Michael Shermer on Aggressive Atheism

In the latest Scientific American, Michael Shermer warns fellow atheists “we should be cautious about irrational exuberance.”

We need to remember the following five rules:

  • 1. Anti-something movements by themselves will fail.
  • 2. Positive assertions are necessary.
  • 3. Rational is as rational does.
  • 4. The golden rule is symmetrical.
  • 5. Promote freedom of belief and disbelief.

Shermer spends time talking about each of these separately. The most important thing for atheists to remember is this line, that comes via a very positive atheist:

As Carl Sagan cautioned in “The Burden of Skepticism,” a 1987 lecture, “You can get into a habit of thought in which you enjoy making fun of all those other people who don’t see things as clearly as you do. We have to guard carefully against it.”

Shermer ends with this:

Rational atheism values the truths of science and the power of reason, but the principle of freedom stands above both science and religion.

So to put this article in a nutshell: Don’t be a %&$# about atheism. Help others understand it. Be a model of what you want to see.


[tags]atheist, atheism, Scientific American, Michael Shermer, The golden rule, Carl Sagan, The Burden of Skepticism, religion[/tags]

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    Shermer’s always so level headed (well, except when he gets on the Libertarian bandwagon). He did have a short stint as a born-again Christian, so I think that gives him a level of understanding that many people who have never been religious just can’t attain. Hemant, your own Janist upbringing probably gives you the same understanding.

    I don’t think Dennet should be a recipient of Shermer’s letter, though. After all, in his book, he admist forthrightly that we don’t know if the world would be better off without religion or not.

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    To illustrate my own ambiguity on this topic, I’m going to add a comment that completely disagrees with my own previous comment. When I read things like the bit below (and there are many sources for similar information, including Chris Hedges’s American Fascists), I think that Dawkins, Harris, etc., are not being strong enough in their rhetoric. After all, that’s all it is: talk. Atheists are not carrying weapons, bombing abortion clinics, beating up gays, or performing any other violent acts in the name of their (un)belief.

    If you doubt [the fundies'] intentions, just look at where they’re putting their energies. Bitterly disappointed by the limits of government power, they are now focusing intently on accruing military power instead. Dave wrote about the OSU’s officially-sanctioned efforts to proselytize to our soldiers in Iraq. Other groups are targeting these soldiers after they come home, seeking to fill the hole left by the paucity of VA counseling and transition services. Mikey Weinstein has made the case that they’ve deeply infiltrated both the faculties and the cadet corps of our military academies. They’ve also made specific appeals to the military leadership: Jerry Boykin is far from the only general who puts his duty to God ahead of his duty to country, and being “born-again” is increasingly viewed as a requirement for promotion in certain areas of the service. And, through Ron Luce’s “Battle Cry” rallies, millions of teenagers are being schooled in the logic and aesthetics of spiritual (and real-life) warfare, priming the pipeline with another generation of Christian soldiers. Across the fundamentalist world, there’s a new militance. They’re mad as hell, and they’re not going to take it any more.

    By an ex-fundy friend of mine from http://dneiwert.blogspot.com/2007/08/great-commission.html

    Is being nice and tolerating unfounded beliefs really the way to fight back against religious militants? I don’t think it will work, frankly.

  • http://musings.meanderwithme.com Allison

    Yes, we need to be more outspoken about who we are, what we believe, and why — but we need to draw the line, IMO at telling other people what they MUST believe. One of my favorite bloggers wrote about an experience she had this week, and frankly, I’m angry on her behalf.

    Perhaps rhetoric in books can be and should be stronger. But seriously, when we’re dealing with other people face-to-face, it looks pretty ridiculous for us to be as evangelical (read: pushy) as religious fundamentalists.

    Off to read Shermer’s post!

  • Aj

    Yes, we need to be more outspoken about who we are, what we believe, and why — but we need to draw the line, IMO at telling other people what they MUST believe. One of my favorite bloggers wrote about an experience she had this week, and frankly, I’m angry on her behalf.

