Read It with a Straight Face

I couldn’t do it.

I don’t mind someone writing a letter-to-the-editor that I disagree with if that letter is well-researched and well-written.

But this one is just funny.

The headline: “[Writer] Believes new movie has atheist beliefs.”

The writer (Pastor Dale Johnson of Raiford Road Church) acts as if he’s the first person to recognize that The Golden Compass and other books in Philip Pullman‘s His Dark Materials trilogy have a message that supports non-religion and he has to warn you about this.

He also wants to let you know that Richard Dawkins is (*gasp*) trying to advocate atheism.

The spelling is atrocious. I’m not sure if it’s his fault or not but the word “and” is spelled wrong. Repeatedly.

He thinks Dawkins and “his colleagues” are responsible for the Blasphemy Challenge. That’s just plain inaccurate. (The Blasphemy Challenge was conducted by the Rational Response Squad, which has no connection to Dawkins. Since the Challenge, however, they’ve interviewed him on their radio show.)

The Catholic League is cited as a source of information. That should discredit the letter altogether.

He claims that Pullman is attacking the minds of children (but C.S. Lewis is not):

The [Golden Compass] film, which emerged from the books, will appeal to children much like Narnia from C.S. Lewis, but do not be deceived. Narnia is pro-Christian emphasizing the imagery of the atoning death of Christ. Yet, this film, and the trilogy this film promotes is pro-atheistic and desires to pervade the minds of children with their concepts.

There is an upside, though.

The last paragraph provides some unintentional humor:

As parents and grandparents we have been given the great task of guarding our children against the teachings of the world and to promote the teachings of God.

Because children must be protected from worldly “knowledge.” Instead, they should learn about God…

This is what happens when all your information about the movie comes from the mouth of guys like William Donohue.


[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

  • Becky

    I couldn’t get past the first paragraph with all of the blatant spelling errors. *shakes head*

  • Mriana

    :lol: I guess this person missed all the mythology in the Narnia books? Where did he think Mr. Tumnus came from? Oh and how about the Centars (I can’t spell now) and alike? Come on! Narnia was just as much about Christianity as Jesus is a rewrite of Mithra and alike.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    See the Landover Baptist spoof website for a slightly more strongly worded version of essentially the same letter.

  • Mike Higginbottom

    I just mailed Pastor Johnson with my response to his letter:

    Pastor Johnson,

    I have just read, with great sadness, your letter to the editor of The Standard local newspaper. You are absolutely correct in your assertions that Philip Pullman’s intent in writing the Dark Materials trilogy is to advance the cause of atheism and, more widely, to encourage the questioning of authority. Mr Pullman himself is 100% in agreement with you on that score. Where you are mistaken, however, is in you inferences about his, and indeed all atheists’, motivations. Step back from your personal outrage at his works for a moment and consider the chain of events that would lead a man like Mr Pullman to produce the work that he does.

    Atheists, Mr Pullman included, are fundametalists like yourself. Every member of humanity is. We all have to rely on a single fundamental principle to guide us in our lives. For atheists, that principle is the acceptance that we do not know all there is to know about the universe. For theists, of all denominations, that notion is anathema. Theists cannot accept a universe of uncertainty. Your solution is to invoke a god to act as the ultimate answer to any and all unanswered questions. Now, from a pragmatic perspective, that’s a perfectly fine solution to your dilemma. It’s an excellent way to allow you to continue in your daily life unburdened by doubt about your purpose and the course you should steer for yourself.

    But its eminent utility as a solution says nothing about its correctness. Atheists happen to think your one size fits all solution of a supernatural god is incorrect. However much you cite Biblical and historical evidence as pointing towards proof, or at least demonstration, of God’s existence I think you would at heart agree that your conviction in the correctness of your belief in a supernatural god is rooted in faith. You don’t believe God exists because the Bible says he does, you believe God exists because you know it to be so in your very soul.

