Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Another Reason To Cringe As A Christian... get lumped in by articles like this:
Is God dead? Atheism finds a market in U.S

By Michael Conlon, Religion Writer

CHICAGO (Reuters) - A fresh wave of atheistic books has hit the market this autumn, some climbing onto best-seller lists in what proponents see as a backlash against the way religion is entwined in politics.

"Religion is fragmenting the human community," said Sam Harris, author of "Letter to a Christian Nation," No. 11 on the New York Times nonfiction list on October 15.

There is a "huge visibility and political empowerment of religion. President George W. Bush uses his first veto to deny funding for stem cell research and scientists everywhere are horrified," he said in an interview.

Religious polarization is part of many world conflicts, he said, including those involving Israel and Iran, "but it's never discussed. I consider it the story of our time, what religion is doing to us. But there are very few people calling a spade a spade."
I take issue with Harris' statement that religion fragments a community, even one as large as the entire planet, but I can wrap my mind around his point: more wars and bigger wars have been fought throughout history, nominally over religion, than any other rationale.

Yes, all wars are economic. It's the cloak we give wars that matters to the people fighting the war. Vietnam and Korea were to stop the spread of "godless Communism" in Southeast Asia. World War II was to protect Jews from Nazi atrocities. God is invoked on all sides by all comers in order to justify their rightness and righteousness.

The current conflict in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan are the first inherently religious wars fought by America, our first Crusades, but note the odd reversal here. We aren't bringing Christianity to the Islamic world, but "democracy and freedom".

"Gifts from God," we call these. So what should the average Kabulan or Bagdhadian believe?

My quarrel with Harris' point is that he speaks of fundamentalism as if it was the dominant voice in Christianity, when it simply isn't, anymore than fundamentalism is the dominant voice in Judaism or even Islam. It may be the most vociferous, the loudest voice, but at the end of the day, most Christians I know say a prayer for peace and try to get some sleep.

It's this backlash from atheism, agnosticism, and other minority religions in America that the liberal church must support, in an attempt to show that, while we disagree with the overall theory of this protest, we stand foursquare with its intent: to ratchet down the level of discourse in the nation from one of righteous purity to one where tolerance is the norm, and bigotry and polarization the outliers that only occur in inbred communities within small pockets of society.

You see, religions brings communities together. We share a lot in common with each other within our faiths, but also with those outside it. Jews, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Wiccans...our first principles are all the same, and best summed up by Hypocrates: First, do no harm.

It is when we get to the nitpicks that problems arise. When personal faith subsumes to a greater community, part of that individuality is lost forever to the larger voice. This works fine for broadstroke issues that we can all pretty much agree on, the environment and how humans are shepherds of the land, but when you take issues into account that demand individual adjustment or alteration, like abortion, like gay marriage, like how much religion should be introduced into government, that things start to get sticky.

I like my church the way I like my government: stay out of my life as much as possible. Teach me about God's word, the way He spoke it, not the way you heard it or some scribe heard it thousands of years ago. Tell me what Jesus said on the Mount, and let me make up my own mind about it.

I suppose the rise of the religious right was inevitable in the country. People are scared and when they get scared, faith is the one thing they can count on, until they learn about what it is that's scaring them. That's why twelve step programs demand you submit to some form of higher power: you have work to do, and it's going to be scary, like apologizing to people you've hurt and to try to make up the pain you caused. By submitting to a faith, you place in that power's hands your fear and in return, receive a measure of courage.

My fervent hope, in my own small way, is to try to "learn" people, so they aren't so scared anymore. "Democrats seek solutions, Republicans pray the problem goes away," is more than the motto of this blog, it's a life affirmation that, once you understand a problem fully, you have the tools to deal with it. Within you. Whether you want to believe that God put them there, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or your genetic code, it just doesn't matter.

They're yours. Use them. Do good with them and that good will come back to you. Do evil with them, and expect to be confronted hard by life, because ultimately, that's society's job.

So what we have here is a society comprised of three overlapping circles: government, individuals, and faith (because when all is said and done, atheism is as much a faith as any belief system: no one knows for sure). A Venn diagram of the world. Overlap any of the two circles too much, and society becomes unbalanced. Distance them too much, and society falls apart.

We seemed to do fairly well for 230 years in America, so I'm sure this current imbalance is temporary, but damn, it's been like trying to sit still through a root canal without anesthetic.