    There is nothing wrong with being “evangelical” as in giving books and such to friends. She can’t say “no thank you” to a friend, so she whines about it in a blog? Pathetic person.

    “Leave my faith alone” really says all you need to know. No one is forcing their beliefs, no one is telling others what they must believe. Would this kind of idiocy be posted about any other subject?

    Sounds like this person is only supporting rational atheism with books, links, and comments. Apparantly that’s “rude” and “forceful”.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike C

    This is a good list. Shermer is right on the money IMO.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike C

    Atheists are not carrying weapons, bombing abortion clinics, beating up gays, or performing any other violent acts in the name of their (un)belief.

    And neither are the vast majority of religious people.

    We ought to be capable of fighting against the militants without fighting with all religious people.

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    We ought to be capable of fighting against the militants without fighting with all religious people.

    Mike C, this is absolutely true. But why are the only religious people in the media the militant ones? Why aren’t more people like you speaking out against the extremists? It sure does make it seem like most religious people are at least partially in agreement with the extremists since they are not saying anything to the contrary, and are in many cases saying that we can’t speak out against religion or belief at all.

  • http://daybydayhsing.blogspot.com Dawn

    But why are the only religious people in the media the militant ones? Why aren’t more people like you speaking out against the extremists?

    Is there really correlation between who’s speaking out and who the media chooses to march across a TV screen?

    Best to check out Americans United and the Clergy Letter Project where people are doing real work whether the media chooses to cover it or not.

  • monkeymind

    writerdd, is this the kind of thing you mean:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s6P9qP_Rpxw

    Also, isn’t Barry Lynn, the director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a minister?

    aj – as long as you confuse pissing off your friends with effective social action, the fundies have nothing to fear. The blogger you dismissed as a whiner describes a barrage of efforts to “fix” this defect the atheist had discovered in his friend, not a simple sharing of his beliefs.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    The American media, corporate owned and so in favor of the most corporate friendly party ruling the country, has chosen who is presented as the face of religion, as well as atheism in the United States. They choose fundamentalists for the face of religion and the snarling, arrogant kind of atheists to represent, generally, anyone who they can use to unite the fundamentalists and so hand victory to Republicans. It’s exactly the same kind of tactic they used against the civil rights movement, the woman’s movement, the gay rights movement, etc. The fundamentalists power is concentrated in states that can make it easier for them to hand the electoral college to the Republican candidate, the one who will maximize their profits and only ask that they not inform the people of unprofitable reality. I really wish that people understood that it’s really a matter of gaming the system for maximum profit through the exercise of power.

    If liberal religion and liberal atheism could be heard, they would be glad to be. The media are the gate keepers and the results are the kind of polarization we have had for the past quarter of a century.

  • miller

    I love Michael Shermer’s articles, but I wonder about the effectiveness of this letter. It may not be obvious, but the more reasonable (and this probably excludes Hitchens) among “militant” atheists already value respect and freedom, if only in theory. I think the disagreement is not in the importance of freedom and respect, but what specifically are freedom and respect.

    Another comment with regards to the first rule… It is a little dishonest to on the one hand try to be all inclusive with a definition of “atheist” and on the other hand have an “atheist movement” that promotes a specific positive message.

  • Aj

    aj – as long as you confuse pissing off your friends with effective social action, the fundies have nothing to fear. The blogger you dismissed as a whiner describes a barrage of efforts to “fix” this defect the atheist had discovered in his friend, not a simple sharing of his beliefs.

    “Barrage” you and she make it sound like an act of violence! I don’t even remember writing about “effective social action”. If the majority of people are like you, the fundies have won.

    What is wrong with nonviolent, polite, persuasion? Oh… that’s right, you have to “leave my faith alone”. Somehow, pointing out the irrationalism is offensive…

    And suddenly, I’m being inundated with books, clippings, links, and comments that support atheism. The latest was about Hitchens, the evangelical atheist.

