David Niose, AHA president
Over on salon.com there is an article on political Left ignoring the secularist movement. It is fascinating and well worth the read. But for now I am interested in just a part of it, which is a quote from the book Nonbeliever Nation, by American Humanist Association president David Niose, and how this affects the relations between secularists and liberal religion.According to Niose, it was the liberal churches themselves that went down the path that lead to their failures. He says that liberal humanist John Dewey, while rejecting orthodox religion, free borrowed from religious language to make his message familiar and nonthreatening to people of faith. This turned out to be a disastrous strategy: by making belief in God "universal", it lead to supremacy of religious conservatives and marginalization of secularists. (Michael Ruse, are you listening?)
The article goes on to add that, while outside church the liberal religious people have more in common with secularists than fundamentalist, they have alienated their allies and helped their foes through emphasizing the importance of religion and playing up the religious language. This is precisely why liberal religion is seen by some as the enabler of fundamentalists.
The author calls this a strategic blunder. I am not sure about that. I tend to think putting emphasis on doctrine is simply the nature of faith and they just couldn't help it.
It should be rather obvious that you can never defeat the fundamentalists this way. How can you name the bible as the source of morality and yet be pro-equality for gay people when your challengers will quote the New Testament as well well Old to discredit you? How can you call young Earth creationism bunk and yet call Jesus the smartest person who ever lived, when it is trivial to show he believed in a literal Noah's flood? (Luke 17 26-27, if you care.)
The point is made crystal clear in this quote from President Obama's book, the Audacity of Hope.
“Take my Republican opponent in 2004, Alan Keyes, who deployed a novel argument for attracting voters in the waning days of the campaign. ‘Christ would not vote for Barack Obama,’ Mr. Keyes proclaimed,‘because Barack Obama has voted to behave in a way that it is inconceivable for Christ to have behaved.’…Alan Keyes presented the essential vision of the religious right in this country,shorn of all compromise. Within its own terms, it was entirely coherent,and provided Mr. Keyes with the certainty and fluency of an Old Testament prophet. And while I found it simple enough to dispose of his constitutional and policy arguments, his readings of Scripture put me on the defensive.
Mr. Obama says he’s a Christian,Mr. Keyes would say, and yet he supports a lifestyle that the Bible calls an abomination. Mr. Obama says he’s a Christian,but he supports the destruction of innocent and sacred life.
What could I say? That a literal reading of the Bible was folly?”
What could anyone say indeed? This kind of incoherence and inconsistency may well have played a part in the incessant decline of liberal religion.