We Dismiss Potential Religious Allies At Our Peril
Ignoring religious diversity makes polarization much worse.
Frequently, during discussions here on Outside The Beltway, we venture into the overlap between politics and religion. It’s worth noting, when we cross the border into religious topics, that the terrain is neither as simple or easy to map as we might think. Religious belief is certainly not synonymous with Christianity, nor is Christianity a freeway inevitably leading to Christian fundamentalism. There are many roads, with many potential destinations.
That fact has immense implications for the primary topic of conversation here, politics. A dismissive, simplistic view of religion is not only unfair to people who do not resemble the caricature of wild-eyed believers in a sky god, but it is also destructive to one’s own political aims. There is nothing more wasteful than alliances not made, or a change of mind or heart that could have happened, but didn’t, because of an insulting attitude to other people. You don’t have to believe in a divine Christ or an afterlife to reach people who do. You will never succeed if you make self-satisfied jokes about the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
Certainly, there are people who do fit ugly religious stereotypes. Jerry Falwell Jr., for example, does seem like the archetypal religious hypocrite who is happy to cynically take the money of earnest, beguiled people. There are far more who do not fit any such stereotype. In fact, there is not a single religious experience.
When Mel Gibson’s The Passion Of The Christ had debuted in movie theaters, generating controversy about its depiction of that story, I attended a forum discussion about the movie, sponsored by the Commonwealth Club. I asked a woman who was very supportive of the movie what she liked about it. “It’s what happened,” she said. “It’s real.” The movie connected her to an eternal moment, a sacred event that was timeless, in the sense that its meaning reverberated throughout all time. Her religious experience, as I understood it, was rooted in the replay or reiteration of these sacred moments. Other Christians, and adherents of other religions, embrace the same kind of experience, founded in an eternal Godtime, shared with other believers. It is an inherently clannish type of religion, in which the boundaries between believers and non-believers is, and must be, very clear. It can also be a very inspirational worldview: in this Christian version, the example of Christ, and his sacrifice, should be a prompt to Christ-like behavior, because of its presumed reality.
That woman, and people like her, have a very different religious experience than my own. I did not attend any church through most of my life. I did have an active interest in the history of religion. If you are interested in history, particularly eras like the Middle Ages, it is ridiculous to think you understand anything about these past times if you don’t understand the religious components. (A friend commented once, “You know an awful lot about the history of religion for someone who doesn’t attend church.”) I was also interested in religion for its own sake, since it was important to people I knew. As someone deeply interested in politics, religion was important to understand as a force for good and bad. But I was a detached unbeliever.
Depending on your concept of religion, you might think that I still am. My family convinced me to start attending Episcopalian services with them, on the understanding that I did not have to participate in the mass, or anything else that caused me discomfort. I did, and I eventually realized that I did not have to accept anything in the Episcopalian Church literally. I met people who, like me, strove just to be a good person. The Church provided some meaningful guideposts in our spiritual journey through the Scriptural content, and the community discussion in sermons, reading groups, and other forums. All were welcome to join, including people like me.
A friend of the family, an Episcopalian minister, once asked her congregation to stand, through the Nicene Creed, when they believed with what was being said, and sit when they didn’t. The result was a spectacle of people sitting, standing, sitting, standing at different times throughout this part of the mass. It was unintentionally funny, but also fundamentally honest and wonderful.
What I found appealing in the Episcopalian worldview was the background assumption that there were many things we do not understand, and might never figure out. Revelation through exploration was the leitmotif, and no one had the answer key held behind his or her back. I wanted to be a better person, but I also accepted that I might never puzzle out exactly what that looked like, or how to get there. The mystery was the attraction — not because, like the Rosicrucians or other esoteric sects, I believed that secret knowledge would be revealed to me. Instead, the mystery was something that we, as a community of the faithful, would explore together. Even faith, in this context, has a different meaning: instead of the word denoting “belief in the unprovable,” it means, for some people, a compulsion to do good, in the sense of the parable of the centurion.
Of course, that’s one interpretation of the centurion’s story. One of the great things about these stories is our ability to turn them over and over, finding new insight each time. The tale of the Prodigal Son, for example, is one of the most unsatisfying in the Bible, defying any easy conclusion about what it’s supposed to mean. Ditto for the story of Job, which in some ways ends in a way that seems to belie its original purpose.
Finding my “faith” in this way was a bit of a surprise. So, too, was Biblical scholarship, and in particular, modern Biblical archaeology. Learning more about the messy origins of Christianity actually made Christianity more appealing. There were many early Christianities, not one Christianity. Bible stories that always seemed off-putting and even ridiculous made more sense, hearing how they were the result of mis-translation (“virgin” birth, for example) or annotation (the “Let he who is without sin…” story was a later addition, not the work of the original Gospel authors). Debates about the nature of Jesus’ divinity went back and forth for a long, eventually settled more by politics than theology. On top of all that, there’s the question of whether most people in the ancient Mediterranean world viewed religion, Christian or pagan, as literally true.
Discovering this fascinating realm of Biblical scholarship made me more interested in Christianity, not less. Rather than arguing with a purportedly inarguable text, this scholarship invited us to look behind centuries of textual accretion, deletion, translation, and distortion, to explore the world of the early Christians, and to recognize current Christianity as an imperfect artifact of centuries. Somewhere, under that pile accumulated under centuries, were some important moral lessons, compelling perspectives on what is really important during the short time we have on this planet, and a revolutionary message about love.
It also helped to learn how much the current set of assumptions about what is “Christianity” are based in an American evolution of Protestantism. The very specific depiction of the Rapture, for example, comes from Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth, not the Bible. Many Christians who believe in the Rapture might not know that fact, but many other Christians don’t believe in this late addition to one part of American Christian culture at all.
This is a good point for me to stop, since I’ve made, through a deeply personal window into my own spiritual status quo, my argument that religion isn’t synonymous with Christianity, and Christianity isn’t synonymous with Christian fundamentalism. Therefore, if you are inclined to make generalizations about Christians being silly people who can’t get through life without believing in a white-bearded, anthropomorphic God sitting on a throne in the sky, imagine first that you are talking with me. Also, remember, I’m not alone.
There are evangelicals who are deeply worried about climate change. There are people sitting in the pews of Baptist churches who have misgivings about the political content in their minister’s sermons. There are people who join fundamentalist churches more for the social connections than the dogmatism. There are Catholics who, in the same fashion as the Episcopalians I described, in everything that they intone during Mass. There are cultural conservatives who do genuinely believe in the importance of personal virtue among political leaders, and are horrified by Trump. And there are people like me. You might say that I’m not a Christian, that I’m Christian-adjacent, or culturally Episcopalian, not a “real” believer. (Truth in advertising: I’m currently attending a non-denominational church, not the local Episcopalian church. But they’re really reminiscent of the Episcopalians, in a lot of ways.) I’d resent the assertion that I’m not a religious person, because it cedes all the spiritual ground to fundamentalists. You don’t need to embrace the totemic, literal version of religious experience that I described earlier to be a “real” Christian, Muslim, Jew, or any other religious adherent.
There is nothing more wasteful, in a time of deep divisions, than slamming the door in the face of people who might be your allies. We can’t afford to do that. Nor should we, even in the best of times, live comfortably with ourselves, when we make glib, unflattering assumptions about other people. Jesus, whether real or imaginary, certainly would have urged us to do better.
I’ll end this post with a few book recommendations that discuss many of the points I made here.
Karen Armstrong, The Battle for God and A History of God
Bruce Bawer, Stealing Jesus: How Fundamentalism Betrays Christianity
Bart Ehrman, Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew
* clapping* Well said, sir. Well said
Kingdaddy, you are not alone. I let all the commentary roll off my back, but I agree that it ignores at least as much as it calls out.
I’d be one of those people you’re talking about.
I usually differentiate between white evangelical Christians (WEC) and other types of Christian. I’ll admit to being lazy and inconsistent, but at least half the time I take a moment to type it out in full. I’m not slamming the door in their faces, they long-since slammed it in mind. I was responsible (well, half) for an abortion. In the eyes of white evangelical Christians, I’m a murderer. Right? So who slammed the door? I’m also the father of a child whose identity they dismiss as mental illness and perversion. Slammed again.
I didn’t pick the fight, they did. Call a man a murderer and his kid a pervert and guess what? The man is not going to get along with you.
The RC also thinks I’m a sinner, oh a most grievous sinner. They take time out from raping children to politicize their medieval and overtly misogynist morality, to verbally assault women, to denigrate various groups of people, and then demand that I subsidize them. I pay taxes, my business pays taxes, and churches don’t. So I help cover the shortfall they create. Who’s getting hurt? Not them.