    Oh the hardship…

    In all that time, I did not give him a single tract, a single compelling Bible verse or book or link. I allowed him the integrity of his belief.

    Oh no… if anyone gave me a Bible verse or book, I might become a priest! Integrity of his belief? Can’t have anyone questioning irrational beliefs…

    Suddenly he discovers my beliefs diverge from his – and I’m being inundated. I’m being… evangelized.

    The horror!

  • Miko

    I’ll agree with 3-5 unreservedly and think that 1-2 may be desirable, but to be picky:

    # 1. Anti-something movements by themselves will fail.

    Not true. Consider for example the anti-slavery movement, for example. Abolitionists were anti-slavery pure and simple. They had nothing else to replace slavery with because the idea was wrong on all levels and could have no replacement.

    Also, the atheist ‘movement’ isn’t really anti anything. Even our more strident authors are mainly just giving arguments in favor of a rationalist epistemology.

    # 2. Positive assertions are necessary.

    This is the contrapositive of #1 and so is logically equivalent to it (assuming that “to prevent failure” is implied after the word “necessary”).

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike C

    But why are the only religious people in the media the militant ones?

    writerdd, olvlzl is right, just because you don’t see many religious moderates (or atheist moderates for that matter) in the media doesn’t mean they’re not out there and not raising their voices. If you want to know why the media only portrays the militant ones, I guess you’ll have to ask the media. My guess is it has to do with money, ratings, and power.

    It sure does make it seem like most religious people are at least partially in agreement with the extremists since they are not saying anything to the contrary

    Bullshit, we’re saying it all the time. We can’t help it if the media isn’t listening.

    We’ve been over this ground many times before here at this blog. I can provide ample proof of moderate and liberal Christians speaking out against extremists. I’m not going to spend a lot of time trying to throw all the same links at you guys again, but if you missed the conversation last time around, sojo.net is a good place to start, as is the Christian Progressives Alliance.

  • Maria

    I think the article is a good one and a sound one and should be followed. Of course, I’m sure there will be people like RRS and Hitchens who won’t like it b/c apparently if you’re “right” it gives you the right to be jerk, at least according to them. I think the majority of the non-religious do feel the same as the author or the article. I know I do. Though Hitchens is anti-theist not atheist.

    And neither are the vast majority of religious people.

    We ought to be capable of fighting against the militants without fighting with all religious people.

    I agree

    Is there really correlation between who’s speaking out and who the media chooses to march across a TV screen?

    Best to check out Americans United and the Clergy Letter Project where people are doing real work whether the media chooses to cover it or not.

    well said. and check out Hemant’s post on this very website from a couple of months ago about how the media likes to give more air time to the more extreme people. look at all the air time Hitchens gets, as opposed to say, people like Dawkins who are more softspoken. The media don’t just do it with religion, they do it with politics and other stuff too. it gets them ratings they say…………

    If liberal religion and liberal atheism could be heard, they would be glad to be. The media are the gate keepers and the results are the kind of polarization we have had for the past quarter of a century.

    that’s a good point

    Bullshit, we’re saying it all the time. We can’t help it if the media isn’t listening.

    We’ve been over this ground many times before here at this blog. I can provide ample proof of moderate and liberal Christians speaking out against extremists. I’m not going to spend a lot of time trying to throw all the same links at you guys again, but if you missed the conversation last time around, sojo.net is a good place to start, as is the Christian Progressives Alliance

    this is very true. I wish it was more noticed by more people.

