Debating with Caricatures

terry-bennett-006I’d like to start this post by agreeing with the New Atheists. So, please pay attention, this doesn’t happen very often:

I completely agree that the god they don’t believe in is a silly and monstrous concept, and that no one should believe it.

If there are any theists out there who actually believe in the kind of religion the New Atheists attack, I urge such people to abandon those beliefs for a less barbaric, anachronistic, and cartoonishly silly understanding of what Christian theologians have actually said.

And, of course, to the New Atheists themselves, I would urge them to learn something about what theologians have said and address that before making vast pronouncements about religion in general.

We hardly needed Richard Dawkins to figure out that the Westboro Baptist Church has some silly and unethical beliefs. If the New Atheists think they have something to say about the rest of theists, they are free to share, but simply assuming that our beliefs are the same as the Westboro Baptists is more akin to bigotry than rational analysis.

I’ve had it put to me that atheists don’t make claims about the particulars of belief–that they only respond to what theists claim. In response, I offer the bulk of the New Atheist literature. Christopher Hitchens demanding that religious people don’t doubt, Dawkins presenting an argument for atheism which assumes that God is a composite object, made out of physical parts and flying around in space somewhere, Harris insisting that Christians revere death itself (as opposed to respecting those who are willing to sacrifice their lives).

And so on it goes. I’ve been told a large number of things about what I believe by atheists who, by all accounts, haven’t a clue what I actually believe: what it means to speak of the non-natural as something altogether different from the physical, how explanations of the physical traits of systems are distinct from the question of whether or not those same things have traits of a different sort, and why there isn’t the slightest shred of scientific evidence in favor of the New Atheists’ conclusions along these lines.

And trying to correct this misinformation, to explain my actual beliefs, is met only with more demands that I prove the truth of precisely those views that I don’t believe in. That is, the fans of Dawkins loudly demand that I prove that there’s some physical, composite thing in space called ‘god’, or some other such inanity.

Whatever one calls this approach, it is not intellectual, open-minded, or interested in furthering knowledge. It is, to put it gently, mind-numbingly dense. On the one hand, it dismisses anything too difficult or abstract as not to be discussed–not refuted or dealt with, just the sort of thing that’s too hard to think about. On the other, it refuses to give up the adolescent demand that it has somehow found found the answer to all truth claims in a ridiculously simple formula.

Nearly all its attempts at argumentation take the form: “Rhetorically, religion sounds silly by the end of this sentence. Now, let’s quickly halt all thinking right there.”

Those who don’t take such an approach, who are actually trying to understand the claims of the world’s great religions, never fall into the anti-intellectual trap of thinking that repeating an internet meme settles a centuries-old debate.

I appreciate those sorts, whether they are atheist or theist, and urge everyone who engages on these issues to address what people actually believe. Whatever the emotional benefits of shredding straw-men, it accomplishes nothing of value.

50 responses to “Debating with Caricatures

  • boxingpythagoras

    As an atheist, I absolutely agree with you, here. I spend almost as much time addressing the Straw Men and otherwise fallacious arguments presented by internet atheists as I spend addressing actual theistic arguments. More than once, I’ve been confused for being a theist simply because I correct some bit of misinformation– usually about the composition of the New Testament, or the historicity of Jesus.

    Of course, the same thing applies in both directions. Just as the New Atheists often caricature the opposing view, so do theistic apologists often argue against cartoony, villified Straw Men. Easy examples of this are seen in the recent film “God’s Not Dead,” and the just-announced “Matter of Faith.” However, even big-names like William Lane Craig often do the same.

    As soon as people on both sides of the issue stop the polemics and begin to actually attempt to address the actual arguments raised by their opposition, we’ll start to have meaningful conversations on the subject.

    • Debilis

      Well said.

      And, yes, you are absolutely right to say that theists are every bit as guilty of this kind of strawman approach to the subject.

      The real shame, in my view, is that we’d have rather a lot to teach one another if only we’d listen to the good points being made. I’m trying my best to do that more often.

      In any case, best to you out there.

  • violetwisp

    I understand what you’re saying here and appreciate it must be frustrating. When I criticise Christianity it’s primarily because I see it’s used to promote negative attitudes that harm certain sectors of society e.g. telling gay people their natural desires are an error and they must remain celibate, telling women they should be submissive to their husbands, telling people not to use birth control, promoting the idea that people are innately sinful and that there’s an evil spirit trying to trick them into being bad etc.

    “I completely agree that the god they don’t believe in is a silly and monstrous concept, and that no one should believe it.”
    The problem you have here is that the god described in the Bible is a silly and monstrous concept, and there’s no getting round this. Theologians have worked through the centuries to alter the perception that naturally comes from the stories in the Bible and make the god depicted fit in with contemporary moral frameworks. I don’t doubt that the god you personally believe in is truly a good being, but many of your fellow Christians believe in a god who would murder its entire creation because it was disappointed with its own work, who would see most of its creation suffer eternal torment for not doing as it pleases (even if they never came into contact with other Christians). This is a silly and monstrous concept, and it’s being used to harm the lives of many people around the world.