Between the RC and WECs they are the majority of people who identify as Christians. And they all think I committed infanticide, a mortal sin, and that my eldest kid is sick in the head if not downright evil. But I’m the one slamming a door?
Christian privilege. Much like white privilege. It’s an unacknowledged advantage, an assumption of moral superiority, an assertion of a right to impose on others. It’s a blind assumption that their delusions occupy a special place, that their beliefs must never be challenged. Tell someone you believe in elves and they call a shrink. Tell someone you believe in angels and, hmmm, that’s fine. Christian privilege.
Atheists and agnostics are maybe 5% of the population. Yet it seems we are oppressing the other 95%. I wonder how we manage that? I gotta call some Black people and some Jews, two other minorities always manipulating and bullying the helpless majority, find out how they do it.
I was born and raised in the northeast, which as far as I know is the most non-religious part of the country. I myself was not raised in any religion, so I don’t have the experience of even going to church very occasionally, such as on Easter. I may be unusual for someone of my generation, since most people I know came from families where there was at least some token observance. Probably that’s less true now.
It’s been my observation–again, here in New England–that the most bitterly anti-religious people are so-called lapsed Catholics. I’ve been to dinner parties where two lapsed Catholics couldn’t talk about anything but how badly they’d been warped by their religious upbringing, and how lucky they were to escape it. I’ve seen people walking around in t-shirts that say “Recovering Catholic.” Never “Recovering Lutheran,” or Methodist, or Episcopalian, or Jew, or Hindu, or Muslim.
It’s as if even lapsed Catholics–the ones who express the most virulent hatred of Catholicism–can’t escape it.
I started noticing this well before the pedophilia-ephebophilia crisis came to public attention, and I don’t know anyone who spoke of being victimized, so it’s not that, or it’s certainly not all of it.
Thanks for writing this.
I’ll have to respond later when I have time to sit down (probably after “old people night” at the wine bar).
Here’s an easy test. Add up the total number of times any atheist has called a Christian an idiot. Now add up all the times a Christian has told an atheist he’s going to burn in hell for all eternity. ‘You’re an idiot,’ on one side and, ‘You deserve to be tortured for eternity,’ on the other side. But let’s not complicate things, let’s just contemplate the numerical disparity. Thousand to one? Ten thousand? A million?
The most rabid anti-smokers are former smokers. The most rabid prohibitionists are recovering alcoholics. It’s a coping mechanism.
The thing you need to understand about Catholicism is that it’s not something you do on Sunday mornings. It’s a culture–like being Jewish. For example: On Fridays in Wisconsin, every bar and restaurant has a fish fry, and during the spring, every school lunch includes fish sticks. Why? Because you don’t eat meat on Fridays (especially during Lent). It’s a Catholic tradition that has just become part of the culture–and those fish fries are PACKED.
Hmmm… my dude, if we are counting comments directed at Christian as a groups (or generally people holding religious beliefs) then… ummm… your commenting history may not give you the strongest leg to stand on here.
Not easy at all. Because you’re looking at the world with hatred in your eyes. You refuse to believe that moderate, caring Christians exist, so all you can see are the ones who hate you back.
I feel sorry for you.
So… when was that?
Because as a kid in the 70s, alter boy jokes were common. It was definitely in the public attention.
Then, one day, we were all suddenly horrified that priests were raping children. We went from joking about it because it happened so much (and we were powerless to stop it), to surprised that it was happening. This change has always baffled me.
I really appreciate this. I am also an Episcopalian, currently active and practicing. Raised Presbyterian but married Catholic and Episcopalian is where we ended up. Now I live in Texas surrounded by megachurches of a variety of practices, some highly political like John Hagee’s Cornerstone Church, others just have a lot of features that people like. Megachurches, in general, depend on a cult of personalty rather than written doctrine. My friends and neighbors, likewise, have a range of beliefs and practices. Occasionally, there is some discussion of biblical points, such as evolution. I just simply state that I am not a biblical literalist and leave it at that. Only the most extreme person will argue then.
As for practice, personally, without getting into doctrine, I find liturgy to be comforting. I know others who find comfort in uplifting music or group discussions. I find the increasing politicization of faith and religion diminishes both politics and faith. I also believe that right wing evangelists are the reason more people for turning to atheism in revulsion. They have a lot to answer for.
@Michael Reynolds: You’re right, there are some abominably intolerant people who want to slam the door in your face. They are so intolerant, in fact, that many of them consider “religious liberty” to be the righteous subjugation of all other religions. Those people did pick a fight with you, and it’s wrong. I’m arguing that it’s important, when you respond to them, not to include people in the blast zone who don’t belong there. We might get into a sticky conversation about how much culpability the bystanders hold for enabling the miscreants, or even how many are actually enabling them. However, we’re still responsible for not being unfair to the non-miscreants, or driving them away when we have opportunities to build bridges with them.
I also like your phrase Christian privilege, to a point. While it does a good a job of capturing one part of an essential reality, it overlooks another. Certainly, there is the off-handed assumption that many people make that if you’re not religious, or you’re not Christian, you can’t possibly be moral. But many of the people with that belief slice things even more finely. You can’t possibly be a good person, for example, if you’re a Catholic. Anti-Catholic sentiments go waaaaay back in American history. When visiting Colonial Williamsburg with the family, we saw a re-enactment, in the courthouse, of a case against a Catholic resident who objected to paying more taxes than his Protestant neighbors, just because of his Catholicism. And, of course, there were the people like the Know Nothings who thought that there was a Catholic plot against real Americans, i.e. Protestants.
So, today, we are going to have the open thread dedicated to HL92’s rants about the policing, and a new thread dedicated to MR’s strong bias against the religious?
We need a thread about whether Trump has any legitimacy, or at least a “We’re a Republic not a Democracy” thread to get our long-standing hosts engaged. And something about apostrophe’s for Teve. And someone should call Bill “honey”.
I would suggest something about Cancel Culture, but I want MR to be able to get some work done today…
@Gustopher: Years ago, I went to a talk by one of the Boston Globe “Spotlight” reporters who covered the pedophilia scandal. I asked him whether, in all the interviews and research he did, there were any heroes. Anyone in the church, the police, city government, the lay Catholic groups, anywhere, who stood out for trying to do the right thing.
After a long pause, he said, “No.”
I have nothing to add, I just want to endorse the OP.
I think the “no-meat-on-Fridays” rule was relaxed in the mid-1980s, wasn’t it?
I take your point about former smokers being the most rabid anti-smoking proponents. But my point was a bit larger, in that there doesn’t seem to be a Christian denomination that has so powerful a lifelong hold on those raised in it, even those who deny it. Perhaps especially those who deny it. But again, I’m speaking from the vantage point of one raised in a non-religious milieu. Maybe Protestant fundamentalists are like that.
Here’s my childhood memory of Catholicism. My pal Laura and I were out on the playground–this must have been fifth grade–when Linda, a classmate, pranced up to us and said, “Nyah, nyah, you’re no good; you’re not Catholic,” and then pranced away. Laura and I just looked at each other and shrugged.
On not exactly a tangent:
You might not think that Roger Corman, famous B-movie director, and William Shatner, famous…actor…of…a sort…could come together to make a pretty good movie about race, religion, and politics in America. But they did.
Freudian slip, Michael, or one more dagger in the attacker?
KingDaddy, I agree 100%. After 12 years in Catholic schools and 4 decades out, I have whittled my thoughts about religion to exactly two:
1) While I think any given persons religion is extremely unlikely to be true, I accept that even the most odd and unlikely believer might be interpreting a window onto truth that I don’t have access to. As I’ve said before, just as my cat will never be able to understand calculus no matter how long he studies, the idea that our minds are capable of perceiving everything in the universe, much less understanding it, is unlikely in the extreme. Therefore there are going to be important things that we can only see “through a glass, darkly”. A religious person may be more connected to that reflection than I ever could be.
2) I don’t discuss religion with profoundly religious people. To me, such a conversation is an interesting banter, but to them it is someone pulling at their core. Just as I wouldn’t idly discuss whether a friend’s spouse really loves them or not, I wouldn’t discuss whether someone’s profoundly held religious belief is “true”.
@Michael Reynolds: An asshole is an asshole and will use whatever mechanism they have available to be that asshole. I used to think that religion made people more likely to be assholes, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that religion isn’t all that important in determining what kind of person someone is. There are people who want to be assholes but feel the need to have some organization at their back. Organized religion can provide that. The fine arts can also provide a framework in which to belittle the “lesser people”, but that doesn’t make Opera evil.
Instead of replying to a particular post, I just want to say that this Catholic seems to get the point of Kingdaddy’s post.
