Monday, March 12, 2007


Give Discredit Where Discredit is Due

In today's issue of USAToday Michael Medved, writing in "The Forum" believes he's uncovered a dark plot by Hollywood executives to discredit religion. In Medved's Inspector Clouseau-like dissection of the plot against religion, the recent Lost Tomb documentary produced by Titanic director James Cameron plays the role of smoking gun.

Forget, for now, the fact that the Cameron documentary, which purported to have discovered the bones of Jesus, made absolutely no impression on anyone outside the fundamentalist movement.

A nation preoccupied with a losing war in Iraq, we suspect, has more important things to think about than whether or not a set of bones proves or disproves an ancient myth, even if a large section of the population professes to believe it. Although, in all honesty, we can't deny that a large section of the populace seems equally absorbed in the details of Anna Nicole Smith's death and Brittany Spears latest haircut, and that may caution us against imputing any particularly noble intent on the part of the people who inhabit the home of the free and the land of the brave.

In any case, the evidence was deemed by experts to be less than persuasive. It wouldn't have made any difference to those doubters, like RSR, who find the story to be nothing more than an interesting cultural artifact and, as we know, no evidence of any kind will ever persuade any of those biblical literalists who tread the other side of the path that their savior's bones are anywhere but tucked safely inside His body somewhere up there in heaven.

In any case, we don't think there is any plot in Hollywood to discredit religion. Rather, there's a political and cultural battle in the country over fundamentalist religion. And that is something different altogether.

With the exception of James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, and the like on the religious right, and Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins and a handful of like-minded "New Atheists," on the other side, everyone else seems perfectly happy to be tolerant of a range of religious belief that extends from traditional Catholics, Jews, and Protestants to a growing acceptance of Buddhists, Muslims, Wiccans and even, in many cases now, skeptics like RSR and friends.

Most of us grew up believing that religious belief belongs in the private sphere of church and family. We're as reluctant to push our own beliefs on others as we are to criticize theirs. That's broken down recently because the religious right insists on pushing their rather peculiar beliefs on the rest of us.

They've made religion into a political issue by demanding that we teach the supposed controversy over evolution while suppressing information about preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease. They say that developing cures for devastating diseases such as Parkinson's is less important than keeping frozen embryos frozen. Inoculating girls against a virus that causes 70 percent of cervical cancer cases -- which kills about 290,000 deaths a year world-wide -- would be immoral, they say.

Moreover, rather than just practicing what they preach and be done with it, they demand that all the rest of us follow the strange dictates of their religious faith rather than our own.

These fundamentalists also have the rather distressing trait of thundering moral condemnation on the beliefs held dear by the rest of us while demanding scrupulous respect for themselves. They can say anything they want about us, but criticism of them is blasphemy.

This is why, people like RSR, who were once comfortable in their own beliefs and would never have thought of criticising the beliefs of others are now speaking up. And, for the most part, were not trying, as Medved would have it, to discredit religion as a whole, but to protect ourselves against an aggressive, self-righteous, fundamentalism.


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