Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christopher Hitchens Dies

"Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding." - Proverbs 18:27

Christopher Hitchens, leader of the "new atheists" died this past week, and I have to admit my reaction was less than stellar.  I think I said something like, "Well I wonder what he thinks of his atheism now?"  Ugly.

The man is dead.  He now has to face the consequence of judgement.  I deserve judgement too.  I don't deserve the eternal life I have.

There was a part of me that was saddened by the loss.  A better part that saw the intellect, the impact and the keen pursuit of truth (albeit having gone in the wrong direction) that had made him a force to be reckoned with in academia.

Of course I'd never sat down and read anything he'd written ("so typical Philip"), but I had read stuff about him and had heard he made more sense than Richard Dawkins (which doesn't seem to be hard to do).  So I've been doing some YouTube searches this morning and listened to a few of his arguments and debates.

(OK, I watched this video after I wrote this post, and now I'm even more deeply saddened that he's gone.)

I guys like him and the "new atheists" for two reasons:  First, they are very passionate about faith.  Albeit they are passionate about not having any faith.  But their very passion,curiosity and intellectual curiosity remind me of their Creator.  Second, they are underdogs.  Now I'm not sure this is the case, but they consistently paint themselves as individuals who are persecuted for not having faith.  Perhaps...

As I read the verse above, I was struck by the biblical view of being cool.  Having a cool spirit, one who "restrains his words has knowledge".  How often have I been duped into arguments with atheists, or people with different opinions and have furiously argued my point without ever realizing that what I'm searching for is not truth or knowledge but being right and being better.

As Christopher Hitchens has now found out that he is tragically wrong, my hope is that we Christians, who hold the truth that has been given to us and not realized by our superior intellect, will find empathy and mercy leading the way in our discussions with those who oppose the faith.  At least that is my hope for me, and for the future atheists that cross my path.  Hitchens is getting what I deserve, and I should be more upset by this.

(These thoughts spurred on by Walt Mueller's blog post at:


Anonymous said...

Cheer up, Philip. It's not likely that you're living that eternal life you feel you don't deserve, and therefore you needn't feel guilty about it.

You are brave to admit you've never read anything CH had written, and then to state that he was "wrong", but it only supports your standing as a non-critical thinker. Why do that? Most of the people who like to carp about Hitchens and Dawkins and Harris being arrogant or superior are, it seems to me, revealing more about themselves and their inner feelings of inferiority than scoring any points against those men. I'm sure there's a biblical quote one could cite with a proper analog, if that would make it more palatable.

Philip said...

Hey Anonymous,
Thanks for your thoughts. Hardly anyone comments, so I'm glad for a little dialogue. As for not being a critical thinker, you're right I'm not as much of one as I should be - but on that note, the same applies for you when you say I should "cheer up" because there is no after life - been there?

Anyhow, thanks for the comment, and I hope you can see that the point of my post was not to call Hitchens arrogant or superior (which I didn't), but to actually pay homage to him as a human being and to take a look at his views.

Anonymous said...

You're welcome.

You have apparently misconstrued what it is to be a critical thinker. It's not synonymous with "wishful thinker", which seems like what you want it to mean.

That there is no evidence of an "after-life" is unambiguous, i.e., factual. Critical thinkers put the highest value on facts, and seek them out.

You had said that you felt guilty because you didn't deserve to have eternal life. I just wanted to comfort your guilt by offering the salve of rational, critical thinking. Since you don't have eternal life, by any measure of reasonable evaluation, you don't need to feel guilty!

I'm impressed by your appreciation of CH, since it must run very counter to your inclinations. He was more than an atheist, he was an anti-theist. He makes a very compelling argument for why in his book God Is Not Great, which I would highly recommend to you and any and all other non-critical, wishful thinkers.

Philip said...

I've been called worse than a "wishful" thinker :).

If you mean by wishful thinking, that I believe there is more to life than random matter (of course I doubt you believe this, as it may be an over-simplification of today's atheism, but it's where I believe atheism takes us ultimately), then I guess I like being a wishful thinker.

Also I think you've made a mistake that Hitchens probably didn't make - that there's irrefutable proof for there being no afterlife. Really on debating about the afterlife, we can't say one way or another, that's why it's called an "after"-life (ha, I've never thought of it that way!).

But there's much more to discuss about life and all the facts it presents us with. Thank you for the recommendation of his book, I'll read it and get back to you.

So far as my appreciation of Hitchens running counter to my inclinations, it really doesn't and it doesn't with most real Christians I know, individuals who know that doubt is nothing to be afraid of. What I love about Atheists is that they're bold. They say what many people are too afraid to say, "There is no God." They like to use their brains and doubt stuff and hey, so do I as well as most Christians I know! And a lot of atheists, like Hitchens, apply their intellect to deep matters that mean something - like religion.

But I've read Dawkins in "The God Delusion" and correct me if I'm wrong, but that couldn't have been a good representation of "new atheism" at it's finest. It was mostly just polemic and easy to refute.

In a perfect world, we could discuss this stuff without baggage, without polemic and simply weigh the evidence that life gives us. I think this is worth striving for, and it's why I'm stoked you're posting. In light of this, would there be a better place for us to discuss stuff? Otherwise here is fine.

Alas, so much to talk about and read and so little time...

Philip said...

Oh and by the way I like your wit about me feeling guilty and all, I'll try and quit moping around :).

Anonymous said...

Thanks for taking the time to respond. And if you don't mind, I'd like to correct a couple of things.

1. I did not say there is no after-life. I said there is no evidence for one, which is an entirely different thing. And that is a fact. It's exactly what CH and all other atheists say, and it often gets misrepresented by people who want to attack the idea.

You can say there is no flying spaghetti monster circling the sun, but you can't prove it. So you say "there is no evidence that a flying spaghetti monster is circling the sun" and leave it at that. As soon as contrary evidence is discovered, you adjust your view, and are happy to do so. It is not ideological to not believe there is evidence of a FSM. It's not a "theory" or a "belief". And it's a completely different thing than clinging to the idea that the FSM IS circling the sun, even when there is no evidence that it is, and holding out to be proven wrong. It can never be proved wrong. "Ah ha!" say the FSM fans. "You can't prove he's not there, therefore my belief that he is is JUST AS VALID as yours that he is not!"

One hears this all the time, and it's painful because it so misrepresents the world view of people who don't accept the supernatural as real. If the FSM landed in Central Park one day and somehow made a convincing presentation of his existence, all reasonable people would have to accept it. What choice would there be? We are not INVESTED in the idea that he's NOT there, we just haven't been shown any reason to accept that he IS. If he gives us evidence, we are happy to say "yup, he's real alright."

You can apply this simple equation to all things supernatural (religions, ESP, mental spoon bending, reincarnation, the list, unfortunately is endless): The scientific method gives us the only honest way to evaluate the world we live in, what's real and what's not. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. That's what atheists, for the most part, go by. I guess there may be some who are more dogmatic, and insist that you be forced to give up your belief in the supernatural, but that would be the fringe. Atheists are most very gentle people. :)

Anonymous said...

2. There is never irrefutable proof of anything, at least in the way science examines things. All observations, theories, models and concepts are based on the best evidence currently available. Right now, we have evidence of the relationship between mass and gravity and we have a very useful model of how that relationship works. We can make predictions based on it, from how to keep a satellite in orbit to how hard to hit a forehand and keep it in the tennis court. There are precise mathematical equations that absolutely predict those things and a good many more. But our understanding of mass/gravity is not irrefutable. Quantum mechanics, for instance, has opened up a whole new world of how the tiniest bits of matter behave and it doesn't completely square with what we know about the larger universe. So we keep looking. (I say we, but I mean those people with the outsized brains who are able to. Certainly not me!) You will never hear a scientist claim irrefutable proof of anything.

3. Vis a vis your inclinations running counter to CH, you can't have it both ways, Philip. CH, as I said, was an anti-theist. He not only saw through all the flimflammery of religions and their ruling classes through the ages, but upon examining the hollowness of religious "belief" also saw something more terrifying than the outrages caused by religious believers: He saw that the diety espoused by the Abrahamic religions was not anything like we should want the existence of a supreme being to be. He mentions it briefly in his 60 minutes interview. The Abrahamic god is a celestial dictator, an eternal North Korea. He makes his case very clearly in the book that I do hope you read.

So if his thoughts on the subject don't insult yours, then you can't be insulted. Maybe that's a divine gift, but it only leaves me thinking that there's no there there to what you do profess to be real. Christians who "stand up for Christ" seem to want to vilify those, like CH, who expose the emperor's new clothes with passion.

Yes, he showed passion in his exposé of religion, and applied his intellect. His only request was that others do the same, which sadly is not common. If life and all that surrounds us is not just "random matter" you have the burden to show where it is not. That's where CH, and most of us, found religious people to be most wanting; unable to provide a reliable, demonstrable, examinable alternative to what we understand so far about what's happened in the past 14.5 billion years.

Anonymous said...

4. Richard Dawkins book The God Delusion was very mild, in my opinion. I've heard him called "strident, arrogant" but I don't see any evidence for either in his book or ever heard him speak that way in his many public appearances which are available on YouTube. Since you say you've read his book, maybe you can point me to a particular passage that shows him to be "mostly just polemic and easy to refute". Richard Dawkins is a highly esteemed biologist and scholar and his words are measured very carefully. You can show me where I'm wrong.

5. I would be very encouraged by your desire to "simply weigh the evidence that life gives us", but I fear that it may be a misrepresentation of yourself. I would be interested to hear the evidence that you have encountered that supports your belief in your god. And remember, when we speak of evidence, we mean real things, honestly evaluated, and observations that are replicable and FALSIFIABLE. Without that standard the daily horoscope is just as valid as the theory of gravity.

Again, thanks for taking the time. I'm trying to respond to as many people as I can who want to explore their conflicts about CH, his life and death, and what it means to their own superstitions.

I have already lost three "evangelicals" who spun out of control when confronted with just the kind of thing I'm saying to you here. You seem more open to exploration than most. I hope that's the case.

Btw, in addition to CH's God Is Not Great, a breezier and shorter read would be Sam Harris's Letter To A Christian Nation". It's his response to all the vile responses he got from his loftier and longer "The End of Faith", and it makes the case quite clearly about what atheism is, and what it is not. He was a good friend of CH and a brilliant scientist in his own right. Most impressive is his ability to speak to those of us who are not scientists without condescension. =)

Philip said...

Thanks for your thorough and thoughtful response. I'm going to address each point you make as I see it and we can go from there. Does that sound good? I've heard the Spaghetti Monster argument b/f and it makes good sense. So point taken. But if God was to prove himself - and Christianity claims that he did - what more compelling evidence would he have to give than coming to earth, living and doing a ton of miracles and then being raised from the dead? I even believe he left room for doubt by not showing himself to everyone and making it impossible to doubt his existence. But I've had individuals argue that even if Jesus showed up, in the middle of our conversation, they still wouldn't believe in his existence. Given that there is plausible (and I would contend even more so) proof of the resurrection, I think this should put the argument for God's existence on another plain than the Spaghetti Monster. We're talking a Spaghetti Monster who many people claim came to earth, changed their lives and are now willing to die for. Now on to your next point.