    • cogitatingduck

      Debilis seems to have struck a good note here. We all agree that the cartoon caricature is lame. Violetwisp, as I am also concerned about beliefs that perpetuate harm, I think it’s useful to focus on the qualities pertinant to that harm.

      For example, if the question is about celibacy being harmful, why not focus energies there? Or that women should submit to a hasband, ally yourself with Biblical complementarians? I know atheists whose values I appreciate in light of the philosophical lines that rend both theist and atheist communities.

      • violetwisp

        I didn’t agree it was lame, I said it’s exactly how god is depicted in the Bible and that theologians have been trying to weave a rose-tinted narrative round it for centuries. I was brought up with the Bible, wondering how a good god could murder so frequently, could suggest rape victims marry their rapists, but somehow rationalising it all with the ‘nice’ god in my head. I just don’t think it’s healthy to encourage people to continue the delusion. If a benevolent deity exists (improbable) it’s definitely not attempted to reveal itself through the Bible.

        • Debilis

          Jumping in with my two cents. I hope you don’t mind.

          Perhaps humans are just that dense. There seems to be some evidence for that, at any rate.

          But I don’t see the problem. Surely, you consider many beliefs that people hold to be untrue and, in that sense, delusional. We all do.

          In that case, is it really sensical to believe that this particular delusion (accepting that just for the sake of argument) is really more serious than the issues cogitatingduck named?

          In fact, isn’t it more likely that you could deter those acts more easily by pointing out the reasons theists have given for rejecting that view? Wouldn’t the fanatically religious be more receptive to that than claims that God doesn’t exist?

          Speeding that along would be the fact that you’d even be able to recruit theists like me to your cause. If atheists weren’t consistently saying such clearly unfair things, I’d have much more time for the type of theists you describe.

        • cogitatingduck

          Violetwisp, thanks for your correction and clarification as to your view. I doubt the epistemic reliability of your “natural” reading strategy. I am supposing you read the Noah account in Genesis to conclude that God is monstrous and/or silly. But nowhere is it clear that God is commiting “murder,” the taking of innocent life, to start over again.

          A reading that doesn’t even aim to have clear definitions of God, moral culpability, monstrosity, and historical context is on epistemic par with fundamentalist, literal, “plain meaning” interpretations. It may be you are relying on a faculty of knowledge that does not consist in evaluating context and situating a conclusion in a commensurable critical framework. But that will not do the legwork to claim knowledge as to what a biblical text means, let alone what actually classical or orthodox Christian views are.

          Though you do not think so, a monstrous and silly God is the kind of charicature I think Debilis is talking about, and I am in accord with him that that is inconsistent with what the biblical text means, and what Christians classically have believed. I can supply some arguments on request, but it suffices for me for now to just lodge the critique of your natural reading.

        • violetwisp

          When you cut through all the centuries of trying to make the Christian faith palatable to whatever century and culture you’re living in, you’ll see how broad the possibilities are for interpretation. From supporting slavery to abolishing slavery, from launching crusades to pacifism, from churches with riches beyond imagining to people abandoning all their belongings and worshipping in open spaces, from a god of pure love to a jealous god that punishes by generations and demands child sacrifice. Take what you interpretations you want and pretend there is one commensurable critical framework if you wish. The rest of us see the monstrous deeds of the god depicted in the Bible as they are. At least the fundamentalists have some integrity in their interpretation (although they’re even crazier for believing it).

        • cogitatingduck

          Violetwisp, don’t you think that everyone requires interpretation to know what any text says? A literalist lacks ability to critique or interact with other readings. But we know there are multiple genres in the bible, and even multiple genres within a single book of it. It is not necessarily palatizing to admit this.

          The idea that we all have interpretations should be no more controversial than the idea that we all have some delusions, as you’ve stated elsewhere in this thread.

          To clarify what I mean by commensurable framework, I am saying nothing more than being able to make a meaningful proposition that itself can be evaluated for relvevance, accuracy, clarity, etc. The framework is not a fixed position; it is merely the tool of language by which discussion happens. To say God is monstrous based on your reading may make a certain intuitive sense to you, but it needs to be justified in light of say, a theory, to really make sense to people who do not think precisely like you do. For example, perhaps you mean to make a metaethical proposition about the character of God. If so, there are plenty of theories to work with. Otherwise, what do you mean by monstrous?

    • Debilis

      Let me start by agreeing with you here. I think you are perfectly right to complain when religious people harm others in the name of religion–or for the sake of religion.

      Personally, I’d go so far as to say that it is a moral duty to speak against such behavior.

      My issue isn’t with those who do so. Rather, my issue is with those who insist on broadening the rhetorical vocabulary to attack all religion, rather than simply those forms of it that do these things.

