right, that’s a total clusterfuck. They’re saying that, when you put reality on one side of the scale, and put conflict avoidance on the other, conflict avoidance wins hands down. (And in my experience, when you press them on these questions, they tend to get either very vague or very defensive and pissy.)
Now, I genuinely do understand the desire to work for mutual understanding and respect of people who are different from you. And I think this ecumenicalism comes, in large part, from an admirable place: a revulsion at the horrors caused by religious wars and hatreds and bigotries, and a passionate desire to end them. I get that revulsion, and that desire. I even share it.
But there is a huge difference between saying “Everyone has a right to believe something different from what I do” — and saying “All beliefs are equally true.” There is a huge difference between saying, “People who believe different things from me can be good people” — and saying, “People who believe radically different things from me are right, and I’m somehow magically also right.” There is a huge difference between saying, “We should respect and embrace diversity of cultures and identities” — and saying, “We should ignore serious differences in truth claims about how the world really works.” There is a huge difference between saying, “Arguing about religion is divisive and unpleasant, so let’s temporarily set aside our differences so we can focus on our common ground” — or for that matter, saying, “Let’s discuss and debate our disagreements without being uncivil or ugly” — and saying, “Arguing about religion is divisive and unpleasant, so let’s never do it, and let’s convince ourselves that we’re all somehow magically right in our own way. And let’s not think too hard about whether that statement even makes a lick of sense.”
And while I think this desire to ignore religious differences comes partly from a desire to avoid religious wars and hatreds and bigotries, I also think it comes, at least sometimes, from an aversion to conflict that verges on the neurotic. And I definitely think it comes from an intense unwillingness to think very carefully about one’s own beliefs. Ecumenicalism is like a gentlemen’s agreement: you don’t ask hard questions about my religion, and I won’t ask hard questions about yours. You don’t point out contradictions or falsehoods or absurdities in my beliefs, or ask whether they have any good evidence to support them, and I’ll do the same for you. We’ll all hold hands and sing “Kumbaya,” and we’ll utter vague deepities about the beautiful mystery of it all… and we’ll stick our fingers in our ears and ignore the atheists outside the campfire circle, the ones who are yelling, “None of you has any good reason to think that any of this is true!”
Yeah. Good luck with that.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Religion relies on social consent to perpetuate itself. Ecumenical religion is a perfect example of that. And more and more atheists are denying that consent. Simply by coming out as atheist, simply by saying “No, we don’t believe in God or the supernatural,” we are denying that consent. And we’re going to make it harder and harder to ignore those hard questions. If you have any good answers to those questions, we’re more than happy to hear them. But if we ask the question, “How do you reconcile the differences between your religion and other religions, and how do you decide which belief is true?” — and the only answer you have is “Kumbaya” — we’re not going to take you very seriously.