Sympathies For The Religious

Sympathies For The Religious July 26, 2009

An hour or so ago, I explained my reasons for agreeing with Daniel Dennett’s recent attack on the “belief in belief.”  But Patrick Appel was less thrilled with Dennett’s piece.  Appel wrote:

I consider myself an agnostic or pantheist depending upon how you define such labels but still have an acute nostalgia for my Catholic upbringing. I find the certainty of some atheists and most fundamentalists deeply grating.

Despite calling myself an atheist for somewhat political, moral, and anti-religious reasons, under some definitions of God or the question of his existence, I would happily take the label of agnostic or pantheist.  And I have my fair share of deep nostalgia for my days as a Christian—and beyond just an upbringing or some aesthetic trappings.  There are worship songs and old school ’90s Contemporary Christian Music songs that have purely nostalgic influence on me.  I have often heard it remarked that the music of your teen years sticks with you the rest of your life because you liked it during the most emotionally volitile time of one’s life and in my case, that’s what happens with the religious music I predominantly immersed myself in while in high school.

And I so loved my days at Christian camps both as a camper and a counselor that my only temptation ever to return to Christianity is to regain the opportunity to be a camp counselor at the camp where I spent the summers of 1998 and 1999.  They were such joyous times on so many levels that I have had nightmares that I had to pretend I was still a Christian just to go back there and have more such experiences. And, then there are my countless positive associations with my Christian friends at my evangelical college and in my church growing up and at conferences, and on and on.

So, I have loads of emotional nostalgia for the first 21 years of my life and since it was lived thoroughly immersed in a hardcore evangelical Christian lifestyle that necessarily involves a nostalgia for some things Christian.  Of course, there are other things I am decidedly bitter and angry about.  I did not leave Christianity bitterly or angrily but reluctantly.  I loved being a Christian and knew no other way of life.  But in light of the truth, it is infuriating to see the ways I was indoctrinated, emotionally manipulated, led to so much unnecessary self-loathing and such poor self-esteem.  It took me years to recover from some of the inherent intellectual, aesthetic, and sexual repressions of a fundamentalist upbringing and to come to full maturity after such stultifying, falsehood-based influences.

So, I am not unsympathetic to people’s nostalgia and nor do I begrude them their happiness in their religious lives.  But I do think living according to the truth is important and liberating and something worth advocating regardless of the existential trauma it risks causing religious people.  As an atheist, I have not languished at all for losing the comforts and communities of religious belief but have positively thrived and in many ways that the narrow fundamentalism that preconditioned my particular religious happinesses would have simply never permitted.

So, my “intolerance” to shoddy reasoning, falsehood, irrational emotional manipulation, indoctrination of children, extremist repression and demonization of human nature, etc. is both a matter of commitment to truth and an argument about what will constitute the greater happiness of those who are presently religious.  Maybe I am wrong and of course the religious are free to reject my suggestions that they change course because they think what I say about what reason demands of us is false.  Or maybe they deep down think I am right about ontology and the requirements of reason but persist in believing because they doubt my assertions about truth really can set you free for greater happiness if only you will align your will and hopes to reality.  But in either case, I do not see what is wrong with me making my passionate case.

But then, Appel does specify the problem and it’s allegedly with my “certainty” which is equated to that of fundamentalists.  That topic deserves its own post and this reply to his first line has already been too long to serve as mere preamble, so I shall save the discussion of atheists’ and fundamentalists’ “certainties” for the next post in this series, (which will is on the alleged intolerance of the New Atheists towards “Faitheists”).

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