While surfing here and there the other day….not sure what I was looking for or researching….but I happened upon a blog post from “yesteryear.” Yesteryear as in 2008…Thomas Merton’s Apologies to an Unbeliever on a blog still “open for business” The Other Journal – The Intersection of Theology and Culture.
Like Merton, I often feel Christians owe nonbelievers (not to mention followers of other faith traditions) a big, fat apology.
Merton died shortly after he wrote the essay and the conversations that might have taken place with unbelievers never happened. In fact, the ensuing years saw an uprising of religious fundamentalists like Phyllis Schlafly and the Eagle Forum, Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority, Pat Robertson and The Christian Coalition, Anita Bryant and Save Our Children. The list goes on and on…Focus on the Family, American Coalition for Traditional Values, Concerned Women for America, Family Research Council, Christian Right.
Robert Inchausti, the author of the article, sums it up
But in the years following his death, the late seventies and eighties, religious people launched an offensive against secular society, science, and atheism. Their primary weapon was a rigid, reductive, Biblical literalism. This new passionate, doctrinal rigidity ultimately gave birth to the backlash of militant atheisms we are now currently experiencing.
And it goes on to say….
In recent years Christopher Hutchins, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and others have published best-selling polemics challenging Christianity with little or no recognition of the apophatic tradition. The combative tenor of these books is no doubt a response to the onslaught of twenty-plus years of know-nothing pop apologetics that has so polarized and dumbed down the national conversation concerning faith that when I read these books, I find myself agreeing with everything they say.
And no wonder these guys…the atheists with the loudest voices… are so pissed about some of the things these right wing, fundamentalist groups have tried to implement and enforce through the years! (check out some of the links in the list of right wing organizations)
And yet at the same time, I also find in them the flawed logic of the straw man fallacy. The God they do not believe in is not a God I ever believed in.
Me, neither!! I’ve long believed that militant atheists and militant Christians have a lot in common in the way they read the Bible. Both groups take it literally…at face value. One group picks away at its inconsistencies and contradictions, The other group goes to great linguistic gymnastics in order to reconcile the obvious inconsistencies.
But Merton wrote about a new day that he hoped was dawning.
Quoting the article’s author again….
This is the culture where every practicing contemplative, mystic, and true scientist has always labored, and now that the skeptics have vented some of their resentments and the magic Christians have had their say, perhaps a real conversation about our place in the cosmos can begin free from invective, straw man arguments, and polemical grandstanding.
Free from polemical grandstanding and invective straw man arguments? For some of us…not quite yet. More in my next post…after this bonus quote from Merton
“The dread of being open to the ideas of others generally comes from our hidden insecurity about our own convictions. We fear that we may be “converted” – or perverted – by a pernicious doctrine. On the other hand, if we are mature and objective in our open-mindedness, we may find that viewing things from a basically different perspective – that of our adversary – we discover our own truth in a new light and are able to understand our own ideal more realistically. Our willingness to take an alternative approach to a problem will perhaps relax the obsessive fixation of the adversary on his view, which he believes is the only reasonable possibility and which he is determined to impose on everyone else by coercion…This mission of Christian humility in social life is not merely to edify, but to keep minds open to many alternatives. The rigidity of a certain type of Christian thought has seriously impaired this capacity, which nonviolence must recover.”
From Passion For Peace by Thomas Merton