Is Atheism as Fundamentalist as Religion?

© Arun Madhavan

Recently one of my close friends had to undergo chemotherapy and finally organ transplantation for cancer. It was a time of great stress and sorrow for all of us.

 

As a doctor who was closely following his ordeal fighting the illness, I was not surprised to see that it was not the disease itself, but its treatment that made him suffer more. Moreover it was a costly suffering too, as the treatment was expensive. But many of his family members were distressed seeing  that the treatment was punishing his body so much. Fortunately the patient himself remained strong and had no doubt that those sufferings and expenses were necessary to win over cancer.

 

How can a person undergo a treatment which caused a lot of suffering, fully believing that it’s for his good? How can a team of doctors make an outwardly normal-looking person undergo so much expensive suffering ?

 

The answer to both questions is their belief in Science. It’s science that is predicting that this outwardly normal-looking guy will die in few months time if he does not undergo radical treatment. It’s also predicting that though chemotherapy and organ transplant are distressing , they are all that will help the patient defeat the cancer and live a long life.

 

Many people all around the world have strong  beliefs not about science, but about holy books, gods, religion, god men and women.

 

Is belief in Science the same as belief in religion or holy books or in god men?
Continue reading “Is Atheism as Fundamentalist as Religion?”

Fundamentally Fundamental about the Fundamentals of Fundies: Facepalms of Biblical Proportions

Despite loose usage of the term and the tossing about of its diminutive form, “fundamentalist” is not a pejorative: the word was invented by conservative Christians for purposes of self-identification and bears an exact meaning that has only secondarily to do with attitude. I’m well acquainted with the history of this word because it is my interesting fortune to have been raised in one of the small, fractious, separatist, backwater Christian sects that coined it around the turn of the 20th century.

 

By the time I was born at mid-century, Missionary Baptist churches all over the U.S. South proudly touted their fundamentalist bona fides on the signs that identified them: “Independent – Bible-believing – Fundamental.” While dismissing the historic creeds as the inventions of fallen man, such churches showed not the least hesitation in publishing “statements of faith” (as though “creed” meant something different) sometimes disguised as “church covenants,” and those published statements always included an article such as “We believe the Bible to be the divinely-inspired and wholly inerrant Word of God.” Fundamentalists of the other monotheistic religions hold a similar attitude regarding their various “holy books.” Belief in the divine origin of a “sacred scripture” is essential to fundamentalists of all sects, because it’s the primary premise – often unspoken – in all of their arguments.

 

What I wish I could say to fundamentalists of all stripes (and wish they could hear me when I say it) is that their foundational premise is false. The Bible is most certainly not the Word of God: it has no more to do with the (alleged) creator of the universe than the Qur’an, the Book of Mormon or the Left Behind series.
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Congress Shall Make No Law…

A little over a year ago I ran into the following news item from the land that gave us David Hume and the Scottish Enlightenment: http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/parents-outrage-extremist-religious-sect-2254926. I posted it on my Facebook page, thereby precipitating a winding, entertaining, and sometimes heated discussion with a Christian fundamentalist Facebook friend from England. His position is not uncommon, and certainly more prevalent in my country than in his, and for all I know there may be visitors to this blog who, like my friend, would find themselves in sympathy with the headmaster who allowed the proselytizing to take place. So I’d like to enlarge the scope of the conversation to include anyone here who’d care to chime in, with an especially warm invitation extended to any Christian fundamentalists who might happen to be lurking. (Whether you’ll bother to read a TLDR that raises troubling questions is itself a troubling question, of course; besides, in addition to hurling poison darts at your cherished beliefs, I tend to write in compound sentences and sprinkle my prose liberally with semicolons and parenthetical asides. I’m afraid people sometimes find me tedious.)

 

Church versus StateWhat’s at stake here is a principle that has come to define most of the Western world ever since the Enlightenment, and the consequent composition of the U.S. Constitution: a precious principle that has come under sustained attack during the past few decades by forces on the religious right, both in the U.S. and in a number of European countries. That principle is secularism. Fundamentalist Christians, I’m addressing you in the following paragraphs; atheists and others, I’d be honored to enjoy your company as well if you’re inclined to join me for the ride.

