Thursday, July 26, 2012

Alternet - shame on you!

On Alternet, in a new section called “Belief”, James Rohrer has penned a piece that just begs for an answer.  In it, he criticizes humanists’ tendency these days to criticize moderates in an article entitled, “Are Progressives Harming the Cause by Attacking Organized Religion and People of Faith?”
By itself, it is a decent question to ask, and one that has been brought up more than once in various forums I’ve been involved in, including a discussion group I host monthly in my home.  But his article is so filled with common misconceptions about humanists and atheists and some even more common defenses of religion that it simply  has to be answered, and the various problems dealt with.
His opening comparison of himself and his brother as unstereotypical examples of their respective belief systems is all well and good, so far as it goes.  No generalization is worth a damn, including this one, of course, or so it was once said.  They can be useful in some limited ways, but, yes, point taken.
But one of the ways it IS useful is in seeing how a particular group of people mostly think.  Mostly.  And given that understanding, one can, and people do, use those generalizations to have a conversation about those ways of thinking.
Which is what we are having.
First, his title talks about “humanists”, but then, in the article, he uses the terms “humanist” and “progressives”, as if he has a problem with the word “atheist”.  This is dishonest, because he is talking about atheists.  By and large, we are the ones doing the attacking of religion and people of faith.  Humanism is just one of the many belief systems that atheists sometimes embrace, and as he notes about his own brother, not all of them do.  Not all, as he notes, are progressives, either - which is not necessarily synonymous with humanism.  Close, but no banana!
The next problem is this:
“Lately the progressive blogosphere has been filled with pieces by humanists who apparently take for granted that religious faith is unhealthy for individuals and society…”
“Just as “liberal” and “socialist” are code words for “un-American radicals” in the weird world of Fox News, sometimes it seems that “religion” and (especially) “Christian” are code words for “twisted sociopaths” or “patriarchal fascists” in the otherwise generally saner world of progressive journalism.”
No.  We don’t “take it for granted”.   We have, lovingly and at great length, proven how religion is harmful, with well over two thousand years of evidence written in their own sacred book!  Not to mention the entirety of Western European history.
I suppose I should grateful that someone is finally granting the world of the blogosphere the status of Journalism, but no, most blogs I’ve read do not use those words as “code words”.  We do at times call theists those epithets, yes, because many of them exhibit the symptoms of those conditions, but seldom do we make such a generalization.  Commenters sometimes do, but not the bloggers I read.  (Well, ok, maybe PZ Myers fits his description here, but, hey, the world is a big place, and infinity is a long time, I suppose someone had to fit…)
Now this:
“It is simply false that all (or even most) people of sincere faith—including those who are conservative in their religious commitments—are intrinsically irrational, anti-social, patriarchal, racist, or closed to meaningful dialogue.”
No, it isn’t (well, granted that “all” thing - maybe).  If you think, in this modern time, with as much as we know about science and the universe, that a man  2,000 years ago was tortured to death, buried and was subsequently revived and sent to some supernatural place - and people today can say a few magic words over wine and unleavened bread, whereupon it turns into his blood and body (ok, this part isn't "all"), then you are being irrational.  These are early Iron Age beliefs, born from Bronze Age superstitions, cobbled together by unknown authors for unknown purposes, and we know too much about the way the natural universe works to take any of it seriously.  (So, in that sense, “all” is correct.)
The problem with people today believing this bunk is that the book from which they get it is rife with Bronze Age values - including slavery, genocide, rape, infanticide, misogyny and feudal authoritarianism, much of which is, believe it or not, actually defended by some of the worst of the right wing religious leaders! (patriarchal, racist)   And that is not to mention the hatred of gays that is still being used by much of the religious community to struggle against equal marriage rights in conversations which deny a growing consensus in this society (anti-social) in ways that refuse to even admit their opponents might have a point. (closed to meaningful dialog.)
I am sorry, but any religion which causes a significant percentage of the American people to continue to support such ancient and now discarded values is a danger to this country, and the supposedly progressive mainline churches that support that religion by continuing to tout that book as sacred are giving those extremists the excuse to continue. (See my earlier posts about cherry-picking.)  Additionally, his contention that Christianity is going to be around in the future is not very credible either.  Especially the mainline progressive denominations are losing members at a rapid rate, and overall, christianity isn’t keeping up with the rise in US population.  That rate of decline is rapid enough that by 2050, fewer than 15% of the US population will call themselves by that description.  The fact is that even today, Christianity is not a majority in this country,  It is loud, but its political clout is due to two hundred plus years of organizing and collecting money, not to sheer numbers.
Which is why his statement:
“There is no conceivable progressive future—for America or the globe –that does not embrace people of diverse religious faiths.”
makes no sense.  Certainly, religion in other countries, especially the third world poor ones, will continue on that path for a while.  But as American history shows, a better education results in a lower incidence of religiosity.  Religion will not, if technology and science continue to progress in the future, be around forever.
More and more Americans now are describing themselves as secular, as not religious.  That doesn’t mean they are atheists, no.  But it certainly takes them out of the realm of the religious and puts them into a category where they will increasingly use science and reasoned argument to help drive the political conversation in this country.  The secular movement is growing at an increasing rate.  Soon, the numbers and, more importantly, the money, will be available to affect that conversation.  Already, we outnumber the members of the Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and other minor religions, all rolled up together!  We just aren’t organized.  But we are getting there, which is why the media is paying a growing amount of attention to us.
A number of people in the atheist movement have continued to say that our movement is too militant, just as this fellow does.  But, I think, even more are fighting that impression, with the point that since our audience is a widely diverse one, so should be the approaches we take.  We should tailor the message to the audience.
If Rohrer’s students are shocked by what they read on Alternet, then they should get out more and stop watching so much Fox News.

1 comment:

Linda said...

Interesting assessment Robert. I haven't read the article you're talking about but your response gave me enough information to understand the gist of it.

I think of religion as organized groups with the sole purpose of manipulating human thought. To me it's that simple, and that simplicity is nauseous.

Humanists, atheists, agnostics, spiritualists, all, regard any such effort on the part of any group to be evil and self-serving. However, I don't think anyone has to point this out because even though the wheels turn slowly, they turn. More and more people are recognizing the extent to which they've been duped by these various religious organizations for reasons other than what could be called moral.

In addition, more and more are beginning to realize that the bible and other such documents are not now, nor have they ever been used as teaching aids on how to live a good and moral life, but, rather, as vehicles for promoting fear and weapons to destroy thought processes.