zeborah: I believe in safe, sane, and consensual Christianity. (credo)
[personal profile] zeborah
If religion vs atheism cage-matches are bad for your blood pressure, look away now.

--I hope this won't be a cage-match, actually, it's just one particular argh I need to get out of my system briefly and then I'll probably be good for another year or so. I used to read Greta Christina's blog, because she's clever and says smart things in defence of atheism, but I slowly realised she didn't just want to defend atheism, she really wanted to do away with religion. She honestly feels that religion is not just bad for her, but bad for everyone. Which is a fair belief to hold, and I can understand people holding it... Just, I believe it's really really false (since, for a start, I know that religion is good for me) so it's really disconcerting to see an otherwise intelligent person so inflexible on the subject.

Also I accidentally got into an argument with her (I was trying to constructively critique a particular argument she put forth, and things got sidetracked) and it just wasn't the same after that.

Anyway, so today I followed a reference to "how do you know that your cherries are the ones Jesus would approve of?" thinking it was something about homosexual virginity or... something, I don't know, but it sounded amusing until the bit.ly link resolved and I realised where I was and that I'd totally misconstrued it.

--Okay, two particular arghs. The first one is that one of the reasons religion is good for me is that it makes me happy. This and other things mean that if I were in a religious contingent in a gay pride parade and saw an atheism contingent next to us, I'd be smiling and going "Yay, more people for gay pride!" because that's kind of the point of the parade. Greta Christina's reaction to such smiles and happiness is... to want to argue with the religious people about their religion.

She doesn't do this, to be completely fair. And maybe it's unfair to hold her confession that this is her reaction against her, since it's on her own blog -- she's not actually going out and evangelising anyone. But still, knowing that this is her reaction makes me recoil even more from her brand of atheism. Which is why I ultimately stopped reading her blog, because I'd started reading it with the (unverbalised) aim of understanding/respecting atheism more, and instead she just put me off it more.

Anyway, so the second/real argh is that the "cherry" quote turned out to be:
How do you know that you're getting it right? What reason do you have to think that you, personally, know what Jesus really meant, and that all these other jackasses are getting it wrong? They cherry-pick scripture to support their position; you cherry-pick scripture to support yours -- how do you know that your cherries are the ones Jesus would approve of?[1]
And the thing is -- Well, of course I don't know that I'm totally right. It seems unlikely that I am, in fact. I never was when I was younger, after all, and I've never met anyone else who's totally right. But I believe I'm more right than I used to be because as I learn more about a) the world and b) the Bible, I can interpret the latter in ways that are more internally self-consistent and more consistent with the way the world works than my understanding of "those other jackasses"' interpretation. For example, we both believe that Jesus said stuff about loving everyone-I-mean-everyone-that-means-them-too; but "those other jackasses" think that means loving the sinner while stoning the sin which is inseparable from the sinner, and I think it means loving people enough to realise that their difference in taste is not necessarily a sin. And my interpretation is more self-consistent and more consistent with the things Jesus said and did than theirs.

And yes, this relies on my judgement. But so does all this religion and atheism stuff rely on people's judgement. You can't judge without judgement, that's what judgement is. Greta Christina judges that atheism is more self-consistent and consistent with empirical reality than religion is. She may well even be correct, I just don't think empirical reality is all it's cracked up to be. (See also: footnote [1])

Ultimately, it's each of us who chooses which beliefs and morality we subscribe to. I'm the one who approves my cherries (picked from the world and my religion, including the Bible). Greta Christina's the one who approves hers (picked from the world, excluding religion and the Bible). And then we go around judging other people's cherries, partly because humans are judgey, but partly it makes good sense as a reality check. And when you see someone whose cherries match your cherries (this metaphor is getting increasingly unwieldy) it's natural to be happy.

So when a Christian and an atheist meet at a gay pride parade, it seems reasonable for the Christian to assume that they both believe that homosexuality is cool and that the fundamentalist Christians who disagree are wrong to disagree. That doesn't mean that the Christian thinks the atheist should agree with the Christian about whichever liberal version of Christianity they subscribe to. It doesn't mean that they're asking for "the Atheist Seal of Approval". It just means that they recognise that, while disagreeing on some things which aren't that important right now, they can still agree on other things which are important right now, and this is awesome. Christians, other religions, and atheists (as well as piles of people who don't care about religion one way or another all that much) all united for LGBT rights. How is this not awesome cherry sauce?

I... find it very frustrating that Greta Christina so desperately wants everyone to be an atheist that she couldn't see the awesome in that part of the parade. And again, if believing as she does meant that I became unable to see the awesome, I really don't want any of it.

