23 August 2007

Secularists, what happened to reason?

I recently participated in the online comment chat roll following the story about the Skate Church (Deeper) in my last blog. I wasn't surprised at the negativity surrounding the
issue of American missionaries operating in Scotland. What got me was the approach taken by the anti-religious, atheist and secularist participants in the chat.

Critical thinking might be to secularism what faith is to devout religious believers. Thinking rationally, questioning assumptions, tolerating differences and rebuffing the black-and-white - these are the cornerstones of the secular world view and a pivotal part of what separates them from religious people.

Why then, when it comes to discussions of religion, do so many secularists abandon critical thinking altogether?

Renowned atheist writer, religion scholar and Georgetown professor, Jacques Berlinerblau, recently put it, "Can an atheist or agnostic commentator discuss any aspect of religion for more than 30 seconds without referring to religious people as imbeciles, extremists, mental deficients, fascists, enemies of the common good... conjure men (or) irrationalists?"

My recent experience would have to reveal that no, they're incapable of such a feat. A common thread throughout the discussion was to send these manipulative yank, do-gooders back to the colonies.

One such comment stated: "Watch out for Evangelicals. They're extremely simplistic and very emotional... they're against same-sex marriage, abortion and thinking." The American missionaries were referred to as "ignorant charlatans, a plague, eejits/idiots, deluded superstitious fools, morons, pestilential priests," among other such descriptors.

For a group of thinkers that pride themselves on rational thought and civil discourse, this behavior is inconsistent and unbecoming of a school of thought that emphasizes rational complex thinking - and has little to offer its practitioners when it comes to the value of an open mind. And trust me when I say that this comment roll was not populated by the denizens of ignorance. References or quotes from the likes of Karl Marx, Daniel Dennett, Albert Einstein and John Knox were included. In fact, one guy even got into a dispute with me because I challenged his claim that Daniel Dennett (prominent American philosopher at Tufts University) developed the concept of (the) skyhook... when everyone knows that it was Kareem Abdul-Jabaar's indefensible basketball shot. :)

But sadly, this is how this conversation (and others) tend to go when secularists take up the conversation of religion. The tendency has, perhaps, reached an all-time low with the appearance of best-selling book, Christopher Hitchens', God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.

My point is not to demonize secularists or atheists. There is enough of that already. According to a USA Today/Gallup Poll conducted last February, fewer people would vote for a well-qualified atheist for president (45%) than an African-American (94%), a Jew (92%), a woman (88%), a Hispanic (87%), a Mormon (72%), a thrice-married person (67%) or a homosexual (55%).

It would be unfair and unreasonable to equate secularism with immorality or insufficient patriotism. Though secularists would do well to listen to Berlinerblau, one of the few atheist voices calling for secular engagement with religious believers and more rigorous understanding of their religions/beliefs.

True, many religious people behave in foolish and obnoxious ways, and some do cause harm in the name of their belief system. But stereotyping and generalizing on either side is not going to fulfill a productive agenda for anyone - for Christians, it's not going to reflect the love of Jesus; and for secularists, it's not going to challenge unthinking idealists to examine what's truly behind their faith.

It's not my place or authority to hold secularists to their own ideologies any more than it is their place to hold me to a biblical standard, but is it too much to ask that we simply engage one another with a bit of passion AND civility? Although it defines itself in opposition to religion, surely secularism is capable of understanding that religion is more than simply irrational indulgence and supernatural fantasy.

Secularists put their "faith" not in God, but in the sound aptitude of the human mind. It's disappointing when they discard their defining faculties and resort to thoughtless name-calling and brutish intolerance. It's a shame to see them throw out their greatest tool.

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