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Moderate Theism: A Defense of Self-Delusion

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Whenever a non-theist points out the less than stellar history of religion, whenever its past (or present) crimes and prejudices are mentioned it’s defenders and followers tend to respond with objections like “Well I’ve never tortured anyone!” or “I don’t know anyone who’s for killing homosexuals!”  These apologists act as though their personal enlightenment of attitude somehow cleanses their faith of its responsibility for and history of atrocity, bigotry, prejudice, purposeful spreading of misinformation, and the fostering of ignorance.

The fact of the matter is that most religions, and certainly all of the Abrahamic faiths, contain in their holiest and most central texts specific injunctions to do violence, spread hatred, foster division.  The core teachings of these religions justify and even demand the judgement, segregation and often persecution of those who do not believe and practice in exactly the same way as everyone else.  Any objective reading of the three main texts of the Abrahamic faiths bares this fact out.

The enlightened attitude of the modern moderate theist cannot cleanse their faiths of the evils done at their insistence and in their names because regardless of the intellectual gymnastics used to reinterpret the teachings over the centuries the teachings haven’t changed. The modern moderations in attitude that make the continual reinterpretation and apologetics necessary  are not a result of the graces and glories of faith but rather they are the result of the advancement of secular morality, the evolution of societal ethics. As we grow as people our morality and attitudes evolve our laws advance and society grows, and while all of this happens religion remains unapologetically unchanged.

As an example, was it the teachings of Christ or Muhammad that taught us the evils of slavery? No, in fact neither holy personage seems to have had any problem with the practice at all. Did the bible or the quran declare women the equal of men in society and grant them equal protections under the law? No of course not, in fact both texts demand precisely the opposite treatment for women. Yet today slavery is almost universally viewed as an abomination and all modern moral systems recognize the female as the equal of her male counterpart.   It was secular lawmakers and society as a whole who banded together to demand equality for all people, and in the cases of both slavery and sexual equality they were (and in some cases still are) adamantly, and sometimes violently, opposed by the followers of the world’s three largest and most powerful religions.

The primary problem with the outlook of the modern moderate theist is this:  it is not possible to be a moderate theist without dismissing or ignoring certain passages and ideas of their faith. One cannot honestly profess to believe in the teachings of the bible and simultaneously approve of gay rights. Just as it is not possible to honestly believe that the Quran is the perfect word and will of god while deploring the killing of the infidel and championing the equality of women. In each case the propositions are mutually exclusive. If you honestly believe the bible is the manual for human morality then homosexuality is actually demonstrably a purposeful evil that is worthy of a grizzly death. If that aspect of the teachings is unworthy of devotion what makes the rest of it better, and if the moral standard comes from the book itself how are you determining which parts of that book to follow?

The attitude of the modern moderate theist seems to require either an atmosphere of purposeful ignorance as to what their faith entails or an environment of institutionalized lack of conviction which allows them to dismiss those teachings they find unpleasant while clinging to the remainder as absolute Truth.

To defend religion by saying “Well I’ve never stoned a homosexual!” or “I’ve never tortured anyone is roughly the same as a Clansman who says “I only belong for the sense of community, I’m not into all that cross burning stuff.” Or “You can’t judge us all! I’ve never lynched anyone!” A moderate theist acts as a collaborator in the crimes and prejudices of their fundamentalist cousins. By using their labels, displaying their emblems or defending their beliefs they give tacit approval to their chosen group’s stated beliefs, all of them. As well they give power and cover to the fundamentalists they profess to deplore. It is the droves of moderate theists who give the fundamentalists their power, it’s the unthinking devotion to these outdated traditions by otherwise modern intelligent people  that makes it impossible to deal with the root of the problem of fundamentalism.

We can only profit from the discarding of the outdated taboos, prejudices and rituals of long dead ancient cultures that enslave so many of us even today. We have surpassed the teachings of the ancient prophets in every area from our knowledge of the world and the wider universe to the morals and ethics which guide our society.  The fact is that the strictures and biases of these ancient mythologies only survive through ignorance, prejudice and most often apathy.

