Saturday, August 18, 2007

People are dying

(Cross posted at God is for Suckers)

suicideThis this one goes out to everybody out there who's vaguely annoyed by Richard Dawkins:

Please, please, take the time off from your ranting to read a little story I found last year at FSTDT:
Just recently my son Bobby came out to me. I had been worried for awhile. His teachers said most of his grades were slipping and he seemed depressed and withdrawn.

Bobby said he'd been hiding it for awhile because he was afraid I would reject him. I sat him down and told him that I loved him and that God loved him, but that his salvation was in danger if he did not resist his unnatural tempations. I told him how being gay would mean he would live a shorter life, and that if he couldnt change his orientation he could be celibate like most the ex-gays are. He started crying saying something along the lines of "I knew you wouldnt understand! You're just like everyone else!" before running to his room and slamming the door.

What did I do wrong? I dont want to lose my son, but I fear I already have. I talked it over with his therapist, who had the ludicrous idea that homosexuality was unchangable and that trying to repress could lead to lots of psychological damage (I've dropped him and will try to be finding another therapist with more moral beliefs). I wouldnt be surprised if he's the one who's feeding my son all the homosexual propaganda about how its 'ok' to be gay. That, or how homosexuality has engulfed the media, making it seem 'cool' and 'hip' and how they were just another oppressed minority. You didnt have to worry about seeing two men making out on tv at my age! I dont want to sound like a fanatic, but Im worried what other effects will come out of this increasingly secular, immoral society obsessed with filth.

Am I too late? Or is it possible to save my son

[Note: The thread this originally came from indicates that this boy eventually took his own life.]
Now think carefully about how such a thing could happen today, in 21st century America. This ain't the 900 A. D. We're supposed to be beyond knee-jerk reaction to anything different. The rise of easy contraception means most heterosexuals have gotten over the idea that non-procreative sex is evil, the only objection to homosexuality that ever sounded halfway rational. The gay rights movement, especially the mass declosetings, have quashed accidental ignorance of homosexuality. Accidental is the key word here--even the above-quoted forum post shows how open discussion of homosexuality has become, how available sane professional advice on the subject has become. The parent may have been ignorant, but it isn't accidental ignorance.

There's really only one explanation: admitting that there's nothing wrong with homosexuality means admitting that the Bible is wrong to pronounce it so odious as to be deserving death or to be God's curse on a wicked humanity, and that the Bible is therefore, to at least some extent, the work of ignorant barbarians. Some people are unable to accept that fact, and this is ruining lives. In this case, a boy was driven to suicide.

That much is clear from a little thinking and casual observation of the world, but for those unfamiliar with the modern Evangelical movement, I must emphasize that this is the result of a complicated system of willful ignorance. It's not just the fact that there are writers cranking out anti-gay propaganda like crazy. It's that churches are distributing the stuff, and in my town at least we aren't talking about street corner ranters but the nice, mainstreamish Church of We Are Not Fundamentalists.

The stuff is dishonest crap with the shiniest polish money can buy; if you want to understand how it works, I recommend the brilliant sendup The Heterosexual Agenda: Exposing the Myths. Oftentimes, it's the work of people who are unapologetic about valuing dogma over honest inquiry. Exhibit A in this department is chapter in the book Hard Questions Real Answers by the loathsome William Lane Craig (those not familiar with him should read Robert M. Price's take on his dishonesty as well as my own quote heavy take). Craig began by arguing that homosexuality must be wrong because the Bible says so, and then going on to admit that it's a lot harder to argue against homosexuality without the Bible, an admission followed by some suggestions on how to do so. For Christians he must have been giving sage advice; for me it looks like a pratfall until I realize that Craig's blatantly dishonest replication of the standard propaganda has no doubt done a lot of harm to real people.

The whole situation is so bad that in the context of what happens on a daily basis in the evangelical community, Ted Haggard's "I hired a gay prostitute but I'm completely straight" lie becomes not extreme but depressingly unremarkable.

Though the gay issue is one of many examples of where religion causes harm, I use because the harm is ongoing and involves clear cases of ruined lives. My hope is that it will shock people away from the absurdly trivial complaints leveled at Richard Dawkins and other prominent critics of religion. I'm not taking issue with people who have serious concerns that certain things they've said are inaccurate. Those discussions need to happen. As I hinted in the opening sentence, my target is the people who are vaguely annoyed with Dawkins and say all kinds of weird stuff because they have no remotely legitimate complaint: they whine about politeness, they whine about tactics, they whine that Dawkins uses English in a perfectly clear manner than ordinary people can understand, rather than a convoluted manner invented by liberal theologians. At The Uncredible Hallq I recently had to deal with a situation of a patently false accusation followed by a series of weird evasions.

