The Intellectual Mandate to Criticize Progressive Theism: A Response to Libby Anne’s Article

I have repeatedly defended the position that atheists have a right to say that a particular version of a religion is “true”, and they have the right to call out progressive religious people as being incoherent and presenting odd defenses of their religions. Of course, since I’m an ex-Muslim I have focused on Islam, but I think that is true about every religion. Religions are much older than progressive or humanistic values, and no one expects us to interpret Homer or Virgil or Plato or Aristotle in the way that corresponds to our values today, but we somehow give that sanction to the religions, because as I have said any atheist who argues in favor of progressive religion either buys into religious hegemony and gives a special status to religion or does so for political reasons. It’s funny how skeptics suddenly become poststructuralist when it comes to religions and believe in the infinity of valid interpretations, and then switch back to being skeptics after satisfying their conscience that they haven’t been mean to progressive theists.

Anyway, if you are interested in reading what I have said about this topic before, in this piece I have reasoned why (about Islam) this position is rationally true, in this one I have shown why it is politically useful, and here I post about the internal contradiction of giving a special status to religion when it comes to letting its progressive proponents define it.

But last night I read a very compelling article by the ever amazing Libby Anne, in which she argued for not doing this. I want to write a response, but also add a point to the points I made above. This is the link to her article: On Creation, Evolution, and Criticizing Progressive Christianity.

Let me first mention something in the middle:

I’m not saying I think progressive or mainline Christianity is counterfeit but I’m going to avoid saying it for tactical reasons. I don’t. Oh sure, the Bible is complicated and messy, but plenty of progressive or mainline Christians admit that and don’t find that it creates a problem for their faith or their understanding of God. The Christian tradition is much more varied than we give it credit for.

Although she says this, she never argues to show why progressive Christianity is true, or coherent, she simply states that they exist, and all the reasons she brings are tactical reasons. Progressive Christians might believe that this doesn’t create problems for their faiths, but if they did feel that, they wouldn’t be progressive Christians, would they?

This is what I mean by spontaneous poststructuralism: just because there are certain people who claim a specific ideology is compatible with certain things, it doesn’t mean that they are right. We still get to compare their claims and see if there is any contradiction, and there are lots of contradictions in being both progressive and Christian, mainly that you can’t claim to follow a book and then not follow that book, or not follow a book and then claim that you belong to something which is defined by following that book. Changing definitions is a fallacy.

And again let me repeat: we do this only for religions. Libby Anne would never accept it if I defined myself as a feminist who also thinks that women serve no purpose but staying at home and giving birth to children, she would never accept if I said “I’m both MRA and feminist”, yet saying “I’m both Muslim and feminist” is acceptable although MRAism is million times less misogynistic than Islam.

This attitude is very evident in her next article, In Defense of Theistic Evolution, which is a reply to Greta Christina’s Why You Can’t Reconcile God and Evolution. I really don’t wan’t to sound dismissive when it comes to someone whom I respect as much as Libby Anne, but I think ultimately all of her arguments in this piece boil down to “well there are people who don’t believe this”, and that’s of course no convincing argument. For example:

As Greta admits later, not all theistic evolutionists hold the exact same views. But when I was a theistic evolutionist, I found two views compelling: First, that God started off the Big Bang and then watched, fascinated, as everything unfolded. In this view, God was a silent observer, gazing in wonder as the world we know today developed, gradually, over time. I could see him taking time off for a bit to eat (I know, I know) and then coming back to find a new wonder that had developed while he was away.

Now to be fair, Anne never talks of being a Christian evolutionist, but a theistic one. Yes, you can reconcile certain deist-type gods with evolution. And the god which is described here is a deist-type god, and anyone can easily show that the god of the Bible and the Koran are not deist-type gods, the Bible even less so because of a little book called the Genesis. If a Christian says the story of the Genesis is symbolic and not literary, it would be an attempt to circumvent this contradiction, (which would fail because the book would still present god as an interfering entity and not a deist type), so while one might be able to reconcile Christianity and evolution to a degree, one would never be able to reconcile modern moral values and biblical and Koranic values, and since Anne’s main priority is social justice and not evolution teaching, this is strange.