So Mr. Moderate Believer it’s true you probably haven’t stoned a rape victim or bombed an abortion clinic. You’ve probably never dragged a family from their home and killed them because of how or whom they worship but you DO support and defend a system of thinking that not only allows but demands these things. To pretend that the violence, hatred, and division that riddle the history of theism are a perversion of religion is to betray a fundamental lack of understanding of the specific demands of faith. To cling to the form and ritual of faith and dismiss the substance is worse than hypocrisy, it is to smile delightedly at the pretty colours of the flames while a fire consumes your house.

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Fun with “FunMod”s

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             There’s a term that myself and some others have recently begun using: “Fundamentalist Moderate” (or FunMod for short.) I mentioned them in my last article “Definition Swap” but I see so much of this kind of thinking that I feel  they and their attitudes warrant a more thorough exploration.  A FunMod can identify as either a theist or a non-theist but in practice they’re neither. Their concern is with a radicalized form of moderation that declares that all experience and truth are subjective. They believe that every viewpoint is valid, but more than that they assert that every viewpoint is equally as valid as every other.

Consider what that outlook really means, ask yourself this: are the hollow earth theory and the theory of gravity equally valid propositions? Should evolution and faith healing be given equal weight?  Are crystal therapy and conventional medicine on the same level of veracity?   A position based on evidence, logic, and probability is not the equal of one based solely on subjective wishes or fanciful  interpretations of a handful of old books, or on anyone’s personal relationship with the universe. Truth is only true if you can verify it, if you can point to some objective reason why it’s true.

These people defend all religious belief and cultural attitudes as harmless, and declare that it is actions, not beliefs that should be condemned. As an example, they would say that the suicide bomber who detonates himself in the name of Allah is solely to blame for the destruction he causes, that he has perverted the spirit of the religion. Of course you would have to ignore the specific injunctions to do violence and the prescribed rewards for doing so in the religion’s text to take that position, but these Fundamentalist Moderates don’t seem to have any problem with that.

They’ve constructed an artificial boundary between belief and action as though our thoughts do not inform our behaviours. The fact of the matter is that what we think effects what we do. If you believed that your actions were justified, and even mandated by what you consider the ultimate authority what actions wouldn’t you take? Isn’t it clear that the belief, if it is genuine, must result in action, or at least (albeit often tacit) support of that action?  How can anyone pretend that that isn’t a consideration?

The FunMods will chorus “Blame the person not the belief” but which person do you blame? Do you blame just the bomber, or the bomber and his imam?  Do you blame the culture that produces them, or the religion that dictates the form of that culture? Would that suicide bomber have detonated himself if he hadn’t been indoctrinated for years with stories of paradise and sacrifice, of god and his demands for complete faith and global conquest? Maybe he would have.  I don’t think so, but regardless we can agree on the fact that the largest group of suicide bombers are religious can’t we? Religion not only is the motivation it demands to be recognized as the motivation and purpose for everything. To pretend otherwise is to close your eyes to an unpleasant truth because you don’t like it.

To me this way of thinking is at least as dangerous as fundamentalist theism. Why dangerous you ask? The answer is: because superficially this kind of relativistic thinking sounds inclusive, high minded, and politically correct. It comes across as open-minded, peaceful, and it removes all need for conflict. In short it’s the kind of doctrine that people will be quick to adopt without thinking through all of its consequences. The simple fact is if you declare all truth subjective you remove any mechanism for debate or reform and destroy any incentive to study or learn. What’s more, you make study and learning all but impossible, just as you make all science, engineering and construction impossible.  After all under this type of thinking who is to say that a foot is really twelve inches? Or that 2+2 isn’t 5?

The fact that these people don’t or won’t see the dangers inherent in religious thinking is a matter of serious concern in my opinion, yet it’s not the only one. Another concern is that thought processes matter. Why we think things is important, the “how”s of arriving at truth are important. If you can accept that every proposition is valid you lack the ability to make substantive judgements. If you can claim that evolution and creationism, for instance, are equally valid you lack the ability to reason logically. A growth in this kind of thinking bodes poorly for the future regardless of which myth system is dominant.

The fundamentalist theist declares that their faith is the one and only truth, that their holy doctrine are the blueprint for right living and that deviating from that truth is sin and blasphemy punishable in various ways. They declare that their truth is absolutely the only truth. In their own way the FunMod is worse, they declare that there IS no truth, that truth is illusion and only opinion has any meaning.

