Is questioning religion being hostile toward religion?

The primary purpose of this blog as I stated in the first post is “to point out and tear apart the myths and lies expressed by the religious right and other conservatives against those of us who are either non-believers, agnostic, liberals, or progressive.” And in a recent post I complained about an atheist who stepped over the line in support of “historian” David Irving.

My goal has always been to point out these lies and myths using a logical argument with the proof being in the words the target of the post uses. I don’t make stuff up.

Contrast that with some of the religious conservative blogs that write against the non-believer. Like their religious beliefs, their writing draws wild conclusions with no evidence or they take something out of context to “prove” their view.

I came across the blog Prolifeblogs and the article “We can run, but we cannot hide”. The writer made one or two points I agreed with, like parents should monitor what their children watch on TV and that parents should be able to control how THEIR children are educated (notice the emphasis on “their” children). The rest of the long post bordered on slurs directed at secular humanists.

Being a secular humanist I can tell you as a fact that the writer doesn’t personally know any sechums and knows nothing about secular humanism. For example:

At the Super Bowl here in America we had the scene of exposure by Janet Jackson for titillation and to push the envelope a little bit further. It caused a temporary setback to the secularist movement since so many came out in outrage after her breast cover was intentionally ripped off right in front of 5 year old Johnny sitting on the couch watching the game with dad. It was only temporary though. The secularist movement goes on.

Secularists are pushing the envelope every single day.

> They are slowly but surely removing Christ from the public square
> Children are suspended for praying in school
> They tried to stop a 5 year old child from displaying a picture he drew that had an image of Jesus on it in a public school.

First off, the Jackson incident, while it did happen was not like a porno film. The “costume malfunction” happened in a millisecond so unless you were looking for it, Johnny wouldn’t have noticed. It was a nipple flash and nothing more and you needed to tape it then pause it at the exact moment to even get a blurred look. Print photographs showed more detail than the TV version.

Second, the incident about removing Christ from the public square is really enforcing government neutrality toward religion and not just secularists support that neutrality. It has nothing to do nor affects the religious beliefs of the public. The complaints about students being suspended for praying in school, or displaying the picture, may or may not have happened. I have read some accounts where a child was punished for displaying or expressing their religious beliefs in school. However, such punishments aren’t the work of “secularists”, they are the work of school administrators, an overwhelming number who are Christians, who are more concerned about covering their asses from legal suits than caring about Johnny’s religion.

In 1995, the American Humanist Association along with a host of religious groups addressed those kinds of overreactions in a booklet called “Religion in the Public Schools: A Joint Statement Of Current Law”. At that time the booklet was distributed to schools by the US Department of Education. The statement talked about what the current law was concerning religion and schools and what student action was permissible and what actions were not.

Students have the right to pray individually or in groups or to discuss their religious views with their peers so long as they are not disruptive. Because the Establishment Clause does not apply to purely private speech, students enjoy the right to read their Bibles or other scriptures, say grace before meal, pray before tests, and discuss religion with other willing student listeners. In the classroom, students have the right to pray quietly except when required to be actively engaged in school activities (e.g., students may not decide to pray just as a teacher calls on them). In informal settings, such as the cafeteria or in the halls, student may pray either audibly or silently, subject to the same rules of order as apply to other speech in these locations. However, the right to engage in voluntary prayer does not include, for example, the right to have a captive audience listen or to compel other students to participate.

Students may express their religious beliefs in the form of reports, homework, artwork, and such expressions that are constitutionally protected. Teachers may not reject or correct such submissions simply because they include a religious symbol or address religious themes. Likewise, teachers may not require students to modify, include, or excise religious views in their assignments, if germane. These assignments should be judged by ordinary academic standards of substance, relevance, appearance and grammar.

“Religion in the Public Schools: A Joint Statement Of Current Law”

Prolifeblogs also said this:

Secular humanism doesn’t have morality borders since morality is a religious “hangup.” Abortion, Euthanasia, pedophilia, polygamy, bestiality, homosexual/transgender/bi-sexual marriage…these are all going to be legal soon. They will be legal if nobody stands up against them.

Extreme?

NAMBLA, the North American Man/Boy Love Association has this to say:

“NAMBLA’s goal is to end the oppression of men and boys who have mutually consensual relationships.”

Think about that the next time you send your boy out to play.

That is just a damn lie. Sechums do have moral borders – they just aren’t fixed on a religious belief. One primary moral border is to be accountable for our actions and another is not to harm others. No sechum I know would support the efforts of NAMBLA because I don’t know of anyone who would support harming children. The writer also implies NAMBLA is a secular humanist group and it really is not. It’s possible someone in that group happens to call themself a secular humanist just as I am sure there could be Christians in the group.