    What is wrong with nonviolent, polite, persuasion? Oh… that’s right, you have to “leave my faith alone”. Somehow, pointing out the irrationalism is offensive…

    there’s nothing “polite” about it AJ. You seem to think double standards are okay. He is doing much more than “pointing out”. He is not simply saying “well, I think your beliefs are irrational”. He is getting in her face and sending her stuff after she made it clear she wasn’t interested. That IS rude and forceful. If someone started sending you all this stuff on xtianity in an email knowing you were an atheist, you wouldn’t like it, and you’d be right. But you see nothing wrong with this? it’s okay to harrass decent religious people b/c you are “right?” the end does not justify the means. this type of thing will only backfire as it has many times with many different groups, yet people still don’t learn. look at how it’s backfired on the fundies! I don’t think acting like them (unless it’s against them ;)) is a way to “promote rational thought”. I think what she really means is “leave me alone”, but it came out as “leave my faith alone”. Sending someone stuff after they have made it CLEAR they are not interested is harrassment either way (exception if they are attacking you but she wasn’t). If you look at the comments, pretty much everyone on there agrees, including the atheists, and there are several comments from atheists on there.

    This blogger is not pushing her beliefs on anyone or disparging atheists or trying to get special laws. Whether people like Hitchens like it or not, people have freedom of religion and that’s not going to go anywhere. What needs to be worked on is establishing freedom FROM religion for those who choose it, and not giving religion special rights. It’s worked in Europe, it can work here hopefully……….

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    We’ve been over this ground many times before here at this blog. I can provide ample proof of moderate and liberal Christians speaking out against extremists. I’m not going to spend a lot of time trying to throw all the same links at you guys again, but if you missed the conversation last time around, sojo.net is a good place to start, as is the Christian Progressives Alliance.

    Mike C: Thanks. I’ll check those links out. I have a lot more to say about this, but will probably post about it on skepchick rather than continuing this thread, mostly because it will take me some time to write up my thoughts and by then this thread will be buried deeply in the archives of Hemant’s blog.

    My quick response is when I first told my born-again mother that she was supporting the religious right extremists and the Republican party by sitting in her church and tithing, she had the exact same reaction that you just did, and told me “Bullshit, end of conversation.” She has since changed her mind and now is quite vocal in criticising the religious right and she even passes out copies of Randall Balmer’s book, “Thy Kingdom Come: An Evangelical’s Lament” to her pastor and other people in her church. When she read Balmer’s book, she thought “I thought I was the only one who felt this way!” Since I don’t go to church any more, I can only judge what is going on in the evangelical community in my area by my mother and by what my Christian friends tell me (which is also that their churches are largely filled with extremists and no-one is speaking out against them publicly). If my mother and friends here have felt like there was no-one speaking out against the extremists here, then I assume they are correct. Perhaps things are different where you live or in “bluer” states.

    I gave my mother Balmer’s book (not Harris’s or Dawkins’s–doh!), and have given my right-wing fundie in-laws a DVD by John Shelby Spong about his book Since of Scripture. My father-in-law told my husband that he had “problems” with the DVD, but never came out and said what they were. Personally (based on past experience of discussions with my husband’s parents), I think it’s because he was embarassed to come out and say that he is prejudiced against gays and that he is a sexist. I have found that people who hold these views are often embarassed to admit it in public. I guess it’s better to be embarassed to be prejucided than to be proud of the fact?

    I don’t think the books Shermer is mentioning are written for Christians. They are written for the choir with the goal of making people who are unbelievers know they are not alone, that they should not be coerced into silence, and in those goals they are being quite successful. Books by Hemant and Nica Lalli seem to be the appropriate way to communicate to Christians, not by saying “you’re stupid to believe” or “you must not believe” but rather, “here’s what unbelievers are like, we don’t eat children, we’re not evil, we’re your neighbor and you don’t need to be afraid of us.”

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike C

    Writerdd,

    There are moderates within evangelical churches like your mother that are working for change from within – often with the help of books like Balmer’s or Jim Wallis’ “God’s Politics”. And there are others of us, like myself, who have left the evangelical church to start something new. More and more there are people who are speaking out in these circles.

