Below is Michael Heath's response to my preceding post.
You’re conceding a certain descriptive to make a leap into the prescriptive. I think such a leap will guarantee a sub-optimal dialogue on the prescriptive since the descriptive premises required for an optimal dialogue aren’t well-established, at least on my end and between both of us. I’ll play along on this post, but I strongly suggest we spend future energies more on the morality of people celebrating the existence and nature of a god who punishes eternally – where I presume you belong to this group. Additionally I would love to see a defense of God, as you understand the Bible describes him that asserts he is not evil in spite of his promising to punish some eternally. Unless of course you concede the point he is incredibly evil, which I doubt you, do.
In addition I don’t conclude, at least yet, that Christians who celebrate a god they believe will punish humans for eternity are therefore evil themselves. I’ll play along here, but that’s not a conclusion I’ve reached. I’ve just started this line of thought and read nothing on the matter so I won’t go there because I’m confident others far smarter or better-informed have taken positions that would greatly expand my perception of this issue, and hopefully present compelling arguments I’d never come up with myself. So I’m far more interested in considering your position on these descriptive points.
I also disagree the ball is in my court, I find that analogy doesn’t work here at all. I’d argue for a plethora of responsibilities some owned by me and more owned by you given your a member of the set who believe in this type of god. So I would instead suggest we consider the degrees to which each of us is associated with those acting badly.
As a fellow human and ultimately, an American, I do take some responsibility that people celebrate a biblical god who punishes eternally based on their fealty to an inerrant Bible because I think the premises lead to the following conclusions:
1) The primary premises allowing this belief system have primarily been falsified or lack empirical evidence. And because this type of belief is based on certain biblical passages where the Bible is asserted to be both inerrant and the word of God, incoherent. That train of thought is problematic for all us because I think this incoherent reasoning continues to enable our culture in its pervasive celebration of faith as a beneficial human attribute. I instead find faith to be an infantile character defect which impedes human progress while increasing human suffering.
2) This belief coupled to the association of believers into various religious denominations and other religious-centric groups have caused and continue to cause increased human suffering.
3) Because the U.S. has over the past five decades experienced a merging of believers in this category with political conservatism and this religious-political movement has come to significantly influence policy, this suffering has extended beyond these believers and their close associates and now harms all U.S. citizens while also threatening the well-being of all humans. [Re the future threat of all humans: American Christian conservatives are the primary voting base that allows the Republican party to successfully obstruct even confronting the fact of climate change along with the grave threat it poses to human wellbeing and life on this planet.]
I do take my responsibility seriously. I don’t just comment in Ed’s blog, I write and advocate elsewhere. Just recently I had an on-going private dialogue with the local editor of our local newspaper. We are on good terms. He’s a social conservative in a rural red-state area so red it’s uncommon for us to have Democrats running for local office. Yet he writes columns as if Christians are persecuted when people criticize Christians for acting out their faith in the public square. The people criticizing such public acts were not demanding these public demonstrations of piety end; they were only criticizing them for making such demonstrations. My motivation here was first to get him to make better arguments given that as editor, he writes opinion columns. He’s a young guy where he graciously accepted my offer to read two books I recommend which teach how to identify bad arguments and build good ones, qualities I would have thought he’d have learned getting his degree in journalism.
A few years back we had our state representative, Kevin Elsenheimer, make a very Rick Santorum-like argument regarding gay rights in our local newspaper. His argument was that his church’s teachings (Catholic) condemned gays. He then argued that his personal religious beliefs were justification for him to legislate in a manner that denied gays their rights. He never mentioned his constitutional obligations or even mentioned any regret on how his position would harm the gay people and their family members in his district. I wrote a published letter to the editor conceding his right of conscience to believe this, but how it violated the principles inherent to the enlightenment, Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution and was in direct violation of the 14th Amendment of the plain meaning of the Constitution as well. I also made a policy argument he had an obligation to represent the interests of all his constituents, not just those who were heterosexual. I received two death threats from that letter, calls to my home. Thank goodness I answered the phone both times rather than my wife.
I received my first death threat for defending a local family when their gay son’s wedding announcement was published in the local paper which caused a ruckus, largely centered on people objecting to such an announcement being published, “in a family newspaper” (actually it’s our area’s paper of record). Of course these arguments were predominately based on the critics Christian beliefs. My letter defending this family and arguing we should celebrate gay people taking on the responsibilities of family was worthy of our admiration, not an event that justified shoving gays back into the closet in a manner that enables gays to be persecuted precisely because the larger Christian community seeks they continue to suffer being ostracized.
These are merely a few examples; as a human and an American I am actively engaged at the local, state, and national level advocating for policies that are based on our country’s secular founding values where we leave religious beliefs at the door if those beliefs are contra to the first principles of this country (freedom, equal rights, rights of conscience, and pursuit of happiness to name a few of a long list). That has me calling my U.S. representatives office, writing letters to my governor and Congressional members, and contributing to organizations like the ACLU, Americans United, and politicians I think have the character to govern on behalf of all their constituents without seeking to ostracize some as a way to gain political advantage, power, and money.
