Can a culture warrior love his ‘enemies’?

I had a rather unpleasant exchange with “Crude”, a far-right Catholic blogger from America who used to comment on my own blog.

American culture war.
American Culture War.

I am all too aware that both liberals and conservatives are unlikely to like this post as it was written by someone who sorts of stands in the middle and doesn’t adhere to the dogmas of either side.

 

Marc (me)

Are liberal Christians all the same?
Are conservative Christians all the same?

Crude

No, and I sing the praises of some. A short list, admittedly. And I intensely dislike some ‘conservative’ Christians.

However, if I described the key aspects of liberal Christians that I firmly regard as being essentially anti-Christian, I suspect you’ll find quite the overlap of the Venn diagrams.

By the way, Marc. I recall years ago over at your blog was some snarky little German atheist who used to talk about how the irreligious Germans didn’t really have much of a ‘racism’ problem (compared to the more religious US). I warned at the time that there was quite a lot of people ready and willing to immigrate to Europe, given half a chance, and that the perceived lack of problems wasn’t going to last forever. I recall being laughed at and being told how the only problems were the Turks, and that’s under control.

If ever the opportunity arises, let ’em know that I am laughing my ass off whenever I think of that conversation now.

Marc

I recognise at your tone you feel extremely frustrated and angry.
I don’t think this is doing you any good and I honestly don’t believe that this state of mind honours Christ.
I know only few things about your background, life experiences and what you went through.
But I think you’d be better off praying to God that He shows you if certain things you consider to be right might be wrong.
And I shall certainly do the same.

I haven’t got any news from Andy for a long time.
I do believe that we, as Christians, have a duty to welcome and shelter anyone whose live is really threatened.
But Angela’s Merkel decision to accept more than two MILLIONS of migrants was crazy. Many of them are pseudo-refugees. Many of then have no willingness to integrate themselves into the German society.

I am critical of “Black Lives matter” and I just published this blog post.

My opposition to this movement has caused many progressives to call me a “racist” and “white supremacist”.

I am now convinced that liberal cultural warriors aren’t any better than conservative culture warriors.

But I always try to be gracious and respectful towards respectful opponents.

Best wishes and blessings.

https://drmarkpbarry.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/polarization.jpg?w=700

Crude

Credit where it’s due, Marc. You’re unusual.

That said, I really do what I think is right. Do keep this in mind: you’re coming around to show some sympathy with a point of view that I’ve long occupied. I used to be more moderate. I tried to have a ‘At least we’re all Christian’ attitude with leftist Christians.

Then I started to notice that the leftists didn’t care about God at all. The resurrection? A side-belief at best. No, what was really of interest was motivating the Church to subscribe to whatever the important secular social issues of the day were, with a bit of God-language thrown on them.

I notice, from afar, that the principal opponents to Merkel’s insanity tend to be people holding crosses and having a far more traditional view of Church and State. It’s the liberal Christians and (especially) atheists urging her on.

Crude

(Quoting me)

Besides, the appalling rise of Donald Trump makes it abundantly clear that there are still many Americans of Europeans descent who hate, resent or disdain Afro-Americans.

Hahahaha.

Why do I even bother?

And just like that, I’m reminded yet again of why I disown the Christian Left. Enjoy your Muslims, Marc. May the liberal parts of Europe give way to sultans, and may the rest be blessed by God.

 

malcolmthecynic

If black people don’t want me resenting them, they should probably stop all of that rioting and extreme violence.

It would also help me resent them less if there were less black gang-bangers and if they actually made some sort of attempt to form families instead of breeding like rodents.

But what do I know. I’m just a racist.

 

Marc

Hi Malcolm.

If black people don’t want me resenting them, they should probably stop all of that rioting and extreme violence.

What disturbs me about that sentence is that it involves one hell of an over-generalisation.

“Black” people aren’t a monolithic group. There are as many differences between blacks as there are between “whites”.
Many blacks are appalled by the violence of “Black Lives Matters” and do not feel they represent them.

I agree with you that such acts are indefensible and also completely counter-productive.

But I think you should have written:

If proponents of Black Live Matters don’t want me resenting them, they should probably stop supporting all that rioting and extreme violence.

If an Afro-American wrote:

If white people don’t want me resenting them, they should probably stop discriminating and hating us.”

I would disagree with him for the same reason.

Crude: I don’t expect you to become a liberal Christian.
I don’t expect you to start believing that gay marriage is a good thing.
I don’t expect you to support abortion, all the more so since I believe it should be avoided if the health of the woman isn’t threatened.

But I think that if you call yourself a Christian (and are aware of the Sermon on the Mount), you ought to make a conscious effort to respectfully treat respectful opponents regardless of their ideas.

I’ve always tried to be kind towards you, even when you wrote things I totally disagree with and even when you were insulting towards other commentators on my blog.

Enjoy your Muslims, Marc. May the liberal parts of Europe give way to sultans, and may the rest be blessed by God.”

You are being quite nasty here. Apart from lumping together all Muslims as raping terrorists, you are assuming that I am happy about the current situation, even though I told you that a (small) part of the migrants are violent pseudo-refugees (who are a threat to Westerners, liberal Muslims, homosexuals, and Arab Christians alike).

By the way, Germany and France didn’t invade Iraq. Without American imperialism, there wouldn’t have been such atrocious destructions in Syria and in the Middle East.
So, I do believe that it is the US who should have welcomed the large majority of them.

Let us not forget that most of them aren’t criminals but people who have lost everything because of us Westerners.

https://www.allmystery.de/i/t2277e9_Syrien.jpg
I know this picture is shocking. But let us not forget what Syrian people are fleeing from.

malcolmthecynic

What disturbs me about that sentence is that it involves one hell of an over-generalisation.

What disturbs me about that is that you don’t realize that I’m generalizing.

I’m tired of people pretending they don’t understand that that’s what I’m doing. They do. So I’m not going to apologize for it.

Crude

I agree with Malcolm. The need to constantly self-police and forever parse one’s words to exactitude is nonsensical. Especially when Marc himself will talk about how Trump’s rise obviously shows how wickedly horrible and racist towards black the country is.

That said, the black culture is – for a number of reasons – rife with single moms, who are increasingly copping an attitude of ‘I didn’t do nothing wrong!’ and ‘Oh my God for some reason my kids turned out rotten, it’s not my fault’. White culture has its own mass of problems, but I believe in addressing them, and being clear about their racial realities.

As for Marc, well, that warrants a post of its own.

malcolmthecynic

Yeah. When you realize that the one group you actually made an effort to play nice with is ALSO not, and never going to be, willing to give you a fair hearing, you stop caring about what they think of you at all.

Marc

Crude, I want to be clear about one thing.
I wouldn’t have commented on your blog if you were just a nasty conservative to me. I think you have been being consumed by anger and hatred for too long. And I really believe this is doing you no good at all.

Malcolm, while some folks might understand it this way, many others will feel insulted.

Whenever liberal culture warriors write: “White men cannot bear the idea of a female leading the mightiest country in the world” I feel really offended and angry.

This is why I think *all* such over-generalisations should be avoided.
This is a straightforward application of the Golden Rule you probably know.

Best wishes, Marc.

Crude

Marc,

“I think you have been being consumed by anger and hatred for too long. And I really believe this is doing you no good at all.”

‘Consumed by anger and hatred’ cashing out to… what? Snarky comments? Openly saying I have no patience for a segment of Christianity which was marking me and people like me as a monstrous hateful person even when I was noticeably more delicate and forever trying to be appeasingly careful with my words?

I express contempt for people who despise me or collude with those who do, and I am ‘consumed by anger and hatred’. You buddy up with people who think the failure to service a same-sex wedding is a criminal act, worthy of firing, fining and jailing, but what, you’re better because in direct conversation you’re civil? No, that’s not even in the realm of sensible.

As for ‘many others will feel insulted’ – they’ve turned feelings of insult into a policing weapon. And when we feel insulted or angry, we’re told – and have been told – to shut up and deal with it, because freedom. We offend, innocently or not, and the rules change; our offense is ‘hate’, which freedom is incompatible with.

You should understand why so many people have decided that the politeness game is no longer one they wish to play.

malcolmthecynic

“Malcolm, while some folks might understand it this way, many others will feel insulted.”

You used an example of people of other races making similar generalizations about whites, and you’re quite correct: When that becomes taboo to say, I’ll stop generalizing about blacks.

***************************************

I decided not to further engage them as the confrontation was starting to wear me down.