    Not to mention that you are forgetting the whole mainline liberal branch of the church that have never been in the pocket of the Religious Right. If you don’t notice as many moderates and liberals within evangelical churches, then perhaps you should expand your view to the more liberal churches. They’re often the ones speaking out against the extremists.

    Besides which, even within the evangelical church these things come in degrees. Even if the vast majority of evangelicals are social conservatives and Republicans, that doesn’t make them extremists of the type you mentioned, i.e. “carrying weapons, bombing abortion clinics, beating up gays, or performing any other violent acts in the name of their (un)belief.” I know very few evangelical churches that would ever condone any of this behavior.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a Republican by any stretch of the imagination, and yet I don’t think it’s helpful simply to lump everyone we disagree with together and say “well if you’re even a little bit conservative, or in a conservative church, that automatically makes you in league with the Westboro Baptist types.” Reality is just too complex to lump everything together into those black vs. white type categories.

  • Aj

    there’s nothing “polite” about it AJ. You seem to think double standards are okay. He is doing much more than “pointing out”. He is not simply saying “well, I think your beliefs are irrational”. He is getting in her face and sending her stuff after she made it clear she wasn’t interested. That IS rude and forceful. If someone started sending you all this stuff on xtianity in an email knowing you were an atheist, you wouldn’t like it, and you’d be right. But you see nothing wrong with this? it’s okay to harrass decent religious people b/c you are “right?” the end does not justify the means. this type of thing will only backfire as it has many times with many different groups, yet people still don’t learn. look at how it’s backfired on the fundies! I don’t think acting like them (unless it’s against them ;)) is a way to “promote rational thought”. I think what she really means is “leave me alone”, but it came out as “leave my faith alone”. Sending someone stuff after they have made it CLEAR they are not interested is harrassment either way (exception if they are attacking you but she wasn’t). If you look at the comments, pretty much everyone on there agrees, including the atheists, and there are several comments from atheists on there.

    No where in her post does she say she requested him to stop sending her email or books. Although I imagine he’s giving her the books in person, so it’s not a passive action on her part to recieve the books. Either I missed something, or people are reading things that are not in her post. Where is the “I told him to stop”, “I requested he not send me anymore email”, etc… etc… So to say that it was made “CLEAR” is from my perspective, bizarre given the information available to me.

    She doesn’t describe anything remotely like “harrassment”, but her complaints clearly show a desire not to have someone comment on her faith. She says she didn’t send him Christian books, or read him passages from the Bible, to “respect” the “integrity”, of his “beliefs”. Even if she forgot to post that she told him to stop, she clearly has issues that are completely unrelated to etiquette and harrassment.

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    I don’t think it’s helpful simply to lump everyone we disagree with together and say “well if you’re even a little bit conservative, or in a conservative church, that automatically makes you in league with the Westboro Baptist types.”

    Mike C:

    Thanks for discussing this with me.

    Your example is quite extreme, but I do think (as I told my mother) that if you are giving money to a conservative church that preaches a religious-right doctrine, and if you are supporting that church by putting your butt in the pew every week, and you are not speaking out, then you are complicit.

    It’s not Christians that I have a beef with, actually, but the religious right and Republicans (not old-fashioned ones, but the new malignant ones). However, the Republican party seems to have become a marriage of extremist Christians and corporate greed. Quite disturbing on many levels. I was content in my own atheism and not thinking about religion at all for many years, until GWB became president and after 9/11 when all the religious bullshit hit the fan. When reigious extremists started trying to legislate their beliefs and rules, that’s when I got pissed off. Yes, I am one of the POF (pissed off faithless). I wish I were still a Christian so I could speak to Christians and be heard, but I’m not and there’s nothing I can do about that.

    Anyway, how long have you been a Christian? I’m asking because when I went to church in the 70s, the main political idea in evangelical churches (in NY) seemed to be “we are in the world but not of it” therefore, it was best to stay out of politics, except (perhaps) to vote one’s conscience. Politics was not a part of Christianity. I saw that changing in the 80s (when I moved to TN), but I was very naive and I didn’t think that that the political wing of the church would really be able to succeed in any large way to change the Americna political landscape. Boy, was I wrong.