    In some ways I respect that. I’m sure many if not most religious people really do have that utterly unassailable and unshakeable gut feeling that their beliefs are true. But atheists don’t have that. In fact atheists consider that kind of faith to be a mental illness of some kind. Just as I’m sure you think of its absence in us as a mental illness.

    Our solution to the problems of uncertainty in the universe is simple. We accept that we do not, and almost certainly cannot, know all things. We don’t know how or even if the universe began for example. But our acceptance of our imperfect knowledge allows us the freedom to acknowledge the incompleteness and incorrectness of our ideas and to reshape them in the light of new learning. That learning comes through evidence and reasoning and evidence and reasoning is our equivalent of your faith. That is the fundamental axiom on which an atheist builds his life.

    Which of the two is right? No doubt you think faith is the one true way. I think reason is the one true way. Can I convince you of that? Almost certainly not. Can you convince me of the correctness of your faith? Almost certainly not.

    This may surprise you but the atheist worldview is exceptionally sophisticated, intellectually, morally, practically and even spiritually. I’m an exceptionally intelligent person. Richard Dawkins and Philip Pullman are both vastly more intelligent than me. Atheists are not stupid people. At least, ‘stupid’ is as evenly distributed amongst atheists as it is amongst theists. We have thought about this stuff you know.

    And we’re not evil either. Yes, we have an agenda. We think theism is wrong. We can put together very cogent arguments to that effect. And just as you seek to defend your beliefs, we also seek to defend our beliefs. The ONLY thing that separates atheists from theists is belief in the existence of supernatural beings. Whether it be the Christian God, Thor, Neptune, Santa Claus, faeries or vampires. As the good Mr Dawkins has said, atheists just happen to believe in one less god than you do. Does this make us evil? Of course not. No more evil than you are for not believing in Thor.

    I can’t emphasise this next point enough. I see it misunderstood over and over again by believers. I understand why because it is subtle but it’s absolutely central to the understanding of an atheist’s mind set. Atheists do not believe God exists. It’s not the case that we believe God exists and then in some way seek to deny his existence. That would indeed be evil. Or at least lying. It’s a question of perspective. From the perspective of someone like yourself who has utter faith in God’s existence, the idea of denying his existence is evil. I understand that. And if you were to deny God’s existence in spite of your deep seated faith in him you would indeed be performing evil acts. But you cannot apply your perspective to the mind of an atheist. To draw conclusions about our actions you have to make those inferences from within our worldview.

    And it’s a worldview where good and evil, morality and immorality, worth and worthlessness are just as real as they are for you. Those values are just constructed within a different framework. An atheist’s morality is founded not on an externally imposed set of rigid rules but on a set of guiding principles, many of which have been espoused by religions the world over throughout history. ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto’ you being perhaps the most fundamental, universal and useful of them all. We can all strive towards a moral life without having those morals imposed on us from on high. Indeed, a moral code fully invested in through its lifelong development by the owner himself is much more firmly embedded than one received as a gift from an external source. Belief in God and moral rigour are utterly orthogonal. A good atheist, just like a good theist, should always seek to do what is best for the universe as a whole. Usually this means moving our efforts away from ourselves and thinking of others.

    And yet we live in a world where, especially in countries like yours, tolerance and understanding of others is in exceptionally short supply. We have an absolute duty to seek the truth. And we have an absolute duty to pass on the truth that we find. But we must never, ever, seek to pass on that truth through force and coercion. This has been, and continues to be, religion’s biggest failure. Your letter to The Standard typifies this lack of tolerance.

    Indeed, if you recognise worldly religion so clearly in Pullman’s portrayal of his Magisterium then I have to ask what that says about the state of religion. Surely any institution which identifies so closely with the rigid authoritarianism and intollerance of free thought portrayed therein is in desperate need of some serious introspection. Perhaps you see those aspects of religion as virtuous. Most clear thinking members of humanity would vehemently disgaree with you on that point but if that were indeed your view then why the vitriol in your letter to the editor? Surely you should be upholding the Magisterium as a masterful exposition of the virtues of religion. I doubt, and most sincerely hope, that is not your view. However, I have to say, I find it difficult to see how your letter would differ from that of a hypothetical spokesperson for the fictional Magisterium. The mental structures of the characters that Pullman synthesises to represent the Magisterium seem eerily familiar to those you have employed to write your letter.

