Sam Harris vs. Rick Warren

Several months ago, Time featured a debate between Richard Dawkins and Francis Collins on the subject of God.

This week, Newsweek does something similar. Sam Harris visited the offices of Pastor Rick Warren and moderator Jon Meacham was there to watch it unfold.

I was going to list some excerpts, but really, the whole thing is worth reading.

I am kind of disappointed that Rick Warren resorts to age-old arguments. I keep wondering how many times atheists have to address these issues before people understand them. For example: Where do atheists get their morals from? Atheists like Stalin were responsible for the worst crimes in the world. Warren even closes by using the argument of Pascal’s Wager.

I had thought Warren was above those petty arguments. Atheists certainly have easy responses to them…


[tags]atheist, atheism, Time, Richard Dawkins, Francis Collins, God, Newsweek, Sam Harris, Rick Warren, Jon Meacham, Stalin, Pascal’s Wager[/tags]

  • Patti

    WARREN: So you are open to the possibility that you might be wrong about Jesus?

    HARRIS: And Zeus. Absolutely.

    WARREN: And what are you doing to study that?

    HARRIS: I consider it such a low-probability event that I—

    WARREN: A low probability? When there are 96 percent believers in the world? So is everybody else an idiot?

    Does this make no sense to anyone else? It sounds like Warren just said that 96% of the world is a committed Christian???

  • Richard Wade

    Patti,

    Does this make no sense to anyone else? It sounds like Warren just said that 96% of the world is a committed Christian???

    No, it doesn’t make sense on several levels, including the inflated figure. Even if Warren’s data were correct, isn’t he using one of those illogical arguments that are so old they have latin names? “Argument from majority” or something? He’s implying that billions of believers can’t be wrong. Well, most of the people of the world used to believe that the world was flat, and they were flat wrong. If that’s an example of his best, I’m not impressed.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    I think Warren probably meant 96% religious (belief of some sort), not specifically Christian. Though I don’t know for sure about the accuracy of that figure either. I’ll bet Europe and Australia throw the curve off for that.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    I had thought Warren was above those petty arguments. Atheists certainly have easy responses to them…

    Do you suppose that some Christians have heard the atheist responses to these questions and they just don’t find them satisfactory?

    For instance, I’m well aware that atheists are very moral people, and have a basis for morality that works for them – however, on a philosophical level your answer still doesn’t “do it” for me. I’m glad it works for you (hey, whatever it takes) but on an intellectual level I still find it insufficient. (No disrespect intended, I’m just being honest about my own personal reaction.)

  • Karen

    No, it doesn’t make sense on several levels, including the inflated figure. Even if Warren’s data were correct, isn’t he using one of those illogical arguments that are so old they have latin names? “Argument from majority” or something? He’s implying that billions of believers can’t be wrong. Well, most of the people of the world used to believe that the world was flat, and they were flat wrong. If that’s an example of his best, I’m not impressed.

    He’s probably asserting that 90+% of people on earth are theists, not Christians (though he didn’t make that clear).

    I agree that that’s an inflated figure (though not in the U.S., according to some polls) and that it’s a piss-poor argument. It’s the “argumentum ad populum”:

    An argumentum ad populum (Latin: “appeal to the people”), in logic, is a fallacious argument that concludes a proposition to be true because many or all people believe it; it alleges that “If many believe so, it is so.” In ethics this argument is stated, “if many find it acceptable, it is acceptable.”

    While it’s not a logical argument, however, it is a powerful rhetorical device. For instance, after I had abandoned fundamentalism, and then Christianity specifically, I started thinking about theism in general. And the last hurdle, for me, was just that: “How in the hell can SO many people believe this idea, and how can SO much money and time and effort be spent on this idea of god, if it’s all made up!”

    If you’ve been a believer forever, it’s mind-boggling to accept that god is a delusion. “Hey, but everyone else thinks it’s true!” We’re evolutionarily programmed to accept the majority opinion, I’m sure.

  • rick cash

    Think about how we get religion: from our parents (or whoever our primary caregivers happen to be), in our formative childhood years, when we have nothing but questions about the world and no reason to disbelieve what anyone tells us. This thing gets transmitted from generation to generation because religion is considered “the right thing” and is off limits to questioning or reasoning. The only way to escape this trap is to have parents who are atheist or are not very militant in their religious beliefs. Otherwise, we all have to de-convert…

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    An argumentum ad populum (Latin: “appeal to the people”), in logic, is a fallacious argument that concludes a proposition to be true because many or all people believe it; it alleges that “If many believe so, it is so.” In ethics this argument is stated, “if many find it acceptable, it is acceptable.”

    It’s not quite that fallacy however… since part of the argument is not simply “everyone believes it, so it must be true”, but also “the vast majority of humanity have had religious experiences, how can you write off such an overwhelming amount of evidence?” If you’re making that argument, then it certainly is relevant how many people claim to have similar experiences.

  • http://uncrediblehallq.blogspot.com Chris Hallquist

    C’mon–why is anyone surprised that Warren would be unsophisticated? I’ve read his book; it doesn’t shine through with sound scholarship or philosophical insight. Even other evangelicals blast him for being a light-weight.

  • Karen

    C’mon–why is anyone surprised that Warren would be unsophisticated? I’ve read his book; it doesn’t shine through with sound scholarship or philosophical insight. Even other evangelicals blast him for being a light-weight.

    I’m not surprised he’s such a light-weight. I am surprised that he comes across as so arrogant and dogmatic. I guess it was his work with HIV/AIDS and his willingness to defy the religious right and invite Barack Obama into his pulpit that impressed me. But these comments like these are really ignorant and offensive:

    Where do you get your morality? If there is no God, if I am simply complicated ooze, then the truth is, your life doesn’t matter, my life doesn’t matter.

    For years, atheists have said there is no God, but they want to live like God exists. They want to live like their lives have meaning.

    You will not admit that it is your experience that makes you an atheist, not rationality.

    You’d much rather have somebody—an atheist—feeding the hungry than a person who believes in God? All of the great movements forward in Western civilization were by believers. It was pastors who led the abolition of slavery. It was pastors who led the woman’s right to vote. It was pastors who led the civil-rights movement. Not atheists.

    Okay, that last part’s a blatant lie. There were atheists very involved in the civil rights movement and in women’s suffrage and abolition. Not to mention Jews. And who are these pastors who led the suffrage movement? I’ve never heard of them.

    That doesn’t mean that I do less, it means that this life is a test, it’s a trust and it’s a temporary assignment. If death is the end, shoot, I’m not going to waste another minute being altruistic.

    The truth is, religion is mutually exclusive. The person who says, “Oh, I just believe them all,” is an idiot because the religions flat-out contradict each other. You cannot believe in reincarnation and heaven at the same time.

    You’re more spiritual than you think. You just don’t want a boss. You don’t want a God who tells you what to do.

    That last bit just reeks of pompous arrogance. Yuck.

  • MTran

    I am not familiar with this Warren fellow but if he is representing the position of any sizable Christian group, they are being represented by (and instructed by) a blithering idiot. One who sounds not just incompetent to the task of arguing his position, but an angry and arrogant one, too.

    Until recently I didn’t read the “atheism” books that appeared in the popular press because they said nothing I hadn’t heard by the time I got to high school. However, the complaints by so many believers that Harris and Dawkins lack “nuance” or an appreciation of the subtle points of Christian apologetics miss the point entirely. Because compared to the comments by fundie literalists such as Warren, Harris and his like are geniuses.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    C’mon–why is anyone surprised that Warren would be unsophisticated? I’ve read his book; it doesn’t shine through with sound scholarship or philosophical insight. Even other evangelicals blast him for being a light-weight.

    True, (with the exception of this exchange) Warren strikes me as a generally nice guy, but not exactly what you’d call an intellectual Christian.

    If they wanted a “fair fight” why couldn’t they pick a real Christian intellectual and not just a megachurch pastor?

    I am not familiar with this Warren fellow but if he is representing the position of any sizable Christian group

    Warren doesn’t represent anyone except those in his church (which granted is pretty large). I don’t dislike the guy, but he doesn’t speak for me, or on behalf of any larger Christian organization. He’s just one pastor who’s happened to have a lot of success at attracting rich California yuppies to his church and selling lots of books (though I do appreciate all the AIDS work he does with the profits off his books.)

  • Julie Marie

    Warren doesn’t represent anyone except those in his church

    there are quite a few “purpose driven” churches out there. I think Warren represents the belief system of an unfortunately large group. I used to count my self one of them…

  • Richard Wade

    Mike C, responding to Hemant’s last statement you said:

    Do you suppose that some Christians have heard the atheist responses to these questions and they just don’t find them satisfactory?

    For instance, I’m well aware that atheists are very moral people, and have a basis for morality that works for them – however, on a philosophical level your answer still doesn’t “do it” for me. I’m glad it works for you (hey, whatever it takes) but on an intellectual level I still find it insufficient. (No disrespect intended, I’m just being honest about my own personal reaction.)

    Let me make sure I’m understanding you:
    You acknowledge the reality that atheists have morals, but you find some atheists’ answers to the question, “From where do atheists get their morals?” intellectually and philosophically insufficient and unsatisfactory. You also think that some other Christians may not even accept the reality that atheists do have morals because of the insufficiency of those answers. Is that correct?

    I haven’t witnessed the conversations you’re referring to. Could you characterize the kind of answers that didn’t “do it” for you?

    I have many ideas I could offer, but I want to focus on your particular experience of this kind of interaction, and find ways to help other believers to accept the reality that atheists can and do have morals.

  • Julie Marie

    one of the things that really disturbs me is this:

    If death is the end, shoot, I’m not going to waste another minute being altruistic

    Its so morally bankrupt. It sounds as though the only reason for doing good is because you are going to have to give that accounting of your actions one day.

  • Karen

    Its so morally bankrupt. It sounds as though the only reason for doing good is because you are going to have to give that accounting of your actions one day.

    Yeah, morally bankrupt is a good description. And it’s interesting that Dawkins and Harris aren’t the only ones who resort to name-calling. He uses “idiot” to describe liberal religious believers who don’t think their own particular doctrines have a corner on the truth market.

    MTran, Warren is the author of “The Purpose-Driven Life” which has sold umpteen-gazillion copies and made him very influential in evangelical circles. I went to his church last fall to attend a funeral and it’s a pretty impressive piece of property.

  • Logos

    Mike C you said If they wanted a “fair fight” why couldn’t they pick a real Christian intellectual and not just a megachurch pastor?
    I think what they were doing is looking for some one who had a lot of public recognition. Same for they atheist side , there a lot of atheist scientists,philosophers and writers out there Taner Edis instead they went for someone well known. We both got screwed on that one my enemy.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Mike C you said If they wanted a “fair fight” why couldn’t they pick a real Christian intellectual and not just a megachurch pastor?
    I think what they were doing is looking for some one who had a lot of public recognition. Same for they atheist side , there a lot of atheist scientists,philosophers and writers out there Taner Edis instead they went for someone well known. We both got screwed on that one my enemy.

