Fundamentalisms

A few years ago I was associated with a group of “progressive christians” – the labelling was entirely theirs. They were an intelligent, passionate mob, keen on Jack Spong, Karen Armstrong, Gretta Vosper, and other thinkers of like mind. But here’s the thing: these folk were not only “progressive christians”; they were actually “fundamentalist progressive christians”. That is, they sincerely believed that if everyone else believed what they believed then all would be well with the world. The world’s problems would be solved “if everyone else was just like us”. Of course they never said that in exactly those words, but it was nevertheless the underlying message in all their conversations.

I’ve also mixed with “fundamentalist conservative Christians” who think exactly the same thing: “if everyone else thought just like us, the world’s problems would disappear.” And, just to round things out nicely, I have some “fundamentalist atheist” friends, atheists who don’t just not believe in god, but who are evangelical in their zeal to convert all theists to their way of thinking. They actually go beyond simply co-existing alongside people of faith; they burn with zeal because “if everyone thought like us then the world’s problems would be fixed”.

To quote from Urban Dictionary:

An evangelical atheist is one who not only believes there is no god or other supreme being, but is obsessed with convincing everyone around them to become an atheist too, usually through hard-line intolerance (the kind they accuse other religions of). When cornered they usually try to put down their opponent’s religion and bash them for ‘blind faith’, not realizing that their belief that there is no god is no more or less valid or provable than the other guy’s belief that there is one.

This quote on evangelical atheism is from Reza Aslan (and yes, that’s his surname, and no, he’s not the world’s greatest scholar; nevertheless… ):

The parallels with religious fundamentalism are obvious and startling: the conviction that they are in sole possession of truth (scientific or otherwise), the troubling lack of tolerance for the views of their critics (Dawkins has compared creationists to Holocaust deniers), the insistence on a literalist reading of scripture (more literalist, in fact, than one finds among most religious fundamentalists), the simplistic reductionism of the religious phenomenon, and, perhaps most bizarrely, their overwhelming sense of siege: the belief that they have been oppressed and marginalized by Western societies and are just not going to take it anymore.

One of the scarier moments of my life was being attacked by a fundamentalist atheist who absolutely insisted that I take everything in the bible literally. When I declared that I was not a creationist, that I believe in evolution, I was met with the same contempt as I might have expected from a creationist! She (this particular atheist was of the female persuasion) also displayed that quirk pointed to by Aslan: the conviction that the world is out to get atheists, “we are persecuted for our lack of faith”.

And this is where I part company from hardline atheists. From time to time I agree with their criticism of the nuttiness of much religious belief, but when I read lines like, “My concern is with ongoing bias and discrimination against non believers”… Seriously? I have no problem accepting that fundamentalist christians are dismissive of atheists, but I’d love to know just how people of faith discriminate against atheists. Perhaps if an atheist applied for a job teaching in a seminary?

I’m also affronted when atheists cry, “No. You’re absolutely and unequivocally wrong.” And then continue their argument in capital letters. I have been under the impression for some time now that all caps is the equivalent of shouting. Much against my will, I find myself wondering why atheists in arguments with christians just won’t let it go; are we seeing troubling signs of fundamentalism here?

On the other hand, christians do need to be willing to listen to and consider the arguments of those who offer a different viewpoint. Why not acknowledge that “the method of science is evidence-based decision-making”? What’s so scary about that? Why not agree that “When a faith-based claim is contrary to and in conflict with [an] evidence-based understanding, it must be considered as an unjustified belief”? Is this not so? If I believe that I can fly but the evidence suggests otherwise, then isn’t it an unjustified belief?

Of course, for some christians there are much more important things to defend than my aerial delusions: this is about Truth with a capital T. For some, the bible is the ultimate repository of truth, even when the evidence concludes otherwise. I’m sorry, folks, but Adam and Eve were not real people. God didn’t wander around in a garden with them, nor did a talking serpent cause the fall of humankind. It’s a story. That’s it, that’s all. It may be a useful story, but it’s not history.

Which, after much rambling, brings us back to an important question. A friend asked just recently, “Are we bound by the Old Testament or not? Which bits of the bible are binding?” To which my answer is, “No, we are most definitely not bound by the OT. Nor are we bound by the New Testament either.” Being a christian is not about being bound by anything. It’s about accepting that there is wisdom (perhaps even capital-T Truth) in loving our neighbour as much as we love ourselves. And then trying to live a life which embodies that principle (“incarnates” that principle?).

What about loving god? Well, the bible tells us (this is one of those bits I quite consciously cherry-pick) that you can’t love god if you don’t love your neighbour. The two are not just inseparable; they are the same thing.

Any bit in the bible which encourages loving is to be embraced; any bit which don’t is to be rejected. OT or NT, if it’s exclusionary and violent, flick it. If it’s challenging us to love, consume it.

Well, that’s my answer. And if everyone else thought like me, the world’s problems would simply disappear.

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70 Responses to Fundamentalisms

  1. unkleE says:

    I don’t think exactly like you, so I don’t see the problems disappearing just yet! 🙂 But I do think enough like you to agree about most of what you say here. So now there’s two of us. Only about 7 billion to go!

  2. Eva says:

    I’ve been reading on whether atheists are discriminated against and I can’t find anything that convinces me that it’s a particularly valid claim- although I’m happy to continue to search.

    I was a pretty arrogant atheist in my younger days. although I don’t think I ever felt persecuted. Completely and totally right and sure that believers were absolutely and unequivocally wrong (BECAUSE SCIENCE) but not persecuted. I couldn’t see things from another viewpoint because I truly believed that the other viewpoint was delusional. Thank god I’m not there any more.

  3. Heather says:

    You’ve made some ponder-worthy points here.

    Personally, I dislike the use of labels as so many of them tend to pack a certain amount of unflattering ( And sometimes untrue) baggage. But, I suppose I’d have to wear the fundamentalist Christian tag if someone forced the issue. So I thank you for the opportunity to see what it might look like from a distance.

    • kingstonjack says:

      Yes, I know: labels are very often unhelpful. In this instance, they’re simply a mechanism for delineating opposite sides in the argument, when the reality is far more complex and nuanced. I’m guessing that wearing the fundamentalist christian tag might not be your preferred option, just as I would rather not wear the liberal christian one. One way of demonstrating our openness might be to read one another’s blogs, hey?

      • Heather says:

        One way of demonstrating our openness might be to read one another’s blogs, hey?

        I’m still considering some things you’ve said here. If you aren’t aggravated by my inflexibility in some areas, we might be able to learn from one another.

  4. tildeb says:

    There’s a lot wrong with your post but I will mention only the premises you use to start this post.

    To begin with, fundamentalism is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as 1: A form of a religion, especially Islam or Protestant Christianity, that upholds belief in the strict, literal interpretation of scripture, and 2: Strict adherence to the basic principles of any subject or discipline. Your definition (if everyone thought like us then the world’s problems would be fixed) is specifically created to allow you to accept a false equivalency, namely, that non belief in god is another kind of belief.

    You use a vague sense of the second definition, namely, that people who hold to secular Enlightenment principles of autonomy, legal equality, and dignity of personhood do so for reasons of dependent belief equivalent to the same kind of belief that is used to believe in some god. But is it?

    No. Apples and oranges.

    Next, you desire to present non belief as if it were another kind of belief. This is important to establishing your argument about those loud-mouthed and hardline atheists. But let’s see how well (and how accurately) this works outside of this particular instance: if we substitute, say, a bicycle or fish or woman for term ‘belief’ as you use it, we quickly see just how ludicrous this re-defining tactic really is, that you’re trying to argue that a non bicycle is really just another kind of bicycle, a non fish really just another kind of fish, a non woman really just another kind of woman.

    This is an abuse of the language and rests on accepting the negative inverse (a favourite tactic of WL Craig), namely that non belief in a god means believing in no god.

    This is false… not because I believe it is so but because we have good evidence to the contrary. Granted, I have yet to encounter a New Atheist who agrees with this negative and I’m widely read, but I rely on much better evidence than that. Even Dawkins tells us that on a non belief scale from one to seven, his doubt in the existence of some god is a six. Most New Atheists clearly identify themselves as agnostic in regards to the knowledge claim about the existence of some god but admit atheism for the status of their belief in the plausibility and probability and likelihood of any specific claim in the existence of any particular god.

    So you begin this post on a grounding that is solely of your own making (and fictional) which you then impose on non believers (as if non fictional)… only to arrive at the conclusion you have already preordained, that non believers who dare to publicly criticize religious privilege in the public domain (and do so effectively) are ‘fundamentalist’. And if they dare seek to convince others why the pernicious effects of such privilege should and can be addressed by removing it (what you deem to be ‘crying’), well then, we’re dealing with evangelical fundamentalists who ‘burn with zeal’ in their attempts to ‘convert’ people (just love the non biased terminology you use!). See? The atheist reasons and their expression of them are obviously equivalent to religious evangelical fundamentalists! Presto!

    Now you’ve identified the ‘extremes’ in this dialogue and we can all go back to the reasonable middle ground of tolerance and respect… equivalent to allowing religious privilege unfettered access and promotion in the public domain without a peep of criticism or you’ll smear those who speak out knowing all this as militant and strident and arrogant evangelical fundamentalist atheists.

    Nice.

    With this highly negative description now in place (known to atheists as the STFU ground rules to meaningful and respectful ‘dialogue’), let’s all get along, right?

    Umm…no.

    • Heather says:

      To begin with, fundamentalism is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as 1: A form of a religion, especially Islam or Protestant Christianity, that upholds belief in the strict, literal interpretation of scripture, and 2: Strict adherence to the basic principles of any subject or discipline.

      By this definition, hard-line atheists are fundamentalist. Despite a denial of adequate evidence for a supernatural deity, an atheist still effectively worships at the altar of Human Intellect. And the liturgical order of service is provided by Scientific writings rather than the text of the Holy Scriptures.

      The reality is that human beings were designed to worship. And the evidence indicates that worship we will.
      The only question that remains to be answered on an individual basis is “Who will ultimately be glorified?”

      • tildeb says:

        Heather, I don’t know what a ‘hardline’ atheist is; it seems to me that in regards to theism – belief in the existence of a god or gods, specifically of a creator who intervenes in the universe, OED – one either is a theist or is not a theist. The ‘hardline’ aspect is loaded only by how you think it alters the term. But I do know there is no regular community-building worship, no ‘scripture’, and no dogmatic ‘authority’. Think of atheists as you would cats and you’ll have a much better idea of who populates the ranks of atheists. The single thread of commonality is non belief in gods or a god.

        Again, if you want to learn about why people are susceptible to the allure of theism, religion won’t (because it can’t) do this job. Look instead to biology and neuroscience. That’s where you find explanatory models that aren’t based on first accepting on faith the supposed reality of Oogity Boogity intervening in the universe by the mechanism of POOF!ism.

      • Heather says:

        I don’t know what a ‘hardline’ atheist is….The single thread of commonality is non belief in gods or a god.
        Hardline: Firm and uncompromising, as in policy, position or stance. ( I got the definition from the dictionary).

        Regardless of the differing details in belief, an atheist who remains convinced at the core that “there is no God” is a hardliner.

        By definition, I am a hardline theist.

        But I do know there is no regular community-building worship, no ‘scripture’, and no dogmatic ‘authority’.

        In practice, atheists effectively practice a form of religion when exclusively “evidence-minded” individuals and communities converge and reinforce in one another the shared belief that God does not exist.

      • tildeb says:

        Heather, you clarify that “an atheist who remains convinced at the core that “there is no God” is a hardliner.” Well, that may be the case, but I don’t know any. Does that even matter to you?

        What I do know are many people who declare themselves agnostic in the matter of gods or a god. These atheists don’t think there are gods of a god for very good reasons… for exactly the same good reasons you employ to not believe in all kinds of claims. Does that make you a ‘hardliner’ in regards to claims you don’t find compelling… not just about claims in favour of gods different than yours but claims in all kinds of stuff… stuff you are asked to believe without the kind of compelling reasons you require to think it deserving of some higher level of confidence?

        Sure, you may shrug for some claims and neither know nor care if they may, in fact be true. You know… live and let live. But when it comes to something like the health and safety of your children and you are asked to put them at risk on trusting some claim (such as going to school with non vaccinated children) lacking the same equivalent compelling reasons atheists find absent, I don’t think you should be considered a ‘hardliner’ for demanding much better reasons (than from some administrator insisting all will be fine because, “I don’t believe in germ theory) in the name of your children’s health and safety. If that’s being a ‘hardliner’ then I think more us should take up the mantle.

    • kingstonjack says:

      Thanks for joining the fray, tildeb. And yes, you’re quite right that I’ve defined fundamentalism to suit myself.

      Having admitted that, let me suggest that it’s not quite the heinous crime you seem to be suggesting. For a start, fundamentalism is commonly used in the way I use it in the place I come from. I think we pretty much all understand that the term applies primarily but not exclusively to religious extremists. The OED second definition is pretty darn accurate when it comes to those I describe as fundamentalist atheists: those who decry any form of religious belief with the kind of vehemence that we know happens (and we do know, don’t we?) are “strictly adhering to the basic principles of their discipline”.

      You suggest that “the method of science is evidence-based decision-making” (over at The Aspirational Agnostic). Is it not reasonable for me to conclude that some atheists are fundamentalist based on the evidence of my encounter with my atheist friend’s atheist wife? Given that my explanation of what I believe (evolution not creationism) was outright denied (as in, “That’s not what you believe”) don’t I have some grounds for complaint?

      To suggest that Dawkins is not a fundamentalist because he’s a six on a seven point scale of non-belief is just a little bit… shall we say, hollow? Clearly Dawkins, being the scientist he is, is not going to make the ultimate categorical statement about the non-existence of god. For goodness’ sake, mathematicians are still holding back on 2+2=4, just in case there is some bizarre condition under which it is not true. Nonetheless, Dawkins’ attacks on religious belief pass way beyond any kind of moderate position on the subject. It seems to me (I won’t claim it as fact) that his publications, public appearances, interviews, etc. fit well with the Urban dictionary’s “obsessed with convincing everyone around them to become an atheist too, usually through hard-line intolerance” and Aslan’s “conviction that they are in sole possession of truth”.