 

In the interest of helping you understand the position I take on this issue, I’ll ask you to consider the following (if you read the article I linked to above, you’ll understand that I’ve constructed an exact parallel with the soul-saving literature that was distributed at the school in question): suppose your child came home one afternoon carrying a book with a title like, “Why the Book of Mormon is True and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Is the Surest Way to Heaven,” which had been distributed that day to the students at his school. Or perhaps, “Why Islam Is True, the Qur’an Is the Word of God and All Unbelievers Are Destined for Hell.” Would you, committed to your Christian faith as you are, take offense at the proselytizing efforts that Mormons or Muslims had launched in your child’s school? Would you consider it acceptable that they were permitted to do that, or would you find it outrageous and impermissible, a breach of public trust? Would you acquiesce (however grudgingly) in such activities, or would you agitate to have them prohibited? If the latter is the case, then surely you understand why that prohibition should extend also to proselytizing by those who embrace the faith that you happen to espouse.
Continue reading “Congress Shall Make No Law…”

Do You Swear to Tell the Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing like the “Biblical Truth”

I’ve been seeing the expression “Biblical truth” bandied about on several fundamentalist Christian Facebook groups recently, and I want to address that weird and rather disturbing notion.

There’s a point every semester when I broach the subject of truth in my classes: it happens when we start our survey of African-American music, a unit that begins with a consideration of the Blues. The author of the textbook we use launches into a rather incoherent and saccharine discussion of the Blues as a vehicle for truth-telling. I think he mostly gets it wrong; nevertheless, it is a useful point of departure so we do read the section and discuss it. I always begin by telling my students that, just as the infinitives to hear and to listen don’t mean the same thing, so the nouns “fact” and “truth” are not by any means exact synonyms, although there is clearly a relationship between them (as there is between hearing and listening).

To help them understand my meaning, I have them do this thought experiment: go to the neonatal unit of the local hospital and choose your newborn. Become an omnipresent observer: follow that person all his life; record in your notebooks everything that person ever experiences, says or does. Omit no detail. At the end of that person’s life, you’ll have a mountain of notebooks – and a mountain of facts. Will you have in those notebooks the truth of that person’s life?

Of course not. There’s only one way to discover the truth of that person’s life: ask the person who lived the life. Truth is the synthesis we make of the facts. Facts are objective; truth is subjective.
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An Atheist Expresses Gratitude

An Atheist Gives Thanks Expresses Gratitude

(To whom, exactly, would an atheist “give thanks?”)

Earth King Goza!

There are four calendric events – the equinoxes and solstices – that have meaning for me because of what they reveal about our planet’s relationship to the star it orbits and of what they meant to the ancients. On those occasions I always spend some time thinking about the Earth’s axial tilt and Newton’s laws of planetary motion; I usually take the time to look at some diagrams of the solar system while meandering through some photos of Stonehenge and other ancient calendars.

 

There are also national holidays that I hold in high regard, Labor Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day foremost among them. To me, those holidays speak of justice formerly denied my brothers and sisters but later hard-won by courageous men and women who laid their lives on the line; of a country wise enough for all its failings to recognize value in the struggle for fairness and to commemorate it. Those days occasion my watching of Matewan and reading of Letter from Birmingham Jail respectively.

 

There are national and religious holidays for which I have mixed feelings yet observe nevertheless in a way that lends them meaning; these include Independence Day (which for me involves the reading of the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights), Veterans’ Day (when I read the poetry of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon), and the Christian holiday Good Friday – an occasion for auditing J.S. Bach’s Matthäus-Passion. The holiday we are about to confront (celebrate? enjoy? endure?) in our various ways is another; I speak, of course, of that holiday known colloquially as Turkey Day, when I usually make a list.

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10 Ways to Remain a Fundamentalist Christian

1. Don’t read this list.

This list quite obviously highlights those areas of fundamentalist Christianity I find to be problematic in today’s society with all of its knowledge and freedoms. Consider this a friendly warning – many of the items on this list hint at those factors which led to my own ‘fall from grace’.

2. When reading the bible, read only those portions mentioned by your pastor the previous Sunday -or- read only the bible verses assigned for the current date in a “read the entire bible in a year” program.

Pastors are quite unlikely to mention those portions of the bible that may seem ethically, or logically… unfortunate. The cold-blooded slaughter of the Midianites excluding, of course, the virginal girls; the production of patterned offspring in cattle brought on by placing streaked sticks in the water troughs of copulating flocks; or the God initiated mauling of children by bears for the unpardonable sin of teasing (Numbers 31:7-17, Genesis 30:37-39, and 2 Kings 2:23-24 respectively) rarely make up the bulk of a sermon or bible study. Pastors are also adept at placing each bible verse in the proper denominational context to prevent accidental individual analysis. If accomplished as intended, this context will feed your faith while starving any doubts or conflicts you may be harboring.
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