Monday, December 26, 2005

Twenty Leaky Buckets --- Part 4

Taking a few days off from this little mini-series, we return with Part 3.

The pamphlet 20 Reasons to Abandon Christianity is here.

Part One, a general discussion, is found here.

Part 1.5 consists of some comments on general village atheist themes and is found here. I enumerated five fallacies that are common to most of the arguments in the pamphlet.

Part 2 gives some quick comments as to why reasons one through five really aren't arguments that cause me, a conservative Evangelical, to think twice. That link is here.

Part 3 deals with arguments six through ten. That link is here.

Please keep in mind that the pamphlet gives reasons to abandon Christianity. My question throughout this mini-series is this: are any of the reasons anything to give somebody like myself any sort of pause? Presumably, the pamphlet is written in an attempt towards deconversion, or, to put it positively, anti-Christian evangelism. The intended audience therefore appears to be people who all themselves Christian.

******

I'm a classical card-carrying evidentialist [and you should be too!]. That means, among other things that the way to attack the historical and evidential basis for Christianity is to argue that the evidence for the supernatural phenomena that undergird the Christian religion is poor, or not as good as that of some other competing worldview. My apologetic is at home with the great English, Scottish, and Irish divines who defended the Resurrection and the veracity of the gospels against the humanists and the deists in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Personally speaking, I have little patience with what I understand Reformed epistemology and presuppositionalism to be.

******

Let's return to the pamphlet. So far, I've argued in Parts 2 and 3 that all we're presented with is a laundry list of sociological claims reflecting nothing more than the pamphleteer's dislike of things. Pointing out that some Christians do things of which the pamphleteer is displeased is not any sort of an argument against Christianity. Imputing the behavior of a subset of self-proclaimed Christians to that of the entire religion and then castigating the religion on this imputed global behavior is likewise a non-argument. Discussing the political differences between Christians and the pamphleteer on issues such as, say, abortion, is a non-argument. Asserting that Christianity does not allow for full sexual fulfillment is also a non-argument relative to an evidentialist like myself.

So, reasons one through ten are nothing more than the pamphleteer's self-righteous little rant. Are arguments eleven through fifteen any better?

*****

Argument eleven is that Christianity "has an exceedingly narrow and legalistic view of morality."

Christianity not only reduces, for all practical purposes, the question of morality to that of sexual behavior, but by listing its prohibitions, it encourages an "everything not prohibited is permitted" mentality. So, for instance, medieval inquisitors tortured their victims, while at the same time they went to lengths to avoid spilling the blood of those they tortured—though they thought nothing of burning them alive. Another very relevant example is that until the latter part of the 19th century Christians engaged in the slave trade, and Christian preachers defended it, citing biblical passages, from the pulpit. Today, with the exception of a relatively few liberal churchgoers, Christians ignore the very real evils plaguing our society—poverty; homelessness; hunger; militarism; a grossly unfair distribution of wealth and income; ecological despoliation exacerbated by corporate greed; overpopulation; sexism; racism; homophobia; freedom-denying, invasive drug laws; an inadequate educational system; etc., etc.—unless they’re actively working to worsen those evils in the name of Christian morality or "family values."

By way of reply:

(a) Saying that Christianity produces an "everything not prohibited is permitted" mentality is very reductionistic. Which Christians are we discussing? What about Romans 14, say? What about the interplay between our liberty and the more sensitive consciences of other believers? Etc. Just what is the pamphleteer getting at here?

(b) Apparently, the pamphleteer is getting at the Inquisition and those who justify slavery.

For the Inquisition, let the Romanists deal with that. I'm Evangelical.

For slavery, again, even if we grant the premise here [and I don't in totality], again just what does this have to do with, say, the Resurrection, the veracity of the gospels, etc? We're treated to another instantiation of fallacy (2).