Being completely dismissive of folks who hold some form of religious belief (whether they are more like me, a bit of a lapsed Catholic who used to lector, etc. at church but has not gone to church in quite some time, or a hide-bound fundie or someone like that) is just not the best way to engage with the hearts and minds of people we look down on because we consider them ignorant, overly religious, etc..
Take Michael’s statement that a lot of Catholics believe in Angels and he was just so dismissive of people who make up that statistic, that kind-of annoyed me because Michael knows better than to assume that I believe that an angel like say, Castiel from the show Supernatural, or any of the angels on the show Lucifer, is going to come down from Heaven and transport me to the pearly gates when I pass.
A lot of Catholics more likely believe in angels in a sort of abstract manner…like thanking my guardian angel when I drove well enough to avoid what would have been a bad car collision or something like that. I am not sure I am doing a good job making my point but hopefully some folks will understand what I am trying to say.
Michael, you are taking care of kids (or at least one kid) who is currently facing discrimination and will most likely continue to face systemic discrimination for the foreseeable future, and for that I say you are doing the Lord’s work and it is wonderful that you are so tolerant of letting an individual choose the path/identity they want to embrace. I say this not to needle you, but because it does not bother me that you are not a religious person.
I am Catholic so some fellow Catholics would blanche that I am so tolerant of LGBTQ folks but there you go. We do not all follow each other in lockstep and Kingdaddy is right that one should not paint adherents of one religion or another with the same brush.
I was raised Catholic. I’m virulently anti-catholic now. My wife was raised evangelical. He’s virulently anti-evangelical now. That’s it. Full stop.
I have Catholic friends, Jewish friends, Muslim friends, Athiest friends, Agnostic friends, Buddist friends, Sikh friends. I don’t discuss religion with any of them. They don’t discuss religion with me.
If they try to convert me, they stop being my friends. You’ll notice I didn’t list evangelicals. I have zero evangelical friends. Why? Because they can’t trying to convert you.
I have friends who were molested by priests growing up. I wasn’t an alter boy, literally, so I wasn’t ever approached. But too many friends were. I know, I know, “You can’t blame the religion for the actions of men.” Okay, how about the hierarchy? Can I blame them? And if the church refuses to come to grips with it’s past, how can it be legitimate to so many?
I appreciate this post. I was a religious Christian for a very long time. Although coming from the African-American religious tradition, there was never any conflict between having liberal political views and conservative religious ones, I started to question the latter during my pregnancy. I had long though abortion was wrong due to my religious beliefs (but supported Democrats because I agreed with their stance of preventing unwanted pregnancies as the best way to prevent abortion – something I still agree with). My pregnancy was very difficult and high risk, and I started to consider whether it might be better to abort it. I didn’t, but I realized that if I was considering abortion for a wanted pregnancy that was causing me hardship, how could I judge women dealing with unwanted pregnancies for considering the same thing?
That started my journey away from conservative Xtny, along with long-standing questions I had had about things like the doctrine of hell. Yet I still consider myself a spiritual person. I still believe in God, will go to church on occasion, and feel like I often learn things from religious teachings. I have just expanded the religious teachings I am willing to learn from to non-Christian religions, and don’t hold any beliefs with certainty anymore.
Those two positons are not possible to hold. You cannot be a Catholic and tolerant of LGBTQ. It literally goes against the teachings of the Catholic faith.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, a text which contains dogmas and teachings of the Church, names “homosexual acts” as “intrinsically immoral and contrary to the natural law,” and names “homosexual tendencies” as “objectively disordered.” While the Catholic Church does not consider “homosexual orientation” sinful in and of itself, it does have a very negative attitude toward it. The 1986 Letter states, “Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.”
That’s like saying you’re in the KKK but you’re cool with black people.
Or that you’re a vegetarian but love BBQ Pork.
The two cannot co-exist without obliterating what it means to be Catholic.
I regret I only have one upvote to give.
John Lennon got it, though:
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace,
And yet we do. And while I defend your right to be virulently anti-Catholic and am very familiar with why so many are and are entitled to be, you are no more entitled to tell me what kind of Catholic I can be than the bishop or the pope is. They can deny me sacraments or excommunicate me if they cared to, but I will still define myself as I see fit. You tell me that’s not possible – I say you’re lookin’ at me.
@Joe: I can’t speak for Catholics, but it baffles me that among rightwing Protestants and many atheists, both will claim that supporting LGBTQ or abortion rights as something that makes you not Christian. Even though Jesus never said a word about homosexuality or abortion, and the things Jesus did say would send one to hell–such as not caring for the poor or welcoming the stranger*–are often the very things those who condemn abortion or gay rights are the least likely to do.
My journey through life has been the converse of yours.
When we get to talking about religion, there’s a running joke around these parts (funny because it’s true):
So.. What are you? I’m Lutheran.
What about you? I’m Methodist.
And you? I was raised Catholic.
Me? I was raised Catholic. And, as a kid, I loved it. I wasn’t overly religious in the sense of a strong belief in God, but the majesty and ceremony of the Catholic mass is amazing. It’s incredible to feel that you’re part of something that is 2000 years old and encompasses the entire world. The ceremonies and the rules help to guide you to being a better person (even if some of us didn’t get there).
And–to the surprise of so many who’ve never attended a Mass or gotten into real discussions with Catholics–there’s so much room for interpretation and debate. It’s a running joke in the Church that the Dominicans and the Franciscans are still arguing about weather or not Jesus owned the clothes he wore. The Jesuits are renowned teachers–firm believers in science and critical thinking as much as in divinity and the unknown.
I was an usher (my dad served a regular cycle as head usher). I was an altar boy–and one of the “special” crew that got to do funerals (you got out of school for 3 hours, got paid 3 silver dollars, and got to stick around and eat the “funeral food”*). I even got hired to mow the parts of the lawn that Father Tom couldn’t (he broke both ankles in an accident fixing the roof).
As I grew older, I drifted away from the Church. I still loved the majesty of it and the willingness of everyone to actually debate ideas, and I still believed in the secular-facing lessons to be found in the Bible and the sermons, but I couldn’t say that I believed in God.
Probably the biggest tipping point was reflecting on something that a catechism teacher told me when I was in the third grade. My parents were both very devout Catholics. We went to mass every Sunday, come hell or high water. They donated what they could, and all of us kids did the same (I got $5/week allowance, and at least 50¢ of that went into the collection). Dad served as an usher, Mom baked for the bake sale, and they were both available for whatever the congregation needed…
… Despite the fact that they were both excommunicated.
They’d both married early, been cheated on by their spouses, and got divorced. That’s a big no-no. But, other than not being allowed to take the sacraments, they were treated exactly like any other member of the congregation. Nobody cared–other than perhaps a bit of sympathy.
When I questioned my teacher about this, she looked at me for a moment and replied: Sometimes God’s laws and the Church’s laws aren’t the same. That’s when I started to separate Catholicism from The Roman Catholic Church. One was a belief system, the other was a political body. That’s served me well over the years. Rome is a country with 1.2 billion citizens–and more than 1500 years of politics and inertia.
American Catholics are the red-headed stepchild of the Church. They’re so far to the left in the Catholic spectrum that there’s constant talk about an actual schism. Except it’s just easier to ignore Rome on a bunch of stuff than go through the hassle of actually leaving.
Whenever I hear people talk about Catholics being so “holier-than-though” and “you’ll burn in Hell!”, I laugh. Any good Catholic will tell you that you go to mass on Sunday to ask forgiveness for all those things you did on Friday and Saturday night–knowing you’ll be back next week. Very few of the Catholics I know are judgmental–because they remember all the things they’ve done. That’s a basic tenet of Catholicism: We are all flawed, we all sin, we all need forgiveness, and we all need help to improve ourselves.
Around here, Catholics are more likely to be Democrats than Republicans. They’re more likely to support LGBT+ rights (even if they have issues with the sexual side), they’re all but certain to back ecological issues (we’re farmers, hunters, boaters, and fishermen).
They’re probably going to be union members, be active in local community groups (Optimists, Rotary, Lions, etc.), will volunteer at community events (the Ag Fair), and will be incredibly welcoming to outsiders–ethnically, culturally, or otherwise.
Now… a lot of that is just a Wisconsin thing. As de stijl can attest, up here in the frozen north we practice good Christian values and help our neighbors–because when your car breaks down on a backroad in January, you want bank vault full of good karma. 🙂 But mostly… it just makes sense.
This is all a rambling wall of words to say that what you think you know about a group–what you hear the most vocal and aggressive say–is almost certainly not representative of that group as a whole.
There are a lot of religious people–devoutly religious people–out there fighting for civil rights, social justice, environmental protection, fair representation, and a thousand other issues that are championed by the left and good for everyone.
