Friday, December 3, 2010


I believe in God. I'm also a bit of a leftie, in case you don't know that already. If you have a problem with any of that, it’s probably best for you to skip this one.

I spend some days running major errands between dropping my son off and picking him up from his charter school, which is over an hour away with no immediate bus service, I tend to spend that time talking to him, and the time in-between listening to my collection of podcasts from the previous week. But I’ve avoided political podcasts since the election, out of a cowardly sense that I couldn’t face them without fortified courage, to deal with the bad news. One of the political podcasts I listen to is “Best of the Left.” (No link, because Im specifically not recommending it). I listen because of the left-leaning (or I should say, forward-leaning) broadcasts which are edited into a coherent podcast for me. But, to be clear, I do not endorse this podcast.

In each podcast, the director/editor of the podcast makes a plea for spreading the word” on hos podcast to friends. But I will not. It is something that I do, because it makes my life easier, and informs me. But “Best of the Left” is not the only political podcast I listen to, nor the only political perspective I get. But I will not spread the word on that podcast, because I have a fundamental disagreement with the philosophy of the editor.

He is an atheist.

Now, that said, I have plenty of friends who are atheists, and agnostic, and it is not that view of believing alone that prevents me from recommending the podcast. It is the fact that, every so often, the editor will go into an atheistic-leaning diatribe against believing, and against organized religions (read Christianity, as I’ll go into later) that I find offensive and incoherent.

The reason I find it so, is that he presents clear negative viewpoints against the anti Islam phobia which is sweeping the nation. For the record, I agree that the anti Islam phobia is abhorrent, and disgusting, and against every American principal I know. I am not a Muslim, but, as Atheists and Agnostics, I have and have had friends who are. I respect their beliefs, as they respect mine.

What I find abhorrent about the Best of the Left’s views on religion, and their periodic shows highlighting religion, is their clear anti-Christian bent. I don’t happen to hold a prejudice against Christianity as a tenet of left-leaning politics. It seems strange to me that he would feel so comfortable disparaging Christianity specifically. It;’s as if the fact that he was raised in the religion, ad later chose to abandon it, that he feels gives him some special priviledge then to shit on the beliefs of those who did not turn their back on it, and who, in fact, find strength in their beliefs. He would never consider running a show that tore down Native American similarly mono-theistic beliefs, or showcased harsh opinions of Israel and Judaism, or allowed wholesale attacks on Islam. And I know there would be widespread outcry from his left-leaning public in each of these instances. But he feels happily content to project his anti-Christian viewpoint, and is, for some reason, encouraged by his reformed-Christian (Catholic, Protestant alike) listening audience to do so.

To put it in a nutshell, if the editor of this show periodically showcased anti-Islamic sentiment on his show, I would be offended, and listeners would never put up with it. The same with anti-semitic views, which, lets face it, you can also find on even some left-leaning shows. But for some reason, he feels completely comfortable with disparaging my system of beliefs in the shows he chooses to showcase. Most often I will skip over (or just skim) these selections, because I like some of the honest points of view. It’s his selection of putting them together, and capping with his own editorialize-ation at the end, which I find offensive, and wrong. And that is the reason I will never recommend the podcast to any of my friends.

I believe in God. It is a subject of discussion as to how much I believe the Bible is the word of God versus the word of man, written to suit a specific religious need and time. But I do believe there are parts of the Bible which are historical document, and parts which are inspirational faith. And which is which is not the point for me, at least not here. What is the point is, that I am a believer.

On one of those rides home with my son from his school, this subject came up. I can’t recall exactly why, but it was within an economic framework. I believe in capitalism versus communism (actually, now I do remember-he was saying how a friend of his was trying to subtly bring back the communist party by writing anonymous notes to local papers, which led to a discussion of communism versus capitalism). So, I went into how and why I believe capitalism is better than communism, which, in a nutshell again, is because you profit from your own hard work and the fruits of your labors more in capitalism. In Communism, you’re supposed to work toward the good of the commune. I know I’m over-simplifying here, but I’m not going into the specific discussion here, just the conclusions. I prefer capitalism because you benefit from the fruits of your labors. But capitalism should be tempered by Christianity, or some form of belief. In that combination of systems you can profit from your hard work, and still feel an obligation, and rightly so, to GIVE BACK.

This time of year is one where everyone feels the need to give something, and everyone feels more keenly aware of others who have and share less than they have. We go from a season of Thanksgiving into a season of giving. We give back. And part of what is wrong with the political discussion right now is that this latter part is not part of the discussion. There is little or no talk about providing social safety nets for the less fortunate, something that has traditionally fallen to the State and government as a whole.

Everyone is complaining about the government taking from them, forcing government to cut taxes. Government’s first step following this is to cut essential services to the underserved, and poor. And the rich and middle class are giving less than ever before to that same portion of our community.