--
[1] Also
Oh, and while we're on the subject: What evidence do you have to believe that Jesus is the divine son of God in the first place? Are you aware of how laughably unreliable the New Testament is as a historical document? Are you familiar with the arguments that the historical Jesus probably didn't even exist, and that the case for him being the divine son of God is a total joke?
to which my answer is -- and was, when we got into that argument -- that yes, I do know that, and am quite happy to believe that Jesus son of Joseph was invented as a story to explain this awesome new philosophy some dudes were coming up with, but even if that's so, it's still a cool story and cool philosophy and I believe in both of them. Yes, even if I believe the story isn't true I can still believe in it. The argument kind of went off the rails at this point.

Date: 2011-07-02 12:40 pm (UTC)
ext_245057: painted half-back picture of me that looks more like me than any photograph (Default)
From: [identity profile] irinarempt.pip.verisignlabs.com
hSo glad I didn't follow that link! I thought it was about actual cherries, you know, the ones that come from a tree (carefully trying to avoid "red", "juicy", "fruit" and even "stone").

And yes, you're completely right about "believe in X" and "believe that X is true" not being the same thing at all.

Date: 2011-07-02 05:18 pm (UTC)
caper_est: caper_est, the billy goat (Default)
From: [personal profile] caper_est
About which I agree with you both - but in my experience, that's a minority position, and can be infuriatingly difficult to unpack for people who aren't at least inclined towards it already. I think it has to do with the historical ferocity of the 'faith-reason' disputes, and the defensive reflexes against 'error' they grind into their partisans.

Zeborah: most excellent post. From my more atheistical side of the fence, I wish I were able to put across my own similar intuitions half as vividly or clearly, when I need to in my turn.

Date: 2011-07-02 01:17 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] heleninwales
I was a bit baffled by Greta Christina saying: "How can I be civil and friendly with religious believers -- particularly believers who are actively representing their beliefs -- while maintaining my integrity about my atheism?"

The answer is simple, the same way you manage to be civil and friendly to anyone who doesn't believe exactly what you believe, or in other words, the same way you deal with just about every other person on the planet. Perhaps this is a British attitude, but in my view being civil and friendly to someone doesn't mean that you support them 100% in everything they believe. I mean, most of the time I am civil and friendly to people and I have no idea what their beliefs are.

OK, in this case she did know that there were points of disagreement, but all she had to do was look for the common ground and stay on it for the duration of the parade. Would that be so very difficult? She must feel very insecure in her atheism if she can't talk to someone without feeling the need to defend her beliefs or try to convert them to her way of thinking.

She also seems to be believe that atheism is some sort of fixed belief system that needs people to be evangelical about it rather than simply a lack of belief in a deity/deities. Personally I have no wish to hang out with a bunch of people who self-identify as atheists, and I am one! Besides, there is a time and a place for debate about the areas of belief in which you differ from the people around you and, as you say, that is not at an event where you have come together to support a common cause.

Meanwhile, I don't know what she would make of someone like me who is religious but also an atheist. It would probably confuse her utterly, partly because it seems that 'religious' to her could only mean Christian.

Date: 2011-07-02 02:48 pm (UTC)
cereta: Wren from Baby Blues, looking grumpy (Wren is grumpy)
From: [personal profile] cereta
I was just about to respond to that particular quote, because yeah, it kind of baffles me. I mean, yes, there are beliefs that are so incompatible with mine that I could not join them in solidarity for another belief, but...okay, own that. Own that your atheism is so important to you that you can't support another issue.

Date: 2011-07-02 04:19 pm (UTC)
laughingrat: A still from "The Horror of Dracula" in which someone presses a cross to a vampire's forehead. (RELIGION)
From: [personal profile] laughingrat
The whole "prove your religion is true" thing seems so weird to me. I mean, it's one thing to try to get people to explore and maybe drop hateful beliefs (homophobia, racism, misogyny, classism, etc.) that they justify by pointing back to their religion; it's another altogether to demand that someone "prove" that Buddha existed or that Jesus is the divine son of God. I mean, that's not really the point, is it? Ultimately?

Date: 2011-07-02 05:47 pm (UTC)
rembrandtswife: (anglican)
From: [personal profile] rembrandtswife
Hi there! After reading this post on my network, I have ganked your delightful "SSC Christianity" icon and am hereby letting you know, as requested. :)

And judging by the Internet, at least, there are a lot of atheists out there who are just as evangelical in the root sense as any Bible-believing fundamentalist Protestant.

Date: 2011-07-21 02:10 am (UTC)
aquaeri: My nose is being washed by my cat (Default)
From: [personal profile] aquaeri
I mentioned somewhere how my atheism is orthogonal to the atheism movement's atheism, and this is one of those examples. I'm also getting ... bored? with her, because her atheism seems both so much shallower and more fervent than mine. I think my atheism went through a similar stage to where she's at when I was in my teens, except I didn't feel the need to be so loud about it. And my understanding now, it would be disrespectful of my friends like you, to not take your own reports of your religion seriously. I get the impression she has no religious friends at all.

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