Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Trouble with Religious Moderates

This is a transcript of my rant from the Dec. 3 show:

Well, last week an offended listener called Binghamton University’s president and complained about my show. The complaint trickled down to the general manager of WHRW and then to the Public Affairs Manager who called me in for a meeting this afternoon.

So this is the land of the free, hunh, folks? This is what it’s come down to. Censorship of thoughts, ideas. This nation has become so damn terrified of words it’s afraid of its own shadow. Its citizens have become like pathetic children who were too mollycoddled by their parents in their toddling years and now can’t fend for themselves in the ruthless abode of primary school.

It’s unfortunate that one displeased listener can cause such unnecessary hubbub. ONE listener complains and I am called in to be chastised for saying that certain religions are ridiculous and certain persons intellectually dishonest. Of course that’s my opinion! Of course it’s not necessarily fact! What, you have some person out there who hears me say that his religion is untrue and suddenly he converts to atheism? Come on, give me a freaking break. Anyone who would do something like that IS intellectually dishonest; and that’s my sincere, sincere opinion. We have a disclaimer presented at the beginning of the show that’s supposed to cover this crap.

“This program may contain language or material which may be considered offensive. The views expressed are those of the engineer and his guests and do not reflect the views of other WHRW members or management, and we therefore ask you to carefully consider whether you or your children should listen.”

Why the heck am I playing that goddamn disclaimer if it’s ultimately meaningless? *sigh*
I asked the PA Manager how in heck I could go about conducting a show about religion that doesn’t offend SOMEBODY. I asked her if they had a specifically Christian show. She said they didn’t, but I pressed on, asking her how she thought that if she gave a show to Christian they would be able to promote their views without offending somebody, like a Jew or Muslim or Hindu, or me?

She said that on her show she mentions that religion is a private thing, and made sure to emphasize that I probably wouldn’t agree with her. Well I didn’t and I let her know. I let her know that that religion isn’t private anymore, and probably never was. Religion is blowing up buildings, killing children, destroying minds, infantilizing education, and distorting politics. It is bringing down a civilization that doesn’t want or need it anymore. Religion is like the pathetic kid who tries to hang out with the cool posse but doesn’t realize that no one wants him around. Society doesn’t want religion anymore. Society wants to grow, to take grand steps forwards without having to worry about whether or not they stepped on someone’s toes. We don’t want our morality to be defined by the barbaric ideas of an age gone past, and we don’t want our science stunted by the “honest beliefs” of ignorant nomads. We don’t want our wars run by people who believe their command comes from their imaginary friend, and we don’t want our laws made and our money spent of the waste of time that is religion.

Of course, I’m no expert. These are my opinions. However, and again this is my opinion and in no way reflects the policies of WHRW, I feel confident in saying that if someone wanted to run a Christian radio show they would be left unhindered to say that Jesus is the one true God and that atheists are going to hell and that Hinduism is a false religion etcetera etcetera. Unhindered, I’m sure. And yet I believe that those statements could and most probably would be taken as offensive by someone, somewhere. And they wouldn’t be asked to repeatedly affirm that what they say was their “mere opinion” often throughout the show. Christians wouldn’t be required to have opposing view points.

I sincerely apologize to the listeners who may have been used to hearing from our Jewish and Catholic co-hosts however I do not control them and they have busy academically filled lives. When they had to step down from the show I brought in atheist speakers because they were the ones who wanted to come on the show to fill the spots. And I think the show has done wonderfully with our new panel.

I’m frustrated, I am, but I’m also happy because my conversation with the Public Affairs manager gave me just the motivation to tackle a topic I have put off for too long now: the trouble with religious moderates.

Indeed, today I am going to explain my position against religion in all its forms, from extremists to moderates.

First: extremists. They suck. End of story. And if I have to qualify my hatred of religious extremism which is synonymous with murder, genocide, infanticide, moral corruption, and evil, with the statement that it is my opinion, then there’s seriously something wrong with this world…but then again, I’m no expert.