    Yeah, I know. It’s the same old problem – the media only pays attention to the people with the loud voices and ignores the people that really have something to say.

    And do you really think of me as your enemy? We may disagree on a few metaphysical issues, but what does that have to do with being friends or enemies?

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C
    Warren doesn’t represent anyone except those in his church

    there are quite a few “purpose driven” churches out there. I think Warren represents the belief system of an unfortunately large group. I used to count my self one of them…

    Quite right Julie… I just meant that “officially” he didn’t represent anyone except his own church. A lot of people have been influenced by the Purpose Driven books (which themselves aren’t that bad, if a little shallow), but it’s not a denomination or organization per se. There’s no party line that must be adhered to, and just because a church borrows some “Purpose Driven” ideas doesn’t mean they have to agree with everything Warren says (unlike some denominations and ministry networks I know of).

  • Darryl

    Mike C. is a Christian with a brain–a threat to faith and religion in general. He is a threat to his own faith because in him are the seeds of rational reform. Only unquestioning true believers truly ‘support’ religion. These are the people that cannot be reasoned with. But, Mike C. is not one of them. He tries to be logical and fastidious. He engages in argument with atheists. He knows all the arguments for and against, but chooses nonetheless to believe. I am measuring my words: he “chooses” to believe. He’s not ready to cast off the fetters–he may never be, but he is nonetheless part-way there, and, as such, is a potential threat to himself. I can in all modesty say that I have ‘read his book.’ I know what he thinks, how he feels, and what he is going to say next. His every response is predictable. Those, like me, who have traveled down the road he is on, yet have managed to get off, will understand what I mean. This is not presumpteousness on my part.
    But, brain alone is not sufficient. There are a few requirements that must be met if a believer is to become an atheist (for the right reasons). First, you must have a brain that never accepts any assertion that is not supported by evidence or that makes no sense. Second, you must be a seeker of the truth insofar as you think it can be known. Third, you must be willing to sacrifice everything for the truth. Fourth, you must courageously face the fact that you have possibly wasted years of your life sincerely pursuing “God’s will” (you might be a minister). Fifth, you must engage, as Mike C. is, those that pose the greatest threat to your faith. Sixth, you must keep going, never give up, never cease questioning. Seventh, you must be brutally honest with the person who matters most in this life: yourself. Spare yourself nothing; admit your prejudices; embrace your fears. “The glory of God is a [person] fully alive.” You only have one shot at life. You must set yourself free. Throw the shackles off of your mind. Only gutsy people can do this, if they have been raised from childhood in a religious tradition. This is not for coward’s and half-wits. It’s what the cosmos that birthed us demands of us. The ultimate belief, for me, is this: I believe there must be some other purpose that doesn’t require us to lie to ourselves.

  • http://patrickimo.blogspot.com Patrick Craig

    Moving away from Rick Warren for a sec, yet trying to stay on-topic…

    I took a quick peek at the Time article, and I couldn’t even make it off page one:

    This debate long predates Darwin, but the antireligion position is being promoted with increasing insistence by scientists angered by intelligent design…

    “Antireligion.” Yay. I go and look up “antireligion” on Wikipedia, that popular place to go to get definitions on stuff. I find a link to another article, this one on the Russian group called “Society of the Godless,” who also happen to be known as

    The League of the Militant (italics mine) Godless

    That the Collinses and the Warrens of this world continue to view Atheism and Atheists as negative should shock no one. The entire world seems willing to go along with the negative characterization, and we do so little to stop it. So, why don’t we all just crawl back into the cave of “positive” religion and hide? At least the world will label us “good guys” again…

  • Richard Wade

    Darryl, I hope all that silly pontification was tongue-in-cheek. You sound like the Lord High Muckymuck leader of some goofy secret men’s lodge, standing between burning torches and reciting the Seven Steps of Initiation that poor supplicant Mike C must pass before he can be accepted into our most noble and enviable company. Am I a member of the Secret Society of Secular Soldiers? I forgot my purple fez.

  • http://www.conversationattheedge.com/ Helen

    Hemant, I agree with you about Rick Warren’s comments.

    I wrote about the Newsweek interview on Conversation at the Edge today – especially the excerpt where Rick comments on unanswered prayer and then says “I’ve never met an atheist who wasn’t angry”.

    I hope some atheists who aren’t angry – and preferably whose writing can’t even be construed as sounding angry – will get in touch with him and see if they can remedy that situation.

    Of course, Rick can still come back with his response to Sam “You seem angry to me.”

    But I think that would be hard to honestly say to many atheists – who evidently, Rick has not met – yet.

  • Logos

    And do you really think of me as your enemy? We may disagree on a few metaphysical issues, but what does that have to do with being friends or enemies?
    I was just being a cheeky little monkey!

  • http://patrickimo.blogspot.com Patrick Craig

    I think we need to get a better idea of just what “anger” is, Helen. I’m getting really tired of being accused of being “angry” when my only problem is that I express healthy, justified frustration. It’s not like I can’t be calmed down once I get going on an issue, either. If my opposition in the debate will be reasonable, then I will be reasonable. That applies to everyone I talk to.

    If I do appear “angry” at all, I think it’s fair, in addition to asking me to keep some control, to look at what you are doing that’s bringing the anger about. Warren does this nifty little job of re-creating Harris on a post-it note and then smacking it against Harris’ forehead a la “You coulda had a freakin’ V-8 with Christ” or some such garbage. If Harris then becomes irritated, angry, or whatever, I see no reason to stand in his way when he demolishes Warren with the Mighty Baseball Bat of Reason. QED.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Darryl,

    Thanks for some of the (backhanded?) compliments. I actually agree with most of what you say about being willing to question our most dearly held beliefs. Unfortunately what you (and a few others I’ve encountered) don’t seem to be able to fathom is that I have gone through the process you describe and yet still remain in my belief. You don’t seem to be able to figure out why atheism isn’t a satisfactory resting place for all people. Sometimes there actually are multiple possible valid answers to the same question and not everyone has to arrive at the same conclusion.

    For instance you say:

    I can in all modesty say that I have ‘read his book.’ I know what he thinks, how he feels, and what he is going to say next. His every response is predictable. Those, like me, who have traveled down the road he is on, yet have managed to get off, will understand what I mean. This is not presumpteousness on my part.

    And yet, I think it is presumptuous. Do you really know my journey? I don’t know yours but I’m not sure you’ve been down the same road I have. Funny, but I was going to say something similar – I’ve been down the road of atheism, and I came out on the other side (yes, for some of us, there is an other side). I can’t say I’ve been exactly where you’ve been since I don’t know your story, but I do know that the atheist answers didn’t ultimately work for me (and it wasn’t because I was unwilling to give up my faith – if anything I was eager).

    I am going to keep questioning, and I’m open to new answers (my dialogue here and at the OTM sites have done a lot to eliminate some of my previous reasons for rejecting atheism), and yet what I have found is that the more I question and the more I rethink my beliefs, the less I feel the need to reject faith – instead my faith becomes deeper, richer, and more flexible. Believe it or not, but sometimes the process you describe leads to stronger faith, not no faith.

    Peace,
    -Mike

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    And who are these pastors who led the suffrage movement? I’ve never heard of them.

    BTW, he was probably referring to the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. Only a few of them were pastors, but they were instrumental in the women’s suffrage movement.

  • http://franksatheisticramblings.blogspot.com/ frank

    Can’t believe he ended with Pascal’s Wager. Why do theists actually belive that’s a good argument?

  • http://www.conversationattheedge.com/ Helen

    It seems ironic that a pastor who probably doesn’t believe women can be pastors would push the point that pastors led the women’s suffrage movement.

    How far did they lead it? Up to “You can vote but you can’t lead in church?”

  • Richard Wade

    Frank,

    Can’t believe he ended with Pascal’s Wager. Why do theists actually belive that’s a good argument?

    It’s like when the villian throws his empty gun at the hero. He’s missed every shot, so it’s an act of desparation. It could also be a more frank statement of how shallow his motives are.

  • http://www.conversationattheedge.com/ Helen

    Mike C, I see a huge difference in how you relate to atheists compared with how Rick Warren does in that interview. I would say you are way ahead of Rick when it comes to respectful listening and not mischaracterizing/stereotyping atheists.

    Thanks for making the effort to hear atheists rather than just asserting them what you happen to think is true about them (which is what Rick did).

  • Richard Wade

    Helen and Patrick,

    I wrote about the Newsweek interview on Conversation at the Edge today – especially the excerpt where Rick comments on unanswered prayer and then says “I’ve never met an atheist who wasn’t angry”.

    I usually don’t psychoanalyze for free, but Warren could be doing a process known as “projection,” where a person attributes his own emotion to someone else. It’s often seen in people who repress feelings because they have strong injunctions against them. Warren may be unable to not feel angry whenever he meets an atheist, but he won’t allow himself to be honest about it.

    It can also be used as a nasty, self-fulfilling manipulation. There’s something annoying about being accused of a feeling you aren’t having, especially if it’s delivered with a subtle tone of snide superiority, implying that the feeling makes one less credible or less worthy. After a while the victim can end up screaming, “I’m NOT angry, goddammit!!”

  • http://www.conversationattheedge.com/ Helen

    Patrick I agree with you – I posted a response to you on Conversation at the Edge.

    Richard, Rick Warren might be projecting – who knows? – but my first guess would be that he’s doing something fairly typical of conservative Christians: he has a belief about atheists he thinks is Biblical and since he thinks the Bible is more true than anything a person says about themselves, he may well continue to cling to his belief regardless of what atheists say to him about themselves. There’s a verse in Romans 1 which may Christians understand to imply that atheists all know God exists, deep down, but they suppress the evidence.

    The problem is – if a Christian believes the Bible is inerrant and believes that’s what it says about atheists, he/s can’t believe an atheist who says “no, I really do not have a belief that your god or any gods exist” without deciding he/she is wrong about the Bible. Which would be a major reversal – it takes a lot to get a Christian who truly believes the Bible is inerrant to that point.

  • Karen

    BTW, he was probably referring to the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. Only a few of them were pastors, but they were instrumental in the women’s suffrage movement.

    It’s true that some of the leadership of the WCTU were feminists and suffragists, but they hardly “led the movement” and they weren’t pastors – they couldn’t be, they were women!

    The truth is that the great majority of Christian ministers were absolutely opposed to women’s suffrage and preached long and vehemently against women leaving the home and hearth and even venturing into society as equals to men, let alone getting to vote. This is not ambiguous at all, it’s historically documented.

    Elizabeth Cady Stanton and many of the other early feminists were denounced soundly from pulpits all over the country, and they had scathing things to say about how they were treated by “pastors” and the church in general.

