So you’ve been persecuted…

church-christian-persecutionLately I have been trying to push my mind to the other side of the aisle on the issue of Christian persecution in America.  I know that for most of my readers you will wonder what for.  Maybe it’s because my mother is a Christian and feels that this is the case and so I always like to take what my mother says with more consideration, because I respect her.  My mom, for instance feels, that forbidding certain Christmas songs to be sung in class is an example of going too far.  The holiday is after all a Christian one and about Jesus Christ.  When she was a pre-school teacher she says that mothers of multiple nationalities didn’t have a problem with it back in the day, so why should it be a problem now?  Then I came across this article that tries to be academic, by Mary Eberstadt, about the situation and was recently in Time magazine.  I have not read her book, It’s Dangerous to Believe (Religious Freedoms and It’s Enemies), but tried to get a more expansive idea of her views by reading a longer article she wrote on religious intolerance.  I do find there are some legitimate cases where things have been carried too far and these are referenced in her articles.  That being said there are some big picture things that I see being ignored in these articles and are typical of many opinion pieces even when written by scholars discussing what Christianity faces in an increasing secular America:

  1. not-persecutedThere is rarely a discussion about why some people might feel anti-religious or anti-Christian sentiment.  Perhaps you are one of the good Christians out there and that’s wonderful, but given the history of Christian oppression in this country and in the west in general, might there not be some reasons for concern?  If we are going to talk about legitimate instances where good Christians were punished simply for a harmless expression of their belief, should this not be balanced against instances where those who claimed they were Christian also caused harm to others?  If we compiled a list of those two types of instances, who would have the most?  And I’m not saying two wrongs make a right, but I’m saying there has to be a more honest discussion, because if Christians fail to understand why might not want their beliefs in the public sphere anymore, then it will appear to others that they are uninterested in taking responsibility for the harm their belief system has caused or how alienating it might make some people feel.  Again, this always brings someone out who says, well if they were causing harm they weren’t really Christians, because Jesus said this or that.  All that is great, but it’s of little consequence to those being marginalized, hurt, or oppressed, when the perpetrator claims their actions are justified by their religious beliefs.  It means your belief system isn’t making friends, and if you truly believe in the peaceful message of your religion it as much your responsibility as anybody else to oppose people wrongly using your religion.  We don’t see this as often as we should, from any religion.
  2. In a transcript of one of my favorite speeches given by Douglas Adams he says the following:

“Now, the invention of the scientific method and science is, I’m sure we’ll all agree, the most powerful intellectual idea, the most powerful framework for thinking and investigating and understanding and challenging the world around us that there is, and that it rests on the premise that any idea is there to be attacked and if it withstands the attack then it lives to fight another day and if it doesn’t withstand the attack then down it goes. Religion doesn’t seem to work like that; it has certain ideas at the heart of it which we call sacred or holy or whatever. That’s an idea we’re so familiar with, whether we subscribe to it or not, that it’s kind of odd to think what it actually means, because really what it means is ‘Here is an idea or a notion that you’re not allowed to say anything bad about; you’re just not. Why not? – because you’re not!’ If somebody votes for a party that you don’t agree with, you’re free to argue about it as much as you like; everybody will have an argument but nobody feels aggrieved by it. If somebody thinks taxes should go up or down you are free to have an argument about it, but on the other hand if somebody says ‘I mustn’t move a light switch on a Saturday’, you say, ‘Fine, I respect that’. The odd thing is, even as I am saying that I am thinking ‘Is there an Orthodox Jew here who is going to be offended by the fact that I just said that?’ but I wouldn’t have thought ‘Maybe there’s somebody from the left wing or somebody from the right wing or somebody who subscribes to this view or the other in economics’ when I was making the other points. I just think ‘Fine, we have different opinions’. But, the moment I say something that has something to do with somebody’s (I’m going to stick my neck out here and say irrational) beliefs, then we all become terribly protective and terribly defensive and say ‘No, we don’t attack that; that’s an irrational belief but no, we respect it’.”