It goes without saying I completely reject their assertion that it is permissible to be nasty towards a respectful opponent because other people holding similar ideas have bullied you.

Nor do I believe that liberals making racist over-generalisations against whites can justify you making racist over-generalisations against blacks. For this is a form of collective punishment.

(I am using this widespread definition of racism).

As a side note, if anyone is interested in learning the reasons why I don’t think that Black Lives Matter is the right way to tackle the undeniable reality of anti-black racism in America, I am certainly willing to talk about that.

But if you believe there cannot possibly be any such reasons, I am probably not worth your while.

Why pseudo-progressives don’t follow Martin Luther King

Progressivism and pseudo-progressivism in a nutshell

For me, genuine progressivism is all about fostering moral progress and abolishing unjust political, societal, economical and social structures in an impartial way.

The underlying moral intuition can be found in the holy writings of Christians

“Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” Matthew 7:12, King James Version.

Buddhists

“…a state that is not pleasing or delightful to me, how could I inflict that upon another?” Samyutta NIkaya v. 353

“Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” Udana-Varga 5:18″

Taoists

“Regard your neighbor’s gain as your gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.” Tai Shang Kan Yin P’ien”

and many other religions.

(I argued elsewhere that this principle stands at the very centre of the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth).

The Golden Rule: treat others the way you want to be treated
The Golden Rule

 

This naturally entails trying to put yourself in the shoes of a person experiencing injustices and act as you would like one acts towards you if you were in his or her situation.

Pseudo-progressives, on the other hand, believe that moral progress is all about acting in accordance with politically correct dogmas nobody ought to question.

Currently, these alleged “sacred truths” can be summed up in the following way

“Oppression almost always stems from heterosexual white males who attack the right of women, homosexuals and non-whites.”
(Of course, “whites” and “non-whites” are artificial (and incoherent) constructions they more or less unconsciously uphold. This shall be the topic of another post).

Now, I certainly wouldn’t deny that misogyny, homophobia and systematic racism are still huge problems (especially in religious conservative or fundamentalist circles, at least as far as the first two ones are concerned).

But I think it is nonsensical and extremely offensive to pretend that poverty and unjust economical structures aren’t in and of themselves a significant cause of oppression.

I also believe it is wrong for these people to pretend to follow the teachings of Martin Luther King while ignoring an essential part of it.

 

Martin Luther King on poverty

 

While describing the way in which annoying aspects of the message of prophets are rewritten by the mighty of a society, liberal Christian scholar Thom Stark considered the case of Martin Luther King in modern America.

****

And we do this today. Martin Luther King Jr. was a notorious gadfly. He is remembered today solely for his role in the civil rights movement, but, especially in his later years, King was a vocal opponent of the Vietnam War, and spoke out often and dynamically against free-market capitalism. He said that the U.S. needs to  honestly face the fact that the movement must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American society.

“There are forty million poor people here. And one day we must ask the question,

‘Why are there forty million poor people in America?’ And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth.
When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalist economy. And I’m simply saying that more and more, we’ve got to begin to ask questions about the whole society. We are called upon to help the discouraged beggars in life’s marketplace. But one day we must come to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. It means that questions must be raised. You see, my friends, when you deal with this, you begin to ask the question, “Who owns the oil?” You begin to ask the question, “Who owns the iron ore?” You begin to ask the question, “Why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that is two-thirds water?” These are questions that must be asked.”
King went on to call for a synthesis of capitalism and communism that involved nothing less than a total overhaul of the U.S. economic system.
This is the King we don’t remember on Martin Luther King Day every year. And that is the purpose of Martin Luther King Day.
King, whatever else he was, was an enemy to the power structures in the United States. The genius of declaring a national holiday in King’s honor is that the elites get to claim King as one of their own; they get to control, to a large degree, how we remember him. He was a dissenter from the establishment orthodoxy, but the establishment could hardly shut him out of the collective memory, and far less could they vilify him. So what they did was to call him “son” and thereby acquire the means to control how the public remembers him.
*****

The curse of poverty has no justification in our age. It is socially as cruel and blind as the practice of cannibalism at the dawn of civilization, when men ate each other because they had not yet learned to take food from the soil or to consume the abundant animal life around them. The time has come for us to civilize ourselves by the total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty.
Martin Luther King on the “curse of poverty”.

In an article entitled “King’s final message: Poverty is a civil rights battle”, Stephanie Sieck further drives the point home.

******

King’s final message: Poverty is a civil rights battle

On Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, some will volunteer, some will attend celebrations of his life and legacy, some will do nothing at all. “I have a dream,” the title of King’s best known speech, will be repeated countless times, along with well-known stories about his commitment to nonviolence, his letters from a Birmingham jail, his marches against segregation and the bullet that ended his life on April 4, 1968.

But few will remember how King lived his last birthday, as he turned 39 on January 15, 1968.

According to accounts of the day retold by Jesse Jackson and Martin Luther King III, King spent the day working on a campaign that he hoped would force Washington and the American public to acknowledge and resolve the problem of poverty for people of all races, religions and backgrounds in the United States. The Poor People’s Campaign was the agenda for the day, with a short break for birthday cake.

While King’s dream, the march on Washington and fight against segregation are well-known to children and adults now, fewer are aware that King spent the last months of his life fighting poverty.

When he died in Memphis, he was there to support fair wages and union representation for Memphis sanitation workers.

Rebecca Burns, who wrote about King’s last days, death, and burial in “Burial for a King,” said King’s antiwar and anti-poverty legacy are overshadowed in part because their solutions are more elusive.

“It’s a much more complex issue – it’s not, pardon my choice of words, as black and white as voting rights or where you sit on a bus,” Burns said. “It’s harder to talk about that in sound bites.”

Clayborne Carson, director of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University, said that King’s dreams of economic justice remain unrealized, but not because they are impossible to achieve.

It is easier to celebrate King as a civil rights leader, because that was the easier part of his vision to realize,” Carson said. “The southern Jim Crow system was a regional anachronism rather than a national problem – the gulf between rich and poor – that we still prefer to ignore.”

The Poor People’s Campaign reached out to poor whites, many of whom felt most threatened by the civil rights movement’s successes in black equality, as well as impoverished migrant farm workers who harvested the nation’s food and Native Americans who languished on reservations. Injustice anywhere, King said, was a threat to justice everywhere.

*****

Race-based and gender-based affirmative action

 

This leads me to the topic of affirmative action and its usefulness in addressing injustices.

In another post, I argued that affirmative action should first and foremost be based on the wealth and well-being of individuals.

Pseudo-progressive passionately disagree and believe it should always only be based on gender and race even if this leads one to privilege a wealthy woman over a poor man in quite a few cases.

Take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed and that employees are treated during employment without regard to their race, creed, color or national origin. John.F. Kennedy
John.F. Kennedy on the egalitarian root of affirmative action.

Richard D. Kahlenberg is an American scholar having spent considerable time analysing affirmative action in higher education.

Here are some remarkable quotations from a sixty-page long report he wrote on that topic.

*****

On the whole, university leaders much prefer the prevailing
system of racial preference in admission, which ignores issues
of economic inequality and instead focuses, as Walter Benn
Michaels acidly observes, on “what color skin the rich kids
have.”
(One study found that almost nine in ten African
Americans at selective colleges are middle or upper class—
though the whites were even wealthier.)

 

Recruiting fairly privileged students of color is far less expensive than including low-income and working-class kids of all races. While higher education’s vigorous defense of affirmative action on one level represents a sincere desire for greater racial equality, it has another less virtuous side to it, as racial preferences avoid the hard work of addressing deeply rooted inequalities and
instead provide what Stephen Carter has called “racial justice on the cheap.”

 

Most notably, in the late 1960s, before his death, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrestled with the issue of how best to remedy our nation’s history of discrimination. On the one hand, he argued in his 1964 book
Why We Can’t Wait
that compensation is due to black Americans. “It is impossible to create a formula for the future which does not take into account that our society has been doing something special against the Negro for hundreds of years,” he wrote.

In the book, and in subsequent testimony before the Kerner Commission in 1967, King called for “compensatory consideration,” noting, “if a man is entered at the starting line in a race three hundred years after another man, the first would have to perform some impossible feat in order to catch up with his fellow runner.”
But instead of urging adoption of a special program for blacks, as some civil rights leaders had done, King called for a color-blind Bill of Rights for the Disadvantaged:

“While Negroes form the vast majority of America’s disadvantaged, there are millions of white poor who would also benefit from such a bill.”