Philip said...

On point number 2, I totally agree. But there is a point where individuals are just being difficult or stubborn if they argue against the reality of gravity. My brother actually took issue with his professor on the existence of Quantum Mechanics, and the professor said he had a 99.9% chance of being right. "Ha," my brother quipped, "I knew I was right." My bro is sort of stubborn. So then that leaves us with weighing evidence, and this is where I believe Atheists and Christians can have some really meaningful dialogue, given we don't take pot shots - although they are what make debates a good time :).

Philip said...

OK, for number 4, I need to go back and look at some of the passages so I don't miss-quote Dawkins, or take him out of context. While I was reading though (about 4 yrs. back), I got the distinct impression that he was setting up a lot of straw men and knocking them down. For example, he goes off on the cruelty of the Old Testament God but then does not do much if any rigorous biblical study. He could have at least conferred with Atheists who are biblical scholars. I think his approach is rather unfair. If I'm going to argue passionately against Atheism and write against it - and blame much of the worlds problems on it - I think it's only fair that I research some key documents and represent their best stuff rather than just the stuff I dissaggree with. Correct me if I'm wrong, but Dawkins doesn't seem to want to represent both sides very well and then argue for his. Perhaps this is because he is writing for the popular audience and knows what will sell...

Philip said...

5. Alright, here's where we get to the good stuff, and I'm saddened that some evangelicals have spun out of control here, perhaps they're afraid to look at their faith. Or perhaps they just start throwing out books like I'm about to do :). But here are a few: One individual to look at is Josh McDowell in his HUGE book "Evidence that Demands a Verdict" (it's lengthy and tiresome - as it reads like a phone book - but does answer a lot of questions). Another is Lee Strobel in his somewhat more readable book "A Case for Christ". But one of the best and possibly my favorite is CS Lewis' "Mere Christianity". Another more recent and popular read is Timothy Keller's "A Reason for God". If I'm going to read Harris' letter "To a Christian Nation" (I think I'll also read "The End of Faith" if it's not too long) would you consider reading "The Reason for God"? Let's look at what they say and get back to each-other. BTW - I'm by no means a thorough going apologist, but I am willing to learn and unearth my own doubts in searching for truth. Encourage my evangelical friends to do the same if you see them "spinning out of control". We humans are so easily goaded :). But I only think it's fair to say that most people "spin out of control" when you aim a few jabs at their world view. That's pretty common.

Thank you for the conversation, and I will do my best to read and get back to ASAP. Let me know what you think...

Anonymous said...

Well, I feel a little bit validated in my original sense that you were engage-able on the subject. I don't know why I got that sense, but if it's only a crap shoot, then I seem to have rolled the sevens here. Good.

First, let me ask why you ignored my paragraph #3, about CH and his beliefs running counter to your own?

WRT the FSM (and of course you know of the example because it's used ad infinitum) you base your contrast of jesus to him on things that have no proof. There is really no documentable historical evidence that the Jesus of the bible ever lived, but even if you take the scant possibilities that are raised here and there and then granted them the standing of fully reliable evidence that he was a real person, you'd still have a lot of work to do to prove anything of his being divine. The resurrection? Where's the evidence for that? Tales told by people who lived many years (as many as 300!) after his death, with all the contradictions between them?

The fact is there is no contemporary testimony of Jesus the man, let alone of Jesus the son of god. And you can't say "it was ancient times and people were illiterate and didn't keep records". You can prove the existence of Pontius Pilate, by the way, in a hundred different ways. Contemporary records and accounts. And nowhere is it ever noted that he ever met a king of the jews.

Maybe you are also aware of the human tendency to tell stories, and of the innate need we all have to enjoy them. It's traceable, evolutionarily, to the need we had to create a history that bound tribes together and provided a sense of continuity, dating to tens of thousands of years ago. Are you also aware of the hundreds (literally hundreds) of tales humans have passed down through the generations that convey stories of deities and apostles and floods and gods, etc. etc.? It is very human that people are attracted to those stories and EVERY civilization has had its version. Remarkable is how many of them speak of a virgin birth. And a resurrection. Sex and death, it seems, have always been the most fascinating themes of humans when they tell stories. Why is the jesus story any more believable than the others? I submit, because you were told so, and you accepted that as the truth. And, of course, you "feel" it to be so. So, by the way, do the adherents of ALL the religions the world has ever known. Thousands.

To your thought that some people would deny Jesus if he were to show up, that's wishful thinking on the part of those who say so. No atheist is INVESTED in the idea of there being no deities. If there were evidence of a diety, the atheist would quickly become a theist. I think it is a popular canard with religious people that non-religious people hold the idea that there is no god. Again, it is an important distinction to make: we don't assert there is no god, we only assert that it is unreasonable to think there is. I see how that can seem aggressive to christians, but there's really no other way to state it.
More later.

Philip said...

Once again, thank you for your timely response. I somehow missed #3 in my responses as it was longer and didn't show up in my reader. Plus I was eager to respond to what I read, alas eager to be heard rather than to hear. I also wanted to get to reading Sam Harris' letter.

As for there being "no evidence that Jesus existed" I would contend that that's an over-statement. And I would agree with you that for the most part I believe "because (I) (was) told so, and (I) accepted that as the truth. And, of course, (I) 'feel' it to be so. So, by the way, do the adherents of ALL the religions the world has ever known. Thousands." More than thousands, how about billions!!!

(I also believe because of personal experience of a loving God who's primary definition throughout the OT is one who is "merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love." I've experienced this both in my upbringing, the Christians I've met and in the undeserved mercy and grace I believe I've received.)

As human beings with limited knowledge and faculties, we are so situated by our environment, education and experiences to hold to propositions both true and untrue. We're all predisposed. But that doesn't mean we should just throw up our hands and say, there's no way to get to the truth.

After having read about half of Sam Harris' letter I'm going to have to admit intellectual defeat. And I'm tempted to just throw up my hands in defeat! If God is the way Harris paints him, and I'll quote you here as it's much like Hitchens': "The Abrahamic god is a celestial dictator, an eternal North Korea" then I'll admit it, that sort of God is bad bad news and will encourage people to do bad bad things. I think Harris paints a picture of a horrible religious state, one that does atrocities and has been doing so in the name of religion for ages. But I would contend that he exposes the evils of American "religiousity" and not true Christianity.

Also I believe that you are in an intellectual position superior to my own, having studied this debate and being engaged in it with many individuals.

So what I ask from you is a little time. I'm eager to read the rest of this letter and answer it rationally, if I can do so. Or at the least to present responses from the Christian position.

One parting thought before I get back to reading is this: I agree that religion has created all sorts of evil (and Timothy Keller lucidly explains why). So my question is this: Who's to blame? Is God really to blame? (Obviously not in your view as he's just a myth.) Jesus himself (if he's God) is extremely antagonistic towards organized religion. He took on religious elitism of his day. So did God in the OT, but I don't see Harris addressing these passages. Perhaps this world is full of evil not because of God, but because of God's teachings twisted - false religion - added to the fact that humans are bent on evil. This is what I've been taught and told.

Anonymous said...

I could go on about your other observations that I haven't addressed, but I think we're starting to get a clearer understanding of where we are. You accept on "faith" stories from the bronze age that have no credible evidence to back them up, for reasons that are highly personal to your life experience. (That's how kids get hooked into the tooth fairy, btw.) And I come from the perspective of someone who demands more than the lies of my parents and other adults from my childhood to establish a sense of what's worth investing my time and energy into.

You probably would say, if it were proven to you that there were no god, that you wished there were one. Life would be more meaningful if god created us as the center of the universe and we are his children. I don't need that to cherish life. I don't see any evidence for a god, and have no wish that there were one. Especially one as depicted in christian religion, a vengeful, insecure god who requires devotion and offers fear of eternal damnation if one doesn't quite come on board.

If I would ever have a wish for a god it would be one that offered the love I have for my own children. They don't need to worship me, or give me money, or build monuments to me. Even if they commit heinous crimes, I still would love them. Never in my wildest imagining could I see sending them to an eternity in hell. N o m a t t e r w h a t . Why should a celestial god be less connected and loving than that?

The god of christianity was invented by uneducated, illiterate, fearful people several hundred years ago, obsessed with sex and death, and determined to create a carrot/stick solution to crimes against other humans. And to create HUGE problems with how we enjoy our greatest human pleasure, sex. (Most religions are absolutely fixated on sex, and I've never quite figured out why. Do you know?)

It's worked, for the most part. Hundreds of years later we American still bow at the alter of a judeo christian sense of right and wrong, and accept that masturbation and non-maritial sex is "sinful". But was religion necessary? Would we be "uncivilized" without the moral teachings of religion and belief in an eternal punishment for wrongdoing? Would there be more masturbation and non-marital sex without a biblical injunction against it? I've never heard a satisfying answer to that question from a true believer. You got one?

Philip said...

I guess someone could say that my faith as tantamount to believing in a tooth-fairy. It's not what I'm saying, but people say a lot of stuff.

You're right, I don't know too much about the bronze age, but every time I've studied the era or looked at archaeological evidence and other scientific data, I haven't found anything to repudiate the faith I hold, in fact archaeological evidence seems to cohere historically with biblical accounts/histories (if read in context). On a side note: I've actually been to Israel and looked at the Tel Dan inscription that mentions king David. Having just taken Hebrew, I was able to read it for myself with a little help. (Of course this evidence is and has been interpreted different ways...)

You bring up a really important point: If I'm going to hold to my beliefs, I should get to studying them more in depth. I am and hope to be a life-long student. I'm encouraged by you to keep it up.

I'm also encouraged by your expression of what you would believe God to be like: "If I would ever have a wish for a god it would be one that offered the love I have for my own children. They don't need to worship me, or give me money, or build monuments to me. Even if they commit heinous crimes, I still would love them. Never in my wildest imagining could I see sending them to an eternity in hell. N o m a t t e r w h a t . Why should a celestial god be less connected and loving than that?"

There are tons of places in the OT where God states that it's he doesn't desire sacrifices and ritual, but a humble and contrite heart. In other words he desires intimacy, just like a father with his children. He says in another place that it is not his desire that the wicked should suffer, and THE ENTIRE POINT of the 6,000 page multi-genre text of the Bible is to express that God loves people b/c he created them, is willing even to die for them, and will not give up on them ever. EVER. It's people that give up on God. This is the God I've grown up knowing, and it's why he most often refers to himself as father. Right now, that's all I've got. You've worn me out. Good stuff, I need a water break.

