Since Dave gave me free rein here, I thought I’d switch up and avoid the current hot topics like the finance crisis and the election to talk about something a little less controversial…religion!
I’m looking forward to seeing Bill Maher’s Religulous this weekend. I like a lot of what Maher has to say, though religion is an area where I think he starts strong and then veers off course. He takes an all-or-nothing approach to faith, which annoys me as much (if not more) from secular people as it does from religious people. As such, though the movie is supposed to focus on simply asking questions and exploring doubt, I’m guessing it will wind up a little too anti-religion for my taste, but I’m still hopeful that it might still spark some good discussion.
Though you wouldn’t expect it to hear him talk, Bill Maher claims that he’s not an atheist, but subscribes to the “church of I don’t know” – a position I can respect.
But Maher’s arguments tend to fail in two main ways:
1. Not respecting the difference between things people believe to be true versus things people KNOW to be true
2. Viewing ‘religious’ people as one big group, with fundamentalists as the poster children
Both these issues frequently trip people up in these discussions, which is too bad as they almost always mean a lot of time wasted on arguments based on inherently flawed premises.
I do agree with Maher that religion is doing increasing harm in modern-day America. But simple belief in God in and of itself isn’t the problem. Even organized religion itself isn’t the heart of the problem (though it’s often close). The real problem begins the moment one person argues that others should share or abide by a given belief, while lacking any solid evidence to support that belief. It’s fine for you to believe that Project Runway is the greatest show ever – just don’t make me watch it.
And when it comes to religion, the reality is that there is no solid evidence for any particular religious view. If there is a God (and I happen to believe there is), then he apparently chose to set things up in such a way that his existence couldn’t be proven by us mere mortals1, leaving the question purely in the realm of faith, which turns out to be a fairly crucial component of most religions.
Note that there is solid evidence against some specific religious views, such as the belief that the Earth is 6000 years old (with apologies to Sarah Palin2). If you’re going to advocate a belief which contradicts scientific evidence then you should be prepared to explain why the evidence is wrong. And if those arguments don’t hold up under scrutiny, then you should expect your position to be viewed/mocked accordingly.
Do I have a point? Well, sorta. I know a lot of ‘moderate’ Christians who take the position that they’re not like ‘those Christians’ – the ones who want Intelligent Design taught in schools, think God hates homosexuals, and were so thrilled almost eight years ago to get a good, strong Christian in the White House. The same ones who just loooove Sarah Palin.
The problem is, most of those same moderate Christians tend to look the other way when it comes to the behavior of their fundamentalist cousins. They don’t condone their views or actions, but there’s always something more important to be talking about on a Sunday. Negating the image and message of ‘those Christians’ isn’t at the top of their agenda. But it is those fundamentalists that are hurting the name of ‘religion’ more than anything else today. Why is the problem of cleaning up your own theological household not at the top of the list for most moderate churches?
So my advice is this (and I’m looking at you, Christians). If you really want people to stop confusing you with ‘those Christians’ and get rid of that ‘hypocrite’ label that seems to keep getting hurled at you, you either need to whip your unruly cousins into shape (I’m in favor of a four-year ‘timeout’ for most of the religious right), or start looking into a legal name change. That means surrendering the label ‘Christian’ forever to those who can not and will not ever play nice with others. You don’t have to change your beliefs, but you do need to fill out a karmic ‘change of address’ card and get yourselves disassociated from the Pat Robertsons of the world.
It may not be fair, but it’s the way things are.
1. A lot of fundamentalists seem to disagree, and are always looking for scientific proof of a 6000 year old Earth, or proof that people couldn’t have evolved naturally, or some other evidence that would conclusively disprove the modern scientific views of the origin of the universe or mankind. But think for a moment what such evidence would mean from God’s perspective:
It would mean that God created the universe and man in such a way that his own existence couldn’t be empirically proven until (conveniently) the twenty-first century or so. Such evidence would dramatically change the process people use when deciding what to believe, and would mean that, holy books and scriptures aside, people living today would have substantially more ‘proof’ of God than the billions living in the centuries before. If God didn’t want to prove he existed before now, do you really think you’re going to ‘catch him’ because he didn’t realize we were going to invent Carbon Dating?
2. Palin as it turns out, also thinks than man lived alongside dinosaurs. Perhaps someone should tell her that the Flintstones was not, in fact, a historical documentary.