As a political person, I’m willing to let better people than me fight the battle over science vs. religion. But I’m certain these holy books cannot be reconciled with progressive values unless we are being willfully ignorant of their meaning and the time they were written.

So let’s return to the main article in which she brings political reasons why we should defend progressive theists.

I worry that atheists sometimes read fundamentalists’ approach to the Bible onto all Christians when in practice there are a variety of ways of approaching, understanding, and interpreting the Bible.

Again, we don’t claim that progressive theists don’t exist, we claim that progressive theists are wrong. Now I want to present what I find to be the gist of her argument:

I worry that if we spend our time arguing that these things can’t be reconciled, we make it harder for evangelical and fundamentalist Christians to part ways with toxic ideologies.

When we argue that these things—whether God and evolution or the Bible and gay rights—cannot be reconciled, the message evangelicals and fundamentalists receive is that evolution or gay rights would require them to give up their faith. Most evangelical and fundamentalist Christians are not going to give up their faith. It is an integral part of their lives, their communities, and their very understanding of themselves and the world around them. Setting up this dichotomy—that you can either be a pro-gay-rights evolutionist atheist or an anti-gay-rights creationist Christian—serves to drive them deeper into their science denialism and homophobia.

[...]

This rhetoric is designed to keep evangelical or fundamentalist youth from even considering progressive or mainline Christianity, with their greater acceptance of evolution, feminism, and gay rights, as an option.

I have two problems with this.

Firstly, this message is true. If you want to remain rationally coherent, and if you want to remain intellectually honest, you have to choose either a progressive ideology or a more than thousand year old ideology. Of course, like many progressive and conservative believers you might choose to reconcile your faith and your progressive values, but that is contradictory, and therefore wrong.

And yes, that does mean I’m saying the same thing as the evangelicals. Because evangelicals are right. That’s hardly an argument.

But it was the second problem which compelled me to write this.

Are we really the ones who set the rhetoric? When we argue with religious people, whether the more conservative ones or the more tolerant ones, should we have to think more of how they will react to our arguments rather than presenting them with what we think is the whole truth?

Libby Anne talks about the priorities. She says that her priority is not to deconvert people but to spread humanist values. I respect that, and like she says, my priority is different. My priority is neither.

My priority is to have open and honest debate. My priority is to provide my co-debater with the most honest and candid account of the truth as I believe it, and to be presented with the most honest and candid account of truth myself, and if we are not convinced by each other, I want to at least present the other with the most genuine arguments that I can.

There are many valid political reasons to ally ourselves with progressive theists and to respect them as individuals. However this alliance and this respect should not come at the cost of silencing and ignoring the disagreements. I believe progressive theists to be intellectually wrong, and morally right. Because of this I have an intellectual mandate to argue against what I think is an intellectual and not a moral failure. We cannot brush this debate under the rug for political reasons.

And it is not in spite of my respect for moderate theists but because of my respect that I will continue to say they are wrong. Moderate theists don’t need to be shielded from criticism and treated with kid gloves, they deserve the most genuine argument against their beliefs.

My priority, my intellectual mandate, is a world in which people value truth above all else. A world in which the concerns over the consequence of the rhetoric does not tramp over the intellectual honesty, a world which expects people to be intellectually brave and continue every logical step and do not shy away from taking it for political reasons, a world in which we do not condone opinions for their mere existence but hold them to scrutiny.

So what I’m telling a moderate Christian or Muslim is not mainly “you have to choose between your faith and your values”, that is the consequence and not the cause. What I’m mainly saying is “You have to be intellectually consistent and work based on rationality, not what feels good.”

