Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Multiculturalist Argument For God

“If you are an atheist you do have to believe that the main point in all the religions of the whole world is simply one huge mistake. If you are a Christian, you are free to think that all these religions, even the queerest ones, contain at least some hint of the truth. When I was an atheist I had to try to persuade myself that most of the human race have always been wrong about the question that mattered to them most; when I became a Christian I was able to take a more liberal view.” (C.S Lewis Mere Christianity pg. 43.)

This is one of the most devastating arguments I know of against either atheism or religious fundamentalism. Every single human society, up until modern times, has not only believed in the existence of some sort of supernatural being (or beings), that takes an interest in human affairs and has definite ideas about what humans should or should not do, but has built their civilization around this premise. It was not just that these societies had large amounts of religious people, religion was the society. If you are an atheist then you have to believe therefore that human civilization has been built around one giant lie. I do not see how you can accept such a view of humanity and still have the faith in human reason and human ability that modernity requires in order to justify itself. Similarly if you are a religious fundamentalist, someone who believes that his religious texts and doctrines are by definition the Truth and the standard by which everything else must be judged, then you must admit that the vast majority of humanity, those who do not share your beliefs, has walked completely in darkness. How can anyone trust such a God, who has lead humanity into darkness, to reveal any Truths?
One of the problems with how history gets taught, and I see this with the students I teach, is that, because we are not a civilization built around religion, we have rewritten the past in our own image and have downplayed the central role played by religion in past civilizations. All of my students, to one degree or another, believe that religion should be separated from government to such an extent that they do not understand how any reasonable person could have thought differently. Aided by the textbooks they have read, which have no desire to challenge their assumptions, unless they are religious ones, my students have not truly been forced to face the fact that every civilization they have studied has been built around religion and in most cases religions vastly different then theirs. This is true of my secular students and of my religious ones, who simply are unable to internalize the idea that there were Greek and Roman pagans, who honestly believed in the gods and who had the morals and piety to match that of any Christian.
It is not for nothing that recent trends in education have strengthened the hands of both atheists and fundamentalist.

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