Sunday, November 8, 2015

What Bothers Me About "Progressive" Religious Believers

I write a lot on this blog about what bothers me about New Atheism. For a short time, when I first heard about New Atheism, I assumed that I was a New Atheist: I'm an atheist, and I'm fairly loud-mouthed. However, I very quickly learned that New Atheists are very deficient in their knowledge of what we in the English-speaking part of the world have agreed lately to call the humanities, and determined to stay that way.

That ain't me. Therefore, I am a Steven Bollinger Can Haz Nobel Atheist. And maybe you are too.

Hopefully it's fairly obvious, upon even slight acquaintance with me, what bothers me about religious fundamentalists.

What bothers me about "progressive" Christians and Muslims and observant Jews and Sikhs and Hindus and other "progressive" religious believers -- "progressive" always in quotation marks, because there is nothing progressive about this thing which annoys me -- is that they have exchanged one category of ignorance of history for another.

"Progressive" Christians no longer believe that Adam and Eve or Noah or Abraham existed, they don't all believe that Moses existed, they're willing to debate the accuracy of the Biblical accounts of the size of David and Solomon's kingdom.

Sometimes they readily acknowledge that Mary wasn't a virgin when Jesus was born, that there's no reason to believe he was born in Bethlehem or was related to David or walked on water or cured the blind or the lame or the insane or raose Lazarus from the dead or himself rose from the dead. So why exactly are they still Christians? That's a good question. It's a very good question. Do they think that living a lie is good for their children somehow? Are they just networking on Sunday mornings?

They are scientifically literate, they know that life on Earth is billions of years old and that the universe is billions of years older still. Some of them are very competent scientists. (Some fundamentalists are very competent scientists too, of course, but with the "progressive" believers, expertise in science involves far less cognitive dissonance.)

And all of that is great. What is not so great, what bothers me, is that "progressive" believers very often insist that members of their faiths centuries ago regarded their holy texts the same way they do. "Progressive" Christians say that fundamentalism, literalism, regarding the accounts of things in the Bible to be literally true, is a recent development, going back to the 19th century, perhaps as far back as the very late 18th century. But no further.

Which is sheer nonsense. That it is sheer nonsense is one of the things about which fundamentalist Christians and I agree. Just look for the phrase "word of God" in texts dating from before the 18th century -- look for it in the Bible, for instance.

I submit that what began to happen in the 18th century was that people could begin to write things which were openly NOT literalist without fear of being tortured and killed for it, for the first time, in Christian-controlled territory, in about 1400 years.

I further submit that this is obvious to anyone who's read a lot of things written in those Christian-controlled places during those 1400 years. The amount of stuff which you have to ignore or tell yourself is "just allegorical" in order not to see this is huge. The number of people imprisoned and/or killed for doing science, because their work seemed to some authorities to challenge a very rigid view of the Bible as the ultimate source of truth is huge. Roger Bacon, Giordano Bruno and Galileo are only the most famous cases. People aren't burnt alive because their laboratory experiments seem to conflict with allegories.

And yet this is what many, perhaps most Christian theologians and scholars of the Old and New Testament canon and apocrypha will tell you, often with mountains of mind-fogging jargon. (A mind has to be fogged to believe it.)

Christian theologians have not stopped writing straight-up bullshit. The "progressive" ones these days -- and a lot of Biblical scholars and Biblical archaeologists -- have merely started to write a different kind of straight-up bullshit.

This seems so obvious to me. It seems to me sometimes that very few people -- not even academic historians -- want to investigate history on even the most superficial level, if what they found would conflict with certain preconceived notions which they cherish. New Atheists don't want to check Paulkovich's list of 126 names -- the fact that he says he's an historian and that his conclusion pleases them is enough, why risk being displeased by checking the man's work? "Progressive" Biblical scholars want to believe that there was no fundamentalism in Medieval and Renaissance times -- why disturb that belief by honestly looking at what stares them in the face all day long every day in their jobs? (Perhaps including some very solid reasons to wonder whether or not Jesus existed?)

Nietzsche knew what I was talking about. Was it really syphilis which drove him mad -- or was it that every day, everywhere he looked, he clearly saw things which everyone else refused to look at or talk about?

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