King continued,

It is a simple matter of justice that America, in dealing creatively with the task of raising the Negro from backwardness, should also be rescuing a large stratum of the forgotten white poor.

King knew that class-based approaches would disproportionately benefit victims of historic discrimination without violating the color-blind ideal he had famously articulated in the 1963 March on Washington.

 

Given these political realities, it is perhaps not surprising that the father of racial preferences was not Lyndon Johnson or Martin Luther King and instead was Richard Nixon. In 1969, Nixon proposed the Philadelphia Plan that imposed racial hiring quotas on the city’s construction industry. Bayard Rustin, the great civil rights leader and friend of labor who planned the 1963 March on Washington, was suspicious: why would Nixon, who was no great supporter of civil rights, support a policy of racial preferences? Rustin charged that Nixon was using the Philadelphia Plan to “deliberately throw black and white workers at each other’s throats.

If we desire a society without discrimination, we musn't discriminate against anyone in the process of building this society. Civil right activist Bayard Rustin on discrimination.

*****

I think this should give a pause to all of us truly interested in genuine social justice .

In 2015, the real victims of slavery and segregation are mainly those blacks living under the threshold of poverty.

Race-based positive discrimination overwhelmingly favours economically privileged blacks and latinos at their expense and that of poor whites.

Whites of lower classes, in turn, are all too easily lured into far-right movements such as the Tea-Party or the personality cult of xenophobic billionaire Donald Trump.

It seems clear to me that privileging wealth-based or class-based affirmative action over race-based affirmative action (without necessarily always giving up on the latter) would lead to a far more just and stable society, as Martin Luther King would have desired.

 

Conclusion

 

In 2016, in a Western secular context, it doesn’t demand any moral courage to stand for the rights of Afro-Americans unjustly killed, homosexuals being bullied or women victim of sexism.

For there is a large consensus that those things are egregiously wrong and shouldn’t be tolerated.

You probably don’t need to be a Christian in order to recognise the wisdom in the following words of Jesus of Nazareth:

46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?

There is no great moral merit in defending values the large majority of your peers agree with.

It does require, however, a tremendous courage to criticise politically correct dogmas.

For many pseudo-progressives react like outraged religious fundamentalists and do not hesitate to resort to emotional bullying and unfair characterisations of the arguments of their opponents.

I know that it is very unlikely I could ever change their minds and I don’t even want to try it.

Classical liberalism "I disapprove of what you say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it". "Progressivism" I disapprove of what you say, and I will publicly shame you, lobby to have you censored and demand you be fired from your job.
Pseudo-progressivism in action.

For all other readers, I think it might be worth considering what follows.

In 2016, the mighty of this world (i.e. the billionaires and millionaires governing  Western oligarchies) can, by and large, cope with a black leader (such as Barack Obama) or a female leader (such as Angela Merkel and probably Hilary Clinton) who uphold neo-liberalism, Western imperialism and do not call into question their scandalous economic privileges.

Are we prepared to take on the enormous economic and political power of the billionaire class or do we continue to slide ino economic and political oligarchy? Senator Bernie Sanders and billionaires and oligarchy.
Senator Bernie Sanders on billionaires and oligarchy.

The mighty of America cannot cope with a Bernie Sander who would challenge their power structure, suppress the hideous industrial prison complex ruining so many black (and to a lesser extent white) lives, reduce students loans and debts, strengthen the universality of health care and social security, undermine the exploitation of low-income workers in the third world at the expense of Americans and end the war on drugs (among many other “deadly sins”).

As he said:

“It’s not a radical concept that maybe the United States government should represent working families rather than a handful of billionaires.”

No, it isn’t a radical concept at all, indeed.

But it is a lot harder than posting pictures in favour of gay marriage or abortion on your facebook account, getting a lot of “likes” and thinking in turn you are a noble hero contributing to saving our world.

I guess that if I wrote such a long post, it is only because I am an evil heterosexual white man who takes pleasure in oppressing women, ethnic minorities and homosexuals (and devouring small children alive).

Therefore, you don’t have to bother about refuting my arguments, let alone trying to fairly understand and describe my actual positions.

Thematic list of ALL posts on this blog (regularly updated)

My other blog on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP)

Will the UKIP lead Britain to a new Golden Age?

The UKIP despises the British people

ukip

Indeed.

Many poor Britons are being fooled into thinking that foreigners are their main problem.

No, their main problem is wild (uncontrolled) capitalism and greedy billionaires who want their taxes to be cut whereas people belonging to the lowest classes struggle hard to survive.

Following Margaret Thatcher, the NHS has been being constantly privatised in a (not so) subtle way.

Its budget has been reduced to such an extent that in many specialised sectors such as dentistry, waiting times before seeing a doctor can all too easily reach one year.

Consequently, all people who can afford it go to private doctors whereas the poorest ones must accept to powerlessly watch their health degrade.

A true popular party claiming to serve British citizens (most of whom belonging to low and middle classes) ought to take that into consideration.

Far from wanting to combat these injustices, the UKIP longs for making the situation considerably worse.

Salary as MEP: 79000 pounds a year
Farage: a very wealthy “defender” of the poor folks.

Nigel Farage and his underlings want to (ultimately) completely abolish universal healthcare in Britain and replace it by an American-like insurance-based private system (their lame denials do not change anything to the picture).

Scaremongering as a distraction from the real culpable

They use a heinous rhetoric for duping people into believing that foreigners are the main cause of their problems whereas it is in fact the crying inequalities resulting from a badly regulated free market.

Consider the recent statements of Farage:

*******

“Here’s a fact, and I am sure the other people here will be mortified that I dare to talk about it. There are 7,000 diagnoses in this country every year for people who are HIV positive. It’s not a good place for any of them to be, I know.

“Sixty per cent of them are not British nationals. They can come into Britain from anywhere in the world and get diagnosed with HIV and get the retro-viral drugs that cost up to £25,000 per year per patient.

“I know there are some horrible things happening in many parts of the world, but what we need to do is put the NHS there for British people and families, who in many cases have paid into the system for decades.”

********

While he skilfully shaped his utterances to make them sound more respectable, I think that the content remains absolutely shameful.

Think about it for a while. Banksters plunge countless lives into an unspeakable misery through their reckless actions and they don’t have to give anything away from their wealth.

There’s little doubt that some of the foreigners taking advantage of HIV-treatments are abusing the system.

But the harm they (indirectly) inflict to British households is negligible in comparison to that stemming from immoral millionaires and billionaires.

Abusing the Christian faith

Farage keeps trying to win voices from Christian Conservatives.

********

 UKIP leader Nigel Farage has said his criticism of ‘HIV tourists’ is not at odds with a Christian attitude and that Christians should put their countrymen before immigrants
….
Nigel Farage has said his comments about ‘HIV tourists’ are perfectly compatible with a religious outlook, claiming that it is “a sensible Christian thing to look after your family and your own community first”.
….
But asked on Saturday whether his views were compatible with a Christian outlook, Mr Farage said: “What good Christian would say to an 85-year-old woman ‘you can’t have breast cancer treatment because we can’t afford it’, whilst at the same time shovelling a billion pounds on foreign aid, allowing people from all over the world to fly into Britain as health tourists get an HIV test and drugs over £20,000 a year?”
….
Speaking to Sky News he added: “It is a sensible Christian thing to look after your family and your own community first.”
….
Mr Farage said that he regarded himself as a Christian, despite attending church only a “few times a year”, and insisted Britain should maintain its cultural position as a “Judeo-Christian” country. 

******

Here’s my response to his rhetorical question I emphasised.

What good Christian would prevent the weakest members of his society from taking advantage of a decent healthcare just for allowing a bunch of greedy people to get even richer?

I don’t know Nigel Farage deeply enough for judging him as a moral person.

But I strongly doubt he’s a real committed follower of Jesus of Nazareth who kept preaching against failing to feed and help the poor.

Do you really want to hear Jesus say: For I was jobless, and you told me to 'get a job'; I was homeless, and you called me a dirty hippie.  I was destitute and you said unto me: "Helping you would only encourage a big government nanny state. Be patients, for surely my riches shall trickle down unto you?
Could it be that Jesus deeply cared about the well-being of the needy?

The return of Robin Hood

Robin Hood with his green hat.
Robin Hood: what would he do in a land where the wealthiest shamelessly steals the money of the poorest?

Nigel Farage is an impostor. He steals the money of the poor to give it to the rich.

What modern Britain really needs is the Robin Hood of the legend.

Right-wing Christian “rats”?

