Brokenness and Privilege

If you’re not too familiar with ‘privilege’ or usually don’t like when people use it, READ THIS FIRST.

After reading my slam on “High Energy Theoretical Ethics,” Christian H of The Thinking Grounds added a much needed caveat to my pitch for virtue ethics. I said: “your time is best spent firming up your will so you can follow through on the choices you know you ought to make” and he added

And looking into why we fail, above and beyond a weak will (context, context, context) and working to tweak situations so we will be better at exerting that will (or at least recognizing how this context might skew my moral intuition/allow me unjustified justifications to weasel out).

This additional point was sorely needed. Plenty of people don’t suffer from a lack of will, but from a lack of opportunities to exercise that will because their material or cultural circumstances strictly curtail their options.       Although any attempt to engage in virtue ethics-type reflection and improvement is praiseworthy and beneficial, to get a decent chance, these people need relief from the circumstances impinging on them.

Sometimes, when we talk about people being imprisoned by their environment, we get accused of being condescending, paternalistic, or too ready to excuse the faults of others. Christian theology has the advantage of lumping all people into this category, since it recognizes all people as weakened by sin, and for this reason talks about ‘brokenness,’ but this kind of language can raise hackles*.

In a recent post on Friendly Atheist, Hemant complained about a pastor’s use of this language. Given the content of the remark (an attention-getting comment about Dennis Rodman), his frustration was reasonable, but some commenters took issue with the entire concept of humans as broken or limited. One wrote:

Claiming to be “broken” is a lame excuse for making mistakes and behaving badly. Take responsibility for yourself, both your successes and your failures. Saying that you were a bad father, a bad husband and bad son is not the same as taking responsibility. It’s a general “poor me – I’m awful” statement, and it’s actually pretty sad.

And please don’t assume that the rest of us are as “broken” as you are. Some of us want to be good parents – so we ARE good parents. We want to honor our parents – so we DO honor our parents. And we take the credit for our good actions, at least within ourselves, instead of passing it along to someone in the sky…which is a great motivation to continue doing good and feeling good about ourselves.

That’s privilege speaking. It’s a privilege to have had good parent as model and whom we find it easy to honor.  It’s a privilege to not be susceptible to alcoholism or raised in a culture of drug abuse.  It’s a privilege to not develop mental illness or dementia.  It’s a privilege to be smart, and it’s a privilege to have the financial stability and leisure time to harness that intelligence.  None of these are earned. The lack of any of these can make it prohibitively difficult to move from wanting to be a good parent to achieving that goal.

Even without a God to there-but-for-the-grace-of-God, it’s hard to claim complete ownership of our actions and virtues. It’s reasonable to be somewhat proud of the effort we put in to capitalize on the hand we’ve been dealt, but that’s a long sight from patting ourselves on the back for the virtues that come easy to us.  Remembering that all people have baked in flaws or challenges helps spur compassion for others and should awaken a suspicion that we might need the help of other people to find and compensate for the particular ways we are broken.

*Christian groups don’t get any points from me when they use the ‘brokenness’ schema to talk about only one type of sin or lapse, rather than a characteristic that is present in everyone, with different manifestations.  Most of the examples I’ve seen of this kind of talk occur when people talk about homosexuality.

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as a statistician for a school in Washington D.C. by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • Anonymous

    Appropriately enough, checking one's privilege is an important and useful strategy one can use to make oneself a better moral actor.

  • Patrick

    I call BS. "Brokeness" as it is used by the religious does not refer to coming from an impoverished home or lacking the leisure time to pursue voluntary education. It refers to an inherent state of human existence that is irreparable without the use of magic. Inherent in the concept of "privilege" is that you have something that someone else might not. Brokeness, as it is used by people other than you, is the antithesis of that state.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10845051786114528609 Julie Robison

    Technically, brokenness should be referred to human nature being susceptible to ALL types of sins (and thus, having concupiscence). Sin is sin, which is another reason why I think the Catholic Church is spot on dealing with the fallen nature of man. Mortal and venial sin aside, sin is sin is sin. Homosexuality itself is not sinful; it is acting on homosexual impulses (i.e. fornication), which is on the same playing field as a heterosexual acting on heterosexual impulses (i.e. fornication). Same sin, same brokenness. Only Catholics have the sacraments to help, redeem and sanctify us, opposed to therapy or revivals, which seems (to me, at least) more concerned with pushing the external than internal change and desire.Have you read Marcel LeJuene's Set Free to Love? Or heard of it? It's really slim and an amazing read! He covers this well.Interesting discussion of privilege! That word certainly is thrown around a lot. I like the example involving the rain; I always think about that when I drive past people at a bus station on my way to or from work…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10845051786114528609 Julie Robison

