How Do Tragic Events Shape Your Religious Views?

After yesterday’s horrible Virginia Tech Massacre, one issue relevant to this blog is how these types of tragedies impact your religious/non-religious views. Many people gain or lose faith in the wake of disasters (personal or public). Similarly, their outlook on life changes entirely.

One example: Sam Harris began writing The End of Faith on September 12, 2001.

Have your views ever changed based on these sorts of incidents?

How do you respond to them?

(Thanks to Richard for suggesting the post)


[tags]atheist, atheism, Virginia Tech, Massacre, religion, Sam Harris, The End of Faith[/tags]

  • Richard Wade

    The two towers of the World Trade Center coming down were like the last two nails coming down into the lid of the coffin of my interest in religion. That had been slowly fading over the years, but watching the TV that morning brought a terrible realization to me: This is the inevitable result of religion. Sooner or later people who are obsessed with absolute knowledge, absolute truth, or “Truth” as they spell it, become willing to kill to protect their beliefs, to promote their beliefs and to project their beliefs onto others.

    Some religions are currently harmless or innocuous, but religions morph over time. They split and split again until one version becomes radical and extremist. I lost my trust in any of them to behave themselves over a long period. The story of religion is a story full of murder, and I hated all of it.

    Before I chucked most of it in the trash, one bit of wisdom I had gained from Buddhism was the warning that clinging to things will bring us suffering. I had long seen the truth of this in material possessions as well as relationships, but that morning I saw that we also cling to our beliefs, our inner possessions, and they cause terrible suffering, more often for others.

    I decided that we should be extremely careful about what we believe. We should believe in as little as possible. We should be belief misers rather than spendthrifts. Others will judge how crazy we are simply by the variety of the things we believe in. People who believe in UFO’s are thought of as less crazy than people who believe in UFO’s, Sasquatch, Atlantis and Elvis sightings. Such judgments about our sanity have merit.

    People are willing to kill and die for their beliefs. So it would follow that if people believed in less, there would be less killing and dying. Belief in Jehovah, in Allah, in democracy, in fascism, in socialism, in freedom, in the limiting of freedom, all lead us to slaughter each other and ourselves.

    So I began a purge of my last vestigial beliefs. Bits and pieces had lingered and I repudiated them. I wanted to be utterly free of this mental activity. I also had to purge my prejudices, including my bitterness about religion. That had been the spur but it had to go too. I’m not sure if I’m completely empty of belief yet, but I do feel lighter, happier and freer. I respond to others more in the here-and-now, and much more often with kindness than I used to.

    I was at first very anti-religious, but having met people online like Hemant, Mike C, MTran, Siamang, Darryl and several others I have mellowed quite a lot, becoming more patient and tolerant.

    9-11 was a trauma of pain, fear and hopelessness for me. I have come to cherish and crave the interaction I have with people here and in some other venues because I have gained some soothing of the pain, some courage for the fear, and some hope to counter the hopelessness.

  • http://bjornisageek.blogspot.com Bjorn Watland

    Thanks, Richard, for suggesting this post as well. Tragedy has been on my mind as I’ve thought more about my beliefs. Even before becoming more definite in my beliefs, or lack of belief in a god, I’ve had an odd view on tragedy and death. I have had friends commit suicide, but didn’t feel an overwhelming sense of loss, or grief. I remember trying to think about what led them to do what they did. Could I think of anyone else who might do the same thing? Do they need a sympathetic ear? A little compassion? I thought about what I could do now.

    Moments of tragedy, I think, can be used for action. Something happened, people you care about are no longer here, and it sucks. The people around you may be sadder as a result. Can anything be done to prevent tragedy in the future? Can we work toward something? Can you use your energy you have now to do something positive?

    I get angry. Is anger rational? Does stressing yourself, and others around you, make the world a better place? No. Can you find out why you are angry, is there something that can be done? Did someone piss me off at work, and I just haven’t dealt with it? Is that why I’m angry? Should I go talk with the person involved? Yes. I find comfort for grief in action. If I feel like I’m doing something to change things now, my ethical conscious is eased. When last person I knew who committed suicide died, my dad called me up, because we both knew him. He was upset about it. I asked him what he was going to do about it, and he decided to donate money to save.org, an organization for suicide awareness. I thought that was a good reaction. He’s pretty religious, and I’m glad he realized that you can’t change the past, but maybe you can change the future.

    I hope tragedy spurs people into action. You feel something. If you are close to the tragedy, you can feel stronger emotions. What are you going to do about it? As I listened to Air America over lunch, a woman who was the head of the American School Psychologists was on. She said things like, imagine getting that call, imagine being a parent, and getting a call that your son or daughter died in this tragic way. Being childless, it’s harder for me to imagine this scenario. Sometimes there is loss, and it’s senseless. Like, your cat runs away, and never comes back. You may feel empty, sad. How can you turn that emotion into action? What if there is nothing you can do? Do you walk around lost? If your child is shot in a shooting spree in a senseless way, there is no, “anti-crazy guy with a gun” organization to work with, no cause to latch onto. I think I’d be pretty sad, but I don’t know what I would do about it. Would it make me believe more or less in a god, I don’t think so.

    Today I thought about Vulcans from Star Trek. I thought about how they are forbidden from expressing emotion, that humans are illogical for doing so. Maybe that is true, emotions aren’t logical, or rational. My kid died, that’s the way it is. At one point my child had no existence, then had it, and it’s gone now. Have a funeral, and keep making choices day to day, until my own existence is no more. My fiancee got mad at me when she asked if I’d be sad if she died. I said, “No, of course not. I’d be grateful that I got to spend so much time with you, know that that time has passed, and I’ll always have memories of the time we had together.” She doesn’t like that answer. I don’t know if I like it either, it makes me feel like some unfeeling monster. Although, it may be strange that we want our loved ones to feel miserable when we die.

    Last week, I talked to a friend at work, who was sad because someone she went to high school with had died, and a puppy she was a foster for had died. She felt as if she was surrounded by death. Then she told me of this really religious couple who she went to school with, who had adopted four children, because they could have none of their own. One died without marrying, the three others married and had children. Two of those children have since died, so only one adopted child remains. She was shocked that it hadn’t shaken their faith. I kept thinking, “If you really believe in Christianity, and have faith in it, why would death shake your faith?” Christians believe that if you believe in Jesus, and all of that, that you go into heaven. The concept of eternal life is pretty strong in Christianity. If your time on Earth is temporary anyway, why would you be so sad? Won’t you get to see your kids in heaven when you die anyway? That is, provided that you and your family all get into heaven, otherwise, you can’t see your kids for eternity. I would think that if you were strong in your faith, death wouldn’t phase you. In her case, she’s religious, but is traumatized by every death, whether it is someone she knew long ago, a friend of her parents, some celebrity, an animal, or even a house plant.

