Sunday, 30 January 2011

Informational dishonesty in religion

I just came across the Huffinton Post article "What's the Least You Can Believe and Still Be a Christian?" by Martin Thielen from January 22, 2011. He tells an anecdote about a friend who wants to switch from atheism to agnosticism (with a suggestion of a little more) by understanding what is minimally necessary for Christian belief. The article focuses on the important problem of the "negative press" for the Church in terms of sexism, homophobia and other issues. For example, you don't have to believe "Woman can't be preachers and must submit to men" or "God loves straight people but not gay people" but you need to believe in "Jesus -- his life, teachings, example, death and resurrection."

My problem is with this kind of argument, namely "Religion isn't [insert bad thing you thought religion was]; religion is [insert good thing you think religion ought to cover]," is that it does not mention any suspected connection between the two. There are reasons for why so many denominations of Christianity have elements of sexism. The religion is based on the historical interpretations of a text written about practices from the Bronze Age. Even if the interpretations and the text were not written in times where women were undervalued (to say the least), it's still all about a time when they were.

There's also the claim that you don't have to believe that "Good Christians don't doubt" to be a good Christian. But if you have one necessary belief that you must hold in order to be a Christian, good or bad, wouldn't doubting it stop you from being a good (or bad) Christian?

What seems to be more basically true is that religion requires belief without evidence or even rational justification to a degree for non-religious "belief". This bypass around evidence and rationality would let through other bad intellectual habits like prejudice, sloppy arguments, and extremism. If you don't need good reasons for some beliefs, you can get away with not having them for others.

I am not arguing that there does not exist good and bad religious or, more conservatively, better and worse religious modes of practice. What I don't want people to get away with is presenting an argument for something without revealing the weaknesses in that argument. When you fail to mention them, I get suspicious. If you're not hiding them and don't think they are a threat to the point, then bringing them up shouldn't hurt and might help convince the reader/listener.

Did I miss anything? Did I arrogantly judge the argument with my closed mind? Tell me. I'm all ears. Well, not all.

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