December 4th, 2012 | Posted by: Vlad Chituc
Accommodationism is another one of those vague words where the meaning isn’t immediately clear. Because there are so many uses of the word—and at least a handful have some negative baggage leftover from the grizzly accommodationism/confrontationism bloodbath of 2010—I shy away from the term almost completely.
There are some legitimate uses, though. We have an undeniably accommodationist political philosophy and legal precedence, in the sense that, absent compelling state interests to the contrary, the legislature is to accommodate religious beliefs. For example, the government can’t force postal workers to violate the Sabbath. In another sense, I’m an “accommodationist” in that I think that evolution and much of the rest of modern science is completely compatible with the existence of God (and if it’s not, we can only determine that through philosophical argument). I realize that puts me at odds with a lot of a lot of contemporary atheist thought, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.
Nicholas Wade, in an OpEd in the New York Times, has taken what I see to be a much less defensible position, though. He argues, essentially, that scientists should allow creationists to be mislead into thinking that evolution’s status as a theory permits the creationist story to be literally true. He writes:
By allowing that evolution is a theory, scientists would hand fundamentalists the fig leaf they need to insist, at least among themselves, that the majestic words of the first chapter of Genesis are literal, not metaphorical, truths. They in return should make no objection to the teaching of evolution in science classes as a theory, which indeed it is.
Of course, Wade is allowing creationists to conflate two different meanings of the word theory, and he’s asking scientists to play along.
I think it goes without saying that we shouldn’t knowingly promote misconceptions just to keep creationists out of our hair. I’m all for asking scientists to communicate their work responsibly and be appropriately aware of the limits of their findings (no, science doesn’t disprove free will or ground morality or prove that god doesn’t exist). It’s too far, I think, to ask scientists to be misleading in order to appease creationists, even if it worked (and I’m doubtful that it would).
Jerry Coyne and a few others responded to Wade in the New York Times this morning, and I like Coyne’s response (pop over to Why Evolution is True to see the rest of the letters to the editor):
Nicholas Wade argues that creationists will be converted to evolution only when scientists “show respect for all religion.” That claim is patently false. Organizations like BioLogos, founded by National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins, have spent many years and much money trying to turn Christian creationists toward evolution by “respecting their faith”. It hasn’t worked.
Teaching that the book of Genesis is a metaphor, as Wade suggests, is anathema to fundamentalists since it implies that Jesus died for a metaphor—the original sin of a nonexistent Adam and Eve.
Reconciliation doesn’t change minds; reason and logic do.
Though I’ll quibble over his final line—if contemporary social psychology has demonstrated anything in the last few decades, it’s that “reason and logic” (more vague words!) don’t actually convince much of anyone about anything—what actually had me confused was his notion about Jesus dying for original sin.
I’m sure our Christian readers could correct me if I’m wrong, but I was under the impression that baptism was meant to absolve us of original sin, not Jesus’s death. I thought Jesus’s sacrifice was to provide redemption from all sin—the idea being that everyone sins and falls short of the glory of god. Watch any video by Ray Comfort and he leads with exactly those points: you’re a sinner and need salvation. Jesus is supposed to be that salvation, so even without original sin, there’s still a lot of sin for him to absolve.
So it seems like a strange and really basic theological mistake for such a prominent atheist to make, let alone get published in the New York Times Opinion page. Am I completely misunderstanding basic tenets of Christianity here, or is Coyne?
Vlad Chituc is a lab manager and research assistant in a social neuroscience lab at Duke University. As an undergraduate at Yale, he was the president of the campus branch of the Secular Student Alliance, where he tried to be smarter about religion and drink PBR, only occasionally at the same time. He cares about morality and thinks philosophy is important. He is also someone that you can follow on twitter.
Due to construction on my school, the academic year had been delayed for several weeks. On Sept. 11, 2001, I woke up early, prayed and sat down on the couch to watch the morning news. I turned on the television and was greeted by live footage of the World Trade Center in New York City, a gaping, smoking wound in the side of one of the buildings. The newscasters were calling it a terrible accident, but a feeling in the pit of my empty stomach told me that something unimaginably horrifying was happening.
Then, right before my eyes, a second plane flew into the World Trade Center.
This has been long in the works, so I’m excited to finally share the exciting news with you all: I’m going on a speaking tour of seven Midwest colleges and universities next month! At the invitation of campus staff and student groups from the following schools, I will be going from Indiana to Illinois to Iowa to speak about the importance of religious-atheist engagement, and the experiences that led me to the work I do around this issue.
Below is my itinerary — if you’re in the area for any of the “open to the public” events, please come by. I’d love to see you there! (And if you’re a student at one of these schools, I heard a rumor that some of your professors are offering extra credit in exchange for your attendance! Grades hitting a February slump? Come sit in the audience and pretend to listen while playing “Angry Birds.”)
February 2011 Midwest Speaking Tour
(Or, “What I’m Doing Instead of Taking a Vacation!”)
2/10: DePauw University | Greencastle, IN
- Meetings with the Interfaith group, LGBTQA group, and the Center for Spiritual Life
- 7:30-9:30 PM | Speech (open to the public)
- Meeting with the Indiana Interfaith Service Corps (AmeriCorps)
- Noon-1:30 PM | Speech / Luncheon (open to the public)
2/14: University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign | Urbana-Champaign, IL
- Meetings with student groups
- Luncheon — Facilitated Conversation
- Speech (open to the public)
2/15: Northwestern University | Evanston, IL
- 7 PM | Speech (open to the public)
2/16: Elmhurst College | Elmhurst, IL
- Meetings with student groups
- 11:30 AM | Luncheon – Facilitated Conversation
- 7 PM | Speech (open to the public)
2/17: DePaul University | Chicago, IL
- 6 PM | Speech (open to the public)
2/21: Simpson College | Indianola, IA
- Luncheon – Facilitated Conversation
- 5-7 PM | Speech (open to the public)
Interested in having me come speak? Email me at nonprophetstatus [at] gmail [dot] com!
