As one who steps back from The AIMN from time to time, I appreciated Michael and Carol’s post about setting some standards, or reviving ones that have been breached too often.
My particular gripe is to do with religion, on two fronts: the belittling of those with any sort of religious belief, and the way that Christians are denigrated that would be deleted if it were directed at any other religious group, most particularly, in the Australian context, Muslims. Additionally, I find it offensive that so much criticism is theologically illiterate and/or just plain ignorant. On that last point, no serious biblical scholar believes that the bible is a blow-by-blow history book. And for those whose last encounter with “religious instruction” was in their school days, like everything else, times have changed: questions and debate are not so much allowed as encouraged. That some remain unconvinced by the time they leave school is no different now than way back when.
Context: I am a Christian. I identify as Catholic but not a “good” one. I’m critical of the current and very critical of the last two leadership régimes. I rarely go to Mass but every so often go to a Lutheran church which has a magnificent music programme that incorporates Bach cantatas into its services, as they were intended when written. I also have a B Theol, for my sins, and continue to read in that vein from time to time.
I find it offensive when Christians are regularly mocked for believing in some ‘fairy in the sky’ or ‘imaginary friend’. I, and other Christians, are well aware that, some earlier Christian writings to the contrary, we cannot prove that what we call God exists. But equally, mockers cannot prove that God does not exist. The only logical and defensible position to hold is agnosticism.
I find it ignorant when a ‘straw man’ is held up as a Christian, and Christianity and all Christians are thereby dismissed. Such was the position of AC Grayling in one of his books when I decided to read what someone from his school of thought (which includes Dawkins) actually had to say. On the basis of what he offered, I could agree with his position. But that was trumped by finding so many flaws in that position.
It’s rather like holding up Morrison and Abbott and other self-proclaimed Christians in Parliament and saying these are Christians, this is why religion is bad. There are atheists who are equally as bad, but critics do not therefore denounce atheism. In the past I have commented on The AIMN site that I only wish that those who are not religious, who are anti-religious, would challenge the hypocrites in Parliament, getting them to justify their policies and practices when held up to the light of their professed beliefs. They could bullshit all they liked but, bottom line, Morrison, Abbott and Co deviate so far from Christian beliefs that it is sickening.
Christians are also well aware that their “how to live well” instructions are not unique to that religious group. Does that matter? I don’t think so. “The Good” is pretty much generally agreed by all, giving rise to many guides to leading a good life. Some of these are codified in some form, both in the tenets of religious organisations and in non-religious spheres such as civil and criminal law.
I’m no historian but my impression is that in most times and places in recorded human history, humans have believed in some sort of deity or creator. By extension, for most of recorded history all the bad, and good, actions in the world have been caused or done by people who have a religious belief or practice. I’m not saying that no wars have been fought on religious grounds, that would be absurd. But it is just as absurd to say that all wars are religiously inspired. If you leave it at that level, nuance and reason are totally lacking. Similarly for all the lesser evils of daily life. People are flawed humans before they are flawed believers. Lust for power and possessions, fear, envy, jealousy, anger and all the rest are common to all humanity, whether believer, agnostic or atheist. To blame the ills of the world on religion seriously short-changes the search for peace and cooperation.
As I have also commented on The AIMN, being so insulting to people of faith only puts them off-side. In spite of religious leaders not speaking out, in the case, for example, of Manus and Nauru; or speaking only too loudly, for example regarding marriage equality, grass-roots Christians overwhelmingly support social justice, fairness, inclusion – the same thing that many, but not all, atheists support. Why alienate your allies?
As a not entirely irrelevant side issue, I have no objection to churches paying tax. I would only warn that a cost-benefit analysis might be a wise undertaking before legislating. We know about the rotten church leaders and the rotten followers of religion. But we don’t hear so much about the grass-roots followers of religion who donate so much time and money to serving all in the community, not only their co-religionists. If paying tax forced some services provided by churches to close through lack of funds, (a) would the government pick up the slack? I’m sceptical. Taking but one example, where are all the facilities that were promised when deinstitutionalisation was in vogue? And (b), would all those volunteers and donors want to become part of any government run replacement, should such miraculously occur?
The harm that religious believers have done must be admitted. But all the good they have done must also be admitted. To not do so is dishonest. You could say the same about atheists but that is rarely if ever heard. I can understand that anyone hurt by a religious person (who, by hurting, is betraying their beliefs) would abandon a church they were brought up in, even criticise it. Some, hurt or not, stick with their beliefs even while leaving their church. Others stay in their church and work from within to bring about change.
Even if you have no religious belief, wouldn’t the world be a better place if you helped those of faith to be their best selves, living up to their beliefs, rather than attacking them?
Diannaart made a comment following Michael and Carol’s piece with which I am in hearty agreement:
There are many people here I’d like to meet because I find them very interesting compassionate and intelligent. There are also a very small number of commentators I would like to meet face to face and discover if they would say the same things to my face, the things they have had no compunction writing.
So if you could reign in the bigoted, insulting and ignorant articles and comments about religion, then you would be doing more good than harm, whether Google notices or not.
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