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.
April 21, 2013 at 11:35 pm
Reading this post, I think I finally get what atheists are trying to do when they talk like this to believers–you think you are trying to save us from ourselves and to save the world from us, aren’t you? I always thought you were condescending, puffed up, and self-righteous in your own way. But, I think I see it differently now. You say this stuff out of genuine concern, don’t you?
“Have you been saved?” (Don’t worry, I am not asking you that question.) That is what I hear all the time from evangelical Christians. They get angry at the LDS concept of grace, that Christ saves us through grace after all we can do ourselves to live his commandments and his gospel. They get angry because they think we diminish God and aggrandize ourselves, that we try to save ourselves through our own efforts. That is not it. We believe that the resurrection is a free gift of God to all, but that salvation of our souls is something for which we have to put forth effort, that our effort will never be enough though, and that Christ makes up the difference if we follow him. Bear with me, I know this is not a religious discussion on grace, nor am I trying to convert you. I am setting up an example.
My former step-daughter is truly distraught over the future of her half-sister, her father, her new step-mother, her step-brother, and maybe even of me. She truly believes that we will burn in hell for eternity. She happens to love these people in her family, and it is distressing to her. So, she tries to save us.
You are trying to save our souls too, aren’t you? (Or, since you likely don’t believe in souls since they are not tangible or testable, our minds?) You are trying to save our world? You think we will destroy it?
I try to reassure my step-daughter. I will try to reassure you. Goodness and love and progress will win out over hate, if we keep working together–the faithful and the secularists/atheists working together.
Just as you have heard the “What if you are wrong?” question too many times, don’t you think we know about the murders in the Bible and wars throughout the ages committed in the name of God? Trust me, we have. Trust me, we grapple with it. You are right. It is problematic. We know that. Most of us have likely grappled with God on those very issues. We are not stupid nor are we naive or willingly self-blindfolded.
Rather than the evangelicals trying to convert you (and me) and rather than you trying to “convert” the evangelicals (and me), I repeat my former question: Can’t we trust each other to have thought deeply about these issues and then join hands and work to make this world a better place, standing on a foundation of so many things we do agree on?
Murder, war, carnage = bad
Dishonesty, taking unfair advantage = bad
Hate, prejudice, meaness, ignoring = bad
Torture = bad
Love = good
Care = good
Feeding the hungry = good
Taking care of Mother Earth = good
Helping those who need help = good
Building communities = good
Working = good
Finding cures to diseases = good
So much good to work towards together . . .
If I want to know how to deny the existance of God and rely solely on mankind’s intellect, I know who to ask. If you want to know how to turn towards God and use both faith and intellect, you know who to ask. I trust that you are smart enough to know when you want to know that. I am smart enough to know when I want to know that.
So, let’s move on and work together on what we agree about! You are concerned about my mind and the world, and I am concerned about your eternal happiness and eternal progress and the world. We both care about each other’s welfare. Okay, we understand that. We know whom to turn to if we need to.
By the way, I don’t follow your blog just to comment on posts like this. But, so far, these are the only posts that have prompted my comments. I started following your blog, believe it or not, because I felt we had a lot in common. I love fitness, I am a single mother of a teenager, and I am finishing up my second year of law school as someone who went back to school a little bit older than the average student. I still believe we have a lot in common, and I look forward to seeing your blog posts. I hope school is going well and all your other wonderful pursuits!
Oh, and if I am correct in my new hypothesis, that atheists sound like this out of care and concern for believers–thank you for that care and concern.
Kate @ BJJ, Law, and Living
April 22, 2013 at 9:11 am
So, not directly related, but somewhat, and I wanted to share this with you this week, but I got busy: http://mypage.direct.ca/w/writer/anti-tales.html
Getting pretty deep in on some “pro-choice,” “pro-life” debate and was wondering what your thoughts were, as a major hang up tends to be where life begins and I can always count on you for a scientific outlook. 🙂 You’re like my personal Neil deGrasse Tyson! You could put it on your blog to dos or just email me sometime.
Great post, love reading you!
April 24, 2013 at 3:46 pm
Kaitlin – when I first went to this site, I was sure that the anecdotes were Poes. I have not heard of this phenomena that appears now to be all too real. What an unbelievable example of cognitive dissonance these women have to be experiencing!
I have some thoughts on this matter, and getting to where I am now, which is completely pro-choice, was not a linear process. I don’t want to leapfrog past my transition positions, because they are important stops on the journey. I’d like to post this as a blog soon, but I need to do some research and citation-locating.
However, I’d love to chat with you about it in the meantime. The girls are coming home this weekend for a throwdown Saturday night for their late-birthday bonfire. Let me know when you’re going to be in town again for another coffee-chat (or the evening version: wine-time).
Thanks for reading – what’s the word? I’ve been waiting ever so patiently…