Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The post in which I beat up on liberal religion.

Most of my posts on religion naturally speak about more conservative or fundamentalists varieties of religion because those are the ones which tend to impact society the most, but my skepticism leads me to reject all religious claims including the more liberal types.

Sure liberal religious people aren't actively trying to take dismantle church state separation or tech creationism in schools, but they usually have plenty of strange ideas. They usually keep those ideas to themselves, but  every so often I run into a liberal religious person who likes to take jabs at the atheist position, usually by accusing us of throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater.  

Which brings us to this article: 
Most of the article is fairly innocuous, the writer seems to be just waxing about some of his experiences of fundamentalist religion and some of his criticisms of it.  I think some of his criticisms are wrong here too but where this persons thoughts go completely off the rails is when they start to address atheism.

Here is the opining paragraph: 
Of course, for some the whole issue of faith is resolved by flipping to the opposite side of the same coin—atheism, the belief that there is no such actuality as God in any sense. Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have many followers these days, but their arguments are as silly and superficial as those that Catholics use for Jesus as God.
Now I automatically wonder if he has read any arguments by people like Dawkins or the late Christopher Hitchens, and he certainly gives no indication of why he feels the arguments are silly, though usually this criticism is leveled by liberal theists because they think that atheists are unaware of the liberal theology usually discussed by groups like the Jesus Seminar and other academic theology groups.  This seems a fair assumption given some of his criticisms of fundamentalist religion earlier in his article.  The problem is that this is false, I can't speak to Dawkins' knowledge on the subject but I studied under a lot of liberal religious professors during my undergrad, including a proponent of process theology.  The problem is that liberal theology often makes even less sense than the conservative variety.  Look no further than his next paragraph for an example.
There is not ‘a God,’ but there is God, if we non-intellectually understand God as an immanent intelligence, an infinite awareness within and beyond the material universe, rather than some kind of separate ‘Creator.’
Non-intellectually understand?  Immanent intelligence?  Infinite awareness?  If his way of describing god makes you go crossed eyed you aren't alone.  It seems like his is advocating for some form of panentheism, but it seems like he is trying to make it sound like something new and deeply intellectual instead of a belief that has been around for thousands of years, and often held by people who were not even able to read.  You will want to hold onto your brains because it is about to get worse.
But what was Jesus’ relationship to that intelligence? Wasn’t Jesus’ mission, at the crossroads of people and place of the known world of his time, to bring about a radical change in the human heart? If he had succeeded, such an inner revolution would have complemented the one Siddhartha ignited in India a few hundred years earlier. Then Eastern and Western worlds would have developed in harmony and taken a very different course. Instead we got the world we got.
There is a common line of fallacious thinking that I most often notice coming from liberal groups where they seem to think that whatever group that isn't us had a culture superior to ours. One of the biggest ones I often see in regards to religion is the notion that eastern religion is much better than those stuffy regulation filled Abrahamic religions of western culture.

The reality is that this is nonsense.  For instance, In Hinduism most people still practice what amounts to a form of social slavery called the caste system, (even though the caste system is now illegal in India).  This system is perpetuated by the notion of reincarnation, people argue that the lower classes deserve their lot because of actions in a previous life.

Also, Buddhism, often has many sexist notions (women are often not viewed as capable of enlightenment) and some Buddhist cultures have engaged in human sacrifice.

Then look at a lot of the so called eastern medicine like acupuncture which people in the U.S. seem to think is good stuff despite it's inability to prove its effectiveness in medical trials.

The truth is that the founders of these religions were no more enlightened than the founders of any other religion, and there are plenty of examples of abuses of human rights and stupid choices by their followers.

Anyway, the article continues:
Christianity seems to have gone wrong from the beginning, but religions deteriorate into meaningless rituals and divisive beliefs because they lose their original insight and impetus, becoming mechanical and repetitious. That’s no reason to slide into indolent atheism however.
In a sense I actually agree, a particular religion's practical failings is not actually a reason to stop believing in any gods.  The reason not to believe is the lack of any evidence for any god.  I don't think this makes me indolent though.

He ends with more gibberish:
There is an inexpressible and inextricable wellspring of infinite intelligence, but religious insight is always new, arising from the awakening and direct experiencing in the individual every day. Yesterday I may have run with the gods, but today I crawl with criminals.
Inextricable wellspring of infinite intelligence? Seriously? Is there a book of pretentious pseudo-philosophical catch phrases that he gets these from?

He apparently gets his writing style from Calvin and Hobbs.

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