One of the cooler features of the blogging platform TSR uses is the ability to track various statistics about site traffic. I can see how many hits to the site, the most popular posts, from what countries visits have come (my favorite), search terms used to find the site, and the referring websites. This last is particularly interesting because a referring website is one that in some way has a link back to TSR on which someone has clicked. That’s how I know for instance that Martin Gaskell’s guest post has been the most popular post by a huge margin and that the viewers have come largely from BBC, The UK Guardian, and various atheists’ own blogs.
Periodically, I’ll track back to these referring sites to see in what context the blog is mentioned and what those sites have to say. Last week, I posted about a chart I found on one of these atheist sites, and today I want to strongly agree with an atheist blogger I recently read through this exercise.
Greta Christina, in a post entitled, “No, Atheists Don't Have to Show ‘Respect’ for Religion,” eloquently argues against the spirit of ecumenicalism prevalent among “progressive and moderate” followers of various religions. Amen.
We must be careful to define our terms. In this context, ecumenicalism is defined as accepting other religions as equally valid to your own. This is different from the ecumenicalism within a given religion where the different sects/denominations agree to disagree and still have fellowship on the foundational tenets of that particular faith. This type of ecumenicalism is healthy, valid, and I encourage that, and I suspect Greta would, too.
So why is an atheist opposed to ecumenicalism? She gives basically two strong arguments:
1) Hypocrisy. She describes the tendency of ecumenicalists to talk about loving people of other faiths, tolerating and accepting their differences… until an ‘extremist’ or ‘fundamentalist,’ or, heaven forbid, an ‘atheist’ shows up. Then, these people are evil. It’s fine to tolerate those who tolerate you in the spirit of tolerance, but there is only intolerance of those perceived to be intolerant. “Everyone is welcome into our group, unless you criticize it, then you’re not only out, your voice has no validity.” She’s right. There is a significant inconsistency to the logic that largely invalidates their message.
Similarly, she argues, these folks (and I suspect many people who are conservative in their faith are guilty of this too—it’s a very human tendency.) will “engage in fervent political and cultural discourse” on any manner of topics, but when religion is thrown in as a topic to be dissected and criticized, then it is unfair. In other words, you can be critical of any aspect of culture except religion—that is sacred and untouchable and its very existence justifies itself against cross-examination. Again, I agree. If faith is a rugged and viable worldview and force on society, then it should be strong enough to withstand critique and attack. The fact that one tries to shield it from attack shows that person’s very lack of faith, as I suggested recently. Throughout Scripture, God challenges skeptics and believers alike to take Him on, to question Him, to see if He can come through. (Psalm 34:8, Isaiah 1:18 and Isaiah 7:10-17 are the first that come to mind.)
2) Apathy about truth. Greta readily recognizes that the different religions are fundamentally different and often mutually exclusive. They can’t all be right, and may all be wrong. Therefore, in order to go about professing that so and so’s religion is just as valid as yours is to completely ignore the real sticking points in the basic tenets of both faiths. It’s like saying all religions are like different flavors of ice cream (as long as they don’t have nuts), when in reality they are different maps that can’t agree which road has the bridge out. Again, it is a catastrophic error in fundamental logic.
She writes: “In my debates and discussions with religious believers, there's a question I've asked many times: ‘Do you care whether the things you believe are true?’ And I'm shocked at how many times I've gotten the answer, ‘No, not really.’” She destroys this blasé vapidity quite well, and I encourage you to read it. Again, amen. I am particularly puzzled by “Christians” who share this attitude, because by calling oneself a Christian, it implies an agreement with the One who claimed, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” (John 14:6) Hmm, seems like we’re back at hypocrisy again…
Finally, she closes well, arguing that ecumenicalists apparently see only two ways to handle religious diversity. Either banish, oppress or otherwise attempt to destroy the other views, or pretend the real differences don’t exist. She proposes (start cheering!) Door #3: accept there are differences and discuss them vigorously but peaceably. In short, live by the original definition of tolerance: “The capacity for or the practice of recognizing and respecting the beliefs or practices of others”. You can recognize and respect the differences without accepting or endorsing them. Again, this is how ideas are refined and false, incompatible or ineffective ones worn away.
While she doesn’t explicitly say it, I suspect Greta has at least some respect for people of faith who stand by their beliefs, even if they don’t do it appropriately, because they are at least trying to be consistent with the religion’s tenets and recognize that the differences are real and those differences have implications in the way the real world works.
The funny thing is that Greta, the ecumenicalists, and I all agree that views that espouse hatred, violence and oppression are an anathema. What I think I would most like Greta and her friends to understand is that it is possible to be evangelical and even fundamental (by their literal definitions rather than the current social connotations) and still be tolerant in the classic sense. There are a number of Christians, particularly among faculty (though far from exclusively!), who long to have meaningful discussions about evidence, logic, reasons, strengths and weaknesses about the various worldviews without ad hominem attacks on one’s intelligence or personal worth. These are folks who believe in a God real enough and strong enough to handle doubt and hard questions without being either vindictive or dismissive towards those arguing with integrity.
It’s funny how this whole discussion boils down to one word with many facets: respect.
It’s also funny how respect is one of the primary characteristics of a central Biblical concept: love.
Maybe, just maybe, this is how one begins to display obedience to one of Christ’s commands: “Love your enemies, and bless those who curse you.” It ain’t how the world operates, and therefore reveals one of the primary, real differences between Biblical Christianity and the rest of the world’s religions: God took action to redeem humanity instead of demanding humanity fix itself first.
“Christ arrives right on time to make this happen. He didn't, and doesn't, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn't been so weak, we wouldn't have known what to do anyway. We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him.”
“Now that we are set right with God by means of this sacrificial death, the consummate blood sacrifice, there is no longer a question of being at odds with God in any way. If, when we were at our worst, we were put on friendly terms with God by the sacrificial death of his Son, now that we're at our best, just think of how our lives will expand and deepen by means of his resurrection life! Now that we have actually received this amazing friendship with God, we are no longer content to simply say it in plodding prose. We sing and shout our praises to God through Jesus, the Messiah!”
Romans 5:6-11, The Message