(Click on the logo to return to the main blog.)

My Poor Church, a Tale of Two Oppositions: Second, the Agnostic

A wide range of positions can fall under the heading "agnostic," from open-to-arguments Atheism to undecided theism. Toward the latter end, the largest obstacle seems to be objections to "organized" religion rather than to the possibility of God itself.

My largest disputes with a post by Lynn Sislo, who seems to fall somewhere on the God-not-religion side of agnosticism, are the related issues of a lack of examples, a misunderstanding of religion, and a confusion between the attributes of religious people and those of people in general. She lays out three dominating objections. The first is to evangelism:

At the top of my list is the moral imperative in some religions - Christianity included - to convert non-believers. Can faith that is forced on a person be true faith, or is it mere compliance? Here in the West believers can no longer torture and burn non-believers so they instead spend huge amounts of money to pursue and annoy anyone who does not share their beliefs, and as missionaries they prey on the most vulnerable people, providing food and other humanitarian aid as a lure. We all like to share our beliefs and given the opportunity will try to convince other people that we are right. I expect religious people to do the same, but not to the point where it becomes a crusade. The attitude that everyone must be converted is simply wrong and leads to acts of evil and violations of individual rights.

Personally, I agree that forced conversion is misguided, wrong, and (at least for Christianity) not supported by the foundational beliefs. However, even though Ms. Sislo backs away from this position in a subsequent post, the clear implication here is that preaching while ladling out food to the starving is merely the form that forcing religion takes when torture is no longer legally viable. Reread the statement about preying on the vulnerable a few times. From Ms. Sislo's position, the good that a Church does is nothing more than a lure — like calling the cheese in a mousetrap charity. From the family that volunteers on Christmas Eves at a soup kitchen to the missionary who risks health and safety to bring aid and practical knowledge to villages in the Far East, I find the suggestion that their mentioning that it is God who motivates them to do so somehow invalidates the good itself to be more than a little wrongheaded.

From this post to the subsequent, Sislo's objection to the "attitude that everyone must be converted" softens into an objection to "the whole attitude that evangelism is a 'calling.'" I say "softens" because the two statements shift emphasis from the actions of proselytizers to their motivation. From the Christian's point of view, the "calling" is less akin to attempting to meet a sales quota than to feeling compelled to share a valuable, comforting, meaningful Truth that is important to the Christian. Obviously, in their fervor, that infamous "vocal minority" can lose sight of the proper impetus, but such impropriety is endemic to humanity, whether religiously motivated or not.

Be that as it may, the underlying distinction is critical. In an ancient post (in blogtime), Ms. Sislo objects, rightly, to the belief that God "will throw His 'beloved children' into a fire to burn for eternity if they are unable to believe in Him." In my view, the reality — and the Christian position (and perhaps that of other religions) — is that the disbelief itself is the "fire," and the disbeliever the one who has done the hurtling.

(to be continued)

Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:53 PM EST


I fully expected and even welcomed disagreement on this very sensitive issue but I would ask that my opponents at least argue honestly and not twist my words.

First of all I have said over and over again that I am not talking about all religions or even all Christians but my opponents in this argument have repeatedly "informed" me of this fact which I stated first.

You mentioned confusion between the attributes of religious people and those of people in general then later said such impropriety is endemic to humanity, whether religiously motivated or not. No, I am not confused about this point at all and in fact I did mention that some Liberal groups share the same characteristics. Again, you are trying to "inform" me of something I have already said.

Finally, clarifying or expanding upon a statement is NOT "backing off" or softening it.

Lynn @ 10/09/2002 08:48 PM EST


Two points may not have been sufficiently clear. First, I am a Christian (Catholic), so I am mainly interested in speaking specifically in that capacity. Second, I wound up switching servers today on top of an already full schedule, and this post ended up being much longer than I anticipated. There is at least one more on the way — probably more — that will "make the case" a little more thoroughly.

But simply by the words that you have written, there are two possibilities. Either you did not state your opinion as clearly as you wished at first or you "softened" your position. Either way, your position as expressed has clearly changed... softened. In this passage you have not specified zealots or even sects but "some religions --- Christianity included." Furthermore, you've stated explicitly that missionary work and advertising are the solutions now pursued by "religions" because they "can no longer torture."

Of liberals, specifically, you stated, "It's true that many people are passionate in defending their secular beliefs and I might agree that some on the far Left are religious in the way they reject all dissenting opinions, but this is generally not the way secular reasoning works." If your comments regarding religion are limited to fringe ("far") groups, then once again, there is no reason to make the distinction between religious people and people.

In general, however, I apologize that I was unable to get the rest of my argument up in time for it to be taken as a whole. Also, I'd ask that you not lump me in — as your tone seems to suggest that you do — with the clearly out-of-bounds commenters on your own site. I'm merely making points. It is not my objective to assail you, nor to twist your words, and I don't feel as if I have done either.

Justin Katz @ 10/09/2002 09:08 PM EST