The ironic thing is that once we recognise that Biblical writers can speak with conflicting voices, we cannot fail to realise that the condemnation of homosexuality occupies an absolutely negligible space within both the Old and New Testaments in comparison to social justice issues .
For most Biblical writers, the real sin of Sodom was not to have allowed same-sex relationships but to have callously refused to care for the poor and the needy.
While I strongly doubt that God’s wrath will fall upon America because John and James love each other and strive for a lifelong marriage, I do believe that neglecting the health care of poor kids in order to allow millionaires and billionaires to pay less taxes is a crime worthy of destruction.
I recently stumbled across a picture showing another aspect of the religious hypocrisy going on.
Consequently, I feel a profound solidarity toward all people around the world whose culture and identity have been destroyed or devastated.
There is no doubt that the ordeals experienced by native Americans are worse, by many orders of magnitude, than those we went through.
Their men and women have been massively murdered, their languages and traditions have been forbidden and they have been treated as worthless foreigners on their own land.
And all those things were perpetrated by people calling themselves the worthy servitors of Christ.
Given that, it seems truly shameless to whine about having to “bear” homosexual couples being recognised in American society.
Now let me be clear about one thing. I respect other Christians believing that homosexuality is a sin, even if I believe they’re deeply wrong on that. I do appreciate there are many decent and loving people among them.
I am, however, truly angry against inconsistent bigoted Christians who focus most of their God-given energy on combating homosexuality while refusing to address the injustices committed against native Americans and the atrocious suffering of poor children who are affected by diseases which can be easily treated in any developed country.
If a perfectly good God revealed Himself through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, I am afraid that American fundamentalists are unwittingly bearing false witness against him.
I found an interesting post written by an American atheist reporting about her negative experiences with religiously conservative members of her family.
Musings on the Eve of a Family Reunion: Things not to say to your atheist relatives if you want them to continue to enjoy your company
This weekend, we’ll be traveling for my family reunion. Usually, it’s one of the highlights of my summer, but this year…feels different.
I don’t like conflict. It’s not enjoyable for me at all. It makes me feel shaky, to the point where sometimes, I will physically shake. My head will spin a bit. In bygone times, I sometimes backed down from it for just that reason–it felt insurmountable. Nowadays, I’m not so apt to back down, in part because I usually formulate my beliefs based on reasons that I can defend if I need to. That doesn’t mean that I want to, though.
Looking down the barrel of this weekend, I’m incredibly stressed at the prospect of interacting with my family as someone who’s “out and proud” as a nonbeliever. I am afraid of having to constantly defend myself–not because I can’t, but because I don’t want to. I want to be accepted with the same acceptance that I have for them. Unconditionally.
I work best when I can take these worries put them down somewhere outside of my own head, so here’s my list of things you should never say to your atheist relatives if you want them to enjoy your company and not dread having to interact with you. Enjoy.
1. This isn’t how you were raised.
2. You’re just going through a dark time.
3. You’re just rebelling.
4. You just want to be able to sin.
5. Can’t you see God all around you?
6. *any variation of “But Christians really believe this…” or “That person is not really a Christian…”*
7. What does your life mean?
8. What if you’re wrong?
9. How can there be morality without God?
10. Why do you hate something you don’t believe in?
11. You’re just mad at God.
12. You’ve just encountered bad Christians.
13. You really believe.
14. You do have faith. You have to have faith in (science/evolution/etc).
15. Don’t you want to believe? Just in case?
16. God doesn’t believe in atheists.
17. You can’t prove that there’s no god.
18. You’ll be back to God when you need him.
19. Why don’t you give your children a choice?
This is just a brief list, some of which is compiled from personal experience and some from wider stories and interactions online.
Basically, what I’d like to see in interactions with my family is the same lack of ulterior motives that was there before I left religion. I’d like to believe that all of our interactions are in good faith.
I have reason to believe that’s not the case–if there’s one thing our family does well, it’s gossip, and there’s definitely plenty of it circulating right now. I suppose my other wish would be, if I can’t have that lack of ulterior motives, to have brash, bald-faced honesty. I’d rather put it all out there, no half-truths or veiled questions.
If I can’t have no conflict at all, I’d rather just have it out and get it over with.
Instead, I’m stuck somewhere between the two, imagining conversations that might be, and hoping that they won’t be, and wishing that I didn’t have all of this knocking about in my brain. And fully realizing, of course, that it’s just as likely that I’ve blown all of this up in my head because I’m simply an anxious person.
No way to know at the outset. As the cliché goes, the only way out, is through, and so through I go.
Here is my answer to her post where I draw on similar experiences.
I’m an European progressive Christian and really love this post of yours:-)
“I want to be accepted with the same acceptance that I have for them. Unconditionally.”
I truly like that part. I can very well relate to this and hope that things will get better in your case.
Many atheist philosophers would answer that no such thing is possible.
I also want to react to
“19. Why don’t you give your children a choice?”
I am all in favour of giving children a choice. I think that good enlightened Christian parents should always say something similar to that to their offspring: “Look, we’re Christians, we think this is the best worldview and we believe that atheism is wrong and flawed. Yet, we do recognise there are reasonable and lovely people among other religious communities and atheists. Therefore, we really encourage you, our beloved child, to make up your own mind. If you sincerely conclude that atheism is true based, for example, on the problem of evil, then you should follow your conscience and Reason and give up your faith. God will never punish a sincere person following his or her honestly acquired convictions. Either way, stay always kind, loving and humble.”
Since your relatives would most likely never say that to their kids, they’re probably hypocrites ,
Now I wanna share my own experience.
I’m a Germanic Frenchman born in secular France and I often went through an ordeal similar to the one you’ve described.
In France, the reigning ideology is called Jacobinisme and it can be summarised as follows: “French is the only language of the country. All dialects and other languages ought to disappear from the public sphere. Religion is a relic of the past which ought to disappear completely or at the very least become insignificant“.
I fell away from Jacobinisme by beginning to proudly speak and defend the declining German dialect of my region and becoming a Christian.
I then began to hear the following things from relatives and acquaintances:
1) You’re an old-fashioned fossil
2) You’re religious just because you’re “a weak animal”
3) (mocking my German accent)
4) You shouldn’t speak in dialect in the presence of French people
(after I had just whispered something to my father in our Germanic dialect)
5) What a religious brain-washing you underwent!
6) You speak German because you’re a Nazi!
(forgetting that my half-Jewish motherly grandfather could have perished in a Nazi death camp)
I usually also base my beliefs on reasons I can defend and a while ago I decided to react to these claims while trying to remain as kind and respectful as possible.
As a rule, I have no problem defeating their weak arguments and the discussions evolve in other directions 🙂
I wish you good luck with your relatives.
I hope we’ll have opportunities to interact with each other in the future.
Best wishes from Lorraine / Lothringen (my homeland).
Then I said to myself, “The fate of the fool will overtake me also. What then do I gain by being wise? I said to myself, “This too is meaningless.” For the wise, like the fool, will not be long remembered; the days have already come when both have been forgotten. Like the fool, the wise too must die!” Kohelet. Da sprach ich in meinem Herzen: “Wenn mir doch das gleiche Geschick widerfährt wie dem Toren, warum bin ich denn so überaus weise geworden? Und ich sprach in meinem Herzen: “Auch das ist nichtig!” Denn dem Weisen wird ebensowenig wie dem Toren ein ewiges Andenken zuteil, weil in den künftigen Tagen längst alles vergessen sein wird. Und wie stirbt doch der Weise samt dem Toren dahin! Kohelet. Et j’ai dit en mon coeur: J’aurai le même sort que l’insensé; pourquoi donc ai-je été plus sage? Et j’ai dit en mon coeur que c’est encore là une vanité. Car la mémoire du sage n’est pas plus éternelle que celle de l’insensé, puisque déjà les jours qui suivent, tout est oublié. Eh quoi! le sage meurt aussi bien que l’insensé! Kohelet.
Raymond saw that the whole cave of Saint Barbe, by the village of Falck in Lorraine, was shaken. Raimund sah, dass die ganze Höhle der Heiligen Barbe beim Dorf Falck in Lothringen erschüttert wurde. Raymond vit que toute la grotte de Sainte-Barbe, près du village de Falck en Lorraine, où il se trouvait avait été ébranlée.
