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Sunday, November 12, 2006
(2:37 PM) | Stephen:
beliefs, Belief & unbelief

First part here.

Second part here.

The capitalization in the title is intentional; I hope to be able to delineate between a person's beliefs versus another's disagreement or lack of said beliefs and the idea of Belief - that is, that religion, spirituality, supersition, call it what you will, exists at all. This is an important distinction, especially if we are ever to come to a place where, in terms of the USA, believers and atheists can engage in profitable conversation.

Newsweek, continuing its obsession with American religious conservatives, had a cover story about "The Politics of Jesus" the week before the election. A sidebar to that article by Sam Harris illustrates all too well the assumptions and lack of comprehension that plague this issue. The current issue has an article about a gathering of atheistic scientists discussing what it means, basically, to be an atheist in this society and bemoaning that there are actually scientists! who believe in something other than what can be proved empirically.

Much of what these articles say is just fine. It is indeed a problem that so many American Christians believe Jesus will return within 50 years, though this is a problem that has plagued Christianity far longer than the USA has existed, and will plague it long past when the USA ceases to exist. Harris is quite right when he counts it a problem that so many American citizens believe the world was created 6,000 years ago, that the events of the Garden of Eden literally happened the way they are portrayed in Genesis, and that a collection of 150 human cells with no brain, no lungs, no differentiation at all (and no potential to ever become "more" because they will not be implanted in a human uterus) are to be counted equal - if not preferred - to fully developed human beings.

The problem comes when people who have trouble with specific beliefs then decide that it is not the beliefs, but Belief that is the real problem. The thinking behind this idea, this belief, if you will, is that to believe in something, anything, is to necessarily subscribe to dangerous, divisive, exclusive, bigoted and violent beliefs.

This is the stumbling block, the obstacle that stands in our way. The idea that Belief itself entails destructive and hateful beliefs - in all faiths - is, I hope you agree, absurd. That this view often comes from the perspective that those who believe in that which cannot be empirically proven are foolish and tragically ignorant is arrogant and, given the history of science itself, foolishly shortsighted.

Just as believers wish to claim the good that people do while ignoring those who perform evil acts in the name of religion, so the scientists mentioned in the linked Newsweek articles wish to make all believers responsible for the evil done in their name while ignoring or delegitimizing the good. In my previous post I argued that the good done in the name of a religion (or for that matter Atheism) is rightly considered to be an inherent part of that system, while the evil is rightly considered to be a perversion. This is because all systems of belief are intended to improve their adherents, all of them. This is, in my not so humble opinion, the only logically consistent way to treat relgion and Atheism. The other positions require a denial of far too much evidence to be seriously considered.

The point to all this is that it must be considered "ok" to believe - or not. Dawkins and his lot need to calm down, take a few deep breaths and maybe have a shot or two of some good, 12-year-old single-malt scotch, like Glenfidditch or Glenmorangie, preferably neat, but in a glass that's been in the freezer for a half hour.

Or so I've heard.

Anyway, within the progressive community, Belief must no longer be seen by anyone as a negative, an evil or a liability. This must be true whether it is Jesus, Allah, Buddha, the FSM, various dryads and nymphs or Zeus and Apollo. Period. And I'm going to let this statement about "tolerance" fall mostly toward the Atheists in the progressive community, because it seems to me that believers within this community are already primed to be sensitive to others' beliefs or lack thereof because of the actions of other believers.

So. Belief is not to be ridiculed or criticized. However, beliefs can and should be. So let's try to make some groundrules for dealing with beliefs.

Which we will do in the 4th post of my, um, trilogy. Sorry, but this is getting too long.

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