An Unbelievable faith? An interview with Justin Brierley

I recently had the immense privilege to interview Justin Brierley who hosts the British show Unbelievable? bringing together Christians and non-Christians for fruitful conversations. Since the sound of our conversation is of very low quality, I transcribed it.

JustinVriel

Hi Justin, thanks for accepting this interview. Could you please tell us your own background?

Certainly. I was raised in a Christian family and so I really grew up going to Church and during my early teens Christianity was kind of an experiential thing to me. It was only in my later teens that I began feeling an intellectual curiosity and I read people like C.S. Lewis and others. I was also involved in sort of creative things in the university in relation to my Christian faith and so yeah it was how it began. I was accepted to Oxford university and several Christian activities there strengthened my faith. And so yeah, it was my background. After a subjective emotional experience I saw the rational foundations behind my faith.

Thanks! Would you say you’re an Evangelical Christian?

Yeah…I mean…like many people I tend to call myself merely a Christian. I’m orthodox in the sense that I believe the historical creeds of the Church, in the Incarnation and the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Evangelical is a label I’m happy to go with. I might not be the same kind of Evangelicals as others. Maybe if you want to nuance that, I might call myself a “liberal Evangelical” which might be more accurate.

Okay. Do you believe, for example, in Biblical inerrancy?

Again, that’s a really interesting area. My thinking developed over the year, especially through Unbelievable?, the show that I hold. Now, instead of “inerrancy“, I’d prefer to talk about the Authority of Scriptures. For inerrancy itself is a label which has a certain amount of baggage on it. If inerrancy means that the Bible should be viewed as a 21-st century science textbook, then I reject it. The Bible uses metaphors appropriate to an ancient Jewish context which would have been accurate for that time. So I’d prefer to say that the Bible is authoritative and reliable in that way. I don’t think that inerrancy is required to get what we need, which is the facts about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and His claims of Lordship in our lives. Having said that, I would stand up for the Bible’s reliability in all kinds of areas because I think it’s incredibly well founded in all types of different ways. Many difficulties in Scripture that Sceptics point to can be overcome relatively easily by considering them as literature of their days and not necessarily expecting a twenty-first century biographical precision. I’m thinking on examples in the Gospels where there appears to be differences in the time line of events. We’re learning more and more that the Gospel writers adopted the standard biographical methods of their days. Why should we expect that they should not use the same elasticity found in other documents of that time period? It does not mean they’re not reliable. It’s complicated, but in the end I prefer to use the terms reliable and authoritative rather than inerrancy.

Yeah. What is the spiritual background of Premier Christian Radio?

Well Premier radio is full of people with lots of different Christian backgrounds. So we’re pretty much a multi-denominational station and we seek to serve here in the UK as part of the Christian Church. Some people might be surprised to learn we’ve Protestant Charismatic programs and some Roman Catholic teachings as well. So we’re quite broad in the community we’re seeking to reach here in the UK. Having said that, you can characterize most of the content as being broadly Evangelical. The station was founded 20 years ago. At the time we were the only Christian broadcaster in the whole united Kingdom. We’re still one of only few. So the situation is very different to the US where you’ve plenty of Christian TVs and radio channels.
So our mandate has been to be representative of the entire Church and we’ve always tried to do that.

What are the main aims of Unbelievable?

Unbelievable? is really a show where I wanted to break out of the Christian bubble. Premier Christian radio is very good at speaking to and resourcing Christians for their daily life and worship, ministry and work. But at the time I began with the program, we didn’t have specific things which speak to non-Christians. So I went to a chief-executive and asked if I could start a specific program which would bring people of faith or no faith into the studio and so we had a discussion. It started out as a live-show. Not everyone was in favour of it. Some of the listeners felt that, you know, atheists and agnostics have plenty of time on public shows and on the BBC, so why should we have them on a Christian radio? But to his credit the chief executive stood by the program. Eventually those who liked the program learned to listen, those who did not appreciate it learned to turn off the radio at that hour of Saturday. Over time the program went online and the podcast became quite popular since we have many pretty interesting guests and touch on many topics. The main aim is an Evangelistic one and I don’t make any apology for that. We want to show, through good dialogues with people from various perspectives, that Christianity is a reasonable faith and that you don’t have to throw your brain in a bin in order to be a Christian. That’s not to say there are no difficult areas, that is to say areas where I don’t have a real answer. Still, over the years I heard pretty much every possible objection to Christianity but I still feel that Christianity is the best narrative, the best way of approaching life. So I hope that the program is doing that for other persons too. I’m not expecting the program to do that for everyone.

The second thing that the program does is creating a space of dialogue within the Christian community. So we often have had lots of programs over the years. We hope people view it as place where disagreements are allowed. They also should realise that once you become a Christian you don’t automatically get a set of absolute rules and regulations. There is room within the Christian community to hold different views while still managing to call ourselves brothers and sisters in Christ. We sincerely hope we’re providing people with this space for making up their own mind while having these sorts of discussions.

Thanks! I find that great. What’s your take on the American culture war?

Well, I think that the UK is inevitably a very different kettle of fish to America. America has its own unique issues and its separation of Church and State. Obviously, the powerful Religious Right there does not exist in the UK. There are far less tensions here between politics, culture and Christianity than in America where there is a far wider dichotomy, if you like, between politics and the average Christian. As for me, I’m saddened in a way by the American culture war because so many of the atheists from America that I do encounter are atheists not necessarily because of intellectual objections to Christianity but because of what they perceive to be an illiberal agenda on the part of the Christian Right. That is what is parking their vehement reaction to religion. I think that’s a great shame. It is when Christianity is merged with the political power that the problems usually emerge. During the history of Christendom, we can see that things go wrong when our faith is used as a political force. Christianity is most compelling while working, to some extent, from the margin and that’s the situation we find ourselves in here in the UK.
Some people have been lamenting the fact that the British Church is declining. But I think this might be a good thing for the UK Church. People go to Church in the United Kingdom because they want to go to it. That wasn’t the case, you know, fifty years ago. The State used to have a huge amount of cultural Christianity within it. In the end, this part of Christianity is doomed to die off and that’s not a bad thing since I believe it is where all these culture wars come from. In a way it can be a more healthy expression of our convictions and have a more positive impact on culture which doesn’t stem from the power structure. So, these are some thoughts on how things are going on in that respect.

