Third open letter to NAME: On structural religious discrimination encoded in the NAME mailing list rules

Note:  This is the third of four planned posts regarding the National Association of Medical Examiners mailing list.

The first, regarding the importance of BLM/Antifa to the Medical Examiner community, is here.

The second, regarding the NAME decision to embrace censorship, is here.

The fourth, regarding organizing a response, is here.

 

As I noted in my first letter, the statement banning me noted “multiple” violations of the censorship rules within the single post, though they were not detailed. One of the presumptive issues was my reliance on my faith for my ethical position. I noted that St Paul, in hist letter to the church in Galatia noted that There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.. and in his letter to the church in Rome: For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile–the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him…

And, in fact, this is a repeated theme in the gospels(1).

NAME finds this so offensive that someone who says it must be banned. Why? Does NAME really believe that we should view people differently because of their race? Perhaps. But in this instance, the problem is much deeper. It is in NAME’s structural persecution and distaste for faith and for people of faith.

1. NAME’s distaste for religious expression is based on two misconceptions, one about tolerance, and one about people.

This is based in two unfortunate streams of thought, that mix poorly.

1.1 Progressive tolerance, apparently adopted by NAME, is intolerant.

The first is the odd Progressive idea of “tolerance.” To a conservative libertarian, “tolerance” means that everybody gets to live their lives, and express their thoughts, no matter how bad their life decisions are, and no matter how stupid their expressions are, unless they are demonstrably physically damaging to others. You get to say things that I detest, I get to say things you detest, and we just deal with the fact that some people say things we don’t like.

The Progressive view is that “tolerance” means that one accepts or at least “respects” all opinions that are expressed. Note that in this mind set, “respect” means that one “respects” the idea being uttered, rather than the right to utter an idea one does not respect. Thus, two people can say two diametrically opposite things, one of which may be absolutely ludicrous, but we must nod our heads and not consider them ludicrous else we are “intolerant.”  But what about ideas that are simply too absurd for anybody to accept?  Then they must not be allowed utterance.

This kind of “tolerance” sets up a rigid set of rules of expression and thought, consisting of those thoughts that do not challenge the dominant narrative, and those that challenge the dominant narrative. The first can be expressed, because they represent “tolerant” speech. The second must be censored, and those who utter them punished, because they are “hate” speech. In fact, the first *must* be actively spoken and affirmed, because even silence can be construed as “hate.” Thus it is obligatory to say that “Black lives matter,” but it is “hate speech” to say that “all lives matter,” and anybody who says it must be silenced, lose their job, and be publicly humiliated.

While I, of course, cannot read minds, and I cannot say that the NAME leadership have embraced this Progressive form of thinking, it is clear that the rules they have put in place and the way they are enforced represents an implementation of this position.

One such set of unacceptable expression is that expressions associated with traditional Christianity.  In the following discussion, I will focus on Christianity as opposed to other faiths.  This is because I am a Christian, and while I have some experience in other faiths, I am loathe to pretend to speak for believers in them.  However, I believe the behavior of NAME and my discussion of NAME’s policies applies generally.

1.2 NAME acts as if it believes its membership is gullible and intellectually deficient

The second difference involves disrespect for “common” folk.. While conservatives believe that folk are generally competent to find the truth given all viewpoints, Progressives think that people are cannot do this and must be programmed to accept the truth. Because people are not too bright and are gullible, the only way they can be assured of making the right decision is for them to be provided only one narrative, and only one set of acceptable views.

A natural response to this is to look at the long history of authoritarian states and religious warfare that was intolerant – where people were persecuted, and killed for heresy. Absolutely. Authoritarians can poison society whether they are Progressive or so-called Christians. And many Christians, particularly in the past, have had a view of tolerance similar to that of modern Progressives.

However, that it not the case either for early Christianity (which was profoundly diverse in its beliefs before the imposition of governmental dictates for religion by the Roman government under Constantine — and is the subject of a letter by the Apostle Paul), or for the American ideal of the Founding Fathers and the Christian/theistic ideals that resulted in the Bill of Rights. It is simply inappropriate to equate the theology that brought us the Bill of Rights with the theology that brought the auto-de-fey. Progressives note that it is incorrect to equate violent “radical” Islam with Islam in general, or violent Hindus with Hinduism in general, or anybody-other-than-Christians with anybody-other-than-Christians in general.  But it is true for Christians, too. The intolerant form of Christianity is little different than modern Progressivism with its love of censorship, “cancellation,” and “deplatforming” – it simply has a different set of rules. The difference is that this kind of Christianity has been in decline for centuries, while this kind of Progressivism has been growing. By condemning this form of Christianity, Progressives also condemn themselves.

