I’ve finished watching all of the recorded discussions from the 2006 “Beyond Belief” conference. All in all I think it was time (near 20 hours) well spent. I must say that I was rather surprised at what some of the panelists believed and just plain didn’t understand what is at stake in this dialogue. The two biggest “thick heads,” were Scott Atran and Melvin Konner. Both were perfect apologists for organized religion, and particularly deferential to Islam. Another, almost comic interjection by Jim Woodward was his misunderstanding as to why there weren’t Islamic Jihadis/suicide bombers a century ago – it obviously couldn’t just be Islam/The Koran as it has been around for centuries. Yeah, well, easy availability of compact explosives is a relatively recent historical development. Hello?
It makes me wonder just how familiar these dissenters/apologists are with fundamentalist style religion. Many even profess to have been raised in religious households, but really – just how religious were they? And were they themselves ever suckered into the rapture of their religion? I can’t believe they were, as they don’t offer any evidence of being able to talk about the subject as it really is.
I, however, was raised in what would only be considered a semi-religious household, but *I* was totally taken in by the religion. By most accounts, I would have been considered a Mormon fundamentalist. I was very much “into” The Church and graduated “with honors” from a Mormon seminary – i.e. I knew my scriptures inside and out – we even did a “game” called “Scripture Chase” where a passage or part of a passage would be given and the first person to find the passage in their scriptures “won.” I was actually pretty good at that game. Eventually I advanced through the priesthood where I could perform baptisms and blessings over the sacrament, dispense the sacrament, and all of the other basic rituals within the church as an “Elder” of their priesthood.
I clearly remember a day in 9th grade seminary where the students were asked whether they would deny the Christ in order to save their family, knowing that if they did deny Christ, they would burn in eternal Hell forever and never see their families again in the glorious hereafter. If a student/child said they would not deny Christ, an effigy (picture of a man/woman from a magazine) representing their mother or father was burned in front of the class. Then they were asked again and if they refused, another picture representing a parent or family member would be burned. None of the students denied Christ; we ALL allowed our families to be symbolically murdered in the name of Christ that day. This was in the United States in 1978 – this kind of brainwashing indocrination happens EVERY DAY. I would suspect it’s probably even more prevalent today than it was back then. What more has to happen before people WAKE UP!
Now, if Mel Konner or Scott Atran could even pretend to know what it’s like to be that involved, wholly believing in The Church with the entirety of their eternal soul, they would know just how dangerous religion can be. And they wouldn’t need planes flying into buildings, clinic bombings, doctor murders, and suicide bombers to illustrate the danger so dramatically and frequently. AND THEY STILL DON’T GET IT!!!
The other huge and obvious point they couldn’t quite figure out was the intended audience of Richard Dawkins’ books/programs and Sam Harris’ work. They kept harping on how they’re (Sam and Richard) never going to persuade or convert “true believers” over to their side with the presentational style they use. That’s NOT who they’re trying to reach – Hello? Again, Hello? Did you even read the books? Or did you just pick sound bites out to show just how ignorant you are of why these books were written?
I would venture to say that their works are not meant to be persuasive towards “true believers.” They’re meant to illustrate to people like you Mr. Konner and Mr. Atron, just how bad things have gotten, and that perhaps we had better do something as a bastion of reason and rationality against this ever increasing tide of murderous irrationality. And you’re still burying your heads in the sand! Refusing to believe there’s even a problem.
Here we are, with a fundamentalist President of the United States who has all but admitted that he went to war with Iraq in order to start Armageddon – and you STILL don’t think there’s a problem.
I must say, I thought it was kind of amusing that Konner had the gaul to quote Bertrand Russell as a comparison against Harris and Dawkins style. However he failed to note that the principle reason Russell seems to come off so “measured” in his presentation of atheism is because we’re reading his commentary through the lens of time. When considered within the context of when Russell wrote “Why I Am Not a Christian” and many of his other atheistic essays, he was considered quite condescending, disrespectful, and vitriolic towards those who held deeply religious sensibilities.
Ok, some of what I’ve said does come from the realm of emotion – which I’m also sure they don’t understand why. Emotions, as Rand states (and I believe) are a barometer of morals. If something upsets you, it’s because it’s in contradiction to the morals you hold. If it pleases you, it’s reinforcing your moral code. And the reason I have such a strong negative emotional response towards Konner and Atran are because they’re seemingly ignorant of the unique and immanent danger fundamentalist beliefs pose, not just to the local geographies they’re found in, but towards the whole of civilization as we know it.
The fact that Bush Jr. was elected not just once, but twice(!) should be a clear indicator of just how incredibly terrifyingly bad the situation is. And I’m not even a Democrat! In fact, I voted for Reagan way back when, and I don’t regret it. I did not vote for Bush Jr. however, and cannot see how any reasonable person could have.
Well this is getting much, MUCH longer than I intended, so maybe I will just have to write my own damn book to hopefully combat some of these not-so-innocent misconceptions and offer a “real-life” perspective from someone who was once a “True Believer” ™ of a fundamentalist style institution.