      I must admit that I’m always amused when atheists struggle to admit that their position is one of “belief”. I believe in evolution. I believe in quantum physics and string theory. (I’m not suggesting that I understand them!) Belief is a part of everyday life; it just so happens that you believe there is no “plausibility and probability and likelihood … in the existence of any particular god”. That is a belief statement, isn’t it?

      Perhaps you might also explain the line about “people who hold to secular Enlightenment principles of autonomy, legal equality, and dignity of personhood”. Are you suggesting that these things define atheists? My reading of the term is that atheism is solely concerned with a-theism. Theism (at least as I understand it) is not anti-autonomy, anti-legal equality, nor anti-dignity of personhood. I think that Martin Luther King Jr might have said one or two things on these subjects and, if I remember correctly, he was not an atheist.

      You seem to struggle with my use of colourful words such as “zeal” and “convert”, yet you have no difficulty with “pernicious”, “unfettered privilege” and “smear”. And just to set the record straight, I too have been accused of being “militant, strident and arrogant”, but that was when I stood alongside my feminist wife, and the accusations came both from people of faith and atheists. I guess some of us just can’t win, huh?

      • tildeb says:

        Well,kj, abusing the language by calling New Atheists ‘fundamentalists’ engaged in ‘evangelizing’ is a ‘heinous crime’ (aka an intentional misrepresentation) if it builds an argument on false premises. This is what you’re doing. You’re busy creating a straw man so that you can knock it down later.

        Look, fundamentalism relates to upholding fundamental religious tenets when we’re speaking of theists. When we’re speaking of atheists, they share no fundamental tenets other than non belief in gods or a god. That’s the sum total of what defines an atheist and it’s equivalent to you not believing in Santa Claus. (Does this non belief you aim at poor old Santa make you a ‘fundamentalist’ a-Santa-ist? If you are discriminated against on this basis and dare to speak out on the unfairness of this, do you then become an ‘evangelical fundamentalist a-Santa-ist? Come on. It’s ridiculous; you’re trying to make an exception for atheists you won’t even apply to yourself in the same context.)

        And at the core of every religious belief must be an accepting belief in these certain identifiable tenets (after all, these fundamental tenets are what differentiate one religion from another).

        You claim, for example, to ‘believe’ in evolution and have been ‘scared’ in the past when challenged on this because of your fundamental and contrary religious beliefs to it and then try to blame the atheist for pointing it out! Unless you’re willing to put aside belief in any intervention in our biological past at any historical point by any divine agency (that I presume you call ‘God’), then you are not accepting evolution as it is defined, namely, a natural and unguided process that causes changes in the heritable traits of a population of organisms as successive generations replace one another. That’s evolution. Inserting some divine intervention at some (unknown but presumed historical) point as part of a fundamental religious belief means you are altering the term ‘evolution’ to what is known among biologists as theistic evolution… an oxymoron as any reasonable person can see. Your grounds for complaint are empty if you indeed presume divine intervention and causal effect from it.

        And no, it’s not ‘hollow’ to recognize that the supposed fundamental ‘belief’ that there is no god is not true when applied to those atheists smeared by the term ‘fundamentalist’. It’s in fact fatal to the claim you’re making about ‘fundamental’ atheist beliefs. It demonstrates that your claim is false.

        No scientist worthy of the name wants you to ‘believe’ in certain hypotheses and models like a religious faith-based belief. They want the models to be explanatory and they hope that the evidence gathered using the model will work. It almost always doesn’t! So the model changes and adapts and is sometimes discarded entirely. What scientists want is to understand how reality operates and this is long and hard process built on the efforts of many. It has nothing to do with ‘belief’ in the religious sense of the word and everything to do with the gaining and then exercise of applied knowledge. Models that withstand the rigor of this long process reach the level of theory and have earned by trial a very high degree of confidence. Granting not just a similar amount of confidence to causal claims but very often certainty to religious beliefs is not equivalent because the methods are antithetical in reaching them. Whereas science allows reality to arbitrate claims made about it, religious belief demands certain a priori confidence in some of them… and these are the ‘fundamental’ tenets that do not allow reality to arbitrate them but depend on the faith of its adherents to grant them legitimacy they cannot otherwise earn.

        I can demonstrate pernicious effect of privileging religion in the public domain and use the term intentionally to describe these caustic effects on human well-being. I can demonstrate the ongoing push by religious believers to get more – not less – religious privilege imposed on the public domain. I can demonstrate in this post alone how atheists who speak out against this religious privilege are unfairly attacked by those who wish to harm the reputation of a group of people by false accusations. I’ve already pointed out how you are doing this… by creating a straw man and making false equivalencies in order to define non belief as another kind of belief that is not just fundamentalist but evangelical.

        And yes, there is much in common between the discrimination faced by atheists today and other disenfranchized groups of people like feminists. The attacks use a common methodology very much based on promoting misrepresentations, smearing the character of those who demand equality rights, autonomy, and dignity of personhood in the public domain, and the underhanded questioning of motivation disrespectful of clearly established and obtainable goals of benefit to all.

  5. Heather says:

    Kingstonjack,
    I’m going to do my best to keep my keyboard closed and allow you to fight your own battle on this front. However, tildeb has a point.

    calling New Atheists ‘fundamentalists’ engaged in ‘evangelizing’ is a ‘heinous crime’ (aka an intentional misrepresentation) if it builds an argument on false premises.

    While I’m not about to presume to know whether you “intentionally misrepresented” your case, it is true that the word “evangelize” belongs exclusively to the realm of “proclaiming the gospel (Good News in relation to the Christian faith). As atheists have no such “Good News” to share, the word really does not apply.

    Perhaps the phrase “converse/instruct with the intent to convert” would be more appropriate in this case.

    Your use of “fundamentalist” actually applies quite well, though.

    You’ve left me considering some things about evidence. Perhaps, when the thoughts sort themselves, I may return to contribute something worthwhile to the discussion here?

  6. Heather says:

    tildeb,

    you clarify that “an atheist who remains convinced at the core that “there is no God” is a hardliner.” Well, that may be the case, but I don’t know any. Does that even matter to you?

    What I do know are many people who declare themselves agnostic in the matter of gods or a god. These atheists don’t think there are gods of a god for very good reasons…

    As you seem to agree with me that it is important to properly define the terms we are using, I believe it matters to both of us. By definition, an atheist is one who maintains disbelief or a denial of the existence of God.
    If a professed atheist is not immovably convinced there is no God, he is, as you said, an agnostic. By definition, an agnostic does not believe there is sufficient proof for the existence of God, yet does not deny the possibility that God does indeed exist. There is always be a measure of doubt in such a case, which can conflict with the desire to declare complete human autonomy.

    There is a fundamental difference in the two views.

    • tildeb says:

      I agree there is a difference… but they are not mutually exclusive, which is why the atheists I know (and have read) claim to a person to be agnostic atheists. That may sound confusing until you realize agnosticism is about a state of (usually arcane) knowledge (the root gnosis meaning knowledge) whereas atheism is about a state of belief about gods or a god (the root theos meaning god).

      I am a New Atheist and I am an agnostic atheist. I honestly don’t know if there is or is not a god and I would never claim to know one way or the other (the universe is a pretty big place, after all). But I do not believe there are any gods because I have no good reasons to think the possibility or probability or likelihood is anything other than nearly zero.

      I also recognize that religion is the Mothership (so to speak) of promoting faith-based belief – a method of inquiry that tries to justify itself as a virtue and utilizes the insertion of our (usually wishful) beliefs in place of reality. This method guarantees us a way to fool ourselves (also to pernicious effect).

      What I do know is that religious belief privileged in the public domain is pernicious (meaning this privilege causes harmful effects to the public). It is pernicious in many, many ways and is not mitigated by the net benefits of allowing this privilege to continue.

      Again, be careful of the difference between non belief in a positive claim (Santa Claus is real? I don;t believe it!) and twisting that non belief into a negative claim that requires belief (Santa Claus is not real? I believe that!) There is an important difference between these two claims. Atheists exercise the former; those who try to misrepresent them like to use the latter. But it’s still a misrepresentation.

  7. Heather says:

    OK kingstonjack,

    Hopefully, this isn’t too long and does not seem to be argumentative. You made me think, so I’m offering some feedback…

    I’ve also mixed with “fundamentalist conservative Christians” who think exactly the same thing: “if everyone else thought just like us, the world’s problems would disappear.”

    This is interesting. I’m definitely “conservative” on the Christian spectrum, but do not believe that homogenization of thought at this time will produce world peace. If everyone thought like me, I doubt I’d have much opportunity to grow. Besides, as I am relatively literal in my biblical interpretation, I do believe that Christ will one day return bodily and only then will we have true “peace on earth”.

    One of the scarier moments of my life was being attacked by a fundamentalist atheist who absolutely insisted that I take everything in the bible literally. When I declared that I was not a creationist, that I believe in evolution, I was met with the same contempt as I might have expected from a creationist!

    😦
    One of the potential hazards of learning to understand Scripture is in the discernment of what is literal, what is metaphorical and what aspects contain both elements . So, contrary to this atheist’s insistence, it is not necessary to be strictly literal with one’s interpretation, so long as it’s done in accordance with the intended message.
    Personally, I love the allegorical pictures which frequently show up within the text.

    On that same token, I believe Tildeb protested fairly accurately that one cannot satisfactorily combine belief in God with acceptance of evolutionary theory. The concept that God created everything from nothing is a strong biblical theme and identifies our Creator not as an impersonal “force”, but as personal and relational in nature. He either is the original cause of everything we see or He is not.

    But, I don’t hold you in contempt for your view. I have no idea exactly what you believe on that point or how you arrived there.

    I’m sorry, folks, but Adam and Eve were not real people. God didn’t wander around in a garden with them, nor did a talking serpent cause the fall of humankind. It’s a story. That’s it, that’s all. It may be a useful story, but it’s not history.

    I do believe that Adam and Eve were two literal individuals. The “garden” is likely to have been a real place, but is also metaphorical in its representation of right relationship with God. The “serpent” imagery is used more than once in Scripture as a reference to satan, who I also believe to be a very real spiritual entity.

    The difficulty I see in mythologizing Adam and Eve is that the themes of death and resurrection become merely symbols of human growth and achievement, rather than helping to illustrate the purpose for which Christ was born. The promise of redemption which God made in the midst of cursing the “serpent” is critical to the Christian theme.

    A thought: If literal, physical resurrection from the grave is not a reality, there really is no point in being a Christian at all because there have been numerous men throughout the centuries who have taught and demonstrated excellent moral principles for living in harmony with other people.

    A main focus of “Christian morality” is that we get to practice now the kind of qualities (love, generosity, kindness etc) which will characterize the personalities of citizens of the eternal kingdom.

    • tildeb says:

      I know this was addressed to kj, but I wanted to highlight a key point you raise:

      One of the potential hazards of learning to understand Scripture is in the discernment of what is literal, what is metaphorical and what aspects contain both elements . So, contrary to this atheist’s insistence, it is not necessary to be strictly literal with one’s interpretation, so long as it’s done in accordance with the intended message.

      The atheists I know recognize and highlight the central problem here, namely, what you call “learning to understand” which scriptural bits are literal and which bits are figurative/metaphorical/mythical hits the nail on the head. This is the problem: how… by what reliable and consistent method available to any reasonable person… can one differentiate independent of one’s arbitrary and imposed belief between them?

      This is the question that demonstrates the inherent fatal flaw in the method used to justify faith-based beliefs.

      • Heather says:

        Tildeb,
        I really don’t have a problem with you addressing my comments so long as we are actually having an actual discussion. It is truly a pleasure to speak with others about this type of thing.

        This is the problem: how… by what reliable and consistent method available to any reasonable person… can one differentiate independent of one’s arbitrary and imposed belief between them?

        Yes, this is a legitimate concern. And I’m going to preface the rest of my response with the statement that I do not claim to have determined the correct meaning of every single passage of the Bible.

        You are absolutely correct in your observation that many people will force a meaning on the text that was never intended by the author. And I agree that the many different interpretations often conflict and cause even professing Christians to debate when we ought not. That does not make Scripture unreliable with regard to its primary purpose. What it DOES mean is that people can either be dishonest or simply ignorant in the way we understand or apply what is written.

        One of the problems we run up against with the issue of evidence for the existence of God is that it is difficult to quantify the spiritual facet of human beings in a laboratory. But, the fact that so many people display an affinity for things of a “supernatural” nature really deserves careful consideration.

        I hope you’ll indulge my tendency to cite the Bible itself as “authoritative”, as it brings out a point many people miss when we try to understand what is being said. According to the Bible, we are spiritual beings as well as physical. And God does speak through this avenue to those who are willing to listen.
        The Apostle Peter wrote in his 2nd letter that the Scriptures were specifically inspired by God’s Spirit even though it is penned by human hands. A main focus is that much of the Bible is prophetic in nature rather than simply historical or scientific, which directly influences which details the writers were prompted to write.

        If God had a specific goal in view when He inspired the writings, then there is a specific interpretation we need to be looking for when reading. Even the Bible itself declares that we don’t have the liberty to play fast and loose with the text.

        And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts,
        knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation.
        For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:19-21 ESV)

      • tildeb says:

        Heather, I appreciate the explanation you are offering in that it reveals a line of thinking that is not at all uncommon. But it is highly problematic (which is why we begin to see the long, slow curve to circular thinking). Whenever someone attempts to justify a line of thinking about the merit of biblical authority by appealing to biblical authority, I think of the napkin religion: written on a napkin, it says, “The Napkin Religion is the one true religion because it says so right here on this napkin.”

        You write One of the problems we run up against with the issue of evidence for the existence of God is that it is difficult to quantify the spiritual facet of human beings in a laboratory. But, the fact that so many people display an affinity for things of a “supernatural” nature really deserves careful consideration.

