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Thursday, February 01, 2007

The case against Religious Moderation

This is the reason that Google Video and YouTube are great. This is a 20 minute or so lecture outlining a case not just against Religious Fundamentalism, but Religious Moderation, too. There are about 10-15 ways I considered summing it up, but you're better off just watching it.

Via: VideoSift

This, in combination with the minor hype surrounding the God Delusion, has me thinking quite a bit. I've always fallen into the "live and let live" camp. What does it matter to me if some hick wants to dance around speaking in tongues at Jesus Camp? I don't care. But that changes when certain things happen. Primarily the following two items:

1) Engineers fly planes into buildings - one of the things that always confused me thoroughly about 9/11 was that some of the terrorists were engineers and architects. College educated. See, I went to a pretty good engineering school and regardless of the particulars of your field of focus, the essential lessons are the same. When presented with a challenge, break down things into things you can quantify and things you can't and then use various proven techniques to break down those unquantifiable things into approximations of their quantity. The result of all that should be good enough to work.

You could think of it as an engineer basically saying, "I may not be able to get all of the math 100 percent accurate because there are just too many unquantifiable variables. But with good assumptions and hard work, I get close enough to 100 percent to get that rocket to the moon."

That's basically the engineering method, the somewhat intellectually lazier and more anal sibling of the scientific method. What it ingrains upon a young mind is general disdain for the unquantifiable (at least it did mine). Those are barriers to success to be worked around, not pillars to be leaned on. Religion is unquantifiable. It's not measurable. I never understood how an engineer could give himself over to something like that. Certainly not without serious doubt. Religion and Engineering are in direct conflict.

Clearly, there's something different about this religion thing. And as Mr. Harris states above, it's the lack of rationality. See, engineering solutions are only as good as their assumptions. And when "God Is Great" is your base assumption, every conclusion you draw is suspect. Furthermore, when that which is at a person's core is irrational, irrational behavior is what you should expect. Once you believe that God wants you to fight America, flying a plane into a building makes a lot of sense. And engineers are uniquely suited to make it happen.

2) When a very religious and intellectually incurious person is elected president. You know who I'm talking about. When Dubya got elected, he ran as a compassionate conservative and not being Bill Clinton. Uh, ok, whatever. When the election was stolen, I shrugged and thought, well, "if he's anything like his Dad, it'll be more annoying than awful. " Boy, was I wrong.

How was I so wrong and how is he so different than his Dad? Religion. Sure, Dad was a christian, but clearly not at the fundamental level of junior. Like most northeastern WASP-y types, it was most likely for appearance sakes than out of piety. If anything, his worst characteristic was that he had little or no moral compass. He had many jobs in government at all levels and could see all sides to every issue and you could just tell that he didn't feel strongly about any of it, but did what he calculated to be right. And those calculations were almost always based on money or politics, and that allowed much latitude for actions of questionable moral basis (Uh, Iran-Contra anyone?)

Dubya is a different beast. Every single thing he does, from tax cuts to waging war, is faith based. He believes that what he's doing is right, no matter what it is he's doing or how it may be going. That's why he's so goddamned stubborn. Once you accept that Jesus is the son of God, rose from the dead and that sometime later you were "called" to be the President, ignoring the facts on WMDs or the "progress" in Iraq is a breeze. When you've already done the hard part of subduing your rational side, the irrational comes easy.

So, how does Religious Moderation come into play? Mr. Harris demonstrates that above more aptly than I probably can. But essentially, it lends credence to irrational beliefs and ignores the ugly side of each religion that fundamentalists believe to literally be true. It creates a P.C. environment where we can't criticize religious beliefs because for some reason they have some inherent legitimacy and are mostly harmless. But believing in God on Sundays isn't harmless when it's one step from shooting doctors at abortion clinics or blowing yourself up in a market square.

It just isn't. So, I guess my days as a "live and let live" guy might be over. Oh yeah, and did I mention that I have two kids and my wife says she may want to send them to Sunday School?

UPDATED: Toast was all over this years ago. And yes, I was one of the people that made Toast nuts by saying he was showing the same level of intolerance as fundamentalists. My bad, dude.