I don't know how many of you have seen this, but it's done a very good job of setting my teeth on edge. A brief summary, for people too lazy to click on links: A community college professor, teaching a course on western civilization, told his class not to interpret the Bible literally. Students complained, threatened legal action, and he was subsequently fired. The college claims that the incident is not the cause of his firing, but has yet to give any sort of alternative explanation, and the professor himself cannot come up with another possible explanation.
Mind you, he didn't say Christianity was invalid. In fact, he thinks there's a lot of interesting symbolic meaning in many Old Testament stories, which is why he used them in his class. All he did was say that it shouldn't be interpreted literally. Which they shouldn't - obviously, I don't think there's any truth to them whatsoever, but I'm afraid that if you actually believe in a literal Adam and Eve, you're actively deluding yourself in a fairly extreme way. And yet, because of the absolutely ridiculous amount of 'respect' we give religious people in this country, he was fired. What's next, a science professor getting fired because he tells students "No, actually, the earth is not 6000 years old"?
Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, Myers - they've all talked at length about this, and it's a huge problem. As long as people put it under the guise of their religion, we're not supposed to criticize it, lest they get offended. Some guy resurrected himself two thousand years ago? Some other guy ascended to heaven on a winged horse? Six thousand years ago, a talking snake caused us to be kicked out of a perfect garden somewhere in the Middle East? Sure, it's your religion, no matter how blatantly ludicrous it sounds!
On the other hand, if you make a perfectly reasonable sounding statement such as 'the size of our national debt is a problem', and you open yourself up to a massive amount of criticism, some of it quite vicious. And this is as it should be. We're adults. We live in a world where, I'm afraid to say, truth is more important than feelings. And healthy arguments can and should be encouraged - if your point of view can't stand up to heavy scrutiny, then you should probably change your mind. I'm reminded of a story - I think it was from Richard Dawkins - of a professor who went to a talk at which one of his pet theories was absolutely and conclusively disproved. At the end of the talk, he went up to the speaker, shook his hand, and said something along the lines of "I wish to thank you, sir! I have been wrong all these years!"
I think this story demonstrates exactly the level of discourse that we, as a society and a species, should aspire to. State your opinions loudly, defend them just as loudly, and when you've been proven wrong, admit it and change your mind.
Sure, it's very hard to do, especially in areas where the facts aren't as conclusive as they often are in science - but it can be done, and the mealy-mouthed 'respect' we give religion runs exactly counter to this ideal.
First, let's look at what the religious people are saying every time they play the 'disrespected' or 'offended' card. They're saying, effectively, that they're not willing to hear someone say that their beliefs are wrong. They're not willing to engage in any sort of dialog about it - they simply refuse, to the point of legal action (in the case of the article that prompted this entry) or violence (in the case of far too many incidents involving Islam) to hear it. And we've built such a shield around religion that the initial response of many otherwise reasonable people is to say "Oh, we're so sorry that you have to hear that" and go and condemn the people who said it - even if they're being threatened with legal action or death (think Rushdie), which is, in my book, a lot worse than being 'offended'.
Again, we are supposedly adults. We live in a world where just wishing things to be true does not make them so. And it is absurd - patently, blatantly absurd - that on this topic, and this topic only, we're not even allowed to say 'you're wrong' without people getting all up in a huff about it. If their beliefs can't stand up to that - if they feel so terribly offended that they feel the need to lash out rather than defend their views - they shouldn't hold them in the first place. And they shouldn't depend on the rest of us to protect them from the inadequacy of their own beliefs.
So shame on the students who threatened legal action over the fact that their western civilization teacher told them to interpret a book in a symbolic manner - a book no different from any other, except that certain people have a disproportional reverence for it. And shame on the administration, for bending over backwards to accommodate one of modern society's stupidest and most flawed conventions.