The Episcopalian Church, it seems, is suffering from some dissention in its ranks. Some rank-and-file members cannot accept the fact that some higher officials are tolerant of homosexual unions and the promotion of women (gasp!) to leadership positions.
As an expression of their disapproval, they are seeking some way to disassociate themselves from more liberal church members. Some are doing so by putting themselves under the governance of more conservative leaders. For example, some American churches have put themselves under the bishop of Niger because he is not going to accept homosexuality. Others are splitting from the Anglican Church entirely.
This is a good thing. I am pleased to see a split between moderate Episcopalians and mean-spirited, narrow-minded bigotry of the more conservative branch. It is useful, I think, for individual members to stand up and identify which group they are sympathetic with, so that the rest of us can more easily identify those worthy of being despised.
There are some who may disagree with this. They would want to assert that all Episcopalians are equally contemptible merely by the fact that they are Episcopalians . . . and the only good Episcopalian is . . . well, there ain’t no such thing.
It’s not that those people are advocating violence . . . at least not yet. Yet, they do ignore basic moral principles and, once one becomes an advocate of injustice it is difficult to decide just where that injustice should end.
In discussing the situation in Iraq, I have often wrote that the fundamental problem in the country is a refusal to distinguish between those who plant the bombs and kill civilians from those who do not. There is no reason to distinguish between moderate Shiite/Sunni and the more violent factions because “all Shiite/Sunni are alike,” and even the moderate ones deserve to die because, in being Shiite/Sunni, their mere existence gives aid and comfort to the bombers.
And in the conflict in Israel, the same doctrine holds. Even the moderate Jews are just as guilty as the militant Jews because, merely by existing, they aid and abet the existence of militant Jews. So, it does not matter if the people riding the bus or in the restaurant would condemn unrestrained violence against the Palestinians. We must remember, all Israeli are equally culpable, regardless of their individual beliefs.
For another example, it is much easier to fly an airplane into a sky scraper full of Americans if one believes, “They are all equally guilty. Even the moderates among them are guilty because, in being Americans, they air aiding and abetting any American policy we don’t like.”
And so, we are told, we must adopt the same attitude towards Episcopalians and other theists. Even moderate theists are to be condemned for aiding and abetting the more fundamental theists, so any hatred and contempt we would hold towards fundamentalist theists who do harm to others is equally deserved of their more moderate brethren. We are not to distinguish between them.
Now, as far as I know, no atheists are advocating violence – at least not yet. However, the statements above were meant to demonstrate a principle – the basic injustice that comes from the attitude, “They’re all alike. We do not have to distinguish among them – we can condemn all of them equally; the moderates for aiding and abetting the extremists.”
The popularity of this attitude, the speed at which it has spread and the growth of its popularity among the atheist community, only proves to me that atheists have no special immunity against injustice. This has, of course, been proved in the past as well. The atheism that guided the French Revolution did not bind the leaders at that time to justice, and neither did the atheism of many communists.
Atheists themselves must make a separate commitment to justice or injustice – separate from their views on the existence of God, and can (and do) go either way.
I want to make it clear, I am not raising any objection to saying, "You're wrong" to somebody one believes is wrong, or even "That is the most absurd, irrational piece of nonsense that any human has ever spoken," when confronted with absurd and irrational nonsense. As I have written in the past; criticism is not intolerance. My objection rests entirely with the claim, "They are all alike, and even the moderates deserve the same moral condemnation that we would give the fundamentalists."
The principle that I have suggested for peace in Iraq and in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is a principle of, “Punish the guilty; let the innocent go free.” It is a principle of distinguishing between those who do or advocate harm, and those who do not, and to reject the doctrine that all X are equally deserving of condemnation because some X are dangerous.
I think that some atheists underestimate or under appreciate the possibility of being wrong. I am willing to make the bold, unsupported statement of every reader that there is not one person on the planet who agrees with you on everything. In fact, even if we limited this example to things that people are certain about, no two people’s lists will be alike.
Which means if, by chance you, the reader, happen to have a list where everything you are certain about is true, it is still the case that everybody else has at least one thing on their list that is false. Which means that the possibility (the ease) of error is very, very high.
And if you do happen to have one thing on your list that you are certain about that is false . . . well, you have no idea what it is.
I would have to say that part of my quest in life would be to go through that list and to eliminate all of the false elements that I can – knowing full well that I can never get to all of them, and that until the day I die I will absolutely certain of at least one thing that simply is not true.
Anyway, the ease of error speaks to the simple absurdity of condemning somebody for being wrong. Every one of us believes something that is wrong, where the falsity would reveal itself if we only had the will or the desire to look at the issue honestly. So, this type of condemnation would condemn everybody, including the speaker.
Condemnation comes in when that error makes one a threat to others.
In yesterday’s entry, I did not criticize Dennis Miller for being wrong. I condemned him for being wrong on a matter that can easily be demonstrated to be wrong on a matter that puts the lives and well being of others at risk.
A drunk, who wants to get in his pickup and drive around, is not guilty of the moral crime of recklessness if he limits his driving to his own ranch, where there are not supposed to be any other people. He can drive around and drunk as he wants until he puts the lives and well-being of others at risk by leaving the ranch. It is the risk of harm to others that is reckless.
The conservative Episcopalians who are splitting from the main church or supporting narrow-minded, hate-mongering leaders are to be condemned, not because they are Episcopalians, but because they are supporting narrow-minded hate-mongering leaders, which gives us sufficient evidence to assert that they, too, are people whose religion has driven them into being people who are a threat to others.
But we have no reason not to welcome those who are willing to accept homosexuality, and to form an alliance with them against their narrow-minded, hate-mongering former (in most cases) associates, and encourage them to drop association with their narrow-minded hate-mongering brethren.
I am willing to say the same thing for atheists. There is no value in associating with narrow-minded, hate-mongering bigots in our own ranks. Rather, there is every reason to recognize the difference between those who respect the principle, “Punish the guilty, let the innocent go free” from those who say, “They are all equally guilty and all deserve the same treatment, regardless of the actual threat posed by their individual beliefs.”
I have absolutely no kind or compromising words to offer to the, “They are all equally guilty” crowd. They have embraced injustice, and I have no use for them. Moderate atheists should no more fear a split with such people as moderate Episcopalians should concern themselves with the fundamentalists (and less moral) who decide to leave.