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About Kaveh Mousavi

Kaveh Mousavi is the pseudonym of an atheist ex-Muslim living in Iran, subject to one of the world’s remaining theocracies. He is a student of English Literature, an aspiring novelist, and part-time English teacher. He is passionate about politics, video games, heavy metal music, and cinema. He was born at the tenth anniversary of the Islamic Revolution of Iran. He has ditched the Islamic part, but has kept some of the revolutionary spirit.

  • http://www.russellturpin.com/ rturpin

    “I have repeatedly defended the position that atheists have a right to say that a particular version of a religion is ‘true’…”

    Really? if you thought a particular version of a religion were true, then you wouldn’t be an atheist. From the rest of the article, it seems to me that what you mean isn’t that a particular version of a religion is true, but that it is authentic in some sense.

    Which raises two problems. First, is making sense of that authenticity. I’m more familiar with Christianity, and there, it is precisely the most stringent of fundamentalists who claim to hark back to authentic Christianity who are most ignorant of the relatively modern origins of their own theology, and of how Christianity came to be. Given the actual history of Christianity, it’s rather hard to say what the authentic religion is. It’s not at all clear that a single theology connected Paul, the gospel authors, and any historical Jesus. So on what basis can anyone — atheist or not — say “this is the authentic Christianity?” (I cannot say anything as confident about Islam, but from what I have read, the history of its own origins also is far more complex and murky than most of its adherents would admit.)

    The second and larger problem is that the authenticity of a belief has complex and not necessarily telling connection to its truth. Some progressive Christians don’t claim that their belief is somehow authentic to its roots. Their theology admits the possibility that some modern believers get closer to theological truth than those in Jesus’s day! Which leaves any criticism based on such difference largely irrelevant. In fact, it seems to me that that kind of criticism is most powerfully applied against fundamentalists, who both claim authenticity as critical to their theology, typically in ignorance of the history of it.

    Mind, I’m not arguing that progressive Christian theology makes more sense than fundamentalist varieties. It seems just as much nonsense to me. Just a different kind of nonsense. And sometimes immune from criticism on the basis of authenticity, because not clewing to that as much as many fundamentalists.

    • Kaveh Mousavi

      Debates over authorship and authenticity are interesting for historians or to prove that the origin of these texts is not divine, but it doesn’t change the fact that there is a text in some form before us here and there are people who claim to follow that text yet their interpretation clearly contradicts the text.

      There are similar questions regarding the authorship and authenticity of the Iliad, but if someone claims that Iliad is a feminist anti-class manifesto, they’re wrong. And they would be wrong if there were people living by Iliad’s standards and they were trying to shield the Iliad from criticism of its content by the means of weird interpretation.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Religions are much older than progressive or humanistic values

    Carvaka.

    • http://teethofthebuzzsaw.blogspot.com Leo Buzalsky

      Cool. Never heard of that before. But that just makes it older than the Abrahamic religions (or about the same age as Judaism). Hinduism existed well before then. As probably did other now-extinct religions.

  • http://teethofthebuzzsaw.blogspot.com Leo Buzalsky

    I have repeatedly defended the position that atheists have a right to say that a particular version of a religion is “true”,

    Looks like I’m repeating a bit of what rturpin said…

    This could perhaps be true for Islam, but I can’t find it true for Christianity. My take on this is that the people who originally authored the texts probably indeed had a certain intention. The problem for Christianity is multiple authors. I just can’t see all those different authors having the same intention. Actually, some of the writings imply that false writings existed. So we know there was disagreement. (What we don’t know is if those writings claimed to be false also ended up in the New Testament.)

    With Islam, where there was *supposedly* one author, sure, you could potentially have a version that is correct. But the only person that would know what that correct version is would be that author. And they are long dead, so we have no way of knowing what that true version is. (We can take educated guesses, for sure, though. I don’t deny that.)