All this needs to stop. Religion isn't a fun form of make believe which no adult takes seriously. It's a serious issue that has a major impact on the lives of real people. If you like frank, open discussion, regardless of your view on the main questions, take a seat at the table. However, if you find violations of modern taboos on honest discussion of religion too emotionally distressing, please stop bugging the grown-ups about it.

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3 comments:

J. J. Ramsey said...

"At The Uncredible Hallq I recently had to deal with a situation of a patently false accusation followed by a series of weird evasions."

With all due respect, there is nothing evasive about Alon Levy saying, "... even if he explicitly said he didn't think religion is the root of all evil, his other statements suggest otherwise." Nor is it evasive to point out that someone can have a blind spot that keeps one from recognizing that one really does hold a position that one professes not to hold, and Levy seems to believe that most politicians have such blind spots (e.g. John Edwards not recognizing his own flip-flops as flip-flops).

Indeed, you are showing yourself to be more irrational than you usually are. You read into Levy's words that he assumes that not consistent empiricist could ever endorse anything conservative, and in discussing whether Dawkins' memetics was a way of pathologizing religion, you neglect a longer treatment by Dawkins, the article "Viruses of the Mind", which rather explicitly likens religion to a computer virus. Your statement, "It's hard to unwillfully misstate your own beliefs," is surprisingly naive. Come on, you are better than this.

You could argue that Levy's claim that Dawkins really does treat religion as the root of all evil is not supported by the evidence, which would have been fair, since Levy is hyperbolic about that. Instead, you and Levy kept talking past each other.

Hallq said...

I find your unjustified (in the context of your post) insistence that one can be mistaken about one's own beliefs simply baffling. It reminds me of my encounters with Calvinists (both one-on-one and through their writings) where they insist that I'm not actually an atheist. As I once told a Calvinist minister, it's like going up to someone on the street and telling them that no matter what they might think, they're having a hallucination of a pink elephant. I just can't make coherent sense of the idea, and if there isn't coherent sense to be made of that idea, there's no coherent sense to be made of Levy's attempt to defend himself.

On memes, I am quite aware of Dawkins' "Viruses of the Mind," indeed alluded to it as something Dawkins did "later," but that was published 17 years after The Selfish Gene, and can hardly be used for divining the motivation for Dawkins' invention of the concept of meme, which is what Levy's claim was about--he was not originally making a claim about how Dawkins used the concept.

On conservatism, I would draw your attention to a point I made in the section you refer to: "Really, that was one of those sentences that looks like an argument at first glance, but once you've analyzed it, the view that the author only ever meant to make a baseless assertion begins to look like the more charitable interpretation." If you assume Levy was actually trying to make an argument that Harris was wrong, you have to read what he said as containing an implicit premise of "empiricism will never lead to a very conservative stance" (or "empiricism will never lead to agreement with Rush Limbaugh"). If you're willing to grant that Levy was just babbling, then no such premises need be assumed, and I intended to acknowledge that with the quoted comment.

J. J. Ramsey said...

"I find your unjustified (in the context of your post) insistence that one can be mistaken about one's own beliefs simply baffling. ... it's like going up to someone on the street and telling them that no matter what they might think, they're having a hallucination of a pink elephant."

It is certainly unlikely that one can be mistaken about believing whether a pink elephant is in the room. However, one can be in denial about one's attitudes and prejudices.

"I am quite aware of Dawkins' "Viruses of the Mind," indeed alluded to it as something Dawkins did 'later,' but that was published 17 years after The Selfish Gene, and can hardly be used for divining the motivation for Dawkins' invention of the concept of meme, which is what Levy's claim was about--he was not originally making a claim about how Dawkins used the concept."

At best, this points out that Levy may be partially wrong. That still leaves Dawkins on the hook for fleshing out his early speculations in The Selfish Gene into a more fully-formed pseudoscience used to pathologize religion.

"If you assume Levy was actually trying to make an argument that Harris was wrong, you have to read what he said as containing an implicit premise of 'empiricism will never lead to a very conservative stance' (or 'empiricism will never lead to agreement with Rush Limbaugh')."

No, I don't. The implied premise can easily be that empiricism will never lead to the conservative ranters' positions on Muslims, which is a far more defensible position. Considering that it was Harris' positions on Muslims that was compared to those of the conservatives, rather than his positions on other matters (where he hardly agrees with conservatives at all!), that is a more plausible implied premise than the idea that Levy was implying that conservative positions in general--lower taxes, dislike of using the government for social services, etc.--were unsupportable, especially since those kind of political positions were not originally in the discussion.