    I have written far too much, much of it personal and irrational. I know my attitudes of death, loss, and tragedy will change as I get older. But, I can’t imagine a side effect of any of those events being faith.

  • Mriana

    I don’t know, but it seems to reinforce my idea that humans make this world what it is. I truly believe that it is humans that make this world heaven or hell and it really surprises me when people fall back on sayings like, “If they followed God…”, “Satan has a way of making people do this or that if they are not following God” or what have you. God nor Satan had anything to do with it. It was a purely human act with no supernatural entity involved.

    I guess what I’m saying is that things like this just reinforces my idea that Humanism (for me) has a lot of things right and it just strengthens my belief that Humans can make or break this world by using or not using reason (and compassion) even when they are angry. It saddens me when people can not control themselves and then there are so many excuses afterwards as to why they did what they did.

    Even in 9/11 people tried to blame God for it all in some manner and I kept saying, “God had nothing to do with it. Humans did it all by themselves.” Then there was this Iraq war and the Religious Reich are on some sort of Crusade not to mention some Islamics are on a Jihad. (Rolling eyes) It all ends up boiling down to religion when in reality it is/was the humans who did it all for whatever stupid reasoning. So, yes, I agree with Sam Harris when it comes to religion. IF a person still thinks for themselves even if they believe in a god, yet does not take anything literal or act on their religion, then I am not anti-religious and can see the psychological value of religion for them.

    Even this weekend at my grandmother’s (who was 94 and died during a nap) funeral I did not attempt to disabuse anyone of their religious beliefs even though I did not agree with them. At the moment, it was more or less helping them and not only that, my mother and aunt are in their 60s mourning their mother. Not a good time, psychologically or in civility even, to discuss such things, esp when their belief is harming no one. It would do more harm than good, as well as cause a battle, to tell them she isn’t waiting on anyone in heaven and it was just natural causes due to age, with no deity involved in her death. In such cases I can let it go and muttle through it all.

    It’s when people do things in the name of religion/god or blame a deity/demon for their actions that I object and insist on the actions being placed squarely on the human(s) where it belongs. Sorry, like I said, a supernatural being had nothing to do with it.

    People need to stop blaming the supernatural and place the blame where it needs to be placed in such instances- on the human. So, such things don’t change my beliefs (which are non-religious, obviously), just makes them stronger. IMHO, it is we humans who can make this world better.

  • http://www.thegreenatheist.com TGA

    Yes events like 9/11 definitely changed my religious views. I have several friends of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim faith, and I used to think that non-fundamentalist religion was harmless and should be left alone. Since 9/11 I now of the same view as Sam Harris, namely that overarching respect for religions is in fact letting the door open for the fundamentalists and extremists to operate and spread their hatred.

  • Amanda

    Death shows me the hypocrisy of an individual’s faith. You never hear anyone (except perhaps for those that are very ill or very old) say “oh how lucky for them, now they are with God”. You won’t hear rejoicing or thanks to God for choosing that person. If going to God is really the point of their religion, why would they be sad that a loved one was killed?

    Tragedy actually enforces my desire to live for the life I have now, I won’t be around forever.

  • http://www.conversationattheedge.com/ Helen

    Like Sam Harris, I have read comments by Richard Dawkins that 9-11 gave a new urgency to his own efforts by proving how dangerous religious faith is to the world.

    (That’s my paraphrase; if you google his name and look for his writing soon after 9-11 I expect you’ll find his actual comments to that effect)

  • http://www.masala-skeptic.com Maria

    I was well on my way to being an atheist on September 10, 2001. I was pretty much a deist at that point but September 11 was when the house of cards came tumbling down for me. It was a horrific time but all the constructs that I tried to put up for a long time just fell apart in the sheer evil of it all.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Strange to say but I have never suffered the loss of someone close to me. Not yet. Maybe because of this I have never felt my personal beliefs shaken by grief or tragedy. Perhaps they would be if I were to lose my wife or daughter. I don’t know.

    But when it comes to the question of how to respond to the grief and tragedy of others, I think there is great wisdom in the ancient Jewish custom of sitting shiva. It is significant, I think, that the whole Jewish community comes around to support a mourning family. And it is equally important, I think, to observe their custom of just sitting in silence with a grieving person until they are ready to talk – and then to let your speech be a celebration of the deceased person’s life and not just a superficial attempt to distract the mourners from their grief.

    By contrast, our western customs seem so lonely and awkward (don’t most of us just end up avoiding the grieving person after the funeral, even if only unintentionally/unconsciously). If I were grieving a loss, I would love for my community to sit shiva with me. I think it would help to know that others are there to share in my grief, but who will also allow me time to process it in my own way.

  • Siamang

    Last year I lost a close friend. She was 35 years old, and a mother of a six-month-old girl. She contracted a sudden illness and was dead in less than a week. I spent sunday in her company, laughing and watching our children play together and she was the very image of health, and that Friday I was saying goodbye to her in a coma.

    Everything about that death was wrong. She was young vibrant and healthy. She had a new child who would never remember her. Her husband was an orphan who lost his only family, his brother, when he was a child, and now he lost her.

    EVERYTHING was wrong. And they had the funeral in a church, and the reverend spoke of platitudes about Mysterious Ways and how she was in heaven and it was all to a good, Higher Purpose.

    And it consoled nobody. Everyone KNEW it was wrong. Everyone felt that this was BAD and Wrong and terrible and pointless. But the Rev. didn’t even acknowlege the depth of that pain.

    Even though I was an atheist, I thought that religion provided some consolation to people… but I knew that in that situation, religion was an insult. It was a man in a pulpit telling us not to feel what we were feeling, because it was all okay.

    Well, it wasn’t okay. Damn it. Anger and pain are real feelings, and this guy was spreading fantasy all over us and telling us not to feel this.

    I don’t think I heard ANY of my friends mention God or Heaven that day, even the churchgoers. It was just too raw a pain to blame God for.

  • Mriana

    And it’s those things that get my goat too, but in the case of my grandmother’s funeral, who was a devout Christian all her life, I can’t complain to mother and her sister for asking the minister to preach about “The Path of Salvation”, even though I personally do not agree with it and my views are not the same. In that case, my son and I are truly out numbered and it would be wrong of us to say anything.