    This is also why religion differs from feminism and the likes. There are no authors of feminism. Sure, there are authors who write about feminism or what they think feminism should be, but this is not the same.

    If we, however, were to decide that a religion is not dependent on the intent of it’s authors, then there most certainly is not any true religion. What would make it “true”? There’s no god for it to be based on.

  • http://aceofsevens.wordpress.com Ace of Sevens

    People actually do continually reinterpret classic literature in a modern mindset. Look at the explanations of how Taming of the Shrew isn’t misogynistic for a good example.

    That aside, I don’t think this analogy works. Religion is an active practice, not a book. It may be based on a book to some degree, but saying that you can’t deviate from that book is begging the question. If Islam has no basis in fact, why is sticking to the letter of the Koran more valid than interpreting it loosely?

    • EnlightenmentLiberal

      If Islam has no basis in fact, why is sticking to the letter of the Koran more valid than interpreting it loosely?

      Logical consistency. Either you do believe that there is a god who wrote or inspired the writing of that book, or you don’t. If you do believe that it’s divinely inspired, then the sort of progressive interpretations found in progressive Islam and progressive Christianity is logically inconsistent and thus intellectually dishonest.

      The problem is that all denominations actually do worship a book, and they put the worship of that book above all else. It’s also undeniable that the book commands great evils, celebrates evil people and creatures, and so on.

      If one don’t believe it’s divinely inspired throughout, then why do I need not see a movement in the progressive community to change the book? They might actually be able to avoid these complaints of Kaveh and I if they changed their book for the better and got rid of all of the evil stuff that’s “not divinely inspired”. It’s trivial to make a better book than the Christian bible. All you have to do is take the Christian bible, and take out all of the verses regulating and condoning slavery. Voila – better book. I don’t see any Christian denomination doing this, and that’s why they’re all hypocrites and liars.

      If they really worship their god and not their book, then they should change their book, exactly like what happened in the second(?) and third(?) centuries when the book was being canonized. Why not do another canonization committee and make a better book?

    • Kaveh Mousavi

      They CLAIM it’s based on a book, they CLAIM that their interpretation of the book is accurate, the CLAIM they don’t deviate from that book, and with this actually many people who would be atheists otherwise are deceived into remaining a Muslim, and we’re examining that CLAIM.

      Basically, you’re letting people get away with a lie, and that doesn’t bode to my skeptic values.

    • John Horstman

      I’m a vegan. Oh sure, I eat meat sometimes and use animal-based products, but my interpretation of veganism is that it’s really a prohibition on killing and abusing non-human animals, so if they’re already dead and I had no part in motivating or carrying out that act, I’m still acting in accordance with vegan principles.

      It’s not less intellectually-consistent/-honest when people do it with religion.

      • Kaveh Mousavi

        Also, I’m a vegan who defines vaganism as “eat as much meat as you want”. :P

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    @Kaveh

    I take a slightly different tact. I do think that humanism and the well-being of the people is paramount. If you could show me that lying and denial would definitely lead to a happier and better society, so much for the truth. The truth should be tossed out.

    However, by the evidence we have of human psychology and sociology, and of basic scientific and rational principles, this is almost never true. The way to happiness and well-being is almost always honest rational inquiry and the truth.

    I don’t know if it’s much of an achievement when we convince some conservative Christian to be a progressive Christian. Often, they are still no closer to rationality and no closer to valuing truth and honesty. That they happen to be with us on some progressive values I consider to be a happy accident. However, I fear it’s not sustainable and stable. They have not properly thought through their beliefs. Their progressive beliefs lack a good foundation. They’re built on logical contradictions and dishonesty. I suspect that moving from conservative Christianity to progressive Christianity often entails a loss of valuing universal truth and universal morality. I don’t even know if it’s a long-term accomplishment when a conservative Christian becomes a progressive Christian. In some ways, it’s a step backwards.