It is vital for people to recognize that there are objective truths and it can be dangerous to pretend there are not. Objective truths are the real, meaningful, satisfying truths which let us grow, invent and expand ourselves. They’re the truths that lead to knowledge, understanding, and true wisdom. That’s not to say that subjective truth doesn’t have its role to play. In fact, Subjective truth may be the seat of individuality and perhaps even creativity I suppose but Objective truth is the throne of reason, the domain of science, it safeguards us from baseless assertion and provides a touchstone which unites us all.

Be wary of any viewpoint that tries so hard to be inclusive that it includes even the most inane of concepts. Do not become so enamoured of tolerance that you tolerate willful blindness and purposeful obfuscation. Don’t pretend to believe that atrocity and hatred is just a misunderstood cultural expression or that it’s you who’s in the wrong when you judge it evil to oppress your own people because of their sex. Don’t pretend you don’t know there’s a truth just because some people are offended by it. Have the courage to recognize that your feelings don’t define existence, and humbly approach reality on its terms and you’ll begin to learn how and why things really work.

Definition Swap

Weinberg

There is a large and multi-pronged effort out there to define certain words in such varied and nebulous terms as to rob them of any concrete meaning whatsoever. The word in particular I want to address is “God” but it is not alone, “Truth” is another excellent example of the sort of selective redefinition I’m talking about. Both of these words are used so often, and in so many differing, contradictory, and utterly subjective ways that one could be forgiven for thinking that they don’t actually have objective definitions at all.

I say one could be forgiven, but never excused; misinformation no matter how well meant or innocent of intention should never be excused, it must be unapologetically corrected. “God” with a capital “G” can safely be defined (at least by the dictionaries I checked) as “The one supreme being, creator and ruler of the universe.” The concept of “God” is a creation of the Old Testament, which is the defining and original source of the idea of monotheism. It is responsible for the very idea of a single all-knowing all-powerful deity. Before its advent the capitalized “God” did not exist. Before its spread the only concept of deity was that of “god” (note the lowercase) or rather of “gods”. These were lesser, limited creatures with finite abilities and knowledge. This word “god” is a word you don’t really see much in the world anymore, having been largely stamped out by the proponents of its capitalized cousin.

As I said in the opening the effort to change the definition of God is multi-pronged. Pantheists like to claim things like “God is the universe!” while moderate Christians or fundamentalist moderates like to say “God is love” or “God is the best parts of ourselves” and spiritualists and mysticists add to the clamour with “God is energy!” and “God is the laughter of little children” or whatever you like in substitution. They all have different definitions, or redefinitions, but their motivations for changing the definition are all basically the same.

I do not think that the perpetrators of this definition sleight of hand choose their words at random. I think that the words “God” and “Truth” were chosen for very specific reasons. The word “God” morphed from its true definition referring to the all-powerful monotheist god Yahweh to become the anthropomorphized spirit of every good thing once people began to recognize the unquestionable monstrousness of the original character. As we advanced as a species we learned more, we grew more moral and more sociable and unsurprisingly the personality of God laid out in the Old Testament lost its luster for some. Rather than move on from the mythology entirely however some simply kept the parts of god they liked, and discarded the rest. The evolution of the definition of God is exactly the same sort of selective interpretation that fundamentalist moderates use when deciding which parts of their various holy books to advocate and which to dismiss.

Now we come to the second word I mentioned, another victim of constant redefinition and rebranding, the word “Truth”. This word we hear all the time, and most of us would probably say we have a good idea of what it means. I think it’s fair to say that at its simplest and most direct truth means “that which is in accordance with reality or fact.” This definition of truth is the basis of all knowledge, scholarship, science, and critical inquiry. It’s what makes mathematics work, it’s what makes planes fly…and there are large groups of people in the world who want you to believe that it doesn’t exist. They’ll tell you the all truth is subjective. They’ll say that we each have our own truths and that they are all equally true and all equally valid. “It is overly simplistic,” they’ll chorus, “to assume that something is false just because there is contradictory evidence.” If there is no objective standard for truth, if everything is true then there is no basis for criticism and no mechanism for challenge or reform. This is exactly the type of atmosphere religion and theism in general require to not just survive but thrive.

