This post has been hanging around as a draft since February, because I wasn’t quite happy with it. Lindsay’s recent post (and my response), on how misusing “moderate” to describe faith positions which don’t preach intolerance imputes that the intolerant theology is the orthodox position made me recast it – everywhere that now reads “more tolerant” used to read “moderate”.
The image below speaks to me, but I don’t think it tells the full story. To my religious readers, I’m sure some of you will be offended by the picture. I hope you read the rest. The idea of non-overlapping magisteria is taken to a ridiculous extreme, and certainly there are faith positions not as wilfully ignorant of contradictory evidence as that pictured here.
Image Credit: wellingtongrey.net
The faith side above is a reasonable representation of reactionary fundamentalist views such as Wahabists, Young Earth Creationists, steadfast Mormon polygamists etc. It’s not a reasonable representation of how a whole lot of people of faith I know think, act and believe.
Most people of faith are not extremists and do entertain doubts. They believe, they derive comfort from belief, but they don’t want to force belief onto other people. They may be even quite liberal in their faith, being skeptical about the origin of their belief tradition and willing to accept that it is essentially man-made rather than divinely revealed, yet still a comfort for all that.
Most people of faith do acknowledge contradictory evidence against their faith tradition and come to some terms with it: that the original writers just wrote what they could observe without our modern scientific technology, that the precepts of their faith were an attempt to establish a longevity of community over generations in accommodation with the political realities of the day rather than some eternally immutable hierarchy, that ultimately there is no irrefutable evidence for the intervention/revelation of any deity. Failing to acknowledge this drives a wedge of disrespect between the irreligious and the faithful.
However, when over and over again it is the extremists with their blanket irrational pronouncements who dominate the public voice of religion, it is hard to remember that they are vastly outnumbered by more tolerant religionists. It is hard to remember that more tolerant theists are on the side (mostly) of progressive politics in seeking to redress inequalities and alleviate poverty, when the religious voices given most publicity are those denouncing equality movements and welfare justice.
Until there’s a broad movement away from the extremists, a public movement that doesn’t just disavow them but vigorously denounces them, the “Faith” position above is going to be how religionists are viewed.
1. if that link doesn’t work, there’s an essay summarising and responding to Gould’s concept here.