Monday, September 14, 2009

Lessons from Europe

I’m Back

For the last 2+ weeks my wife and I have been on a cruise from Vienna, Austria to Amsterdam, The Neatherlands. We have been touring cathedrals, castles, museums, and palaces, visiting a number of cities along the rivers and canals along the way.

During that time I was electronically cut off from the world. I could have found a place to log in if I had wanted to go to the effort. However, I decided to spend my free time reading some articles people had sent me and commenting on them instead. I will be posting what I wrote on those subjects mostly in the (local) evening. I haven’t done much of that type of focused writing on theory for a while, and I discovered that I missed it.

Of course, a lot of my time was not free. If I had an opportunity to go out and explore, I did so, confining my writing to those times when we were sailing.

The cruise had a heavy focus on religion. This is because a lot of the history we looked at centered around religion, and because a lot of the passengers seemed to be religious. For example, during one shipboard event a passenger recommended that the crew join him to sing our 'most singable national anthem' - My Country Tis of Thee. And, of course, Hitler was not a Christian. (Though our tour guide explicitly said that most of Hitler's worse policies were mere copies of what Christians had been doing for over a thousand years.)

Regardless of what people may say about Hitler's religious beliefs, the people loved him. When specifically asked about Hitler's popularity among religious Germans, our guide answered by saying that Hitler was extremely popular among Lutherans – over 80% approval, but not so popular among Catholics. As I already mentioned, many of Hitler's actions, from confiscating the property of Jews to having them sew the Star of David on their clothes to driving the Jews out of the community were all a part of Christian history before Hitler.

I acquired a deeper sense of loathing for the idea, popular in Europe through much of its history and common on board the ship, that, "If you do not share my religion, you do not belong in my community."

Since the 30 Years War and World War II, the concept of 'my religion' has grown to include Jews, Lutherans, and Catholics for most (though not all) members of these groups. But the sentiment remains strong.e

It is an attitude that I can also find in a lot of atheists. Though, for atheists, the comparable attitude is, "If you do not share my dismissal of religion, you do not belong in my community." In fact, a lot of work is being done to promote communities built on the concept of atheism just so that they can hang a sign on the door that says, "In my community, no theists are allowed."

As I have argued before, I can see serious potential for a charismatic leader to sweep up a bunch of atheists in glorious talk of atheist superiority and the need to rid the community of lesser beings who cannot be cured of the meme-virus of religion and who must then be quarantined (or worse) to prevent them from infecting others. The best protection against this type of immorality is to recognize the moral bankruptcy of the idea that, "If you do not share my religious beliefs, you do not belong in my community."

This does not mean that one must play nice with others as it were. People within the same community can disagree. Astronomers do not yet all agree on the proper definition of a plant, and paleontologists are still debating whether T-Rex was a hunter of a scavenger. Astronomers do not seek to exclude those with differing view from their communities.

We, too, could benefit by learning the art of more constructive ways of disagreeing.

And we can help to avoid a great many of what has sometimes been extremely high costs.


Luke said...

Welcome back!

Sounds like a fun trip.

Kip said...

It seems to me that we need to find the balance between "you are welcome in my community" and "there is nothing wrong with your beliefs". The fact is, there is a lot wrong with a lot of religious belief. We should point it out, and use our social tools to encourage people to examine their beliefs and think critically about why they believe what they do.

Doug S. said...

Astronomers probably would try to exclude moon landing conspiracy theorists from many of their venues and communities. Or at least, they'd request that they not talk about it; it's kind of pointless to argue about something like that when you're trying to have a technical discussion about things about which there can be legitimate disagreements.

I think it's reasonable to tell crackpots to go away and stop bothering the adults in the room.

Sabio Lantz said...

Alonzo, I totally agree. John Loftus, on "Debunking Christianity" just criticized my post on "Sympathetic Atheists" where I put forward something similar to your position (I think -- well, certainly not as clearly). The discussions following reached a dead end. I have also had similar debates over at Atheist Revolution -- another highly trafficked furious Atheist site where VJack actually goes so far as to post an "Idiot of the Week" post (which I have protested several times). There are many small sites which do the same but I wanted to mention two popular ones where I see very few Atheists question this sort of reasoning among fellow atheists.

I think many atheist are so angry at certain aspects of religion that they can't hear themselves think when it comes to their non-discriminant hatred.

Anonymous said...

power for AUSTRIA and EUROPE ,,,,,,,, arrivederci from ROMA