        Yes, it is difficult to quantify the spiritual facet of human beings considering that there is no evidence for some ‘thing’ called the spirit. What we have is a very nebulous umbrella term called ‘spirit’ under which just about anything can be safely stored… as long as one doesn’t try to make a causal claim about it. If one tries to make a causal claim about spirit, then one must demonstrate how spirit (whatever that is) causes by some mechanism the proclaimed effect. If another, more accessible and evidence-backed, explanation/model can be produced, then surely one should grant more merit to that than one than has none.

        Now, you make a couple of assertions here that I have to question. The first is about the ‘laboratory’ and quantifying aspect of science as if this accurately framed how science must be done. But science is a method and not a result. The method uses whatever evidence reality provides that can be considered as impartially as possible (and quantities are especially impartial) and then creates an explanatory model and tests it back into reality to see if it fits the data.

        This is the very method you use, for example, when you look for your car keys because you wish to drive somewhere for personal reasons. You don’t require a laboratory and you are under no obligation to quantify the specific properties of your keys. You find your keys and test them in your car! If your car starts, there’s a very high probability they are indeed the very car keys you sought. Now, this example may start to sound pretty silly here, but follow my line of thinking.

        You paid zero attention to any ‘spirit’ of the keys that others might attribute to their special supernatural properties that they say causes a hidden influence to pass this hidden spirit from the keys into the engine of the car. Such talk does nothing to better understand your desire to drive somewhere and how to start your car to accomplish this self-appointed task. You realize it begins solely with finding your keys… presumably to use as you see fit and not to fulfill some nebulous purpose these ‘spirit’ folk claim actually runs your car if proper worship is first granted by you to be performed to honour the hidden spirit of your keys. The addition of ‘spirit’ doesn’t add anything of any knowledge value to you. But it does insert a very real problem if you must then explain how engines actually work yet are expected to accommodate the possibility of some actual ‘thing’ known as spirit… even though it’s of no knowledge value at all.

        For the same reasons your car might operate with the right keys and no ‘spirit’ whatsoever, so too might people operate with supernatural beliefs and no ‘spirit’ whatsoever. There really are compelling reasons why brains attribute hidden agencies to natural events and compelling evidence that this is (once) a biological advantage. It’s also a disadvantage when it comes to the method of creating knowledge about the world. The former outweighed the later in our ancestry and we carry that result to this day in our DNA.

        The idea of people possessing a spirit really has been exhaustively studied. For almost two thousand years, people have been trying to make the square peg of spirit fit into the round hole of biology. You’ve probably heard of ‘dualism’ – an ancient notion taken on board by the early church fathers – that people come with both body AND mind… as if there were some independent mini-driver operating the car of the body. Holding to the analogy, the body was long considered the car and the mind considered an independent operator. Spirit (from the root spiritus meaning breath) guided the driver as the driver guided the car.

        We now know this idea is not supported by compelling evidence, namely, that the mind is what the brain does. The mind is an emergent property of local physical and chemical units obeying local rules that have a s much to do with evidence for ‘spirit’ in its function as your car keys do.

      • Heather says:

        Whenever someone attempts to justify a line of thinking about the merit of biblical authority …“The Napkin Religion is the one true religion because it says so right here on this napkin.”

        Hehe.
        I suppose it looks that way from your perspective.

        There is actually a very consistently maintained thread of focus, though. It kind of resembles the repetitive thematic element of so many of the great symphonies. Different movements echo a distinctive combination of notes which serve to unite the entire piece. The seemingly disjointed bits of Scripture are both intricate and beautiful in the way it all flows together.
        But I don’t want to again overstep the boundaries of blogging etiquette on that subject.

        Yes, it is difficult to quantify the spiritual facet of human beings considering that there is no evidence for some ‘thing’ called the spirit.

        Well, there is evidence. But, as it’s an immaterial aspect of humanity, we cannot remove it and slice it up for microscopic evaluation or hook up electrodes and determine specific functionality. That is what I meant by the laboratory reference.

        Spiritual experience is most definitely a subjective thing, which further complicates the ability to “study” it via the scientific method.

        You put a lot of effort into explaining your key analogy, and I thank you for trying to illustrate your meaning. Maybe I’m just too dense to catch on, but I’m struggling to follow because keys and engines are not alive and the manufacturer of the keys did not intend to have an interactive relationship with them. He would have simply designed them to be “used”.

        Hopefully, this does not sound snotty, but I really do wonder how someone could easily reject the concept of being uniquely designed for a beneficial relationship with a loving creator who has historically demonstrated His devotion to our well-being.

        In the end, it’s not my job to convince you of anything, as much as I’d like for my words to somehow create even the tiniest spark of interest in the spiritual realm 😦
        Setting the whole issue-of morality-war-of-the-worldviews-with-intent-to-convert debate aside, I honestly do wish you could somehow see what I do in the Scriptural writings.

  8. Heather says:

    Tildeb,

    Kingstonjack had the decency to redirect folks to this site so he could fully unpack his thoughts without showing disrespect to the blog hostess. If you are at all interested in what I’m saying about interpretation, you are welcome to poke through the posts on my blog. Specifically, the category marked “Parallel Passages” would address this topic.

    I have not attended seminary, am not a teacher of any spiritual discipline, do not claim any sort of “prophetic insight” or knowledge that can’t be discovered by simply reading the Bible, and do not re-blog other people’s sermons. But, a few years ago, I did go through a sort of agnostic phase of my own after a lifetime of attending church. The things I share on my blog are what I’ve been able to see only as a result of asking God to show me that He is indeed real and that I’ve not been lied to/fooling myself about what is true.

    Kingstonjack,

    I sincerely apologize if my approach here has caused offense.

  9. kingstonjack says:

    tildeb wrote:
    You’re busy creating a straw man so that you can knock it down later.

    Yep, guilty as charged! In my own pathetic defence, let me say that I don’t do this deliberately. Rather, I engage in something that I think we’re all prone to, namely, seeing those we disagree with through the very narrow lens of our own interpretation.

    tildeb, while you’re far more accomplished at logical argument than I am, I think there is still a degree of exactly the same phenomenon in your comments. For example:
    And at the core of every religious belief must be an accepting belief in these certain identifiable tenets (after all, these fundamental tenets are what differentiate one religion from another).

    While this is technically correct, it doesn’t hold up in the real world, because each individual constructs (and yes, that’s an issue – I’ll come back to it in a moment) their own set of fundamentals. This is neither new nor scary, nor is it restricted to religious practice. It’s common to all humanity.

    In your argument, you make a number of assumptions about the fundamentals of christianity, and those assumptions are not true. This is where I floundered against my atheist friend’s atheist wife: she insisted that my beliefs were defined by her understanding of the bible. But my beliefs about the bible are very, very different from hers, from my wife’s (a feminist christian), from Eva’s, from the Anglican priest down the road (thank god!). In fact, not a single one of us believes exactly the same thing as someone else.

    I assume that you’re aware of the Jesus Seminar? A truly heroic attempt at bringing some kind of rigour to an historical understanding of the human being called Jesus of Nazareth. (Note, I’ve avoided used religiously loaded terms liked christ or messiah or the son of god.) I believe (sic) that the Jesus Seminar is very helpful, but there are gazillions of christians around the world who are horrified at their work. For them, if it says in the bible that Jesus walked on water then Jesus actually, physically, historically strolled across the surface of the lake (and all without the aid of CGI).

    The veracity of Jesus’ water walking is not fundamental to my faith. I’m still a christian.

    We all construct our own set of fundamentals; it’s called living. We interpret our daily life experiences in an effort to create a coherent view of the world. Children who get hit around the head by their parents every day grow up with a set of fundamental beliefs which is radically different from children who grow up being hugged every day. Believe me on this one: I go through daily life with significant trust issues because of my childhood experiences, and my own parenting has been radically shaped as a consequence.

    Interestingly (but not surprisingly) those who grew up in the same household as I did constructed different fundamentals from similar experiences. To me, that makes no sense (it doesn’t follow the process of “evidence-based decision-making”) but it is nevertheless perfectly real.

    The fundamentals of your life are also self-constructed: your life experiences – which include the wise use of your brain – lead you to conclude that some things carry much, much more weight than others. For example, you believe heart and soul in the importance of childhood vaccination. You reject any alternative approach to the health and well-being of your children. Good for you. I have come to the same conclusion.

    But childhood vaccination is not one of the fundamentals of my faith. Apparently, it is for some (and only some) christians who are making their claims known and who you believe are endangering the lives of your children. Have I got that right?

    If that’s being a ‘hardliner’ then I think more us should take up the mantle. For what it’s worth, I agree. Being a “hardliner” is not always a bad thing.

    My problem is that your straw-man is a construction of christians who reject common sense medicine, who deny evolution, and who believe in an interventionist god (amongst other things). All of these are assumptions on your part and are categorically false.

    When I was very young, I believed in Father Christmas (I grew up in England and FC was preferred over Santa). I stopped believing. When I was a teenager, I believed in an interventionist god (and boy oh boy did I desperately need an interventionist god). But I’ve stopped believing: the evidence just doesn’t stack up. I can’t believe in a god who can intervene but who refuses to intervene. I reject that god every bit as much as my friendly atheists do. I parted company with that “fundamental” long before the “AIDS is god’s punishment” crap hit the fan.

    Why don’t I get on with the Anglican priest down the road? Because he is fundamentally opposed to the acceptance of gays and lesbians. I read the same bible as he does but interpret it entirely differently. He thinks I’m not a christian because I don’t hold to “the fundamentals” of christianity as if all christians share only one brain.

    Heather commented, “I do not claim to have determined the correct meaning of every single passage of the Bible.” I want to go much, much further than that and suggest that none of us is capable of categorically determining the “correct meaning” of even a single passage. Because “meaning” is a subjective construct. Even if all of the people I hang around with come to the same conclusion about a bible text (which has yet to happen, btw) then that still does not determine the “correct meaning” for all people for all time. Slaves, anyone?

    Perhaps this explains why I got all excited about the use of the term “genuine faith” over at TAA.

    What annoys me is that people who don’t profess a religious faith fail to admit that the same selective processes go on in their own lives. Not all agnostics and atheists parent in the same way; I even know some who don’t believe in infant vaccination!

    • tildeb says:

      Kj, thanks for you reply. I think I have a better handle on where you’re coming from and where some of the confusion may lie.

      My point is that the fundamentalism of any religious belief – a requirement for the identity to be a valid descriptor – lies in a person willing to accept certain core tenets. Another way to define what these are in regards to Christianity is to ask, “What makes Christianity Christianity?” What are these fundamental tenets all ‘Christian’ must accept? Well, I suspect these core tenets are about accepting that Jesus was the son of God who died and was resurrected to offer people a means for the faithful to be redeemed – that “through their belief in Jesus as the Son of God, and in his death and resurrection, they can have a right relationship with God whose forgiveness was made once and for all through the death of Jesus Christ”.(Source).

      How these core tenets are aligned with secondary tenets indicate a pretty good reason why denominations (from the root meaning ‘branch’) of this Christian faith are fractured into some 40,000 sects.

      I do not think you can be defined as a Christian if you reject any of the core tenets but you can be even with significant branching. This is important because the same holds true for any religious identity. And here’s the point: any and all religious identity requires the acceptance of certain core tenets, namely, the fundamental beliefs for that religious identity. That’s why ‘fundamentalism’ is a religious term first, and only later applied to the same kind of previous commitment (an a priori acceptance of belief) to core ideas.

      It’s really important to understand this unique notion requiring a a priori commitment essential to religious belief before turning to consider support for other ideas arrived at using a posteriori approach. The question now becomes whether or not atheism is a a priori belief or a a posteriori conclusion. The two are not the same at all. Is there a similar requirement to have to agree to accept certain core tenets first before gaining the identity as an atheist?

      The answer is ‘No’.

      I ascribe to no beliefs in regards to any divine agencies. I am open to believing there might be gods or a god if the evidence could be demonstrated to show that such a belief fits a reasonable model. I accept no core tenets in this regard and I do not come at this claim with any a priori commitments at all… other than what I (and you) do for any claim of any kind about anything (other than religion). I simply and honestly have no belief. That’s it. That’s the sum total of why I identify myself as a non believer… because I do not believe as a matter of faith in the religious claim. I remain to be convinced otherwise. And this is standard for most atheists. That’s why in terms of theos – god – and the term for the identity of those who believe in a god – theism – I use the standard linguistic tool of the ‘a’ to denote my non belief: a-theism. That’s all the term means: non belief in gods or a god. No ‘fundamentals’ are required.

      Why don’t you believe in the core tenets of Hinduism? I suspect your answer would be along very similar lines to my own: you have no compelling reasons to arrive at that conclusion. But hundreds of millions of people do believe in the core tenets of Hinduism but none ‘arrived’ at that conclusion. For whatever reasons, they started with accepting the core tenets as true. The Christian, or Muslim, or Jainist is no different. And that explain why there is a very strong correlate between geography and specific religious beliefs that have different core values. In terms of perspective from some other religion with different core beliefs than the ones you ascribe, you are also a non believer. Did you first commit yourself to accept some fundamental atheist beliefs in order to reject Hinduism? Well, neither did I in regards to Christianity.

      It is a gross misrepresentation for, let’s say, Muslims to claim you are a fundamentalist non believer – especially if they associate your non belief to have moral consequences that demean your character by association to the group label of ‘Non Believer.’ In 20 countries today, this accusation currently carries legal penalties and in 10 are grounds for a death sentence. Seriously. The issue of associating non belief to misrepresentations about beliefs and character attacks because of these fictitious beliefs is not trivial but worth clarifying why such misrepresentations continue to matter and why believers need to stop misrepresenting what non belief means and stop suggesting that there is a character cost involved.

  10. Heather says:

    Tildeb,
    I won’t presume to answer for KJ, but am injecting a thought of my own, here.

    My point is that the fundamentalism of any religious belief – a requirement for the identity to be a valid descriptor – lies in a person willing to accept certain core tenets.

    The concept of “fundamentalism” really isn’t that complicated. With regard to your assertion that ALL persons of religious inclination have misrepresented the character of atheists, the “fundamental” principle involved is simply belief in a deity vs dis- (or absence of) belief.