    I want to know what happened to the churches that I knew as a kid? Have they all been swallowed by the right-wing machine? Or are they still out there. I guess you are staying they are still out there. Or perhaps those churches are gone, but people like you are building new ones to replace them.

    (My own fundamentalist background still makes me think only of fundies as “real” Christians. Catholics have their own name and religion, and the liberal mainline churches that you mentioned have always seemed “borderline” to me. I know that’s stupid. But it’s really hard to unload the fundy brainwashing, even when I know it’s not right.)

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    I get regular loads of junk from CSICOP (after their third name change now known as CSI), Skeptical Inquirer, Free Inquiry (yeah, right), and various other tabloid style bilge from that source. Used to annoy me to get stuff that looked like it came from the lower depths of the publishing industry, now I look on it as research material. Though the repetitions of the hysterical “send us the money or all that is good and true will be lost” come-ons stopped being funny a while back.

    I can imagine conventional religious believers or those who have an interest in either the occult or in science-based parapsychological research might find it offensive to get mail constantly telling them that they are among the stupid, superstitious, backwards, enemies of reality who are a danger to modern life and the world as it should be.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    Mike C, I saw a website a month or so back that had a history of evangelicals who accepted biological evolution, can’t find it now though. Apparently even some of the first editors of “The Fundamentals” accepted evolution. I was shocked to read it. I think there’s a tale to be told in that.

  • monkeymind

    Aj writes:

    I don’t even remember writing about “effective social action”. If the majority of people are like you, the fundies have won.

    I thought the point of the article (and a major theme of the blog) was furthering the cause of secularism? Please tell me how we can push back at the fundies by pissing off political allies? It’s not like it’s the annoying evangelical door-to-door salesmen who have brought the religious right to power, but one of the most successful grassroots organizations in history.

    I like to think that in my attempts at social activism, I have pissed off a quite a few people. But, I’ve taken a cue from some of my mentors to try and only piss off the right people, in the right way, as part of an overall strategy.

    As it happens, the blogger does make clear in the comments that she asked her friend to stop the inundation. It’s not that the overeager atheist friend was doing something wrong or bad by some objective legal yardstick. He was annoying his friend, and not stopping when asked, and his attempts had become counter-productive.

    He would have been much much better off to direct his energy into writing letters to his Congressperson, or fund-raising for a secular cause. With his friend, he could have made an honest attempt to understand his friend’s attachment to religion, which would probably make him a better activist.

  • monkeymind

    olvzl, that is very interesting about the “The Fundamentals.” Please pass on the link if you find it.

  • Aj

    I thought the point of the article (and a major theme of the blog) was furthering the cause of secularism? Please tell me how we can push back at the fundies by pissing off political allies? It’s not like it’s the annoying evangelical door-to-door salesmen who have brought the religious right to power, but one of the most successful grassroots organizations in history.

    Moderates are not my allies, they are the problem, if it wasn’t for them fundamentalists would be insignificant annoyances. They’re not necessarily secularists, or agree with me on anything. Perhaps they’re your political and philosophical kin, but I really can’t see how they’re much better than the fundies.

    The Virus of Religious Moderation

    Fundamentalists can be secularists, and many see church influencing state as the first step towards state influencing church. I’m not adverse to working with any group that wants to separate religion from the state.

    As it happens, the blogger does make clear in the comments that she asked her friend to stop the inundation. It’s not that the overeager atheist friend was doing something wrong or bad by some objective legal yardstick. He was annoying his friend, and not stopping when asked, and his attempts had become counter-productive.