I think this is a very real thing to remember.  Religious beliefs are protected in a way that other ideas are not.  It is a relatively new thing to simply be able to challenge religious ideas.  I think it’s a good thing.  Notice the language that Eberstadt “…a new low for what counts as civil criticism of people’s most-cherished beliefs”.  That phrase itself implies that there are certain rules which apply to religious beliefs that don’t necessarily apply to others.  Now I’m not saying that uncivilized criticism is effective, but you would hardly see a lot of angry protests for uncivil criticism for highly tested scientific theories.  There are no biologists out there claiming there is a war on evolution and complaining about the mean things Christians have said about people who accept the evidence for evolution.  And while I do get upset when I see atheists insulting and demeaning religious people, in the end these are just words.  The past and present is full of less than tolerant reactions by the dominant religion to even civilized criticism which Eberstadt is asking for from others.  So as much as I would like to see people with religious beliefs not attacked personally and only the ideas, this has not been the case historically when religious ideas have been criticized in the past.  Just looking at the past 100 years, the Scopes Trial in 1925 had a teacher jailed for teaching evolution, and it wasn’t until 1966 that the Supreme Court deemed state statutes unconstitutional that prevented teachers from teaching evolution in public schools.  Presidents have to be open about their Christian beliefs to have a reasonable chance to be elected.  Currently 7 states have it in their state constitutions that atheists can’t hold public office.  And while this is clearly unconstitutional, the fact remains that this is a much higher brand of intolerance than that which is being shown towards Christianity.  In such states, trying to fight those unconstitutional state constitutions will simply alienate yourself from voters even more. How many politicians can be openly gay?  How many people of other religions can make it to office in the U.S.?

  1. And finally, it’s a point that many make, how many Christians would be equally sympathetic to the teacher that was suspended for giving a Bible to a student if it was a Koran?  How many Christians in this country would be okay if a coach decided to lead them all in a Buddhist meditation session before a game?  How many people would care if that City Fire Chief was let go if he published a personal book saying Sharia Law is great, even if it didn’t impact his work?  The work of the Satanic Temple has formed to challenge this attitude, and we find that all of a sudden, a lot of Christians don’t believe in freedom of religion, only the freedom of Christianity to go unfettered, remaining unchallenged in a position of privilege.  Now it may be that Christianity is under attack more than other faiths but it is only because it is the faith in a position of privilege in this country.  Most secularists would have an equal problem with any religion enjoying such privileges.  When one faith or ideology is proselytized over others in the public sector, that depends on faith and belief, without evidence, this is a dangerous path to go down.

Can a push from one direction go too far?  Certainly, and we do need people to keep that in check.  Nobody should be persecuted. But losing privilege is not persecution. It also seems there are parallels between the reaction to the loss of Christian privilege as there are to the loss of white privilege or male privilege.  So any conversation about how Christianity is treated should include a discussion about how other religions are treated, and see if they are on equal footing.  And I don’t mean just according to the law, but from a cultural standpoint.  Because even if the law did allow a teacher to give a Koran to a student, I think we can agree that this teacher, even if not punished might be in a lot more danger in certain communities than he would by passing a Bible to a student.

Perhaps a question that might lead to further posts, is how easily can religions be inclusive to other religions and consider them equal if by definition a religion sees their beliefs as the true ones, while others are false?

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46 thoughts on “So you’ve been persecuted…

  1. I would really like you to address feminism the same way you address religion, or human rights, or well, basicallym any rights except womens. Because, although you area humanist, I don’t see you see you standing up for women. No issue. Most men don’t either.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hmmm…I am not sure what you mean considering I have several posts on feminism of which you seem to be mostly interested in the pronouns or seem unconvinced that I actually mean what I say. I also spread a lot feminist articles and women’s rights issues via Facebook and interact with a lot of other writers who talk about feminism and women’s issues. Again I am not sure why you feel you have to come to my posts to criticize me and make comments that have nothing to do with the topic I am writing about. I am not sure I could ever meet your standards anyway, so I guess feel free to keep criticizing and just assume that I don’t stand up for women, or don’t deeply care about gender equality.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I’ll be brief.

        1) Christianity affects women. I think, hopefully you can acknowledge that. You started off by mentioning your mother. And then? She fades out …
        2) Pronouns are very important. I am sure you call he a she when she’s Lou Reed?
        3) I don’t like FB. Am I expected to know how many allegedly FB articles you share?
        4) To date, truth is, I have seen no feminism from you. Not a criticism. Merely a comment.
        5) Why is feminism and Christianity not related? You are talking about religious beliefs. Homosexuals. You talk about male privilege and white privilege. Men.

        But yes. You are right. Of course. Unless you show me something somewhere where you stand up for women against men. Academic musings don’t do it.

