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A reaction to inane tolerance

August 1st, 2011 by admin

[This is a reaction to Nicholas Kristof's NYT piece, "Evangelicals Without Blowhards."]

It isn’t particularly useful to judge a huge, infleuntial movement by its intellectual fringe. While it isn’t fair to say that every Evangelical falls into a certain mold, it is also true that there are compassionate, rational individuals present in every movement: from Evangelicalism, to “New” Atheism, to Socailism and Fascism. At its core, and for most believers, Evangelicalism is not about social justice or, what are, essentially, Elightenment values of pluralism, tolerance and reason. Evangelicalism is a movement defined by its comittment to one fact: that those who do not believe the correct things are damned to hell.

That’s not to say that Evangelicals aren’t compassionate people. I would say that compassion and love are central to Evangelicalism. But, if you truly believe the credo of Evangelicalism then the most important thing you can do for other people is serve as a testimony to the moral authority represented in scripture (which explains the need for salvation) and share with others the “truth” of their need for salvation. Evangelicalism is about a truth claim: that we are inherently sinfull and damned to hell without saving faith in Christ’s redemptive sacrifice. That’s the starting point for the Evangelicalism that is taught in the vast majority of Evangelical seminaries and churches.

John Stott was in no way representative of main-stream Evangelicalism, at least in America. In fact, he believed some things that most Evangelicals would regard as heretical (annihilationism, infant baptism). He really is part of a different tradition. That may seem like splitting hairs, but a huge chunk of Americans identify as “Evangelical,” so it’s useful to clarify our terms.

I think that as secularism continues to become acceptable in the US more and more will call for tolerance toward the religious. And, I’m OK with that. Those of us who are secular should strive towards the ideals of tolerance and a pluralistic society — while tirelessly striving toward the development of our own convictions and the improvement of the public discourse. Some people (from whatever persuasion, but in this case secularists) will make sweeping, irrational statements, that condemn other viewpoints and thus will, rightly, attract criticsm for intollerance. But, I don’t think we should go the route of loosy-goosy pseudo-intellectualism that preaches “tollerance” toward all viewpoints. That’s really a cop out. In the marketplace of ideas some arguments are better than others.

It is ridiculous to call religious people stupid, or to equate every individual with the worst of his kind. But, neither does it make sense to say that one world view is as good as any other, based upon the best members of that group.

There is a danger of failing to criticise where criticism is due. Yes, out of Evangelicalism there can arrise individuals (and groups) who espouse the values that the rest of us hold dear. But, it isn’t traditional Evangelical theology that is leading to those conclusions.

Tolerate and seek to understand, but remember that the religious faithful will not do the same for us. Religion is, fundamentally, based on the premise of revealed, certain, divine knowledge. It intentionally puts a kink in the flow of reasoned questioning and exploration by asserting that knowledge is not something found from research and reason, but handed down from on-high and meant to be defended; morality is not a sacred struggle, but a set of rules codified by semi-nomadic, ancient tribes.

The “it’s all good” pseudo-intellectuals have conveniently ignored the absolutism of their own proposition. To say that every view is equally valid is an immediate contradiction.

So, I for one will continue to say that the religious are most probably basing their lives on fictions. Sometimes those fictions are useful and contain genuine insight. But, holding on to religious beliefs hinders the development of society.

I also defend the religious person’s right to wholeheartedly believe I’m damned.

One step closer to the Dark Ages

May 19th, 2010 by JB

My friends, theocracy gave us the Dark Ages. The Enlightenment, Rationalism, Skepticism and Science gave us the modern age. It seems as though some people would like to move us backward. The time for a “live and let live” attitude has ended, and we must stand up, unapologetically, for a rational perspective, free from religious ideology and ignorance.

Please click here to read how the Christian Taliban is trying to take over America and rewrite our history.

Good arguments against “Intelligent” Design policy

December 8th, 2009 by JB

I particularly like what Dr. Miller has to say at around 4:18.

The curious case of the Pledge of Allegiance

November 18th, 2009 by JB

How did a secular oath penned by a socialist become the patriotism litmus test amongst conservatives?