    His Dark Materials seeks to highlight the evils of subjugation. It uses religion as both a metaphor and a literal example of that subjugation of ideas through the Magisterium’s assertion of things like control, heresy and blasphemy. But you fail to see that. You see only an attack on your personal belief in the existence of God. I’m sure there are many atheists who would seek to do just that. They are either misguided fools or evil. Philip Pullman is neither. He is a person who sees wickedness and intolerance in certain aspects of religion and seeks to remove it through the telling of stories. I’m sure a man of his intellect does not see your own personal belief in a supernatural being as a threat to humanity. But unfortunately, all too often, one’s personal beliefs spill over into our interactions with the rest of the world in a dangerously uncontrolled fashion and when you try to force your personal belief system, warts and all, on others through such vitriolic means as you, and many like you, seem only too keen to employ, you do a disservice not only to your God and religion in general but to the whole massed ranks of humanity.

    I urge you to think carefully on my words and those of Mr Pullman. We are neither stupid nor evil and we most assuredly do not deserve to be cast in such a light with such scant thought or intellectual rigour.

    Having said all that, I’d like to end on a more positive note and wish you peace, love and Happy Christmas as you and your family celebrate your Christian version of the winter festival. I wish you much success in your search for understanding and joy in your spiritual connection to your god.

    Regards,

    Mike Higginbottom

  • Jonathan

    My favorite line is this:

    “This movie is an attempt at a greater movement within the atheism to ‘rid society’ of the ideas of God.”

    There are so many things wrong with this sentence, I don’t know where to begin. What is “the atheism,” and where is it located? This move is “an attempt at a greater movement…” What??
    I’ve read the Bible, and it doesn’t read like this, so it’s not Christianity that teaches these people to be so stupid. Maybe if this guy had more “worldly knowledge” he’d be able to piece together a coherent thought.

    Oh, wait, no thought allowed in religion…

  • Rob

    Wow Mike – I wish I could write that clearly. I hope the Pastor takes it to heart although I fear his mind is so closed he wont. When I read the summary of what the Pastor wrote it reminded me very much of what I live with here in the Inland North West. I am very open with my friends and family about the fact that Im an athiest but I have to be very careful admitting it in the business world for fear of hurting our company. Many many of my customers share the Pastors closed minded and bigoted view of non believers and would stop doing business with us simply because I dont believe in their god. Thanks for sharing the letter -

  • Viggo the Carpathian

    Well said Mike.
    As one raised in a strict Christian house and one who has battled the religious mindset for years, I wholeheartedly approve of your candor.

  • Viggo the Carpathian

    One thing that seems to be missed by people who think like the good Pastor Johnson is that when one asserts a belief in that which is unseen, the burden of proof lies with the one making the assertion, no with those who do not.

    To accuse Pullman of attacking the minds of Children is absurd. It seems to me that the attack is in filling their minds with unprovable, unsubstantiatable ideas. The burden of proof should be on those do and Pullman should be heralded as a whistle blower.

    Well, that’s my 0.013857 Euro

  • http://mollishka.blogspot.com mollishka

    I couldn’t get past the headline. How can a movie “believe” something ?!

  • http://catherinemcniel.blogspot.com Catherine

    Wow…fascinating.

    I’ve been surfing around to see what other bloggers are saying about the series. I’ve just posted my own review here if you’re interested. I’d love feedback!

  • http://www.jaredmlee.net jared

    oh boy – there is so much here i don’t know where to start. Am i always going to be trying to tell you why my brother’s word are so screwed up? he said in his letter –

    As parents and grandparents we have been given the great task of guarding our children against the teachings of the world and to promote the teachings of God.

    Now let me just say that modernism (which is fundamentally rational) brought to rise two important things. first is atheism and second is secularism. well truth be told, its probably the the other way around.