    Now, if the discussion was to be narrowed down to why a Muslim might indiscriminately lump Christians with atheists…or for a Christian to say that an Orthodox Jew is not a “believer” according to specific measurements within the distinctive belief, then, yes, it’s important to parse the details on why a “believer” might think this way about others.

    But the details of the differences amongst religious groups are not relevant to your stated concern.

    I believe I already have said this, but simply discerning and vocalizing the marked differences in belief does not automatically translate to persecution of the ones who do not hold to my understanding of the Christian faith.

    • tildeb says:

      (S)imply discerning and vocalizing the marked differences in belief does not automatically translate to persecution of the ones who do not hold to my understanding of the Christian faith.

      Again, I agree, but the discrimination I speak of is not due to any automatic translation but very real, very harmful and very widespread use. (I sent along this general link to Eva and suggest she use her search engine to find hundreds of thousands of real life examples… if she actually wanted to know.)

      I wrote about fundamentalism so that I could show why it didn’t apply to atheists. I wrote about the basis of non belief to show why we shared it in many regards… except in religion… some of the same costs and threats to our personal safety, that the arguments used by many theists here are the same ones used against theists elsewhere under illegal penalties for not identifying as a member of the state’s elevated religion. I wanted to show that people who accept the idea that atheists are fundamentalist believers of a different kind sustain this misrepresentation (that in other places can be used against believers of a different god, that is to say, non believers in the state religion) and help empower the suspicion on the moral character of non believers that is so highly pronounced only in one Western liberal secular democracy… that just so happens to be highly religious. Coincidence? Not when you look at the details of why and how the discrimination is exercised and justified. This not to say all religious people discriminate against atheists; this is to say what’s true, that discrimination against atheists is driven by religious intolerance and distrust.

      • Heather says:

        This not to say all religious people discriminate against atheists; this is to say what’s true, that discrimination against atheists is driven by religious intolerance and distrust.

        Hi Tildeb.

        I didn’t think you honestly believe that all religious people are, by default, abusive to atheists. It is just the way your argument was looking.

        What you’ve noted is true. Religious people sometimes DO exercise a negative form of discrimination against those whose belief is not identical.
        And, to be completely just in this observation, there are some atheists who do exactly the same thing and excuse their behavior with scientific studies or whatever.

        What we see, then, is that the common core of human nature (regardless of religious affiliation) is flawed to the point that many people will use any available means to justify a pre-existent sense of superiority.

        Consider racism. Or sexism. Or social class-ism. Or playground bullying of the little kid with thick eyeglasses :(.
        None of these phenomenons relies upon religious prejudice in order to occur. They are simply outlets for an individual’s personal identity “hell”.

        Skin color or gender or religious affiliation offer convenient excuse to act on this hatred…but none of these things is the original cause.

        It really won’t matter if we take away religious influence. People who are bent on hating others can always find an excuse to judge and condemn.

      • tildeb says:

        Now we get to the heart of the matter. Yes, people are very susceptible to exercising their biases. That’s why we have to be careful not to privilege such bias in law or the public as a whole will suffer negative consequences. That means the principle of legal equality based on individual autonomy is so important. Without these values protected by law, we cannot enjoy the public allowance for the legal support for the dignity of personhood. This is the reason for the rise of the New Atheist movement: to identify and get rid of of religious privilege in the public domain in the name of these secular enlightenment principles.

        By ‘public domain’ I mean the state of belonging, or being available to, the public as a whole. This includes areas like law, education, defence, government, public policy, foreign policy, state sponsored research, medicine, and so on. People who populate and work in these public offices need to recognize their public role as agents of that office and uphold its purpose: to serve the public by maintaining the principles.

        I’ve come across more confused people who assume incorrectly and contrary to their oaths of office to promote their private concerns/beliefs/biases by abusing the power of the public office to accomplish this selfish, self-serving, reprehensible goal. Most egregious are politicians supported by people who fail to grasp that their own best interests are served by refusing to privilege them in the public domain… failing to understand and appreciate that supporting privilege means setting themselves up to be discriminated against by the next office holder who decides to privilege different personal biases and discrimination. Think of granting public power to certain laws that privilege, say, Southern Baptist interests only to be replaced by a Muslim wishing to legalize sharia law. What some Baptists might favour in the former sets the stage and for identical reasons to legitimize the latter. In both cases, individual autonomy and legal equality are sacrificed in the name of privilege and there is a net loss to the legal recognition for the dignity of personhood.

        And this is exactly what we see going on in the public square today: religious privilege sold to a gullible public under the banner of morality. This privilege is toxic to legal equality. It undermines personal autonomy. And the privileging indisputably reduces the dignity of personhood. We see this played out repeatedly in every area of the public domain… and it starts with privileging religious activities with tax exemptions (fulfilling the dire warnings of Madison who vetoed these same efforts so long ago) that pulls in excess of – are you sitting down? – one hundred billion dollars a year (that’s BILLION) from ‘lost’ tax revenues in the United States.

        What does the public gain from paying so much for this privilege? Some soup kitchens?

        Yes, but to great concern what the public gains are well-organized and well-funded special interest groups to undermine legal equality (where its deemed to be religiously immoral), a loss of personal autonomy (where the idea of personal choice is an affront to religious sensibilities), and a reduction in the law’s respect for the dignity of personhood (where a well-ordered hierarchy leading to ‘god’ is sought in its place). There are literally hundreds if not thousands of examples of these sponsored actions taking place daily… causing I think far more harm than good because its an attack against our shared secular enlightenment principles upon which our individual freedoms and responsibilities are founded… including freedom of religion.

        In other words, religious belief is a private matter the state has no business regulating or privileging. But when that religious belief enters the public domain, it deserves no privilege whatsoever. It deserves a loud and sustained criticism for daring to go where it simply does not belong, across the boundary into a necessary neutral zone that is the public domain. All of us require the state to be neutral if we wish to have freedom to believe what we want.

        The way to think about identifying privilege and exercising proper restraint is to think of any two people – any people including yourself, but only to be revealed later – sitting on either side of curtain. Your task is to ‘award’ to that person the rights and freedoms you deem to be fair. No exceptions. Male, female, young, old, gay, straight, black, white, this culture or that, this religion or that, this language or that, your task is to be fair to one and all… because you might end up on the receiving end of someone who wishes to impose a personal privilege they favour on you. These basic decisions on the shared rights and freedoms are the public rules and regulations and constraints that are worth talking about, that are best indicative of a fair public domain. It serves only to discriminate on the basis of some assumed privilege to come up with rules that favour only some. Although there are cases where the public good is enhanced by such discrimination – think of driving and age, for example – the rule of thumb establishes fairness – shared by all – as the baseline.

        It is not fair to utilize religious bias in the name of presumed divine authority to support privilege. This produces real harm to real people in real life. That is the inevitable result of privileging religion in the public domain and we see this harm every day. None of us should excuse it but work tirelessly to get rid of it.

        Welcome to the world of New Atheists.

  11. Heather says:

    Now we get to the heart of the matter. Yes, people are very susceptible to exercising their biases. That’s why we have to be careful not to privilege such bias in law or the public as a whole will suffer negative consequences.

    It is encouraging to see that we both can agree that there is a fairly universal malfunction at the “heart” of human nature. This is real-llife evidence that is readily accessible to anyone.

    Although, it’s probably safe to say we’d not agree on identity of the source of this tendency toward harmful bias.

    It’s obvious you are passionate about your opinion of the most appropriate solution. And I thank you for taking the time to type out such a detailed response. I also agree that we should not favor any particular belief in the legal/social/public educational realm which results in the active marginalization of those who do not happen to subscribe to the same worldview.

    There are literally hundreds if not thousands of examples of these sponsored actions taking place daily… causing I think far more harm than good because its an attack against our shared secular enlightenment principles upon which our individual freedoms and responsibilities are founded… including freedom of religion.

    You’ve cited Secular Enlightenment Principles as the inspiration for the New Atheist movement. And suggested that adherence to these principles qualifies secularism to lay claim to the role of civil mediator due to the problem of religious bias (which we have both acknowledged to be human bias with a religious excuse)

    These principles also apparently contribute to the base upon which you rest your authority to claim that religion is harmful. Yet, SEP are not entirely at odds with the NT principle of “Love your neighbor as yourself” which Jesus taught. However, a primary difference is the claim to divine inspiration that is made by historic, orthodox Christianity.
    Secularists have essentially sifted their way through the religious realm, adjusted various points of morality to fit human sensibilities, and then tossed the concept of accountability to God as a main reason for adherence.

    As a New Atheist, you
    1. Have identified non-secular atheistic thought as irrational and potentially destructive. In turn, this requires you to reject any personal obedience to this deity with which you disagree (suggests a bias against not only the belief in the existence of any sort of deity, but also any practical compliance which might be considered “discriminatory” by those who do not hold similar belief–)

    2. Passionately promote your understanding of how to resolve the issue of human abuses which, for different reasons, we both can agree exist (exhibits the desire to convert others to your particular view)

    3. Cite Enlightenment Principles, scientific observation and more highly evolved human reason as the superior means of social engineering. (Lay claim to a “higher” authority than your own)

    If, as a society, we accept an anti-religious bias and strictly adhere to your solution, it will eventually result in the marginalization of all who are bound by conscience to adhere to the tenets of our respective religious beliefs.

    That said, this discussion, for me, is basically a way to better understand the way others think and perhaps challenge a thought process I find to be problematic.

    It isn’t my place to fight for religious freedom.
    Christians are instructed to share the reason we have hope for a future which transcends this life. We are to individually “do good” to those we encounter and do what we can to confront social evil on a corporate and individual level. We are to obey all civil laws which do not directly cause us to sin against God’s nature. We are free to offer our praise and thanks to Jesus under any circumstances.

    We are never instructed in the Bible to make a stink if our right to freely exercise our faith is being stepped upon in the name of “equality for all”.

    • tildeb says:

      Heather, you say If, as a society, we accept an anti-religious bias and strictly adhere to your solution, it will eventually result in the marginalization of all who are bound by conscience to adhere to the tenets of our respective religious beliefs.

      This is not what I’m suggesting.

      I’m suggesting that all of us uphold secular enlightenment principles to maximize our own autonomy, be willing to support legislation that better establishes legal equality, and do our part to promote the dignity of personhood. This is not anti-religious bias. This is responsible citizenship. It maximizes religious freedom… in the private domain where it belongs.

      Granted, the Bible (as a compendium), the Pentateuch, the Koran, all advocate for none of these principles but is used to thwart them in the name of piety and ‘proper’ submission to some god. That’s a problem only followers of these religions must deal with if they wish to align their religiosity with being a good citizen of a secular Western liberal democratic nation – be it the US, Sweden, Australia, Canada (I am Canadian), or any other nation that desires the same level of personal freedom and other benefits derived from such a system of government. When the principles of autonomy, legal equality, and dignity of personhood are attacked and undermined by those with a religious agenda, it is not ‘anti-religious bias’ to stand firmly against this unwarranted and harmful intrusion. It is the granting religious privilege in the public domain to allow these justifications to stand, to support its encroachment into the public domain, to support it through public funding, and so on. All of this support for religious privilege in the public domain is actually a betrayal of the foundational principles for self-government (by consent of the governed) and can be demonstrated to actively reduce legal autonomy, thwart legal equality, and undermine legal respect for the dignity of personhood. Three standard examples in the same order are women’s reproductive choices , gay marriage, and euthanasia. In each case, the organized resistance is religious and in each case the resulting laws from ‘accommodating’ the religious conscience is in fact an imposition on everyone in the name of morality. This accommodationism sacrifices these enlightenment principles for religious privilege.

      This is not an atheist bias to point out that the religious imposition of privilege in law harms us all by abrogating respect for the very principles needed to allow anyone the right to voice religious opinions! And opinions are fine… but only when self applied. What’s not fine is thinking these opinions should be publicly applied and it is anti-secular to accomplish this by reducing the legal rights of others in order to privilege a religious demand. The conscience of the religious person is not a legitimate excuse or justification to reduce the legal rights of fellow citizens. The religious must learn to exercise more self-control if any wish to make all us New Atheists melt away and stop criticizing the religious for their willingness to give away our common rights and common freedoms.

      This is the New Atheist message that is successfully turning almost a majority of the next generation away from supporting religions (in spite of indoctrination) and the decline of religiosity will be demonstrated to be a self-inflict wound.

  12. kingstonjack says:

    Well, well, isn’t this fun? Because we’re in different parts of the world, I go to bed and wake up to find all sorts of interesting things transpiring. Do we really have tildeb and Heather on the same page? It appears to be largely so!

    Can I possibly bring myself to agree with them?

    tildeb, may I suggest a move to Australia? Australia has never, ever been a “christian” country. Australia has no state religion. Yes, some of our beloved politicians wave a banner, although sceptic me wonders whether or not the banner waving is a political ploy. As a consequence, Australia has much less anxiety around notions of “religious privilege” than the US of A. I’m not foolish enough to suggest we’re free of it, but it’s just not a big deal. (Declaration of “religious privilege”: churches and other charitable organisations do receive tax breaks. However, if a church can’t demonstrate a charitable contribution to society then those tax concessions can be and are removed.)

    John Ralston Saul in The unconscious civilisation points to the hijacking of democracy by interest groups. What is in the interest of the common good is very different from what an interest group considers to be good being imposed upon the whole of society, and yet that is often how our governments work. The US is recognised across the world (well, at least in Tasmania) as being driven by interest groups: big tobacco, the NRA, the fuel lobby, corporate America, and (drum roll, please) the religious right. Now you may tell me it ain’t so, but that’s how it looks from across the other side of the Pacific.

    In Australia, we’re going down a similar path. Why? Because we’re hopelessly obsessed with becoming the 51st state of the republic? No – even though it sometimes appears that way. I believe it’s mainly a result of unchecked capitalism. I’m far, far more concerned about the privileging of commercial interests than I am about the position of religion in Australia.

    Can we all agree that there are profound dangers in privileging any one part of society over another?

    Does this then mean that religion should restrict itself to the private domain?

    tildeb wrote:
    religious belief is a private matter the state has no business regulating or privileging. But when that religious belief enters the public domain, it deserves no privilege whatsoever. It deserves a loud and sustained criticism for daring to go where it simply does not belong, across the boundary into a necessary neutral zone that is the public domain.

