Saturday, October 10, 2009

Against Atheism, Chapter 2

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4. Canada was the third nation in the world to legalize homosexual marriage, and churches were important in the movement to legalize same-sex marriage, thanks to Reverend Hawkes and Cheri Dinovo, who both performed same-sex marriages before they were recognized by law. And this is far from the only progressive movement in which churches have been invaluable. Take for example, the advocacy of the Anglican Church for the Lubicon, who have had their land claims violated by the greedy pursuit of oil in Alberta. Canada has been criticized by a United Nations working group on this account. Or take the recent stance of the United Church on behalf of beleaguered Palestine against the expansionist and colonial Israeli state-enterprise. And before the knee-jerk charge of anti-semitism can be leveled against me for praising that stance, remember the Jews against the Occupation (www.jewsagainsttheoccupation.org). In other words, I think there is considerable evidence that churches have done lots of work to further the cause of social justice in the world. Pray tell, why should I, who values human rights and social justice, give credence and legitimacy to a doctrine that attacks the very source and motivation for this social justice work?

5. I cringe to think what would happen to the most vulnerable members of our own society should atheism continue succeeding in its relentless war against religion. The anti-poverty movement has constantly been ministered by churches from the founding of the Salvation Army, to countless church-administered soup kitchens. Who, after all, feeds the poor in our urban centres? In large part, it is Churches. Again, the atheist attack on religious doctrine fails to take into account the vital aspects of church practice. In other words, what churches do is as important as what its members believe. The implications of the gradual erosion of churches as social institutions are far-reaching, and I think the success of atheism in undermining churches has some very unpleasant and as yet unexplored social Darwinist and eugenic tendencies, such as the elimination of the aforementioned impoverished, vulnerable urban citizens. Furthermore, Harvard professor John Putnam has recognized that the decline in church participation has contributed to the erosion of social Capital, which McGill University ethics professor Margaret Somerville characterizes as “embedded trust” – “how much confidence people have in one another. Higher social capital correlates with fewer social problems.” (Lorimer, Gasher, & Skinner 2008). Churches, above and beyond any kind of doctrine, provide a social context for the building of community, and for that alone they are valuable.

6. Science and Religion are not mutually exclusive. This also refers to the aforementioned naïve view of history that some atheists seem to harbor. The antagonism between them is a relatively recent phenomenon. Some of the greatest scientists ever were also devout believers, among them Einstein, Newton, and Avicenna. Indeed, some of the early natural history tomes were published by Church organizations, such as The Life of an Insect: An Account of Insect Habits and Manners (1850), which was published by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. Mind you, there is a very Christian flavor to this text, but it does feature empirical observation and experimentation as methods to treat its objects of study.


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