As regular readers of this blog know, most of what I write about is personal. What started as a training blog for my preparation for an Ironman competition has become an outlet of personal expression, an explanation of philosophical positions, and a format to present an opportunity for input and discussion.
Sometimes inspiration for subjects of the blog occur through events in my daily life, with posts such as the most recent about the efforts of Ride2Recovery to rehabilitate injured veterans through the sport of cycling. Sometimes I write about my kids, as they provide endless blog fodder through their own adventures and experiences. And sometimes I blog on topics about which I have a personal passion and interest.
This is one such post.
Last week in the US was a really crappy week. Reasonable gun control measures were defeated in opposition to the will of 90% of the nation, on Boston’s proudest day explosives ripped flesh and dreams apart, and we learned that the motivation behind those attacks was in all likelihood religious extremism.
The flurry of Facebook posts and tweets that followed were quick and sharp to expressly criticize radical Islam. In my disgust and revulsion at this violent attack, I commented that both Islam and Christianity hold at their very centers books that advocate this type of behavior. There followed lively and passionate discourse (if we allow FB interaction to be called discourse).
What follows is my explanation of why I hold this belief. I’ll speak specifically to Christianity, since that is the faith about which I am the most educated; I believe the premise can apply equally to any belief system which centers around a supernatural deity which cannot be perceived through any quantifiable or testable measures.
There is little argument that the Bible is chock full of examples of God’s actions and instruction that include what we now consider heinous and morally reprehensible behavior: the genocide and domination of other people, the buying and selling of daughters into slavery, the taking of women from defeated adversaries as sexual bounty, the slaughter of children and infants, the testing of faith by the murder of one’s child, the murder of every inhabitant on the planet save for 7 – a terrifying manner of death by drowning. This is not gentle, it is not moderate, and it is not peaceful. And we can dispense with the argument that this is all Old Testament; not only did Jesus completely endorse all of the Bible, he himself is reported to have said that he did not come to bring peace but a sword.
My first contention is that those folks who decide to build their lives around the “happy-lovey” parts of the bible have no better basis for that decision than the folks who decide to build their lives around the ugly parts. I go further and contend that those human-friendly passages are few, generic, and can be reached entirely secularly. Westboro Baptist Church has a biblical admonition for each and every one of those hateful signs. As a former believer, I know that Protestants support a concept known as “Priesthood of the Believer”, which allows that every person has the freedom and authority to determine what the Bible means to him or her. I don’t really have a problem with that until one applies this concept to a book as full of violent acts, tribalism, rape, genocide, and domination as the Bible.
My second contention is this: We have a global problem with radical Islamic terrorists. Our only hope at a solution to this problem is teaching people and societies that God is not compelling them to act in this manner. How do we do that when the premise of both Islam and Christianity is the exact opposite, that God does speak to them in ways they are empowered to discover, are discernible only to them, and guidance for which behavior can be found in these books?? And how can we say the entire concept should only apply to Islam and not to Christianity when the process for determining God’s will, the authentication and evidence for verity, and the endurance through time are identical?
My final contention is that moderate Christianity insulates radical Christianity from being critically examined, because it allows it to remain popular and mainstream. Any attempt to discuss any potential failings in Christianity is met with claims of disrespect and persecution. Christians are very willing to mock the beliefs of, say, Scientology (or until recently, Mormonism), because the claims are so outlandish and without evidence, but become indignant when the same skepticism is applied to a person coming back to life, or walking on top of water, or chemically altering a substance a la Harry Potter? In the marketplace of ideas, as the very process upon which a free society is based, how can this subject be off-limits for criticism and ridicule?
As to the response that radical Christianity is better than radical Islam? Agreed….for now. Throughout history radical Christianity has been the cause of at least as great a volume of suffering and anguish as Islam. Also, is the subjugation of women, the resistance to science education, the indoctrination of children with terrifying tales of eternal torture through burning, the hatred and rejection of people groups not bad enough?
This post is not about the merits of belief. It’s not about what qualifies for evidence of the existence of God. It’s not about how secular humanists access and implement a moral foundation for living. Those are all valid topics that should be discussed – if only one’s personal faith were not excluded from the conversation because it is holy and exempt from critical examination. No, this post is about why we, the secular community, think that religion causes greater damage than good, and how moderate religion allows radical religion to continue to flourish.
I close this post with question that we nonbelievers use as a guiding question when we hear a claim presented as truth.
“How do I know this is truth?”
Determining the answer requires critical thinking, research, skepticism, more research, and finally an embrace that includes the possibility that through new advance, new research, new study, this truth evolves and morphs. That is the strength that religion lacks, and why the radical version of religion can’t be excised from the moderate version.
Thanks for reading.