Let's be frank here. The NT and the OT do not conform to libertarian impulses. Paul states roughly that we should be content with our lot in life. Those who are slaves should try to do a good job, but, if they can pursue freedom, so much the better. The brief epistle to Philemon also will not conform to an across-the-board anti-slavery mentality.

The reader must ask himself here: how does this affect the evidence for or against the Resurrection, the veracity of the gospels, etc? My answer is that the eleventh argument is another sociological observation that is a non sequitur relative to the main theme of the pamphlet.

(c) Note that the pamphleteer has this habit of making sweeping sociological claims based on no actual numbers or evidence cited. So when he charges Christians with ignoring what he calls "the very real evils" plaguing society, it is an evidence-free claim.

Also, has the pamphleteer ever heard of Catholic and Christian charities? It seems that the answer is no.

Regardless, even if the worst of the claim of the pamphleteer is correct, so what? This doesn't affect the historical evidence.

It looks like the eleventh time is not the charm.

******

Argument twelve is that "Christianity encourages acceptance of real evils while focusing on imaginary evils."

Organized Christianity is a skillful apologist for the status quo and all the evils that go along with it. It diverts attention from real problems by focusing attention on sexual issues, and when confronted with social evils such as poverty glibly dismisses them with platitudes such as, "The poor ye have always with you." When confronted with the problems of militarism and war, most Christians shrug and say, "That’s human nature. It’s always been that way, and it always will." One suspects that 200 years ago their forebears would have said exactly the same thing about slavery.

This regressive, conservative tendency of Christianity has been present from its very start. The Bible is quite explicit in its instructions to accept the status quo: "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God; and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation." (Romans 13:1–2)


(a) The pamphleteer is really stuck on sex. Yet he accuses Christians of being monomaniacally focused on sex.

(b) No evidence supporting the contentions in the first paragraph is given. In line with the last sentence of the first paragraph, one suspects that the pamphleteer is just as intellectually lazy as other pamphleteers 200 years ago.

(c) For the second paragraph, what about the the anti-slavery abolitionist factions in the Northern states in the nineteenth century?

(d) Don't you love the context-free citation of Romans without any other consideration of what the NT has to say on the matter?

(e) This is another this-is-what-I-don't-like-about-Christians rant. The evidence for/against the Resurrection, veracity of the gospels, etc, is unchanged.

Yawn.

******

After twelve non-argument arguments, one would suspect that the thirteenth will be equally flabby. And one's suspsicions will be, as will be seen, right on the money.
Apparently, the thirteenth charge is that "Christianity depreciates the natural world."

In addition to its morbid preoccupation with sex, Christianity creates social myopia through its emphasis on the supposed afterlife—encouraging Christians not to be concerned with "the things of this world" (except, of course, their neighbors’ sexual practices). In the conventional Christian view, life in this "vale of tears" is not important—what matters is preparing for the next life. (Of course it follows from this that the "vale of tears" itself is quite unimportant—it’s merely the backdrop to the testing of the faithful.)

The Christian belief in the unimportance of happiness and well-being in this world is well illustrated by a statement by St. Alphonsus:

It would be a great advantage to suffer during all our lives all the torments of the martyrs in exchange for one moment of heaven. Sufferings in this world are a sign that God loves us and intends to save us.

This focus on the afterlife often leads to a distinct lack of concern for the natural world, and sometimes to outright anti-ecological attitudes. Ronald Reagan’s fundamentalist Secretary of the Interior, James Watt, went so far as to actively encourage the strip mining and clear cutting of the American West, reasoning that ecological damage didn’t matter because the "rapture" was at hand.


(a) Note the pamphleteer's focus on sex again. Methinks he is a little single-minded.

(b) Perhaps Christians worry about the life to come because, uh, scripture talks about this to a good degree.

(c) Even if the charge that Christians don't concern themselves with "this life" is true, how is this an argument against, say, the eyewitness testimony or the evidences for the Christian religion? All we have here is yet another thing the pamphleteer, if he's right, doesn't like. Why should I care about his sensibilities, especially when his first thirteen reasons have nothing to do with their actual thesis?

