February 14, 2010

Fundamentalists vs. Liberal Christians

While commenting on a recent post at Proud Atheists, I found myself again reflecting on how I have more respect for fundamentalist Christians than the so called liberal Christians. Of course, I realize that "respect" isn't the best word here because religious fundamentalists are hardly worthy of respect. I recognize that the fundamentalist forms of any religion are far more dangerous than the liberal to moderate forms. Still, there is something a bit more admirable about someone who tells us what he or she believes and then acts in accordance with it versus someone who does not.

How can I possible have more respect for the fundamentalist Christian than the liberal Christian, especially when my worldview is so much more similar to that of the liberal Christian? Like the liberal Christian, I reject a literal reading of Genesis in favor of evolution. Like the liberal Christian, I think that religion is most tolerable when it is directed toward helping others as opposed to converting, enslaving, or destroying them. Like the liberal Christian, I find some of the teachings attributed to Jesus to be morally acceptable and much of the Old Testament to be horrific in its immorality.

While watching The Atheism Tapes recently, I was overjoyed to see this very question come up in one of the interviews. Nobel Prize-wining American physicist Steven Weinberg tackled this one, and I finally heard an explanation for what I have felt but not adequately understood. Even if the rest of the interviews weren't as excellent as they were, this part would have made the whole collection worthwhile.

What Weinberg said, and I am paraphrasing greatly here, is that religious fundamentalists have a coherent worldview while religious liberals do not. What makes the fundamentalists more appealing to some of us is that they possess a theory of the world that we can examine, comprehend, and even test. Weinberg said that this appeals to him as a scientist, and I think he's absolutely right.

Religious liberals, as compared with fundamentalists, have no coherent theory or worldview. They are all over the place in picking various bits they like while ignoring the parts they don't care for. This results in an incoherent mosaic of ideas slapped together without any sort of unifying principles. Much like the "New Age" perspectives many Christians love to criticize, liberal religion offers no theory to understand or evaluate.

There is plenty I despise about fundamentalist Christians. I'd much rather associate with liberal Christians in my day-to-day life, and I'd much rather have them in positions of political power. However, I now have a better sense of what I do find more appealing about the fundamentalists and why.

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