      I think we see this in other contexts pretty clearly. Groups of bankers, for instance, are often caught embezzling. While it is perfectly right to speak out against this, it is rather unfair to proclaim that anyone who happens to be a banker is to be “ridiculed with contempt” as Dawkins suggests.

      And, to underscore the point, I mean to take the same approach to atheists. I have no complaint with those who are genteel, kind, and thoughtful individuals. I take issue with those who feel the need to mock and judge me simply because I am religious.

      Now, you claim that I simply interpret the Bible incorrectly. You’re definitely allowed to do so. I’ll skip any argument there (because I don’t think that was really the point you are getting at). Rather, I’ll say that I agree that those who believe in such a God should be criticized. I don’t consider these people my “fellow” Christians, but people who distort what I believe to be the truth about Christianity.

      I’ve not personally met such people, but I like to think that I’d have the moral sense to make those criticisms so if and when I do.

      For those who do criticize this sort of person, I only ask that they limit their statements to the sort of Christians. Rather than speak against “religion”, they should speak against “monstrous religion”.

      I think that is both more fair minded and more morally right than lumping all religious people into a condemning remark.

      But I suspect that you’d largely agree with that. Mostly, I hope all is well with you.

      • violetwisp

        Interesting points. You’re right that we’re all deluded and indoctrinated in some way, and perhaps in some respects, in some versions, Christianity is a preferable delusion for humankind.

        One things about all this that intrigues me. Your posts are always so general in nature that I actually have no idea what you believe. So I want to ask you a few questions, if you don’t mind:
        1. Should Christian gay people be allowed to formalise their relationships through the traditional ritual of marriage?
        2. Should women be submissive to their husbands?
        3. Should women be allowed to instruct men in religious matters?
        4. Do you believe the god God drowned his entire creation in a global flood (barring Noah’s family)?

        • Frank Morris

          1. Of course, yes. Love is a beautiful thing, isn’t it?
          2. No, nobody is in charge because of gender.
          3. Yes. Again, what difference does gender make besides anatomy?
          4. No, it is not possible nor rational. The god I believe seems to exist is constructive, not destructive. The writer of the Noah story has a genocidal view of God I do not share. I am more inclined to agree with those who say God is Love.

        • violetwisp

          Em, thanks for your answers Frank. Are you Debilis in disguise? I’m not generally interested in what everyone thinks about these things, I was just trying to understand more about the god Debilis believes in.

        • Debilis

          Yes, I suppose I must plead guilty to the charge of generality. I’ve been arguing for what C.S. Lewis called “mere” Christianity.

          But to answer your questions (and adding that I’m not speaking for Christianity, but simply giving my take):

          1. It strikes most as strange when I say that I don’t have a strong opinion on this. I lean toward ‘yes’, and otherwise confess that I’ve not read much scholarly work on the subject.

          2. Here, I get suspicious of what people mean by this phrase. As a married man, I’m utterly terrified when I think about what the Bible demands in terms of how I’m to treat my wife. I’ll never be that good a person.
          I believe (and, yes, this is on the advice of a theologian) that it is my job to contradict my wife only when doing so is in her own best interests: when she’s being self-destructive in some way.
          I hope that is a clear answer, but let me know.
          3. This is much easier: yes. I don’t see any good reason to think otherwise.
          4. I’m not a literalist. So, no. Honestly, I’ve never read that story with thought to the literal facts. I don’t know that I’d have much of interest to say on that point.

          Mostly, I don’t view any of these things as being central to Christianity. I know here are those who would disagree (though, statistically, they’re the minority).
          I also know that these are hot topics, whether it not I personally think they should be. I hope those answers were clear enough, but let me know if any of them weren’t.

        • violetwisp

          Thanks for your answers. They may not seem like important things to you but the general Christian understanding of 1,2 and 3 have had horrible effects on more than half the population in Christian countries for 2000 years, hindering progress in matters of equality. They still remain a huge stumbling block and ruin the lives of many people today.

          “I believe..that it is my job to contradict my wife only when doing so is in her own best interests: when she’s being self-destructive in some way. I hope that is a clear answer, but let me know.”
          It’s not clear. You didn’t answer with a simple yes or no, but oddly seemed to attempt to justify the stance in terms of how any human would treat any human being. I can only assume you think ‘yes’ and you think you’d be correct in your analysis of her behaviour because you’re the man, otherwise I assume you would have stressed the reciprocity of that arrangement.

          “I know here are those who would disagree (though, statistically, they’re the minority).” Are you sure about that? Given that Catholicism is the biggest Christian denomination and the Catholic Catechism disagrees with you, I’m fairly sure you’re wrong. You should have a look at the breakdown here to understand where the numbers are. Your liberal interpretations are in the minority. What are you?

        • Debilis

          You’re quite welcome.

          But, getting to the subject, I definitely disagree with the idea that what you’re calling the general understanding of issues 1, 2, and 3 really are the general understanding. It’s really only the fundamentalist interpretation. Beyond that, I have to say that the phrase “ruin the lives” is a bit dramatic for me. Certainly, there are injustices, but it’s only a very small view of life, and a big view of the reach of fundamentalism would lead to this conclusion.

