Sunday, November 18, 2007

Durpa Durpa Tweedley Durpa Durp...Have I Converted You Yet?

Wow...This "defense" of religion from Christianity Today is seriously one of the silliest, least-convincing cases for faith I have ever read. It's as if writer Stan Guthrie assumed that, by citing single sentences from various other writers on the general topic of religion, he could forge a compelling argument through an act of sheer will. It doesn't work...Kind of sad, really.

Let's face it: Atheism is in. Not since Nietzsche have disbelievers enjoyed such a ready public reception to their godless message—and such near-miraculous royalties. But even that hasn't put them in a good mood. Snaps Christopher Hitchens, who wrote God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons
(although not, presumably, the pronouncements of atheists), "Many of the teachings of Christianity are, as well as being incredible and mythical, immoral." A feuding Richard Dawkins suggests that believers "just shut up." Apparently, they didn't get the tolerance memo.

I'm not 100% certain that atheism is "in," though this would be a question worth exploring. "Does the relatively recent national discussion about atheist belief in our culture necessarily mean that there are more atheists, or could it just be that the atheists who have been here all along suddenly feel a bit more empowered to state their beliefs openly?" Guthrie's not interested in this question, however, because he'd have to do "research" and consider "evidence." And just making up lists based on nonsense is easier.

So here we go...

Creation: The universe, far from being a howling wasteland indifferent to our existence, appears to be finely tuned through its estimated 13.7 billion years of existence to support life on this planet. Tinker with any one of scores of fundamental physical laws or the initial conditions of the universe—such as gravity or the cosmological constant—and we would not be here. As physicist Paul Davies has admitted, "I have come to believe more and more strongly that the physical universe is put together with an ingenuity so astonishing that I cannot accept it merely as a brute fact."

Seriously, religious people? I don't ever want to hear this argument again. I am tired of this discussion, because it never ever changes. You think the alignment of conditions that support human life on Earth must have been the work of a celestial being, I think it all just kind of came together here, and if it hadn't, we'd all be alive and evolving on some other planet, because the universe had pretty much infinite opportunities to make this work. (How can you say anything is impossible in an infinite system? Doesn't the lack of time make anything pretty much possible if you include enough variables?) This argument makes it sound like the Earth just appeared one day in a vacuum, looking exactly the way it does now. The universe is MASSIVE and it has been around for longer than any of us can fully comprehend in our primitive brains.

Also, I don't care what single sentences, robbed of their context, a random physicist might have uttered. That doesn't make it any more or less likely that humans are alive on Earth because the specific conditions that support our life existed on this planet. (Also, I don't think there's any such thing as a brute fact. There are facts and non-facts.)

Beauty: Beethoven's Ninth, a snowflake, the sweet smell of a baby who has been sleeping, and a sunset beyond the dunes of Lake Michigan all point to a magnificent and loving Creator. And isn't it interesting that we have the capacity—unlike mere animals—to gape in awe, to be brought to tears, before them? Truly did David say, "What is man, that you are mindful of him?"

To me, nothing confirms my atheism more than music. Just as Stan here can't bring himself to believe that anything as intricate and perfect as Earth just sprung up one day, I can't believe that any person was able to compose the "Ninth Symphony." And man did. A person, not a God. It exists because we made it, not because some deity squirted it into being. That's humanism, brah. As for the sunset on Lake Michigan, it is also beautiful, and it is not human-created, but we can explain it. And if we were alive on some other planet, and sunsets were blue-black and ugly, we'd probably have found them beautiful too, after several thousands of years. You come to appreciate what you know.

And of course it's interesting that we've evolved consciousness to appreciate such things. what? How does that prove Christianity? At this point in the essay, Stan seems to realize that he's falling into the Intelligent Design trap, making his case for religious really just a case for some kind of external, intelligent Creator-God-Thing. So he has no choice but to painfully, and ludicrously, shift gears. This is when shit starts to get funny.

New Testament reliability: Compared with the handful of existing copies of seminal ancient works such as Homer's Iliad, the New Testament's provenance is far better attested. There are thousands of NT manuscripts in existence, some made within mere decades of the events they report. Scholar F. F. Bruce said, "The historicity of Christ is as axiomatic for an unbiased historian as the historicity of Julius Caesar."