I totally agree with you! How does the modern British religious landscape look like nowadays?

Archbishop of York claims fall of Empire and rise of multiculturalism has destroyed Britain's 'big idea'

Well, here in the UK, as I mentioned, there has been a steep decline in Church going for several decades. As I said, I don’t see this as being a real cause for concern. What you’re seeing is that the Christian revivals of the nineteenth century and before (people like Wesley, Spurgeon and others) produced a generation of passionate Christianity. Yet that faith was not necessarily passed on or inherited in a living way. And so we’re inevitably seeing this sort of Christianity decline. Interestingly enough, we are currently seeing the emergence of many multicultural Churches. Owing to immigration, Christians from Africa, south America and from the West Indies are founding great communities and that’s shaping the British Church. It means that Christians with different backgrounds must work together. In the United States, many Churches don’t mix together. I think that here in the UK there is more of a cohesive field of Christianity because it’s a smaller community. That’s not to say that Christianity is in any way dead or dying in the UK. I think there are very exciting shifts of life within the British Church, there are some truly fantastic projects going on. Holy trinity Brompton, an Anglican Church is the centre of the Alpha courses, which many Churches all over the world use. It has been tremendously successful in introducing many people to the Christian faith. There are all sorts of other exciting projects within the Church which you don’t often see while looking at the headlines. When the Church get into the headlines here in the UK, it’s usually about Gays or about whether women should be allowed to become bishops and that sort of things. The reality is that there is much more going on than the things the newspapers pick up.

Yeah, of course! And how is the situation of Muslims in modern Britain? I mean that especially with respect to the terrorist attacks which have been going on during the last decades.

I think that multiculturalism naturally leads to many new communities springing up in the UK, many of which being Islamic. Britain has a nice history of welcoming and integrating diverse groups. There are different types of Islam out there. I think it has been a challenge to the UK because they tend to be more insular than other communities. The government has some troubles understanding and communicating with them. There are some great initiatives, here in the UK, for bringing different faith groups to talk to each others. Sadly, I think this doesn’t often have a massive influence on the mosques across the country…Some reports can be sensationalised. But there have been reports over the years of quite radicalised teachings in some mosques. They showed a fairly open stance to the public. But behind the closets you can find some quite worrying teachings going on. There has been, unfortunately, a number of Muslims from the UK who joined ISIS warriors in Syria and so on. So I think there are grounds for feeling worried. We need to do everything in our power to continue to communicate with these communities. We should not treat them as a monolithic ensemble. The British government ought to understand Islam and to not treat it as a blanket religion. There is a huge variety of different groups. They’re not all the same and they’ve different aims and objectives. It is a very tricky time in that sense here in the UK.

https://i1.wp.com/sheikyermami.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/10/london_bus_2.jpg

Yeah I completely agree. The Islamic world is extremely diverse. Not all of them advocate violence against unbelievers. We should not punish peaceful Muslims for the misdeeds of extremists they themselves view as appalling and abhorrent.
To conclude this interview, could you please tell us what you’re up to?

What’s coming up? The show continue, we’ll have new exciting discussions and debates. I’ll do some shows interviewing people who had a Near Death Experience, which is quite an interesting phenomenon. There has recently been a major scientific study on that and we’ll be interviewing people who have been involved in it. We’re preparing the new Unbelievable for next year. That’s been an exciting part of what is being developed for the show. It’s a conference where everyone can come to see the reasonable and intellectual value of Christianity with top-speakers. I myself have been increasingly involved in another aspect of Première’s work which is Premier Christianity magazine. It has been formerly just called Christianity magazine. I became the senior editor of that fairly recently.

Great!

Yeah, and although I’ve been writing for the magazine for a number of years, this has been quite an interesting and challenging step, but I’m really enjoying it and I’m really bringing more and more of what I do on air into the magazine as well.
So, balancing these two things is my challenge at the moment. I want to keep the show fresh and interesting while upholding the standards of the magazine as we produce it each month.

Okay, so thank you very much for this interview! I wish you all the best.

Well, thank you very much for having me, Marc, and I wish you all the best too.

 

 

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On upholding inhumanity and some ethical implications

A friend of mine called my attention to an article which made me shudder.

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David Clapson

‘The coroner said that when David Clapson died he had no food in his stomach.’ Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian

The coroner said that when David Clapson died he had no food in his stomach. Clapson’s benefits had been stopped as a result of missing one meeting at the jobcentre. He was diabetic, and without the £71.70 a week from his jobseeker’s allowance he couldn’t afford to eat or put credit on his electricity card to keep the fridge where he kept his insulin working. Three weeks later Clapson died from diabetic ketoacidosis, caused by a severe lack of insulin. A pile of CVs was found next to his body.

I’ll resist calling Clapson’s death a tragedy. Tragedy suggests a one-off incident, a rarity that couldn’t be prevented. What was done to Clapson – and it was done, not something that simply happened – is a particularly horrific example of what has, almost silently, turned into a widespread crisis. More than a million people in this country have had their benefits stopped over the past year. Sanctions against chronically ill and disabled people have risen by 580% in a year. This is a system out of control.

A petition for an inquiry into benefit sanctions, started by Clapson’s sister, Gill Thompson, is now on the verge of its 200,000th signature. This Thursday there will be a day of action against benefit sanctions across the country. If inspiration is required, you need look no further than the latest Department for Work and Pensions pilot scheme launched last week. The unemployed are set to have their benefits stopped if they don’t sign in at a jobcentre in the morning and spend the whole day there, every day. Breach the rules once and you’ll lose four weeks’ worth of benefits; twice and you won’t be able to feed your kids for three months.