Progressive Christian writer and activist John Shore just wrote a post I found really worrisome.

Do I smell a right-wing Christian rat behind Ohio State’s psych quiz “controversy”?

rat_phone

Yesterday I published Ohio State University teaches Christians are stupider than atheists. I came across the story on Google News, thought, “Here’s a bit of fluff I can have some quick fun with before I get back to writing my novel,”—and blip I wrote what I did.

The website that originally “broke” this story is Campus Reform. This morning, poking about the Campus Reform website, I found this on their Mission page:

As a watchdog to the nation’s higher education system, Campus Reform exposes bias and abuse on the nation’s college campuses.

Our team of professional journalists works alongside student activists and student journalists to report on the conduct and misconduct of university administrators, faculty, and students.

Campus Reform holds itself to rigorous journalism standards and strives to present each story with accuracy, objectivity, and public accountability.

A few clicks later I learned that Campus Reform is owned and operated by the hyper-conservative The Leadership Institute. Here’s a bit about them:

The Leadership Institute identifies, organizes, and trains conservative college students to promote and defend their values on campus.

Institute programs prepare thousands of conservatives each year. Conservatives learn how to:

· Form independent conservative student groups
· Manage grassroots-oriented campaigns
· Publish independent conservative school newspapers
· Communicate a conservative message using the media

Gee, I wonder why the complaining OSU “anonymous student” knew nothing about the Psych 1100 class that had so offended him or her (see below)—and why exactly they were quoted as having said:

I understand that colleges have a liberal spin on things so it didn’t surprise me to see the question … . Colleges will tolerate pretty much any religion other than Christianity.

I smell a rat. A lowdown, lying, cheating, right-wing Christian rat trying to drum up a little cheese for itself.

Ugh.

It pains me to have at all contributed, however cursorily, to the lie that there was any credibility whatsoever to the original story. Me, helping to further the agenda of hardcore right-wing Christians!

So sad. So wrong. So … what can totally happen when you’re trying to keep two blogs going and write a (major) first novel.

After reading my post yesterday my good friend Dan Wilkinson got interested in what the story behind that story might be. Dan getting interested in something is like a coke-detecting police dog getting interested in a suitcase. It’s kinda scary. But awesome to watch.

Courtesy of Dan “Sniffy” Wilkinson, here is what’s really going on with OSU’s Psychology 1100 classs:

First we have the class syllabus. As you’ll see, it’s a totally normal, duly formidable college class.

One of the tools used in the class are the online LearningCurve quizzes. As you may recall, the particular Learning Curve question that has caused such a stir is this one:

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Here are a few other LearningCurve quiz questions (which taken altogether comprise only 10% of the grade for the class):

salaries

smarts

liberal

Notably, all of the quiz question are pulled directly from Psychology, the textbook used in the class (which Dan managed to get hold of, and which is on Amazon here—for only $159.48!). Each includes exactly where in the book information informing that question can be found. So literally none of the quiz questions should be a surprise to any student in the class.

While the above questions might at face value seem inflammatorily ill-informed, within the context of the class they make perfect sense. And those are only four of the (it looks like) hundreds of questions derived from the chapter of the textbook dealing with what intelligence is and isn’t, the history of testing intelligence, the uses, abuses and shortcomings of such tests, and the complexity of entire issue.

The authors of Psychology thoroughly explore the findings that certain groups consistently test higher or lower on intelligence tests, carefully considering the factors that contribute to that result:

Although the average difference between groups is considerably less than the average difference within groups, Terman was right when he suggested that some groups perform better than others on intelligence tests.

But do group differences in intelligence test scores reflect group differences in actual intelligence? …

Some groups outscore others on intelligence tests because (a) testing situations impair the performance of some groups more than others and (b) some groups live in less healthful and stimulating environments. There is no compelling evidence to suggest that between-group differences in intelligence are due to genetic differences.

Interestingly, intelligence test scores also seem to be fairly good predictors of a person’s political and religious attitudes: The more intelligent people are, the more likely they are to be liberal and atheistic (Deary, Batty, & Gale, 2008; Lynn, Harvey, & Nyborg, 2009; Reeve, Heggestad, & Lievens, 2009; Stankov, 2009). All in all, intelligence tests scores are excellent predictors of a remarkable range of important consequences. IQ clearly matters.

In short, there’s nothing whatever wrong or suspect about OSU’s Psychology 1100 class.

I wish I could say the same for the pathetic Leadership Institute.

Here was my response:

Hello dear John.
While I’m myself a progressive Christian actively supporting the acceptance of Gay couples into the Christian Church, I realize I can no longer endorse your tone and rhetoric.

I’m also against the Christian Right and expose quite often their false priorities and distortion of the Gospel.

But in spite of everything, I view them as human beings created in God’s image and NOT as right-wing rats . As a German liberal theologian rightly pointed out: “Fundamentalisten sind auch Menschen” = “Fundamentalists are human too”.

Even if it might be a daily struggle, should it not be our duty to love our fundamentalist foes as ourselves? I’m not pretending to be a better person than you because I fall short in countless other respects.

But I think it’s really a pity if your laudable and praiseworthy defense of Gay people degenerates into self-righteous hatred.

So I really hope you’ll back away from your rhetoric and adopt a more constructive tone because you’re unlikely to change the hearts of fundies while using such words.

Otherwise, I also feel pretty irritated by the psychological Quiz. It is extraordinarily reductionist in that it defines “Christians”, “Atheists” and “Liberals” as homogeneous groups. This is very far from being the case, there are numerous conflicting groups, ideologies and movements within Christianity and atheism and merging them together has a very poor scientific value.

I’d be interested if such IQ comparisons were carried out between VERY specific groups (such as “Secular Conservatives” against “Evolutionary theists”) to see what come out of it.
What is more, it is far from being certain that there is such a thing as intelligence which can be fully grasped by a unique measure such as IQ. Its assessment also depends a lot on psychological factors such as motivation, impulsiveness and anxiety.

Anyway I wish you all the best and hope you’ll begin to see Conservatives as fellow humans.

Rick Santorum’s rise means the GOP must fight– and lose– the culture war

Lovely greetings.

Thematic list of ALL posts on this blog (regularly updated)

My other blog on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP)

Something to meditate upon

 

Foto: Si les êtres humains se préoccupaient de cette boule (le terre) de la même manière qu'ils se préoccupent de celle-là (ballon de foot), alors tous ces problèmes n'existeraient plus.

 

If human beings were to care for this ball like they care for this ball…then we wouldn’t have any longer all these problems.

 

(I’m not sure how this sounds in English but I think you’ve gotten the message…)

 

 

Should an inerrant Bible be the very foundation of Christianity?

Eric Reitan, a progressive Christian philosopher (having written an excellent book on the New Atheism and one defending universal salvation) gave several arguments against the central place of the Bible for our faith.

 

How Does God Reveal? Five Christian Reasons to Doubt Biblical Inerrancy

 
The Patheos website is currently hosting a multi-blog conversation about progressive Christianity and Scripture which has generated numerous engaging and thoughtful contributions–such as this one by James McGrath. Because the relationship between progressive Christian faith and the Bible is one of my enduring interests, the sudden flood of interesting essays on the topic has inspired me to take a few minutes to reflect on the issue myself. 

As a philosopher of religion, the way I approach this topic is in terms of a philosophical question: What theory of revelation fits best with the Christian view of God? Put another way, if there is a God that fits the broadly Christian description, how would we expect such a God to reveal the divine nature and will to the world?

Many conservative Christians take it for granted that God has revealed the divine nature and will in and through a specific book. More precisely (although they aren’t usually this precise), they believe that God inspired certain human authors at various times in history to write texts that inerrantly express divine truths–and then inspired other human beings to correctly recognize these texts and include all and only them in the comprehensive collection of Scriptures we call the Bible.

Let’s call this the theory of biblical inerrancy.

Does this theory fit well with broader Christian beliefs? Is this a good Christian theory about divine revelation, culminating in a good Christian theory about what the Bible is and what sort of authority we should attach to it? I think there are a number of reasons to be skeptical.

Put more narrowly, I think there are a number of reasons why Christians should be skeptical, given their Christian starting points. Let’s consider at least some of these reasons.

1. Christianity holds that Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God

Traditional Christian teaching holds that Jesus is the Word made Flesh, the incarnation of God in history. And this means that for Christians, the primary and monumental revelation of God is in the person of Jesus, not in any book (however inspired). It is this fact which motivated George MacDonald to say of the Bible,

It nowhere lays claim to be regarded as the Word, the Way, the Truth. The Bible leads us to Jesus, the inexhaustible, the ever unfolding Revelation of God. It is Christ “in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” not the Bible, save as leading to him.

