Max wrote:In my experience, skeptics often avoid religious skepticism because religion is openly faith-based. Skeptics therefore usually prefer to focus on pseudo-scientific claims.
There was no traumatic event.
When I became involved with CSICOP in the late '80s, it was possible to have a religious studies person like Gordon Melton present at a conference, talking about the similarities between the rise of newage (rhymes with sewage) and previous religious revival movements. The only religious targets were faith healers (who were getting rich by perpetrating health fraud -- fair game) and the Shroud of Turin (essentially archaeological fraud).
By the early '90s, CSICOP seemed to have become a militant secular humanist group. Advertising in the Skeptical Inquirer and books from Prometheus Press started to be oriented towards attacking religion. One was made to feel like being religious was akin to being a devotee of the Maharishi. My best skeptical friends at the time were liberal Christians who found the skeptical community a chilly place to be. These weren't people who were into belief or a personal relationship with God, yet they felt that religious people were unwelcome in the community. And I, as a liberal Jew, fond of matza balls and wearing trainers on Yom Kippur, felt rather the same.
This is not purely a CSICOP or purely a North American issue. In recently participating in skeptical forums on the Internet I've found that there is an insensitivity to personal religious commitment, and a jumbling-together of all religion, evangelical, liberal and otherwise, into a grand stereotype.
One thing which I find especially interesting (and which I think would be worth an article or a paper) is the fact that skeptics demand a high standard of science from scientists (or those who claim scientific credentials), but are willing to talk through their hats on humanities issues. The pub discussion on the Noahide flood was a case in point: many of the participants were obviously working with very little knowledge of the Bible and Biblical scholarship, but talking as though their brief excursions into the Bible and pro-flood web sites made them experts. To me, as an historian with a strong background in biblical studies at the university level, this is about as laughable as the web sites which support a "literal interpretation" of the Bible while supporting their arguments with bad science and an obvious reliance on translations of the Bible rather than original texts.
I don't think that religion ought to be a cloak which blocks all skeptical scrutiny. It can be difficult to say why someone claiming to heal disease through God's power is fair game, while someone claiming to save souls ought to be left alone; or why the Shroud of Turin is fair game for scientific analysis while the Exodus from Egypt requires a different approach; yet these distinctions are useful to skeptics who need to work in an environment in which many religious people are themselves skeptics and useful allies.