Yes, some reasons for sanctions are almost laughable: going to a job interview rather than a meeting at the jobcentre that it clashes with; not completing an assessment because you had a heart attack during it. But let’s not convince ourselves the rest are credible – punishment sensibly bestowed on the scrounging unemployed. A government that deems it a success to stop the money someone needs to eat is a government of the grotesque.

Sanctions are a product of an attitude towards benefit claimants that says they are not people struggling to find work but suspects: lazy, stupid and in need of a DWP-kick to get them out of bed. The lazy are going hungry. Eight in 10 Trussell Trust food banks report that benefit sanctions are causing more people to need emergency food parcels. This, I suppose, is what Conservatives call motivation.

It doesn’t matter that sanctions are disproportionately hitting the most vulnerable. Nor that the DWP’s own commissioned report says that they are being imposed in such a way that vulnerable people often don’t understand what is happening to them, and are left uninformed of the hardship payments to which they are entitled. Six out of 10 employment and support allowance (ESA) claimants who have had their benefits stopped have a mental-health condition or learning difficulty. Are these the chosen victims of austerity now? By definition of being in receipt of ESA, many will struggle to do things such as be punctual for meetings or complete work placements with strangers in environments they don’t know. It is setting people up to fail and then punishing them for it.

Sanctions are not an anomaly. Rather, they are emblematic of the wider Tory record on welfare: one of incompetence and, at best, indifference. The work programme fails to find work for 95% of disabled people, but enforced, unpaid labour or loss of benefits is the DWP’s answer. More than a quarter of a million people are still waiting for PIP, the benefit needed to help cover the extra costs of disability. Seven hundred thousand people have been left waiting for an ESA assessment. Locking people out of their rightful benefits is becoming a theme for this government. The consequences are human; the response from the government is inhumane.

Clapson had only left his last job to care for his elderly mum, and before that had worked for 29 years. On the day he died he had £3.44 to his name and six tea bags, a tin of soup and an out-of-date can of sardines in his kitchen cupboards. Benefit sanctions are aimed at ending the “something for nothing” culture, as the DWP’s press release brags. I vote for ending the demonisation of the unemployed, disabled and poor.

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What happened to him is truly gruesome and absolutely shameful.

This is why I reject free market capitalism for (Christian) socialism.
In the first system, MONEY is the measure of all things which naturally leads to a very small minority of incredibly rich people and an exponentially higher number of poor ones.

In socialism, free competition is encouraged AS LONG AS the welfare of human beings is not threatened, in which case the State intervenes.
Comparisons between the well being of poor people in hyper-capitalistic countries such as the United States and socialistic countries such as Sweden let us recognize a stark contrast which looks all the more tragic when glancing at children.

https://lotharlorraine.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/ceefe-baby-beggar.jpg

I think that the UK is drifting more and more towards wild capitalism and actually it has always hindered us from building up a “social Europe”. So we’d probably be much more successful if they had left us, presumably deprived of Scotland.

But their departure from the EU would likely have dire consequences on many sectors of British economy and employment as Obama himself pointed out.

Some implications for Christians

All Christians agree that a starving child is a horrendous evil. Actually this is agreed upon by the large majority of human beings regardless of their worldview.

So should we not work together towards constructing a society where this kind of evil is MINIMIZED?

While reading these lines, many Conservative Christians would doubtlessly answer me that while we are taught by our Master to care for the poor, the solution doesn’t have to be political.

But many of them couldn’t tell me that with a straight face, that is without either cognitive dissonances or a hypocritical tongue. When abortion and homosexuality are concerned, they certainly believe that a political solution is not only in order but also the most Christian thing anyone could do.

Let us suppose that we know that option A (status quo) will uphold the suffering of poor children whereas option B will considerably reduce it.

What kind of human beings are we if we refuse to engage B out of convenience or love for abstract political ideals?

 

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Becoming a new Atheist?

Jonny Scaramanga (whom I once interviewed) is a former Christian fundamentalist who left behind his faith after having realized that the “education” he had received was nothing more than a brain washing.

First of all, I want to say I really like him and his generally respectful attitude towards people not sharing his current worldview.

So I was somewhat troubled after having read his last blog post.

Some of my Christian readers like me because, they say, I am an atheist but not a New Atheist. I appreciate their support, but I think I might actually be one of those nasty Gnu Atheists. I think I should clarify my position.

I’m thinking about all this because I’ve been asked to review a book called Godbuster: Banishes all known gods. I haven’t read it yet, and I’ll reserve judgement until I have, but at first glance, I’m not sure how a book like this is going to be useful.

When I stopped being a Christian, I was not happy about it. There are a great many Christian tropes about atheists: they’re just too proud to submit to God; they’re just angry at God; they’re just too selfish to stop sinning; they hate God. None of those were true of me at the time. My heart was not “hardened against God”. I really wanted to believe. I just couldn’t.

Photo by David Shankbone. Source: Wikimedia Commons

That’s not the case anymore. I like the universe without God in it a lot more than I liked it when I thought there was an Almighty watching over it. I don’t think there is a God (or gods, or godesses), and I’m glad about that. The idea of worship now seems servile and unpleasant to me. But I’m happy for those who want to engage in it to do so.

 

Overall, I think religion is a net source of harm in the world. If religion were wiped from the planet, it would be no loss. If there are good reasons to be moral (and I think there are) then we don’t need religion to tell us what to do. There are thousands of people who find meaning in life without religion, and I do not think that’s because we are better or more intelligent than religious people. I’m confident anyone can find meaning without religion. I think the truth claims of religion are false, and that the benefits of religion can also be achieved without a religious framework. Religion is unnecessary.

