Friday, January 25, 2008

Religion makes Charlotte stronger

Will religion sabotage Charlotte's future? That was the provocative topic of community columnist David Walters' column on Jan. 23. Specifically, he worries about "the erosion of belief in science and rationality." He writes: "Our city will need all its smarts in the years ahead; we can't waste precious time and energy fighting fairy tale creationists who want to turn the clock back to pre-Darwinian days of medieval mysticism, or others who bizarrely believe global warming is some sort of 'socialist plot.'"

What troubles me most about this argument is the assumption that science and rationality are wholly incompatible with faith. People are assumed to fall into one of two opposing camps: They are smart or gullible, rational modernists or loonies who haven't advanced since the Middle Ages.

Are there some religious people who fit that description? Sure. Do they stand in the way of scientific progress? Sometimes. Is that all there is to faith? Absolutely not.

There's no contradiction between accepting all the wonders that science reveals about our universe, including our own evolution, and the belief that there is a greater force at the center of it all. Scientists can tell us the how but never the why, the facts but never the meaning.

Frankly, I'm baffled by believers who consider science a threat, as well as by secularists who consider mysticism a threat. They are two different ways of perception, equally enlightening.

So has religion made this "city of churches" backward? Does it threaten our future? That's absurd. Charlotte's communities of faith have given birth to hospitals, Meals on Wheels, soup kitchens and many other services that make this a stronger community. They have been a prophetic voice in the fight for civil rights. They build Habitat houses and travel to disaster areas. They offer hope to individuals lost in addiction or sinking in despair.

They remind their members that there is a higher purpose, a higher calling than selfish striving. They teach love of God and neighbor. Many are teaching the need for a more responsible approach to the environment.

Does that outweigh the anti-science leanings of some believers? I'd say so. I wouldn't want to live in a city that has every technological advantage but has forgotten to care.

What do you think?


Anonymous said...

Jane, you assert that care for others is only in the domain of faithful. I challenge you and anyone else to name a moral action a believer could perform of which an atheist is incapable. So just because faithful do good deeds they generally don't do them because they are faithful but because they are generally good beings. No one argues that Hamas doesn't do good with it's social programs, but at the same time we all know that this organization of faithful is a terrorist religious organization. Does their social program make any difference in changing our mind from the core of Hamas being a terrorist organization? Not in my book.

Religion played mostly negative role in our science history. There are many examples of people being persecuted for their scientific thinking. Even today, US is falling behind in stem cell research due to religious influence in US politics. Evolution theory is not thought in our science classes. Many people who oppose evolution theory don't even know the difference between evolution and evolution theory, let alone know anything about theory itself.

I've been to one of the new big "rock&roll" churches during the sermon where pastor was discussing evolution things and made assertion about theory that were so far from truth that made me sick. Yet audience was soaking it in and took it for granted. I wanted to stand up and tell out loud that what he was telling is bunch of ignorant bulls**t but didn't out of respect. Looking back perhaps I should have stood up for truth. I hear it all the time that theory tells us we've evolved from the monkeys and other rather bizarre claims that rather speak about ignorance of people saying it. I've had people knock on my door trying to sell me the "designer" story. You know the one that you stumble upon a watch and you know it was designed. Which is basic logical fallacy. Without certain prior knowledge of the manufacturing process you can't know and you have to assume it is a natural occurrence. And things go on and on and on... (mouse trap story etc...)

Sad indeed. I think David Walters is right.


MariM said...

