A Non-Trivial Problem
by Noah Lugeons
I’ve been trapped in an endless and ultimately pointless debate on this blog for over a week now. It all began when a pseudo-theistic pseudo-apologist commented on one of my “Live Blogging the Bible” posts with something that amounted to
“Tee-hee, yeah, this is a pretty silly part of the bible. I agree. But still, man is that book incredible and divine.”
Of course, I haven’t read the whole book and have barely crested the “preface” stage, but I still have to take issue with this assertion. The book cannot be more than the sum of its parts. If there are any genuinely meritorious parts of the book, one would still have to weigh them against the unscrupulous horrors in other parts of the book. And honestly, the rest of the book would have to pretty damn good to make up for the misguided anti-morality of the first three books.
The crux of the apologists argument was that my cursory reading of the bible was worthless as I wasn’t taking the time to understand it in context. I was also focused only on the bible and not the rich theology that has evolved through the ages. Christianity, he argued, is not the bible. The bible is just a starting point and the theology of the faith had advanced so much since the days of Moses’ foreskin aided wrestling match.
I pointed out that it’s not really possible to say that theology “advanced”, as one can no more say that theology of today is in accordance with the divine than the theology of yesteryear. It’s like talking about a breakthrough in homeopathy or phrenology. If the endeavor has no measurable value, it can’t be said to advance. Advance suggests a destination.
Instead of answering that charge, my esteemed opponent instead accused me of “religious intolerance” as though I did not boast of it. He suggested that I’d simply divided the world into the good people who are against religion and the bad people who are in favor of it. It was a thinly veiled charge of anti-theistic bigotry that rested on my continued insistence that without a goal one can draw no nearer to the goal. How dare I be so intolerant of people making bold and demonstrably false truth claims while insisting that they’re point of view should be respected and accepted without the burden of evidence?
This is a common tack from the “liberal” theist (and by liberal I refer here to their theology, not their politics). Atheists are bullies that are every bit as dogmatic as the believers. We’re intolerant of religious people (which is true) which means we’re just like the Muslims who are intolerant of the Jews (which is bullshit). They, on the other hand, are agnostics with a property-less god and the only honest position: self-imposed ignorance. We should just live and let live and who cares if fundamentalists stand in the way of science or oppress gays or mistreat women? That’s not religion’s fault.
It is an intellectually dishonest position and what’s more, anyone smart enough to take this position is also smart enough to see why it’s bullshit. Religious extremism is (as the name would suggest) simply a point on the spectrum of religiosity. Some people have benign tumors but that doesn’t mean tumors aren’t a problem. Fundamentalism is a problem that (a) all religions share and (b) cannot be found outside of a religious context. This would suggest that fundamentalism is a necessary byproduct of religion. And it really doesn’t matter what a bunch of Muslim scholars say about peace and love if the true believers are hacking people to death in the streets.
This is not a “live and let live” situation. This is a situation that demands intolerance. Religion is a non-trivial problem.
No rational person would wish for the destruction of the world. Such a proposition is as irrational as any you might propose. What’s more, no person irrational enough to wish for the destruction of the world could possibly acquire the means and assistance he
or she would need to make it happen. While technology does give us the means to global catastrophe, it is hard to imagine that anyone with the stated goal of world destruction could find anyone willing to lend a hand. Sure, a clever statesmen could use nationalism and deceit to trick enough people into helping him, but the very nature of logic forbids any large scale attempt to bring about the end of one’s own species.
But, of course, if logic can be removed, there is no such safeguard. If one can be convinced without evidence that a whole different universe exists after you die that is way better and way more important than this petty world, you could overcome your natural survival instinct and happily march the planet toward the apocalypse that your god has promised you.
No doubt the liberal defender of theism would roll their eyes at this nightmare scenario. They would pretend it is ridiculous. They would pretend that there aren’t large, organized, multi-national groups with exactly this goal. They would pretend that somehow reason can prevail amid a group that has outlawed reason.
And of course they would. They have to. They can’t accept that the same thing that gives them their own personal love-Jesus might also have a dark side. And they certainly can’t accept that the dark side eclipses the bright side.
Religious extremism is just religion without constraint. No religion has ever voluntarily tempered itself. No religion has ever neutered its own power. It is the job of the secularist, the job of the scientist and the job of the atheist to castrate religion every time it thrusts its scrotum into the rest of the world. As fond as religion is of mutilating it’s own genitals, they still leave that job to us.