    I actually respect conservative Christians more than progressives because at least the conservatives seem to value honesty, consistency, and truth. They just happen to be wrong about a couple of factual or presuppositional matters, and they happen to be grossly evil.

    This lack of caring about universal truth and universal morality among progressive Christians tends to create a kind of intellectual relativism where one person’s truth is as good as another person’s truth. It also leads to moral relativism, that one person’s religious commands and culture are just as good as another person’s religious commands and culture. Because the progressive Christian less often values objective truth and universal morality, they are less often willing to stand up to those who are evil. “All it takes for evil to flourish is for good people to do nothing.”

    • Kaveh Mousavi

      I agree that sometimes we need to lie in order to make the world a better place, but I wouldn’t go that far to state it about these big questions too. We need to know which world we live in or we will not be prepared to meet real world problems. I would agree with politician lies when they want to push something valuable though. But not intellectual lies.

      I agree with the rest of your comment.

  • Beryl MacLachlan

    It strikes me that people who are most familiar with Protestant versions of Christianity don’t quite get the limited role that the Bible played in earlier versions. I’m no church historian, buy even basic history is pretty clear that, at the time of the early councils, the churches thought that what was important was their descent from the groups founded by the apostles. They knew perfectly well that their selection of texts to form what became the New Testament. I don’t think ANY of the early “church fathers” claimed any kind of infallibility for the texts; this was why the Church, supposed to be the representative of Jesus on earth, was supposed to be so critical. The Bibliocentricty of Protestantism was a basic change.

    It would thus be rather odd to take Protestant principles to tell Catholic or Orthodox Christians that they’re doing it wrong. Further, nothing seems inconsistent about a modern Protestant holding onto the idea that the Bible can’t stand alone on its own terms and needs educated reading.

    I’ve often wondered whether the rise of literalist Christianity wasn’t driven by envy of Islam’s rather tidier relationship to its text. A truly book-centered religion would have been very appealing to a Renaissance/post-Renaissance world view. It would also have been a welcome way of getting rid of centrality of the institution of the church, which was becoming an increasingly difficult theological idea, given the nature of many of the popes and patriarchs of the time. However, the fact that the reformation types changed the religion in a way that it had an Islamic-like relationship to its text doesn’t mean that that was how it started of that that is “authentic.”

    • Kaveh Mousavi

      In that case replace “book” with “church doctrine”, which is not a huge improvement. Plus I have years from many moderate Catholics (Andrew Sullivan for example) that the church doesn’t really represent what Jesus says, so in what does he base his arguments if not on the book?

  • Beryl MacLachlan

    Sorry, missing phrase. They knew perfectly well that their selection of texts to form what became the New Testament HAD BEEN A BUREAUCRATIC MESS.

  • Kilian Hekhuis

    I have debated quite a number of progressive Christians, and the problem is, they fully acknowledge the Bible is basically a hodge-podge of ancient, outdated and faulty ideas. They believe in science, evolution, humanistic values, are pro-choice, pro-euthanesia, pro LGBT rights, you name it. If you want to debate these people, you *cannot* try to show them their faith is wrong because the Bible, simply because the Bible is *not* the fundament of their religion and religious believes. Imho the way to debate these people is trying to extract what exactly they *do* believe, and try to show them that science (which they have faith in!) tells them they are wrong. All too often, this ends in “but I feel differently”, and that’s that. These are people that are willingly self-delusional, and they don’t care. Libby Ann no doubt has the same experiences, that’s why she states, as you quote above, “the Bible is complicated and messy, but plenty of progressive or mainline Christians admit that and don’t find that it creates a problem for their faith or their understanding of God”. It’s this. And you don’t seem to understand that, unfortunately.

    • Kaveh Mousavi

      First off, that is mostly a false claim. When you press them on their reasoning they will either claim Jesus to be the source of their value, as in New Testament, so it goes back to the book, or they are merely deists who mislabele themselves. Even if a Christian or a Muslim claims the Holy book is not their basis of faith, then I still have dozens of ways to show them they misrepresent the ideology, from tradition to social impact to history.