    Ug, Patrick, not with the magic again! Catholicism is just not that cool. If you mean the grace of God, that is properly defined as "a supernatural help of God for salutary acts granted in consideration of the merits of Christ." But grace does not "fix" a person's fallen nature as much as it helps strengthen it against temptations and in the person's spiritual life and upward-focus.

  • Patrick

    Look, Julie, I know you don't like the word. But I'm not going to stop. You believe that supernatural forces are propitiated by means of specific rituals, beliefs, and recitations. That looks like magic. I am familiar with Christian attempts to differentiate themselves from magic, and to claim that their belief system isn't magical- for example, it is sometimes claimed that in magic the supernatural forces being propitiated HAVE to respond, while in Christianity God CHOOSES to respond. I'm afraid these various efforts appear to me as distinctions without meaningful difference. If calling this "mystery" makes you happier, go right ahead. But naming your magic with a different word doesn't make it any less magic in the same way that the magical beliefs of Japanese animists are no less "magic" because they use a Japanese term for it.Honestly, you should just embrace it. You believe that certain rituals connect you to, communicates with, and draw action from, (a) supernatural being(s). Ok then. Why be ashamed? Because you don't like the association with discredited beliefs? There's a Papal relic touring Mexico in hopes that it will have beneficial effects on crime rates through the intervention of supernatural agency. I feel like my word choice is fair.

  • Anonymous

    Patrick, you're using the word magic because the primary and most common definition implies intentional illusion or deception. That is the only reason you are doing so. It is purely an attempt to provoke and ridicule. It's intentional, which is even worse than being privileged. Notice how your last paragraph abstained from the use of the word, yet still made the point that you believe Julie's beliefs are on par with other discredited supernatural beings. You don't need to insinuate that her beliefs are intentionally deceptive in order to argue that you shouldn't believe them.

  • http://southernbelleatyale.wordpress.com/ southernbelleatyale

    This sounds a whole heck of a lot like one of the latter chapters in CS Lewis's Mere Christianity.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10019240793982424774 Christian H

    Patrick, when you use the word 'magic' (especially since it seems you and Julie have discussed this before), you signal that you are unwilling or unable to listen to the complaints and concerns of your interlocutors. While I fully recognize that you (and not without good reasons) likely see yourself as on the 'oppressed' end of this issue, and while I am trying very hard to remember this positioning whenever you or another atheist commenter does something unnecessarily offensive, I am going to suggest that if you want us to listen to you, you need to stop signalling that you refuse to listen to us. (Gah! I dislike this us-you construction. It's the worst ever. But I'm too tired to find a way to rephrase it.)More importantly, however, is the fact that your initial comment is counter-factual, insofar as it claims that all Christians have a conception of brokenness counter to that which Leah describes. This is untrue. The idea of systemic sin is essentially that the Fall and original sin do not (or do not exclusively, depending on who you ask) refer to an inherent sinfulness in our nature, but to the fact that we live in a world which is structured to necessitate sin in all individuals (ie. limited resources mean we must compete to survive, and therefore must at the very least deprive others of required resources or perish ourselves). Further, systemic sin suggests that this situation has been worsened by our existing power structures. Christians, in this view, are called to combat these structures and try as hard as possible to manage resources equitably, etc., even while acknowledging that it is impossible to produce a perfect utopia in which scarcity and injustice–and therefore inescapable sin–are absent. While this is not the sense used by evangelical Protestants in the Bible Belt, or the sense used by most Catholics, there are Catholic bishops and theologians writing on this idea, and Protestant lay and clerical theologians are also developing similar ones. (Dr. Richard Beck, at Experimental Theology, is doing something like it right now.) It is not so enormously in the minority that you can justify using universal syntactical constructions in your claims. (Also, "the religious"? So Taoist, Theistic Satanist, and Wiccan people, when talking about brokenness, use it in the same way that Christians do?)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10019240793982424774 Christian H