So with “God” safely sanitized to fit their particular attitudes or proclivities and “Truth” relegated to the realm of opinion it becomes impossible say that ANY definition is incorrect because it is true to them. So the pantheist who declares that the universe is God is just as right as the fundamentalist moderate who says that god is love. It is faith without conviction, it is Old Testament fan fiction.

A lot of atheists will be quick to say “the bible isn’t evidence.” I do it myself all the time. Yet I will concede that the bible is better evidence than your unsubstantiated personal relationship with infinity. Subjective truths are very real and very valid, we all have them. A rational reasonable person learns to differentiate between the subjective truths of their individual reality and reach deeper to the fundamental real objective truths of reality.

Atheism is Impolite

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Atheism is impolite. We’ve all heard some variation on this idea whether it’s “Atheists are rude” or “Atheists are overly aggressive.” Or “Atheists have something to prove.” Most often you’ll get this from theists who are threatened by the conversation or from some non-theists; those who have no particular faith but disapprove of discussion and debate on the subject. What I find most difficult and frustrating about this position is that it’s not actually wrong. That they aren’t wrong isn’t especially frustrating, the frustrating part is that it’s only so because the religious have somehow managed to change the rules of discourse. They’ve managed construct a social bulwark around their beliefs that is entirely unique and completely unavailable to beliefs or assertions made in any other category of human experience. It has actually become impossible to challenge the beliefs of the religious within the bounds of civil discussion.

First things first, a slight correction is necessary in order to proceed. When I say Atheism is impolite I should be more specific, Atheist activism is impolite. It is not inherently impolite to be an atheist, the problem only arises when one chooses to speak about the subject, or dares to question anyone else’s beliefs. There are a great many atheists out there who would be regarded as perfect pillars of good behaviour. They don’t question anyone’s beliefs, don’t challenge irrational statements, or demands for special treatment, and will in fact castigate those of their fellows who are too “militant” about their lack of belief.

I say that the theists and “polite” non-theists aren’t wrong because it actually is impossible to politely point out to someone that their core beliefs are false. You cannot, within the bounds of good manners, tell someone that they have devoted their lives to a sham. No matter how soft your language, or how gentle your manner it is impossible to broach the subject without being rude. This is because it has somehow become the height of high-mindedness to assert that “people should be able to believe whatever they choose.” But should they? Really consider that.

Should people honestly be able to believe whatever they want to believe simply because they want to? What if I want to believe 2+2=5 for instance? Should I be free to assert this as truth? In spite of the mountainous pile of evidence to the contrary should I be free to teach it to my children? What if I can convince others that 2+2=5? Should we then be free to demand that “fiveism” receive equal teaching time in math class? Does basic mathematics then become a matter of opinion, and does my right to hold this nonsensical opinion trump your right not to have to put up with said nonsense?

In every other area of human endeavor you have to have reasons to think the things you do. Your beliefs have to be grounded in some kind of verifiable demonstrable truth. If an engineer decided to forgo measuring and instead provided his builders with figures that came to him in a dream the project they were building would fail and the engineer would be censured. If a history student declared that he felt deep inside himself that Napoleon was in fact an Asian woman rather than a French Caucasian man he would be told quite plainly that regardless of his feelings the evidence did not support such an insane claim. We spend a great deal of time teaching our children to defend their opinions with evidence. Any statement that begins with “I think” is often met with the response “Why?”

How many of us heard as children or have said to our own children “‘because’ is not an answer”? Yet it seems that it is a perfectly acceptable answer when discussing theology. “How can you possibly believe in spite of piles of evidence that the earth is only six thousand years old?” is met with “Because.”  “How do you know that this book you esteem so highly has divine origins?” “Because.” And yet asking the obvious next question “Because WHY?” is the height of impropriety. “How dare you challenge my right to believe that the universe was created just for me and those like me!” the theists shriek. “Why do you have to be so unpleasantly forceful?” the politically correct hand-wringers whine. Why? Because theism claims answers they don’t and can’t have. They claim privileges and exemptions from rationality that no area of human interest should have, and they claim that reason and rationality is somehow inferior to blind belief or “faith”.

