Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Reason vs. extremism

Let me say explicitly that I have no quarrel whatsoever with the majority of Christians.

Despite being an out, and rather outspoken, atheist, I am firmly of the opinion that everyone arrives at the truth in his/her own way and time.  My personal lack of belief should never be taken as some kind of tacit statement that I hold your philosophical or religious beliefs -- whatever they are -- in contempt.  Now, I may disagree with you, or think you are mistaken.  But whether we agree or not, you have every right to find your own path -- just as I do.

That said, I must ask a question of any Christian readers of this blog.  Why is it that so many of you refuse to stand up to the minority within your ranks who trumpet hate, intolerance, and fear-mongering?

It's a question I've asked before, and one that could equally well be applied in other realms.  In politics, individuals who break ranks with the party line (as Chris Christie did yesterday) are often briefly lauded as mavericks -- but the backlash they face from the establishment frequently makes their gains amongst free-thinkers a Pyrrhic victory.

Wouldn't it be nice, though, if that weren't true?  Wouldn't it be nice if rank-and-file Christians resoundingly repudiated Donald Wildmon, chairman of the American Family Association, for sending out emails like the one that went out to members yesterday, titled "What will religion look like in 2060?", and which contained the following passages:
What will religion look like in the year 2060?

Conservative Christians will be treated as second class citizens, much like African Americans were prior to civil rights legislation in the 1960s.

Family as we know it will be drastically changed with the state taking charge of the children beginning at birth...

Churchbuildings [sic] will be little used, with many sold to secular buyers and the money received going to the government...

Christian broadcasting will be declared illegal based on the separation of church and state. The airwaves belong to the government, therefore they cannot be used for any religious purpose.

We will have, or have had, a Muslim president.

Cities with a name from the Bible such as St. Petersburg, Bethlehem, etc. will be forced to change their name due to separation of church and state.
Or, how about the statement that Mathew Staver, dean of Liberty University's School of Law, made to Moody Radio's Janet Parshall about what would happen if gay marriage was legalized across the United States:
Basically marriage will be completely destroyed, families will be destroyed, children will be hurt by this and freedom of speech and freedom of religion, including in the pulpit itself, will absolutely be bulldozed over.  This would open a floodgate of unimaginable proportions…

This is the thing that revolutions literally are made of.  This would be more devastating to our freedom, to our religious freedom, to the rights of pastors and their duty to be able to speak and to Christians around the country, then anything that the revolutionaries during the American Revolution even dreamed of facing.  This would be the thing that revolutions are made of.  This could split the country right in two.  This could cause another civil war.  I’m not talking about just people protesting in the streets, this could be that level because what would ultimately happen is a direct collision would immediately happen with pastors, with churches, with Christians, with Christian ministries, with other businesses, it would be an avalanche that would go across the country.
Maybe I'm being a Pollyanna, here, but there's part of me that just can't accept that ordinary, regular Christians, the men and women who are the majority of Americans, actually believe that these men are speaking the truth.  Please reassure me; you don't really think that atheists like myself secretly want to tear churches down, that we would love to see the state taking charge of raising children, that we won't be satisfied until St. Paul, Minnesota is renamed "Nogodsville?"  That our disbelief implies that we will discriminate against you for your belief?  That if gays marry, it will have any other effect than... more gays being able to marry?

If I'm right -- that the majority of Christians recognize that what these men are saying is blatant foolishness -- why do so few stand up and say so?  Why does it take behavior as egregious as that of the members of the Westboro Baptist Church to make people willing to break ranks?  You are not betraying the cause by stopping the extremists, the hate-filled, the fear-mongers, from being your spokespeople.  By doing so you are opening a space for dialogue, fostering reconciliation, and recognizing what is nothing more than simple fact -- that despite our philosophical differences, we all have the same basic human needs and desires, and that given a chance, we can coexist happily.

So I will ask once again: have the courage to speak up against these men.  Say, simply, "You don't speak for me."  Be willing to be a voice of reason.  Heaven knows, we need them, on both sides.


  1. Actually I think St. Paul's name should change back to "Pig's Eye Landing." :-)

    Who knows what'll happen by 2060? It'll be a weird world by then. But Conservative Christians are marginalizing themselves by being increasingly out of touch with reality -- hence the increasing stridency and desperation. They're losing influence, so they feel a need to build a high wall of fear around the people over whom they still hold sway.

    The influence of religion generally seems to be declining. It might be that a lot of churches will sell off properties, due to lack of financial support from members. Churches also get automatic non-profit status, tax exemptions, and so on, without having to do the financial disclosures that other tax-exempt organizations have to. So many abuses have come to light, and so many churches have essentially turned into political organizations, that I suspect a lot of people are getting fed up, so this might change within the next 40 years.

    Muslim president -- why not?

    Or maybe all issues of taxes and property and so on will become irrelevant when the machines start running everything. I don't know.

  2. I think it would be interesting to look into some sociology of religion studies on numbers and percentages... would those espousing the views you quote above be a small minority, about half, a majority of Christians? It's kind of hard to say, in a way, because different people would define "Christian" differently - there are members of my family who would take issue with my claim to the name, due to my liberal/humanist views.

    And there are voices out there that are trying to speak *as Christians* to the reactionary fear-mongering that you cite above; Sojourner magazine is one; another is the recent blossoming of student and alumni groups on Christian campuses advocating for acceptance within Christianity of homosexuality - I've been really excited and encouraged to see that happening.

    It's also hard to "open a space for dialogue," as you say, when any challenge to the views above are summarily dismissed. I don't know. It's hard to explain what it's like to be inside that hermetically sealed world view... but I've been there. I'm glad I escaped... but I often also feel a profound sense of loss. There was comfort in the certainty. Too bad it was mostly hogwash (IMO).

    I love this quote from Anne Lammott - "the opposite of faith is not doubt; it is certainty."

  3. I'm a recovering catholic, but I can't tell you why people don't speak out or why the almighty church itself doesn't comment on these toxic individuals.

    I have a question myself. Aside from the complete absurdity and horrifying ideas in these quotes, can someone explain to me how gay marriage destroys freedom of speech and freedom of religion? Isn't it freedom of religion that makes gay marriage possible? I don't follow the logic. Shocking, I know. And if it wasn't for freedom of speech, we wouldn't have to listen to these extremists in the first place. It's the price we pay for freedom I guess.