Like many pursuits and interests, critical thinking involves a subset of information, discussions, and approaches, many of which don’t capture the attention of those who aren’t interested in critical thinking. I’m well aware of this, so often you’ll see me break the blog posts up with the “Continue Reading” tag, so that no one is forced to read a topic that doesn’t motivate them. It’s kind of silly in this way, for two reasons: the first is, nothing I post is even remotely forcing anyone to read it, and something else is a mouse-click away. Secondly, I think critical-thinking skills are important for everybody, so I’m perhaps defeating myself by hiding things beneath the fold, as it were. Just think of it as my way of being… accommodating.
But if you don’t continue, you miss the cartoon video…
Accommodation is a relatively new facet of skepticism, but first, let me clarify skepticism. Even though used is this manner in conversation, skepticism is not about cynicism, doubting, or dismissal. It’s about examining things with an eye towards good evidence, and with the basic foundation that it might, quite simply, be wrong. As humans, we’re not infallible, and the strength of conviction has little to do with the quality of the evidence in far too many cases. Witch hunts and holy inquisitions in our past were prime examples, ones that people are familiar with, but using these is a little misleading, because it’s not a thing of the past – we still do it constantly today. So skepticism involves looking at everything with the goal of establishing supporting evidence. I prefer the term “critical thinking” myself, simply because it communicates the idea better without the baggage of another meaning.
So, back to accommodation. Definitions of it differ in small ways, so what I present here may be corrected or even contradicted by someone else – I aim merely for the most prevalent usage of the term. But with the advent of greater media attention to atheism, there has come a new term: New Atheism, which apparently means atheists who openly advocate against religion. This isn’t anything new at all, such practices date back hundreds of years – it simply reflects the unfortunate fact that the media tried hard not to notice this in any way, until recently. And, it gave birth to Accommodationism, which is the position of disliking the approach of New Atheism, finding it strident, condescending, and unnecessarily divisive. Accommodationists, for instance, claim (key word) that New Atheists find all religion, and all followers of it, as being
contemptuous contemptible [can't believe I missed that in proofing], and most especially don’t like it when some particularly nasty practice supported by religion, such as denial of gay rights, denial of women’s rights, or child indoctrination camps, gets treated harshly.
Now, this is where it gets muddy. Do you treat the symptoms, or treat the illness? Denying gay rights is more like a symptom, since it stems from two things: senseless homophobia, and religious scripture. It’s all well and good to legislate gay rights to prevent the abuse of a subset of the public, but this is often not effective, and doesn’t address the various other issues supported by religion, just a few of which I mentioned above (I could go on.) So, New Atheists address the source, rather than continually chasing the boils that pop up. Make sense?
[Note: I find the title of "New Atheism" to actually be amusing - it's not a movement at all, and any particular atheist has their own approach, just like every christian does. But for the purposes of this post, I'll stick to its use to help illustrate the clamor between approaches, and what "Accommodationism" is supposed to be. I have the same caveat about that term too, but it really does have more of an agenda than atheism.]
Moreover, when you’re dealing with extreme behavior induced or supported by religion, is it a valid point to say that religion is a key contributor? It’s hard to argue that it is not, really (suicide terrorism and abortion clinic bombings are prime examples – have these ever occurred in a non-religious situation?) Does it matter that not every follower engages in such practices? Should the scriptural verses encouraging martyrdom be considered invalid because not everyone treats them fervently?
Accommodationists, however, feel that a very large group of people, the moderately religious, get lumped into the same bin as fundamentalists, creationists, and extremists by the New Atheists. This is the real issue, they say. Moderately religious people, who may significantly outnumber the others, could be potential allies, but are turned away by the stridency of New Atheism and thus side up with the more extreme views. This isolates the atheists who could potentially strengthen their numbers by not being so anti-religious.
Sounds good on the face of it – but then the old skepticism kicks in. First off, there are two factors in advocating against religion (and let me clarify here, that atheism is not by definition an anti-religious stance – it is merely a non-religious stance. Again, the individual comes into play, and for myself, I fall between the two ideas.) The first is, religion is responsible for many, many, many of society’s ills, and even though a significant number of them might have roots in human nature, religion allows them to be legitimized by appeals to higher authority (see gay bashing and child indoctrination, and so on.) The second is, religion is not supportable by evidence, history, or even nature – in other words, it’s got nothing to do with the real world, how it works, or even how to get along (don’t even try to argue that – just read this week’s headlines, and no, this does not have to apply to any particular week.) So from a critical thinking, skeptical standpoint, religion is exactly what is not needed.
I don’t care whether you agree with this standpoint, only that you understand it. Living in a fantasy world isn’t going to make things better, is it? So now you know where advocacy against religion comes from.
The Accommodationist argument comes in that the moderately religious don’t support the extreme views either, and can be enlisted to help eliminate them. But I’m left wondering just where this idea came from. You see, I can look around at the news like anyone else, and I see lots of reliance on religion. I see Proposition 8 passing; I see numerous school boards pushing anti-evolution agendas; I see politicians whining about witchcraft, of all fucking things… this is not happening because a majority of religious people don’t support the extreme views. When it comes down to voting, to funding, to supporting, the moderately religious are… simply religious. I have never seen a moderately religious protest group outside of a creation museum; I have never heard any moderately religious person, much less a group of them, calling for investigations into child abuse coverups by the catholic church, or the political advocacy of the mormons for Prop 8 (something that is specifically denied by the nonprofit status of every church in this country.) So, I’m left wondering, what makes the Accommodationists think these would be useful allies in eliminating these practices?