But on the flip side of the coin we have moderate religious folks. Your Sunday Christians. Maybe only Christmas and Easter Christians. Or perhaps even the “oh crap, where are my car keys, don’t let me be pregnant, lets win this game, I didn’t study for this test” every once in a while Christians. What’s the problem with these folks?

The essence of it is that they create a base on which religious extremists can stand, perpetuate dangerous tenants and dogmas into future generations, is often psychologically crippling its adherents, and they often support legislation and institutions that lead to a poorer society. A four prong issue.

I came across an excellent article titled “The Problem with Religious Moderates” by Sam Harris. It is excerpted from his book “The End of Faith,” in my opinion the best book on secularism. I am going to read an excerpt from this excerpt which will start this little argument of mine out.

“People of faith fall on a continuum: some draw solace and inspiration from a specific spiritual tradition, and yet remain fully committed to tolerance and diversity, while others would burn the earth to cinders if it would put an end to heresy. There are, in other words, religious moderates and religious extremists, and their various passions and projects should not be confused. However, religious moderates are themselves the bearers of a terrible dogma: they imagine that the path to peace will be paved once each of us has learned to respect the unjustified beliefs of others. I hope to show that the very ideal of religious tolerance-born of the notion that every human being should be free to believe whatever he wants about God-is one of the principal forces driving us toward the abyss.

We have been slow to recognize the degree to which religious faith perpetuates man's inhumanity to man. This is not surprising, since many of us still believe that faith is an essential component of human life. Two myths now keep faith beyond the fray of rational criticism, and they seem to foster religious extremism and religious moderation equally: (i) most of us believe that there are good things that people get from religious faith (e.g., strong communities, ethical behavior, spiritual experience) that cannot be had elsewhere; (2) many of us also believe that the terrible things that are sometimes done in the name of religion are the products not of faith per se but of our baser natures-forces like greed, hatred, and fear-for which religious beliefs are themselves the best (or even the only) remedy. Taken together, these myths seem to have granted us perfect immunity to outbreaks of reasonableness in our public discourse.

Many religious moderates have taken the apparent high road of pluralism, asserting the equal validity of all faiths, but in doing so they neglect to notice the irredeemably sectarian truth claims of each. As long as a Christian believes that only his baptized brethren will be saved on the Day of judgment, he cannot possibly "respect" the beliefs of others, for he knows that the flames of hell have been stoked by these very ideas and await their adherents even now. Muslims and Jews generally take the same arrogant view of their own enterprises and have spent millennia passionately reiterating the errors of other faiths. It should go without saying that these rival belief systems are all equally uncontaminated by evidence.

While moderation in religion may seem a reasonable position to stake out, in light of all that we have (and have not) learned about the universe, it offers no bulwark against religious extremism and religious violence. The problem that religious moderation poses for all of us is that it does not permit anything very critical to be said about religious literalism. We cannot say that fundamentalists are crazy, because they are merely practicing their freedom of belief; we cannot even say that they are mistaken in religious terms, because their knowledge of scripture is generally unrivaled. All we can say, as religious moderates, is that we don't like the personal and social costs that a full embrace of scripture imposes on us. This is not a new form of faith, or even a new species of scriptural exegesis; it is simply a capitulation to a variety of all-too-human interests that have nothing, in principle, to do with God.

Unless the core dogmas of faith are called into question-i.e., that we know there is a God, and that we know what he wants from us-religious moderation will do nothing to lead us out of the wilderness.”

This is the “moderate base that upholds the religious extremists” that I spoke of.
Allow me to add my two cents. The religious person in general adheres to the idea that beliefs should be respected, most likely stemming from the idea that if they don’t support the rights of other to believe what they want, what’s to stop others from denying their right to believe as they see fit. I was next going to describe my theory of the Tower of Religious Extremism, but in my literary travels I discovered that Mr. Harris has a very similar idea that is so eloquently put that I wouldn’t dare deprive you of its brilliance. the title of the article is "God's Dupes." Here goes:

“Picture concentric circles of diminishing reasonableness: At the center, one finds the truest of true believers — the Muslim jihadis, for instance, who not only support suicidal terrorism but who are the first to turn themselves into bombs; or the Dominionist Christians, who openly call for homosexuals and blasphemers to be put to death.