* Ham sandwiches, scalloped potatoes and ham, and angel food cake.
Thank you Joe, I do not want to get into a back/forth with Eddie but it clearly is possible to hold the views I hold and still be a Catholic. Keep in mind, I do not shout from the rooftops that I am more tolerant than the average Joe (pun intended, hope you appreciated that) as my faith is a very personal thing to grapple with.
I was born in a Catholic hospital in NV and my mother said that if push came to shove they would have prioritized saving me, the life of a newborn, over my mother if complications arose. My mother is also Sicilian and had a strict father….so Catholicism is definitely running through my veins. Oops, I got side-tracked talking about where I was born, I just wanted to say imagine if the Catholic church excommunicated every woman who used birth control in the U.S., there would practically be no Catholic church goers in the U.S. because unlike the Philippines/Brazil, Catholic women in the U.S. glommed onto the idea that birth control is a wonderful thing indeed decades before the Philippines and Brazil decided to be soften their stance against using birth control to get a handle on family planning.
@inhumans99: I’ve been around a lot of Catholics and can honestly say that the group is too large to categorize politically or with respect to beliefs. Years ago I asked my older sister why she was getting married in her local church when she had to lie to the priest in order to get him to marry her and her husband. (Birth Control. Yeah, he was one of THOSE kind of priests. And this was 40+ years ago.) She replied that it was her church as much as it was his, he was just the schmuck standing between the altar and her.
You are wrong.
One cannot learn the history of Rome and not learn something about Christianity. In particular, the creed in question goes back to the Council of Nicaea, convened by the emperor Constantine I, shortly after he adopted Christianity and issued the Edict of Milan calling for toleration of all religions around 320-330 CE.
I bring this up, because part of the issues discussed in this first church council, had to do with what kind of persecution could be carried out against Christians by another type of Christians. This after centuries of brutal persecution by the Roman state. This is the basis of my contention that rather than Rome becoming Christian after Constantine and Theodosius, it was Christianity that became Roman. And it has changed only a little since.
I was raised Catholic. I have friends of all those religions (and a few others).
I’m happy (often eager) to discuss religion with all of them. We have long, in-depth, frequently amazing discussions where we compare and contrast points–often to nit-picking detail–and all learn from each other and have fun.
I feel sorry for you.
@Mu Yixiao: He does like his mirror.
In any case, as someone who grew up as effectively an atheist raised by agnostic/atheist/occasionally perhaps deists, there is simply the practical approach, if one is a mere 5% of the population (or even 15%), angry confrontation is usually a losing strategy politically and socially. Simple as that.
One can get more progress for oneself by simple pragmatism and rather less tribalism.
Thank you, Kingdaddy. Having been raised religious, I’ve spent most of my life being irreligious. It came to seem silly to me, but I could see it seemed to help a lot of people. Of late I’ve come to question whether the damage to our politics doesn’t outweigh the good. But I’ll not be actively anti-religious.
Republicans and the religious right are big on trying to drive a wedge, “You’re either with us or against us”, “You believe in God or you believe in evolution.” There’s no reason for those of us in the reality based world to help them. It’s entirely possible to be religious and be perfectly reasonable about science and politics, in fact it’s common.
We should be especially careful this year when we have a practicing, devout Catholic running for the reality based side and Trump running on the faith based side. Biden came of age when Kennedy had to demonstrate he wouldn’t be dictated to by the Pope. Now I’m surprised the GOPs haven’t made more of Biden’s support for abortion rights. I find Biden’s position, that he should not impose his faith on others, pretty straightforward. But many people see it differently, as a simple minded matter of good and evil. So far, being able to attack Biden as a bad Catholic without offending other moderate Catholics*, seems a subtlety the GOPs haven’t mastered.
* I haven’t seen numbers on how many Catholics have used birth control or had abortions for a long time. Last time I did, IIRC, they were about the same as the general population.
On the subject of religion and politics, but certainly NOT about potential allies for the reasonable.
An interesting (i.e. horrifying) article in Vanity Fair looking at the evangelical/Trumpian/QAnon/Republican/”conservative” mashup.
I was too because I was big for my age and could carry the ceremonial crucifix. I also got a few dollars, though I don’t remember getting funeral food. It set me back years in Spanish since that is the class I normally missed.
And I feel sorry for you for supporting an ideology that condoned and covered up child-rape for decades.
I was raised Jewish, to my great relief in hindsight not in a very observant family, but left it all because religion has never made any sense to me.
The synagogue we attended is of the “conservative” type. This means more like “liberal” in political terms, just short of “reform” Judaism (labels sometimes are just labels). This means men and women sat together, the rabbi didn’t need to have a beard, and they wore regular clothes. Women were also allowed at the pulpit (if that’s the right word).
But the important part is the prayer books were in Hebrew with a corresponding Spanish translation in the opposite page. To relieve the boredom during services, I read the translations and tried to make sense of them.
About 95% are what I call “kissing God’s ass.” I don’t understand why a being believed to be omnipotent needs such flattery, or worse demands it. Much of the rest was giving God instructions on what to do. Well, why would an omniscient being need to be told what to do? Doesn’t he know this by definition?
This didn’t lead me to explore other religions. Partly because I’d grown more interested in science at the time, and no religion came close to being correct on things like cosmology or astronomy. Naturally most religions knew exactly what people knew when the religion was devised or when it evolved, and nothing more; not even what we’ve learned since.
So if a holy book purported to be the inerrant word of the supreme being in the universe cannot get the shape of the world right (it’s not a circle), what should I trust it to be right about important matters like ethics and morality?
It’s not as though ethics or morality were born with the New testament, ro even the Old Testament. They go back to the earliest records of civilization, and likely to long before then.
And you know what? Most moral codes are very similar all over in the essentials.
Therefore religion is nowhere close to necessary to lead a moral life.
Recalling a conversation some 15 (at least) years ago with an Anglican minister which got around to the subject of the Dominionists/Reconstructionists.
His semi-humorous/semi-serious comment (something like):
Anglicans have traditionally tended to take a dim view of “enthusiastic” religion.
Oddly enough, fish on Friday is a common custom in England. And hardly anyone ever connects it with religion; though that’s how it originated. (Probably.)
Incidentally, a lot of people think the most popular form of fish dish in the UK, fried battered fish with chips, is actually Sephardic Jewish in origin.
@Kingdaddy: The Intruder really was a terrific movie. And it was going to mark Corman’s transition to serious filmmaking. (He had very serious taste, as evidenced by his art collection and the run of foreign films he distributed in the 70s such as Cries and Whispers…) But the movie had serious trouble getting distribution, and even though there were some good reviews, it went nowhere. So Corman renamed it “I Hate Your Guts,” slammed it into drive-ins, and went back to exploitation.
What I find interesting is that the majors kept developing movies for him to direct, including adaptations of The Penal Colony and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
About the fish thing: how is fish not meat?
I’ve seen the same among observant Jews, who are forbidden from mixing meat and dairy. For some reason this excludes fish.
There are too many inconsistencies to list in pretty much every religion. Human nature, I guess.
This is actually something that gives me hope about religious people–that they can hold their faith and still reject bigotry…for far too many people, it seems like religion is nothing more than a club to beat up people they don’t like…but, just like with every group on this planet, there are good people and there are bad people who practice their faith…
Indeed…can I upvote this a million times?
Finally, I find it endlessly amusing when you have the usual suspects talking about how Christians are supposedly “persecuted” in this country…Christians? Really…
@Kingdaddy: excellent post.
I will add a brief entry from my own spiritual biography: I was raised a Southern Baptist and was a regular church attended either at SBCs or at evangelical “Bible churches” from high school through my early professional career. I was deeply committed to a rational, history-based Christianity that eventually lead to a break with conservative evangelicalism. The implications of Calvinism eventually broke me. The injustice of it all was too much to contemplate from an allegedly all-loving God.
I still consider myself Christian, but it is a far more vague and unsettled version of what was once a highly rigid theological approach.
I relate a lot to Bart Ehrman’s intellectual journey (which I note Kingdaddy cited one of his books).
As opposed to Hollywood, the BBC, and a bazillion other organizations? Are you “virulently anti-Hollwood”? Are you “virulently anti-BBC”? Are you “virulently anti-[insert every power structure ever here]”?
And you completely missed a very significant point of mine:
The political body and the ideology are separate.
I have nothing much planned for this weekend. Would you like me to do a detailed write-up of scandals involving liberals in various levels of government and industry since 1900? I can start with Hollywood– where child stars such as Judy Garland were passed around like candy and bring it on up to the #MeToo era where Harvey Weinstein finally stopped being the status quo. For a bonus, I’ll include all the BBC “children’s presenters” that have been revealed to be pedophiles.
