I don’t find this helpful

The cracker wars, that is. You know what I’m talking about. I won’t be linking anything here cause I don’t want that kind of traffic. However, I would like to get a few thoughts off my chest. At first I thought it was a tad amusing but it is escalating into a mess that I find utterly despicable and childish. At some point I followed the evo-devo / religious right flame wars on SB with some amusement but then the whole framing thing happened and somewhere along the line I realized that there is the very real issue of educational integrity (which I care deeply about) and, on the other hand, a bunch of people with too much time on their hands going bonkers over issues that they know nothing about (philosophizing aside).

Let’s face it, there are a whole lot of people in this world that live in a world of shit. Almost none of us do and we don’t know what its like. By any measure we are lucky to have this privilege. For those not lucky enough to be born in the right place at the right time, many of them find respite in their religious belief. Some of them will survive horrendous conditions and unbelievable hardships and then credit their still beating heart to their faith. I may not agree with their conclusion but I do say you are a stronger one than I. It is one thing to point out ridiculous behavior on the part of the often silly (and frequently malicious – see birth control policies) Catholic League. It is another to openly ridicule a tradition that gives some people strength when such ridicule serves no real purpose other than to call another human an idiot (in some many words).

When I see such childish and uncalled-for behavior I often think back to stories of my grandfather in WWII. To this day he credits his continued existence to his faith. I would argue that it was something else but I cannot argue with the fact that he was driven at times to survive if for no other reason than to take communion one more time. That faith has been lost on me but it is easy to recognize that it is a lack of necessity as I have not been called upon to live through the great depression, drop out of school prior to my teens or watch thousands of good men die right in front of me. Limitless opportunity has dropped into my lap as a product of the hard work and sacrifice of others and often times I feel my success has been no more than an ability to keep my nose clean and show up on time.

So, PZ and your ilk, I think you would be well served to recall such privilege (although you may not reflect on it in such a way that I do) when you ridicule your fellow man and the beliefs that help him get through a day that you might not endure. There is the real issue of addressing political forces in this nation that would continue to take advantage of those that are less fortunate and there are the beliefs of many of those same people that deserve a modicum of respect (or at least to be left well enough alone).

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14 responses to “I don’t find this helpful

  1. I have no idea what you are referring to (PZ/whatever) that spurred you into writing this post, but I pretty much agree with everything you just said.

    I have a rant in my pocket about “our” ample opportunity and lack of community, but that won’t fit in this comment box.

  2. “…I think you would be well served to recall such privilege (although you may not reflect on it in such a way that I do) when you ridicule your fellow man and the beliefs that help him get through a day that you might not endure.”

    Yeah, I’ve heard that one too – that religion is a coping mechanism. I accepted it as an explanation for religion too, for a long time. It doesn’t, however, explain how many individuals experience extreme stress all over the world, and it’s only when it happens as a group phenomenon that you see organized religion arise. These nutty religious beliefs are almost exclusively the product of group-think.

    People that think for themselves however, realize that a cracker is a cracker, stress or no stress.

  3. Oh, and how is it that Donohue and the big guys running the Catholic League live in a “world of shit?” Is it so tough having political and media influence that they need to get upset because someone took a cracker home with them? Sheesh.

  4. Oh, and how is it that Donohue and the big guys running the Catholic League live in a “world of shit?”

    Surely you jest! Been to New Orleans lately? Ever seen a shanty town in Central Mexico? Ever gone out to try to treat disease in the highland jungles of Guatemala? Ever had your car shot up in South Dallas? You have misunderstood my point profoundly.

  5. JP,
    Like you, I have seen firsthand how much faith can drive people to survive/achieve. However, the point I believe you may be missing is that one cannot extend the (anecdotal) good experiences of some people to be representative of the industry of religion itself.
    Some people may have a problem with the premise (of organized religion) itself because in the long run it is pernicious and destructive to the human mind and spirit. It allows for condoning too many bad things. And such people feel compelled to speak out forcefully (and sometimes use ridicule) to raise debate on the issue. I think that is good and should be encouraged.
    It is easy to defend religion by citing the example of millions of find strength from it. But what if, to some, it appears equivalent to saying “Hey, don’t knock that cancer, man. Look at all the weight these cancer patients lose!”
    I will admit, in the interest of full disclosure, that I find myself becoming increasingly partial to this point of view.

