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Saturday, December 15, 2007

I prefer the comparative religion approach (as proposed by Daniel Dennett) and a more secular Integral Spirituality

There's an article in The Economist about Atheists and Mitt Romney's Faith in America speech. I'd like to quote some passages and link their context to my previous blog posts.
"Mr Romney recently gave a speech extolling religious liberty, decrying religious “tests” for office, and invoking the faith of some of America’s founding fathers. All this, naturally, was designed to help his quest for the presidency. The speech thrilled many religious conservatives, and plenty of pundits thought it served him well politically too. But members of one minority with virtually no political success in America were left sputtering with frustration. America’s atheists and agnostics felt excluded when Mr Romney said that “freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom…freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.”"
I'm one of those people who felt excluded by Romney. So I sputtered with frustration on my blog. Here's a link to my critique of Romney's speech. I'm kinda glad that Hitchens and Olbermann ripped Romney a new one.
The Economist continues:
"What accounts for the failure of atheists to organise and wield influence? One problem is that they are hardly a cohesive group. Another issue is simply branding. “Atheist” has an ugly ring in American ears and it merely defines what people are not. “Godless” is worse, its derogatory attachment to “communist” may never be broken. “Humanist” sounds too hippyish. A few have taken to calling themselves “Brights” for no good reason and to widespread mirth. And “secular” isn’t quite the word either; one can be a Christian secularist."
That's why Sam Harris doesn't want to be labeled as Atheist. But it's too late for that. Whether he likes it or not, he's already a poster boy for the New Atheists. Good thing that Harris, seems like the most open-minded among the neo-atheists, as far as "spirituality" is concerned.
"But another failing of the irreligious movement has been its tendency, frequently, to pick the wrong fights. Keeping the Ten Commandments out of an Alabama courthouse is one thing. But attacking a Christmas nativity scene on public property does more harm than good. Such secular crusades allow Christians—after all, the overwhelming majority of the country—to feel under attack, and even to declare that they are on the defensive in a “War on Christmas”."
This is another good point by The Economist. Attacking religious traditions head on while waving the flag of secularism and atheism is not very skillful. Atheists (or irreligious people) need to pick their fights wisely. The New Atheists have been relatively successful in this endeavor. By publishing books, attending conferences, welcoming debates, writing newspaper articles, conducting interviews, and using the power of social media (via blogging, youtube) they've elevated the discussion (and critique) of religion on mainstream media. The clash of religion and secularism/atheism/agnosticism is a clash of world views and ideas. It's not some petty quarrel about a piece of tablet with some commandments and holiday nativity scenes.
Another approach is through the back door of religious language. For example, some people like Michael Dowd, use the language of Christian evangelism to teach the story (and scientific facts) of evolution, while others focus on the negative perception of Christianity and attempt to repair its image by going back to its traditional Christian precepts (see unChristian). I see this a bottom-up approach. It provides a new translation mechanism so that people would accept scientific concepts, like evolution, in the context of their own religion, thereby transforming their mythic world view into a more rational one.
However, this approach would still probably be not good enough for devout atheists (or anti-theists like Dawkins) who want to have it all. Why teach evolution under the guise of Christianity when we don't teach math or physics under the guise of any religion? This is a topic for discussion or debate that I would like to see between Michael Dowd and The New Atheists.
Personally, I prefer the comparative religion approach (as proposed by Daniel Dennett) and a more secular Integral Spirituality. On the other hand, as far as getting Christians to buy into evolution, I think Dowd's approach is more promising than the New Atheists because Dowd meets people where they're at. Dowd's style is going to be more effective on places like the Bible belt, because he speaks in Christian tongue.
And my final quote from The Economist:
"If atheists, agnostics and secularists could polish their image they might prove powerful, and increasingly so. If the number of people declaring “no religion” can double over the ten years to 2001 who know how many more there are now or might be in years to come."
I guess we all just have to wait and see.

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