    We began to believe we could know all things, and of course the Christians had to take the helm in that arena. it became obvious that if we followed science (which we believed could tell us all things – pure fallacy there but this isn’t the place), then our faith and our knowledge might conflict. SO Christians came up with a sacred secular distinction to call “worldly knowledge” anything the bible didn’t teach and therefore hide in ignorance. The reality is that the whole world is God’s and there is no “sacred secular distinction.” this false dichotomy led to all the inconsistencies that atheists point out. So in short, I blame the practices of the church over the last couple centuries for the rise of atheism over that time.

    I do however believe that as we drift into postmodernism the church is doing a better job of explaining how the Biblical story Provides a good basis for understanding the world we find ourselves in. we all know there is something wrong. the bible explains that. and we all hope in something better, the Bible explains that too… i could go on but you get my point.

    Anyway, this isn’t an evangelical post – God forbid – just trying to hammer out some of the inconsistencies you might see. I don’t advocate for the faith as much as hope to help people understand it better.

  • Stephen

    He just outright said that Christians should “guard their children against the teachings of the world.” Inside, my mind is emitting an exasperated sigh that may not cease for several hours.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    Mike H.,

    I loved your letter. Its very well written and explains atheism very nicely. To bad we can’t send it to every Religious person on the planet…

    Do you give your permission for other bloggers to post it on their websites to amplify its message?

    I’m a member of an evangelical Christian small group and the other members truly believe that the world is divided between two groups:
    1: Christians who care about other people and
    2: “Pagans” who only care about themselves. They understand “Pagans” as meaning heathens or infidels.

    Letters like yours can help explain that the world is not exactly like they have been led to believe.

  • Siamang

    The reality is that the whole world is God’s and there is no “sacred secular distinction.” this false dichotomy led to all the inconsistencies that atheists point out. So in short, I blame the practices of the church over the last couple centuries for the rise of atheism over that time.

    I appreciate where you’re coming from, Jared.

    But see it from my point of view, and these are some pretty self-convinced statements of yours.

    Ah, the “reality” is that the whole world is God’s. Glad you’ve got that mainline to “reality” and know it to be God’s. Hey, for a post-modernist, that’s a pretty modernist thing to say!

    “this false dichotomy led to all the inconsistencies that atheists point out.”

    The problem with religion is that it has no way to tell a true assertion from a false assertion. Without falsifiability, religion can have no utility for discovering truth. All it has is assertion, argument from authority and appeals to emotion.

    Often I ask: by what method can one determine a true theological belief from a false theological belief in such a way that two people from different cultures and backgrounds can independently verify the veracity of the claim?

    I have never gotten a satisfactory answer. I believe the lack of a sufficient answer should be the clue to all that there’s something fundamentally wrong with any religion that makes a truth claim.

    So in short, I blame the practices of the church over the last couple centuries for the rise of atheism over that time.

    It could also be thousands of years of trying to heal lepers by sprinkling holy water and mumbling incantations only to have empiricism beat Jesus at his own game and cure the entire planet of leprosy. Empiricism (something you might deride as “modernism”) has the utility of actually being able to pile up positive contributions, whereas mysticism (as far as I can see) has only the utility of consolidating social and economic power within the mystics’ caste.

    But I could be wrong. Help me see it if I am.

  • Karen

    I’m a member of an evangelical Christian small group and the other members truly believe that the world is divided between two groups:
    1: Christians who care about other people and
    2: “Pagans” who only care about themselves. They understand “Pagans” as meaning heathens or infidels.

    Letters like yours can help explain that the world is not exactly like they have been led to believe.

    Jeff, your number 1 and 2 above represent the evangelical mindset that I am familiar with (and used to share). Thank you so much for understanding that those arguments are fallacies; and thank you for being interested in helping dispel those myths.

    Atheism will make much better headway in achieving understanding with the help of sympathetic Christians and other religious people who are willing to step out of their comfort zones. :-)

  • Richard Wade

    jared, you asked:

    Am i always going to be trying to tell you why my brother’s word are so screwed up?