He looked at the apparition which was glaring at him in a way no mortal mind could have ever interpreted. Er schaute auf die Erscheinung, die auf ihn auf eine Weise blickte, die kein sterblicher Geist hätte je deuten können. Il observa l’apparition qui lui lançait un regard qu’aucun esprit mortel n’aurait jamais été en mesure d’interpréter.
“If you truly seek salvation, you won’t fail to heed my words and lay down the weapons you’ve deceptively acquired”, the otherworldly creature said. “Wenn du wirklich das Heil suchst, wirst du ganz bestimmt meine Wörter beachten und die Waffen fallen lassen, die du dir auf eine betrügerische Weise angeeignet hast”, sagte die Kreatur aus einer anderen Welt. “Si tu cherches vraiment le Salut, tu ne manqueras pas de prêter attention à mes paroles et tu laisseras tomber les armes que tu as acquises à travers ta tromperie”, dit la créature d’un autre monde.
“What are you talking about?”, he answered in a defying tone while swinging his sword. “Wovon redest Du denn?” antwortete er mit herausfordernder Stimme, während er sein Schwert schwang. “Mais de quoi parles tu ?”, repondit-il avec une voix de défi tout en brandissant son épée.
A sound vaguely resembling a laughter resounded in the cave. Ein Geräusch, das etwa an ein Gelächter erinnerte schallte in der Höhle wider. Un son ressemblant vaguement à un rire résonna dans la cave.
“I know you aren’t quite satisfied with the fate which awaits every creature of your kind.” „Ich weiss, dass Du nicht ganz mit dem Schicksal zufrieden bist, das jedes Geschöpf deiner Art erwartet. « Je sais que tu n’es pas tout à fait satisfait du destin qui attend toute les créatures de ton espèce. »
You know, the thing you call…Ah, what’s the word? Death? Ich meine…das Ding, das ihr so nennt…Ach, was ist das Wort? Tod? Je veux dire…cette chose que vous appelez…Ah, quel est le mot? Mort ?”
All your feelings, desires, dreams, longings and noblest achievements will inexorably trail off into space one day, am I correct?”, the unknown being replied. All Deine Gefühle, Wünsche, Träume, Sehnsüchte und edelsten Errungenschaften werden sich eines Tages unausweichlich in die Luft auflösen, nicht wahr?”, erwiderte das unbekannte Wesen. Tous tes sentiments, désirs, rêves, soupirs et tes accomplissements les plus nobles disparaîtront un jour inexorablement, n’est-ce pas?” répliqua l’être inconnu.
He sighed. Er seuftzte. Il soupira.
“I am aware you would do anything you could to quench your thirst for immortality”, the thing added. “Ich bin mir bewusst, dass du alles mögliches tun würdest, um deinen Durst nach Unsterblichkeit zu stillen” fügte das Ding hinzu. “Je suis conscient que tu ferais tout ce que tu pourrais pour combler ta soif d’immortalité”, ajouta la chose.
“Indeed. How could I not? My own life is what matters most to me”, he answered while whispering, fearful of being heard by other sons of man. “In der Tat. Wie könnte es anders sein? Mein eigenes Leben ist das, was mir am Wichtigsten ist”, antwortete er mit einer flüsternden Stimme, da er befürchtete, von anderen Menschensöhnen gehört zu werden. “En effet. Comment pourrait-il en être autrement? Ma propre vie est ce qu’il y a de plus important pour moi”, répondit-il en chuchotant, craignant d’être entendu par d’autres fils de l’homme.
This time he unmistakably heard the creature laugh in a shrill voice. Dieses Mal nahm er das schrille Lachen der Kreatur auf eine unverkennbare Weise wahr. Cette fois-ci, il perçut nettement le rire strident de la créature.
“My master wasn’t wrong about you. Mein Meister hat sich nicht über dich geirrt. Mon maître ne s’est pas trompé sur ton compte.
If you show us unconditional obedience, we shall grant you the deepest wish of your fragile heart. Wenn du uns bedingungslos gehorchst, werden wir den tiefsten Wunsch deines zerbrechlichen Herzes erfüllen. Si tu te soumets à nous sans conditions, nous exaucerons le souhait le plus profond de ton coeur fragile.
If you slaughter all our enemies in the tainted city of Gehenna, we shall save your soul from the eternal unconscious slumber in the colourless valley of Sheol it is currently heading to.” Wenn du all unsere Feinde in der befleckten Stadt Gehenna schlachtest, werden wir ganz bestimmt deine Seele vor dem ewigen bewusstlosen Schlaf im farbenlosen Tal von Scheol retten, wonach sie sich gerade richtet.” Si tu massacres tous nos ennemis dans la ville souillée de Géhenne, nous sauverons ton âme de l’éternel sommeil inconscient dans la vallée de Shéol, depourvue de couleurs, vers laquelle elle se dirige.”
He wanted to ask for more details, but the being disappeared instantaneously in a blur of reddish mist. Er wollte ihn nach mehr Einzelheiten fragen, aber dann verschwand das Wesen augenblicklich in einem Wirbel rötlichen Nebels. Il voulut lui demander plus de détails, mais l’être disparut instantanément dans un tourbillon de brouillard rougeâtre.
It didn’t take long before he decided to completely surrender his own heart to darkness. Es dauerte nicht lange, bevor er sich entschloss, sein eigenes Herz der Dunkelheit völlig zu übergeben. Cela ne dura pas longtemps jusqu’à ce qu’il décidât de soumettre complètement son propre coeur aux ténèbres.
This is probably gonna be the most embarrassing post I’ve ever written.
If I were allowed to “come out”, I’d say I can identify myself very well with many things this kid (who shares my condition) had to say.
I particularly like the end of his video where he reminds people that those children acting strangely and inappropriately have feelings too and that you shouldn’t put them down due to features they’re not responsible for.
If we, as PROGRESSIVES, want to strive for a just society where discrimination based on race, gender and sexual orientation no longer exists, we should also combat the systematic discrimination and bullying of those having a peculiar mental condition, the obese, disabled… Of course, doing this might be A BIT more difficult than just putting the colours of the rainbow on one’s Facebook page in order to celebrate gay marriage and to show how “cool” and “modern” you are.
I am sickened by the endless number of pseudo-progressives focusing all their time and energy on institutional white racism (or remnants thereof), gay rights and misogyny while callously ignoring the suffering of children being battered because they’re white, men falsely accused of having committed a rape, divorced fathers missing their children, a qualified obese person being rejected after each interview or autistic, psychotic and hyperactive individuals being segregated owing to their “abnormal” mental features and behaviours.
“And if you greet only your brethren, what more than others are you doing? Do not even the Gentiles (the heathen) do that?”
There is a clear general pattern which emerges here: there is no great merit in engaging in moral behaviour a large part of the society you’re living in takes for granted.
There was clearly a time where standing for gay rights was a revolutionary act.
I certainly still believe this should be done but it irks me seeing so many self-righteous people who feel great about themselves because they do so while at the same time passionately despising those whose physical or behavioural appearance do not fit societal norms.
For me, being progressive often involves being a lonely warrior challenging unjust states of affairs which are considered perfectly legitimate.
It doesn’t demand a lot of courage to assert one’s support for gay marriage while bashing Conservatives opposing it. You’re going to find countless people joining you and admiring you for doing so.
It can be much harder to fight the discrimination that people seen as unattractive face in the workplace and in their daily life.
It can be much harder to foster tolerance and acceptance towards individuals whose behaviour is perceived as weird or out of place because of conditions such as ADHD, autism, social anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder and so on and so forth..
I really wish I’d see much more progressives waging war on these injustices.
(Disclaimer: Let me say from the start, I’m an atheist . . . I consider the Bible a literary fraud and that the characters discussed below never existed.)
Based on a general reading of the Bible, especially the section labeled the Old Testament, the Hebrew god Yahweh (given the Christian title God from the LXX) is portraited as a debauched immoral character, often lacking any ethical conscious while theologically (not Biblically), the figure of Satan unjustly condemned.
To illustrate my point, I’ll breakdown the Bible’s own characterizations God and Satan so the reader can see for him or herself who is really morally debauched (I have left out the Book of Revelation due to the fact that the narratives in this Biblical Book have not taken place, being projected to some apocalyptic future which is theological speculation). Below, is a short list, though any student of the Bible who has a concordance or Bible dictionary will be able to find many more.
