moderate vs. militant

Amazing post on Hurtling Through Space, addressing the “all Christians are…” fallacy and arguing for moderation in the way atheists approach conflicts between religion and rationalism. It’s an amazing post and you should go read the entire thing, but the conclusion struck me as particularly relevant and important:

Yes, it’s awful that in the 21st century billions of the world’s population are still slaves to Bronze Age superstitions. But no, screeching like a banshee at your neighbour isn’t going to make them suddenly say, “You know what… you’ve been insulting everything I’ve ever valued for years now, but I see it now: you’re right!” Just because something may be provably wrong, it doesn’t mean that an otherwise intelligent person will see it that way — you’re staring in the face of cognitive dissonance .

So am I advocating appeasement? Certainly not. But a large number of worldwide scientific community do not consider themselves atheists. Are they to be excluded from scientific endeavour? Again, certainly not. The same is true of the average member of the public. Religions and superstitions may be laughable and ridiculous, but they kill thousands of people every day and are not to be underestimated in terms of their importance to the people that hold them. And some of those people may love you and be hurt deeply whenever, by inference, you call them imbeciles.

Unfortunately, I don’t know what the solution is — or even if there is one, at least that doesn’t involve totalitarianism — but I am certain that the lumping of people like my great-uncle in the same basket as a religious terrorist is wrong. And yet I see it every day in the atheist blogs I read, and in the other atheistic and even new media I consume: the deliberate misrepresentation of members of a faith as if they’re all as bad as the worst public figure in that faith. It’s wrong and it has to stop.

And, in the same general way I both agreed and disagreed with Michael Shermer in my first real post on this blog, I both agree and disagree with this article as well. Let me amend the previous statement: I both agree with the article, and sympathize with the people whose actions it takes exception to. Because, first of all, if it weren’t for Richard Dawkins and the like making a big public fuss about it, I know I’d have never ‘come out'; I might have alluded to it in various ways, and admitted it to close friends, but a blog about it? Big scarlet red A? No way. And, there are critical battles being fought right now, as we speak, between fundamentalist organizations who are forcefully (and with no small measure of success) fighting to have their belief systems into law. The ones who rage against the divisions between church and state, the ones who want one specific religion’s mythology taught in public schools, the ones who keep successfully rounding up the “values voters” to take away people’s rights in “defense of marriage”. So how does one take a moderate tone against this opposition? I know it needs to be done, but I also understand why many of the strongest voices on our side are so strident. And it’s not just because of the seriousness of the legal battles currently being waged.

It’s bigotry, which has a long history of continuing to thrive in the face of reasoned, moderate resistance. I won’t presume to equate this with racism in the 60’s or even with the modern-day gay rights movement, but I can’t help but draw parallels between them. How many well-meaning people both in and outside of minority communities offer the oh-so-practical advice to “tone it down?” I remember discussions prior to a marriage rights protest I attended, in which some concerned organizers advised against “waving rainbow banners” (roughly translated, this means “don’t scare the straight people”, but you know that, right)? And, how many people of color were told not to act so “ethnic” (i.e., “don’t scare the white people”)?  And on some level, it’s the people who went against that advice, the ones who refused to tone it down, the ones who went ahead and upset the status quo anyway, who have paved the way for the biggest advances.

I wonder if the militant voices and the moderate ones might actually be able to coexist in support of one another? I’m reminded of a South Park episode where anti- and pro- war protesters were at odds, I know it’s not a direct correlation between the situation, but, maybe we need each other?

Maybe we need the loud, aggressive to voices to make sure we are heard, and that we don’t get trampled underfoot? And perhaps they need the moderate voices to smooth things out and make sure the movement isn’t perceived as entirely militant? The video clip presents this duality among people allegedly on the same side as disingenuous, but is it really?

I don’t have the answer to that either, unfortunately.

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