Can a Christian Not Believe in Hell?

This is an old video, but I hadn’t ever come across it. Bishop John Shelby Spong explains how Hell is completely fictional. He adds that the church has a vested interest in not letting people grow up — “you can’t control grown-ups” — which is why they use the term “born-again.” You’re still a “child” then.

If you haven’t seen him speak before, you’re in for a surprise:

Spong shouldn’t be let off the hook for his other beliefs, though. He still believes in life after death and (presumably) Heaven, neither of which are based on any credible evidence. But it’s refreshing to hear this point of view. The only other time I’ve heard it is when I heard about pastor Carlton Pearson.

So, if Spong doesn’t buy into Hell, what does that make him? Can he still be considered a Christian? How much theology can you shun and still be considered one?

Do Spong’s beliefs make you feel any different about Christianity?

Would you want to see more Christians thinking the same way or would it not make any difference to you?

(Thanks to Jeff for the link!)

  • http://leann28.wordpress.com LeAnn

    I do not know much about Bishop Spong and his beliefs other than to say that he is quite a controversial figure because of many of his beliefs that are not necessarily in “agreement” with the larger Christian beliefs. But, as I said, I couldn’t really give much more detail than that. I was unaware of this particular belief until seeing this video.

  • benjdm

    He still believes in life after death and (presumably) Heaven, neither of which are based on any credible evidence.

    Really? I didn’t think that was the case. He’s not even a theist.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Shelby_Spong

    Spong…calls for a new Reformation, in which many of Christianity’s basic doctrines should be reformulated. These beliefs are most fully outlined in his book A New Christianity for a New World: Why Traditional Faith Is Dying and How a New Faith Is Being Born. He briefly outlines these beliefs on his web site as follows:

    1. Theism, as a way of defining God, is dead. So most theological God-talk is today meaningless. A new way to speak of God must be found.
    2. Since God can no longer be conceived in theistic terms, it becomes nonsensical to seek to understand Jesus as the incarnation of the theistic deity. So the Christology of the ages is bankrupt.

    Plus more. Many Christians don’t consider him a Christian at all. (Imagine that!)

  • Neon Genesis

    I think it’s possible to be a Christian and not believe in hell. The problem with asking what a true Christian is is that there’s no such a thing as a true Christian. Christianity has always been a diversified religion from the start and contrary to the claims of fundamentalists, there’s never been a universal agreement of what counts as a true Christian. If John Shelby Spong isn’t a true Christian, then neither are the fundies. Fundamentalist Christianity did not exist before the 19th century and is largely a modern day invention that was created in response to the Enlightenment movement and the belief of sola scriptua was evented by Martin Luther. I also recently watched a documentary on the History Channel called the “History Of Hell” and they talked about how the early church placed little emphasis on hell and how Christians didn’t start preaching more about hell until St. Augustine came along. Even in the bible, the scriptures never agree with each other about what happens in the afterlife. Besides which, given that Jesus was a Jew, wouldn’t he have believed in Sheol instead of hell? A good article on this subject can be found here: http://www.religioustolerance.org/aft_bibl.htm I also recommend watching this video also by John Shelby Spong: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yZM3FXlLMug It’s a bit lengthy but it’s very inspiring and helps put his beliefs in perspective.

  • http://www.nullifidian.net/ nullifidian

    From what I’ve heard of, and read about, Spong, he’s the most floopy and hip kind of christian: he uses “Jesus” as a metaphor for “a nice guy” and “heaven” as “a nice place to live (in the here and now)”.

    I can easily think of worse “christians”.

    That’s not to say I don’t think of him as an enabler, but he’s certainly the least threatening of the lot.

  • Sebeka

    Hell and heaven are a varied thing with denominations. Not every preacher is into physical descriptions of the afterlife (brimstone, pearly gates) or a tri-level view of the world.

    Spong’s views (as read from his Wikipedia page) are intriguing, but I’m a little put off by all the dollar signs on his official webpage.

  • Pseudonym

    I was going to comment on this, since Spong is one of my heroes, but Neon Genesis said everything I wanted to say. So +1 Neon Genesis.

    (Except that I wouldn’t have linked to a Scientology web site, but that’s just me.)

  • http://www.bolingbrookbabbler.com William Brinkman

    The Universalists believed that everyone goes to heaven. So you can be a Christian and not believe in an eternal hell.

  • Delphine

    Bill Maher had THE MOST AWESOME INTERVIEW EVER WITH A CHRISTIAN in the Vatican City with a priest.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-e1H3KRcqKo

    Totally awesome. This priest made me think not every Catholic priest is an idiot. My hope is most are just spreading the gospel to keep their job and keep Christians happy.

  • http://tometheus.com Tometheus

    Actually, I had to do a double-take to see what you were asking because I grew up in one of the sects (Seventh-day Adventists) that don’t believe in hell as most people think of it, particularly the form discussed in the video. Taking their cue from Jude 1:7, Adventists believe that the ‘eternal’ part of ‘hell’ just meant total (eternal) destruction of the soul, not eternal torture. (i.e. Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, and they are the example of ‘eternal fire’.) So, ‘hell’ is just equated with ‘destruction’. (I have since wondered if it is perhaps easier for Adventists to become atheists due to this viewpoint, since most of my close friends from my teenage years are now ex-Adventists.) (Jehovah’s Witnesses also believe in soul destruction, since Charles Taze Russell was heavily influenced by Adventists. Of course both groups have been labeled as non-’Christian’ through the years, but Adventists have been accepted more and more lately.)

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com miller

    Sometimes- sometimes it doesn’t matter what people call themselves or what we call them. It matters what they are. Particularly when we’re talking about individuals rather than groups.

    It does not surprise me in the least to hear of a Christian who doesn’t believe in hell. I’m pretty sure I’ve met several people like that before.

  • trixr4kids

    The rise of “born again” evangelicalism over the past 30 years has obscured the fact that Christianity has had its share of liberal and even (more or less) rational thinkers.

    Way back in 1963, an Anglican bishop, John A.T. Robinson, published a book called Honest to God, in which he argued that an anthropomorphic God does not exist “out there”. Wikipedia says:

    “The overwhelming theory of Honest to God is the idea that having rejected the idea of ‘God up there’, modern secular man also needs to recognise that the idea of God out there is also an outdated simplification of the nature of divinity. Rather, Christians should take their cue from the existentialist theology of Paul Tillich and consider God to be ‘the ground of our being’.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honest_to_God

    Personally, I would love to see this sort of mature Christianity eclipse fundamentalism. Wonder what the odds are against that.

  • Erp

    And Universalism has been around for some time. I believe Origen an early and influential Christian believed in universal salvation (including for Satan) though various parts of his theology were later condemned.

  • http://none anonymous

    Spong is one of the most liberal Christians out there. Most christians disagree with him though lol

  • http://www.myspace.com/rox1smf Rox1SMF

    A book I found interesting & explanatory of this “new” kind of Christianity was The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why by Phyllis Tickle [affiliate code intact, Hemant ;)]

    If people must be religious, I certainly support this interpretation of Christianity over fundagelicalism. Yes, I’m likely to still be skeptical of, and press them to explain, their reasons for buying in; but I also don’t see these kind of believers trying to impose their brand of belief on the rest of us like the fundies, using every means they can buy or get away with.

    Many of us who are participating in the anti-theist movement are reacting to the rise of the evangelical Right. They’d have us turn our backs on our TRUE heritage, that of individual freedom of conscience, and the diversity of religions in America that thrive because the First Amendment gives them the right to do so unmolested by the “majority” (or moneyed, vocal minority, in this case).

    The fundy whackjobs want to define theirs as the “official” God of the US, and I won’t stand by silently. Regardless of my disagreements with the beliefs of magical thinkers of any stripe, they have a right to them and I’ll defend that to my last breath.

    If we could get all the liberal Christians to join us against the evangelicals, we’d probably be rid of them in short order. Not holding my breath on that though…

  • http://www.let-me-be-frank.blogspot.com smellincoffee

    I love his voice — I heard him a few months back and I think I’ve since listened to all of his videos on YouTube. I’ve read his autobiography and I think him a Christian humanist — as far as that goes.

  • ThatOtherGuy

    Not really digging the “Jesus lets you be human” thing there. Are people who reject Jesus less human? I suspect he’d backpedal like the plague to avoid that interpretation, but he needs to watch his words more carefully in that sort of context.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    Spong advocates a sort of “religious humanism” as an alternative to “secular humanism” but many of the goals between the two are the same. The only problem I see with “religious humanism” is that it is always a slippery slope back to the “religious tribalism” with amplifying one’s own bigoted tribal views as “God’s views”. Still, I view Spong as one of my heroes and wish more were like him (as opposed to bible text worshiping evangelicals). I do think that the evangelical movement will run its course in a couple (or few) more generations. After that it will be interesting to see where the religious debate will be. I advocate the secular humanism approach to life.

  • http://www.CoreyMondello.com Corey Mondello

    What would their motivation come from if they were not “God-fearing”?

    If “god” didn’t lay out a threat to send them to hell, much like coal in your stocking from Santa to a child, why would they “behave”?