The entertainment industry has encouraged, facilitated, and hidden sexual abuse. Based on your logic, that would mean that anyone who watches television or goes to movies should be reviled–since they support the ideology of entertainment.
“I’ve seen the same among observant Jews, who are forbidden from mixing meat and dairy. For some reason this excludes fish.”
Also, the verse in Leviticus which forms the basis for not mixing milk and meat reads that you should not cook a kid in its mother’s milk. And yet Orthodox Jews think it applies to not eating poultry with milk, even though poultry doesn’t give milk.
“You believe in God or you believe in evolution.”
The funny thing about that statement is that most Christian denominations don’t say that. The official Catholic doctrine is–and has been for a very long time–that Genesis is a parable. And, if you read Genesis that way, it’s amazing at how it lines up with the scientific description of the creation of the universe, the Earth, and the evolution of life. That, more than anything, would tip me towards the idea that there actually is a God: How could people 10,000 years ago create a story that matches scientific reality so closely? (If you haven’t read Genesis, do so–with a scientific eye filtered through metaphors and storytelling. How would you explain the scientific creation of the universe to a primitive, religious people?
People keep forgetting that it was a Catholic priest who formulated the theory of the Big Bang, and a Catholic monk who developed the basics of genetics.
This is interesting. No Catholic I’ve known has approached the Bible this way.
Deference to God is a common theme, but never “kissing his ass”. God was always portrayed as the wise father that we need to learn how to understand. The Bible–God’s word written through flawed humans–was always open to interpretation and debate.
The Catholic Mass includes 3 readings from the Bible. 2 are done by a “lector” (a member of the congregation who just reads what’s on the page). The third is done by the priest, after which he gives a sermon based on the reading.
The sermon would be “So… This is how this relates to you as a factory worker, and how we can all be better in our lives”.
All that “Fire & Brimstone” stuff you see is a tiny, extremist faction of Christianity.
The prohibition on mixing meat and dairy comes from a series of Biblical verses not to cook a baby goat in its mother’s milk. This was expanded to the idea of not mixing meat and dairy at all, but because only mammals produce milk, it originally only applied to mammal meat. The rabbis then extended the prohibition to birds. I’m not sure if that’s the reason why basar (meat) is commonly distinguished from dag (fish); that just might be a linguistic convention, and in fact English once employed that distinction.
That’s what I mean about Catholicism being a culture as well as a religion. I would bet that if I polled 1,000 high school students and asked them if they knew the origin of Friday fish fries, less than 10% would say Catholicism.
On the other hand, 99.44% of them would say it’s yummy. 🙂
As a recovering Catholic myself, I’d point out that every Christian religion picks and chooses what it decides to emphasize from the Bible (pretty sure all religions based on one or more “holy books” does so). The Catholic readings go through about 1% of the entire text in a year, then start over (every few years about half the readings will change but a significant number especially around Easter and Christmas are the same today as they were when I was a–thankfully unmolested–altar boy 40 years ago.
And 100% agree that the leadership of the Catholic church, including bishops and above in America, are FAR more conservative and judgmental than the vast majority of actual practicing Catholics and most of the parish priests I’ve interacted with.
In the end I rarely have an issue with your average religious follower of any persuasion, but lots of issues with organized religion and their leaders.
a) There are, today, vegetarians who eat fish. They’re called pescatarians. It’s a philosophical differentiation between land-based meat and sea-based meat.
b) The Apostles were fishermen. This is distinct from the herding of animals (Shepherding). Jesus was known as both the Shepherd and the “Lamb of God”.
c) In that area, at that time, “meat” pretty much meant “lamb”. There were no chickens, cows, ostriches, or other things other than “meat” and “fish”.
d) Puffins are, oddly enough, considered “fish” under Catholic rules. Apparently this is because they’re really delicious and someone found a loophole.
If you look at Leviticus as a safety manual rather than the Word of God, a lot of the rules make sense. The bacteria in dairy evolved to live in animals with red meat (white meat gets included because it’s “close enough”). Fish and dairy don’t have a lot of crossover, so it’s safe–especially since fish smells bad far sooner than land-based meat, so is more likely to be thrown out before it can host any of the bacteria from the dairy.
Regarding diet, Leviticus is actually a great example of early scientific reasoning. They noticed that certain foods–and food combinations–made people sick. Based on what they observed, they created a set of rules to minimize the risks. And (based on what they knew) the rules were really good.
Just out of curiosity:
How many times has a Christian–of any stripe–said to your face “you will burn in Hell” or “your daughter is a perversion” or anything similar?
Not extremists shouting in the wind, not general statements you interpret, not assumptions based on your personal animosities.
How many times has one of the 2.3 billion Christians in the world said these things directly to you? In the last, let’s say… 10 years. How many of the 8.395e+12* possible daily interactions with Christians resulted in someone saying the things you allege?
* None of my calculators will give a straight number. It’s so big that everything defaults to scientific notation.
Whataboutism to the extreme. Well done.
But I get it. Hard to defend the indefensible. You want to compare Hollywood to the Catholic church, I certainly won’t stop you. You want to criticize Hollywood, feel free. It doesn’t affect me. I will criticize Hollywood alongside you.
If you want to go back in time, why stop at the 1930’s or Judy Garland. Why don’t we go back to the Crusades? Yeah. Let’s do that.
I can’t help posting this…
Not the Bible, the prayer book.
I read the Torah in elementary school, and much of the rest of the Old Testament in junior high school. It’s clearly a collection that’s loosely historical and mostly mythical. No different than other written mythologies from all over the world.
Because it’s not the flesh of a animal that walks on land. At least we’re not Canadians trying to claim beaver is fish. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/thoughtful-animal/once-upon-a-time-the-catholic-church-decided-that-beavers-were-fish/
I tell my wife (a convert) every Lent, if the Apostles had been cattlemen instead of fishermen, we’d be eating steaks for lent.
This sort of cuts against your thesis, no? Wait on that.
I mean, I was explaining to a fellow atheist that I’m not an anti-theist, just an atheist. During my explanation, he said “agnostic.”
I said “No, I’m quite firm in my non-belief.”
The point I was trying to make was that it’s one thing to be a non-believer, and quite another to be against the notion of belief. You point out the pragmatic aspects of being the former and respecting other belief systems. Part of that is recognizing the diversity of religious experience.
Beyond the practical aspect, there is a serious logical shortcoming in the anti-theist argument–it doesn’t account for politics. It’s difficult to find violence and oppression in the name of God(s) that cannot be traced to politics intertwined with religion.
And why was it that the Spotlight journalist couldn’t find many people willing to do the right thing?
If there is one thing to criticize among those open-minded, yet devout, believers, it’s them ignoring the dangers of forming a political alliance with the zealots. A good political system relies on an intact firewall between religion and politics.
I seriously doubt that. For one thing, if meat= lamb, there wouldn’t be a prohibition on pork. Next, the land now called Israel served as a transshipment point for trade from Africa through the Red Sea to Europe via the Mediterranean. Chickens ought to have been introduced almost along with agriculture. Lastly, people still hunted for food and ate what game they could catch.
I don’t know this for certain, but it would be extremely unlikely for a well-traveled region that traded with its neighbors, and was conquered several times, to have only one source of land-based meat.
@Monala:..Jesus never said a word about homosexuality or abortion, and the things Jesus did say…
This goes both ways. How many times has an atheist insulted a Christian (or other religious person) to their face? I’m guessing it’s pretty rare. If people of faith want to complain about comments made on Internet forums or in public debates being disrespectful to their beliefs, then non-believers (or even believers whose lives or belief systems don’t match those of some other religious person) get to complain back about the insults they get on such forums. Most of the time, people are much more polite in person than they are online.
Furthermore, I would suspect that the “to your face” insults happen more frequently coming from evangelicals than from nonbelievers or believers of non-evangelical stripes, simply because the former believe they have a religious duty to evangelize, and hence tell others what they believe about their lives and eternal fates.
Or to pick nits, it was a favor the pope of the time owed to the man who controlled the fish markets.
@Mister Bluster: You’re right, we don’t know for sure what Jesus said. A better way to express what I wrote is to say, based on what is believed to be the words of Jesus as recorded in the Bible, he never said anything about homosexuality or abortion, but had a lot to say about taking care of the poor and welcoming strangers.
@Mu Yixiao:..How many times has one of the 2.3 billion Christians in the world said these things directly to you?
How many times have bigots called black people ni99er to their face. Some I’m sure. But most times the honkies say it out of the earshot of black people. Because they are cowards.
Doesn’t make them any less racist.