Murders men, women, children, babies and the unborn indiscriminately (The Flood of Noah: Genesis 7) God: Yes Satan: No
Commands the Israelites to rape, slaughter, steal / pillage and enslave men, women and children. (The attack on the Midianites in Numbers 31) God: Yes Satan: No
Demands sexual mutilation as a sign of an agreement (Exodus 4:24 – 26 = Genesis 17: 11 -14) God: Yes Satan: No
Demands rape of female children and babies. (Numbers 31: 18 “But all the young (טף) girls ( נשים) who have not known man by lying with him keep alive for yourselves.” God: Yes Satan: No
Loves precious metals over the lives of humanity. (Joshua 7: 15 & Joshua 7: 25) God: Yes Satan: No
Attacks and curses a talking snake for telling the truth then lies to Adam and Eve. (Genesis 3) God: Yes Satan: No
Demands individual human sacrifice. (The AkedahGenesis 22:1-2; The murder (sacrifice ?) of Jesus; See Gospels) God: Yes Satan: No
Demands the burning of entire cities (שָׂרַף בָּאֵשׁ” or “to burn with fire”) so he can enjoy smelling the smoke of human flesh. (Thus Joshua 6: 21 makes it a point to tell the Jewish reader of this epic that death was to be by “the edge of the sword” before the ritual / sacrificial burning in Joshua 6: 24 could take place.) God: Yes Satan: No
Is never presented in the Bible as a murderer. (Despite Jesus’ assertion in John 8: 44. In Job, (in Job 1: 6 ) tells us that fire fell from God and destroyed Jobs animals. In verse 19, wind causes the house to fall on Job’s young people and, just like the fire from Heaven, God controls all these acts of nature. While Job clearly states in 42: 11 thatit was God who did all the harm to Job, his wealth and his family: “Then came there to him all his brothers, and all his sisters, and all they that had been of his acquaintance before, and did eat bread with him in his house: and they bemoaned him,and comforted him over all the evil that the LORD had brought on him.” This is again backed up by Job’s statement in 1: 21: Job said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked I shall return there.The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.”) God: No Satan: Yes
Commands a following spirits (be they Angels or Demons) to carry out the mass murders in a nation. (The Passover: Exodus 12:29) God: Yes Satan: No
Will torture people forever in the name of love. (Mark 9: 44, 46, & 48) God: Yes Satan: No M. Lies to his own believers in order to kill off anyone stupid enough to to trust him. (The longer ending of the Gospel of Mark 16: 9 – 20). God: Yes Satan: No N. Presented generally in the Bible as a known lair and murderer. God: Yes Satan: No
I think that in order to show that a Biblical passage is immoral, you’ve got to engage in a thorough exegesis (interpretation) of the text revealing that all likely meanings are morally problematic.
It is worth noting that Harry did nothing of the sort: he rather assumed that his interpretations portraying God as deeply evil are the correct ones without explaining us how he got there.
I find his other examples (which I left in black) much more questionable.
For instance, I don’t believe that male circumcision is necessarily harmful. There are many ways of interpreting Genesis 3 and I see no reason to believe that the silliest meaning (involving a speaking snake being cursed) is the correct one.
I did not, however, chose to go into an endless dispute over the meaning of the passages I do not view as immoral.
Instead, I decided to point out the main flaw in Harry’s logics, namely his fundamentalist assumption that the Bible must be judged as an inerrant self-consistent Scripture rather than as a set of religious books written under various historical, cultural and theological contexts.
If we were born under the same circumstances, we’d certainly have thought and behaved like them.
I did mock some beliefs of ancient Greeks as I was an immature teenager. But since then I’ve fortunately grown up.
I find your response very odd.
First off, there is no proof that the Biblical history from Genesis to Solomon is pure fiction. William Propp’s commentaries on Exodus, along with the works of John Van Seters and TL Thompson on the Patriarchs with the fate of King David and Solomon sealed by the Tell Dan Inscription (reading it correctly using the supplied word dividers proves it does not mention “House of David”) has re-enforce the fact that (unlike an ancient Greek texts), the Hebrew alphabetic Semitic script is late; thus there is no trace of one Old Testament verse prior to 250 BCE.
Tom Stark is little more than a liberal Christian as both his writings and lectures reveal (after all, he still teaches at Emanuel School of Religion . . . ). If Stark comes down too hard on the Hebrew Bible, he’ll find that a secular job will be his only finical salvation. His Seminary clearly states: “Emmanuel Christian Seminary is affiliated with the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ. These churches are known for their continued commitment to biblical preaching and teaching.”
Though Stark’s book was published in 2011, he fails (more likely, refuses) to cite Propp’s Anchor Bible Commentary on Exodus (final volume published, 2006) or any of TL Thompson’s or John Van Seter’s works from the 1970’s and 80’s. More importantly, while his book deals with human sacrifice in chapter 5, he seems to be totally unaware of Francesca Stavrakopoulou’s major 2002 Oxford dissertation: King Manasseh and Child Sacrifice: Biblical Distortions of Historical Realities, Walter de Grutyer, Berlin, 2004. I could go on, but I’ll let these books expose his real methodology . . . how to keep his God (with egg / evil on his face) looking good. Stark is a good P.R . man, but not good enough!
You stated, “I really think you’re giving atheism a bad name.” How would you know? From your comments on other blogs, and, like Thom Stark, you seem to be a liberal Christian. The last minister I talked to who was a member of Stark’s Churches of Christ was dogmatic in telling me that his church is the only true church founded by Jesus himself! Since Thom Stark links himself with this church on his book’s website ( http://humanfacesofgod.com/ ), he and Father Tom of the Greek Orthodox Church should fight it out for a cash first.
If you have a problem with my post, then, using the Biblical text, I would challenge you to point out where it’s wrong; after all, I simply based it on the Bible.
Finally, this blog is called Debunking Christianity for a reason. I rest my case.
Hey, thanks for your answer.
Sorry if I sounded rude.
My main problem with your writing is that you keep talking about THE God of the Bible which entails that the Biblical authors never contradict each other about the moral character of God.
For example, I consider it very far-fetched to pretend that vindictive psalms where the authors pray for the violent demise of the children of their foes are compatible with the command to love our enemies in the New Testament.
To the best of my knowledge, Christian fundamentalists and anti-theists are the only ones who make that claim.
Finally, I consider it very problematic to judge ancient people according to our modern criteria. As theologian Randal Rauser put it:
“I’m willing to concede that there are vestiges of tradition in the ancient Hebrew scriptures that take an affirmative position toward human sacrifice. Does it follow, as Loftus (a militant atheist leading the blog DebunkingChristianity) claims, that we can learn nothing from the cumulative Hebrew tradition as recorded in Scripture? Of course not. Indeed, the claim is completely ridiculous.
To see why, switch your focus from the ancient Hebrews to the ancient Greeks. Let’s take one Greek, the great Aristotle, as our example, and let’s just consider a couple of his beliefs from science, politics and ethics. To begin with, Aristotle believed that the human brain functioned to cool the blood, venting heat like the radiator in a car. Today we would consider this belief wildly false, even laughable. Second example, Aristotle also defended the use of slaves, describing them in his Politics as useful in the manner of domestic animals. This is a shockingly crude and immoral position. Does it follow that we should conclude we can learn nothing from Aristotle? Of course not. The very notion is absurd. What we do, instead, is judiciously read Aristotle, appropriating the wheat and sweeping away the chaff.
Sadly, it is common to find atheists like Loftus crudely dismissing the Hebrew tradition, even as they selectively read and appropriate the Hellenistic tradition. This is completely inconsistent and shows a deep bias against the Judeo-Christian tradition.”
Do Aristotle’s wrong beliefs about slavery mean he didn’t have deep moral insights in other respects?
Anti-theists engage in propaganda and emotional bullying with the hope of deconverting as many religious believers as they can. But if you manage to separate their real arguments from the hateful rhetoric enveloping them, they often prove to be incredibly weak.
It revolved around the problem of divine hiddenness: if God really exists and is interested in people believing in Him, then why does He not unambiguously prove His existence?
The discussion took place in the comment section of a blog post written by progressive Evangelical theologian Randal Rauser entitled “Is the Atheist my Neighbour?”