      If a Christian is not a prophet themselves then they need something Christian to base their claim on. And it is easy to show that they misrepresent that.

      Also they should base their faith on their Holy books, that is the measure of their intellectual worth. When someone says things like this my reply to them is that are you a prophet or are you God, what makes you the arbiter of faith, and their reply is “I feel that way, I have seen God” or things like this, and that is the last acceptable form of religious moderate because of the arrogance and complete sitting down of any sort of evidence and reasoning.

      Fortunately I understand, and fortunately I’m just not willing to accept and recognize as legitimate a fake and deceptive thing. Again, I don’t know what is going on with the so called skeptics whose whole arguments are “but people say that”. “But they feel differently”. Well why debate at all, and why think at all? At the end, some people hold to some beliefs, and apparently that is all the critical examination humanity needs.

      Let me ask you a real question, and give me an honest reply: if I said I’m a Leninist, but I feel leninism should not be based on the works of Lenin, would you accept that?

      • Kilian Hekhuis

        You make a lot of assumptions. I would say that, unless you come over to the Netherlands (where I live) and have discussion with the moderate Dutch Christians I’m talking about, you cannot know what they claim and why. You say “that is mostly a false claim”, but how can you know? Surely the moderate Iranian Muslims you encounter may make this false claim, and when pressed etc., but we’re talking about moderate Dutch Christians here, the type I encounter mostly. Yes, they base their faith on the New Testament, but not on the literal interpretation of it, as they will acknowlegde the discrapancies and contradictions in the gospels. They know the gospels are at odds with history. But they will claim that “the truth is somewhere in the middle”, “Jesus was a historic figure, even if not all events described actually happened that way” and go on about His words of love etc. Their faith is based on the teachings of their religious denomination (and we have a lot of those in the Netherlands), the way the gospels are explained by their spiritual leaders (reverends, pastors, etc.), not on any literal interpretation of it. If that makes you call them “fake Christians”, go ahead, they will still identify as Christians. You won’t win the debate by throwing around True Scotsmans.

        “Also they should base their faith on their Holy books, that is the measure of their intellectual worth. (…) that is the last acceptable form of religious moderate because of the arrogance and complete sitting down of any sort of evidence and reasoning” Personally I don’t think they will be persuaded by such an opinion, and in a discussion on faith they’ll probably shrug and walk away if you say things like that.

        Yes, religion is fake and deceptive. But the believes of these moderates is not fake. It’s real believes, even if they are not grounded in reality. I see no difference between having faith in Jesus and having faith in homeopathy, the latter also not being grounded in reality, nor even having a Holy book.

        As for your question, it’s not for me to accept or reject your claim of being a Leninist, without both knowing what you mean by it, and knowing the works of Lenin. However, you could have believes that are perfectly compatible with Leninism, without having ever read the works of Lenin.

        • Kaveh Mousavi

          It doesn’t matter how I define Leninist, it already has a definition, and I have no right to redefine it. All our disagreements boil down to this – you think truth is a playground and people can have fun in it, I think there should be standards of accuracy and honesty.

          They claim to follow a book which they agree is inaccurate and historically shoddy and says something in it but they don’t actually follow what is said in the book but what they feel should have been said. And I’m not allowed to call their allegiance to this cause a fake allegiance.

          And what if I don’t win the debate? I’m still right. And, I have convinced many Muslims to stoo calling themselves a Muslim precisely by this, and I became an atheist when I realized the Koran does not support the values I think it does. Of course, this is Iran, not Netherlands.

          • Kilian Hekhuis

            “All our disagreements boil down to this – you think truth is a playground and people can have fun in it, I think there should be standards of accuracy and honesty.” – No, I think our disagreement comes from you seemingly thinking that you can define what “Christianity” means, instead of “Christianity” being defined by the people that say they are Christians. There is no single “True Christianity”, and you don’t get to define it.

