I’m, very slowly, catching up on some of the blogs (mostly there in the sidebar) that I was reading semi-regularly before I went out of town. Even before that, I’d slowed down a bit, so “catching up” is not going to happen, and some of the more interesting posts that I might have commented on are well past their sell-by date now. One at Friendly Atheist featuring a clip from Dan Savage, however, caught my attention because it’s the same thing I’ve been saying for a while now:
First off, Dan can turn a phrase, I have to give him full credit for that. And he has a great point – christianity doesn’t have a firm definition; nor, for that matter, does islam, judaism, et al, making them all interchangeable for my topic here. This allows the followers to do largely what they want and consider themselves faithful. However, when atheists uses the term “christian” (“muslim,” etc.) we are often taken to task for lumping moderate, tolerant religious folk in with the frothing fundamentalists who probably just need a good laxative (or electroshock therapy.) I’m rather divided on the issue, myself (favoring electroshock – no, sorry, I mean the moderate/extremist thing); while I make it a point to judge individuals as individuals and not as labels, I can’t deny that many of these same individuals don’t bother to make the distinctions themselves, and will happily use the labels to describe themselves when it appears that this will be seen in a positive light. They only decry the labeling when some other interpretation of “christian” is in effect.
I don’t really care, one way or another – I just wish they’d settle it amongst themselves, as Dan suggests. Lots of people want to wave the christian flag but there’s no agreement on what army this actually represents. If you find that some self-professed christian blowhard doesn’t represent what “true” christianity is, take it up with them, not with me for using the same damn term they use themselves.
But, I’m well aware that this isn’t going to happen. First off, the issue isn’t with what christianity really is, because nobody actually knows – look at how many different ways this is interpreted. For ideologies that represents “truth,” as I am so often reminded, the followers seem to be all over the map (this is why I like science much better – it pins this shit down.) Let’s be real, “religious” is generally taken to be a synonym for “good,” which is one of the few common denominators among the various interpretations of any particular religion. You get people protesting only when their religion is demonstrated to be intolerant, racist, bigoted, hateful, xenophobic, elitist, and so on – all words that don’t really fit with the idea of “good.” But this cannot possibly be the fault of christianity, no no, so it’s really evidence that some of the people calling themselves christian are just posers.
No self-identified christian, however, can afford to take it up with the posers. What can they possibly say? “Real christians don’t hate homosexuality!” Except that it really is right there in the scripture, such as a couple of passages in leviticus as well as others. Such sources conflict with the ideas of tolerance from new testament passages, certainly, not to mention the various “judge not” bits and the overall idea that the omniscient deity has a reward and punishment program already in place. Things bog down pretty quickly when one attempts to use scripture as their authority, since all of it is ridiculously contradictory and vague. Basic logic tells us that “truth” cannot be self-contradictory, so the only argument that can come up is that at least some (heh!) scripture is inaccurate, if not entirely fable. Well, fine, it’s not the first time that’s been advanced. So… how do you tell the “true” parts from the fable? Which of two contradictory passages can be determined to be the one that should be followed?
Well, that’s what keeps theologians busy – for twenty centuries and more, now, though you might have noticed that they haven’t agreed on any answers yet (maybe they’ll make it by humanity’s end – too bad if you died before the guidelines had been set.) Most religious folk, however, haven’t the faintest idea what kind of theological support there is, or is not, for their position, and simply notice the bits that agree with what they were already thinking, conveniently ignoring the rest. When “the rest” rears its ugly head, they really have no way of dealing with it. When you base your worldview on following scripture as the inarguable word of the deity, because it’s much easier than bothering to make a logical case and also allows you to be as bigoted, homophobic, and intolerant as you want to be, you’re kind of in a bind when the scripture says something that you don’t want it to.
Which is why agreeing even on what “christianity” means is never going to happen, and why religion will never be a force for peace; scripture can only be followed selectively, and fails completely when any effort is made to tie it in to demonstrable reality – you know, like a round earth, evolving animals, and light coming only from stars. In fact, it usually sits so alone in its assertions that theologians seeking to resolve those contradictions can do nothing but refer to scripture itself with circular arguments, since external confirmation isn’t possible. It’s like Trekkies arguing over stardates.
Immoral atheist that I am, I figure it’s easier to earn a “good” label by doing those things that we routinely consider “good.” Granted, some people can’t instantly tell this because I have no icon to wear around my neck denoting my certifiable goodness, and they would have to perform the difficult feat of actually paying attention to what I do – this is asking a lot, I know, since thinking is so hard. It gets easier with training, though.
UPDATE: I no sooner post this and start cruisin’ the intersnarl, when I come across a nice take on theology in today’s Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal. Note that hovering over the little red dot in the lower left provides a secondary comic…