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Heat, Light, and Comments

This morning I awoke to start my early morning blog and e-mail work only to find that co.mments.com had supplied me (at my request) with seven messages alerting me to comments on Ed Brayton’s most recent blog entry on the Richard Dawkins petition debate, representing 27 comments. I only worked my way through a few of the comments which seem quite repetitive.

What struck me initially was simply that it seems like the least central of issues easily get the largest number of comments. My largest blocks of comments generally don’t come on the posts in which I feel that I’ve made a thoughtful contribution, but on those posts in which I got emotional on reading a news story or someone else’s blog entry and batted out a few paragraphs worth of annoyance.

It’s worth considering why that is. I think my own commenting often reflects a similar trend. When I read a good, thoughtful post, I go think about it and often by the time I have anything to say, I’ve even forgotten where I read it. That’s one of the reasons I signed up for co.mments.com in the first place.

Now I’ve already commented on this issue as such. I wrote about how I think that indoctrination, as I understand the term, is not a good thing. As a Christian, I don’t want people indoctrinated into my faith. I want them to learn about and choose it. That choice is up to them, not to me. I think the petition Richard Dawkins signed was not a good idea, and I’m glad he’s repudiated that signature. In fact, he has risen in my estimation by his response. I have realized from my first exposure to his work (reading The Blind Watchmaker [link is to my review]) that he and I are not going to see eye to eye on many things, and that he has some contempt for my liberal Christian perspective (or moderate perhaps). At the same time his writing on science is truly exceptional and challenging, and I must continue to recommend reading it. Further, I think my fellow Christians should climb down off the ceiling, especially hear in the United States. I’d be much more concerned about the religious right getting power than the “atheist left.” There is, in fact, so little “atheist left” out there, that your expectation should not be that atheism is going to take over. Probably you should be more worried about me. :-) The woods are full of us moderate and liberal Christians, and we’re beginning to get really annoyed at what the hard right is doing to our faith. (Note that I use “moderate” as a very broad term that actually includes most evangelicals.)

As I was thinking up all these exciting things to say, I saw in my feeds Nick Matzke’s post Divided by a common language: Richard Dawkins clarifies his position. It doesn’t make me want to go beat up on Ed for his reaction. Many Christians will react even more forcefully and will not be satisfied with the explanations. After reading the petition, and based on my own experience living overseas, I still think that petition reads very badly and implies some inappropriate things. But what Richard Dawkins is saying in the quoted e-mail is very rational and forms a good basis for discussion.

I think Christian education, specifically what goes on in churches in Sunday School classes, Wednesday night classes, and even many weekend retreats fails because it is shallow, repetitive, and intended for indoctrination. We want our children to be like us, and the programs are designed to make them like us. What we need is a next generation that knows how to consider, think critically, and decide. Now there will be some both non-Christians and Christians who will think I’m being foolish here, in both cases because they think children educated in that way won’t grow up as people of faith. I understand the possibilities, and I’m willing to risk it. In fact, risk is not the best word. An unthinking, knee-jerk Christian is just as much a loss to the faith and possibly more so than the person who leaves because of their best judgment.

I believe that the reason Christianity has failed so many times in accomplishing its purpose is that the principle of self-sacrificing love is not something that can be produced by indoctrination, it can only be chosen. What indoctrination produces is a simulation of self-sacrificing love, thus hypocrisy, and soon after that judgmentalism. The fruit of unrestrained judgmentalism is persecution.

Hopefully with Nick Matzke’s nifty contribution, and Richard Dawkins well-considered words (unlike the initial petition signing), we can work toward some light here coming out of a great deal of heat.

Update: I don’t want to write another post on this subject, but I want to add a link to Ed Brayton’s excellent letter to Richard Dawkins that was posted after I wrote this.

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