  • matt

    The interviewer’s face is lol.

  • http://darknova.net Ender

    Here in the UK it’s quite common for Christians not to believe in hell, or not the hellfirey place anyway. Church of England types often make a point that it’s the Catholics who go on about hell all the time.

    I had an interesting chat with a JW about how there’s actually very little in the bible about the hellfirey hell. We agreed it was mostly Catholic scaremongering using some Greek mythology to help it along.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverFrog

    If Christians bothered to read their holy book critically they’d see how little there is about hell and damnation for people. The problem is that they don’t. Instead they allow someone to interpret their bible for them and to add their own perspective. They’ve done this for so long that what was actually written down bears little resemblance to what people believe.

  • Ron in Houston

    One of my pet peeves is the use of the generic term “Christian.” The Evangelical and Fundamentalists are really a minority of this thing called Christianity. The problem is that they are a very loud, zealous, and obnoxious part of Christianity.

    The phrase Christian thinker is not an oxymoron (despite what others may think.) Spong is another in a line of deep Christian thinkers. The idea that trolls who post on your blog or send you emails praying for your eternal souls are what Christians are about is nothing more than stereotypical thinking.

  • Tony

    Here in the UK it’s quite common for Christians not to believe in hell, or not the hellfirey place anyway. Church of England types often make a point that it’s the Catholics who go on about hell all the time.

    Catholics do it less nowadays. It’s the evangelical protestants who took over the mantle of hell-mongers.

  • Danielle

    I don’t know that anyone’s really addressed Hemant’s original question: at what point of disbelief does one cease to be Christian? I’m very interested in this topic because this was a major factor in my own deconversion; i.e., if I don’t believe the vast majority of its teachings, why bother calling myself Christian? For the punch and cookies?

    One of the common “counters” to secular criticism of religion is, “That’s just the crazy fundies. You should read some sophisticated theology.” Well, you know what? I have. I’ve read Robinson, Tillich, liberation theology, etc. And it all smacks of cherry-picking to me.

    If I wanted to go the make-your-own religion route, Wiccans probably throw better parties, not to mention having better punch and cookies.

  • Aj

    You could classify Christianity a number of ways. One thing that’s certain is that Spong and theologians like him don’t believe in the same way or in the same things that vast majority of Christians. Spong’s view that the miracles in the New Testament didn’t happen, that the Bible has no more authority than other religious text, and God can not be concieved in theistic terms would make me classify him as non-Christian, cultural Christian, or post-Christian.

    Ask theologians like Spong what and why they believe only leads to psychobabble, nonsense, and farce. Left to their own devices these theologians will not address why they believe what they believe, it seems utterly unimportant to them. They build fantastic palaces on foundations of straw, sure they’ve dedicated much thinking to their theology, but then as work of fiction it’s not that great either.

    Evangelicals and fundamentalists aren’t non-thinkers or stupid. You can’t point to the theologians like Spong and then to fundamentalists and say one is ridiculous while the other isn’t. That Spong doesn’t believe in hell doesn’t make him more intelligent than an evangelical who does, Spong’s reasons for not believing are no more legitimate than the evangelicals for believing. Evangelicals and fundamentalists also put a lot of thought into the fiction they create.

    If all Christians were like Spong then it would be better. That he doesn’t believe much of the Bible means he doesn’t accept a lot of the harmful messages in it. Some religious movements are less harmful than others. Given that theology has no grounding in reality I’d be apprehensive about promoting one form over another. Even religion started with the best intentions, by rational atheists, I suspect would be flawed and harmful, or would die.

  • Spurs Fan

    I don’t know that anyone’s really addressed Hemant’s original question: at what point of disbelief does one cease to be Christian? I’m very interested in this topic because this was a major factor in my own deconversion; i.e., if I don’t believe the vast majority of its teachings, why bother calling myself Christian? For the punch and cookies?

    One of the common “counters” to secular criticism of religion is, “That’s just the crazy fundies. You should read some sophisticated theology.” Well, you know what? I have. I’ve read Robinson, Tillich, liberation theology, etc. And it all smacks of cherry-picking to me.

    My thoughts exactly Danielle. I can say that not only was this a major factor in my deconversion as well, but reading the books of John Shelby Spong was a specific factor. It was a mix of emotions to read his stuff and think, “yes, this is what I’m trying to tell my fundy friends”, but then also challenge my thinking to say, “Wait a minute, is what I believe even classified as Christianity?”. There are some good reasons (some noted in previous posts) to answer yes or no to that questions.

    I will say that I think I can remember Spong saying that many of his counterparts went “all the way” to some form of atheism, and he didn’t blame them or imply that they were any less because of it. On the contrary, he related to them much more than the typical “Christian” in the U.S.

  • http://universalheretic.wordpress.com/ Victor

    Christians can hold any number of beliefs, from full on Biblical Inerrancy to downright atheism. It’s actually the more atheistic ones that I think cause a lot of problems. By clinging to the title “Christian” they artificially inflate the number of believers, giving fundamentalists the illusion that they are in the majority.
    Spong is relatively mature in his beliefs, though he needs to go the next step and get rid of the damn collar. Theologians (no matter what their actual beliefs) do have a larger audience than secular philosophers.

  • Neon Genesis

    I don’t know that anyone’s really addressed Hemant’s original question: at what point of disbelief does one cease to be Christian? I’m very interested in this topic because this was a major factor in my own deconversion; i.e., if I don’t believe the vast majority of its teachings, why bother calling myself Christian? For the punch and cookies?

    And I’m pretty sure I already answered your question that there’s no such thing as a true Christian and to ask the question is a No True Scotsman fallacy. It’s like asking “what’s a true American?” If you think there’s ever been a true Christianity, you should go read the book Lost Christianities by Bart D Ehrman that can explain the evolution of the Christian faith better than I can. Another good book about the evolution of Christianity is The Bible-A Biography by Karen Armstrong. And why do people assume that fundamentalists don’t cherry pick just because they say they don’t? Fundies are the biggest hypocritical cherry pickers of them all. Seriously, how often do you see fundies ignoring Jesus when he says to judge not lest ye be judged? How many fundies literally sell all their possessions to the poor? How many fundies love their enemies instead of waging pointless eight year wars in the middle East where there were no weapons of mass destruction etc? Besides, according to Matthew chapter five, if believing in the inerrancy of scriptures makes you a true Christian, then all fundies should be Jews, but how many fundies do you know practice Jewish law?

  • Neon Genesis

    Christians can hold any number of beliefs, from full on Biblical Inerrancy to downright atheism. It’s actually the more atheistic ones that I think cause a lot of problems. By clinging to the title “Christian” they artificially inflate the number of believers, giving fundamentalists the illusion that they are in the majority.

    I just don’t understand this argument that liberals are enabling fundies merely by existing. Isn’t this like saying Americans who are political liberals are enabling Republicans if they actually like living in America and they should go move to Canada or otherwise they’re enabling Republicans? Are moderate anti-theists enabling atheists like Stalin and Mao? I’m not saying that atheists are all like Stalin and Mao or that atheism and communism are the same thing as I’m an atheist myself. I’m just trying to understand this argument from enabling because it just doesn’t make sense to me and it reminds me too much of the whole “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” mentality many Christians love to use so much.

  • Danielle

    And I’m pretty sure I already answered your question that there’s no such thing as a true Christian and to ask the question is a No True Scotsman fallacy. It’s like asking “what’s a true American?”

    For the record, I wouldn’t claim that fundies don’t cherry-pick, as they most certainly do. To see some entertaining tap-dancing in that vein, Google “matthew sheep goats.” And I’m fully aware of how there have been various flavors of Christianity throughout the years.

    So, in your opinion, does the only meaningful distinction between Christian and a non-Christian turn simply on whether the person claims to be one? And if so, do you think Christianity will eventually end up like, say, Hinduism?

  • Aj

    I just don’t understand this argument that liberals are enabling fundies merely by existing. Isn’t this like saying Americans who are political liberals are enabling Republicans if they actually like living in America and they should go move to Canada or otherwise they’re enabling Republicans? Are moderate anti-theists enabling atheists like Stalin and Mao? I’m not saying that atheists are all like Stalin and Mao or that atheism and communism are the same thing as I’m an atheist myself. I’m just trying to understand this argument from enabling because it just doesn’t make sense to me and it reminds me too much of the whole “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” mentality many Christians love to use so much.

    Read Sam Harris since he’s the biggest proponent of this position. Liberals don’t protect Republicans or what they believe. Liberals don’t advocate the conservative values. It’s not that they exist, it’s what they do.

  • Gabriel

    My parents belong to a kind of hippy church that doesn’t beleive in hell. The pastor is a woman and preaches that everyone goes to heavan. My parents really like this because they say I am going to heaven.

  • Thumpalumpacus
  • sil-chan

    When I was in high school I was told by a Jehova’s Witness friend of mine that they didn’t believe in a hell. That’s not just a few Christians there, although it is not something I’ve confirmed.

