Can I really piss off a moderate?
This is a reprint of an essay I wrote for another blog.
Today, I will attempt to piss off Moderate Christians. This is going to be a difficult task, because one of the primary reasons I'm calling them out is their obstinate refusal to be offended. I had a long conversation tonight with one of my friends, who is some variety of theist, although he's very difficult to categorize. He was relating to me a dilemma he's going to face this weekend when his Moderate Christian family is going to ask him to go to church. The question of whether he should go, even though he disagrees strongly with many of the Christian church's teachings, is very close to me.
Earlier today, I was reading a blog on an atheist forum, and spent a good hour of my life trying to convince a fellow atheist that he should not wear a yarmulka to an orthodox wedding just because it will upset his girlfriend if he doesn't. I had to go to court earlier this month, and when the judge asked me if I swore to God that I would tell the truth, I had to bite my tongue before saying yes. This is something that comes up a lot in our religiostupified (Thanks for the new word, Byron!) country.
The fact that atheists butt heads with religion too much for my comfort is not the topic of this essay, though. I think it illustrates my gripe with moderates perfectly. Without spending thirty minutes finding statistics that will be debatable, I'm going to hazard a guess that maybe 20% of Christians in America are either fundamentalists or evangelicals or both. It doesn't really matter. The point is, they're the minority of Christians. Most are moderates – they believe in some version of Christianity, most likely one that leaves out the nastier elements like stoning homosexuals and the unscientific elements like a 6000 year old cosmos.
These moderates, in my view, are the ones directly responsible for the decline of America into quasi-theocracy that has occurred in the last 30 years. Their complicity is a result of at least two things: first, they defend fundamentalists as “slightly misguided, but genuine, honest people,” and second, they defend “faith” as a legitimate source of knowledge. I want to deal with the latter of the two failings.
Moderate Christianity is deceptively alluring because of its seemingly scientific basis. Most educated Christians have no problem admitting that there's something to evolutionary science, and they have no problem admitting that the earth is very old, and that dinosaurs once roamed about. In fact, if you get a good Moderate Christian into a theological discussion, they will almost inevitably tell you that they believe questions are good, and that any thinking person ought to question what they believe. Forgive me, but the devil is in the details, and they're missing a very, very important detail.
The admission that questions ought to be asked makes it seductively simple to believe that moderate Christianity is ok, and doesn't hurt anyone. Maybe it's even helpful in some way. The problem, and the main point of this essay, is that questioning is NOT ok for moderate Christians. I can prove it.
Next time you're talking to a moderate, try getting them onto the nature of god. If you're any good at debate, you can quickly steer them to one of the half dozen paradoxes inherent in god belief. Once you get them there, note how quickly they will revert to the position, “There are some things you just have to take on faith.” The simple, indisputable fact is that any god belief requires faith, and if you follow my writings at all, you know that “faith,” properly defined, is “belief in a thing despite evidence to the contrary, or a total lack of evidence.”
Once you get them to the point of admitting that they hold a belief despite it's opposition to reason, you can see that the facade of moderation is just that – a facade. At their core, they are exactly the same as fundamentalists. They just pick a more socially acceptable irrationality. What they really mean when they say you should question everything is that you should question everything – except for the validity of faith as a means of acquiring knowledge.
If we, as skeptics and atheists, allow this hedge-bet to go unchallenged, we are also complicit in the religiostupification of America. When we look at it objectively, we can see that in the case of both fundamentalists and moderates, the individual's own sense of morality determines how much “faith” they need, or in other words, how much irrationality they will accept. Another way of saying this is that allowing a little irrationality is no different from allowing a lot.
The primary reason that moderates refuse to come out publicly against fundamentalists is the vulnerability of their own position. The really smart moderates know this, and I suspect that the rest sense it even if they can't put their finger on it. The only way to effectively call out the fundamentalists is to challenge them on rational grounds. So, you see, the lie in Moderate Christianity is that it is moderate at all. It is not. It is, however, to use the colloquial term, chicken shit. Moderates are too intellectually dishonest, or too scared, to apply logic to all questions, lest they have to give up the illusion of a sky daddy that makes them feel better about the world. They are also too scared to take a stand against those of their own faith who are using faith as a weapon, and causing untold suffering among gays, women, atheists, and, dare I say it... Iraqis. They cannot, in good ecclesiastical conscience, take a firm stand against those within their order who eschew science, for if they did, they would be opening the door to the scientific scrutiny of their own beliefs.
Moderate Christianity is a lie. While moderates do not have a political agenda advocating taking America two hundred years backwards, they allow those who do to go about their work unimpeded, and worse, they very often vote based on their religious ideology rather than their rational beliefs. I suggest that it is time to stop giving moderates a free pass just because they embrace a softer, gentler version of a hateful, misogynistic, authoritarian religion. People of reason will never have a rational leg to stand on until we challenge the very foundation of religion – all religion – that is, the errant belief that “faith is a virtue.”