But I also reject clannish mentalities. Just as the fact that I'm Catholic doesn't mean I can't find common ground with many protestants, jews and otherwise, the fact that I'm conservative doesn't mean I don't try to find common ground with liberals. I can't prove this to anyone - I can point at some past conversations here and there where I talked with liberals and kept cool, just as I can point at many friendly atheist conversations - but it's never going to be beyond dispute. All I can tell you is that I have - for many years now - tried to find common ground. I've tried to keep in mind that the socialist-inclined person may well be acting out of a sincere concern for the poor, and if they are Christian, this may ultimately be rooted in their faith. I've tried to keep ultimately benevolent motivations in mind for everything from the agitation for gay marriage to the demands to grant mass amnesty to illegal immigrants to otherwise. This has been a point of pride for me, I will say outright - instead of going right to the conservative or, God forbid, GOP clan behavior, I try to remain calm and cool. I do not want, especially among Christians, yet another bit of pointless fracturing.
I am fast starting to come around to the view, however, that this approach - indeed, this mentality - is flawed. No, more than just flawed. I'm beginning to think that it's counter-productive, pointlessly idyllic, and ultimately dangerous to regard any self-described "progressive" as anything but, intellectually, a hostile individual.
Pardon me if this post is more about my own experiences and psychology than the broad topics I normally deal with, even if flippantly, but I feel it must be said.
I wrote recently about the worry I have with "progressive" Christians: that the only reason they even stand in opposition to the New Atheists is because the Cultists of Gnu are openly hostile to them, and that this is actually a relatively recent intellectual development. Prior to the New Atheists, atheists and "progressive" Christians were, more often than not, social and political allies. They both favored very liberal cultures. They both despised conservative culture and politics, and wanted them wiped out. They voted the same way, thought the same way about many issues, and even rejected much of the same religion. The only reason they are not working hand in hand anymore is because the atheists have gotten aggressive and decided they don't need the "progressives" anymore, and that it's a net liability to work with them. You can see this in Richard Dawkins' own writings, among others.
Now, I've thought about this for a while - but I classified it merely as a worry, intellectually. A possibility, something to pay attention to but which I wasn't quite willing to invest myself in as accepting as true. But I've finally been forced to realize... in each and every situation where I have encountered a self-identified "progressive" - not necessarily a "liberal" (which is fast becoming a word for a certain kind of older generation of thinker), but a "progressive" - I have found a person who was keenly interested in building bridges with atheists, and wiping conservatives off the map. I don't merely mean disagreeing with social conservatives and arguing against them. I mean thinking up ways to pass laws to make it, quite literally, in practice illegal to even have (particularly socially) conservative beliefs, much less to act on or spread them.
I have seen the "progressives" defend laws that force Christians to take part in gay weddings - knowing full well that these Christians will be targeted by activists and forced to compromise their principles. They do it with glee, smiling happily and feeling all warm at the thought that somewhere out there a person who disapproves of gay marriage is going to have their feet put to the fire, and that if they don't do as they're fucking told, the government will step in and punish them severely. I see these "progressives" cheering when someone is fired from their job when they're outed as having supported Proposition 8 in California, or if they disapprove of gay marriage. I do not consider these minor issues. These are situations where government - the men with guns and the power to take your property, your children, your livelihood - are being used as the tool of choice to advance a political agenda that ultimately comes down to requiring people to give their active blessing to any and all sexual acts deemed 'good' by the morality police. The "progressive" Christians know this. They embrace it. They say "Civil Rights!" and that's all that needs to be said, as far as they're concerned, no matter how goddamn inane it is to try and extend civil rights to a sexual act.
And before someone says "not every "progressive" Christian is like that", all I'll say is - if there are ones who oppose such things, they are apparently so small in number as to be considered functionally irrelevant.
That's only the tip of the iceberg on the broad political front. The problem is, the personal front has not been any better - the "progressive" Christians I've met and interacted with. I documented my exchange with James McGrath, where he tried every which-way to justify his little hate campaign, complete with fellow "progressive" allies. I've watched "progressive" Christians I know of pipe up in conversations about gay marriage, subtly presenting themselves as opponents of gay marriage but whimpering that 'we're losing the younger generation by pushing this' and how we should temporarily be quiet about it 'so we can save more souls', when the reality was they were lockstep in favor of gay marriage and were just doing their part to encourage dissent (and in this case I knew, because I saw them argue as much elsewhere). In each and every encounter I've had with a "progressive" Christian, I have ultimately lost respect for them - not because they differ with me on various issues, but because of their tactics of choice, because of their focus. It became obvious to me that if they had to choose between a fellow Christian becoming an atheist who was in favor of liberal politics, or remaining a Christian with conservative leanings, they would push for atheism every time. And before anyone acts offended that I would infer this about them, now's a good time to mention I really don't give a shit who's offended by this. It's the impression I've gotten, and I'm speaking frankly.