    She does say that she asked him to stop on the last but one comment. It only gives a time, not a date, so I’m not sure if it was there when I read the blog post and most of the comments. Obviously pesisting in pestering someone, is harrassment, on any topic. Even in that comment she makes the separate points that somehow religion and faith are special topics, that a) you shouldn’t try to persuade someone to change their mind on, and b) are pointless because it’s a matter of “faith”.

    I believe that’s the third time she’s stated that “we can’t know whether god exists”, so it’s a “matter of faith”, either way, and it’s “pointless” to discuss further. I wouldn’t waste my time on such a person.

  • monkeymind

    Aj, I guess I’d prefer to decide who is a political ally or not based on empirical evidence, not on what some guy writes in an op/ed piece.
    If someone will write a letter to a Congressperson in favor of my cause, or will come with me to the public comment period of a school board meeting to make the case for not teaching creationism, then I consider them an ally, regardless of what Sam Harris thinks.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    monkeymind, I found it in my files, a post by Ed Babinski called Three Cheers For Christian Evolutionists that seems to have disappeared from the internet. The section I mentioned is this:

    OTHER PRO-EVOLUTION EVANGELICAL CHRISTIANS Between 1910 and 1915 a 12-volume set of books was published, titled, The Fundamentals, filled with essays by conservative Protestants, among them, R. A. Torrey (an editor of The Fundamentals), George Frederick Wright and James Orr, who all advocated a cautious pro-evolutionary stance. Only in the eighth volume of The Fundamentals did two aggressive rejections of evolution appear, one by an anonymous essayist and another by the relatively unknown Henry Beach, both of whom lacked the theological and scientific standing of the senior Evangelicals already mentioned. Reverend Orr, one of the more renowned contributors, was a theologian of the United Free Church College in Glasgow and widely respected as an apologist for Evangelicalism, but expressed doubts as to how literal, Genesis, chapter three, ought to be taken: “I do not enter into the question of how we are to interpret the third chapter of Genesis — whether as history or allegory or myth, or most probably of all, as old tradition clothed in oriental allegorical dress…” [James Orr, The Christian View of God and the World (1897), p. 185, 447]

  • Aj

    Aj, I guess I’d prefer to decide who is a political ally or not based on empirical evidence, not on what some guy writes in an op/ed piece.
    If someone will write a letter to a Congressperson in favor of my cause, or will come with me to the public comment period of a school board meeting to make the case for not teaching creationism, then I consider them an ally, regardless of what Sam Harris thinks.

    I like reading articles for ideas and reasoned argument, not to hold up as an authority, or to dismiss them out of hand for lack of it. Lie down with dogs, wake up with flees, I’m not getting any flees.

  • monkeymind

    Olvzl, Thanks for the info. What happened between 1915 and the Scopes monkey trial in 1925. I wonder? There’s a story there to tell – perhaps bound up in the story of how the Midwest went from being a hotbed of uppity populists in the late 19th century (W.J. Bryan was a Populist agitator) to being dominated by right wing conformist zombies today.

    Aj, may you take comfort in your ideological purity. It’s a funny thing though, I’ve found that the process of working together toward shared goals can open new channels of communication and new opportunities for people to evaluate their priorities and question their assumptions.

  • Maria

    Aj, I guess I’d prefer to decide who is a political ally or not based on empirical evidence, not on what some guy writes in an op/ed piece.
    If someone will write a letter to a Congressperson in favor of my cause, or will come with me to the public comment period of a school board meeting to make the case for not teaching creationism, then I consider them an ally, regardless of what Sam Harris thinks.

    I agree

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike C

    if you are giving money to a conservative church that preaches a religious-right doctrine, and if you are supporting that church by putting your butt in the pew every week, and you are not speaking out, then you are complicit.

    I agree that people need to speak out. Ideally churches would be places where a diversity of opinions can exist and people would feel free to speak out about these kind of things. I tried to in my last church and got kicked out for being too liberal. Now I’m starting my own church where we value dialogue and diversity of opinions – we have very conservative people in our church and very liberal people and we all get to have a voice.