I freely concede, however, that for many individual adherents faith is a net positive. Here I disagree with those atheists who think that religion is bad for everybody, and those who consider their private faith a positive thing are simply delusional. I think there are many people of faith who gain a great deal from their religion without it doing them or those around them much harm. The atheist counter-argument is that belief in God is necessarily irrational, and behaving irrationally is always harmful. I’m not so sure about this.  One of the lessons of psychology is that we pretty much all hold some irrational beliefs, and some of them do us some good. For another, I’m not sure all religious belief is irrational. The kind of religion criticised on this blog is irrational, and to the extent that religion is irrational, it must be opposed. But there are religious believers who accept the findings of science, who behave logically and rationally, and who simply think that religion and science are non-overlapping magisteria. I don’t accept their arguments, but that’s fine. They’re not forcing me to share their faith. Fundamentalism, of course, makes empirical, scientifically testable truth claims all the time: miracles happen; prayers are answered; the universe is <10,000 years old; a catastrophic flood ca. 4,000 years ago destroyed almost all life. These empirical falsehoods are used to bolster a belief system which does harm to its adherents and those around them. But that’s not true of all Christianity, much less all religion.

Indeed, Dawkins and Sam Harris, et al, don’t really take on these more intellectually defensible forms of Christianity in their books, partly because their arguments are much less easy to dismiss than the ludicrous claims of fundamentalists. Sam Harris comes closest, by arguing that liberal Christians don’t do enough to oppose fundamentalists, and that by sharing some beliefs with the fundamentalists, they lend some legitimacy to the harmful beliefs of the extremists. This is a pretty lousy argument. It’s true that far too many Christians and Muslims are too quiet about the extremists in their midst, but it’s not true of all of them. In an epic post called “Why young-Earth creationism needs to be killed with fire“, the Christian Fred Clark absolutely storms into the problems of fundamentalism. The best feminist blogs I read are written by Christians too.

As for the latter part of the argument (that liberal religion shares beliefs with fundamentalism), well, I too share many beliefs with fundamentalists. I think that the world is round, that drinking water is a good idea, that North America is a continent, and that murder is bad. Sure, these aren’t religious beliefs, but I have significant overlap with the crazies on matters of reality, of philosophy, and even morality, and this does not make it difficult for me to part ways with them where they head off into the land of the unbelievable. The fact that the mainstream believers share some beliefs with the dangerous ones is not necessarily a problem.

So while at the moment I think religion does more harm than good, I don’t think that’s a necessary truth. And, obviously, a world with no religion in it could easily be a terrible place. I think religion can be reformed so the harmful parts are removed. This is where I part ways with many New Atheists. I also think this is much more likely to succeed (especially in the short term) than getting rid of religion altogether. Asking people to reject religion wholesale is asking them to make a radical transformation in their worldview and identity. Not many people are willing to do this. On the other hand, convincing them that it’s perfectly possible to be a believer who accepts science, embraces LGBT people, and actively pursues social justice is comparatively realistic (lots of people already do it).

So why Godbuster? I suspect I’ll agree with it, because I don’t find the gods of any religion plausible. But so what? I don’t care what people think about Allah, Yahweh, Jesus, Krishna, Buddha, or any other deity. I care that all humans have equal rights, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, age, or geographical location. I care that we pursue policies that reduce social inequality. I care that we do everything we can to halt climate change. I care that children have the access to education that will empower them to make good, informed choices about how to live their lives. If people feel inspired to pursue these things because of their faith, that’s fine by me.

Do you disagree with this post? Good, I’m still working out my thoughts on this subject. I composed it last week, and re-reading it before posting, I find that I’m already mentally writing a counter-argument. I think I’ll add to these thoughts next time.

 

The horrors of a fundamentalist universe

 

To begin my response by something positive, I must say I admire Jonny’s humility and his acceptance of being possibly wrong.

I completely share Jonny’s indignation against Christians despising atheists and homosexuals, and this is what pushed me to write the parable of the “Good Godless Gay” where I used pretty much the same picture he showed towards the top of his post.

I agree that there are many atheists who leave Conservative Evangelical Christianity because they are basically good person and can no longer worship a being who will eternally torture billions of his creatures, for sins he himself bounded to commit, having cursed them with a sinful nature.

So I am sure that a nice and respectful atheist honorably defending his or her intellectual views is far closer to Christ than a nasty fundamentalist defending his “truth” in a heinous way.

 

Likewise, I entirely sympathize with Jonny viewing a godless universe far more optimistic and joyful than a fundamentalist universe where most humans will be eternally tortured for sins the Almighty Himself doomed them to commit.

hell

In another post, I explained why the cognitive dissonance faced by Conservative Evangelicals is far greater than that hardcore materialists are facing.

 

What is the “harmfulness” of religion?

 

Jonny further wrote:

Overall, I think religion is a net source of harm in the world. If religion were wiped from the planet, it would be no loss. If there are good reasons to be moral (and I think there are) then we don’t need religion to tell us what to do. There are thousands of people who find meaning in life without religion, and I do not think that’s because we are better or more intelligent than religious people. I’m confident anyone can find meaning without religion. I think the truth claims of religion are false, and that the benefits of religion can also be achieved without a religious framework. Religion is unnecessary.

 

But what is this sentence supposed to mean? That 100% of all religions are harmful and ought to disappear? I’m sure this is certainly not what Jonny thinks about that matter. What he probably means is that the majority (perhaps more than 80%) of religious movements have (by and large) a harmful influence of society and if ALL religious were to be blotted out, the world would be a better place.

But if it WERE true, and social engineering were morally permissible, why should we not just combat the 80% harmful religions and leave the remaining 20% alone?

 

The only argument of the New Atheists is that tolerating them would inevitably lead to condone heinous fundamentalism. But Jonny himself doesn’t buy this argument:

Sam Harris comes closest, by arguing that liberal Christians don’t do enough to oppose fundamentalists, and that by sharing some beliefs with the fundamentalists, they lend some legitimacy to the harmful beliefs of the extremists. This is a pretty lousy argument. It’s true that far too many Christians and Muslims are too quiet about the extremists in their midst, but it’s not true of all of them. In an epic post called “Why young-Earth creationism needs to be killed with fire“, the Christian Fred Clark absolutely storms into the problems of fundamentalism. The best feminist blogs I read are written by Christians too.