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        1. 1) Yes it does affect women. But our conversation was on the persecution of people of a particular religion, this is what I wanted to address and put thought into

          2) Yes they are important, but there was a larger message which you didn’t care to comment on. It also doesn’t mean that the topic of that post wasn’t about feminism.
          3. Which means you made an assumption based on one avenue in which I communicate outwardly. You have no reason to assume I don’t stand up for women’s rights.
          4) I have 5 posts in which are specifically about feminism and gender inequality in our society. And a 3 part series defending women’s reproductive rights. Maybe that’s not enough for you…and that’s fine…I try to write about a lot of different things. I have a lot of different interests.
          5) They are related, I never said they weren’t.

          The fact is I really don’t care what you assume about me. My whole blog represents an exploration in what I think about various issues, various qualities of all humans, and I try to write about things that I think we all share across the human spectrum, and I write about what I think are important values that we should all hold which I feel leads to better equality in all areas. It’s a way for me to organize my thoughts, and in many ways all my posts are academic. You haven’t seen me at a Black Lives Matter rally so I guess you could assume I’m racist.

          Here’s the thing…if you don’t like me, or what I have to say, or the way I say it…don’t read my blog. Just hit that unfollow button and be done with it. Clearly I’m an anti-women, and if you think that I am going to be enlightened by you based on the way you treat me, you are mistaken. I assume nothing about you, because I don’t know you, and to be honest I am not looking to either because I don’t find you to be a nice person. And you don’t need to be, you’re free to be whoever you want. You could have chose to add to the discussion by sharing some important issues that relate feminism to Christianity. You chose not to, you just to criticize…I don’t have time to write a treatise every time I post. I deal with a lot of big subjects and there is a lot that could be said. Maybe that’s where comments come in. You could say “hey, here is something that I think really relates to privilege as it pertains to male privilege and the way they feel persecuted.” And then I would say “wow…thanks RS…that was really informative and was a great addition to the discussion”. But hey you are who you are…I wouldn’t want you to be any different for me…just like you shouldn’t want me to be any different for you. Your assumptions about me are unfounded and unnecessary plain and simple.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Some of your posts are interesting.
            I’ve read your posts on feminism. And commented. We disagreed back then.
            I could indeed crit every single comment you have made.

            I don’t find you to be a nice person

            And, neither, do I find you to be. I found that rather a personal comment but clearly that’s your style. Nice character assassination.

            You are right. I’ll unfollow.

            Top tip. Don’t. Ever. Describe. Yourself. As. A. Feminist.

            Believe me. And stick to religion and nice soft topics.

            Suerte.

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      1. So a post about privilege, Christianity, and a specific quote about loss of white pivilege or male privilege makes my comment about women a hijack?

        You think it’s OK to not mention women. Fine. I see where you are coming from. Finally.

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  2. “Perhaps a question that might lead to further posts, is how easily can religions be inclusive to other religions and consider them equal if by definition a religion sees their beliefs as the true ones, while others are false?”

    They can’t, which is why we’re having this discussion in the first place. As an atheist, who has to keep a very low profile in the Bible Belt, I can attest to the inequality on many levels.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I would say I agree with you, or rather it’s hard for me to at least understand how one can have one’s religion and treat others as equal too. So maybe it’s not impossible, but I have hard time putting myself into a mindset where it was. Perhaps with other religions, but my best experience is with Judeo-Christian ones. I know it is a popular mantra to co-exist and people criticize people like Dawkins for his stance to eradicate religious beliefs, but I think he also sees the problems of truly co-existing, especially for religions that feel it is important to convert other people.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, I think it is a big problem, and causes a lot of division when religions feel it is important (commanded in their holy book) to convert other people. There are over 40,000 Christian sects/denominations, all having their own definition/version of what Christianity is, so essentially, no matter what sect/denomination you belong to, other Christians will see you as not being a “True Christian (TM) “, and the historical cycle of division continues.

        Now if they can’t figure out their own religion, they have no business trying to convert others into their own version of their religion, and implement laws that impinge on the rights of others. I am speaking as one who was once a devout Christian, and learned this from first-hand experience. There seems to be little to no unity within Christianity, except when it comes to them believing they are being persecuted by “outsiders”. Not all Christian believe that, of course, but where I’m from, the vast majority do.

        While my mom is still uncomfortable over the fact that I am an atheist, she believes that belief in god is personal, and should remain that way. I respect her for her that. I just wished she had held that stance (when I was a child), because she and my dad allowed the church to indoctrinate me about Hell and eternal punishment, and that I was so bad that Jesus had to suffer horribly for my “sins”. Perhaps, not every child was/is impacted by this core message of Christianity, but I took it to heart, and I had nightmares and night terrors for a long time after that. I also struggled with self-esteem issues which were directly related to the teachings of Christianity.

