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Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Real Culture War

There is a sense in this country that we are in the midst of a Culture War. Liberal vs. Conservative. Secularism vs Religion. Christian vs. Athiest. However you want to break it down, the underlying theme is morality. Right vs. Wrong. Absolute moral righteousness vs. Permissive moral relativism. Standing up for your principles vs. Anything goes.

And we all know which side atheists supposedly fall on.

Yet, I think it is safe to say that neither side has complete unity within its ranks. Let's take atheism for example. The assumption is that atheists are pro-choice baby killers or at least want to allow women to make that decision for themselves. But there are undoubtedly some pro-lifers out there amongst us who aren't willing to grant women that right. And though I have run into very few (if any) personally, I'm sure it is possible to find homophobic atheists who would rather not see homosexuals attain the status of equals in our society.

Now, I will be completely honest, it seems to me that on these two big social issues (and many others to be sure), the great majority of atheists do come down on one side. I attribute this to the fact that since atheists don't have one ultimate authoritative book to turn to for moral guidance, they have to look at all the facts surrounding an issue and make their decision based on logical reasoning given the evidence. If the evidence overwhelmingly points to one side over the other, then most people will come to the same conclusion, but of course there will always be a minority who see it the other way.

But the important point to remember here is that atheists don't claim to have a monopoly on the absolute moral truth. It is entirely reasonable to present new evidence, or at least expose an atheist to evidence she has never considered before and expect her to change her mind. And may I point out that this sort of relativism isn't just practiced by one side. Just ask a Christian how they feel about slavery today and you will most likely get a very different answer then you would have a few hundred years ago.

But slavery is one of those "black and white" issues today. No civilized person is going to justify its existence. If you really want to get at the heart of Christian relativism, then you have to take a look at an issue which isn't quite so settled in today's churches, such as homosexuality. While atheists may agree to disagree with other atheists, there is no better spectator sport to watch than Christians who can't decide whose interpretation of the Bible is the best, in this case, with respect to respecting homosexuals.

Their arguments are more pedantic than Clinton's confusion over the meaning of "is". They will argue over the meaning of a single word in the Bible or some obscure command tucked away in a book over 1000 pages long. While some will argue that we must look at Jesus' overall message of "Love Thy Neighbor", others will rely on an archaic verse in Leviticus tucked away amongst such admonitions as "Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material" or "Do not cut the hair at the sides or your head or clip off the edges of your beard". And of course it goes without saying that they are using as a foundation for their beliefs a book written a few thousand years ago by extremely superstitious people and which has been both mistranslated and miscopied throughout the years (both accidentally and purposefully). But yet they take it as gospel, they just can't agree on the message.

This is the real culture war, Moderate vs Fundamentalist, Catholic vs. Protestant, Bapist vs. Even More Conservative Baptist. And they are fighting for their life, or rather afterlife. Everytime a church splinters, it makes their religion weaker. If the Bible is the word of God, then having a thousand different interpretations casts doubt as to whether anyone can really know what God is saying in the first place, which means the Bible becomes irrelevant and their claim of moral superiority essentially worthless. And as I've explained previously, they already know this, which is why they are hesitant to criticize each other, at least in public.

You see, when you have the word of God on your side, the other other side is wrong by definition, and those are fighting words in the battle for God's grace and your eternal soul.


Blogger Darius said...

But just to throw you a curve ball, here's how fractured the situation is: there are Christians who don't believe Jesus was God and don't believe in the resurrection. (For example, if you google "Open Christianity.")

And there are people who see spirituality as a dimension of all our inner lives - not in some spooky magical sense, but a dimension of what it is to be a person.

In fact, personally I'd say that the passion atheists have for truth is highly spiritual.

I have relatives who are Catholics and are basically fundamentalist. But my one Catholic relative who's actually a nun I think would be excommunicated if Rome knew her views!

So there is that divide you're talking about, I know what you mean. But you can't always tell where a person's at by what label people attach to them or that they may attach to themselves.

Wed May 03, 11:50:00 AM 2006  

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