So it would be great if Jonny and his fellow secularists (I am not employing this word in a negative sense) began to distinguish between the diverse religious movements with respect to their harm and benefits.

Perhaps the world would be better off with NO religion at all, but it would be EVEN better off with only tolerant and progressive religions preaching a compassion grounded in transcendence.

 

The grounding of morality in a purely material cosmos

 

The following sentence is particularly interesting.

I think the truth claims of religion are false, and that the benefits of religion can also be achieved without a religious framework. Religion is unnecessary.

IF we already know that there are basic moral values such as “maximizing the pleasure and minimizing the pain of the greatest number”, I agree we don’t necessarily need religion for achieving this, even though I believe that humanist and humanitarian religions (yes, this is not an oxymoron 🙂 ) can achieve an enormous contribution to this goal.

But why should we believe in the existence of objective moral facts identical to increasing happiness and diminishing suffering?
To paraphrase the great enlightenment philosopher David Hume, how can we derive the moral “ought” from the factual “is” without begging the question?
Of course, theism has also problems regarding the foundation of morality, such as the famous Euthyphron-Dilemma: “is rape bad because the gods disapprove of it, or do they disapprove of it because it is wrong?”.

While it would be foolish for me to try to answer this age-old problem in some sentences, I think that Reductive Materialism (RM) faces an even more formidable challenge. According to RM, everything which exists is identical to a bunch of energetic particles in interaction. But to what clusters of atoms or molecules with a precise location in space and time the moral value “It is always wrong to rape a woman.” can be identified to?

306_DNA

I don’t see how you can do that without completely distorting the meaning of the moral sentence. Thus yes, you don’t need to be a theist to be a good person striving for the Good. But you can run into serious problems if you try to justify this moral goodness in an objectively mindless universe.

Even if they have their own sets of problems, worldviews such as Theism and Platonism provide us with a world where objective morality (moral laws not followed by “if…”) are much more at home than in a thoughtless clump of stuff.

 

None of my arguments are uncontroversial, of course, but they should lead the New Atheists to a much deeper intellectual humility while criticizing the opinions of their opponents.

 

Progressing religion

Finally, Jonny wrote a fantastic sentence I want to emphasize.

So while at the moment I think religion does more harm than good, I don’t think that’s a necessary truth. And, obviously, a world with no religion in it could easily be a terrible place. I think religion can be reformed so the harmful parts are removed. This is where I part ways with many New Atheists.

 

Actually, progressive Catholic theologian Hans Küng wrote something very similar several years ago: religion can cause violence, injustice and oppression but it DOES not have to.

As a Christian, I certainly believe that a religion grounded on the message of Jesus can only have positive repercussions on society, if you seriously take the thought that every human being is unconditionally loved by a Heavenly Father.

jesus-social-justice2

While the Religious Right is utterly obsessed by homosexuality, they completely lose of sight that it was only condemned by very few verses in the Bible, so even by presupposing Biblical inerrancy, their priorities are inexcusable.

 

Conclusion: upholding a tolerant and open society.

 

I am well aware that by having written what I did, I am going to infuriate quite a few Conservatives and liberals alike.

Yet my intention is not to provoke a heroic battle of epic proportions, but to push people in both camps to reflect more profoundly about their own assumptions and start realizing that the others are not as crazy as they thought, to paraphrase the title of a great book of progressive Evagelical theologian Randal Rauser.

Evolutionary psychologist Jonathan Haidt gave us also important insights into why and how the culture war is maintained, along with its lovelessness.

It is my true hope we could all (a bit) contribute to build up a society where one’s political opponents are no longer view as loathsome foes but as people we happen to disagree with on various grounds.

I’m infinitely far from being inerrant and know all too well that many of my ideas are worthy of being criticized. But if I can only positively inspire four persons reading that, I would have achieved my goal.

 

 

Recovering from the Conservative apologetic industry

Randy Harman has just published his fascinating testimony about his experiences as a former Conservative Evangelical apologist.

Part 1

Part 2

part 3

He told us from the very beginning that ” Just as it is easy to throw the baby out with the bathwater, these posts are in no way an attempt to say apologetics as a whole is a pointless discipline, nor are they intended to say that by defining myself as an “ex-apologist” I refuse any rational argumentation or apologetic endeavors.

I am an apologist in so far as it is a “tool” in my belt, not a vocation or an identity.”

In what follows I have copied some of the passages which I find the most profound and insightful.

Reason did little to strengthen my faith, despite my repeated claim that it “saved it.” It just turned me into a jerk with a lot of ammo–a jerk who merely pretended to have things put together by the overwhelming evidence of Christianity but, in reality, who was more assuredly as confused, carnal, and lost as the person I was insistent to win over to Christ through rigorous argumentation.

The doubts that I dealt with ten years ago are the same doubts that I deal with now, albeit in different ways sometimes and I routinely pray, not read, for faith. Rationalism never quenches the thirst of doubt; it only masquerades it.

Apologetics did not save my faith. It saved my pride.”

  • Why is it that so many are threatened when popular boundaries are brought into question by none other than fellow Christians?
  • Why is it, as I have seen personally, so many apologists turn out to be jerks, little different in rhetoric and spirit than the New Atheists they so fervently wish to counter?

As the late Stan Grenz and John Franke note in their tremendous book Beyond Foundationalism: Shaping Theology in a Postmodern Context, it is somewhat ironic that modernist thinking has extended so far in both the directions of the “godless” and the “godly.” For every atheist that’s incorrigibly committed to the truth of his philosophical naturalism there is an evangelical incorrigibly committed to his theism in such a way that neither one lacks the need to feel absolutely certain.

