“Moral” Rebellion and Religious Fundamentalism

An interesting thought that has always struck me about framing the world in terms of good and evil is that “black and white” moral perspectives constrain the moralizer into viewing all individuals (and their decisions!) as essentially partisan. The most obvious problem with this ideology manifests itself when a moral or ethical issue is composed of more than just two dimensions.  More precisely, a black-and-white moralizer cannot perform accurate moral reasoning about actions that may not instantly conform to stereotypically “good” or “evil” motivations. Also true is that most fundamentalist religious sects are required by their doctrine to observe this moral worldview…that’s incredibly obvious to anyone who has ever beat their heads against the philosophical brick wall of fundamentalism.

The big deal is that this “moral framing” problem makes people despise religious fundamentalism. At the core of this strong dislike lies the fact that fundamentalist ideologies leave no room for legitimate doubt in core doctrine. Modern evangelical Christianity, for example, stresses that “doubting is natural”… but only if you eventually see the light of denominational orthodoxy.

The fundamentalist perspective is that doubters, agnostics, atheists, and members of other religions must be choosing to rebel against God, because if they weren’t choosing rebellion, then only one of two other possibilities could explain their disbelief:

A) The doubters/disbelievers were somehow forced to reject belief in God.

B) The doubters/disbelievers have legitimate reasons to disbelieve in God.

Option A violates the (very popular) doctrine of free will, so relatively few religious adherents would think that an unbeliever could be “forced” to doubt. We can therefore rule out option A as a religious rationale for disbelief. Likewise, very few modern religious adherents would opt to favor option B, because if there existed legitimate reasons to doubt the truth of core doctrine, then any reasonable God would have to grant a reprieve to any unbeliever that had legitimate reasons to disbelieve. Obviously such reprieves would run against specific criteria that scripture lays out as being necessary for salvation. So we can also rule out option B as a religious rationale for disbelief, which leaves willful rebellion as the only explanation for disbelief that Abrahamic fundamentalists are willing to accept.

Do you see what this means? In their eyes, significant doubt or disbelief is ultimately unreasonable, the result of a rebellious “spiritual adolescence”.  They won’t ever admit, as a matter of doctrine, that legitimate reasons for disbelief exist, because if legitimate reasons did exist, it would essentially make their religion one of many optional paths to salvation. And that’s a no-no for the sort of authoritarian mindset that thrives in the certainty and discipline created by strict religious doctrine. To fundamentalists, all people either willfully trust God or willfully reject God- there is no middle ground. And that’s just one of the many reasons why it dangerous to allow the religious to pidgeonhole anyone into adhering to their monochromatic view of the world.

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Contradictions

There exists an interesting contradiction that I’ve recently seen emerging in the world of religious debate.  If I were to formulate the core evangelical position as a proposition, it would look something like this:

A god who would let us prove his existence would be an idol, but individuals ought to believe in God because evidence exists for both God’s existence and God’s involvement in the universe.

So which is it? This conversion tactic is obviously contradictory. On one hand, proving God with evidence is declared a fruitless exercise that fails to convey “true” trust and thus is largely irrelevant to salvation. On the other hand, it is thought that people ought to believe in the scant evidence for God’s existence (because then, I suppose, they can be saved), and that those who don’t are irrational.

A post addressing the debate itself is forthcoming.