    And, incidentally, when I wrote the comment Leah has quoted, I was not primarily thinking of privilege, though I think privilege is an enormously important point and I am glad Leah has taken it that way. Rather, I was thinking about personal inventories. For instance, I know that I am less likely to do the right things when I am nervous, so I need to be especially self-aware when nervous. And I also know that I get nervous around confrontations, so I need to make scripts before unavoidable confrontations and just plain avoid the avoidable ones, because I'm so screwed up mentally in that particular moment that behaving ethically becomes very difficult. Virtue ethics can help this by developing a habit of doing the right thing, but when our thinking is screwed up, seeing what the right thing happens to be is sometimes less likely. And before anyone says that this is why we develop good habits, I agree that good habits are normally helpful, but sometimes situations arise which require a counter-intuitive response, and often these situations are precisely the ones I'm nervous in. I also have an altruism bias; I have difficulty seeing situations in which repeated accomodation of others can be detrimental to those same others. For other people it may not be nervousness or altruism. Your weak spot might be that you have trouble admitting (aloud or to yourself) that you are wrong about something, or you convert hurt into anger too readily (which in turn clouds your judgement), or you tend to rely too heavily on body language/tone of voice when interpreting statements (and you have difficulty seeing when you do this), or have difficulty being ethical after the third glass of wine. Being aware of our mental biases and our emotional weaknesses, and how these get in the way of our seeing what the right choice is or weaken our wills, is an important part of being an ethical person.

  • http://whatloveteaches.blogspot.com Slow Learner

    I think the problem with 'brokenness" is that most often, I have encountered it from a religious person – primarily a Christian, but sometimes Muslims also – telling me that they are so broken; and foul; and despicable; and only God could have made them a whole human being.Seeing that from my perspective, the implication "therefore you are not a whole human being, and are foul and despicable" is downright offensive.So, in my personal experience, it is not that the term is used too narrowly about one kind of sin; it is that it is used too broadly.I think the distinction I am trying for here is that between total depravity and seeing everything worldly as evil. While the official theology may be that all people are in some way broken, the way most believers seem to see it is that all people are broken in all possible ways.

  • http://www.io9.com Kogo

    Oh,Mao you're opposed not to being gay but to having gay sex as fornication, Julie? So I'm *sure* you support gay marriage, right?Fuck it: you don't support it and we both know it. You are the Anti Sex Brigade. No, don't lecture me about how you totally are in favor of sex, as long as it's not too much fun (viz always for kidmaking). Well fuck that noise: if you try and legislate your fear of sex onto me, I will get my gun and kill you.

  • http://www.io9.com Kogo

    Christian, name ONE structure of power that significant numbers of religious people a actually question that isn't I truth some tiny powerless group like Planned Parenthood or ACLU or high school bio teachers or something.I mean like armies, prisons, banks, security agencies: I have NEVER heard a substantive criticism of ANY of these. "Structures of power" is just Christian code for sex, pleasure, science and freedom.

  • http://www.io9.com Kogo

    Oh and religion is magic. Sorry if that offends you but it's simply the way things are. If you get to say unbelief and sex for fun are sinful then Patrick and I get to say religion is magic. Turnabout is eminently fair play.

  • Patrick

    Christian H: 1. I don't see "I don't like the word magic even though it is, on the face of things, an accurate portrayal" as a legitimate complaint.2. I suppose I will take as fair your complaint about my universal terminology, since you did concede that the way I described the use of the term "brokenness" is accurate for the majority of each major Christian group in my and Leah's country.3. The Taoists DO use the term brokenness in the way I described… albeit with a Taoist spin. To them, its humanity's separation from a state of nature, that is repaired only by meditation upon the Tao. Ironically, that's a lot less like magic than Christianity… so maybe I did do them a disservice there. Taoism in its modern form is structured more like a philosophical system that isn't true than a magic that isn't real… although that's a generalization, I'm afraid. Do the other religious groups use the term "brokenness" at all? I mean, other than when discussing religious concepts that come from other faiths.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08016230732925516069 Gilbert