One of the big things I've read in this forum and others about religion is that non-believers feel like organized religion breeds intolerance. Do you not see that it comes from both sides of the aisle? David Walter's column wreaks of intolerance. To dismiss anyone's religious beliefs as a fairy tale is outright disrespectful. I can respect his right to be as atheist as the day is long. This country was founded on the basis of religious freedom, the freedom to practice your beliefs in the manner of your choosing. We don't all have to be Christian, Muslim, Atheist, Jewish, Buddhist or anything else. I also accept the varying degrees in which individuals choose to practice their faith or lack thereof. It is about being free to choose. I DO think it is possible to write a column about religion vs. science without insulting the intelligence of everyone who does not have the same belief system as the writer. But his article was full of digs and insults.
As for Jane's column, in no way did she assert that caring for others is found only in the domain of faith. She merely pointed out that many outreach programs available were started by people of faith. Sure, a person can certainly have a "good moral compass" without practicing any sort of organized religion. That wasn't her point.
David Walters' column asserts that a political leader should not be openly religious. The most important trait that a political leader can have is dedication to upholding the Constitution.
Thomas Jefferson wrote " man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities." So in my opinion how could I possibly support a political candidate that did not exercise his constitutional right? For if he will not exercise his own rights, how can I expect him to protect and uphold mine.

Anonymous said...

MariM: "David Walter's column wreaks of intolerance."

Can you point them out? I've read it and I don't see it.

"So in my opinion how could I possibly support a political candidate that did not exercise his constitutional right?"

Would you support a political candidate that exercises his constitutional right but is Muslim?


MariM said...


I like reading your posts. They are always thought-provoking.

The very title of Walter's article states his opinion in a very straight-forward way. Then he goes on to refer to "fairy tale creationists". He insinuates that political leaders should hide their faith. He even stated that in his native country, that people in leadership roles felt the need to hide their religious beliefs and that was a good thing.
So while I do agree with the priniciple of separation of church and state, I do not think that calls for one in political power to be ashamed of their beliefs and be forced to hide them. That is the absolute opposite of what our constitution is all about.

Would I support a political candidate that exercises his constitutional right but is Muslim?
Absolutely! If we agreed on all (or most of) the issues that are important to me I would. And one of those beliefs would have to be my constitutional right to freedom of religion.

Anonymous said...


I agree, I don't think people should hide their religious belief. In fact I think we as citizens/residents should be entitled to ask our presidential candidates the real difficult questions about their beliefs. For example I feel that it would be important for Mitt Romney to answer how he felt as an adult member of officially racist organization and what steps did he do to change it. I would like to ask Huckabee on what grounds he dares to change constitution and freedoms that allowed him to get where he is at right now. I don't think anyone is entitled to destroy the ladder of freedom they used to climb on so someone else with different view couldn't do the same.

I feel that this country was based on strong secularist views of our founding fathers and it is our duty to preserve this. Freedom of religion also dictates freedom from religion (you can't have one w/o the other). We also have the freedom of speech, but nowhere it is stated we have freedom of not being insulted for our views. (Hey, I get insulted each and every time people want to "pray for me".)

I don't see why people need to continue to tip-toe around religion just because it is religion. Why children's book with pigs as main characters is not going to print because it might insult certain religion is beyond me.

"fairy tale creationists" - I don't know what to say here. Honestly. I am still waiting for someone to come up with a theory of creation that can explain facts around us in a proper manner. I don't see this statement as an intolerant statement. We've had many trials in last few decades about creation at the end it turns out that creationism or "intelligent design" is simply not science and as such has no place in science classes. I do however believe that it should be thought either in history class (not sure if history classes in US include history of religions or not but where I went to school it did). Or better, optional religious/mythology classes should be offered to students.

I am not saying that religion is all bad, not at all. But there are plenty of people already on the pro-religion side so I don't see any sense of repeating in that regard.

But I am getting sick of twisting terms and inventing new definitions when things are disputed by facts.

We have fossils to help us, we know how virii mutate and we need different flu vaccine every year. That is all supporting evolution theory. We all know exactly what it takes to change the evolution theory. We need for example a rabbit fossil in pre-Cambrian sediments. What kind of evidence do we need to put creationism to rest once and for all? What does it take?

I can tell you exactly what it would take for me to turn away from being an atheist. Either a supreme being would need to appear in front of me (not unheard of as we all know he supposedly showed up to many in the past, just not lately, at least not with any evidence that is indisputable) or a true "honest to god" miracle such as an amputee growing back a limb. What does it take you to change your mind from being a religious person?

