Wool-gathering in the third week of Lent
Two interesting bits from Huffington Post's "Religion" section that I just want to highlight during the season of Lent.
First, an atheist among evangelicals finds out the latter are people, too:
There's a widespread impression among evangelicals that secular progressives would like to see them flushed out of the culture. Look at the strange currency of the war on Christmas, an annual pageant of outrage that from my point of view seems like goofy satire. Many evangelical Christians buy into it because in them resides a potent fear of endangerment, for which there's plenty of real-world evidence: a lot of secular progressives treat evangelicals with derision, the media feeds a public appetite for exposes on their churches, and we celebrate when their leaders are disgraced, humiliated, or revealed as enjoying the same behaviors they built careers on decrying as sin.As for the dogmatism of evangelicals:
So the notion that they'd trust a liberal, atheist writer to fairly represent their stories, or that they'd act naturally around me, knowing the filter through which I was viewing them, was just unrealistic.
A secondary surprise was that I felt implicated in the ignorance I observed -- relating to gay rights, to the environment, to feminism. I started to believe that their reactionary attitudes on these subjects were a result of profound insularity, which itself seemed the legacy of a culture that rejected them: mine. Why would they open themselves up to influence from a culture that made no space for their beliefs?And then there's that question of understanding the other:
The book's appeal for secular progressives, I hope, is implicit. I think we like to think of ourselves as very tolerant, but we're comfortable being nasty to evangelical Christians. I think Internet culture has really exacerbated this attitude. It allows for hostility that would be unacceptable in life, where interacting with flesh and blood people counteracts any budding impulse to reduce someone to a disgusting cartoon. So I want this book to restore some humanity.Interesting what responses resentment breeds; they are seldom helpful ones. I have family members who could easily be described as very conservative in their religious beliefs, if not "evangelicals" in the Thomas Road Baptist Church sense of the word. I keep my theology to myself around them, mostly out of respect. I have friends who are very conservative religiously, and I treat them with the same respect. I find it works better than demonizing them, and I find it hard to demonize them since I know them personally. On the intertubes, however, who do I know personally, except those I already agree with?
I'd hope that evangelicals would be interested in reading the book to see how their ideas and culture translate to a person working very hard to take them seriously, who nonetheless doesn't share their central beliefs.
And then, although I'm hardly an expert on neurobiology, neurology, brain structure, or even how much neuro-science explains how we think, this seems to me to be contrary to the popular press reports that religious belief is the product of a particular, and peculiar, part of the brain:
Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, used functional MRI to evaluate brain activity in 15 devout Christians and 15 nonbelievers as the volunteers assessed the truth or falsity of a series of statements, some of which were religious (“angels exist”) and others nonreligious (“Alexander the Great was a very famous military ruler”). They found that when a subject believed a statement—whether it was religious or not—activity appeared in an area called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which is an area associated with emotions, rewards and self-representation.Some of this leads directly into what Wittgenstein would call "language games," as the word "believe" is subject to varying interpretations depending upon the context (does a religious believer really "believe" in her religious doctrine the way another "believes" the sun is a star?). But the fact that the same brain function is involved in processing either type of information is...interesting.
“The fact that we found the same brain processing between believers and nonbelievers, despite the two groups’ completely different answers to the questions [about religion], is pretty surprising,” says Jonas Kaplan, a research psychologist at U.C.L.A. and co-author of the study. The finding adds to the mounting evidence against the notion, popular in the scientific community as well as among the general public, that religious faith is somehow different from other types of belief, explains co-author Sam Harris, also of U.C.L.A. In contrast to this assumption, he says, “Believing the sun is a star is rather the same as believing Jesus was born of a virgin.”
BTW: I'm pretty sure The Onion has been reading my blog.