            “And I’m not allowed to call their allegiance to this cause a fake allegiance.” – They don’t have a strict allegiance to it, that’s the whole point.

            “And what if I don’t win the debate? I’m still right. ” – That’s basically the stance of the likes of Ken Ham. If you stubbornly proclaim you are right while nobody agrees, you may indeed be right, but to what avail? What do you hope to gain?

            “I have convinced many Muslims” – I think there’s quite a difference between Muslims vs Quran and Christians vs. the Bible, especially with regards to the litteral interpretation and historicity of the texts.

          • EnlightenmentLiberal

            No, I think our disagreement comes from you seemingly thinking that you can define what “Christianity” means, instead of “Christianity” being defined by the people that say they are Christians. There is no single “True Christianity”, and you don’t get to define it.

            I can’t speak for him, but I can say this. I think I can make his argument simply by taking Christians at their face for what Christianity is. I don’t have to define “True Christianity”. I use their own definition of Christianity.

            It’s a simple fact that all modern denominations of Christians worship a book and not a god. If they were serious about getting rid of the bad stuff in their book, then they would rewrite their book, but they cannot because they worship the book and not their god.

            About the “interpretations” the progressive Christians make about their book – it’s all hogwash. I know that they think they can, but they’re wrong. I can read too, and the book does not say what they think it says, which makes them liars or in denial.

      • Pierce R. Butler

        … their reply is “I feel that way, I have seen God” or things like this…

        Christians respond in that way all the time, but I would think that for a Muslim to say this – especially in Iran these days – might invite an immediate trial for heresy.

        Does Islam allow room for individuals to claim (a minor form of) visions equivalent to prophethood?

        • Kaveh Mousavi

          No, it is very dangerous to say such things, people have been executed for such claims.

          • Pierce R. Butler

            Then how does it happen you can say ‘… and their reply is “I feel that way, I have seen God” or things like this…’?

            I like to win arguments, but not by having the government haul off my opponents and hanging them.

          • Kaveh Mousavi

            Well they’re saying that to me, not in public :P

  • John Morales

    Nostalgic it is, seeing an echo of the recent accommodationism dispute.

    The position one takes in this regard is a major determination between traditional and new atheism.

  • Albert Doyle

    @8 — I think he understands it just fine — it’s actually the crux of his argument.

  • http://www.russellturpin.com/ rturpin

    Kaveh Mousavi says: “When someone says things like this my reply to them is that are you a prophet or are you God, what makes you the arbiter of faith, and their reply is “I feel that way, I have seen God” or things like this, and that is the last acceptable form of religious moderate because of the arrogance and complete sitting down of any sort of evidence and reasoning.”

    To be fair, many strains of Christianity teach the notion that individual believers do have a direct connection to their god. Quakers, to name one such. You cannot respond to such claims simply by saying “stick to your book,” or “stick to your tradition.”

    Now, I’ve never seen reason to believe such claims. There are criticisms of those claims, including the fact that their adherents won’t put their god to the kind of test that would validate that they have some source of outside knowledge.

    There also are liberal strains of Protestantism that hold an intermediate view. They don’t claim that individuals sometimes have prophetic-like connection to their god, but that the body of believers evolves the interpretation of scripture and tradition, under the guidance of their god. That kind of claim is almost impossible to refute, because there is no way to distinguish such from just the body of believers naturally coming up with new doctrine as suits the time, absent any god. Which is a strong criticism of such notion.

    Nonetheless, just for accuracy’s sake, I think it’s important to distinguish these kind of beliefs from fundamentalism. They cannot be criticized on the same ground, because they view the role of scripture quite differently from fundamentalists.

