Thursday, March 18, 2010
Okay. On the other side.
Even if I don't share the sentiment, I can "respect" ... defined, in this case, as accepting that he is neither "superstitious," nor "irrational," nor a purveyor of "evil" (anymore than the rest of us), and I care not a wit how he comes to be socialized in a reasonable way (as he obviously is) ... when James McGrath, in response to Bertrand Russell, says:
So why am I a Christian? A short answer would be that it was within a Christian context that I had a life-changing religious experience. But given that I do not espouse Biblical literalism and inerrancy, some might ask whether I am still a Christian, and my answer would be that taking the whole Bible seriously is certainly no less Christian than quoting it selectively while pretending to believe it all and take it all literally.We should take our friends as we find them because ... Lord knows ... they're having to do the same for us.
I find very helpful an answer to this question that Marcus Borg has also articulated. I am a Christian in much the same way that I am an American. It is not because I condone the actions of everyone who has officially represented America, or that I espouse the viewpoints of its current leaders. It is because I was born into it, and value the positive elements of this heritage enough that I think it is worth fighting over the definition of what it means to be American, rather than giving up on it and moving somewhere else. In the same way, the tradition that gave birth to my faith and nurtured it is one that has great riches (as well as much else beside), and I want to struggle for an understanding of Christianity that emphasizes those things. And just as my having learned much from other cultures is not incompatible with my being an American, my having learned much from other religious traditions doesn't mean I am not a Christian. Christians have always done so. Luke attributes to Paul (in Acts 17:28) a positive quotation from a poem about Zeus (from the Phainomena by Aratos [sometimes spelled Aratus].
Why am I a Christian? Because I prefer to keep the tradition I have, rather than discarding it with the bathwater and then trying to make something new from scratch. When we pretend that we can simply leave the past behind and start anew we deceive ourselves: just look at the way China worshipped its 'Communist emperor' Mao with all the devotion and spectacle they offered to earlier ones. Even an atheist is in dialogue with the past, willingly or unwillingly.
There are some sects I do respect, mostly because of their good works and the fact that they do not try to make me live their way - the Quakers for instance.
Similarly there are some sects that I grudgingly tolerate because I think they are nuts (technical term!), but harmless.
This is a really terrible strawman I don't know of any halfway intelligent atheist who would try to deny the tradition that he grew up in but that doesn't mean that he has to slavishly retain every single aspect of it. I personally can't respect somebody who says anything as stupid as that.
Certainly there are secular ways of doing that, but that wasn't his path and although he honestly acknowledges problems with that tradition, he also personally finds enough value in that path to continue on it.
I think the judgement here is whether that's true - is there value in the path he's personally on. And the only way to honestly evaluate that is to read his thoughts for a while. Unless you're really into LOST, though, I'd wait till the season is over.
I haven't read everything he's written so I may be wrong, but i think he's only talking about himself - his choices and his belief - and not others.
If he is arguing with someone in his head, I think it's with someone who finds absolutely no value in the traditions he values. That doesn't necessarily count as a strawman.
Sure, but so are some of mine ... who I love, what art, literature and music I appreciate, my socialization leading to what I feel guilty about and what I don't, etc., etc. ... I don't want to match my irrationalities with people who share those values I think are important. I'm not so sure I'd win.