August 28, 2007

Radical Objectors of Radical Religion

Newshound Andrew Breitbart is no Christian, by his own admission. In fact, I recently listened to him fill in for the vacationing Dennis Miller, on Miller's own radio show, and I heard him make several very un-Christian statements about his personal moral views. However, he is, in many ways, what I have come to call a "common-sense conservative." That is one who holds certain conservative views, not because they are logically consistent parts of some larger belief system, but because they just seem to be true and right when the politics are dropped (or before they are acquired) and the real-world observations roll in.

As a Christian, I found one of Breitbart's lucid observations particularly refreshing. It was in response to a thoroughly postmodern caller anxious to keep her religiously pluralistic Tao in balance by claiming that radical Islam was no different or worse than radical Christianity, and that it was no more or less common. Here was his rather unsympathetic reply, which also speaks to why he and many secularists like him have parted company with their peers to the left:

If you can tell me that there are Christians in this country that are as radical, or even in the ballpark as radical, as radical Islam, then we're living in two different worlds.

I am not a Christian. I'm not a practicing Christian. As a matter of fact, I was a trained secularist in college. I was trained to hate Christianity. I no longer do, because they kept telling me that Christianity was this extreme religion, and the evangelicals were going to come over the hill, and they were going to create a Taliban. And the second that the Taliban showed up, the second that radical Islam put its flagpole down on America and decreed us evildoers, the Left has been AWOL. It does not even have a language — a lexicon — to deal with the raw evil that is radical Islam. And to talk about Christianity in the same sentence as it causes my head to spin.

As astonishingly ill-conceived as it seems to be, I have often heard this comparison — from Rosie O'Donnell on The View to Thomas Friedman of The New York Times. But let me ask a very basic question:

What comparison do Christians, by the most generous definition of that term and of the most radical form, have to radical Muslims who are numerous enough to form competing armies; who commonly have their entire holy book memorized; who are often students and teachers of recognized religious schools; who assault their enemies with directly applicable scripture verses on their lips; who have deep historical precedence for their actions after the pattern of their own religion's founder; and whose more moderate peers seldom even bother to speak against them?

At what point may we begin calling the radicals "devout" and the moderates "liberal?" Perhaps the confusion is in the idea that "devout" means holy, peaceful, and self-sacrificing rather than one who is earnestly devoted to a belief or cause. The irony is that the former conception of the term is the legacy of our western Judeo-Christian theological tradition.

If we want to make comparisons between two religious systems let's not be narrow and selective in our comparison; let's compare the character of those who are most sincerely and accurately following the teachings and traditions of that religious system. That being said, and with a little historical knowledge of Islam's roots in hand, let us ask ourselves who would be more likely to help pack a truck full of explosives and send it off into the camp of unbelievers: Jesus or Muhammad? What about the Christians of the first hundred years, who spread their message across the Roman Empire through private evangelism under the heavy thumb of the secular and the Jewish authorities, versus the Muslims who had taken much of the old Roman Empire into possession by the sword within 100 years after Muhammad's death?

We can only pray that all of Islam becomes apostate and the more moderate, liberal version of it prevails.

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August 06, 2007

Keep Your Mitts Off My Meaning

Though it is often disputed by atheists, it seems to most Christians a self-evident truth that if there is no God there is no meaning to life. There can only be a purpose if there is a planner — someone to establish that purpose and equip us and the creation to that end. Of course, you could always appeal to evolution as our maker, but then you are stuck with only a meaning that chance has wrought: to survive and breed. This is deficient both in its banality and in the nature of its ultimate origin. It is not the kind of answer people have in mind when they ask, "What is the meaning of life?" And if they ask the further question of what meaning there is to reproduction and survival they quickly fall into the pit of nihilism.

The thoughtful atheist's reply, having the all too common allergy to nihilism, is to admit the lack of meaning in any objective sense but to point out our resulting freedom to define life's "meaning" for ourselves. How very glorious! We get to dream up our own answer to the most foundational question of existence. Best of all, since there is no right answer, there is also no wrong answer. Who is to say to another, "No, you have picked the wrong meaning; you must choose some other"? There is no supposed objective standard in play to constrain one in crafting a personal meaning — no principle to demand that it must be according to, say, scientific truth. If there were, then that in itself would suggest some form of objective meaning to our existence.

Even though the atheist's meaning of choice is often some form of secular humanism and scientific triumphalism, it is not to say that this is the correct meaning for all mankind. It may seem preferable to live boldly according to the truth that there is no God and to soldier on for the glory and survival of the human race, but that attitude is not ultimately better than those who think that humanity is a blight on nature and we should permit ourselves to go extinct. We may not like some people's invented meaning, but it is theirs to make nonetheless. That is, if atheism is true.

The problem is that many atheists do not have a live and let live attitude about metaphysical beliefs (though I admit that some do). They feel that religious adherents are wrong, foolish, delusional, or even downright wicked in some cases. Of late, some rather high-profile atheists have even been so bold as to suggest that a war must be waged against religion. It is not enough for atheists to (understandably) seek to partition themselves from religion so that they can be free to follow their own values; they want to disabuse religionists of their wrongheaded metaphysical ideas. They want them to live according to the atheist's own idea of "truth" and how we ought to respond in the face of it. They want to preach it in the schools and from every media pulpit that they can command.

Ironically, it is the atheist's version of truth that entails, at the outset, that there is no truth regarding meaning and moral principles. It is the prerogative of humanity to identify value and meaning for itself, and there are many who are busily doing just that who do not happen to be atheists. At least the theist believes, rightly or wrongly, that his truth is a real Truth that matters for all parties. He may be deluded and bothersome, but he is at least logically consistent in his attempts to proselytize others.

The atheist is like the bully who tells his little sister, enjoying her tea party, that her bear and doll guests are just dumb, stuffed creatures and that she's a silly girl living in a fantasy world. If she does not run off sobbing to her bed she might at least abandon her game, the spell broken and the fun evaporated. You see, it is in the illusion that the fun is to be found. Likewise, it is in the belief that Christianity is actually true that the comfort and meaning lies.

The typical atheist means to purge the Christian of his religion if possible or at least the propositional truth of it. All this in the name of the "truth" as he sees it, cold and hard as it may be. He may just as well tell our little tea party princess that she is a chance byproduct of a meaningless natural process; the only reason her parents appear to love and care for her is because of biochemical mechanisms meant to insure the survival of their own DNA; and when she dies she will return to the nothingness from which she came and no one will remember her in 200 years or so. When she runs off sobbing to her bed he can feel justly satisfied that the truth has been served and that he's made a contribution toward insuring that she does not grow up to continue having juice and crackers with dolls or in memory of imaginary crucified deities.

The evangelizing atheist is a metaphysical bully who presses his own truth upon the religious for his personal amusement and self-interest. He is certainly not doing them any favors, since I am not sure that any atheist has ever gone to the grave with a smile and many have gone by their own hands. The sad dilemma for the atheist is that if he is right, then there is no right, from morality to meaning. He can lobby and vote and whine all he likes for his cause, but the last thing he can do is sell it as the truth to which all the world should submit. In doing so he only compounds his sin of actually being wrong about the existence of God. But that is another discussion.

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