Good godists

Rob Knop, physicist and Christian, offers us his ruminations on religion. But Rob is not an "orthodox" Christian from what I can tell, he says in a follow up post: I really believe that Jesus was really bodily resurrected, in contrast to everything we have observed, and everything we know and understand about human physiology and the decay that happens even shortly after death?

Let me give you a wholly unsatisfactory answer: probably not.

There you have it, he believes that the balance of the evidence leans against the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That being said, I'm a big believer in vox populi, vox Dei ("he voice of the people is the voice of God"). As an atheist I don't believe in "God's Book" where all truths are inscribed, and I don't believe in one definition for Christianity. More power to people like Rob who would make the world a better place for the likes of I. Rob may label himself a Christian, and so slot into the same general category as Jerry Falwell, but I wouldn't be surprised if cognitively on most characters Rob and I have more in common than we do with Falwell, despite the nominal differences between us.

That being said, there is one issue I would like to moot, and that is that I believe at the end of the day many moderate and liberal Christians of less reflective bent are less charitable to atheists than they should be. The recent poll that suggested that atheists are America's most distrusted minority tells me that antipathy toward the likes of I runs deeper than just amongst fundamentalist Christians. Some latitudinarian Christials, like the great John Locke, singled out atheists as one group that did not merit respect or toleration. In the new pluralist dispensation some religionists seem willing to accept all doxies accept the one of nullification.

In a previous post I said that:

1) There are things people say they believe
2) There are things people really believe
3) Things that people do

If I had three categories, liberal Christian, conservative Christian and unbeliever, I think that the two Christian groups would match in #1 & #2, while the liberal Christian and unbeliever would match in #3. My last contention is drawn from The Future of Religion, where Rodney Stark and William Bainbridge show that conservative Christians are the behavorial outgroup (eg., they watch different movies from the rest of the population). Cognitive science of religion tells me that #2 is probably true, that most religious people, no matter their flavor of belief, tend to intuitively accept the plausibility of the same supernatural entity and are drawn to similar conjectures about the world around us. As for #1, even mainline Christians accept some basics of creed. One reason the Unitarian-Universalist Association is not allowed to be a member of the liberal National Council of Churches is that UUs do not acede to the Nicene Creed. Operationally of course many liberal Christians seem to have creedal doubts, but by adhering to a Christian denomination they tacitly support at least the outward forms of orthodoxy.

My point here is that sometimes I suspect we atheists feel toward liberal and moderate Christians how some radical lesbian feminists feel toward heterosexual feminists: why are you sleeping with the enemy??? The saying is that "feminism is the theory, lesbianism is the practice," well, I suspect that many unbelievers can not understand why theists of broad plural modern convinctions give lip service to a faith of ancient, no, primitive, origin. I think the answer is the same as why heterosexual feminists remain heterosexual: people are biased in particular directions because of their cognitive architecture and socialization. And importantly, sexual orientation doesn't really matter as long as people have free choice in the matter and treat others with courtesy, gentility and respect, and belief in a supernatural agent in the most attenuated reading is a matter of personal preference that does not necessarily speak to other aspects of someone's character. Religion is natural, and I think atheists need to simply get used to it and try and rearrange the world to our benefit. People like Rob are a Good Thing, and though we'll always have our disagreemants both unbelievers and liberal believers need to forge an alliance against the fury of the fundamentalists while acknowledging that deep seated differences of opinion about the world do separate us.


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Hey, thanks for the props!

One comment:

That being said, there is one issue I would like to moot, and that is that I believe at the end of the day many moderate and liberal Christians of less reflective bent are less charitable to atheists than they should be.

I would generalize this. I would say that most people in general are less reflective than they should be. I remember all sorts of prejudices I've had in the past before I had a chance to think about it or to talk to somebody about it. If you had asked me in high school about homosexual marriage, I'd have given you a very different answer from what I'd give you today, for example. Today, I think it should be afforded the same legal protections as any other marriage. Having known enough gay people, and even childern of homosexuals, and having thought about what makes one human, what is the nature of responsibility to a partner, and what is the nature of deep individual love, I've changed my views.

And I don't doubt that I still have prejudices about things that could be changed with the application of some knowedge. (Things like, say, string theory.)

(And, also, yes, there are some prejudices I keep after talking to somebody I'm prejudiced against. For instance, I *still* think astrology is complete bunk even after talking to people who are fully convinced there's somethng to it. If you want to take inspiration from the stars, great-- heck, I do that, in the bird-watching amateur astronomer sense, as well as the professional astronomer "let's model them" sense. But if you are claiming that you can predict the future from the stars... well, that's been tested, and doesn't work.)

You are certainly right -- there are a lot of Christians out there who probably don't realize that what really matters to them about their faith isn't as inconsistent with what a lot of "other" people think. I was briefly attenting new member classes at a local Presbyterian church (one whose pastor has signed the Clergy Letter Project, for what calibration that is worth). On the "theology" discussion day, I explicity asked the question of the associate minister what the church's views on other religions were-- I specifically mentioned Hinduism, for that's one that many in this country don't know much about. It was also on my mind, because I'd just very recently talked to a graduate student in my program who's a Hindu about her theology. (It's easy for many Christians to decide that Judaism shares the same god, for instance.) He gave the same answer I have decided for myself-- Hindus are talking about basically the same thing as Christians are, just from a different perspective. However, I could tell that others in the class were made uncomfortable by this-- or, at least, were surprised by the answer. I'm guessing that it just had never ocurred to them to think about it, and had assumed that any Christian church would hold to the idea that Christianity is the One And Only Way.

(In my experience, people who've thought about it more *generally* tend to be more moderate on religion. For instance, the fraction of clergy who think there's anything worth talking about in Intelligent Design is smaller than the fraction of laity church members. Yes, there are very loud exceptions, of course.)

-Rob the rambler

As an atheist who used to be a fairly strong believer, I'm often pretty apalled by the anti-religious behaviours of other atheists. Over at H&R, for instance, and on a few other blogs, it's common to see declarations that religion in general and Christianity in particular have caused nothing but suffering for humanity. Of course, this ignores the positive points about religion in general and Christianity in particular.

The point is that the intolerance street goes both ways, and I think it's very important for those of us who don't believe in God or gods to recognize that, for the most part, a belief in something like that is in no way harmful to the believers so as long as they leave us alone about it there's no reason to be particularly hostile to them. Hell, my girlfriend is an Episcopal.