"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Religion, Atheism, Politics, And The Need To Belong–The Roots of Intolerance

Those who are religious believe in salvation, redemption, and the ordering presence of an all-powerful God.  Atheists believe just the opposite, and the more radical among them feel that belief in religion is immoral and wrong.  Religion has been the cause of war, civil conflict, and social divisiveness. they say, and the personal satisfaction it may give individuals is worth little compared to the lives lost, geopolitical chaos, and disruption to families, communities, and nations it has caused.  Political progressives among others want nothing to do with either religion or atheism; and feel that only through concerted secular effort.

What is common to all three and perhaps the principal reason why believers, non-believers and social activists are so passionate and committed is the need to belong.  Without belief, belonging, and purpose, we are only Lear’s ‘poor bare, forked animal.
Why, thou wert better in thy grave than to answer with thy uncovered body this extremity of the skies.—Is man no more than this? Consider him well.—Thou owest the worm no silk, the beast no hide, the sheep no wool, the cat no perfume. Ha! Here’s three on ’s are sophisticated. Thou art the thing itself. Unaccommodated man is no more but such a poor, bare, forked animal as thou art. 
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Given this essential commonality, one might expect tolerance or at least a respect for others’ convictions.  Yet there something even more basic that we all share – human nature.
Shakespeare’s Histories are stories of the ineluctability of human nature.  Laid from end to end, the Histories tell of palace intrigues, jealousies, self-interest and –protection, war, civil strife, and endless competition for power, wealth, and resources.

His Tragedies are no different.  They only focus more on the unique expressions of our nature.  Richard III, Iago, Edmund, Tamora, Dionyza, Cleopatra and many others fight for what is theirs and what yet isn’t.   Even a casual reading of history teaches that nothing has changed in millennia.  As long as human nature remains intact, we each – individually and as a part of the groups to which we belong – will act aggressively to secure our perimeters and to keep others from invading.

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Belonging is a way of both enhancing our individual identities and giving us strength in numbers.
It is no surprise, then, that instead of tolerance, the faithful, and the ideologically committed fight each other for pre-eminence.  For religious believers both atheism and secularism are threatening postures.  It is not enough just to believe in God and the saving grace of Jesus Christ, but to rid the world of their enemies.  Atheism denies even the suggestion of a divine being; and secular humanists, while often acknowledging a higher power, relegate him to creator or first principle.  A world without God is unthinkable to true believers, and they will do anything to promote religion and to condemn those who ignore or dismiss it.                              

Evangelism is not enough.  The promotion of God’s universe is worth little if the ‘forces of darkness’ are not dispelled.  The Gospels are very clear on this point. Jesus pointed to the way, the truth, and the light; but was unequivocally damning of those who rejected him.  Mark is quite explicit when he quotes Jesus as saying that anyone who rejects the Holy Spirit will be without forgiveness.  From someone who preached repentance, forgiveness, and salvation for all, this is strong language indeed.
Radical Muslims are even more determined.  Once again it is not enough to believe in Allah, but to destroy those who do not.

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Religion, a need for belonging, and human nature combine in a perfect storm.

Secular humanists are restrained from both evangelism and conquest because of their philosophical roots.  Humanists have always valued accommodation, reason, and right action.  This does not exonerate them from the worst type of intolerance.  While progressives may defend a religious fundamentalist’s right to express his belief, they can never bring themselves to say, “You may be right.”  In their opinion, however disguised, people with profound, fundamental beliefs in the received Word as stated in scripture are ignorant; and their uninformed beliefs do harm to the commonweal.

Atheists are just now coming into their own.  They are the fastest growing ‘religion’ in the country. They hold conferences, atheist groups are crowding others out on campus, and the radical beliefs of the atheist right wing are gaining currency.  It is not enough for them to simply conclude that God does not exist; but they feel as compelled as religious believers to spread their faith and to deny others legitimacy.

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America – what a great country, members of all three groups say.  In a nation based on liberty and freedom of religion and expression, all stripes, persuasions, and beliefs are equal in value and deserve equal respect.  Yet all three resent any criticism, and will take up their cudgels to defend themselves and defeat the aggressor.

Intolerance, bred of a need for belonging, and fueled by a self-protective, aggressive human nature, is therefore not surprising. 

Why has the heat been turned up so high?  How and why has America become such a divided, divisive, and intolerant place?

Some critics conclude that we are no more divisive than in times past.  It is simply because it is far easier than ever to proclaim and defend our beliefs and to attack others.  The acrimony, virulence, and bitter intolerance found on the social media is an example.  “Moron…imbecile…idiot…” are but a few of mean-spirited ripostes found on Facebook. 

One would think that religion, atheism, and secular humanism could very easily co-exist; but nothing of the sort is evidenced anywhere.  Yes, the Unitarian Church is a frequent sponsor of interfaith colloquies, and both atheists and secular humanists are invited.  Without a doubt there are millions of Christians and Muslims who quietly practice their faith; and there are thousands of atheists who are happy enough to be free from the shackles of guilt, recrimination, and doubt that religion often engenders, and keep their beliefs to themselves.

They are the exception, it seems; and if anything mistrust, animosity, and intolerance are on the rise not the decline.

No one should be discouraged by all this.  History alone shows that we human beings have not changed one iota since we came down from the trees.  As importantly, we have not progressed that much, if at all, from the apes.  Both of us animals still practice the same defensive/aggressive traits hardwired for survival.

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