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What's wrong with moderate religious people?
Are atheists giving all of religion a bad name because of a few fundamentalist extremists?
- There are several problems with such a defense of moderate religion. First, many moderates assume that religious "extremism" is rare and therefore not all that consequential. You may not be in this camp, but I would venture that you are in a minority among religious moderates. As you and I both know, religious extremism is not rare, and it is hugely consequential. Forty-four percent of Americans believe that Jesus will return to earth to judge the living and the dead sometime in the next fifty years. This idea is extreme in almost every sense—extremely silly, extremely dangerous, extremely worthy of denigration—but it is not extreme in the sense of being rare. The problem, as I see it, is that moderates don't tend to know what it is like to be truly convinced that death is an illusion and that an eternity of happiness awaits the faithful beyond the grave. They have, as you say, "integrated doubt" into their faith. Another way of putting it is that they have less faith—and for good reason. The result, however, is that your fellow moderates tend to doubt that anybody ever really is motivated to sacrifice his life, or the lives of others, on the basis his heartfelt religious beliefs. Moderate doubt—which I agree is an improvement over fundamentalist certitude in most respects—often blinds its host to the reality and consequences of full-tilt religious lunacy. Such blindness is now particularly unhelpful, given the hideous collision with Islamic certainty that is unfolding all around us.
- Second, many religious moderates imagine that there is some clear line of separation between extremist and moderate religion. But there isn't. Scripture itself remains a perpetual engine of extremism: because, while He may be many things, the God of the Bible and the Qur'an is not a moderate. Read scripture more closely and you do not find reasons for religious moderation; you find reasons to live like a proper religious maniac—to fear the fires of hell, to despise nonbelievers, to persecute homosexuals, etc. Of course, one can cherry-pick scripture and find reasons to love your neighbor and turn the other cheek, but the truth is, the pickings are pretty slim, and the more fully one grants credence to these books, the more fully one will be committed to the view that infidels, heretics, and apostates are destined to be ground up in God's loving machinery of justice.
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