When I wrote Is the Atheist My Neighbor? I had a very short endorser wish-list. That list consisted of folks who were leaders in their professions and exemplars of the kind of irenic dialogue between atheist and Christian that was the book’s reason for being.
Neither Richard Dawkins nor Ray Comfort made the list.
One of the people who did make that list was J.L. Schellenberg, Professor of Philosophy at Mount Saint Vincent University. Schellenberg is an atheist and one of the leading philosophers of religion in the world today. His most important work in philosophy of religion is a powerful argument for atheism from divine hiddenness, an argument that he has honed over more than twenty years. Professor Schellenberg has pushed the dialogue and debate forward with a thoughtful and powerful argument, and all without animus or rancor. Indeed, while I have never met him, I know several Christian philosophers who count him not only an esteemed and worthy opponent, but a personal friend as well. You can visit Professor Schellenberg online at his website here.
All this is to say that I was delighted to receive the following endorsement from Professor Schellenberg for Is the Atheist My Neighbor? Given my goals in writing this book, an endorsement like this is worth its weight in gold, and that would hold even if the endorsement were etched in granite. The first sentence alone provides one of the best introductions to a book endorsement that I’ve ever read:
“There are some whose way of following the first of the great commandments has, in the matter of nonbelief, meant violating the second. In this brief and lively but remarkably full and acute discussion, Rauser shows the way out of this problem. Impressively fair, and writing not perfunctorily but with feeling, he has found a way to express genuine neighborliness both to atheists like me and to Christians who struggle to reconcile love and loyalty.”
Andy Schüler, a German Atheist reacted to another commentator arguing that rejecting God’s existence is never an innocent action.
Among many other things, he wrote:
Schellenberg´s argument requires that at least some people who are open to the possibility of God’s existence and do not resist this truth still live and die as unbelievers. If you interpret the Bible in such a way that the existence of such people is impossible – then your interpretation makes the Bible evidently wrong about this matter (in a way that makes any further discussions impossible, because it forces you to accuse people who claim that they indeed are sincerely open to the possibility of God’s existence, yet also sincerely do not believe that there is a God, of simply lying about this).
You don´t teach your kid that he or she shouldn’t touch a hot stove by letting him touch it. Or rather – you would be a terrible parent if you did it). And the scripture you refer to depicts God in an even worse light, God is like a parent that is an extremely skilled mentalist and not only does nothing to stop his little kid from touching the hot stove, but rather uses his skills to convince him that he should touch it!
My response follows. Please forgive me for the small pieces of German dialect scattered here and there 🙂
Hi Andy! 🙂
Long time, no see! (Sit longi Zit hon ich nix meh von dir gehert!).
“Innocence or lack thereof has nothing to do with anything here. Schellenberg´s argument requires that at least some people are open to the possibility of God existing / not resisting the truth of this, yet still live and die as unbelievers.”
My own view is that people “dying as unbelievers” (or atheists for that matter) but sincerely and humbly striving for justice and love will inherit eternal life whereas people dying as egoistical self-righteous bigots will irremediably lose their existence and be no more.
In all his parables, Jesus never threatened anyone with hellfire for not believing in Him or engaging in sexual immorality but for
1) failing to feed the poor, weak, hungry or neglected
2) not repenting from one’s own unjust pride.
Even Paul himself didn’t embrace the whole view often attributed to him in that he wrote
“God “will repay each person according to what they have done.”[a] 7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honour and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. 9 There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honour and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 11”
If you read Roman 2, it seems quite clear to me that Paul believed in the salvation of righteous heathens dying as such, his other ideas notwithstanding.
It is ironic that those arrogant and unloving fundamentalists who keep preaching about “salvation by faith” and eternal torment are those who are the most likely to miss everlasting life, according to Jesus.
Given that, I find that Schellenberg´s challenges are far less impressive (albeit not entirely unproblematic, of course).
God is under no moral obligation to give clear evidence of His existence to atheists if their unbelief while dying isn’t going to damn them.
You’re quite right that we cannot make a choice about what we deem to be reasonable (obwohl die Engländer das Wort “decide” sowohl als “entscheiden” als auch als “bestimmen”, “herausfinden” verwenden 🙂 )
Yet, the same thing cannot necessarily be said about our hopes .
Obviously, someone convinced that theism is extremely implausible cannot entertain any hope in that direction.
But what if you’re completely ignorant about whether theism or atheism is true?
Or what if you (as I do) believe there are intriguing pieces of evidence for the existence of a non-material world which aren’t, however, compelling?
It appears quite reasonable to think one can, in that case, consciously choose to entertain and cultivate hope in either direction.
One example might make that concept a bit more palatable.
Consider the proposition: “Our world is actually some kind of simulation run by beings we know nothing about . It all started five minutes ago with the appearance of age.”
I’ve no doubt that most of us find that pretty absurd on an emotional level .
Yet, I do not think that anyone can show this to be widely implausible without begging the question and smuggling in assumptions about reality. And I spent quite a few hours exploring propositions aiming at rationally dismissing that possibility.
(You can try to prove me wrong if you so wish 🙂 ).
Therefore, I think that in order to ground our entire knowledge and existence, one has to take a leap of faith and make a pragmatic decision (Entscheidung) not based on whatever reasons.
I’ve already exposed one fundamental flaw of the New Atheism (also-called Anti-Theism): their failure to appreciate the fact that the entity they call Religion (with a capital R) is an incredibly diverse phenomenon.
NO, you should consider every specific denomination and compare its own performance and problems with respect to science,sexism, racism or homophobia.
It is silly to say to a liberal Methodist defending Gay marriage: “Get out of here hateful bigot!” just because he’s an American Christian, and American Christians have on average a low view of homosexuals.
(What follows is his post I quoted while emphasising certain sentences).
Jerry Coyne says I am wrong about creationism, misogyny and homophobia
Jerry Coyne, author of Why Evolution is True (both blog and book) didn’t like my recent posts about the link between creationism, sexism, and homophobia. In a recent post, he argues that I have made a logical fallacy and risk miring the battle against creationism in the ‘atheist wars’ over feminism.
Jerry introduced the post by saying some nice things about me, so I’ll return the compliment: I owe Jerry a great deal. Until I read his book, despite having not been to church in eight years I still thought it made sense to say “evolution is only a theory”. Although at that point I thought evolution was probably right, I had no idea how much evidence there is, nor why my understanding of the term ‘theory’ was wrong-headed. Thanks to him I entered the world of evolutionary science, and my life is the richer for it. And, as Jerry himself points out, he’s been a frequent supporter of my writing and I wouldn’t be as successful a blogger as I am without that patronage.
I sort of appreciate the sentiment of Jerry’s opening sentence—”It’s never a pleasure to criticize the views of someone I admire”—but actually I see no reason why this should be an unpleasant enterprise. One of the best things about my post-church life is that I now feel free to disagree with people without automatically making them my enemies. It’s also possible that I am mistaken about this, in which case I should be glad he’s pointed it out.
The title of Jerry’s post is “Does creationism matter more because it’s connected with misogyny and homophobia?” When you phrase the question like that, I struggle to see how the answer can be anything other than “yes”. Misogyny and homophobia, Jerry and I agree, are unqualified ills. If you take something that’s already bad and add misogyny and homophobia, you make it even worse. I didn’t say (and I do not believe) that if creationism were not homophobic or misogynistic there would be insufficient reason to oppose it. I did argue that the homophobia and misogyny that creationism involves are more pressing matters, and it seems Jerry agrees on this point. Near the end of the post, he writes “In fact, oppression of women and of gays are matters of greater import than is the teaching of creationism, and if I could wave a magic wand I’d make the first two disappear before the third”, which might leave some readers wondering where exactly he and I differ.
Jerry says I’ve made a logical fallacy, which is always a handy shortcut making your opponent look bad. If I’ve made a logical fallacy, I am objectively wrong. This is no mere difference of opinion, or difference of values, which might take longer to sort out or even be irreconcilable. I have made a fallacy, and I am a phallus.
Except that I don’t think I have. Jerry says it’s the underlying cause of all three that we need to oppose, and that was exactly my point in “Why creationism matters“. Possibly I didn’t make this sufficiently clear, in which case I’m glad for the opportunity to do so. We must be tough on creationism and tough on the causes of creationism. Jerry is right. Sort of.