Outside this sphere of maniacs, one finds millions more who share their views but lack their zeal. Beyond them, one encounters pious multitudes who respect the beliefs of their more deranged brethren but who disagree with them on small points of doctrine — of course the world is going to end in glory and Jesus will appear in the sky like a superhero, but we can't be sure it will happen in our lifetime.

Out further still, one meets religious moderates and liberals of diverse hues — people who remain supportive of the basic scheme that has balkanized our world into Christians, Muslims and Jews, but who are less willing to profess certainty about any article of faith. Is Jesus really the son of God? Will we all meet our grannies again in heaven? Moderates and liberals are none too sure.

Those on this spectrum view the people further toward the center as too rigid, dogmatic and hostile to doubt, and they generally view those outside as corrupted by sin, weak-willed or unchurched.

The problem is that wherever one stands on this continuum, one inadvertently shelters those who are more fanatical than oneself from criticism. Ordinary fundamentalist Christians, by maintaining that the Bible is the perfect word of God, inadvertently support the Dominionists — men and women who, by the millions, are quietly working to turn our country into a totalitarian theocracy reminiscent of John Calvin's Geneva. Christian moderates, by their lingering attachment to the unique divinity of Jesus, protect the faith of fundamentalists from public scorn. Christian liberals — who aren't sure what they believe but just love the experience of going to church occasionally — deny the moderates a proper collision with scientific rationality. And in this way centuries have come and gone without an honest word being spoken about God in our society.”

Yes, and the moderates go to church more often than the even-more-moderates who just think a person needs spirituality in their lives, but the even-more-moderates support the moderates right to church as much as their hearts desire. By this layering of protection we have shielded anyone and everyone from criticism. Think about it. After 9/11, did we attack their religion, saying how it was evil and dangerous? No. Because the suicide attackers were merely devout believers. If we attacked the religion we’d have to tell Muslims around the world that their religion was wrong. And then what’s to stop people from attacking Christianity. No, instead we called them “cowards,” which was, in my sincere, sincere, opinion, one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard.

How are non-hardcore Christians as well as secularists and people of differing beliefs further imposed upon by the fundies? Consider Blue Laws, put in place by the religious to undermine the rights of the non-religious or alternately religious to use their times as they see fit. In our very own New York we are not allowed to purchase alcohol between the hours of 4 AM and 8AM on Sundays, which may also vary by county. In Pennsylvania, car dealerships must be closed and hunting is prohibited on Sundays. Bergen County New Jersey forbids all forms of employment on Sunday, citing the “supposed” physical, intellectual, and moral good of the community. You’ll find more of these in various other states.

Our right to choose is being attacked most ferverently by the religious. Now that’s not to say that there aren’t atheists out there against abortion, but it is the religious community that is most actively working to lobby to enact laws that will overturn Roe v. Wade. Yeah, ‘cause coathanger abortions as so friggen great. But then, I’m no expert. But just consider someone you love getting raped, impregnated against her will, and then being forced to carry through to term. Imagine a couple with a child they know will have a severe mental or physical disability. Isn’t it their right as parents to spare their child the pain before the child can even conceive of pain?
Let us consider gay rights or rather the lack thereof. Let us consider the hypocritical proponents of the save-the-family institutions. You will find, very often that even liberal Christians are uncomfortable with gay marriage. The one’s a little more gung-ho, are behind Proposition 8 and various other &quote pro-family quote& organizations. I have an idea. How about we build up more families. Loving families, where Biblical patriarchy isn’t enforced in a “spare the rod spoil the child” fashion. Just recently Arkansas made it illegal for unmarried persons to adopt—a transparent way of keeping gays from adopting. Yeah, let’s keep our religious ideals held as high as possible, in front of our eyes if necessary, and completely ignore the well being of the children. This law keeps unmarried heterosexual couples from adopting as well as single heteros. This law hurts so many people, especially the helpless children.