          As to the issue of marriage, you seem to have deeply misunderstood here, and that’s probably my fault.
          What I meant to say was, that the language used in the Bible is not easily translatable into modern terms. It’s perfectly obvious, when one actually reads what the Bible says about leadership and service, that the pop culture understanding of this passage is horribly wrong. You seem to be trying to press me into a yes (that is, a complete agreement with the terrible understanding of this passage) or a no (that is, a complete rejection of the passage altogether). What’s left off of this list of options is how I actually understand the passage.

          For instance, you seem very confident that I believe I know how to interpret every action of my wife. I don’t. Rather, I was pointing out that I married to a person who, very often is overworked, overstressed, and in need of my advice and help. For me to refuse to say “you’re overworking yourself, take a breath and let me handle that” is to hide behind some pleasant sounding idea that’s not actually helpful to my wife. I’d be much more lazy, and much less helpful to her, if I were to take your view.

          So, it’s simply untrue that I think I know anything on the grounds that I’m a man. I never claimed that. You’re adding that (completely unfairly). Not every nuanced answer is a cover for unpopular opinions, no matter what the new atheist catechism says.

          What I claimed was that I am responsible to be good to my wife. I claim that the biblical rules for this are much harsher and more demanding than the current social dogma. How you turn that into chauvinism is beyond me.

          So, given these clarifications, it should be fairly obvious that little to nothing that I’ve claimed is opposed to the stance of the majority of Catholics. Or the majority in most other denominations.

          But, I’m not terribly concerned whether or not I’m in the majority. My view is my view, and that is the view that needs to be addressed if one is going to address me.

          Really, it looks a lot more like you’re trying to discredit my position via association. That is, it looks a lot like you’re trying to drag me into a fundamentalist understanding, and attack that rather than deal with the actual arguments I’ve actually given.

          I hope not, and I’m open to correction, but that is how this reads.

          None of this, after all, shows that atheism is true. None of this shows that religion in general is bad for society. None of this shows the slightest thing about my beliefs to be false, or bad.

          Rather, it looks a lot more like a very typical debate move, where one chooses to react in disgust to certain ideas, which demonstrably aren’t the ones I’m defending, in lieu of discussing the actual subject of the basics of Christianity.

          After all, everything you say could be true and that wouldn’t go the slightest distance toward showing Christianity to be false-or its basic claims harmful. At best, it shows that some claims of Christianity oppose the relativistic moral claims of popular culture. But I’m not convinced that it shows even this much.

    • Frank Morris

      VW, your objections to what you call Christian belief do not seem to fit what Jesus actually said all that well. I would think an evaluation of Christianity would entail the words of Jesus, as documented. The failings of those who misuse his teachings are not Jesus.

      Did Jesus oppose anything that two consenting adults choose to do sexually? I don’t know. At a time when prostitution was considered an offense punishable by death, Jesus allegedly associated with prostitutes and saved a prostitute’s life. He didn’t seem to care that most people bad-mouthed him for it.

      I’m not a biblical scholar, I admit, but I don’t think it was Jesus who made the “submissive” comment, was it? I am pretty sure he never made any comments about birth control.

      I do believe Jesus did claim that there are evil spirits that try to deceive us, but I’m not so sure he claimed that we are born evil. He submitted to baptism by John, we are told.

      Jesus, and thus Christian belief, is more about forgiving your enemy, having mercy on those in need and a healthy dose of questioning those who hold positions of power within the church.

      To me that is the Christian form of theism, but there is also much to be said about all religious beliefs, most of which are a far-reaching benefit to society.

      • violetwisp

        “The failings of those who misuse his teachings are not Jesus.” So basically the god you think you’re following bears little resemblance to the god that most Christians for most of the history of Christianity have believed they’re following? And almost no resemblance to the god depicted in the Old Testament?

        • Frank Morris

          VW, I would not believe something exists because of what I think some people believed hundreds of years ago.

          …let alone over 2000 years ago.

          I believe in something if the facts support it.

          My journey, as I have already told you, is a long and gradual one, following nothing but the most certain scientific evidence.

          If you refer to “Christian” I assume you are referring to Jesus. He wasn’t even in the OT. I find wisdom in his teachings, but this does not align me with any caricature that you can attribute to any so-called “Christian” in history.

          I suspect you would not want to be in guilt by association with many of the atheists in history I could name either.

        • violetwisp

          “I suspect you would not want to be in guilt by association with many of the atheists in history I could name either.”

          If you can name a unifying text we base our beliefs on, that might make sense. Not believing undetectable creator deities exist isn’t much of a unifying ideology. Believing an invisible creator deity left you the same text as guidance gives you a lot in common with other Christians.

        • Debilis

          I’d like to interject that believing in the truth of materialism (as every atheist I’ve ever encountered does) is a unifying belief.

