Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Do not abide it

While reading last week, I came upon this post on Pharyngula.

In linking it elsewhere, I said this:

If religion is the only thing keeping you from doing grotesquely immoral things, especially to other living beings, please seek help.

This, to me, seems uncontroversial.

To my surprise - although why this sort of thing surprises me anymore I'm not sure - it was met with scolding that I should not be so lazy as to use this example to mock or attack religious folks as stupid. I responded thusly:

I am attacking precisely one thing: the exceedingly disturbing argument that "without religion/god what would keep me from raping/murdering?!"

If someone is driven to rape and murder and the only thing preventing them from doing it is "god said don't" and not empathy then they need professional help.

I'm a religious person, [REMOVED], you know that. I'm not attacking religious people, I'm attacking what appears to be sociopathy hiding behind religion.

I would think religious people would be the first to jump up and condemn the notion that empathy doesn't exist and that a relationship with the divine is purely didactic, rather than defend it.

We should not be protecting our weird and dangerous fringe. We should be exposing and expelling it--or more ideally, healing it.

To be perfectly honest, I'm not entirely sure this is even an example of our fringe. I've heard the argument put forth that morality is dependent upon religion in my college ethics, philosophy, religion, and (egads!) science courses at both a private religious university in the heart of the bible belt and a community college in a famously liberal city. I've heard it in churches and youth group gatherings. I've heard it from co-workers and friends.

It's normally not delivered using such graphic language, but the basic premise should make thinking and feeling people deeply concerned:

I would do terrible, awful things if something I perceived as an authority didn't tell me not to.


This is example #2 around here of "Things that should upset Christians as much as it upsets Atheists, although maybe for different reasons." For my atheist friends, you have every right to be terrified of such sentiment, as any reasonable person should.

To my Christian (or any religion, really) friends, why are we defending this? Why do we close rank around those who express concepts that are not only repugnant, but antithetical to what are supposed to be pretty foundational aspects of our faith?

While I must admit I haven't been in a while, I recall church services being around forty minutes to an hour and a half in length, give or take that particular denomination's perspective on praise and worship. It doesn't take nearly that long to generate a list of things god says we ought not do and close with "So don't. 'Cause he said so."

Even Sunday school is full of colorful bible stories designed parse why the tale of a man in a tree means we should humble ourselves and be pure of heart. To simply say "don't be a tax collector; god says so" is to miss the point entirely. If the main method of fellowship and study we employ is to explore why biblical concepts are ones we should live our lives by and how we can incorporate them as we move through the world, I don't really understand how anyone who's ever actually stepped into a church can claim that the extent of what they heard was "god said that's not allowed."

So the entire premise is not only ghastly to anyone who has even the smallest capacity for empathy, but it's also anti-christian in nature. So, again I posit, why do we defend it?

Perhaps it's the same sort of thing that causes any privileged group to jump to the defense of horrible things other members of that group do. Racial, gay rights, or feminist activists point out something terribly harmful someone said, and white, straight, and/or male identified people leap up to say "Well I don't do that!" Bully for you. Then the discussion isn't referring to you, and we can all move on, please, because the grown ups were talking. When someone condemns something that is worth condemning, and the perpetrator happens to identify in a similar manner to us that presents us an opportunity to do two very important things:

1. Condemn it along with them because it is appropriate to do so. The thing needs to be condemned if it is odious, harmful, unreasonable--which in all cases will also make it anti biblical or anti christian.

2. Listen. Reflect. If something is being proclaimed in the name of something you identify as or subscribe to that is repugnant, think on how that may have come to be. Is it common? Is it something you've heard before and have not refuted? Is it something the group it's aimed at insists happens with regularity? Has privilege prevented you from noticing it? Have you engaged in it unintentionally, or given tacit approval by simply ignoring it as an embarrassing anomaly? These are things that should be addressed, both personally and publicly, and we should welcome the opportunity to do so. embarrassing anomalies have a way of gaining steam and becoming "common knowledge," accepted without question simply because it has never been questioned.

I understand the urge to get defensive and treat preposterous ideas as not worth our time or attention to reject lest we discover we may be complicit in them, but those ideas are attractive because they reach the laziest, nastiest inclinations we have. They begin as too ridiculous to acknowledge and become too ubiquitous to effectively counter.

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