Let’s consider the religious right’s fight against stem cell research, one of the most promising fields of research today. If you want to say that the Crusades and the Inquisition are in the past, perhaps, but the mass murder that went with that sort of religious fervor isn’t. By preventing stem cell research, just how many people do you think will die needlessly? And the blood is on your hands, Christian moderate for not speaking up, for not acting out.

Catholic missionaries in places like Africa discourage Condom use leading to the spread of HIV throughout an already disease ravaged land.

The religious promote abstinence only education which has been proven to be not only ineffectual, but dangerous, leading to higher teen pregnancy ratings and STD transmissions. What did you think would happen when you failed to mention safe-sex to a bunch of hormone charged teenagers?

What about a person’s right to choose when to die? Euthinasia. It is a person’s right to decide what to do with his or her own existence. If they are in pain, if they cannot bear to live, then who are we to force them to stay alive, especially in terminal cases. Why are we forcing someone to go through, say, another three months of torture just to die, so that we can feel morally upstanding? Why don’t the moderates speak out? Probably because they agree in most cases. They might say it’s God’s job to say when you die. I say there is no God and we can decide. Live with dignity, die with it.

Moving on. In Arkansas, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Texas, I cannot hold office because I am an atheist. In court I have a choice to testify on a Bible if I so desire. And if I don’t, and there is a Christian in the jury, do you not think that some prejudice will be held against me? That my word won’t be taken at value? Even a moderate Christian in the jury would likely have this response. Consider a study done at the University of Minnesota that found Atheists to be the most distrusted minority in America.
Religious institutions don’t pay taxes, even the liberal churches, increasing the financial burden on the rest of us. DO you really think all those mega-churches need to remain tax free? How much money could the country pull in if we started taxing them like you would any property owners in the U.S.? I have no idea, but I can say with a fair amount of confidence that it would help. But, of course, I’m no expert.

The national motto of “In God We Trust” excludes not only the secular population, but polytheists, pantheists, and deists. “In God We Trust” did not become the national motto until 1956. “Under God” was not added to the pledge until 1954. As children and adolescents we are compelled to recite the pledge every morning of school. What is with the publicly sponsored religious indoctrination? And where was the uproar? There was none, because Christians are, and have always been, the majority in America, and even the least extreme among them probably thought it was “nice,” especially during the era of Communist fear. I do not trust in God, and I don’t even think believers should trust in God. He hasn’t done so well thus far. As George Carlin said, “If this is the best god can do, i am not impressed. Results like these do not belong on the resume of a supreme being. This is the kind of crap you'd expect form an office temp with a bad attitude.”

How about the dumbing down of science and education with intelligent design? Even the moderates often support this one, at best saying, with an innocent tone, “Well, let’s teach both sides, let’s teach the controversy.” It was heard recently across international television when uttered by Sarah Palin. That should be enough to tell you it’s a bad idea. Intelligent design is not science. It is non-predictive, and does not work off of the scientific method. There is no reputable research done in to the field that supports its claim. I am no expert, however I’ve done significant study in this subject, and I give you my understanding that ID is at best unintelligent and ignorant of the facts, and at worst dangerous.

The religion supported by moderates leads to unpunished abuses of children. There’s the story of a girl in Texas who was exorcised against her will and suffered post-traumatic stress disorder because of it. The court ruled in favor of the church, saying that it couldn’t get involved in religious affairs. There’s the story from Little Axe, Oklahoma where a woman filed suit against a school for providing special privileges for certain Christians which led to detractions from those outside the group. This woman was repeatedly assaulted and her house burned down. The cafeteria worker who assaulted the lady was supported by the community and money was raised for her to pay the fine enforced on her. How about the ever popular Catholic priest scandals? How about the psychological damage done when you tell a child that they might go to Hell, and that many of the people they know and perhaps love are going to Hell?