I must disagree with the NAME leadership’s apparent poor estimation of the emotional competency of its membership. I personally believe that NAME members are able to listen to differing viewpoints and come to their own conclusions. It is not necessary to protect them from badthink.

2. NAME engages in structural religious discrimination by promoting a particular religion and suppressing others.

2.1 NAME acts as if it has adopted Secular Humanism as its official religion.

NAME is, in fact, acting just like this older, intolerant form of Christianity. Instead of enforcing Christian beliefs, however, the NAME leadership, knowingly or not,  is imposing the faith of Secular Humanism.

In the discussion between theists and atheists, many theists argue that atheism, particularly evangelical atheism, is just another faith. The response by evangelical atheists is that atheism is the lack of belief, and thus cannot be considered a faith – and is thus immune to faith-directed criticism. That may or may not be true, and whether it is true in some philosophic context can be an interesting discussion. But what is certainly true is that there is a faith that is based on atheism – that of Secular Humanism. It has its own cosmology; it has its own ethics; it has its own liturgy; it has its own priests.  An excellent discussion can be seen here.

In fact, in the legal sense, Secular Humanism has been determined to be a religion in a functional, if not deep philosophical, sense. In 1961 the Supreme Court case of Torcaso v Watkins referred to Secular Humanism as a religion “which [does] not teach what would generally be considered a belief in the existence of God.” In one footnote, the Court notes “Among religions in this country which do not teach what would generally be considered a belief in the existence of God are Buddhism, Taoism, Ethical Culture, Secular Humanism, and others. “ In this footnote, the Supreme Court refers to the 1957 case of Washington Ethical Society v. District of Columbia (101 U.S. App. D.C. 371) in its holding that Secular Humanism is a non-theistic religion within the meaning of the First Amendment (which found the Washington Ethical Society met the definition of “church” or “religious society” for the purposes of tax exemption).

In 2014, a federal court in Oregon found in favor of a Secular Humanist prison inmate who wanted to hold a Secular Humanist study group and invoked the establishment clause when the prison denied the request. The court found “ that Secular Humanism is a religion for Establishment Clause purposes.” It continued “Allowing followers of other faiths to join religious group meetings while denying Holden the same privilege is discrimination on the basis of religion.” Also in 2014, the US Army added “Humanist” to its list of selectable religious affiliations. When the Army made its decision, Jason Torpy, the president of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers stated, “This is a big victory… This is one part, and the easiest part, of a very long list of other reforms that have to happen before we have equality, not just belief or no belief but theistic belief and nontheistic belief like ours.”

It is certainly possible to argue any point from a philosophical perspective, and many Secular Humanists would find it inconvenient to admit that their beliefs constitute a religion. But from a functional perspective, it acts as one. Except in one case. As one writer notes, Secular Humanism is a religion “for free exercise clause purposes,” and it is not a religion “for establishment clause purposes.” In other words, Secular Humanism is a “religion” when it comes to receiving the benefits of religion (the free exercise clause), but it is not a “religion” when it comes to having the government to force its beliefs on others (the establishment clause).

And it is this split that NAME functionally imposes on the NAME mailing list. For topics that the NAME leadership will allow us to discuss at all, any references to ethics, behavior, beliefs, morals, etc. can only be cast in Secular Humanist/Utilitarian terms. Otherwise, you will be banned. Oh, certainly, there is a small “out” in the rules, stating that it is possible to state how one’s religious belief affects specific practice, but my banning clearly makes that useless since it is enforced on the basis of whim of the Executive Committee.

2.2 Secular Humanism, as implemented by NAME is profoundly intolerant.

Worse, while it is accepted that Secular Humanism and its philosophy affects every part of our lives and decision making when it is imposed on us – either in our professional capacity or not – the NAME position refuses to accept that for those of us of faith, our faiths also affect every part of our lives and decision making. Yet, on the NAME mailing list , because people of faith must hide their faith, NAME is forcing us to recast everything in Secular Humanist terms.

