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slow_war
May. 4th, 2008 12:20 am (UTC)
Fair Game
This is not surprising to me. Atheists are definitely seen as a special threat by the religious majority in the military (and elsewhere). When I tell people that I am an atheist they are normally shocked and just do not know how to respond. It makes sense in a way, that one would be less threatened by someone who has a slightly different take in their irrational, unsupported beliefs than by someone who rejected the idea of irrational, unsupported beliefs altogether.</p>

There is another aspect that initially gave me hope but upon reflection I found disturbing. I think that a liberal principle has been so internalized (by the American religious community, anyway) that it weakens religious extremism, but in a subtle way that make religious extremism that much more intractable and prone to flare-up. As rabid as they might be on many subjects, I observe that vary few religious people in America want to persecute believers in other religions (there are some exceptions, of course, for Catholics, Jews, and Muslims). It is almost as if they have subconsciously accepted religious relativism. The love of the religious right for Joe Lieberman is an example of this - Lieberman is bruited as a devout Jew, even though being a devout Jew is a fundamentally wrong worldview from the perspective of a devout evangelical. I have listened to Dr. Laura, who probably well represents the level of religious sophistication expected of hoi polloi, berate a caller for hunting in violation of HIS religion; in other words, what is important was not obeying some absolute truth, but obeying the more-or-less arbitrary rules that one happens to be born under. I have frequently had people tell me that I cannot be a moral person as an atheist because I am "just making it up as a go along." Religious people have thus bought off on the idea that religion is the opiate of the masses.

At first glance, this seems to be a good thing - we haven't been burning people at the stake recently for heresy, so score one for the Enlightenment. On the other hand, this makes it very difficult for people to take the next step in recognizing that if all of these conflicting religious beliefs cannot be true, maybe none of them are - because you are not worried about truth to begin with. One doesn't have to make hard choices that pit one's liberal tenets against one's religious prejudices - one can eat one's cake and have it too. The very weakness of religious belief makes it hard to kill and thus increases the danger that it will find strength and fervor and break out in intolerance and extremism.

mindstalk
May. 11th, 2008 03:14 am (UTC)
Re: Fair Game
Thanks for the comment, BTW; I didn't say anything at the time because I couldn't think of a good reply.

My memory clearly had a failure at some point; I'd thought when I visited in San Diego that mlc23 told me you two weren't atheist, sort of interested in Wicca or something. She corrected me a while back.

But yeah, you make good points. It makes sense in a way, that one would be less threatened by someone who has a slightly different take in their irrational, unsupported beliefs than by someone who rejected the idea of irrational, unsupported beliefs altogether. I think Dennett filed this under "belief in belief". As long as you "believe in something" you're good.

The Dr. Laura thing was funny. And the left gets lectured for excess moral and cultural relativism!

I was raised atheist -- not explicitly, I thought my parents were wishy-washy liberal believers when very young until I asked, but godless, with Greek myths and a few books of Bible -- and Carl Sagan's Cosmos exposed me to what I call the comparative religion argument, with the Ionians supposedly looking at their Greek gods and the Persian gods and thinking "hmm, maybe neither". I've never been able to take any specific religion seriously since then. Any specific for Christianity, say, seems to be missing the point, given the mere existence of Islam and Hinduism and Shinto etc.
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