For these evangelicals, conviction leaves no room for doubt, and so in popular Christian apologetics doubt is something to be assuaged with answers

I find beauty in the multitude of voices, for the truth is sometimes life does seem nihilistic and we need Ecclesiastes to stand beside us or Job to yell at God with us;

I find beauty in reading Scripture primarily to save my soul and teach me how to live like and within Christ, not in teaching me what to believe and how to think about Christ.

My last two posts (here and here) dealt with my testimony as a trained apologist and a transformation that took place when I allowed myself to really stop thinking of faith as a science. This post still deals with what I find to be a strange irony in the discipline of apologetics, namely, the insistence on a “rational and well thought out” faith with the insistence on upholding scriptural inerrancy and creationism.

To that end, I have to confess that I am incredibly bothered by the fact that the popular apologetics movement laments the 75% of students who leave the faith (they say, “because they don’t have intellectual answers for what they believe”) and yet they demand that one cannot embrace certain conclusions of their disciplines, no matter how well thought out and evidenced.

It is my conviction that when we insist that young people have to choose between evolution and God or the critical results of scholarship and faith, we are not at all helping students overcome some of the intellectual barriers and questions they might have. Rather, we contribute to the swath of students who find Christianity to be opposed to reason.

I have watched too many friends abandon all trust in God because they were told they need to choose between the boundaries set by evangelical apologetics and science.

Though he is still more conservative than I am, I agree with most he has written.

I also want to point out that the enlightenment leaves us with a false dichotomy, namely:

1) having no grounds for thinking that Christianity is true, therefore pretending to know what you don’t know

2) having a Christian faith warranted by evidential arguments in the same way our belief in the theory of universal gravitation is warranted.

Unlike the claims of anti-theists, there are many Evangelicals who think that their faith is grounded on reason and evidence, thereby rejecting 2).

But I think that one option has been utterly left out.

3) Faith does not mean pretending to know what you don’t know, but to passionately hope in something even if the evidence is not sufficient.

I certainly believe there are good arguments against materialism and intriguing ones for the existence of a supernatural realm and theism.

Yet I also recognize that all these arguments (as well as those for atheism) depends on some postulates which cannot be proven and whose acceptance might very well strongly hinge on one’s own psychological make up.

Let us also consider the need of intellectually humility emphasized by Einstein:

“What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of “humility.” that is to say the warranted conclusion that there might very well be many things our minds cannot fathom.

I think we have good grounds for concluding that many of our ideas about ultimate reality are pretty tentative and should never be made absolute.

But there is nothing which prevents us from passionately hoping in their truth.

Actually I know no human being who can practically live without hoping in many things he cannot asses the likelihood of.

Do you?

 

Homepage of Lotharlorraine: link here
(List of topics and posts)

My blog on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP) (Link Here). 

 

Hauptseite von Lotharlorraine: Link hier
(Liste von Themen und Posten).

Mein anderer umstrittener Blog: Scherben von Magonia.

 

Erlösung durch die Liebe

English version

NDE

Das Fundament meiner Theologie ist Gottes Vollkommenheit, denn Er muss perfekt sein, um Gott zu sein und Er ist zwangsläufig viel besser als die heiligste Person auf der Erde.

Wenn ich auf alle Religionen schaue, erscheint es mir wahrscheinlich, dass Gottes Offenbarung zum Menschen das Leben, Tod und Auferstehung von Jesus von Nazareth war, der uns gelehrt hat, sogar unsere schlimmsten Feinden zu lieben.
Während alle Christen immer an die Notwendigkeit von Gottes Gnade für das Heil geglaubt haben, glauben römische Katholiken, dass zusätzliche gute Werke nötig sind, wie es im Buch von Jakobus berichtet wird, während Protestanten weitaus das Buch von Jakobus ignorieren und sich auf Paulus konzentrieren, der vermeintlich lehrte, dass man durch reine Gnade errettet wird.

Unter Protestanten lehren Arminianer, dass man die freie Wahl treffen muss, Seine Gnade anzunehmen, während Calvinisten lehren, dass Gott manche Menschen zwingt, seine Gnade zu akzeptieren, während sich die anderen geradlinig zur Hölle bewegen.

Meine eigenen auf Gottes Vollkommenheit basierten Gedanken führten mich zu den folgenden Schlussfolgerungen:

1) Gott will, dass jeder Mensch eine immer währende Beziehung mit Ihm erleben wird.
2) Menschen begehen viele Sünden, die Gott verletzen und die er nicht nur vergessen kann.
3) Deshalb wird Gott jede Sünde jedem vergeben, denn es ist die Liebe, die sein Wesen definiert
4) Gott wird jedem vorschlagen, die Ewigkeit mit Ihm zu verbringen

Bedeutet es, dass alle Menschen bei Gott im Himmel sein werden? Vermutlich nicht, denn zumindest einige Menschen, wie viele in den Evangelien beschriebenen Pharisäer den in Jesus von Nazareth offenbarten Gott ablehnen werden. Und Gott wird ihren freien Willen respektieren. Und wenn es gar keine Hoffnung auf Erlösung für sie gibt, werden sie letztendlich aufhören, zu existieren.

Ich persönlich weiß, dass ich im Himmel sein werde, weil Gott mich liebt, ich Ihn liebe und Seine Liebe viel größer als alle meine Übertretungen ist. Und ich habe den ehrlichen Wunsch, mich dieser ultimativen Liebe immer mehr zu nähern, indem ich Jesus Christus nachfolge, der den Tod und die Sünde am Kreuz und am leeren Grab besiegt hat.

Wüstenland

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

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The sad testimony of the daughter of a Calvinist apologist

Rachael Slick, daughter of Calvinist fundamentalist Matt Slick, explained why she gave up her faith and became an atheist having no longer any contact with her parents.

I was born in 1992. My parents named me Rachael, after the biblical wife Jacob loved.