Biblical inerrantists might argue that nothing precludes God from both revealing the divine nature primarily in Jesus and authoring an inerrant book as a secondary revelation. This is true as far as it goes. But there are reasons for concern.

First, there’s a difference between the kind of revelation that Jesus represents, and the kind that a book represents. A person and a book are different things, and we learn from them in different ways. Consider the difference between having a mentor in the project of becoming a better person, and reading self-help books.

Doesn’t Christianity teach that God’s preferred way of disclosing the divine nature and will is through personal, living relationship rather than fixed words? The problem with throwing in an inerrant book as a “supplemental” revelation is that it can lead to Bible-worship. Given human psychology, there is something alluring about having a book with all the answers. But if God primarily wants us to find the answers through personal engagement with the living God, as discovered in Jesus, isn’t there a real danger that fixation on the Bible will distract the faithful from God’s primary mode of self-disclosure?

None of this is to say that human stories–witness accounts of divine revelation in history–aren’t important. They can motivate a desire to seek out the one whom the stories are about, and they can offer tools for discerning whether you’ve found the one you seek or an imposter. But once they are seen as secondary, as valuable as a means to an end, the need for inerrancy dissipates. If what really matters is my friendship with Joe, and if I sought out and formed a friendship with him because lots of people told me stories about him that revealed him as an awesome guy I wanted to meet, do I really need to insist that those storytellers were inerrant? Why?

2. The Jesus of Scripture was not an inerrantist

In John 8:1-11, we have the story of the teachers of the law coming to Jesus with an adulteress, and asking Him whether they ought to stone her to death as the Scriptures prescribe. The passage itself declares that this was a trap: If Jesus came out and directly told them not to stone her, He would be defying a direct scriptural injunction.

He avoided the trap: He didn’t directly telling them to act contrary to Scripture. Instead, He told them that the one without sin should cast the first stone.

It is a stunning and powerful story (no wonder someone decided to write it into the Gospel of John, even though it didn’t appear in the earliest versions). But notice that Jesus didn’t tell them to do what Scripture prescribed. Instead, He found a powerful way to drive home exactly what was wrong with following that scriptural injunction–in a way that avoided their trap.

In short, Jesus disagreed with some of the teachings in the Scriptures of His day. In the Sermon on the Mount, he offered gentle correctives to earlier teachings–teachings which started in a direction but didn’t go far enough. The lex talionis command to punish evildoers eye for eye and tooth for tooth may, at the time, have served as a restraint on retributive impulses: don’t punish beyond the severity of the crime. But for Jesus, that level of restrain was insufficient. It was a start on a path, perhaps, but only that. Jesus followed the trajectory of that path to its conclusion, and enjoined His listeners to turn the other cheek.

In short, it’s clear Jesus didn’t have the inerrantist view towards the Scriptures of His day that conservative Christians have towards the Christian Scriptures of today. Conservatives might argue that Jesus would view the modern Bible–or maybe just the New Testament?–in the way they favor, even if the approach to Scripture that He actually modeled is at odds with their approach.

Allow me to treat such a speculative claim with suspicion. If Jesus is the primary revelation of God in history, then it strikes me as appropriate to follow His model for approaching Scripture, and respectfully look beyond the letters on the page to the deeper intentions that finite human authors might have missed, noticing trajectories and exploring where they might lead.

3. In the New Testament, Paul distinguished between his views and the Lord’s

 In 1 Corinthians 7:10-12, Paul says the following:

To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife. To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her…

I’ve talked about this passage before, so I won’t go into details. What interests me is the distinction Paul makes between his own views and those of the Lord. In this passage, it’s clear that Paul did not see Himself as taking dictation from God. He made a clear distinction between his own opinions and those of the Lord, and by making the distinction explicit was signaling to his readers that they should treat the injunctions differently–as if he didn’t want to claim for himself the kind of authority that he took to accompany Jesus’ explicit teachings.

But if inerrantism is true, then Paul’s teachings are the inerrant word of God, and so have the same kind of authority as Jesus’ words. In other words, if inerrantism is true, then Paul was wrong to make the distinction he made. But that distinction is made by Paul in a letter that’s in the Bible. And if inerrantism is true, a distinction made in a letter that’s in the Bible has to be accurate. But if it’s accurate, inerrantism isn’t true. Zounds!

An exercise in creative interpretation might offer the inerrantist the wiggle room to escape this logical trap, but inerrantists are routinely skeptical of such creative interpretation of Scripture. At best, then, this amounts to a difficulty for inerrantism, the sort of difficulty one often sees when trying to force a theory onto subject matter that doesn’t quite suit it. Theories can perhaps weather some such difficulties, but if they become too common it is hard to reasonably persist in endorsing the theory.

4. Efforts to overcome apparent contradictions in Scripture lead to a false view of Scripture

Speaking of difficulties of this sort, the Bible isn’t a neat, orderly, systematically consistent treatise. The Gospel narratives, for example, aren’t identical. They tell the stories of Jesus’ life in different ways. Details differ–for example, in accounts of the resurrection. Bart Ehrman does a fine job of cataloguing  many of these in Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible.

Mostly, these tensions aren’t explicit contradictions but rather what might be called apparent ones: they don’t seem as if they can go together, because you’d need to tell a rather convoluted story to make them fit.

Inerrantists have not been remiss in offering such convoluted stories. But if you need to tell enough of them in order to make your theory map onto what it’s supposed to explain, the theory becomes increasingly implausible.

And there’s another problem, one that should be of concern to Christians who care about the Bible. The convoluted tales that you have to tell in order to make disparate biblical narratives fit together end up leading you away from an honest appreciation of the message of the biblical authors. As Ehrman puts it, “To approach the stories in this way is to rob each author of his own integrity as an author and to deprive him of the meaning that he conveys in his story.”

When you do this, you care more about preserving your theory about the Bible than you do about understanding and taking in its message. For me, this is one of the greatest tragedies of an inerrantist approach to Scripture: It makes it difficult for readers to engage with the Bible on its own terms. It’s like someone who is so devoted to a false image of their spouse that they can’t see their spouse for the person they really are. Likewise, the steps that need to be taken in order to preserve the doctrine of inerrancy in the face of the Bible’s actual content means that it becomes impossible to have an intimate relationship with the Bible as it really is. This is not taking the Bible seriously. It is taking the doctrine of inerrancy seriously at the expense of the Bible.  

5. God is love

Christianity teaches that God is love. In fact, it is the closest thing Christians have to a scriptural definition of God:  “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8).

If God is love, then we experience God when we love. If God is love, then the primary way we can encounter God is through loving and being loved–that is, through cultivating loving relationships with persons. This may help to explain the Christian view that a person–Jesus–served in history as God’s fundamental revelation, rather than a book. Books can’t love you. And you can’t love a book in the sense of “love” that Christians (and the author of 1 John) have in mind when we say God is love.

When we feel the profound presence of the divine showering love upon us–or when we feel the joy of being loved by others–we are encountering the divine nature as something coming to us from the outside. But when we love our neighbors as ourselves, we are channeling divine love, and experiencing it “from within” (so to speak). The divine nature is moving within us, more intimately connected to us than any mere object of experience. I think this is what the author of 1 John means when he says that whoever does not love does not know God. To love others is to be filled with the spirit of God. It is to let God in.

If any of that is true, then it is by encouraging us to love one another that God makes possible the most profound revelation of the divine nature and will. And while the Bible does encourage us to love one another, the theory about the Bible which takes it to be the inerrant revelation of God may actually be an impediment to love.

We end up focusing more attention on the Bible than on our neighbors. We are more committed to “doing what the Bible says” than we are to loving those around us. Out of a desire to be connected with God, we insist that homosexuality is always and everywhere sinful–and when the gay and lesbian neighbors we are supposed to love cry out in despair, their lives crushed by these teachings, we stifle our compassion, shutting out love in fear that loving them as ourselves might lead us to question the inerrancy of the Bible.

If God is love, then any theory of revelation that tells us to find God by burying our noses in a book is a problematic theory. If God is love, we must look for God in the love we see in the world. The Bible, understood as a flawed and finite human testament to the God of love working in history, can be a deeply meaningful partner in our quest to encounter God and live in the light of divine goodness. But as soon as it is treated as inerrant, it is in danger of becoming a bludgeon used to silence those neighbors who want to share experiences that don’t quite fit with this or that verse.

