Saturday, April 19, 2008

Christian theologian unhappy with atheist books.

John Haught is a very unhappy theologian. He is particularly unhappy about the “outbreak of provocative atheistic treatises” by people like Hitchens, Harris and Dawkins. I would assume he means Dennett as well though he didn’t mention him.

To be fair we should note that these books are atheist treatises in one sense but not another. They are treatises by atheists but not necessarily treatises on atheism. For instance the book by Sam Harris does explore why atheism is logical as much as he explores the destructive nature of religion in the world. The same is true for the book by Dawkins.

Haught is disappointed because he finds the works “unchallenging theologically”. He says this puts it on the same lefel “of reflection on faith that one can find in contemporary creationist and fundamentalist literature.” Let us be clear about something, that is the exact level at which most Christians understand their beliefs. Believers in America are not like Haught and Haught is unhappy about that. There is little reason to respond to the Haught’s of the world because they have almost no influence. They are almost as irrelevent in Christianity as they are in the world at large.

Nor is it the purpose of these books to discuss the elitist ideas of a gaggle of ignored theologians. These books were addressing the impact of religion in the world today. And theologians like Haught simply have no impact. Churches that don’t take the consistently irrational view of the fundamentalists have been losing members for the most part. Churches that are literalists grow. Why? Because people yearn for a consistency. And liberal theologians make no more sense to their fellow Christians than they do to the typical atheist.

We s should note that the views of theologians like Haught have been debunked in the past. George Smith’s book Atheism: The Case Against God ($15.95, available from Laissez Faire Books, 1 800 326 0996) has dealth with the nonsense of theologians rather thoroughly. Books that deal with the religion at this level have limited impact because most people don’t think at that level. Smith’s books has been around for years and is an excellent discussion on the irrationality of the concepts of a deity. And while many atheists attribute their non-belief to Mr. Smith’s excellent work it has never been a best seller. It wasn’t a best seller for the same reason that Mr. Haught has almost no influence within Christianity -- it doesn’t address religion the way most people see it.

Very few theists are conviced of theism. That is, they don’t come to theism from a logical perspective. They were not reasoned into believing and won’t be reasoned out of it. Most people just accepted it because they were taught it and they thought it was good. As religion has become more consistent, by ignoring the theologians like Haught and embracing the preachers like Robertson, people have become more dismayed. People tend to cling to religion because they think it has utility. They are religious because they think it is “good” not because they think it is true. They have rarely considered the “true” aspect.

The current spate of books by atheist are popular because they address the real issue of religion for most people. They address they question of whether or not religion is good. That is bound to disappoint the inconsequential theologians like Mr. Haught but that is why they are popular.

Haught whines that these authors “debate with these extremists rather than with any major theologians.” Well, the extremists, as Haught puts it, are the bulk of American Christiandom and America is the last major Christian nation in the world. The major theologians were debunked long ago so it would be unproductive to do it again. What these “new atheists” did was address Christianity as it really is today, not as irrelevent theologians would wish it to be.

There are two arguments that one can make in this field. One is to discuss the logic of theism and the other is to discuss the results of theism. That these books conver the later doesn’t mean that no books on the former exist. Mr. Haught just chooses to ignore them.

Haught laughs at Hitchens for discussing the “factually irreconcilable accounts of Jesus’ birth”. Haught admits the Bible has contradictions. He wants Hitchens to ignore the contradictions and concentrate on the ramblings of theologians. Yet the typical Christian gets his ideas of such things from the Bible not from individuals like Haught. Haught’s real complaint is not with the “new atheists” but with the old Christians. It is the Christians who take literalist interpretations seriously. That the members of his own faith are extremists who believe contradictory things is Haught’s problem not the problem of the new atheists.

In the end it would be absurd to write a book that address the theology of Mr. Haught. Mr. Haught might read it but very other people would. Mr. Haught’s liberal version of Christianity is a dying theology believed by fewer and fewer Christians. The reason is that it is as irrational as fundamentalist Christianity but far less consistent. Mr. Haught tries to reconcile primative theism with rationality and reason. That can’t be done.

In any conflict between individuals holding similar premises the one who is more consistent will win the rational debate. Fundamentalist Christians and liberal theologians both hold similar premises about God. But the fundamentalists is more consistent with his premises than the liberal theologian. Hence fundamentalism has become the predominate Christian view and liberal denominations have imploded.