It is that last point that makes Atheist activism so necessary, regardless of how impolite it may be. More of us need to put aside the politically correct idea of respecting someone else’s opinion and question the value and virtue of “faith”. More of us should be asking loudly why it is better to believe in spite of evidence. Why is it better to ignore or bury evidence in favor of tradition? Why isn’t it ok to question this one particular area of human experience or to measure it against the rest of reality as we understand it when it is not only ok but absolutely essential that we do so in all other areas?

Don’t be afraid to be thought rude or impolite. Question, challenge, and seek. That is the most important freedom you have. It may be rude to challenge someone’s most personal beliefs but that’s only because we, the secular minority in society have allowed our opponent to weight the dice in their own favor.  As Sam Harris says:

“When considering the truth of a proposition, one is either engaged in an honest appraisal of the evidence and logical arguments, or one isn’t  Religion is one area of our lives where people imagine that some other standard of intellectual integrity applies.”

I contend that there is no “other standard” there is what is demonstrably true, what is verifiably untrue and that which we do not know. Nothing else, and no area of our experience should ever be beyond discussion.

Atheists Against Atheism??

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I spend a lot of time talking about the hateful, baffling, and often false things Theists say and believe on this blog. Today I’m going to mix it up a bit and discuss another group and an incomprehensible position I just can’t get my head around. The group I’m going to be talking about are atheists, a very specific kind of atheist which some of you may recognize. Some of you may even be this kind of atheist. If you are maybe you can help me understand…

There is a group of atheists out there in the world who have taken the time to think about the issue, they’ve pondered, considered and (hopefully) studied and become comfortable enough with their position to openly call themselves atheists. This particular kind of Atheist has determined, just as the rest of us have, that religion and religious claims are false, baseless, utterly man-made, and often times harmful however this sub-set of atheists regularly and actively call down anyone who challenges a theist’s religious assertions, or points out the falsehoods and inconsistencies in their doctrine. These people ostensibly reject the idea of a god, reject all forms of religion but see no problem with the practice, and are actually affronted by the more aggressive species of atheist who choose to debate and discuss the issue.  I really don’t understand this type of atheism. I suppose one could chalk it up to some of them just being “live and let live” types not interested in pushing their own views or “agenda” on anyone but if that’s the case why are they involved in the discussion in the first place?

I write and debate on the topic for a couple of reasons: 1) I’m an AntiTheist.  I honestly believe that religion and religious thinking are divisive, detrimental and dangerous, not just to those individuals snared by it but to all of humankind. 2) I know that there are more plausible, more demonstrable, more awe-inspiring truths out there that explain our origins, and indeed all origins far more correctly and satisfyingly than any faith system ever has.  I value knowledge, study, learning, and honest inquiry.  I myself have learned the vast majority of what I know because someone took the time to put their thoughts to paper, to debate and discuss, and I am eternally grateful for that. If I can make just one person  actually consider and question what they profess to believe and that leads them to go out with new questions and seek actual answers I’m a success.  I can’t imagine a better pay off for an hour or two of typing. I consider any amount of “yelling into the wind” to be well worth that payoff.

I understand those atheists who want no part in the debate, they’ve come to their personal truth, it works for them and they have no interest in convincing others. I understand agnostics who are satisfied to say “I simply don’t know” and leave it at that. What I can’t understand are those Atheists who actively take part in the debate but only to say that they don’t think there should be a debate at all and deride those who foster it. The position against discussion doesn’t make any sense to me. I like talking to thoughtful theists, to be honest I like talking to less than thoughtful theists too. I enjoy the discussion. I like when people make me think, and I like when I can tell I’ve made someone else think. This is how we improve ourselves. I don’t get how anyone can be opposed to that, and it seems especially strange to me to adopt the label “atheist” and then attack those advocating atheism…

If you see encouraging debate, or even taking part in one as “proselytizing” and you’re honestly opposed I can respect that. I disagree, but I can respect it, but to proselytize against proselytizing?? I don’t understand that… It seems to me like an effort to be seen as a superior, more open-minded, less offensive brand of atheist and it comes off, at least to me, as hypocrisy. It seems we’ve developed the secular equivalent of the religious moderate, that species of theist who professes to believe that all outlooks are not only equally worthy of respect but equally valid as truth.

