Monday, July 28, 2014

8 Religious People Who Were Not Oppressors

From AlterNet:

It isn’t hard to understand why Americans who identify as atheists or agnostics can have a negative view of organized religion. From Family Research Council head Tony Perkins’ nonstop  battle against healthcare reform to the Texas Republican Party recently endorsing bogus, unscientific  “reparative therapy” for gays, the Christian Right continues to do everything possible to make life worse in the United States. Yet organized religion—be it Christianity, Judaism, Islam or Hinduism—can also be a force for positive change in the world. And as journalist Chris Hedges (who views true Christianity as a left-wing doctrine) has said, a lot more people of faith need to step up to the plate and fight for progressive causes. Hedges has asserted that the  moral failure of most modern-day churches is their refusal to help those who are economically oppressed. 

More here.

I posted this link on facebook last night with this accompanying blurb:

Setting aside discussion with atheists about how the embrace of supernaturalism may or may not be harmful to society, I've really come to believe that it's not religion, in itself, that's the problem. Rather, it's specific religious individuals, and how they use religion, that's the problem.

I mean, obviously, religion can do some pretty great things for humanity.
Of course, the atheists eventually came out to play.  Here are a couple of my responses in comments.  You can kind of dope out what it is I'm responding to from context.  The first is directed toward my buddy Jay, who offered the notion that atheism is superior to religion:
Actually, atheism doesn't offer what religion offers: community, a sense of being a part of something greater than oneself, a place in the cosmic narrative, personal meaning, connection to the deep human spirit, and on and on. I mean, if you're an atheist you can conceivably come up with all that stuff by yourself somehow, but most people, I think, aren't really up to the task of doing it outside a community. So, until atheism is able to offer the goods that religion offers, it's just not going to be a widely accepted point of view.

But that's all beside the point. Religion need not be divisive. It is entirely possible to feel like you've got the truth of human existence, whatever you want to call it, without lording it over others with whom you disagree. I mean, I know LOTS of religious people who don't think they're superior to me or anything like that. Some of them might pray for my soul because of their embrace of the Galactic Santa's List or whatever, but they don't treat me like they're better than me.

Like I say in the original post above, it's how people use religion that's the problem. Hitting people over the head with it isn't cool.
The next one is in response to my buddy Bryce, who took issue with my analysis of the comparison:
You keep saying how all these things are possible without religion, and about that you're absolutely right. But I see no evidence at all that atheists actually do these things--I mean, sure, individuals do all sorts of things by themselves. I see no atheist groups forging actual real life communities in the way churches do. I see no atheist groups offering anything substantial in terms of "the meaning of life." And on and on.

Really, the problem with atheism, that is, as a competitor to religion, is that atheism is about being against something, not for something. Okay, sure, lots of religion is against stuff, too, but generally something all religion shares is that it is in favor of stuff.

But really, I don't think it's reasonable to compare religion and atheism AT ALL. I was only responding to Jay, who was the first on this thread to pit atheism against religion as a sort of choice between competing life philosophies. But atheism isn't a life philosophy. It's a rejection of God and the supernatural, and for darned good reasons--there is no physical evidence of God or the supernatural.

All I'm saying is that there are some really good reasons people embrace religion or religious ideas: there is a great deal of emotional satisfaction which can come from doing so, in multiple spheres of human existence. And, I think, until atheists are able to address the fact that religion, which may very well be scientifically invalid, offers real and concrete benefits to the people who practice it, we will continue to be a world full of believers.

That is, atheists will never really manage to increase their numbers in a meaningful way until they recognize and provide for the stuff that draws people to religion in the first place.

You know, it is interesting to note that atheism is much more common in Western Europe, where communities are more tightly knit, where democracy is more fully realized, and where the safety net is far stronger. That is, Europeans have much stronger societies than we do here in the United States; the way they've socially structured their nations makes religion, as a social institution, somewhat redundant. Thus, far lower numbers of believers.

Adding, it's not enough for atheists to say that these things are possible without religion. The reality is that most people have difficulty coming up with the meaning of life all by themselves. Humans are, after all, creatures of the herd.