Refusing the Normalization of Religious Belief

Reflecting on a lifetime of confrontation with religion, I find that I am incapable of accepting the normalization of religious faith. No apologies. It’s not a flaw. I accept that religion is normal from a statistical standpoint. But that doesn’t make it true. Or harmless. There are societies in which sexism is normative. Does that make justifications for sexism true or good?

As for its truth value, religion is a type of ideology. According to Ted Honderich (The Oxford Companion to Philosophy), an ideology is a collection or system of normative beliefs and values possessed by persons beyond purely epistemic reasons. Epistemic refers to knowledge, which is confirmed or verified belief. In other words, ideology relies on assumptions and beliefs about the world that have no factually demonstrable or logically necessary basis. Moreover, the claims of religion are plainly false. They systematically confuse predicate and subject. In truth, nature exists independent of the philosophies the mind has developed to understand it. Minds are the products of brains, which result from the evolutionary dynamic of natural history. Social relations as well have truths independent of the justifications for them. Indeed, human beings invented religion and the things belonging to it in order to justify oppressive social relations.

Religion is not good because it has made life difficult for people I love. Including me. But it has also made life difficult for hundreds of millions – billions – I could never know. (One cannot say this about nature as natural forces carry no intent.) Consider these three passages from the religious texts of the two most popular religions, Christianity and Islam.

The first two come from the Pentateuch, which is the scriptural foundation of the Abrahamic traditions (using the New English Translation). Leviticus 18:22 states: “You must not have sexual intercourse with a male as one has sexual intercourse with a woman; it is a detestable act.” Two chapters later this prohibition is repeated with the punishment prescribed. Leviticus 20:13 states: “If a man has sexual intercourse with a male as one has sexual intercourse with a woman, the two of them have committed an abomination. They must be put to death; their blood guilt is on themselves.”

Those of the Christian faith who wish to keep their religion going but find these verses objectionable instruct us to read the scriptures from the standpoint of contemporary moral understanding. This admits that God is not a being that exists beyond history but a human construction. Given this, what makes God necessary? What is its authoritative value if we may disregard those bits that offend us? And what stops others from faithfully adhering the demands of the text? It is important to keep in mind that Islam takes over the biblical story of Lot (Lut) to condemn homosexuality, which in many Muslim-majority countries is punishable by death. For a lot of religious people cherry picking is not an option.

The third passage is found in the Qur’an sura 4:34 (Abdullah Yusuf Ali translation): “Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband’s) absence what Allah would have them guard. As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (Next), refuse to share their beds, (And last) beat them (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them Means (of annoyance): For Allah is Most High, great (above you all).” The Qur’an instructs men to beat their wives which presupposes the right of men to control women, the foundation of the patriarchy. The refusal of even some women who identify as Muslim to reject the inerrancy of the Qur’an – see my blog entry Qur’an Verse 4:34 – is a stark reminder of the danger of failing to delegitimize scripture.

Admittedly, I have trouble suffering zealots. But I tolerate people who believe in gods. I even count them among my friends. What I endeavor to stress is that if I am to be confident in my criticisms of Christian belief, I must also judge Islam by the same standard. To make an exception for Muslims that I do not make for Christians is also a failure of courage.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

2 thoughts on “Refusing the Normalization of Religious Belief”

  1. Difficult passages of the Bible: the danger of fundamentalism
    Sometimes it is difficult to understand some pages of the Bible, especially the Old Testament. We sometimes read scenes, acci… We can add here the passage of the conquest of Jericho, like other Biblical passages, was interpreted by some ecclesiastical Writers and Holy Fathers as allegorical, as a figure that hid a deeper meaning. To give an example, Origen (II-III centuries) in the city of Jericho an image of the world; in Rajab, which is found in exploration, there is a model of those found in the apostles for faith and obedience; in the scarlet thread hanging in his house (cf. Jos 2:18) he discovers a sign of the saving Blood of Christ (cf. Origen, Homilies on the book of Joshua, 6,4). http: //www.forumlibertas.

  2. Difficult passages of the Bible: the danger of fundamentalism – Forum Libertas http://www.forumlibertas.com/hemeroteca/pasajes-dificiles-de-la-biblia-el-peligro-del-fundamentalismo/ via @forumlibertas “New Testament ( the Old Testament is found in fullness from the New Testament, from Christ) offers two texts that interpret the passage we are reciting from the book of Joshua.

    The first text is found in the Letter to the Hebrews. All of the following: “By faith, the walls of Jericho fell down, after being surrounded by the days. By faith, the harlot Rajab did not perish with the unbelievers, for having welcomed the explorers in a friendly way” (Hb 11:30 -31).

    The second text is found in the Letter of Santiago: “You see how a man is justified by works and not only by faith. In the same way that Rajab, the prostitute, was not justified by the works, hosting the messengers and making them go another way? (Sant 2,24-25).

    These two passages in the New Testament interpret the conquest of Jericho and the privilege of the dice in Rajab in terms of faith and works: whoever believes and engages in the right way if he benefits from God’s salvation. The other aspects of Joshua’s book are not mentioned (the conquest of the city, he is entered into the “anathema” of men, women, children, animals), which remain in the shade and are not seen as relevant to the question with the one we should read the Bible: what saving message does a specific passage offer? The answer of these two New Testament texts for the passage we are considering is clear: faith leads to salvation, lack of faith causes the ruin of men.

    d. We take a step forward with the help of other interpretation criteria. One if it refers to the living Tradition of the Church. As Vatican II teaches, Sacred Scripture must be read taking “into account the living Tradition of the whole Church and the analogy of faith” (Dei Verbum no. 12, cf. nos. 8-10). We now look at Tradition.

    What do we understand by “living Tradition”? In it, he picks up the preaching that the Apostles bequeathed to the bishops who succeeded them, and which became a “living transmission, carried out in the Holy Spirit”, which is “distinguished from Holy Scripture, in any case, extremely linked to it. For her, the Church with her teaching, her life, her worship, preserves and transmits to all ages what she is and what she believes “(Catechism of the Catholic Church n. 78, which quotes Dei Verbum n. 8). In a special way, the Holy Fathers collect and modify this living Tradition, and allow us to fully access the Revelation of God (which is contained in both Tradition and Scripture) “.

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