    However, what he said was that when you die, if you are not one of the 144,000 people who are lucky enough to get into heaven, that is it. You cease to exist until Jesus returns and raises all the dead people in history (completely ignoring how over crowded this would make the world even if we only consider the last 6000 years worth of humans).

    He was the Salutatorian of his class and chose not to go to college because, and I quote:

    I already know all that I need to know to live a fulfilled life. Why would I go to college?

    A real shame. He was very intelligent, but his indoctrination overcame his intelligence.

  • http://www.martinjbaker.com Martin Baker

    I just don’t get this at all. I’d never heard of him before but from watching this clip, Bishop John Shelby Spong seems to be 95% on the road to atheism. What’s stopping him going the full way?

    The reaction at 8″ in from the sitting-unnaturally-upright interviewer is a classic!

  • Quester

    Spong did have an influence on me and my deconversion, in a manner of speaking. I heard him speak while I was in seminary. On my way out, I told a classmate, “If I ever reach the point where I no longer believe Christ is divine, I’ll hang up my collar and stop calling myself a minister. Using your role to gain an audience- then betraying your vows in what you tell them? I hope I never do something like that.”

    Four or so years later, when I stopped believing in the divinity of Christ, I had an unexpected opportunity to live up to my words.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    Thumpalumpacus Says:
    A thread that touches on this issue:

    I’m not so hard on the concept of Apophatic Theology because I don’t find it threatening. The trick, though, is finding some way to make the apophatic spirit matter in some way that is directly or indirectly tangible.

  • Grimalkin

    In my final spurt of Christianity, after I had decided that it was all nonsense (but hadn’t yet discovered that not believing in god(s) was an option), I read a lot of William Sloane-Coffin’s work. He gave me a structure to believe in god while still allowing me to actually feel compassion for others and not to always think “oh, you aren’t a Christian? Don’t you realize that means you will go to hell?”

    Even now, I have a lot of respect for Coffin’s work and his writings. For being all about God, they have very little religion in them. It’s mostly common sense and about having empathy for others. If every Christian was like that, I’d have no beef with religion.

  • Neon Genesis

    So, in your opinion, does the only meaningful distinction between Christian and a non-Christian turn simply on whether the person claims to be one? And if so, do you think Christianity will eventually end up like, say, Hinduism?

    If you define a Christian broadly as someone who believes in the teachings of Jesus, then yes, I would say so. But I was raised as a fundamentalist Christian and heard my whole life about how they were the only true Christians and how all other Christians, including other fundies who didn’t belong to their church, were going to hell because they aren’t “true” Christians, so forgive me if I’m burned out on discussing this and I don’t see the point of debating who’s the true follower of a religion that’s all made up by humans anyway. It just sounds like to me a red herring that fundies started to avoid discussing any of the real issues that actually matter. As for whether or not Christianity will wind up like Hinduism, I think it’s a possibility. That’s pretty much the way it is in Sweden where the people over there self-identify as Christians but only have a vague belief in a higher power and see Jesus as this nice guy who taught nice things and they see Christianity as more of a traditional thing, like the Christian version of secular Judaism. But I think it’s all in the matter of how appealing liberal Christianity can make itself to the masses without the threat of hell looming over people.

    Read Sam Harris since he’s the biggest proponent of this position. Liberals don’t protect Republicans or what they believe. Liberals don’t advocate the conservative values. It’s not that they exist, it’s what they do.

    I’ve read both The End Of Faith and Letter To A Christian Nation and from what I can understand of Harris’ arguments, it all boils down to that liberals aren’t calling fundies stupid enough, therefore they must be enabling. The New Atheists’ argument as a whole seems to be if you don’t call religious people stupid enough by their standards, then you’re an enabler. Even when you get liberal Christians like Bishop Spong who DO call fundies out on their beliefs, apparently it’s not enough if they don’t agree with you.

  • Aj

    I’ve read both The End Of Faith and Letter To A Christian Nation and from what I can understand of Harris’ arguments, it all boils down to that liberals aren’t calling fundies stupid enough, therefore they must be enabling. The New Atheists’ argument as a whole seems to be if you don’t call religious people stupid enough by their standards, then you’re an enabler. Even when you get liberal Christians like Bishop Spong who DO call fundies out on their beliefs, apparently it’s not enough if they don’t agree with you.

    So it’s not a matter of you not understanding, it’s that because of your opposing view you have decided to construct a strawman in the place of what Sam Harris says. Do Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, or Daniel Dennett call religious people stupid? No. The “New Atheists” as they’re regrettably called have many arguments, to say that they have a “whole argument”, and it can be summed up as “call religious people stupid” is fucking ridiculous.

    If you had read Sam Harris’s End of Faith you would have read that he doesn’t consider religious squabbles to be “calling out” anyone, “my interpretation of the Bible is right because I have faith that it is” is irrational. He also notes that religious people protect faith regardless of the beliefs. He concludes that it’s secular voices who have the best arguments, and that if you’re not attacking harmful religious beliefs on the grounds that they’re nonsense based on no evidence then you might as well not attack them at all.

    I imagine, perhaps you could email him, but Sam Harris would be very receptive of Spong’s arguments that say that religions are human institutions and that certain beliefs are made up to control others. Is Spong typical of moderate religion? No. Is Sam Harris saying there are no exceptions? No. Is Sam Harris even including Spong in his criticisim? Perhaps not, I certainly wouldn’t call Spong a moderate.

    Ironically the fringe and extreme ends of the religious spectrum often engage in skeptical arguments against other people’s religions. Even if they can’t see the same flaws in their own religious thinking. Christians for example are perfectly capable of debunking Islam. Perhaps Spong is suffiently outside of Christianity to be in a position to criticize it.

  • Nick O.

    Well, JWs consider themselves Christians and they have no recognizable belief in Hell.

  • Lauren

    I grew up in one of the sects (Seventh-day Adventists) that don’t believe in hell as most people think of it, particularly the form discussed in the video.

    Ditto.

    I have since wondered if it is perhaps easier for Adventists to become atheists due to this viewpoint, since most of my close friends from my teenage years are now ex-Adventists.

    It seems to me that people raised in something as fundamental and literal as Adventism either cling to it as fiercely as possible or go the complete opposite way and decide not to believe in any of it at all. I know it was easier for me not having to deal with all that “you don’t believe so you’re going to HELL” hooey.

    One of my friends who isn’t and never has been Adventist but who likes to watch 3ABN at night when he can’t sleep once said to me, “Adventists are probably the most sane and yet the most f***ed up of all the Christians. Everything they say makes sense by the Bible, but it’s all just crazy!”

  • Neon Genesis

    If you had read Sam Harris’s End of Faith you would have read that he doesn’t consider religious squabbles to be “calling out” anyone, “my interpretation of the Bible is right because I have faith that it is” is irrational. He also notes that religious people protect faith regardless of the beliefs. He concludes that it’s secular voices who have the best arguments, and that if you’re not attacking harmful religious beliefs on the grounds that they’re nonsense based on no evidence then you might as well not attack them at all.

    Perhaps I am simply mistaking what Harris meant when he said in his book about the section where he talks about you can’t respect moderate beliefs without respecting the beliefs of Osama bin Laden. It’s been awhile since I’ve read it, so I don’t recall the exact wording but he said something to the effect that moderates enable fundamentalists because moderates only want you to critcisize beliefs, but you can’t criticisizse the people that have the beliefs or something like that. Maybe Harris doesn’t think all religious people are stupid, but the way it was worded can give the impression. Likewise, Dawkins might not think all believers are stupid, but he had a pitiful example of moderate faith in The God Delusion. I mean, his main example of moderate faith was the case of British Muslim terrorists. I just failed to see how British Muslim terrorist is in any way moderate. When I think of moderate, I think of people like Gene Robinson or Barack Obama. For what it’s worth, I think there are examples where moderates can enable fundies. Obama telling a group of pro-life Catholics at Notre Dame to never lose their faith is one example. I just don’t see how moderate faith in itself enables fundamentalists. There’s also the problem of the difference between moderate faith and liberal faith as the terms seem to get thrown around interchangeably and no one bothers to define them. I believe Dawkins himself does mention Bishop Spong in The God Delusion as an example of a Christian who’s beliefs are so advanced most Christians would not recognize him. But maybe I’m biased against Harris as I personally found him to be the weakest author of the Four Horsemen and Letter To A Christian Nation was frankly redundant to me. I’d be much more interested in Harris if he wrote more about atheistic Buddhism and alternatives to spirituality than religion.

  • miohippus

    Bertrand Russell wrote in “Why I am Not a Christian”:

    “But for the successful efforts of unbelievers in the past, I could not take so elastic a definition of Christianity as that. As I said before, in olden days it had a much more full-blooded sense. For instance, it included the belief in hell. Belief in eternal hell-fire was an essential item of Christian belief until pretty recent times. In this country, as you know, it ceased to be an essential item because of a decision of the Privy Council, and from that decision the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York dissented; but in this country our religion is settled by Act of Parliament, and therefore the Privy Council was able to override their Graces and hell was no longer necessary to a Christian. Consequently I shall not insist that a Christian must believe in hell.”