        • violetwisp

          Is believing what we see before us seriously a distinguishing unifying belief? And is that comparable with accepting a huge tome of stories compiled over hundreds of years is a guidebook sent by a creator deity? It seems quite different to me.

        • Debilis

          We all believe what we see before us. That’s not enough to make one a materialist.

          It is taking the position that one shouldn’t believe anything that can’t be seen that is the unifying factor. It took quite a bit of writing, over hundreds of years, to develop the view that the principals of science are the only way to gain knowledge. The line runs from Descartes, through people like Kant and Hume, into the Enlightenment propaganda, past Ayer and Russel, straight down to people like Dawkins.

          Of course, most atheists haven’t actually read these books, but simply absorb the view through conversation and other expressions of culture. But that makes them more, not less, like most religious people, who simply absorb their views culturally.

          To the extent that an atheist reads Dawkins (or whoever) and thinks that these ideas are “just obvious”, because they seem obvious to him/her, that person isn’t looking past our current cultural assumptions. Those who know the history to which I’ve alluded know that materialism is a particular culture, and that materialists are as much a unified group as Christians or Muslims.

          The fact that this isn’t common knowledge is why I talk about materialism so often: I think we should all know where our fundamental assumptions come from.

        • Frank Morris

          VW, I would say materialistic atheism is a refusal to accept what you see before you. It is basically a fear of, or refusal to accept, reality.

          I would also call it a unifying belief, a very unusual one, but unifying for sure. One actually COULD be an atheist without being a materialist, but I don’t know any atheist who isn’t materialist. And you certainly have your texts. They just aren’t as best-selling as the bible, which BTW was not sent by a deity, but written by people.

          On the other hand what you are claiming to be a “unifying belief” among Christians is quite the minority opinion. I could find any group of people in the world and find disagreement with the views of a minority of them.

          I would suspect that brutal mistreatment of women and gays are much higher per capita among atheists and that most genocides have been driven by atheist tyrants.

          Certainly groups of religious folks do great good for the world, especially the downtrodden, poor and sick. Its easy to single out the very worst among a group and to try to throw out the good with the bad, but it is not helpful.

          The primary and overriding theme of Christianity is to treat others the way you would like to be treated. That is about as good as it gets.

        • cogitatingduck

          This thread is remarkable for the truly diverse views of its participants. I would interject that Christian ethics are culminated in Matthew 25: Love God with all your heart, and your neighbor as yourself. However, Christian belief is also about affirming the proposition that the historical person Jesus is divine. Without that, all we have are nice sayings that anyone can pick and choose from. No problem with that per se, but I affirm that God’s will and truth are expressed and knowable in the Bible. The focus on how women and homosexually-oriented people are treated is an important ethical issue that no way is easily exegeted from the Bible though. Anyone who is acting like a jerk, justifying it with Bible passages is mistaken in applying ethics from the Bible.

        • Frank Morris

          What you are doing, violetwisp, is expressing a kind of religious intolerance that is very much akin to those who condemn people for their sexual orientation. You are stereotyping and then condemning an entire group based on your narrow and darkly slanted viewpoint.

          You are like the bigot who condemns all blacks because a disproportionate number are accused of crimes. They stereotype based on percentage points and feel justified in branding all blacks by the same label, just as you clump all theists under the same hatred. A white criminal is put in a better light in their view than a black who has never committed an offense in his life.

          Over 90% of adult Americans are theists. It would be extremely difficult for absolutely none of them to go off on an unfortunate tangent. Yet you want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

          You direct your venom against those who, with a few regrettable exceptions, stand up for the same values of inclusion that you do. Thus, you hurt, rather than enhance, your cause.

        • violetwisp

          I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean by intolerance and venom with regards to anything I’ve stated on this post. This is about whether atheists caricature the god God and I’m just trying to make the point that a straightforward reading of the Bible, especially the Old Testament, gives an understanding of a jealous, nasty and vicious being. I do understand that Christian’s take their ‘feeling’ of a benevolent being and can use many of the words in the New Testament to update that impression and then project it back on the Old Testament god.

          Many Muslims also think that Allah is loving and merciful. Have you read the Koran? I get no sense of it there either.

        • Frank Morris

          VW, this is certainly a softer tone than claiming Christianity ruins the lives of half the population, which is where the word “venom” seemed applicable. I think that the topic here is to focus on the root cause of the hatred: stereotyping.

          To carry my previous analogy further, you remind me of those who point to gangster rap songs as evidence that blacks are violent criminals. Yes, some songs written and sung by African Americans do advocate violent and criminal behavior, but these songs do not represent a common “unifying” theme among blacks, even though a “straightforward reading” of the lyrics are offensive.

          Few theists consider God to be nasty and murderous and the majority don’t ascribe to biblical literalism. What Debilis is trying to tell you is that you are not describing theists very well, and he ought to know because he is one.

          You are trying to portray 90% of the population under a description that fits only the worst among them, a very small percentage. Then you attack the entire group as whole rather than focus on your specific complaints.