    I think it’s incredibly dishonest to engage in the kind of historical revisionism that Warren’s doing and that we see increasingly, where people go back and attribute good things to Christians that they simply were not doing in the day. For instance, you see how abolitionism is now being attributed to the U.S. Christian churches and yes, many of the abolitionists were Christians. But if you read what Frederick Douglass has to say about Christianity, it’s a starkly different portrait:

    While America is printing tracts and Bibles; sending missionaries abroad to convert the heathen; expending her money in various ways for the promotion of the Gospel in foreign lands, the slave not only lies forgotten—uncared for, but is trampled under foot by the very churches of the land. What have we in America? Why we have slavery made part of the religion of the land. Yes, the pulpit there stands up as the great defender of this cursed institution, as it is called. Ministers of religion come forward, and torture the hallowed pages of inspired wisdom to sanction the bloody deed (Loud cries of “Shame!”) They stand forth as the foremost, the strongest defenders of this “institution.” As a proof of this, I need not do more than state the general fact, that slavery has existed under the droppings of the sanctuary of the south, for the last 200 years, and there has not been any war between the religion and the slavery of the south.

    …..

    Not only are legacies left and slaves sold in this way to build churches, but the right is openly defended by the church. In 1836 the great Methodist Church in America, holding through ministers. and elders, and members, in their own church 250,000 slaves, said in their general conference in Cincinnati that they had no right, no wish, no intention to interfere with the relation of master and slave as it existed in the slave states of the American union.

    He goes on and on about how Christians have not only allowed but militantly endorsed slavery.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    It’s true that some of the leadership of the WCTU were feminists and suffragists, but they hardly “led the movement” and they weren’t pastors – they couldn’t be, they were women!

    Ummm… there have been women pastors since the beginning of the Reformation (especially in the Anabaptist churches – which have typically been the most involved in social justice causes). And in fact, many branches of the Wesleyan movement (e.g. Methodism) have had women preachers since the beginning. And some of these were involved in the WCTU.

    And not all other pastors opposed women’s suffrage either. You paint it as if it’s an either/or. There have always been Christians on either side of these kind of issues – just as there have always been atheists on either side too.

    Why does this have to be competition anyway? Does it have to be an either/or? “Either Christians led the 19th Century social reform movements or atheists did”? Why can’t we just admit that both groups were involved – often on both sides of the issue (for instance, many 19th and early 20th century freethinkers supported racist eugenics policies based on early incarnations of Darwinian theory)? Why not give credit where it is due? Many abolitionists and suffragists were religiously motivated. And many as well probably had non-religious motivations. It’s a both/and.

    Forgive me if I’m misreading you Karen, but whenever this issue comes up you seem to get really defensive and unwilling to admit that Christians did have a role in leading these movements as well. What’s up with that?

  • Karen

    Forgive me if I’m misreading you Karen, but whenever this issue comes up you seem to get really defensive and unwilling to admit that Christians did have a role in leading these movements as well. What’s up with that?

    I’m not unwilling to admit it at all, and I never have been. If you’ve gotten that impression, then perhaps I’m not communicating well, or you’re misreading, or both.

    What does rile me up is seeing Christians today taking all the credit for social reform movements – which they tend to do, exactly like Warren is doing – when that’s absolutely not historically accurate. Indeed, many or probably most Christians were on what we now agree is the wrong side of those movements.

    Rick Warren would look at “fringe” groups like Quakers and Unitarians and Universalist and Anabaptists today or in the past and criticize them for what he’d call their unorthodox doctrine. The mainstream churches of their day did exactly the same thing – they did NOT support them, they supported the status quo of society.

    Yet 100 years later, they now look back at what those Christians did in defying the mainstream of Christian thought, and they want to take credit for it as if every Christian church was opposing slavery and boosting equal rights for women. That’s a lie, and you’re darn right that it makes me mad.

    100 or 200 years from now, I have no doubt there will be conservative Christians pointing backwards and taking credit for the gay rights movement just because some courageous liberal believers joined with secular people to support gay marriage! That ought to make you mad, too. Why do you attempt to justify these people?! I cannot understand that at all.

  • Darryl

    A Quote from the article:

    I am kind of disappointed that Rick Warren resorts to age-old arguments. I keep wondering how many times atheists have to address these issues before people understand them. For example: Where do atheists get their morals from? Atheists like Stalin were responsible for the worst crimes in the world. Warren even closes by using the argument of Pascal’s Wager.

    Forgive my verbosity, but here goes:

    Bill, the Big, and the Bogus

    Nowadays I can always tell when some famous person has a new book out, or a film, or a record. Just notice that person popping up as a guest on the talk and interview venues on broadcast and cable T.V., and radio. What deals are being made by book publishers, movie studios, and record companies with the media outlets to hock their wares? It’s no secret that the lines between government and corporate interests and the media have been blurred if not erased. For example, a week ago former Senator Bill Bradley was interviewed on Meet the Press (3/25/07), then two days later by Chris Mathews on Hardball (3/27/07), then this morning by Diane Rehm on her show on NPR (4/2/07). I suppose I should be glad that Bradley is being interviewed and his book, “The New American Story,” is being hocked in such a concentrated way since he speaks a lot of truth and the attention span of our citizenry is so brief. Yet, I am saddened by the implications of his book, the first of which is that the American people are so dull that the ideas he recycles in the book have to be pounded yet again into our thick skulls. How far have we fallen? Look at Bill Bradley. A basketball star, a man with a solid record of public service, leadership skills, a brain, and just plain old common sense, and he stands no chance of being president. If it’s true that we get the politicians we deserve, what does this reveal about us? Any thinking American knows what reforms must be done, but nothing changes. Our Congress is stalemated and corrupted. Party and money have captured the loyalties of our leaders while the people have been diverted from paying sufficient attention to that part of their lives upon which they so greatly depend and yet so deeply distrust—government.

    And what about the book? First of all, his book offers no new solutions and provides no novel insights into the condition of our Republic and where that may take us. This is not a crippling failing for a book intended to be read by average Americans, but it may indicate that Bradley cannot escape conventional thinking about the challenges that face us when bolder ideas may be in order. In his interview with Diane Rehm he said that the Democrats must put forward ‘big ideas.’ But, big ideas don’t seem to be what is missing right now. There seems to be no end to the number of big ideas that have been floated. What is absent is the consensus necessary to initiate them. Just read Chuck Schumer’s new book “Positively American” (a better book in my opinion, but again, nothing really new there) and compare it to Bradley’s. The terminology differs, but the diagnoses of our ills are roughly the same. Democrats think they know what must be done, but they just can’t get it done.

    A disservice that Bradley performs is to cede the grounds and terms of the issues discussed to the Republicans. At no point is this more disappointing than when Bradley discusses faith and secularism. He has said that the Democrats are too secular and that they must demonstrate how their views are based in morality, which he explicitly grounds in faith. Here is the statement he made during the Meet the Press interview:

    I think that the Democrats—some people in the Democratic Party have been reluctant to talk about faith, and not so much just in a religious sense, but in terms of how it informs our public life. I mean, I don’t think the Democrats should shy away from the morality of our views, that everybody in America have a right to health care, that you shouldn’t lie to the American people, that war should be a last resort, that stewardship of the land and water of our country is good policy and it’s consistent with a sense of morality. I think that those are the kind of things that we need to get across to the American people.

    Here Bradley is pandering to religious conservatives since he must be aware that, by definition, morality is neither absent from secularism, nor present in religiosity. He has made the Religious Right’s argument for them: “the godless liberals have no morality because one requires God to be moral, and morality is what our country needs now.” Bradley cannot have failed to notice the latest reports concerning brain research that indicate that morality is probably a function of brain evolution and not an exclusive possession of faith. So, why the pandering? Is he planning another run for some high office? Is he feathering his nest for an appointment by the next Democratic President?

    It ought to be obvious by now that what is desperately needed in our world today is moderate religion. Fundamentalist faiths—the fighting faiths—must be reformed. How do reformed, moderate faiths tend to express themselves? They tend to make their devotion a private matter rather than trumpeting it in the streets; they are not moralistic, especially about sexuality; their religious principles are brought to bear not only upon specifically religious matters, but upon those of the general, non-sectarian welfare; they aim for consensus rather than polarization—cooperation rather than separation; and perhaps mostly importantly they highly esteem reason, rational argument, and scientific consensus. So, tell me Mr. Bradley, if we are going to generalize about religious expression in America, what party most often exhibits the traits of the moderate faithful and what party those of the fundamentalist? Bradley is either being dishonest or he hasn’t thought through the relation of moderate, reformed faith and secularity. He capitulates to the Religious Right by giving permission for readers to assume that a quiet, modest, moderate believer is a de facto secularist lacking morals.

    But, let us say that the scheming Dems take Bradley’s advice and do talk more about their faith and about how moral they are because of it. What does this do for us? Most faithful Dems I assume are either Christian or Jewish. Most faithful Republicans are likely the same. So, now what? Is a competition between who’s more religious or more moral what we want now? Should the Dems try to out-holy the Republicans? That has nothing at all to do with the morality of public policy; it’s simply a contest of theological interpretations that, again, permits the Religious-Right Republicans to set the parameters of the debate.

    Our public life has always been “informed” by religion, and consequently, always been informed by some morality. Shouldn’t our focus be on what kind of morality informs our public life? Many awful things have been done in the name of morality. Should Tom Delay’s Christianity be the standard of morality in our country—a Christianity that overlooks despicable behavior? How about George Bush’s faith—the President that prefers unnecessary wars and condones torture? Isn’t it clear that religion, of itself, is no guarantee of moral action or thought, and indeed contains much that is immoral? Should we all be good Christians and discriminate against homosexuals because of what the Bible says of them? Should we force all our women to cover themselves in public because of Islamic law?

    Bradley should be fostering a discussion about the morality of specific policies—regardless of whence that morality comes—rather than about how talking more about religion will help the Democrats win more elections. Rather than confirming the Religious Right’s critique of liberals as godless, shouldn’t Bradley be exposing the immorality and hypocrisy of Republican policies?

    If it’s big ideas that need to be enunciated now, shouldn’t we first eliminate the bogus ones?

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Hey Richard,

    You acknowledge the reality that atheists have morals, but you find some atheists’ answers to the question, “From where do atheists get their morals?” intellectually and philosophically insufficient and unsatisfactory. You also think that some other Christians may not even accept the reality that atheists do have morals because of the insufficiency of those answers. Is that correct?

    More or less, yeah. It’s not so much that I find atheist morality to be inadequate – I think most of you have a greatly ethical approach to life and I appreciate that you live by it. It’s more that this approach still leaves a few holes, a few big unanswered questions.

    I’m not sure how easily I can explain though, without dragging us into a big debate that I don’t have time for right now. For instance, you also ask:

    I haven’t witnessed the conversations you’re referring to. Could you characterize the kind of answers that didn’t “do it” for you?