The underlying cause of creationism, homophobia, and misogyny, says Jerry, is religion, and it is religion we must oppose. And here, I suspect, it is Jerry whose logic is flawed. Clearly, not all religion is all of these things, although much (perhaps most) of it is. Some religious people are among the most vocal opponents of creationism, and for some their faith is an extra reason to oppose the subjugation of women and gay people. Some of those people are among this blog’s most vocal supporters. So we’re going to need a different reason to oppose all religion, because this one is not fit for purpose.
Biblical literalism, on the other hand, is a root cause of all three of the problems at hand. The problem is the way creationists read the Bible. It promotes not just creationism, patriarchy, and gay-bashing, but also the denial of history, the enthusiastic acceptance of immorality, and an irrational rejection of opposing evidence. It is an intellectual black hole. But not all religion is Biblical literalism. I am (if you’ll forgive the term) agnostic on the question of whether the world would be better off if there were no religion at all. My hunch is that it probably would, but there isn’t enough data to be sure. Anyone who claims with certainty that religion must be annihilated for the good of humanity is taking a faith position. Which is somewhat ironic.
In my follow up post, “Creationism is inherently homophobic and misogynistic“, I made a somewhat stronger claim, but I still don’t think I made a logical fallacy. The argument here was this: the Biblical creation myths themselves contain verses which are anti-women and anti-gay. Now I’m not going to say there’s only one possible interpretation of those verses, because only fundamentalists think that way. But I did argue that if you interpret those verses using the same hermeneutic that creationists use to interpret the surrounding text, then you reach nasty conclusions. And I backed this up by empirically showing that those are, indeed, the very conclusions that creationists often come to.
The most trenchant criticism of that post, funnily enough, came from a Christian. Regular reader and commenter Kevin Long pointed out that I was expecting logical consistency from a group of people who have black belts in holding internally contradictory beliefs.
You’re thinking too logically here. Religion is not particularly logical. People are not particularly logical or theoretical about these things. People don’t usually haul out their beliefs and inspect them item by item. Most people are handed a set of beliefs early on in life, and then they just run with them, accepting the whole thing, but adapting bits when they need to. Most of these beliefs are rather fuzzy. Your gay Creationist friend is an example of that, and that type of thinking is, and has always been, the majority. This is actually an encouraging thing: people who are adaptable always outweigh people who are strictly inflexible.
That’s hardly a defence of creationism or of religion, but it does mean I could be more optimistic about the possibility of equality-affirming creationists. Of course, the problem, which Kevin’s post hints at, is that creationist beliefs actually rest on church traditions and authority, despite the fundamentalist insistence that they come purely from a plain reading of the Bible. Those church traditions are usually patriarchal and exclusionary. Kevin also pointed out that there are creationists who are not literalists with regard to other aspects of the Bible; my argument obviously wouldn’t hold in those cases. Our thread on the subject is worth a read.
I think the most important reason Jerry Coyne didn’t like my posts is that they failed the SJW sniff-test. And yes, at this point I must reveal (if it was not already clear) that I am one of those pesky feminist atheists threatening to divide the ‘movement’ with concerns over misogyny. Because what happens in this life matters more to me than what people think is going to happen after we die, I care more about equality, access to education, and social justice than I do about the nonexistence of gods.
Here follows my response to this post.
Simply amazing, Jonny!
If I didn’t fear to offend you, I’d be tempted to call you a prophet (in the noblest sense of the word).
There are so many true things you expressed here in such a stark and beautiful manner.
You (and Kevin) are entirely right that there is no consistent fundamentalist living under the sun.
Indeed, the Bible speaks with conflicting voices on many topics so that inerrantists have necessarily to distort some verses in order to take others at face value.
Their picking and choosing is (as you pointed out) strongly influenced by religious traditions and economical and social factors.
In the context of the American culture war, it is all too easy to use words in a fuzzy way without clearly laying out their meaning in order to make ideological points.
Over and over again, one can find people shouting: “Atheism has killed millions of people in the former Eastern block! Atheism is responsible for the Gulags!” and other loudly saying that “Religion is killing millions of people in the Middle East!”
For the sake of the argument, I will assume that atheism means the denial of God’s existence and religion any community based on supernatural beliefs (bypassing the difficulty of defining “natural” and “supernatural”).
If that’s the case, it is completely fallacious to say that atheism caused all the atrocities committed by these regimes in the past.
There’s absolutely no logical connection between denying God’s existence and thinking that such kinds of mass murders are morally warranted.
Countless atheists find these utterly abhorrent.
Likewise, it is completely fallacious to say that Religion causes misogyny and homophobia. There’s absolutely no logical connection between asserting “there is a supernatural realm” and “Gay people and women ought to be discriminated”. Countless religious folks find this utterly appalling.
While Jerry Coyne might be an incredibly brilliant scientist, he makes very blatant fallacies while wearing his armour of reckless culture warrior.
I appreciate your great modesty and the fact you care more about decency and love than about winning an argument.
I also think you’re entirely right to point out that the harmful moral beliefs of fundamentalists are worse than their teaching creation science.
Now I want to comment on the thought that the world would be better off without Religion .
I think it is a binary way to consider things.
As I wrote about Coyne’s initial defence of this idea:
“Basically his (implicit) reasoning was as follows:
1) It would be good to live in a world where creationism (and other anti-scientific beliefs) have wholly disappeared.
2) If ALL religions were to fade away, creationism would be no more.
3) Hence it is morally good to use our best techniques of psychological warfare to utterly destroy ALL religions.
Interestingly enough, French racists use exactly the same kind of reasoning:
1′) It would be good to live in a France where anti-white hatred no longer exists.
2′) If ALL blacks and Arabs were driven out of the land, anti-white hatred would be no more.
3′) Hence it is morally good to expel ALL blacks and Arabs from France.
Let us grant that both 1) and 1′) are true.
2) and 2′) are certainly technically true in both cases.
If ALL religions were to go away, there would be no longer any form of creationism, and if ALL blacks and Arabs no longer lived in France, anti-white hatred would be no more.
But it should be clear that a vital fact has been entirely left out of the picture in the second racist reasoning. There are countless blacks and Arabs (indeed the majority of them) who do not hate white folks and are completely respectful of French laws and customs.
It would be egregiously wrong to expel them as well for this would be a gruesome form of collective punishment.
Exactly the same thing can be said about Coyne’s reasoning.
There are countless moderate, progressive and even conservative religious believers who are not opposed to science and reason and who do not cause any harm to the society in which they live.
Advocating to systematically bully them out of their faith is equally egregious.“
(I can modify the example if you don’t deem it appropriate here. I do think it’s a good analogy which nicely illustrates the dangers of this type of reasoning).
I am convinced that the world would be better off if all fundamentalists who jettison their reason and moral intuitions for the sake of dogmas would give up their belief systems (and there are also many “secular” fundamentalists satisfying this definition).
But I see no reason to think that a thoroughly godless world would be better off than a world with religious people who are all driven by genuine love.
Let me end this long comment by saying one positive thing about Jerry: he has an adorable kitten he takes care of 🙂
Heroin addiction sent me to prison. White privilege got me out and to the Ivy League.
Second chances don’t come this easily to people of color.
Keri Blakinger, who spent more than two years in prison for drug possession, graduated from Cornell University after her release. (Courtesy of Keri Blakinger)
I was a senior at Cornell University when I was arrested for heroin possession. As an addict — a condition that began during a deep depression — I was muddling my way through classes and doing many things I would come to regret, including selling drugs to pay for my own habit. I even began dating a man with big-time drug connections that put me around large amounts of heroin. When police arrested me in 2010, I was carrying six ounces, an amount they valued at $50,000 — enough to put me in prison for up to 10 years. Cornell suspended me indefinitely and banned me from campus. I had descended from a Dean’s List student to a felon.
But instead of a decade behind bars and a life grasping for the puny opportunities America affords some ex-convicts, I got a second chance. In a plea deal, I received a sentence of 2½ years. After leaving prison, I soon got a job as a reporter at a local newspaper. Then Cornell allowed me to start taking classes again, and I graduated last month. What made my quick rebound possible?
It was prison that clued me in to just how much I benefit from systemic racism in our society. Until then, I hadn’t thought much about white privilege, which is exactly how privilege works – as a white person, I could ignore it. But sitting behind bars, I saw how privilege touches almost everything, especially the penal system.