(d) But I'd contend the pamphleteer's claim is not even close to globally true. Those of us who are Biblically literate [unlike the pamphleteer] know that both the OT and NT speak to practical matters and our conduct in "this life" to a good degree. Has the pamphleteer ever heard of "Practical Theology" ?

(e) Somehow, St Alphonsus is taken as representative of Christianity. How?

(f) But at the same time, St Paul tells believers to expect sufferings and even mentions persecution as a sign that believers are, in fact, in the church.

(g) Somehow, without an argument, James Watt is taken as representative of Christianity. How?

Again, this argument doesn't make somebody like me think twice about the evidences for/against Christianity.

*****

Christianity, in the fourteenth argument, "models hierarchical, authoritarian organization."

Before presenting the argument here, we ask, so what?.

How does this claim, even if true, affect the validity of the eyewitness testimony, the veracity of the gospels, etc?

The argument is as follows:

Christianity is perhaps the ultimate top-down enterprise. In its simplest form, it consists of God on top, its "servants," the clergy, next down, and the great unwashed masses at the bottom, with those above issuing, in turn, thou-shalts and thou-shalt-nots backed by the threat of eternal damnation. But a great many Christian sects go far beyond this, having several layers of management and bureaucracy. Catholicism is perhaps the most extreme example of this with its laity, monks, nuns, priests, monsignors, bishops, archbishops, cardinals, and popes, all giving and taking orders in an almost military manner. This type of organization cannot but accustom those in its sway—especially those who have been indoctrinated and attending its ceremonies since birth—into accepting hierarchical, authoritarian organization as the natural, if not the only, form of organization. Those who find such organization natural will see nothing wrong with hierarchical, authoritarian organization in other forms, be they corporations, with their multiple layers of brown-nosing management, or governments, with their judges, legislators, presidents, and politburos. The indoctrination by example that Christianity provides in the area of organization is almost surely a powerful influence against social change toward freer, more egalitarian forms of organization.

(a) Hmmm, if we model an organization that includes God, one would think God would be on top. How is this shocking?

(b) The pamphleteer doesn't like Romanism. OK, but I thought we were discussing reasons to abandon Christianity, not whether he's going to start donating money to Mother Angelica's EWTN channel.

(c) I must be missing the argument connecting Christianity with the powerful influence against social change towards freer, more egalitarian forms of organization.

It is rather funny, as a Christian and as a small-l libertarian, to see a village atheist write this sort of thing.

(d) We're again struck by the lack of any evidence presented with these sweeping claims.

Zero for fourteen. At this rate, I don't know if I can stomach doing Part 4. What a waste of 20 minutes, even if after a good run and a hot shower.

******

The fifteenth argument is as follows:

15. Christianity sanctions slavery. The African slave trade was almost entirely conducted by Christians. They transported their victims to the New World in slave ships with names such as "Mercy" and "Jesus," where they were bought by Christians, both Catholic and Protestant. Organized Christianity was not silent on this horror: it actively encouraged it and engaged in it. From the friars who enslaved Native Americans in the Southwest and Mexico to the Protestant preachers who defended slavery from the pulpit in Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia, the record of Christianity as regards slavery is quite shameful. While many abolitionists were Christians, they were a very small group, well hated by most of their fellow Christians.

The Christians who supported and engaged in slavery were amply supported by the Bible, in which slavery is accepted as a given, as simply a part of the social landscape. There are numerous biblical passages that implicitly or explicitly endorse slavery, such as Exodus 21:20–21: "And if a man smite his servant, or his maid with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished. Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money." Other passages that support slavery include Ephesians 6:5, Colossians 3:22, Titus 2:9–10, Exodus 21:2–6, Leviticus 25:44–46, 1 Peter 2:18, and 1 Timothy 6:1. Christian slave owners in colonial America were well acquainted with these passages.


(a) Let's say the worst of the pamphleteer's claims are true. Again, what does this have to do with the evidence for Christianity?