    Apparently at least in England you don’t have to believe in hell to be a Christian.

  • Aj

    …he said something to the effect that moderates enable fundamentalists because moderates only want you to critcisize beliefs, but you can’t criticisizse the people that have the beliefs or something like that…

    No, he didn’t say anything like that at all. You can read a shorter form of his position from his website.

    Likewise, Dawkins might not think all believers are stupid, but he had a pitiful example of moderate faith in The God Delusion. I mean, his main example of moderate faith was the case of British Muslim terrorists. I just failed to see how British Muslim terrorist is in any way moderate. When I think of moderate, I think of people like Gene Robinson or Barack Obama.

    I assure you that in The God Delusion Richard Dawkins does no such thing. The only parts reflecting something that you could have mistaken for this are:

    a) Dawkins refers to a ‘moderate’ Muslim that supports death for apostasy. Dawkins makes it clear this is not his view, but one presented by journalism, and the fact he was knighted by the Queen.

    b) Dawkins writes about ‘mild and moderate’ faith providing a climate for extremism, using examples of the 2001 WTC attack, and the 2005 London bombing, as examples of the extermism definitely not the moderate faith.

    c) Again in quotes Dawkins warns against ‘moderate’ faith as an open invitation to extremism after refering to Osama Bin Laden.

    In the first case Dawkins says the Muslim might be moderate by ‘today’s Islamic standards’, the second he is refering to moderate religions role not that the terrorists were moderates, and in the third he constrasts moderate faith with Bin Laden’s ‘extremist’ faith.

    For what it’s worth, I think there are examples where moderates can enable fundies. Obama telling a group of pro-life Catholics at Notre Dame to never lose their faith is one example.

    Yes, that’s exactly the type of thing Harris and Dawkins are talking about. Moderates vigorously advocate faith, and attack anyone that criticizes having faith. Terrorists are motivated by faith, which they are very receptive to because of the climate moderates create by supporting and protecting faith.

  • http://www.surveymethod.net jonathan

    Yes, why not? Everyone still has his/her own view towards this life and death. I myself do not believe much in religion. Thank you for the article. You give me some perspective though.

  • http://www.quietatheist.com Slugsie

    It’s a refreshing viewpoint for sure, but it falls down on it’s own sword. He starts off by saying that God isn’t any of a bunch of religions, and we can’t wrap God up into our own definitions. He then goes on to try and define God.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    Ditto to what Neon Genesis said @ 9:42.

    Christians are a social group constructed by humans, so the most reasonable thing to say is that people who consider themselves to be Christian are Christian. If you think there’s some objective truth behind Christianity, you can use that as a basis of a definition, otherwise I don’t see how you can figure out what Christians are “supposed to believe.”

  • Neon Genesis

    b) Dawkins writes about ‘mild and moderate’ faith providing a climate for extremism, using examples of the 2001 WTC attack, and the 2005 London bombing, as examples of the extermism definitely not the moderate faith.

    And again, this is what I don’t get. Do you have some evidence that there’s a causation between moderation and extremist faith? I’m not aware of any moderate faith that condones terrorism, so I fail to see the link.

    Yes, that’s exactly the type of thing Harris and Dawkins are talking about. Moderates vigorously advocate faith, and attack anyone that criticizes having faith. Terrorists are motivated by faith, which they are very receptive to because of the climate moderates create by supporting and protecting faith.

    If Dawkins and Harris are criticizing individual cases like that, then I fully support the criticism, though one must remember Obama is also a politician and politicians in general tend to be flip-floppy. The biggest problem I have though is that they’re making generalizations and assuming this is a problem with a moderation as a whole when they don’t provide any actual evidence of moderates that there’s a causation and not a correlation between moderation and terrorism. If there are moderates that are providing cover for extremists, then the problem isn’t that they’re moderates. The problem is that they’re providing cover and I fail to see how everyone deconverting to atheism is going to solve all these issues. Is this different than Christians saying all anti-theists are arrogant angry people that hate anyone who’s religious and provide cover for Stalin and Mao? This also brings up the question, since Dr. Miller was an abortion doctor who was also religious but was murdered by someone who was also religious, did Dr Tiller’s faith enable his murderer and so it’s Dr. Tiller’s own fault he’s dead?

  • Aj

    I’m not aware of any moderate faith that condones terrorism, so I fail to see the link.

    You couldn’t be further from what he is actually writing about. I’ve explained it a few times, and linked to an article by Sam Harris explaining it.

    The biggest problem I have though is that they’re making generalizations and assuming this is a problem with a moderation as a whole…

    Are you denying that moderate religionists promote faith in general? One example would be people’s attitude to atheism, as the least trusted minority in the US. Despite of the US constitution the faith based iniative exists. In many countries religions are given special protection under the law.

    The problem is that they’re providing cover and I fail to see how everyone deconverting to atheism is going to solve all these issues.

    This seems completely unrelated to your previous argument, and seems to contradict it. That’s the point, they are providing cover. Not necessarily deconvert to atheism but stop promoting and protecting faith, as some atheists also promote faith, just not for themselves. Without cover religious extremism would be less tolerated and inviting to potential recruits.

    Is this different than Christians saying all anti-theists are arrogant angry people that hate anyone who’s religious and provide cover for Stalin and Mao?

    Certainly, for one Stalin and Mao weren’t motivated by atheism, that’s fucking ridiculous. I believe some terrorists are motivated by faith, their faith has something to with their decision to become terrorists. Charges of arrogance and hate from religious people are hollow. There’s good reasons to be angry.

  • Neon Genesis

    Are you denying that moderate religionists promote faith in general? One example would be people’s attitude to atheism, as the least trusted minority in the US. Despite of the US constitution the faith based iniative exists. In many countries religions are given special protection under the law.

    I never denied they promote faith but how does promoting faith promote extremist faith?

    Certainly, for one Stalin and Mao weren’t motivated by atheism, that’s fucking ridiculous. I believe some terrorists are motivated by faith, their faith has something to with their decision to become terrorists. Charges of arrogance and hate from religious people are hollow. There’s good reasons to be angry.

    Nice job of putting words in my mouth I didn’t say. I didn’t say Stalin and Mao were motivated by atheism. I asked if moderate anti-theists were enabling extremists like Mao and Stalin and last I checked, anti-theism and atheism were not the same thing or is there some new rule I’m not aware of that all true atheists must be anti-theists.

  • Aj

    I never denied they promote faith but how does promoting faith promote extremist faith?

    By making people more susceptible to faith claims and wish thinking. If a climate of faith is generated then the beliefs that follow are the product. Does the general promotion of faith also promote moderate beliefs or do you have problems with that also?

    Nice job of putting words in my mouth I didn’t say. I didn’t say Stalin and Mao were motivated by atheism. I asked if moderate anti-theists were enabling extremists like Mao and Stalin and last I checked, anti-theism and atheism were not the same thing or is there some new rule I’m not aware of that all true atheists must be anti-theists.

    Then how does your analogy make any sense whatsoever? Promoting critical thinking of beliefs doesn’t lead to Mao and Stalin, if anything they were dead set against the form of anti-theism Harris and Dawkins promote. Is there a way logically between ‘these people are wrong’ and ‘kiiilll them’? No, I think definitely not. However, promoting faith in general can logically lead to extremism because faith can literally lead anywhere. Also, Dawkins and Harris would not protect the logical basis for Mao and Stalin’s actions.

  • Pseudonym

    Danielle:

    I don’t know that anyone’s really addressed Hemant’s original question: at what point of disbelief does one cease to be Christian?

    I think that this is begging the question. You’re characterising Spong by what he doesn’t believe in, rather than what he does believe in. His positive beliefs are much closer to mainstream Anglicanism, which we undoubtedly think of as “Christian”, than those of the “Early Church”.

    I agree wholeheartedly with Neon Genesis about the No True Scotsman problem. You might as well ask if anything post-Constantine counts as “genuine” Christianity.

    Finally, on the topic of Sam Harris:

    When speaking to Christian audiences, Sam Harris has pointed out that moderate religion has a tendency not to condemn the more fundamentalist elements because of political correctness. This point, taken in isolation, is extremely valid. Many Christians are aware of this and, mindful of the bad history that Christians have with inter-sectarian violence, are in a quandry about what to do about this.

    However, when Harris also says this sort of thing…

    Given my view of faith, I think that religious “moderation” is basically an elaborate exercise in self-deception, while you seem to think it is a legitimate and intellectually defensible alternative to fundamentalism.

    …it’s difficult for his good points to be heard. It’s understandable that a lot of modern Christians shrug him off when it’s so difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff.

  • Aj

    …it’s difficult for his good points to be heard. It’s understandable that a lot of modern Christians shrug him off when it’s so difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff.

    He does make good points of why he thinks that, but Christians would rather put their head in the sand. It’s not really understandable that they’d reject all his points even if they would have agreed on them because of the walls they build up to protect their irrational beliefs. Switching off to questioning of faith is all part of the self deception.

  • Neon Genesis

    By making people more susceptible to faith claims and wish thinking. If a climate of faith is generated then the beliefs that follow are the product. Does the general promotion of faith also promote moderate beliefs or do you have problems with that also?