        Studies show that both romantic and maternal/paternal types of attachment activate regions specific to each, as well as overlapping regions in the brain’s reward system that coincide with areas rich in oxytocin and vasopressin receptors. These attachments deactivated a common set of regions associated with negative emotions (towards the ones they formed attachments to), social judgment and assessment of other people’s intentions and emotions. Christianity has mimicked romantic and maternal/paternal love by incorporating terminology (Bride of Christ — Jesus as the Bridegroom, Yahweh as the Father), and maternal/paternal love (security, milk of the word, nurture, protection, etc), So believers may have a difficult time understanding why their perception of reality can harm others (and society), whether intentional or not.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Excellent points. Sometimes I forget how the language used impacts believers and how they see their faith. I guess on some level I understand why religious beliefs are more intimate and so challenging those beliefs feels more personal, but it’s that outward expectation that others must have that belief that I think is where the troubles begin. And if someone should change their beliefs, of course you are no stranger to how one can be treated for no longer sharing it.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. ” but it’s that outward expectation that others must have that belief that I think is where the troubles begin.”

            Absolutely. It’s the illusion that if everyone had the same religion, they would feel safe and secure, but even if everyone did belong to the same religion, there would still exist division and disunity within that religion, as is so apparent today within the Abrahamic faiths. I think LAD said it well when she mentioned that Christians don’t realize how good they have it here. I read a meme the other day that said something to the effect that the difference between privilege and entitlement is gratitude.

            Liked by 1 person

  3. Life After Doubt

    Unpopularity and loss of privilege is not persecution, and it is as fair as fair can be. Why do we feel like we have to explain this constantly? Because we get nowhere. Because as long as Christians know their God is real, they believe they have authority that we do not have.

    Believers can never view other religions as equals. And they shouldn’t be asked to. This is why we do our best to create an environment where everyone is free to worship as they please as long as they are not affecting the rights of others. And it’s a tricky balance at times, because the most popular point of view always manages to gain a little extra unfair influence.

    Christians in America are completely free to do everything short of forcing others to participate in their faith. And it’s not enough for them, because they are used to being able to impose themselves on everyone. What has changed? We are calling them out on it.

    I’m sure you already know– nothing gets me more worked up than stories of Christian persecution in America. Come on, Swarn. I was having such a pleasant Friday…. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for your great comments, and I do apologize for ruining your Friday. lol

      I mean on one hand your right that we can’t ask believers to treat other religions as equal, but by trying to create a society in which all religions ARE equal, aren’t we in essence doing just that? As you say, it is a tricky balance I guess, but ultimately any religious views that don’t conform to the notion of religious equality are going to continue to be attacked in a secular society. At the same time if they can’t treat other religions equally, this will be an on going struggle and I guess that’s just the way it is. lol

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      1. Life After Doubt

        I’m not sure we are trying to create a society in which all religions are equal. I think we are trying to create a society as free as possible. We just want to co-exist with minimal conflict. Allowing another person to worship as they choose without any forced influence from me doesn’t obligate me to view their belief as equal to my own; I can think what I want to about it as long as it isn’t impacting their freedom to worship. Or not to worship.

        And that is what happens, right? We are free to criticize and cause others to lose respect for other faiths– but that is okay, because they can still worship as they please. Some call it persecution, but it is nothing more than social opinion and popularity, which is also protected.

        It’s the best possible scenario, because any other scenario would end in people being jailed for their beliefs. I am pretty sure the only way a society could see all religion as equal is if we eliminated everyone of all faiths but one. We don’t do that. Instead, we let everyone believe what they want to believe and fight it out using strategies that, for the most part, keep everyone out of jail and alive.

        Some Christians don’t realize how good they have it, and keep trying to find out the hard way.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Excellent points. I guess there is always going to be a battle to certain extents. In Canada it feels like there is at least more tolerance and less privilege for Christianity, and maybe that’s just something that evolves slowly over time, and it’s not something that can be forced and will have speedbumps along the way.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Life After Doubt

            It is very difficult in America. Not only because of Christianity’s historical dominance overall, but because many communities are currently operating as a theocracy. They have simply never been asked not to. We have a long way to go.

            Liked by 2 people

  4. Ah, trolls. Unhappy people in unhappy lives. You can’t avoid them, Swarn. Arrogant sociopaths are everywhere, wrapped in seemingly benign packages. Keep writing – I love reading your missives and I appreciate your soul.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. ryan59479

    “When you’re so used to privilege, equality can seem like oppression.”