(Oh and on masturbation and sex I've seen and experienced a ton of messed-up stuff when sex practiced out of marriage. And there are different views on masturbation as sin. Scripture doesn't view sex as sin - see Song of Solomon.)

Anonymous said...

Forgot to weigh in on your observations about Harris and Dawkins and some other things. Sorry. Been busy keeping a lot of convos going and it's hard to keep track. And there is my life to live. ;-)

If it is an "over-statement" that there is little if any historical evidence for even the existence of a human Jesus, let alone a "divine" one, why so? Are you sitting on something that the biblical historians have missed?

I'm not being flip. I've never gotten a straight answer from a true believer on this topic. I've looked and looked and have come up close to totally empty on any evidence. The bible was all written hundreds of years after the "fact", there were some other oral histories attributed to the building of the story, again by people who's great grandfathers were not alive at the time Jesus was supposed to have been. Many of the "gospels" were tossed out in the 13th century because they were even more egregiously incongruous with the narrative than the ones that made it in. The chapters of the bible were written and handpicked by people hundreds of years later.

There seems to be some vague reference to someone who might have been Jesus by Pliny the Elder, some 80 years after Jesus's death. That's the earliest reference I can come up with. I would think if there were anything more, that it would be plastered all over the internet. Or are you guys holding out on us for some reason? ;-)

I agree that we shouldn't settle for lack of knowledge, and just "throw up our hands and say there's no way to get the truth." But we seem to have different definitions of "truth". The truth I'm after expands every day. We are so much more aware of what's true about the way we humans and the world work now than even a few years ago.

Religion was humankind's first way to explain what was then unexplainable, and to make us feel better about our (mostly for most people) miserable existence. It wasn't by far the best answer, as it turns out. But it was the first. Suffering is okay because you'll be rewarded. Crops fail because god is unhappy. Your baby died at childbirth because god has a plan.

Thank you very much, but I'm so much happier to know the true reasons those things happen and what, so knowing, what we can do about them.

Sam Harris doesn't distort the biblical teachings, does he? You're saying he just cherry picks the bad bad things. OK, maybe. But does that make the bad bad things less bad bad?

What is "true Christianity". You've referred to that a couple of times. Where do we find that? And how do we know who the pretenders and charlatans are? Was Jerry Falwell a "true Christian"? Cal Thomas? The Pope? Mother Theresa? Michelle Bachman?

Anonymous said...

You also complain that no one, such as Dawkins, gets into the nitty gritty of really "studying" the bible. So let me ask you this: If you were critiquing a group that believed in Ra the sun god, and looking at their practice of sacrificing virgins to please their god, how much time do you need to spend on the good things they may also be doing in order to validate the criticism you (presumably) would offer about the sacrificial practice? How deeply would you have to understand their documents and history and mission statement in order to offer criticism of the things they do that are loathsome?

When non-theists look at religion they are often chided for not spending much time really studying the tenants of the faith. But that misses the point entirely. To be interested in the tenants of the faith, one must first consider the basis of the faith as being a reasonable starting point. If you can't get from 0 to 1, what's the point in looking at 115-116?

Do you suggest that "true Christianity" can only be appreciated after you first make the leap to accept 0-1 on no evidence and then get to the more satisfying parts later on? That is the exact opposite of how we look at the world. First get me from 0-1, and if that works, let's devour the rest.

Religion for us never gets past 0. To examine what comes later is totally irrelevant.

A comment I was expecting you to make about Dawkins was a rejection of his statement that rearing children in a religious faith was child abuse. I agree with him, but clearly many religious people don't. It's one of the most cited examples of Dawkins "arrogance". But if we calm down and look at it, why is it offensive to suggest that children not be indoctrinated in a religion from the early years when they are prone to believe what their parents tell them, and let them get their exposure to religion as young adults? I think the answer is clear: Far fewer young adults would join their parents religion if they weren't asked to look at the subject until they were young adults. Inculcating the young impressionables is the single greatest reason that religions have any staying power in today's world, albeit a dwindling one. But if one is truly convinced of one's religion, shouldn't one be confident that it would stand on its own when being considered by a young adult? Do you require indoctrination of the young in order to keep the faith alive?

You know, Philip, if you were born in Pakistan you'd be a Muslim. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Just saw your comments on sex. Let me see if I can ascertain where you're coming from.

Is out of marriage sex sinful, in your interpretation of what you believe your religion to teach?

Does your reading of the bible allow for masturbation?

What does your religious faith tell you about homosexuality? Do you see the bible as inveighing against it, as so many evangelicals say all the time?

Does the fact that our sexual lives as humans often lead to heartache, betrayal and even violence mean that we humans just don't cleave to the teachings of the bible on this subject enough? If we all lived a 100% god-obedient life, would that remove any of the complications that spring from our sexual selves.

Are you a believer in "original sin"? Do you believe that you bear the burden of a "crime against god" from someone in your family tree so many generations removed?

And again, what's with the focus on tamping down the sex stuff by religion? I just don't get it. The evangelicals are OBSESSED with sex. Who can do it with whom, when, where, and how. There's nothing that makes me feel closer to god than a good roll in the hay. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Oh! Oh! Forgot!

One more thing:

What's your take on evolution?

Philip said...

Alright. I finally had a long- response all typed up and ready to go, and my computer decided to shut down to install updates. Nice.

I'm going to try and do your questions justice by answering them one at a time, beginning first with my response, doing some study and then getting back to you.

So I should get back to you soon. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to confirm that I'm still checking in on your site to see if you've responded. To be honest, I thought for a day or so that you had opted out. Glad to hear that's not the case.

Your move.

Philip said...

No way do I want to opt out. This discussion is great. Thanks for your questions!

The first one I want to address is probably one of the most important. What does it mean to be a "true Christian". Hopefully, once I have this down, I can better apply myself to your other questions.

I believe that a true Christian is simply someone who has been forgiven. They've recognized that there is something both profoundly wrong in the world and in themselves and they see and hold to the solution God offers in Jesus. And they then join with God it helping make the world not only a better place but a healed one.

Thus what separates the "true Christian" from individuals who claim Christ but show hatred, lack of compassion, unkindness and bigotry offend people and God precisely because they don't realize or refuse to realize that the only thing that separates them from the "unbeliever" is the forgiveness they've received. And they've simply forgotten how Jesus responded when asked what the chief commandment was - to "love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself."

That being said, many of the examples that Hitchens, Harris, Dawkins and others site as evidence against Christianity are not precisely accurate in that they target the problem with Christians (who are all-to-human) or aren't really even Christians at all. I often find myself agreeing with them in their disgust and I think Jesus does too.

So far as all of the "bad bad" (I'm starting to like that) passages I read in Harris' book, I've got to tell you, I was rattled. And I am still to a certain degree. It's hard to read something so counter to your worldview for so long and then go on about your day, family/work/friends as if nothings happened.

But I believe that Harris' book illustrates the case that one man's argument sounds good until another speaks. Harris is an excellent writer, but he is cherry-picking passages of scripture out of context and he does so without considering historical context, culture and even the broader scope of the message of scripture. I found a helpful critique of his book if you want to check it out.

So far as the historicity of scripture and the person of Jesus, I would point you both to check it the issue out on wiki, which will give you both sides of the argument, and look at the book by Josh McDowell's book "Evidence that Demands a Verdict." He set out to disprove Christianity, so his findings do carry some weight in my mind.

So far as there being extra-textual evidence for scripture, I believe there is, but I am not qualified to comment on it as I've either read it and forgotten it, or just haven't read it. I do remember there being quite a bit in the book I mentioned above. (And a note on this: If the main group of texts - the bible - is undermined as not having any historical value, then everything is going to look tangential in comparison). All of that to say I'm not hiding anything, yet :).

Then there are biblical views on sex. As God is the creator of sex I believe he best knows how it works. And to answer one of your questions, if people practiced sex in the way scripture prescribes, I believe people would be a lot happier. Sex being pretty central to who we are as humans, I believe that if we truly practiced it as intended, it would not only be a good time, but it would be glorious. But this to me points back towards the problem of brokenness and sin. The world is not scarred for lack of "sexual freedom," the world is scarred because of the abuse of sex. It's used for abuse, power and cruelty rather than intimacy, love, faithfulness and healing.

More later, but that's what I've got for now. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Ok, Ok, before you put anymore pen to paper....

As an aspiring writer, as well as someone who wants to convince other people of the validity of their views, you're gonna have to start talking the talk. I'm not going to offer a writing clinic (for free, anyway), but let me just point out that the number of words that have no meaning have got to be....have GOT to be...fewer than the words that actually mean something.

If I'm going to entertain your arguments about why it's important to "come to Jesus", you're obligated to give me real reasons. A "real Christian" is "someone who has been forgiven". ????


They "Join with god" in making the world "a better" and "healed" place?

I'm sorry, Philip. But that's just so much bs. I've been forgiven by everyone that's important to me, for any and all things that I've done to aggrieve them. Well, maybe not everyone. But let's say there was unanimity on that count. I'm forgiven. I'm certainly not a "true" or even "false" christian.

I absolutely feel dedicated to making the world a better place, and have (I think) contributed in that regard. I'm certainly not a christian.

CH (to get back to the original reason for our discussion) was a monumental force for making the world a better place, a place with less injustice and less hypocrisy and he was certainly not a christian.

There are millions of examples of people who've had, by any standard, a positive impact on the well-being of their fellow humans who were not christians.

And probably most of them had few, if any, people who hated them or held grudges against them.

So when I ask you "was Jerry Falwell" a "true christian" you are under some obligation to answer meaningfully. You can't know Falwell's heart, of course, but you can at least judge his actions as they had been widely reported in the media. Michelle Bachman and her "pray away the gay" agenda. Rick Santorum and his "life begins at conception" debacle. Are these people and the social engineering they want to do examples of "true christians"???

You also must come to terms with the escapist logic of defending every bad bad thing accountable to christianity as being somehow not "truly" christian. That is 8th grade stuff. If no bad bad things are done by "true christians" then we get nowhere. Inquisition? Not true christians! Salem witch trials? Not true christians! Crusades? Not true christians!

Come on.

Here's the website you have to confront with the historicity of jesus:

This site offers scads of views and scholarly research that lead to one inescapable conclusion: If there was a man named jesus in the time the bible says he was wandering around, you simply cannot prove it. Beyond that, if there was a man named jesus performing miracles, etc. etc. at that time, there is not even a suggestion of proof. And all this in an era where there are tons of evidence about what else was REALLY going on in that area at that time.

You only need to have an open heart to look at the data, and, sadly I don't think that's what the pre-convinced bring to the party.

Anonymous said...

Historical literature, by the way, easily stands up without the conferring of historical meaningfulness to the bible. Tangential? What does that mean?