In partnership with the PBS documentary The Calling, a campaign called What’s Your Calling? was launched to explore the topic of a “calling.” I was honored to be invited to do an interview with them; in our interview, they asked me to talk about my “calling,” so I shared a bit of my story and discussed my hope for greater nonreligious-religious dialogue and cooperation.
Using this interview, they produced the above video (full of old, embarrassing photos, haha). Please check out their page on my video, browse their site to watch other videos, and join their important conversation.
P.S. I’ve written a piece on atheism and calling / vocation; it should be out relatively soon, so stay tuned!
Today’s guest post, by my friend Frank Fredericks (Co-Founder of Religious Freedom USA and Founder of World Faith), addresses the gaping cultural divide between Christians and atheists. Like Amber Hacker’s NonProphet Status guest post, “A Committed Christian’s Atheist Heroes,” Frank writes as a dedicated Christian interested in finding ways to work with and better understand his atheist friends and neighbors. As someone who knows Frank and respects his work, I’m delighted to share his thought-provoking reflection here. Take it away, Frank:
The discourse between evangelical Christians and atheists has been antipodal at best. Whether it is Richard Dawkins calling faith “the great cop-out,” or countless professed Christians using “godless” like an offensive epithet, we’ve reached new lows. In fact, generally the discussion quickly descends into a volley of talking points and apologetics. I abhor those conversations with the same disdain I reserve for being stuck in the crossfire between a toe-the-line Republican and slogan-happy Democrat, rehashing last week’s pundit talking points.
I believe we need to revolutionize the way we interact. As an evangelical Christian, I recognize that my community equates atheism with pedophilia, like some dark spiritual vacuum that sucks out any trace of compassion or morality. Even in interfaith circles, where peace and tolerance (and soft kittens) rule the day, the atheists are often eyed with suspicion in the corner — if they’re even invited.
I thank God for atheists. During my college years at New York University, I had the superb opportunity to have powerful conversations with atheists who challenged me to have an honest conversation about faith. I appreciate and a value how atheist friends of mine encouraged inquiry. Remarkably, while this may not have been their intent, it only strengthened my faith. While I was able to begin weeding out the empty talking points from the substantive discourse, I hope they also got a glimpse of the love of Christ from an evangelical who wasn’t preaching damnation or waiting to find the next available segway into a three-fold pamphlet about how they need Jesus in their life. The point is, Christians need to stop seeing their atheist neighbors, co-workers, and even family members as morally lost, eternally damned, or a possible convert.
What lies at the bottom of this is the assumption, as pushed by many Christian leaders, is that religious people have the monopoly on morality and values. That, in a sense, you can’t be good without God. This is troubling on several levels. While at first glance this seems theologically sound to assume the traditional concept of salvation, most haven’t grappled with the problematic idea that Hitler could be in heaven and Gandhi could be in hell. That should be troubling for us. Also, the cultural and social ramifications of this leads to an antagonizing relationship. The Bible is littered with examples of non-religious, non-Christian, or non-Jewish people who do good in the eyes of God. It shouldn’t be shocking to see atheists teach their children integrity, or volunteer in a soup kitchen.
While I reserve the bulk of my frustration for those misusing my own faith, atheists aren’t blameless in this tectonic paradigm. Rather than taking the inclusive road of respectful disagreement, many of the largest voices for atheism find it more enjoyable to belittle faith, mock religion, and disregard their cultural and sociological value. In fact, many consider it their duty to evangelize their beliefs with the same judgmental fervor they fled from their religious past. Knowing that many came to define themselves as atheists against rigid religious upbringing, I don’t judge their disdain and frustration. However, like venom in veins, it keeps them from moving forward to having a more productive discourse. So often, when the religious and non-religious traditions grapple with the big question, like ontological definition, theorized cosmology, or the inherent nature of man, these discussion happen separately, without an engagement that is both fruitful and intriguing. I know many of those atheists have something wonderful to bring to that discussion, if they would stop throwing rocks at the window and come sit at the table.
So this is what I propose to my Christian and atheist friends: If we Christians challenge ourselves, our communities and congregations, to treat our atheist brothers and sisters as equitable members of our communities, nation, and in the pursuit of truth, will atheists recognize the value of faith to those who believe, even while they may respectfully disagree? As atheism quickly becomes the second largest philosophical tradition in America, the two communities will only have a greater need of a Memorandum of Understanding to frame how we can collectively work together to challenge the greater issues that face us, which starts by recognizing that it’s not each other.
Not sure where to start? Let’s feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and protect human dignity. While community service can be utterly rational, I am also pretty sure Jesus would be down for that, too.
Frank Fredericks is the founder of World Faith and Çöñár Records; in his career in music management, he has worked with such artists as Lady Gaga, Honey Larochelle, and Element57. Frank has been interviewed in New York Magazine, Tikkun and on Good Morning America, NPR, and other news outlets internationally. He also contributes to the interView series on the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue. He currently resides in Astoria, New York, leading World Faith and working as an Online Marketing Consultant.