The liberal theologian who embraces reason sometimes and theology sometimes is trapped. He can’t apply either consistently. If he applies reason consistently he ends up having less and less religion as he goes along. His god shrinks. If he is entirely consistent his god disappears altogether. The god talk of liberal theologians borders on nothingness. The god who can’t be comprehended is a god who barely exists for the human mind. And the god who barely exists is not about to inspire faith. The fundamentalists present the traditional view of God. It might be irrational but it is something that people can het ahold of of and cling to. The god of liberalism is a brief, barely visible whisp of smoke. You can’t cling to it. You can’t believe it. It has no appeal.

Mr. Haught's real dispute is not with atheists but with his fellow believers. Atheists don't address Mr. Haught's theology because, for the most party, Christians have rejected it. If one is to rebutt Christianity you need to rebutt the Christianity that is believed not the wishful thinking of a few old men. Haught is ignored by atheists because Christians ignored him long ago.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Did God kill six young students and their teacher?

My first intention was not to blog about this tragedy. But I have changed my mind. The tragedy in question was the deaths of students and a teacher from the Elim Christian school in New Zealand.

The students and teacher were hiking through a canyon when they were trapped by a flash flood. Six high school aged students were killed along with the teacher.

One is tempted to point out that the fervent faith of these fundamentalist Christians didn’t save them from an “act of God”. But I thought it would be rather tasteless to make comments like that.

But of course our Christian friends are utterly tasteless and have no moral compulsion against using such tragedies for their own ends.

One student survived. And like most fundamentalists he immediately attributed his survival to God. Newspaper reports said he was “lying in a Taupo Hospital bed thanking the Lord after his ‘supernatural’ experience.” This poor, misguided boy said: “All I can say is this is my story and this is what happened to me and God saved me.” No doubt he will go around telling this story to others over and over again.

According to this boy he was “gasping for air” as the water took hold of him and he begged God to save him. “I just felt it was God tell me, ‘You have to get up and go, otherwise you’re going to die’, because water just kept coming and was getting higher.”

The principle of the school had to announce the deaths to the student body and told them: “If your faith means anything at all, it must mean everything now.” The father of a dead girl said she had gone to “a better place” and that this was a “test of his belief in God”

When I first heard of these tragic deaths I was saddened for the young lives that were snuffed out. I still am. But this sort of stupidity is sickening. Think about what is being said here.

The young boy who survived attributes his survival to prayer. Are we to believe that in the more than half hour that the students sat hung onto to a canyon wall that none of them prayed? Should we assume that these fundamentalist Christians were without faith and never once asked God to save them the same way this one boy did?

Yet the one boy lived and all the others died horrible deaths. God gets the credit for saving the life of the one but none of the blame for killing the other seven. If God consented to save the one boy then God had to have ignored the other seven. They call this merciful and loving. That is just sick.

The one boy lived because the water crashed him into a pile of logs and he was able to pull himself up onto them and hold on. The others weren’t so lucky. It was luck. It was the pure randomness of falling in the water at the right spot at the right time so that he was pushed in one direction while the deceased were pushed in another direction.

If this was God acting then we have to assume that God was responsible for killing six students and the teacher.

The headmaster of the school implores the students to have faith. Did not the students clinging to the canyon wall also have faith?

And the one parent, no doubt in mourning but still thinking irrationally, said this was a “test” of his faith. Think about that as well. Who is administering that test? Surely it would have to be God.

What he is saying, or seeming to say, is that God drowned his daughter for the sole purpose of seeing if this man would still have faith in God. What kind of monstrous deity would do that?

I truly wish that all these young people had survived the unexpected flood that they encountered. That did not happen. They died because of a natural occurrence. The boy who was saved was saved because of a natural occurrence. It was not a divine being planning. No god picked one boy to live and cruelly sent the other seven to their deaths. I doubt they are in a better place. I tend to think they exist no more. Their life and their consciousness was snuffed out. They lost everything.

I can almost understand the desire to what to make this tragedy make sense. Certainly claiming that God was involved would do that. But the God and his actions which they imagine is so irrational that it makes no sense whatsoever. But I know fundamentalists well and I know that logic and reason play little role in their life.