    I’ll be perfectly honest that I don’t really care what people believe as long as they aren’t forcing their beliefs on me or using their beliefs to spread violence and hate or claiming their beliefs are scientific facts that should be taught in public schools. I’ll gladly debate the existence of God with anyone that’s interested, whether moderate or fundie. I just don’t like salesmen whether they’re Christians or anti-theists and I think there’s more important things in the world to worry about than what people do with their free time on Sunday mornings.

    Then how does your analogy make any sense whatsoever? Promoting critical thinking of beliefs doesn’t lead to Mao and Stalin, if anything they were dead set against the form of anti-theism Harris and Dawkins promote. Is there a way logically between ‘these people are wrong’ and ‘kiiilll them’? No, I think definitely not. However, promoting faith in general can logically lead to extremism because faith can literally lead anywhere. Also, Dawkins and Harris would not protect the logical basis for Mao and Stalin’s actions.

    So then how do Christians who promote faith in a god that teaches people to love their neighbor as a self enabling Christians who promote faith in a god that teaches people to kill the infidels if promoting one kind of anti-theism doesn’t enable another kind of anti-theism? Do you have some sort of statistics that show a connection between moderate faith and fundamentalism? I just to see how moderates are enabling something they stand against. Is Sam Harris enabling Tibetan Buddhism by promoting atheistic Buddhism? Do people who promote vegetarianism enable PETA? Do people who promote violent video games enable school shootings? Do people who promote the legalization of marijuana enable drug addictions and drug violence? Do people who promote pornography promote porn addictions? If this logic should be applied to religion, then anyone who promotes anything is enabling the extremist view of what they’re promoting, even if they’re against the extremist view.

  • Neon Genesis

    I forgot to mention this in my previous post and I ran out of time before I could edit it, but if moderate faith enabled fundamentalism, why isn’t fundamentalism more widespread in the Scandinavian nations where the vast majority of Christians there are moderates? Surely if one was caused by the other, it would be the opposite and the fundies would be ruling Sweden?

  • Aj

    So then how do Christians who promote faith in a god that teaches people to love their neighbor as a self enabling Christians who promote faith in a god that teaches people to kill the infidels if promoting one kind of anti-theism doesn’t enable another kind of anti-theism?

    Moderates promote faith, not “kill the infidels” faith, or “love their neighbor” faith, just faith. Anti-theism is opposition to theism, in the case of Sam Harris it comes from thinking critically, thinking critically does lead to Mao and Stalin, ever.

    Faith (God, Bible, doctrine) => “kill the infidels” => killing the infidels

    Critically thinking (reason, evidence) => anti-theism => Mao and Stalin WRONG

    …if moderate faith enabled fundamentalism, why isn’t fundamentalism more widespread in the Scandinavian nations where the vast majority of Christians there are moderates? Surely if one was caused by the other, it would be the opposite and the fundies would be ruling Sweden?

    I’ve mentioned this several times and I don’t know why you’re ignoring this: moderates don’t cause extremism. Religious moderates enable extremists by promoting and protecting faith as I’ve repeatly explained. You’re not arguing against what Sam Harris is saying, you’re arguing against your own strawman.

    I’m interested in the examples you give. For instance, Scandinavia I think has a minority of theists, so even if following the logic of your strawman, it doesn’t make sense as an example. Vegetarianism is not eating meat, PETA are an activist group. There’s no evidence video games lead to any real violence.

  • Pseudonym

    Aj:

    He does make good points of why he thinks that [...]

    Please do share.

    I’ve been trying for a while, but I haven’t found a single rational argument from Sam Harris as to why he thinks fundamentalism is a more honest form of religion. Certainly, nothing that stands up to any kind of scrutiny.

    I did find an argument from personal incredulity, which I can at least understand, even if it’s unconvincing to pretty much everyone who already doesn’t share that incredulity.

  • Neon Genesis

    Moderates promote faith, not “kill the infidels” faith, or “love their neighbor” faith, just faith. Anti-theism is opposition to theism, in the case of Sam Harris it comes from thinking critically, thinking critically does lead to Mao and Stalin, ever.

    Faith (God, Bible, doctrine) => “kill the infidels” => killing the infidels

    Critically thinking (reason, evidence) => anti-theism => Mao and Stalin WRONG

    Ok then, if the problem is that moderates are promoting faith, then why not just focus on the issue that they’re promoting faith instead of building strawman arguments that moderates enable extremists? I said myself that I’ll challenge moderates to debates on the existence of God. I just don’t get this link between moderates and extremists. If the issue with moderates is promoting faith, then the issue is that they’re promoting faith, not that they’re enabling fundies. If the issue is that they’re enabling fundies, then the issue is enabling fundies but you still have not presented any evidence that promoting faith and extremism are linked anymore so than promoting a belief in American democracy enables Republican political beliefs. Also, if it’s the promotion of faith that enables something, how do you know that fundies are not the one enabling moderates by promoting faith?

    I’ve mentioned this several times and I don’t know why you’re ignoring this: moderates don’t cause extremism. Religious moderates enable extremists by promoting and protecting faith as I’ve repeatly explained. You’re not arguing against what Sam Harris is saying, you’re arguing against your own strawman.

    You still have not explained how moderates as a whole are protecting faith. If there are individuals who are protecting faith from criticism, then the issue is with the individuals doing it, not moderates as a whole yet Harris seems to want to paint moderates all with the same brush. And I fail to see how Christians like Spong who have flexible beliefs about what God is are promoting “traditional” faith such as he describes in this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9XL8LvaJ9Rc Also, are agnostics also promoting faith if they haven’t taken a definite stand on the issue? For example, Dawkins refers to agnostics in The God Delusion as wishy-washy fence sitters. Why don’t anti-theistic atheists hold agnostics to the same standard that they hold moderates to when Dawkins did?

  • Autumnal Harvest

    I’ve been trying for a while, but I haven’t found a single rational argument from Sam Harris as to why he thinks fundamentalism is a more honest form of religion.

    Because that makes religion easier to bash.

    But I think you knew that. :)

  • Aj

    Pseudonym,

    As in the article that is linked in the paragraph of you quoted from Harris, and The End of Faith, Harris notes that moderates are compromising ancient doctrine in the light of advancements in science, modern society, and just general practical concerns. This compromising suggests that faith, even to the religious moderates, isn’t the path to knowledge they claim it to be, and they know it.

    In contrast religious moderates also believe that faith is necessary for ethical behaviour. Also that the terrible things done in the name of religion aren’t products of someone’s faith, but they’re just using religion to express unrelated motivations. Thus religious moderates are motivated towards tolerance of all faith as equally valid as it’s necessary and excusing the religious justifications for terrible acts, while criticizing the actions.

    That religious moderates have compromised and continue to do so suggests that faith isn’t what’s driving ethical behaviour, and that actually religious faith can motivate terrible acts. Ignoring, watering down, allowing more room for interpretation, would not be the process if faith wasn’t involved in terrible acts.

    Neon Genesis,

    I don’t want to repeat myself any more. You’re asking questions with assumptions that I have corrected numerous times, even in the comments that you quote and are supposedly responding to. It’s quite clear you don’t understand Sam Harris’s arguments but regardless you want to argue about arguments no one has made.

  • Pseudonym

    Aj:

    As in the article that is linked in the paragraph of you quoted from Harris, and The End of Faith, Harris notes that moderates are compromising ancient doctrine in the light of advancements in science, modern society, and just general practical concerns.

    As has been noted many, many times, the assumption here is that there is a point in the past where religion was some gold standard by which subsequent developments must be judged. It ignores the plain fact that religions have always changed over time as circumstances change.

    Characterising the natural evolution of religious thought as “compromising ancient doctrine” is ridiculous to anyone who knows anything about the history of religions.

    More disturbingly, the idea that some religion is set in stone in the past, and every following evolutionary step is a corruption, is a premise that is accepted by exactly two groups: religious fundamentalists and “new” Atheists.

    In contrast religious moderates also believe that faith is necessary for ethical behaviour.

    That’s an interesting claim. I’ve never seen a mainstream moderate theologian argue that ethics is impossible without faith. Do you have a reference?

  • Aj

    Pseudonym,

    This is a ridiculous strawman. It’s not that religion is set in stone, or that there’s a gold standard. It’s just reality that prophets, messiahs, and god inspired text of popular religions are ancient. A lot of prevalent doctrine in Christianity for example emerged in the first 1000 years.

    Sam Harris isn’t suggesting that new religions aren’t formed, new doctrine doesn’t emerge. Sam Harris has observed that moderates try to sustain beliefs from ancient doctrine while compromising them in a self-deceptive way.

    Now I know why you haven’t found a single rational argument from Sam Harris. You don’t don’t understand any of his arguments. It’s not that hard, I guess it’s the religious apologist blinkers you have on.

  • Pseudonym

    Aj:

    It’s not that religion is set in stone, or that there’s a gold standard. It’s just reality that prophets, messiahs, and god inspired text of popular religions are ancient. A lot of prevalent doctrine in Christianity for example emerged in the first 1000 years.