And please expound on your view that people would be ultimately happier if they practiced sex the way it is "prescribed by god". In your view, did god not create homosexuals? Transgendered? Sex addicts? Pedophiles? Necrophiliacs?

To be a "true christian" do you have to believe that sexual "deviants" have all freely chosen a wrong path to go down, contrary to the way god created them? And that if they somehow managed to curtail their instincts about what satisfies them sexually that they would be happier? Really?

Just imagine if the bible said that wanting to look at and fondle a woman's breast was offensive to the god thy lord (or whatever language they use in that book). How would you (and I'm assuming you a heterosexual man who gets aroused by looking at and fondling a woman's breast) how would you squelch both the act and the yearning for the act? Can you imagine that you would ultimately be happier as a human being if you managed to continually suppress this most basic of male (and some female!) human sexuality?

Sorry, I wanted this to be short, just to remind you that you shouldn't waste time with euphemisms and trite generalities. No one's reading this but me and you, man. Let's keep it real, ok?

Anonymous said...

Oh, and just so I am clear: When you said "forgiven" is there some precise definition of that in your mind? I took it to mean just "not guilty of crimes against my fellow man, or if guilty, having made amends".

On second thought, I'd guess you really meant something more "spiritual", as in "forgiven by god" or the like.

If so, how does one know if god has forgiven one? Or, is that something a true believer always seeks but never attains?

And, I'm guessing, this all goes back to "original sin", right? We're all bad and must ask forgiveness just for being alive, is that what it is?

Philip said...

You asked me to define for you as best as I could what it means to be a "true Christian." I did that. And it seems you took it as so much religious gobbledy-gook, which I can understand.

So I'll focus on forgiveness. You're right in your hunch. I do mean forgiveness from God.

So far as the issue of needing forgiveness from God, there is something in me (a conscience) that makes me think I'm not good at the core. I think there is something about me that is crooked, even evil. I am not others focused and I don't usually have people's best interests in mind. Trust me on this. Either I'm a particularly uniquely evil person, or I'm seriously deranged. My guess is you may think the latter. I think I can hear you saying, "Hey, your not that bad Philip." Really, would someone who's not that bad commit genocide. The same argument you use for religion works that if I was raised as a genocidal maniac, I'd probably do some terrible things. You would too. So there's internal evidence of my need for forgiveness, since there is evident presence of evil.

Now as I look outward, I don't see a world working the way it should. I see too much suffering, injustice, hunger and the like to simply say, "It is what it is, we're just 'infinitely improbable' matter floating around on a matter-ball and nothings the matter with a little bit of matter stealing, killing and abusing other little bits of matter."

The way you began the entire discussion, letting me know in a humorous way that I need not feel guilty for thinking poorly of CH because there is no eternal life where my unjust thoughts will be corrected. Where does that view, with no external standard for justice lead?

Yes, I do aspire to write meaningfully, and I know that my intellect is not going to impress the masses. But that's just the point. I believe my world view is coherent enough to not get swallowed up in the over-whelming evidence there is for: no historical Jesus, a made up Bible, a massive conspiracy, an evil God (who doesn't exist), etc.

So far as the Inquisition, crusades and the like - you can't honestly defend the position that people were acting out of truly Christian principles and convictions in committing these atrocities. I mean you could, but you'd have to be pretty dishonest :). They were indeed acting all too human, which leads us back to a broken world in need of forgiveness and healing. It may sound circular and infantile, but trust me, I'm not being impish, it's the way I see it.

Finally, I see evidence for my sinful, broken, or whatever-you-want-to-call-it condition in scripture. It says that I'm a created being who has rebelled against his creator. Then scripture claims God died for us. If God died for us, how can we paint him as an evil tyrant who hates humanity? Even doing so is explained in scripture as our sinful bent to hate our creator.

So far as bad things done in the name of religion, shouldn't we also look at a few bad things done in the name of science and materialism? How about eugenics, the communist experiment, the tenets of Nazism...

How do you answer the injustice you see in the world? How do you explain injustice?

Philip said...

Oh and I want to address one other point you made. I do believe that there are many non-Christian individuals doing really good things. I believe this is part of what is called "common grace." God is allowing them to do good. This may sound trite, but I think it's plausible.

I believe in an intensely personal creator God, who holds the universe together and is the source of everything that's good. That being the case, if his presence was removed, I'm not even sure what would happen, but I know it would be "bad bad." Snicker.

Even the conversation we're having and the dialogue is good. It's something that's given by God. I am guilty and you are guilty insofar as we don't give credit where credit is due for this goodness (which btw I don't do all the time), if indeed God exists.

And on a final note for this installment: Is it the case, as I suspect it might be that this is really taking you and me no-where? That you are every bit as entrenched in your position as you believe I am in mine? Or do you believe that this sort of discussion is helpful and important?

I believe it is as it helps me better understand my own doubts and convictions and as I hope to learn to extend love and truth.

In talking straight, I got totally pissed off with your last post, but it's evidence that I'm human too. That's what I think we sometimes need in this whole debate, we need to see that the other side bleeds just like we do and that we're all human and we're trying to figure this stuff out together. We don't hate each-other, as the polemics and hyperbole sometimes make it look. I can only imagine what it would be like to be an atheist with your intellect trying to respond to all these "religious crazies" like me. I hope you feel that you've found a reasonable and a safe place in discussing this stuff with me and I will soon apply myself more dutifully to your more specific questions on sex. For now my gray matter is spent, and I hope you have a good day.

Also, if I've been to general in my responses (as I'm afraid you may think), please forgive me (ha!) and let me know which questions I can better address. And on that note, I certainly don't have all the answers, I'm just doing the best I can here :).

Philip said...

Alright, I've got a little more time to get real about sex, so I will.

Yes, I believe if people acted the way they were supposed to act in this area the world would be a much better and more pleasurable :) place. Kind of a no-duh from my perspective.

No, I don't believe God creates pedophiles and the like with "natural" instincts to do what they do. I believe their instincts are unnatural and that they are sick. Are they the only ones to blame for their sickness. No. I believe that we're all sick and recovering. I myself have struggled with pornography. I hope this doesn't shock you, as it shouldn't.

In seeking healing in this area, I've realized that my "natural" instincts lead me away from loving others and more towards using others. Yet more evidence that there's something wrong with me.

I want to be the last to condemn those who are living different sexual lifestyles, but I do discern that they are not leading a lifestyle that will bring them or others real joy.

Just like the fantasies that lead me to escape into pornography, there is something profoundly wrong with me that needs a solution. So far I've found no better solution than surrender to God. That's a fact in my life. And it works in all the other "less sordid" (in other words less culturally poo-pooed areas of my life). God enables me to love people better.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for not getting too pissed off to pull the plug. I wasn't trying to get you pissed off, I was just trying to make sure you understood that I wasn't getting straight talk from you on several things, and if that was going to be the case, I've got nothing more to say.

Seems now like you've come around a bit. Jumped in with both feet, I'd say. Good.

On your sense of your own evil: Is it possible that your internal defect is biological? Modern science has lots of ways to detect, and treat, pathological abnormalities. Have you taken a stroll down that path?

If not, why not? If so, what did you learn?

Without wanting to sound too harsh, a person who describes themselves the way you just did, and then says that god is the answer, reminds me of The Exorcist. Poor Linda Blair. Never had much of a career afterward. But today, people who have cross wiring that makes them feel capable of doing terrible things can be treated, without frontal lobotomies, and exorcisms never did much good.

I don't believe in psychotherapy (as a cure for anything) and I certainly don't believe in divine intervention. People with serious behavioral impulses must be treated with serious 21st century scientific methods.

No, I wouldn't ever be capable of genocide even if raised by Pol Pot. How can I know? Just as I know I could never play major league baseball, as much as I really wanted to, I also know I am not capable of being so indifferent to human suffering. I would have also really liked being a rock 'n roll star, but, alas, that wasn't in the cards for me either.

Anonymous said...

So we have to accept what gifts we do have (and by "gift" I don't mean some handout from someone, I mean how we are uniquely wired by evolution and the co-mingling of our parents' DNA), and we have to accept our frailties. Accepting frailties is the more important, perhaps, because if the frailty is getting up and thinking "I want to hurt someone today", it's important to address that in an effective way.

It's important that you understand that the world view of non-religious people is nowhere near as bereft of moral guiding as you think yours would be without god. One of the most interesting things about religions is that they codified the moral codes that had been in place and followed for hundreds of thousands of years before religion was invented. Humans would never have survived the many many years of pre-religion unless they had developed a very solid code of conduct that didn't tolerate evil doers. Religions co-opted, in many ways, the accepted moral guidelines already being adhered to and added on some extra controlling bells and whistles for good measure. One could make the case easily that religions were invented by sadistic control freaks. I buy that.

It always amazes me when a religious person says "what would control your behavior if there were no promise of punishment later by a divine being?" What? You mean, like, what controls my behavior RIGHT NOW? My conscience, that's what. A conscience that has been endemic in humans for a hundred times longer than the word jesus ever came up.

I'm very afraid of anyone who says without the fear of retribution from god they'd be a murderer or child molester. Whoa! Check please!

You're correct, I just don't get the forgiveness business that christians seem to be so hung up on. I always assumed it was the original sin thing, but you haven't bit on that and I've thrown it out there twice. You seem to want forgiveness for your own sense of wickedness. Again, in your shoes, I wouldn't want forgiveness as much as I'd want some proactive help that was real, biological and had a track record of success with others.

If people killing people "in the name of god" is not acting on truly christian principles, then what are they acting on? Don't we have to take the word of the perpetrators about why they were doing what they did?
The abortion doctor murderers, don't they say they get their entire inspiration from the bible? You can't inoculate "true christians" from the tendency to act badly. Like the man said: “Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it, you’d have good people doing good things and evil people doing bad things, but for good people to do bad things, it takes religion.”

But let's say all bad things done by people in the name of religion are done by people who aren't "truly christian". What does that say about 2000+ years of teaching christianity and indoctrinating children into the faith, and establishing whole nation states devoted to existing as closely as possible to biblical teaching. How'd that work out?

Is it the message that's faulty? Surely that many people can't just be misreading the same book, can they?

Anonymous said...

The argument about things done "in the name of science and materialism" is a tired trope that I can't believe still comes up. First, according to something I heard once, two wrongs don't make a right. But second, and more importantly, there has never been an atheist crusade, and no one, to my knowledge, has ever recruited anyone to kill other people because atheism told them to.

Hitler was a catholic, totalitarianism was its own religion, and eugenics was a fad for a few years, mostly with the goal of improving the human condition, not as a way to oppress or abuse people. Of course it was quickly shown to be a quick path to violating human rights, and quickly faded. Not because religion stepped in, I might add. When the full impact of Darwin's discovery of evolution was just settling in, it inadvertently opened the doors for horrible misuse of the knowledge. But it wasn't done "in the name of science". There are many events in human history where man has been incredibly nihilistic, but there aren't many that didn't claim a mandate from a diety.