        • violetwisp

          Sigh. The largest Christian denomination in the world is Catholicism. They don’t allow women to be priests or leaders in their power framework, they don’t allow their people to use contraception because the woman’s role is to breed for her husband. This is discrimination that affects the lives of women.

          The largest growing Christian denomination in the world is evangelicalism, who tend towards the less egalitarian interpretation of women submitting and men being the head of the marriage (I’m still at a loss how anyone can see this as an expression of equality). I’m sure wherever you and Fide live, everyone goes for the modern interpretation that pretends submission isn’t demeaning and doesn’t suggest a power imbalance, but you really have to look at the global picture.

        • Frank Morris

          VW, I know dozens if not hundreds of Catholics and not one of them would ever tell me that a woman’s job is to “breed for her husband”.

          Opposition to contraception, also not a unifying theme among Christians, is based upon respecting the life of the sperm and egg, not an oppression of females. They are generally as opposed to condoms as they are to birth control pills, so this is not an example of discrimination.

          Christianity looks to do good in the world, but even good people can disagree about what is right or wrong. One Christian may want to protect everyone, including the unborn, while others show more concern for those already born. Both are trying to do what is right for others, and neither is an evil oppressor.

          I would not say “submission isn’t demeaning” so much as submission is mutual and good. The fact that one theist used the word “submit” one time in history means nothing really. It is a reflection of an outdated culture. Neither gender is the “head” of a household in modern theism.

          As to the head of the Catholic church, I agree with you and have already pointed out the fact that women aren’t allowed to be priests. This is a major problem for Catholics and one reason they are losing adherents (and short on priests!)

          I can’t reject all theism because of this, however, nor does this glaring failure of one denomination mean there is no God.

          God does not discriminate against anyone. People do.

  • paarsurrey

    violetwisp :May 10th, 2014 at 2:46 am

    None of the above points is the core teaching of any religion. These are all peripheral issues not the basics of religion.

  • Anonymous

    To believe that this universe came out of nothing, means nothing, and goes nowhere; takes more blind faith than any religionist dressed in their Sunday best can muster.
    For the person that has ‘come to believe’ solely by the evidence of their senses and experience, you’ll usually find no argument in him.
    I find it is those who have accepted the existence of an all powerful creator through organized religion that seem to have a need to impress upon others WHAT they believe, and how You, no matter what you believe about an all powerful creator, aren’t quite ‘getting it’, and are doomed to their idea of a ‘hell’, UNLESS you immediately go to their church and get what they got.
    The truth is that most people have a natural state of doing nothing about any inclination toward spiritual ideas. Pain is the touchstone to ALL spiritual growth. Either a little pain or a lot.
    If my experience is that absolutely EVERYTHING comes from some source, how could I possibly accept the idea that existence originated from nothing? If logic leads me to understand that this universe can have no boundary, because something would have to be beyond that boundary; thus there is NO limit. Eternity and an infinite intelligent all powerful creative intelligence has to be the source of existence. More than that is out of my experience and reasonableness.I promise to NOT intentionally insult anyone here. I find no reason to argue with those whose beliefs are different than mine. In a room full of healthy people there’s room for more than one opinion.
    NOBODY has SOLID physical evidence of a God, or of no God.

    • Frank Morris

      This is an excellent comment. Please post here more often. In fact, this may be the best comments section yet on this site. I don’t disagree with anybody at all.

      I respect all religious beliefs, including atheism, but the one belief that just seems to violate all knowledge is atheistic materialism. I have tried my best to understand it and it just continuously seems to be something that can’t possibly be factually correct.

      At the very least, I would think that all people should understand that conscious intelligent agency exists. What do we really know, however, about the intelligent forces behind life and the universe?

      I agree that it is those people who claim to KNOW all the answers who look the most foolish.

  • comments of the month | violetwisp

    […] start with a delectable delight of curiously formal language from Cogitating Duck on Fide’s post, attempting to make the Christian god God as depicted in the Bible sound not […]

  • paarsurrey

    @ Debilits

    “But, I’m not terribly concerned whether or not I’m in the majority. My view is my view, and that is the view that needs to be addressed if one is going to address me.

    Really, it looks a lot more like you’re trying to discredit my position via association. That is, it looks a lot like you’re trying to drag me into a fundamentalist understanding, and attack that rather than deal with the actual arguments I’ve actually given.

    I hope not, and I’m open to correction, but that is how this reads.
    None of this, after all, shows that atheism is true. None of this shows that religion in general is bad for society. None of this shows the slightest thing about my beliefs to be false, or bad.”

    I think these are reasonable points.
    Friend violetwisp should address them.


    • violetwisp

      “But, I’m not terribly concerned whether or not I’m in the majority. My view is my view, and that is the view that needs to be addressed if one is going to address me.”
      I agree and I didn’t mean to get sidetracked. I was responding to your assertion that your views are those generally held by most Christians. You’re wrong. They are the views of the liberal Christian minority.

