Sunday, June 15, 2014

Sometimes Advice Columnists Fabricate

I occasionally read the Religious News Service based Christian advice columnist Martin Elfert. He has always come across as a friendly well intentioned, if rather ignorant, guy. A recent column made me question his sincerity for the first time. The title of his Father Knows Best best post, "Can I regain my faith after becoming an atheist?", seemed a little odd but not completely dubious. It is not unheard for individuals to mistakenly identify themselves as atheist when the are in fact believers who don't have a specific religious affiliation (the bogus Spiritual vs Religious). However, the content itself implied that this instance went beyond such common misunderstandings.

The opening call for advice reads:

"Hey Rev!

I have been practicing science for a very long time and over the years have become an incorrigible atheist. I simply cannot let go of my deep-seated need for evidence, and to employ the best logic and reasoning skills I can muster, regardless of the circumstance. Certainly, I understand that I do not, or cannot, know or understand everything but that never keeps me from trying. Do you think I could ever regain faith and, if so, how?"

There were a number of red flags that went up as I read this initial part. I'm not sure why an atheist would refer to themselves as incorrigible. It implies bad behavior rather than doubts about your own beliefs. Most atheists I've come across are very familiar with the old bullshit view that atheists can't be ethical or moral just because they are atheists. This one term seems to be a gentler way to inject that bit of prejudice. It also seems odd to me that someone so concerned with evidence and critical thinking would worry about faith at all. Why would someone "practicing science" seek the advice of a theologian rather than another scholar with evidence based knowledge of religion, like a subset of psychology, anthropology, or sociology?

I find this person's claim to be an atheist very suspicious and way to convenient. Elfert's advice is also not that great. He never even bothers to ask about why the "atheist" is so concerned or how he came to be an atheist. His advice is just as likely to cause further confusion as resolve any doubts. Of course, this assumes that doubts are a bad thing from the start. That's highly debatable. Then the premise of his advice about regaining faith,"practice", can be interpreted by "the best logic and reasoning skills" as being a matter of self deceit and delusion. Is that really a solution?

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