    When I sit down and read my bible – yes, I do read that mouldy old text – I discover something profoundly interesting: religion has very, very little to do with private beliefs. As I said over on TAA, the bible is not the public answers to our private questions: it is the public questions to our private answers.

    The bible is primarily about the nature of god, but that nature is deemed to be the ultimate demonstration of all that is good. The nature of god stands over against the reality of society. I don’t want to get into a debate about human nature, the “fall”, the presence of evil. Let’s just agree that society does not reflect those qualities which might be attributed to the divine (take a breath, tildeb, your turn is coming): compassion, generosity, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. All of those qualities are relational; that is, they can only be demonstrated in relationship with others.

    This is what I’m interested in. I’m not, completely not, interested in getting a place in heaven (take a breath, Heather, your turn is coming). Heaven – and hell, for that matter – are of no earthly use to us at all. Believing in heaven makes absolutely no difference to the guy down the road who has just lost his job and has seven kids to feed. Believing in heaven makes no difference to the pregnant, young woman who has just been beaten up by her boyfriend. Believing in heaven is entirely irrelevant to the boatload of refugees arriving on our shores only to be incarcerated in what we euphemistically call detention centres.

    And this is where faith is not and should not be a matter of private religious belief. For better or worse, the church has a voice and it is compelled to use it for the common good. Not to bolster any privilege it may have but to fulfil the scriptural command to “love your neighbour as yourself”.

    Of course, this voice can be and is misused. Hence, Westboro Baptists. tildeb, if you want to have a little rant about that mob, go right ahead; and I’ll join in. But we shouldn’t deny religious groups their right to speak out. (Any more than we can deny the NRA the right to declare its position on gun control. But neither the Westboro loonies nor the gun-toting loonies should be granted the power to determine government policy.)

    The gospel is a social justice document every bit as much as it is anything else. Jesus speaks more about poverty than he does about prayer. He speaks much, much more about the marginalisation of the powerless than he does about getting a free pass to the afterlife. The parables are predominantly about “turning the world upside down”, i.e. disturbing the social order of the day; they’re not about personal and private piety.

    I think tildeb’s point is that morality is not dependent upon religious belief, to which I say, “Amen.” Of course people make moral choices without the aid of faith. It happens all the time. Subscribing to a set of religious beliefs does not necessarily make one more or less moral than the next person. (And, of course, there are many significant exceptions to that statement: e.g. Islamic State militants are a clear example of what happens when the interpretation of religion is seriously screwed.)

    It’s not who I believe in nor what I believe that makes me a good or bad person; it’s what I do.

  13. tildeb says:

    The ‘social justice’ justification for religious privilege doesn’t bear out with scrutiny.

    Social justice attributed to religious advocacy is bogus; the religious ‘conscience’ follows shifting social awareness (the thesis of Singer’s Better Angels of our Nature). And yes, many religious people get on board this change (by altering their religious blueprint from what was accepted before) and help accomplish the task. But in every case, the prevailing religious ‘conscience’ had to be fought tooth and nail to bring about meaningful and lasting social policy changes that improve the human condition.

    Your attribution is misguided (and yes, religion tries to steal everything of positive value for itself and claim ownership in the face of what’s true); applying secular enlightenment principles is the engine of positive social change (think of the big changes, for example, and follow the local arguments for and against, say, slavery, women’s emancipation, civil rights, marriage equality, and so on, and you’ll see the shift away from privileging religious unrepentant dogma in law and the emergence of autonomy, equality, and dignity). Religion doesn’t bring about justice through social change; it eventually yields to the inevitable only by changes to law.

    The handy thing about biblical scripture is that it can be used equivalently to support a Hitler as a Mandela, support the Westboro bigots as much as witch-hunting Inquisitors, Himmler’s justification to the officers of the SS to carry out the Holocaust as it is to justify WL Craig’s support for the soldiers of god who slaughtered of the Canaanites. Your interpretation and selective extractions to support your opinion that the NT through Jesus is a social justice document is equivalently suspect when one considers the central role it plays in justifying the fight against autonomy, legal equality, and dignity of personhood today. You conveniently omit the fact that we get the idea of an eternal hell from this ‘benevolent’ Jesus. After all, nothing says unconditional love like the threat of eternal hellfire for disobedience. Thanks, benevolent Jesus, but no thanks.

    We can hold in contempt and criticism those who advocate for harming others. Yes, people (not ‘groups’) can speak out in support of this harm and, by doing so, earn contempt and criticism. Bad ideas are worth criticizing.

    If you change places with someone currently held in such a ‘detention center’ you mention, now look at the importance of citizenship and what it means in law, in action. This is where the rubber of establishing autonomy, equality, and dignity in law meets the road of living. And its of much greater import to the life of that ‘detainee’ than some religious ‘conscience’ that seeks to reduce respect for these principles in the name of social justice and improving society’s reflection of some supposed god’s supposed nature. We don;t need any of that to be legitimately concerned about each individual in every detention center and the legal status of their citizenship.

    Look, I live in a country (Canada) that has gone through this process and emerged as a stronger civil society for it. Historical mistakes of privileging religion and race and bloodlines and ethnicity and culture in law all remain constant sources of ongoing conflict that have to corrected by new legislation. We are a work in progress. But the only way it works is for people to understand that the basic secular principles must be paramount in law. But resolution comes only through first respecting these secular principles and then learning to apply them constantly to every suggested response. More privilege is never, ever, the answer.

  14. Heather says:

    (take a breath, Heather, your turn is coming)

    🙂

    Well, well, isn’t this fun? Because we’re in different parts of the world, I go to bed and wake up to find all sorts of interesting things transpiring. Do we really have tildeb and Heather on the same page? It appears to be largely so!

    Sure, KJ, we can find many areas of agreement. The “evidence” is freely available for all of us to examine.
    Fundamentalist or not, it’d be exceedingly foolish of me to try to deny that she has made some extremely valid observations. Setting aside our “liberal” and “conservative” predispositions, you and I also can find many convergent points of discussion as well.

    The juncture at which we all part ways is at the interpretation of what the evidence means and in our ideas of how to properly respond to the problems we see. And it is through our respective worldviews that we will arrive at our divergent conclusions.

    BTW, I enjoyed your post on Paul. It is beautifully written and relays much truth about the pro-active, generous nature of our Maker. It made me wonder how you can maintain a view which seems to recognize God as more of a “principle” rather than as personal and relational. But, that’s an entirely different discussion, I suppose.

    The US is recognised across the world (well, at least in Tasmania) as being driven by interest groups: big tobacco, the NRA, the fuel lobby, corporate America, and (drum roll, please) the religious right. Now you may tell me it ain’t so, but that’s how it looks from across the other side of the Pacific.

    Actually, you’ve got it about right. I’ll raise your ante with the addition of assorted liberal and anti-religious special interest groups.
    It’s no secret that, regardless of the tone of their public rhetoric, a staggering number of our politicians have been “bought” and are owned by the ones who have (openly or privately) financially contributed to their rise to office. Additionally, many US citizens (not so much myself) accept as a “truism” that the way to know whether a politician is lying is if his lips are moving… 😦
    It’s not an encouraging thing, and I know there are many groups of US “fundamentalist” conservative Christians who don’t even enter the realm of politics as a matter of conscience.

    This disturbing phenomenon within our political system is yet another concrete evidence of the corrupt element of human nature; and this, in spite of the universal human ability to exercise an understanding of morality.
    It’s actually compelling evidence that simply adjusting civil laws to better reflect SEP (or any other system of externally dictated constraints) isn’t the solution to the problem, as it is this same pool of people who must uphold and enforce said laws…and people (of ourselves) tend to be inconsistent in our ability to reason and unreliable in our choices to act justly even when “the right thing” is spelled out clearly for all to see.

    Tildeb said Now we get to the heart of the matter.

    And, I’m suggesting that she actually nailed down the real problem even though she did not intend to indicate that human beings are anything more than a highly-evolved assortment of biological processes.

    If a Christian is going to “cherry pick” anything from the writings of Scripture, I would think we’d latch tightly onto the need for a properly oriented relationship with our Maker, which is graciously mediated by the One who was promised to us “from the beginning” for precisely that purpose.

    In suggesting that you don’t “think” this way, I am not trying to accuse you of being hell-bound. I honestly am not qualified to assess your level of spiritual health and I’d prefer to not.

    However, it is out of this restored spiritual communion that we can realize…apart from externally sourced and enforced dictates…a genuine concern for the well-being of the people around us.

  15. Heather says:

    You conveniently omit the fact that we get the idea of an eternal hell from this ‘benevolent’ Jesus. After all, nothing says unconditional love like the threat of eternal hellfire for disobedience. Thanks, benevolent Jesus, but no thanks.

    Actually, the concept of accountability to a creative deity is not unique to Jesus’ teachings. And, it isn’t an isolated theme. Many of the world’s oldest (an seemingly unrelated) religions have judgment, a balancing of one’s life against a specific measurement, and eternity as central themes.

    This makes perfect sense if we accept that all of humanity originated from a localized geographical position and then spread across the globe over time. Of course, separation from one another would naturally have led to the rise of individualized understanding of “how” to relay this knowledge within vastly different cultures.
    But there is historical and archeological testimony of a fairly universal acceptance amongst the ancients of some form of afterlife. The burial habits of some civilizations even indicate that they believed in a literal, physical post-death existence. This actually correlates quite well with the promise of physical resurrection that we see in the Christian Bible.

    My point is, Jesus didn’t pull that one out of the air. And His claim to be “the” way back to God are simply the solution to an already recognized problem. Of course, if one does not acknowledge first that a problem exists, then that entire line of discussion will look like nonsense.

  16. Heather says:

    Tildeb

    We don;t need any of that to be legitimately concerned about each individual in every detention center and the legal status of their citizenship.

    Of course we can be concerned about the lives of individuals regardless of their legal status as citizens. My husband and I have discussed this in depth. As individuals, if someone turned up on our doorstep in need of food or clothing or shelter, we would not first determine whether they are legally “worthy” of our help.

    On the other side, if a nation
    1. has established laws with regard to the proper method of obtaining citizenship, and
    2. those laws are ignored by the ones who wish to benefit from entering the society in question, and
    3. that disregard is winked at by federal authorities,
    it ought to raise serious concerns about what OTHER established laws will be ignored by these same people. It also ought to bring up the question as to whether the lawmakers would actually uphold any “beneficial” future changes to the laws which they currently deem to be inappropriate.
    By their own actions, they have placed themselves under the cloud of “moral suspicion”.

    While I am not entirely opposed to the notion of “socialized medicine” and other corporately funded welfare agencies, I do recognize that the tax dollars I pay into the system may well be used to support activity which I find to be immoral.
    While it is not immoral by any stretch to treat the medical and physical needs of individuals…even if they are not legalized citizens. It IS morally questionable to allow large groups of illegal immigrants into our country with full knowledge that they will indeed place a fairly hefty burden upon tax payers who are supplying the funds (food, shelter, medicine) for the care of these people.

    The issue here isn’t anti-humanitarianism or selfishness with resources or a desire to keep “undesirables” out of our country.

    The issue is one of whether we respect established legal guidelines and whether we are really being “fair” to legalized citizens who must foot the bill for this ongoing disregard for law and order.

  17. Heather says:

    Kingstonjack,
    I realize I’ve already taken a lot of space here, but was re-reading your last comment

    The gospel is a social justice document every bit as much as it is anything else. Jesus speaks more about poverty than he does about prayer. He speaks much, much more about the marginalisation of the powerless than he does about getting a free pass to the afterlife.

    And I agree. Especially about the focus on marginalization of the powerless. Actually, even the OT law included detailed instructions on how to care for the lesser privileged Israelite citizens (widows, orphans…even “strangers”). And in other sections of the OT, God’s anger is revealed because of the nation’s corporate failure to obey these instructions.

    I’m wondering if you understand how this fits into the overall biblical narrative. I ask, not because I don’t have a clue, but because I do believe the text itself outlines a very specific reason.

    Please do let me know when you’ve had enough of my perspective and I’ll go play somewhere else.

    • kingstonjack says:

      Hi Heather, I’m very happy for you to keep playing here!

      Do I understand how concern for “the widow, the orphan and the alien in the land” fits into the biblical narrative? Well, I think I have something of a handle on it, although – given some of my earlier statements – I have to acknowledge that my interpretation may not be the same as the original intention of the authors. This week’s reading from Exodus is the ten commandments, summed up as “love god, love neighbour”. As I said in an earlier comment, it’s not possible to do the first if you’re not doing the second. They are the same thing.

      On that basis, looking out for the needs of the most vulnerable in society must be a very, very high priority.

      Btw, shouldn’t caring for “the alien in the land” extend to people who cross borders? In Australia over a good number of years now, we’ve been embroiled in political debate over the place of “illegal immigrants” in our society. Overwhelmingly, those who seek to deport asylum seekers conveniently ignore the fact that “illegal” is a term that has no meaning if there are no legal processes in place in the first instance. My belief is that the only legal parameters around refugees are those defined by the United Nations 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, which clearly state the right of people to seek refuge elsewhere. At the same time, denying asylum seekers access to the full benefits of the legal system is a clear example of a breach of tildeb’s principle of legal equality.

      Australia has a dismal record when it comes to treating people seeking asylum here. Is the US of A’s record significantly better?

      • Heather says:

        I’m very happy for you to keep playing here!

        Alright then.

        This week’s reading from Exodus is the ten commandments, summed up as “love god, love neighbour”. As I said in an earlier comment, it’s not possible to do the first if you’re not doing the second. They are the same thing.

        Old Covenant study is awesome! It’s amazing how well it flows together with the New.

        John’s first epistle makes it very clear that those who do not show love toward their brother cannot possibly love God. James outlines the same principles on a practical level. And, according to Jesus, we ought to even love our enemies.
        So yes. If we truly love God, then, as evidence of that love, we ought to have some genuine measure of concern for the people around us.

        On that basis, looking out for the needs of the most vulnerable in society must be a very, very high priority.

