Friday, December 21, 2007

Religion, moderate or extremist?

Recently at a presentation by the Washington Area Secular Humanists, the speaker was Don Evans, who spoke on the topic of whether religious moderation is as harmful as religious extremism.  Here's an article by him on the same topic.  Fortunately for me, he took the side that religious moderation is okay.  That's good, because I participate in an organized religion and consider myself moderate.
But okay, so what's moderate?  When we look at somebody else's religion, for instance Islam, from the outside, it's easy to decide that moderate Muslims, including all of the dozen or so Muslims that I know personally, are the ones who use their religious practice to form a fellowship, and do not expect anybody else to agree literally with their theology.
Why, then, can we not apply the same standard to our own religion?  Here's an essay by John Shelby Spong, whom I consider to be a religious moderate.  But within the Episcopal church, Spong is considered to be somewhere out on the fringe.  We simply can't accept the idea that belief in the literal truth of the Nicene Creed is actually an extremist view.
In other words, the Episcopal church, one of the most progressively moderate of all denominations, is still about 80% extremist.
I won't bother to go very far into most other denominations because I really don't know what's happening within them, but perhaps the Roman Catholic church should be addressed.  From its inception in 325 AD, the Roman Catholic church has been the most extremist of all denominations, in fact, they even excommunicated Bishop Arius for trying to introduce a few slight shreds of moderation.  In modern times, Pope Benedict XVI has gone to extremes to reaffirm the extremist position and squelch the few small voices calling for moderation.
However, there's one area in which the Roman Catholic church, at least in the United States, has slipped out of extremist control in recent years, and that's in their parochial schools.
Back in the 1950's and 1960's, children entering public high schools from Roman Catholic parochial schools had a tough time of it.  They were several years behind, and had a tough time catching up.  People entering college from Roman Catholic high schools had it even worse.  They had been so steeped in theological doctrine that the very concept of rational thought was total culture shock.
Since then, that situation has changed drastically.  Recent graduates of the Roman Catholic parochial school system now actually have a significant edge over most public high school graduates when they enter college.  Obviously, the proponents of moderation and rational thought have somehow intruded into their school system.
In church, I try to stay out of crybaby contests with the many extremists among my fellow congregation members.  That would just damage the fellowship that I believe to be the fundamental purpose of religion.  I believe that making decisions according to rational thought gets things done, and if others don't have time for rational thought because they're too busy trying to use theological magic, they're the losers.