Saturday, June 16, 2012

Moderate Theists, Stop the Enabling of Fundamentalists

Atheist is a dirty word in this country.  It conjures up images of asshole behavior, baby-eating, satanic worship, and general debauchery.  While individual atheists could theoretically have some of these traits (except satanic worship, since we don't worship anything) I wouldn't bet on it.  Unlike most people who make these broad generalizations, I actually know a great number of atheists and most are kind, honest people who only want what is best for their family and loved ones.  For that matter, I know a lot of theists who may believe in a book about a sadistic dictator, but at the end of the day most are kind, honest people who only want what is best for their family and loved ones.  We have much more in common that we do in conflict, so why the big stand-off?

Most theists and atheists are indistinguishable in their day to day life.  Sure, some pray and go to church while others do not, but apart from that we share many of the same values and humanistic ideals.  Of course, with this comparison we must exclude the dogmatic and fundamentalist theists.  (Sorry, atheists do not fall in these categories.  There are certainly passionate atheists, but by very virtue of not having a holy book or deity to worship, we can't have dogma or fundamentalism.)  Most moderate theists even confess that fundamentalists give everybody a bad name and I would agree, but far too often moderates become enablers of the very behavior they despise. 

Faith is defined as "belief that is not based on evidence".  It is this "virtue" that I take the most issue with even among my moderate theist friends.  By glorifying the idea of "knowing" something you can not possibly know, you are opening the door for fundamentalist behavior.  Because if it is possible to "know" through faith that God/Yahweh/Allah is the one true deity, it is equally as possible for someone else to "know" God/Yahweh/Allah hates the LGBT community, wishes for the bombing of abortion clinics, or demands your children be killed to save them from sin.  Religious faith is a dangerous double-edged sword that would probably best be put away all together.  If a religious moderate were to say, "I believe in God, but for all I know I could be wrong," that would be a much healthier way of approaching the subject.  This would ensure that when a fundamentalist says, "God has commanded me to vote against marriage equality," a religious moderate could ask, "How could you possibly know what God wants you to do?"  This may come across as agnostic theism, and that's because it is.  To be fair, I advocate for agnostic atheism as well.  You will never hear my say, "I know there is no such thing as gods."  Instead, you might hear me say, "I know there is no such thing as gods with the same certainty that I know there are no fairies.  But I could be wrong."

The other behavior I take issue with among moderate and fundamentalist theists alike is the belief that morality could somehow possibly be dictated by a book from the Bronze Age.  Regardless of whether there are deities or not, I can guarantee no god worth worshiping has written or "inspired" any of these "holy" books.  Why would a god who has infinite powers choose the least effective means of dictating their wishes?  Every book requires to be interpreted, and holy books are no different, regardless of what some may say.  But while you and I may disagree on a theme of The Great Gatsby, we can still have a drink after and enjoy each other's company.  But when people disagree on a theme or passage of a holy book, they splinter off into separate factions or denominations.  When a book contains immoral behavior, contradictions, inaccurate information, and despicable acts, we must either accept this book as "truth" or see it for what it is, a product of it's culture and time.  By accepting that our morality does not come from a book, you eliminate the conflict of our modern ethics being more advanced than the behavior in a holy book.  You are then free to pick and choose which parts of the Bible or Torah or Koran are helpful in your life and which are harmful.

Some will no doubt take issue with these suggestions.  As though to suggest something that could possible not be real could never truly inspire us to improve our lives.  To rebut, I'd like to hand the floor over the Matt Stone and Trey Parker, who summarized my views of "real" and "imaginary" things touching our lives beautifully:

"It's all real.  Think about it.  Haven't Luke Skywalker and Santa Claus affected you more than most real people in this room?  I mean, whether Jesus is real or not, he's had a bigger impact on the world than any of us have.  And the same can be said for Bugs Bunny and Superman and Harry Potter.  They've changed my life, changed the way I act on the earth.  Doesn't that make them kind of real?  They might be imaginary, but they're more important than most of us here.  And they're all going to be around long after we're dead.  So in a way, those things are more 'real-er' than any of us." - Kyle Broflovsky

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