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To Plea Or Not To Plea


Adi Gibb
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To Plea or not to Plea

 

The Christ example can be so hard to live up to can’t it? Absolute love, compassion, tolerance and love for all, just thinking about it can be daunting. But, for me, displaying this tolerance is hardest not when dealing with those of other faiths, those of literalist views within my own faith (though that is challenging) nor even those who use my faith as a weapon for their bigotry. No for me the hardest act of tolerance I can perform at the moment involves, increasingly, those of a ‘new atheist’ agenda. What is ‘new atheism’? Put simply it is being of the opinion that there is no God, but also going further and asserting that faith, of any kind, does harm, and must be expunged for the world to be a better place. The major exponents of this are writers like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. The thing is, I want to just leave these people to say their piece. I want to have that Christ-like love and tolerance that would allow me to stand back and let these people vent their spleen and not let it affect me. But in venting their spleen they often ridicule and condemn things which mean the world to me. Furthermore, they see people of faith as ignorant, ‘deluded’ simpletons who need to grow up. We are, at best, to be pitied for our ridiculous superstitions based on a fear of death, at worst, be held culpable for hundreds of thousands of deaths occurring yearly because of ‘religion’. When I read articles by new atheists and the comments that often follow, my blood starts to rise and all I want to do is plea for my faith, join in the comment wars and stand up for a faith that is not couched in archaic notions of misogyny and homophobia, that embraces evolution and rational thought while holding on to a faith mindset. But to do so, I realise once the passion has cooled, is almost anathema to the kind of progressive Christianity I adhere to. For one, the concept of any kind of evangelising is, perhaps due to the history of the church, vehemently shied away from amongst PCs. As predominantly pluralistic by nature, we feel it wrong to foist our individual beliefs onto others, even atheists, and so remain silent often when attacked. Secondly, to join in an adversarial debate in order to defend oneself from a verbal onslaught does not seem to be ‘offering the other cheek’ as it were. The example of Christ on how to deal with one’s enemies would seem to indicate a stoic silence to the rants of Hawkins et al is preferred, not a rejoinder of similarly red-faced vitriol. Yet I do join in the fray sometimes. I do stand up for my faith and try and show that ‘religion’ is not a black and white concept represented by literalist creationists waiting for the rapture. And I always feel guilty afterwards. For the new atheists have as much right to their opinion, their articles, even their scorn for me and my kind, as I have a right to my faith. And I know, I just know, that if Jesus were reading these articles, he wouldn’t respond. His heart would fill, like mine, but with love, not a defensive rage. And I long to live up to that example, I really do.

 

Yes, to plea or not to plea, that is the question.

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I personally find the extremists on the Religious Right to be much more of a dangerous threat than the New Atheists. As far as I'm aware, the New Atheists are not trying to ban abortion, same-sex marriage, or proposing kill the gays bills in Africa. The most the New Atheists have done have written several popular books attacking religion. In one way, I do think the New Atheists are an important part of the debate over religion. I may disagree with their conclusions, but they are raising awareness about atheism and asking important questions about the nature of religion and God and the role religion plays in society. I think these are important issues to address. Given that according to recent surveys, atheists are the most hated minority in the U.S., I think these are important issues to address but they must be addressed civily. I think you can respect a person's right to have a belief while not respecting the belief itself. I think most of us do not respect the fanatical beliefs of Osama bin Laden and Fred Phelps but we respect their rights to have them. The New Atheists are likewise respectin religious believer's rights to belief while not respecting their beliefs. I have actually seen a number of debates between Richard Dawkins and other Christians and Dawkins is actually quite polite and respectful in debates. My biggest problem with the New Atheists is that they have an over-simplified view of religion and they get a lot of facts about religious history flat out wrong, but I don't think they are particularly threatening to religious freedoms and I don't think they're worse than the Christian extremists. I think the best method to remember when dialoging with people is to remember the Golden Rule and treat others the way you want to be treated.

