bookmark_borderFormer religious right leaders recant

Rob Boston has a post at AlterNet, “Theocracy Rejected,” reporting on how and why Frank Schaeffer, John Whitehead, and Cal Thomas have publicly repudiated their involvement with the religious right. All three now challenge the idea that Christians should seek political power in order to impose their ideas on American culture.

A few quotes from each give the flavor:

Frank Schaeffer, son of Francis Schaeffer, from his book Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lives to Take All (or Almost All) Of It Back:

  • “Long before Ralph Reed and his ilk came on the scene, Dad got sick of ‘these idiots’ as he often called people like Dobson in private. They were ‘plastic,’ Dad said, and ‘power-hungry.'”
  • “There were three kinds of evangelical leaders: The dumb or idealistic ones who really believed. The out-and-out charlatans. And the smart ones who still believed — sort of — but knew that the evangelical world was sh*t, but who couldn’t figure out any way to earn as good a living anywhere else.”

John Whitehead, founder of the Council for National Policy with the support of Jerry Falwell, and of the Rutherford Institute, in his book, God Is A Four-Letter Word:

“Although it is a valued and necessary part of the process in a democracy, the ballot box is not the answer to mankind’s ills … And Christians who place their hope in a political answer to the world’s ills often become nothing more than another tool in the politician’s toolbox. Indeed, Jesus refused any type of involvement with political figures.”

Cal Thomas, former vice president of the Moral Majority, author of Blinded by Might: Why the Religious Right Can’t Save America, in a recent column:

The flaw in the movement was the perception that the church had become an appendage to the Republican Party and one more special interest group to be pampered. If one examines the results of the Moral Majority’s agenda, little was accomplished in the political arena and much was lost in the spiritual realm, as many came to believe that to be a Christian meant you also must be ‘converted’ to the Republican Party and adopt the GOP agenda and its tactics.

My favorite part of the article is this section quoting Schaeffer’s recognition of the importance of doubt:

“My basic beef with the Reconstructionists is that they could never end a sentence with ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I’m not sure.’ They always ended with ‘This is how it is.’ That level of hubris runs counter to Christianity,” Schaeffer remarked.
“To me, faith and doubt are interchangeable,” he added. “You live with that. When you reject pluralism and embrace the philosophy of the Reconstructionists, you’ve said, ‘Freedom scares me. I have to be right, and even though logically my life is too short to say I know anything, I’ll say I do. When I don’t have an answer for someone, I’ll shout them down.’ The writer and artist in me rebels against that.”

(Via Dispatches from the Culture Wars.)

bookmark_borderThe new seven deadly sins

The Catholic Church has announced a new updated list of seven deadly sins for the twenty-first century, which are:

1. accumulating obscene wealth
2. polluting the environment
3. genetic engineering
4. drug dealing
5. abortion
6. pedophilia
7. causing social injustice

This has been a topic of discussion on the SKEPTIC mailing list, with many observing that the Catholic Church itself is guilty of several of these new sins. One wag (Barry Williams) observed that transsubstantiation seems a lot like genetic engineering. Another good question is why abortion is on the list, but genocide is not.

bookmark_borderMost important, or least important?

In the March 6 issue of Science, there’s an interesting story on paleontologist Stephen Godfrey, who grew up in a fundamentalist environment and lost that form of faith through his education.

One part I want to highlight comes toward the end:

Trying to articulate where his religious beliefs stand now, Godfrey’s eyes fill with tears. “It’s been so long, a lifelong struggle, to sort out,” he says. He has flirted with atheism but found it too depressing. Several years ago, he stopped attending church for a year before returning. He believes in God today, he says, but tomorrow may be different.

Note the “too depressing” bit.

On one hand, I find this irritating. If you want an accurate understanding of the world, whether some proposition seems depressing or not should be one of the least important considerations. It’s probably irrelevant.

But on the other hand, it’s also understandable. Claims about the gods are not just dry elements in a theoretical picture of how the world works. Taking a position on theism and atheism usually also means figuring out how to live one’s life, taking a view of what transcendent purposes life might have, and involves a host of personally important issues in a way different from ordinary claims about, say, the nature of black holes. Indeed, it seems that from a personal point of view, whether some view seems depressing is a legitimate consideration, as one has to live as a depressed person or not. We cannot forever avoid taking a personal point of view, even though certain intellectual activities such as science encourage a detached, third-person perspective and derive a good deal of their explanatory success from doing so.

So I can see if someone takes whether atheism is something one can live with to be one of the most important questions. I, as a person thoroughly brainwashed by science and who regularly invites accusations of scientism, might downplay debates over philosophies of life and insist on truth over therapy. But why on earth should others take on my bad habits? Even attempting to answer that question positively would force someone like me into distasteful discussions about whether atheism is depressing; I cannot get away with my usual “who cares.”

But now things perhaps get more interesting. There are, in fact, infidel philosophers who argue that some variety of secular humanism or other color of atheism is a more satisfying life stance. But are they really convincing? Devout philosophers and theologians might more plausibly claim this territory. A morally-infused cosmic view that allows you to toss around language about selfless love and transcendent goodness and all that with no sense of embarrassment may well enjoy an advantage when it comes to psychological satisfaction. At least, it might do so for most people, including some very smart people.

Note, also, that many sophisticated defenders of belief in God take this sort of approach. They say that crudely fundamentalist views such as creationism aside, modern science does not rule out the existence of transcendent realities. They say that philosophical critiques of God are at best inconclusive. The existence of God may not be obvious to all rational persons, but God is still a real possibility. But now, this means there is a door open for faith. Moreover, now there are weighty reasons to believe in God, including considerations such as cosmic optimism and moral confidence.

I suspect, actually, that such views are partially correct. Whether a claim is well-supported and whether it is the best policy to believe in a claim are separate questions, and their answers need not always run together. For many people, personal considerations that encourage faith will be the strongest. I do not think they are less rational for all that, even if I stubbornly maintain that they very probably end up believing in falsehoods.

bookmark_borderScience in the [insert-name-of-scripture]

It may be an intellectual embarrassment, but the belief that the Quran anticipates modern science and technology is very widespread among Muslims. Zillions of websites tell their readers how the Quran miraculously reveals everything from the expansion of the universe to the details of embryology. I have a good deal on this sort of apologetics in An Illusion of Harmony: Science and Religion in Islam.

There’s a lot less of this sort of thing among Christians, but occasionally I run into it. Among creationists, usually. Here’s an example from Answers in Genesis, “The Universe Confirms the Bible,” which includes a claim that the Bible talks of an expanding universe. It’s very like the science-in-the-Quran literature; it even misinterprets a similar spreading-as-tent metaphor.

bookmark_borderReasonable Doubts interview part 2

Part 2 of my interview on the Reasonable Doubts podcast is now available online.

This part (the last) of the interview also concerns Islam. It focuses not on Islam and science, but issues about proper secularist criticism of Islam. The hosts also have an interesting discussion on Islam and similar issues among themselves.

Support Reasonable Doubts; it really is a nice program.