    Yes, I’m afraid it looks like you will always have to, because so many of your brethren just repeat what they have been told generation after generation, and their only new work is to come up with more distended defenses for their old assumptions. They have defined their willful ignorance as faith and have defined that as a primary virtue. I am very grateful for your efforts, as frustrating as they are, to expand their horizons.

    You on the other hand actually look at the world around you and think. You don’t squelch your intelligence. However you still seem to not fully allow yourself to follow your looking-and-thinking wherever they lead you if they stray too far beyond those same old assumptions.

    One thing on which I must differ with you:

    Now let me just say that modernism (which is fundamentally rational) brought to rise two important things. first is atheism and second is secularism. well truth be told, its probably the the other way around.

    Oh it’s much older than that. Skepticism was born the first time a Paleolithic shaman claimed that the boar’s tooth in his hand had magical powers. Atheism was born the moment that same shaman claimed that the biggest tree in the forest had a spirit living in it. One or two of the tribe didn’t assume that was true, though they probably kept it to themselves. There have always been people who have withheld belief in the invisible, intangible and unproven claims of others until if and when they see convincing evidence. They are why we don’t still live in caves.

  • http://www.jaredmlee.net jared

    I suppose I could seem like a real ignorant person if i were to really say science is completely false. Who can argue with some proofs it gives us. I just think that many “moderns” or “empiricists” put way too much stock in it.

    Siamang, you are right modern empiricism has helped us to make some tremendous contributions where previous purely mystical efforts were understandably pointless. But dont you see what happens? The same thing that happened with ignorance prior to Des Cartes, something we believe does us a few favors, and then we begin to think that within this alone is everything we ever need. That is why some people refuse to go the Doctor and others refuse to believe in a diety, they wrongly believe the system they have put their faith in holds every answer. Unless this system speaks about a particualr thing, they completely ignore it.

    You are right mysticism often piles up wealth and power in the hands of the mystic, but the way i see it, every system in human history does the same thing. The person with the power piles up wealth. The Soviet Union had no real religion to speak of, yet those who held power still managed to pile up wealth in their own hands. Dont read what I am not saying, I am not blaming those dirty atheists that ran the country, I am blaming the human heart. Completely eliminate religion and put all faith in Science, and the Scientists will pile up wealth just like the church in the Holy Roman Empire and other societies that give all power to the church.

    Richard, you said skepticism was born way back with the Shaman and the boars tooth. You might be right, Part of me would like to think so, but at the time there weren’t so many competing worldviews. The first guy to come up with a reason to explain why things were the way they were probably got a lot of clout and wealth as well.

    As far as that being the reason we don’t still live in caves – well I think we started out primitive and tried on our own to build a great empire. God squashed that because we were doing it for our own sake and our own name – and not for his. He decided to call a man named Abraham for the purpose of creating an empire of his own. My ancestors (the spiritual ones – I am not ethnically Jewish) were slaves and then desert wanderers, I believe the Lord of the Universe established them as a prosperous, powerful nation for the purpose of creating a better living situation for all people on earth. This empire is growing, and it is the job of people who believe this story to work to make everything better. Not just tell people “truth,” but to protect the environment, to feed the poor, to care for the sick, and to make the world a better place. One day this world will become a perfect empire. where all citizens understand this story. Then things will be the way he hoped they would be before mankind choose itself over its creator.

    That might seem a bit far fetched, but I really believe it explains alot about the world I live in. not everything, but the most important stuff anyway. When I start to think it explains everything, then I am dangerous.

  • Pingback: Jared Lee » Blog Archive » Why I haven’t blogged

  • Mike Higginbottom

    Thanks to those of you who made comment on my mail to Pastor Johnson (above). I’m delighted some of you think it worthy of repetition to a wider audience. In light of that I’ve tidied it up a bit and put it online here. Feel free to send it hither and yon.