Kingdaddy, wanted to say thanks for the post. It brought up my fondness for the Episcopal church. I grew up an atheist and, wound up in a congregation by accident. The inclusiveness and open mindedness, was a pleasant check on my initial prejudices of “religious people”. I wound up going back and eventually enrolling in a 4 year theology course they offered. It was an unbelievably well put together course on Judeo-Christian, and secular history in parallel. Another component of the class was “theological reflection”, sharing ones life experiences and views within one’s own conception of God and faith. The make up of the participants ran the political spectrum, and it was a cherished 4 years of openminded learning. I understand that others have had different experiences, but I can say from experience that there are at least some people of faith that aren’t closed minded hypocrites. Peace be with you
@Monala:..we don’t know for sure what Jesus said.
My remarks were not meant as a criticism of your prose. However I appreciate your rephrasing.
@Mu Yixiao: If it helps you to balance things out a little, when people ask me that question, I answer “I was raised Baptist.” (Currently, I attend a Lutheran Church that I am not likely to ever join, but that’s because the city I’m living in isn’t “home” for me, so I’m just a visitor there, too. Before I went to the current church, I attended a Methodist/Presbyterian church.)
ETA: “Sometimes God’s laws and the Church’s laws aren’t the same” is a really good answer to that question, btw. Sometimes, I suspect that Catholics and Baptists don’t understand grace as well as I wish they did. It sort of seems that it’s just a word in the “g” section of the dictionary.
@Han: One of my friends in Korea asked me one day about what I “give up” for Lent and I told him that I’d been raised Baptist and that we give up self-denial for Lent. 😉
In The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Vegetarianism (or maybe it was Vegetarianism for Dummies–I can’t remember), it had a chapter on pescatarians, though it made it clear that the category is controversial. There are even those who call themselves vegetarian despite eating poultry, though few people accept that designation–despite the fact that abstaining from red meat in particular has a fairly compelling rationale from the standpoint of health.
I find it interesting that PETA gave its Sexiest Vegetarian Award to Kevin Eubanks, a pescatarian, despite PETA’s known opposition to the consumption of all animal flesh. Of course not all vegetarians hold that ideology. Some cite health, or ecology, or milder ethical objections, or sometimes just plain distaste for meat. Reading about vegetarians I was surprised to learn that the #1 most common cited reason is religion.
I thought you were going to riff on “lamb of god” and go New Order or metal band Lamb Of God.
That clip was unexpected. Well played!
I was a massive SCTV fan as a kid and it is cool to see Andrea Martin strut her stuff.
My clan was nominally Lutheran. Show up at the biggies, once or twice a month on Sunday. Enough to keep us in good graces. My aunt went to everything – a fiend she was.
I sort of just accepted the basic tenets when I was wee – you really have very little choice then.
As I grew into myself, it was not for me. My brain just rejected it. Too many text inconsistencies. I could appreciate and adapt some of the Jesus bits, but it was mostly bonkers nonsense to my brain.
I went to confirmation class for a bit and just stopped because they were wasting their time and I mine. I could never figure out what the Holy Ghost was or the role. Not for me.
Learning about the universe – the size and the age really tickled my brain though. Cause and effect, but the Big Bang was still so murky. That, my brain reacted to.
Religious people, what they believe, is not my concern. Their business, not mine.
Unless they impose that on the larger public by law. I understand that culturally I am an outlier, I accept that. But by law, nope pal: I will fight you.
Friday night Fish Fry is a cultural tradition.
Especially in Wisconsin. Super so in rural Wisconsin.
And is yummy.
In the rural North you look out for your neighbors in the hope they look out for you too.
Quasi-transactional, but with a neighborly front.
When the Klapotiks’ (best surname) herd broke the fence at 3 am and decided to root around in the woodlot, we all helped with round up. They got spooked by a thunderstorm. Cows are incredibly stupid.
Lutheran Swedes and Catholic Slavs clapping and shouting to drive them back home. My aunt kulning back at the farm ineffectually – they were not her herd.
Staying up half the morning helping to fix the fence.
It is what you did there. Because next time it could be you. Disaster is a day away when you have protect and feed herd animals.
However this exception came about, and I read all the explanations in these comments, it means shrimp and lobster at my house Christmas Eve as my wife won’t serve “meat”. I try to make it look like a sacrifice.
Lots to unpack here.
If Genesis is a parable, then the foundational belief of original sin never really happened, did it? It couldn’t have happened, because there was no one first man and/or one first woman, we never lived in an earthly paradise with abundant food and free from predators.
I won’t get into detail, but not even close. For one thing, after the Big Bang 13+ billion years ago, light did not emerge for an extended period. In fact, that’s the dark age era of the universe, as best we can determine. it took eons for first atoms and then stars to form to make light.
There are many creation myths. Some hit upon descriptions that, suitably interpreted, sound close to actual events. This does not lend them any credence.
IMO, Dr. Fr. Lemaitre was one of the great men we don’t hear much about, too. But his religion has nothing to do with his discovery. It’s like crediting Communism for the tokamak or Judaism for Relativity (special and general)
First, yes: there is a lot of criticism that the entertainment industry deserves.
But, this is a terrible attempt at creating a counter-example to what happened in the Catholic Church.
The entertainment industry isn’t an institution that claims a direct connection to the divine and whose job is to help save mankind. It does not claim to be a source of true morality and goodness. The entertainment industry did not have systematic ways for children to interface with the institution that it then abused.
The Catholic Church’s self-proclaimed status as God’s representative on Earth places radically more responsibility on it and its sins in this arena are immense and made worse by what the church is supposed to be.
To have priests systematically abuse children (and to have it covered up by the institution itself) was far, far worse than what the entertainment industry has done (and I am not defending any of that).
The Church is supposed to be connected to God. Hollywood makes so such claim.
I think it is simply damning to claim to be the conduit for the divine and then behave in this fashion. It calls into question both that connection, as well as the divine itself. It far outstrips anything some lecherous Hollywood producer has done.
Indeed, while I am not Catholic (the closest I come is having attended a Catholic private school for 2 years in early elementary school), the massive spiritual and moral failure represented by this scandal was one of a number of elements in my own reexamination of my own views of religion.
But you didn’t really get it. And I notice pretty much no one else wants to deal with it.
I call Christian privilege, and how do you and many of the commenters respond? By perfectly mimicking white people confronted with white privilege. Christians are the majority by a mile. 100% of presidents, at least 99% of congresspeople we’ve had over the last 200+ years, every Supreme Court justice, probably every governor, all Christians. Christians as far as the eye can see.
And yet: quiet down atheist, you risk offending the crushingly huge majority with your pipsqueakery. How can you expect the 95% to support you if you keep offering critiques of how the 95% have handled things?
‘We’ aren’t big enough for worries about people ‘joining us’ on political issues. We are politically insignificant. We are a rounding error. But OK, warning delivered, I will certainly remember that if I say bad things about some Christians I can expect a Trumpist future. And I’ll deserve it.
I enjoy how frightened and defensive the Christian majority is by the sneers of a tiny fraction of dissident atheists. It’s funny, because if I were questioning gravity people would just laugh me off, and my ilk with me. Because, see, gravity is real and everyone knows it, and no one disputes it. God, on the other hand, not so much. Deep down your ‘faiths’ are paper thin. I’ll re-purpose another term: Christian fragility.
For the record I have no particular hard-on for Christians. I was raised Christian. The single best human being I know is a Christian. But, as I pointed out above, in this country it’s never been the atheists picking fights with Christians any more than it’s been Black people picking fights with the white majority.
Be mindful of facts.
Frankfurter, Brandeis, Cardozo, Goldberg, Fortas Ginsburg, Kagan, and Breyer are/were not Christian.
@Kathy: I had to look it up, but there have actually been many Jewish governors, including two currently serving.
There have also been many Jewish members of Congress; I doubt Michael’s 99% estimate is anything close to accurate. There are currently 9 Jewish Senators as well as 1 Buddhist and 5 unaffiliated. I remember a point not long ago when 20% of the Senate was Jewish.
I honestly do not understand how that is your take-away from Kingdaddy’s post and follow-up comments.
@Steven L. Taylor: Michael Reynolds is to religion what HL92 is to policing.
By definition, none of us are aware of our blind spots, self included.
Time for a joke.
A Jewish guy moves to Belfast.
He is, of course, well aware of the bad blood between Unionist Protestants and Nationalist Catholics.
Walking down the street one day, he’s accosted by a bunch of large, surly and itimidating blokes.
One shoves him in the chest and snarls “Are youse a Protestant? Or are youse a Catholic?”
Jewish guy thinks, thank the Lord, I’m safe; as long as they’re not anti-Semites.
