Thursday, December 22, 2005

Twenty Leaky Buckets --- Part 2

At this stage I'll briefly comment on the pamphlet titled 20 Reasons to Abandon Christianity. Part 1 and 1.5 of this thread are located here and here, respectively. I'll refer to the enumerated fallacies (1)-(5) mentioned in Part 1.5.

Remember that I'm responding to this as a conservative Evangelical. I don't need to defend charges against positions not held by myself or other informed Evangelicals with a high view of the OT and NT.

(i) Christianity is based on fear.

With all of these arguments, one needs to ask one's self is this or how is this evidence against the classical Christian faith?.

This first argument is as follows:

While today there are liberal clergy who preach a gospel of love, they ignore the bulk of Christian teachings, not to mention the bulk of Christian history. Throughout almost its entire time on Earth, the motor driving Christianity has been—in addition to the fear of death—fear of the devil and fear of hell. One can only imagine how potent these threats seemed prior to the rise of science and rational thinking, which have largely robbed these bogeys of their power to inspire terror. But even today, the existence of the devil and hell are cardinal doctrinal tenets of almost all Christian creeds, and many fundamentalist preachers still openly resort to terrorizing their followers with lurid, sadistic portraits of the suffering of nonbelievers after death. This is not an attempt to convince through logic and reason; it is not an attempt to appeal to the better nature of individuals; rather, it is an attempt to whip the flock into line through threats, through appeals to a base part of human nature—fear and cowardice.

We reply:

(a) Note that instead of dealing with Christianity, the pamphleteer deals with the sociological dimension of Xty ["throughout almost its entire time on earth"]. This has nothing to do with whether Jesus existed, was in fact divine, was crucified, was buried, was resurrected, etc.

(b) The pamphleteer commits fallacy (3) from the previous post in attempting to impute to Xty the behavior of those who "attempt to whip the flock into line through threats, through appeals to a base part of human nature—fear and cowardice."

(c) Yes, the existence of hell and personal noncorporeal evil agents are part of orthodox Christianity. That these concepts offend the pamphleteer in no way aids his cause. Mere outrage at a concept is not an argument. This is an instantiation of fallacy (2).

In the end, it is hard to see how this argument carries any water. Even if the worst claims made are true, this doesn't provide any sort of probative evidence for/against the supernatural-historical claims of Christianity. It's just, in the end, an affectation of outrage.

*****

Argument two is as follows: Christianity preys on the innocent.

(ii) If Christian fear-mongering were directed solely at adults, it would be bad enough, but Christians routinely terrorize helpless children through grisly depictions of the endless horrors and suffering they’ll be subjected to if they don’t live good Christian lives. Christianity has darkened the early years of generation after generation of children, who have lived in terror of dying while in mortal sin and going to endless torment as a result. All of these children were trusting of adults, and they did not have the ability to analyze what they were being told; they were simply helpless victims, who, ironically, victimized following generations in the same manner that they themselves had been victimized. The nearly 2000 years of Christian terrorizing of children ranks as one of its greatest crimes. And it’s one that continues to this day.

As an example of Christianity’s cruel brainwashing of the innocent, consider this quotation from an officially approved, 19th-century Catholic children’s book (Tracts for Spiritual Reading, by Rev. J. Furniss, C.S.S.R.):


Look into this little prison. In the middle of it there is a boy, a young man. He is silent; despair is on him . . . His eyes are burning like two burning coals. Two long flames come out of his ears. His breathing is difficult. Sometimes he opens his mouth and breath of blazing fire rolls out of it. But listen! There is a sound just like that of a kettle boiling. Is it really a kettle which is boiling? No; then what is it? Hear what it is. The blood is boiling in the scalding veins of that boy. The brain is boiling and bubbling in his head. The marrow is boiling in his bones. Ask him why he is thus tormented. His answer is that when he was alive, his blood boiled to do very wicked things.

There are many similar passages in this book. Commenting on it, William Meagher, Vicar-General of Dublin, states in his Approbation:

"I have carefully read over this Little Volume for Children and have found nothing whatever in it contrary to the doctrines of the Holy Faith; but on the contrary, a great deal to charm, instruct and edify the youthful classes for whose benefit it has been written."


We reply:

(a) Again, this is a sociological claim, not an evidential claim. The empty tomb, resurrection, veracity of scripture, etc, is not affected by the author's outrage at the following events. All this argument shows is that the above anecdote about Hell and children really irks the pamphleteer. But I thought we were talking about evidences for/against Christianity. Must be my mistake.

