Religious Compromise  

Thursday, May 24, 2007

PZ Myers at Pharyngula has an article up about Do-nothing atheists and re-igniting the Enlightenment as a response to Jonathan Rowe's While Europe Slept and Chris Ho-Stuart's Should we promote tolerant religion?

(How's that for some links.)

Rowe talks about government's role not in stating which religion is true or false, but in promoting the "right" kind of religion, or religion "compatible with liberal democratic, secular, pluralistic norms."

Ho-Stuart advocates a tolerant approach to religion to encourage religions to come up to speed to the 21st century. With the encouragement of "a more 'reasonable' religion, in the sense of one that is reconciled with the findings of science," he hopes to erode the more radical aspects of religion.

Myers agrees with both to some extent, "we need to change it to accommodate the modern world," but he also disagrees with them.

Their goal is to avoid conflict, ignore differences, and just get along, and hope that by avoiding confrontation the great theistic mob will just generally drift into friendship with them and eventually align themselves more and more with that great bunch of guys and gals. It's nice. It's even going to work — with some people. I'll also admit that most of us are "do-nothing atheists" most of the time. When I talk to some Christian fellow at the coffee house, we'll talk about the weather, the news, what's happening around town, and I'm not interested in sparking a confrontation over an issue that isn't relevant to the interaction at hand (remember, we're all tolerant atheists together here, and despite all rumors to the contrary, I do not think my fellow citizens are idiots if they go to church).


The complement to the do-nothing atheist is, naturally enough, the activist atheist. The difference isn't that we're intolerant, or even that we have different beliefs about god and religion—it's that we'll unfurl a bold banner and stand uncompromisingly beneath it, state our differences loudly, and dare the others to contend with us. We do not aim to get along. Our goal is to strengthen others in our shared skepticism about religion and our positive affirmation of the power of reason and the sufficiency of the natural world, to challenge the long-held domination of supernatural and authoritarian thinking, and to change minds. Not to passively hope that others will eventually see the light, but to light that fire ourselves. Not to glimmer optimistically, but to incandesce ferociously. Where some hope the world will follow, some have to lead.

While it's not the position I'd naturally choose to be in, I agree with Myers. You can see it in the general apathy within America. As long as people are comfortable, they won't do anything to change. It takes a little bit of uncomfortable-ness for people to take a look around them.

Everyone has the right to believe however they want to believe, that's true. And none of the above writers are advocating anything different. But kowtowing to an irrational belief is something very different. Beliefs that contradict basic human rights and liberties do not deserve respect, just as beliefs that shamefully seek to bury scientific knowledge in order to eliminate any thought that doesn't line up with their religions point of view don't deserve respect.

It's not the rational people that need changing, it's the irrational. And the only compromise the irrational accept is complete abdication.

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3 comments: to “ Religious Compromise

  • Duas Quartunciae
    Saturday, May 26, 2007 at 12:53:00 AM CDT  

    Thanks for the link! One thing I want to clarify, as we all inch this discussion forward.

    I'm definitely not a do-nothing atheist. Paul's use of that term was wildly inappropriate.

    I'm very active indeed in regular contact with Christians, where I consistently and prominently identify myself as an atheist, and speak up in discussions on creationism, ethics, naturalism, philosophy, politics and a host of issues. In these discussions, one of my major aims is to facilitate mututal understanding and foster reason.

    You can't foster understanding by hiding what you are.

    My approach is to present myself openly and plainly as I am -- an unbeliever. In the various topics, I argue specifically for or against different propositions. I'm pretty argumentative, or so I am frequently told.

    On the other hand, don't convey to people (usually) the notion that I think anyone who holds different views must be stupid. (With some exceptions... like vocal creationists.) Even then, I try to match the tone of my engagement with the best of what is offered by those on the other side.

    I try to take up distinct matters individually on their merits. For example, if someone says something sensible on politics, I'll back it up; even if it comes from someone with whom I would normally be politically opposed. If someone says something sensible on science, I'll back it up and cite it in my own arguments -- even if they are a theist.

    I am not trying to ignore conflict. I am trying to be in a place where conflict is addressed with mutual respect. You can't do that with people who hate you for thinking the wrong thoughts... but not all Christians are like that! I seek out and engage with others who are willing to engage with the same mutual respect I can offer.

    I certainly don't ignore differences. But I put them in perspective. We have areas of difference and areas of commonality. I may may disagree with a Christian on God's existence; but agree with them on the details of science education. The difference is not a chasm that makes us enemies, and the similarites are not a cover for pretending we are all exactly the same on other points.

    I don't seek to avoid confrontation. I actively invite it, but in a way that can be friendly. My idea of a successful debate is one in which two opposing sides have been able to present their views side by side for others to consider. I say this plainly to people who debate me. Sometimes I even add as a rider that I think the person I am debating is completely ineducable, and disclaim any attempt to change their mind, and it seems to be set in stone. No matter... let talk together anyway, and if they can put there view on the table and I can put mine alongside for comparison, then I consider the debate a win for us both.

    My style means that I don't debate in email, by the way. That is invariably pointless, unless in the rare case where you have someone who actually wants to learn something in the discussion. In which case it is not really a debate. Mostly I have been using web forums for my engagement. My blog is a recent experiment.

    Cheers -- Chris Ho-Stuart

  • ordinarygirl
    Saturday, May 26, 2007 at 1:50:00 AM CDT  

    Chris, I'm sorry. I didn't intend for my article to make that impression. I was trying to contrast the three separate articles (as they mostly advocate the same thing), not name any of you as any particular type of atheist.

    It sounds like you do a lot more than I do! Thanks for coming by.

  • Duas Quartunciae
    Saturday, May 26, 2007 at 2:08:00 AM CDT  

    Hey, no problem. I was just putting out a clarification of some inaccuracies in Paul's description with respect to me.

    And I went on a bit too long about it! Sorry; I didn't take the time to make it shorter... :-)

    By the way, PZ Myers and I have known each other on the internet for a long long time, and have good level of mutual respect, even when we have some stylistic differences.

    PZ is a useful foil; he won't let you get away with much! Pharyngula is my favourite blog to read, and back before any of us had blogs I used to look out for his posts especially on Usenet He had some nice things to say about me, as well. In my view, Paul should have known better than to write as he did about me in that article; no doubt we'll sort it out eventually.


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