This insistence that every conversation must be conducted from a Secular Humanist viewpoint represents a structural religious bigotry that NAME should abandon. Unfortunately, Secular Humanism is functionally a profoundly intolerant faith, both in terms of its intellectual foundations, and in terms of its execution.  This demand to silence religious speech is a common occurrence.

CS Lewis (and, among others, Alistair McGrath) has noted that the only necessarily intolerant religion is, in fact, atheism/secular humanism. CS Lewis notes in Mere Christianity:

If you are a Christian you do not have to believe that all the other religions are simply wrong all through. If you are an atheist you have to believe that the main point in all the religions of the whole world is simply one huge mistake. If you are a Christian, you are free to think that all these religions, even the queerest ones, contain at least some hint of the truth. When I was an atheist I had to try to persuade myself that most of the human race have always been wrong about the question that mattered to them most; when I became a Christian I was able to take a more liberal view.”

In the author referenced above, (and again linked to here), the author notes:

And finally, there is the 40-foot Bladensburg (Md.) cross, erected in 1925 with private money but on public land, to commemorate soldiers who died in World War I. Fred Edwords, a former official of the American Humanist Association, is one of the plaintiffs seeking to get the cross declared illegal. “This cross sends a message of Christian favoritism and exclusion of all others,” says Mr. Edwords. Not that anyone else is excluded from erecting their own monument. It seems to be the faith of a competitor that Fred objects to. Evidently toleration is not one of the secular humanist commandments, but Christianity as anathema is.

Pay attention to the last sentence: “toleration is not one of the secular humanist commandments, but Christianity as anathema is.” That describes the NAME position in a nutshell.

Now, of course the counterargument is that “Well if we go and let someone say ‘Merry Christmas,’ or ‘God bless,’ then we would have to let anybody say that kind of thing. What about mentioning Mohammed (PBUH), or Kali or Krishna or Buddha or even Satan? Then where would be we be?”

Well, we would be in a place where people could be open about their faith. It is possible to have rules that enforce acceptable forms of discussion without necessarily involving persecution of all faiths other than Secular Humanism. Adults can choose not to be offended by every expression they disagree with. In spite of the apparent prejudice of the NAME leadership, the ability of people of different faiths to both express their faith and interact with comity is commonly demonstrated. It is no accident that when Thomas Merton (the famous Christian mystic) wrote his book on contemplative prayer, the introduction was written by Thich Nhat Hinh, a Buddhist.

As Thich Nhat Hinh wrote:
‘Buddhists and Christians know that nirvana, or the Kingdom of God, is within their hearts. The Gospels speak of the Kingdom of God as a mustard seed planted in the soil of consciousness. Buddhist sutras speak of Buddha nature as the seen of enlightenment that is already in everyone’s consciousness. The practices of prayer and meditation help us touch the most valuable seeds that are within us, and they put us in contact with the ground of our being. Buddhists consider nirvana, or the ultimate dimension of reality, as what theologian Paul Tillich called the “ground of being”…’

2.3 The assumption by NAME that people of different faiths cannot express their faith and still work together is incorrect.

The NAME leadership apparently not only does not believe that this kind of comity is achievable, but also believes that those of us who have faith as our “ground of being” must pretend otherwise when we discuss issues on the mailing list. The idea that people of different faiths cannot both be open about their faith and engage in reasonable discourse is a Secular Humanist fiction, and an excuse for imposition of that religion above all others.

But they are wrong. Censoring and and persecuting speech of people of faith is not “tolerance,” and it does not promote “tolerance.”

