Friday, April 06, 2007

Blog against Theocracy I: liberal scholars

the glorious firstFor First Freedom First - Blue Gal, Mock Paper Scissors, Neural Gourmet, Talk2Action, and Blogs against Theocracy present a Blogswarm Against Theocracy.

So, I'm thinking about what I'm going to blog about this weekend and lo and behold, EJ Dionne gives me a topic.
While some Christians harbor doubts about Christ's actual physical resurrection, hundreds of millions believe devoutly that Jesus died and rose, thus redeeming a fallen world from sin.

Are these people a threat to reason and even freedom?

It's a question that arises from a new vogue for what you might call neo-atheism. The new atheists -- the best known are writers Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins -- insist, as Harris puts it, that "certainty about the next life is simply incompatible with tolerance in this one." That's why they think a belief in salvation through faith in God, no matter the religious tradition, is dangerous to an open society.

Dionne says we're "given to a sometimes-charming ferociousness in [our] polemics" and says "As a general proposition, I welcome the neo-atheists' challenge. The most serious believers, understanding that they need to ask themselves searching questions, have always engaged in dialogue with atheists."
It's true that religious Christians were among those who persecuted Jews. It is also true that religious Christians were among those who rescued Jews from these most un-Christian acts. And it is a sad fact that secular forms of dogmatism have been at least as murderous as the religious kind.

What's really bothersome is the suggestion that believers rarely question themselves while atheists ask all the hard questions. But as Novak argued -- in one of the best critiques of neo-atheism -- in the March 19 issue of National Review, "Questions have been the heart and soul of Judaism and Christianity for millennia." (These questions get a fair reading in another powerful commentary on neo-atheism by James Wood, himself an atheist, in the Dec. 18 issue of the New Republic.) "Christianity is not about moral arrogance," Novak insists. "It is about moral realism, and moral humility." Of course Christians in practice often fail to live up to this elevated definition of their creed. But atheists are capable of their own forms of arrogance. Indeed, if arrogance were the only criterion, the contest could well come out a tie.

As for me, Christianity is more a call to rebellion than an insistence on narrow conformity, more a challenge than a set of certainties.

In "The Last Week," their book about Christ's final days on Earth, Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan, distinguished liberal scriptural scholars, write: "He attracted a following and took his movement to Jerusalem at the season of Passover. There he challenged the authorities with public acts and public debates. All this was his passion, what he was passionate about: God and the Kingdom of God, God and God's passion for justice. Jesus' passion got him killed."

That's why I celebrate Easter and why, despite many questions of my own, I can't join the neo-atheists.
And so once again the entire point is missed.

Look, Mr Dionne, I don't give a good god damn about you and the "liberal scriptural scholars". Believe what you like - it does no one any harm. But did you actually read that "bracing polemic" of Harris's, or did you just skim it looking for ways to get around it?

Because the whole point of that book - the whole point of the "neo-atheistic movement" - is that you and yours are enablers for those who blow up buildings, busses, clinics, and people in the name of God.

I will agree without hesitation: Dionne and his kind do not throw bombs into clinics, put bullets into the heads of doctors, or beat young men and string them up on fences to die. They don't get on talk radio and wish for people's death, nor make vicious and anonymous death threats on blogs. Of course they don't. But just because for him Christianity is "more ... than an insistence on narrow conformity" doesn't entitle him to pretend that that is not precisely what Christianity is for others - for many others - an insistence on narrow conformity that they will force on the whole country if they can.

That Dionne and his ilk will be mightily discomforted if that occurs is little comfort. Jesus' passion got him killed? Many of his followers nowadays do the killing, and you must know that to be true. They have a passion for God's Kingdom, too, and they want to establish it right here and now.

Atheists are arrogant, Mr Dionne? How arrogant is it to pretend you and the "scholars" set the tone for Christianity. It's arrogant to pretend that you don't know that "secular forms of dogmatism" are different from religious ones in nothing but name: have you never studied these "murderous" dogmatisms? Have you never seen the giant statues of the Beloved Leader, the embalmed and worshipped bodies on Red Square, the chants of "Lenin lived, Lenin lives, Lenin will live!" - can't you admit these regimes merely worshipped some other god than you? Worship is irrational, whether a Sky God, a State, or a nebulous Notion Of Goodness; and it leads to hatred of the other, those who do not join the worship. What secularist, not setting up his state and self as the new religion, has ever led a nation to invade another, preached the death of those who didn't accept his theory, or consigned all those who disagreed with him to eternal and everlasting torment? Who? When? Where? What political-cum-religious leader has even managed not to have division within his own?

As Christopher Brookmyre remarked, via a character in his novel "Not the End of the World":
Trouble is, there's a fine line between imagining someone's eternal soul is condemned and thinking their earthly life is worthless.
"Christianity is not about moral arrogance", Mr Novak and Mr Dionne? I invite you to reclaim the moral high ground of this argument with "neo-atheists" by teaching your co-religionists this essential dogma.

But if you won't. we'll have to.

This is day one; look for days two and three over the weekend.

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At 10:31 PM, April 06, 2007 Anonymous Anonymous had this to say...

Sam Harris says people should be hunted down and killed simply on the basis of their beliefs.

"Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them. . . . There is, in fact, no talking to some people. If they cannot be captured, and they often cannot, otherwise tolerant people may be justified in killing them in self–defense."

Google it if you do not believe me.

At 9:05 AM, April 07, 2007 Blogger The Ridger, FCD had this to say...

I believe you - I read the book. Tell me you don't believe that killing people who believe they have the unavoidable moral duty to kill you because their god told them to should be killed in your own self-defence if you cannot capture them.

If you do, I admire your moral integrity and hope they don't catch you. If you don't, consider that perhaps Harris doesn't preach that out of religion but out of pure desire to stay alive.

At 9:06 AM, April 07, 2007 Blogger The Ridger, FCD had this to say...

By the way - those beliefs Harris is talking about? You don't have to "hunt down" their holders - they're coming after you.

At 9:27 AM, April 07, 2007 Blogger The Ridger, FCD had this to say...

Plus, of course, Harris says "may", not "should" ... In fact, what's in that little ellipsis of yours is quite important to defining his thought, as is what came before it, and it's a bit disingenuous of you to leave it out:

"The link between belief and behavior raises the stakes conderably. *Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them*. This may seem an extraordinary claim, but it merely enunciates an ordinary fact about the world in which we live. Certain beliefs place their adherents beyond the reach of every peaceful means of persuasion, while inspiring them to commit acts of extraordinary violence against others. There is, in fact, no talking to some people. If they cannot be captured, and they often cannot, otherwise tolerant people may be justified in killing them in self-defense. This is what the United States attempted in Afghanistan, and it is what we and other Western powers are bound to attempt, at an even greater cost to ourselves and to innocents abroad, elsewhere in the Muslim world. We will continue to spill blood in what is, at bottom, a war of ideas."

He's talking about beliefs that lead to actions, NOT "simple" belief.


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