Capitalism and Christianity functioned well when they went hand in hand—when individuals who profited under capitalist systems also had the Christian values to give back to those less fortunate, being aware that it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get to the kingdom of heaven. One half of that equation is just dysfunctional, at best, and criminal within a civilized society, at worst.

Maybe there are agnostics and atheists who give back a large portion of what they make, to those less fortunate, and in that instance, it is not you I am railing against. But I question every rich fat-cat capitalist who is a professed Christian who does not give back, and does not support the weaker in society, and instead rails against the “big-G” Government for raising taxes, and every secretly agnostic and atheistic fat cat who joins them, and feels not a pang of anything wrong with that. Their belief is not strong, or it would guide their actions differently.

And it’s for that reason that I would never recommend Best of the Left. Because it is wrong not to believe in something. And I’m a believer. For the record.


mmclaurin said...

There's a part of the comment above that is unclear. I don't hold that Christianity is the only religion that makes "giving back" a basic tenet. I know that Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism as well as many others have this as an important element. I also know many agnostics and atheists who give back as a part of a basic humanist philosophy, and I don;t mean this as an attack on them. I guess it just offends me that there are those who, more often than not, are FORMER Christians who are angry with their religion, and therefore tear it down in public like they have some special right to, even as they revere and respect Judaism, Islam, and other systems of belief. My point is, I still believe, and that while we say that not all Muslims are terrorists, and should not be painted with the same brush, so should Christians not be viewed as pedophiles and hypocrites. Belief is belief, and all should be afforded the same respect. Just because you were Jewish does not give you a special priviledge to tear down Judaism as an new atheist. Ditto for new atheists who were Christians. Don't tear down my house. That's all.

WetPaint said...

As per your last paragraph, I do not believe that it is "wrong not to believe in something". I have at times been a believer, and at times not. My fluctuation from atheism to spirituality has never in any way affected my willingness to give back- thought like most- I know I could and should do more.

In fact, during atheist times, I feel a stronger compulsion to take on the responsibility of taking care of my fellow man, precisely because I cannot shrug even one thing off and say "It's in God's hands, or was God's will." It can become a huge emotional burden when you have to weigh every decision against the greater good not only locally, but also globally, and you have only your conscience to consult when facing moral dilemmas. And the self-examination of contribution always comes up short. It's kind of exhausting.

After a period of burnout, I tend to go back to believing, because the notion that a supreme being can shoulder the load for a while is a comfort and a relief. It is a peaceful way to recognize our relative helplessness and vulnerability in the vast universe, and to find it less scary. Not to mention it is a return to my childhood state of mind, when faith came freely and naturally. There is purity to it.

I am in no way saying that believing is the easy way out, or that believers do not also have the same internal turmoil at the suffering of man as atheists. I am just saying that my own experience with faith, and non-faith, goodness and charity have been independent of belief. As a parent however, I wish I had taken my kids to church, if only to have a dedicated timeslot every week to focus on elevating moral aspirations, strengthening connections to community, and how best to honor those connections.

There are unhealthy extremes for both sets- I find the gospel of wealth subset particularly troubling as they self-label as Christian, but violate everything I ever learned about the teachings of Christ, in some kind of perverse Ayn Rand-ian version of the New Testament "chosen people". And the atheist extreme you speak of, that religion bashes, is just bad, and as hypocritically intolerant.

As you know- I am far-left leaning socialist with an odd pairing of religious skepticism and belief in life as enchanted, and full of destiny beyond our grasp. I find socialism to be more "Christian", in that society as a whole builds in a structure for sharing and caring for the less advantage, rather than relying on the fickle winds of economic trends. It makes fairness and charity a part of the system. (I recommend the documentary "The Corporation" as an example of the dysfunction of capitalism in the last 20 years.)

Socialism can work in small groups- the Amish manage as a semi-socialist group quite well, and they are completely independent of the stock market roller coaster. Were it not for the rigid gender codes of conduct and socialization, I would join them! Ethical humanists- notorious do-gooders- also lean left.

As much as I share your condemnation of this fellow's religion bashing, it helps to understand that in this country, "atheist" is still considered a dirty word, and is often used as a synonym for moral bankruptcy. I can only imagine this person had some very souring experiences that lead to his diatribes. But it is sad that he cannot get past them.

It would be much more understandable if he was obnoxiously critical of ALL religions, then at least it could be assigned to a Nietzschian mindset. But what you describe sounds more like a disillusioned Christian who needs to work out some personal issues, better left out of an otherwise insightful political commentary.

Anyway, back to my original point- it is OK to not believe, just as it is OK to believe. Whatever works.
And sorry for the length of this comment!

WetPaint said...

Oh, and your comment reminds me of the Seinfeld episode when Jerry suspects his dentist of converting to Judaism just so he can tell Jewish jokes. "A schtickle of fluoride". My husbands father converted from Judaism to Catholicism on Gum in WWII, (no rabbi in the Seabees), and I am now fairly conversant in Bklyn Yiddishisms.