Monday, June 26, 2006

Of Rocks and Glass Houses

This link to Craiglist, provided by Waldo Jaquith, made me laugh, so I'm passing it on to anybody who may have missed it. And then this report from Virginia Centrist made me angry.

Basically, it's a report on the fact that Jerome Armstrong supposedly believes in Astrology and has used it to chart candidate's political prospects. Virginia Centrist links to various Republican blogs who are making hay about this and having a fine old time ridiculing Armstrong's New Age beliefs.

Here's my reply, which I originally posted on Virginia Centrist's blog.

"You know, unless you are a materialist reductionist, you actually shouldn't laugh at somebody else's quasi religious beliefs.I view Astrology as a pseudo-science without much evidence for its accuracy too. But I also think it could be considered crazy by some to believe that 500,000 people walked through the Red Sea, which miraculously parted for them then closed back up, drowning the Egyptians.

It's also highly dubious that the same 500,000 people wandered for 40 years through a desert and left not a trace of pottery or anything else for archaelogists to discover. Or that God inscribed 10 commandments on stone tablets and handed them to Moses.

Then we get to a virgin being impregnated by the Holy Spirit and giving birth to God, who walked on water, ascended into heaven, etc. I am sure plenty of the same people laughing at Armstrong the astrolger hold some equally unscientific beliefs such as those I've mentioned above.By the way, I also hold a few of those beliefs too. The truth is, though, unless you are a scientific materialist, an atheist, or at very least, an agnostic, perhaps you shouldn't ridicule somebody elses's woo hoo beliefs. Tolerance consists of knowing when you live in a glass house and refraining from throwing rocks. Anybody with any belief that isn't backed by hard scientific evidence(and I count myself here as holding beliefs that are religious not scientific) should know that theirs is just such a glass house and tolerance would be more gracious than ridicule."

My point is not to poke fun at Fundamentalists or orthodox Christians. Or even Orthodox Jews, who believe the Bible is God's written word too.

It is, instead, to plea for a little tolerance. Most of those making fun of Jerome Armstrong are not really interested in furthering science and they certainly don't believe that faith in the supernatural is silly. Indeed, they are frequently on the receiving end of ridicule from atheists who are every bit as intolerant as some religious people are.

Basically their disagreement with Armstrong's belief in Astrology is a theological dispute. Nobody can prove that Jesus was God and not just human. Nobody can prove beyond certainty that the Red Sea parted. Lots of biblical minimalists think the whole Bible is untrue. And certainly lots of scientists dispute that there is even a God.

They have a right to their unbelief. And those who do believe have a right to their faith. Nobody has yet proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that God does not exist. The reason two rational and intelligent people can disagree on this is because there is no proof either way. There is only faith. Faith that there is a God despite lack of a smoking gun, or faith that God does not exist, despite lack of evidence for lack of God's existence because it is impossible to prove a negative.

On the other hand, those who believe in heaven, hell, and purgatory, should not make fun of those who believe in reincarnation. Or Astrology. Those are theological, not scientific differences of opinion. Whether you believe in the Western orthodox Judeo Christian faiths or in the conglomeration of New Age beliefs, neither group is talking scientific fact, but only theological opinion. We all accept our beliefs on faith. That alone should humble us. And teach us tolerance.


Richmond Independent said...

Hey, thanks for the constructive criticism, it is always welcome. Just so that Virginia Centrist doesn't take the heat, I actually put up that post, not him. I am an occasional blogger on the site so it is a mistake people often make.

I try to be an equal-opportunity critic when it comes to religion. I don't think astrology is much different from Christianity, except that Christianity gets much more respect. My point was that the astrology thing takes away from Armstrong's credibility. Why? Because many people aren't tolerant, and I think that was the point I meant to make. They'll accept virgin birth, hell and Noah's Ark, but they draw the line at astrology. It's kind of ridiculous. But that's the way it is.

That said, I was probably a little harsh. Ultimately, it won't matter much whether Jerome Armstrong believes in astrology or the flying spaghetti monster. No one's really going to care.

Also, Christian Fundamentalism is far worse. At least Armstrong isn't trying to get the government to adopt the tenets of astrology. I'd write a blog post about Christian Fundamentalism, but it's been done by countless others and I don't have anything new to say.

Thanks again for your response.

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

Thank you for your lovely explanation. It's rare that somebody takes responsibility for what they say in the blogosphere, gives a rational explanation and writes so graciously.

From what you've written, you actually do have a right to scoff at the astrology stuff because you are appoaching it as a critic of belief in the supernatural.

You are being intellectually consistent. Unfortunately, many of the people who are making fun of Armstrong themselves hold a set of beliefs about supernatural events and theirs is a theological criticism of Armstrong.

Theological debate is fair game. Ridicule is not. And that was my point.

However, you obviously don't fall into that same category. You are a skeptic of the supernatural. Different debate entirely.

Richmond Independent said...

You make a good point. Christians don't really have any business making fun of astrologers. It's hypocritical for them to do so.

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

Thank you. Again, it's not hypocritical for a non-religious person to make the criticism because presumably he would be criticizing any non-scientific belief that is held without material evidence, whether it was astrology or the story of Genesis, reincarnation or resurrection.

A debate between faith versus scientific evidence is different from a debate between two different faiths.

In any case, I may disagree with a lot of peoples' religious opinions or their opinions about the lack of religious belief. But it's an area where true evidence is so scant that I try to keep humble.

None of us really know for sure.

And thanks for your very open-minded tolerance too.

Anonymous said...

Jeez, get a room you two!