05 May 2006

Actions speak louder

The marquee that caught my eye as I drove home this morning from my weekly shopping expedition doesn't usually inspire me. But there's a first time for everything. I didn't have a digital camera handy, so I've recreated the message with the help of Church Sign Generator.

It was the last line that got me to thinking. Indeed, anyone can honk. It proves nothing. Saying you're a good Christian doesn't make you one. As John Prine sang too many years ago, "Your flag decal won't get you into heaven anymore."

Likewise, anyone can slap a 99-cent "Support our Troops" magnet on their car. That doesn't mean you support the troops. One could argue that the best way to support the troops is not to hang tough with the Commander in Chief, but to vote instead for politicians who claim to want to bring the boys and girls back home before they make things any worse than they already are.

The problem is magnified in the blogosphere, of course. Anyone can write a screed demanding this, that or the other thing, excoriating the latest political target that has offended your sense of propriety, or exposing the hypocrisy of last night's talk-TV buffoonery. And a good many do just that without even the courage to take responsibility for their words, choosing to post anonymously.

Actions speak louder.

All this brought to mind the neverending sparring matches among various members of science blogging set, myself included, over how respectful one should be when debating the faithful. Some of the more hard-core atheist types express disappointment with their scientific colleagues who continue to hold some degree of religiosity. Some of the toughest criticism is leveled at Christians who admit they don't really believe Christ died on the cross for our sins -- which is the core believe of the religion -- but continue to go through the motions anyway.

For my part, I have written that I don't think it's possible to be a good scientist and a good person of faith. You either restrict your beliefs to the natural world or you don't. Those who don't run the risk of letting their weakness for the supernatural contaminate their scientific reputation, if not their technique.

But on this, the first anniversary of the Island of Doubt, I thought it would be a good time to expand on that subject. For those who don't claim to be part of the scientific community, straddling the rational and irrational doesn't necessarily invoke a conflict of interest. Honking for Jesus doesn't make you a good Christian, and neither does it make you a fool.

Voting only for politicians who share your particular brand of religion even while he or she champions policies that undermine your ability to feed your family makes you a fool.

Demanding your local school teach creationism alongside evolution in biology class because your church leaders tell you the world is only 6,000 years old makes you a fool.

Not worrying about the environmental impact of your lifestyle decisions because you anticipate a speedy and imminent Apocalypse that will render any degree of pollution moot makes you a fool.

Refusing to vaccinate your children because you believe Jesus will take care of them makes you a fool, and a danger to society.

Actions (and inaction when reason dictates action) do speak louder.

One more thing, and I'll try not to be insulting about this: a lot of people say they believe in a god, but few have ever had a personal, spiritually revealing experience to justify that belief. Instead, they simply espouse the faith of the family that raised them. As a result, their belief isn't quite as profound as experientially derived belief. Most of the decent, intelligent, but religious people I know fall into the family-faith category, and they don't let their religion dominate their lives to the exclusion of reason and a healthy, skeptical approach to the things that really matter. They just find a certain degree of comfort in the sense of belonging -- both to a congregation and to the greater universe -- that makes an at-times cruel world easier to bear.

That sort of belief doesn't threaten the fabric of society nearly as much as fundamentalism. I would encourage the atheist/agnostic community to stop worrying about what people say, and concentrate instead on what they do. Likewise, I hope that people of faith could one day stop getting offended by the failure of some of us to share their beliefs, and reserve their distaste for those who actually cause suffering.

I still suspect that religion no longer serves a positive influence on society, and we could even debate its net historical value. But so long as people act rationally, it matters less what they say. I'm not going to complain (much) if you want honk for Jesus (or Allah, Yahweh, Buddha or Zoroaster). Just don't do it with National Science Foundation money, or while driving through my neighborhood at 2 a.m.


Anonymous Max Spider said...

More sign generators on http://www.CustomSignGenerator.com (don't be content with just a few church signs).

10:52 AM  

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