    I’m really not sure I should. That sounds like a potential minefield for a couple of reasons:
    1) I don’t want to be guilty of mis-characterizing atheist arguments that I’ve heard. I’d probably get it wrong. I’d rather respond to actual arguments from others – not try to set up my own strawmen to knock down.

    2) I don’t want to imply that all atheists think the same way about this stuff or have the same basis for ethics. I know that the answers I’ve been given over at the OTM message boards haven’t worked for me, but those probably aren’t the only answers out there, and I don’t want to make those people (whose opinions I really respect nonetheless) speak for all atheists. Again, I’d rather just deal with individual people and individual arguments.

    Instead let me try to describe for you where I’m coming from when it comes to ethical philosophy in general: my undergraduate degree was in philosophy, where I studied postmodern thought (which I’ve told you a little about already). There I was struck by the relativity of our belief systems and our ethical norms. What we typically think is absolute is really influenced by our cultural lenses and the power structures of our society. To paraphrase Nietzsche, “Might often makes right”.

    This train of thought was further reinforced by my graduate degree in Intercultural Studies – where I learned that different cultures often have radically different value systems and ethical beliefs.

    All this left me as generally a cultural relativist when it comes to specific moral beliefs. What is considered “right” and “wrong” usually depends very much on your culture, and on who holds the power and the wealth in your society.

    However, I couldn’t shake the notion that there must be some ethical truths that are universal – if not universally acknowledged by all cultures and societies, at least universally applicable to all people whether they recognize them or not. As the famous postmodern philosopher, Derrida has said “some things, like justice, are undeconstructable”.

    For instance, (to use the tired old horse of all ethical philosophy) on what basis can we condemn what the Nazi’s did? They had their own particular ethical system that to them completely justified their actions – one that frankly has been shared by the majority of societies throughout history and even today (i.e. the ethics of racial superiority and, ultimately, the will to power). The only reason that we don’t agree with Nazi ethics anymore is because they lost the fight. Again, might makes right.

    What I’ve come down to personally is that there are two basic ethical principles that are universal – that apply to everyone and every culture no matter how much they might ignore them – and those are love and justice. (Actually, I think that can probably be reduced to just one principle: love, since I think justice is ultimately just an expression of love.)

    How love and justice get played out and put into practice in specific circumstances will vary greatly from situation to situation and from culture to culture (thus I am still a cultural “relativist” to that degree), and yet I think they do provide an absolute basis for judging between societies and individuals. A particular ethical system may be more or less truly ethical based on the degree to which it treats others with love and deals with them justly.

    But the big question is “why?” Why love and justice? Aren’t those rather arbitrary? On what basis can we hold these up as absolutes? I have my answers – why I think it all comes down to love – but I haven’t yet heard an atheist answer that seems to satisfy me. At least so far all the answers still seem to come back to a “might makes right” approach (which IMHO, is quite the opposite of love and justice), or else base themselves on relativistic cultural values (like a supposedly innate desire for “self-actualization”).

    Anyhow, I’m still open to other possibilities. I’m sure I haven’t heard all the answers out there yet.

    I hope that makes sense…

  • HappyNat

    Interesting Mike C and I agree with most (if not all) of your points. I don’t doubt that the explainations you have heard present holes you can’t get around. My question to you and other theists is what is it about your god that fills in these holes?

    If I agree that love and justice are the two absolute morals (this ia a topic we could argue about all day), how do they show up in all societies across different times and locations? No matter the belief of the society (or lack of belief), if these “absolutes” weren’t apparent the society will fail. I don;t see how your god is the answer for this gap, as your god hasn’t been in all of these societies.

  • Darryl

    Richard Wade

    I appreciate your wit and wisdom regarding my pontifications, and no, they were not made tongue-in-cheek. They were intended for those earnest seekers that I know to be reading this and similar blogs, not for convinced atheists. Anyone that has given up their precious faith knows how agonizing the process can be. I have an affinity with Mike C. that I think he recognizes, and I congratulate him for his sincerity. Such a topic as how one goes about wrestling oneself out of the religious mindset does not deserve ridicule even when it lapses into language that you may consider not to your tastes. Once a pontificator, always a pontificator. Mea culpa.

  • Richard Wade

    Darryl,
    I apologize for being a smart ass with you. I admire most of the things you say, as when you helped me see the other side of the coin about hate crimes on the other thread, and your post above about morality in politics. You deserve more respect and more forbearance from me, and henceforth I will give it.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    I’m not unwilling to admit it at all, and I never have been. If you’ve gotten that impression, then perhaps I’m not communicating well, or you’re misreading, or both.

    I’m probably misreading. It’s hard to judge tone and emotion on the internet.

    What does rile me up is seeing Christians today taking all the credit for social reform movements – which they tend to do, exactly like Warren is doing – when that’s absolutely not historically accurate.

    I agree, what Warren said was totally inaccurate. He should have never said “Christians not Atheists” were responsible for all those reforms. Again, it’s not an either/or and for him to give all the credit to Christian reformers was just wrong.

    However, please don’t assume that whenever Christians point to the 19th Century Christian reformers with pride that we are thereby excluding the role of non-Christian reformers. If I say “Look at what Christians like William Wilberforce accomplished!”, I’m not in any way minimizing the role of others in the fight, I’m simply saying, “That’s part of the Christian legacy too and I hope more Christians will start to follow those sorts of examples instead of some of the ones we look to now.” It’s also a reminder too that a view of history that paints Christians merely as social conservatives and bad guys is equally revisionist. It’s always a mixed bag, though IMHO, it is the Christian reformers and progressives that have always been closer to the heart of their faith. The line of genuine, radical Christ followers runs through the St Francises, John Wesleys, William Wilberforces, William Booths, Mother Theresas, and Shane Claibornes, in my humble opinion – and not quite as much through the militant Popes, slaveholding Southern Baptists, or the Religious Right. If we focus on the latter and forget the former we’ll get a warped view of what Christianity is all about.

    Rick Warren would look at “fringe” groups like Quakers and Unitarians and Universalist and Anabaptists today or in the past and criticize them for what he’d call their unorthodox doctrine. The mainstream churches of their day did exactly the same thing – they did NOT support them, they supported the status quo of society.

    Frankly I don’t care what Warren thinks about those groups. But you’d be wrong to thing that it was only fringe groups of Christians involved in these struggles. The Methodists have a long history as social reformers, as does the entire “evangelical” movement of that era. Wilberforce himself was an Anglican, and the Baptists and Congregationalists of that era were also known for getting involved in such causes. In fact when it comes to abolitionism, many mainstream denominations split over the issue, with the Northern churches supporting abolition and the Southern ones obviously supporting slavery (which is why, for example, we have Souther Baptists vs. American Baptists, and why there used to be Southern Methodists before they eventually rejoined the others to form the United Methodists after the Civil War and after they officially renounced slavery.)

    Yet 100 years later, they now look back at what those Christians did in defying the mainstream of Christian thought, and they want to take credit for it as if every Christian church was opposing slavery and boosting equal rights for women.

    Or maybe they’re looking back and simply saying “That’s the example we ought to be following. That’s the stream of Christianity that we want to claim as our heritage and continue on in.”

    100 or 200 years from now, I have no doubt there will be conservative Christians pointing backwards and taking credit for the gay rights movement just because some courageous liberal believers joined with secular people to support gay marriage! That ought to make you mad, too. Why do you attempt to justify these people?! I cannot understand that at all.

    Okay, now you’ve just confused me. Which people am I supposedly attempting to justify? The people 100 to 200 years from now? Or the people today that don’t support gay marriage? And when did I ever say I wanted to justify that? I’m all for gay marriage.

    I’m confused… :)

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Hey HappyNat,

    My question to you and other theists is what is it about your god that fills in these holes?

    If I agree that love and justice are the two absolute morals (this ia a topic we could argue about all day), how do they show up in all societies across different times and locations? No matter the belief of the society (or lack of belief), if these “absolutes” weren’t apparent the society will fail. I don;t see how your god is the answer for this gap, as your god hasn’t been in all of these societies.

    I’m not sure I understand your question. First of all, I don’t think there is any such society where God is not. I happen to believe that all truth is God’s truth no matter where it’s found – whether in Christian societies or not – and likewise, all love and justice reflects God as well, regardless of whether the source of that love and justice is recognized by that individual or society or not.

    I really don’t want to get too much into it, as I’m not here to preach theology, but to answer your question as best I can, my theistic belief to me answers the questions because I believe that love and justice are not just human notions, nor just arbitrary demands handed down by a deity to his particular group of followers. Rather, I believe that love and justice are woven into the very fabric of the universe. There is something deep and fundamental about our very existence that reflects the love of God. Therefore we should practice love and justice not just because our religion tells us to, or because our society happens to value these virtues, but because it is how we are made – it’s the way we and everything else was intended to function. When fail to love or practice injustice, we’re going against the way things were meant to be. We’re disrupting the system, we’re acting contrary to our intended nature.

    That, as far as I can tell, is an answer that an atheist cannot give. As I understand it, in an atheistic worldview the world and everything in it are essentially value-neutral. It is sheer nonsense to talk about love or justice being a part of the essential nature of things. Love and justice are simply humanly created values – but of course this brings us back to complete cultural relativity, since there are and have been plenty of societies that do not really value these things very highly at all. I might happen to personally prefer love and justice, but why should I expect anyone else to adopt these values except by force of argument or force of arms? And if I use these means, haven’t I just thwarted the very thing I claim to value?

    On the other hand, if I assume that love and justice are not just cultural values, but an essential part of how God created every human being, then I can appeal not to force but to a person’s own nature as reason to embrace the way of love. By calling them to pursue the way of justice and love, I am calling them to become more truly themselves, and to live more in harmony with the very rhythm of the universe.

    Anyhow, sorry for the sermon. I guess I didn’t do a very good job at not preaching theology. ;)

  • Richard Wade

    Mike,
    I can understand your caution not to want to paraphrase or characterize someone else’s answer about whence comes morality, so with a vague sense of trepidation for some reason, I’ll offer my own.

    I really like your distilling morals down to love and justice. (I prefer to use the term ethics instead of morals because it has a more secular connotation and ethics are more about what you should do rather than what you shouldn’t do.) Love and justice are two things that if not absolutely universal in human society, still are extremely common. I could sit comfortably with that model for a long time before I found anything objectionable to it. I haven’t as yet, so for the time being let’s assume that I accept that and agree.

    But the big question is “why?” Why love and justice? Aren’t those rather arbitrary? On what basis can we hold these up as absolutes?

    You do a good job giving your answer to HappyNat further down, and I’m confident I understand it. While I’ve never read my ideas anywhere else, I certainly don’t assume they’re original with me. I expect people will refer me to several authors I should have read years ago.