    However, my sons know that I want a Funeral Celebration when I die and to do that they know they would have to find a Humanist Celebrant. I don’t want a minister preaching ideology that not everyone can agree with. I want it to be peaceful and time that they mourn not for me, but for themselves because they will miss me and the love and compassion I tried to share with everyone. I don’t want them to be worried about who will or will not make it to some destination that not everyone believes in and is a source of not just religious battles with others, but also a source of misery inflicted on others by humans.

    While my mother and aunt’s desires, along with my late grandmother’s, for a funeral are quite different, they still pounded everyone with their personal beliefs, even if they did know them. That I think is wrong too, but I can not dispute that with them because they believe they are right and we were in the minority, esp since the funeral was at a church where my grandmother would have wanted it.

  • Siamang

    My grandmother was an atheist. My grandfather and the whole family had a religious ceremony for her… but it wasn’t heavy-handed.

    In that case it was “funerals are for the living”, and I agreed with that.

  • http://zestycrustacean.livejournal.com/ zestycrustacean

    Odd though it may seem, I have never really felt any real grief for the death’s of pets, friends, or other people close to me. Since I was very young (as long as I can remember) I have never experienced the type of mourning other people appear to.

    A recent example would by the family dog, whom I was rather close with and died only two weeks before I came to college this year. He had lymphosarcoma, and we had the vet put him down. I was in the room with my mother and sister, and they were crying as hard as I’d ever seen them cry. I just watched his eyes as the vet administered the injection, and he was gone in only a few seconds.

    It isn’t that I am not sad that they are gone, I just have pretty much always accepted that mortality is a fact. I am sad that they are no longer able to enjoy life, and to brighten the lives of others, but the death in itself has always seemed very natural to me.

    This isn’t to say I haven’t felt a little ashamed every now and then. Years ago when my mother told me that a good friend of the family had died, I showed little reaction other than to state that it was unfortunate. She (and everyone else in the house) were in a pretty bad state, and for one of the few times in my life she said something mean to me. I don’t remember exactly what it was, but it was along the lines of “I guess you don’t care all that much, huh?” in a rather angry tone. Every now and then I remember that when someone dies, and occasionally feel a little guilty.

    I suppose that my nature in this respect has made it easier for me to be an atheist, in that I see no need for an afterlife, and though I do fear the pain and loss of experience represented by death, the ending of my consciousness itself doesn’t particularly bother me. I will make the best of my time here; try my hardest to make the world and the lives of the people around me better. That is, I think, the best any of us can hope for.

  • Darryl

    These postings have been very candid and enlightening. I have a few random thoughts on this topic.

    I think the impulse to fundamentalism is a human flaw and not inherent in religion. Religion only provides the occasion for fundamentalism. I doubt we can get a handle upon religious fanaticism until we manage to effectively treat the psychological roots of radicalism.

    Richard said:

    People are willing to kill and die for their beliefs.

    It doesn’t help that historic Christianity and Islam both put a value upon martyrdom.

    I suppose it’s easy to permit the radicalism that challenges us to alter us and make us more savage, but we must resist this urge while we resist radicalism.

    Bjorn said:

    I kept thinking, “If you really believe in Christianity, and have faith in it, why would death shake your faith?” Christians believe that if you believe in Jesus, and all of that, that you go into heaven. The concept of eternal life is pretty strong in Christianity. If your time on Earth is temporary anyway, why would you be so sad? Won’t you get to see your kids in heaven when you die anyway? That is, provided that you and your family all get into heaven, otherwise, you can’t see your kids for eternity. I would think that if you were strong in your faith, death wouldn’t phase you.

    I think that faith comes by degrees. Some belief cannot withstand tragedy and loss; some can. Humans require some means to come to grips with tragedy and crisis. For many (most?), religion provides a path for grief and a rationalization of the painful events of life, but it may not be entirely satisfactory. Believers wonder how an unbeliever can be solaced without religion. I wonder how they can be.

    One of my Aunts recently died and I was asked by my cousin to officiate at the funeral. I knew the religious opinions of my Aunt and of the rest of the quite-diverse family that would be attending. I had been to too many services that were hijacked by preachers whose intent it was to turn a eulogy into a revivalist camp meeting–delivering a generic gospel-call and not focusing on the deceased for whom we had gathered. This was not what I had come for, and I couldn’t have been alone in that. I decided to take a different course with my Aunt’s funeral. Without compromising my own views, I left space for those that needed to take the path of religion in order to deal with their sorrow and sense of loss. I, in a sense, invented a new paradigm, a new metaphor—an inclusive one–for how the family might deal with the occasion, and everyone that spoke to me said they were pleased with the beauty and dignity of the eulogy. It would have been cruel of me to have ignored the religious component of my family under the circumstances.

    TGA said:

    Since 9/11 I now of the same view as Sam Harris, namely that overarching respect for religions is in fact letting the door open for the fundamentalists and extremists to operate and spread their hatred.

    I have to reread Harris, but as I recall, he spends most of his time indicting religion and not discussing the steps that will have to be taken in order to moderate fundamentalism. I think one cannot lose hope that moderation is possible, and that it will only happen with the aid, and perhaps the leadership, of religious people.

    Amanda, I have heard many people comfort others and themselves with the belief that their loved ones are better off now, or not suffering now, because they are with the Lord. This doesn’t eradicate their grief or strong emotion, but it does help in some measure by rationalizing the loss.

    I can agree with Mike that in our culture something seems to be lacking in our rubrics surrounding death and tragedy. Perhaps the waning of religious fidelity and the waxing of materialism have not been met with a conscious effort to invent new ones. There is no secret formula for these; they center upon family, community, empathy, and support; things to which everyone has access.

  • Richard Wade

    There are no right or wrong ways to feel. Some people feel very little grief in general, others feel it very powerfully. It is not a statement about their goodness or value as a person, or how loving a person they are. it is just a difference in how their bodies respond. Your emotions are based in your body, which is descended from millions of ancestors over billions of years. So in a sense your body is far older than your individual mind, and it knows what it’s doing. Let your body feel what it feels and don’t interfere. Neither distract yourself away from feelings with busy work or chemicals, nor overly focus on them because of a social expectation that you “should” be feeling more or differently. Trust your body’s wisdom and honor it. As your body changes through time it may respond differently. Let it be so.

    There are however right and wrong ways to act on your feelings in the presence of others.

    zestycrustacean, you did not act insensitively or unkindly with others who were feeling more grief than you, you were simply being true to your own feelings. To either feign feelings or to stuff them down would be untrue to yourself, and to either demand more feelings from others or discourage them in others would be disrespectful to them. You honored your own body’s wisdom and honored others by accepting the wisdom of their bodies.

