Why I Don’t Talk About Religion Much

One of the common responses I get to posts about theopolitical conservatives is that I am advocating atheism or calling for the destruction of ‘religion.’* This is absurd, as I am one of the defenders of some religions (though not all of them obviously). This is often accompanied by complaints of ‘why don’t you criticize Dawkins for saying mean things about religion?’ First of all, there is a difference in kind in using harsh language when criticizing a particular theology or supernaturalism as a belief or idea system versus using eliminationist rhetoric against those who wish to use governmental power to force others to abide by their particular sectarian dogma. Also, I have a limited amount of time to blog, and other things interest me. But that’s not really why I don’t write about the ‘God controversy’ much. Here’s why:

It bores me.

ScienceBlogling Jason, in a funny post, explains why. I’ll get to that in a moment, but first I want to share a really funny part of the post:

I love knowing that the proper condiment for a sandwich is not mayonnaise, a vile concoction whose sole legitimate purpose is providing the mortar for holding together a tuna salad sandwich, but mustard. And not just any mustard. Not that neon yellow glow-in-the-dark soulless French’s crap or that vinegar with yellow food coloring put out by Heinz. I’m talking about a proper deli mustard. The kind with brown specks that comes in a small metal container whose lid flips up with gentle pressure from your thumb and has a small groove in it so that it rests flat even when there is a serving spoon stuck in the mustard. The kind that has a dish of sour pickles, pickled tomatoes, and cherry peppers next to it, so that the smell of salt, vinegar and spices mixes seductively with the big pile of fatty meat on the plate in front of you, and that also has a few half-sour pickles that you must never eat, unless you want everyone around you to know that you are a weak-willed gentile pussy. And I love the fact that every Jew reading this knows the emotions I am describing right now, while most of you non-Jews think that I’m off my meds.

Heh. Ok, back to the God stuff:

It’s not all good news, of course. Did God really make a covenant with us whereby we agreed to live by certain implausible laws in return for being given the land of Israel? Of course not. That idea is silly. But for all of the dubious claims of the Torah, the fact remains that Judaism is almost exclusively focused on this world and not the next. We don’t talk much about souls, or the afterlife, or our personal walk with God. Instead we talk about following the law, being part of the community, and getting non-Jews to leave us alone. I like that.

While I don’t agree with everything in Jason’s post–two Jews simply can’t agree on everything, this point is dead on. As I put it in one post:

My responses are why most atheist critiques don’t hit home for me. The majority of atheist objections really have little to do with how I live my life as a Jew.

And while you’re checking out that post, read the comments; there was a lot of good stuff in there and it was civil.
*Like secular ideologies, some religions (note the plural) are on the whole good, bad, or whatEVAH! If you’re bothered by supernaturalist explanations for material phenomena, well, so am I. So are quite a few religious people.
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6 Responses to Why I Don’t Talk About Religion Much

  1. Reginald Selkirk says:

    I’m not sure I see your point. Jason was defending Jewish culture, not religion. A defense of the culture is not a defense of the religion.

  2. tristero says:

    I hope you will not take these comments too personally. I love your blog and read it regularly, but I really feel I must respond to this post.
    I would imagine it doesn’t matter much whether a micropbiologist finds, say, statistics, boring. Y’simply have to know it in order to do your job. Likewise, if you want to understand human history and culture, as well as the present, you simply have to know quite a bit about religion, both the beliefs and the practice. It doesn’t matter whether you find it boring.
    One easy-to-grasp example of why this is so: It is impossible to appreciate the vast majority of Western Art up through the first half of the 20th Century on anything but the most superficial of levels unless you are aware of the extent to which the Bible and judeo-christian theology influences the iconography. Sure, you can go to a museum and enjoy the pretty pictures, just as I can read a pop book about quantum physics and marvel at it. But to understand why Rembrandt painted what he did – why that angle, why that dog in the corner, why those colors – you simply must be familiar with religion. Otherwise, you simply don’t understand the painting.
    LIkewise it doesn’t matter very much whether one “likes” or “dislikes” a particular religion. It’s like saying I really like genetic drift but can do without continental drift, thank you very much. It simply doesn’t make much sense except in the arena of private belief.
    The thing is that, like a religoin or hate it, one still needs to be aware of the ones that are salient in one’s culture and should be aware of what they say. Otherwise, one runs precisely into the kind of mischief we see today, where a nutjob like Pat Robertson goes around representing himself as a spokesman for “Christians” rather than his own batty beliefs, and nobody dares to call him on it.
    Of course, just as I don’t feel obligated to study microbiology, nothing obligates anyone to study religion. Unless, that is, one wishes to be taken seriously in subjects that intersect religion. In which case, boring or not, unpleasant or cool, you simply have to take the effort to learn about it.
    For one thing, it makes confronting religiously-based political action a lot more effective. The fight against intelligent design creationism, for example, has two components. Yes, the science stinks, but the other thing that stinks about it is the entire worldview. The most effective way to crush IDC so it stops wasting everyone’s time is to confront it on both fronts. And to do that, one has to understand how thoroughly anomalous IDC is as a religious belief within christianity, in addition to how utterly worthless it is as science.
    Sorry, Mike, I don’t mean to get on my high horse. But “boring” and “like” are irrelevant. If I wish to be taken seriously in what I say on hox genes, I damn well better know what I’m talking about. I’m afraid the same thing holds true if one is trying to understand how to stop these damn christianists from making everyone’s life a living hell. “I don’t like them very much” is all very well and good, but to defeat them, that just won’t do.
    Hoping I haven’t angered you too much (grin),

  3. Mike-
    Glad you liked the post. I followed the link back to your earlier post, and laughed when I got to your disclaimer that no one would dare try to speak for all Jews. I just dove right in and did precisely that!
    And, though I’m ashamed to admit it, I actually prefer half-sour pickles to sour pickles. But my mother used to tease me every time I reached for one. 🙁

  4. sailor says:

    Mike no one could possibly object to religion if it was like your “god as culture” religion, any more than they can to Einstein’s God is an ordered universe”. But these are not the standard religions. PZ spouts off against a bunch of bible-thumping “we know best” theocrats who are challenging science (especially biology) as it is taught in schools. The only objection to mild religions is that they help enable the crazies by using the name religion.

  5. Joshua says:

    sailor: I think Mike is saying that he’s aware of that, and that’s why he doesn’t get involved in the arguments. Neither side is really gunning for people like him.
    (Gallows humour side note: It must be refreshing to know that, for once in the past few thousand years, nobody’s blaming the Jews for instigating a national crisis. … Wait, shit. Some of the 9/11 Truthers do. Never mind.)

  6. genesgalore says:

    surely they have anthropomorphized energy. eh?

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