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Finding Faith in Faith

This blog is dedicated to exploring the intersections of faith and politics, the intricacies of religious culture and the struggle to balance devotion to a higher being and to one’s culture.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Fundamental Errors

I have insomnia, and so I see a lot of strange television. You know, the kinds that you can’t imagine anyone tuning into on purpose.

Early Sunday morning, I saw a broadcast of the Coral Ridge ministries, The Corral Ridge Hour. The program contained a sermon by one Dr. James Kennedy, an immensely popular Presbyterian minister who has apparently become one of the latest evangelical media stars.

Dr. Kennedy stood in front of his congregation, clothed in the bright blue doctoral robes framed by the scarlet hood of a theological doctorate, lecturing from a regal pulpit. As he delivered his words with measured passion, his figure cut a striking flurry of colorful activity against the drab surroundings.

“Man is in a state of decay,” Dr. Kennedy thundered. In the following 40 minutes or so, the speaker attacked the “evils” of atheism (which he somehow connected to secular humanism, even using the terms interchangeably) and its effect on society.

Dr. Kennedy described the popular backlash against atheism in the U.S. (however, not having provided any dates, I wondered what moment in our history he was actually describing) and claimed that secular humanism was the repackaged “politically correct” atheism and that the two movements were really one and the same.

This was the point that grabbed me, for I know people who are atheists and definitely NOT secular humanists. Atheists simply do not believe in the existence of a divine being. Secular humanists are optimistic believers in the transcendent nature of the human condition: that we as a race will rise to new ideals as a matter of social evolution, for man has within himself the power to overcome all of his shortcomings.

To make this distinction a bit clearer, it may help to understand that most (but not all) secular humanists are atheists, but only a small proportion of atheists are secular humanists. Many atheists cannot find secular humanism to be a valid expression of their beliefs because they believe that human nature is fundamentally evil and twisted, which makes seeing the human ideal as a positive force a true impossibility.

This error of associating the category of unbelief with the subcategory of one group who tends not to believe is quite common, though one might expect someone with a doctorate (whether of philosophy or divinity) to understand the distinction. Nevertheless, my curiosity was aroused and I sat to listen to the good doctor’s words.

But if the indistinct generalization of others was going to irritate me, the remainder of the sermon was destined to send me alternatively into feelings of outrage and giggles of incredulity.

As Dr. Kennedy continued his assault on the evils of secular humanism, he described the movement as an “erroneous idea” that has led to the rise of Nazism, fascism, communism and had contributed to “more deaths than all of history’s wars.” After leading to the Enlightenment (a negative achievement, it seems), Dr. Kennedy attributes this movement led to the outbreak of World War I, World War II, the rise of Adolph Hitler, the outbreak of the Cold War and finally, Saddam Hussein’s torture chambers.

As I listened to these words, I was amazed at the spectacle of a man – clothed in the symbolic clothing of the Enlightenment, when Western society combined the priestly robes of teachers to the ideals of knowledge and discovery – condemned the philosophy behind that age. And as he stood surrounded by neo-classical architecture, I wondered if he had ever paused to consider the ironic figure he struck.

I doubt it, for the pastor continued his assault on public education and politics by presented a tortured and mangles review of world history. He quoted and critiqued without context a snippet of H. J. Blackham: “"The most drastic objection to humanism is that it is too bad to be true.” He next turned to the nation’s media, presenting a packaged promotion of Bernard Goldberg’s book Bias : A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News.

As I sat, not knowing where to begin to cope with the “erroneous ideas” Dr. Kennedy was assembling, I decided that I needed to write a more thoughtful critique, for my own peace of mind. I decided to isolate my thoughts to three mains sections: Kennedy’s tortured view of history, the misquote and the Goldberg segment.

I am compiling my notes on these segments and will be posting my critique of these areas in my next few posts.

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