    Bjorn Watland, your anger and sadness are healthy, as is your ability to introspect, seeking a wise course of action. Let your feelings have their say before you jump too soon into positive action. A time for simply grieving is appropriate and will ensure that your love for taking constructive action does not inadvertently suppress feelings that should be expressed. Deep wounds should heal from the inside out. Those which scab over too soon can fester. I’m a do-er too. I have to remind myself to slow down and feel.

    Mike C, If I could afford it, I’d fly out to Illinois to sit shiva with you if you were ever grieved. I’d just be another face in what I’m sure would be a large crowd, and then I’d quietly steal away. No introductions necessary, just another person to be there with you. I hope that is not necessary for a very long time.

    Siamang and Mriana, you did the right thing to hold your tongues at the funerals, despite your strong feelings. You can be true to your own feelings at another time when it will not hurt others or cause a futile conflict.

    Darryl, what a generous and loving thing you did for your family at your aunt’s funeral. Love is when we set our little egos aside and include everyone without condition.

    Grieving is a process, a movement through many different feelings, all of which should be allowed and never condemned. They are intense or mild, long lasting or brief. They vanish or return. Just avoid getting stuck in any one part of that process. Life does go on, after a refrain.

  • Karen

    Excellent thread. I’ll piggy-back on a few points:
    Maria-

    I was well on my way to being an atheist on September 10, 2001. I was pretty much a deist at that point but September 11 was when the house of cards came tumbling down for me. It was a horrific time but all the constructs that I tried to put up for a long time just fell apart in the sheer evil of it all.

    Ditto for me, except that my awakening was hastened not on Sept. 11 itself, but in the six months that followed. It was reading the coverage afterward and particularly the mini-obits that the NY Times published on every victim that made me begin to seriously doubt the existence of a loving, just god.

    So, one guy stopped on a whim to get his glasses checked in the WTC lobby, thus avoiding certain death. Another guy who got to his desk five minutes earlier got slaughtered. One survivor felt “angels” lift him from the rubble and help him down the stairs, while another survivor stopped racing down the stairs to help an overweight man he’d never even met. The first guy lived, the good samaritan got slaughtered when the tower came down.

    I’m sure we’ll hear some of the same kinds of stories from this awful college massacre. The only thing they illustrate to me is the terrible randomness of life. Where is god? How can people honestly reconcile the cruelty of random events with this image of a caring, involved god? I could no longer keep up the facade after 9/11.

    Siamang-

    EVERYTHING was wrong. And they had the funeral in a church, and the reverend spoke of platitudes about Mysterious Ways and how she was in heaven and it was all to a good, Higher Purpose.

    And it consoled nobody. Everyone KNEW it was wrong. Everyone felt that this was BAD and Wrong and terrible and pointless. But the Rev. didn’t even acknowlege the depth of that pain.

    That’s really awful. I went to a fundamentalist funeral last fall for a Christian friend who also died young, though it was expected since she had ALS. I also did not make any critical comments which would have been absolutely rude and inappropriate, but what struck me was the continual denial of death, and comments about how we should not grieve or be sad, but be joyful!

    It couldn’t have been more frickin’ obvious – the body was right under our noses – but there was a steady stream of comments, “She’s not really gone,” “She’s still alive, watching over us all,” “L. is in heaven with Jesus now,” “Let’s not forget that death hasn’t won this battle!” This went on ad nauseum, almost like whistling past the graveyard – (“maybe if we keep saying this enough times somebody will really believe it!”) I found it weird, and distracting from what could have been a cathartic time of grieving for her friends and family.

    Darryl-

    I had been to too many services that were hijacked by preachers whose intent it was to turn a eulogy into a revivalist camp meeting–delivering a generic gospel-call and not focusing on the deceased for whom we had gathered. This was not what I had come for, and I couldn’t have been alone in that. I decided to take a different course with my Aunt’s funeral. Without compromising my own views, I left space for those that needed to take the path of religion in order to deal with their sorrow and sense of loss. I, in a sense, invented a new paradigm, a new metaphor—an inclusive one–for how the family might deal with the occasion, and everyone that spoke to me said they were pleased with the beauty and dignity of the eulogy.

    Oh, I’ve been to those hijacked-for-evangelism funerals, and weddings, too. Yikes! They’re just awful. :-( I would love to hear more about the new paradigm you came up with for your aunt’s service that incorporated humanism and religion. It sounds really intriguing.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    It couldn’t have been more frickin’ obvious – the body was right under our noses – but there was a steady stream of comments, “She’s not really gone,” “She’s still alive, watching over us all,” “L. is in heaven with Jesus now,” “Let’s not forget that death hasn’t won this battle!” This went on ad nauseum, almost like whistling past the graveyard – (”maybe if we keep saying this enough times somebody will really believe it!”) I found it weird, and distracting from what could have been a cathartic time of grieving for her friends and family.

    Though for many people such statements are meaningful and are helpful. I can understand why for atheists such statements might seem like insincere platitudes, but for those of us who really believe them to be true, they can be comforting at times.

  • Mriana

    Siamang said,

    April 17, 2007 at 1:15 pm

    In that case it was “funerals are for the living”, and I agreed with that.

    Funerals are suppose to be for the living.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Funerals are suppose to be for the living.

    That’s why, as much as I’d like to, I’m reluctant to make a big list of things that have to be done at my funeral. I don’t want to dictate anything that might make things more difficult or awkward for my family when the time comes. Since I’ll be dead anyway, it seems kind of selfish for me to prescribe how others have to mourn my passing.

  • Mriana

    I can’t disagree, but I don’t think there is anything wrong with suggesting a funeral that is more accommodating to everyone. I think a Funeral Celebration is more focused on the mourners than the dead, as well as non-religious (yet gives a brief moment for the religious to pray silently or what have you), and is therefore better for the living because it does acknowledge everyone’s needs during the service. Such a service is not just catered to the religious or non-religious, but rather accommodates everyone in some way.

  • Robin

    I have to admit that I was a skeptic about God, or at least religion at a very early age. I didn’t understand the inconsitencies and contradictions that were inside the bible. When I posed questions in my bible study class, I was told that it was too complicated for the layman to understand and I needed to stop distrupting the class with all my questions and if I could not do that I would not be able to be part of the class any longer.

    Then when I was 16 my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I hadn’t quite given up on God as yet so I prayed almost daily for God to heal her. She only got worse. Then I prayed for God to take her. End her suffering. Her suffering continued on and worsened for close to another year. I can’t even begin, nor do I want to, share that experience.