        It is.

        I’m gonna fly my conservative colors by extending that responsibility to the protection of the unborn among us as well. Not as a matter of debate, but in recognition of the need for integrity of purpose.

        Btw, shouldn’t caring for “the alien in the land” extend to people who cross borders?

        Yes, it should. As I said, my issue is not heartlessness or stinginess. On a private level (as an individual or church body), it would be inhumane to turn away someone who is in need. On a national level, we need to extend help in an orderly, law-abiding fashion, with the understanding that the people we welcome into our society may be here for many years. They should to be appropriately assimilated into our culture as legal citizens.
        It’s been a while since I’ve read the details, but I’m pretty sure even the aliens within Israel’s borders needed to be respectful of the existing laws.

        Australia has a dismal record when it comes to treating people seeking asylum here. Is the US of A’s record significantly better?

        We are a nation that was largely founded and built by refugees/imports of one sort or another. I’d say the record was fairly impressive at one time.

        Unfortunately, modern policy appears to have made it very difficult for people to immigrate legally.

        My Aussie SIL waited for a year to get clearance (it never happened, so far as I know) and she and her husband finally migrated back to Australia.

        The mess on our southern border is complicated, because it isn’t just a matter of granting asylum to refugees.
        We have relatives who recently moved up from Arizona one of them told me that, over the past few years, there has been quite an increase in crime in general and in particular, with the “coyotaje”-related smuggling of people across the line.
        It’s just a tragedy no matter how you look at it but I fear we are going to create a fairly substantial national problem if we continue to ignore the need to respect existing laws and the capabilities of established social programs.

        Would you be at all interested in my perspective on “why” it’s so important to God that we grasp the concept of care for the poor or otherwise disadvantaged individual?

  18. kingstonjack says:

    Well, church is over for another week. Yet again I have successfully indoctrinated a whole bunch of mindless individuals into believing the evil of free thinking!

    From tildeb’s post:
    the New Atheist message that is successfully turning almost a majority of the next generation away from supporting religions (in spite of indoctrination) and the decline of religiosity will be demonstrated to be a self-inflict wound.

    Sorry to disagree, tildeb, but any study of the history of christianity in the west will clearly refute any claims that it is “the New Atheist message” which is killing off the church. The roots of decline in religious belief go back hundreds of years and are more closely associated with the Industrial Revolution than with any philosophical or intellectual debate. Try reading The empty church by Robin Gill.

    The ‘social justice’ justification for religious privilege doesn’t bear out with scrutiny.

    So far the word “privilege” has been used 36 times in these comments; 30 of those times it’s been used by tildeb, with the majority of them being associated with “religious privilege”.

    I have no issue whatsoever with the removal of “religious privilege” from the public domain. None, nada, zilch, zero, in no way, to no extent does this bother me. Let’s do it.

    But I’m not obsessed with rooting out religious privilege to the extent that it dominates my thinking. There are other far, far worse examples of privilege in this world. For a start, tildeb, Heather and I all possess enormous privilege in this world simply because we were lucky enough to be born in wealthy countries. And, in comparison with the majority of the world’s population, we are inordinately wealthy, wealthy beyond the dreams of Mexican peasants, African goat-herders, South-East Asian sweat shop workers, and subsistence farmers in Vanuatu.

    I don’t think it’s appropriate to preach about privilege without acknowledging at least some of the other injustices in this world which have sod all to do with religion.

    At this point in the discussion, I’m starting to think that I was correct in my initial comments about fundamentalism and how it can and does apply to atheists.

    In my original post I quoted Aslan:
    The parallels with religious fundamentalism are obvious and startling: the conviction that they are in sole possession of truth (scientific or otherwise), the troubling lack of tolerance for the views of their critics (Dawkins has compared creationists to Holocaust deniers), the insistence on a literalist reading of scripture (more literalist, in fact, than one finds among most religious fundamentalists), the simplistic reductionism of the religious phenomenon, and, perhaps most bizarrely, their overwhelming sense of siege: the belief that they have been oppressed and marginalized by Western societies and are just not going to take it anymore.

    Anyone reading through these comments would be hard pressed to avoid examples.

    religion tries to steal everything of positive value for itself: might this be an example of atheistic lack of tolerance?

    applying secular enlightenment principles is the engine of positive social change: isn’t this a case of the conviction that atheists are in sole possession of the truth?

    we get the idea of an eternal hell from this ‘benevolent’ Jesus: “the simplistic reductionism of the religious phenomenon”? (And a truly feeble attempt at reading the bible; if I’d come up with this statement, I would have been kicked out of theological college, thereby saving us all this little debate.)

    This [is] not to say all religious people discriminate against atheists; this is to say what’s true, that discrimination against atheists is driven by religious intolerance and distrust : parallels nicely with “their overwhelming sense of siege: the belief that they have been oppressed and marginalized.”

    In all of this conversation, there has been minimal effort to find some kind of middle ground. Any acknowledgement that has been made about the compatibility of Secular Enlightenment Values with some of the core values of christianity (as I understand it and attempt to practise it) are refuted in the strongest possible terms. And not always with respect to what has been said.

    For example, I wrote
    The gospel is a social justice document every bit as much as it is anything else. Jesus speaks more about poverty than he does about prayer. He speaks much, much more about the marginalisation of the powerless than he does about getting a free pass to the afterlife. The parables are predominantly about “turning the world upside down”, i.e. disturbing the social order of the day; they’re not about personal and private piety.

    tildeb’s response?
    Social justice attributed to religious advocacy is bogus; the religious ‘conscience’ follows shifting social awareness

    Isn’t it just a little disingenuous to be suggesting that what Jesus was talking about 2,000 years ago (and science tells us that he really was talking about it) was somehow the result of “shifting social awareness”? I’m not in the business of attributing social justice to religious advocacy; but I am pointing to the consistency of the Jesus message with the dignity of personhood. Is it too much to ask for a simple acknowledgement that the consistency exists, or does all religion have to be always bad in all that it does?

    Btw, your throwaway line about “soup kitchens” is deeply offensive. The Uniting Church in Australia that I happen to be a part of is the largest provider of social welfare services in the country, other than the federal government itself. One in five Australians will receive some kind of service from the UCA each year.

    That is a hell of a lot more than “some soup kitchens”. When you add into that the work of St Vincent de Paul, the Salvation Army, Anglicare, all sorts of other christian agencies, plus Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist and other faiths, I think the work of religious groups for the benefit of society deserves more than a sneering dismissal.

    And don’t come back with the immediate rebuttal that we do it in order to indoctrinate or proselytise or some other self-serving reason. What lies behind our desire to help people in need is that it is the right thing to do.

    As I said previously (and as was so conveniently ignored): It’s not who I believe in nor what I believe that makes me a good or bad person; it’s what I do.

    • tildeb says:

      Well, I’m going to have ‘religious privilege’ one more time because you seem to have missed the context of this reference: LEGAL privilege, privilege IN LAW. This is the central target for change. This privilege is defended in many ways for many reasons, and so the arguments by New Atheists are almost always in regards to the very poor quality of these justifications… starting with the broken methodology of thinking that faith-based beliefs are equivalent to evidence-adduced beliefs. But the goal remains to dismantle religious privilege in law and re-establish purely secular principles in their place.

      The internet is where religious belief comes to die because these beliefs can be exposed for the very poor quality they are rather than the professed (and believed) strengths they are advertised to be. This exposure allows the next generation to understand why being affiliated with a particular religious denomination is actually an identity that with some thought they can do without and still be excellent and caring citizens and good people. Why take on the burden of a religious (usually parental) identity when exercising that identity can very often be shown to cause far more problems than it solves? The rise of the Nones shows us this trend and many polls of those Nones attribute their change in identity to rejecting denominational religious belief on a lack of positive merit (you don’t need god to be good) and an abundance of local evidence associating such affiliation with behaviours that are not ‘good’. (Specifically, the sustained attack against women’ rights, the never-ending interference in women’s reproductive healthcare, hostility towards the LBGT cohort, supporting religious child abuse and indoctrination, the pronounced negative attitudes towards the non religious, religious motivation for so much terrorism, underhanded attempts to get creationism into the science classroom, the blatant stupidity of so many talking heads and politicians that use piety to excuse contempt for intellectual and academic expertize, the association of religious belief to all kinds of denialism – especially climate change caused by people – an ongoing disrespect for science generally and evolution in particular, and the religious component that powers the Gong Show that is the entire Middle East, and so on). Many young people indicate good awareness of the New Atheists and their highly publicized work and attribute their change in religious identity to this awareness of issues.

      But it’s still a work in progress because religious indoctrination is a powerful adversary to unbiased and clear critical thinking about important social issues. Truth, obviously, doesn’t matter when religious affiliation is based on geography. No one born in Canberra independently receives divine ‘revelation’ that Mormonism is true. Something else is at work here and young people are perfectly aware the older generation has largely been hoodwinked into believing stuff that doesn;t stand on its own merit.

      In addition, questioning these religious beliefs comes packed with all kinds of negative baggage and access to online conversations they follow allows younger people the privacy to root through the questions and concerns they have and slowly dismantle the indoctrinated biases to effect.

      Again, this generational shift is happening and I think approaching a tipping point equivalent to many European countries that quickly dismantled religious privilege in law once the majority recognized the public good being hindered by those attempting to maintain this privilege. Privately, live and let live, but publicly get the privilege out. The next generation is the majority of the future, and the rise in the rates of non affiliation correlates very nicely with the rise in popular works produced by the New Atheists.

      • Heather says:

        But the goal remains to dismantle religious privilege in law and re-establish purely secular principles in their place.

        Secular atheism is as much a practice of religion as any deity-focused system of faith. The main difference is that the object of worship for an atheist is the “god” of human intellect.
        That is precisely the temptation the woman was presented in the Garden. “You don’t need God to be good. You can be completely ‘autonomous’ if you only had access to the right kind of knowledge…” The rise of atheistic thinking was identified in the Judeo-Christian scriptures long before “secular enlightenment” had a title under which to rally its troops.

        Secularism is not nearly as fair and inclusive as some might like to believe. The problem with your proposition is that in order to favor secular ideology, we must, by default, legally “discriminate” against the convictions of anyone who is not a secularist.

        The internet is where religious belief comes to die because these beliefs can be exposed for the very poor quality they are rather than the professed (and believed) strengths they are advertised to be…This exposure allows the next generation to understand why being affiliated with a particular religious denomination is actually an identity that with some thought they can do without and still be excellent and caring citizens and good people.

        Perhaps the internet is simply the place where faulty theology is shown up for what it is.

        Say I owned 9 exquisitely crafted, yet counterfeit Mona Lisa’s and presented them beside the original. Then, suppose I asked 10 different individuals of varying artistic interest to view them.
        Any of the 10 paintings might be accepted as authentic or all of them could trashed as frauds by one who has no discernment or exhibits little appreciation of fine art.

        Genuine faith (sorry KJ) in the historic person of Jesus of Nazarath as the fulfillment of God’s original promise to restore Edenic communion between God and humanity isn’t going to die.

        If it could have been killed off through government oppression, the Roman Empire would have triumphed centuries ago.

    • tildeb says:

      Aslan is a very typical religious apologist and accommodationist well known for vilifying – like most evangelical Christians – vocal atheists. His criticisms of New Atheists in particular are almost as vapid as Karen Armstrong’s criticisms are who first puts ‘god’ and most of the belief motivations for causing negative consequences to real people in real life behind the garrison of ‘well, the <i.real god is the god behind the god’ apologetics that have been dismantled and shown to be wanting in both accuracy and insight time and time again. That you would use such a source indicates the lack of understanding you have about what fundamentalism really is, a reason why you continue to falsely associate New Atheism’s principled and vocal stance against legal privilege awarded without merit or cause to religious organizations and mouthpieces based on some nebulous moral sensibilities to be ‘evangelical’. Stop parroting such twits and start listening to the actual arguments put forth by New Atheists if you want to understand why religiously motivated actions (and propped up by misguided people in public agencies abusing public power) in the public domain are poor reasons that cause more harm than good.

  19. Heather says:

    Tildeb
    religiously motivated actions (and propped up by misguided people in public agencies abusing public power) in the public domain are poor reasons that cause more harm than good.

    The problem is not “religion”. The problem is “people”.

    I happened across an article yesterday in which the author admitted that Darwinism has also been used as an excuse to promote much harm over the years.

    http://blogs.vancouversun.com/2014/09/21/the-uses-and-abuses-of-charles-darwin/

    The article that linked to this one was originally titled to suggest that evolution is “under attack” from fundamentalist Muslims and Evangelical Christians. It has a different headline, now. But the tone of the article clearly indicates that the author believes that “people of faith” really have no business (public or private) entertaining a literal understanding of “God created…” as it is counterproductive to the current liberal trend in social engineering
    Whether he is an avowed atheist or not, the author of the article does not appear to favor the idea that freedom of religion should be allowed even on a private level. So, I’d think he aligns more readily with your perspective than he does with mine.

  20. kingstonjack says:

    I propose bringing this particular discussion to a close.

    Why?

    1. We’re not laughing enough! I’m fundamentally (sic) opposed to doing things which don’t bring a smile to my face. (Yes, I am that shallow.)
    2. We’re not moving any closer to any kind of mutual agreement on the place of faith in society.
    3. The arguments have been heard and considered, and rejected all round: I can’t agree that there is nothing of value in faith; tildeb can’t agree that atheism is in any way belief-based; Heather can’t agree that the bible is to be interpreted other than literally.
    4. Currently, the discussion we’re having isn’t really a discussion. Points are made but not responded to; instead older arguments are just revisited.
    5. Einstein is supposed to have said: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting to get different results.

    Heather and tildeb, you’re both very welcome to continue commenting at LiningUpTheDucks, on whatever post you feel you want to. I enjoy your input, even if I don’t agree with it.

    tildeb, I always appreciate the thoughts and opinions of those who mark “none” on their census form. It does me immense good to be questioned vigorously and challenged without fear or favour. Given how much of my time is spent with like-minded people, exposure to sincere criticism is necessary to delay any further atrophying of my limited grey matter.