    OK, so what’s wrong with going through the old repertoire, examining it critically, keeping what still makes sense and downplaying and de-emphasising that which doesn’t? Why is this a problem?

    Sam Harris has observed that moderates try to sustain beliefs from ancient doctrine while compromising them in a self-deceptive way.

    Right, and my point is that this spin doesn’t fit the facts. What’s “compromising” about it? What’s “self-deceptive” about it?

    Now I know why you haven’t found a single rational argument from Sam Harris. You don’t don’t understand any of his arguments.

    That’s very possible. His arguments would be far easier to understand if they actually made sense.

  • Aj

    Pseudonym,

    OK, so what’s wrong with going through the old repertoire, examining it critically, keeping what still makes sense and downplaying and de-emphasising that which doesn’t?

    It’s interesting you think that’s the process. You castigate Sam Harris for being ridiculous when it comes to the history of religion. Examining it critically? Keeping what makes sense? No, doctrine is given authority until it comes up against reality or modern society and then it’s compromised. Even after that it still doesn’t make sense, it just requires less cognitive dissonance to believe and live in the real world. Clearly if you were examining it critically and seeing if it made sense this is not what you would be doing.

    That’s very possible. His arguments would be far easier to understand if they actually made sense.

    Through your religious apologist’s blinkers.

  • Neon Genesis

    In contrast religious moderates also believe that faith is necessary for ethical behaviour.

    Since when? Even Obama in the same Notre Dame speech I referenced earlier said that the golden rule was a moral value not limited to Christianity and found in all cultures and he specifically stated that secular humanists followed the Golden Rule as well, and Obama is most certainly a moderate Christian, so I think you should retract that claim unless you have proof of it.

    It’s quite clear you don’t understand Sam Harris’s arguments but regardless you want to argue about arguments no one has made.

    And it’s quite clear that you only have pseudo-philosohpical arguments on your side and not actual evidence that fundamentalism is directly enabled by the actions of all moderate Christianity as a whole, otherwise you would have posted it by now.

    Sam Harris isn’t suggesting that new religions aren’t formed, new doctrine doesn’t emerge. Sam Harris has observed that moderates try to sustain beliefs from ancient doctrine while compromising them in a self-deceptive way.

    So I guess that means we should get rid of all philosophy classes in universities and never read Thomas Paine or Diderot or Robert Ingersoll or other Enlightenment philosophers because that’s too old to compromise? Because obviously there’s a new rule now that everyone should only find inspiration from 21st century writings.

  • Pseudonym

    Aj:

    It’s interesting you think that’s the process.

    I personally know quite a few theologians of the Neo-Orthodox or Liberal variety. (I used to teach at a university college that doubled as a theological hall.) That indeed is “the process”.

    Like all fields of academia, “the process” isn’t always followed perfectly. Not all experimental scientists, for example, follow the prescribed scientific method flowchart either. This is the nature of the beast, because if you know what you are doing, it isn’t research. Nonetheless, any good experimentalist can prove that they did visit every point on the path through the flowchart before submitting for publication.

    No, doctrine is given authority until it comes up against reality or modern society and then it’s compromised.

    That’s completely ridiculous. It’s like saying that Newtonian mechanics was “given authority” until it came up against measurements that indicated non-Galilean relativity, and what we use now is a compromised, corrupt form of what The Great Isaac handed down.

    It is true that nobody tends to question a consensus opinion until there’s a reason to, but this is true of any field. Nobody, for example, questioned the thesis that evolution happened almost entirely by the mechanism of “descent with modifications” until modern DNA sequencing uncovered the phenomenon of horizontal gene transfer. This is now thought to be the primary mechanism in the modern evolution of bacteria. To call this a corrupt, compromised form of what The Great Charles gave us is just plain silly.

    Any academic pursuit must progress, otherwise there’s no point doing it. Progress is not the same thing as compromise.

    Through your religious apologist’s blinkers.

    I’m not a religious apologist. I don’t care what deities you do or don’t believe in. But I won’t stand for arguments based on ignorance.

    I don’t care if you don’t have an interest in theology, literary theory or miscellaneous academic fields that you don’t think are legitimate. There’s plenty of legitimate criticism that doesn’t involve spreading untruths about what those academics do for a living.

  • Aj

    Pseudonym,

    What suggested to you, in Sam Harris’s books and articles, that he was refering to “neo-Orthodox” or “liberal” theologians when mentioning religious moderates? It’s interesting that you think theologians are representative of religious moderates and explained how you can be so wrong. It must be hard to have to keep this kind of self-delusion up, much more so in a country like where Sam Harris is from, with around 40% creationists, which I think might make it the majority religious view.

    Please explain the “process” of theology, specific ways “progress” has been made, other than beliefs change that are more suitable to comtemporary knowledge and attitudes. I’d also like this contrasted with how beliefs change within non-theologian populations, that you should have been focusing on if you actually had an interest in Sam Harris’s point. The absence of any such details in your response is revealing.

    You know what is completely ridiculous? Comparing theology to science. Suggesting that theologians compromising dogma to fit reality is the same as when hypothesis meets evidence. As if theologians have insights that makes it a legimate endeavor to gain knowledge when rejecting revelation and authority lag zeitgeist and science. Progress is not the same as compromise. That is not an academic persuit of knowledge, with no input, just reaction. Lets not forget that Newtonian mechanics and Darwinian evolution still explain phenomena and have mountains of evidence supporting them.

    Not content with your attack on reason you decided without a hint of irony to present Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin as prophets with revelationary authority. Demonstrating one of the several differences that makes your counter argument preposterous. It may have escaped you but the religious actually do put such emphasis on the person, they’re called saints and prophets.

    When scientific consensus changes it is a compromise, to evidence, actually more than that it’s a complete surrender to it. Hypotheses aren’t treated as some sort of revelation, represented as truth, until such time as it is discovered that it can’t possibly be true given our knowledge, someone points out it’s illogical, or societies’s morals have changed.

  • Aj

    Neon Genesis,

    1) I didn’t mean all, my sentence doesn’t suggest that, you’re reaching something more easily refutable.

    According to Pew research:
    67% of Americans believe it’s necessary to believe in God to be moral [1], 58% believe atheists won’t go to heaven [2], 59% believe in hell [3].

    According to Gallup:

    64% of Americans think religion has too little influence on morals [4].

    [1] http://bit.ly/Syin0
    [2] http://bit.ly/bHhrC
    [3] http://bit.ly/CLXfz
    [4] http://bit.ly/170F3m

    2) Apart from rigorously denying that Sam Harris or myself make any argument involving “the actions of all moderate Christianity as a whole” numerous times you still keep coming up with charges including it. All I can say is shut up and learn to read. I don’t repeatedly ask you for evidence of claims that you don’t make, e.g. Provide evidence that a leopard’s spots are always equal. You didn’t say it, so I don’t ask.

    3) It appears you have picked up on the phrase from Harris about ancient beliefs and have presumed that the age of nonsense is important to his argument. It’s not, nonsense can and has been created in recent times, and in The End of Faith he gives examples.

    As Sam Harris notes in the article that he dedicated to explain the position, ancient people were ignorant of a lot of things, and popular religions draw the majority of their doctrine from ancient times. In reference to your examples, imagine if philisopy and political thought mainly virtually stopped in the middle ages.

    Also, describing religion’s approach to ancient revelation and doctrine as gathering inspiration is disingenous. Sam Harris working under very different assumptions, that are far more realistic. Believers view of prophets and messiahs are not the same as atheist’s view of Socrates.

    Once again your examples are truly insane. Thomas Paine, Diderot, or Robert Ingersoll are ancient? Ancient? Ancient? Secondly, anything in the 21st century? Any older than a decade is in the ancient past?

  • Pseudonym

    Just so you know, Neo-Orthodox Christianity is extremely representative of moderate Christianity, worldwide. In retrospect, I should have mentioned that; only those with an interest in theology are likely to know this.

    It must be hard to have to keep this kind of self-delusion up, much more so in a country like where Sam Harris is from, with around 40% creationists, which I think might make it the majority religious view.

    OK, you make a fair point. Here in Australia, the figure is far smaller than that.

    If you’re saying that Harris’ argument is intended to be limited to the situation in the United States, it may make a bit more sense. Not only is the mix of religion in the United States extremely unusual, the education system (with its control by locally elected officials) is virtually unknown elsewhere. I can certainly see how the threat is greater there.

    Please explain the “process” of theology, specific ways “progress” has been made, other than beliefs change that are more suitable to comtemporary knowledge and attitudes.

    Did you not watch the Spong video? I can also point you to a few books on the subject if you like.

    Since you asked, let me go into some of the things that theologians study. If you need more detail, please do ask.

    One of the major fields that theologians study is the history, culture and languages of the Hebrew people, first century Palestine and the Hellenistic world. This is useful enough in and of itself, but they find it important because it aids in the understanding of ancient texts of the period. Some theologians also study the history of the church, which is the history of one stream of human thought.