    I do know that that was the end of my belief in a higher power. If there is a purpose and lesson in watching someone suffer, I am still not sure what it was. If it was to teach me patience, show me how strong I could be, bring the family closer. I am pretty sure those things could have been learned in some other manner than having it include another person and watching them suffer in excrutiating pain and agony.

    I am not angry at God as some may say is the reason for my atheism. It was a lesson on not believing in fairy tales any longer. I liken it to finding out there really isn’t a Santa Clause. Your a bit dissapointed but not angry. How can one be angry at something that does not exist? The dissapointment is really directed at the people who perpetuate this fairy tale.

    When my youngest son was born with problems, he was in intensive care for 2 weeks. We were told that his first 24 hrs would be cruicial. I did not look towards God for his mercy. I chose to sit beside my sons incubator and talk with him. I ask him to hold on so he could come home with me and his dad to meet his brother and our dog and cat. I told him all about us and how much we wanted him to be apart of our family etc. He made it through and happy to say he is a normal healthy 27 year old pain in the ass. I thank the medical people for the excellent care they gave him and for the strength of my little guy to hold on and fight back. If it would have went the other way, it would have been because it wasn’t meant to be his turn in this lifetime.

    Hope is a good thing. If we don’t have that we don’t have much to live for sometimes. You can have hope with out religion. You hope the medicine works, you hope the surgeory helps, you hope the police get there in time, you hope you don’t get an F on your exam,etc, etc, etc. False hope is something else entirely. Religion pushes false hope in the idea of an imaginary entity that holds all the power and that can be very dangerous. People that push false hope are doing nothing less than playing russian roulette with peoples minds and lives in my opinion.

  • Richard Wade

    Robin,
    Good to see you. Your courage, strength and candor are always an inspiration to me. I’m proud to call you my friend.

  • MTran

    This tragedy in Virginia is simply dreadful. As we learn more about it, it seems to become worse, because the details bring it so much closer to our own reality.

    Anyhow, it was the attack on WTT on 9-11 that caused me to lose nearly all respect for religions and theists, particularly fundamentalist literalists of any form.

    The US had an opportunity to teach a strong lesson about how superior a law based, secular democracy was in comparison to the inevitable mad destructiveness of any theocracy.

    Instead, within a day, we had a president declaring a Crusade against the Jihadists. “My god’s better than your god!” “My god likes us better than your god likes you” “My god is the smitingest” At least, that’s what it sounded like to me.

    Previously, I had been a live-and-let-live atheist. Now, I want no part of religion anywhere. I can hardly tolerate the proliferation of war mongering fundies that have infested our political processes far out of proportion to their presence in the population.

    Unfortunately, I have come to the conclusion that Richard Dawkins is right: the liberal and moderate believers provide (perhaps unwitting) cover for the nut case religions.

    Actually, I was convinced of that position well before Dawkins TGD was published. So I was relieved to hear someone with a public voice make that statement so clearly.

  • Robin

    Hi Richard Wade!

    I suppose I got off topic about the public tragedies with my personal experiences. Its just that I lost faith years before the towers went down.

    This next comment I am going to make may really be off topic but I also would like to share, that normally I am a live and let live atheist. To each his own basically. I have never really had a problem with people and their religious expressions of faith in times of tragedy. As we all have our own ways of dealing.

    But, I must say that yesterday when I was watching the VT Memorial service, I actually almost became physically ill when the Govenor of Virginia stood up to speak. At the point in which he started to quote things out of the bible I noticed he almost had a smile on his face. I found myself becoming increasingly disgusted and offended.

    I guess I am trying to understand why this made me feel so uncomfortable this time, when it has never done that to me in the past? Perhaps I just felt him to be less sincere and more on a platform for himself? In all fairness to him, maybe these are just his general mannerisms to which I am not familiar with, as I have never seen him speak before?

    I hope you all will forgive me for my rambling. I do realize that others (as in the families and friends of the victims) have more pressing feelings to take care of than mine right now.

  • Tina

    Robin says>But, I must say that yesterday when I was watching the VT Memorial service, I actually almost became physically ill when the Govenor of Virginia stood up to speak. At the point in which he started to quote things out of the bible I noticed he almost had a smile on his face. I found myself becoming increasingly disgusted and offended.

    Yes! I felt the exact same way and I was trying to figure out why. I started thinking, this is a sermon and everyone is trying to out-do the other on the podium, it was probably me just being paranoid or whatever, but I really got tired of watching it. I was horrified to hear what happened and I thought first of the parents. I didn’t say, god, why did you let this happen..etc. Then I watching the memorial service, I started wondering what the atheists in the audience were thinking. Of course I was not in that audience and maybe I wouldn’t think of the prayers and sermons as ridiculous at that time.

  • Tina

    Sorry, I shouldn’t have said “ridiculous” in my last comment. Some people seem to need the comfort of religion and a god. I didn’t mean to offend anyone.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    BTW, if anyone is interested, here are some wise words from a Columbine pastor about how Christians should respond to these sorts of tragedies. I don’t agree with every bit of what he says, but he did raise a lot of the same points that you all have here.

  • Richard Wade

    Unfortunately, I have come to the conclusion that Richard Dawkins is right: the liberal and moderate believers provide (perhaps unwitting) cover for the nut case religions.

    I have seen this assertion by Dawkins and Harris repeated over and over, and everybody seems to take it for granted. Has this ever been actually observed and measured? Does anyone have any actual empirical evidence of this? If we think that claims should be backed up by evidence, then show me the evidence, don’t give me common sensical arguments. It’s like saying that the leopards in Africa are covering for the lions. No, they’re not.
    I don’t automatically buy it as so many fans of Harris and Dawkins seem to. It looks to me like the more liberal Christians and fundies are in direct conflict and competition. If people want to make so powerful a claim that “so they all gotta go,” then prove it.

  • Richard Wade

    Anyone wanting to respond to my previous comment please take it over to the thread about Framing Science. It’s a more appropriate place to discuss this. Thanks

  • Karen

    Though for many people such statements are meaningful and are helpful. I can understand why for atheists such statements might seem like insincere platitudes, but for those of us who really believe them to be true, they can be comforting at times.

    That was the thing that struck me as weird, though: It came off like they didn’t really believe them to be true. The repetition of the same denial message (“she’s NOT DEAD”), over and over, in shriller and shriller tones, was just strange to hear. And maybe it was stranger particularly to me since it was the first fundy funeral I’ve attended since leaving the evangelical fold – perhaps I wouldn’t have really even noticed before I became an atheist.

