Religious Moderates: Caught in the Crossfire

In any conflict there are those who are without blame who get caught in the crossfire. Especially when both sides employ a scorched earth policy.

Contextual Apologetics

Quite often, we as atheists run into religious moderates who offer No True Scotsman fallacies. "The No True Scotsman fallacy involves discounting evidence that would refute a proposition, concluding that it hasn’t been falsified when in fact it has."[1] This fallacious argument is presented by the moderate and fundamentalist alike, which in and of itself is why the argument is fallacious. You see, only one of the two positions can be correct or neither of them are.

One of the best examples of this comes from the Muslim community when it is noted that many Islamic fundamentalists use terrorism to try and force Islam upon others. Islamic moderates want to pose the argument that these people are not valid examples of Muslims. The key premise used by the moderate in their argument is what I call contextual apologetics. What this is, is stating that the verses which fundamentalists use to justify their actions are being taken out of context. In much the same way that Christians often cite that old testament laws such as prescriptions against shellfish and pork are only relevant in context to that era and are not meant as set in stone prescriptions that must be adhered to.

Now, I do agree that context is important in interpretation of any idea. The problem however, is that both the moderate and fundamentalist pose the idea of doctrinal infallibility. The idea being that the doctrine is "divinely inspired" and is therefore the infallible word of their chosen god. This limits contextual reference because infallibility means that no statement has any true context other than being a divine mandate. Even Jesus in the bible makes it clear that it is the duty of all men to uphold the laws given to Moses and nowhere does he offer that these laws are open to context other than what context is given within the scripture.

Rules of Engagement

In order for us all to be on the same page, there are some ideas which we need to be clear on. First of all, for us atheists, we must understand that there is in fact a serious conflict between the secular/atheist community and part of the religious community. While the idea that people like Bill O'Reilly and other talking heads at Faux News present that there is a "war on Christianity" taking place in the US is both laughable and untrue, we must acknowledge that there is most definitely a conflict taking place between the secular community and Christian fundamentalists here in the US. We must also acknowledge that this conflict stretches beyond both the US border and Christianity in general. It is in fact a conflict between the secular community at large and the fundamentalist sects of all religions.

Secondly, we must address the misunderstanding that seems to be present in the religious community which posits that the secular/atheist community is in conflict with all of the religious community. This prevailing idea is patently false, but we as atheists have done little to stem it. What I mean by this is that far too many of us fail to make the distinction of who we are truly in conflict with. Now, even I write very often about the overall falseness of religion in general, but this isn't an act of aggression towards all religious people. This is merely stating a differing perspective and assessment of religion through rational discourse, which does include ridicule of what is seen as ridiculous. The true conflict however pits the secular community against the fundamentalist sects which are actually using these ridiculous notions to justify acts of violence, intimidation, and subjugation. The secular community and moderates could very easily engage in rational discourse to resolve our given issues without real conflict, but this is not possible with fundamentalists.

Neutrality: An Untenable Position

Regardless of how much moderates may want to remain neutral in this conflict, that position is simply untenable. One cannot simply state that fundamentalists are not true Scotsman and be let off the hook. You see, the labels we choose to wear carry with them an association to all others who also choose to wear that label. Although there are well over 30,000 different versions of Christianity, we must accept that all of them are Christians. It is a belief in Jesus and an acceptance of the bible as truth that unites all who wear the label of Christian. Likewise with Islam, Judaism, and all other religions. The only distinction which can be made is that the fundamentalist and moderate interpret the same doctrine in different ways.

So when it comes to the conflict at hand the moderate is obligated to choose a side. The sides in play however are not simply atheists vs theists, but rather humanity as a whole vs self-interested fundamentalists. The moderate must offer that the good of humanity is of greater importance than the superiority of their given religion, lest they be complicit in the acts of fundamentalists by remaining silent and inactive in opposing such things.

Now, there are some moderates who have seen this for what it is and although they disagree with us on many other levels, they agree that the actions of fundamentalist sects within their own religion are intolerable and paint a picture of their chosen religion which does not represent what they believe and what they stand for. The reality however is that moderates vastly outnumber fundamentalists and if they truly wish to end this conflict they must stand with us against the fringe minority of their own religious groups and say that regardless of our disagreements the welfare of humanity as a whole must take precedence. It is only when we are able to put our differences aside for the good of all that we will truly be able to address the menace which threatens us all.



Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons: Satirical caricature of European women curious about kilted Scottish soldiers, ca. 1815

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