The Bible points away from itself. Respect for it demands that we look up from the page and engage with our neighbors and the creation. God is alive in the world. The Bible tells us that God is alive in the world. In so doing, the book is telling us that if we want to find God, we need to look into our neighbor’s face with love, and at the natural world and all its creatures with love.

Because God is there. God is there, revealing Himself in the vibrancy of life and the child’s laugh and the mother’s tender kiss. God is there, in the gay man who sits by his longtime partner’s hospital bedside, gently stroking his brow. God is there, in the joyous wedding vows of the lesbian couple that can finally get a legal marriage after years together.

And any time a too-literal allegiance to the letter of the biblical text causes someone not to see the face of God in that tenderness and joy, the doctrine of biblical inerrancy has blocked divine revelation, impeding God’s effort to self-disclose to the world.

 

 

Here follows my own response.

 

Dear Eric,

it would be a terrible understatement to say that this post of yours was extraordinarily amazing 🙂

Here is a major problem for the Conservative Protestant position: it cannot merely be that their Bible is inerrant, but also that people who first recognized it that way were as well. If they weren’t, what give us the guarantee that their decision was correct?

Therefore, I view the doctrine of Solo Scriptura as rationally extremely problematic.


I also agree that God’s revelation was the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth and that it is not propositional knowledge, even if it logically entails affirming certain truths.

I think that Biblical inerrancy is IMPOSSIBLE in the first place, due to the presence of many conflicting voices in the collection of books having been gathered under that name.

Therefore, ironically enough, inerrantists themselves have constantly to pick and choose which texts they take at face values and which they necessarily have to distort because they contradict the former.

The real danger here is that according to the doctrine of inerrancy, if you find some Biblical verses describing God as commanding moral atrocities, you HAVE to conclude that the God experienced by ALL other Biblical writers endorsed them as well.

Tragically, nasty fundamentalists considerably water down Christ’s call to love our enemies to make it match the theology of the imprecatory psalms.

And many of them will give up Christianity altogether, become bitter anti-atheists while keeping the same fundamentalistic mindset.
So a New Atheist recently wrote he wants to burn the whole Bible because of the presence of atrocities within it, ignoring the obvious fact there are many other Biblical authors who did not approve at all of them.

As you expressed it so well, the priority of Conservative Evangelicals is NOT to become more loving persons and turn the world into a better place BUT to combat heresies and frenetically defend particular verses having been empirically refuted.

This explains rather well why they’re so obsessed with homosexuality while utterly ignoring (or even upholding) crying social inequalities.
I have come to see books within the Biblical Canon in the same way I view other Jewish and Christian books, and offered a parallel between C.S. Lewis and the apostle Paul writing down their experiences with God.

I think that the basis of a progressive Christian theology should be the idea that as a perfect being, God has necessarily to be much more loving and just than any (purely) human being could ever be.

Thus, if your theology teaches that God predetermined countless babies to grow up for being damned and eternally suffer, you’ve made a reductio-ad absurdum of it.

I think you’re an incredibly bright person and defender of our faith, and I wish much more people would read your writings instead of those of William Lane Craig.
His evil view of God is one of the main reasons why Conservative Evangelicalism is increasingly collapsing.
https://lotharlorraine.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/armenian-genocide-02-jpg.jpeg
Keep the good work!

 

 

 

 

Intelligent design, eternal torment and the restoration of everything: an interview with Kevin Miller

I had the immense privilege to interview the great and incredibly gifted movie maker Kevin Miller. He is a unique person in many respects and an outstanding Christian having left behind a great part of his conservative Evangelical baggage.

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Leaving Conservative Evangelicalism

Lotharson: Hello Kevin, I’m very glad you accepted to give me this interview. Could you please sum up your personal and religious background for the benefit of our readers?

Kevin Miller: I was raised in a theologically liberal but morally conservative home. My grandfather was actually a minister in the United Church of Canada, which is probably one of the most liberal Christian denominations in the country. However, at age 9, I had a “born again” experience at an evangelical Christian Bible camp. I pretty much kept that experience a secret though b/c my parents were pretty antagonistic toward that way of thinking. In my teens though, both of my parents underwent a similar experience, and we wound up attending an evangelical Mennonite Church. From there, I attended a Bible College, eventually earning a degree in youth ministry. After college, I spent 8 months in Kenya doing missionary work. Then I came back to Canada and went to university. That’s when my life and faith sort of imploded. I didn’t have any real Christian community around me, and all of the stuff I had been suppressing all those years came out. So I spent a few years wrestling with a lot of demons before finally emerging from the wilderness due to a reencounter with some friend from Bible college–and also a powerful reencounter with God. I felt like the prodigal son who had finally come home. But I still only had one foot inside the circle, so to speak, b/c I felt that somehow I’d been brainwashed or indoctrinated during my time spent in the evangelical world, and I didn’t know how to move forward. Thankfully, some good mentors came into my life around that time and started to provide me with a framework in which to analyze my experience.
Kevin Miller: I’ve always been a pretty analytical person, constantly questioning things. It’s probably some sort of unhealthy coping mechanism, b/c it makes it pretty difficult to buy into a particular theological system or faith community. I always tend to find myself on the boundary. I think that’s where I feel most comfortable.

Academic persecutions against intelligent design?

Lotharson: This is quite a fascinating story and helps better understanding your works and creations. My next question would be about your thoughts on intelligent design (ID). You wrote the script for the movie “Expelled” describing the academic intolerance towards ID. What did motivate you to do this?

220px-Expelled_logo

Kevin Miller: I was recruited for that project following the release of my first film, “After…,” a psychological thriller that takes place in the subterranean world beneath Moscow. How that goes together with the battle between Darwinian evolution and Intelligent Design I’ll never know. Originally, I was called in to attend some development meetings about what was then a hypothetical film about Intelligent design starring Ben Stein. I was really passionate about the topic (it appeals to the frustrated academic in me). But I actually told the producers not to hire me, b/c I didn’t think I had the sense of humor the project required. However, a few days later I got the call, and I was on the job. I had never worked on a documentary before and I had no idea what I was doing. Thankfully some of the other people around me did. So what motivated me? An intense interest in the topic as well as the opportunity to work on another film and to stretch myself creatively. Oddly enough, that set me on a path I had never anticipated in terms of documentary films, to the point where that’s what I’m best known for now.

Lotharson: Okay. Do you personally believe there’s a real academic persecution against ID?

Kevin Miller: I would call it more of a bias against Intelligent Design as a viable explanation for the origin, complexity and diversity of life and the origin of the universe. One one level, many people see ID as merely a Trojan Horse for some form of biblical creationism. I disagree. While most proponents of ID are people of faith, the brightest lights amongst them are truly seeking to engage in a scientific enterprise, particularly in the area of information theory, for example. The question is, what is the best explanation for the information we find in DNA? Ideally, scientists will always infer to the best explanation, follow the evidence wherever it leads. However, how do we define “best”? This is where the rule of parsimony kicks in. The best explanation is always the simplest explanation, the one that requires the fewest number of unverifiable assumptions. As Richard Dawkins likes to point out, God is pretty must the most complicated explanation someone can offer, because now you have to explain where God comes from. Even so, as Dawkins admits in the film, the idea that some form of intelligence may be responsible for the universe and everything in it is neither inherently religious nor unscientific, even though it may be friendly to a theistic worldview. But scientists are not philosophers. They are observing, measuring, experimenting, etc. If you watch Sean Carroll ‘s recent debate with William Lane Craig, for example, you can see that many non-scientist ID proponents are simply speaking a completely different language than cosmologists, biologists, and other scientists who are on the front lines running the numbers. They’re trying to solve complex equations, to explain mechanisms according to physical laws, not philosophize about how those mechanisms and laws came to be.
All that to say, I don’t think there is any more persecution against ID than there is against astrology or leprechauns. If anyone from any of these communities came to the table with a viable model to explain a natural phenomenon, people would pay attention.
I remember asking Michael Behe how science would be different if ID was the prevalent theoretical model. He had no answer. That troubled me. No surprise his interview didn’t make it into the film.

IntelligentDesign

Universal salvation

Lotharson: Thanks! I agree to a large extent with what you’ve said. Ironically enough, you were yourself “expelled” by the same conservative Evangelicals complaining about this alleged state of affairs. Could you please tell us more about this?

