Thursday, June 04, 2009

Ecumenical Idiocy -- an atheist view

I just heard something on PRI's The World that got my goat. I wrote:

In your discussion of President Obama's Cairo speech, it was stated that he showed "respect" for Muslims by referring to the Middle East as where Islam was "revealed," rather than where it was "born." This was said to be respectful because it seemed to imply that he accepts Islam as having come from a divine source.

To me, it is an example of the sort of idiotic relativism that is sometimes practiced in the name of ecumenism. We know that Obama is not a Muslim; while his Christianity may be liberal, it is hard to imagine that he actually believes Islam was divinely revealed. Some New Agers or Baha'is may believe in both Jesus Christ and the Prophet Mohammed, but no Christian in the usual sense does.

Perhaps some Muslims actually would take this as a sign of respect, but I find that hard to fathom. I'm an atheist, but I wouldn't think it "respectful" were Obama to speak to me as if he believed in atheism, when I know that he doesn't. I would think he was humoring me, which isn't respectful at all.

This isn't the first time I've encountered such nonsense. Some years ago a mailing from the University Museum referred to the "discovery" of a Tibetan lama. When I wrote to suggest it made no sense for them to use language implying a belief in Tibetan Buddhism that they don't actually hold, they responded that it wasn't their purpose to promulgate an "atheist or agnostic position."

I gave up at that point; it seemed clear they were unwilling to apply any kind of epistemological rigor to the question. For one thing, they were conflating, for no apparent reason, atheism and agnosticism. Surely they didn't think they're the same thing; if they knew they're different, surely they knew which, if either, I was expressing. And I wasn't really expressing a position at all; I was only requesting they not express a position either. You could call this an "agnostic" way of speaking, but it's actually consistent with any belief or non-belief, which is precisely why I was recommending it. But evidently the Museum staff was too deeply immersed in relativism to comprehend this.

Eric Hamell

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