I’m not the type to give tips to my fellow non-theists and secular humanists. We all share about 99% of our intellectual DNA even if our styles are different. So while I wouldn’t have written something like it, I really want to recommend Phil Zuckerman’s post in (GASP!) the Huffington Post about the mistakes that atheists make.
The wise professor enumerates them, adding some good suggestions; they are pointers that I will definitely keep in mind (and they fit my approach):
2. Condemning all religion, rather then just the bad aspects thereof. Religion is man-made. It is socially constructed. It grows out of human culture. As such, religion inevitably contains, reflects, and reveals all that is within the realm of humanity: the good and the bad. It is like any other facet of human civilization: some of it is noble and inspirational, much of it is nonsensical and even dangerous. But to condemn it all as poisonous is to be in serious denial.
I like that. I would…I am a rabbi. I’m dedicated to preserving the positive in religion and, to their credit, so are my liberal theistic colleagues. Eventually, I believe that my approach will succeed because frankly, some weak attempts notwithstanding, their theism’s barely hanging on by a thread. It’s a pale reflection of the heartier God-idea harbored in the more “nonsensical and even dangerous” wing of religion.
3. Condemning the Bible as a wretched, silly book, rather than seeing it as a work full of good and insightful things as well. The Bible was written by humans. It has no other source. The evidence is clear on that front. And similar to point two above, given that it is a human creation means that it isn’t all good or all bad — but contains both. Its contents can be downright absurd, flagrantly unscientific, embarrassingly racist and sexist — not to mention painfully boring. But it also contains brilliant insights into the human condition, fun stories to entertain kids, and heady poetry. It even has solemn stretches of unbridled skepticism and existential angst. Check out Ecclesiastes.
For me there’s even more to recommend the bible. I am riveted by the exploration of ancient Israelite civilization. There are more and more reconstructions of Bronze and Iron Age Canaan/Israel that uncover the real story behind the tales in the book. Good archeology also furthers our understandings of the “hidden” texts (e.g. monolatry vs. monotheism, the origins of Yahweh or the realpolitik of the era) and enables us to sketch a more objective Israelite history.
Biblical texts have also inspired a rich history of commentary. I don’t have to agree with the interpretative conclusions in order to be enthralled by the process. Some of them are like philosophical fossils revealing moral evolution. This is certainly what it feels like to witness the rabbis converting lex talionis into monetary reparations. (By the way, I refrain from capitalizing the word bible because it does not refer to a consistent, agreed upon body of work. I capitalize Tanakh, Torah, New Testament and Genesis. They are titles of specific compilations.)
4. Failing to understand and appreciate “cultural religion.” There are tens of millions of people out there who are part of a religious tradition, but don’t actually believe in the theological teachings thereof. They go to church, they get bar-mitzvahed, they identify with a religious tradition, and yet they are basically atheists, agnostics, or skeptics at heart. Why do they stay religious? They like it. They enjoy the traditions, the songs, the rituals, the community. These people should be seen as allies, not enemies. And every time we condemn their religion as idiocy or wickedness, we simply turn them off.
That pretty much sums up my purpose in life; to completely transform religion into culture by eliminating its supernatural truth claims. That’s what Post-Theistic Religion© is all about.