Monday, March 9, 2015

The Relativism of Religion

In almost all  religions, especially theistic ones, often a faction of believers take what is described as an extremist position that supposedly differs from that held by the moderate mainstream membersor what outsiders are told by apologists is the mainstreamespecially when the dissenters verbally disrespect or commit an act of violence against "infidels". When such divisions occur, these extremists are sometimes accused of hijacking or distorting the message of those religions. Recently, President Obama and Jordan's King Abdullah both denounced ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) as a fanatical organization that does not really represent Islam. And Abdullah's wife, Queen Rania, has gone so far as to advocate dropping the letter "I" for Islamic when referring  to ISIS' for that same reason.

But IMO, the hijacking accusation misses the point and is irrelevant.  To begin with, there is the matter of relativism:.  There is no objective standard for determining the claim of validity for any god-based religion's "true" tenets and doctrines. On March 7, there was a commemoration ceremony to mark the 50th anniversary of "Bloody Sunday",  a civil rights march in Selma, Alabama whose participants were viciously attacked by white law enforcers who were upholding a then legal system of racial segregation against black Americans that was prevalent throughout the South at that time.  These white Christians and the culture that they represented  justified their long standing rabid opposition to racial integration on their interpretation of the bible as their antebellum forebears did to support the institution of black slavery.

However, the   overwhelming majority of blacks in the South have also been Christians since that era as the result of this belief being imposed on them by their masters and since then had long submitted to and suffered under white supremacy. This changed when civil rights leaders exemplified by Martin Luther King, a  Christian minister, finally used the same bible to strike back at segregation and discrimination and to demand an end to these unjust legal and social barriers. In short, each side took their respective courses of action firmly convinced that they were doing so with God's blessings.


Almost every theology claims to be divinely inspired and is dismissive of other nonconforming dogmas as heresy. Yet the contents of almost all holy books are open to a gazillion interpretations and are published in various versions, none of whose followers, however, try to  back up any of them as correct or true based on any verifiable data and sound reasoning. Instead, the understanding and acceptance of the meaning of these
texts are filtered through the believers' personal or group perspective which is entirely subjective, and whose faith in which can become unwavering: "God said it. I believe it. That settles it." Further, if there are enough of these individuals who share a like-minded creed that differs from their majority follower counterparts, their  radical belief of today  may become tomorrow's establishment-accepted religion. But in time some of the worshipers of that congregation will also become spiritually restless and will splinter off to form yet a new congregation, ad infinitum. 

In contrast to these religious scripture with their often vague wording and with the sometimes bitter and even violent disputes among their followers as to which is the "right" meaning, all that's ever really been required to be an atheist is merely non-belief in a supreme being, or at least a conviction  that there is no proof for the existence of one.  And for those nonbelievers who live a moral life, doing so without the need of a supernatural coercion  or contradictory and confusing texts is the simplest and most logical choice to living and importantly a non-relativistic one as well.


TUCHARV said...

It is worth noting that our common birth relgion, Judaism, is an outstanding example of this splintering into factions. The only noteworthy difference is that we have generally avoided advocating stoning of heretics for the last thousand years. Since organized religion is designed to be a "them and us" situation, it is virtually certain that this "splintering" will always take place.

Secular Guy said...


Thanks for your response. I agree that it's noteworthy that Judaism has for the most part managed to avoid violence between the various schools of Jewish philosophy. As for stoning heretics, I guess the closest we've come to that is when Spinoza was excommunicated, but even then he wasn't physically harmed.

Rick Levy