    This quote was said in the context of the racial tensions in America, but I think it applies perfectly to this subject, too.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. It is part of their training. I have seen it. X-ians are programmed to be persecuted. It helps the tribe bond. In fact many of the preachers sermons are about the tales of woe only survived by extreme measures of faith. Persecution is a built in feature.

    So they run around feeling persecuted even when they actually have it pretty good. Just another layer of protection. A carefully watered and fertilized aspect of faith.

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  7. I’ve been thinking about how to respond to your post for a few days, partly because I’m not quite sure what point you are trying to make. It sounds to me like you are saying that after centuries of persecuting everyone else, Christians are crying on account of losing some privilege.

    While I would agree that persecution is an exaggeration, comparing what is currently happening to the loss of white privilege or male privilege far understates the situation. I don’t pretend to understand what’s happening in the United States, but in Canada, in particular in Québec, Sikhs have been banned from the Parliament building on account of their kirpan, Muslim women have been kicked out of language classes for wearing a niqab, and front line government workers have been prohibited from wearing overtly religious clothing or symbols. You may not have much use for religion, but hopefully you can see that freedom of religion benefits all of society.

    I have perceived that over the years as a society where once we were expected be tolerant, now we are expected to be approving. I think this is supported by your desire that religions be inclusive. Why can’t I believe that your religion is inferior, but you, as a human being, are equal?

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    1. Hmmm…I feel like you only read the first part of my post, because I thought the points were fairly clear.

      First I don’t think at all the persecution of the past justifies reverse persecution and I never said that. In fact I said specifically that two wrongs don’t make a right. It is rather the tone that is often in the articles I posted that fails to empathize why people don’t want Christianity proselytized to them as there are many people that have suffered at the hands of Christianity in the past and present. To add honesty to the discussion there has to be some religious introspection. And I’ll give Christianity some credit, it has been very introspective at times and made positive changes, but there are entire states in the Bible belt where people are under a great deal of Christian oppression. People who claim about persecution seem unaware what actual persecution is (and they need only look at their own religious history to discover it) and seem mystified when people want to keep their religion out of the public sphere.

      In regards to the examples you gave, I completely agree that this is religious persecution and I am not for it. I would never advocate a Catholic not being able to wear the crucifix, A Sikh not wearing a turban, or a Muslim not being able to wear the niqab. I’m not sure how you derived that I would be from my post. As I discussed in point #3 it is the inequality of religious restrictions that demonstrates Christian privilege. In fact nobody has forbade the wearing of the Catholic Crucifix, or a Mennonite headscarf. If all artifacts of religious wear were banned equally at least we could say there was some consistency but I would still disagree with such a practice. Banning an item is not an effective means of changing practices. I find the burqa to be very oppressive, but I would never ban it. It alienates and can radicalize people rather than moderate their views. The Satanic Temple (who really aren’t people who worship Satan) does here in the U.S. is exposes the hypocrisy. You’re a government building and you want to put the 10 Commandments on your lawn…that’s fine…but then you have to treat all religions equally and let them put symbols of their religion on government property as well. You have to let all teachers hand out religious material from the religion of their choice. All of a sudden you find that the persecution they were crying out about wasn’t really about them wanting all religions to be treated equally, but rather about them wanting their religion to be favored over others. I feel the separation of church in state is important and so I don’t think government should ever take a religious position, but if they do than they should be giving all religions an equal voice.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Your response clarifies quite well what I was missing from your original post. (I did RTFA a few times before posting). As much as I dislike you pointing out the shortcomings of the Christian community, you are probably right.

        Although a number of examples above are blatant rights violations, as our culture becomes less homogeneous, the boundaries of religious freedoms are going to be tested more and more in more subtle ways. Assuming that we accept that it is not allowed for a government representative to proselytize, but it is a right be be religious, where do we draw the line between the two? If a teacher is not allowed to hand out a Bible (or other religious text), what if a student asks for one? If a coach is not allowed to lead a team in a pre-game prayer, what if some (or all) of the players take it upon themselves to do so? Personally, I would prefer a more permissive, rather than restrictive interpretation when these all end up in court. I do have some concern that government workers, teachers, healthcare workers, etc. will not be allowed to express a religious world view. I would like to see a government sector that is made up of the people that make up society and for their world views to be similarly represented.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. You have to remember the problem is much worse here in the U.S. The Christian conservative population is big, and has a lot of money and political clout. Particularly in the south. And as we have discussed before I do not consider their brand of Christianity particularly Christian, but this makes little difference in my opinion. They operate under the Christian flag and there is little public opposition by Christian leaders who represent a closer representation of the teachings of Jesus. To me that’s a problem. But to be fair, the media could do a better job of pushing forward religious leaders who do scold religious schools of thought that are intolerant and greedy. This is one of the reasons why I like the current Pope so much, because he has finally been standing up to social injustice under the flag of religion.

