There are a few points I want to make today about my biases that, looking back, I should have made a long time ago. It's something I want to address today primarily because I think I need to be reminded of it. To be sure, I've never been very good at hiding how I feel, and this blog is as opinionated, perhaps, as a blog could be. That being said, I can remember various moments in the last year, let alone during my life, when my opinions have been utterly shut down by someone who knows a lot more about what I'm talking about than I do. Expressing what I feel recklessly often results in putting my foot in my mouth over and over again. As a general rule, one should be careful about expressing strong opinions about things you know little about. You can speak with greater authority about things you understand well, but even then one must be careful to be evenhanded and acknowledge other opinions. On a side note, I have to say that I'm pretty jelly-legged when it comes to people proving me wrong, and am usually very willing to change my opinion when I consider opposing arguments. I care more about defending what is actually true than sticking with my original thought. However, that willingness to adapt to opposing evidence is no excuse for sloppy thinking. It should be expected that you consider both sides of an issue before you open your big mouth.
So, for what really might be the first time, I would like to take a moment to argue the side of those who feel negatively about religion. Now, I tend to be pretty bold about what I write down here in my journal entries. But I've been pretty open about saying it how it is from the point of view of a defender of religion and christianity, so I hope my comments from the other side of the debate can be understood in that rather honest light.
I remember when I was taking AP US Government and Politics my Junior year of high school. I took the class from what you could call a rather biased teacher - a political and religious skeptic that clearly positioned left of center. Although he was clearly opinionated, he was always open and respectful of other opinions. Okay, he was generally open and respectful of other opinions. He showed us a documentary in class called "Jesus Camp" about evangelical Christians in America. The documentary was clearly biased against evangelicals, but the footage was taken from actual religious meetings and activities with youth who participated in a week-long camp run by their church. There was some memorable footage of people speaking in tongues during meetings, declaring the absolute perfection of the Bible, and one scene where individuals prayed for George W. Bush in front of a cardboard cutout of the then-current president. Our teacher talked about how the evangelicals were radical, and how many individuals in the country felt very negatively about them. Well, for me, I could understand how many people could see that footage and feel very negatively about all religious groups. Nevertheless, it was clear that the events recorded on the documentary were fringe groups - not exactly the mainstream. Likewise, a lot of the sources that I've been finding expressing atheist viewpoints can be considered fringe groups. While these groups may have a considerable following, they still represent the views of a minority in the country. Not all atheists are offended when they see a religious symbol, and not all evangelical christians would look favorably on praying in front of a cardboard cutout of President Bush. I expect that almost all atheists and almost all evangelicals are normal, decent, non radical people.
Moreover, great enthusiasm for religion that turns to bigotry is harmful to society. While I was in Brasil, one of the fellow companionships in our house was teaching a sixteen year old who had just gotten baptized in the LDS church. He had never really participated in religion before, but the week after he entered the LDS church, he was asked to accompany his younger sister to a youth retreat sponsored by a local christian church over the weekend. According to what the other missionaries told me, while this he was there, he was shocked to be given a form asking him to check in what church he had been baptized previously. Those who had been baptized in other churches were asked later to stand up and publicly denounce the validity of their previous baptisms or religious affiliations and declare that the church sponsoring the event was the only true church. He refused, and received considerable criticism for it. The other missionaries told us that he was very emotionally traumatized by the event. Again, this church was not exactly the mainstream, but it still boasted considerable popularity in the area. Actions like these by churches, whether they are christian or not, are extremely offensive to many people, and I would imagine that most people would agree that having no religion would be better than being a member of a religion that promotes unity through peer pressure or teaches faith by excluding others.
Lastly, religious scandals in the last few decades of church leaders involving sexual abuse and financial mismanagement have not helped the image of religious institutions. In the New Testament, Jesus openly condemned the Pharisees in Jerusalem, the most openly religious individuals in Jewish society at the time. Those who were non religious and considered sinners, such as the publicans and harlots, were declared to more easily enter the kingdom of heaven than the hypocritical Pharisees, who taught one thing and did another (Matthew 21)
Clearly, there is no such thing as drawing a line between religious people and bad people. However, if it is reasonable to conclude that being religious generally infers commitment to moral values, and moral values correlate with better outcomes for society, religiosity in a society can be very good. But maybe some still disagree. Maybe people in the United Kingdom would say the opposite. Maybe the case made by atheists is justified. And even if it's not completely justified, it is a rational argument that should be addressed fairly. Otherwise my research won't be worth anything. You can't measure probability using a two-headed quarter. Or, should I say fifty pence crown?