Tuesday, June 24, 2008

To Believe Almost Everything is To Believe Almost Nothing

A new Pew survey reveals that Americans, by and large, believe almost everything:

70 percent of Americans affiliated with a religion or denomination said they agreed that “many religions can lead to eternal life,” including majorities among Protestants and Catholics. Among evangelical Christians, 57 percent agreed with the statement, and among Catholics, 79 percent did.

Among minority faiths, more than 80 percent of Jews, Hindus and Buddhists agreed with the statement, and more than half of Muslims did.
Ophelia Benson's take on this is something short of approving:
Many religions can lead to eternal life. Yuh huh. You got your Hinduism, and your Total Immersion, and your Church of the Talking Snake, and your Freshwater Baptist Twice Removed, and every dang one of them can lead to eternal life. You just follow them down Spang Road until you get to the fork, and there's your eternal life on your left - you can't miss it.
The trouble with believing almost anything, as Ophelia comments, is that it slides imperceptibly into believing in nothing at all -- it amounts to a blithe, uncritical, unthinking acceptance of whatever happens to be lying around bearing the label of God's Own Truth. And it opens the door wide open to the true believers:
As past surveys have shown, this report found that Americans who prayed more frequently and attended worship services more often tended to be more conservative and “somewhat more Republican” than other people. Majorities of Mormons and evangelicals say they are conservative, compared with 37 percent of Americans over all.
One such very conservative evangelical is James Dobson, who is perfectly happy to respond to the judgment-free, hands-off ethos of blithe religious tolerance and use it as a bludgeon to serve his political aims:
Dobson and Minnery accused Obama of wrongly equating Old Testament texts and dietary codes that no longer apply to Jesus' teachings in the New Testament.

"I think he's deliberately distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to fit his own worldview, his own confused theology," Dobson said.

"... He is dragging biblical understanding through the gutter."

...[Dobson] said Obama, who supports abortion rights, is trying to govern by the "lowest common denominator of morality," labeling it "a fruitcake interpretation of the Constitution."
Dobson has very definite views of which holy books are the real ones; and which Bible passages are the right ones to cherry-pick; and which readings of the Constitution and public policy these authorize.

While it may be, in the short term, conducive to a happy afternoon in the park, wishing away theological, political, and philosophical questions with a leveling relativism -- "everybody has a good point" -- is not going to work.

It takes more than nothing to oppose something noxious.

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