Of Elephants and Elitists

On Thursday, March 5 at the Independence Library, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Northeastern Ohio Chapter, hosted a presentation by John Fazio: “Can Secular Humanists and Theists join together to keep religion and matters of faith separate from the affairs of the state to facilitate peace, harmony, and tolerance? ”   This delightful and informative presentation was a variation on his talk: “The Elephant is still in the Living Room”.  Mr Fazio, who, unlike (speaking of elephants), Rush Limbaugh, has looks sufficent for television, a voice sufficent for the stage, and knowledge sufficent for his subject, began with listing the recent cannon of popular books on atheism: Dawkins, Harris et all, as well as some on cosmology – e.g. Hawking.

He addressed the ultimate metaphysical questions on the origins, fate, and size of our universe, and stated that in his opinion, modern science has no actual better answer to these questions than religion, and that we are arrogrant to think we do.  Covering very recent history (about 1000 years), he elucidated that organized religion has no monopoly on inhumanity, citing many specific examples, including the Soviet Union, and the Peoples Republic of China, which he describes as the twentieth century’s two great experiments in atheism.

On a common, self elevating theme of free-thinkers – that religion has been a cause of wars, he observed:  religion had often appeared to cause wars, but, beneath the covers,  the real reason(s) were always material.

In recorded history, religion’s influenced has waxed and waned, but always come back.  His conclusion, then, is that religion is here to stay, it is hard-wired into our brains, we should accept this, and sit at the table with our devout brethren.   ( “…I start from where the world is, as it is, not as I would like it to be.”  - Saul Alinsky, “Rules for Radicals”. ) From a public relations point of view, he observes that our elitism and arrogrance will convert few.

Well stated and entirely valid: when Christians give us an equal place at the table, I will be happy to join.  As missionaries for Truth, Light, Reason, and the Human Way, we should keep his message in mind.

That having been said, let us consider the following:

The religions we have in the world today cover only 2500 years – a mere grain in the sands of our species’ time on this planet – and it is only about 300 years since the Enlightenment: the beginning of the end of Supernaturalism.

While we may not have advanced metaphysics, our science has, in its quest for ultimate origins, produced a vast amount of valuable wisdom.  Can the same be said for our mythologies?

All observed phenomena can be classified as having either a supernatural or a natural cause: the former is one basis for religion; the latter one goal of science.  As we explain more by natural cause, we have less need for the supernatural, and perhaps for  religion as well.  Is religion a relic of our evolution?

That the influence of religion has risen and fallen throughout history could be a result of many effects, including: a return to the ground of a basic human need, as Mr. Fazio suggests, or an example of action and reaction in history, as Dr. Marx proposed.

That the acceptance of religion is more widespread than the acceptance of science (e.g. natural selection), is a fact that we must keep in mind.  Another is that the tendency toward atheism among scientists increases with their level – is it elitist to mention that?

Returning to the question: “Can Secular Humanists and Theists join together to keep religion and matters of faith separate from the affairs of the state to facilitate peace, harmony, and tolerance? ”  Yes, provided that:

Theists gain the empathy and humility to accept that they have no monopoly on solutions, and listen to secular humanists.

Secular humanists gain the empathy and humility to accept that they may have no monopoly on solutions, and listen to theists.

The vast majority aquire learning sufficent to look for answers in science, not Genesis.

N.B.: The title: “Of Elephants and Elitists” is, of course,  a play on “Of Pandas and People”.

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