See part one here
Whenever there is a discussion between religious believers and non-believers, there are several assertions and rebuttals thrown back and forth. Most of the time, the non-believers will be quite logical in their approach, seeking to undermine the appeal of religion by showing it as something absurd or incoherent.
One such argument is that believers want to have it both ways; they want religion to claim the credit for all the good that people do while disowning the bad that people do, blaming it instead upon a perversion of religion. This is, of course, an illogical position. We can't pick and choose these kinds of things. We have to take the good with the bad, right?
Well, no. To believe this is to misunderstand the very nature of belief. All religious belief - and Atheism is included here, since it is a belief about religion - has always had the purpose of improving, elevating its adherents. Even what we consider to be bloody and oppressive religions, such as those that required human sacrifice, were systems of belief that promised to improve the moral character of those who believed and most especially those were "fortunate" enough to be chosen by the gods as sacrifices.
There is, quite simply, no religious system of belief that purports to degrade the character of those involved. This is also true of Atheism, perhaps even particularly so, since many Atheists see themselves as rejecting beliefs that do nothing but weigh them down and hold back the human race from its evolutionary future.
Quick note about the religious nature of atheistic belief: Buddhists are essentially atheistic. There are of course many people whose approach to Buddha is worshipful. However, the religion has no god. It is a system of thought and behavior intended to help its adherents develop into better people. Just like Western-style Atheism.
The atrocities committed in the name of religions are rightly considered to be perversions of those religions, and those who do them to be blasphemers, apostates, heretics and the like. The so-called Biblical justifications for slavery, then, were not correct readings of the Bible but perversions of its message. The same is true, then, of what bin Laden and others preach in Islam, or the Hindus who think it necessary to practice violence upon other religions.
This assertion runs into trouble when people read the Bible, however. They can point to several very plain passages in which God commands his people to murder, destroy, and generally act like jerks. Or where Paul said that women need to shut up and to not have leadership over men, or where Paul told Onesimus to stay a slave and be happy about it, and so on. The problem with this approach, though, is that it is a Fundamentalist Christian reading of the Bible. In fact, it is often more fundamentalist than the Fundamentalists. Just as Christian Fundamentalists need to employ their narrow interpretations of the Bible to justify their extreme beliefs and behaviors, those who use this argument against Christianity must employ the very same narrow interpretations
to condemn their extreme beliefs and behaviors.
Christianity is no monolith. The only thing that ties all Christians together is some sort of emphasis upon the person of Jesus Christ. Even the level or type of emphasis is not uniform. Anyone who thinks they can lump all Christians together has never seen the difference between the Copts and the Primitive Baptists.
This last point is important for non-believers to understand. In the infamous thread (no, I won't link to it, some people got very nasty. Some people, not me of course) that started this all, I brought up how Mao, Stalin, Lenin, Pol Pot, Kim Il Sung and now Kim Jong Il were/are all atheists. That in fact they conducted pogroms against religions and their adherents, killing and imprisoning millions. What? I wasn't nasty
Anyway, this did not go over well. I was informed that not all Atheists believe or act in the same way, that we can't lump all of them together. Exactly.
Another point regarding this is that Stalin, Mao, etc. didn't act from their Atheistic beliefs, but from desires for more political power or simple political expediency.
Read the above again. Do I really need to spell it out? Does anyone need to see how this argument is exactly the same for the Borgias of Medieval Italy or those like Tony Perkins or Pat Robertson today?
The goal here, I hope it is clear, is to begin to treat all beliefs the same, whether it is a belief in something there or a belief that nothing is there. The same standards need to apply to all of us, to all our beliefs. To think that rejecting religion brings one out of a moral and intellectual sewer, freeing one from the evolutionary swamp that entangles the rest of humanity is just as arrogant, exclusionary and judgmental as the belief that everyone who does not believe exactly the way I do is going to hell.
And since I can, using very logical
methods, accuse Atheists of atrocities just as horrible as those leveled against the religious, perhaps a better way is to just declare a cease-fire and drop the hostilities on all sides. Let me be clear, though, that I don't believe Christians are persecuted in this country, or that "the Left" is hostile to religion, or any of those things. Atrios, Kos, Amanda & Pam, Gilly and loads of other lefty bloggers are all atheists. 99% of the time they focus upon behaviors and specific beliefs rather than religion itself. But hostility toward religion itself is present, both online and off. As a religious person who is a committed progressive and part of the lefty blogosphere, I feel a responsibility toward both "sides" of this issue, to try and help people to drop the wrong ideas, the assumptions and preconceptions. And part of this is to declare that no matter what the other "side" may say or do, it doesn't justify bad behavior or hateful words from us, whoever "us" may be.
Next post, we get into my suggestions for ways Atheists and various believers can get along like ebony and ivory, living together in perfect harmony, side by side, on a piano. Oh yeah.