'Kay, I'm no historian by trade, but even I know that's bullshit. We have primary sources attesting to Caeser's reality as a person, including HIS OWN WRITINGS about his military campaigns. (Check out Mahalo's Julius Caeser page to give them a read.) Jesus may certainly have been real; so far as I know, the case is still out, though the majority of actual real professional historians I've heard speak on the topic tend to opine that he's representative of a number of prophets and rabbis from the time, not just one guy.

It's this sentence that's so stupid: "some made within mere decades of the events they report." But we have documents that report on events in their own time! This is not some golden standard for historical accuracy. "Some people wrote some stuff that contradicts other stuff within a few decades of when this theoretical stuff happened! Case closed!" Finally, "Scholar F.F. Bruce"? Nice try...Make that evangelical Bible scholar F.F. Bruce. Of course he thinks Jesus was real. It was the basis of his religious faith not to mention his life's work!

This article is titled "Answering the Atheists." So, in seeking to affirm that the New Testament is a reliable source for accurate historical information (and even scholar F.F. Bruce admitted it was "imprecise"), this is what Stan comes up with. Yikes...

Scripture: Unlike other religious texts, the Bible gives us the good, the bad, and the ugly of its heroes: Abraham, Jacob, David, and Peter among them. Further, Scripture's message rings true. It has been said that human depravity is the only religious doctrine empirically verified on a daily basis. And the Bible's gracious solution to our predicament, Christ's atoning death on the Cross, uniquely emphasizes what God has done, not what we must do, for our rescue.

Here's about the point when I kind of give up on Stan. This just doesn't make any sense at all. For real. It's a bunch of random sentences that line up at all, clumsily ordered into paragraph form. Try to unpack the argument he's making now.

The Bible's message "rings true?" REALLY? doesn't so much ring true to me, what with the constant contradiction of scientific principles and reliance on fairy tale logic. (Does the story of Jonah and the Whale "ring true"? What about a man who can heal the sick, walk on water, transform water into wine and raise the dead? The whole point of "faith" is that this stuff doesn't ring true and you have to kind of force yourself to believe it.)

The Bible's "gracious" solution to our unnamed predicament was a man being tortured and assassinated? That's not so gracious. I could think of a lot cleaner, neater ways for us all to be saved than a guy being stabbed, nailed to a cross and pecked at by crows.

I don't even understand the last sentence's basic meaning, so lets move on.

Jesus: Christ's life and teachings are unparalleled in world history, as any Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim—or atheist—worth his salt will admit. Napoleon reportedly said, "I know men, and I tell you that Jesus Christ is not a man. Superficial minds see a resemblance between Christ and the founders of empires and the gods of other religions. That resemblance does not exist. There is between Christianity and whatever other religions the distance of infinity."

Now we're supposed to take Napoleon's word for it? The guy responsible for at least six million European deaths? What a good Christian he was...

And that first sentence is just horrible, ugly Christian supremacy stated as fact, the equal of saying that "The white race is just unparalleled in world history, as any African or Asian or South American worth his salt will admit." If a Muslim "worth his salt" really felt that Christ's life and teachings were unparalleled in world history, why would he be troubling himself with this Muhammad fellow? True, if everything Christian's believe about Jesus were true, he'd be a fairly remarkable specimen - a compassionate half-divine educator and prophet who walked around, healing the sick and speaking about peace and love. But that's only if you believe everything that Christian's believe, and this article is supposed to explain why Stan is a Christian. So it's unfair that we be asked to accept all the doctrines as true from the get-go.

The trilemma: C.S. Lewis, commenting on Christ's claim to divinity, said: "You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to."

I've seriously heard this argument since junior high school. They must teach it to the fundies at a seriously young age.

Which is too bad, because it's stupid, and it's going to make it harder for these young people to fully understand the nature of logic and rhetoric in later years. Again, this only works if you FIRST ACCEPT that everything the New Testament says is true. If Jesus is being accurately quoted for the entire book, then yes, he's either a crazy person, a bullshit artist or the son of God.

But what if he's being misquoted? This book was, after all, written by his own followers years after his death, when they were feverishly trying to convince the maximum number of people possible to accept him as the son of God, a decision that often meant being fed to lions, tortured or just plain executed. There was a huge benefit to flubbing the truth, would you not admit, and no downside? And it was unlikely that anyone could prove he wasn't the son of God because he was dead and it was fucking Biblical times. Proof didn't really enter into the conversation.

So C.S. Lewis is trying to urge non-Christians to make a decision based on...Christian doctrine. Solid...

It just goes on and on like this, and frankly I'm bored, but I can't finish this post off without including this priceless quote:

"While many Christians have behaved badly, Christ specializes in turning sinners around. What other faith can boast of a Chuck Colson?"