But I think the last straw for me - the final blow - was when I went to Lothar's blog recently, and read the following:
I agree with anti-theist Richard Dawkins that stressing this to small kids is a form of child abuse and that this damnable doctrine ought to be jettisoned.I want to stress something here. When Lothar embraces this kind of anti-scientific, unfounded (save for a very interesting case of philosophical and metaphysical commitment) view, he is saying something along the lines of the following: Take a parent who teaches their children that some people are sent to hell for eternity. Put them alongside a father who fingered his son's anus, and a mother who punched her daughter so hard she knocked a tooth out. These three people are all, in a broad sense, guilty of the same general crime, and should be treated accordingly.
Let me highlight this point: if someone claims that teaching a child about hell is child abuse, they have been put in the following dilemma: they must either believe some forms of child abuse should be legal, or they must believe that children with parents who teach them this belief should be punished and have their children taken away from them by the state. The fact of it is, it's not a fucking minor point, nor is it a game. To make that commitment - to decide that your personal preference about religious doctrine should be enforced by the arm of the state - is not just a bridge too far. It is a country too far. And, I will note, this kind of "progressive" Christian talk never gets directed at atheists. Show me the "progressive" who believes that teaching children naturalist or atheist beliefs about death and even existence - and these are not 'pretty' or 'encouraging' things - constitutes child abuse. They are nowhere to be found.
I do not say this lightly. I've liked Lothar. He's interacted with me pleasantly, considerately. He has done me, personally, no wrong. But I can't turn a blind eye to this sort of thing anymore and convince myself that we are in any real sense on the 'same side'. I'm tired of watching the New Atheists, a collection of people which included actual marxists and certainly very loud left-wingers, being cast as 'a right-wing hate group'. I am tired of watching 'conservative' evangelicals come in for a repeated beating as the people who are somehow doing the most the harm Christianity, when the fact is that if someone ever tries to persuade you that Christianity is true then 9 out of 10 times it's probably a conservative, because "progressives" largely think belief in Christianity is near-irrelevant anyway and would find such preaching mortally embarrassing. I am tired of watching the agitation for every sect of Christianity in the world to quickly start ordaining women because it's just so damn important and no dissent is ever to be tolerated on that issue either. I am tired of every passage in the bible that involves God saying or doing something a "progressive" does not automatically approve of being jettisoned with the 'well the bible isn't inerrant so we'll just interpret God as meaning something else' line - and treating dissent or disagreement on this topic as itself damnable. I am tired of the mental gymnastics where the only real and clear sins someone can engage in are to believe the earth is young, to vote against universal health care, or to oppose gay marriage, feminism, global warming initiatives or whatever else is trendiest this week.
But most of all, I am tired of trying to ignore the fact that in practically every one of these cases, the "progressives" are not only venomously hostile to dissent, but they openly agitate for their opponents to be squelched, crushed, persecuted, fined and even jailed. And I'm tired of having to pretend that such people are not, put simply, monsters.
This is not specific to Lothar. It is, in my personal experience, near universal among "progressives", Christian or not. But I will say one thing. Lothar has written critically about France's historical attempts to purge the german language from their country, in the interests of having a nice, unified french-speaking nation. He has called this cultural genocide. But the fact is, cultural genocide is exactly what he ultimately endorses with regards to conservative Christians, more or less across the board. I say it with a heavy heart - it is hard to criticize someone who has been consistently considerate with me like this. But the idea of having common ground with "progressives" now truly appears to me as little more than the grounds for a work of fiction, one that is particularly fantastical - and it was that hope for common ground that drove a lot of my silence and hesitancy previously. The hope is gone.
So, I suppose, this little blog post in the middle of nowhere can stand as a testimonial on behalf of one broadly conservative, Catholic individual. If you are a Christian conservative who has thought that maybe a shared belief in God or Christ can build some bridges between conservative and progressive Christians, take it from someone who has talked with a number of them, watched them, and thought about this for years: they do not want cooperation. They want you, and anyone who thinks like you, converted or pushed to the absolute margins of society. They would sooner have you be a "progressive" atheist than a conservative Christian if the option were available. They are engaged in a war of cultural genocide against you, and they are not above carrying this war out through any means necessary, from having you fired to making it illegal to even raise your children with your values and beliefs in mind.