      “Really, it looks a lot more like you’re trying to discredit my position via association. That is, it looks a lot like you’re trying to drag me into a fundamentalist understanding, and attack that rather than deal with the actual arguments I’ve actually given.”
      As a women, the passages on submission to men in the Bible obviously get under my skin, and were in fact key in my deconversion. I’ve read many explanations from people about how they’re not as harmful as they seem. I don’t doubt you have an equal relationship with your wife, but how does your description of the submission you think is correct differ from how she behaves towards you? She too would point out if you were engaged in self-destructive behaviour. Why do you think the Bible would use submission for women only?

      “None of this, after all, shows that atheism is true. None of this shows that religion in general is bad for society. None of this shows the slightest thing about my beliefs to be false, or bad”
      I wasn’t setting out to do any of the above. I wanted to understand how you practically apply your faith to common situations.

      • paarsurrey

        @ violetwisp:May 14th, 2014 at 11:14 am

        “As a women, the passages on submission to men in the Bible obviously get under my skin, and were in fact key in my deconversion.”

        I am a Muslim, so I don’t have to defend Christianity; that will be done by Christians themselves.

        I will defend here Religion in general.

        These are cultural points; and hence do not belong to the core teachings of Christianity and for that matter to any other religion. The subordinate creeds must be interpreted under the core teachings of a religion.

        Jesus did not say anything against women or against their rights. He was compassionate and respectful to them.

        When society moves from primitive social set-ups; say from tribal to democracy etc; the social perspectives also changes and with that the relative religious implications also change while; the core teachings remain intact.

        It could be understood as a cultural effect.

        The Atheists never had any Atheistic political role, as a well-nit unit to play in any phase of the human history in any region of the world; and whenever they happened to have one; they disowned it later due to its failure.

        If one differs from a cultural point with any religion; that is not a valid reason to become an Atheist. In such a situation one only has to try for reformation of that religion on that cultural point.

        One could understand it easily if an Atheist looks for as to what his fellow Atheists were doing at such a point of time.


      • Frank Morris

        VW, what it seems to me that you are doing is precisely what Debilis said happens in his original article. You are proving his point nicely.

        Still, your points are not completely without merit. I have met religious fundamentalists who have strong feelings against homosexuality. I’m not gay myself, but I find those sentiments offensive. They are hateful and unChristian.

        It is also clear that in the Catholic church, as well as some other religions, women are treated differently than men. Catholic women can not be priests, for example. That is wrong and I will not defend it.

        Further, although Debilis and I do not take the Bible literally, there are those who do.

        Still, if the alternative is to believe that humans are globs of lucky chemicals that only SEEM to have an intelligent will, I have to part ways with you abruptly. I’m not going to believe that functional order is caused by random chance just because of a bunch of self-righteous quacks hate gays.

        Personally I’d go with treating others the way I’d like to be treated – and that includes women and gays – which is what Christianity stands for.

      • Debilis

        Okay, this strikes me as a fair and kind reply. Thank you.

        I’ll not get into whether or not my views are a minority position. If we want to look at studies, we can. Otherwise, I’ll leave that alone.

        Knowing what I do about the chauvinism of the church, I can definitely understand why you’d be irritated, if not deeply offended, by quite a few of the teachings there.

        So, to put it simply, I don’t take that view. Rather, I take the Bible to mean something quite different. The problem, in my opinion, is that the church has overwhelmingly insisted that women follow the teachings directed at them, without any consideration to whether or not men should, likewise, follow the teachings directed at us. The two taken together are indeed an equal relationship. Either one, in isolation, will be a form of abuse.

        I’m personally of the belief that men and women, though equal, are different. I think this accounts for the differing advice given the husbands and wives. But I don’t for one instant think that the conservative image of men bossing women around is a remotely good thing. I think you’re absolutely right to be bothered by this.

        Personally, anytime I hear a man quote lines to his wife about being submissive, I respond by quoting the instructions meant for him. First, they always hate it. Second, it’s always obvious that they are in the middle of breaking those rules simply by demanding what they are demanding.

        I married a woman because I like women. The way some of these men act, you’d think they got married because they don’t.

        So, why did the Bible use submission for women only? It didn’t. If one reads closely it says two things that we’ve entirely ignored.

        First, it commands husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church. Christ loved the church by working tirelessly for us, day and night, for years. All of his actions, full-time, we’re in the service of the church. He was, essentially, a willing slave. And, when the church completely rejected him, he decided it was better to face torture and execution than be without us.

        Ordering men to treat their wives this way is simply incompatible with a chauvinistic view of marriage.

        Second, and similarly, the Bible claims that anyone who is to be a leader, is to be slave of all. So, any intimation that men are to be leaders of their wives is an intimation that men are to be the slaves of their wives.

        I know people keep trying to get chauvinism from the Bible. I know many do it for self gain. But this is simply not what the text says. And, personally, I delight in pointing it out to them.

