Monday, February 18, 2008

To Moderate Christians - Come Out of Hiding!

If only more Christians were of the same mind as John C. Danforth. The episcopal minister and former Missouri Senator has an op-ed piece at the New York Times calling on moderate Christians to speak up against the radical right.

According to Danforth, for moderates

...the only absolute standard of behavior is the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. Repeatedly in the Gospels, we find that the Love Commandment takes precedence when it conflicts with laws. We struggle to follow that commandment as we face the realities of everyday living, and we do not agree that our responsibility to live as Christians can be codified by legislators.

When, on television, we see a person in a persistent vegetative state, one who will never recover, we believe that allowing the natural and merciful end to her ordeal is more loving than imposing government power to keep her hooked up to a feeding tube.

When we see an opportunity to save our neighbors' lives through stem cell research, we believe that it is our duty to pursue that research, and to oppose legislation that would impede us from doing so.

We think that efforts to haul references of God into the public square, into schools and courthouses, are far more apt to divide Americans than to advance faith.

Following a Lord who reached out in compassion to all human beings, we oppose amending the Constitution in a way that would humiliate homosexuals.

For us, living the Love Commandment may be at odds with efforts to encapsulate Christianity in a political agenda. We strongly support the separation of church and state, both because that principle is essential to holding together a diverse country, and because the policies of the state always fall short of the demands of faith.

I'm often told that the arguments of many of the new atheists are fallacious in that they attack a strawman. Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris and their ilk are attacking the radical views of a few wackos, the argument goes, but most religious people don't believe those things. They are moderates.

Now, I have to admit that even when it comes to so-called moderate religion, I'm still troubled, for even the most moderate Christianity involves believe in a personal god for which there is no evidence. And the same goes for more "eastern" or "new age", "spiritual" belief systems, that lack a personal god, but include weird talk of spirits and energies for which there is no evidence. I sincerely believe, however, that if moderates exist, the discourse between such people of faith and unbelievers could be much more civil, and hence much more productive.

The problem is that I can't seem to find them. Sure, I'll encounter someone who refers to himself or herself as "spiritual", which usually amounts to their being an atheist but not wanting to accept the label, or viewing "atheism" as involving commitments which it does not. The religous people I encounter, though, and the religious people that I see in the media, or in online forums, are not moderates. They are fundamentalists. They are people who think that it's an attack on their faith to demand that their belief system not be given special treatment. They are people who think that they know god's will and they have a duty to enforce it on others. I'm coming to realize that there is no reasoning with these people, and that is because, when it comes to anything attached to their religious beliefs, there is no reason there. It is impossible to defeat dogma via reason and evidence. That's what makes it dogma.

So, where are you, moderates? Danforth has come out, and, while I may disagree with some of his beliefs, it seems much more likely that unbelievers and people who have faith in the way that he does would be able to work together. I'm on board with Danforth - the rest of you moderates need to come out of hiding. You need to make your voices heard. You need to come together with your unbelieving and "spiritual" brethren to work against the radicals in this country. Because they aren't stopping. They don't believe you are "true Christians". And if you really are out there, and as numerous as we've heard, then it is really only with your help that we'll be able to stop the crazy fundamentalists. If you don't come out and stand up against the well funded and very powerful religious right, your moderate stance may eventually put you in the position of atheists in this country. And believe me, you don't want that.

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