    I see love and justice as part of my nature. It is natural for me. When someone asks where do I get my ethics it’s like asking where do I get my skin, or my ability to breathe, or walk. Mike, you see love and justice built into people and the universe by an outside agent, God. I don’t see them as simply cultural notions created by people the way they create their shelter or tools or language. I see them in people as a natural trait that helps us survive. Love had it’s first expression in the relationships between parents and children. As we began to live in larger and more complex groups, this became expressed as justice when dealing with multiple and competing relationships. Yes, they have very different expressions in different cultures because of the demands of different environments, and one culture’s expression of them will seem alien to another. But the roots are still there. These two traits increase the likelihood of the survival of the individuals, the families and the tribe. Part of it is perhaps physiologically built in, and part is learned, similarly to the way we have a huge portion of our brain that is great for processing language and then we have the learned language installed into it. Installed usually by our parents. I watched my parents treat each other with kindness and respect, and I did the same. I watched them tell the truth when it might have been easier to lie, and I did the same. I think that as an infant I was already physiologically wired to imitate the ethical behaviors I saw.

    The fact that not every individual is full of love and justice does not make it not natural. Lots of animals fail to develop the traits that benefit the rest of their species. They tend to die out. The fact that some societies become debased and show very little love or justice does not mean that it is not natural. Large branches of living things differentiate and if they don’t have whatever it takes, they go extinct.

    You say that being loving and just is the way God intended for us to function, and that when we fail to practice them we’re going against the way things were meant (by Him) to be.

    I say love and justice are natural traits that help our survival, and when we fail to practice them we begin to die off as individuals, families and societies. Those individuals, families and societies that have those traits strongly tend to flourish. It is not at all “sheer nonsense” to me as an atheist to say that love and justice are a part of the essential nature of humans. It makes complete biological sense.

    Now perhaps the hardest part for some to understand:
    The fact that these are survival traits does not in my mind make them any less beautiful. Indeed, to me it is extremely, exquisitely beautiful that a species that could have developed a thousand different kinds of traits instead, concentrated so much investment in these two remarkable ones, and was successful. Mike, you seem to think that atheists seeing the world in utilitarian terms makes it grim, dreary or depressingly mechanical. Not at all. It’s electrifying to find myself a member of this species.

    So to sum up, love and justice are a very good way of characterizing the essential roots of morality or ethics. I like your idea. How we disagree is that In my view, they are neither divine gifts nor are they merely cultural inventions or fashions. They are natural traits running strongly in some and less so in others. Culture just flavors them a little.

    Funny how we can agree on so much and yet spend so much time disagreeing on a three letter word.

  • HappyNat

    Mike C,

    Thanks for the thoughtful response, I don;t mind being preached at if the content is interesting. :) I see how that “works” for you and understand the holes you see the unbelievers views.

    I tend to think the answers are much closer to Richard’s way of thinking. I guess that is why we are here talking. the fact that we agree about love and justice can make the conversation fun.:)

    Very nice summary BTW, Richard.

  • Karen

    I agree, what Warren said was totally inaccurate. He should have never said “Christians not Atheists” were responsible for all those reforms. Again, it’s not an either/or and for him to give all the credit to Christian reformers was just wrong.

    Thank you for clarifying. It’s particularly outrageous when he says something like “pastors” were leading the suffrage movement, because when he says “pastors” he means “pastors like HIM.” And from what I know from studying the suffrage movement, and having a friend who’s writing a book about it, pastors like him were NOT leading the suffrage movement, they were strongly opposing the suffrage movement.

    Indeed, they still oppose the leadership of women in churches to this very day.

    I grew up in churches like his, as you know, and the leaders continually took credit for all the good in society throughout history and very rarely acknowledged responsibility for any of the bad. When they said “Christians did this or that good thing” there was no ambiguity: They meant fundamentalist, evangelical Christians – “true” Christians.

    Which Christians were actually responsible for working toward the progressive reforms of the 20th Century, in partnership with principled secularists and progressive free-thinkers? Oh yeah, those are the moderate and liberal Christians that he now calls “idiots.” He puts them down now, but has no compunctions about looking back and taking credit for the courageous, unorthodox stances they took 100 years ago.

    Do you see the injustice there that pisses me off?

    Okay, now you’ve just confused me. Which people am I supposedly attempting to justify?

    Maybe I’m misreading you, and I apologize if you think this is an unfair criticism, because I do respect you. But here’s what I see in your arguments:
    You generally seeem to defend or disregard Warren and his ilk on one hand, even as you simultaneously disagree with him on the other hand.

    Evangelical criticisms of the emerging church and postmodern Christianity are UGLY – why would you defend Warren, or close your eyes to his considerable national influence (he trains thousands of pastors annually and travels internationally on behalf of several powerful evangelical associations)?

    I wonder if this impulse is an illustration of what Sam Harris complains about here:

    The problem is that wherever one stands on this continuum, one inadvertently shelters those who are more fanatical than oneself from criticism. Ordinary fundamentalist Christians, by maintaining that the Bible is the perfect word of God, inadvertently support the Dominionists — men and women who, by the millions, are quietly working to turn our country into a totalitarian theocracy reminiscent of John Calvin’s Geneva. Christian moderates, by their lingering attachment to the unique divinity of Jesus, protect the faith of fundamentalists from public scorn. Christian liberals — who aren’t sure what they believe but just love the experience of going to church occasionally — deny the moderates a proper collision with scientific rationality. And in this way centuries have come and gone without an honest word being spoken about God in our society.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    You generally seeem to defend or disregard Warren and his ilk on one hand, even as you simultaneously disagree with him on the other hand.

    Evangelical criticisms of the emerging church and postmodern Christianity are UGLY – why would you defend Warren, or close your eyes to his considerable national influence (he trains thousands of pastors annually and travels internationally on behalf of several powerful evangelical associations)?

    As a part of the “emerging church” I’m constantly engaged in debates with more conservative Christians and arguing about these issues – but even still, I don’t think it’s helpful to make enemies everywhere I go, and refuse to associate with any other Christians unless they completely agree with me. I want to be generous and affirm points of agreement while at the same time working for change from within the system. I think in the long run that will be far more effective than just staring one more splinter group of Christianity.

    Part of it is just a desire to have humility and say that since I don’t have my theology perfectly figured out yet either, I need to be patient with others whose theology I perceive as wrong, and give them the same time and help I needed myself to change my opinions.

    Is that the kind of thing Harris accuses us of? I don’t know, maybe. Frankly I think Harris’ antagonistic “us vs. them” approach is not very helpful to begin with anyway. If he wants to draw hard and fast lines of who’s right and who’s wrong, who’s on his side and who’s not… well, that approach has been tried plenty of times before throughout human history and hasn’t really gotten us very far. Until we learn to love our enemies I really don’t think any significant change is ever going to happen. If I’m in the change business I can’t just be about polemics and drawing up sides. I have to do the hard work of cultivating relationships and subverting the system from within. So if Harris wants to accuse me of being too nice to people like Warren, then fine, guilty as charged – I am still standing against the destructive fundamentalist beliefs that I disagree with, but I don’t think that means I need to be a divisive jerk about it.

    Besides, as you’re well aware, there is a continuum of belief and practice among Christians and it’s rather unfair to lump Warren in with all the “bad guys” just because he made some stupid comments in a debate with an atheist. I don’t like everything he’s about and have plenty of points of disagreement with him, but he’s hardly in the same category as a James Dobson or Jerry Falwell or even a Mark Driscoll. His “Purpose Driven” books, while shallow, don’t have a whole lot of objectionable content and have been helpful to millions of Christians and pastors who have needed the encouragement to actually think through why they do what they do. And I respect the way he’s used the profits off his books to fight AIDS in Africa and raise awareness of this issue among his fellow evangelicals. I like that for the most part he focuses on these kind of issues and doesn’t seem to be out to pick fights with others (it’s not like he’s out there arguing with atheists on a regular basis – I expect Newsweek approached him about doing this article, not vice versa – nor is he a visible “culture warrior” when it comes to the political issues of the Religious Right.) If he uses his “considerable national influence” to motivate people to be “purpose driven” and fight AIDS, why would I have much cause to complain about that?

    Anyway, again, I don’t see what good it would do to just denounce Warren for a few dumb comments and make him my enemy. Rick Warren is not my enemy. Evangelicals (no matter how much they attack emerging church folks like myself) are not my enemies. Even fundamentalists (as much as they hack me off) are not my enemies. (I should add that atheists are not my enemies either.) And even if they were, that would just be all the more reason for me to respond with love towards them. Again, I truly believe that’s the only way things are ever going to change.

  • Logos

    So if Harris wants to accuse me of being too nice to people like Warren, then fine, guilty as charged – I am still standing against the destructive fundamentalist beliefs that I disagree with, but I don’t think that means I need to be a divisive jerk about it.

    So, would you be nice to Harris if you met him or had a discussion with him?

  • Logos

    100 or 200 years from now, I have no doubt there will be conservative Christians pointing backwards and taking credit for the gay rights movement

    Do you really think things could ever get to that point?

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    So, would you be nice to Harris if you met him or had a discussion with him?

    I can’t think of any reason why I wouldn’t be.

  • Logos

    I can’t think of any reason why I wouldn’t be.

    What would you say if you got a chance to talk to him?

  • Richard Wade

    Karen said,

    100 or 200 years from now, I have no doubt there will be conservative Christians pointing backwards and taking credit for the gay rights movement

    To which Logos asked,

    Do you really think things could ever get to that point?

    To all I say,
    200 years from now we will either have the largely secular society that Sam Harris wants, or the totalitarian theocracy that he fears. But if by then we have shrugged off the yoke of religion it won’t be because of people like Harris, it will be because of people like Mike C.

    I don’t buy Harris’s domino theory of Christian liberals protecting Christian moderates who protect Christian fundamentalists who protect Christian extremists like the Dominionists. They’re not winking and nodding at each other, they’re in dynamic conflict and competing with each other. The liberal Christians are weakening the fundamentalists every day, and the taliban types look more like the screwballs that they are.

    I don’t want to change a single iota of Mike’s beliefs. I want him out there doing exactly what he’s doing, liberalizing the church from the inside. It’s far, far more likely that fundamentalists are going to “convert” to his style of belief than to the views of a very articulate atheist. Through that process more and more people will loosen their grip on the most egregious irrational social and political beliefs, and gradually embrace more and more secular points of view. Mike’s successors a couple of generations along will be even more liberal and secular than he is.

    This is going to be a very long, gradual process. It will take the full 200 years, so it’s hard to see encouraging evidence right now. But ask yourself which you would be willing to bet money on: a fundie being swayed by someone like Mike C, or someone like Sam Harris?

    Note to Mike: I don’t want you to get the impression that I advocate “using” you as a step toward a long term goal. I deeply respect you personally and what you’re doing. You, I and everyone else here are tiny parts of huge, slow social movements that we cannot fully perceive. Only future history books will be able to describe the full impact of our part, long after our names are forgotten.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Note to Mike: I don’t want you to get the impression that I advocate “using” you as a step toward a long term goal. I deeply respect you personally and what you’re doing. You, I and everyone else here are tiny parts of huge, slow social movements that we cannot fully perceive. Only future history books will be able to describe the full impact of our part, long after our names are forgotten.

