I largely agree with Sam Harris that religious moderation 1) gives cover to fundamentalism by arguing that people's religious beliefs should be respected regardless of evidence, 2) is intellectually bankrupt in that the justification it gives for holding beliefs about objective reality is the comfort or meaning those beliefs provide, and 3) is scripturally bankrupt in that religious moderates pick the parts of their traditions that they like and simply ignore those parts that they don't.1 If you're going to pick and choose your beliefs based on something other than what your given religious texts says, why be a Christian, for example, at all? Why not just be an individual and study the Bible the way you study the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita, the Iliad, the various Buddhist writings, world literature, the philosophical works from every age and culture, etc? Why limit yourself? And perhaps more importantly, why distinguish yourself from the rest of humanity in this manner?
Tobin discusses a danger in liberal Christianity:
"Indirectly however liberals do cause harm-by providing the main raw material, lukewarm Christians, as potential converts for fundamentalist churches. In his book The Mind of the Bible Believer, psychologist and ex-fundamentalist, Edmond Cohen, mentioned the 'bait and switch' method of these conversions. By firstly presenting a benign persona of the Bible, using the word 'love' a lot, fundamentalist Churches are able to attract lukewarm believers who are already predisposed to believe in this. Once they are 'in' of course, the 'sugar coating' disappears. This is what Dr. Cohen remarked about the role of the liberal churches here:
(Cohen, The Mind of the Bible Believer: p171.)"
It seems to me that religious moderation is doomed to failure, since it doesn't have a strong ideological base. Perhaps such liberal groups will one day become secular humanitarian organizations with no unique ideology at all-Christian, for example, in name only. If liberal groups come to speak out more loudly and clearly against fundamentalism, however, they may prove to be powerful allies against it. It certainly seems to me that certain segments of the population are probably more likely to be persuaded to oppose fundamentalism by a Chris Hedges or a John Shelby Spong than a Sam Harris or a Richard Dawkins. And while the tolerance provided faith by moderates may give shelter to fundamentalism, it's not necessarily the case that religious moderates themselves do. Because it seems to me that religious moderates do criticize fundamentalists-for their obsession with tradition, their anti-intellectualism, and their categorical intolerance of other worldviews. If they can get more organized around and clear about their opposition to fundamentalism, which would be in their own interest to do, I would welcome them as good bedfellows. All religious groups do provide a source of fellowship and community, and I can appreciate this. But can either religious fundamentalism or religious moderation fly in the long run? I doubt it.
1 This is from a fantastic speech that Harris gave at the 2005 Idea City conference in Canada:
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