I also personally lobby (in-person, never email) my extended family advocating they differentiate their obligations to their church and how that can conflict with their obligations in our free society as U.S. citizens. These conversations are decreasing for obvious reasons, they’re committed and by attribute, incapable of adapting. [A close family member and many of her fellow church members continue to advocate for the current president’s death because they’re convinced he’s a covert Muslim operative and member of al Qaeda, where they get this idea because of their religious association.]
While I would never directly advise my nephews and nieces on religion, most have no idea what I believe, I do present my siblings, their parents, with arguments their obligation to their children should have them considering those kids getting the best education possible rather than merely indoctrinating them as they prefer. That such indoctrinal tactics are ultimately selfish and limit their children’s future. They of course seek to save their kids souls by lying to them about what is and what is not true, and paying “teachers” to do the same.
This issue is not my primary concern however, that’s because unlike you David, I’m not so directly associated with these people as you are. In addition I’m currently become far more concerned about what I perceive is a far greater threat, that of climate change. So my free-time energies are often spent more on that topic than others.
I don’t think there is a cookie-cutter response to your question and therefore find it some nonsensical. Some people work to reduce the suffering of animals, should they stop and all focus on children? We each have to judge if we’re doing enough. However that doesn’t deny our respective responsibilities, I’ll gladly carry that burden and do what I think is the best I can.
I do find your responsibility to be far more immense so I don’t think you do yourself any favors raising this question. So, I’m in a rhetorical corner? Hardly, I’d argue you’ve instead done that to yourself. To concede one is evil doesn’t remove the responsibility I think you have for the planet and humanity so I can’t follow the logic, “the ball is in my court.” Your closer association to this evil should obviously put a far bigger burden on you than on me.
David writes, “What action do you advocate against evil such as I am, or do you just stand by and then, by similar reasoning by association, become a guilty accomplice?”
If we belong to a group with fundamental issues which harm others, and they all do to some degree, I think each of us has a personal responsibility to always do the following:
1) Vociferously seek reform
2) Quit. I admire people who work for authentic reform even when their odds are nil to low. I spent 5 additional years in the Republican party advocating for reform, finally leaving the evening of the 2008 National Convention delegates unanimously approved Sarah Palin to be their VP nominee. I don’t have the wisdom necessary to create and offer a formulaic method on when to stop seeking reform from within and quit. I don’t regret quitting the GOP because I don’t see a candidate, officials, or even voters who even remotely approaches past Republicans I admired, like MI’s long-time governor, Bill Milliken.
3) For those issues we find have a grave impact on us and/or others, own responsibility and continue to advocate for reform on those where you think you have the talent and resources to make a difference.
When I was young I actually thought hard and long about remaining in the denomination I was raised and seeking reform. I decided that the very structure set-up by evangelical and fundamentalist organizations makes any such efforts nearly impossible, both within the denominations and their so-called colleges. That’s because they reject the journey seeking objective truth; they instead demand members submit to a set of “truths” where there are few viable if any viable options to seek reform. At least I thought that, growing up in a small rural area I was never exposed to the fact some local faith communities do change denominations because influential members convince enough of the others. But still, what’s the odds of and uneducated (at the time) late-teen/early-twenty convincing his church that not only was the Bible not the inerrant word of God, but it wasn’t even rational to believe in a judging triune god who has us destined for either Heaven and Hell.
And while I left that church, I continued to study religion, formally at university and even more ardently informally after university, from 1985 to the mid-2000s. That was in order to authentically test fundamentalist/evangelical truth claims and later in this time period, make better arguments to convince people to abandon faith, seek objective truth using the best methods possible, and do what morally right rather than act out in a way you can justify with Bible verses. I was especially motivated to change minds due to the persecution of gays I encountered either by conservative Christians, or enabled by them. This wasn’t merely due to what I read in the news, but persecution I personally encountered where I got involved to stop. (Public school bullying that was defended by the principal, a certain Board Member, and an elder of my church. Where the Board member was the Board’s president and my pastor and the elder was a close relative. Only the superintendent was empathetic to the persecution gays were subjected to in our school.)
So I don’t see our responsibilities ending if we sought to reform and failed and quit. I do think it’s not easy to calculate the level of effort we should expend and claim we acted with integrity. I will assert with confidence you have far more responsibility to act on this matter than I do precisely due to your association being degrees closer than me.
And while I’d find a response to my points here interesting, if you have limited amounts of time I’d much prefer getting into believers’ moral culpability for celebrating a god who punishes eternally. Especially given the nature of this reality and God’s supposed powers and role in the development of this reality