Mike Mei, a friend, board member and now graduate of the University of Chicago, has given me a list of ten topics to choose from. He claims to have donated, and though I haven’t seen proof, I am going to take his word for it, because that’s the right thing to do in this situation. You don’t agree? Doesn’t matter, your counterarguments are clearly incorrect.
First up: Are liberal, queer-loving, feminist religious people our allies?
Well, this obviously depends on our definition of allies. So let’s Taboo that word and think about all the questions that are hiding in the original, waiting to spring forth and be answered in their own right.
1. Are liberal, queer-loving, feminist religious people (now LQLFRP) practicing a better form of Christianity than their less tolerant counterparts?
I’m not a religious scholar, so I won’t delve into the question of whether they are practicing a form of Christianity that is more true to the original texts or more supported by scripture. I think their religious and supernatural claims are as unsubstantiated by evidence as those of the more fundamentalist crowd, and I have no qualms about saying so. However, I think they do far less harm (obviously), and a great deal of good,and I applaud them for it. I’d like to say that if I believed in god, I would believe in a loving god, but I’m actually pretty drawn to the epic sexiness of the justice over mercy type.
2. Aren’t LQLFRP just cowards who refuse to face the true meaning of their religion?
No. Stop. You are never going to understand them the way they understand themselves if you take that approach. The best way to convince people they’re wrong is to understand why they think they’re right. We hate being told that we really believe in god, we’re just angry at him, right? So give other people the benefit of the doubt. Assume that they are sincere in their faith. From personal experience, I can assure you that they are. Meet a few LQLFRPs and you’ll realize the full depth of their commitment to doing god’s work: the work of helping the poor, uplifting the meek, providing solace and sanctuary. Do research into civil rights and other social movements and see all of the amazing liberal religious people bringing the full force of their conviction and faith to bear on issues of justice (along with us secularists, of course). Look at this picture of a Baptist preacher marching with an Orthodox Jewish Rabbi in the name of racial equality.
And let them interpret their religion their own way. If you think they are wrong, tell them, argue with them, but don’t tell them they don’t believe what they say they believe.
3. Should we work with LQLFRP on the issues on which we agree?
Yes, obviously. If they can help us get an anti-discrimination bill passed, or provide a safe space for people who have experienced sexual abuse, or elect a secular congressperson, we should absolutely work with them. That doesn’t mean we can’t be clear about our differences, but in the most basic sense of the concept of alliance, they are our allies on the issues where we agree.
4. Do we and LQLFRP fundamentally hold the same values?
This depends, of course, on the LQLFRP in question, but by and large, yes. A very important point that many miss is that while religious people’s sense of morality is influenced by the type of god they believe in, the type of god they believe in is equally or more influenced by their morality, their humanist, universal morality. I don’t think LQLFRP love queers because their god happens to think non-heterosexuality is ok; for the most part I think these are tolerant, loving individuals whose conception of god only makes sense of god is equally tolerant and loving. So it is in fact their religion which provides evidence of their fundamental values.
As for whether they share the value of rationality, this is a case-by-case question. Most LQLFRP I know are quite rational, as defined by their general propensity to think through issues reasonably, weigh evidence appropriately and address and consider arguments against their position. By and large, religion seems to be a pretty highly compartmentalizable brain module, so it’s not fair for me to think that because they believe in god, they’re irrational. Also, while I think these arguments are wrong, there are more than a few people (though it should be noted that I’m drawing from a university crowd) who believe in god for Rational (as in, 17th century style) reasons, like Aristotle’s and Maimonides’. Almost everyone has silly beliefs they haven’t yet gotten rid of. The LQLF god might just be one of them, and to be honest, I don’t really mind.
5. Should we criticize LQLFRP?
Sure, why not? They’re wrong, aren’t they? I’m not sure it’s the best use of time, since they don’t cause harm, they can work with us and rationalism is better served not by having more people believe the right things but by making rational approaches and thought processes more common. But if that’s your calling, go right ahead, but please: Be nice.
This is pretty controversial in the atheist community, but I’m not claiming that this should be a universal rule. In this particular case, with people who agree with us on so many things, people who often see us as natural allies, I think the best approach is to emphasize how much we have in common, how much we are on the same side, and then go into why, from the vaunted position of friend, we think they should change their worldview on the question of god. I think we should emphasize how they can keep all of their political and moral beliefs intact without a god and show how comfortable atheism is as a place to land. Show humanism as a positive worldview that is equally powerful and complete as theirs. Tell them they’re wrong, but do it as an ally working with them to reach ever greater heights, not as an enemy tearing down everything they believe. Be equally open to hearing from them (including the possibility of attempted conversion) as they are from you and in personal settings, back off when asked.
And always, keep your ultimate goals in mind and make sure your actions are directed towards those goals.
Thanks for the great question!
Commenters, which should I answer next?
1) Is it teleportation or death?
2) The relationship between skepticism and economics
3) The correct definition of religion
4) The worst part about the secular/atheist movement
5) What humanism ultimately means
6) Is there an is/ought distinction?
7) Does the Cosmological Argument hold any water?
8) How should skeptics treat theistic evolution?
9) Should we promote cryonics?