Tuesday, January 28, 2014
My recent lecture to the Stanislaus Humanists in Manteca, CA on Jan. 15 has caused some controversy locally. See some of the heated letters to the editor here:
www.mantecabulletin.com under the Opinion section.
In response, I wrote this letter to the editor of the paper. Let's hope they publish it and I get an opportunity to talk to some of that local church groups. The pastor of the church that demonstrated that night has declined my offer.
My name is Matt McCormick. I am the professor who gave the lecture to the Stanislaus Humanist group at the Manteca Library on January 15.
I’d like to thank the Stanislaus Humanists for inviting me to speak. And I’d like to thank all of the people from Manteca who came out either to hear me speak, or to participate in the events outside the building that night.
My lecture has stirred up quite a bit of controversy. I’d like to present a few thoughts on what I take to be a fundamental issue, and I’d like to make an offer to any churches or other groups in Manteca.
The most fundamental requirement for a successful democracy, and for human prosperity and happiness, is for individuals to, first, be informed with the full range of relevant ideas, particularly concerning important decisions, and, second, for them to have the critical thinking skills to be able to reason clearly, accurately, and reliably about that body of information.
In religious organizations, to a greater or lesser extent depending on the tradition, the social model is fundamentally authoritarian; the clergy lead, they shepherd, they give their congregations the answers, they enforce belief conformity, they exclude dissenters, they exclude contrary ideas, they discourage doubts, and they discourage independent thinking. Much of this was evident in the dangerous rhetoric in response to my coming to speak in Manteca. Many of the comments and reactions before, during and after have been dangerous, combative, and confrontational. One pastor, praying about my lecture before I came to town said, “We drive back any atheist movement right now in the name of Jesus. . . We must repel the demonic attack on our city," and he prayed, "God, cause a storm to happen or something [on Wednesday night]." Another pastor said that I was an "evangelical atheist," and "they're going to try to put up billboards, they're going to try to do other things to convince people that God is not real. . . And, as far as I'm concerned, this is our house. This is our house. This is our city."
The social model for a liberal arts education at a university like where I am a professor is fundamentally democratic; my job is to encourage people to actively consider contrary ideas, think for themselves, make their own decisions, be independent, to not blindly trust authority, and to not be manipulated by emotional ploys or rhetoric. Our goal is to get people to reason well. We are neutral with regard to the outcome of that reasoning process; people should be free to draw whatever conclusion they deem to be best supported by sound reasoning and the evidence. Creating atheists is not my goal; I would rather people become thoughtful, rational, well-informed believers in God than have them be dogmatic and irrational.
Many pastors, preachers, priests, and other clergy are dedicated to keeping you believing no matter what the evidence is. And they wittingly or unwittingly use a variety of methods to do it that are at odds with your being an independent, informed, and effective critical thinker. Some of them and some of their methods encourage ignorance, superstition, intolerance, irrationality, and narrow-mindedness. We should all be deeply concerned about clergy who would capitalize on the ignorance of people who don't have the critical thinking skills or the information to know any better, to keep them from making thoughtful, informed, reasonable decisions for themselves.
So with all of that in mind, I’d like to make an offer. I would like to come and speak to any church or group in the Manteca area who would host me, and present some of my questions and doubts about the resurrection of Jesus. People should have free access to information, including viewpoints that may seem outrageous or offensive, and they should be able to develop informed, reasonable conclusions about matters of great importance on the basis of the full body of relevant information. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted by Matt McCormick at 12:29 PM