          If a student comes up to you and asks for a Bible, why can’t you just say “no, this is something your family, friends, or a local Church can help you with.” Students can choose to pray privately before a game, but what happens if there are people with different beliefs on the team. We are then asking children to either intentionally single themselves out, or to pray to a God they don’t believe in. I know how thrilled Christians are about that. My mom refused to do the ceremony of bowing down to the holy book in a Sikh temple. Personally I would teach my children there is no problem in taking part in any religious ceremony, as it is respectful, but many religious people don’t feel the same way. I know many practitioners of Islam are very similar in not wanting to take part in other religious ceremonies. So I’m not singling out Christianity, only that this is likely to be the dominant religion in many public schools here and thus likely to have an alienating impact on others who don’t share their beliefs.

          I think Canada is a much better example of how it can all work. I have always found Canadian people more tolerant and having an attitude of wanting to learn about the customs and practices of others, rather than conform to a particular doctrine. The melting pot mentality of the U.S. is quite different from the mosaic mentality in Canada.

          I have no problem with erring on the side of permissiveness, it just seems like, at least in the U.S., other religions are not treated with that equal level of permissiveness.

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  8. Hi Swarn,

    Found my way here from Esme’s lovely cloud, and enjoyed this post a great deal. I suppose in some sense I’m a Christian, but I would say at a secondary level– I prefer to focus on looking for what is true rather than adhering to dogma per se, and I do not participate in any organized form of worship or religion. And in that regard I would say I embrace ideas from many faiths, though there is a Christian anchor to me in some sense.

    That said I just wanted to point out one notion I feel is worth addressing, and it relates to Douglas Adams’ comparison of the scientific method to the ideas of religion and the way you are “not allowed to ask questions.” I think Douglas has this 90% correct, and that we should question what we are taught by any philosophy, but I think it is incorrect to think that the only form of knowledge available to us is external– science being essentially the attempt to discern what is externally valid and verifiable. I believe there is an inner validity as well.

    Now I recognize that if we are to say there is validity to inner knowing, or knowledge of the heart, or whatever we wish to call it, then it opens the door for all sorts of madness that take the form of “this is what I felt” or “I just knew it”– many times landing us in the realm of the absurd. And yet… I still feel we throw the baby out with the bathwater if we neglect what is within us, and I feel the heart is a powerful compass. For instance, if one were to begin with the hypothesis that “Love exists and is extended to all beings equally,” than one would be forced to second guess many strange ideas that reside in Christianity– and other religions as well– and make an inner decision about which is more true: the idea that Love exists, and is given equally to all, or the idea that few are chosen…?

    This is not a difficult decision for the heart.

    Peace
    Michael

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Michael. First of all thank you for following my blog and take the time to read what I have to say. Secondly thank you for this amazingly thoughtful and insightful response. It’s amazing how excited I get when I meet someone I know I am going to love having discussions with!
      First let me say that your attitude towards religion is what I think of as a healthy one. When I was younger and still a theist this was something that I felt was important for my spiritual journey. I didn’t worry if my definition of God didn’t match others, or if anybody else agreed with me or not. Personally I think that’s how it should be done, but I think religion for a lot of people is more about our human need for community rather than truths about God and answering life’s bigger questions. I have often queried people about why they feel they must label themselves as Catholic, or Luthern, even if they don’t practice or seem to have views that stray from that particular dogma.
      Your more important point is of course absolutely true, and I think actually Douglas Adams would agree with you. It’s funny actually, later in the speech he makes a similar point about religion and not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Lol Although he has a lot of digressions, his overall point is that even if the divine doesn’t exist, it doesn’t mean these frameworks that religion comes in are completely useless. They also represent man’s attempt at understanding, and sometimes even do a better job than science. And maybe not necessarily because science can’t eventually understand things better, but because science is at a state where it can’t work better yet. In the passage I quoted I don’t think Douglas Adams felt that science was the only way of “knowing”, but simply the most powerful way. Because as you say these personal truths are very important, and I think they have been important to a lot of our greatest scientific minds as well. The beginnings of changing the world scientifically often comes from very personal inspiration, that is not based perhaps on much more than a feeling one has based on some not very scientific observations. So I agree completely that we have to leave room for those personal experiences. What I would say though, that as individuals we have a responsibility with those inner knowings. First we must be prepared for the fact that those inner knowings may not be shared by others and we have to be okay with that, and not expect others to experience that inner knowing. We have to be flexible about these inner knowings, because these things may be contradicted by science or by others, and that doesn’t mean we necessarily have to change how we feel, but we also maybe shouldn’t hold on to these inner knowings like grim death and close ourselves off to other point of views which may actually put us on a better spiritual path. And finally we have to make sure that these inner knowings don’t cause us to behave in a way that harms others. Your embracing of love, can hardly be one anybody would argue against, but I think that there a cacophony of things that people know inside to be true, that are not so healthy to the world around them.