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Perhaps we should remember too that we are entitled to our own opinions, interpretations, and experiences, but not to our own facts. I don't think there is anything wrong with pointing out and refuting a direct falsehood. We seem to speak freely enough against misogyny and homophobia, or against pseudo-scientific propaganda. However it is also rarely the case that we really know things with certainty or with objectivity, so we must be humble in not mistaking our own opinions for the facts. I think the New Atheists are wrong in many of their conclusions, but honestly I find myself agreeing more with their arguments than agreeing with fundamentalists of my own faith. If the New Atheists weren't striking a cord with many people, and stepping on real toes, then they wouldn't such a hot topic of debate, and people wouldn't feel so defensive. The way I see it, there is a large element of the population - at least here in the US - for which the polemics of the New Atheists fit like a glove. I'm not saying it's all that nice for them to be saying what they're saying, but I'm saying it's legitimate in as much as it applies to religious fundamentalists.

 

The problem with the New Atheists is their categorical denial of the validity of religion. Harris lumps moderates and liberals with the extremists. In the guise of reason they promote the scientific method as all-encompassing. These in my estimation are not legitimate claims, and they take their own position to an unlivable and unrealistic extreme.

 

Perhaps we need to plea, not simply against the new atheists, but with all people to take a fresh look at religious faith, that there is way of life that doesn't fall in the extremes of fundamentalism and scientism.

 

Peace to you,

Mike

Edited by Mike
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It's not so much that Harris lumps moderates in with extremists but he accuses them of enabling extremists because moderates aren't critical enough of extremists and are somehow protecting extremists from criticism. The problem with his argument is that moderates are in fact criticizing extremists, but it seems like whenever moderates do criticize extremists, the New Atheists accuse the moderates of not doing it right and attack them for not being "true" Christians. So either moderates aren't criticizing the extremists enough or if they do criticize, they're not doing it right because they're not following religion correctly. For example, when Karen Armstrong criticizes religious extremists, Sam Harris accuses her of not doing it correctly unless she acknowledges true Islam is a violent religion: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2009/12/18/the_god_fraud

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Thanks for the initial responses.

 

"Perhaps we need to plea, not simply against the new atheists, but with all people to take a fresh look at religious faith, that there is way of life that doesn't fall in the extremes of fundamentalism and scientism."

 

I agree with this 100%. Indeed, this goes to the heart of my post really, a conflict between my desire to do the above, while at the same time not attempt to evangelise and not indulge in adversarial action which may go against the spirit of Christ's instructions to us. It comes down to whether we should be seeing PC as an activist movement, if you like, keen to win the battle of hearts and minds and show the world, literalists, fundamentalists, new atheists etc, that we represent an alternative. The paradox is that one of the essences of our alternative way of living our faith is a reluctance to so foist our views upon others, even when we are being labeled as ridiculous or wishy washy by our 'opponents'. (Dawkins recently said he respects creationists more than liberal christians). So the question is, when do we fight back, if we fight back at all? Maybe, not to sound too dramatic here, but maybe not just PC but all faith needs the progressive movements to take a more vocal and active stance, so that we are not represented by the Glen Becks etc. There is a reason why the new atheists go after the fundamentalists, a sitting duck is easier to shoot at than a moving target!

 

Neon Genesis I agree with much of what you say. I have always said that if I was speaking to an atheist and a fundamentalist I would agree more with the former than the latter. But the kind new atheism of which I am speaking is incredibly derisive of people of faith. Dawkins was just in Australia and he was so condescending on a panel show that one of his allies suggested to him he should tone down the arrogance. An atheist here in OZ, Philip Adams, wrote an article called "The Atheist Delusion" in which he seeks to distance himself from Dawkins and Hitchens, but then goes on to proclaim that people of faith should be pitied for our beliefs, because we are victims of a fear of death, one which, of course, Adams claims to have overcome as a five year old! So it is strange, despite what I said above, I can handle a fundamentalist going red in the face and saying I will burn in hell far more than I can an intellectual telling me that I am somehow beneath him intellectually because I have faith in my life. That is when my blood starts to boil, mainly because I don't see him as intellectually inferior because he is an atheist, that is his right, but a similar politeness is not accorded to people of faith, we are just deluded simpletons beneath contempt (and I have had a new atheist say that directly to me, that I was beneath his contempt. He also said "Do the math Adrian. The world is full of religion, the world is in chaos. Religion equals chaos!" When I reminded him that the Soviet Union did some pretty terrible things during their atheistic heyday he replied, as Dawkins does, "Oh but that was an ideology relacing religion!". Isn't atheism an ideology I asked? "Of course not!")