It starts at the gate — or rather, who comes through the gate. When I moved into the state prison, the racial disparity was immediately obvious. I was surrounded disproportionately by people of color. While blacks represent just 13.2 percent of the New York State population, they are nearly half of the state’s prison population. Reasons for the disparities are clear: Nationally, blacks are more likely to be pulled over, more likely to be searched, and, if arrested, likely to be sentenced to more time for the same crime. Although whites and blacks use drugs at about the same rate and although whites are more likely to sell them, black youth are 10 times more likely to be arrested for drug crimes than are their white counterparts.
Once in prison, minorities are at an even greater disadvantage. Some corrections officers (though hardly all) were overtly racist. Some used racial slurs. One was rumored to sport a tattoo of a black baby in a noose. Even if the rumor wasn’t true, it says something about the prison’s racial climate that prisoners believed it conceivable enough to repeat.
In one case, I watched prison officials send a black inmate to solitary confinement for wearing her pajamas at 10 a.m. Apparently, there was a little-known rule prohibiting inmates from wearing pajamas after a certain hour, despite the fact that they looked nearly identical to regular state-issued clothes. I never even thought about when to change out of my pajamas, so I’m sure I wore them after the appointed hour, too. But nobody ever troubled me about it, let alone sent me to solitary. There were many times that black inmates were hassled for things that white inmates weren’t.
To be clear, it is not only minority inmates who could get sent to solitary for little to no reason. Whatever their race, inmates routinely get put in solitary for trivial rules violations such as having too many postage stamps, missing appointments, or talking back. Overall, though, black inmates are treated worse. In New York State, they make up 49 percent of the prison population but 59 percent of the solitary confinement population. And the superintendents who decide how long prisoners will spend in solitary are overwhelmingly white in my experience. I knew of only one African-American superintendent or deputy superintendent in the five female facilities that existed when I was locked up. (The New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision says they have two black superintendents now).
Of course, race alone doesn’t explain my story. There were other factors that led to my reduced sentence and my return to Cornell. I was arrested in in Tompkins County, a liberal jurisdiction with long-standing commitment to alternatives to incarceration and progressive sentencing. (If I had been arrested in any of the surrounding counties, my sentence could have been three to four times as long.) In another stroke of luck, New York rolled back parts of the notorious Rockefeller Drug Laws the year before my arrest. Had I been prosecuted under those laws, I would have gotten 15 years to life.
Although Cornell has a process governing the readmission of suspended students, they never explained exactly what persuaded them to allow me to return. When I was arrested, officials told me that it is standard to suspend any student who is arrested, though the Campus Code of Conduct doesn’t specify that punishment. Readmission is allowed on a case-by-case basis. I gathered letters of recommendation from former professors, my parents and my parole officer and sent them to the judicial administrator. I provided samples of my freelance writing to show I was working to support myself. I answered a standard set of written questions about what I had learned, what I had done to change my path and what safeguards were in place to make sure I don’t recidivate. I had a 20-minute or so phone interview with the judicial administrator and then waited on pins and needles for a response. It came in the form of a brief e-mail: “I am pleased to report that you have been approved to finish your Cornell degree, starting in January 2014.”
It’s impossible to know if a black or brown student in the same circumstances would have been allowed back in. But I think it’s likely. Through its Prison Education Program at a maximum-security state facility, Cornell allows inmates to earn Cornell credits. Clearly, it is a school interested in second chances.
I regularly encounter people who deny that things like racism and privilege still exist, who believe that we are living in a post-racial world. And yes, I dream of a world in which every ex-con could enjoy the opportunities I have. But I saw firsthand how deep and structural biases shaped our criminal justice system. For some, the battle is about ending racism and privilege — behind bars or anywhere else. But for others, the battle is simply acknowledging that there is a battle at all.
The war on drug is an atrocity
The first thing I have to say is that the war on drug is a terrible moral atrocity. As I explained, I consider it deeply wicked to punish people for consuming drugs, most of them having, like Keri Blakinger, often started their consumption out of despair. I also do not believe that people dealing drugs for financing their own addiction should be punished if they’ve completely lost any control over their consumption. I think that a very good case can be made that countless addicts dealing drugs have got where they are through an unfortunate set of circumstances and unfavourable genetics.
Big dealers who do not take in the poison they sell ought to be punished extremely severely. Not their victims.
Now I want to go into the main topic of this post. There is absolutely no doubt that there is a differential treatment unjustly affecting African Americans. To quote the last sentence of Keri, it is undeniable that a considerable battle must be fought.
I beg to differ, however, with her views on the causes of this revolting state of affairs.
While she didn’t make it explicit, according to her things seem to be going like this (see the parts of her text I emphasised).
1) American society is incredibly harsh and unjust towards drug addicts.
2) Then “white privileges” step in. (Some) white junkies are helped just by virtue of their having the right skin colour. Black drug addicts do not take advantage of such acts of mercy.
While I’m open to being wrong on that, this seems to be the most straightforward way to read her.
With all due respect, I think she has it backward.
It might be that under rare circumstances, some people in the American judicial system decide to save a person otherwise doomed to a long stay in jail because they say to themselves “Oh! (S)he’s white! I wanna help her!“.
Likewise, it is quite possible that in some cases, people are helped because the officials like their physical appearances or voices.
I strongly doubt, however, that this is going to be a main factor in more than a few cases.
To my mind, the most likely explanation of the statistical disadvantage of black persons looks rather like this.
1′) While still being very unjust, the judicial system has become more merciful towards drug offenders, to some limited extent.
2′) African Americans do not take advantage of such opportunities because of lingering racist prejudices against them. A great number of law enforcement officials are still convinced they are far less to be trusted than their white counterparts.
In quite a few situations, I can very well imagine that white members of the judicial system are animated by egregiously hateful feelings against human beings having a black skin.
That my own explanation (namely that direct racism instead of “white privilege” is the culprit here) is much more likely to be true is well illustrated by the problem of discriminating policemen.
As she rightly wrote
“It starts at the gate — or rather, who comes through the gate. When I moved into the state prison, the racial disparity was immediately obvious. I was surrounded disproportionately by people of color. While blacks represent just 13.2 percent of the New York State population, they are nearly half of the state’s prison population. Reasons for the disparities are clear: Nationally, blacks are more likely to be pulled over, more likely to be searched, and, if arrested, likely to be sentenced to more time for the same crime. Although whites and blacks use drugs at about the same rate and although whites are more likely to sell them, black youth are 10 times more likely to be arrested for drug crimes than are their white counterparts.”
Of course, it’d be utterly absurd to think that days-in and days-out, policemen discover an equal number of white and black addicts and decide to leave most of the former alone because they’re white.
The true problem is that they are still persuaded that black people are inferior to white people and/or are driven by sheer racial hatred. Consequently, they’ll control disproportionately more black persons than white ones.
Does the difference really matter?
I guess that many liberals might react by saying:
“Yeah, I grant your point that these inequalities aren’t the results of a direct intention to privilege white people but stem from racist prejudices and racial hatred against black people. Still, what on earth does that change to this tragic injustice?”
Other might say that the distinction I raised is purely semantic.
If black folks are discriminated, it naturally follows that white people are privileged. Period.
My problem with that answer is that “anti-black racism” and “white privilege” do convey different meanings.
While the first involves racial prejudices and hatred against African Americans, the second suggests a conscious effort to favour a person having white colour.
As I explained in the case of the the policemen, it seems very likely that the former plays a much more important role than the latter.
Are poor whites to be punished?
Far from being a mere semantic choice, this concept of “white privileges” is very important to white liberals because it lies at the very foundation of their political worldview.
According to their deepest conviction, a white is always an oppressor and a black is always an oppressed, regardless of their relative well-being and plenty of other factors.
I mentioned elsewhere it is morally wrong to favour a rich woman over a poor man (or a rich African immigrant over a poor white) just because the latter didn’t have the chance to be born with the right genes.
Times and times again, I hear that the victims have to gladly accept that “positive” discrimination because they benefit of “white privileges” anyway.
As we saw previously, the problem is not that American officials do undeserved favours to white folks just because they’re white but rather that they’re much more severe and unjust towards African Americans because they believe them to be inferior.