“Hey, I’m Jewish!” he says.
Thugs look puzzled, and huddle muttering together.
After a minute the leader says:
“Yeah. But are youse a Catholic Jew or a Protestant Jew?”
And that relates to why people from the British Isles tend to be disinclined to talk about religion, except to close friends or in particular circumstances.
(Also, that the English often view passive aggressive response as an art form worthy of cultivation)
Personally, I’m an agnostic (tending to atheist); but I’m an Anglican agnostic. 🙂
Fair enough. Not 95%. Just, what, 90%? 85%? Whatever number you pick, it will be overwhelmingly large.
But I regret my error.
@Steven L. Taylor:
Maybe it was this:
Who is the ‘you’ in that paragraph? Who is responsible for an uppity, sorry, I meant insulting attitude? Non-believers in general, and let’s be honest here, me and a few others in particular.
The OP was a warning not to slam the door on believers or suffer political set-backs as a consequence. Given that believers are, essentially, everyone, I’m not sure who exactly is slamming any doors. I don’t think we atheists have any doors to slam.
A representative of the majority is demanding tolerance from a tiny minority, despite the fact that in a society that operated on objective standards, people who believe in things for which no evidence exists might be referred for psych evaluations.
This is where your Christian privilege comes in. You don’t get how tolerant and non door-slamming we are. We all have to pretend you all aren’t nuckin’ futz. You get to tell us we are doomed to (and deserve) eternal torment for not believing something that is clearly absurd, or shake your heads and cry crocodile tears over our limits, and our assigned role is to avoid door-slamming.
I do enjoy the assumptions by so many upstream, including @Kingdaddy*, that I and others like me, simply don’t understand religion. No, it’s because I understood religion and Christianity in particular, that I first questioned, which led to atheism. I’ll throw down with just about anyone here on Christian theology.
*Who I quite like as a writer, and was happy to see added to the regulars.
ETA: I forgot the headline: “We Dismiss Potential Religious Allies At Our Peril.” Peril, no less!
I had a colleague once who called himself a vegetarian, despite happily eating pork sausage.
It turned out that he wouldn’t eat anything that was recognizably dead animal flesh — it was the visual squick that he avoided, not the foodstuff. Goose liver paté was fine; KFC was not.
That’s actually a great example for this thread, because… they tried, but failed.
The official church position no longer opposes red meat on Fridays. The vast mass of Catholics, when informed of this, did not in fact change either their habits nor their deep-seated belief that you shouldn’t eat meat on Fridays. The authority of the Church was as nothing to the power of tradition and upbringing.
Right up until COVID-19 shut it down, the cafeteria in my office building still served a fish entree every Friday.
@JohnSF: Speaking of Northern Ireland, my daughter got us to watch Derry Girls on Netflix. If you haven’t seen it, it is pretty funny. Catholic girls high school in Londonderry in the 90s against the backdrop of the Troubles. Funny and profane.
You’re thinking about it too literally. Look at each “day” as an epoch or a benchmark, each of a variable length. The Christian creation myth lines up very well.
“let their be light” = big bang
“separate the firmament from the heavens” = coalescing of accretion disks into planets
first the plants, then the fish, then the animals on the land, then humans.
It’s a very good metaphor for the creation of the universe–and evolution–and follows almost all the steps in the proper order. The only one that’s out of order is the sun, moon, & stars.
Like Catch 22? In which Yossarian and Lt. Scheisskopf’s wife have a post-coital argument. They’re both atheists, but Lt. Scheisskopf’s wife didn’t believe in a kind, caring, fatherly god and Yossarian didn’t believe in a mean, vindictive god.
OK, but in between there would have been “Let there be light, again” = light.
Sort of like Make America Great Again, Again. 😉
Trump looks likely to fall in November.
But absent a sustainable realignment of American politics, maybe Trump is merely John the Baptist to the true messiah of the reconstructionist dominion, our lord Tom Cotton?
In that position I’d take any any allies and shake them sincerely by the hand.
(Possibly while considering how to short change them later).
Then again, I am not a nice person. 🙂
But in the context of Northern Ireland they are BOTH mean, vindictive, gods.
And the context is less post-coital, than about just exactly how screwed you are.
@Michael Reynolds: I think you are incorrectly casting the OP as believers v. non-belivers (Kingdaddy himself states that he himself might be considered
Quite frankly, I think the thesis of the OP is not “atheists need to be nice to the poor Christians” it is “Don’t be an asshole to people just because you don’t like their religion” (and, yes, I would agree with the converse).
FWIW, I am not claiming any specific membership for this conversation. I don’t think you are damned and I understand why you find evangelicals off-putting and also why you dislike the more fantastical aspects of faith traditions (which I am not here to defend).
And I whole-heartedly agree that Christians writ large, but especially conservative Evangelicals, have a fragility to them. They do not acknowledge that they are the majority and they believe themselves to be persecuted when this is not the case. It does not help that they want to identify with statements in the Bible about persecution being a blessing.
A simple example of this: people here in Alabama complaining about how secular the public schools are when the vast majority of the teachers are all church attenders, likely Baptists, who clearly do not hide their faiths at work (this especially true in small towns). It is, to be honest, a bit absurd.
I guess the basic question: is what is wrong with asking for people to treat one another with some level of compassion and respect?
@Michael Reynolds: while I agree with your points about Christian privilege, you’ve frequently remarked that African-Americans shouldn’t alienate potential allies, because as 13% of the population we need them.
Well, St. Augustine was an early example of Christians arguing that Genesis should not be taken literally; so it’s plainly a well established approach in Catholicism.
BUT it’s still an analogy best avoided; there are too many discrepancies between known sequences and Genesis that make it very easy to counter.
– what is it with the waters “under the firmament” “and “waters above the firmament”? And waters generally for that matter?
– and grass emerges before the “lights in the firmament”?
– not to mention there seem to be two separate versions of the creation of mankind
All in all, probably best to categorize it as poetic Hebrew creation mythology and leave it at that.
I can’t think of a way to divide the history of the universe into 6 discreet epochs.
And it was the Hebrew creation myth. Christianity did not exist then.
First came amino acids, then proteins, then DNA/RNA or even earlier self-replicating molecules, then bacteria (possibly along deep ocean volcanic vents), then maybe plants (which went on to kill almost all lifeforms with waste oxygen). And what about lichen fungi, insects, and viruses?
It tracks perfectly well with the ignorance a primitive desert people would have possessed.
Look, it’s like the “theories” of ultra-advanced human civilization which some claim existed in prehistory and vanished with little trace. Somehow these people leave behind tools or monuments equal in level of technology to neolithic hunter-gatherers, like Gobekli Tepe.
And somehow the omnipotent, omniscient deity leaves a record equal in scientific knowledge to that of bronze-age civilizations.
I just don’t buy it.
The Bible is supposedly writing via “inspiration”–i.e., God speaking through the writers (I’m not saying I believe this, but this is how the Catholic church explains it). When these stories were written down, God wouldn’t have said “Well.. first I got the correct molecules to coalesce into amino acids which took the forms of AGTC, forming first RNA, then DNA….”
It would have been explained in ways that the minds of the time could understand.
If you believe in God, I don’t see that as a problem. It’s the same way we explain things to children in a very simple way–leaving out all the scientific details and letting them learn that later on.
It’s a hell of a lot better than “God made the Earth 6,000 years ago, and geology is just a joke he’s playing on us”.
This is a common fallacy, equating knowledge with intelligence.
Children lack knowledge, yes, but also have an undeveloped capacity to think critically or deeply. They are learning to think (yes, there are exceptions).
The ancients were ignorant compared to us, but were every bit as smart as we are. Anything we can understand, they could understand also if taught. I’ll even readily admit an ancient architect, like Imhotep, knew far more about construction and design than most average modern people today.
I’m not doing that. I’m saying that knowledge comes over time–cultural and scientific knowledge comes over very long periods of time. People 6,ooo years ago wouldn’t have the knowledge base to understand the concepts of molecular biology. We didn’t have that knowledge base 200 years ago.
Could an omnipotent God have just instantly given them all that knowledge? Sure. But (the teaching is), that’s not how He works. He wants humans to develop on their own.
And the metaphor doesn’t have to be perfect–or even complete. It needs to be enough to answer the basic questions and that’s all. The sciency parts come later–when it’s the appropriate time in the evolution of science and knowledge.
This is a common theme in science fiction. Giving advanced knowledge to races that haven’t earned it results in “bad things”.
As a way of dealing with the simplicity, complexity, and contradictions in the Bible, the Catholic church has taken the very sensible approach of saying “It’s a metaphor; learn from it but don’t worry about the details.”
