Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Religious Coexistence and Social Pressure

I’ve always been interested in and slightly amused by those awful bumper stickers that proclaim “Coexist” with different religious symbols. Now, don’t misunderstand me. I’m for the idea of coexisting with people of differing opinions as much as the next enlightened human. But the idea that Muslims, Jews, and Christians (let alone Wiccans and Pagans) should or can coexist is bursting with naïve irony. Having read the holy books, I find it overwhelmingly obvious that coexistence between these religious factions is not only intellectually incoherent, but applicably impossible. Each of these religious views make mutually exclusive claims about the nature of reality, metaphysics, morality, and social tolerance. Open up the Bible to Deuteronomy for example and humbly take note of all the people you are commanded to outright murder for not believing in the God of the Jews. The Koran is filled with admonishments to “kill the infidel” and gentle Jesus, meek and mild can be found in the gospels delivering the tolerant message that those who do not follow him are doomed to eternal suffering and damnation.

Coexistence quite obviously was not a priority for the writers of the holy books. That’s why people like the 9/11 attackers, the homosexual stoners, the Inquisitors, the honor killers, bride burners, abortion bombers, and social bigots have more integrity than the moderates. And in a world where these monsters have more integrity than the majority of kind folks who fill America’s pews, something is dangerously askew. Religion must fall under the bright light of critical scrutiny. It’s mutually exclusive claims must be held to standards of evidence. Meanwhile, bumper stickers flatly proclaiming coexistence rest above our farting mufflers and reach to join a hand that simply is not there.

To be clear: I am not calling for religion to be outlawed. I will stand arm in arm with anyone for the freedom to exercise belief as long as that belief is not detrimental to my own safety, the safety of those I care about or the preservation of a free society. Ironically, I have met many Christians who believe the Declaration of Independence should be redrafted to make Christianity our national religion, thus becoming an enemy of the "religious freedom" they fight for so often. The truth is that many Christians want Christian freedom, not religious freedom. They want the Ten Commandments in our schools and prayers to Christ in our court rooms but would likely riot if excerpts from the Koran were read by our school administrators and prayers to Allah ecoed in our policy rooms. It seems obvious to me that in order for us all to have religious liberty that our government should either acknowledge them all (good luck) or remain neutral.

I digress.

My point is this. I will likely spend much of my intellectual energy criticizing religion because I believe it to be more detrimental to society than helpful. I believe that a world in which beliefs are held for good reasons, and not based on tradition or authority, will be a better world; a world that values evidence, reason and logic without the fear of mutually exclusive religions waging war on one another. Part of this strategy involves applying serious social pressure on those who have long escaped the consequences of their beliefs.

I’m sure you are all familiar with the Twitterverse. As you may or may not know, my work with certain Christian music projects has given me a small but existent social profile on the internet. Coming out as an atheist caused some small, boring waves in some small, boring communities but for the most part Christian strangers still follow me on twitter and engage with me in a continuing dialogue about religion. I occasionally follow some of them as well out of mild interest or social courtesy. One of these people, Flannel_Justice, is a high school history teacher somewhere in America with hopes of attending a reformed seminary soon. We’ve corresponded briefly as he is a fan of my music and apparently some of my poetry (look ma! A fan!). A few weeks ago he posted a link to an article entitled, “I Have a Dream that the Abortion Holocaust Will End” by Kyle-Anne Shiver.

In this dismal essay, our writer starts by telling us the story of how she discovered Anne Frank and the Holocaust in the fourth grade. She somehow ties this into the story of her childhood sexual abuse and, remarkably, a paragraph later we are then treated to a brief summation of MLK (complete with a “holy smile”) and the civil rights movement. It all has something to do with injustice, pain, hope and the goodness of the world. At age fourteen she encountered Jesus and “became aware of [her] own evil, short comings, selfishness and hard heartedness.” I’m sure these were all totally healthy things to hear for a girl who was molested repeatedly by her father. She then goes on to report that from then on she would be fighting with Anne Frank and MLK and (I guess) Jesus “against the slaveries and the Holocausts and the killing fields,” but nothing had prepared her for the “holocaust of abortion.”

Now, how obtuse need one be to equate something as truly horrifying as the gas chambers of the holocaust to the abortion debate? How offensive to the Jewish people. How ignorant of the spectrum that shows us a difference between the loss of potential life and the wholesale murder of existing life. This is quite clearly ill-used propaganda. She continues by saying:

“…our own hands carry the blood of 52 million innocent human beings. Deprived of life by the same evil that took the lives of slaves and all the Anne Franks. Our doctors have become killers. Our women have become paid clients for murder. And people who actually think of themselves as good stand up in public to defend this Holocaust.”

She then, unsurprisingly, goes on to use terms like “wicked” and “evil” and draw more unsubstantiated parallels with Nazism.

I didn’t share this to get into a debate about abortion. As I’ve written before, my main issue is the dishonest argumentation. I believe the pro-life argument is a noble one and I am happy that there are skeptics on both sides. But calling those who disagree with you evil, wicked, murdering, Holocaust supporters is where I start getting super fucking annoyed. And this leads us back to Flannel_Justice and the application of social pressure.

