[eDebate] ans foy

Michael Korcok mmk_savant
Thu Apr 10 09:28:24 CDT 2008

Hey John.
Let me begin by pointing out the obvious.  Very many people believe, at least in broad outline, as you do.  That includes people I care about a lot and the vast majority of my students.  I will try to respect you and your beliefs as best I can.  I ask, without implication that your intentions are otherwise, that we work for honest and respectful discussion.  That seems about as difficult in discussion of religion as it is in discussion of race.
I appreciate the courage it took to write even an entry into this topic.  My guess is that the community here is much less religious than the general public is.  The broader academic community is too.  When I write publicly in the city paper about this, I face an audience which is overwhelmingly religious.  Anyway, I appreciate the difficulty of an honest discussion. 
John states: "I believe in the God of the Old Testament and the New.  They are one and the same."
This is pretty ambiguous.  There is a multitude of religious commitments which fit within this statement, ranging from Orthodox Catholicism to Evangelical Protestantism to Liberation Theology to a Generalized Christianity.  Not all of these assemblages of beliefs commit to belief in nonexistent entities, at least not explicitly.  Many do.  I won't address your particular beliefs since I still don't know what they are.
I hope you reject any beliefs that contradict the facts as best we can discern them.  One such example is the Age of the Earth.  A literal interpretation of the Bible concludes that Creation and the Earth are about 6,000 years old.  That is the result of adding up the ages of the lineage, plainly stated, of Jesus.  The scientific evidence is that the Earth is about 4.54 billion years old and the universe is 13.73 billion years.  I hope you side with science and not with the divine text?  Heliocentrism, evolution, the Noachian Flood, the origins of life and of humans are other examples in this vein.
Very many Americans side with literal interpretations of the Bible rather than with science.  The National Academy of Sciences reported in 2006 that fully 1/4 of Americans believe that the Sun revolves around the Earth.  You read that right.  They believe in what their Holy text says, that the Earth is fixed and unmoving in the center of the all creation.  Science thought it won this one 400 years ago in the time of Galileo, but religious institutions make religious beliefs stick no matter the facts.  And it isn't just that Americans are scientifically illiterate by nature.  A large part of that is because of religion.
The broad point has been made many times: one example of a recent study is by Morgan and Sternke presented at the American Sociological Association last year entitled "The Effects Of Religiosity On Attitudes Towards Science And Biomedical Research: A Structural Equation Model Analysis."  The authors conclude:
"Findings indicate that Religiosity has a strong negative impact on attitudes about science in general. Both Religiosity and attitudes about science were found to have strong negative effects on attitudes about biomedical research."
The portions of science in friction with specific religious commitments are also undermined by religious belief.  The National Science Foundation has known for years that Americans score miserably in tests about knowledge of evolution and universal origins.  They point out in their Science and Engineering Indicators 2008 that:
"In international comparisons, U.S. scores on two science knowledge questions are significantly lower than those in almost all other countries where the questions have been asked. Americans were less likely to answer true to the following scientific knowledge questions: "human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals" and "the universe began with a huge explosion."
Professor Jon Miller of Michigan State has done some of the most respected research in scientific literacy.  His 2004 surveys found out why the US scores lower than every other developed country except Turkey:
"When the question about evolution was prefaced by ?according to the theory of evolution,? 74% answered true; only 42% answered true when it was not. Similarly, 62% agreed with the prefaced question about the big bang, but only 33% agreed when the prefatory phrase was omitted. These differences probably indicate that many Americans hold religious beliefs that cause them to be skeptical of established scientific ideas, even when they have some basic familiarity with those ideas."
Just one more thing here.  You and I presumably agree on an open-ended list of thousands and thousands of nonexistent Gods, including Thor, Nepthys, Quezacoatl, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and on and on.  I just add one more nonexistent God to our joint list.
John states: "I hope that my actions are guided by the gift of discernment and the Holy Spirit.  I don't think that makes me ignorant or oppressive."
No, by itself, it does not.  I am unsure of what that means, even.  But those are not the sum total of your religious commitments, either.  If you want to expand on the other religious beliefs you have committed to because of your belief in the Old and New Testament, then we can have a full discussion. 
But for very many people, belief in God does make them both ignorant and oppressive.  I have touched on the "ignorant" part above.
The oppressive part is more about institutions than it is about individuals.  The less important part, for me, is that religious belief gets translated into oppressive social policies.
The Bible, in both the Old and the New Testament, for example, calls homosexuality a sin punishable by death.  Very many people read that and translate it into social policy which makes millions miserable.
More importantly, from my perspective, is that religious belief makes you complicit in foundational oppressions and dominations.  Whether in patriarchal family structures or in community relationships where leaders are the anointed of the God or in global religious institutions of massive wealth and privilege aggrandized by exploiting the poor.
John asks: "How peaceful are the idols you worship Mike?"
I don't worship any idols.  Neither the worship part nor the idol part, John.
It isn't just about peace, either.  Life isn't all peace and love and comfort:  war and discord and stress are important components of living too.
Michael Korcok
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