Sunday, March 8, 2009

I get comments

Yay for people who read my blog! All three of you now. :-)

In a recent blog post I shared an exchange that occurred on my facebook wall - between a girl (and her husband) from my home church and myself ... a rather unsolicited exchange where a lot of religious nonsense was splattered about on my wall that I felt compelled to clean up.

Part of the reason for sharing this (and having a blog in general) is to express thoughts that are important to me, open a forum to discuss these topics, evaluate critiques and criticisms, re-define/re-articulate my views, and change them based on new evidence.

I've received comments from like-minded bloggers before, but on this recent post I finally got some criticism from an opposing view. I greatly appreciate thinking about other views and wanted to respond to what the gentleman had commented. You can find his comment on the original post but it will be reproduced in parts below.

Mike writes:
Dang Matt,

It seems like this irritating woman and her husband genuinely care about you, and noticed a change in your behavior since denouncing your past and moving ahead to the unknown.
They care less about me and more about a deity's salvation for me. If they really cared about me, they would have taken a more private approach - even Matthew chapter 18 talks about taking a brother aside to air grievances in private, not in public. If they had actually stopped to ask me how my life is, or where I'm at philosophically in the journey, they would have been able to discern a lot more than what they initially speculated from a single sentence on a facebook status.
Surprised that you threw a celebration for Darwin, when you used to be such an avent participator in the church, she must have been confused as to why you posted the comment.
Why would a celebration for Darwin's birthday necessarily be mutually exclusive with high attendance at church (I trust that he meant 'avid' instead of 'avent')? There are many people who embrace reason and yet hold out, in a deistic sense, for something still to be discovered. Acclaiming science and reason does not necessarily preclude one person from participating in a culturual phenomenon even - besides, it is poor form to assume that everyone who goes to church must be a fervent believer in that religious faith. Belief for most people is not so black and white. I'm acquainted with many people who attend church frequently but haven't really decided exactly what they believe in.
As a guy who doesn't believe in the the Bible or any of its teachings, you probably don't show much compassion to others unless they're your parents or people who share your belief in ... well ... nothing.
The errors abound here - let's take them in order. Firstly, there are some, mind you SOME, teachings in the christian canon that are worth taking to heart and putting into practice. There are many others that are detestable, particularly in the old testament, but plenty abound in the new testament as well. In some places the bible preaches justice, beneficience, non-maleficence towards others - I embrace these principles and actively demonstrate them as best I can. In other places the bible preaches magic, slavery, bigotry, mysogeny, homophobia - these are values to which I do not subscribe. Simply because I deny the divinity (magic) of the christian bible does not mean it cannot be scrutinized as a literary work and much be gained in the way of knowledge - but frankly Shakespeare has taught me as much about morals as the bible has.

Secondly, I feel compassion for others quite frequently - it can only be hoped that others see this borne out through my actions. Don't confuse my sharp criticism in the former post with a neglectful eye towards the well-being of her or her family. I've found that it's usually only religious people who muster up some compassion to help those willing to accept their magical drivvel. A parent who compels their child to stop believing in childish things and grow up does not love them any less than a parent who spoils their child - I would argue that the former shows more compassion.

Lastly, Mike seems to think that agnosticism is the belief in 'nothing'. It shows how much he's really thought about what it means to be agnostic. Denying magical thinking doesn't mean I believe in nothing ... I believe in REALITY. You can call me a naturalist, a humanist, even a natural empiricist, but I'm not even quite sure how an individual believes in 'nothing'. It's sad that so many religious believers think that it's either a 'god' or 'nothing'. It demonstrates how reinforcing religion can be, and how effective preachers can be at purporting this false dichotomy. I believe that questions about where we came from, where we are going as a species, and how we arrived at this place in time are all very important questions that religion has done nothing to help with - science has provided us with the best answers to these questions so far.
"You can quote the Godfather all day; but I'm the real gangster," says a pretty famous comedian. Sounds kind of random, but you can quote the Bible all day - even participate fervently in the church - but completely miss the point on the meaning of Christianity.
And I'm sure you haven't missed the point? You can talk about magical thinking all day - even pretend that magic is real - but completely miss the point that being defined as a christian means belief in magical nonsense: virgin births, resurrections, walking on water, etc. If you don't buy into that stuff, then face it - you're a christ follower not a christian ... HUGE difference. One believes the world is 6000 years old and the other has no problem understanding the basic principles of life that are used every day in labs around the world to cure disease and ameliorate suffering. Mike wanted to mention compassion; it doesn't get more compassionate than eradicating smallpox, developing antibiotics, or making vaccines against cancer causing viruses. Remind me again, did religion or science solve those problems?
It seems like you're a well-educated, however misguided young man; and by "well-educated," I mean you can regurgitate information that people have already discovered. In your exploration of knowledge, I'd like to know what you actually hold as truth. Instead of ranting on the well-intentioned comments of others, why not thank them for their opinion and move on. It seems like you're so much better than them anyway.

I mean jeez, you study balls for a living. You surely have a lot to talk about.