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen. The American Pledge of Allegiance was written by the socialist New Yorker Francis Bellamy in 1892 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus sailing to our continent. It did not include the phrase “under God.” That phrase was added by President Eisenhower in 1954, in response to a sermon by a Presbyterian minister, Reverend Docherty, in which he stated that the pledge could apply to any nation, but that the central defining characteristic of America was that it was a nation directed by God.

Yikes!

Maybe Americans needed this kind of moral certitude at the time, considering that we were the proud new parents of a massive nuclear stockpile. And maybe we felt that we deserved it, considering that we had recently helped defeat the Nazis.

Oh, speaking of Nazis. This is interesting. From the 1890’s until 1942 the proper salute to the flag during the pledge of allegiance was modeled on the Roman military salute. It was re-dubbed the Bellamy Salute.  Anyone recognize this?

Yep. Fascists thought it was a great gesture to use as well, so we dropped it. Whoops!

Now, I don’t know that the pledge is an all bad thing. It does strike me as inherently a little frightening. But, I love my country and I’d feel comfortable saying it. I do feel allegiance to this republic. It was the world’s first truly secular republic, and I think that’s something to be proud of. But, obviously, I have trouble with pledging my allegiance to a nation “under God.” I don’t think that makes me unpatriotic. That just means that I take objection to one of four amendments to a pledge written by a socialist (Not to demonize socialists; I just want those Glenn Beck supporters to take note).

I started to think about all of this recently upon reading about the case of Will Phillips (click here).

Interesting stuff, no?

Maybe the best book ever… we’ll see…

November 17th, 2009 by JB

I just ordered this from amazon.com: It’s a graphic novel based on Bertrand Russell’s life.

A secular religion

November 12th, 2009 by JB

I like Alain de Botton. He’s an atheist, but the vision he conveys in his writings is far from the caricature of the joyless, cynical worldview that plagues the popular conception of that term.

In an article in the British magazine Standpoint de Botton proposes an acceptance of the impulses that led us to create religion. I think that for freethinkers this kind of acceptance is essential to coming into a healthy relationship with religion. Too often, the New Atheist movement excoriates religion as all-bad. It’s not. And to a certain extent, whether or not it is based on any truth whatsoever is irrelevant to the world’s billions of faithful.

Renouncing all religion keeps the argument on the same field as the believer. It keeps the argument on the field of belief where religion is something created by the Other. For theists, religion was created by God. For non-believers, religion is created by those crazy irrational people.

But, I think that non-believers, if we’re going to be consistent, need to recognize that WE created these systems. And there must be reasons why. Lighting a candle in the darkness, what those committed to reason have always striven for, is going to be achieved not by denying our nature but by acknowledging it and reclaiming it. As de Botton writes:

The tragedy of modern atheism is to have ignored just how many aspects of religion continue to be interesting even when the central tenets of the great faiths are discovered to be entirely implausible. Indeed, it’s precisely when we stop believing in the idea that gods made religions that things become interesting, for it is then that we can focus on the human imagination which dreamt these creeds up. We can recognise that the needs which led people to do so must still in some way be active, albeit dormant, in modern secular man. God may be dead, but the bit of us that made God continues to stir.

One of the most common criticisms of post-modern society is that it is without hope. Without meaning and substance. I’ve often argued that this is true, but it doesn’t mean that the movement was entirely wrong. Post-modernism was a reaction, and like all adolescent movements, it was a starting point. We have torn down our idols but we have yet to acknowledge the impulses which led us to erect them in the first place.

I don’t know that I’d necessarily say that we need to all go out and join First Church of Gotham, Secular. But, I don’t think it would be a bad thing – to have a cathedral to go to to escape from the hustle and bustle of life which would remind us, visually and viscerally (and that was the purpose of cathedrals) of our smallness, not before god but before everything that is bigger than us – the community, nature, art, our imaginations.

This idea from de Botton is something I’ve been wishing existed for years. I hope that it’s something that catches fire and an idea about which I’m going to spend some time pondering.

Here’s the article.

P.S. – I haven’t drunk the coolaid. I’m not saying that a secular religion is the cure for existential dread, or even that we need to cure it. I just think it’s an interesting idea, and one that I find exciting. Comment away!

