7/26/2007

#169 Moderating the Moderates

Being a "moderate" has always been a relative thing in the history of humanity. "A one-eyed man among a nation of the blind" is a long, sad tradition for our species. A constant reminder of this sorry fact is shown to us every time an atheist is interviewed on radio or television. The overwhelming majority of "unbelievers" are rational, scientific, humanistic, and well-spoken examples of the best from our species. However, every time a statement of doubt is expressed by someone not possessed by delusions of grandeur, that statement must be "modified" by a representative of the much more typical insane breed of "believers." In fact, in a recent collection of programs on "the new atheists" more time was given to rebuttal statements from the religious insanity crowd than was provided to the topic of the program. The supposed "liberal" NPR, PBS, and major media all committed this sin of cowardice within the last few weeks.

The reason for this spate of self-flagellation is a collection of books on "faith" that are so well written, so brilliantly considered, that even the occasional religious nut might reconsider his fantastic beliefs if exposed to the thoughts of these writers. Sam Harris' The End of Faith is one of these books. Harris' book is, if anything, a 237 page text that could be used in a philosophy logic course. Instead of taking the Rat Road, also known as the Sam Kinison Screaming in Your Face Tactic. In his rational but inspired approach, Harris uses basic logical argument, page after page, to point out the inconsistencies in the "god myth."

For his efforts, Harris was described as "the most shrill of the New Atheists" in a CBS program on the subject. Although, in the brief moment he was portrayed in this hack job, Harris was as calm, well-spoken, and rational as is the text in his book, the "moderate" religious nut CBS used to rebut the statements of the New Atheists claimed that Harris was the most extreme of the new class of non-believers.

Apparently, logical thinking is "shrill" compared to the ranting, hillbilly-raving, tongue-speaking, wild man talk presented on almost every television channel every Sunday morning? I guess the MSM likes its crazies to be consistently and completely crazy.

One of the best, most rational pair of sentences ever written by a human is in the introduction chapter ("Reason in Exile") of Sam Harris' The End of Faith: "Our situation is this: most of the people in this world believe that the Creator of the universe has written a book. We have the misfortune of having many such books on hand, each making an exclusive claim as to its infallibility." From there, Harris spends most of his time discussing how people of "faith" use irrational self-delusion to protect themselves from having to evaluate the nutty things they say in the same way they'd evaluate crazy talk in areas outside of religion. It's a logical, well-considered approach that is as likely to convert religious whack-jobs as it was possible that Dubya actually earned a college degree by studying.

What I'd like to know, however, is why the media has made a habit of rebutting every rational discussion of religion with a collection of superstitious crazies? Sunday morning is dedicated to non-stop pontificating by all sorts of strange and ridiculous religious nut-jobs, without a moment of rational rebuttal. The public airwaves are jammed with hallucinating "faith-based" believers without a brief moment of equal time given to "reality-based" thinkers and no one seems to consider the possibility that this violates the First Amendment. Give a scientist ten seconds to describe how the universe might have been born without the involvement of magic and that must be followed by an hour of praying and apologizing to the myriad of gods and goddesses and Easter Bunnies that might be offended (if they existed) by humans partaking of the "fruit of knowledge." Why is that?

Every week or so, I receive a chunk of spam by my hysterical Midwestern relatives who are terrified that "da govamunt" is at war with religion, usually Christianity or some weird cultish offshoot of that powerful political organization. Religious folks have always been terrified by science, logic, and nature, but the more conservative we become the more timid we are. These days an expression of doubt is enough to send Pat Robertson, Billy Graham, and Dubya into a hysteria of fear and oppression. We've been here before as humans and, unhappily, as Americans. Witch burning is founded in that same faith-based cowardice.

I've argued, often, that every attempt to install religion in government is based on the fear that "if you don't at least pretend to believe what I believe, I may lose faith." Like gangsters everywhere, theocracies all discount the difference between respect and fear. If they can't earn respect, they will settle for terrorizing into silence anyone who might express a difference of opinion regarding any aspect of their slight grip on "faith." The overwhelming majority of the world's spiritual leaders have advocated a solitary spiritual journey, but the bulk of humanity needs the reinforcement of a like-minded crowd to maintain a delusion of magic and faith. Producing a spiritual crowd through laws and the threat of government violence is the easiest way to make-believe "everyone" is on the same spiritual page.

Humans have been doing this song and dance since the days of caves, clubs, and witchdoctors. The long, slow, sad history of humanity is littered with the debris of collapsed dynasties, discredited gods, scientifically displaced delusions of how the universe really works, and disappointed believers who have found that "god" wasn't on their side. This is the reason that the authors of the Constitution argued for a clear "separation of Church and State," as Jefferson explained. Religion has too often picked the wrong horses, historically. Conservatives, usually with the moral guidance of their religions, have backed corrupt nepotism and aristocracies, vicious and perverted theocracies, dictators of all sorts, self-destructive corporations and insane robber barons, slavery and racial discrimination, short-sighted and nationally-destructive economic policies, cruel and unusual punishments, regional and worldwide wars, and every known evil committed by humanity.

I'd say that evidence proves that every expression of faith should be counteracted by equal time provided to rational analysis. The history of religion is bloody, oppressive, and evil and something that consistently nasty ought to be given careful analysis anytime it rears it's predictably conservative head.

January 2007

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