Trying to go back on topic. Will religion sabotage Charlotte's future? I don't think so. I think that non-religious population in US is growing with rapid pace (double digits vs single digits for Christianity) and even in Charlotte there are more people who now dare to speak up that they are non-religious. It didn't used to be that way, I still know several people who are afraid for their jobs if they would stand up and openly say they are atheists. They fear persecution. Sad but true. I think religion is a passing phase in Charlotte (as well as everywhere else). It might take decades but you really can't stop progress. (If you think that you are insulted with the last statement, let me clarify. In the past human race believed in many gods and as time went by all but few survived. Most religious people are atheists when it comes to Zeus, Thor etc... some of us just don't pick and choose, we discard even the last one. From many to one to none seems historical trend.)


Bailey said...

I think its a mystery why rational people who believe in a "living God" find it so hard to embrace the idea of earthly evolution.

Look around! Evolution is happening as I type - in everything.

As a Christian (Baptist), I accept science for what it is and I accept scripture for what it is. And they co-exist perfectly for me.

I belive God created the earth "in 6 days..." but the point most missed, is maybe those "days" are 6 million in God's time.

p.s. I don't accept that humans evolved from monkeys, tho.

Thanks for the great post, Jane!

MariM said...

Iztok said:
Freedom of religion also dictates freedom from religion (you can't have one w/o the other).

I say: I agree. That is clearly spelled out in the constitution and made mention of that in my previous post.

Iztok said:
We also have the freedom of speech, but nowhere it is stated we have freedom of not being insulted for our views. (Hey, I get insulted each and every time people want to "pray for me".)

I say: Again I agree. However, I think that one can clearly state their own ideas without resorting to questioning someone else's intelligence, as did Walters in his column. Sure, it's an opinion column, but still one can state his/her opinion and be respectful at the same time. By the way, I do not particularly like to hear the phrase "I'll pray for you." I pray for the people in my life, but don't feel compelled to tell them. That is between me and my God. But I do let them know that I am thinking about them when they need me.
Iztok said: I don't see why people need to continue to tip-toe around religion just because it is religion. Why children's book with pigs as main characters is not going to print because it might insult certain religion is beyond me.

I say: What kind of supporter of the Constitution would I be if I supported any kind of selective censorship? I do support making educated and responsible choices. If a parent doesn't want their child to read a certain book, then he/she needs to pay attention and monitor their child. I do not need other people deciding what is and isn't acceptable.

I guess what I don't understand is why science minded non-believers and faith-centered believers can't be open to the possibility that the theory of evolution and the theory of intelligent design could peacefully co-exist. Like Jane Pope so eloquently stated: Science may explain the how but never the why.

Bailey, you just said everything I wanted to say. Thank you! I am way too wordy. You nailed it!

Iztok asks: What does it take you to change your mind from being a religious person?

I say: But Iztok, that's what faith is all about. Faith is defined as belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.

Will religion sabotage Charlotte's future? Absolutely not. Innovative ideas are not limited to science-minded people. The loss of religious freedom or to even consider it as a passing phase is not progress in my book. To borrow a little of what Jane said, I wouldn't want to live in a city that has every technological advantage but where faith is discouraged, even frowned upon.

Anonymous said...

"p.s. I don't accept that humans evolved from monkeys, tho."

This is a myth. More of a disinformation. Apes and humans do have common ancestor, but that is it. Big difference.

"Science may explain the how but never the why."

Most of the times there is no why. There is no need for "why" in the evolution for example. No scientist claims that there is any reason behind evolution (and evolution theory doesn't need it).

I also find that people confuse evolution and abiogenesis. These two are completely different things.

"I belive God created the earth "in 6 days..." but the point most missed, is maybe those "days" are 6 million in God's time."

If you rewrite definitions then book can say whatever you want it to say at any given point. Then all bets of sound discussion are off. You can either take book literary or you don't. If you do, you have to go across the board, if you don't again it goes across the board. Once you start picking and choosing there is no end on what you can do. It is either 6 days or it is not. If it is not, what is there to say that "God" doesn't really mean nature itself? Perhaps people who wrote it just chose different name, you don't know anymore at that point. If you say "x is a metaphor" then what is there to prevent us from saying "God is just a metaphor" and authors of the book had something else in mind? A friend of mine once said "if all you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail".


