Skeptimus Prime » Liberal Religion One atheist's thoughts on politics, religion, and philsophy Wed, 22 Apr 2015 06:30:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Why I became an atheist instead of a liberal Christian. Tue, 29 Apr 2014 01:26:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> While I usually find myself addressing the more fundamentalist/evangelical Christians on my blog and elsewhere online, I also often find myself discussing religion with liberal Christians. While in the conversations I often find myself confronted with the question of why I rejected ALL religion instead of rejecting my particular fundamentalist brand and embracing a more liberal religious outlook. To be honest I’m only occasionally asked this question directly by liberal Christians, but it seems to undergird a lot more of conversations with out being asked directly, perhaps because the person in question can’t think of a way to ask the question that doesn’t seem impolite, even though I can’t imagine I would take offense at the question as long as it was asked with a genuine desire for an answer.

I actually wish more of them would ask this question because I think, given their own experiences, their confusion is reasonable, but I do have an answer for them. As for the reason for said confusion I would start out by pointing out that many liberal Christians and I have quite a bit in common. Many of them, just like me, were either raised in more conservative religious homes or have at least had quite a bit of experience dealing with fundamentalist view points. They understand why I rejected much of the ideas in those groups because many of them went through a very similar experience of disillusionment with fundamentalist/evangelical religious teachings.

Indeed, if you look back on the experience I had leaving Christianity my first points of disagreement were over things like biblical inerrancy, and the treatment of women and LGTB people within the church, which are all points that many liberal Christians would agree with me on. For instance, most of my liberal theology professors in school recounted similar stories of disillusionment when they were younger. So when it comes to these experiences we have a commonality that allows us to understand one another to some extent.

So I think that often the confusion they have with me removing myself from the conversation entirely is largely due to the fact that they were able to make both their belief in Christianity and their new found support of things like Feminism and gay rights fit together. We discuss those issues and find ourselves largely in agreement so they wonder why I could not make that same compromise work as well. Occasionally some will be obnoxious about this disagreement, and simply assume that the people who made the transition to atheism instead of liberal Christianity just didn’t understand liberal theological ideas, but most of the time it’s simply a matter of not understanding what caused the transition in the first place. They might well understand a person who was raised without religion not finding anything particularly valuable there, but have trouble understanding how someone who previously valued religion could become one of its loudest critics.

The answer to this confusion is complicated and requires us to look at several things. First off, while my rejection of fundamentalism started in a fairly similar place to that of many liberal Christians, they stopped at issues, that while important, are to some extent surface issues, and landed in a set of ideals that I personally find logically contradictory. Take as an example the notion of biblical inerrancy, most liberal Christians would join me in rejecting this concept, yet they still believe in things like salvation. I spent some time as a liberal believer on my way out and one of the issues that repeatedly bothered me was that without inerrancy I could find no way to sensibly justify a belief in Jesus as savior any more than I could justify an anti-gay marriage stance. Yes the first idea is more emotionally palatable, but that was not a justifiable reason to believe something. I had rejected theological claims like inerrancy because they were not supportable by facts and reason, rejecting those ideas but then continuing to hold other beliefs for reasons just as flimsy seemed hypocritical to me.

Further, it should be noted that I’ve studied a good deal of liberal theology, and can’t shake the feeling that a lot of it seems based upon word games and semantic tricks, and many of the more liberal biblical scholars I’ve read, like Elaine Pagles, have often engaged in the exact same sort of “just so” justifications for various interpretations of biblical passages and theological ideas that fundamentalist engage it, except that they serve a different goal. The fact that I find the goal more agreeable doesn’t make the argument they use to reach it any better. Which brings me to my last point.

It’s not enough that I just don’t believe, I’m an activist for the notion of dismantling religious ideas at their root, which I think further confuses liberal believers. They understand why I would oppose fundamentalism, they often do as well after all, but why would religion as a whole be a problem since many religious people, like themselves, often hold very similar views on a variety of social issues as I do. To understand my problem here lets imagine we put a liberal Christian and a fundamentalist one in a room to discuss a controversial topic like gay marriage. The fundamentalist would likely start by quoting Leviticus 18 or 20 or perhaps Romans 1, the liberal Christian would counter that the fundamentalist has improperly interpreted those passages and bring up passages about love and acceptance, maybe the passage where Paul says we are all the same in Christ.

If you notice that this conversation does not seem to ever reference any gay people and how they feel about this they you start to understand my issue here. Both groups are defining “the good” in terms of what god wants for us. They don’t agree on what that is, but both think it is of paramount importance. The liberal Christian has taken a position that I’m more likely to agree with, but it’s based upon a rational which I totally reject. A rational which, by the way, differs very little from that of the fundamentalist. Both are still appealing to an extrinsic source to understand things like meaning and ethics. I not only think this is wrong, I think it is incredibly harmful to a real and productive discussion of these things. A few years ago, after I had already become an atheist I started thinking about these questions and came to the conclusion that religion, by trying to find meaning in extrinsic sources, was selling us short and hampering real progress on these issues. I couldn’t leave this alone because while it’s important that we believe the right things it is even more important that we believe them for the right reasons. Which is ultimately why I became an atheist rather than a liberal Christian. I didn’t just reject the fundamentalist position on gay marriage, I rejected the entire system of ethics and ontology that they used to reach those conclusions in the first place.

