Monday, November 13, 2006

I'm standing on the rooftop, ready to fall

There is an article in this week's Newsweek called "The Case Against Faith," by Sam Harris, author of Letter to a Christian Nation and The End of Faith. This is my attempted rebuttal to his reasoning.

I have done a lot of studying, reading, and thinking about the mix of religion and politics, and I will be the first to tell you that, although I don't have an answer, to say that the two should never mix is worse than an ad hoc system. What is religion? Religion is simply a way of explaining things. (Incidentally, science, in its own way, is a form of religion.) Religion defines who we are, and that is very important to what we do. I am an American, a husband, a Baptist, a law student, a reader, a college graduate, a native Wacoan, an accountant's son. Why should any one of these have any less influence on who I am and what I do than the rest? I posit that none of those even can have any less influence than any of the rest and any of the millions of the other identities that make up who I am. To argue that those "with" religious beliefs should keep those beliefs separate from their political duties is frivolous. You cannot separate who you are from what you do from why you do it, even if you don't know exactly any of those. So, any argument that politics and religion should be separate is hopeless.

Mr. Harris, in his article, states
Speaking to a small group of supporters in 1999, Bush reportedly said, 'I believe God wants me to be president.' Believing that God has delivered you unto the presidency really seems to entail the belief that you cannot make any catastrophic mistakes while in office.
This represents a misunderstanding of the Christian idea of calling, but I won't go too deeply into that. It's rather boring to non-Christians who don't care to understand. Basically, I believe God called me to be a lawyer, but I may make "catastrophic mistakes" as a lawyer. The most important thing to remember is that you will not be perfect at what you do but that you will be used for some purpose of God's. Mr. Harris (and many others) don't get that. For a deeper study of the concept, look at the Old Testament books of 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, and 1 & 2 Chronicles. Many kings in those books were called of God to be king but made catastrophic mistakes "while in office."

Does that excuse what Bush has done? By no means. But to blame Bush's mistakes on his religion per se and say that anyone who thinks God has called her to be president should be barred from office is to misunderstand the concept of Christian calling.

Finally, Mr. Harris's biggest blunder of all:
[W]e are living in a world in which millions of grown men and women can rationalize the violent sacrifice of their own children by recourse to fairy tales.
Regardless of to which "fairy tales" Mr. Harris is referring, the diction he chooses clearly evinces a disrespect for the beliefs and understandings of those with whom he disagrees. Although I disagree with Mr. Harris's beliefs and do not think them logically tenable (what I know of them), I refuse to belittle his (hopefully) hard-wrought and hard-thought beliefs by calling them "fairy tales" or "mumbo jumbo" or any other mocking term. Mr. Harris has his evidentiary threshold, and I have mine. His are higher in some areas; mine in others. In sum, atheists should not sit too high on their horses; no one knows better how far it is to fall than a Western Christian.

By the way, faithful readers, if any would like to debate the intellectuality of Christianity or religion in general, or even the intersection of faith and reason, I'm ready when you are.


Andrew said...

Who is sacrificing their children, Mr. Harris? I believe the greates number of children szacrificed are sacrificed to the god of Choice.
-A. Shipp

Anonymous said...

Intellectuality in Christianity? Isn't that an oxymoron? Fundamentalist Christians are notorious for having an anti-intellectual mentality, in which they must refute anything that is explained by science because it may be contradictory to their dogmatic fantasies. Expalin to me how your beliefs can be so inviolable without having tangible proof to back it up?

Jeremy Masten said...

Thanks for commenting.

My beliefs are not inviolable in the sense that they can't be violated. My beliefs are just my understanding of the world. And I'll be honest. I can't give you tangible proof of most (maybe all) of the tenets of Christianity.

But I can't give you tangible proof of most (maybe all) of the tenets of modern science, either. I can't give you tangible proof that what I think I observe with my senses is what's really going on. I can't give you tangible proof that 2+2=4, except in a very linguistic sense. And I can't give you proof that the earth revolves around the sun instead of the other way around. I tend to agree with Galileo's equations and what made him believe it. But I can't take you up above the plane of the planets and watch it happen. I tend to believe in evolution, but I can't show you tangible proof of it. I can show you bones and explain geological theory, and we can draw inferences. But that's not tangible proof.

That's hope.