Atheism, Fundamentalism and the Liberal Christian (conclusion)

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by Neil Godfrey

Continuing from the previous post. A dialogue with Samantha Field’s post.

It’s perpetually frustrating to me, though, that there’s a certain movement of atheists that brand me as an idiot because I’m religious, or that I’m incapable of being reasonable or logical because I have faith. To this type of atheist, if I don’t accept fundamentalist Christianity as the Only True Way of being a Christian, I’m being inconsistent. Over the course of many conversations, I’ve usually found out that they were at one point Christian fundamentalists.

Religious people are not being idiotic, unreasonable or illogical. Their belief systems are very logical given their …. beliefs. We have fairly good understandings now why people are prone to believe in supernatural beings or dimensions. I’d like to see atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris educate themselves about our progress in this area. They need not fear that making an effort to learn more about the nature of religious practices and beliefs from anthropological and psychological perspectives will somehow “make excuses” for the harm done in the name of religion. Would criminologists be making excuses for crime by understanding the range of sociological, psychological and genetic factors that contribute towards criminal behaviour? Of course not, but the more we understand the more tools we have to minimize criminality. Ill-informed and emotive responses towards criminals may make us feel good but at the same time only increase the problem.

. . .  To many, Modernism is the only “correct” way to reason, and Truth and demonstrable, provable, physical fact are inseparable.

I was fortunate in the way my faith evolved. . . . All of that prompted me to do the same, and the end result is that I didn’t use the same framework I’d always used to evaluate evidence and questions. I didn’t rely purely on Modernist reasoning in order to deconstruct my faith system and start building it back up.

I’m drawn to dichotomies, to absolutes, to if then statements, and either or views of reality. . . . I have to force myself to live in the tension, to think of arguments as a matter of degree and nuance rather than totally right or totally wrong.

These are the words of someone who is drawn to belief even if belief is in a mystery, in irreconcilable oppositions. As an atheist (I’m sure I’m not alone) I feel no need to “believe” in anything. I don’t “believe” in the scientific [Samantha’s “Modernist”?] explanation for life, the universe and everything. I simply accept it knowing that it is always subject to change or even revision. Believers generally seem to have a hard time “believing” that anyone else is not also a “believer”. Atheism is not a faith. It is not a belief system. Even the word “atheist” scarcely has any truly coherent meaning.

On the other hand, it’s almost as equally frustrating when people don’t understand fundamentalism, and what it does to people. They don’t know that fundamentalists are ruled by logical consistency before any other consideration. What may seem like utter nonsense to you or me makes perfect sense if you understand the premise they’re working with and follow it to its conclusion.

This is too simplistic. Whatever we believe we are all in our own lights “ruled by logical consistency”. Even Samantha’s own decision to believe in “nuance” and contradictions in tension is a logically consistent conclusion when you understand her premise. It’s a paradox but not logically inconsistent. Fundamentalism is far more than being logically consistent. See 10 Characteristics of Fundamentalism. Logical consistency does not mean valid arguments as we know from games with various syllogisms. What counts is the premise. Religious fundamentalists are trapped in circular arguments and that’s why their logic is fallacious.

Take the fact that fundamentalists can be gigantic assholes to their friends and family. To an outsider, it may seem like we did nothing but endlessly bully and criticize each other– how in the world could we possibly be friends, let alone like each other? If they were to ask me when I was a fundamentalist why I behaved like this, I would’ve said “faithful are the wounds of a friend,” along with a quip about how being harsh and exacting is the only way to be loving. That sounds absurd to the rest of us — being an asshole is not loving– but to them, it’s the only possible outcome. You must “edify” your friends toward righteousness. Anything less is the opposite of loving.

The situation described here demonstrates the way fundamentalists are trapped in double binds and contradictions they cannot escape. They need to redefine words like love and adopt a new persona. Yes there is logical consistency at work there is far more at work that underlies that mental rationalisation. Generally everyone justifies their behaviour by logical reasoning. As Ben Franklin said,

“So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do”

Moreover, Samantha’s example is not a question of logic so much as firm conviction in some anti-social precepts.