    Heather, your sincerity is valued and you demonstrate that conservative faith is not necessarily unthinking nor closed. You articulate what some folk I know may be thinking but are at a loss to know how to express, so listening to you keeps me mindful of the thoughts of others.

    My thanks to both of you.

    • Heather says:

      Thank you for your willingness to host, KJ.

      Your points are valid and I agree that we really aren’t making much progress toward mutual agreement.
      If I may clarify one bit before we break up the party:
      Heather can’t agree that the bible is to be interpreted other than literally.

      This I will protest ever so slightly. While I admit to reading much of the OT and most of the NT as literal, historical fact, I’m not at all opposed to metaphorical/allegorical interpretation. The multi-layered facet of symbolic truth-upon-truth is fascinating to me, really.
      I do understand, though, that my literalistic tendency keeps me somewhat inflexible in this type of discussion.

      Take care.

  21. tildeb says:

    Just a quick note on Resa Aslan by Sam Harris…

    “Our conversation on Real Time was provoked by an interview that Reza Aslan gave on CNN, in which he castigated Maher for the remarks he had made about Islam on the previous show. I have always considered Aslan a comical figure. His thoughts about religion in general are a jumble of pretentious nonsense—yet he speaks with an air of self-importance that would have been embarrassing in Genghis Khan at the height of his power. On the topic of Islam, however, Aslan has begun to seem more sinister. He cannot possibly believe what he says, because nearly everything he says is a lie or a half-truth calibrated to mislead a liberal audience. If he claims something isn’t in the Koran, it probably is. I don’t know what his agenda is, beyond riding a jet stream of white guilt from interview to interview, but he is manipulating liberal biases for the purpose of shutting down conversation on important topics. Given what he surely knows about the contents of the Koran and the hadith, the state of public opinion in the Muslim world, the suffering of women and other disempowered groups, and the real-world effects of deeply held religious beliefs, I find his deception on these issues unconscionable.”

    And it is this bias he is trying to propel against atheists. He is not a credible source and you shouldn’t use him or his words if y9ou are trying to make a point about what’s true and real. If it comes from him, it probably isn’t.

  22. tildeb says:

    Again, look at the source you are using: the execrable Aslan. Why execrable? Because the man is an apologist for tolerating the intolerable.

    In response to Aslan and later parroted by Greenwald intentionally misrepresenting in a tweet what Harris has written, Harris asks:

    Both Aslan and Greenwald are debasing our public discourse and making honest discussion of important ideas increasingly unpleasant—even personally dangerous. Why are they doing this? Please ask them and those who publish them. (on the mechanics of defamation)

    Why do you think Aslan is saying in your reference what he is saying? It’s not because it’s source for what’s true. It’s not true. What other motivation, then, is at play, do you think for this cretin to spout such nonsense? More importantly, what does using as a ‘source’ who knowing misrepresents what’s true in order to defame others say about those who use such execrable ‘source’?

    Something to think about…

  23. kingstonjack says:

    “Something to think about…”

    Three quick things I’ve thought about:

    1. In my very first mention of Aslan, I wrote, “he’s not the world’s greatest scholar”.

    2. Even someone who is not the world’s greatest scholar can get it right sometimes. As it happens, I think that there is at least a grain of truth in the assertion that some atheists suffer from an “overwhelming sense of siege: the belief that they have been oppressed and marginalized”. For those people who require evidence before reaching a decision, your trail of posts with unsubstantiated claims of victimisation only serves to strengthen Aslan’s hypothesis.

    3. Let it go, tildeb. Picking at sores doesn’t make them better. As I suggested earlier, we could all do with a few more laughs. Here’s a link to Dara O’Briain doing a genuinely funny job of mocking religion: http://youtu.be/SMvCLfkMhao. Sit back and laugh.

    • tildeb says:

      kj, it’s rather a stupid way of justifying a very stupid posting when the intention is to first malign others and, when they rise to their own defense, tell them they’re full of shit and picking at sores (that you want to keep open), assure them that the maligning was probably valid for someone somewhere, you’re sure, and then beneficently advise others to sit back, relax, and have a shared laugh as if what you’ve done is of trivial concern.

      Umm… no. The problem still remains and, if you’re at the receiving end of it, certainly not trivial. You’re just trying to kick some sand over what you’ve supported and how you’ve supported it and then want to pretend this shit you’re spreading doesn’t stink.

      Well, it does.

      The stink remains the groundless maligning and the manure spreader is people like you who try to back it up using well-known sources like Aslan who are intentionally malicious and care not one whit for what’s true.

      Stop doing that. Apologize for doing it, admit that you made a mistake, and assure your readership that you won’t do it again (or, if you do, you’ll be accountable for it). That’s what grown ups do. That’s the solution to this kind of childish maligning. It’s not funny, in case you hadn’t noticed. It’s part of the problem.

  24. tildeb says:

    My criticism of Aslan is not based only on his gross misrepresentation of atheism (and atheists) which is unconscionable but his apologetics towards Islam and the intentional maligning of all those who dare criticize its inherently anti-secular, ant-democratic, anti-enlightenment values that are pernicious and cause great harm to a great many people (mostly Muslims) when implemented. Rely on Aslan to vilify these people using misinformation, distortions of what’s true, and even outright lies to defame and denigrate.

    Here’s a short article taking him to task for waving away the link between Islam and female genital mutilation by claiming it’s an African problem! He’s welcome to his opinion, of course, but reaches too far to make up his own facts. And that’s why he is at the bottom of barrel as a credible ‘source’.

  25. Heather says:

    kj, it’s rather a stupid way of justifying a very stupid posting when the intention is to first malign others

    I didn’t feel maligned.
    Just misunderstood. 😉

    Even someone who is not the world’s greatest scholar can get it right sometimes.

    Even a broken clock will show the correct time twice a day.

    😀

    • tildeb says:

      The maligning was aimed at atheists.

      And Aslan is not a ‘scholar’ somewhere near the top of related academic field as implied but a bottom feeder all too willing to malign and defame the intellectually honest and sacrifice what is true in order to first excuse and then protect Islamic doctrine from having any responsibility from actions carried out in its name. He’s a hand waving apologetic mouthpiece, plain and simple, and a ridiculous ‘source’ to use to back up some imaginary claim that non believers do not suffer from ubiquitous discrimination.

  26. kingstonjack says:

    Yes, I put you both in the same boat.

    Did you notice that I put a number of other people in there too? I started with some progressive christians – people with whom I often strongly identify, but they were still the first in the boat. And yes, I added some conservative christians and some atheists. And then, just to round things out nicely, I put myself in that boat as well.

    Quite frankly, whenever I am so deeply entrenched in my own ideology that I become blind to truth held by others then I deserve to be dismissed as a fundamentalist. And most of all I deserve to be ignored, because that’s the thing that fundamentalists of any persuasion hate most of all.

    • tildeb says:

      The maligning was aimed at atheists in the sense it’s a false category to call them ‘fundamentalists’ for those who hold no ‘fundamental beliefs’ but are assigned to that category by those who do with the intention of discrediting their independent state by the false association.

      There is no atheist ‘ideology’. There is simply non belief in gods or a god. Why the religious seem so highly challenged to understand this fact reveals the scope and depth of their willingness to dismiss others solely on the basis of their own beliefs. Here we see a challenge to those beliefs and so the approach is to frame the challenge as a part of some fundamental ideological discrepancy maintained by atheists that cannot possibly be bridged due to their irrationality. This is a fiction. Pure fiction.

      The discrepancy lies with the religious who refuse to accept the fact that some people don’t empower their beliefs to define the world but have the temerity to insist that the world decides to empower beliefs held about it. This is the atheist standard used to evaluate belief claims about gods or a god (the same standard, it must be noted, that all of us use almost all of the time to navigate reality… except the religious who turn to Oogity Boogity and the mechanism of Poofism to model a world with a divine causal agency at work in it). It is this standard the religious have such difficulty tolerating when applied to their religious fundamental beliefs.

      Get over yourselves, already. Stop smearing those of us who dare to respect reality (and its role to arbitrate claims made about it) more than your contrary beliefs about it. It’s not just undignified and churlish but quite unfair and mean-spirited that leads to causing real harm to real people in real life through piously supporting intolerant public domain policies and procedures. The right and freedom to swing your fisted beliefs stops when it reaches the end of the atheist’s nose. Calling any atheist ‘fundamentalist’ is a breach of that border.

      • kingstonjack says:

        tildeb, when I go back over the trail of comments that you have left, what do I find? Your involvement here goes back to one thing: that I dared to suggest that an atheist might be a fundamentalist and, by implication, that you might be a fundamentalist.

        It seems to me that your refusal to accept that possibility is founded upon the claim that you have no fundamentals to adhere to. While I have questions about that, I am prepared to accept that that is your earnest belief.

        However, does this invalidate my use of the term “fundamentalist”? How about we investigate how this word is used in contemporary society? We already know the dictionary definition of the word, but – and this is of great significance – the dictionary definition does not tell us how the word is understood in everyday usage. What might be far more helpful for us in understanding the nuances of usage is to look at some of the synonyms we have for the word:

        Fundamentalist –
        fanatic, diehard, zealot, extremist, reactionary, stick-in-the-mud, intransigent, true believer, addict, bigot, devotee, militant, crank, monomaniac, adamant, inflexible, hard-core, unwavering, uncompromising

        What do we notice about this choice collection of terms? First of all, they are not specifically religious. I recognise that the primary orientation of zealot and devotee is religious, however these words are also regularly applied to non-religious persons. (For example, a devotee of football.) All of these words can be applied to both religious and non-religious persons.

        Second thing to notice is that they are descriptors of behaviour, and really say nothing about why a person might be, for example, a reactionary or a monomaniac. To understand why such a word might be applied, we would need to look at the person’s behaviour, not their beliefs.

        It is purely in this sense that I would describe some progressive christians as “fundamentalist” or some atheists as “fundamentalist”.

        Given common usage of the term “fundamentalist”, how would we know if applying that term to someone was reasonable? Answer: we would look for evidence to prove the assertion. (It’s the scientific, rational approach.) We would look for behaviour which indicated extremism or inflexibility or bigotry or intransigence, etc.

        If a completely impartial observer were to read through all of the comments posted here, what conclusions might they draw?

        I recognise and agree that atheism is not a religion, philosophy, ideology, or belief system. Atheism is simply a-theism. I get that. However, there is a huge thread running through the comments here which is specifically an expression of secular humanism:
        Secular humanism is a comprehensive, nonreligious lifestance incorporating: a naturalistic philosophy; a cosmic outlook rooted in science; and a consequentialist ethical system.

        I really don’t think we need to look far to see that one half of this argument is rooted in naturalistic philosophy, a cosmic outlook based on science and a consequentialist ethical system. And that is totally and completely fine! I have no issue with anyone whose approach to life is grounded here. But taken as a whole, arguments from this position are expressions of an ideology, the ideology of “secular, Enlightenment principles”.

        Can we discern an “unwavering” commitment to arguing this ideology? Is there evidence of “inflexibility” in applying this ideology? “Adamant”? Is the person arguing for these principles a “devotee”? “Hard-core”? “Uncompromising”?

        Whether or not you might apply these words to yourself would be entirely dependent upon your capacity for self-reflection. However, others noting your obsession with trying to convince all and sundry that yours is the one and only valid position might come to the conclusion that you are a “true believer”. A “fundamentalist”.

        If you find that offensive, I am sorry. But reading back through this thread, there is plenty of evidence to support the assertion.

      • tildeb says:

        Oh, well then, let me admit guilt to having a commitment to fairness and equity and compassion that is equivalently unwavering. In fact, my commitment to these values is rooted in an ideology of personal autonomy and dignity of personhood, translated into law to be legal equality. This reveals evidence of inflexibility against those who would apply legal inequality and I adamantly insist that our governments remain neutral in awarding privilege. You can certainly call me a devotee to these values based on these principles because much harm is created when they are undermined. Yes, I’m a hardcore supporter of fairness, equity, and compassion and am uncompromising in my support for their maintenance in law. I am truly a ‘fundamentalist’ if I dare speak out in defense of these values under your definition while you generously apply the addition of “evangelical zeal” to convert all” to those willing stand against the usurpation of individual rights and freedoms by those who wish to privilege certain people in law and foster legal inequality that we know reduces individual autonomy and injures the dignity of real people in real life.

        If that’s your definition, then we need far more ‘fundamentalists’. But that’s not really what you mean to suggest in your OP, is it?

  27. kingstonjack says:

    Yes! This is exactly want I meant to suggest in my OP!

    Now you’re on the same page as I am: “fundamentalism” is expressed precisely as you’ve expressed it here. Now the big question is, “Can you see that your formula for expressing your beliefs (your ideology) is exactly how a creationist tells their story; it’s the same way a Muslim extremist tells their story; it’s identical to how anyone blindly committed to whatever it is that holds them captive goes about proclaiming the ineluctable truth.

    For example:
    Oh, well then, let me admit guilt to having a commitment to the One True God that is equivalently unwavering. In fact, my commitment to the Flying Spaghetti Monster is rooted in my personal experience of healing through reiki. This reveals evidence of inflexibility against those who are not spiritual enough and I adamantly insist that exercising using this equipment will fill your life with happiness. You can certainly call me a devotee to the right to carry concealed weapons based on freedom from the tyranny of right-wing do-gooders because much harm is created when children are not vaccinated. Yes, I’m a hardcore supporter of euthanasia and am uncompromising in my support for the death penalty. I am truly a ‘fundamentalist’ if I dare speak out in defense of Islam while you generously apply the title of heretic to those willing to stand against women breast feeding in public by those who fail to bend the knee to our Reptilian overlords.

    The problem is not with the beliefs. It’s with the behaviour! Inflexibility, intransigence, obstinacy, unwillingness to concede that someone else may see something that we don’t see – that is the problem.

    • tildeb says:

      No, that’s not the problem. These are conclusions I have reached justified by compelling evidence from reality independent of me and not the kind of rigid beliefs you insert that are simply immune from any arbitration reality has of them. These principles stand on merit alone whether I believe in them or not.

