Friday, February 23, 2007

Criticizing a Faith

At the TPM Cafe, there's an interesting article that touches on the same issue I touched on earlier in response to Anonymous' bitching about my criticizing his faith. The author of the piece, Amanda Marcotte, was hounded by James Dobson and Bill O'Reilly because of her feminism and negative remarks she made about the Catholic Church's views on women's issues, to resign from the Edwards campaign. The article itself was triggered by Mitt Romney's telling reporters that "We need to have a person of faith lead the country" in response to a criticism that he doesn't know "the Lord" because he's a Mormon.

Which was, essentially, saying, "Don't worry about the fact that my sky fairy is different than yours, just be happy that I'm not one of those evil atheists." But that's another topic.

On the topic at hand, of criticizing faith, Ms. Marcotte, herself an atheist, correctly notes:

Problems arise because people think that their right not to be mistreated
because they have a faith extends to a right not to have their faith itself

There is, in fact, no such right. And, in fact, even theists only extend that right to themselves: Christians have no problem criticizing Muslims, Wiccans, or atheists, but think their own version of the magic sky fairy is off-limits. But, again, as I said to Anonymous, if you believe in crazy shit, I'm going to say something about it. There's no free pass in the marketplace of ideas for irrational ideas lacking a shred of evidence, and I'm not going to give one either.

But then Marcotte makes an interesting point. She quotes blogger Ed, who said:

[M]ocking the religious underpinnings of some political position is one
thing; denying their sincerity is another.

Here's how the regression from mockery of politics to mockery of
religion to mockery of religious sincerity tends to work: Some people hold
abhorrent political positions that they justify with religious principles you
happen to consider a bunch of atavistic Hooey. You attack the positions on their
dubious merits. You then go over the brink and attack the underyling Hooey. But
since you think it's Hooey, you go on to suggest that the Hooey, being Hooey, is
just a mask for very different motives (e.g., misogyny) that can be deplored
without discussion of religion.

At first blush, I agree with Ed. I do try, as best I can, not to impute motives to religious folk I argue with, because it really pisses me off when they do the same, by claiming that I "hate God," for instance. But Marcotte has a strong case why that view is not always correct, noting that:

The tip-toeing around religious sensitivities has created this bizarre situation
where people can say with a straight face to judge someone's sincerity by their
Jesus-loving words rather than their woman-hating actions, and we as a society
need to find a way to get past that.

I think she has a point. When white American Southern Christians used the Bible to justify the institution of slavery, is there any doubt that racism, not religion, was the real basis of their views? After all, the Bible never says that white people should be slave owners and blacks slaves. It just gives general rules for how slaves, in general, should be treated. (For that matter, it really assumes that Jews will be the ones owning the slaves and Gentiles will be the slaves, but that's a whole other thing). Would it have been wrong to go past their religious arguments and point out the racism that underlied them?

I don't think so. When religion is being used a sham to support some other agenda, which is laid bare by the actions the believer takes being consistent with that agenda, I think we can point that out. We must be careful not to do so too quickly or self-servingly to create straw men, but one should not be able to hide sexism or racism under the cloud of religion and be therefore exempt from criticism.


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