Sciences have publicists promoting their research. I’d love to see more publicists promoting the research into human behaviour, including religious behaviours. Both believers and atheists are being shortchanged.

To fight a thing, you have to know a thing.




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Neil Godfrey

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7 thoughts on “Atheism, Fundamentalism and the Liberal Christian (conclusion)”

  1. Mystery is a funny thing. Like basically all subjective phenomena, they tell us more about the subject experiencing the mystery than the thing that is mysterious.

    Nothing is inherently mysterious.

    But people seem to have three possible reactions to the unknown: ignore it, worship it, or explain it. A lot of people object vociferously if you attempt to explain something that’s been deemed “inherently” mysterious: Things like god/god belief or the nature of consciousness. The mystery seems to imbue it with some unique, otherworldly value. Much more value than the “merely” real. This makes me think there is something special about the mysterious in our brain architecture.

    Isn’t one of the premises of mythicism that Christianity started out as a sort of Jewish mystery religion? And “orthodox” Christianity/catholicism (proto-fundamentalism?) was the response to that?

    1. Brain architecture? Why has it so evolved?

      From the time I was a small child until middle age, I had very occasionally sudden brief mental experiences of what I call the contingency of the world, i.e. the “feeling” or awareness that nothing need exist. This was not a “mystical” experience of the presence of a creator, or of universal love, which others have described, so I would not ascribe it to an external “holy spirit”. I believe Coleridge, Heidegger and Colin Wilson had similar mental experiences, but I have never had any recognizable spiritual experiences of a positive kind (e.g. answer to prayer).

      In my case, however, it led to an early interest in arguments for the existence of “God”, starting obviously with the “contingency proof”, and their refutations. We end up with Father Copleston saying that the cosmos requires a general explanation, and Bertrand Russell replying that he cannot see why. Maybe it is a matter of personal “temperament”.

      As for those “why is there anything?” moments, which came and went as rapidly as deja vu, maybe my brain played a trick, so to speak. Possibly research like that of Michael Persinger will uncover something in due course.

      I do think that the existential aspect – why the universe, and why death, at all – accounts for much religious belief, and the “whole shebang” will still remain “mysterious” even when the brains it has produced have examined themselves to the full. I retain in old age my boyhood interest in religions and their explanations, a continuous process of self-correction and discovery, though not much use when my lights go out a few years from now.

  2. There are some good tv shows on now dealing with some of the various brain architecture which leads us to belief. One is called “brain games” and another is “through the worm hole”.

  3. Here is my favorite “Atheist Meme” :

    The Devil’s Syllogism:

    (1) Homosexuality is not a choice (obviously – is heterosexuality a choice?)
    (2) Paul condemns homosexual acts (Romans 1:18-32)
    (3) Therefore, either God is EVIL, or else we have to throw out all of Paul’s writings as merely arbitrary prejudices and musings, rather than the inspired word of God.

    1. Or Paul’s strong statements relating to sexuality are the typical symptoms of someone feeling deep shame and desperate to deny and suppress his own feelings. Spong and others have argued that Paul’s writings contain evidence of an author with homosexual feelings in denial. 🙂

      1. Spong talks about that in “Reclaiming The Bible For A Non Religious World.” Good book . Good companion to his earlier book “Liberating The Gospels.” Spong may have a point, but there is really no way to prove it.

  4. Samantha Field says “It’s perpetually frustrating to me, though, that there’s a certain movement of atheists that brand me as an idiot because I’m religious, or that I’m incapable of being reasonable or logical because I have faith.”

    I don’t think she is an “idiot.” If I knew someone who seemed perfectly reasonable in every way, with the one exception that she believed there was a loving, caring, personal, omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent, invisible Flying Spaghetti monster who watched over her and had a plan for her life, I would think she was a “high functioning schizophrenic.”

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