    However, the Republican party seems to have become a marriage of extremist Christians and corporate greed. Quite disturbing on many levels.

    I completely agree. It infuriates me too. And I say this as a Christian. My understanding of the gospel is that the kingdom of God stands in opposition to the oppression and violence and greed of “empire”, so when I see conservative Christians bowing down to the powers of empire and “baptizing greed and violence and injustice in the name of religion… to me it’s a betrayal of the gospel itself.

    I was content in my own atheism and not thinking about religion at all for many years, until GWB became president and after 9/11 when all the religious bullshit hit the fan.

    My story is very similar. I was rather apathetic towards politics and just concerned with practicing my faith apart from social issues until GWB got into power and 9/11 happened. Then as things just got worse and worse I realized that I couldn’t stay silent. The other thing that happened around that same time is that I started reading my bible more for myself and began to realize that scripture has far, far more to say about economic and social justice than it does about any of the Religious Right’s causes. I started to realize that if I was really going to live out my faith, I would have to start speaking out against the abuses and perversions of that faith by people like GWB and the Religious Right.

    Anyway, how long have you been a Christian?

    My whole life, and I’m 28. I was raised in a conservative Christian home and for as long as I can remember my mom has been a fan of people like James Dobson and Chuck Colson on the Christian radio stations. I grew up surrounded by the rhetoric of the Religious Right.

    But as I said, this stuff comes in degrees. No one in my parent’s churches would have endorsed the kind of extremist behavior you described in your first comment. They were good people, despite my disagreements with their politics. Most that I knew were motivated primarily by only one issue – abortion. There is a deep, passionate concern with the conservative church over this issue – they are convinced that a fetus is human life, and therefore should be protected (though I’ve never met anyone who thinks that protecting the child would ever justify violence against abortion clinics or the like). Until one understands the passion of pro-life Christians to protect unborn children, you cannot understand why and how the Religious Right has gained so much power over the past 30 years.

    What grieves and angers me is how the Republican party, and power brokers within the Religious Right itself, have used this one issue to thereby rope evangelical Christians into supporting a whole host of other conservative economic and social issues. Single-issue voting is insane, and yet a whole generation of evangelicals have been duped into thinking there is really only one or two issues that really matter, and thus they turn a blind eye to all the other injustices and evils perpetrated by those on the far right.

    I want to know what happened to the churches that I knew as a kid? Have they all been swallowed by the right-wing machine? Or are they still out there. I guess you are staying they are still out there. Or perhaps those churches are gone, but people like you are building new ones to replace them.

    If you’re talking about fundamentalist and evangelical churches, yes, most of them became allied with the Religious Right sometime in the past three decades. However, many of them in the past 10 years have begun emerging out from under that umbrella. Especially among “seeker-sensitive” churches and “contemporary” churches there is a relapse into that apathy and non-involvement with politics that you remember from the 1970′s pre-Falwell era. Other evangelicals however are swinging the complete opposite way, as more and more join the Christian progressives bandwagon being spearheaded by people like Jim Wallis. I see this especially among young adults.

    And don’t let your fundamentalist roots bias you towards the mainline churches either. They were never roped into the Religious Right machine. Denominations like the United Methodists, United Church of Christ, Episcopal, PC(USA), ELCA, Mennonites and American Baptists (not to mention the African American church) have been consistently speaking up for social justice and pluralistic tolerance for the past half century or more (many of them for several centuries). Their witness has not faltered, even if the media stopped paying attention to them a while ago.

    Having been raised a conservative evangelical myself, I too grew up with a bias against these churches. However in the past few years I’ve gotten to know more mainliners personally and discovered that, despite the fundamentalist myths, these churches are still full of real Christians too. They just happen to read the bible a little less literalistically than fundies, and tend to think that gospel actually does have something to say about issues of justice and compassion here and now, and is not just about what happens to us when we die.

    Anyhow, sorry for the long reply, but hey, you asked! ;)


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