Thinking Christian

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Sorting Out My “Is This Not Also Hatred?” Reaction

Posted on Oct 21, 2012 by Tom Gilson

Soon after I posted on “While Atheists Accuse Christians of Hatred” yesterday, Crude asked me to write a commentary on it. I didn’t, because I didn’t have anything more substantial to say about it. It hit me on a purely emotional level, or so I thought. With the help of some more of the comments I’ve been able to sort out what really bothered me about it. Thanks go especially to TFBW and to Kevin for helping me figure myself out on this.

Here’s what’s hateful about that graphic. In short, it’s idiotic, as TFBW said, and it’s also slanderous. (More on those two assessments below.) Further, in the case of Jerry Coyne, it’s idiotic when he ought to be smart enough to know better. Rather than caring to know better, though, he prefers to perpetuate slanderous idiocy. That led me straight to the feeling that there was hatred in it.

What was mindless about the graphic? Almost everything. TFBW explained some of it yesterday. First, it sets off “science” against “religion” as doing different things. This is wrong on multiple levels. It confuses capabilities with motivations, for one thing. Science is a methodology for discovery, which leads to capabilities like a spectacular sky dive. Science didn’t motivate the sky dive, however; a human drive for exploration and adventure did.

Of course it took science to accomplish it—but it takes science to make a gun, too. The graphic could have just as accurately said that while science was dropping a man for a record breaking sky dive, science was shooting a girl for wanting to go to school. Now, before you react and tell me that’s idiotic, that’s the point. The original was just as idiotic. That’s only obscured by the fact that in one case the science is more recent and therefore more salient.

By the way, if the idea was to set off science (still in the illegitimate usage of the term that the original employed) against a human motivational force, the graphic could have said that while the human drive for discovery and adventure accomplished an amazing sky dive while science was shooting a girl. It’s obviously wrong isn’t it? But it’s not more wrong than the graphic.

Perhaps one difference between the original and my inversion of it is that it’s setting the pursuit of knowledge against the enforcement (with a gun) of ignorance. I’ll come to that, but I have to cover some other things on the way there.

The second important way in which the graphic erred was in its undiscriminating use of the term “religion.” It treated all religion as one thing, which is breathtakingly silly. Not all religions believe in shooting girls for wanting to go to school. How obvious is that!? Islam is inherently misogynistic, whereas Christianity remains history’s greatest motivational force for improving the condition of women, including educationally.

That’s a too-little-known reality of history, and in Coyne’s case it’s knowledge he would prefer not be advanced. And that, by the way, sets up my answer to those who would say that the drive for discovery is a purer force than “religion.” It’s only as pure as the person. Coyne’s drive for discovery stops cold at the point of learning anything positive about Christianity or any religion. On such things he prefers to play a schoolyard-ish taunting game.

So while (ahem) “science” is safely dropping a man from space, Jerry Coyne is on a campaign to inhibit and to distort knowledge about one of the world’s most historically significant social phenomena. He’s not using a gun to enforce this ignorance, but he’s using every non-violent resource at his disposal.

And among those resources are mocking, taunting, and slandering: not only of religion, but of the millions who practice it.

Finally Coyne pronounced that the graphic contained all that needed to be said. He rejected dialogue, he rejected listening.

That’s what I reacted to as hateful.

5 Responses to “ Sorting Out My “Is This Not Also Hatred?” Reaction ”

  1. Otto Tellick says:

    Tom: The last time you cited something on Jerry Coyne’s blog to make a point, I was inclined to agree with you, and given the points you’ve explained here, I’m inclined to agree with you again. I should say that I don’t see the current case as clear evidence of “hatred” of religion, because I do not consider hatred to be the same thing as ridicule. (Your use of the term “schoolyard-ish taunting game” does strike me as a symptom of conflating the two.) Coyne is being indiscriminate, certainly, but not hateful.

