Wednesday, July 25, 2012

On Liberal Religion: Round 2

John Loftus thinks the liberal churches are "enablers" to fundamentalists.

By Hos
Given the attention this post has received, I think I better summarize my views as follows:
1. I have no doubt that liberal churches do a lot of good work. But there is a catch, and it can no longer be ignored. But preaching that "faith", that is, belief in the absence of evidence, is a good thing, they open the door to the fundamentalists. As long as they do not get rid of this basic tenet, they are going to be the fig leaf the fundamentalists need, to justify everything they do. As long as faith is, socially, expected to be shielded from critical scrutiny, fundamentalism can grow-like bacteria in a cesspool. Beliefs that are not based on evidence need to be exposed and challenged, not respected, like the liberal churches tell us.
2. Liberal churches are also allies of fundamentalists by providing them the numbers they need. When fundamentalists make claims about the "christian nation" and give you statistics to back it up, they are in fact counting all the congregations of liberal churches. If all of those churches closed down today (because their members have better things to do Sunday morning), it would be a lot harder for the Religious Right to make that claim. Again, whether the church goers agree with the doctrine or not is immaterial here. That is why in this interview, John Loftus, atheist and former fundamentalist christian, tell Rev. Barry Lynn (from Americans United for Separation of Church and State) that he considers liberal churches "enablers" to fundamentalists. I respect Barry Lynn, and I certainly do think that secularists should build bridges with people of faith who have a positive view toward issues of church and state separation. But I don't think this should came at the cost of giving up the idea of skepticism itself. Allies should be allowed to disagree on certain things.
3. There is no question that religion is an enterprise. Liberal religion, as it turns out, is a failed enterprise. Whether that is because religion cannot be sustained without guilt and fear (as I hypothesize) doesn't change anything. What matters is, their shrinking trends will continue, and that is not a bad thing, because ultimately that will harm the fundamentalists as well.
Lastly, my point was not to critique Sara Hippolitus or her post. I only cited one of the commentators who had left a comment on her post, to show how some atheists think liberal religion is a good thing, and why I disagree with them.


Anonymous said...

"Beliefs that are not based on evidence need to be exposed and challenged, not respected, like the liberal churches tell us." So, do we (the atheist/secular/skeptic community) know that that is what liberal churches tell us? Maybe there are liberal churches/Christians who don't rely so much on faith.

Also, a belief that is not based on evidence is faith (haha - Hebrews 11:1). If someone who has faith can distinguish between the two - that is, evidence based knowledge and faith based belief - and isn't using his faith to bother me or set public policy, if it's something that gets him through his day or a car accident or death of a family member, for example, is this a bad thing? Why should it be challenged?

I am curious to know what people's opinions are on what good the liberal churches can do specifically for the secular community. I understand that as long as there are liberal church-going members, the fundamentalists can boost the numbers of Christians they claim are in the country. But it seems they might serve as a useful link between evangelicals and secularists. If given the choice between fundamentalists and no liberals or fundamentalists with liberals, I'm going with the latter. Maybe we, as secular people, shouldn't be trying to convince Christians that God/Jesus doesn't exist (although, I'm hardly one to speak - I'm not trying to convince anyone of anything), but trying to convince them of something completely different - separation of Church and State (Constitutionally speaking); acceptance of women's equality; acceptance of gay marriage; etc. If those are the more important goals, then, it seems like it would behoove us to find a bunch of liberal Christians and figure out how they reconcile their liberalism with their belief in their God.

Explicit Atheist said...

It is bad, and here I must agree with Hos, to falsely insist that faith is a method of determining what is factual/true. It is insufficient to accurately distinguish evidence supported beliefs from faith based beliefs. That is only the first step. The second step, which is also essential to being rational, is to recognize that faith by itself cannot, and never does, properly justify belief. To not take this second step is to live at least half-way in crazy-land and that is a bad result. We have to deal with uncertainty, and we need to take risks, but we should never substitute faith for evidence as a means of properly justifying belief.

Anonymous said...

Just to be clear, I don't mean to imply that I think it is ok to use faith to determine what is factual/true. What I DO think it's ok to do is let people have faith in whatever they chose to have faith in so long as it isn't hurting anyone (and I don't just mean 'hurting' in the immediate or violent sense of the word) or influencing public policy. I don't understand why I should be bothered that someone was given comfort in a difficult time by their belief in a higher being, for example.

Anonymous said...

To further clarify, I guess the dividing line for me is the one between people's private lives and their public lives. If they want to have faith in things that can't be proved by evidence and that doesn't carry over into their public lives, and thus doesn't create the "crazy-land", I don't understand what the problem is in letting them keep their faith. Of course, when one thinks about the spheres of 'public' and 'private' life and recognizes how much of one's life is public (in that it involves interaction with any others, be it children, colleagues, etc), the area in which it is 'safe' (in my opinion) to exercise that faith is, indeed very small. But that doesn't change my underlying opinion that such a person be unmolested to enjoy that faith.

Explicit Atheist said...

Who is not "letting them keep their faith"? What is that about? How does arguing against a misplaced reliance on faith become twisted into an act of coercion that prevents the people who have a misplaced reliance on faith from continuing to have a misplaced reliance faith? We are not coercing anyone into discarding their misplaced reliance on faith. We are arguing against the practice of elevating faith into a imethod of determining what is true and false because it results in people mistaking fiction for knowledge. The more people are convinced to self-abandon a misplaced reliance on faith the better. How will be people be convinced to abandon their misplaced reliance on faith if no one argues public ally that such misplaced reliance on faith is wrong? What exactly is your point?