Rachael (right) with her parents



One of my earliest memories is of my dad’s gigantic old Bible. Its pages were falling out, its margins were scrawled over with notes, and the leather cover was unraveled in places from being so worn out. 
Every night, after we stacked up the dishes after our family dinner, he would bring it down and read a passage. I always requested something from the Book of Revelation or Genesis, because that’s where most of the interesting stories happened. After he was done, he’d close the Bible with a big WHUMP and turn to me.

“Now Rachael,” he would ask, “What is the hypostatic union?” 
and I would pipe back, “The two natures of Jesus!”


“What is pneumatology?”


The study of the holy spirit!

“What is the communicatio idiomatum?”


The communication of the properties in which the attributes of the two natures are ascribed to the single person!



Occasionally he would go to speak at churches about the value of apologetics and, the times I went along, he would call on me from the crowd and have me recite the answers to questions about theology. After I sat down, he would say, “My daughter knows more about theology than you do! You are not doing your jobs as Christians to stay educated and sharp in the faith.”



Conversation with him was a daily challenge. He would frequently make blatantly false statements — such as “purple dogs exist” — and force me to disprove him through debate. He would respond to things I said demanding technical accuracy, so that I had to narrow my definitions and my terms to give him the correct response. It was mind-twisting, but it encouraged extreme clarity of thought, critical thinking, and concise use of language. I remember all this beginning around the age of five.



Rachael receives an award from Awana for being the most ‘godly’ student. She would later complete the Awana course, memorizing over 800 Bible verses along the way.

I have two sisters, three and seven years younger than myself, and we were all homeschooled in a highly strict, regulated environment. Our A Beka schoolbooks taught the danger of evolution. Our friends were “good influences” on us, fellow homeschoolers whose mothers thought much alike. Obedience was paramount — if we did not respond immediately to being called, we were spanked ten to fifteen times with a strip of leather cut from the stuff they used to make shoe soles. Bad attitudes, lying, or slow obedience usually warranted the same — the slogan was “All the way, right away, and with a happy spirit.” We were extremely well-behaved children, and my dad would sometimes show us off to people he met in public by issuing commands that we automatically rushed to obey. The training was not just external; God commanded that our feelings and thoughts be pure, and this resulted in high self-discipline.

Rachael (bottom row, second from right) and her fellow homeschooled friends know to obey!

I recently came across this entry in a workbook I wrote when I was nine:


I’m hopeless.

Oh boy. I’ve got a lot to work on. I try to be obedient but it’s so hard! The more I read, the more I realize how bad I am! My problem is that when things don’t make sense to me, I don’t like them. When Dad gets mad at me for something, everything makes perfect sense to me in my mind, so I tend to resent my parents’ correction.

I have just realized that I yearn to please the lord, but why can’t I? I just can’t be good! It seems impossible. Why can’t I be perfect?

At this point, my dad was working at a tech job during the day and working in his office, writing and researching, at night. He developed a huge collection of books, with bookshelves that spanned the wall, full of Bibles and notebooks filled with theology. This was the early stages of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.


It became a sort of game to watch him go “Mormon hunting”; if he saw them on the sidewalk, he’d pull up in the car to engage them in debate. After the Mormons visited our apartment a few times, they blacklisted us, and none of them ever visited us again. My dad was always very congenial to those he debated, and most viewed him as charismatic — though his debate tactics were ruthless and often more focused on efficiency than relationship-building.



We moved to Idaho when I was 12. My dad worked at Hewlett-Packard for a while but eventually made the big decision to make CARM his full-time career.



It was around this time my dad began receiving death threats — though I didn’t find this out until later. Someone was sending him graphic pictures, descriptive threats of rape against his family, and Google images of locations near our house. He got the FBI involved. They eventually determined it was someone from across the globe and likely posed no risk to us. My parents installed a home security system after that, but it only reinforced the “us vs. them” mentality he already held. My dad spoke frequently about the people “out to destroy him” and how his “enemies” were determined to obscure and twist the truth.



I wasn’t privy to a great deal of what went on behind the scenes at CARM — likely because I too young to fully understand it. A few times a year there would usually be an “event” that would capture most of his ire. For a while, it was the Universalists who were destroying his forums. Another time, it would be his arch-nemeses in the field of women in ministry or “troublemaking” atheists. Beyond these things, I knew little, except that I was immensely proud of my dad, who was smart, confident, and knew the Truth more than anybody else. I aspired to be like him — I would be a missionary, or an apologist! (Though not a pastor; I was a woman and thus unqualified for that field.) God was shaping my destiny.



As my knowledge of Christianity grew, so did my questions — many of them the “classic” kind. If God was all-powerful and all-knowing, why did He create a race He knew was destined for Hell? How did evil exist if all of Creation was sustained by the mind of God? Why didn’t I feel His presence when I prayed? 


Having a dad highly schooled in Christian apologetics meant that every question I brought up was explained away confidently and thoroughly. Many times, after our nightly Bible study, we would sit at the table after my Mom and sisters had left and debate, discuss, and dissect the theological questions I had. No stone was left unturned, and all my uncertainty was neatly packaged away.



Atheists frequently wonder how an otherwise rational Christian can live and die without seeing the light of science, and I believe the answer to this is usually environment. If every friend, authority figure, and informational source in your life constantly repeat the same ideas, it is difficult not to believe they’re onto something. My world was built of “reasonable” Christians — the ones who thought, who questioned, who knew that what they believed was true. In the face of this strength, my own doubts seemed petty. 



There was one belief I held onto strongly, though — the one that eventually led to my undoing. I promised myself “I will never believe in Christianity simply because it feels right, otherwise I am no better than those in any other religion I debate. I must believe in Christianity because it is the Truth, and if it is ever proven otherwise, I must forsake it no matter how much it hurts.”



Twice, I attended protests. Once, in front of an abortion clinic, and another time, at the Twin Falls Mormon Temple. I went to public high school for a few months, where I brought the Bible and a picture of my parents for a show-and-tell speech of the things we valued most. I befriended Cody, a World of Warcraft nerd, for the sole purpose of telling him he was going to Hell and that he needed to repent. Every time I heard someone swear in the school hallways, I would close my eyes and pray.