      The problem is that you conflate such derived conclusions I have reached that justify these principles on merit as being simply a different set of premises used by those who believe stuff without independent merit and call them two sides of the the same coin of ‘fundamentalism’. This use of yours means any kind of belief is ‘fundamental’ and this is factually incorrect.

  28. kingstonjack says:

    Hi tildeb. I hope you don’t mind, but I’d like one more go at trying to communicate what it is I’m attempting to say.

    In my original post, I lumped together three different groups of people – conservative christians, progressive christians and atheists. I know that is something of a heinous crime, but there you are. I did try to soften my stance by suggesting that it was only some members of each of these groups that I was referring to.

    Obviously (blindingly obviously, even) the grouping together of such different people cannot be on the basis of the content of what they believe to be true. Content wise, there are enormous gulfs between all three; for example, conservative christians believe in the virgin birth, progressives don’t but still have an attachment to the divine, and atheists don’t believe in any of that.

    Each group argues for the content of their beliefs and each group claims to have evidence to support their assertions. (And yes, I know that secular Enlightenment principles provide you with everything you need, and everything you believe that the other two groups need as well. That’s not the point here.)

    So, if it’s not content, what is there that is shared in common by those I seek to join in unholy matrimony? Not content but behaviour. There is a group of behaviours which distinguishes certain members of each of these three groups. Not all members; just certain members.

    Those behaviours are about how the content is presented to others. Or, to put it more bluntly, how the content is argued. I know and associate with people from all three of these groups who regularly meet together to discuss “the big questions”, and who manage to do it without name-calling, with good humour, and with charity. These people do not meet my criteria for fundamentalism, because their attitude to those who think differently from them is not closed. They remain open to listening to the truths that others hold.

    What sets fundamentalists apart is closed-mindedness. A total refusal to concede that others have any access to truth inevitably leads to a complete distortion of just what is it that those others may be saying. Similarly, a total refusal to attribute any positive characteristics to any members of the other groups leads to behaviours which demonise and victimise “unbelievers” (as you know only too well). The markers of fundamentalism are behaviours: intransigence, inflexibilty, uncompromising, closed-mindedness. And all too often a complete lack of humour – ironically, there is no fun in fundamentalism.

    I’m starting to wonder if this extremism stems from either of two things: the inability to put oneself in another person’s shoes, or the inability to see oneself through the eyes of another. Either way, lack of compassion and lack of self-awareness are precursors to the bad behaviour of conservative christian, progressive christian and atheist fundamentalists.

    • tildeb says:

      A total refusal to concede that others have any access to truth…

      Never said it. Don’ think it. Would not support it.

      a total refusal to attribute any positive characteristics to any members of the other groups…

      Never said it. Don’t think it. Would not support it.

      The markers of fundamentalism are behaviours…

      No, the markers of fundamentalism when talking about fundamental and progressive Christians are the fundamental religious beliefs they decide to hold, the central tenets of their religious beliefs that rely on a strict, literal interpretation of certain parts of scripture. Atheists have no such equivalency. In fact, what defines atheists as a group are those who share no belief in gods or a god. Beyond that, the most common principles I have seen actively supported by atheists are those about secular enlightenment values… available to all and not reliant on non belief in gods or a god whatsoever. Your definition – although accurate enough for those who have closed minds – applies very poorly to any atheists I have ever encountered and certainly doesn’t work to describe a group of them. I know none who have a lack of compassion, none who have a lack of awareness, none who lack humour, none who demonstrate an inability to put themselves in the shoes of others, none who have an inability to see themselves through the eyes of another. Your definition applied to atheists as a group is completely your own fiction and your projection of it on to atheists as a group an indication of very muddled and inaccurate thinking that maligns others without cause.

      This post is you smearing the character of a group of people based on your own fiction (bigotry in action) and then calling a legitimate response criticizing you for doing so “extremism” and an example of “bad behaviour”. Others may buy into your fiction and praise you for exercising your bigotry in polite tone and style but I am simply explaining to you why it is still a fiction and a source of harm when exercised against others. You should stop doing that.

  29. kingstonjack says:

    Well, tildeb, we’ve finally come to the end of the discussion. The longer we argue the more apparent it becomes we’re not going to find any kind of common ground, so continuing merely becomes a distraction from other more useful things. Thank you for your input. I will not be commenting any more on this post and I am asking you to do the same.

    • Arkenaten says:

      Surely the best way to find common ground is to use the bible and try to find something that can be historically and factually verified.

      Why not start with Genesis and work through?

      • kingstonjack says:

        Sure – if you were using the bible as an historical record or as a science textbook. But the bible is neither of those things, and it’s not remotely helpful to approach it that way.

        Genesis begins with a creation myth and follows it up with a whole load of aetiology. Why would anyone go looking for the garden of Eden or Noah’s ark when the purpose of their stories is not to give us history but to give us some kind of insight into how human beings function? Adam and Eve weren’t historical figures, but that doesn’t stop them functioning as beautiful illustrations of human behaviour. (Clue: it’s about moving from infancy to adulthood.) Noah didn’t save the platypus and ditch the unicorn, but the story points to the eternal struggle to find a way to save humanity. (And the answer doesn’t lie in destroying everything that makes us unhappy.)

        Myth serves a useful purpose. If it didn’t, then our movie theatres would be empty. (And I don’t see anyone demanding proof of the existence of a galaxy far, far away even though we’re told that happened a long time ago.)

      • Arkenaten says:

        You are preaching to the choir on ths issue. I am fully aware the entire Pentateuch is nothing but geopolitical fiction and so does every other normal/enlightened person.
        The problem you seem to be having is not being able to recognize a similar fiction exists in the New Testament.

        Once you recognize this fact the you are one step closer to unraveling your faith based world view.

        The real question is; how far down the rabbit hole are you prepared to go?

      • @Kingstonjack

        I am somewhat curious. What is your understanding of the New Testament? Do you see parts of the New Testament as fiction and parts as reflecting historical reality? Entirely fictional? Entirely accurate? Would you be willing to elaborate?

  30. kingstonjack says:

    Hmmm… How to elaborate in way that makes sense to someone else?

    Brace yourself. this is going to be very long-winded.

    For a start, I think we need to recognise that the clear distinctions we make between fact and fiction are modern constructs. Most people in most cultures for most of history have blurred the boundaries between categories which we think of as being incompatible. I’m not simply talking about the way most cultures have incorporated the supernatural into the everyday (ghosts and spirits and gods and witches), but even how different groups have constructed reality to match their experience.

    The question “Why?” demands answers and so people have told stories to explain things which they couldn’t explain any other way. Aetiological stories are common across all cultures, and carry significant weight even in modern, Western societies.

    For example, watching the US presidential nomination process at work it’s quite clear that narratives are being constructed which aren’t really grounded in any scientific reality. Both parties are telling aetiological stories to explain the cause of the US’s current political and sociological state. Given the stories the Trump camp and the Clinton camp are telling, it’s impossible for them both to be true and therefore at least one group is creating a fiction which they nevertheless hold to be fact.

    Are aetiological stories pure fiction? Of course not. They are built around concrete realities and experiences but overlaid with symbols and rationalisations to create particular meanings. Again, using the USA as a modern example, Trump is proclaiming, “we are going to make our country great again.” This is beautiful because it posits the claim that the USA has been great in the past but is not great in the present. However, such a statement should (but obviously doesn’t) lead to questioning what he means by “great”. The criteria for great-ness are likely to be based on concrete realities – economic wealth, military might, political power – but these factors are imbued with an authority not given to other, equally valid criteria which could also be used. For example, culture, social stability, homicide rates, welfare system, racial tensions, colonial expansionism, deaths of foreign civilians – all of these are criteria which are also measurable and valid, but they are not given the same power and significance by Trump (and probably most other citizens of the US).

    Has the US ever been great? Is it no longer great? It entirely depends upon the criteria the culture of the country deems to be important. If the country was measured on the basis of its welfare system, then it’s never been great, therefore Trump’s claim is invalid. If it’s measured on political clout, then it’s still great and Trump’s claim is invalid. But Trump is using this slogan in the same way that stories are always constructed: to explain how things are. It’s neither fact nor fiction (although I think it’s mostly fiction, but then I’m prejudiced).

    Does any of that make sense? What does that have to do with the New Testament?

    The stories of the New Testament are a blurring of what is factual and what is not. They were never told as historical reality in the same way that we might try to tell an historical story. They didn’t run around with tape recorders and video cameras and attempt to access primary sources. They told stories based on some historical realities but imbued with significance in order to convey some Truth. For example, both Jesus and Paul were genuine historical figures. They drew breath, ate and drank, dressed and worked, all according to the culture and custom of the day. Jesus was a Jew from start to finish. Paul started out a conservative Jewish figure and ended up a radical.

    Very few genuine historians of the modern era would dispute those claims. There is more evidence for their reality than there is for a whole load of other figures whose existence we would not dream of disputing.

    Secondly, both Jesus and Paul said and did some things which have been recorded. Again, these are concrete realities. I’m assuming that you would be aware of the whole “The Jesus Seminar” project, where the gospels have been examined in minute detail – not by conservative Christians trying to shore up their beliefs, but by progressive Christians and non-Christians simply trying to sort fact from fiction. The results of the project identify a significant number of sayings which are about as historically verifiable as any saying from 2, 000 years ago. Jesus really did tell his followers, “Turn the other cheek” and “Love your enemies”.

    The question then becomes, not “Did it really happen?” but, “What significance does it carry?” In other words, does it convey Truth?

    You ask, “Entirely fictional? Entirely accurate?”

    My short answer would be “No” to both questions.

    But there is clear evidence for some concrete realities, even while not buying into the virgin birth (pure early Christian aetiology, reflecting widespread beliefs across a number of cultures of the time) nor do I believe Jesus turned water into wine. I’m largely unconvinced by any of the post-crucifixion accounts. (I do believe in “resurrection”, but don’t require a physical resuscitation of a corpse – but that’s another story.)

    The question, “Entirely accurate?” is far more difficult. This is because I base accuracy upon whether the stories convey Truth rather than historical facts. Personally, I place huge significance upon the notion of loving enemies. Not just because Jesus told me to (he didn’t – he told his followers and I’ve read about it) but because it makes sense to me. It encapsulates for me the meaning of how to be human. Even the parables (which are totally and completely fiction as Jesus was telling stories to illustrate a point) convey Truth and are therefore “accurate”. For example, the story told in Matthew 25:31-42 conveys the Truth of how we are to relate to others. I don’t believe in a physical heaven and hell, but I do believe in “doing unto others”.

    Does this make sense?

    Finally, Arkenaten commented:
    The problem you seem to be having is not being able to recognize a similar fiction exists in the New Testament.
    Once you recognize this fact the you are one step closer to unraveling your faith based world view.

    In fact, the opposite is true. Once I realise that both Testaments are stories I don’t have to take literally then I am free to mine them for what is True. If I’m forced to take the bible literally then I have to give it away. What I fail to understand is why atheists insist I read the bible their way, which is literally!

    • tildeb says:

      Kingstonjack, you begin assembling your apologetic narrative early by trying to construct a false equivalency. You say about the US election between Trump and Clinton, for example, “it’s quite clear that narratives are being constructed which aren’t really grounded in any scientific reality.”

      Now, to me, the words that pop out and should be emblazoned in this sentence as a giant red flag is “aren’t REALLY grounded…’ suggesting they kind of sort of are. And there is apologetics at work. Almost everything the Republican candidate states as if ‘facts’ aren’t. They’re not sort of facts, not almost facts, not nearly facts. The emphasis is wrong. The brute fact of the matter is that they are NOT facts. Period. They are entirely, wholly, and indisputably the opposite of facts. The term we use for that antonym is FICTION.

      Following the apologetic handbook, you then falsely equate this opposition of fact with a Just So substitute to be a kind of perfectly reasonable narrative. See the connection? Fiction – not as an antonym to fact but as a literary device to tell a story – evolves in the apologetic method to establish a different meaning entirely… all to suit the apologetic method of excusing falsehoods to be not REALLY outright lies but a means of pretending that making false claims intentionally isn’t really lying, isn’t about misrepresenting what is true, isn’t about telling falsehoods and denying reality’s role to demonstrate them as such, but as a means to tell an innocuous story that itself contains some greater truth.

      No. Epistemological claims about reality grounded upon faith-based assertions are not another kind of equivalent but different ‘narrative’. This presentation by the apologist is another kind of deception, a gross distortion of what religious claims REALLY are: incorrect and unsupported factual claims about reality that are contrary to and incompatible with how we understand reality to REALLY operate.

      Playing such word games and building a case on false equivalencies is mewling and fawning apologetics in action – no matter if the method is used in politics or religion. It’s a disservice to finding out what’s true about reality and operates only to excuse lying and deceiving in the service of something other than what’s true.

    • Thank you, Kingstonjack, for taking the time to reply to my question. It was a very thoughtful answer. I understand you to be saying that it isn’t so much the literal facts of the New Testament are true, but that you understand the stories as being myths and literary elaborations of the ideas that these real historical individuals held. I also think you’re saying that it’s the deeper ethical and philosophical ideas that they teach that matter most to you, but you do believe in some of the supernatural metaphysics such as the resurrection (not a bodily one), but don’t believe in heaven and hell. Mostly it’s about the deeper meaning of the stories and its idea about how we ought to treat others that are meaningful to you, not so much the supernatural beliefs.

      1) Does that accurately sum up your views?

      2) Would you say you hold any beliefs that would typically be called supernatural beliefs? If so, what specifically? Can you explain how you understand the resurrection since you mentioned that?

  31. kingstonjack says:

    tildeb, the question was asked, “What is your understanding of the New Testament?” I gave my answer. The fact that you are so blatantly hostile to my elaboration (which is nothing more than I was asked for) means very little in the grand scheme of things. You have already constructed a narrative of what is real and what isn’t, and your arguments simply reinforce what I believe. You call it “word games”; I call it truth.

    I know I can’t convince you and I’m not making any effort to convince you. Equally, your attacks make no impact upon how I choose to live my life. You’re wasting your time, tildeb. Have the grace to acknowledge that, at least.

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