 

Anyway, I have gone on. Thanks for the responses.

 

Adi

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It's true that there were atheists who committed atrocities under communist regimes but that wasn't the result of atheism. Atheism is merely the lack of beliefs in gods and says nothing about the atheists' personality, their political beliefs, or what their views on religion are and communism was more of the result of their dogmatic political beliefs rather than a lack of beliefs in gods. Adi, you may be interested in watching these uncut interviews between Richard Dawkins and the liberal Episcopal bishop, Bishop Harries on the subject of religion:

In this video, Dawkins has a surprisingly respectful debate with Bishop Harries and he seems genuinely interested in learning about Bishop Harries' beliefs in this interview. You may also be interested in the book Good Without God: What A Billion Non-Religious People Do Believe by the atheist author Greg Epstein: http://www.amazon.com/Good-Without-God-Billion-Nonreligious/dp/0061670111/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1269042338&sr=1-1
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(snip)

 

My biggest problem with the New Atheists is that they have an over-simplified view of religion and they get a lot of facts about religious history flat out wrong, but I don't think they are particularly threatening to religious freedoms and I don't think they're worse than the Christian extremists. I think the best method to remember when dialoging with people is to remember the Golden Rule and treat others the way you want to be treated.

 

Personally i have no problem with either New Atheists nor the extreme Fundamental Christians. It seems to me that if there is a problem, the only problem we have, is a problem with our self which i have willingly surrendered and do not wish to take back up. It seems to me that in the uniqueness of creation, things could be no other than it is at this moment in time, and the mere acceptance of that can provide the wisdom for an appropriate response to either side and future progression of consciousness which to me seems to lead to change.

 

Just one man's view to consider,

Joseph

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I can see your point JosephM. I'm just a nitpick about getting facts correctly and I believe it's important to make constructive arguments but I believe there's a right way to make a constructive argument and there's a wrong way to go about it. I'm just nitpicky when people like Sam Harris get basic common facts that have been accepted by scholars for decades flat out wrong.

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Hey,

 

Neon Genesis, You bring up a valid point but I should say that I never would, should or could make the claim that atrocities done during the soviet era were 'because' of atheism. I brought that period up in direct response to this new atheist's claim that as soon as one expunged religion from society then all would be good. Naturally I find this to be a simplistic, almost childish notion, and just used the soviet era to make a point that things are a bit more complicated that that.

 

I have indeed seen that meeting between Dawkins and the Bishop and yes, he was very polite. He seems to be, sometimes, to those he considers worthy of such treatment. I am a little obsessed with Dawkins, mainly because of the evangelical and almost fundamentalist zeal he has for his own particular belief system. He seems to worship at the altar of atheism almost, ironically, and I find this fascinating. Anyway, as such, I have seen many, many panel shows and interviews with Dawkins, perhaps too many, and I feel justified and informed enough to state categorically that the man is an intellectual snob with a condescension and arrogance that can, frequently, be legendary. I would like to think that if Dawkins was an Anglican Bishop and showed the same traits I would still apply the same epithets to him. I guess that is something that I am just convinced about and sorry if this offends and tarnishes a man you may admire. Just my personal view.

 

Joseph, your words and indeed wise and I wish I could live up to them. As I said in the first post, I know I should be above responding to any of this, but I do, and this upsets me. God grant me more patience and true transcendence.

 

At the risk of losing a great discussion, I did just want, if possible, to move the discussion back towards what I was hoping this post would be predominantly about. I used the example of the new atheists because these people are the ones that illicit the reactions I wished to discuss, and give rise to the dillema I have. So let's try a different tack. Let's say that, instead of atheists, one is reading about a diatribe by Beck or similar, against the progressive christian movement. It is filled with misinformation and blatantly absurd perceptions about PC. You know that many many people are reading this and believing it, are getting their only information about PC through this source, and it is wrong. My question is, should one mobilise? Should one stand up, cease a passive and silent resistance, and proclaim loudly what PC really is about? Should we, against our inherent natures, be more evangelical, if you like, in our stances? Should we be placing full page adverts in newspapers, starting our own television shows, begin proactively calling to account those taking the Christ message and distorting it with hatred and bigotry? In other words, instead of turning the cheek, which PC's are excellent at, should we be turning over the tables in the temple? The first option feels right, it feels like what the love-centred Christ would want us to do. But the second option may be the only way a huge number of Christian and non-Christians alike can be exposed to the notion that there IS an alternative, there IS a way of being a Christian and NOT being Pat Robertson.

