Matt Gemmell, in Morality and Persecution
Let me begin with a couple sentiments. First, I believe I should love everyone. Everyone. No one doesn’t deserve love. I’m imperfect, and sometimes I let my emotions, or even my logic, keep me from loving everyone. This is a shame.
Second, I particularly like Matt Gemmell. I love following his blog and his Twitter feed. His user experience design is inspired. His software architectures, too. And he’s funny, and writes quite well. I would really like to think that we’d be friends, had we the chance.
That said, I was very sad to read this essay, but please let me explain before you jump to conclusions as to why.
Please, if you haven’t read it, don’t continue here. Go and read it. I don’t care what “side” you come from; you should read it.
Henceforth, I’ll be addressing Matt directly, with the hope that he’ll read this. If you are, Matt, please know, too, that I have the utmost respect for you, and for any human being, regardless of their choices in life, or the lot they were dealt.
There’s a growing contingent of atheists and agnostics, I seem to notice, that are lashing back at religion (wholesale, without discretion, though most examples given within argument are from Christian origin). As is often the case, Matt puts better words to it than most have:
The legacy of religion is not peace, or morality, or comfort. It is war, and terror, and persecution. The legacy of religion is the Crusades, and tent-revivalist preachers stealing from the poor, and Afghan women who can be imprisoned for being a victim of rape, and can then be murdered by their own families if they will not then marry their rapists.
I can’t argue that those things are not part of religion’s legacy, nor should anyone try. Likewise, though, I don’t think one should argue that religion’s legacy includes only those atrocities.
Perhaps more importantly, I think those atrocities are humanity’s legacy. It’s not as though there exists some atheistic paradise where there is no such activity. I don’t want to sling mud in the other direction, but some pretty terrible things have been done for what a group of people found to be good, logical reasons, without involving religion.
The language of religion itself is instructive in its attitude to outsiders. Religion demands ”respect”, but grudgingly preaches ”tolerance”. Respect is the very opposite of what I feel towards a socially cancerous, persecuting fantasy that stubbornly clings to the dark ages, and scurries to twist or refute every advance of science that would cast well-deserved doubt on its fables. It is rationality that demands respect, and religion which must for now be grudgingly and awkwardly tolerated.
If you simply swap their places, has their been any improvement? Wouldn’t it be better to, pardon my invocation of a religious paradigm (not unique to Christianity), behave the way you wished everyone did? If you tolerate the religious, rather than respecting them, then how have we improved?
Appeals to “Reason” as the only truth are simply another form of religion. We don’t have a perfect scientific theory that can explain away all of nature, let alone human behavior. We have constantly evolving theories. By that I don’t mean to denounce them. I’m simply pointing out that they require faith, too. You have to trust that the theory you operate by is good enough to get you to the next one, and that the people who did the research were honest and capable.
No, I’m not trying to say that putting faith in a scientific theory is exactly like putting faith in a religious text. I am, though, saying that it is arrogant to call one kind of faith better than another.
Religion is not the only realm in which logic and reason are not always king. Philosophy, the mother of logic and reason, includes several branches (mostly in the eastern hemisphere) that demote rational thought to equal footing with that of emotion, intuition or experience. Are these philosophers visiting evil on the world, too?
I am a Christian. The kind that tries to read his Bible daily. The kind that is very involved with his church. I’m intimately aware of the problem. I see the evils you’re talking about, every day. I hate them, too, and I don’t think they’re the way it’s supposed to be. I’m ashamed of the way I see people treated, across the board. I believe that marriage is a basic human right. I believe the mixture of religion and politics can only be dangerous. I don’t think there is any reason to look down on another human being, and I don’t see anything in the Christian Bible that justifies such behavior or thinking. From what I read, we’re all equal.
It all comes down to this: we’re all human. If you believe that religion is a powerless pastime, then it makes no sense to rid the world of it. Terrible things have been done in its name, but will continue in some other name without it. At best you’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater. At worst, you’re becoming the very same kind of bully you’re railing against. To borrow your analogy, it’s about as nice as telling a hopeful child there’s no Santa Claus.