    However, the circumstances of this death were so tragic, so completely unexpected and so cruel that it is pretty tough to see “god’s perfect plan” in it. Most people have a hard time reconciling these tragedies with the notion of a loving, involved god who cares about “every hair on our heads,” so maybe that’s part of what motivated the funeral speakers to be so insistent, I dunno. I just found it exceedingly odd.

  • http://www.whatbox.blogspot.com Jennifer

    I posted about this on my blog this morning:

    I am tired of hearing people say that all we can do prevent these tragedies in our schools is “pray it never happens”. Bullshit.

    And I am tired of hearing survivors say they survived by the grace of God. God obviously didn’t have grace for the victims, did he? How arrogant to think you were chosen to survive and others weren’t. This implies that you are somehow more special to God than those who died. This is ludicrous, and it is hurtful, and it is false.

  • MTran

    Unfortunately, I have come to the conclusion that Richard Dawkins is right: the liberal and moderate believers provide (perhaps unwitting) cover for the nut case religions.

    I have seen this assertion by Dawkins and Harris repeated over and over, and everybody seems to take it for granted. Has this ever been actually observed and measured?

    Richard Wade posed this question to one of my comments and it’s taken me this long to get back to him. Sorry for the delay. But this is a very legitimate question and it deserves some thought — which, for me, means I’ve actually got to take time to think before I write, and time has been a scarce commodity for me lately. ;-)

    I still haven’t done any homework on the matter but I doubt we’re going to find any real data or reports on such a question regarding “moderate” religiosity acting as a shield for extremists. We might, though, be able to find data, studies, or other useful information by looking at social or political situations that can give us some analagous insights.

    Silence or failure to object can easily be deemed to be consent or agreement for certain types of activities. Certainly in the courtroom, failure to object immediately and accurately, is tantamount to agreement with the opposition. And if you are later found guilty or liable based on that objectionable comment, the court of appeals isn’t going to give you a second chance. The technical phrase for this is that you are Sh:t 0ut of Luck.

    Now most people don’t live their lives in the courtroom, but I’m sure we have all been in social or business settings where something is said that can or does make people uncomfortable. Yet if the person saying it has a certain status, precious few are likely to counter it. And if the offensive person has a high enough status, then there may well be others who will pipe in with a “Me Too”.

    You may learn afterwards that some people didn’t really agree with what was said but, gee, no one was willing to speak out when it counted. So bad policies are instituted, the social atmosphere becomes polluted or a hostile work environment is created. You can see this sort of thing among children, in the case of playground taunts, a young child can be marginalized or ostracized because one or a few “cool” kids called him names.

    Speaking out isn’t easy, although looking at the big mouths on TV or the rants posted all over the internet, it can be hard to believe that most people are dreadfully afraid of public speaking.

    I doubt that these comments even begin to address Richard Wade’s question, but at least it’s a starting point.

  • Richard Wade

    MTran,
    Thank you for your gracious response. I hope you are well. I know that delays can mean health issues.

    I can hardly believe I’m arguing in defense of Christians, but more importantly I’m arguing against mob mentality, which I am afraid I see forming in some devotees of Dawkins and Harris. Unquestioning agreement with the ideas of charismatic authority is exactly what Harris and Dawkins stand against, yet ironically many of their readers are doing just that on this issue of what I call the “Domino Theory” of moderate and liberal theists creating a safe atmosphere for extremist theists.

    I like your courtroom analogy, and if by saying that “silence implies consent” you are saying that moderate or liberal Christians are by their silence giving tacit approval to the fundamentalist-based Radical Religious Right, I offer the following as evidence that they are vociferously opposing the RRR and are in direct conflict and competition:

    In just a few minutes I have collected several references offered by other visitors to this very site: The books they refer to I have not read nor am I likely to. I merely offer them as evidence that the fundies don’t get passive “cover” from the libbies or the moddies.

    On the “Caught on Tape” thread writerdd (a.k.a. skepchick) cites authors Shelby Spong and Randall Balmer, both Christians who oppose various actions and stances of the RRR.

    Also there our ever-patient friend Mike C offers links to Jim Wallis, author of “God’s Politics,” to Greg Boyd who has written “Myth of a Christian Nation,” to Robin Meyers who has penned “Why the Christian Right is Wrong,” and to Becky Garrison, author of “Red and Blue God, Black and White Church.” As I said I’ve not read these, but the subtitles for each indicate that these Christians are being a serious thorn in the RRR’s side.

    On the same “Caught on Tape” thread Karen has told us about a group of moderate and liberal Christians who oppose the RRR and offer alerts to their most alarming activities on a website called talk2action.

    Finally, kerry on Hemant’s “It’s Late and I’m Tired” thread sends a link to his site, “Subversive Christianity” featuring several well written articles criticizing Dawkins. Regardless of your opinion of the articles, what I would point out there is that about as much print is devoted to decrying the hateful extremism of the RRR as to anti-theistic atheists.

    So I offer these as evidence against the Domino Theory with the acknowledgement that I’m not the expert nor even well versed in them. I would hope that these people I’ve mentioned could appear in our “courtroom” and testify as expert witnesses against the idea that liberal and moderate Christians make it easy for the religious extremists to operate.

    Your witness, counselor.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C
    Unfortunately, I have come to the conclusion that Richard Dawkins is right: the liberal and moderate believers provide (perhaps unwitting) cover for the nut case religions.

    I have seen this assertion by Dawkins and Harris repeated over and over, and everybody seems to take it for granted. Has this ever been actually observed and measured?

    Richard Wade is right. Moderate and liberal Christians, far from providing cover, are actually mostly in the front lines resisting fundamentalism. Think about it this way…

    Clearly there are people in American society who are standing up to fundamentalists and resisting their agenda – it’s not like liberals and progressives are just rolling over and letting them have their way. I mean think about it, nearly 50% (or more) of American voters voted against Bush in the last two elections.

    Now who are these people? They can’t possibly all be atheists, there aren’t enough of you guys. (Aren’t you guys typically fond of pointing out how much of a minority you are in America?) According to Barna, 12% of Americans are atheists (which is a high estimate from what I’ve seen) and 11% belong to non-Christian religions. Even if we were to assume that all atheists and all “other” religious people voted against Bush (which is not a safe assumption at all – as I’ve come to find out, atheists are all over the map politically as well) that still leaves another 27% of the anti-Bush votes who must have been Christians of one type or another.

    And of course it’s not just the presidential elections. Unless you want to claim that every liberal and progressive and Democrat out there who speaks out constantly against the Right Wing Agenda and works to resist it is actually an atheist, I think you have to admit that there are plenty of us “liberal” and moderate Christians who are busy resisting fundamentalism right alongside you.

