(this is a repost from a blog post circa 2009)
Rachel Maddow recently interviewed one Mr. Frank Schaeffer, a self-proclaimed Christian moderate, who proceeded to rail against the ignorance and stupidity of Christian fundamentalists. While I found myself generally agreeing with this gentleman's statements, I found the diatribe to be rather odd. To be specific, it wasn't that what was said was odd, but rather that it was odd to be coming from a gentleman who admittedly holds irrational beliefs himself.
Here's Mr. Schaeffer's argument, as best as I can tell. Christian fundamentalists (CFs) hold obviously silly beliefs, such as that the Earth is 6000 years old, that dinosaurs roamed the Earth with humans, and that there was a man Noah that managed to pack two of every creature on the face of the Earth into an ark. Mr. Schaeffer therefore concludes (correctly) that CFs are just plain ignorant, and almost explicitly asserts that it is willful ignorance. As such, the CFs are just plain nuts. Cuckoo.
Here's the problem: Indeed, the CFs hold a whole host of irrational beliefs. Let's denote the entire set of irrational beliefs held by CFs to be X. Now, the more moderate Christians (MCs), Mr. Schaeffer being one, also obviously hold irrational beliefs, such as the reanimation of the dead and other assorted miracles. Lets call this set of irrational beliefs Y. It's probably safe to say that the number of elements in X are greater than Y. Furthermore, it is definitely safe to say that the intersection of X and Y is not an empty set. So, Mr. Schaeffer's argument against CFs really boils down to the following: CFs are nuts, because there are elements in the set X that are not part of his irrational belief system Y, and furthermore, the CFs hold a greater number of irrational beliefs than he. Or more simply, "If you think I'm cuckoo, have a look at that guy!"
Now, to someone that holds as close to zero irrational beliefs as humanly possible (or strives to anyway), this is absurd. As far as I'm concerned, both the CFs and the MCs are cuckoo. This is not a numbers game where the level of insanity is determined by simply adding up the total number of elements in sets of irrational beliefs. "You believe in pink and blue unicorns, whereas I only believe in the pink. You sir, therefore, are nuts." is not exactly a sound logical argument.
In fact, Mr. Schaeffer misses the mark completely. The danger is that anyone with irrational beliefs can act upon them; that is, their actions may be guided or justified by such irrational beliefs. It is not the number of irrational beliefs that matter. The holder of one single irrational belief can be just as dangerous, or even more dangerous, than those who hold many, if such a person acts upon that belief. You sadly see this behavior much too frequently, for example, from parents who murder their children after claiming that they or their children were possessed by the devil (or some similar irrational rationalization). Don't even get me started about the Pope, who believes in some ridiculous soul-sperm-ovum-person-thingy that has killed numerous thousands through lack of condom use. It only takes one irrational belief.
I contend that CFs are dangerous, not because X > Y, or that certain elements of X are more irrational than Y (as if something irrational could be more irrational than something else!). No, it's that CFs are determined to impose their irrational belief system X upon those who believe Y, and especially upon those, like me, that hold an empty set of irrational beliefs. While MCs may be relatively benign now, there is a latent potential for danger. All irrational beliefs are potentially dangerous. One irrational nut calling another irrational nut insane is certainly accurate, but it is not self consistent. Both are nuts.
So, to Mr. Schaeffer I say, "You're right, the fundamentalists are cuckoo. And so are you."