Don Wharton said...

Obviously we would all agree that using faith to determine what is true or false is not good. However, reality is immensely complex and there a great many measures of value which can be found in this complexity. My position is that there are vastly more ways in which secular people can relate in a positive way with religious people than there are ways to attack the falsehoods of religion. That does not mean that I do not value Richard Dawkins or PZ Myers. Whatever negatives can be found with each of them is incredibly minor when compared with the positive.

I recall that EO Wilson went into fundamentalist churches and taught them about global warming and the cogent responses that could be made to that. If we put together positive science based messages in a manner and style which is respectful to them there is no reason why we cannot create positive changes in the wider society in the process of relating with the religious.

Explicit Atheist said...

All of the ways in which secular people can relate in a postive way with religious people includes discussions of the role of faith and how beliefs are properly justified. If either the secular person influences the religious person to be secular, or the religious person influences the secular person to be religious, or they influence each other to be more confident in their existing view then the number of ways those same two people can relate in a positive way neither increases nor decreases. What are you afraid of? There is nothing here to fear, it is just debate. If something disrespectful was said then identify what was disrespectful and we can remedy that. But if you are saying that criticizing reliance on faith as being counter-productive in determining what is true and false is disrespectful to religious people then you are very mistaken. That is simply false. It is respectful, not disrespectful, to point out mistakes. When co-workers point out problems with something I did at work I thank them because it is helpful to me to know when there is a problem, it enables me to correct the problem and do better.

Carl said...

I would not even call religion liberal on the basis of how can it be? In order to call it religion you have to go by the doctrine that was written over 2000 years ago. Unless you have a newer version such as Mormon or Scientology. And that alone is certainly not liberal it is racist hateful and homophobic from the start. And to think different is going against the one thing your book is based upon. So liberal is a loosely used term in religion that should be used with caution. Because the only true liberal is the one with no religion.

Explicit Atheist said...

To me, the primary considerations are substance, merit, evidence, and the like. Giving priority to who takes offense, or to liberal and conservative rankings, is misdirected. I actively and deliberately disregard considerations such as who takes offense and the liberal and conservative ranking because such considerations have nothing at all to do with whether or not the argument is good or bad, and because they are outside the scope of anything that I control or have any responsibility for. It is not my responsibility, or anyones responsibility, either ethically or pragmatically, to not offend people who wrongly take offense because of their own intolerance or dogmatism or prejudices.

Anonymous said...

@Explicit Atheist,

I disagree strongly that 'all of the ways in which secular people can relate in a positive way with religious people includes discussion of the role of faith and how beliefs are properly justified'. Unless I misconstrue your meaning, which is what I hope the case is, it seems that this stance leaves out all the positive ways in which secular and religious people can interact outside the realm of religion/faith/belief. Surely, I misunderstand your meaning. I, and I would imagine many other atheists, have positive interactions with those of faith all the time. I think it would lead to a very lonely, narrow existence if the only people with whom I interacted wholly were atheists and I interacted with religious people only in discussions of faith and belief.

I agree that reliance on faith to determine what is true and false in the natural world is not acceptable to me. I also agree that it can be (and should be) respectful to point out mistakes of others. However, I'd also be cautious about that - is that person open and willing to be criticized? Has he asked not to be criticized (for a reason we may not be able to fathom)? If he has, then it may, in fact, be disrespectful to offer criticism. Now, one may point out that there is nothing more dear than getting at facts and how to know what is factual; as such, maybe biting one's tongue to criticize another in this realm is reprehensible. However, it was you who brought in the example of the workplace and making mistakes there. In such (relatively simplistic or straightforward) situations where an ultimate truth/belief system or method of approaching truth is not at stake, I would argue that yes, sometimes it can be downright disrespectful to criticize someone (even if the person doing the criticizing is, ultimately, factually right; however, it may also be the case that the criticism is disrespectful insofar as it does not allow for varying, equally acceptable, perspectives).

Anonymous said...


I agree that if one takes the bible literally and is a fundamentalist, that person would a) have to go by the 2000+ year-old doctrine, and b) by definition, not be liberal. However, I am far from agreeing that every religious person is as such. Nor would I argue with such a person's assertion that he is religious. If a person wants to take the Bible metaphorically and remain religious, I'd say that person is practicing liberal religion. I know too many Christians (and I think we probably all do) who consider themselves Christians and who don't take the bible literally for me dismiss liberal religion as non-existent. Are you disagreeing that these people are religious? Is 'religious' then an either-or/black-white state of being?

Explicit Atheist said...

First of all, we are blogging on the internet. In the context of blogging, no one asks for the permissions of every possible reader before criticizing anything anyone else publicly said. I don't expect anyone else to get my permission before criticizing something I said, you don't ask permission before criticizing something someone else said. No one does that. It is absurd to apply such a double standard only to atheist bloggers.

Second of all, I clearly said that discussion of the role of faith and how beliefs are properly justified is one of the many ways that religious and secular people can positively interact.

Thirdly, I reject the double standard that says religion is off the table for debate while other topics are on the table because somehow they are different and religion has a special protective bubble that it is impolite to transgress. That is bullshit. All claims about how the world works are subject to the same scrutiny, religious claims are subject to the same scrutiny as claims about the environment or biology or government policy or anything else.