If you want no part in the debate that’s your call and I respect that. If you want to take part in the debate and have a different outlook than I do I welcome your contribution to the discussion. I really do, but if you spend your days advocating against advocacy, if you actively label yourself an atheist but oppose discussion of the “whys” of atheism then as I’ve said several times: I don’t understand you. What is it that drives such an atheist, and how did you come to be an atheist? Did your lack of belief happen in a bubble? You read nothing, discussed nothing, and debated nothing? Really? I doubt it, so why would you deny others the tools that you yourself more than likely took advantage of in forming your opinions?

A Quick Plug

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The Facebook page “The Atheist People” has published an article I wrote today. It’s no three book deal with Random House but it is the first time I’ve submitted my own work for someone else’s consideration and the response has been great!! It’s always so nice to see  that your perspective resonates with others, and it’s always interesting to spark debate. I hope those of you who read me here will check it out. Unfortunately the best I can do for a link is to the page it’self. My article is the one that was posted today. Enjoy and thank you to those of you who comment, like, share, and everyone who takes the time to  read what I write.

The Atheist People

An Issue of Indoctrination

Indoctrination, the word comes up all the time in conversations between theists and non-theists but let’s actually look at it closely; what is indoctrination? Is it necessarily a bad thing? Or is it just a matter of what we indoctrinate people with that’s the problem? Well first things first let’s define the word. Merriam Webster defines indoctrination as follows:

Indoctrination: 1) To instruct especially in fundamentals or rudiments.

2) To imbue with a usually partisan or sectarian opinion, point of view, or principle.

So looking at the definitions given one can see that a case could be made, without much difficulty, that there are cases where the first definition of indoctrination is a good and necessary thing. Someone might argue, for instance, that children should be indoctrinated with proper fire safety lessons, proper respect for the dangers associated with sharp objects and the risks of crossing the street.

I disagree with this argument for the simple reason that I personally prefer education over indoctrination in all cases and situations. What is the difference? Well there is, at least to my mind, a huge amount of difference, though it can often be subtle. Indoctrination is, very simply, teaching someone WHAT to think, it is the implantation of sound bites into a person’s head, propaganda. It is “teaching” through repetition and rote without the benefit of multiple viewpoints or considered study. Education on the other hand encourages the person in question to study everything they can from every perspective they can, to take it all in and THEN judge what they’ve learned according to their own intellect, morality, sense of right and wrong and so forth in order to form a worldview.

Religion uses the indoctrination model over the education model for very specific, and quite obvious, reasons. Those reasons boil down to the simple fact that everything we actually KNOW demonstrates that their worldview is often factually wrong and always at the very least highly improbable. If theists were to send their children into schools without any previous indoctrination and allow them to study and learn and draw their own conclusions I honestly believe that the number of theists in the world would drop off sharply, and so do they (that’s why they don’t do it more often). Would they endanger the existence of their various theologies doing so? Sadly, no probably not, because for every person who is freed by study and considered rational thought there are two more who are more than willing to suborn their reason in favor of a collection of comforting promises that no fellow human is actually qualified to give them.

If you look at the growth in atheism and non-theism in the last century there is, I am certain, a correlation between it’s rise and the enhancement of global education systems. It becomes harder and harder to insulate and isolate oneself from the proofs of science and the considerations of reason. Oh it can be done, and as a matter of fact it is done regularly by a great many people but in order to accomplish it you have to do one of two things A) Actively segregate yourself from any topic or content that might challenge or infringe upon your faith (as my wife’s creationist friend who I’ve previously mentioned does) or B) To compartmentalize yourself in such a way that you can accept all of the gifts and truths of science, history, and the other secular disciplines with one part of yourself and with another still fully embrace whatever your particular set of ancient myths, precepts, and strictures are.

This second kind of person is by far the most prevalent form of theist on the planet. This is the personality type of the “religious moderate” who is, in every other facet of their life, a perfectly rational, reasonable, capable and intelligent human being. If you were to insist to this type of person that the local river had spontaneously turned to tomato sauce they would not believe without some sort of evidence, and would tell you so in no uncertain terms and yet at the same time they will admit unapologetically that they subscribe to a system of belief based on nothing more than a two thousand year old collection of writings and an ill-defined personal feeling.