  • Richard Wade

    jared, I agree that any time people assume their world view is the sum total of truth things get corrupt and dangerous. The worst things in history have been done by people who were convinced they possessed absolute truth, and so did not have to stop and consider they might be wrong. Regardless of what view one uses, the absolutism is what causes people to become ruthless. Beware of anyone who spells truth with a capital “T”.

    However I am still uncomfortable with what little I understand of post modernism, since it seems to say that all propositions are of equal credibility. In my mind that makes things pretty mushy and fuzzy. There are an infinite number of idiotic propositions, and buried amidst them are a far smaller number of useful propositions. Do we really have to consider them all equally?

  • Stephen

    I suppose I could seem like a real ignorant person if i were to really say science is completely false. Who can argue with some proofs it gives us. I just think that many “moderns” or “empiricists” put way too much stock in it.

    I don’t see you explaining why we shouldn’t. The thing creationists don’t understand about science, and the thing you don’t understand about science, is that science is a) not a worldview, and b) does not claim absolute truth. Science is a movement towards absolute truth, an end goal that most scientists understand will likely never be reached. But *all* scientists understand that we certainly don’t know everything. The reason I say you don’t understand this is because you talk of “faith in science,” and that’s simply silly. One doesn’t put faith in science; one sees empirical observation that supports reality. That’s the opposite of faith.

    But dont you see what happens? The same thing that happened with ignorance prior to Des Cartes, something we believe does us a few favors, and then we begin to think that within this alone is everything we ever need.

    Science has done us “a few favors”? A large number of the people you know wouldn’t be alive if not for science, and you’re talking to us thanks to science (certainly not thanks to any god).

    If you can name one good reason that science isn’t “everything we ever need” – which I suppose in your mind means we should accept some kind of witches’ brew of science and spirituality, where I guess we’d be rational six days a week and then ignore reality every Sunday – I’ll take you seriously.

    Completely eliminate religion and put all faith in Science, and the Scientists will pile up wealth just like the church in the Holy Roman Empire and other societies that give all power to the church.

    That’s an apples and oranges situation if I ever saw one. Do you honestly think scientists could form some kind of elite upper class that oppresses the rest of society? The reason it’s an apples and oranges situation is because, unlike religion, science is something that gives the rest of society tangible benefits. Science gives people medicines and computers and a million other things that actually have an effect on every part of their lives. Religion gives people some abstract notions of gods and afterlives, but ultimately the people are going to have to return to reality and make a living to feed themselves. Science helps them make that living – it gives farmers their tools, doctors their techniques, and it gives everyone shelter and clothes. Religion does none of that. Science is so much a part of society that, unlike religion, it can never be above society.

    As far as that being the reason we don’t still live in caves – well I think we started out primitive and tried on our own to build a great empire. God squashed that because we were doing it for our own sake and our own name – and not for his.

    Oh cool, you not only reject empiricism, you reject accepted history, too, in favor of a history that has no evidence going for it whatsoever.

    My ancestors (the spiritual ones – I am not ethnically Jewish) were slaves and then desert wanderers

    They must have been ninja wanderers or something, given that they left no archeological evidence.

    I believe the Lord of the Universe established them as a prosperous, powerful nation for the purpose of creating a better living situation for all people on earth.

    Oddly, the Lord waited until 1948 to do so, and I’m sure the Lebanese really appreciate that better living situation Israel has given them.

    This empire is growing, and it is the job of people who believe this story to work to make everything better.

    Really? All of them? Every single Jew and Christian is a selfless soul who gives time and money to charities and volunteer organizations?

    Not just tell people “truth,” but to protect the environment, to feed the poor, to care for the sick, and to make the world a better place.

    I think you’re confused. Science protects the environment and cares for the sick. Religious institutions do rain dances or things of equal value such as prayer.

    One day this world will become a perfect empire. where all citizens understand this story. Then things will be the way he hoped they would be before mankind choose itself over its creator.

    That might seem a bit far fetched, but I really believe it explains alot about the world I live in. not everything, but the most important stuff anyway. When I start to think it explains everything, then I am dangerous.

    I’m seriously curious as to where you get this crap, given your feelings about silly things like “evidence.”


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X