Kevin Miller: I wasn’t exactly expelled. I was just prohibited from teaching a course on documentary filmmaking at Trinity Western University (located in Langley, BC, Canada) due to my views on hell. Ironically, I was allowed to screen “Hellbound?” there several months earlier, and a few months after being barred from teaching on campus, I was invited to present a paper at a philosophy event DEFENDING my views on hell. So go figure. It’s a strange world. I will say, however, that my views on many subjects have shifted substantially over the past decade, thanks in large part to my extensive interaction with the atheist community re: “Expelled.”

Lotharson: How did your views evolve?

Kevin Miller: Well, you can’t undergo the sort of scathing criticism I faced as a result of “Expelled” without it affecting you. I made a point of trying to engage our critics in a meaningful way, and I took their criticisms of our film and my own views seriously. Through discussion and debate, you get to see things from a number of different sides. And I came to see many of the things I felt quite certain about didn’t quite merit that level of certainty. I guess you could say that’s when the serious deconstruction of my belief system began, and it’s been an ongoing project ever since. My departure from traditional evangelical beliefs about hell is just a small part of that process.

Culture war and bigotry

Lotharson: I guess that criticism from atheists and other non-Christians can be quite a help for reaching more reasonable views. The problem I have with ANTI-atheists is that they constantly resort to mockery and emotional bullying, in an useless and oftentimes counter-productive way. Did you experience that too?

religionisrape

Kevin Miller: Mockery and bullying is present on all sides. That’s something that disillusioned me during “Expelled.” I found that many people on all sides were more concerned with scoring points against their opponents than seeking the truth through meaningful dialogue. It’s an understandable occupational hazard though, b/c you can only go around the Mulberry bush so many times before you get frustrated at your opponents’ seeming inability to grasp the obvious truth to which you have committed your life. However, as Jonathan Haidt points out in “The Righteous Mind,” most of us arrive at our philosophical/theological positions via an emotional rather than a rational process. So until we have some kind of transformational emotional experience, we remain rather impervious to rational arguments launched against our views. So we shouldn’t be surprised to see emotions running high. Emotion is at the heart of everything. So is identity. We don’t respond well when our identity is threatened.

Lotharson: Precisely! Jon Haidt is quite an outstanding scholar and I greatly appreciate his efforts to overcome the culture war. Now I’d be interested to know more about your views of hell.
Who were the authors who influenced you the most as you were considering the possibility of universal reconciliation?

Defense of Christian universalism

Kevin Miller: It all started with Brad Jersak, author of “Her Gates Will Never Be Shut: Hope, Hell and the New Jerusalem.” I edited the book for him back in the fall of 2008. That experience is what convinced me I had to make a documentary on this topic, although I wasn’t in a position to begin pursuing it until nearly three years later.

The thing that struck me about Brad’s book was how little what I was taught about hell was actually in the Bible. He also introduced me to the various streams of interpretation regarding final things throughout the history of the church. I should have known this stuff (I’d been to seminary after all) but it was all new to me. I should also note that I was well prepped for this mind-shift due to another book I had edited for Wayne Northey. It’s a novel called “Chrysalis Crucible.” It really got me questioning the connection between God and violence.

Another book, coedited by Brad Jersak and Michael Hardin, called “Stricken by God?” faced this question head-on, arguing that the atonement and nothing to do with God punishing Jesus for our sins. Once you start to think along those lines, the idea of hell as a place of eternal, conscious torment pretty much falls to the wayside. In terms of universalism, some key influences were Thomas Talbott, Robin Parry, Richard Beck, Brian McLaren, Eric Reitan, Sharon Baker and Julie Ferwerda. They showed me that a viable case could be made for a non-retributive view of God and hell. Of course, Michael Hardin is also front and center throughout. So is his “rabbi,” Rene Girard.

Lotharson: The following passage is widely seen as extremely problematic for universal reconciliation. Matthew 25:46 (NET) “And these will depart into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Most Conservative Evangelicals use the following syllogism:
1. We know that the saved will live eternally in bliss
2. The damned will be punished in the same way the elects are rewarded
3. Thus the damned will suffer eternally.
What’s your take on this text?

sHEEPGoats
Kevin Miller: This isn’t nearly as problematic as it appears. It all comes down to the word translated as “eternal.” In Greek, the term is “aionios,” an adjective that means “of an age” or “age-long” rather than “never-ending.” So it can be interpreted as either qualitative or quantitative, or perhaps both. At any rate, in this parable, the righteous will receive a reward in keeping with the age to come and the wicked will receive a punishment in keeping with the age to come.

There is no reason to assume the reward or punishment will last forever. Furthermore, the intent of this parable isn’t to provide a systematic theology of the afterlife but to emphasize how strongly Jesus identifies with “the least of these.”

The other thing I chuckle at when people try to use this to establish a belief in hell as eternal torment is that the qualification for avoiding hell has nothing to do with faith. In fact, the sheep had no idea they were doing anything that merited a reward. Works is the deciding factor here, in particular how we treat the poor. So if proponents of eternal torment want to use this parable to bolster their case, they’ll also have to concede that faith doesn’t enter the equation.

The only thing that matters is righteous action–at least if you read this parable in isolation. And if you want to combine it with other parables and verses that emphasize faith, you’re sort of stuck in a contradiction. Unless, of course, you want to say the good works are the fruit of faith. But then I’ll remind you that the sheep had no idea they were serving God by helping the poor. So once again, it’s problematic.

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On inerrancy and picking and choosing

Lotharson: These are good points! I also find it quite stunning that Evangelicals PICK and CHOOSE which parts of the passage they take at face value and which parts they allegorize for avoiding “salvation by work”. Do you agree with me that there are conflicting voices in the Bible, so that inerrantists INEVITABLY have to cherry-pick things?

CherryPicking
Kevin Miller: Everyone cherry-picks. You have to. Even Paul and, dare I say it, Jesus cherry-picked! If you look at how Paul uses the Old Testament, for example, he pays virtually no attention to the original context of many of the verses he quotes.

Peter Enns does a great job in “The Evolution of Adam” of explaining how Paul’s view of Adam’s role in human sinfulness is completely absent from the Old Testament. He adapts Scriptures and theological ideas for his own purposes. In doing so, he was merely in keeping with his times. Many of his contemporaries did exactly the same thing. And how often does Jesus pluck a verse here or there and then completely revolutionize the traditional interpretation?

All that to say, circumstances shift constantly. Therefore, so does our perspective on the Bible. All of us suffer from confirmation bias–the tendency or perhaps the temptation to pick and choose passage of Scripture that support what we already believe. That’s the thing that struck me about Jersak’s book when I edited it. Speaking back to the evangelical world in which he had spent most of his career, he said if we are going to be biblical about hell, let’s be biblical.

That is, let’s listen to everything the Bible says about final things, not just the parts that support what we already believe. That’s a highly problematic approach for someone who desires a hermetically sealed theology, but it’s the only approach that is in keeping with integrity. All that to say, we all tend to take parts of the Bible literally and allegorize other parts as it suits us. The key is to be aware of this tendency and to work consciously against it. This is where peer review can play a key role–as long as the entire peer review process isn’t biased in the same direction!
Speaking of which, I have a bit of a pet peeve re: peer review. Academics like to hold it up as the golden standard, an almost infallible means of achieving truth. The thing we often fail to consider is how the entire peer review process can be just as biased–perhaps more heavily invested in a bias–than individual academics. So if the peer review process holds individuals in check, what holds the process in check? I’m sure you wouldn’t put much stock in an astrologist’s insistence that his or her conclusions were correct because they had been peer-reviewed by other astrologists. 🙂

 

Hell and cognitive dissonances

Lotharson: Yeah, this is why Conservative Evangelicals and militant atheists peer-reviewing their own community are truly laughable 🙂
Conservative Evangelicals often argue that atheists cannot live consistently with their assumption that they and their loved ones are insignificant molecular machines. While I largely agree with this, I am convinced that the cognitive dissonances they are facing are FAR WORSE.
For they believe that most people will eternally suffer as a punishment for sins they could not have avoided, having been cursed with a sinful nature by the almighty Himself. Do you agree with this assessment?

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Kevin Miller: Here’s the thing: Theists argue that unless there’s a creator, everything is meaningless, and our attempts to create meaning absurd, because if God or some sort of equivalent being (or race of beings) doesn’t exist, the only determining factors in the universe (or multiverse) are chance and necessity. We are nothing but stardust come to life for a brief moment, so to speak. Atheists counter this assertion by saying we don’t need an ultimate being to give our lives mean. We can assign our own proximate meaning to other people, objects, events, locations, rituals, etc. If theists are completely honest, they’ll have to admit that’s pretty much what they’re doing anyway.