Injustice in the world? Why SHOULD there be justice? Have you spent any time at all studying the animal kingdom? Do you know how brutal and unjust it is? Nature is quite violent, you know. We civilized humans have managed to trim the edges a bit, in our own self interests, and good for us! But the natural order of life on the planet is incredibly unjust, for all living things. Why? Because no one set it up to be otherwise. If you allow life forms to evolve for millions of years, they will take advantage of any and all openings to pull themselves up, often by pushing others down. That's not evil, that's natural. It doesn't happen because life chooses to be war-like; life is war-like because if it wasn't it wouldn't survive. We are the descendants of millions of generations of those who managed to beat the odds, and in many many cases, denied others the opportunity to, either on purpose or as an unintended consequence.

Anonymous said...

Believe me, Philip, god didn't send me to have this conversation with you. And he's not holding the universe together, either. By the way, we know how that works now, and it's quite fine not to have a supernatural power manning the helm.

I appreciate your attempts to explain to me why you choose to believe things that have no evidence to support them, but I must admit that I still don't have a handle on it. Do you really think you can't be good and loving and faithful and whatever else you might feel needs some extra steroids in your soul, without turning it over to the supernatural? Doesn't turning it over that way just dilute your own sense of personal responsibility? We atheists truly feel that we have to be personally responsible for our shortcomings, because we don't have a fairy godmother (or father) to lay it off on. Life without an invisible jailer/guardian is life lived to its fullest!

And so then, the sex. Yes, you acknowledge that sex is necessary and natural. Except when it isn't.

People engage in "unnatural sex" you say, because they are totally responsible for their own "sickness". If everyone were to act as they are "supposed to", and I'm guessing that means heterosexual, monogamous, committed relationships, right? If everyone did that, first, my GOD what a boring world this would be! But more importantly, where do you think these "unnatural instincts" come from for those who are not Ozzie and Harriet? They chose them? Do you really believe you can choose to be aroused strictly by obese people, big tis, small tits, little girls, little boys, big butts, amputees, feet...the list as you know goes way way long. Do you want to know what science knows about sexual appetites? You can't learn one and you can't unlearn one. You couldn't learn to be aroused by anything other than what you are aroused shall I put this....naturally.

Therefore, all sexual preferences are in this way natural. That doesn't mean that we as a society should just get out of the way. We have to protect our viability as a functioning unit by protecting the young, clearly. That's what laws are for. But why on earth would anyone think they can tell John that he can't have sex with Joe if both are adults and both are game? Where's the "moral authority" for that? Sadly it comes from only one source, which is the source for so much guilt and self-loathing among the believers who are not Ozzie and Harriet.

Anonymous said...

By the way, I am not sick. I like porn, too. I would be very suspicious of anyone who said they didn't, including women. We are absolutely wired for sexual stimulation. Nothing we do is more "natural" than satisfying that need, over and over and over. And over, if you're lucky. If we were not WILDLY interested in sex, we never would have made it out of the savanna. How can that be turned against us by religion? Probably the greatest mystery of the last two centuries.

Another is how people can judge other people's happiness by their own narrow standards, based on nothing but a sense of received wisdom. If no one told you that two women shouldn't have sex, you'd have no basis for thinking it wasn't ok. So why do you think those who don't do it "your way" can't be happy or have "real joy"? The diminution of "real joy" they face is pretty much just the societal, religiously influenced condemnation they get. Without that, I'd bet they'd be as happy as larks.

Why do you need a "solution" to wanting to enjoy porn? Does your bible tell you porn is to be avoided? Why? Can't you step back from it far enough to see that it is a natural progression of the natural instincts that made it possible for us all to be here? Why is a life without porn a better life?

I've asked a lot of questions that you don't choose to answer. That's okay. I think I can guess the answers. But I would like to know how you defend or explain the Ralph Reeds and Cal Thomases and James Dobsons of America, with their bigoted, outspoken religiously inspired hate speech. My thought was always that their supporters were all ignorant, incurious, fearful christians who need someone to validate their prejudices. Where am I wrong?

Anonymous said...

Did you, in fact, "rebel against your creator"? What does that even mean? In the guise of the garden of eden story, is that what we're talking about here? Or something more personal to you?

My kids rebel against me all the time. Do I tell them their timeout is going to last for eternity? Am I a more loving father than this guy in the sky you talk about? I think so!

Help me with this one, Philip: Since I was 10 and going to Sunday School, hearing that "god gave his only begotten son to die for our sins" made me wrinkle my forehead. If this god character was "all powerful" and "the creator of the universe", what's the big deal about giving up his son? What's the concept of "precious commodity" (a son) when all commodities are yours for the asking? I can understand if a mere mortal sacrificed something precious, that he couldn't re-create or resurrect, that would be an impressive show. But this god guy, according to what you say, has unlimited powers to make things right again. He would only have himself to blame for suffering any sense of loss for something he did and could un-do, right? I mean, what's keeping him from existing in perfect bliss, permanently, even though he dabbles with the lives of his earthly creatures here and there for entertainment? I just don't get how humans owe god for the pain we caused him. It would seem to be that a god would be impermeable to pain. Why not?

And secondly, "our sins"? What sins? OT tales? And why did someone have to die for them? As CH points out so adroitly, one cannot take the place of the sinner, receiving punishment while conferring absolution. That's not moral, from any point of view. One may forgive me for my "sins", but one cannot assume my sin and lift it from me and placing it on themselves.

And lastly, I thought (and was taught) that we are ALL god's children. So what's the fuss about his "only begotten son"???? That would make me feel a little less like one of god's children to be shunted aside like that in favor of this one special brother. You?

Philip said...

Thank you for getting back to me. I'll explain that one of the reasons I haven't been as systematic about answering your questions, is that there are 1st so many and 2ndly I don't have the know-how. When it comes to specific individuals like Cal Thomas, James Dobson and others, I have a hard time critiquing as you aren't proposing specific instances of their hate speech.

So far as your being confident that you could never be genocidal, where does your confidence come from? Given the right set of circumstances I believe almost anyone can do anything. What about all the "good" men and women who committed evil acts in the Nazi regime. Were they all genetically predisposed towards evil? And on that note what is evil? I'm not trying to be contentious, I just want to know what science offers us when it comes to the big questions.

I've tried to be more personal in explaining my own sin/brokenness, and I'm actually not trying to steer clear of original sin. Or maybe I was, b/c people really react against it, it seems so unfair. I don't have time to go in to it now, or do your other questions justice, but this conversation is getting so interesting, I'd love to draw some my father in if you're up for it. He has a PhD from Cambridge in OT studies and should have some cool insights if I can pull him away from his studies.

I'll get back to you soon. In the meantime let me know if you'd like to grill my dad :). If not, I'd like to take some time to really look into some of your thoughts, especially explaining original sin, the garden narrative, nature and sex.

Thanks for the really challenging thoughts.

Philip said...

Oh and I can help you on the topic of God's son. I see your point, if God has everything, what's the big deal in sending his son? I can see how at age 10, you'd see that.

But Jesus didn't so much claim to be one of the sons (as we all are his creatures) of God but more specifically he claimed to be THE son of God. It's what got the Jews ready to stone him for blasphemy. They said, "We're all son's of Abraham." to which Jesus responded "Even before Abraham was 'I AM'" making more explicit his implicit claims to divinity.

So God's just not giving a tiny piece of himself away when he is crucified, he's in a mysterious sense, putting himself on the cross. From what I know this is what Orthodox Christianity teaches. Does that help at all as a starting point?

Philip said...

Oh and one more thing. On the cross, Jesus cries, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" What's the big deal about this?

In it he's expressing a ripping apart of divine relationship. So far from being distant or impervious to pain, Jesus as God expresses that he feels pain at an even deeper level. He's not lifting sins and giving absolution. He's actually suffering for those sins. And a being who's truly good and infinite has the ability to suffer beyond what we can imagine.

So on the cross we see God's specific hatred towards say rape being beaten out on his Son. So on the cross we see God's justice and mercy meet. His justice is taken on by Jesus so that his mercy can be given to us. Once again, that's what I believe Orthodox Christianity teaches.

Philip said...

"CH points out so adroitly, one cannot take the place of the sinner, receiving punishment while conferring absolution. That's not moral, from any point of view. One may forgive me for my "sins", but one cannot assume my sin and lift it from me and placing it on themselves." - I think with this quote you nailed what people really have difficulty with. God's justice vs. our justice. Our justice says each man should pay for what he does. God's justice entails mercy for sinners like me. It's not mere absolution, it's way more than that. It's actual validation for his creature and healing on the deepest level.

In a sense I could see how you would still argue that this isn't moral. It's an interesting idea, that God's morality is different.

If God really is God, he's the only one with the power to forgive. Once again Jesus was almost stoned for claiming his ability to forgive sins. The Jews had a saying, "that only God could forgive sins."

More later...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for being candid, Philip. I have hit you with a blizzard of questions, and I understand why you've been reluctant to tackle some of them. In truth, some of the questions I've asked you have never been answered satisfactorily (from the non-believer's pov) since the beginning of time, by anyone. I was just wanting to see how you might reconcile these un-answerables in your own mind. I think, if I read you correctly, you don't have nearly the need to address those issues as those of us who are reluctant to get on the bus in the first place. You're already seated.

Which brings me to the invitation to drill down deeper with respect to the precise meanings of the bible passages we've been chatting about. This is the "going from 115-to-116" problem I mentioned earlier. Sure we can parse all the precise meanings of what's in that book, but in my mind that's for believers to do amongst themselves. For us outside the tent, we require something to get us from our current state, zero, to 0.1 before we can get too interested in whether Jesus was really his own father or whatever.

Think of it as Alice Through The Looking Glass. On this side, all of those fanciful creatures and events on the other side had no reality. She had to step through to get to them. Only on the other side could a caterpillar speak to her. Discussing whether a caterpillar could speak, while still on the normal side of the mirror, would be a waste of time. The stories told in the bible are on the other side of the looking glass for me. And I have yet to encounter reason one to step through to examine them more closely.

I was voicing my perplexity wrt to what I casually know about them and their contradictions, and how they reflect so clearly the same creation/salvation myths told by so many other cultures for the entirely of the human presence on earth, and wondering how you can justify that you know them to be uniquely true in that sea of so many alternatives. Not to mention the historicity aspect, which must not be a comforting thought for believers. To have zero contemporary evidence of a human Jesus is like if we were unable to prove Aristotle was ever on earth. By legend, Jesus is said to have been far more well-known, throughout far more territory. They were both supposed to be influential philosophers, revolutionaries in their day, and revered by intensely devoted followers. Yet only one has left behind a whole library of evidence of his existence, including much from his contemporaries, and was, on any level of inspection, undoubtedly a real person. Do you know which one I'm talking about?

Anonymous said...