    You actually do have half a point here. Christians indeed believe our brokenness irreparable without divine grace. In so far as Leah believes it is heal-able at all, she will have to believe in healing it through purely human efforts and that would make her concept of brokenness different from the Christian one.I count it as only half a point though, because here Leah wasn't talking about different degrees of brokenness but about different circumstances that can affect its effects. And that is a point Christians clearly can agree on. That commenter is wrong to claim not to be broken when actually she is just in a situation that makes it easier not to act on that brokenness. Because she is, like everyone, the type of person who could be a bad parent if the circumstance sucked enough.Leah's footnote provides another example: Homosexual actions are one of the very few kinds of sin I am not tempted to commit. Of course this makes it very easy to be very disgusted about homosexual actions while having much more sympathy for e.g. other sinful sexual actions I have committed or fantasized about. The point being, again, I am the kind of person who could do that kind of thing if it didn't repulse me on ground totally different from my morals and therefore shouldn't consider myself better then someone who actually does. And avoiding that realization is a big reason why we Christians often seem so obsessed about that particular kind of sin.Third example, just to drive the point home: It is very easy for me not to steal, because I actually can afford to buy a reasonable amount of luxuries*. But having money is not a virtue. Now if poor people don't steal (and most of them don't) that is virtue.As a Christian who does believe in brokenness as an inherent state of human existence heal-able only by grace* I still have no reason to disagree with this point. In fact it is a traditional part of the casuistry we Catholics employ when applying e.g. the "full consent" criterion for mortal sin.I will, however, say that the Orwellian redefinition of "privilege" isn't necessary to make the point. We have perfectly cromulent old words for this purpose like "advantage", "pride", and "self-righteousness".* Btw, I'm talking about luxuries here for a reason: If you are actually starving and for some reason can't work for food and you have nothing to sell and begging doesn't work, then appropriating some food is neither stealing nor sinful. If it's your kids who are starving it might even be a moral obligation. English seems to be lacking a word for this situation ("Mundraub" in German), but it is nonetheless wrong to describe it as theft. Luckily I haven't been in that situation either.** counter Christian H. structural sin, while existent, is a consequence and manifestation of original sin, not the whole thing

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08016230732925516069 Gilbert

    In case it wasn't obvious my last comment should have been addressed to Patrick.

  • anon atheist

    I know it is OT and I don't want to heat up the discussion but I think magic is the right term for something like turning a cracker into human flesh. Funnily I was made aware of this fact by a Protestant reverend.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08572976822786862149 Darwin

    Christian, name ONE structure of power that significant numbers of religious people a actually question that isn't I truth some tiny powerless group like Planned Parenthood or ACLU or high school bio teachers or something.Hmmm… Back at the get go, Christians were kind of known for questioning a structure of power known as the Roman Empire, which in turn had a habit of killing Christians who refused to recant.Modern examples would include the Cristeros of Mexico, various Christian Liberation movements who became targets of right wing death squads, the large numbers of priests, religious and lay Catholics killed by the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War, oppressions in various Communist countries, etc.No question, many of those who make a virtue of being loud mouths in a tolerant society like the United States would doubtless be toadies in an oppressive regime, but it's ignorant to suggest religious people never stand up to structures of power in large numbers. People are willing to stand up for all sorts of surprising things. I mean, look at what practitioners of Falun Gong have put up with from the Chinese regime:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persecution_of_Falun_Gong

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08572976822786862149 Darwin

    Patrick,"Brokeness" as it is used by the religious does not refer to coming from an impoverished home or lacking the leisure time to pursue voluntary education. It refers to an inherent state of human existence that is irreparable without the use of magic.Well, as has been discussed, clearly different religions and different groups within a religious tradition use terms differently. That said, I'm not clear why Leah can't take the idea of "brokenness" or to use my own terminology "original sin, structures of sin, and attachment to sin" as useful descriptions of the world while ignoring that fact that theists believe there may be some "magic" way of overcoming these. One needn't accept the solution in order to acknowledge the problem.

  • Patrick

    Kogo: I didn't have time to say this earlier, but Kogo, chill out, man. We're winning this one in the overall culture. In fact, the religious ideologies very underpinnings pretty much ensure that we're going to demolish them on that point.I was spinning the dial as I drove today, and spent about two minutes on a Catholic channel. They were arguing that our feelings about morality and empathy are proof of a supernatural connection to God. Well, guess what. The younger generation tends not to feel that gay marriage is immoral. In fact, they tend to accept that homosexual couples love each other in the same way that heterosexual couples do. Run through where that logically puts you if you accept that your feelings on morality are proof of an objective connection to actual moral truths- it commits you to supporting homosexual rights.Its why we've won, and/or are winning, on contraception. On gay marriage. On pretty much every moral issue of the day. Conservatism, in all of its forms, is an eternally dying ideology because cultural change is inevitable.There's no reason to be so aggressive. No one is capable of threatening you in any meaningful way. They might want to, the cultural fight might need to take place, but its not like we're going to lose.Darwin:I'm completely ok with Leah using the word if she wants. But look what happened in the conversation.1. Someone used the word in one sense.2. Someone criticized what the person had to say.3. Leah drove the conversation in an entirely different direction, while retaining the same terminology as the first person, but using it in a different manner. I actually agree with her that the rhetoric of personal responsibility is often strongly linked to privilege. That simply wasn't the topic being discussed.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08016230732925516069 Gilbert