(b) If Hell is truly as described above, then the citation in the childeren's Catholic book is merely stating something that is true. If Hell is not truly as described above, then that's one freaky excerpt. But again, the so-called argument above doesn't get to whether Hell is or is not truly as described above, so we have more argument-by-outrage here.

(c) Having instantiated fallacies (2) and (3), and having held a belief system responsible for some of its adherents, doesn't it seem rather one-sided for the pamphleteer to ignore the good works of charity done by Rome and other Christians throughout the ages?

******

So far, some under the banner of Christianity have, according to the pamphleteer, preyed on fear and terrorized the innocent. Whether Christianity is actually true or supported by the historical/metaphysical evidence is still untouched. The pamphleteer's main thesis sits at home on a Friday night still waiting by the phone for an actual argument to call up for a date.

*****

Reason number three is that Christianity is based on dishonesty:

(iii) The Christian appeal to fear, to cowardice, is an admission that the evidence supporting Christian beliefs is far from compelling. If the evidence were such that Christianity’s truth was immediately apparent to anyone who considered it, Christians—including those who wrote the Gospels—would feel no need to resort to the cheap tactic of using fear-inducing threats to inspire "belief." ("Lip service" is a more accurate term.) That the Christian clergy have been more than willing to accept such lip service (plus the dollars and obedience that go with it) in place of genuine belief, is an additional indictment of the basic dishonesty of Christianity.

How deep dishonesty runs in Christianity can be gauged by one of the most popular Christian arguments for belief in God: Pascal’s wager. This "wager" holds that it’s safer to "believe" in God (as if belief were volitional!) than not to believe, because God might exist, and if it does, it will save "believers" and condemn nonbelievers to hell after death. This is an appeal to pure cowardice. It has absolutely nothing to do with the search for truth. Instead, it’s an appeal to abandon honesty and intellectual integrity, and to pretend that lip service is the same thing as actual belief. If the patriarchal God of Christianity really exists, one wonders how it would judge the cowards and hypocrites who advance and bow to this particularly craven "wager."


In turn, we say the following.

(a) The first paragraph is a sociological indictment not of a conservative Evangelical like myself, but of two groups: the fear-mongerers and the liberals. I'm neither. Nothing to respond to here.

But let's say I was a member of either of these groups. Again, what does this have to do with the cross, the empty tomb, the veracity of scripture, etc? It's hard to see just how the author's outrage qualifies as an actual argument here.

(b) The second paragraph is classic village atheism. The author's outrage at an argument that he doesn't like [I don't much like the argument either] somehow, in his mind, is evidence against the truth of Christianity. The scholarly response to such an unwarranted leap is this: Whatever, d00d.

*******

The fourth reason to abandon Christianity is the extreme arrogance and egotism it brings about:

(iv) The deep egocentrism of Christianity is intimately tied to its reliance on fear. In addition to the fears of the devil and hell, Christianity plays on another of humankind’s most basic fears: death, the dissolution of the individual ego. Perhaps Christianity’s strongest appeal is its promise of eternal life. While there is absolutely no evidence to support this claim, most people are so terrified of death that they cling to this treacly promise insisting, like frightened children, that it must be true. Nietzsche put the matter well: "salvation of the soul—in plain words, the world revolves around me." It’s difficult to see anything spiritual in this desperate grasping at straws—this desperate grasping at the illusion of personal immortality.

Another manifestation of the extreme egotism of Christianity is the belief that God is intimately concerned with picayune aspects of, and directly intervenes in, the lives of individuals. If God, the creator and controller of the universe, is vitally concerned with your sex life, you must be pretty damned important. Many Christians take this particular form of egotism much further and actually imagine that God has a plan for them, or that God directly talks to, directs, or even does favors for them.(1) If one ignored the frequent and glaring contradictions in this supposed divine guidance, and the dead bodies sometimes left in its wake, one could almost believe that the individuals making such claims are guided by God. But one can’t ignore the contradictions in and the oftentimes horrible results of following such "divine guidance." As "Agent Mulder" put it (perhaps paraphrasing Thomas Szasz) in a 1998 X-Files episode, "When you talk to God it’s prayer, but when God talks to you it’s schizophrenia. . . . God may have his reasons, but he sure seems to employ a lot of psychotics to carry out his job orders."