And briefly on the "why can't I be a genocidal maniac" issue: We know now why people do sadistically evil, terrible things to other people. They have their wires crossed, biologically. Neuroscience has uncovered a lot of the mechanics of where such anti-social behavior comes from. And, comforting to all of us who aren't cross wired, without this underlying biological support it is almost impossible (almost because of the potential for other reasons, like brain damage to create the same result) for us to behave that way. It's literally not in our dna. And there are usually a long list of predictors one can identify that makes it more likely that someone is capable of heinous criminality against other people. I'm happy to report that I've never exhibited any! Rest easily, Philip. I'm really not ever going to do any evil. And I can't even take credit for that, since it literally is not part of my dna to do otherwise. I will never have brown eyes, either. For the same reason.

Anti-semitism is and was, to use an analogy you won't like, very similar to religion in that its adherents were all convinced that only they saw the truth about the world. Much of anti-semitism (not all) is deeply rooted in the "those guys killed christ" excuse, which of course would only offend someone who held christ to be more valuable that the guy down the block who got shot last night. In other words, Christians.

As the man said, for otherwise good people to do evil things, you have to have a religious inspiration. The religious inspiration for Hitler's willing executioners, on the broad scale, was partly religious, partly the human frailty (studied and documented many times since WW2) to "go along" with a strong leader, even against one's own morality, and partly the zeitgeist of the aryans of the day, not just in Germany, of blaming the jews for all sorts of problems. In retrospect, I think it's been pretty clearly established that the jews were not the "threat" to the aryans that the aryans believed them to be, but that didn't matter so much. They believed what they believed, and they self-justified their actions of persecuting fellow humans. Like the evangelicals do today when they kill abortion doctors. Except in 1936 Germany, all jews were considered to be abortion doctors.

I hope you find time to go over this long thread and cherry pick some other questions of mine that you haven't addressed and give it a shot. I'm running out of steam without some "take" in what's supposed to be a "give and take" exchange!

Philip said...

Man I'm loving this discussion. Like I said you've got more questions than I can answer. So you're right I've been cherry-picking. As to the historicity of the gospels, which I believe is right to go after, the arguments are waaaay more complex than they paint them. Historical criticism has been barraging these "so-called" eyewitness accounts for ages. So this really isn't anything all that new, it's just finally taking it a step further and saying there was no Jesus.

To tell you the truth, I really don't know the definitive historical answer. I can't say that there is evidence that is so overwhelming that you must convert. Convert :)!

No, from what I understand there is evidence on both sides. From the bible I have, which is a good translation (or unbelievable conspiracy!): Mark was written either by John Mark or some other dude and drew from the teachings of Peter. Luke was the physician who traveled with Peter and probably gathered his account from both Peter and others. Matthew is commonly known as one of the disciples as well as John. John claims to have seen and interacted with Jesus, on a number of occasions. Of course it's all hearsay ;).

I don't know, when you claim that there's no historical evidence for Jesus, would it have been better for him to have just written us a dang note! "I am Jesus. I wrote this," signed "Jesus." In actual fact this wasn't the norm of the oral tradition of the day. Plus he got killed at a young age. I suppose he could have written after he was raised. "Come on Jesus just sign my t-shirt, will ya?"

Biblical historical criticism has gone over this ground so many, many times, but it is new to hear that there was probably no Jesus, period.

Just to give you an example: most NT scholars (who surprisingly are non-Christians) believe in multiple "Johannine" traditions (which would include his epistles and Revelation), multiple groups who kept the texts alive before it was finally written down way later than John claims. The texts morphed and changed over the centuries and sometime people began adding stuff in about Jesus' claims etc.

I was in a lecture (I tag along with my Dad to these things just out of sheer curiosity) at the Society of Biblical Literature, when they were debating about which tradition a certain obscure quote came from, when a lady stood up, quite nervous but brave, and said, "I've got a question, at what point do we allow John to be John?" Unfortunately their was a lot of nasal clearing and the answers were too esoteric for me to understand. But I got the question. The gist of what I'm getting at is this, why is there so much suspicion about the biblical texts, of which there are many source documents - upwards of 20,000 (I need to fact check on this as I'm sure it varies), when there is so little suspicion about other historical documents.

We can call it myth. But the reason we do so is because of it's claims, and I don't think it's because of shoddy history on the part of believing scholars. It seems to me that unbelieving scholars are the ones weaving myths. And if you can imagine not believing the bible but studying it full time, and having a bunch of your German (nothing against the Germans - but they do all the theology and get paid by the German govt.) buddies doing the same you might be tempted to start making stuff up, especially after the great Deutschland frothy brew is flowing. I realize here that I'm making some broad and bold claims, but you've been making them as well, so fairs fair. I think you might be interested in the book I pointed you to earlier Josh McDowell's "Evidence that Demands a Verdict" where he deals with these issues extensively in lay terms.

Philip said...

Another dude I'd point you to is CS Lewis, who I'm sure you've heard of a billion times, but he really does make a lot of good points in "Mere Christianity" about morals and all. And a lot of them still hold. It's not because evangelicals don't have brains. It's just that he had a remarkable one. I know, I've measured it :). Plus he signed my t-shirt and all.

I realize I might have gone off on a tangent about biblical texts and stuff, so I'll get back to you later and make sure I'm not cherry-picking too much.What would be really helpful for me is to look at and "Evidence that Demands a Verdict" side by side. So I'll do this when I find the time.

Oh and so far as biology explaining and predisposing people towards certain character traits, isn't it an over-statement to say that that means people without certain evil genes cannot do certain things, for certain? And of course there is evidence for certain genetic predispositions, but my question would be what does that prove about evil?

In other words where did evil, love and goodness come from? I'm not against using evolution as the means of a lot, but as the prime agent of everything? That's where I think we get into murky waters.

Sorry this is so long but I have one more illustration: I am friends with a young man who is an atheist who once began crying upon reading "The Giving Tree" by Shel Silverstein (sp?). I asked him later about why he cried and when pressed he said it was because of chemical processes going on in his brain. I would agree. But is there something more? And this is where I believe Christians aren't arguing for a God-in-the-gaps, but for a richer, fuller explanation to the questions of why.

As to a compelling reason to "come to" Christ. You said you had a conscience, and I see this is as compelling a reason as any. My conscience tells me that I'm not perfect, and at times am down-right mean. This for me, helps me understand the world as it is. The "internal evidence" I talked about earlier. Far from being Christianity being a band-aid for my conscience, if I believe there is more than what I see, I have a compelling internal reason to seek forgiveness and healing not only for myself but for the world, which the biblical account offers. Paul argues this pretty adamantly in Romans 2. Of course somebody made him up :).

My apologies for the long post, but I just reread yours, and I agree it does take religious conviction to do evil, but I'd argue that it takes religious conviction to do good as well. Christianity is a religion. But when interpreted correctly, it's a religion that teaches self-sacrifice, mercy, justice, love and forgiveness and gives foundations for all of these.

And I'd argue that you have religious conviction in your atheism, no?

And though I have to admit I've thought of doing good so that I can have a reward in heaven, that's not the primary motivation for Christians, at least ones that are learning to be selfless. The center of a Christian's universe is God, not self. So the primary reason to do good is not for reward, but to simply please the one who made you. Phew! Sorry about the long post!

Philip said...

Here's a book that I've got to read, by D'Nesh Desouza, if I'm going to be able to answer your questions more intelligently (ha, I just misspelled intelligent). Also I found this interesting article about CH's friendship with a crazed evangelical nut:

Take Care.

Philip said...

In my eagerness to respond, I realize I didn't even begin answering your initial questions about specific bible texts that present a problem. My bad. Let's address them one by one. So shoot, whenever you get a chance. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

First, Dinesh D'Souza is a complete nut job. How do I know? He's one of those egomaniacs who thinks he can go toe to toe with CH, and Michael Shermer and Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett, all very intelligent, thoughtful men, and he's so outside their league that it makes the resulting conversation (I can't call them debates because there's really no one on the other side from the atheists in these, just Dinesh) it's like watching a train wreck. They are all on YouTube. You should check them out before you read anything this guy has written. He's a poor man's Deepak Chopra, without the deft command of doublespeak that Chopra has. Dinesh tries to doublespeak, but he's simply not up to it. What a loser (and yes I would say the same if he were arguing MY point of view, the guy is just a media whore who is in waaaay over his head. It's sad, really.)

I think we've finally codified the most fundamental difference between us, in several ways, but more forcefully with your last post. You confess that there's at least room for doubt about a historical Jesus. And yet you take the leap anyway. For me, I see clearly that there's at least room for doubt, if not absolutely compelling evidence that the whole thing is a bronze age fiction, embellished hundreds of years later by creative writers who compared notes, took their time, and STILL didn't get it consistent, and my play is to remain unconvinced.

Me, I see how humans have been pattern-seeking, story-telling animals for about 200,000 years, and the OT and the NT and scads of other documents and religious iconography fit perfectly into the human narrative that has circulated over those years (only the last 0.01% included christianity), repeating itself over and over and over. You, having been told as a child that the particular christian narrative that your parents believe to be the "correct" one, are happy to go along with that. I'll bet you believed in Santa Claus until you were at least 12, and probably spent a few soul searching moments in agony upon discovering that your parents had been perpetrating a lie all those years. For most kids it's the first time children come to recognize that their parents DO, in fact, lie. And what a grave disappointment! But you never had to have the same wake-up call with regard to the religious tales. Some people, I guess it's dna (what isn't, really?) just don't have the itch inside them to demand more evidence for things that they are told accept on demand. For a five year old with Santa, okay, I see how easy it is to fool them. But once you've gotten a sense of the world, 18-25 or so, and have developed (hopefully) some critical thinking skills, how is it that some people just don't care, or want to know more than what they've been spoon fed that is so clearly based on superstition?

It is often offered that atheism is a "religion" unto itself. I'm surprised that you threw that out there, though, because I've spent a pretty good amount of column inches on trying to explain that atheism is not a belief, it's a lack of belief. It's not pro-anything except demanding evidence about what we say is true. It's exactly, and I mean exactly, what you feel about Zeus. You don't see any reason to believe in Zeus. I don't either. And I don't see any reason to believe in any other god. Do you think your atheism about Zeus is tantamount to a religious belief? If you say yes, then we've got to go back to square one, my friend.

Anonymous said...

The rebuttal to the literary giants like CS Lewis was written in the early 20th century by the literary giant Bertrand Russel. "Why I Am Not a Christian" It's just an essay really, and you should give it a look. Remember, he was talking in a time not long after "blasphemers and heretics" were shunned from society. (A better fate than being drowned, stoned or burned, but still who wants to be shunned?). So he couches his heretical comments for a softer landing for the 95% of the population who, incurious and under-informed, were believers. (thank god that number has come way down in the century since as skeptical thinking has flourished with the advent of the information age!)

