Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Evils of Atheistic Fundamentalism

I had no idea that there was such a term as "Atheist Fundamentalist", but, apparently some think there is.

He said it led to situations such as councils calling Christmas "Winterval", schools refusing to put on nativity plays and crosses removed from chapels.

In his Christmas message, he said: "Any kind of fundamentalism, be it Biblical, atheistic or Islamic, is dangerous."

While I would certainly accept the proposition that fundamentalism is bad news, no matter its stripe, I take a little bit of exception to his commentary about the use of phrases like "Winterval".

First of all, one has to recognize that not all faiths celebrate "Christmas" per se, however a winter solstice celebration is quite common, whether we are talking about Persian Culture, or the pre-Christian era cultures of much of Europe.

I disagree with The Pope's recent pronouncement that "Christmas without Christ is empty". To make such a claim is to suggest that all other cultures and faiths besides your own are empty and devoid of meaning and validity.

When one stands back and recognizes that the early Christian Church chose to move its celebration to coincide with winter solstice celebrations in northern europe, it becomes a bit tricky to claim that other non-Christ centric celebrations are invalid.

I am sympathetic to those who are appalled by the notion that the annual school play at this time is often called "Winter " rather than the "Christmas Pageant" (or whatever) - I do think this reflects an over-sensitivity on the part of those wishing to "not offend non-Christians". I wouldn't ask a Muslim to change the name of Ramadan simply because it happens to coincide with a celebration of my own faith.

The notion of "Atheistic Fundamentalism" is a flawed concept to begin with. The very notion suggests that there is some "fundamental" set of tenets that atheists subscribe to. Besides the common concept that there is no "real god", there is no common set of concepts that atheism derives from. One cannot, for example, claim that atheists all subscribe to a common root text, and that the fundamentalist has some particular interpretation of that text. What I suspect they are referring to is in fact a form of "absolutism" on the part of some people, who seem to complain at the mere mention of the concept of any religion that it is "exclusionary".

I think what people of all traditions need to become a little more self-aware of is that in societies where multiple faiths coexist, faith itself becomes a matter of the individual, and each of us should be free to practice our faiths - up to, but not including the point where our practice of our faith begins to impose itself upon others.

As a practitioner of "Evangelical Christianity", one might believe that it is your duty to go forth and preach the gospel to those who have not heard it yet. That's fine, and I have no problem with that. However, I still possess a right to not have to listen to that gospel if I do not wish to. In other words, if someone approaches me in a coffee shop while I'm enjoying a coffee, and begins to preach to me, I have a legitimate right to tell that person to get lost ... and they should comply. {and yes, I've had that very experience once or twice - although I had to get a little bit more explicit in my demand to be left alone)

In short, matters of faith do not, and should not, be matters of state in a poly-faith society such as exists now in much of the "Western World". Instead, there is a quiet respect that we all should bear for all faiths... including those who practice no specific faith.

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