Monday, April 9, 2012

Enemies Of The Faith? Enemies Of Believers?

Dear Mr Rowan Williams,

It's easter time. Time of eggs, bunnies, and funny utterances by members of several ritualistic organisations.

For one example, there is this gem: "Guardian" Interview with "bishop" Rowan Williams, in which you are quoted as having a few very interesting stances about "new atheism" and its relationship towards your organisation.

Let me first say that I find it rather funny when a "bishop" of the roman catholic organisation demands a reasonable debate.  I don't want to bash you personally; after all, there is no compulsory sex demanded by law, and having no sense of style in clothing is your personal prerogative, but I cannot help a little chuckle at such an occasion.

I sure hope that you can share in my laugh, though, when I read a few sentences later that "resurrection is a fact".

I will not start to repeat arguments that have fallen on deaf ears for centuries now. I suggest a little experiment you can conduct for yourself in the peace of your living room: Say "reasonable", aloud, ten times. Now do the same for "resurrection".  Now combine the two - "reasonable, resurrection, reasonable, resurrection..." And now try not to laugh.

As I said above, apart from a little friendly teasing, I won't bash you personally.

You see, I think that we should heed the fundamental difference between a person and their beliefs.

In said article, you state that "faith [is] no longer seen as 'a brainless and oppressive enemy' but recognised as a potential ally against a greedy and individualistic way of life that feels 'increasingly insane'".

There are several major issues with that one sentence.

1. Enemies Of The Faith

Abstract: Mr Williams, I am not your enemy, even though I find the teachings your organisation represents to be nonsensical, unfounded and debilitating to the human mind.

First off, faith cannot be an ally or an enemy. We might count this off as just a figure of speech, a lapsus linguae. But the catholic teaching specifically states that Jesus of Nazareth was (and still IS!) "the way, the truth, and the life", and not in a merely figurative way. Indeed, the church's teachings, along with every other religious teaching, are full to the brim with metaphysical entities such as faith, sin, the messiah, the trinity - all said to be "real" in some way. Not simply a metaphor, an image representing something else - no, they're supposed to be real, actual entities. The essential wafer after transubstantiation, to name one of the more absurd ones.

So, seeing as you are an official of said organisation, we have to assume that you're not talking about teachings and logical structures, but about some etherial, hidden, mystical "entity". You are essentially saying that atheists are seeing faith as a metaphysical entity that they can ally with.

Now, of course, atheists can and will sometimes be exactly as unreasonable as theists. Merely recognizing the nonexistence of a deity does not a mature human being make.

Anthropomorphisation is one of the nastiest, most resilient scourges of humanity (as well as one of the most beautiful poetic expressions, of course). It is deeply rooted in our biological system (what you like to call "soul"), serves a few very fundamental purposes, and is an unfathomably dangerous weapon in the hands of demagogues and church leaders.

The good news is that we can educate ourselves not to fall into that trap. Thus (whenever I'm not simply talking tongue-in-cheek and having some teasing in good humour), I habitually make a point of distinguishing between a person and their ideas. You, Mr Williams, are, for all I know, a decent, loving, caring, intelligent, well-educated human being. I might be wrong, since I don't know you, but I'm happy to assume the best about people I don't know, until otherwise proven.

But that doesn't mean that I have to agree with anything you say.

In fact, the teachings of your organisation thrive on such human flaws. They are specifically designed to do just that. They are a highly sophisticated, intricate system of flawed logic - circular, adhominem, no-true-scotsmanesque syllogisms interwoven with invitations for identification, us-vs-them thinking, reification, hyperbole, guilt-tripping, double binds and simple denial - built upon each other and resting on unfounded assertions.

And that, Mr Williams, I see as a huge problem.

Try thinking that the church is the "body of christ", that christ died for your sins, that you are a labourer in the vineyard, and that someone is attacking this very body-church-vineyard-thingie by saying that christ's teachings are utter nonsense. And then try to stay calm. You'll have to be an iceberg to be able to accomplish that with any consistence.

2. An Ally Against A Certain Way Of Life

Abstract: Religious teachings are generally a hindrance, not a tool, for human development.

I agree that greed is bad. I fail to see any reasonable connection between the belief in the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth on the one hand, and overcoming greed on the other hand. On top of that, I fail to see how being an individual, and being conscious of being an individual, have anything to do with being greedy. (The "individualism is bad" stance that the catholic organisation has adopted is deeply troubling in and of itself, but more of that later.)

In reality, compassion and rationality are the mental capabilities that can help me overcome my greed. Both can be trained using various methods, and those methods are available to atheists as much as theists. Some of those methods are described in this very blog. But ultimately, everybody has to find their own ways to deal with their shortcomings, and - apart from my own experience and a few informed speculations - I cannot offer any bulletproof system for overcoming vice; and neither can you. If you claim that you can, then please show the evidence.

Well and also, compassion and reality can be scientifically shown to be grounded in human biology - I fancy this as a slight, but definite advantage over a metaphysical overlord who sacrificed himself to himself in order to set humanity free from the punishment he himself imposed upon them in the first place.

If anything, the us-vs-them mentality endorsed by the christian gospels - as well as the catholic teachings purportedly grounded upon those gospels - serve to maintain one's greed while hiding it behind a mask of piety. Do I really need to mention the gold-and-silk escapades of your organisation as one very obvious example?

I will not venture to claim that christians are, on average, more greedy than atheists. But I challenge you to show, based on peer-reviewed academical studies, that people of faith are less greedy than us grim dark heathens.

In conclusion, every christian, hindu, muslim, buddhist, even scientologist can be my friend, and can be an ally in dealing with all the challenges we are currently facing - but that doesn't change the fact that I find the teachings of all those religions ridiculous, destructive and - well, simply plain old wrong.

I am looking forward to your reply,

With kind regards,
Betlamed the Skeptic Tantrika

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