As Richard Dawkins points out, challenge a Christian with horrific commands from the Old Testament (such as the stoning of adulterers), and they’ll say those rules don’t apply anymore. As we noted above, we all pick and choose which parts of the Bible to take literally and which to ignore. So as Dawkins points out, even though people like to say the Bible or God is the ultimate authority, we are still applying some sort of standard that actually supersedes the Bible. In fact, the only reason we believe the Bible has any authority in our lives is because we have become convinced of his validity or inspiration. And even in this case, it’s the arguments in favour of the Bible’s authenticity that are our true authority. So when it comes to ultimate meaning versus proximate meaning, I think the atheists are onto something.
As for cognitive dissonance, this is certainly one of the key problems facing Christians who believe in a God who violently punished his son on the cross and then threatens to punish the wicked forever in hell. This runs smack into cherished beliefs about God loving his enemies, love keeping no record of wrongs, etc.

Think about it: If God is perfectly loving, and if our own love is perfected in heaven, how could we possibly tolerate people suffering forever in hell? Our compassion would grow in proportion to our awareness of their suffering. Therefore, if anyone winds up in hell, I can’t see how we all wouldn’t be there, with the “righteous” ministering to those who are suffering. The only way around this is for God to either render us unaware of the suffering of our loved ones or for God’s love to be revealed as something completely different than what Christ taught.

 

Fundamentalism and child abuse?

Lotharson: I once stated that folks STRESSING the doctrine of eternal torment too much to their kids are abusing them. This made many of my readers angry and I regretted having written the sentence since it gives the impression that all people teaching Eternal Conscious Torment are abusive. This is not what I meant since my secular Catholic parents taught me that (concerning evildoers) and I never felt abused at all.
That said, I still believe that fundamentalists terrorizing their children in the hope they will “make a decision for Christ” are abusing them. Do you think this is the case and that this can really cause them deep psychological wounds?

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Kevin Miller: If it’s abuse, it’s unintentional. I was “saved” through a gospel presentation that included a threat of hell. And I believe it affected me psychologically in such a way that it essentially derailed the next two decades of my life. But the people who presented that version of the gospel to me were some of the most loving people you will ever meet. Years later I was at a function where I witnessed a kindly old Mennonite lady making a similar presentation to my own young children–who had never heard of hell–and I was horrified. I didn’t want to see them inflicted with such a horrific view of God. There’s a meme going around where God or Jesus says, “Let me save you… from what I’m going to do if you don’t let me save you.” I think that gets right to the bedrock on this one. Think of a parent saying that about him or herself to a young child. It would be considered abusive or at the very least highly coercive.

Calvinism and predestination to eternal torment

Lotharson: I agree it is almost always unintentional. Calvinists are arguably the most vocal opponents of universalism. They believe that God created evil and caused Adam and Eve to fall because He needs to SHOW OFF his punitive wrath. Without eternal torments, he would be unable to maximize his glory and his undeserved grace. What’s your opinion on this?
Kevin Miller: I have to quote Michael Hardin here and say that Calvinism or Reformed Christianity is nothing but paganism dressed up in Christian clothing. The God who would do such a think in no way resembles the Jesus of the gospels, who was a friend–not an enemy–of sinners.
When I say “paganism,” BTW, I mean no affront to modern day pagans. What I mean is they have basically taken the old, sacrificial view of God of pre-Christian religions and made him the center of the Christian faith–which I see as an apologetic against exactly this sort of God. Jesus never demanded sacrifice. Rather, he sacrificed himself. So I would say Calvinism is 180 degrees away from Christ.
At least my interpretation of Jesus. 🙂

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Lotharson: 🙂 Some Calvinists I talked too agree that (according to all criterion of human justice and love) the god they worship is a fiend. But they went on saying that we cannot judge God by our own morality and that He defines what is good and bad. What is your response to this?
Kevin Miller: I would agree. God does define morality. And, playing by their own rules, if Jesus is God, he defines morality in ways that utterly defy their theological system. So it seems to me they have two choices:

1) admit that Jesus was lying or

2) admit that God has a double standard–one form of morality for humans, another for himself. Either way, the results aren’t pretty. Either love never fails, never keeps a record of wrongs, always hopes, always perseveres (cf. 1 Corinthians 13) or it doesn’t. Calvinists are saying it doesn’t. So not only are they contradicting Jesus’ teaching that what makes us perfect like God is love of enemy (Matthew 5), they are also contradicting the clear teaching of Paul.
Lotharson: Most Calvinists I know are nice people. But what could occur if they began imitating the behavior and attitude of the God they profess to believe and trust upon?
Kevin Miller: Exactly. As Frank Schaeffer likes to point out, most people who believe in such a punitive view of God live above their theology. They’re far nicer than the God they worship. And thank God for that! But on a meta-level, I believe our entire society reflects a version of the Calvinist God, b/c our entire justice system is based primarily on retribution. Not only our justice system but our prison system, our economic system, our theological systems, our war machines, even the way many people discipline their children is a shadow version of the punitive God who demands sacrifice in order to achieve peace. This is one of the key insights of Rene Girard and Michael Hardin, who have had a huge influence on me over the past few years. Our entire society is based on scapegoating and sacrifice. It’s how we create culture. This is why Michael says toward the end of “Hellbound?” that the entire church is missing the gospel. That’s because the gospel isn’t divine sanctification of our sacrificial machinery; it’s the antidote to it, it’s the foundation for a new kind of community–call it he Kingdom of God–based on self-sacrifice instead. In this regard, I think we have completely missed the radically subversive message of Christ. It undercuts everything.

 

Libertarian free will?

Lotharson: It seems to me that you agree with Calvinists that there is no such thing as libertarian free will, am I right? Is everything determined by God?
Kevin Miller: Wrong. I believe we are co-determining–at our core, humans are imitators. We look to others to see what we should desire. And then we compete with each other for these objects of desire or states of being, thinking it will give us the sense of identity or immortality we seek, anything to transcend the fear of death that gnaws at our insides, the feeling that we are insignificant. I tend not to look at people as individuals but as members of a herd. The “self illusion” is one of the most problematic illusions we face right now. Alongside it is the notion of free will. We are pack animals for the most part, and our powers of volition are much weaker than we imagine. I’ll go back to Jonathan Haidt (“The Righteous Mind“) on this one. Also Bruce Hood (“The Self Illusion”), Ernest Becker (“The Denial of Death”), Richard Beck (“The Slaver of Death”) and Rene Girard (“Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World”) on this one. All of these writers and many others point to a similar conclusion.
Lotharson: Okay, thanks for the correction. I didn’t know you believe in libertarian freedom. You once said that freedom is just a mean to the end of our salvation. But what if freedom is an end in itself? What if God’s main purpose in creating us was that we develop a good personality naturally desiring Him, so that those lacking it won’t inherit eternal life but BE NO MORE? Is it not conceivable as well?
Kevin Miller: I would hope the end game is self-actualization, that we all become the ultimate fulfillment of our potential. Exactly how that is achieved doesn’t concern me all that much.

 

Palestine and Christian sionism

Lotharson: Okay. I have a last question. Many Evangelicals support unconditionally the state of Israel. A young pastor once told me that the modern Palestinians are the descendants of a people that Israel refused to annihilate during Joshua’s conquest, and that the struggles of modern Israelis can be traced back to this ancestral “sin”: they should have left nothing which breathes alive. What are your thoughts on this issue?

PalestiniansKids
Kevin Miller: Despite having co-written “With God on Our Side,” which criticizes extreme forms of Christian Zionism, I’m not sure if I know enough about the situation to comment on it. However, I will say this: I don’t believe God ever told the Israelites to annihilate anyone in the Old Testament. Second, many evangelicals fail to distinguish between the Jewish people and the State of Israel. Israel is a secular state created in 1948. Within that state are Jews, Palestinians and all sorts of other people. No Christian should ever support any secular state uncritically. So how the State of Israel treats the Palestinians living within its territory (as well as the Gaza Strip and the West Bank) is a completely separate issue in my mind from historical/theological concerns going back to Joshua’s purported conquests of Canaan.
What we can say for sure is that treating anyone as a second-class citizen is wrong. So are acts of terrorism. Whenever theological ideas are used to justify either action, they go against the clear teachings of Christ.

Lotharson: Okay Kevin, this marks the end of our discussion.Thank you for all the time you’ve granted me! I wish you all the best for your ongoing projects.

 

 

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