  6. “Been to New Orleans lately? Ever seen a shanty town in Central Mexico? Ever gone out to try to treat disease in the highland jungles of Guatemala?”

    LOL Did you bother asking those questions to Catholic League members?

  7. Hey, I don’t mean to defend organized religion. In fact, I find it more or less indefensible when it comes to its repeated and pernicious forays into the political and educational realm.

    I am for treating other people with respect. I am for understanding that opportunity from person to person is disparate and as you cast a wider net it gets much, much bleaker. Rather than making fun of religious beliefs we can all strive to improve education (for everyone) and call out bigotry when we see it. We can ridicule religious institutions for their hypocritical positions without jumping down the throat of anyone who enjoys attending mass. What purpose does urinating on a Muslim book or desecrating communion serve other than being some childish attempt at public humiliation of what otherwise horrifies us about Gitmo.

  8. “What purpose does urinating on a Muslim book or desecrating communion serve other than being some childish attempt at public humiliation of what otherwise horrifies us about Gitmo.”

    Yeah, urination and defecation are definitely not cool. You’re comparing those things to not eating a cracker, etc.??? Have you lost your mind?

  9. Right on JP. Unfortunately this small-minded attitude extends beyond the topic of religion and is surprisingly common amongst “science” bloggers.

    I think it’s nothing more than some frustrated academics looking outside their own real professional circles, where they find they are little fish in a big pond, for an intellectual debate they can easily dominate in order to feel better about themselves.

  10. Juniorprof,

    Bravo. I am not Catholic and not religious but like you I have great respect for people of Faith. There is plenty to criticize about organized religions, but they have also brought great comfort to many people regardless of where and when they have lived.
    Most mature people would agree it is inappropriate to place swastikas on synagogue or to urinate on the Koran. It is equally disrespectful to use a communion wafer as a political “hostage”. It is perfectly fair to criticize organized religion for its shortcomings, but it is both unnecessary and counterproductive to do so in an insulting and inflammatory way. Is any reasonable person going to be inclined to sympathize with such actions or views?
    Much is made of the freedom of speech. But civil society will only thrive so long as such freedoms are tempered by responsibility and common courtesy. Actions such as this simply inflame passions and exacerbate disagreements. They do not persuade or resolve differences. Defending such actions because the other side has done this or that, misses the point entirely. There is an old expression; two wrongs do not make a right. Society would do well to heed those words.

  11. I sympathize with your view, Juniorprof, and I’m also about the least offensive person that you could meet. However, there are a couple of points that I’d like to make.

    Firstly, we often tend to confuse are own personality, values, likes and dislikes, with what should be considered as civil, which actions are likely to have a real societal impact, etc.

    While there is no doubt that consistently attacking religion and religious sensibilities is unlikely to bring about change, there is a role for legitimate forms of expression that offend, and also for protest against practices that can lead to harm, as I’m sure that you would agree.

    That is how I originally saw PZ’s “desecration” idea, to be honest — as a protest against believing something so strongly that it can illicit the kind of reaction the Webster Cook had to endure. And don’t think that these feelings are necessarily in the minority, either. I visited several Catholic websites, where people were so enraged about the original Eucharist incident that they were handing out Webster Cook’s email address and there was some pretty nasty stuff being said about him. Indeed, a number of the Catholics that visited PZ’s site said that the Eucharist is as important to them as the life of a member of their own family. Whether they meant it or not is another matter, entirely.

    Now, I believe that it is legitimate to argue that, while people are free to believe as they wish, it is actually more respectful to wish to see people free from delusion — particularly those of the more pernicious fundamentalist variety, which is extremely limiting to ones intellectual development, and is especially cruel to children — than to take what is essentially the live-and-let-live approach which gives the impression that we shouldn’t expect any better from such people. That could well be seen as patronizing, in my opinion.

