There were some interesting responses to my post on the god worm. There were some that were just annoying. I’m not impressed with the ones that make excuses for religion by calling me “naive” and lacking an impression of the diversity of religious belief out there; one bothersome strategy that I also saw in Barbara O’Brien’s post was an attempt to defocus religious belief.
Here’s how that works. Criticize some attribute of religion, such as its reliance on “faith”, that uncritical acceptance of cosmic baloney. Concerned defender of religion rushes to assert that a) there is evidence for their religion, or b) many religious people have a capacity for critical thought in other areas, or c) their particular religion doesn’t have a faith component (which, I’m sorry, I do not believe). Therefore, because there are these exceptions (dubious as some may be), I should not criticize religion. That’s a bogus argument. One might as well say that because a) some theft is motivated by justifiable causes, b) many thieves would never rob their own mother, and c) their own philosophical world view lacks the concept of property and ownership, we should be more tolerant of thievery.
The other effect of this strategy is to turn religion into a completely empty word. When someone can say they don’t believe in any deities, the supernatural, or any kind of afterlife, but that they are “religious”, then religion is meaningless. It means I am religious. It doesn’t seem to matter that for most of human history, both of us would be labeled “atheists” and condemned for it, and in many periods even executed for it. It doesn’t matter that the dominant religious forces in this country consider us anathema. It just feels so good to sit in our little bubble and pretend we are all one together in our holy sense of the sacred, right up to the moment that a Baptist or a Methodist or a Holy Roller, none of whom are fooled in the slightest, spit in our eyes and damn us to hell. There are about a dozen churches in my small town, and while one is fairly liberal, the rest are stocked with congregations that would reject without hesitation the pointlessly vague usage of “religion” some people are bandying about. We really aren’t swamped with nice, tolerant Buddhists who reject superstitious thinking, I assure you.
Now if you want to be one of those godless, naturalist, live-in-the-moment freethinking types, you have my approval (not that you need it), and I think I’d like more of your kind as my neighbors. When you call yourself religious, though, I think you are doing me harm. You are providing cover for and making common cause with some truly odious beliefs, and you are intentionally dichotomizing people into those good religious people, like James Dobson and the Dalai Lama, and those wicked not-religious people, like me and Richard Dawkins.
Thanks heaps. If you elect to be on that other team, the one with the Dominionists and the Jesuits and the Mormon missionaries, that’s your choice…but don’t get all resentful when I lump the whole lot of you together. And forgive me for laughing when your fellow teammates treat you like dirt.
On a related note, Ezra Klein has a strange post up in which he is saying that the majority of the religious right really aren’t that bad, that what we’re doing is filtering our view of them through a selected subset of their most prominently crazy words and actions. We should look at them more as a predominantly supportive social organization that spins off a few nutty political ideas that get an unrepresentative amount of attention.
The blogs are a booming, cacophonous echo chamber that takes the worst rhetorical excesses of our enemies and amplifies them a hundred times, then repeats them a hundred more. That’s got its utility. And Pat Robertson, to be sure, is an enthusiastic conductor on the crazy train. But Robertson didn’t arise through his inventive theories on the gays, and his television show doesn’t attract advertisers on the strength of his political rants. Mainly, The 700 Club is about religion. And human interest stories. And interviews with authors. And Trinity Broadcasting Network, the source of a couple crazy quotes a week, mainly talks about redemption, companionship, and love. It’s all rather inoffensive; Good Morning America with a bit more Jesus.
True enough, but it’s missing the point. I’m sure Nazis were kind to their dogs and saw their parades as a nice social endeavor that reinforced solidarity with their community; members of the Aryan Nation put out newsletters that promote love of country and their fellow white people, and that contain more cookie recipes than frothing hate-filled racism. Does the fact that all people put more time and effort into ordinary human virtues than they do the implementation of ideology, no matter how heinous or noble, make the criticism of that ideology irrelevant? Is it somehow dishonest to emphasize the differences we find appalling, while filtering out the banalities that trivially unite all of humanity? George W. Bush spends more time sleeping, eating, showering, and shaving than he does promoting tax cuts for the rich, so should the media spend more time describing his grooming habits, to provide “balance”?
Also, I’ve watched TBN and the 700 Club. I agree that they are not exhorting their audiences to go out, club a gay man to death, and vote Republican, and that most of their spiel is babbling about the glory of Jesus and sending more money to Televangelist X. I disagree, though, that it is mostly inoffensive. It’s hour after hour of weird magical thinking and credulous nonsense. Most people are so continually immersed in that Christian froth, though, that they don’t realize how freaky the shows are. It’s anti-intellectual programming through and through, calculated to banish all critical thinking from the viewers’ minds. I am offended by it.
The comparison to Good Morning America is still valid, though—that show is also mindless.