(b) Note the equivocation between "slavery" as discussed in a New World and American context and the ANE conceptions and Greco-Roman conceptions of slavery, as if they're the same. Illiterate and lazy, but then again, these are hallmarks of your rabble-rousing pamphleteers.

(c) How does the claim that the Bible "supports slavery" impinge on the evidence for the Resurrection, the veracity of the gospels, and so on? Argument, please.

******

Well, zero for fifteen at this stage.

BTW, I don't take any pleasure out of doing this, but I started it and intend to finish it. One could say that, out of fifteen reasons so far, one could say more, but, and I'll state again, having a big list of reasons doesn't require too much a response if the arguments commit the same few fallacies over and over.

Again, at best, the pamphlet has so far shown that some Christians have been really bad people. This doesn't impinge on any of the historical evidences.

As a closing note, I'm not concerned with defending Christians on some sociological level. The point of the miniseries is to merely ask whether I need, as a conservative Evangelical, to re-evaluate how I view or weigh the evidence for the Christian religion based on these arguments given.

So far, nothing has changed.

8 Comments:

Blogger Ken Abbott said...

Regarding the thirteenth complaint, and more specifically the charge against former Interior Secretary James Watt: He never said any such thing. Mr. Watt has recently received an apology from a journalist who perpetuated the falsehood. Our pamphleteer isn't doing very well.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005 10:27:00 AM  
Blogger Pedantic Protestant said...

Well, Ken, he wasn't doing very well before that either, if his goal was to try to get the hooks of deconversion into me/us.

He's almost as bad --- but not quite as bad --- as the Progressive Christian guy. Remember him?

Tuesday, December 27, 2005 3:53:00 PM  
Blogger Ken Abbott said...

For some reason, the Watt anecdote stood out as I read through the item, possibly because it was in the news not that long ago. Stuff like this tells me that the pamphleteer is careless about the material he uses. But that isn't exactly a news flash.

As for PC, the less said about him the better.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005 5:51:00 PM  
Blogger chamblee54 said...

Jesus worship is an emotional thing. It does not have much to do with intellectual arguments. Most people pay attention to the parts of these arguments that they agree with and find a way to ignore the rest.
My own experience with Jesus has been miserable. All the clever words of the erudite jesus woshippers is not going to change this.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005 7:35:00 PM  
Blogger Pedantic Protestant said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005 12:56:00 AM  
Blogger Pedantic Protestant said...

I agree that clever and erudite words of those you mention won't help people to stop committing fallacies (1)-(5) mentioned in an earlier post.

[Edited above comment for grammatical boo-boo.]

Wednesday, December 28, 2005 12:58:00 AM  
Anonymous Tim said...

PP,

Merry Christmas!!

You have my admiration for your willingness to take out the garbage like this. I couldn't stomach such drivel, myself. Give me David Hume and Thomas Chubb for adversaries any day. At least they wrote like men.

Chamblee, get a grip. Emotions are for something; consummated love, say, or victory in a just war. It sounds like you've fallen in with a crowd who have forgotten what emotions are for and are chasing them for their own sake. Not good. But there's no reason to ditch the babe in the manger along with the emotional bilge-water. This is precisely the point where rationality and argument are needed most.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005 10:47:00 AM  
Anonymous Tim said...

PP,

Here's a quotation I ran across the other day that came back to mind as I saw your heroic effort to wade through this muck:

[T]hough objections against the evidence of Christianity are most seriously to be considered, yet objections against Christianity itself are, in a great measure, frivolous; almost all objections against it, excepting those which are alleged against the particular proofs of its coming from God. ... [O]bjections against Christianity, as distinguished from objections against its evidence, are frivolous. To make out this, is the general design of the present chapter. And with regard to the whole of it, I cannot but particularly wish that the proofs might be attended to, ...

Joseph Butler, The Analogy of Religion (1736), part II, ch. 3.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005 11:01:00 AM  

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