Friday, January 05, 2007

Responding to Provocation

This post is part of an ongoing dialog between my friend Ernie and me about the validity of Christian belief.


I apologize for dropping my end of the conversation for over a month now. As I said in my post several days ago, there have been a number of factors contributing to my delay. It is not that I have not been thinking about it. In fact, I have been reviewing and clarifying my thinking on various issues including some that we have discussed over the past fourteen months. No earth-shattering changes, but some changes nonetheless.

Let me first respond to the post in which you enumerated a number of things we seem to agree on. I do not have any serious disagreement with your list. I was, however, a little disappointed that agreement on some of the items, particularly (a) - (c) and even (d) was unusual enough to warrant mentioning. I imagine you did so more for completeness and emphasis than because agreement on those items was surprising; at least, I hope so. It did leave me wondering if I have been communicating my views so poorly that there had ever been a question about my stance on those statements.

In your latest oblique and provocative post, you wonder if my primary goal is "truth" or "love" and if I really believe the two are compatible. Let me state categorically that they are compatible. Truth is instrumental (to use your word, thank you very much) to love. Knowledge of the truth helps us to align the consequences of our actions with our intentions.

That does not mean that knowledge leads inexorably to love. Knowledge of the truth can be used for love or for hate, for good or for evil. I do believe, however, that knowledge can lead to a recognition of the interconnectedness of human communities and that we can all lead happier lives by working with each other rather than against; that is, that love is better than hate.

One of the things that confused me about your last post was how you linked to my post on Wisconsin's Marriage Protection Amendment. Now I suppose you might read that and get a fairly negative vibe from me about the authors of the flyer. Was my post lovingly written? Well, I think it was, in this sense: I wrote out of a genuine and strongly felt concern (love) for people that will be impacted by this amendment. Was it unloving for people to denounce racial bigotry? Was it unloving for people to speak out against the debacle that has unfolded in Iraq? Is it unloving for a parent to speak against the destructive behavior or a child? Was it unloving for Jesus to denounce the hypocrisy of the Pharisees?

So having stated clearly that love and truth are compatible, let me try to answer your question about which is my primary goal. I am unsure if you mean my goal in this dialog specifically or in life generally. Generally, I do not see either of those as being the goal: both play a role in reaching other goals, especially the welfare and happiness of myself and others, both present and future. In this dialog specifically, it seems to me there is greater disagreement about what is true than about love. As well, I believe that some of the harm done by Christianity is caused by people who want to do good but their actions are based on false beliefs, and this disconnect between belief and truth causes unintended harm. In these cases, it is the beliefs that should change. So, as a tactical choice, I think it would be fair to say that my writing has been more concerned with truth.

Finally, you asked about my basis for throwing the first stone and what I could offer in place of Christianity. Why am I the one throwing the first stone? From my point of view, the course of my life has been substantially affected by the beliefs that I held for thirty-plus years of my life, including a variety of (what I perceive to be) harmful effects. Those were the first stones. Perhaps my responses have been less than ideal. Certainly they have. But even so, my concern is for the truth, for the harm caused by Christian beliefs, and for the benefits to mankind that I believe will become possible when the obstacles raised by false beliefs are removed. (Christian and other religious beliefs are not the only false beliefs to be found, but due to personal history and circumstance, they are some of the most significant to me.)

I am sorry if you have been expecting me to be presenting an alternative to Christianity. I do believe better alternatives exist and can be described. For instance, I have previously referred to A Secular Humanist Declaration seven months ago. A recent version of the Humanist Manifesto, Humanism and Its Aspirations is also on the right track. I will try to include more content describing and advocating such alternatives.


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