You can read more about my de-conversion in the following links.

My life story, Part I, My life story, Part II, My life story, Part 33 and 1/3…..err….I mean Part 3

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The post in which I beat up on liberal religion. Thu, 17 May 2012 05:59:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Most of my posts on religion naturally speak about more conservative or fundamentalists varieties of religion because those are the ones which tend to impact society the most, but my skepticism leads me to reject all religious claims including the more liberal types.
Sure liberal religious people aren’t actively trying to take dismantle church state separation or tech creationism in schools, but they usually have plenty of strange ideas. They usually keep those ideas to themselves, but  every so often I run into a liberal religious person who likes to take jabs at the atheist position, usually by accusing us of throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater.  
Which brings us to this article: 
Most of the article is fairly innocuous, the writer seems to be just waxing about some of his experiences of fundamentalist religion and some of his criticisms of it.  I think some of his criticisms are wrong here too but where this persons thoughts go completely off the rails is when they start to address atheism.
Here is the opining paragraph: 

Of course, for some the whole issue of faith is resolved by flipping to the opposite side of the same coin—atheism, the belief that there is no such actuality as God in any sense. Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have many followers these days, but their arguments are as silly and superficial as those that Catholics use for Jesus as God.

Now I automatically wonder if he has read any arguments by people like Dawkins or the late Christopher Hitchens, and he certainly gives no indication of why he feels the arguments are silly, though usually this criticism is leveled by liberal theists because they think that atheists are unaware of the liberal theology usually discussed by groups like the Jesus Seminar and other academic theology groups.  This seems a fair assumption given some of his criticisms of fundamentalist religion earlier in his article.  The problem is that this is false, I can’t speak to Dawkins’ knowledge on the subject but I studied under a lot of liberal religious professors during my undergrad, including a proponent of process theology.  The problem is that liberal theology often makes even less sense than the conservative variety.  Look no further than his next paragraph for an example.

There is not ‘a God,’ but there is God, if we non-intellectually understand God as an immanent intelligence, an infinite awareness within and beyond the material universe, rather than some kind of separate ‘Creator.’

Non-intellectually understand?  Immanent intelligence?  Infinite awareness?  If his way of describing god makes you go crossed eyed you aren’t alone.  It seems like his is advocating for some form of panentheism, but it seems like he is trying to make it sound like something new and deeply intellectual instead of a belief that has been around for thousands of years, and often held by people who were not even able to read.  You will want to hold onto your brains because it is about to get worse.

But what was Jesus’ relationship to that intelligence? Wasn’t Jesus’ mission, at the crossroads of people and place of the known world of his time, to bring about a radical change in the human heart? If he had succeeded, such an inner revolution would have complemented the one Siddhartha ignited in India a few hundred years earlier. Then Eastern and Western worlds would have developed in harmony and taken a very different course. Instead we got the world we got.

There is a common line of fallacious thinking that I most often notice coming from liberal groups where they seem to think that whatever group that isn’t us had a culture superior to ours. One of the biggest ones I often see in regards to religion is the notion that eastern religion is much better than those stuffy regulation filled Abrahamic religions of western culture.

The reality is that this is nonsense.  For instance, In Hinduism most people still practice what amounts to a form of social slavery called the caste system, (even though the caste system is now illegal in India).  This system is perpetuated by the notion of reincarnation, people argue that the lower classes deserve their lot because of actions in a previous life.

Also, Buddhism, often has many sexist notions (women are often not viewed as capable of enlightenment) and some Buddhist cultures have engaged in human sacrifice.

Then look at a lot of the so called eastern medicine like acupuncture which people in the U.S. seem to think is good stuff despite it’s inability to prove its effectiveness in medical trials.

The truth is that the founders of these religions were no more enlightened than the founders of any other religion, and there are plenty of examples of abuses of human rights and stupid choices by their followers.

Anyway, the article continues:

Christianity seems to have gone wrong from the beginning, but religions deteriorate into meaningless rituals and divisive beliefs because they lose their original insight and impetus, becoming mechanical and repetitious. That’s no reason to slide into indolent atheism however.

In a sense I actually agree, a particular religion’s practical failings is not actually a reason to stop believing in any gods.  The reason not to believe is the lack of any evidence for any god.  I don’t think this makes me indolent though.

He ends with more gibberish:

There is an inexpressible and inextricable wellspring of infinite intelligence, but religious insight is always new, arising from the awakening and direct experiencing in the individual every day. Yesterday I may have run with the gods, but today I crawl with criminals.

Inextricable wellspring of infinite intelligence? Seriously? Is there a book of pretentious pseudo-philosophical catch phrases that he gets these from?

He apparently gets his writing style from Calvin and Hobbs.

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