I wonder if Mike thinks I'm misguided because I don't accept jesus christ as my lord and savior. I wonder if he can tell me why he doesn't believe in the jewish god, or the muslim god, or the mormon god, or zeus, or thor, or the aliens of scientology. It seems that Mike has regurgitated what he's heard in a religious setting, and ineptly applied it to my beliefs/actions. I think I've done a pretty good job at explicating what I hold as truth, both here and in other places on my blog. I'm not sure if Mike was trying to get a jab in with, 'It seems like you're so much better than them anyway'. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and suppose that he's implying I have a lot of other things to talk about.

Indeed, I study balls for a living. And speaking of which, I need to get into lab to go mount and take pictures of the mouse gonads that are incubating ... sounds delightful, no?

As always, further thoughts and comments are welcome. Just remember that I don't believe in magic, so if you do, it would help me in understanding if you could explain why you do.


Rachel said...

Comments from random strangers are always fun, hm? :P

First, my sympathies; much of the Church returns the present antagonism of the science she helped to foster. I blame it on Protestantism's sola scriptura, really; if we hadn't been so determined that no specialists were needed to study the Bible, we might not have had to deal with so much widespread literalism today. Of course, it hasn't helped to have people like Dawkins giving the impression that science seeks the destruction of faith - the man strengthens religious fanaticism by alienating it from the voices of reason within the faith community that can reconcile Darwin and Genesis, DNA and devotion. (Francis Collins comes to mind.)

As a Christian (yes, in the full 'magic' sense) and a grad student (archaeology), I get hit from both the religious and the secular camp, as do most Christians in the academy. On the one hand, my Sunday school class loves to have me tell them about the economy of Corinth. On the other, I had to bite my tongue when they had an 'evidence that the universe was designed' session. And of course, none of my colleagues want to ask why I actually take one particular 1st century mystery cult seriously, at risk (I'm sure) either of being proselytized, or of coming off as antagonistic.

I'm saying this not because I think my life story is particularly interesting, but to challenge your dismissal of the supernatural as superstitious nonsense reserved for uneducated hometown yokels. Not only are science, reason, and a healthy appreciation for Darwin (with due opposition to the social theory derived from his), not incompatible with church attendance, but they are not incompatible with a faith that holds Jesus Christ as the Son of God - and quite frankly, I don't see why we should pay him any special attention if he wasn't; moral teachers are a dime a dozen.

The reconciliation of the communities of faith and reason is something I take seriously, both out of consternation that so many in the Church are fighting a battle against God's truth as revealed through reason, and because I find the academic community a rather inhuman and unpleasant place, when intellectual achievement turns to intellectual pride at the expense of the rest of mankind.

I have a couple things about your post to quibble with, if you'll indulge me...

First, I'd like to point out that your analogy about the parent forcing a child to 'stop believing in childish things' vs. 'spoiling' them... isn't really comparing opposites. It strikes me as another attempt to get off a shot at religious belief - for which I don't suppose I can fault you, under the circumstances. :P

Second, misogyny is in the eye of the beholder. There are 5 (I just looked them up to make a point elsewhere) passages in the New Testament that speak about women subordinate to men in marriage, and 1 that speaks about it in the context of church leadership. Instituting a chain of command is a far cry from misogyny in my book; if we are going to indulge in rational discourse, perhaps it would be best for everyone, not just the Christians, to charitably refrain from rhetorical slurs. ;)

Third, I take issue, not for my sake but for the sake of general understanding, with the term 'homophobia.' It misrepresents, insults, and patronizes at the same time. While some individuals may have a legitimate pathological fear of gays, the wider objection, no matter how much people may disagree with it, is not psychological but moral. Criticize where the fault truly lies; there is plenty there to critique without calling people cowards for holding the opinion.

What all of this is getting at, is to say that the Bible, no less than (and perhaps more than) any other literary source, must be interpreted systematically and contextually - a point that the democratization of Scripture has made difficult for some people to accept. This is true not only for some Christians, but for people who learned about God in kindergarten and youth group... and then grew up, and for whatever reason, were convinced that their faith was not allowed to do the same.

Finally, your point about miracles being only 'magic' nonsense only holds true, of course, if we have settled ahead of time that nothing supernatural exists. And the existence (or lack thereof) of the supernatural is and will always remain a basic assumption for which there can be, by definition, no appeal to conclusive evidence. Given that logical lack, whatever I find compelling may not seem so to you (particularly since, whether religious or non, even our certainty in our own estimate of probability fluctuates with our emotions daily).

There is more to say to your post, but I've written half a novel already and to no organized point; for that, my apologies, and best wishes on your journey.

Nikolas said...

Holy cow. Sucks being raised in a religion where sharing and "testifying" in public is a part of the culture. Here I'm giving the advantage to a Mormon upbringing. After the initial "wailing and gnashing of teeth" over my departure, everyone shut up about it.

Also, I'm interested to know why you take the time to quote scripture back to people who quote it at you. I've always been of the mind if "the devil can cite Scripture for his purpose" then doing so to prove ones point is folly... from either side. (Maybe even worse than citing a Wikipedia article!)

Anywho, sorry for the silence. I do read your blog though and continue to enjoy it.