One study of 788 people in the UK, France, and Spain found that atheists and agnostics think of themselves as more open-minded than those with faith, but are are actually less tolerant to differing opinions and ideas. In this study, the authors found that atheists had less self-reported dogmatism (certainty in beliefs) than believers, but in fact scored higher in measures of intolerance of contradiction and so-called “myside bias.” (Uzarevic F, Saraoglou V, Clobert M. Are atheists undogmatic? Personality and Individual Differences 2017 116:164-170)

As the abstract in another study notes:
Research adopting the ideological-conflict hypothesis indicates that low religiosity, nonbelief, and antireligious sentiments predict prejudice toward ideological opponents. How to understand this, from an individual differences perspective, given that nonbelievers are typically open-minded and low in authoritarianism? We investigated, among 422 UK adults, social distance from antiliberals (antigay activists), fundamentalists, and religionists of major world religions (Catholicism, Islam, and Buddhism). Nonbelievers showed prejudice toward all religious targets – but not toward an ethnic outgroup (Chinese). Furthermore, antireligious sentiment implied (1) valuing rationality and, in turn, social distance from fundamentalists and (2) low empathy and low belief in the benevolence of others and the world and, in turn, social distance from religionists. Finally, (3) valuing liberty predicted social distance from antiliberals but failed to mediate the effect of antireligious sentiment.

Uzarevic F, Saroglou Opponents: The role of self-expression values and other-oriented disposition. The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion. 2019 30(3): 161-177.

A more recent study has found: Results showed the nonreligious are not generally tolerant and that differences among these groups in belief superiority, feelings of distrust, and fear of contamination by unpalatable ideas all explained differences in prejudice toward Christians.
Van Cappellen P, LeBouff JP. Prejudice towards Christians and atheists among members of nonreligious groups: Attitudes, behaviors, and mechanisms. Group processes and intergroup relations. 2020 published online 5 AUG 2020 https://doi.org/10.1177/1368430220906860

The secular humanist stereotype that religious people are simple minded and ignorant, again coded into the structural bigotry of the NAME rules is not supported by the facts.

As one recent research project found:
Stereotypical views cast religious believers as closed-minded, unthinking individuals, and irreligious persons as comparatively more intellectual and complex. But are these perceptions accurate? To investigate, three studies assessed differences between religious and irreligious thinking on Integrative Complexity (IC). In Study 1, six atheist–Christian opponents were selected for IC. Findings revealed that Christians were significantly more complex than their atheist counterparts overall, but variability existed across comparisons. Study 2 examined persons writing about what matters most to them, finding that people more likely to generate religious language had significantly higher complexity. Study 3 evaluated a famous atheist-to-religious convert (C.S. Lewis) who wrote comparable materials during an irreligious and religious phase of his life. Results demonstrated that Lewis’ complexity was higher during his religious phase. Taken together, Studies 1 to 3 suggest that religious thinkers are sometimes more complex than nonreligious thinkers and vice versa—variability that sometimes goes unnoticed in public circles.

(Houck CH, Conway LG, Parrow K, et al. An integrative Complexity analysis of religious and irreligious thinking Sage Open. 2018 8:3 published online August 27, 2018 https://doi.org/10.1177%2F2158244018796302

Of course, the literature in this area is all over the place, in part because of varying definitions of “religiosity,” “prejudice,” “intolerance,” etc. Many research studies define “intolerance” so broadly as to include any negative viewpoint. Thus, they adopt the Progressive attitude that “tolerance” means “agreement,” rather than permissive disagreement. Many of these studies that find people of strong belief (either deist or atheist) are less “tolerant” often define “intolerance” as having negative opinions about other positions; they boil down to little more that “People with strong beliefs are more likely to disagree with people with opposite beliefs.” Once again, that is a peculiar definition of “intolerance.”

3) There is another option – being tolerant of diverse ethical and religious positions by allowing diverse expression of religious and positions rather than by censoring all but secular humanist expression.

I will posit that it is entirely possible of people with different religious beliefs to express both their beliefs and their ethical positions without the world falling apart. Part of being an adult, at least a non-Progressive adult, is recognizing the right of someone to express opinions and beliefs that one dies not like. The appropriate response is to engage opposing views in debate, not to censor those views and cancel or deplatform those who express them.

I strongly encourage the NAME leadership to rethink its active persecution of religious speech.

 

 

 

1) See, for instance

Acts 10:34:Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.

Again, in Romans 29 “There will be trouble and calamity for everyone who keeps on sinning—for the Jew first and also for the Gentile. But there will be glory and honor and peace from God for all who do good—for the Jew first and also for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism”

James 2:9 But if you have respect to persons, you commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.

And 1 Corinthians 1:24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

Romans 3:9 What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin;

1 Cor 12:3: For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

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