        In any case, I hope that strikes you as more reasonable than the “Biblical” view of marriage you’ve had quoted at you.

        Last, I’d like to add that, if I’m right, there is a transcendental truth to the claim that these chauvinists are wrong. It isn’t (again, if my religion is right) simply be that they contradict the current cultural value of equality. It would be that they are fundamentally wrong.

        In fact, it is largely because I know that they are fundamentally wrong that I can’t accept atheism.

        • violetwisp

          Would it strike you as a natural balance of equality if the instructions read like this?

          “Men should be submissive to their wives as if to the Lord because the wife is head of his husband just as Christ is Head of the body the Church, as well as its Savior. As the Church submits to Christ, so husbands should submit to their wives in everything”

          It’s interesting that men (and women at times) can be so blinkered to the truth of the words, when they want to see a nice meaning.

        • Debilis

          I’d say just the opposite: that people are blinded to the truth of what the words say because they want to see chauvinism (either to defend their lifestyles or to attack Christianity).

          So let me turn this around: would you see it as more empowering to women if, instead, it said something like “wives, love your husbands as Christ loved the church, serving him and sacrificing yourself for him.”

          That’s the core advice the Bible gives to husbands. Do you really think this is indisputably better? If one knows how to read in cultural context, the Bible is remarkably affirming of the rights of women. It takes great mental leaps (such as refusing to look seriously at the demands it makes of husbands) to conclude that it does the opposite.

          Moreover, this may be a reason to reject chauvinistic attitudes and teachings in the church (by all means, do so), but it is no reason to turn to atheism. After all, atheism precludes the possibility of there being any real right and wrong in the matter. I believe chauvinism to be wrong because I believe in moral truth. Those who believe that only the physical exists can say that many people don’t like chauvinism, or that it is opposed to our cultural traditions, or that it won’t help those men reproduce in greater numbers.

          Those claims may or may not be true, but the point is that what the atheist can’t say is that the chauvinist is actually wrong. As someone who knows that they are wrong, I’m forced to reject atheism.

        • violetwisp

          That’s interesting. Why do you need moral truths to feel comfortable about actions? I think we are species that grows with knowledge and experience, and our sense of more useful behaviours develops as we know more. Slavery is understood to be wrong now because we understand more about other people and, in theory at least so far, value all lives equally. With our knowledge we can project back in history and say it was always wrong but we didn’t know. However, that doesn’t make it a moral truth, and the Bible is testament to that, even from a Christian point of view.

          A chauvinist can easily justify their actions using the Bible, certainly more easily that you. They can highlight men being the head of women, women being in submission, women never teaching men, and women living out the curse of Eve doing little more than producing children and keeping home. It’s maybe not quite so popular an interpretation in this day and age, but it still has more biblical backing than your point of view.

        • Debilis

          I didn’t say that I needed moral truths to feel comfortable about actions. I said that moral truth was the only way to say that chauvinism is wrong in any rational sense. If you don’t believe in moral truth, then I honestly have no idea what your complaint is. You may not, personally, like people who mistreat their wives, but your opinion isn’t their problem.

          I happen to believe that they are wrong, of course, but (as you are arguing that there is no truth value to the statement) you are defending their view as every bit as right as your own. You’re specifically telling me that this is purely emotional appeal: you have no rational basis for your position on chauvinism.

          Further, you’ve strongly implied that this issue is more significant than the rational proofs I’ve given against materialism and for theism, but I don’t see that. In fact, I don’t see a valid argument here at all. Why is the fact that you have a different opinion than some other people a reason why anyone shouldn’t believe in God?

  • how to justify embarrassing bible verses – part 3 | violetwisp

    […] best apologist blogging buddy Fide Dubitandum (which Google tells me means ‘trustworthy’ in English) provided this explanation for […]

    • Debilis

      Slight, off topic, comment (only if you are interested). Fide Dubitandem means “faith and doubt”. I happen to believe that both are inescapable for humans.

  • paarsurrey

    @ violetwisp : May 16th, 2014 at 1:19 am

    “Muslims also think that Allah is loving and merciful. Have you read the Koran? I get no sense of it there either.”

    It is mentioned in the beginning of almost every Chapter of Quran:

    “[1:1] In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful.”

    The verse is very clear; what is in it that you cannot understand?

  • Dale

    The discourse here is stimulating in its passion. How does one determine what is being communicated in the comments is actually a Christian teaching and not a generalization? I am not even sure if what is being claimed about “the church” is referring to Christianity in general or a specific denomination. I am inquiring if references of exact passage/doctrine from official sources can be provided for the claims here in order to read and examine the source further?

    One note of preference on my part in order to locate information:

    1. Sacred Scripture — please indicate the translation a verse comes from; as book, chapter, and numbering differ even prior to the interpretation of meaning.
    2. Church teaching/doctrine — please indicate the denomination, reference information, and link to (ideal) or specify where documentation can be obtained.

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