    I'll add an OT-remark too:Back when I was struggling with my faith I used to read atheist Internet fora to reinforce it. In a way it worked. That's because Internet atheists are different from the atheists and agnostics I meet in real life. Real life atheists don't much care about other people being religious, they seem to see it more like a bad taste in music. But the proselytizing type, which I so far have found only on the Internet, now they are different. For one there are the Jesus-mythers who as a sort of atheist creatonists nicely undermine the idea that their disbelief is in any way grounded in rationality. But mostly because Internet atheists so nicely undermine the "good without God" thing. So very, very few of them can give an argument without rabid foam dripping from their figurative mouth. The idea that joining that pack was the alternative made Christianity a lot more attractive in a fundamental moral option kind of way. Of course it was unhealthy, because I should have been tending towards God instead of away from anything. For example by praying rather then reading another iteration of the same dreck. But in perverse kind spending half an hour at the Internet Infidels or reddit or P.Z. Myers's blog was a reliable way of quashing the occasional spurts of and-what-if-theirs-is-the-right-side-angst.Anyway, the time window in which I was particularly vulnerable to missionaries, including the atheist kind, has now closed and I'm here for different reasons. But most of the atheist commenters here really remind me of the bad part of that experience. That's why I have let quite a lot of pent up disgust seep into this comment. But probably I should be grateful for the likes of you doing such a lousy job of attacking my faith when it was most vulnerable.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08572976822786862149 Darwin

    Patrick,That's fair.I guess, having some academic language background the tendency to people to use the same words in radically different ways doesn't bother me very much, as I tend to see words as highly imperfect carriers of meaning in the first place. And at times, I think that the tendency to use the same words in disparate ways can, with the right people, help pull together ideas which are related.So for instance, what Christian is talking about would strike me as being something more like what I'd call "attachment to sin" — the ways in which our tendencies and past actions make it harder for us to do the right thing even if we know what we ought to do.What Leah talks about in the post is more along the lines of what I'd call "structures of sin" — the way in which social institutions, relationships, expectations, etc. form one's ability to know what is right or do what is right even if you know it. However, the two are, I would say, fairly closely related phenomena. And indeed, at times the differences will at times be at best pedantic. Which is why it may be just as well to have a more general set of terminology which forces the conversations to slop into each other.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16496144988509668275 Leah

    Ok, first I'll wade into the discussion about the use of the word 'magic' and then I want to respond to other comments:'Magic' is one of those dogwhistle phrases that usually causes Christians to stop listening to whatever you’re saying. And I don’t buy the argument that it gets under their skin and bears fruit later. If you want to explain that you find propitiating supernatural beings through witchcraft to be largely analogous to propitiating one Being through religious ritual, that’s a legitimate question to raise, but it should probably be the only one you’re trying to address, so it doesn’t eclipse everything else, and you need to explain why you see the resemblance, as Patrick did later in the thread. And, of course, be ready to engage and consider any answer you’re given in good-faith. Make it an argument, not a zinger.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16496144988509668275 Leah

    On to other things:Slow Learner’s right to point out the really creepy use of ‘brokenness’ by some Christians to signify a tremendous contempt for humans. This is the kind of drenched-in-sin rhetoric that usually implies a god recoiling in horror from His creation (or at least a subset of that creation, I frequently hear this paired with predestination). This kind of talk is frighteningly common, and I’ve heard it creep into the theology of some Christian friends who are struggling with despair. It’s a horrifying portrait of the world.@Kogo: If you don’t know any Christians trying to go after real structures of power, you should see the Marxist and/or post-modernist ones I knew in college. They’re a pretty small fraction of Christian thought, as far as I know, but liberation theology has been more widespread.