  • MTran

    Richard Wade & Mike C.,

    You have given a lot of good reasons for me to think you may be more correct than Dawkins on this issue. But based on some comments others have made in the past that were similar to Mike C’s, I’m wondering what can be done to get the moderate, reasonable Christian messages out front in the media.

    One thing that Dawkins’ book TGD did was get people talking about belief vs non-belief on a much wider scale than we’ve seen before. Dawkins, already a widely read popularizer of science, had name recognition that helped him to get a lot of attention.

    I’m not aware of the same sort of attention being paid to main-line and moderate religious views compared to what we see in the media about radical right literalists. If the real problem is that the media has caused a skewed version of events and opinions, I’m not sure what to do about that. There should be others with some expertise along those lines.

    As a counterpoint to the scenarios I initially described, perhaps I should add the situation in Dover, Pa., which happens to support Richard and Mike’s view pretty well.

    The problems in that school district were caused by a handful of literalist activists who ignored everyone who urged them to back away from their plans to teach creationism in the science classes. Although the literalists pushed their agenda through, they were all voted out of office by the same believers who first elected them.

    I think that Dover showed all sides in their truest light: fundamentalists / literalists, main-line believers, and non-believers. So with that rather large piece of evidence, it would seem that Richard and Mike have the bulk of documented evidence on their side.

  • Richard Wade

    MTran,
    I don’t disapprove of or disagree with all of what I have read by Dawkins or Harris, and I agree that they have performed a valuable service to bring this debate more into public awareness. I myself didn’t think much about it until I heard a talk by Harris just after the release of “End of Faith.” Reading it I get the impression that while he argues well for the most part they are old arguments. The only really new idea is this indictment of the moderate and liberal believers. As I’m not a scholar of such things I could be wrong both that it’s not a new idea, as well as that there are other ideas in his book that are new. Nevertheless, old excellent arguments should be restated anew from time to time.

    I see some atheists who seem motivated mainly by their concern about practices by the extreme religious right that are dangerous to world peace, to our constitutional rights and to the environment. I am in that category. I also see other atheists who seem motivated mainly by their disdain or anger or even naked hate of religion in general. Dawkins and Harris by including their blanket anti-religious arguments in their works leave themselves open to criticism that they fall into that latter group, and I think they lose credibility with people who might otherwise have been coaxed toward a more rational world view.

    I think you’re correct about the fundies getting a disproportionate slice of the press, and I think it’s for two reasons. Firstly, the moderates may be more interested in practicing their religion in their daily lives while the RRR is focused on affecting public policy and politics. So they’re bigger loudmouths. They have many mass media forums on TV and radio. I’m not aware of such outlets for liberal or moderate Christians giving counterpoint to the rabid fundies. (Mike, do you know of any?) The second reason is that extreme statements and extreme actions get the news attention. So even if there were an equal number of fundie and moderate radio commentators the extremists making the outrageous statements would still get the front page stories. Do you think that argument makes sense?

    As you say, if that’s so we don’t know what to do about it other than perhaps encourage our moderate and liberal allies to speak up as incessantly as the right-wing nut cases do. If they could spend less time defending themselves from attacks by anti-theist atheists, they could spend more time attacking the fundies.

    In the meantime we atheists should challenge our more “bad boy” brothers to either back up their overarching anti-theist assertions with real evidence or shut up and help us all fight the fundies while we still have the freedom to do so.

    Your invoking Dover, PA is very appropriate and I agree that it was a good representation of the various factions at play. I hope the happy outcome at Dover is also an accurate portent of things to come.

  • MTran

    Reading it I get the impression that while he argues well for the most part they are old arguments

    .

    You are definitely right about these arguments being old stuff. And basic stuff too, though I’m not sure that what we need is more “sophisticated” argument. I think what is needed is a true dialogue that allows non-believers to be heard rather than simply being shouted down or villified as “satanists” or perverts.

    That sort of public dialogue doesn’t happen very often, even when supposedly “moderate” media interviewers are the ones doing the “dialogue.”

    Dawkins’ & Harris’ books held no interest for me until I started reading all the name-calling and cries of “militant atheists.” Imagine my (lack of) surprise when I read these very light weight but timely books.

    I was quite glad that they were getting so much attention as best-sellers. But I was also disappointed that they were called “militant” or “fundamentalist”, or “new atheists” when there was basically nothing in the books that was new or surprising.

    What has surprised me, though, is that the religious right responds to these books by making the same ludicrous arguments that the books accuse them of. In other words, the loudest believers make Dawkins’ & Harris’ assessment sound right on target for all believers. And major media plays the same game.

  • Richard Wade

    What has surprised me, though, is that the religious right responds to these books by making the same ludicrous arguments that the books accuse them of. In other words, the loudest believers make Dawkins’ & Harris’ assessment sound right on target for all believers. And major media plays the same game.

    If you mean that the religious right ends up fulfilling the stereotype portrayed by Harris and Dawkins, and thereby gives credence to all their assertions including those about the moderates and liberals, I’m afraid you’re right. The lesson for us is to not allow Harris and Dawkins to become in the same way the stereotyped representatives for the rest of us non-believers. We must somehow be heard that while we agree with some of their points, H and D don’t speak everything for all of us. It’s not easy to compete with best sellers, but we can at least start with their devoted fans. I intend to not let a single mention of the Domino Theory get by without a demand for evidence. Forgive me if you get tired of having to read my challenges to others. Who knows, maybe somebody will come up with actual convincing data, but until then I will continue to consider moderate and liberal Christians to be allies against what I see as a serious menace.

  • MTran

    Richard Wade,

    I actually think it would be a good idea for some enterprising grad student in sociology or similar field to undertake some sort of study or survey and let us know whether the issue actually exists. I suspect that it could be difficult to design such a study but that’s a problem common to much social research.

    I do have to say, though, that my own personal experience with other sorts of political / cultural disputes has been just about entirely consistent with what Dawkins has proposed for moderate believers acting as, if not a shield, a buffer for the fundamentalist literalists.

    Of course it’s just my own experience, which may not be typical at all. But too often I’ve called bigots on their racist comments, only to have people come up to me afterwards to tell me that they aren’t bigots themselves, don’t agree with the idiot who was spouting off, and are glad that I said something.

    See, I just don’t understand silence in the face of bigotry (although I’d make an exception for those facing armed racists). Yet it was often well intentioned, non-racist whites who wanted “uppity nWords” to be more polite about their plight and tolerated denigrating comments because they disliked social conflict. This is my own personal, anecdotal “evidence” and perception, which is not worth much as valid scientific analysis.