    I think it’s worthwhile to consider a factor that underlies Coyne’s indiscriminateness: Under the U.S. Constitution, all systems of thought that are asserted and recognized as religious faiths have an equivalent status of protection from infringement by the state.

    If an organized religious group professes a belief that things like educating women, or homosexual acts, or allegations of witchcraft, or apostasy, are grounds for physical punishment, I believe it’s the case that Congress may not enact any law prohibiting such a religion, per se.

    I may be wrong on that point. We can certainly expect the state to arrest, prosecute and convict individual members of such a group who inflict severe punishments on such grounds, since these actions demonstrably violate the rights of the victims. Also, our system of civil law entitles people to sue the offending group and its members, seeking compensation for damages – this has been a useful approach in countering various white-supremacist groups (whose members have far more in common with the Taliban than with any group of atheists).

    But these methods of recourse may only be applied after damage has been inflicted. I’m not sure what conditions would constitute an actionable charge of “incitement to cause harm” against so-called religious leaders espousing physical punishments for acts that are deemed legal by the state (or, for that matter, encouraging religious followers to inflict punishment themselves on people who violate laws of the state, rather than deferring the role of law enforcement to the government).

    So the underlying cause of Coyne’s resentment (this still falls short of hatred) is the seeming indulgence bestowed on noxious views whenever there is an assertion of divine authority for those views.

    Of course it’s obvious that True Christianity, practiced in so many distinct ways by so many good people, is not noxious. But even that vast majority is effectively limited in their ability to refute and suppress the false prophets – at least, so long as they try to do so on the basis of divine authority alone.

    Looking at the blog post by David Marshall that you cited, I was especially interested (as a skeptic) in this train of his thought:

    * The atheist he is refuting (Harry McCall) “… focused exclusively on a few Pauline, or allegedly Pauline, verses in I Corinthians and I Timothy” to support claims that Christianity is misogynistic.

    * “Jesus, not Paul or pseudo-Paul, is the center of Christianity.”

    * “… Given the wealth of empirical data from history, and from the gospels, these few, relatively obscure passages just don’t interest me … (Though I welcome references by readers to good arguments about Paul’s views of women. I don’t find the argument interesting enough to follow much myself…)”

    So he seems to hold what I would consider a healthy disregard for certain passages in the bible that appear, on their face, to contradict not only other parts of the bible, but also a sense of common decency shared by non-Christians and Christians alike. Indeed, he apparently allows some skepticism about the authenticity of some bible passages.

    People like Coyne should be more willing to recognize and acknowledge this attitude in the arguments of Christian apologists. So should all Christians.

  2. David says:

    Not sure that I buy into “…Christianity remains history’s greatest motivational force for improving the condition of women, including educationally.” When I look at many Christian churches that have continued to discount the role/gifts/calling of women because the Bible says they are to be silent. So, some forms of Christianity have contributed, but Christianity in its entirety would not be accurate. Maybe the same nuances could be granted to science, or Islam, or…well, anything you want because behind it all is human broken-ness and sinfulness – even, and one might argue especially, within the Christian church.

  3. Tom Gilson says:

    In the current context, David, where Western culture’s attitude toward women has long been advanced and shaped by our Christian heritage along with other influences, there remains room for discussion about where we should go from here.

    In the larger global and historical context, though, there is no doubt that Christianity has significantly and uniquely advanced women’s status and women’s condition in society.

  4. Otto Tellick says:

    BTW, here’s a clear explanation of an example where a recently observed expression of religious belief can reasonably be construed as hateful.

    The example involves a “reverend” in Maryland expressing his opinion in a public setting that homosexuality is “deserving of death.” That is something very different from ridicule – that is hate speech.

    If you condone or support this “reverend’s” opinion, shame on you. It throws a very bad light on Christianity. It seems appropriate here to invoke David Marshall’s logic: recall that the gospels never quote Jesus as saying anything directly against homosexuality.

  5. Tom Gilson says:

    Oh, for Pete’s sake, why would you think I would condone that?

    Jesus said marriage is for a man and a woman.

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