      Ultimately science at any given time, does not know everything, and so we can’t rely on science wholly for how we operate as humans. The reverse however is also true, where we think we know everything and science be damned! I wrote a series of posts last year on what I think it takes to be a good human, and humility is one of them. I think that ultimately having humility is what allows you to make those inner knowings operate inside you in a more healthy way.

      Cheers,
      Swarn

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well said, Swarn. I agree completely with your two caveats, and think they apply as well to science as to religion. They apply to the challenge of being human.

        You’re right of course that people at some times in their lives view things as true that others would say are not, and in their defense or their need to convince others of their merits, they go too far and cause harm in various forms. It is really hard to stipulate how any of us should set up our compass on this matter, but I like your two dictums very much.

        I would say that whether one is inclined to be more feeling-centric, or more logic-centric, that the humility you describe requires a willingness to invite the other half of the picture into the inner conversation. I would also say that open-mindedness is really what is missing in so many cases that don’t go so well. There’s a way that one can have a strong inner life which leads to all sorts of places that merit investigation, and to know that we are each unique in the way that inner and outer movements coalesce into individual experience. It may well be impossible for any two of us to wholly “know” what another is experiencing. The problem I have with vaulting logic (logic alone) to a level that supersedes feeling and wordless knowing, is that it discredits these investigations altogether. What remains is, for me, rather dry, and incomplete. But so be it.

        Were we all to stick to the two basic rules you have described, at least we might take the pressure off ourselves!

        Peace
        Michael

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        1. Also well said. I’ve never seen someone come around to your point of view through belittling them and making personal attacks. If anything it makes them more entrenched in the belief, because a long held belief is a source of comfort as a result of the dopamine it releases in the brain. So even as an atheist i get really upset when I see atheists belittling those who believe in God and referring to God as their sky fairy, or invisible friend, etc. My mom is a strong Christian and my father an alcoholic and an atheist (although he somehow still believes in astrology), and one of the things my dad would do when coming off a binge is pick a fight with my mother about her Christianity. Probably as a way of deflecting attention away from his own problems. She was an emotionally strong person of faith, and my dad was a depressed atheist alcoholic. And while I intellectually agreed with my dads arguments I always defended my mom because she would get sad, she would cry and my dad would belittle her. He would complain about Christians proselytizing, but felt quite okay criticizing my mother for her belief. And of course it never worked, it never made her doubt any, it only made her spend more time reading scripture and religious books on scripture. My mother is pro-choice, and I think reasonably moderate on homosexual rights and I think a lot it has to do with personal experience through people she’s known and observed. It is often the emotional experiences we have that take us different points of view.

          While there is no doubt in my mind that we are born without beliefs, we are going to pick up some along the way. It’s natural. I tend not to trust young atheists, because for the most part I think they are just believing without really understanding either. Ultimately spiritual journeys are individual and takes some time. There is no quick path when it comes to answering some of the bigger and more difficult questions in life. For me, I sort of just realized one day that I was atheist. It wasn’t really something I aimed for. I just kept trying to answer questions I had. Even then I still had questions and wanted to understand things like why do we believe? Why can’t anybody see how awesome my logic is? Why do reject evidence? Why do we see good and poor evidence equally? These kinds of things, and that’s when I delved into trying to understand the brain. Long story short though, I agree with you that logic without empathy is of little value to most people in this world. Thank you so much Michael for an interesting conversation. 🙂

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          1. “So even as an atheist i get really upset when I see atheists belittling those who believe in God and referring to God as their sky fairy, or invisible friend, etc.”

            I think what happens in online debates is that many people who were former Christians may have triggers because their lives were so negatively impacted by the others beliefs. I know I have experienced this, especially when they tell me (and others) we were never “True Christians” and are full of pride, wanting to “sin”, or that the reason my husband committed suicide was because he has some unforgiven sin in his life that opened him up to demons. Also, what many people may not be aware of is that some of these people — well probably most, have been shunned in their religious communities, including losing jobs and spouses.