  • Anon123

    Not everyone who makes wise choices does so as a result of privilege and there are plenty of people who had privileged upbringings who make really stupid choices. Also, what may look like a privileged background can hide some pretty ugly circumstances. It's important to note that a level playing field doesn't exist, but it's also important to note that cirmumstances don't necessarily dictate one's decisions in life, either. As someone who grew up in circumstances that were pretty damned crappy by anyone's standards, I resent the notion that I am where I am today because of privilege or favor, or because of luck or divine intervention of some sort. I'm where I am because I worked my damned ass off. Period. The entire concept of "brokenness" smacks of whiny, victim-y, lazy-ass selfishness, IMO. It's making excuses and feeling entitled to special treatment, is all. Here's a little "privilege" for those who don't think they have any: shut up, quit whining, get off your lazy ass, get a job, save your money & educate your ignorant self. That's the secret to life. Free of charge. Just do it. As for "brokenness" from a Cristian perspective. Ick. Maybe you are. I'm not. Speak for yourself. Just don't use it as a big whiny excuse for bad behavior.

  • http://moralmindfield.wordpress.com/ Brian Green

    Kogo, I'll take "Christian" in the generic sense, since I really want to answer this one. :) Great question, by the way."Christian, name ONE structure of power that significant numbers of religious people a actually question that isn't I truth some tiny powerless group like Planned Parenthood or ACLU or high school bio teachers or something.I mean like armies, prisons, banks, security agencies: I have NEVER heard a substantive criticism of ANY of these. "Structures of power" is just Christian code for sex, pleasure, science and freedom."The Catholic Church. Anti-war. Anti-death penalty. Anti-Western capitalism.And some specifics:Anti-war? The Catholic Worker movement. http://www.catholicworker.org Helped force NYC to stop its nuclear drills in the 1960s:http://www.catholicworker.org/dorothyday/daytext.cfm?TextID=243&SearchTerm;=civil%20disobedienceAnd the US bishops: http://www.nytimes.com/1983/05/03/us/roman-catholic-bishops-toughen-stance-against-nuclear-weapons.htmlAnd the Pope too, of course:Pope John Paul II:http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/2605367.stmPope John the 23rd: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_xxiii/encyclicals/documents/hf_j-xxiii_enc_11041963_pacem_en.htmlAnti-death penalty?Catholics against Capital Punishment and any number of other organizations. http://www.cacp.org/And the Pope too, of course:http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/angel/procon/popestate.htmlAnd Finance?Distributism: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DistributismThe Distributivist Review. http://distributistreview.com/mag/The Mondragon corporation, a Spanish cooperative that embodies Catholic Social Teaching: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mondragon_Corporationhttp://www.entrepreneur.com/tradejournals/article/116926710.htmlAnd the Pope too, of course:http://www.cjd.org/paper/capandma.htmlAnd JP2's encyclical Centisimus Annus, esp. paragraphs 8, 33, 35, 40, and 42. And basically all of Catholic social teaching. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_social_teaching

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11111405959451703182 PhysicistDave

    Darwin wrote:>Hmmm… Back at the get go, Christians were kind of known for questioning a structure of power known as the Roman Empire, which in turn had a habit of killing Christians who refused to recant.Which changed immediately when they got their hands on the levers of power.And, if you read what Christians said about other Christians (so-called ‘heretics”) before they got their hands on the levers of power, their actions were certainly predictable.After all, Tacitus wrote of Christians’ “odium humani generis” (“hatred of the human race”) centuries before they achieved power. They just could not fully exercise that hatred until they had political power.What else would you expect of a religion that maintained that most of the human race deserved eternal torment in Hell simply because most humans rejected some preposterous myths?Dave Miller in Sacramento

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11111405959451703182 PhysicistDave