It is cynical and inhuman to tell a homeless “white trash” that he cannot be aided because he belongs to the race of the oppressors. As I pointed out elsewhere, even more than 2500 years ago, an ancient Hebrew prophet preached against the notion that children have to pay for the sin of their parents.
How much more absurd is that to hold him accountable for misdeeds nobody among even his direct relatives committed?
Another thing I often hear is that there are worrisome statistical differences between whites and blacks in America in terms of successful careers, poverty, unwarranted incarcerations and so on.
(I agree this is a shame. )
They go on arguing that we must even out these statistics as soon as possible even if this means committing injustices towards members of the dominant group underway.
It is here I strongly disagree with the underlying philosophy.
Mean values, standard deviations and any other statistical values you can imagine are unable to feel anything.
The goal of any human system of morality should ultimately consider the well-beings of individuals who are capable of experiencing emotions such joy, pain, suffering and happiness.
Far from creating a society where race no longer plays any important role, affirmative action perpetuates such a state and hinders a real reconciliation between the white and black lower classes.
It is my opinion that many white workers whose economic condition is not too far removed from the economic condition of his black brother, will find it difficult to accept a “Negro Bill of Rights,” which seeks to give special consideration to the Negro in the context of unemployment, joblessness, etc. and does not take into sufficient account their plight (that of the white worker).
I believe we ideally need a race-neutral affirmative action which considers the relative well-being of the two candidates in question along their chances of getting hired elsewhere.
Racial peace can only be reached once we’ve given up collective punishment and the idea that children are responsible for the sins of those having the same skin colour or the same Y chromosome as they have.
Four years ago I did my own series along similar lines titled “How to Confound Christians with Bad Arguments.” The first installment was: “Compare Santa to Jesus.” Needless to say, naming and shaming this kind of ignorance is an important way to maintain the health of a belief community.
While I think it is worthwhile to point out the problematic memes in another belief community, it is even better to commit some time to pointing out the problems in your own community. And that’s why I’m doubly appreciative for Jeff’s new series.
I have always aimed to do the same thing by extending at least as much criticism to elements within my own belief community as I direct outside it. As a case in point, in a few weeks my new book will be in the marketplace. In Is the Atheist My Neighbor? I launch a book-length critique of a particularly pernicious Christian meme, namely the idea that deep-down atheists really do believe in God and they are sinfully suppressing this belief so that they may live with impunity. I believe this is a very harmful meme which has left much misunderstanding, pain, and suffering in its wake. (Incidentally, the book also features an interview with Jeff Lowder. Bonus!)
So how ought we to respond to harmful memes? Must we always speak out against them? The Book of Common Prayer includes the following confession: “We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done.” Note in this confession that there are two distinct sins. Yes, there is the sin of commission, namely those things we have done. But there are also the sins of omission, those things we ought to have done but failed to do. To propagate memes of ignorance, bigotry, and prejudice within your belief community constitutes a sin (or if you prefer, an “error” or “indiscretion”) of commission. But to fail to censure memes of ignorance, bigotry, and prejudice also constitutes a sin, namely a sin of omission.
In other words, there is no neutral place to stand with respect to this pernicious nonsense. Can you imagine the impact if every time one of these memes was posted or tweeted a chorus would rise up in indignation? Things would begin to change pretty quickly. To sum up, you’re either part of the solution or you’re part of the problem.
My interaction with an atheist
Epicurus wrote an interesting comment:
I look forward to reading the book. I’ve always felt that Christians are trapped and must believe that non christians are suppressing belief because of Paul’s writings and attitudes on the matter. It will be interesting to read Randal’s examination of the topic.
To which I answered:
Not all Christians believe in Biblical inerrancy.
What’s more, Paul can be quite ambiguous on that very topic.
“But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 God “will repay each person according to what they have done.”[a] 7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. 9 There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honour and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the GENTILE. 11 For God does not show favouritism.”
A straightforward interpretation of this passage would be that Paul did believe that HEATHENS were able to strive for good works, thereby inheriting immortality.
Consider further this parable of Jesus:
“31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ 46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
Were the righteous ones people who put their faith in Jesus during this lifetime and were “saved by grace”?
I think it’s a terribly convoluted interpretation of this passage.
A likely interpretation is that Jesus (and possibly also Paul) believed in a kind of virtue ethics according to which salvation comes through the cultivation of a just and humble Christ-like personality while sincerely acknowledging one’s sins and need for salvation.
Therefore, I do think it is quite possible for a Christian to believe that many persons dying as atheists will inherit eternal life whereas self-righteous bigots of all kinds will be no more.
I certainly know quite a few atheists who are much closer to the spirit of Christ than many of his followers.
Epicurus “Therefore, I do think it is quite possible for a Christian to believe that many persons dying as atheists will inherit eternal life whereas self-righteous bigots of all kinds will be no more”.That all sounds fine, but what do you do with verses that suggest differently? Because you don’t believe in inerrancy you can ignore them and use the ones you like?
Hi. My point was that, at the very least, Christians aren’t compelled to have such an attitude towards atheists. While the Bible can often speak with conflicting voices, I do not think we can find anything telling us unambiguously that unbelievers are immoral but many things clearly asserting the contrary.
I grant your general point, however. It would be terribly question-begging to base doctrines on verses we arbitrarily pick and choose, once we’ve already concluded that the Biblical Canon isn’t internally coherent.
Ultimately, I base my faith on God defined as the greatest Being which can exist.
In the end, I think this is a hope which cannot be proven through rational arguments. Neither can atheism or materialism. (Many mainstream Christians in Europe consider “faith” as an existential decision to hope in God rather than as a set of knowledge claims).
I also think, however, that EVERY belief system must be grounded through unproven presuppositions.
Consider for example the possibility that we are living in a simulation which was created ten minutes ago.
I’ve no doubt that (almost) all of us find this completely absurd on an emotional level.
Yet I do not think that you can show this to be rationally implausible without begging the question in one way or the other. (You can try to prove me wrong if you so wish).
Ooops, I might have gotten a bit too far from the original topic 🙂
I want to agree with you, but when I read things like Romans 1:18-32, or Psalm 14:1, etc, I can’t
My interaction with a Conservative Evangelical
A little bit later, a Conservative Protestant criticised my views on salvation:
So you’re advocating Pelagianism? There’s no need to go that far.
Rom 2 is tricky. Thee point isn’t salvation by works. If you read the whole chapter, the gist is to jolt Jews out of complacency in thinking that they can sin and be saved, merely because they possess the Torah as a birthright, and that many gentiles are actually closer to heaven than they.
As to the sheep/goats parable, note the word “brethren”. This does not refer to generic acts of charity, but to good deeds done to Christians, so the doer would in some sense be considered Christian (ex. he who gives a cup of cold water, etc.)
None of this contradicts Rom 1, which seems to suggest that unbelievers hold (“suppress”) the knowledge of God’s existence, out of base motives.
I could as well say that Roman 1 is “tricky” and use Roman 2 to interpret it as meaning the collective sin of the culture rather than that of all individuals belonging to it.
Suppose that both Jesus and Paul believed that the deepest truth of the universe is that you have to believe in Christ on this side of the grave in order to be saved.
I think they would have said something like that:
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For you did put your faith in me before entering the grave “
Roman 2: “But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgement will be revealed. 6 IF He “will repay each person according to what they have done.”, WE WILL ALL BE DAMNED. 7 To those who CONSCIOUSLY BELIEVED IN HIS SON DURING THEIR LIFETIME, he will give eternal life.8 But for those who DID NOT BELIEVE IN HIM, there will be wrath and anger. 9 There will be trouble and distress for every human being who DID NOT BELIEVE IN HIM: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honour and peace for everyone who does good THROUGH BELIEVING IN HIM: first for the Jew, then for the gentile. 11 For God does not show favouritism.”
The fact that Jesus and Paul used very different words and phrases is a terrible fit to the classical Protestant view of salvation.
I might add that Rob’s answers are pretty far-fetched in other respects as well.
While Paul’s main point in Roman 2 was certainly to criticise a belief in Jewish supremacy, the way he expressed himself makes it pretty likely he believed that humble heathens striving for a righteous life will inherit immortality and glory.
So, Rob’s remark concerning Paul’s main intention while writing this fails to engage with my reasoning.