    No worries, I’m actually a little embarrassed by your praise. :)

    We all have our visions of an ideal future. Personally, the two possibilities you suggest, a largely secular society or a totalitarian theocracy, both seem rather undesirable to me. In two hundred years I’m hoping that we’ll have settled into a open-minded, intelligent pluralism where faith communities of all types (including atheistic communities) continue to provide meaning for their members, and also prioritize making the world a better place for all people, not just their own members, and are willing to work together with anyone who shares their goals. And I hope for a lot of healthy cross-pollination where we can all share the strengths that each of our worldviews and traditions have to offer.

    And honestly, I do hope for a world where more people are following the way of Christ. Note that this is not the same as hoping that more people will become Christians. To me the way of Christ is an approach to life that can be practiced within any belief system. I want to see his way of compassion, generosity, reconciliation, non-violence, justice, sacrificial love, etc. to “infect” lots of different religious and non-religious groups. Maybe one day we’ll even have atheist Christ followers! (Actually my wife already met one this past year.)

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    What would you say if you got a chance to talk to him?

    Oh hell.. I don’t know… probably ask him if he’s seen any good movies recently. ;)

  • Logos

    What if he said this one http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0455507/

  • http://patrickimo.blogspot.com Patrick Craig

    Hi Logos,

    What if he said this one http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0455507/

    I am now back in the conversation! Show of hands: how many “victims” do we have who’ve seen this wonderful little piece of movie? Hopefully everyone. Back when the dreaded “Blasphemy Challenge” got started on YouTube, I posted my first video – objecting to the use of The God Who Wasn’t There as free “bait” for bringing young people into the debate. Leading by example, I bought the thing myself, and I have NEVER regretted the move.

    I would love to discuss the movie further with all of you, but I don’t want to take up massive amounts of space here in Hemant’s comments sections. If you want to talk, let me know, and we can arrange something “off site” like e-mail. :)

  • http://www.conversationattheedge.com/ Helen

    Richard, in my experience conservative Christians aren’t any more open to what ‘liberal Christians’ say than they are to what atheists say. I question whether they will listen to Mike C more than to atheists.

  • MTran

    And honestly, I do hope for a world where more people are following the way of Christ. Note that this is not the same as hoping that more people will become Christians. To me the way of Christ is an approach to life that can be practiced within any belief system. I want to see his way of compassion, generosity, reconciliation, non-violence, justice, sacrificial love, etc. to “infect” lots of different religious and non-religious groups. Maybe one day we’ll even have atheist Christ followers!

    I don’t think this is a bad idea, and not so terribly unlikely, either.

  • http://patrickimo.blogspot.com Patrick Craig

    And honestly, I do hope for a world where more people are following the way of Christ.

    I don’t think this is a bad idea, either. It is my understanding that Christ represented an ideal of love and life that has, in practice, been completely botched by many, if not all, of his subsequent adherents. I would give every last cent I had to watch Jesus take the heads of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell and bonk them together while yelling, “You two did not get the freakin’ point!!!”

    Hope I’m not being too blasphemous with that…

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Richard, in my experience conservative Christians aren’t any more open to what ‘liberal Christians’ say than they are to what atheists say. I question whether they will listen to Mike C more than to atheists.

    Fortunately Helen, I do see more hopeful signs. I’ve personally led several very conservative Christians through the same process of transformation that I myself have gone through in the last decade (though fortunately the process in their cases was greatly accelerated, as they had a guide, and I was largely on my own). And we have several more conservative Christians in our church that I am slowly “corrupting” as well. And we’ve always had curious evangelicals drop in on us from time to time at up/rooted. Some of them do get “infected” as well, and hopefully continue to pursue this new approach. In fact, we had an older lady come just last week who said that she wanted to take these new emerging ideas back to her fundamentalist Baptist church because she thinks there’s more people there who are just waiting for someone to give them permission to ask out loud the questions they’ve been thinking this whole time.

    I’ve got more stories like this, but I wont’ bore you with the details. :) Anyhow, change is slow, but it is happening, one relationship and one conversation at a time.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    I would give every last cent I had to watch Jesus take the heads of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell and bonk them together while yelling, “You two did not get the freakin’ point!!!”

    Hope I’m not being too blasphemous with that…

    Not at all! :) He pretty much did the same thing with the Falwells and Robertsons of his own day, i.e. the Pharisees.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    What if he said this one http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0455507/

    Dunno… sorry, but I haven’t seen it. I guess my point is that I would want to get to know him as a person first, and then just see where the conversation took us. Neither of us are going to get anywhere if we’re just seeing the other as a representative of the “other side”. I’d want to know him as a person and hear his story first – how else am I supposed to really understand where he’s coming from? (And vice versa – perhaps it would be harder for him to stereotype all Christians if he actually heard their stories first hand.)

  • http://patrickimo.blogspot.com Patrick Craig

    i.e. the Pharisees.

    True dat! If I’m not mistaken, the entirety of the infamous “Blasphemy Challenge” has as its basis a comment made by Jesus against those very Pharisees. The whole RRS concept of “denying the holy spirit” is apparently flawed – if you really want to get it right, you have to:

    1. Return Christ to earth in “fleshly” form (good luck with that!);
    2. Get him to perform some miracle;
    3. Know that the miracle just performed comes from god;
    4. Condemn it ANYWAY as an act of satan.

    This is what I hear from some YouTubers, anyway…

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Yup, you hit it right on Patrick!

  • Richard Wade

    My “amen” to Mike’s vision of a world with more Christ followers, whatever the color of their robes, and to MTran, Patrick and others here who embrace this simple human ideal. Lord knows, er, I mean well at least I know that I work at practicing my pale version of “compassion, generosity, reconciliation, non-violence, justice, and sacrificial love” in my daily life. I just get a little discouraged when I see so few doing much of that after 2,000 years. Maybe I’m not looking in the right places or watching too much TV news.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    BTW Logos, this is the second time you’ve asked me about having a personal conversation with Harris. What’s your interest? Were you wanting to set something up?

    Or maybe you are Sam, here trolling the Friendly Atheist site incognito for some honest feedback about your views… ;)

    Just wondering :)

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Maybe I’m not looking in the right places or watching too much TV news.

    My suggestion… look into a guy named Shane Claiborne, his community, the simple way, and his book “The Irresistible Revolution”. It’ll give you hope about the future of Christianity.

  • MTran

    My “amen” to Mike’s vision of a world with more Christ followers, whatever the color of their robes,

    I wonder if more believers would find atheists less threatening if they realized that quite a few of us actually like this Jesus guy, but simply don’t consider him a divinity.

    From some of the comments I’ve read though, a good number of true believers would not follow Christ’s example if he were proven to be human.

    Well, I guess that’s no surprise given that so many who believe his divinity don’t follow his example at all!

  • Logos

    BTW Logos, this is the second time you’ve asked me about having a personal conversation with Harris. What’s your interest? Were you wanting to set something up?

    Or maybe you are Sam, here trolling the Friendly Atheist site incognito for some honest feedback about your views…

    Just wondering

    Whoops, you found me out …or did you?

  • Logos

    My suggestion… look into a guy named Shane Claiborne, his community, the simple way, and his book “The Irresistible Revolution”. It’ll give you hope about the future of Christianity.

    That guy looks like Cain from DC comics http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cain_and_Abel_%28comics%29

  • http://www.conversationattheedge.com/ Helen

    Fortunately Helen, I do see more hopeful signs. I’ve personally led several very conservative Christians through the same process of transformation that I myself have gone through in the last decade (though fortunately the process in their cases was greatly accelerated, as they had a guide, and I was largely on my own). And we have several more conservative Christians in our church that I am slowly “corrupting” as well. And we’ve always had curious evangelicals drop in on us from time to time at up/rooted. Some of them do get “infected” as well, and hopefully continue to pursue this new approach. In fact, we had an older lady come just last week who said that she wanted to take these new emerging ideas back to her fundamentalist Baptist church because she thinks there’s more people there who are just waiting for someone to give them permission to ask out loud the questions they’ve been thinking this whole time.

    I’ve got more stories like this, but I wont’ bore you with the details. Anyhow, change is slow, but it is happening, one relationship and one conversation at a time.

    Mike, thanks for pointing out that some conservative Christians are in fact open to moving toward your less conservative Christian beliefs.

    (Actually I am the last person who should be saying they don’t change…duh ;-))

    I’d venture a guess that having a relationship with you makes a big difference compared to just hearing about ‘liberal Christians’ second-hand.

  • http://patrickimo.blogspot.com Patrick Craig

    I wonder if more believers would find atheists less threatening if they realized that quite a few of us actually like this Jesus guy, but simply don’t consider him a divinity.

    It is unfortunate that so many christians draw that “line in the sand” which says, accept Christ’s divinity, or fry in eternal torment. It’s one heck of a hill to get over. Some Atheists, on the other hand, go too far in the other direction and question the very existence of the human (historical) Jesus in the first place. Apparently Brian Flemming is one of these. What is the big problem with accepting that this man could have once walked the Earth? Would it kill Atheism to know that a man named Jesus of Nazareth once existed, all questions of divinity aside?

  • Richard Wade

    Would it kill Atheism to know that a man named Jesus of Nazareth once existed, all questions of divinity aside?

    No, it wouldn’t kill atheism, but it does violate the principle of demanding sufficient evidence for claims. As I understand, the only non-Biblical references to Jesus refer back to the Bible. Historians require specific criteria to be met for evidence, and that doesn’t do it. By that level of “evidence,” the Wizard of Oz existed, because he’s described in a book and other literature about him refers back to that book.

    I’m not saying whether Jesus actually existed or not. I’m saying the evidence is not sufficient to the criteria that is required by reputable historians for any other claim. Over the centuries historians have bowed to the lethal power of the Church and relaxed their criteria for this one claim.

    For me, it doesn’t matter whether he existed or not. The wonderful parts of the philosophy attributed to him remain, and the stupid bullshit justified by his followers remains.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Umm, Richard, I’m not sure where you’ve heard that Jesus’ existence isn’t historically supported, but you might want to look into it some more. I’m a history buff of sorts, and I’ve looked into this question quite a bit. The reality is that:

    1) Every relevant ancient historian (that is, every historian writing about Palestine around the time of Jesus’ life within 100 years of his life) mentions Jesus in some way. There aren’t many (Josephus, Tacitus, and a few others) but that’s just because there weren’t many historians preserved from that period in the first place. The fact is that 100% of the relevant sources confirm Jesus’ existence.

    2) Most books and historical accounts we have from that period date from the late Dark Ages (ca. 800) or later. By contrast, the oldest New Testament manuscripts we possess (some of which I’ve seen first hand) date from within 100 years of Christ’s life. By comparison to other ancient literature, this is remarkably well founded.