There’s also the strong critical thinking aspect of it. What denotes a moderate in the first place? How many people identify themselves as such, to distinguish themselves from Pat Robertson and the Westboro baptist church? How many, for instance, can correct various church leaders on their misinterpretations of scripture? Notice I didn’t ask how many do – that number appears to be so small as to be worthless. But seriously, how do the Accommodationists know these people even exist? What are the stats?
I’m well aware that plenty of self-described religious people aren’t particularly strong in their beliefs, and may accept evolution just fine, and not try to push the idea that scripture is inerrant or literal. But how many are aware of this themselves? If asked, how many would proclaim that they are perfectly devout? One of the prime facets of religion is “doing the right thing,” and among that is relying on scripture and its integrity, the “word of god.” So, are there really a lot of people who “do the right thing” but willingly admit that they ignore the word of god? How contradictory is this idea to most religious people? Abortion, for instance, isn’t really a religious concept – it makes no appearances in any scripture, and even the whole “right to life” thing is openly contradicted in many places. But abortion is a religious issue to moderates and extremists alike, isn’t it? How do you find the individuals who will carry the flag of rational discourse, especially against damaging religious practices?
And then, what is the basis for thinking that a nicey-nice approach will make the moderately religious side with atheists, or even secular humanists, rather than religious extremists? Let’s be serious now – atheists are one of the most ostracized groups in this country. I live in a state that actually has a law prohibiting atheists from holding public office, despite the fact that this violates the First and Fourteenth Constitutional Amendments and is thus entirely illegal. It might be nice to say that no one actually knows it’s there and ignores it, but it hit the news recently, with polls asking if it should be upheld – let’s just say the moderates, and even those who understood the Constitution, did not overwhelm the extremists.
It’s like Accommodationists are Underpants Gnomes, from South Park.
The Accommodationists have their business plan: Phase One – Make nice with the moderately religious; Phase Three – Progress! But there doesn’t seem to be any Phase Two, nor even the evidence that getting between Phases One and Three is likely. It seems especially unlikely since the goal is publicly stated that Accommodationism intends to align moderates with atheists – I don’t seem to see the moderates clamoring for this outcome.
I would actually be fine with such an approach, for the most part. I would actually be fine if religion was a personal choice, like favorite songs or colors, and had nothing whatsoever to do with laws, policies, education, behavior, scientific studies, medical procedures, and pressuring others towards bigoted and senseless goals. Seriously, I’d be totally cool with that. But that’s not at all what we see, and is not going to happen anytime soon. And as long as the religious, be they moderate or extreme, feel the need and the right to foist their superstitious mythology on others, to try and control politics and education and even personal rights, I will remain quite harsh, nasty, and mean.
Yes, I said superstitious mythology. Yes, I’m a dick, for pointing out that there is no religion in the world that distinguishes itself in any empirical way from any other, all of which are considered mythology by the followers of the first. I give a rat’s ass for anyone’s “personal experience,” exactly the same as the rat’s ass they give for the Mayans and the Norsemen, the shintoists and the hindus. Get it?
The domination and pressure practices of religion require harsh, nasty, and above all, direct and uncompromising rebuttal and resistance. Making nice won’t cut it – just in case anyone hasn’t noticed, it has utterly failed throughout history, including recently. If the Underpants Gnomes, er, Accommodationists, want to do something, they’re welcome to tackle to whole atheism-bashing thing – that’s been going on far longer.
As for the moderates? While I suppose there are religious people who don’t like the extreme approaches seen so regularly, even in the name of their own religion, they can’t seem to be bothered to do anything about it. What use is that, to anyone?
Moreover, what is the likelihood, even if the moderates were so inclined, that they could accomplish anything anyway? The extreme agendas are being pushed because, frankly, there’s some line in scripture somewhere that can be interpreted to support it. The extremists consider themselves devout, and doing the right thing – just like the moderates do, just like any religious person does. The overwhelming failure of religion is in its lack of evidence, logic, reason, rational thought, and critical examination. If someone is religious at all, they’re guilty of this, to at least a small extent. So in what way can they address this issue? Is there really a way to say, “Follow the scripture, but don’t follow it follow it, you know what I mean?”
There’s also the rational argument thing. Extremists don’t follow them – they demonstrate no ability nor inclination to even recognize them. So in what way are moderates going to reach them in the first place? The only thing that would work is to overwhelm them in the voting booth – but there’s nothing preventing that from happening right now. The moderates, whoever they are, apparently aren’t inquiring if the politicians support evolution, support gay rights, or understand modern science – not according to the votes being counted. The senate candidate who said she spent a date on a satanic altar, in 21st century America, has won the primary.
Seriously, I should seek out this kind of support? Only if I was a total fucking moron…