Militant Moderation

I recently had a “debate” with atheist activist Aron Ra. Aron is known for his sharp attacks on Christian apologists, as well as for being a staunch and highly educated defender of evolution. We first met two years ago, when he invited me for an interview on his YouTube channel, and we ended up having a pleasant and polite conversation (not, however, entirely lacking in disagreements).

The discussion we had a week ago was similar in tone. One reason Aron and I seem to get along, despite his fervent ant- theism, is mutual respect. He respects me for my scientific credentials and for my willingness to actively witness for the reality of evolution, including engaging in debates with well-known young-earth creationists. I respect him for his intelligence and the depth and breadth of his biological knowledge (especially in phylogenetics and cladistics).

At the very end of the discussion, just before the Q&A, Aron said (in response to my statement that I am not an apologist and not trying to convert atheists):

“One of the problems we have now in the US is we are so polarized. When you and I were young, the common man knew you have to be a fool to reject science. Science is real. But everybody also had this notion that they go somewhere when they die. And the atheists and the creationists were both on very far extremes. But now we have this polarized society where that middle-of-the-road guy, the person who holds both perspectives (science and faith) is almost absent. People are walking away from religion, and others are walking away from science. I would rather go back to that time than what we have now.”

I said I was in complete agreement, we thanked each other for the discussion, and we went to the questions.

I am very happy about that debate/discussion, not because I won or I convinced anyone that my position was correct, but because I feel that it could stand as a model for how to discuss things with someone you don’t agree with. And yes, as Aron and I proved, it’s possible to do so. One wouldn’t think it could be, listening to our President and his political opponents. (I don’t mean to imply that the two sides here equal).

Polarization is probably an understatement. In religion, in politics, in matters of sexuality and identity, people (especially people online) are ready to demolish, destroy, defame, denigrate, and otherwise attack those with whom they disagree.

I consider myself to be a militant moderate. This doesn’t mean that I tolerate actual fascists, racists, communists or radical crazies of any stripe. Buy unlike a good number of younger folk, I have had real life experiences with all of those, and I know how bad they are, and how dangerous they are for our society. But if we treat everyone who holds a different perspective than we do on the important issues of life and society as a pariah, we will continue to slide toward mutual hatred, and possibly violence.

We have already been there. In the late 1960s, the political divide over the war in Vietnam and Civil Rights was more contentious and violent that the current situation. It was exhausting and frightening. In one demonstration, a brick thrown by a construction worker narrowly missed me (it would have killed me). At Columbia University, I saw a cop beat a student bloody while smiling and cursing. And there were always those brave souls who threw bottles and stones at the cops from the safe back of the crowd. A lot of people were killed in the civil strife of those times.

What counts is our mutual humanity. All of us humans are one family, and it’s time to stop this incessant hatred. We can disagree, we can argue, we can vote for different people, we can worship different Gods or no god, but we cannot forget the universal truth taught by all religions – all people are our brethren. Learn to live with them, and perhaps even love them. It’s worth it.


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5 Responses to Militant Moderation

  1. dgilmanjm says:

    An atheist I often debate with sent me the link to that interview (I quote you to him very often). I agree; that is how persons with opposing beliefs should behave.

  2. I’d not heard of Aron Ra before. But it was really nice to see a dignified exchange actually worth the time and attention. Agreed regarding your fourth paragraph. Regardless, well thought-out perspectives needn’t resort to shouting and fist-waving to make them more convincing.
    Good cheer to you!

  3. SheilaDeeth says:

    I too would love to go back. Disagreement makes us think. Polarization “frees” us to throw stones instead.

  4. sallyhawksworth says:

    I am a member of a large and lively Humanist group, where we have a range of regular activities, including meetings with outside speakers twice a month, and short talks from members, group walks, pub get togethers, and choir rehearsals. For the last three years some of us of us have conducted monthly dialogue meetings with a number of Christians, and lately made an effort to attract Jews, Muslims and members of other faiths as well. The dialogue group is run by a small subset of volunteers, with as equal participation as we can manage. Our stated aims make it very clear that we seek to understand and respect one another’s views, not try to win an argument, and the meetings are conducted in an atmosphere of friendliness and courtesy. As a result, several Christians with more fundamentalist views than most have confided that before they joined the group they had been very nervous of mixing with or discussing anything with self declared nonBelievers, fearing that they would suffer verbal aggression and hostility, and how pleasantly surprised they had been by the reality.

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