These moderates are as much a product of indoctrination as the less frequent fundamentalist. In the case of the fundamentalist the indoctrination is total, becoming not just the core of their worldview but the entirety of it. There is nothing but the indoctrination. The bible says god hates fags (and it does) and so it is the simple unvarnished truth and, as in the case of the Westboro Baptist Church, the people who believe and spout this ignorant, hateful rubbish will tell you quite unashamedly that they are doing so for your benefit, and even out of their love for you, that you may come to see the truth. As terrible, sad and shocking as this outlook is it’s the moderate group that shocks me more however. Their indoctrination is a more subtle, quiet, and insidious kind. They don’t present the loud mouthed, wild-eyed frenzy of their fundamentalist cousins, they don’t spout the ill-considered rhetoric or shoulder the garish and offensive signage, or even dismiss the benefits of modern technology and medicine yet somewhere inside them there exists an invisible but impermeable wall that no amount of fact, or reason or evidence can penetrate.

Coming back to the question I started with: Is indoctrination necessarily a bad thing? Or is it just a matter of what we indoctrinate people with? For myself, I do think it is always inferior to education for making intelligent, thoughtful, considering people, but then again that’s not really the aim of indoctrination is it? So yes indoctrination is always a bad thing. Encouraging mindless following of any precept or principle regardless of any altruistic or well-meaning intent is, in my opinion, wrong. Indoctrination robs people of the ability to truly learn, it kills the impulse to question, and shrivels the drive to discover. These abilities impulses and drives are the most fundamental right and responsibility we have as human beings and should be treated with more respect.

A Problem of Pluralism

“No one has the right to tell anyone that their beliefs are wrong.” “People should be free to believe whatever they like.” “There are no “right” or “wrong” beliefs.” These are things that you’ll hear a lot if you speak on or debate the topic of faith. This is the concept of Religious Pluralism, the idea that all beliefs and belief systems are equally valid and equally deserving of respect. It sounds, on its face, like a reasonable and high-minded point of view, inclusive, reasonable, a very live and let live sort of outlook. Yet there is a serious flaw with the idea of Religious Pluralism, the flaw is simply this: Each and every religion mankind has ever come up with is absolute. Every one of them claims their doctrine and tradition is right good and true while asserting at the same time that all other belief systems are false, wrong, incomplete, or even evil. Religion by its very nature rejects the idea of pluralism; what’s more it often requires an absolutist perspective from its adherents.

Religious pluralism is the invention of the modern religious moderate. That species of theist who can pick and choose which tenets of their scriptures to believe in while flatly dismissing some and metamorphosizing others into metaphor and poetry in need of scholarly interpretation. Pluralism becomes the shield behind which the moderate can take refuge. “You can’t challenge the irrational things I believe because I respect the irrational things you believe.” At the same time it becomes another weapon in the fight against the rational naturalistic outlook of the non-theist. It’s “impolite” to question why someone believes in something without a basis for that belief. It’s crude and overly simplistic to state that a position that has no rational objective basis for truth is most likely false. Instead, it would appear, the more acceptable and “polite” tack is to accept that religious faith, all religious faith is valid, not only valid but equally as valid as reason. This is, at least to me a fallacy of the most monumental type.

Pluralism only works if the believer is willing to concede that their beliefs exist solely in the province of their own minds for no other purpose than their own psychological wellbeing. If you’re willing to allow that your beliefs have no bearing on the material world, no basis in history or science, that it is a mental construct designed to comfort you personally that is something different.  In this case, as a strictly personal belief, one could make an argument for the case of pluralism. However if you’re claiming that the stories in your text are true, that the bible is historically accurate, and that the dictates of said book are fact and globally binding, then pluralism is an absurdity.  How can you genuinely respect a belief system that you truly believe is wrong, or evil? How can you claim to respect another faith while living in certainty that its practitioners are misguided, deluded and destined for a fiery damnation in the next world?