    Obviously there are millions religious believers that are perfectly happy with their lives, but I don’t think that this is simply an open and shut case. There are ethical issues pertaining to whether we have a responsibility to live life, insofar as is possible, according to evidence, and whether not doing so can lead to things like the Iraq war, for instance. Everything that you read about that decision indicates that George Bush and Tony Blair were so keen on invading Iraq that they ignored all evidence that didn’t reinforce their original conclusion. There are consequences to a culture of indifference.

    What I am really asking is whether we place a high enough value on evidentialism, and whether, in our keenness to appear compassionate we are both devaluing modes of thought that have produced stunning results, as well as patronizing people by essentially saying, “well, we don’t need religion, but of course some people just can’t live without it”?

    Personally, I’d like to see a lot more research on these subjects so that we can gain a better understanding of just how “harmless” is it to believe that a wafer can literally transform in to the body of Christ.

  12. Damian,
    I agree with more or less everything you say. My point that appears to not be resounding too well with the readers is that my (and probably your) privilege of birth is very strongly reinforced by educational opportunities. I can’t stand to see educators (like PZ) acting like this. They are turning off people that they might be able to get to, people that may not have had the same type of opportunities that some of the rest of us had. Moreover, they are turning them off before those of us who may not think they are morons can get a chance to reach them.

  13. Damien
    I find your post more than a little ironic. On the one hand you criticize organized religion for all the potential harm it has done to society and on the other propose to adopt and encourage the very behaviors that have caused those problems in organized religion.
    1. “there is a role for legitimate forms of expression that offend, and also for protest against practices that can lead to harm”
    Like women not wearing a veil? Your words could have been spoken by a member of the Taliban.
    2. “Now, I believe that it is legitimate to argue that, while people are free to believe as they wish, it is actually more respectful to wish to see people free from delusion — particularly those of the more pernicious fundamentalist variety, which is extremely limiting to ones intellectual development, and is especially cruel to children — than to take what is essentially the live-and-let-live approach which gives the impression that we shouldn’t expect any better from such people.”
    These words could have been uttered by countless true believers from any major faith (I know, it’s different for you because your view is right);
    3. “That is how I originally saw PZ’s “desecration” idea, to be honest — as a protest against believing something so strongly that it can illicit the kind of reaction the Webster Cook had to endure. And don’t think that these feelings are necessarily in the minority, either. I visited several Catholic websites, where people were so enraged about the original Eucharist incident that they were handing out Webster Cook’s email address and there was some pretty nasty stuff being said about him.”

    What did he expect? I am not saying that people didn’t overreact, but who in this day and age isn’t aware of how strongly people react to religious offense. Webster Cook had to know he was throwing gas on a fire. If he didn’t know he is a fool. If he did know, then he is an ass or worse.

    4. “What I am really asking is whether we place a high enough value on evidentialism, and whether, in our keenness to appear compassionate we are both devaluing modes of thought that have produced stunning results, as well as patronizing people by essentially saying, “well, we don’t need religion, but of course some people just can’t live without it”?”

    You seem to be suggesting that it would be less patronizing to say “you people are really being stupid and should let me explain to you what you should really believe.” Not only is THAT patronizing in the extreme, but it is exactly what many evangelicals and radical Islamists want to tell you.

    5. “Personally, I’d like to see a lot more research on these subjects so that we can gain a better understanding of just how “harmless” is it to believe that a wafer can literally transform in to the body of Christ.”

    Most Catholics don’t believe in a literal transformation, but that doesn’t make the stunt any less offensive.
    Your entire argument comes across as a rationalization for someone’s blatantly obnoxious and inflammatory act. I am both an atheist and an evolutionary biologist, but that doesn’t mean I should be a blind zealot in my criticism of zealotry. You are welcome to try to persuade people of your point of view, but I would suggest you will have more success if you approach them with empathy and respect and not assume that just because they are imbued with Faith that they are mental midgets or children in need of your enlightenment. I know many deeply religious people who are smart, compassionate, intellectually engaged, gifted scientists, and critical of the flaws they find in their own religious institutions. Intellectual arrogance can be just as dangerous as religious radicalism.

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