    Theologians also study the general field of text transmission. In an age without perfect reproduction, they study the ways that texts change over time as they are copied by hand, and the type of errors that may accumulate. Then, if you find two copies of an ancient document which differ in some part, you can apply these tools in order to tell which one is more likely to be a more authentic reading. Many of the tools that we use to study other ancient texts were developed by theologians, and many of the tools that theologians use to study the texts that they’re interested in were developed by textual critics working in the more general area of classics.

    You may think that effort is better spent elsewhere. In many cases, you may be right. But all this is perfectly legitimate scholarship.

    I’d also like this contrasted with how beliefs change within non-theologian populations, that you should have been focusing on if you actually had an interest in Sam Harris’s point.

    This undermines your own earlier point. If 40% of people in the United States still believe in creationism, then polling the general population is the worst possible way to gauge progress in science. If some large proportion of the general population believe that everyone in Columbus’ day thought the Earth was flat, polling the general population is the worst possible way to gauge progress in history.

    You know what is completely ridiculous? Comparing theology to science.

    It’s true that comparing the liberal arts and the sciences results in imperfect analogies. Still, I thought you’d like examples that are more familiar. What classicists do for a living is probably less familiar to most people here.

    Not content with your attack on reason you decided without a hint of irony to present Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin as prophets with revelationary authority.

    You really need to fix your irony meter. I think it’s broken.

  • Neon Genesis

    Apart from rigorously denying that Sam Harris or myself make any argument involving “the actions of all moderate Christianity as a whole” numerous times you still keep coming up with charges including it. All I can say is shut up and learn to read. I don’t repeatedly ask you for evidence of claims that you don’t make, e.g. Provide evidence that a leopard’s spots are always equal. You didn’t say it, so I don’t ask.

    Then please explain what it is you’re actually saying because as far a I can tell, it’s just a lot of gibberish, since anytime anyone responds to your post and you don’t agree with the response, you simply say that’s not what you mean and completely change your argument. If that’s not what you mean, then explain what you mean instead of just saying that’s not what you mean. Because so far I don’t understand a single point you’ve been trying to make because you keep changing your arguments.

    Also, describing religion’s approach to ancient revelation and doctrine as gathering inspiration is disingenous. Sam Harris working under very different assumptions, that are far more realistic. Believers view of prophets and messiahs are not the same as atheist’s view of Socrates.

    How is moderates’ views of Jesus different than a non-Christian’s views of Socrates? Chris Hedge, for example, is a liberal Christian and compares Jesus to Plato in his book American Fascists. Do you even know what moderates believe or do you get all your sources about moderates only from Sam Harris?

    Once again your examples are truly insane. Thomas Paine, Diderot, or Robert Ingersoll are ancient? Ancient? Ancient? Secondly, anything in the 21st century? Any older than a decade is in the ancient past?

    You’re completely missing my point. My point is that if anything ancient should automatically be discarded in modern times simply for being ancient as you seem to suggest, then the majority of philosophy like Epicurus and Plato would also have to be discarded yet you don’t hold other ancient writings to the same standards that you do Jesus.

  • Aj

    Neon Genesis,

    I think I’ve tried to explain enough times already. It’s not that I change my arguments, it’s that you will not accept my arguments for what they are. I consistantly present the same viewpoint, and you consistantly misunderstand, and criticize the very same thing everytime that I have not said. If I was changing my argument then you wouldn’t be responding to with the same misrepresentation each time. Therefore to charge me with changing my arguments is a lie.

    Christians view Jesus as God, born of a virgin, capable of various miracles, speaker of truth, and an example of absolute morality. Socrates was a man that might have existed, who has various ideas attributed to him. If you have trouble telling the difference between these attitudes then I can’t help you. If they don’t believe something like that then they’re hardly representative.

    I understood your point and responded but you seem to have ignored the two paragraphs dealing with your point where I clearly refute these charges and explain what is actually meant. The paragraph you are responding to was quite clearly dealing with your examples of “ancient” ideas that were unusual.

  • Aj

    Pseudonym,

    OK, you make a fair point. Here in Australia, the figure is far smaller than that.

    If you’re saying that Harris’ argument is intended to be limited to the situation in the United States, it may make a bit more sense. Not only is the mix of religion in the United States extremely unusual, the education system (with its control by locally elected officials) is virtually unknown elsewhere. I can certainly see how the threat is greater there.

    You think the United States is unusual? If you look at the acceptance of evolution polls then European countries are far better than the United States. Yet also look at the lack of belief in a personal God, lack of church attendence, cultural “Christianity” vs doctrinal “Christianity”. Then the difference between the number of people believing that evolution is false, two, three times as much doesn’t necessarily reflect the religious opinion of a country. Do you think South America, Islamic countries, Russia, China, and Africa are better than Western and Northern Europe?

    You may think that effort is better spent elsewhere. In many cases, you may be right. But all this is perfectly legitimate scholarship.

    You are right, all legimate scholarship better spent elsewhere. Also all techniques not specific to theology, and not coming together in a way that makes theology a novel subject separate from secular study of religion. None of which would explain what has come, and is still coming out of theology. The absence of certain elements are more telling than the elements left in.

    This undermines your own earlier point. If 40% of people in the United States still believe in creationism, then polling the general population is the worst possible way to gauge progress in science. If some large proportion of the general population believe that everyone in Columbus’ day thought the Earth was flat, polling the general population is the worst possible way to gauge progress in history.

    I thought I made it clear that the point was not to gauge the “progress” of theology but to contrast the changes between theologians and non-theologians to establish your view of representative religious moderatism that includes non-theologians. At least now you’ve said one group of theologians (neo-Orthodox) is representative I have something to go on.

  • Neon Genesis

    I think I’ve tried to explain enough times already. It’s not that I change my arguments, it’s that you will not accept my arguments for what they are. I consistantly present the same viewpoint, and you consistantly misunderstand, and criticize the very same thing everytime that I have not said. If I was changing my argument then you wouldn’t be responding to with the same misrepresentation each time. Therefore to charge me with changing my arguments is a lie.

    But you are changing your arugment. One minute you’ll say it’s not the mere existence of moderates that enables fundies but the actions of individuals that do. I then ask you how these individual moderates are enabling fundies, but then you turn around and say they’re enabling fundies by promoting faith, which contradicts your earlier denial that you’re generalizing all moderates given that most moderates have faith of some sort (the atheist bishop, Richard Holloway, would probably be one exemption). And when I ask you how moderates enable fundies by promoting faith, then you turn around yet again and deny that’s what you mean.

    Christians view Jesus as God, born of a virgin, capable of various miracles, speaker of truth, and an example of absolute morality. Socrates was a man that might have existed, who has various ideas attributed to him. If you have trouble telling the difference between these attitudes then I can’t help you. If they don’t believe something like that then they’re hardly representative.

    Expect that’s not the representative view of Christianity as Christianity has never had a single representative view. Modern fundamenalist Christianity as we know is a modern invention that was created in response to the Enlightenment. As Karen Armstrong points out in her book The Bible-A Biography, fundamentalist Christianity in fact did not exist before the 19th century, contrary to the claims of fundamentalists. The Episcopalian church which Spong belongs to, for example, rejects the virgin birth and there were many Christians in the ancient world that didn’t believe in the virgin birth myth. The Gospel Of Mark, which is the earliest canon of the gospels, in fact does not say anything about Jesus being born of a virgin and this was written before the virgin birth was made, so I guess according to your logic, the author of the Gospel of Mark must not be a true believer. Likewise, not all Christians believe Jesus is God. In the fact, the doctrine of the Trinity does not appear in the bible at all and was made up later by the Catholic church.

    The Unitarian Universalists rejct the Trinity doctrine and believe Jesus was just a man and there were many ancient Christians, such as the adoptionists, who did not believe Jesus was God. Nor do moderates believe Jesus is the speaker of absolute morality. I’ve already mentioned that Obama believes that the Golden Rule is found in all cultures and religions and among secular humanists, but you seem to just completely ignore anything I post that contradicts your argument. You’re building a strawman argument against moderates by claiming they believe something that they don’t and your argument they’re not representatives if they don’t believe your outline of true Christian beliefs is just a No True Scotsman fallacy, as I already mentioned earlier. If you want to learn what moderates actually believe, you should visit the site religioustolerance.org, which I’m pretty sure I already linked to earlier. I also highly recommend reading the book Lost Christianities by Bart D Ehrman which explains in detail the diversity of ancient Christianity.

    I understood your point and responded but you seem to have ignored the two paragraphs dealing with your point where I clearly refute these charges and explain what is actually meant. The paragraph you are responding to was quite clearly dealing with your examples of “ancient” ideas that were unusual.

    I didn’t ignore the paragraphs. I just didn’t have enough time to respond to them in my last post, as I had to leave in a hurry when I typed up my last response. Yes, there’s a lot of nonsense in ancient times, but so what? There’s lot of nonsense in modern times too. Please don’t get me started on ranting about why Zeitgeist is a horrible movie. But you miss my point that just because there’s a lot of nonsense that’s attributed to Jesus doesn’t mean you can’t draw inspiration from the verses attributed to Jesus that is NOT nonsense while discarding the non-nonsensical verses or do you think loving your neighbor is nonsense? By the way, is it just me or does it seem like when I type up a response to the Friendly Atheist blog, it takes forever to load the text as I type it?