JayCee said...

The American equivalent of Shi’ites missed David Walters’ point: Secularism moves civilization forward. Religion retards.

He didn’t write that one can’t have religious beliefs. He didn’t try to force his beliefs on anyone, which is common practice in this country, especially in the Christian evangelical South. (Unlike the recent “Buzz” writer who wanted to bring back the Blue Laws that are nothing more than religious edicts, or those who somehow just can’t comprehend the importance of church-state separation that guarantees both freedom of and freedom from religion.)

We have the means in this nation to cure the hopelessly ill via gene therapy, yet the majority religious Shi’ites have the gall to claim that God abhors stem cell cultivation. We have gay high school students (see today’s Observer) who are persecuted because the right-wingers on the school board think God doesn’t want a new policy to allow a tougher stand on bullies. We have the means to allow everyone to have their religious cake and eat it too, yet fundamentalists insist that I only eat their brand of cake. And you wonder why so many folks are leaving their houses of worship?

The problem with religion is that it is cast in concrete. Folks generations ago who never knew the extent of God’s world or its evolutionary history came up with their best shot on how things came about and how we should get where we’re going, and they’ve successfully imposed it upon successive generations. But we've never bothered to update the manual.

The pastor of a Park Road rock & roll church once preached: “Secularism is the greatest threat to Christianity”. Darn tooting it is, and for good reason!

Nick said...

Religion and science are opposed just as the thumb and fingers are opposed so that between them, all may be grasped.

Raymond Moore said...

"Secularism moves civilization forward. Religion retards."

That is as profound a statement as I've ever read here. I consider myself religious... but I don't follow a 'mainstream' religion. What I find so objectionable about the evolution/creationism 'debate' is that the arguments of creationists are wholly Evangelical Christian-centric. What's even more disturbing, though, is how evangelicals have no apparent appreciation for rational thought processes. You can't have an argument with someone whose reply is always 'it says so in the bible'. This mentality is not found in the religion that actually created the Old Testament (Judaism). If you take the time to read the 'Etz Hayim', for example, you'll discover a much more mature understanding of the mythology contained there. There's recognition that the creation myth had it's origins in Mesopotamia. This is vastly different in tone compared to the infantile interpretations found in evangelical circles.

The OpEd piece in the Observer was dead-on. Our nation is at a crossroads as it enters the 21st century... will we continue to train the best and brightest thinkers and creators, scientists and engineers, researchers and scholares? Or will we eventually succumb to some of the provincialism and close-mindedness here in Charlotte that led to the PTL club and it's ilk throughout the (supposedly) 'New' South?

We're competing globally, and falling perilously behind, particularly compared to the Indians and Chinese. These societies have their own issues, of course, but we as Americans in the 21st century need to look deeply into balancing the spiritual messages of religion without hamstringing our ability to look at the Universe from a rational perspective.

Anonymous said...

I do think Charlotte is getting to many CHURCHES trying to come here and it will stop the Business climate; Many Ministers that I have talked to say that their is a BUSINESS side to the Church like electric bills, staff to pay, water ,books ect.... This all takes a good amount of money; A Churc pays taxes on the land they sit upon as many People dont know this. When to many Churches arrive People in the parrish gravitate to this Church for various reasons. Many Preacers claim its hurting their bottom line as well; Bad economy , more Homeless than Washington D.C. here and the lack of any jobs coming in is a problem here. Churches have even had to let staff go to make the bills. So as you break ground on mroe and more churches the City Government notices this on their tax reciepts; Therefore, creating less for all Churches, Governments ect...

Anonymous said...

Even the IRS has told me that they are getting suspicious about so many CHURCHES in a square area and are checking into things; Believe it or not the IRS can tell from tax reciepts that get lower and lower as the economy gets stiff with money . They have powerful computers and wonder why People are starting Churches out of garages, basements , movie theaters. And its all legal but it does draw attention to this State.

Anonymous said...

I wish more People in Charlotte would go to Church and we could gt rid of the high crime that is going on througou.