Not to be too presumptuous, but one point I think Mu Yixiao is making, is that the Catholic (and Anglican) tradition of viewing the Bible in non-literalist ways, and its regard for non-biblical philosophy (Augustine, Aquinas etc but also “pagans”) opens a route for easier reconciliation with scientific explanation.
A route that fundamentalist/Evangelical “neo-protestant” Christianity is willfully turning it’s back on, in favour of a blind alley of rejectionist literalism.
In some ways modern “vulgar evangelicals” reject the Christian/Classical tradition they affect to revere, as as much as they do their bogeyman “secular humanism”.
People 6,000 years ago did not write the Genesis myths. The Bible probably goes back to 1200-1500 BCE, making it at most 3,500 years old, not 6,000.
That aside, the ancients could conceive things too small to be seen. They so could, they actually did (albeit in the 5th century BCE).
Did Jehovah not know this?
Up to a point, this is good.
But they also use their interpretation to make it seem that current physics and cosmology supports the existence of their god and the validity of their dogma.
It’s not the purpose of science to disprove religion. That’s just a bonus. But it’s also not the purpose of science to contort itself in order to bolster religion.
Interpretations can be made to fit anything. Asimov wrote a series of detective stories called The Robot Novels, set in a future where Earth is oppressed by 50 former colony worlds, known as the Spacer Worlds.
I’ve read interpretations on how these worlds represent America, given there’s 50 of them which is the same number as US states.
The problem? Asimov wrote the first two novels, “The Caves of Steel” and “The Naked Sun” between 1953 and 1957*, when there were only 48 US states. Maybe the Spacer worlds represent something else, but not 50 American states.
*The other novels in the series “The Robots of Dawn” and “Robots and Empire” were written in the 1980s.
Wa! As the conversation continues, the participants are becoming more strident and argumentative. Gives one pause…
Oh, religious jokes can be fun, too.
One time at an interfaith conference held in a very straitlaced city, a disturbance was reported in one of the hotels hosting the participants. Police went into the room, to find Father Jones, Reverend Smith and Rabbi Goldfarb engaged in a low-stakes poker game, which had gotten a bit boisterous.
Having attracted official notice, the three are taken before a judge.
“Gentlemen,” the judge tells them, “in view of your occupations and the fact you’re honored guests of our town, I am willing to overlook this matter, but only IF you can convince me you were not actually gambling. Father, were you gambling?”
“Well, your Honor,” Jones says, “I don’t think so.” There were chips on the table, yes, with monetary values printed on them. however, this does not necessarily indicate they would be alter exchanged for money, but could rather be seen as markers to keep score.”
“Very well, Father. You were not gambling. Reverend, what about you?”
“No, your honor. I agree with my esteemed colleague. And even if there had been actual money, that does not in any way imply any monies would be given to anyone other than their original owner.”
“All right, Reverend. You were not gambling.” He turns to Goldfarb and asks, “this just leaves you, Rabbi. Were you gambling?”
The Rabbi looks from one of his colleagues to the other and says, “No, your honor. There was no one to gamble with.”
Day 1: maybe, if you carry day 1 from the Big Bang through 1st or 2nd generation star formation
Day 2: questionable as allegory, but with some heavy stretching maybe later solar system formation with rocky bodies
Day 3a: is where the big divides start:
No, not even allegorically that close.
Herb yileding seeds and fruit bearing trees before animals? That’s a big no and deciding that those terms ‘really mean’ some sort of primitive plant life is a stretch.
Now the sun and the moon and the seasons are introduced AFTER flowering plants.
Days 5 through 7 only get worse for the allegory with actual science as we understand it today (and likely will any time soon). It might work for something else, but as allegory for our scientific understanding of how the universe and more close to home, our earth began it falls flat. The various Polynesian creation myths, the Kumulipo for instance, come much closer.
Haven’t read the “Elijah Bailey” novels in so many years.
Got to go on the re-read list.
On using current science to support theology, Fr. Georges LeMaitre, the priest-cosmologist I assume Mu Yixiao is referring to, advised the Pope that this was not a good idea.
Because as a scientist he was aware that today’s theory may be discarded tomorrow; so hanging your theology on that nail may not be a good idea.
But as regards faith and science, I’m aware of a quite a few Anglican scientists who found science and their faith perfectly compatible: Sir John Polkinghorne, Stephen Haywood, Paul Davies, Bill Pollard, Kelvin, Rayleigh, J.J. Thomson etc.
An ironic mirror image:
Sir Fred Hoyle, arguably one of people the most deserving of a Nobel prize not to win one, took a diehard anti-Big Bang stance, which some have attributed in part to his atheist aesthetics.
LeMaitre pretty much had to admonish the hierarchy not to do this. And I don’t object to anyone who holds on to religion despite being familiar with the science.
You’ll notice, though, few serious scientists try to use science to justify religion, or claim it confirms religious myths even as a metaphor.
As to the Bailey novels (minor spoiler alert): I’m sure if he’d written the second one later, say in the 80s, or even the 70s (he wrote virtually no SF in the 60s), Asimov would have ended it with Gladia and Lije enjoying a night together on Solaria.
A) Do you expect Rome to say “Oh! Hey! That definitely proves that God doesn’t exist. Let’s just pack it up and go home”?
B) You are completely misunderstanding how the Catholic Church works.
Both the Big Bang and the foundation of modern genetics were brought forth by Catholic clergy. Galileo used observatories built by the Catholic Church for some of his studies*. And the Vatican has a “task force” dedicated to debunking claims of miracles.
The Catholic Church has, for centuries, been pro-science and pro-knowledge. Yes, politics often got in the way, but when doesn’t it.
You’ve got that completely backwards. They accept the current science and use their belief to fill in the “unknown”.
This is a Catholic college run by Jesuit monks. It’s currently ranked #18 in the nation for undergraduate education by US News and World Report.
Catholics don’t twist the science to “support the validity of their dogma”. They pursue science and fill in the blanks with faith. And they firmly believe that “God is science-based”. When we learn about the universe we’re learning about how God designed it. God’s power is shown in the amazing intricacy and complexity of the scientific Universe.
If you want to disagree with their approach, no problem. That’s a matter of opinion. But you’re making statements which are easily shown to be false by looking at the observable facts, or are unfalsifiable because they’re opinions.
In a way, you’re proving the point that Kingdaddy was making in the OP.
I’m heading into a 3-day weekend and probably won’t look at OtB until Tuesday. Enjoy your weekend.
Tangential: Raised by Wolves is an intense SF show dealing with religion vs. atheism. I’m off to watch e07 now.
* Galileo was executed because he wrote a satire portraying the Pope as an idiot, not because the Church was anti-science. It was politics, not religion.
Yes, the Catholics and many mainline US Protestants have mostly retreated to a god of the gaps philosophy.
Far be it from me to defend the Papacy, but Galileo was sentenced to house imprisonment, not executed.
And now to counterbalance such unwonted leniency:
Pope Urban VIII (aka Maffeo Barberini) may (or may not) have been satirised by Galileo; but as that was not the official case against him, if Galileo’s possible insults were the reason, it hardly speaks well of the Church.
And the heliocentric hypothesis was condemned by an inquisitorial panel before Urban VIII was enthroned. On very intellectually dubious grounds.
And then the the whole church dug their heels in and had a stroppy toddler fit against modern astronomy for a several centuries.
Just to avoid saying, sorry, our bad.
Reminds me of the exculpation for the burning of Giordano Bruno: it wasn’t a response to an astronomical hypothesis, but for heresies.
Oh, well, that’s just fine and dandy then.
A little late to the thread but Kingdaddy is speaking plain common sense. You can’t be the big tent party ” ‘cept for religious dummies”
This goes to my point about distinctions having to be made between good-faith and bad-faith actors. There is a clear difference between Romney and Trump just like there is a difference between religious ‘dominionists’ and lay people struggling to have any certainty on a consistent basis about their beliefs. These could be allies politically, but the Democratic Party let itself be defined by anti-theis nuts. Congrats your solution to jock itch would be a liberal application of hot crisco.
BTW, I found the exchange between Mu and Kathy interested but misguided. The Bible never claims to be either a science book nor a history book…therefore criticism or defense on those terms are category fouls. Now, I get that Christians make those claims about the Bible and so refutations of the Bibles inadequacy as a scientific or historical work are valid rebuttals of their ignorance….but not of the Bible itself.
That would be like invalidating the Constitution because its wrong on Psychology.
@Jim Brown 32:
I don’t know what the Bible claims to be, but when people use it as either science textbook or history book, they deserve to be called on it.
@Just nutha ignint cracker: True, but ya gotta admit for a thread about religion and politics, is it pretty darn civil!