Yup, you've got me there, Stan. There's only one disgraced for Nixon Chief Council and rabidly right-wing nutjob Charles Colson, and he plays for your team. This is the same guy that blames American decadence for terrorism:

There was a brilliant but paranoid Egyptian writer by the name of Sayyid Qutb, imprisoned in Egypt in 1956. In 1970, he published a book, In the Shade of the Koran, attacking the West as totally corrupt. Qutb knew what he was talking about. He lived in the U.S. for a time and saw our decadence. He also read Western philosophers like [Martin] Heidegger and [Jacques] Derrida and other intellectuals who hated the West. And he read all the anti-Zionist, anti-Semitic literature.

Qutb's In the Shade of the Koran unequivocally advocates killing of "infidels." He was executed by the Egyptian government, but his brother, Muhammad Qutb, escaped Egypt, went to Saudi Arabia, and became a professor at the university. One of his star pupils: none other than Osama bin Laden.


He's the same Charles Colson, a shining light of truth that confirms the essential rationality of the Christian faith, who said that the illegal immigration problem stems from legal abortion:

Not really much to add to that. It's like praising Judaism because, hey, we gave you Jackie Mason AND David Berkowitz!

[Hat Tip: Sullivan]


ro said...

well that's the dumbest and least edifying commentary on commentary Iv'e read recently.

If you dont 'like' religion fine, but read your history a lot closer and try to come to grips with how revolutionary christian thought actually was.

From a definitely non-Christian and very happy atheist but on the other hand, not a complete dickhead like you.

Diggita said...

"the sweet smell of a baby who has been sleeping"? Lol, do babies smell better after they've been sleeping? Or maybe it's just that they don't shiza themselves as much until they're awake. Regarding creation, of course none of his points even vaguely prop up Christianity, but you've got to admit that the entire subject is pretty mysterious without any good, logical answers. Spontaneous generation is a pretty tough sell, and it would be nice to see more people acknowledge that in these kinds of discussions. Wrt music, I saw a pretty interesting interview w/Thom Yorke recently on Youtube, where he states that the songs he writes "have nothing to do with me", and that he somehow tunes in to the right frequency, and they just come to him from somewhere else. I've heard this sort of thing before, always thought it was kind of strange and never knew what to make of it.

Stan Guthrie said...


You reproduced and attempted to answer just about all of the points in my column--except for this one: "the angry rantings of atheists." But then, you didn't really have to, did you? Your commentary was one long, angry rant. Thanks for helping to make my point.

If my column was so dumb--and I'll freely admit that I did not "prove" Christianity (nor did I try to)--why are you so angry? Here's hoping you feel better soon!

Stan Guthrie

Lons said...

Stan -

First off, let me just say, thanks for coming to my blog and leaving a comment. Because my writing tends to be a bit...let's say, caustic...I don't get as much feedback as I would like.

Okay, so having said that, I can't help but notice that you don't actually refute any of my counter-arguments. You simply imply that I'm too angry/hostile and call it a day. I don't really think of myself as an "angry atheist," and have even written posts mocking this position in the past.

So your point is well-taken.

But am I to presume that, other than the hostility, you agree with the case I'm presenting?

I should also add, YOU were the one who wrote an article in a major magazine attacking atheism. I merely responded, albeit with a bit more bile than most magazines would likely publish.

Stan said...

Actually, I don't agree with your points but don't have the time to refute them. I know that sounds weak, but it's the truth.

I didn't attack atheism or atheists. If you can find that in my column, you have better eyesight than I do. I was not attempting to prove Christianity but to give reasons--at a lay level--for why it makes sense to me. Cumulatively, of course, I think the evidence (or data, if you will) is pretty convincing. But there will always be alternative explanations to each of my points.

The thing I find interesting, though, is that for atheist explanations to work, you have to diminish the dignity and worth of human beings. Atheists say something like, "The Christian explanation doesn't work because there's an evolutionary explanation for beauty, or the complexity of the universe, or something else." Athesists tend to be very reductionistic. If you're right, then we're all merely highly complex animals with no spark of the divine. And then you celebrate? You ought to be weeping. By excluding theistic explanations, you diminish yourself. Chesterton's book "Orthodoxy" describes this process very well.

Anyway, thanks for the opportunity to interact. Perhaps at a later date we can get into the nuts and bolts, though, like I said, I am no expert.


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