 

Thoughts?

 

Adi

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I would like to think that if Dawkins was an Anglican Bishop and showed the same traits I would still apply the same epithets to him. I guess that is something that I am just convinced about and sorry if this offends and tarnishes a man you may admire. Just my personal view.

It's not so much I "admire" him although his writings did help me to recover from immoral doctrines like the doctrine of hell when I first deconverted from fundamentalism. But I just don't think he's quite as evil as many people make him out to be. He may be guilty of stereotyping and he may have a certain arrogance to him, but I think there's a lot more PCs and the New Atheists have in common with each other than we may like to think. Like both the New Atheists and PCs care a lot about preserving the secular nature of the U.S. government and the separation of church and state. Both the New Atheists and PCs care a lot about women's rights and LGBT rights. And both the New Atheists and PCs care a lot about education and science. I think both the New Atheists and the PCs could be a powerful force for good if people on both sides could put aside their differences and focus more on what values we have in common with each other. I think we need to be changing the environment so that non-believers and believers are engaging in dialog rather than in debate and that we seek to understand each other rather than to win souls or minds.

 

Should one stand up, cease a passive and silent resistance, and proclaim loudly what PC really is about? Should we, against our inherent natures, be more evangelical, if you like, in our stances?

I don't think you need to necessarily be evangelizing but I also believe in a saying that the one thing we can not be tolerant of is intolerance. Do you have to respond to everything Glenn Beck says or does? I don't think so because I think people like Beck and Fred Phelps thrive off of attention. If people would only stop giving them attention, they would go away. At the same time, I think there are some outrageous injustices in the world everyone should stand up against regardless of what your faith or lack thereof is. Like I think Rowan Williams needs to be saying something against the Uganda kill the gays bill in Uganda if he truly believes in LGBT rights. As far as I'm aware, he is still being silent about the issue and his continual silence will not only be dangerous for LGBT individuals in Africa but will also hurt his own reputation. People today are still holding the pope accountable for taking a passive-aggressive stance to Hitler. We don't need to make the same mistake today but I think it's a matter of choosing your battles. Edited by Neon Genesis
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(snip)

 

Joseph, your words and indeed wise and I wish I could live up to them. As I said in the first post, I know I should be above responding to any of this, but I do, and this upsets me. God grant me more patience and true transcendence.

 

Perhaps we are more the same Adi than might be thought as those thoughts and emotions also at times arise in me. Perhaps the only difference is that I do not identify with them more than with the one quietly observing them passing. To me, to identify with the temporal is to die with it.

 

At the risk of losing a great discussion, I did just want, if possible, to move the discussion back towards what I was hoping this post would be predominantly about. I used the example of the new atheists because these people are the ones that illicit the reactions I wished to discuss, and give rise to the dillema I have. So let's try a different tack. Let's say that, instead of atheists, one is reading about a diatribe by Beck or similar, against the progressive christian movement. It is filled with misinformation and blatantly absurd perceptions about PC. You know that many many people are reading this and believing it, are getting their only information about PC through this source, and it is wrong. My question is, should one mobilise? Should one stand up, cease a passive and silent resistance, and proclaim loudly what PC really is about? Should we, against our inherent natures, be more evangelical, if you like, in our stances? Should we be placing full page adverts in newspapers, starting our own television shows, begin proactively calling to account those taking the Christ message and distorting it with hatred and bigotry? In other words, instead of turning the cheek, which PC's are excellent at, should we be turning over the tables in the temple? The first option feels right, it feels like what the love-centred Christ would want us to do. But the second option may be the only way a huge number of Christian and non-Christians alike can be exposed to the notion that there IS an alternative, there IS a way of being a Christian and NOT being Pat Robertson.

