With the Devout

Religion again. Or rather, still. It never does go away, does it. Funny how people keep urging us to have more of it when its consequences so often seem so very…unpleasant.

Jonathan Derbyshire has a couple of posts on the subject – one about the fallacy that atheists and materialists lack a sense of wonder or awe and the other a review of what sounds like a very irritating book on atheism. Theists have the most remarkable way of assuming that only they are capable of an enormous range of human qualities and aspirations – morality, imagination, dreams, commitment, wonder, honesty, dedication, kindness, mercy, courage, putting the cap back on the toothpaste, virtue, monogamy, not picking their noses in public. Hey, I hate to tell you, but non-theists are capable of all those too, and in the meantime they don’t bore everyone to death talking about some non-existent geezer in the sky who tells everyone not to use condoms or not to let women leave the back room or not to let Adam and Steve get married. Two for the price of one. We can have good qualities and we don’t dress up all our sadistic controlling exploitive impulses by pretending God told us to beat the crap out of this woman or to shoot this Dutch guy six times and then cut his throat and run away.

Garry Wills had an interesting Op-ed in the NY Times a couple of days ago.

The secular states of modern Europe do not understand the fundamentalism of the American electorate. It is not what they had experienced from this country in the past. In fact, we now resemble those nations less than we do our putative enemies. Where else do we find fundamentalist zeal, a rage at secularity, religious intolerance, fear of and hatred for modernity? Not in France or Britain or Germany or Italy or Spain. We find it in the Muslim world, in Al Qaeda, in Saddam Hussein’s Sunni loyalists.

Well, frankly, I don’t understand that fundamentalism either. At all. It’s beyond me. There are some aspects of religion that (I think) I do understand, but there are others I don’t. I knew a fundamentalist once – someone I worked with. He was one angry dude, man. All his religiosity seemed to express itself in rage at people who didn’t share it. (In fact he once got suspended for half a day for threatening to kill a co-worker for – well for saying exactly what I’m saying: ‘Jim, for a religious guy, you sure seem to have a lot of anger.’) That’s what religion seems to be for a lot of people – a hell of a good pretext to be in a frothing rage all the time. About what? About people who don’t share their loathsome narrow rage-filled punitive view of the world, that’s what.

Maybe that’s not fair. Maybe in some circumstances and settings they are sweet and kind and compassionate. Only that’s not what the rest of us see – I suppose because we’re the spawn of Satan. But then that’s the problem. Religion is just another way of creating ingroups and outgroups, and it sanctions much worse treatment for the outgroups than is normally considered reasonable.

A third post of Jonathan’s touches on this point.

Now I was reminded of all that when I read this in Mark Schmitt’s post:

“The right question, I think, is not whether religion has an undue influence, but why it is that the current flourishing of religious faith has, for the first time ever, virtually no element of social justice? Why is its public phase so exclusively focused on issues of private and personal behavior? Is this caused by trends in the nature of religious worship itself? Is it a displacement of economic or social pressures? Will that change? What are the factors that might cause it to change.”

If Schmitt is right in his characterization of what he calls, following Robert Fogel, the “Fourth Great Awakening” in American Protestantism, what implications does this have for Sandel’s attempt to connect religious belief with a certain form of public life – with being a citizen with certain responsibilities?

Good question. And no, I haven’t the faintest idea what the answer is.

Here is a handy, or at least hilariously funny, page of atheist quotations. Well not all that funny, but it certainly made me burst out laughing.

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