Christopher Hitchens, the man you say was "tragical wrong" about all this stuff, wrote more eloquently, more to the point, and more compellingly about the same topics. If you really want to prove your courage about confronting your doubts, you really should read God Is Not Great.

Finally, I don't want to discuss bible texts or bible interpretation. It's just not interesting to me. In my view, it's like hearing someone talk about the dreams they had last night. Ok, so there was a purple crocodile flying toward your kite.....


What I'm still wanting to get from you is why my needle on the "accept christianity" scale should even quiver, let alone budge, from its current state of flat-line-zero. Where's the compelling argument that you would use on a non-believer who, unlike me perhaps, hasn't already looked at the question with a great deal of curiosity and found plenty of reasons for disbelief. Say a guy walks in to your living room who's never heard of religion or atheism. I don't know....he's been in a coma or something. Where do you start with him? Tell him he needs to be saved? What if he says "why?" I'd just like to hear where the sales pitch starts with you guys, when you're not spoon feeding it to gullible children who'll believe anything. Have you ever tried to convert anyone, bring them to christ, when they weren't already part of the way there based on their already held fears? How good a salesman for god are you?

Philip said...

Anonymous, maybe it's time I took the gloves off a little bit. It's not that I think I can spar with you on the intellectual level (as you're a pretty smart dude and proud of it), but I do believe I can spar with you on the level of fact and truth.

On the historicity of Jesus, hardly any historians, who don't twist and turn history into a spaghetti junction of ridiculousness, question the fact that Jesus existed. I don't need to give you evidence, you just need to do a tiny, tiny bit of research to confirm this and find that you are in a very, very small minority (just study Polycarp and the early church fathers). And please don't play the "We poor Atheists are surrounded by Christians" card. It's not true and it's absurd. From what I've seen it's very frustrating to see people leaning on their polemical arguments and when challenged retreating into a victim mentality.

I've also picked up a tone of superiority riddled through your posts. For someone who is bent on following the path of truth and looking for facts, why do you have to be so abrasive? Is it not the case that you feel you're on the defensive and must then attack like crazy? In order to not even take a look at all the holes that a simple materialistic world and life view leave you with I'd attack too. Explain love. Explain anything...

I've up to this point tried to be patient, I've even read Sam Harris' and Dawkins' books, and looked at the debates. And it is becoming clear to me that you haven't read much of anything counter to your view. Nor are you willing to do so.

It's amazing to me that you ask me to address problem texts in the bible and then shy away from it as soon as I'm willing to do so. What gives?

Look, the very reason Jesus said he came was to save sinners. He said that those who are sick need a physician not those who are well. He said this in front of the religious elite of his day. And I believe he would say it in front of a lot of "Christians" as well as "New Atheists" - people that are so couched in their position that they see no weakness whatsoever and are totally self-satisfied. Would you want to be described that way? As having all the answers?

I doubt it. While I do sense you have little to no biblical knowledge, I sense you would like some, so I'll ask you again why can't we look at some actual passages that you have issue with. Just go to Sam Harris' book and we'll start from there. Are you afraid that the God that the guys have demonized, may have in fact been demonized?

In order for your meter to quiver, I believe that you've got to ask God for honesty. If you rule God out a priori, I believe your in a tough position. But not impossible, how about trying simple historical and scientific honesty.

Another question I have is this: Are you really trying to win me over to your position, with all of the dismissiveness, bravado and obvious anger that the "new atheists" portray? Add to this having absolutely no humility and sprinkle in a little of total distortion of reality and history, no one in their right mind is going to be drawn to atheism. Your movement is doomed.

You talk about your meter not moving. Mine's going in the opposite direction. Why so much obvious hostility, polemic and hyperbole if you're trying to win people over?

I actually want to engage with questions of faith and lack of faith. I don't want to play philosophical and esoteric games of who sounds smarter. Isn't that what you're after too?

As far as inferring that Dinesh is a moron, even a moron who is humble, patient and applies himself to the facts at hand is better than an genius who likes the sound of his own voice.

Anonymous said...

Wow! I see I've finally drilled down to the real Philip.

I have to say, though, it always turns out this way. It's disappointing in a way, since what I truly want to know is how you believers can say things in judgment of CH or any other non-believer when you don't seem to know the first thing about them or what they stand for. My batting average, to date: .000.

To paraphrase some of the things you've said to me that I think be polite....silly:

Atheism is a religion.

CH was tragically wrong.

Richard Dawkins is easy to refute because he's just polemical. Let me get back to you on some specifics.

If religion has had a negative impact on human societies, so what? Atheism has too.

We don't need no stinkin' proof that jesus existed, we know it because we were told it and we believe it, period.

"True" christians are incapable of doing anything really really bad bad. Anything done in the name of jesus/god/christianity that was against what I see as being taught in the bible cannot be judged as having a christian motivation. Only non-true-christians do bad bad things.

Without "forgiveness" from god, and a set of rules laid down by god, all of us are capable of genocide.

What we call "sexual deviancy" is a sickness and not something god had anything to do with.

I want to be the last person to criticize those who don't have sex the way god "intended", but they are sick and unnatural and responsible for their own problems.

With god, I am able to love people better.

Non-christians who do good things are doing so only because god has allowed them to.

I've never heard anything from the most famous evangelicals of our time that I can form an opinion about them from, so quote me something and I'll get back to you on what I think about them and their messages.

You've asked a lot of questions and I'm going to get back to you on them!

This conversation is good in that it makes me examine my faith.

This conversation is pointless because you are a superior, abrasive, angry, dismissive, dishonest person who hasn't looked at "both sides".

Quote me something from the bible and let me spin it for you.


Anonymous said...

Just a sampling, Philip. And then to cap it off with this latest...what, rant? Maybe there are extenuating circumstances and you just lost your cool, spinning out of control like so many others have before you. But probably not. I think it's more likely that this Philip was always the Philip at the keyboard, but playing a role of Philip the Equanimous. I guess that only goes so far, huh?

And one more time, just to say I did it: We aren't trying to win anyone over. We don't have a "movement". That's your thing. We hold rational, skeptical evaluation of all things to be the highest form of human inquiry into how the world works. It's a beautiful thing, full of glory and magnificence. In a word Awe-inspiring. I don't think there's a scale to measure this, but I know how I feel when trying to fathom the universe and what we know about it, and I'd say that feeling is at least as good as anything a religious believer ever feels. And I can sleep in on Sundays!

Please remember the Ra The Sun God and the Zeus analogies (even though you never responded to either). They should help you when you want to vilify those that don't see the christian version of a deity to be any more convincing than the thousands of others who came before and after it.

Philip, I don't vilify you. I don't think you're acting badly or dishonestly. Even when you call me names. I actually believe you think you're onto something with this religion of yours. And I'm sure it gives you great comfort. That's not for me to judge.

My only goal here was to hear how you defend it; sell it to others. I fully understand how frustrating it must be, because neither you nor anyone else I've ever asked about it (quite a few!) have ever given me a straight answer. But I'm still searching for that one honest, true believer who can provide a thought-provoking, falsifiable end to this sentence: My god is the one who is real, and I know so because _______________.

I'd say I'm sorry that you found my tone to be off-putting, but in re-reading what I've written, I don't find much in there to apologize for, tone-wise. I've been told that I give way too much attention to true believers. I suppose most non-believers never seem as interested as I am in holding a two week convo with someone like you, figuring that it'd be a waste of time.

It's not been a waste of time, Philip. Just another exercise in probing America's obsession with the supernatural. I'm still waiting to get to the bottom of it! ;-)

But thanks for playing!

Philip said...

Anonymous, this may be indeed be the last note, as it seems we've taken this conversation as far as it will go for now. From the beginning of your post, with my "silly lines" I'd say you'd win journalistic awards for taking words out of context and misconstruing them, something that (I believe) Hitchens, Dawkins and now Harris to do quite often.

Atheism is a religion. (I believe you might be right in calling it silly as it's not being careful with words, but I'd defend that many of today's atheistic proponents have all the zeal and faith that it takes to make a religion out of it.)

CH was tragically wrong. (I don't remember saying this, but if I did, you'd have to see why from my perspective this is not silly at all but deadly serious.)

(I'm skipping the Richard Dawkins one b/c you're right, you got me there :)!!!)

If religion has had a negative impact on human societies, so what? Atheism has too. (What's silly about this, it's absolutely true. I don't really believe that religion has had a negative effect or atheism for that matter, but the people who use these world views to promote evil. So I see it as sort of a moot point.)

We don't need no stinkin' proof that jesus existed, we know it because we were told it and we believe it, period. (Now that's a cheap shot, and reveals your serious lack of any willingness to study what you dismiss).

"True" christians are incapable of doing anything really really bad bad. Anything done in the name of jesus/god/christianity that was against what I see as being taught in the bible cannot be judged as having a christian motivation. Only non-true-christians do bad bad things. (I didn't say this, but I see how you could have inferred it. I believe that "true Christians" indeed do do evil things, but the fault lies not with what Jesus or Christianity teaches but with me.)

Without "forgiveness" from god, and a set of rules laid down by god, all of us are capable of genocide.
(Not really all that silly. Kind of scary actually :).)

What we call "sexual deviancy" is a sickness and not something god had anything to do with. (Right on there.)

I want to be the last person to criticize those who don't have sex the way god "intended", but they are sick and unnatural and responsible for their own problems.
(I didn't say that they are sick and unnatural, their actions are. We are responsible for our actions, but if God' good and has prescribed sex within certain boundaries, it's a given that individuals who go outside those boundaries are not going to experience good sex. That's straight logic.)

With god, I am able to love people better. (I'd counter, "Without God you are able to love people better?")

Philip said...

Non-christians who do good things are doing so only because god has allowed them to. (Not silly at all if you believe in a sovereign God - God who rules over everything.)

I've never heard anything from the most famous evangelicals of our time that I can form an opinion about them from, so quote me something and I'll get back to you on what I think about them and their messages. (Jerry Falwell is not the most famous evangelical of all time, what about Jonathan Edwards or DL Moody etc. I'm really not all that familiar with Falwell - honest. Somewhat familiar with Dobson - from what I hear he can be off on points, but seems good in most. So far as What's-her-name-Republican-candidate-lady (can't think of her right now) "praying away the gays" I do think that is absurd and stupid, if she said it. But you've got to see that evangelicals get lumped together with some crazies. And we agree with you guys when we here some of what the TV crazies say (especially the TV guys - Joel Olsteen for one).

You've asked a lot of questions and I'm going to get back to you on them! (Why is that silly?)

This conversation is good in that it makes me examine my faith. (True.)

This conversation is pointless because you are a superior, abrasive, angry, dismissive, dishonest person who hasn't looked at "both sides". (No, I felt that the conversation was becoming pointless. And I'd hold that you haven't looked at both sides.