    Nor can or should an atheist say that the fundamentalist strain of Christianity is the right one. I don’t believe there is a right strain of Christianity. Every one I have encountered is irrational. But the less common strains sometimes are irrational in their own way, rather than in the way of the more common strains. That means in any conversation with a particular believer, one has to pay attention to the particulars of what they are saying. But that’s true for conversation generally.

    • EnlightenmentLiberal

      There also are liberal strains of Protestantism that hold an intermediate view. They don’t claim that individuals sometimes have prophetic-like connection to their god, but that the body of believers evolves the interpretation of scripture and tradition, under the guidance of their god. That kind of claim is almost impossible to refute, because there is no way to distinguish such from just the body of believers naturally coming up with new doctrine as suits the time, absent any god. Which is a strong criticism of such notion.

      What you cite is fundamentally dishonest. The Christian bible regulates, condones, and promotes slavery (or at least that slaves should be obedient). The Christian bible celebrates many purported persons and creatures for their incredibly evil acts. No amount of honest reinterpretation can get you around that. Purporting you can get around that by reinterpretation is bull. It’s delusion.

  • http://www.russellturpin.com/ rturpin

    Kaveh Mousavi says: “It doesn’t matter how I define Leninist, it already has a definition, and I have no right to redefine it.”

    Be careful here. A definition is just a description of how a term is used, not a truth claim beyond that. There is nothing inherently wrong or illogical in creating new definitions, or even in re-purposing existing terms. Someone can quite coherently say: “Even though Lenin was wrong about a, b, and c, I think Lenin was right about x, y, and z, and so I’m a neo-Leninist.” It is not an argument against that to point out that such an individual is not following Lenin precisely. No one follows anyone precisely.

    Many American conservatives make the logical error of essentialism. “Because someone supports gay marriage, he must believe x.” “Because someone is a liberal, he must believe y.” Sometimes that gets taken to the hilarious extreme of telling their respondent what they really ought to be advocating! But there are myriad ways to combine various views. Just because certain combinations are traditional or well-known doesn’t mean they are the only ones possible, coherent, or prevalent.

    • Kaveh Mousavi

      That is very reasonable, but when you say neo-Leninism, you are indicating that your view is different from the traditional view, that you accept that Lenin made mistakes. However, imagine that we are in the communist regime, and flatly refuting Lenin is not allowed, and because of years and years of indoctrination people have become emotionally attached to the idea of Lenin. Now some people say things that completely rejects Lenin, yet they insist to be a Leninist for emotional reasons rather than rational ones.

      In that case, it is fair to say that their Leninist label is fake.

  • http://www.russellturpin.com/ rturpin

    True. But that is an important regard in which Leninism is different from Christianity. Lenin was a historical figure. We have his own writings. You can buy them in many bookstores. Or on Amazon.

    Jesus is a figure in the Christian pantheon, who has only questionable relationship to any historical Jesus. The historical Jesus left us not a single word of his own writing. So when a Christian makes a claim about Jesus’s views, an atheist can’t point out how that varies from Jesus’s oeuvre. There is no oeuvre available! Even to point out how that is contrary to some alleged quote in, say, the gospel of Mark, immediately plunges into the tricky theological waters of how to take that gospel, whose authorship is unknown, and whose traditional author never knew the historical Jesus. And which many Christians realize cannot be taken as serious history. Authenticity in Christianity is not easy to pin down, precisely because there is so much distance between Jesus in the pantheon, and an historical Jesus.

    • Kaveh Mousavi

      We’re repeating ourselves a bit here, but I’ll say it again:

      The historicity of Jesus would be irrelevant to this discussion, because we’re concerned with a text and a tradition which is before us now. No matter who the real Jesus was or if he existed, we now have a tradition in his name and a text in his name.

      Imagine there were a group pf people who thought Joffrey from Game of Thrones or Voldemort from Harry Potter was real and a prophet and they worshiped him, and they had a tolerant faction who said they actually supported humanist values. We can still call them out on this intellectual discrepancy.

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