As for Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats, Rob’s argumentation sounds really bizarre to my subjective ears. It appears to go like this
1) The word “Brethren” in the parable refers to “Christians in need”
2) Thus, those who inherit salvation are those who helped Christians in need
3) A person helps a Christian in need if and only if she is herself a Christian
4) Therefore, all Christians will go to heaven whereas all unbelievers will go to hell.
That’s the only way I can make sense of it.
While I cannot judge Rob as a person, I think that this particular argument wasn’t particularly convincing.
1′) As Jesus taught this, there wasn’t yet any Christian around and it seems quite clear that “Brethren” referred to his fellow Jews trying to do the will of this Father while he was preaching in Israel. And whenever “doing the will of the Father” is mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew, it means good works towards God and one’s neighbour and not faith in Him as the only possible “fire insurance”.
3′) involves that, whenever confronted with a Christian in need, all Christians will help the person in question whereas all non-Christians will selfishly refuse to do so. This is truly an extraordinary claim which can be all too easily refuted by reading testimonies of Christians in areas of armed conflict.
Saying that these passages teach “salvation by faith only” nonetheless means that Paul and Jesus were quite sloppy in their choice of words and examples. Given their extreme ambiguity, it would have been then quite legitimate for the Church before (and after) Luther to interpret this in good conscience and perfectly legitimately as supporting the “false teaching” of salvation by works.
This comes over as a desperate attempt at salvaging one’s dogmas no matter what.
I believe that honestly leaving every Biblical text speak for itself instead of imposing a predefined pattern on it leads to two important conclusions:
A) The Bible is not inerrant: it can clearly speak with conflicting voices
B) The large majority of texts go against major doctrines held by Conservative Protestants. Indeed,
So, this was doubtlessly a terribly chaotic post 🙂
During these two interactions, I obviously touched on a lot of topics. I hope that my readers have found some of this interesting, regardless of whether they’re Christians, atheists or belong to an entirely different species altogether.
Why white Christians need to listen to Amos and Isaiah
“But let justice roll down like waters; and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Amos 5:24 is a verse that gets thrown around a lot in times of protest like the most recent unrest in Baltimore. Taken by itself, this verse is pretty innocuous. Who’s opposed to the idea of justice and righteousness? But it becomes a very different message when we read it in context, starting with verse 21:
I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
Do you hear what God is telling the Israelites through Amos? He hates their worship. He hates their inspiring, accessible sermon series on Biblical living. He hates it when they go on and on about how much he deserves to be praised. He hates their relevant pop culture video clips. He hates the way that the pianist plays softly under the preacher’s prayer. He hates their smiles and their Jesus jukes. He hates their exhibitionist false humility.
Why does God hate these things? Because they have not produced justice. Old Testament prophets like Amos are unanimous in their declaration that worship without justice is a mockery to God. Isaiah 1:12-17 says the same thing:
When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more; bringing offerings is futile;incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation— I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity. Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.
What if God is actually angry, just not for the things we want him to be angry about and not at the people we want him to be angry at? Many Christians who like to talk about an angry God define sin in such a way that they could never be the objects of God’s wrath. But what if God is angry at us, the people who love to sing happy songs about him and talk about how grateful and humble we are? What if the rage in Baltimore this past week is part of how God is articulating his wrath against the church that’s supposed to be fighting injustice? If Amos and Isaiah were alive today, they wouldn’t have any qualms about naming the Baltimore riots as a sign of God’s wrath.
I’m not saying that the individuals who burn down buildings aren’t committing sins by doing so. But I do believe the collective rage that has exploded into violence is an expression of God’s wrath. When truth and human dignity have been violated repeatedly in millions of ways as they have in the lives of our country’s black community, God’s wrath is kindled.
To understand this, we have to recognize that God’s hatred of sin comes from a place of solidarity with victims, not sanctimony about law. That’s what Jesus teaches us over and over again in his debates with the Pharisees. God does not hate imperfection and rule-breaking on account of his ego as a lawmaker. God hates it when our collective idolatry and selfishness cultivate a world order that crushes the most vulnerable. Worshiping God is supposed to help us get over ourselves and purge our hearts of the idols and selfish agendas that make us aloof to injustice.
The problem is that worship for privileged people too often becomes an indirect form of self-congratulation just like it was for the people Amos and Isaiah were yelling at thousands of years ago. The more that I go on and on about how good God is, the more likely it is that I’m doing it to show other people how good I am at talking about God’s goodness. Even sitting through “tough” sermons about sin can make me feel even more satisfied with myself for having a dour, sober perspective about the wickedness of humanity rather than convicting me personally into true repentance and humility.
If worship is doing what it’s supposed to do, it’s supposed to melt me. It’s supposed to leave me the opposite of self-satisfied. It’s not supposed to produce a snide scoffer, but a heart that is wounded by God’s mercy and burdened by the need to share it with others. I wonder what Amos and Isaiah would say about the self-satisfied scorn that so many white Christians have been spewing out into social media in response to the rage in Baltimore. What would they say about the efficacy of our worship? Would they tell us to “trample [God’s] courts no more”?
While agreeing with almost everything he wrote, I couldn’t help but express my frustration with what I view as the selective moral indignation of the progressive crowd.
I completely agree with the general principles about social justice you evoked.
I’ve also no doubt at all that a strong anti-black racism among American law enforcement officials is still alive and well in 2015.
But I fear that often times Western liberals can be as callous, self-righteous and harmful as Conservatives.
One perfect example is their widespread belief in the legitimacy of collective punishment which is a logical consequence of their belief in unconditional positive discrimination, the idea that a female person should be favoured over a male person and a black one over a white one, regardless of the life conditions of the two individuals in question.
As I once explained, I think this can lead to quite wicked decisions if their respective well-being isn’t taken into consideration. I think it is profoundly wrong to disadvantage a very poor man against a wealthy female because the former isn’t born with two X chromosomes. I think it is profoundly wrong to disadvantage a very poor white person against a wealthy black person because the former isn’t born with the genes responsible for a black pigmentation.
I strongly believe that liberals defending the morality of these actions are NOT “fighting injustice” and rescuing the oppressed.
While I cannot speak about modern America, I can say that acts of racial violence targeting innocent white folks are very real in France.
I think that the very worst thing liberals can do consists of misusing such tragedies affecting black people as a justification for the suffering of innocent white persons. Western liberals need to listen to the prophet Ezekiel who remind us that “the child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child.” By acting in this way, they’re upholding a vicious circle of hatred and planting the seeds of the destruction of us all.
What frustrates me enormously is that some “progressives” I explain my views to call me a “white supremacist” even if they know absolutely nothing about me.
I’m a Germanic Frenchman and after the terrorist attacks in Paris, I’ve been loudly saiying that many Muslims find this appalling as well and that we should absolutely overcome the temptation to lump them together with militant fundamentalists. I often stand for the right of Muslim women to wear a headscarf in the public sphere and in enterprises if they choose to.
I hardly know any “other” white supremacist who acts in such a manner.
I find it a real pity that instead of challenging any ideas getting in the way of justice, political progressivism has degenerated into the unconditional adherence to a set of dogmas with no tolerance towards heretics such as myself.
I did not write all these things as a criticism of your blog post but rather as an expression of my frustration with the progressive movement as a whole .
I find that the ideas you convey here are really excellent and I’ll surely take a look at other posts you wrote.
My only concern would be the choice of your title. I agree that white American Christians are more likely to ignore problems of social justice than Christians with an Afro-American background owing to historical and cultural factors.
But is it really true that, on a worldwide scale, white Christians tend to neglect their duties towards the poor much more often than non-white Christians (keeping Jesus’ parable about the poor widow in mind)? I haven’t seen any evidence showing this.
Finally, it is worth noting that my criticism of liberal biases is not akin to downplaying the extent of the atrocities American blacks still suffer from.
Here is the answer of Morgan.
Thanks for your thoughtful engagement. The title was my weakest point. I wasn’t sure who needed to read Amos exactly. I think we all do.
And my final reply.
Thanks for your quick answer!
I understand you had very good intentions. I think this might unfortunately lead to prejudices against white persons not having this despicable mentality.
I greatly appreciate your humility. Be blessed.
I was very glad that our exchange remained so friendly. I think that things might have unfolded in a very different direction if I had started out using a culture-war rhetoric. I really think that kindness and humility are two essential moral features which help one not cause or ramp up heated and loveless arguments.