So the one boy who lived will tell his story about how God saved him and other believers will praise God over it. They will give little thought to how that same God, if he existed, would have had to fill the lungs of other young students with life-denying water. They will have to ignore the pain and horror that those students experienced in their last minutes of existence. They will pretend that this was loving and good and kind and that God was being merciful. They will exhibit the most pronounced trait that I find in the religious -- the ability to twist reality in horrible ways in order to justify an irrational faith in a non-existent deity.


Thursday, April 03, 2008

Comrade God.

The one reason that there is such widespread belief in “God” is that pollsters who ask the public if they believe don’t define the word. Christians in America like to pretend that something like 90% of the people are Christians. Of course many, many Christians don’t in fact believe that other Christians are really Christians. The fundamentalists, the anti-intellectuals of Christianity, don’t think that Catholics are Christians. They don’t believe that Christian Scientists are Christian or Jehovah’s Witnesses, nor most main stream Protestant denominations.

A large number of “believers” simply believe in “something” but can’t tell you what it is they believe. For some there is a “force”, for others it is simply “all that exists”. God believers, for the most part, don’t agree with each other what this entity is that they believe in. One of the greatest problems that theism faces is defining what it is that they believe. The moment they start defining it they lose the consensus they brag about and open themselves up to logical rebuttals.

When I speak of God in this article I want to concentrate on the relatively orthodox view of Jehovah. This view of God has been widespread in most Christian sects but is also similar to the monster worshipped by Islam. That concept basically has God as the perfect Stalinist. That is, if you take the actual traits of Stalin and then look at God you find that He/She/It shares those traits except more so. God out-Stalins Stalin.

Stalin had police spies everywhere. He wanted to put every Russian under surveillance. He had informers spread throughout the country. He had wiretaps so extensive that they make George Bush orgasmic. Yet none of Stalin’s surveillance could compare with what the theists claims for their deity. He literally sees everything you are doing.

Apparently God watches you on the toilet, watches you in the shower, watches you having sex, etc. Stalin allowed some privacy out of an inability to spy all the time. God, on the other hand, offers no privacy whatsoever. Stalin’s henchmen might hear some of what you said but God hears everything you say. And, unlike the Stalinist bureaucrats, he supposedly remembers all of it.

Stalin punished dissent. If you disagreed with his rule he could imprison you, torture you, perhaps execute you. And he did all of this -- in massive numbers. But as tyrannical as Stalin was he was unable to punish everyone. Apparently God has no such limits.

We are told he will sit in judgement on everyone who has ever lived. Stalin didn’t act as his own judge in his system. He needed help for his crimes. But apparently God can commit genocide entirely on his own. He supposedly will personally preside over the trial of every human being who has ever lived. And he will be ruthless.

First, if you disagreed with him, or didn’t believe in him, or questioned him, they you are open to punishment. God will also torture you and imprison you. But he won’t kill you because he is not as merciful as Stalin. God’s torture lasts for eternity. Orthodox Christians get moist over the concept of eternal damnation. They preach extensive sermons over how their deity will damn and torture anyone who wasn’t one of them.

One of the most famous sermons in Christian history is the tirade “Sinners in the hands of an angry God” by Jonathan Edwards. Here are some excerpts which reveals how the God of Edwards is Stalin on steroids.

There is nothing that keeps wicked men at any one moment out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God." -- By the mere pleasure of God, I mean his sovereign pleasure, his arbitrary will, restrained by no obligation, hindered by no manner of difficulty,...

Sometimes an earthly prince meets with a great deal of difficulty to subdue a rebel, who has found means to fortify himself, and has made himself strong by the numbers of his followers. But it is not so with God. There is no fortress that is any defence from the power of God. Though hand join in hand, and vast multitudes of God's enemies combine and associate themselves, they are easily broken in pieces. They are as great heaps of light chaff before the whirlwind; or large quantities of dry stubble before devouring flames.

It is difficult to find one tyranny of Stalin which goes unsurpassed by the God of Christianity or Islam. Stalin ordered the executions of millions -- so has God, just more so. Stalin has tortured millions and God has tortured billions. Stalin’s torture was limited by the human body and time. God’s torture is unlimited and eternal. Compared to the God that many Christians believe in, Stalin was an amateur.


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