    A lot of people understandably don’t like it when parallels are made between racial discrimination (which is no longer legal or acceptable) and a bunch of accusatory, whining atheists who have more education and gall than they need. But unless I can hear the moderating voices of rational believers, I’m not going to know they exist.

  • Richard Wade

    MTran,
    Can you give me an example in a political arena that is analogous to the alleged shield or buffer effect in religion? Do the Italian socialist parties give a buffer for the Italian communist parties, or do they compete and actually limit each other? Do the right-of-center parties make it easier for the ultra nationalists to thrive, or do they take votes away from each other?

    If we were to apply Harris’ and Dawkins’ denunciation of moderates to politics, then one might say that middle of the road political moderates are guilty of providing safe harbor for extreme left and extreme right parties. I don’t think that makes much sense. The only people who would agree are those in the extreme camps who want to see all the other parties swept away.

    I too wish I could directly hear the loud voices of liberal and moderate Christians denouncing the RRR, rather than being reassured by people like Mike C that they are out there somewhere. But I can’t assume there isn’t any forceful objection at all. You and I live on the west coast, pretty far from the hot spots of the fight. I can’t pick up Midwest radio very well, and I think that’s where the controversy may be raging.

    I agree that bigotry must be objected to every time it is expressed. But we can’t stand around wishing Christian mods were doing more about the fundies while we’ve got bigots in our own midst. They’re the bigots who say all religious folks are assholes, and degrade the dialogue down to the two extreme ugly stereotypes. We need to clean up our own side of the street before we talk about the mess on the other side of the street. So I’m going to get in the face of anybody, atheist or theist who makes condemning remarks about others without offering convincing evidence. We’re supposed to be the skeptics, let’s start applying that at home. You and I have the gumption to speak up against any kind of prejudice, not just the kind that push our buttons, and the more we do it the more others will too.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Liberal and moderate Christians do have a harder time getting their message out – for a number of reasons – the main one being that about 30-40 years ago the Religious Right did a lot better job of adapting to “new” media like TV & radio (a lot of this had to do with the evangelical impulse to spread the gospel and make converts – liberals by comparison are less interested in proselytizing). So now the conservative Christians have a loud voice and institutions to support that voice, and the liberals are left playing catch up.

    But I think more progressive Christians are starting to adapt better to the “new” media of our day, i.e. the internet and grassroots organizing. Probably the most influential voice right now for the “Christian Left” is Jim Wallis, and he has started to get noticed by even the mainstream media. His organization, Sojourners, is kind of a collection point for politically progressive Christians, whether they are conservative or liberal in their theology.

    There’s also been talking of Wallis and others syndicating a progressive Christian radio network, but right now the funding just isn’t there.

    Richard is also right to point out however that many progressive Christians are more interested in living out their faith and making a difference on the grassroots level than in controlling political parties and structures. A lot of us have been turned off by the heavy-handed power hungry tactics of the RR and so we’re leery of becoming too identified with a political party. We’d rather be known for our actions than for our agenda. That’s why even though you’ll occasionally see us on Larry King or Chris Matthews, more often you’ll find us in the trenches making a difference in the lives of real people – e.g. feeding the poor, rebuilding New Orleans, holding local anti-war vigils, building bridges between ethnic communities, speaking out against homophobia on college campuses, raising awareness about global AIDS and extreme poverty, building hospitals in Haiti, educating people about how to care for the environment, etc. (and this is all just the stuff my own church has been involved with this past year – larger and more financially solvent churches are probably doing more).

    I guess maybe we’re just cynical about how much good it will do just to try shouting as loud as the guys from the RR. They’re increasingly marginalizing themselves within the Christian community (there’s more and more conservative Christians who do not at all want to be identified with Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, or even James Dobson anymore). We worry about being labeled and marginalized as the “Christian Left” just as they’ve done to themselves as the Christian Right. We’d like our actions to speak for themselves, and for people to be attracted to that, not to our rhetoric. In the long run I think it may be a more effective strategy.

  • Karen

    Richard is also right to point out however that many progressive Christians are more interested in living out their faith and making a difference on the grassroots level than in controlling political parties and structures.

    Interesting discussion, but let me interject a question:

    Is Harris talking about moderate/liberal Christians giving cover to fundies and theocrats for their social and political views and activities?

    Or is he talking about giving cover to their religious views?

    I always thought he was talking about the latter. Sam Harris wants to see “The End of Faith” – totally. He would like religion to evaporate.

    His beef, as I understood it, is that moderates and liberals may not hold to notions of infallible, literal scripture interpretations and the exclusivity of Christianity. But because they are loathe to criticize the more fundy beliefs of their “brothers and sisters in Christ,” those fundamentalist beliefs don’t get discredited as strongly as they might otherwise be.

    But maybe I’m reading him wrong?

  • Richard Wade

    Karen,
    Perhaps I should let Mike or some other moderate Christian answer your question, but I don’t think you’re reading Harris wrong; where you may be making a wrong assumption is about liberal and moderate Christians being so “loath to criticize their fundy brothers and sisters in Christ.” They actually are in their faces a lot about both theological and political/social issues. Harris, Dawkins and the rest of us seem to have been unaware of a controversy and a conflict that has been building for quite a while.

    While it’s an important distinction that your trying to clarify, I’d say that in the case of the more extreme religious right the social/political views and the religious views have become inextricably mixed together. It’s a confusing and confused mess.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    You’re probably right about Harris’ argument Karen. And if he wants to accuse us of providing cover for fundamentalists’ belief in the existence of God, then I guess we’re guilty as charged (with perhaps the exception of Bishop Spong). However, the cover pretty much stops there. It’d be hard to find any other significant theological issue that fundies and liberals see eye-to-eye on. Maybe he’s just not paying attention, but the past 200 years have been full of theological conflict and debate over both political and theological issues between liberals, moderates, and fundamentalist Christians. We are standing up to them on dozens of issues.

    But if Harris wants us to just give up our faith entirely just so we can help oppose fundamentalists, then he shouldn’t hold his breath since I’m not inclined to oblige him anytime soon.

    Frankly, if that’s his argument then I find his statements pretty disingenuous. He’s not really complaining about fundamentalists is he? He couldn’t care less about the distinctions between types of belief. He’s just lumping us all in together. In that case he might as well talk about the fundamentalists providing cover for the liberals. If his real problem is with any kind of religious belief then what does it matter who’s providing cover for whom?

    Harris is welcome to his views, but personally I wouldn’t want to live in a society that judges people based more on their metaphysical beliefs than on their ethics and actions in the world. I came out of a sub-culture that judged people the way Harris does, and it wasn’t life-giving, loving or healthy.

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