It’s a smoke screen, a high-minded get out of jail free card that the moderate uses to justify the imbalance between the rational part of themselves that allows them to function in the modern word and the part of themselves that hangs on to bronze age mythology and supernatural occurrence as reality. However not all beliefs are valid, and certainly not all beliefs are equally valid. If I claimed to believe that the mantle of the earth was made of toast for instance no thinking person would advocate my right to hold such a belief because, aside from the fact that we can prove it is not so, the idea itself is simply to ludicrous for anyone reasonable or even moderately informed  to credit. Yet the beliefs that A) Muhammad ascended to Heaven on a flying horse and B) that no such thing ever happened in reality are equally valid and equally worthy of belief? This is the worst kind of relativistic nonsense.

Aside from that it’s also incredibly dangerous. We live in the most dangerous and precipitous period in human history. There exist, at this very moment weapons of such incredible power that a single human being can kill millions, or make entire landscapes uninhabitable for generations. Add to this the fact that there are literally billions of people on the planet who believe that there is an invisible person in the sky who likes some of us better than others and will in fact REWARD them handsomely for killing those others. This is an unsupportable situation. We’ve grown past the point where we have the luxury of being allowed our illusions about the world and how it works. With the powers we now command we cannot afford any view but those founded on reason and rational decision-making.

The moderate who champions pluralism gives defense and tacit approval to the suicide bomber who blows up a bus, or the gang that beats a homosexual to death because he’s a homosexual in defiance of god’s will. The fundamentalist cannot exist without the moderate, shoring up his position, fighting for his rights, fighting against the right of the secular world to impose a moratorium on the very fount and source of his various madnesses, while all the while decrying the actions of those whose only real crime is faithfully  following the dictates of the faith that the moderate picks and chooses from.

The Ideological Grab Bag: The Problem of Moderates.

There’s a huge population of people in the world who don’t believe that the bible is the perfect word of god. They don’t believe that the teachings of any church are inviolate. They don’t except the truth of miracles without evidence or believe that just because a preacher or pontiff declares something that it immediately has the stamp of  truth.

This sounds like a description of non-theists but that’s not the group I’m talking about. The group I’m referring to here is the species of theists generally referred to as “Religious Moderates” This particular brand of theist is by far the most numerous,  they exist in all denominations, faiths and walks of life. Most of these accept that the world is far older than a few thousand years, believe in the value of medical science to combat illness, accept the basic truth of evolutionary theory, and have even been known to wear garments made of blended fabrics!

The religious moderate is in  every way a rational thoughtful modern minded person, with the exception that they profess to have a belief in a god of some kind. These believers however aren’t necessarily constrained by their “holy” books, as a matter of fact they’ll often quickly admit that the bible or the quran, or whichever book you discuss with them is full of contradictions, inaccuracies, terrible atrocities, ridiculously severe laws, and bigoted judgements.  They’ll tell you before you can even get it out that the “holy” book in question is the work of man, and is therefore not a true barometer of god’s will or his intent.  The truly frustrating part of all of this is that they’ll still use pieces of  that same “holy” book to defend their “faith”. A christian moderate will, for instance, disavow the entire old testament,  talk about how the stories are metaphorical and not meant to be taken literally. They’ll explain how the grandiose claims made are just poetic language and then in the same sentence talk about the ministries and miracles of christ as though they’re from a distinct and more reputable source.

This seems, at least to me, like trying to have your cake and eat it too. “I accept that the book is flawed and wrong, and i don’t believe a whole lot of it, except for these parts here, they’re literal historical truth.” This seems like roughly the same thing as saying “All astrology is crap, except for MY horoscope, obviously that’s true.”  A great many of these people will talk about how the supernatural aspects of the bible aren’t the most important part, how the message of brotherhood, charity and compassion, a message which is verifiably not unique or original to christianity, is the most important part. If that’s true, I would ask, why is that message contingent upon there being a supernatural creator? Why is it necessary that jesus have special abilities or superhuman powers in order for this message to have weight? Confucius, Gandhi and several other thinkers both before and after christ preached almost exactly the same things without the need of a claim of deity. There is no Temple of Gandhi, no Gospel of the Mahatma.

There are several other aspects of what I’m terming “The Moderate Problem” that equally flummox and irritate me in regards to theological argument, and ultimately the issue of whether or not the world is better off with or without the, in my view fallacious, belief in a supreme being. Those aspects of the problem will have to wait for another day and another post however.