Saturday, August 25, 2012

Big Lies About Religion from Your Atheist Friend (Redux)

Thanks to a (non-atheist) friend on G+ (Thomas Sanjuro), I came across yet another instance of typical atheistic ignorance of religion/religious people yesterday. I suppose that the motivation for this post could be avoided if people wouldn't conflate religion with creationism. The false dichotomy of science and religion is the source of much ignorance and stupidity in the world, both from creationists and atheistic evolutionists, who act as if this one issue determines all that is good and right in the world.

I'm a strongly religious person, a devout Catholic; anyone who questions that has never met me. Yet my wife and I teach our kids about evolution and all the other sciences--in homeschool!  I have a suggestion: Let's stop with the silly, ignorant, half-baked, false notions--hateful caricatures, really--about religion and religious parenting. People have done and do dumb things, mean things, smart things, and nice things in the name of all sorts of ideas, religious and atheistic.  Being a mix of dumb and smart, mean and nice is just part of being human. Neither religion nor atheism has the corner on being human. 

You are lying to yourself if you pretend that, as a parent, you are not inculcating your children with your beliefs and values; it's impossible to do otherwise and be a parent. It is irresponsible to do otherwise.  That you happen to not value religion, as an atheist, does not make it stupid or dumb that a religious person does. You claim "neutrality" in regards to religion--not teaching your children about it and "letting them decide for themselves." Your neutrality is not neutrality at all; it is a positive negative. 

By your own practice and what you teach your children, you are indoctrinating them to think that religion is how you see it is--something ranging from a harmless hobby to the source of all evil in the world (depending on your atheistic sympathies/where you learned it from). You teach them that religion is just some fancy that they can take up and change like a pair of jeans (but of course, no smart person would wear these jeans, according to you). Those are values. Those are beliefs.  So stop pretending that you're not teaching your children your own personal values and beliefs. Stop lying to yourself and treating other human beings (that is, religious parents) like they are stupid and sub-human for doing exactly what you do, only within the bounds of their own belief and value system instead of yours.

The poster also ignorantly asserted that religion has contributed nothing of value to the modern world, asking "What has religion contributed to the modern world?" 

Only people devoid of anything more than their sophomoric history class taught by "coach" who uncritically imbibe New Atheist authors' claims so ignorantly assert that religion has contributed nothing to the modern world but "War. Hatred. Anger. Discrimination. Separation. Ignorance."  Here's a short list off the top of my head, but there have been books written (for instance) that document, substantiate, and elaborate these and others. It is evident historical fact:
- government and laws based on inherent human dignity; the very idea of justice
- the motivation for and eventual realization of abolition of slavery
- the idea and most of the instances of the hospital
- the idea and most of the instances of humanitarian work
- the idea of selfless charity and a bagillion concrete instances of that which happen in boring, everyday life
- the idea of treating another person as you would treat yourself, and acting accordingly
- the development of science as a discipline and the desire to make the world a better place through it
- the ethical restraining of science

Can you have a lot of these without religion?  Theoretically it is possible, but chances are that we wouldn't have "evolved" to them without it. It isn't by chance that civilization and religion grew up together, hand in hand. Historically, these things in the West developed out of religious, mostly Christian roots. That we can now, from our vantage point in time and in a culture that is based on these religious foundations, come up with theoretical frameworks devoid of religion (secular humanism) to rationalize how we already are inculturated to think and feel is no evidence that we would have ever gotten here without religion. 

On the contrary, humans tend to be remarkably brutish to each other by nature, as is well documented by history. One shudders to think where we'd be were it not for the civilizing influence of religion; we are bad enough with it at times, although we got a glimpse into what it'd be like in the 20th century thanks to the triumph of atheistic philosophies in some states.

Certainly, undoubtedly, and absolutely no scientific theory would give us any of these things that are, far more than scientific advances, essential for human flourishing and which give human life so much beauty and meaning. I love science; I love that it does contribute to our well being, our comfort, even our intellectual advancement as a whole, but science doesn't give us humanism, much less humanitarianism. It doesn't give us justice or government by laws. It absolutely doesn't give us charity. And it doesn't give us the whole story about life, the universe, and everything.

The blind worshipper of Science--the one who inflates Science as the answer to all human needs, progress, and future--is no better than the ignorant religious bumpkin. They have both chosen to see with only one eye open.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Let's Teach the Politicians How It's Done

I'm involved in an interesting yet distressing dialog (political in nature). And it occurs to me how far we are, as a nation, from being able to find any kind of common ground. I mean, if we can't even agree on the nature and purpose of dialectic, much less dialectic with a view to political practicalities and (oh my!) compromise, how can we ever hope to ever have anything but the unfortunate deadlock and lack of meaningful progress out of the political mire we find ourselves in today.

Let me be clear--both sides (and shades in between) are at fault on this. I am just as put off when I see blatant, dishonest vilification of Obama as when I see it of, say, Ryan.

I get that politicians have vested interests in not engaging in true dialectic. It seems inherent to the job, in being an ideologue or a demagogue who gets paid by being elected by the masses. But what excuse do the rest of us have?  Why is it that discussing politics (or religion) is seen as off limits? What's more important than these things, in society? 

We expect our politicians to fix this, but they simply reflect our own unwillingness to engage in reasoned, polite (wonder where that word comes from??) dialogue towards an end of finding some common ground and some ways that we can find practicable compromises to move forward.  At the very least, we can learn to have a healthy respect for one another and treat each other as human beings with dignity, instead of dishonestly caricaturing and vilifying one another in hopes of scoring some imagined rhetorical points (or worse, winning someone over through these things).

We have to live with each other, for goodness sake! What is our other option? Civil war? Again?  It's not unimaginable, you know... deadlock, entrechment, polemics, refusal of dialogue, refusal to see the other as a reasonable person capable of dialogue, a dispersoning of the other, conflating their ideas (which you may rightly abhor) with them as a person, a human being, and treating them accordingly.  Those are all precursors to war, genocide, and other forms of social atrocity.

We must fix this. But it won't start with the politicians. We can't demand that our politicians take the lead--their job is, essentially, to reflect us, to represent us. And by God, they are! We are the ones that need to change. We, each one of us, is responsible to stop this downward spiral. We must re-learn how to have polite discourse; we must stop dishonestly caricaturing each other. We must learn to listen, to see the good in the other, and to use that as the starting point for our dialogue.

Only after we change will our politicians have incentive to change their ways. Let's show them how it's done!

P.S. For the believers among us, I encourage you to consider offering this prayer before engaging in dialogue with others. And by all means, pray for our country as well, but let's not lose sight of our own failings in this area before addressing others.  All in humility.