In less extreme cases, the insistence that one is receiving divine guidance or special treatment from God is usually the attempt of those who feel worthless—or helpless, adrift in an uncaring universe—to feel important or cared for. This less sinister form of egotism is commonly found in the expressions of disaster survivors that "God must have had a reason for saving me" (in contrast to their less-worthy-of-life fellow disaster victims, whom God—who controls all things—killed). Again, it’s very difficult to see anything spiritual in such egocentricity.


Ah, another argument by outrage. Never gets old. And, just like the other million arguments by outrage employed by like-minded critics, it too falls flat on its face.
We counter-reply:

(a) Whether or not the pamphleteer sees anything "spiritual" in Christians grappling or dealing with personal immortality has nothing to do with whether classical Christianity is objectively true.

(b) Perhaps Christians believe that God intervenes in individual matters, even those that might seem minor to others, because that is what scripture clearly teaches.

(c) Perhaps Christians believe that men are "damned important" because, uh, we are "damned important" according to scripture. The pamphleteer, who elsewhere excoriates Christians for hypocrisy, here excoriates those Christians who go by scripture on this point.

(d) Cheap psyhologizing is on display in the last paragraph.

Did you find an actual argument against the truth of Christianity in the fourth argument? No, I didn't either. I found the pamphleteer's angst and dislike of some Christian's behavior whether warranted or not, but I didn't find an argument.

******

Argument five deals with the arrogance and chosen-people mentality brought forth by Christianity:

(v) It’s only natural that those who believe (or play act at believing) that they have a direct line to the Almighty would feel superior to others. This is so obvious that it needs little elaboration. A brief look at religious terminology confirms it. Christians have often called themselves "God’s people," "the chosen people," "the elect," "the righteous," etc., while nonbelievers have been labeled "heathens," "infidels," and "atheistic Communists" (as if atheism and Communism are intimately connected). This sets up a two-tiered division of humanity, in which "God’s people" feel superior to those who are not "God’s people."

That many competing religions with contradictory beliefs make the same claim seems not to matter at all to the members of the various sects that claim to be the only carriers of "the true faith." The carnage that results when two competing sects of "God’s people" collide—as in Ireland and Palestine—would be quite amusing but for the suffering it causes.


By way of reply:

(a) Perhaps Christians refer to themselves as "God's elect" or "God's chosen" because scripture refers to them that way.

(b) That some in "God's elect" might feel intrinsically superior to "the heathens" might be a true sociological statement [it is], but again, it has no logical bearing on the evidences for Christianity.

(c) Did you hear that sound? That's the pamphleteer rending his garment over the problem of competing worldviews in the final paragraph. According to him, the fact that people believe differently and hold to different worldviews is an argument against Christianity.

But, this is self-refuting, for the same argument would apply to atheism --- not everybody is an atheist, nor is everybody in agreement with the pamphleteer's worldview [whatever that might be]. So, is this an argument against the pamphleteer's worldview?

BTW --- even as a liberal atheist undergrad, it struck me as a copout for somebody to complain that there were many competing worldviews, as if that very fact rendered having a thought-out life impossible. When you deal with competing positions, you try to delineate the evidence, arguments for, arguments against, etc and decide on the basis of that evidence. People will do this in politics and other areas, but when it turns to "religion," somehow the rules of argumentation and such go out the window. I've never understood that.

I was hoping to find an actual argument against Christianity by the fifth part of the pamphlet. But, just as I hoped to find a Colecovision under the tree in '83 [or '84], it just wasn't there.

******

Let's offer some brief closing thoughts for Part 2 here.

Like much of village atheist lit and mentality that I've seen, the question of whether Christianity is true, its evidences, etc, is not touched. Instead, we're treated to an inventory of what the VA doesn't like about Christianity. The VA doesn't like Doctrine X. The VA finds hypocrite Y offensive. The VA thinks that behavior Z by group Q of Christians is repugnant. And so on.

These aren't arguments against the veracity of the central historical claims of Christianity. At best, it indicates that there are hypocrites in Christianity. But since when has that been news?

The Christian faith is not based on the sociological outworkings of its adherents. It is based on certain supernatural phenomena in man's history as well as certain metaphysical theses regarding God and reality. To get at the heart of Christianity, one must attack these and stop expressing public outrage over the guy with a Jesus bumper sticker who cut you off on Interstate 80 the other day.

We'll have Part 3 by tomorrow, hopefully.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Generic comment to let you know people (at least one, I guess I only have authority to say) are reading.

Friday, December 23, 2005 1:16:00 AM  
Blogger Pedantic Protestant said...

I offer a generic hello and thanks in reply!

Friday, December 23, 2005 2:52:00 PM  

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