    3) Both 1 & 2 being true, we actually have more direct evidence for the existence of Jesus than we do for the existence of Julius Caesar or Plato (or many other well-known historical figures). By criteria of any reputable historian, there is plenty of evidence for the existence of a Jewish prophet named Yeshua who lived and taught in first century Palestine.

    Of course, it is still possible to hypothesize that Jesus still never actually existed – however, one can only do that by essentially calling into question the whole historical enterprise altogether. If there isn’t enough evidence for Jesus, then frankly, there isn’t enough evidence for much of anything we claim to know about history.

  • Siamang

    Mike…. you’ve posted a whopper of a claim here:

    “we actually have more direct evidence for the existence of Jesus than we do for the existence of Julius Caesar or Plato”.

    Let’s set aside Plato. Julius Caesar?!!! Let’s look at the evidence. By your own admittance, we have no contemporary writings about Jesus.

    You mention Josephus who wrote after Jesus’s death. Is that DIRECT evidence? Josephus is mentioning the existance of Christians, not the existence of Jesus, a man he never saw in his life. Is that direct evidence? Ditto Tacticus. Suetonius, Thalius, Lucian, Celcus…. all of them writing about the existence of or problems with christian groups in the second century, none of them witness to anything other than the exitence of a cult.

    Jesus never wrote anything that survives. Jesus was never mentioned in any historical reference contemporary to his lifetime. Jesus didn’t command large armies or take over countries. During his lifetime, nobody painted his picture, carved his bust, struck his profile into millions of coins. Nobody erected temples in his name during his lifetime.

    Jesus may or may not have existed. If you take out the supernatural claims and just rely on the non-biblical sources, it’s not a stretch to believe that there was a philosopher named Yeshua in Palestine. There were probably a couple hundred.

    But what I’m looking at is this one specific claim, that we have more DIRECT evidence of the existence of Jesus than of the existence of Julius Caesar.

    So let’s look at the evidence for Julius Caesar from within his lifetime. Question: Did Julius Caesar exist?

    Well, first of all, we HAVE THINGS HE WROTE IN HIS LIFETIME, his Commentarii. So there’s some direct evidence better than Jesus. Second, we have people writing WITHIN HIS LIFETIME about him. We have the letters and speeches of Cicero, the historical writings of Sallust, and the poetry of Catullus. Next, we have roman coins struck during his lifetime with his likeness and name on them and the date. We have temples built in his honor withing his lifetime.

    There are mountains and mountains of direct evidence of many, many facets of Caesar’s daily life, let alone his mere existence.

    Meanwhile not one non-biblical writer who mentions Jesus gives us any information about this person except what his followers believed about him long after his supposed death.

    What a whopper of a false equivelency with Jesus.

    Mike, you’re a good guy and I like you a lot. But this claim, which came right after you claim to be a “history buff”, and you claim to have “looked into it quite a bit” makes me think: He’s not a history buff at all.

    You may read a lot from historical or pseudohistorical sources that butress the claims of Christian apologetics. But from the claim above, I don’t think you study history with a serious scholarly approach. Rather it seems to be merely a tool for burnishing your own faith.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Siamang,

    I was referring to written sources (c.f. my three points above – No doubt there is lots of archaeological evidence supporting Roman history as well but that had nothing to do with my point). The written sources we have for Jesus’ life date back to remarkably close to the actual events. By comparison the written sources we have for Julius Caesar are copies of copies of copies. The most recent copies we possess date from the Dark Ages. That’s a lot of time for myth, legend and error to creep in.

    It is in that sense that the evidence for Jesus can be said to be stronger than that for Caesar – the manuscripts we have are so close to the actual events that it is highly unlikely they could have been entirely fabricated. One generation is not enough time for an entirely fictional character to become the center of a whole new religion that believes him to be real and historical – it would be like people in 2050 forgetting that the Harry Potter books were fictional stories written by JK Rowling and thinking that they were actual historical documents.

    That’s all I meant. I’ll ignore your accusations about my credibility – I don’t have time to give you a list of all the primary and secondary sources I’ve read, or all the museums I’ve visited or classes I’ve taken. Suffice it to say, ancient Roman history (and historiography) has been a special interest of mine for over a decade now.

  • Siamang

    It is in that sense that the evidence for Jesus can be said to be stronger than that for Caesar – the manuscripts we have are so close to the actual events that it is highly unlikely they could have been entirely fabricated.

    I don’t get you.

    You said before that there was “more direct evidence for the existence of Jesus than we do for the existence of Julius Caesar”.

    Now you say that that evidence boils down to textual preservation after the fact of writing it?

    So a well-preserved text written by zero eyewitnesses is more proof of the subject’s existence than widely-sourced contemporary corroborating text from multiple sources?

    Now, you didn’t say the accuracy of texts we have today about Jesus is probably closer to the source material than texts about Julius Caesar. You said direct evidence for the EXISTENCE of Jesus is stronger than evidence for the EXISTENCE of Caesar.

    I’m not saying there wasn’t a historic Jesus. I think there probably was. But to say that there’s more evidence for him than Caesar based on writings by a guy who knew a guy who says he saw him…. not sure about that one.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Sorry Siamang, I guess I wasn’t careful enough in making my initial statement. I should have clarified that I was simply talking about the reliability of the texts in question, not all possible evidence. I misspoke myself and overstated my point.

    But I’m not quite sure I understand the issue you raise in your last comment. You said:

    So a well-preserved text written by zero eyewitnesses is more proof of the subject’s existence than widely-sourced contemporary corroborating text from multiple sources?

    I disagree that the gospel texts are not written by eye-witnesses. I’m personally of the scholarly opinion that the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were actually written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Of those, only Luke probably never met Jesus, but he almost certainly did compile his sources from people who were eyewitnesses.

    No doubt there were probably a few editorial additions later on, but I’m convinced, based on the available evidence, that the core of the four canonical gospels really were written by people who walked with and learned from Jesus (or who talked with those who did).

    So yes, I do consider that to be pretty strong evidence for Jesus’ existence.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    BTW, Richard, I want you to know that I’ve been meaning to reply to your evolutionary explanation for ethics comment for a few days now. Your response was really good and I do appreciate you taking the time to explain your basis for ethics. I wasn’t just ignoring your post. I’ve just been too busy getting ready for Easter (and responding to all the other conversations going on here at this blog!) Hopefully I’ll find time to reply in the next few days.

    Sorry! :)

  • Siamang

    I’m personally of the scholarly opinion that the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were actually written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

    Wow. You’re quite a bit out there ahead of what the mainstream nonreligious scholarly opinion is on that, from my understanding.

    Of course you do have believing Christian scholars arguing that, but these arguments have not been sufficiently compelling for the majority of professional experts in this area. The scholarly consensus is quite against you on that.

    Given that most Christians in America find themselves swimming upstream in other areas of overwhelming scholarly consensus (cough*evolution*cough), (cough*climatechange*cough), I’ll merely note that while I’m not an expert in this area, I’m extremely skeptical that you’ve found something that the experts all missed.

    Merely BELIEVEING that you have direct evidence of Jesus’ existence in these Gospels, is not the same thing as HAVING direct evidence.

    To say that the evidence is stronger for Jesus than Caesar, while at the same time putting your thumb on the scale and declaring the Gospels to be eyewitness accounts by fiat, outside of mainstream archeological opinion.

    You’re assuming the very thing you are asserting… that the evidence is better for Jesus than Caesar. What other conclusion could you possibly reach?

    Heck, just assume that the Shroud of Turin is authentic, then you’ve got a photograph and blood-stains with DNA! That trumps dusty old busts of Caesar any day of the week.

  • MTran

    Mike C.,

    Richard’s comments about the natural source of morality reminded me of a wonderful book by Robert Wright, The Moral Animal — Why We Are the Way We Are.

    Although it was published more than a dozen years ago, it gives a very nice summary of the natural development of social and moral behavior. Parts of the book compare Darwin’s biography with that of others in his generation and with his own observations and theories.

    One thing that believers tend to assume is that nature (i.e., evolution) creates a world that is only “red in tooth and claw.” Somehow, they ignore the vastly larger effort that many species put into caring for their young or their pack. The finches in my back yard are getting ready to start on yet another round of nest building and nestling feeding. I see that as a reflection of family-friendly feathered altruism!

  • Richard Wade

    Gee it’s kinda creepy to think that Julius Caesar might not have existed. If he didn’t, then he didn’t conquer Gaul and he didn’t invade Britain and the system of client kingdoms didn’t start and the Angles didn’t rise to dominate East England and my ancestors weren’t born there and my great grandfather didn’t emigrate to Canada and my grandfather didn’t travel to California and my dad wasn’t born, and…
    Well I guess there’s not much proof that I exist either.

  • MTran

    Siamang said:

    Wow. You’re quite a bit out there ahead of what the mainstream nonreligious scholarly opinion is on that, from my understanding.

    Yeah, that’s quite a stretch compared with what I’ve read and what I was taught as an undergrad in my Christian theology and Bible criticism courses. Granted, I was an undergrad back in the 70s, but Mike C’s position on the gospel writers is one I haven’t much seen in credible commentary from any time.

    I also think that ignoring the archaeological and other evidence about Julius Ceasar in order to diminish Ceasar’s comparative historicity is, well, misleading or intellectually dishonest.

  • Richard Wade

    Mike C, don’t worry about the delay in our conversation. I know you’re very busy. I think the number of posts we all put here may be a good indicator of how underemployed many of us are. (Moi aussi.)

  • MTran

    I think the number of posts we all put here may be a good indicator of how underemployed many of us are. (Moi aussi.)

    Alas, underpaid and overworked but avidly practicing my avoidance techniques!

    Actually, I usually work from home for health reasons, but sometimes the distractions are too easy to indulge. And lately that means I end up here… at least there’s good company on this board.

  • Richard Wade

    Hey MTran, thanks for the reference to Robert Wright. I’ll definitely check him out. Now I no longer feel like a voice crying in the wilderness. Well, since it’s about evolutionary behavior maybe I’m still in the wilderness but at least I hear another voice crying too.

  • http://patrickimo.blogspot.com Patrick Craig

    Well I guess there’s not much proof that I exist either.

    Now that you’ve pointed this out, Richard, I’ll be needing to see your “existential” paperwork. If you can’t produce it (and it sounds like you can’t from the overwhelming evidence of Caesar’s non-existence), well, that’s one more god-despising, fundamentalist, evangelical, puppy-kicking Atheist we can eliminate from this discussion. Hallelujah!

    ;)

  • Julie Marie

    Actually, I usually work from home for health reasons, but sometimes the distractions are too easy to indulge. And lately that means I end up here… at least there’s good company on this board.

    I used to work from home too, MTran…and found it quite easy to distract myself with blogging! I found good company here and on the OTM blogs.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Of course you do have believing Christian scholars arguing that, but these arguments have not been sufficiently compelling for the majority of professional experts in this area. The scholarly consensus is quite against you on that.