 

Thoughts?

 

Adi

 

It would, in my opinion only, be a pity to turn PC into another religion. My personal vote would be No to your questions but if it did evolve into that, I would be okay with it but then remove myself from it in the same fashion as i have done from fundamental Christianity. Spirituality seems to me to be more preferable than religion and I don't think they are very compatible over time.

 

Just one man's view of your questions,

Joseph

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I have to admit that when I'm engaged in either a religious or political debate with someone and they something outrageous or offensive, my kneejerk reaction is to want to tear them to shreds or at the least to say something snappy right back. I know this is probably not productive dialog and only makes the discussion antagonistic but it's just too tempting sometimes to want to respond with something sarcastic and smarmy.

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Love, although complex, is not possible without emotion or, to put it another way, love moves and motivates. If we were to talk about having a passion for justice, the dialogue might prove to be more productive. The problem is not as difficult as it might seem. It requires is a bit of knowledge and some practice. The impluse to repsond in kind to taunts is normal. The brain cannot easily hold anger and compassion in conscious awareness at the same time. A simple bit of discipline like counting to 5 before responding and then ask youself what you truly desire often results in a cognitive switch to the desired mode. Then again, if you discover that you still desire revenge, that's a different issue. Call it impulse contol, emotion regulation, or whatever, it's a learned skill. It's not "choose your poison", it's "choose your passion".

Edited by minsocal
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One of the most difficult bible passages for me to follow is not the thou shalt bible verses but Philippians chapter 2

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.
If we're to regard others as better than ourselves, does this include people like Glenn Beck? Should we regard Beck and Dawkins as better than ourselves? Edited by Neon Genesis
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Hi again everyone,

 

Thanks again for all your responses. Certainly helped me reached a conclusion about all of this.

 

Firstly I would like to recommend this lecture: http://www.dundee.ac.uk/externalrelations/events/lectures.html

Amazing lecture by perhaps one of the most eminent scientists of today who has a wonderful take on the new atheist movement.

 

Neon Genesis, I totally agree that a wonderful partnership could develop between the world's SBNR people. But both sides would need to show humility and a willingness to respect the other side. A fault with both theists and non-theists at the moment.

 

Many of you will perhaps baulk at this notion but I actually prayed last week for some guidance in this area, prayed that I would become clear in my mind whether to plea or not, whether I should be fighting those I think are distorting the message I passionately believe in, or taking a more passive and tolerant stance. Last night, and these discussion have been an instrinsic part of this, my mind did become clear. I realised that the means may not result in the desired ends. When I came to faith it was chiefly due to two people, a dear friend of mine and a Anglican Minister I barely knew. Their example, their sheer christian life is what inspired me to move more towards a committed faith, not their words or their arguments. When someone says to me, 'What do you think of Evangelists approaching you on the street and trying to save you?' I always say that it is through our actions and our example that we should inspire others into faith, not trying to foist our beliefs on others because we think they are somehow 'damned' because they are not like us. And, I must admit, Joseph's view about taking oneself out of the adversarial process was thought-provoking too. In short, I have come to the conclusion that constantly feeling defensive and counter-arracking those who do not believe in PC will not necessarily mean that the PC mindset will become predominant. Indeed, PC should perhaps set itself apart from the extremists and not indulge in this kind of theological cut and thrust. I am, I think, wasting precious time thinking and talking about new atheists and extremists of any sort. Instead I should be focusing on showing, through example, just how wonderful a jesus-centred life can be, how loving and tolerant. I need to become passive in debate, but active in deed. I need to stop 'thinking' and start 'doing' and forget those who disagree with me. And that, basically, is what I am going to try and do.

 

Thanks everyone for your comments.

 

Adi

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  • 4 weeks later...

I'm not wishing to prolong this topic, but just adding my comment.

I see this as a spiritual battle. One that is being waged, not against other men, but against God. It is an adversarial situation I don't believe, in reality, one can remove himself from; for we are in the very thick of the battle. Whether in debate or not, don't give such teachings, as from the likes of Richard Dawkins, any quarter. But, whether in debate or not, continue to give witness to the promise in Jesus Christ through the gospel. This spritual war is over men's very souls.

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