mad in pursuit journal

DISPATCHED FROM THE CROSSROADS, AT THE intersection OF the devil and the deep blue sea

Religious Pronouncements

I finally finished the whole discussion of "The New Atheism" in Wired (Nov '06). My conclusion: I'm definitely not one of them.

The militancy of the self-styled new atheists is strident and very "religious" — i.e., if you believe in God you are wrong, wrong, wrong, and not only wrong but also stupid. As the author puts it, they don't use the language of intellectual debate but of prophesy." I agree with Gary Wolf, the author, who says:

Where does this leave us, we who have been called upon to join this uncompromising war against faith? What shall we do, we potential enlistees? Myself, I've decided to refuse the call. The irony of the New Atheism — this prophetic attack on prophecy, this extremism in opposition to extremism — is too much for me.

... so far, their provocation has failed to take hold. Given all the religious trauma in the world, I take this as good news. Even those of us who sympathize intellectually have good reasons to wish that the New Atheists continue to seem absurd. If we reject their polemics, if we continue to have respectful conversations even about things we find ridiculous, this doesn't necessarily mean we've lost our convictions or our sanity. It simply reflects our deepest, democratic values. Or, you might say, our bedrock faith: the faith that no matter how confident we are in our beliefs, there's always a chance we could turn out to be wrong.

So here's a summary of my thinking about religion as of this day:

1) Religion doesn't cause wars. Greedy, power-hungry people start wars. Corrupt leaders will take advantage of whatever belief systems they can to get what they want.

2) Religion doesn't sustain wars — except when religious rhetoric gets all mixed up with the rhetoric of greed and politics. Iraq and the Middle East are not about religion. They are about tribal (or gang) loyalty and power.

3) Separation of church and state is really important. The obligation is on the side of the government. They shouldn't be legislating morality if it doesn't affect public safety. (E.g., they can make laws against murder but not against consensual sex. Let religions runs their own rules about marriage within their own congregations; the state should simply offer civil unions to any two people who are willing to take on family obligations with one another — traditional couples, gays, a pair of welfare mothers trying to claw their way out of poverty, or any two pals over the age of seventy who want to care for each other in old age.)

4) Religions can try to influence government all they want. If beliefs are genuine and passionate, then it follows that believers would try to influence their government. The religious right might annoy the hell out of me, but I wouldn't want them shut out of the debate. But I do believe that churches should be willing to give up their tax exempt status if they feel obliged to endorse candidates or political parties in their tracts and sermons.

5) Hypocrisy. People filled with self-loathing should get treatment. They should not join the clergy. I'm not saying priests and ministers can't have their demons. They just need to be on the mentally healthy side of dealing with them.

6) What's God got to do with it? Sorry, couldn't help throwing that in... I just noticed that nothing in points 1-5 has anything to do with God.


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