QScribe over at Pam’s House Blend takes on charges that criticism of Christianity and its role in homophobia is “uncivil.”

Whether people want to admit it or not, the way Fred Phelps and Benedict XVI talk about [lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered] is consistent with the way we’ve been treated by the Christian church for 2,000 years. Anything pro-LGBT in Christianity is a recent development. I know there are people who are willing to give Christianity a pass on that. Many more of us are not.

It will be argued that “not all Christians are like that” and that “you shouldn’t paint Christians with a broad brush.” Well, I can’t remember ever seeing a comment here (or anywhere else, for that matter) to the effect that every single Christian everywhere is a bad person. We are all perfectly aware that there are “affirming” and “accepting” congregations and a great many fine individual Christians. Comments tend to be about the Christian church at the institutional level and its supporters.

I’ve pointed out before that of the 30-odd state constitutional amendments banning gay marriage, and the scores of anti-gay ballot initiatives and referenda across the country, every single one of them has been initiated or actively promoted by a Christian group. In contrast, I’m not aware of even one pro-gay measure that has come out of a Christian group. Not one.

Moreover, the “affirming” churches never seem to speak out against the language and behavior of the actively hateful ones. It’s all very well for churches to claim to be “affirming,” but that affirmation never seems to translate into action. The old phrase “all aid short of help” comes to mind.

QScribe goes on to discuss the long history of skepticism regarding the existence of God and/or gods, providing several amusing quotes from philosophers, scientists, social critics and at least one Founding Father whom American religious conservatives attempt to co-opt:

Thomas Jefferson: “The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the Supreme Being as his father, in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva from the brain of Jupiter.”

The main argument is this: religions and the propositions they make about reality, history and morality should not enjoy a special exemption from skeptical inquiry. There’s no need to be an asshole, of course, but there is no need to check one’s critical thinking cap at the door, either.

One thing QScribe does not address, so I’ll add it here, is the role multiculturalism plays in stifling legitimate criticism. By and large I support multiculturalism as a way of respecting the liberties and rights of people in a pluralistic democracy. That includes the right to practice one’s religion and to express one’s faith openly and publicly with an expectation of respect, even from cranky atheists like me. Yet when such faith is used to deprive people of civil rights and liberties, to persecute them for their very mode of being; or even to impose its view on public school curricula (Intelligent Design, school prayer, etc.), articles of faith become fair game.

However, there is this view that skepticism is a Western construction; that using it to criticize the claims made by non-Western religions is a form of racism or imperialism. Recently Oktar Babuna, a Turkish physician has taken to publicly decrying the theory of evolution as a Western attack on Islam, sending out copies of his book on the subject to schools in Turkey; indeed, he ropes in Judaism and Christianity as allies in defense against this perceived attack on the unique relationship these faiths posit between God and humanity. To be sure, scientists who subscribe to these faiths are appalled. And it should be noted that evolutionary theory itself, pioneered by the devout Christian Charles Darwin, makes no claims on Biblical accounts of Creation or any other religious explanation of human and cosmic origins. It makes its own claims, striving do as all scientific theories to understand external phenomena based on evidence, theory, prediction and falsification. (Please note that last element; the scientific method trains skepticism most intensely on theories proposed in the name of science.) Nonetheless, the Turkish government has banned access to Web sites on evolution and prevented publication of the Darwin issue of its oldest and most respected science magazine. Notably, Babuna derives much of his inspiration from the American Creationist and Intelligent Design movements, which treat evolutionary theory as an assault on its faith. As ever, the assault is really the other way around. Here is Babuna:

These two ir-religious philosophies, Darwinism and materialism, are the foundation of the conflict and corruption going on in the world. Because we all believe, Christians, Jews and Muslims, that God has created the entire universe out of nothing and that he dominates all that exists with his omnipotence.

And his boss, Harun Yahya, who has recently written an 800-page refutation of Darwin, makes these claims:

I’m a believer in science. If I had ever found any hard evidence for evolution, in the Koran or in the world, I would accept it. There are millions of fossils, but none of them ever show creatures evolving. Darwinism is nonsense, and dangerous. Despots like Stalin and Hitler used Darwin to justify murdering millions.

The Son of Sam claimed his dog ordered him to go on a serial murderous rampage, but I don’t think we should hold the dog accountable, should we? Anyhoo, Babuna and Yahya, as implied by reporter Aaron Schachter, see the strident atheism of the Richard Dawkins school as a direct provocation, deserving of response. Fair enough, Dawkins is not always the most pleasant of critics, and he would claim provocation by the Creationists seeking to eliminate evolution from school curricula and the role of religion in promoting all sorts of nasty violence, for which a link can be made that is more direct than Darwin’s role in The Holocaust. Yet for all of this “he started it” playground sniping, the real issue is that a legitimate —and working— field of scientific theory is constantly under attack from groups who mask their fears of its implications behind characterizations of the scientific method as a kind of aberration of Euro-American thinking, a cognitive blip, an ideological weapon of Western Imperialism.

And, at the risk of seeming “uncivil,” that’s bullshit. Anthropologists and evolutionary biologists have certainly put forward some crazy racist ideas in the past, yet no one has been harder on them than modern practitioners of these fields; not only because such ideas are abhorrent, but because they are rendered utterly false by scientific skepticism, by testing the claims against reality. You want to drive a scientist crazy? Misuse his or her findings to justify your personal ideology; misuse the scientific method to prop up racism, as anyone who was alive during The Bell Curve controversies should recall with a sense of outrage that inspires the use of uncivil language. To be fair, plenty of people of faith feel a similar degree of anger when co-religionists misuse scripture to promote homophobia or sexism or any other agenda of oppression. Twenty years ago, I worked at a daycare center in a church, where I found someone had stashed a Chick comic book (I think it was this one), an artifact of fundamentalist crackpottery I thought hilarious. The priest I showed it to did not share my amusement: “If you find any more of these, bring them to me right away!” I have never forgotten the look on his face.

I feel more common ground with that priest, certainly, but that doesn’t mean I should not criticize the irrational claims of Creationists or of Islamist charlatans like Yahya and Babuna; or, for that matter, refrain from holding the claims of even friendlier strains of the Big Three religions. Critical thinking is not a form of incivility or Western imperialism. It’s our most important strategy for survival.

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