Atheist kids aren’t even allowed in the Boy Scouts anymore. As a former Boy Scout, I have to say, “For shame.”

Religion, even on the moderate level is sexually repressive and, therefore, often psychologically detrimental.

Religion, even on the moderate level discriminates against women, the “progenitors of sin,” who are subservient to their husbands. It is discriminatory to gays, as I previously mentioned.

And let’s not forget the recent measure by the United Nations to favor a treaty outlawing defamation of religions. You heard that right. A law to prevent freedom of speech. I am…honestly…speechless.

Let’s go through that one more time: Blue Laws, anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-stem cell research, anti-human dignity, anti-political freedom, anti-free speech, anti-America in the way of refusing to pay taxes, the institution of monotheistic terms into the pledge money and government, anti-science, anti-proper education, anti-sex, anti-condoms, anti-safe sex, anti-not abusing your children, anti-women, anti-kids, and I’m sure there’s a whole lot more out there. All because of either the direct actions of moderate Christians, or the moderate Christian’s, albeit unwitting, support of the extremist factions.

Religion does not help society. In a study published in the “Journal of Religion,” titles “Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies,” it was found that societies that were more secular fared better societally than countries like, say, the United States. The U.S., arguably the most religious of all the western nations fares worst in terms of homicide rates, general crime, violence, education, and social dysfunction. The report concludes that while religion may not cause these ills, it certainly doesn’t help them.

Religion is a blight on the face of humanity, a position held by many for quite some time, only now it’s being proved. I’m sorry if I’ve offended any of you listeners out there, but it’s true. You are enablers of religious extremism, and the hard and fast of it is that you can’t honestly speak out against the extremists without it coming back to attack your religion. How can you ask someone else to believe less than you do and then expect others not to ask the same of you? But, of course, I’m no expert. It’s sad, this state of the world.

I want to see a secular Earth. I believe it will be healthier than the one we have right now. No, I don’t want to wave a magic wand and make everyone suddenly atheists. There are many people out there who could not function without their imaginary teddy bear in the sky. Instead I want society as a whole to continue moving in the secular direction, letting each new generation develop it own mental toolset for dealing with a world without god, without, angels and demons, without pixies and fairies. Without heaven and hell. I believe we will see more peace on a secular Earth. You see, with religious dogma, there is no compromise. It’s what the big boss upstairs tells you or nothing at all. You can’t argue with that. But when everyone realizes that this life is the only one they’ve got and that we’ve got to work together to sustain a happy life, I think that we will solve our problems much more readily. Of course that’s my opinion, but it is my sincere, sincere opinion.

1 comment:

Numinous Ubiquity said...

I strongly recommend this video, it makes some similar arguments to yours as well as some different ones and I really like it:

There are also lots of other great atheist YouTube videos by all sorts of people on YouTube. I could make a list of all the YouTube accounts that put out great atheist videos, but it would be too long to fit in this comment.

Anyway, I think that this post you have written here is excellent and I am not surprised at the attempts by the would-be theocrats in our society to try to shut your radio show down with their inane complaints about being “offended”. Need I remind everyone that the radio is a technological invention based on science, something religious people don’t believe in? Throughout history, religions have persecuted scientists and condemned their achievements as heresy. Many scientific theories that most religious people now agree with, like the Earth being round and revolving around the Sun, used to be things people got excommunicated for. Science and religion are completely incompatible, because one is based on logic and reason, and the other is based on blind faith in supernatural bullshit. Anyone who gets “offended” by something on the radio or Internet or TV questioning religion ought to realize that their religion is anti-science, and without science, we would not have any technology.

NEW RULE: I think religious people should go back to living in trees in the jungle, or living in caves as cavemen, or living in hunter-gatherer societies, whichever one of those they prefer, as long as they completely give up on ever using technology again. Even very simple things like fire, sharpened sticks, and the wheel are technology, so religious people cannot use them either.