One of the things that I have to contend with, being a strident and ardent atheist, is that a certain amount of dissonance will always exist between the views I hold regarding religion. As SexySecularist Mike and I were discussing earlier, the positions of fundamentalists frequently make more sense (in their bizarro world way) than those of religious moderates. The fundamentalist says, “The Bible is true, anything the contradicts it is false,” while the moderate will hold that Genesis is kind of true…and evolution is also true too. Or religious moderates will take it a step further, and assert that the Bible is not meant to be taken literally – in spite of the fact that the Bible has spent the better part of a few thousand years firmly in the “nonfiction” category, and says within its pages that it is the absolute unerring truth. As Sam Harris argues, the more intolerant and wacky religious claims often have greater internal consistency than the seemingly more reasonable arguments of religious moderates and liberals.
And yet. Our greatest allies are going to be the religious moderates and reformers, and there’s little getting around that. Whenever I hear “The Bible teaches love and tolerance!” followed by advocacy of gay rights or religious tolerance and further criticisms of fundamentalism, my first instinct isn’t delight at having found common ground, but rather an immediate revulsion to this ignorance of the actual content of the Bible. When I hear someone excuse the testaments by claiming that they’re not meant to be taken literally, I can’t help but think that they’re just being dishonest or ignorant by selectively ignoring the parts of the Bible that state quite clearly that the Bible is the absolutel literal truth.
Even though these are usually very good, smart people who are committed to good works and the betterment of society, I remain appalled that they will attribute their morality to a book that is very near the opposite of good, and I fear that giving a show of respect to their claims about God and the Bible simply lubricates the slippery slope of religious excuses. I also fear that when we don’t expose religious texts and doctrines as fundamentally and historically unethical or untrue, we give up a certain amount of ground to factions that desire a more tolerant society, and who will possibly sacrifice our own freedoms in order to foster that tolerance (see: Europe’s dealings with Islam).
It seems to me that the part of me that respects truth and consistency will forever be at odds with the part of me that respects a better society and cooperation towards a greater goal. What are your thoughts on the matter?