I wrote Flannel_Justice explaining that calling strangers evil Holocaust supporters seemed presumptuous and judgmental. He responded by saying that communicating something online meaningfully is challenging (agreed), that the Enlightenment pivoted on securing the natural right to live (um…kindof…but whatever), that he only wanted to promote discussion (unlikely, but okay), and that using holocaust language may be inflammatory but its still true. STOP. The record player needle just squealed out of the grooves on the whole COEXIST party.

After this last comment I aggressively ended my social contract with Flannel_Justice and have since made it a goal to only interact with him in ways that highlight, underline, italicize and magnify my revulsion towards his thought process. Why have I done this? Because I simply refuse to engage in a "civil" discussion with a person who, without knowing anything about me, is willing to call me evil, wicked and a supporter of the Holocaust. His ilk have gotten away with it for too long. When I explained this to him his justification was that we are all terrible and evil and wicked. Well, guess what Flannel_Justice: just because you believe in something ridiculous does not give you the social currency to apply it to strangers without criticism. Replace evil with anything else and see how the logic works.

“Hi my name is Flannel_Mustard and I believe that everybody is a child rapist so I expect no social backlash when I go ahead and assume and tell you explicitly that you are a child rapist. Yipeee!”

This is clearly idiotic.

Dear Flannel_Justice, If you choose to believe that everyone is wicked and evil, fine. Enjoy your strange life. But if you, or anyone like you, wants to call me evil and wicked and invoke images of the Holocaust and imply that I’m a Nazi then you can seriously FUCK OFF.

I encourage any of my freethinker friends to start applying thoughtful social pressure in your day to day interactions with people like this. I’m sure Flannel_Justice is a decent guy. But he’s spent far too long convincing himself that a magic book knows he and everyone else is evil. And he has been desensitized by society to understand how offensive his beliefs are when expressed so explicitly. And really this is about principle. I’m more upset about the kind of person he represents than I am about him.

In sum: you are free to believe and say whatever you want. Congrats. But if you say it to me don’t be surprised when I apply serious social pressure to you.

Thank you for reading.

In Reason,

Clint Wells


thoumyvision said...

I'd like to reply with a couple of assumptions, please tell me if you think they're false.

1. No matter what you believe on the matter, it's obvious Flannel_Justice believes that an abortion is the killing of a human person.

2. If what Flannel_Justice believes is correct, then his comparison of abortion to the Holocaust is accurate and not exaggeration.

He has come to a conclusion on the morality of abortion, and argues from the position of that conclusion; it's a simple if -> then. If an abortion is the killing of a human person, then the legalized practice of abortion is of equal horror to that of the Holocaust.

Now, you may argue the morality of the act, but with knowledge of his standpoint you cannot argue his conclusion based on that standpoint.

Poetry of the Day said...

i found this one to be a tuff balance

- <3 Famous Poetry about life

Clint Wells said...

thoumyvision - Flannel_Justice is entirely free to believe whatever he chooses to believe and come to whatever conclusions those beliefs lead to.

My point is that people's beliefs should have social consequences.

If you believe I am a murderer for supporting the pro-choice movement, fine. However, if you expect to say this to me directly do not be surprised when you are met with serious criticism, irritation and offense.

Your comment brings up another point I think is important and was not able to address in the post.

The intellectually consistent conclusion for believing that abortion is truly murder leads to the justification of murdering doctors, women who have had abortions, and pro-choice supporters. There is no way around it. If you believe one doctor will single handedly murder thousands of innocent lives over career then you are morally obligated to stop this the same as I am morally obligated to oppose, even with violence, the systematic murder of living humans.

This is the danger of unfounded beliefs and the reason we must all start with social pressure.

Anonymous said...

This was, without question, was the funniest thing I have read this month. Jonathan Swift could do no better.


Robert said...


All in all, your criticism of ecumenism is refreshing. I share your distaste for the COEXIST propaganda.

Unless you have actively participated in an abortion, I don't see how anyone (regardless of their perspective) could consider you to be a murderer.

In general, I find comparison of historical atrocities to be a problematic angle. For one, there is no "equating" these things in the Christian worldview. Biblically, two wrongs don't make a right. So no, we are not justified in killing doctors anymore than rapists or serial killers. Besides, how can we (Christians) be sure which modern genocidal practice offends God more?

Secondly, fair consideration of empirical facts should cause one to question/reason the accuracy of the history that we perceive to be. (ie by any statistical measure Hitler was no "better" than the 3rd worst "genocider" of the 20th C)

Thirdly, I would point out that progressives like yourself are quick to champion the efforts of men like MLK, Lincoln, Jr Rockefeller, W.Wilson, Churchill, FDR, LBJ and the like while simultaneously (and rightly) villainizing those like Marx, Bismark, Lenin, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot... By what standard can you embrace the former and condemn the later? These men all believed that the conduit for their idea of social justice, cultural ideology and the forthcoming of the Kingdom of Man be administered through the modern secular (messianic) state. Render unto Caesar... Make no mistake, the enlightenment is about bringing forth the kingdom of man.