Saturday, June 06, 2009

I’ll take number three for five hundred, Spotty

These were links shown on the Star Tribune homepage on Saturday night. Guess which piece Katherine Kersten authored:

guess which one katie wrote

That really wasn’t very hard, was it? Here’s Katie’s lede:

We're increasingly uncomfortable with religion these days.

As a society, we tolerate pastors, priests, rabbis and other religious folks, so long as they confine their message to a vanilla "God is love" theme and bless babies, brides and caskets.

But when religious leaders speak out on the issues of the day -- especially using morally tinged language -- the elite gatekeepers of public opinion in the media, government and academia warn shrilly that a new Dark Age is upon us.

And Katie knows all about shrill, doesn’t she? Anyway, Katie tells us that Judeo-Christian principles are the reason why we’re good:

We Americans take the moral principles of equality and compassion for granted. Yet these ideas are deeply counterintuitive. We've largely forgotten that their source is the once-revolutionary Judeo-Christian belief in a loving God, who created human beings in his image and decreed charity to be the first of virtues.

Never mind that other religions — take Buddhism, or, gasp, Islam — teach moral principles of equality and compassion, too.

Fundamentally, so to speak, Katie’s problem is that religious leaders get pushback when they act like the Holy Bully, not when they’re being compassionate or egalitarian. Kersten rails against the “New Atheists” for condemning religion, but they don’t do so on the grounds that religion is too compassionate or egalitarian. It is the lack of these qualities that the New Atheists find so off-putting, as do many people who aren’t in the atheist camp.

In fact, Spot will put the compassion and egalitarianism of Richard Dawkins or PZ Myers up against Katie, the Holy Bully, Michele Bachmann, Pat Robertson, the late Jerry Falwell, John Hagee, Jimmy Swaggert, Bill Donohue, Mark Buesgens and Mary Kiffmeyer COMBINED and win in a walk.

When “media, government and academia” take moral instruction from some of the religious clowns who are fellow travelers of Katherine Kersten, you will know that the theocracy has arrived. And then, democracy, in the words of the Munchkin coroner, will be absolutely completely dead. (At least that’s what Spot thinks he said.)

Ethical systems — and not just ones based on traditional religion — are all rooted in empathy. Empathy is a word in the news a lot lately, and it’s not the conservatives who are champions of it. Recent brain research tells us about parts of our brains called mirror neurons. These mirror neurons are what allow us to feel what other people feel: to walk in their shoes or to “empathize” with them.

It may be that religion is as much an effort by humans to explain this brain phenomenon as it is a source of it. Religion is the first ethical system that most of us experience, so we all assume that’s where “goodness” comes from, but it ain’t necessarily so.

Religion can be, and obviously is for a lot of people, an empathy reinforcement mechanism. It can also be a source of authoritarianism and narcissism. When that happens, religion has nothing to do with the compassion and egalitarianism that Katie speaks so glowingly of.

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