    Christian H wrote:> While this is not the sense used by evangelical Protestants in the Bible Belt, or the sense used by most Catholics, there are Catholic bishops and theologians writing on this idea, and Protestant lay and clerical theologians are also developing similar ones…So, let’s change your statement just a bit:> While historically the majority of members of the KKK have been vicious bigots who viewed blackness as a sign of being subhuman, nonetheless some enlightened KuKluxers are now trying to arrive at an advanced concept of malevolent blackness that views it not as relating to the color of one’s skin but to the dark side of one’s character that inheres in every human, so that a new, enlightened KuKluxer sees “blackness” as something every human must fight within himself….Would you even considering buying that????Or, maybe it is time to accept that both KuKluxism and Christianity are what they have been historically and urge decent people to distance themselves from these evil ways of thinking and behaving?Leah is of course correct that bluntly pointing out obvious facts like this are not going to change the minds of many Christians.Personally, I do not want the typical “Internet Christian” on my side: I don’t want to convince him.I do want to encourage honest people to feel more comfortable about publicly saying the sorts of things that all sensible people already say in private about Christianity. Atheism is stigmatized largely because atheists put up publicly with bizarrely outrageous statements from Christians without responding. That needs to change.Blacks and gays learned that they could deal with bigots largely by the simple act of publicly saying that the people who were denigrating them were in fact worthless scum, as indeed they were. I doubt that saying this changed the minds of any of the worthless scum. But, it did change the social mores so that those of us who are not black or gay started acknowledging that the scum were, indeed, scum. Dave

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12714581082612893449 Colin

    @DrDave"What else would you expect of a religion that maintained that most of the human race deserved eternal torment in Hell simply because most humans rejected some preposterous myths?"You've said this before, Dave, but in the past it was possible that you were referring to a form of Protestantism, which I am neither willing nor capable of defending. Fortunately, what you are addressing here could not be any more clear. You have very clearly accused the Catholic Church of damning most of humanity for disbelieving in the truth of Christianity. Now, can you please show this assertion to be factual?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10019240793982424774 Christian H

    @Patrick: "Do the other religious groups use the term 'brokenness' at all?"This is precisely my point. What I'm noticing generally with your recent comments and the comments of many posters lately is an assumption that not only Christianity is homogenous, but that all religion is homogenous. Whether you actually believe this or whether it is a result of a theist-atheist rhetoric which disallows diversity within either group or something else, this assumption leads to claims which are counterfactual and therefore irrelevant. The point, fundamentally, (and this may address something Physicist Dave brings up) is that there are many ways of being Christian, including ones that don't have very much at all to do with hatred or anti-humanism, and there are many ways of being religious more generally. (As opposed to the KKK, which has historically necessitated a certain kind of hatred; if there have been multiple ways of being KKK, all of those ways have nonetheless contained hatred and violence. This is not true of Christianity; while a lot of Christianity has included, in a fundamental way, certain hatreds and violences, there has also always been a strain throughout it which has opposed that, bringing us to assorted liberation and pacifist theologies that are currently active.) So while your criticisms may have traction for those groups who do have the traits you describe, I have a hard time seeing what they have to do with Christians as a whole, let alone religious people as a whole. This, I suppose, is the point I was trying (and failing) to make.And thanks, incidentally, for the discussion of Taoism. I found that quite interesting.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10019240793982424774 Christian H

    Oh, and my concern with the term magic is simpler, really, than whether or not it looks applicable on the face of it. You seem to be using it with the intent to annoy (ie. using it, immediately after a debate about it, in a context in which that debate was beside the point). You therefore succeed in annoying, which indicates a failure to listen/care. If the discussion at hand is whether or not the word magic is applicable, I fully support your arguing for it. For what it's worth, I have a habit of calling things like the Eucharist magic because I, too, see the similarity. The difference is that I mean no offense by it and am careful to use it only in cases in which I won't generate offense unless I think there's a specific reason to do so. (Also, being part of the in-group helps.)Of course, if you don't actually care whether people take you seriously, then that's all beside the point. I won't assume that a desire for dialogue is the only motive that brings people here.

  • Patrick

    Christian- Our exchanges tend to go in a pretty regular fashion. You complain that I am using language in too universalist a manner. Often, I respond by pointing out you doing the same thing, many times in the very post in which you criticized me. You thank me for pointing that out, and promise to change in the future. That's one option, certainly, but another could be to accept a certain degree of imprecision in language when discussing largely amorphous and self defined social groupings, to only worry about the imprecision when it leads to actual misunderstanding, and to be charitable about the matter when it arises. That has the advantage of matching the typical ways that people converse, and of avoiding looking like a hypocrite when it becomes clear that you have an eagle eye for overly universal terminology in others when it offends you, but a regular English speaker's tendency to use similarly universal terminology in your own writing.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11111405959451703182 PhysicistDave