            I do try to put myself in their shoes which is why I’ve spent over a decade studying about how religions or devotions to a cultural god can impact the brain in the same way that a person can form an attachment to a lover or child. I also think what happens is that people will pop into a thread and not really know that dynamics, or that some of these discussions (with the same people) have been going on for weeks, months and even years.

            I don’t go on Christian blogs and post my opinions, but if they come on my blog or other unbeliever’s blogs, then I may engage them. I agree that there can be a backfire effect, but I also think that many of us who have actually walked in the same shoes, know that some things should be said. Every member of my family and extended family (with exception to my daughter) are believers, and while I don’t challenge their beliefs, they may challenge my lack of belief. I do try to respect the boundaries of others, but often it’s not reciprocate and there’s a chronic pressure to conform to their ideology. So while it may look like atheists are belittling those who believe, there’s been a lot behind the scenes that the observer has not witnessed.

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            1. I’m not saying I don’t understand why it can happen, but it just doesn’t go anywhere. And sure some “Christians” can say some pretty insensitive things and maybe a jab back is justified, but in my never-ending, utopian dream of reducing divisiveness, I think that non-believers can be as joyous, spiritual, and compassionate as anybody else, and I will always hope that people can take the high road. Given the stereotypes about atheists lacking a moral compass, I feel it is especially important to rise above that wholly untrue and negative notion about people who don’t believe in God. I’m lover, not a fighter Victoria! 🙂

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          2. Likewise, thank you, Swarn. I enjoyed hearing about your background and a little about your journey. I think atheism is quite a rational and well-founded response to what is offered in the form of organized religion, and in many ways is a courageous response to what the world has on offer. I suspect that in many ways the conclusions of a thoughtful atheist– not one who is purely reactionary to past experiences in judgmental and close-minded religious groups– are not altogether different from what I might describe as the conclusions of a thoughtful theist– wherein the latter is a person who does not accept the dogmatic and over-simplified teachings of human institutions, and chooses instead to look at what may lie beyond them. God is not a concept I have any ability to pin down,and if we look instead to a simple principle of goodness, perhaps there is a big enough avenue for us both to stand upon. I would suggest that if we are truly honest, we must equally admit to standing upon the threshold of the unknown, and if we can simply do that, without forcing one another to draw and defend conclusions prematurely, then we can let things unfold in time, and through our lives, as they surely will. We can share what glimpses we see and if we can avoid circumscribing the vastness of it all, and pigeon-holing our sharing into such little boxes as the world leaves us, we can each explore the terrain most comfortable to our own hearts, and somehow it will all work out I think. The universe has an order to it we don’t fully understand, that somehow seeps into the fabric of our lives, regardless of our conceptual underpinnings. and I have no need to name that. We can let it be, and let it flower in each of us in ways wholly appropriate and unique to each, and in the end something true and beautiful will arise– in which all thoughtful views obtain a bit of resonance.

            Michael

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            1. I have always been a fan of religious movements that focus less on ritual and specific dogma of divine events and more pursuing that relationship with God. But not necessarily a God defined, but one that inspires poetry and discovery. To me there was at least some admission that God is far beyond our scope of grasping, and it seemed less about worship and more about wonderment and appreciation. So when you say “God is not a concept I have any ability to pin down”, I very much agree with that sentiment and would say that it is true that nobody has the ability to pin God down in terms of truly understanding. If God did create the universe, and we don’t understand the universe, how can we truly understand God? I don’t find any value of trying to disprove God as an entity because the definitions vary. And while there are certain characteristics that are attributed to God that don’t seem likely to me and I think there is some strong evidence in refutation of those characteristics, it of course doesn’t prove the non-existence of God, only the way we’ve defined or understood God. For me though, atheism is our default position of belief that we are born into, and all of us in a spiritual journey will eventually vault ourselves into the unknown, how we interpret that unknown depends on our backgrounds, our education, the society we live in. So as you eloquently said:

              “I would suggest that if we are truly honest, we must equally admit to standing upon the threshold of the unknown, and if we can simply do that, without forcing one another to draw and defend conclusions prematurely, then we can let things unfold in time, and through our lives, as they surely will. “
              I think this is the best place intellectually to be. It is this unknown that many great scientists also thought of as God. If God does exists then it seems to me the best way to know that God is by trying to understand that creation. Care for the life that resulted from creation. To me “holy books” are a man’s interpretation and while there may be some correct elements, they detract from a true understanding and appreciation of a being complex enough to design a universe.

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