I informed my parents that I wanted an arranged marriage because love was a far too emotional and dangerous prospect, and I trusted them to make an informed choice for my future far better than I ever could. My romantic exploits through puberty were negligible.



I ran away from home when I was 17 (due to reasons not pertinent to this post) and went to college the following year. I must have been a nightmare in my philosophy and religion classes, raising my hands at every opportunity and spouting off well-practiced arguments. Despite this, my philosophy professor loved me, and we would often meet after class, talking about my views on God. Even though he tried to direct me away from them, I was insistent about my beliefs: If God didn’t exist, where did morality come from? What about the beginning of the universe? Abiogenesis? There were too many questions left by the absence of God, and I could not believe in something (godlessness, in this case) that left me with so little closure. My certainty was my strength — I knew the answers when others did not.



This changed one day during a conversation with my friend Alex. I had a habit of bouncing theological questions off him, and one particular day, I asked him this: If God was absolutely moral, because morality was absolute, and if the nature of “right” and “wrong” surpassed space, time, and existence, and if it was as much a fundamental property of reality as math, then why were some things a sin in the Old Testament but not a sin in the New Testament?

Alex had no answer — and I realized I didn’t either. Everyone had always explained this problem away using the principle that Jesus’ sacrifice meant we wouldn’t have to follow those ancient laws. 
But that wasn’t an answer. In fact, by the very nature of the problem, there was no possible answer that would align with Christianity.



I still remember sitting there in my dorm room bunk bed, staring at the cheap plywood desk, and feeling something horrible shift inside me, a vast chasm opening up beneath my identity, and I could only sit there and watch it fall away into darkness. The Bible is not infallible, logic whispered from the depths, and I had no defense against it. If it’s not infallible, you’ve been basing your life’s beliefs on the oral traditions of a Middle Eastern tribe. The Bible lied to you.


Everything I was, everything I knew, the structure of my reality, my society, and my sense of self suddenly crumbled away, and I was left naked.



I was no longer a Christian. That thought was a punch to the gut, a wave of nausea and terror. Who was I, now, when all this had gone away? What did I know? What did I have to cling to? Where was my comfort? 

I didn’t know it, but I was free.



For a long time I couldn’t have sex with my boyfriend (of over a year by this point) without crippling guilt. I had anxiety that I was going to Hell. I felt like I was standing upon glass, and, though I knew it was safe, every time I glanced down I saw death. I had trouble coping with the fact that my entire childhood education now essentially meant nothing — I had been schooled in a sham. I had to start from scratch in entering and learning about this secular world. Uncertainty was not something I was accustomed to feeling. Though I had left Christianity intellectually, my emotional beliefs had yet to catch up.



Eventually I worked up the courage to announce my choice on Facebook — which generated its own share of controversy. I’m fairly certain I broke my mother’s heart. Many people accused me of simply going through a rebellious stage and that I would come around soon. Countless people prayed for me.

I don’t know how my dad reacted to my deconversion; I haven’t spoken to him since I left home.



There was no miracle to cure me of the fear and pain, no God to turn to for comfort. But it did heal. Eventually. I only barely fear Hell now, and my instinct to pray only turns up on rare occasions. For a while now, I’ve been educating myself in science, a world far more uncertain than the one I left, but also far more honest.

Rachael Slick



Someone once asked me if I would trade in my childhood for another, if I had the chance, and my answer was no, not for anything.
 My reason is that, without that childhood, I wouldn’t understand what freedom truly is — freedom from a life centered around obedience and submission, freedom to think anything, freedom from guilt and shame, freedom from the perpetual heavy obligation to keep every thought pure. Nothing I’ve ever encountered in my life has been so breathtakingly beautiful. 



Freedom is my God now, and I love this one a thousand times more than I ever loved the last one.

Personally, given the utter absurdity of Calvinism, it does not stun me that a person of her intelligence and honesty left behind this wicked  belief system.
I just find it depressing that she rejected Christianity altogether.

While I believe that creationism drives many people away from God, I think that doctrines presenting God as being morally evil are much more efficient for bringing new converts to anti-theism and I think that they plaid a decisive role in her case too.

It is worth noting that except  the problem of evil in the world (which is admittedly a tough nut to crack), all other arguments she mentioned are actually just good arguments against fundamentalism.

The Good Godless Gay

Youtube Version.

Jesus wandered in Nashville while challenging the religious folks there. Yet nobody recognized Him as the savior of the world but all took great offense at His teaching.

“If you believe you can rely on faith alone for despising the works of compassion towards your neighbor, I assure you that you won’t see the kingdom of God.”

Utterly indignant about this, an influential member of the Southern Baptist Confession rushed to Him.

“What are you talking about? We are not saved by works!!! And who is this neighbor?”

Jesus looked at him tenderly and smiled.

“A man was going down from Franklin to Spring Hills, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 
A presbyterian happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. He had no time to lose, for he had to give a talk at an important conference aiming at saving the true nature of marriage.  
So too, an Evangelical Lutheran, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. He had no time to lose, for he had to give a talk to expose false unbiblical teaching polluting the Church which had to remain doctrinally pure.

So too, a pentecostal business man, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. He had no time to lose, for he had to give a talk to hinder the progression of universal healthcare which was the first step towards a worldwide government which will itself eventually be led by the Antichrist.

 But a queer atheist, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.  He knew he was a member of the Westboro Baptist Church, but at that very moment he managed to overcome his anger and just saw him as a fellow human in need of his help.

 The hated fagot went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on the most delicious and precious oil of Marijuana in the whole world. Then he put the man on his own car, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two thousand dollars and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

 “Which of these four do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

 The southern Baptist wept and gnashed his teeth before reluctantly answering:

“The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

 Image

P.S: If you want to quote this, you ought to refer to it as the inerrant gospel of Lotharson, written under the guidance of the Holy Ghost and delivered once and for all to all progressive saints.