Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Accommodating religion...

I read this article by Chris Stedman today where he makes his case that we should embrace the religious more openly and essentially tries to rally "Atheists" to his common cause of religious apologetics.

He writes: "I have major concerns about the ways many vocal atheists go about trying to accomplish this goal through simplistic, unreasonable criticisms of religion".

Simplistic criticisms are fine; the charge that one has to be a Theologian in order to refute the myths at the core of faith is one which needs kicking into touch. All debaters that I have seen on the pious side, from all faiths, highlight this as a weakness of their Atheist counterpart. Douglas Wilson tried something similar with the late Christopher Hitchens, a man subjected to frequent criticism about his theological qualifications; William Lane Craig attempts as a routine when questioned about Richard Dawkins.

It simply does not require years and years of study to refute the theological propositions. You do not need anything more than the ability to read the Bible itself. Bear in mind that this is a book which has been claimed to have been written by the almighty god - surely such a god would have intended such a book to have been accessible by all of mankind.

There are only a few reasons I can think of why you would need someone to read a book to you.

1. You are blind;

2. You cannot read;

3. You are too young to understand sentence construction and the meaning of individual (and most likely complex) words.

But there is another reason why the Bible has been hijacked by Theologians who claim that all of humanity cannot understand it...


Tell enough people that they can read something but will never understand it unless they defer to an "expert" is simplest way of creating a hierarchy of influence and power. Illiteracy was the root cause of why people initially fell into this trap. Once people became literate a new way needed to be devised to retain this power structure. Theology degrees simply entered the fray to give a cloak of legitimacy. We now see colleges and universities devoted to Biblical studies and if you're not in with that crowd then you are considered ignorant.

We hear it all the time in Atheist circles.. and it is an often used criticism of the more intellectual proponents of the New Atheist movement.

It's what's known as an Ad Verecundiam fallacy; an appeal to authority. It doesn't work because 'authorities' are wrong about a number of things. So we can ignore Stedman's plea about not using simplistic tools to berate religion because it's not needed. Religion is not owed a living by any of us. including the faithful. This sort of accommodation of religion puts Atheists on the back foot immediately where there is no need to concede ground. 

If you can read and write and talk... these are the only tools required to criticise religion. Simple or not, it doesn't matter. It is the claims of the pious that require examination. Do not let people say that you need some sort of specialist knowledge to refute the claims made within the Bible or any other religious book. It's nonsense and a grab for the higher ground in the debate.

Is there a good way for Atheists to become active? Not really. All methods of interaction will work on some level. Whether this is taking the piss or taking part in debates; all are equally valid routes to challenging nonsense and bullshit. We just have to think about the claims that religious people make... and then tackle each case individually. 

More importantly, we do not need to mobilise Atheists at all or become activists. This is because Atheism is simply a position of rejection. We do not have groups mobilising to press home the point that unicorns are imaginary or that fairies are not living at the bottom of the garden (maybe I spoke too soon?)

Sam Harris puts it like this:

If religion is interfering with state politics, your activism comes from being a "Secularist". Even religious people can be secularists, and indeed should be, for if a religion opposite to the one they subscribe to is given prominence in politics you'll have a lot of unhappy people, discrimination and would pave the way to a totalitarian state. We can discuss which states currently exist in this way but there's no need; I would hope we can all think of at least three without going into such detail.

Thus Stedman's article falls apart because it;s based on the Composition fallacy and Fallacy of Moderation that Atheists are a distinct group of people with the same goal, and thus should behave in a coordinated way, and that there is a middle position to be assumed by accommodating religion by "understanding" it in the same way as a theologian would.

Sorry, this is a very odd form of religious apologetics. There is a totalitarian backbone to religion and it demands both service and closed lips; they'll have neither from me and I'm not going to play their game. And I don't particularly care if my own style of criticism is considered unpalatable, controversial etc. I write what I write because I hope that people see the same ridiculous things I do. I don't have a huge audience (just under 2000 a month) but that's enough for me to know I am getting some sort of message out there.

It's quite simple for me; either religion gets it's act together and provides some evidence for its very grandiose claims or it should get out of government, education and philosophy. I do not believe that it belongs in any of those fields of discourse. Religions belong to the annuls of history and nothing more. 

I also noticed an article by Alain de Botton in the Guardian where he wrote:

The second paragraph contradicts the first. He says that there was a warmth and joviality in the celebration of Christmas, the idea that the warmth and fun of the occasion helped him enjoy the occasion more than he thought. He then goes on to say that it should be possible to take some of the religious ideas of family, celebration, warmth etc into the secular realm.

Well that would be all well and good but the celebration of the Winter Solstice preceded the Christian traditions we are now accosted with on a yearly basis. The Winter Solstice itself created many, if not all, of the traditions we associate with "having a good un". It's also interesting that de Booton says that despite adopting Christmas sentimentality in his own household that he has not yet gone so far as to having a tree; almost as if this would force his entrenchment into the Christian faith further. But, again, the tree is another Pagan tradition.

I also cannot ignore his comment that "God may be dead"... almost as if he was ever alive in the first place. This is peculiar talk for a so called "Atheist" but it goes to show that "Atheism" itself is divergent and indiscriminate. However, people like de Booton simply give the Christians too much credence for the season...

Accommodating religion simply continues the fa├žade.

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