    There is no “scholarly consensus” on this issue. It would be grossly misleading to say that there is any kind of agreement on the authorship or dating of the canonical gospels. The most we can say is that they were all written sometime between AD 50-110 (and most between AD 60-80) – a range which certainly makes eyewitness accounts not only possible but likely – even according to the more “liberal” scholars.

    And bias pervades the entire field – it’s rather unfair to dismiss Christian scholars out of hand simply because of their religious beliefs, as the secular scholars’ theories are equally based on their particular religious biases. I’ve already written about this recently over at the CatE blog and on the OTM boards at various times, but I have serious reservations about the methods and assumptions of so-called “higher criticism” – it’s based on rather shaky foundations IMHO.

    At any rate, there are plenty of scholarly opinions about the dating and authorship of the canonical gospels, and after studying the issue in depth I personally find the more “traditional” dates/authors to be more likely. But YMMV.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Just for the record guys, I never said we should doubt the existence of Julius Caesar. All I meant was that if we have no doubts about Caesar’s existence, based on the textual evidence, then we should likewise have no doubts about Jesus’, based on the textual evidence. (I know, I originally said “direct” evidence. My bad. I wasn’t careful enough with my word choice – like I said, it’s been a busy week – I should have said “textual” evidence.)

    Maybe Caesar was a bad example. Let’s take any other more minor historical character. There are literally hundreds, maybe thousands of well-known figures of history that are established by one or two inscriptions, or by texts copied centuries after their death. Socrates for instance, is referred to by only three contemporary sources, and none of our manuscripts of those texts date earlier than the Dark Ages. And yet there’s little doubt about his existence (some, but not much).

    The point was simply that according to historical methodology and the usual standards for establishing the historicity of various characters there is no more reason to doubt the existence of Jesus than a whole host of other historically accepted figures.

    Frankly, I’m surprised you guys are so into this “Jesus-never-existed” theory. I wouldn’t have pegged most of you as going for that kind of fringe history (shouldn’t your skepticism meters be going off by now?). There aren’t really many genuine historical scholars (Timothy Freke doesn’t count as one) who take these sorts of theories seriously.

  • Richard Wade

    Frankly, I’m surprised you guys are so into this “Jesus-never-existed” theory.

    Since I’m the one who started this fracas with my response to Patrick, about 14 feet of increasing tension above this line, I feel compelled to clarify that I for one am not into the theory at all one way or the other. I was just talking about the level of evidence that people who see skepticism as a virtue require for credence.

    Most of the several of us here have already agreed that we admire much of the character and social philosophy of Jesus. (That was about 16 feet up.) Once our various thresholds for acceptable evidence have been expressed, then from an atheist’s perspective whether or not he actually existed two millennia ago becomes beside the point. A man’s teaching or the teaching attributed to a perhaps fictitious man is still the teaching. We gain more understanding about each other and about ourselves when we discuss the teaching, how it is followed well or poorly by the adherents of the teaching, and what can our contribution be to reduce destructive conflict between various believers and between believers and non-believers.

    Shakespeare’s plays (or maybe Francis Bacon’s) are not made one word less wonderful by who actually wrote them. Let the scholars argue outside the theatre about the true author. I’d rather go inside and see one of my favorite, “Julius Caesar.”

  • Richard Wade

    By the way, I don’t know if you guys are aware of it but there’s something weird happening to the thread about “What Would You Call ‘Those’ Atheists?” Since April 5 all the new entries are made of underlined text that are a huge link to the YouTube video. I’d like to join in there, but clicking on the message box sends me to YouTube. None of you who are still posting there have made a comment about it from what I can see.

    Also do you see that the type font for the last several messages on this thread are the little bitty size, as if everything is a blockquote? On another thread a while ago, everything started being in bold font, which was annoying but I could still contribute.
    I’ve emailed Hemant about this, and I hope I can join in on the other thread. Looks like a riot is about to break out.

  • Richard Wade

    Hey Patrick, I don’t have my existence papers with me, so just consider my comments to be random web static.
    Oh, and to the description of “god-despising, fundamentalist, evangelical, puppy-kicking atheists” you forgot to include, “baby-eating.” ;)

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    I think the YouTube thing has been fixed now, at least, it’s working now for me.

    I don’t have the font problem you mention for this thread. Have you checked your browser settings?

  • http://patrickimo.blogspot.com Patrick Craig

    Baby eaters!

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Most of the several of us here have already agreed that we admire much of the character and social philosophy of Jesus. (That was about 16 feet up.) Once our various thresholds for acceptable evidence have been expressed, then from an atheist’s perspective whether or not he actually existed two millennia ago becomes beside the point. A man’s teaching or the teaching attributed to a perhaps fictitious man is still the teaching. We gain more understanding about each other and about ourselves when we discuss the teaching, how it is followed well or poorly by the adherents of the teaching, and what can our contribution be to reduce destructive conflict between various believers and between believers and non-believers.

    I do agree with your main point Richard – the teachings of Jesus are something worth considering and perhaps following, even if he turned out to be a completely fictional character. (Though since Jesus’ teachings are so wrapped up in his actions, I think I’d find something lacking in his message if it turned out that none of it actually happened.)

    Anyhow, I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to reference this point of yours this Sunday in my Easter sermon (I’m working on it as we speak). It’s a good one. :)

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    It’s a good one.

    Your point that is, not necessarily my sermon. ;)

  • Logos

    I want in can you refrence something of mine?

  • Richard Wade

    I think the YouTube thing has been fixed now, at least, it’s working now for me.
    I don’t have the font problem you mention for this thread. Have you checked your browser settings?

    No, for me it hasn’t changed and I’m effectively shut out of the conversation. I’m getting a little alarmed by the tone over there. You and others are getting so testy that a few of you are saying quite absurd things. It’s like completely different people with the same names.

    As for my browser settings, I have a Mac and I’m a computer semi-dummy. I wouldn’t know where to look or what to do when I got there.
    Is anybody having the same problem?

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    I’m getting a little alarmed by the tone over there. You and others are getting so testy that a few of you are saying quite absurd things. It’s like completely different people with the same names.

    You’re quite right, which is why I’m trying to bow out of that conversation now before I say any more stupid things. ;) I’ve explained where I’m coming from and I don’t know that there’s anything more to be said at this point.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    I want in can you refrence something of mine?

    Sure, say something profound. ;)

  • Richard Wade

    Mike, “I want in” is kind of profound, or at least poignant.
    You can always use anything I say as long as it doesn’t make the villagers come after me with their pitchforks and shovels.

    I’ve been curious, do any of your congregation raise their eyebrows about how much time you spend hanging around a bunch of atheists, or how often you refer to conversations you’ve had with them? I mean I think it’s cool; I’m just curious about others’ reactions.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    I’ve been curious, do any of your congregation raise their eyebrows about how much time you spend hanging around a bunch of atheists, or how often you refer to conversations you’ve had with them? I mean I think it’s cool; I’m just curious about others’ reactions.

    They don’t mind. Most of them have met Hemant when he came out to visit our church last year. And one of the highest values of our church is to work together with “outsiders” and other groups – whether other Christian denominations, other religions, or the non-religious. For instance, in the past we’ve invited the local Mormon missionaries to join us for our food drives, and recently my wife joined a progressive mommies group led by a self-proclaimed pagan. Not to mention that I’m often referring to my conversations here in sermons and discussions (not in a “see how wrong these atheists are” way, but in a “these guys helped spark some interesting thoughts” way).

    Let’s put it this way, the folks at my church are the type that would really enjoy hanging out with a bunch of atheists themselves. Unfortunately I don’t know of any formal atheist groups all the way out here in cornfields.

  • http://patrickimo.blogspot.com Patrick Craig

    Mike C,

    I think it’s cool you hang out here, too. Now I don’t feel so awkward going over to Frank Walton’s theist blogs and posting “agreeable” comments there. Walton may not be anywhere near the ideal of the christian practitioner, but anyone who considers the RRS a bunch of malfunctioning pinheads is A-OK in my book… :)

    I wish I could help out with the “other” conversation we are all having elsewhere on this blog. I don’t think the mad intensity of the attacks on you is justified in any way, and it does in fact serve to prove the point that Atheists tend to trap themselves within the negative stereotype everyone seems to have of them. Until we see our imperfections and work them out positively, we’ll continue to be viewed as ‘fundie’ and puppy-kicking and angry. *sigh*

  • Logos

    Ok ya want profound I’ll give ya profound “Seek not the perfection of purity, but rather the purity of perfection”

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    “Seek not the perfection of purity, but rather the purity of perfection”

    You sound like “The Sphinx” from the movie Mystery Men! ;)

  • Logos

    Actually, I got it from a cartoon!

  • Siamang

    Walton may not be anywhere near the ideal of the christian practitioner, but anyone who considers the RRS a bunch of malfunctioning pinheads is A-OK in my book…

    I’m glad I’m not the only atheist here who thinks that.

  • Siamang

    Oh, I just googled Frank Walton to see if that was a good blog.

    Yuck. No thanks. He’s exactly what I’m trying to get away from.

    He and the RRS can have each other.

  • http://patrickimo.blogspot.com Patrick Craig

    Siamang:

    Do also check out:

    Sapient Is A Tool

    These guys don’t know what to do with Sapient and his gang. One minute they characterize him as useless and stupid, and the next they say he’s some serious threat. I believe that there is good potential to respond proactively to the nuttiness of the RRS, yet these guys just sit around calling him names, quoting bible verses, and “praying.”

    (Rolls eyes)

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Oh, I just googled Frank Walton to see if that was a good blog.

    Yuck. No thanks. He’s exactly what I’m trying to get away from.

    He and the RRS can have each other.

    Ugh, yeah, ditto that. I hadn’t heard of Walton before, but he’s like the Christian version of what I’m complaining about on that “other” thread.

  • http://patrickimo.blogspot.com Patrick Craig

    I used to call Walton a “weenie.” He’s never strayed far from earning that title again. :)

    Speaking of that “other” thread, Mike C, I posted an entry in my blog that has what I believe to be a successful (and positive) resolution to the beating you’ve been taking. The “imaginary comment post” I put there was not posted by me to the “other thread” because I thought everyone else would be smart enough to understand the simplicity of the solution. Guess I was a real dope for thinking that, huh? ;)

    Meanwhile, we Atheists continue to earn the very labels we’re fighting against. Many theists are probably printing, framing, and hanging that entire thread on their walls…

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Thanks for that Patrick. I agree that would have been a good resolution. I’m really not copping out when I say I don’t have time. This is Holy Week, which besides Christmas, is probably the busiest time of a year for a pastor.

    Anyhow, I hope the articles I posted will be sufficient to explain why I and others find Dawkins’ attitude less than friendly. Maybe it’s just ‘cuz it’s still early on a Saturday, but I’ve noticed that things have gotten quieter over there all of a sudden. :)

  • MTran

    I hereby nominate Mike C. for the Long-Suffering-Tolerant-Theist Award.


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