Sunday, April 12, 2009

Dealing with faith and religion.

Recently Newsweek did a story about the shift away from Christian dominance. Not that they still don't constitute a majority, but that majority is shrinking.

Matt Taibbi noted the concern over the poll results the story looked at.

... Said piece reported the “troubling” news that the number of people identifying themselves as religiously unaffiliated doubled in recent years, with a big spike observed in the Northeast in particular. Among the report’s more alarming (to them) conclusions: unaffiliateds as a voting bloc are now roughly as influential as black people, and for the first time there is a sizable number of people growing up without religious background, atheists in the pasts mostly being fallen liberals with traditionally religious backgrounds a la Chris Hitchens or Woody Allen.

And it should be noted that this growing group is made up of a group ranging atheist to the wooiest of woo types. So we are clearly no clear bloc.


Anyway, the reaction to this Newsweek piece was predictable and hilarious. One of the most revolting conceits of a certain class of American liberals is their terror of copping to their lack of spiritual connectedness. You know the type: doesn’t want to have to deal with all the ugly questions open agnosticism or atheism poses, and certainly doesn’t want to admit it to conservatives, so he cobbles together, usually late in life, some absurd hodge-podge of religious ritual, something that defines his “spirituality.” Maybe he starts going to church late in life, or goes back to a Kosher diet, or talks gloomily about “believing in something,” or maybe he becomes a Dan Brown-inspired Biblical sleuth. The world has invented all sorts of ways lately to give non-believers access to a sort of religious sensibility: you get the totemistic bullshit through New Age crystals, the soothing platitudes and rituals through cleverly-marketed self help books crammed with not-quite open ripoffs of Christian/Eastern principles (”Learning to Love Yourself: 10 Steps to a Happier You!”), and the relentlessly self-directed, egomaniacal soul-searching through psychotherapy, which incidentally often ends up leading to a kind of half-assed reunion with one’s childhood religion, ie church at Easter, wearing Grandma’s cross necklace, putting a dove on top of the Christmas tree, etc.


This is pretty typical stuff — the inability to even say the word “faith” without immediately apologizing and offering a “whatever you want to call it” buffet of hopefully less-offensive semantic alternatives is classic Northeastern liberal behavior — and normally you’d have to say it was harmless, a goofy cultural affectation that doesn’t bother anyone. The problem is that this frantic hedging in search of a safe middle ground between the dumbly certain religion of those reviled conservatives and the Nietszchean atheism liberals are always being accused of (and don’t want to admit to) carries some implications that always come out explicitly sooner or later. In this case they came out in Ledewitz’s piece. Sooner or later someone starts arguing that atheists and agnostics don’t really have values and can’t really be “moral” people. It’s the same problem all religions have: none of them can be right unless whoever doesn’t believe it is wrong. So even this hyper-apologetic, desperate-to-avoid-offense, hilariously nonspecific “abstract sense” religion of vacillating modern liberals ends up having to take shots at agnostics and atheists. It’s just the nature of the beast.


I think to an extent we have all seen this. The middle of road hazy argument.

One clear example I heard was on The Thom Hartmann Show this last week. I don't often try or have a chance to listen to it, but I often hear the show on before and end up listen to a bit. Last week he had a show with Christopher Hitchens and Christopher Hedges. I thought that sounded like it might be interesting a listened on. Now I have listened before when he takes on a guest, and does seem to like a good argument, or to give comeuppance to certain sorts. It always seems fair enough, for what I have heard. He may come at a different angle then what is expected but he seems open on his point.

With Hitchens he seemed different though. On most things I think I disagree with Hitchens so to see Hartmann go after him might be fun. But this just seemed off.

He came off at the start like he wanted to discuss the issues with religion. Hartmann talked up how much they agreed. But it suddenly became a demand that Hitchens admit to a religious fervor for atheism and to admit he was an evangelical just like a Christian. As well that he could not support or back up his resolute lack of the transcendental. It really became about wanting concessions and proof for not believing. It was kind of ridiculous. Worse, I think, Hartmann was playing with words just like an apologist. He was using the term evangelize. He equated it to religion, computer sales, etc. But the point was to tie Christians and "New Atheist" together. If you want to use the term as a sales concept, PR, or marketing, like with Windows versus Mac, fine. But, I think, that is a far cry from what Christians sell and do. And it is definitely not synonymous with atheism, how ever you view it. Let's face it, it makes you sound like a Christian. But we learn more with the interview later in the show. As it was it all ended with Hitchens' unchanged. No surprise there.

Then when he got to Hedges, he claimed to be about to debate him, heck if you look at online video of the show the description calls it just that. But all it was was 2 guys agreeing away with each other on how greatly they agreed on spirituality. How weird. As they went on Hartmann brought up his Christian heritage, as well his pantheist beliefs. Which is fine, but he shied away from any such claims earlier. He and Hedges talked of their love for various religious writers, about throwing out the magic (BUT NOT ALL OF IT...transcendental, man.) from the bible to get to the core truth (Which is really just philosophy at that point, right?). He could now go from vague talk of transcendental and the unknown that was beyond up into all the standard crap. Shaman with their hallucinogenic brews, people with seizures, and Deepak Chopra. So we have people under the influence of a drug that alters perception, people with neurological problems that alter perception, and the king of wooey crap. That is something to base something on. Oh wait, he did sit at the feet of the Dalai Lama, and he proclaimed the wonder of alternative meds. So this is way better than a trifecta.

But like Taibbi noted above, cobbled together beliefs are just all too common. The crimes for so many people like this is that you have to "believe." You just got to, otherwise you have big problems in your life, and are closed minded. But don't believe too much, cause that is just crazy.

And this is a problem liberals have to deal with. We have the Huffington Post giving space to Chopra, alt med types, and antivaac evangelizers. Too many times these sorts of things are left to be in our midst. We have to talk about it, talk against this tripe, and show the lies up. We can't become the Religious Left, we cannot become the Woo Woo West Coast, and we can't let this...I'll just say it (and hate saying it)...hippie mentality stand unchallenged. The Right is slowly being killed by the stranglehold that the Religious Right has on its party. They can't maneuver where they need to gain the footholds they desperately want. So where does this leave us lot?

There is too much at stake in society to make a stand for science, sense, and sobriety (Not that you can't be drunk or silly on occasion.).

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