Neither have I for that matter, when it comes to thoroughly understanding your perspective, but I have read "The God Delusion" and "Letter to a Christian Nation". At least I've done that.

And hey if you do want to do some research on the historicity of Jesus, do look up evidence about the early church fathers, the council of Nicea, Polycarp being one of John's disciples, etc. There is evidence from secular scholarship to back up the historicity of Jesus. I can see you taking issue with his claims, but not with his existence.

Quote me something from the Bible and let me spin it for you. (If by spin, you mean looking at the culture, context and genre of a piece of literature, then yeah I'm all about spinning it for you. The offer stands, and if I were you I'd call my bluff and make me sweat as there are difficult passages in scripture.)

All in all, I get the feeling that you enjoyed the conversation, as did I, even though I got a little heated or more human you might say with our last exchange. I definitely don't know all the answers, but dialoguing with you has DEFINITELY NOT been a waste of my time and I do appreciate the time you've put in to it. And I think you're right, you should go after orthodox Christians. Otherwise you're just setting up straw men and knocking them down. It'd be like me going after people on the street who say they think they don't believe in God. So good on you and thanks for the good times. Stay in touch and feel free to email me anytime with any thoughts, I find your voice really interesting even though it makes me angry at times :).

Anonymous said...

I said they were paraphrases, and I called them "silly" because I wanted to be polite. It doesn't surprise me that that little social nicety was wasted. So to be clear: What they are, actually, are troubling; some because they are so wrong (A), some because they are so naive (B), and some because they show an utter lack of critical thinking (C). Let's leave "silly" aside, then.

As a professional journalist for many years, I have a firm grasp on what it means to "misrepresent" someone's words or intent. And in spite of your insistence otherwise, I haven't done it with your words. You should learn the difference before you accuse someone of same. It's a serious offense in our world.

1. Atheism is not a religion. Look up religion. "Not believing" is not included in the definition, nor do atheists have a "set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature and purpose of the universe" which religions, by definition, must have.

You are confusing earnestness with "zeal and faith". They are not the same. Atheists are rarely unsure about what they're sure about. They may seem dismissive of religious people, they may even be rude, and they may seem stubborn. But they are stubborn because they don't get what they require in order to accept something as real. It has to be subject to the same reality checks we use on everything else we agree is real. Religions, to date, have not offered anything that come close to that sniff test. So let's categorize my original paraphrase and your defense of it on the above criteria. This one gets (A) (B) (C)

(Please do me a favor and never suggest that the lack of belief is anything at all related to faith. It is not.)

2. Do you ever re-read what you wrote? If so, then you wrote: "As Christopher Hitchens has now found out that he is tragically wrong" in your opening post, which prompted my response. (A)

3. Richard Dawkins (unchallenged)

4. Again, atheism is NOT A WORLD view. Atheists may well believe that the world is flat and that all other people on it are really robots. They would have a different world view than me, albeit we are both atheists. (A) (B) (C)

5. I have asked you REPEATEDLY for the evidence of jesus's existence, and you refer me to other people's research. My question was to YOU. What evidence is there? You've never given a hint, but have said that that doesn't matter. You believe, no matter what. (B) (C)

6. Evasive. The issue is whether people using solely the bible as motivation ever do anything evil. You've never admitted they do (saying they are not "true christians" and that christianity is not at "fault" for their actions). That is clearly wrong, by any standard of measure. The construct that is religion has inspired people to do all sorts of wicked things solely with the motivation provided by the bible. (A) (B) (C)

7. Genocidal possibilities. What kind of creature did god design that all of them are capable of genocide?! EGADS! This one leaves me a little cold, because I have so much more admiration for humans than that. Did you get this from the bible or is it just something you made up? I've never heard any other true believer say this. (A) (B) (C)

Anonymous said...

8. Technically you are correct; since there was no creation by god, no human's sexual deviancy could have come from god. But in terms of what exists in the natural world, you couldn't be more wrong. What you would call "sexual deviancy" is absolutely part of the natural world. Just as your sexual desires are natural so are everyone else's. But there's a long list of specifics of what those desires target. Again, all of them natural. You have to give evidence of a "learned" or "willfully created" sexual appetite in order to suggest otherwise. Here's a hint: No one has ever been able to. (A) (B) (C)

9. Epic fail defending this one. Despite the fevered efforts of so many religious folk sexual practices not condoned by religion are enjoyed IMMENSELY by millions of people all over the world. (A) (B x 100) (C)

10. Loving people doesn't seem to be your business. You condemn at least some that I know of. If that comes from god, which you seem to suggest, then with god you love some people less. (A) (B) (C)

11. Ridiculously circular. (B) (C)

12. You've been evasive on this since the beginning, and you continue to be. (A) (B) (C)

13. Not silly. Just a lie. (A)

14. No evidence that you've examined your faith in any way other than how to keep it from being questioned. (A) (B) (C)

15. You called me several names. Is that how you indicate that you feel the conversation is "becoming pointless"? May I make a suggestion? When you feel a conversation is "becoming pointless", just stop conversing. It's easier on everyone, and you don't seem like an angry person who has no better argument than to call people names. (A) (B) (C)

16. Unchallenged.

No, I don't need to do any further research on the historicity of jesus. I've done plenty, and can't agree that there's any convincing evidence that he did. If you feel otherwise, your best move isn't to invite me to do my own research to prove you right; it would be to offer up something specific that you think proves you right. That's how science works. If I don't believe in ESP (and of course I don't), it's not up to me to prove that ESP is or isn't real. It's up to someone who says it is to prove it is.

Yes, I enjoyed the conversation, a little. I didn't learn as much as I wanted to about what makes you tick, and I don't like being called names (who does?). But my takeaway is that you don't really even know what makes you tick, so how could you explain it to someone else? That's a pretty damning conclusion, I admit, but I can't come up with anything in all you've written that gives me a hint of why you choose to lead your life the way you do and believe the things you do. And, to me, the thought of going through life in that anesthetized state is just a very scary thought.

On the other hand, I have given you beaucoup evidence of what makes me tick. And have stated over and over that when evidence shows up to change my mind, I evaluate it and change my mind if necessary. I don't think you could accuse me of blindly holding on to any beliefs that have been shown to be lacking in evidence, or that have been changed by newly discovered evidence. Other than maybe that the Cubs will win the World Series sometime in my lifetime!

Philip said...

Hey I'm not even sure what a beaucoup means. Good word though.

I'm sorry if you inferred from my "rant" or other-times where I felt you were being dismissive that you thought I was calling you names. Not very Christian of me :). Of course we religious people are full of bigotry just waiting to come out (j/k).

And you have a really good point when it comes to examining my life and faith system critically. Something that I need to continue to do, and something that this conversation helps me see - that I have a lack when it comes to Apologetics.

On that note, in giving you sources, it's true that we're both leaning on others as we've dialogued. We all do that. When I got in the car this morning, I didn't look at my car and say, "Man I have no idea how that thing works, so I better go back inside and either bemoan my state, or read some Japanese manuals." No, I got in it and drove.

But point taken, I do need to examine Christianity more critically. I gave you as much evidence as I could, and if that's not enough in your book, I guess you could say I'm living off of borrowed faith, or just believing what my parents told me. Of course, if what they told me is correct, then that puts me in a good place.

Thanks for the long discussion. And once again I do apologize for getting angry. There were some extenuating circumstances, I get depressed easily and I wasn't having a particularly good day and did want to rant. Though I did ask for feedback from my father, who is one of the most peace-loving people I know, and he gave me the green light on it.

And as this conversation is drawing to a close I'll do my best at giving you my most thoughtful answer to I believe that my God is the only god because of _______. (Why not give it a shot?)

I believe that my God is the only God because he claims to be all through a book that has been critically examined for centuries and has yet to be thoroughly debunked (though many claim otherwise without evidence), because his story in this book helps me make sense of my story and finally because I find my God unique in that he became small and vulnerable to save the weak and powerless like me.

Once again thanks for your time and the stimulating conversation. I promise to keep examining my life and look forward to conversations like this in the future. At 55 extensive comments this is one of the longest dialogues I've ever seen. Thanks for your wit and for the good times. And I want you to know that I'm taking up your challenge to further examine my WV seriously.

Take Care,

Anonymous said...

Ok. Apologies accepted. Explanations noted. And best wishes on your quest to wrestle your faith to the ground. I would never advocate that you give up your faith (unlike what atheists are supposed to do, according to many true believers, but never do) only suggest that you owe it to yourself to live fully what you do believe, and come to terms with all its implications. That's the highest level that we humans can hope to achieve, and it's a shame (imo) that so many of us are content not to even try. Reach higher, I say!

As for your attempt to answer the big question, I appreciate your honesty, but I do hope you see that your answer is the same answer believers in all religions give, with the exact same amount of falsifiability, i.e., zero. The book hasn't been debunked? I don't agree, but let's say it's true. Has Peter Pan been debunked? No. Has Snow White? No. Has the Koran? No. The Book of Mormon? No. The Bhagavad Gita? No. (Make your own long list...)

Rather than taking comfort in not being "debunked", the believers of these documents that, collectively, billions of people have sworn were true (ok, maybe not so much for the first two in the population of over 7 year olds), we should look for affirmation of their reality in ways we can measure. A nice story, without a shred of evidence that it is true, is just a nice story. I enjoy stories, but I wouldn't let my unsupported belief that my eyesight could be restored by appealing to my diety get in the way of going to a doctor unless and until there was evidence that praying was effective this way.

Why is it interesting to look at these books with a discerning eye? Well, for one, they are wildly contradictory and can't all be correct. And they all claim to be the one true version of the cause and meaning of life. That gives me a sense of unease, if I believe in any one of them, that is hard to ignore.

If just ONE of them had a signed T-shirt.....

Just a quick thought about you and your car. You've given a great example of how we secular humans relate to what's real and what's not. The analogy is usually getting on an airplane, but a car works too.

We accept that cars drive without our knowing the exact science behind the process. Why? Is this an example of faith? No. It's an example of the scientific method and how it instructs our daily lives. We've learned through trial and error how to drive a car, and we know that we have a reasonable expectation that when we turn the key and step on the gas, it will take us for a ride. And when it doesn't work, we know that this is accounted for in the realm of how mechanical structures behave: they sometimes breakdown. That doesn't mean you are wrong to expect them to work.

Faith in the supernatural often seems to be desirous of deserving the exact same set of expectations and exceptions. But the natural world has never, to date, been affected by anything supernatural, as far as we know, so the idea that the two are similar is not valid. BUT! The moment an amputee, for instance, grows a new limb after praying for it to happen, I'm gonna throw in with jesus! Or, more precisely, whomever he/she was appealing to. That would impress the hell out of me. (Great website: Why Does God Hate Amputees?)

You want to win us over? That's how it'll happen.

Thanks again, and best wishes.

Philip said...

Once again stimulating stuff. Thank you.