Friday, July 07, 2006

Free thought

I get Austin Cline's Atheism/Agnosticism email periodically. Most of it is pretty tame to be honest, a bit of a let down. A recent edition reviews The Holy Reich: Nazi Conceptions of Christianity, 1919-1945. In this review, he concentrates on how politics co-opts religion for its own purposes, drawing an analogy between the Nazi's and the US government. I guess the major difference is that some of the US government are professing Christians. The comparison to the Australian political scene is there to be made, with a Prime Minister who has had the chance to confession publicly a Christian faith but did not because he has not. Yet, the Liberal party play conservative Christians very well.

Anyway, Cline comments that he thinks Christians should grow wise to this co-opting, and of course he allows that some do, but he says:

"There's a sucker born ever minute, and part of the problem might be religion itself. After all, it's not as though most religious leaders actively promote skepticism, critical thinking, doubt, and questioning in their followers. Instead, they promote faith in authority figures. That's very fertile ground for authoritarian politicians looking to use religion for political purposes and authoritarian religious figures looking to impose their religion by force."

It is funny, I am not convinced that these things are unique to religion. Try politics, advertising, TV in general. Is it true that religious leaders don't promote thinking? Protestant churches in theory don't teach that there are absolute religious authorities - except the biblical authors - hence the endless arguments about what they said. True, however, we all have our favourite theologians but I don't have a single Christian friend of any substantial theological education and a number that don't who wouldn't take the attitude Cline suggests. Perhaps on the level of local ministers it might be different. For me, there are many I admire but no one who is infallible. Are the megachurches or devout Catholics different? To be honest, I dunno.

The simple fact of the matter is unless you are a solipsist I doubt anyone totally rethinks their worldview form one minute to the next. Likewise, the Socratic method can't go on forever.

I take from Cline's comments the need to form a genuinely Christian critique of politics that transcends left and right. Secondly, I want to continue to question everything that I read, although to be honest some things are simply too easy to accept and really don't require questioning all of the time - that isn't intellectual sloth, it's just life - faith is a cognitive short cut. Not even the so-called free thinking atheists put their whole world into question, and certainly not towards faith - now is that really free thinking?

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