New Documentary Online

November 9th, 2009 by JB

I haven’t had time to watch this yet, but I’ll be commenting on this soon. It’s a film about a series of debates between noted journalist and “New Atheist” Christopher Hitchens and the well respected evangelist and theologian Douglas Wilson. The subject is, from my understanding, whether or not Christianity is good for the world. Feel free to comment and I’ll do the same when I can.

Collision, Part 1 of 9

Saying the bad word…

November 5th, 2009 by JB

Atheist.

If there’s one word that truly frightens mainstream, American theists it is the word “atheist.” In Europe it’s much more common to hear people describe themselves as such and it’s not such a big deal. It often just means “I stopped going to mass.” Or, “I don’t belong to an organized religion.” But, in America the term tends to have some of the following connotations:

  1. Dark
  2. Snarky
  3. Arrogant
  4. Depressed
  5. Immoral
  6. Mean
  7. Stalin-like
  8. Hates Christians
  9. Overly-intellectual
  10. Unpatriotic

But, atheism isn’t any of those things. Atheists certainly come with a wide range of personalities, like Christian, Muslims, etc. In fact, all it takes to be an atheist is to say that you don’t believe there is a god. Not that there definitely isn’t and no amount of evidence could ever convince you otherwise.

Now, technically, agnostics also say that there isn’t enough evidence to believe there is a god, but they also say that there isn’t enough evidence to say that there isn’t a god. This gets very confusing. I would say that the terms agnostic and atheist are often interchangeable. I think it’s rare to find a professed atheist who will hold the level of dogmatic belief that many theists associate with belief. Instead, they are what I like to call Unicorn-Agnostic (what Bertrand Russell would have called a Teapot Agnostic). Atheists don’t believe in god like they don’t believe in unicorns. They admit that there is a possibility that unicorns exist. But, that doesn’t mean that they need to call themselves agnostic. They are atheists when it comes to unicorns. That doesn’t make them close minded, that just means that they’ve made the best judgment they can with the evidence in front of them. Most agnostics act like they don’t believe in god. They don’t rely on the authority of scripture for their decision making. Often times, they’re just too chicken to use the word atheist. And who can blame them, really?

That is not to say that there aren’t genuine agnostics out there. There certainly are. One idea is that a deity is not something that we, finite, physical beings could ever talk about in a useful way. It’s impossible to test whether or not something incorporeal exists. Therefore, we have no way of knowing whether or not it does. You can search the world for a unicorn and never find one, and probability would lead you to conclude that there are no unicorns. But, you can’t look for god, in a physical sense. So, you can’t really know if he does or doesn’t exist – it’s unknowable. Voilà! Agnosticism!

I think healthy debate can exist between atheists and agnostics; really there is so little difference. But, I think that we ought to be more comfortable with the word atheist. If it makes your skin crawl, maybe it’s time to think about why.

Some data for you

November 5th, 2009 by JB

In light of this week’s vote in Maine I’m passing along a little data taken from this page, http://baselinescenario.com/2009/11/04/same-sex-marriage-and-time/

Thanks, Gabi.

The most common argument of the unskeptical

November 3rd, 2009 by admin

Appeal to consequences.

The basic form is:

If x is true, then y (positive consequence) will happen. X must be true.

or

If x is true, then y (negative consequence) will happen. X is not true.

Clearly, this type of argument is erroneous. It is akin to saying “It would make me happy if I were the King of France. I am the King of France.” Or, more commonly, “If there is a God, then people will behave morally. There is a God.” Besides the fact that people who believe in a god clearly do not always make better moral choices, the positive outcome of more moral behavior does not prove the truth value of the statement “There is a God.” Just because it would be nice if it were true does not mean that it’s true.

What is often most concerning about this line of thinking is that it shows a cynical disregard for the value of truth, in favor of positive outcomes. A consequentialist ”ends justify the means” type of argument. Now, if the name of the game is just picking what will get the job done, then let’s at least not pretend that we’re talking about truth. Otherwise, your arguments amount to lying in order to get what you want.

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