  • Aj

    Neon Genesis,

    One minute you’ll say it’s not the mere existence of moderates that enables fundies but the actions of individuals that do. [CORRECT]

    Yes, not only do I say that, not me, not Harris, not Dawkins said the existence of moderates enables anything, you made that up completely by yourself.

    …then you turn around and say they’re enabling fundies by promoting faith…[CORRECT]

    That's right, the action that enables extremists is the promoting of faith, already stated numerous times by me in this thread, it's in The God Delusion and The End of Faith.

    …which contradicts your earlier denial that you’re generalizing all moderates given that most moderates have faith of some sort… [FAIL]

    If I say something has an effect, and you say virtually all of that group does that something, how am I generalizing? No one is generalizing unless you are inferring that virtually all of the group does that something from specific cases you know about. Then the only person who could be generalizing is you.

    And when I ask you how moderates enable fundies by promoting faith, then you turn around yet again and deny that’s what you mean. [FAIL]

    Wrong: I count at least 5 times when I reaffirm this position, three times I explain it, and once I post an article written by Sam Harris explaining it.

  • Aj

    Neon Genesis,

    Expect that’s not the representative view of Christianity as Christianity has never had a single representative view. Modern fundamenalist Christianity as we know is a modern invention that was created in response to the Enlightenment. As Karen Armstrong points out in her book The Bible-A Biography, fundamentalist Christianity in fact did not exist before the 19th century, contrary to the claims of fundamentalists. The Episcopalian church which Spong belongs to, for example, rejects the virgin birth and there were many Christians in the ancient world that didn’t believe in the virgin birth myth. The Gospel Of Mark, which is the earliest canon of the gospels, in fact does not say anything about Jesus being born of a virgin and this was written before the virgin birth was made, so I guess according to your logic, the author of the Gospel of Mark must not be a true believer. Likewise, not all Christians believe Jesus is God. In the fact, the doctrine of the Trinity does not appear in the bible at all and was made up later by the Catholic church.

    I’ll concede that the virgin birth was not doctrine before the formation of the early church, and the various canonizations by the church fathers and later. Some Gospels didn’t make it into the Bible, and they were also varied, much of what is now common in Christianity wasn’t then. However this early period of the church with many different doctrines does not mean Christianity has never had a single representative view.

    Does the Episcopalian church reject the virgin birth as a whole or are you generalizing from a few examples of bishops not believing in it? I’d like some surveys or some official documents declaring doctrine and canon like the Catholics have. The church has 2 million members, that’s not a lot in the scheme of things.

    The doctrine of the Trinity is not about the belief that Jesus is God. Nontrinitarians believe Jesus is God, some don’t believe in the holy spirit, some don’t believe Jesus and God are two entities. The major Christian traditions believe in the Trinity.

    The Unitarian Universalists…

    Let anyone be a member and have no formal creed, they also number less than a million.

    Nor do moderates believe Jesus is the speaker of absolute morality. I’ve already mentioned that Obama believes that the Golden Rule is found in all cultures and religions and among secular humanists, but you seem to just completely ignore anything I post that contradicts your argument.

    It was the speaker of truth, and an example of absolute morality not the only expression of any morals that Christians agree with ever (the Old testament is older than Jesus for fucks sake). Not only are you responding to something I didn’t write again but you still managed to be wrong.

  • Aj

    Neon Genesis,

    I didn’t ignore the paragraphs. I just didn’t have enough time to respond to them in my last post, as I had to leave in a hurry when I typed up my last response. Yes, there’s a lot of nonsense in ancient times, but so what? There’s lot of nonsense in modern times too. Please don’t get me started on ranting about why Zeitgeist is a horrible movie. But you miss my point that just because there’s a lot of nonsense that’s attributed to Jesus doesn’t mean you can’t draw inspiration from the verses attributed to Jesus that is NOT nonsense while discarding the non-nonsensical verses or do you think loving your neighbor is nonsense?

    The nonsense of modern times isn’t collected into books that are then given authority by massive organisations and groups of organisations with massive membership, telling everyone it’s inspired by God, and the characters involved had direct lines to God, while they are encouraging and actively engaging in indoctrination of children.

    If Christians were only reading Jesus as a historical figure that said some nice things (e.g. The Sermon on the Mount) like Thomas Jefferson thought then there would be no problem. Although as Thomas Jefferson found out, if you cut down the gospels so that it only includes those nice things then you’re not left with much.

  • Pseudonym

    Aj:

    I’m getting a bit sick of talking in circles, so I’m going to have to stop here. If Sam Harris has a valid point here, then like him, you don’t seem able to articulate in the space available precisely what it is.

    I will answer a few easy-to-answer questions, though.

    You think the United States is unusual?

    Yes, I do. US-style Evangelicalism is a minority, and largely unwelcome, phenomenon outside the United States.

    Having said that, there certainly is a growth in Africa, largely due to the “mission” work of US Evangelicals. I put “mission” in quotations because they seem to be opposed to what most Christians think of by “mission” work. That’s a whole other rant, though.

    Does the Episcopalian church reject the virgin birth as a whole or are you generalizing from a few examples of bishops not believing in it?

    Neon Genesis is not strictly correct that the Episcopalian church “rejects the virgin birth”. The church doesn’t have an official position on the matter as far as I know.

    There is, however, something of a rough consensus that pretty much all English-speaking Anglicans who have expressed an opinion on the topic, including the current Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, seem to agree with. The consensus is that belief in the virgin birth is not a requirement for Christianity.

    There are, of course, find dissenters. Being a fairly large group worldwide, the Anglican communion does have an Evangelical wing who disagree with the consensus of the majority. However, Anglican Evangelicals on the whole tend towards the emerging church movement rather than US-style Evangelicalism. There are a few notable exceptions, such as Sydney in Australia.

    The church has 2 million members, that’s not a lot in the scheme of things.

    Or, to put it another way, 77 million members worldwide. Anglicanism is the third largest Christian communion in the world, after Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, and only just beating Methodism (about 75 million), the Reformed Churches (mostly Presbyterians and Congregationalists, around 75 million) and Lutheranism (about 70 million).

    They don’t have a lot of members in the USA, but they have more influence than you might think.

    Incidentally, you might be comparing Anglicanism with the Southern Baptist Convention. I said earlier that Christianity in the USA is unusual. Of all of the non-small churches in the world, the SBC is by far the most unusual.

    For example, it’s probably the only Christian church with more than half a million or so members which is not a member of any international communion or other ecumenical group. It’s not a member of the WCC, not a member of the NCC and not even the World Baptist Council. In this sense, that the largest church in the United States is not in any way “mainstream” as far as the rest of the world is concerned.

    Thanks for an engaging discussion, Aj.

  • Neon Genesis

    I’m with Pseudonym on this. I don’t see the point in continuing to go around in circles and repeating myself yet again, so I’m out on this too and we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

  • jr476

    I noticed that everyone has a lot to say concerning hell, weather who believes and who doesn’t believe, but no one has gone to the point, what does the bible say, well lets see, Job 14:13 ” O that in She’ol you would conceal me, That you would keep me secret until your anger turns back, That you would set a time limit for me and remember me!”

    Suffering Job prayed to go there, why? If this is a literal place of fiery torment, why is Job asking to go there?

    Job thought that God was the one causing his suffering, so he asked him to send him to She’ol, why?
    Isaiah 38:18 ” For it is not She’ol that can laud you, death itself cannot praise you.
    Those going down into the pit cannot look hopefully to your trueness”

    The bible has just given us the answer as to what She’ol is, the pit, the hole where someone is buried, the definition of She’ol is the entire region or resting place of all the dead people that have died since the begining. Job knew that, and he asked God to take his life until his wrath turns away because Job was in agony.

    She’ol is a place of inactivity.
    Ecclesiastes 9:5-6
    ” For the living are conscious that they will die, but as for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all, neither do they anymore have wages, because the remembrance of them has been forgotten.
    Also, their love and their hate and their jealousy have already perished, and they have no portion anymore to time indefinite in anything that has to be done under the sun”

    And in what state is She’ol in?
    Ecclesiastes 9:10
    ” All that your hand finds to do, do with your very power, for there is no work nor devising nor knowledge nor wisdom in She’ol the place to which you are going”

    That is the description that the bible gives on what She’ol’s status is, for a place of torment there seems to be absolutely nothing going on there.
    That’s why is says to do whatever you wish to do with your very hands, meaning while your still alive, because in She’ol there is nothing, because while you are dead you are not conscious.

  • Crimson

    I personally don’t believe in hell, but i do believe that you have to pay for your sins by waiting in purgatory like a prison sentence depending on what you have done in your life.

    • 1WAY2HIM

      You need to get you a kjv/nkjv Bible and READ IT!!!! Whats the point of
      Christ dying for our sins if everyone gets to go to heaven anyway???
      That wouldn’t be just… and God is!!!


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X