The main point is that real Secular Humanists (not the straw man in the Prolifeblogs post) believe morals should be based on rational and logical norms and not some book written 2,000 years ago.

Another issue that bothers me comes from my secular humanist background. Just as I don’t appreciate Christians making things up about sechums, I don’t condone sechums or other like minded people making stuff up about the religious. Lying or name calling about the religious just isn’t cool. I make it a point to try and call out those errors when I come across them and I tend to get upset when other like minded people hold me and other sechums to different standards. One of these concern the questioning of religious beliefs in general.

Sechums, as a core principle, believe that all ideas are open to questioning, including our own. We are looking to form conclusions about things and one way to do that is to ask lots of questions. We don’t have “faith” like so many religious people do.

When we do that questioning we get flack from our more liberal religious friends. They complain that questioning religious beliefs, for whatever reason, is “attacking” the person and is harmful. Some of our friends think that religious belief itself is not harmful so whatever works for the religious we should not even think of questioning them or their beliefs.

I disagree with that argument. Not only do I think it is important to question everything, I think it is unhealthy to humor someone’s religious beliefs. It is not only unhealthy for the believer but can be unhealthy for the people at the other end of that belief. 70% of voters in 11 states voted to treat homosexuals as less than free people by taking away the chance for them to marry like 90% of all people get to do and many if not all of that 70% voted the way they did because of their religious beliefs.

I do agree that we need to be mindful of the believer when we do question their belief and do so in a respectful and honest manner.

What boils my blood is our liberal religious friends who chastise us for questioning beliefs on one hand yet refuse to chastise believers or other liberal religious people when they attack Sechums and our beliefs.

For example, recently my Humanist group hosted a showing of a documentary by Brian Flemming titled “The God Who Wasn’t There”. In the film Flemming takes a look at Christianity and some of the illogical parts of that religion. He used some humor but backed up his claims with expert opinions and even interviews with average Christians. It was his argument to disprove the existence of God. His presentation did not show Christians or their religion in a very positive light and that was his point.

In the discussion that followed the film and continued on our member’s e-mail list, it was suggested that Flemming and many non-believers go too far in “attacking” people with religious beliefs. It was said that we need to acknowledge that religion plays an important role in most believers lives and by “attacking” their beliefs we have crossed the line of decency.

As expected, the charge was made that we non-believers who “attack” religious beliefs are hostile to religion and the religious and this hostility undermines our credibility as a group to better the human condition. The assumption is made that we must not question people’s deeply held beliefs lest we hurt their feelings.

Someone posted a note they received from a member of a Unitarian church where the film was also shown. The writer was very disappointed that the film was shown as they claimed it “attacked” religious people’s beliefs. What really stood out for me was the first paragraph. It read:

“I was deeply hurt by the 10/7 UU program. It seems to me the Humanist cause would be better served by respecting other faiths instead of demeaning them and treating believers as benighted. “The God Who Was Not There” reminded me of the crackpots who deny the historicity of the Holocaust.”

When I, and a couple of others, suggested that the writer should be taken to task for even suggesting that Flemming was making stuff up or equating Flemming with Holocaust deniers, the person who posted the note said that it was more important to acknowledge the writers feelings of disappointment than correct the obvious attack on Flemming and anyone who agreed with the conclusions in the film.

Can you see the dichotomy of such arguments? Sechums mustn’t “attack” people’s deeply held beliefs because we might hurt someone’s feelings but it’s ok for those sympathetic to religion to attack our beliefs – our feelings be damned.

It’s extremely frustrating to me for a couple of reasons.

First, I don’t mind being told I’m wrong as long as those telling me I’m wrong do so in a respectful and fair manner. Censoring me is not fair or respectful.

Second, no one I know in our group or close to it, questions religion intentionally to hurt people’s feelings. One has to ask if the person being challenged is comfortable or competent enough to defend their “deeply held belief” when they run away from it by invoking the “you hurt my feelings” defense. It’s not like we are telling “Your mama…” jokes.

Ron Carstens, political science professor at Ohio Dominican University said in a recent Columbus Dispatch article:

“In a free society, all ideas should be considered, but all ideas should not be given power.”

To demand that we not question deeply held beliefs is akin to giving those beliefs power for no rational reason and is just as wrong as accepting ideas like “Intelligent Design” in science classrooms.

*NOTE*

This blog transitioned to a podcast in April 2020.

Even after the transition there maybe an occassional blog post that isn’t a podcast like this post.

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One Comment

  1. October 27, 2005

    Great post, and of course you’re so right. The film/UU “controversy” is a great teaching example.

    Religion has all sorts of mechanisms to silence dissent, and this is one of them.

    BTW, I was very amused to find that Janet Jackson’s titflash was a program of the secularist movement. Here I thought it was a typical part of the capitalist movement, which is something different altogether. πŸ™‚

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