    Colin wrote to me:>You've said this before, Dave, but in the past it was possible that you were referring to a form of Protestantism, which I am neither willing nor capable of defending. Fortunately, what you are addressing here could not be any more clear. You have very clearly accused the Catholic Church of damning most of humanity for disbelieving in the truth of Christianity.Hmmm…Colin, have you actually read the New Testament? Do you know the phrase “extra ecclesiam nulla salus”? Do you recall Thomas’ comment about the joy of the saints watching the suffering of the damned in Hell? Do you know how the Church dealt with the Albigensians and has any Pope or Church council formerly condemned those atrocities? Are you old enough to know what the Church routinely taught children before Vatican II – yes, I know there has been a cosmetic softening since Vatican II, but has there been any real repudiation of the old evils?With all due respect, your asking for evidence is like someone’s asking for evidence that the Klan is anti-black! If you really do not know, do some Googling.It was after all the Catholic Church, not some group of crazy Protestants, who imposed a reign of terror on Europe for over a thousand years, the most vicious reign of terror ever to have existed in human history.Dave

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11111405959451703182 PhysicistDave

    Christian H. wrote to me:>The point, fundamentally, (and this may address something Physicist Dave brings up) is that there are many ways of being Christian, including ones that don't have very much at all to do with hatred or anti-humanism, and there are many ways of being religious more generally.Yes, I do know that: for example, Jack Good, the United Church of Christ pastor who wrote The Dishonest Church is probably more of an atheist and certainly more of a metaphysical materialist than I am, yet he chooses to call himself a “Christian.”But what really does honestly and sincerely puzzle me is, given the horrific history of Christianity, a history based very clearly on some horrifyingly nauseating teachings of the New Testament, why any decent person would choose to identify with Christianity.You know that the late Senator Robert Byrd was once a member of the KKK? To his credit, rather than stay in the KKK and simply try to be a kinder, gentler Klansman, Byrd came to his senses, left the Klan, and denounced the Klan’s racism.Why would any decent person not behave in a similar manner with regard to Christianity?The attempts to soften and humanize Christianity seem to have failed rather dramatically: the most vibrant and growing branches of Christianity are the hard-core evangelicals/fundamentalists – the statistics on this have been clear for decades.A decent person who reads the Pauline epistles should be caught between laughing historically and trying to avoid vomiting: they really are that bad. (I myself did read through the Pauline epistles in their entirety earlier this year – I did manage to avoid vomiting… barely.)My parents compelled me to attend a Christian church throughout my childhood and adolescence, until I left for college. And, from the earliest age I can remember, certainly no older than six or seven, I was deeply and profoundly repelled morally by Christianity. How can anyone be exposed to Christianity without feeling like throwing up?I really, honestly, sincerely do not get it.All the best, Dave

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08016230732925516069 Gilbert

    @DaveWhile Christians at all times committed their fair share of sin, your simplistic view of history still marks you as a victim of 19th century propaganda. I suggest you have a look at the archives of this blog. It is essentially popular history book review blog. The author is as hard an atheist as you are, but actually knows what he is talking about history-wise. Also experience shows he is quite content discussing it at length with his fellow atheists again and again and again. I, on the other hand can't be bothered beyond referring you to someone who really cares about internet atheists being ignorant of actual history.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12714581082612893449 Colin

    @DrDaveSo do you have any evidence? I guess I'm asking for citations, or passages from the Catechism, or encyclicals, or statements promulgated by the Magisterium. You know, actual evidence. I posted an extensive rebuttal of your historical ignorance on Prodigal No More, and it dealt with "extra ecclesiam nulla salus." Do you need me to repost it here?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11111405959451703182 PhysicistDave

    Colin wrote to me:>So do you have any evidence? I guess I'm asking for citations, or passages from the Catechism, or encyclicals, or statements promulgated by the Magisterium. You know, actual evidence.History. The writings of the Church fathers and Aquinas. The New Testament – especially the Pauline epistles. Lots and lots of evidence. And, no, I am not going to cut-and-paste the Pauline epistles or the Summa Theologica into Leah’s blog. This stuff is as well-known as the dictionary.Google it.Dave

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11111405959451703182 PhysicistDave

    Gilbert wrote to me:> While Christians at all times committed their fair share of sin, your simplistic view of history still marks you as a victim of 19th century propaganda.So, you deny that the Albigensian Crusade occurred? Or Aquinas’ comments? Or the Pauline epistles themselves?Sorry, the history is well-documented by the Church itself. I know how you apologists twist and turn to try to escape the historical facts.Does not change the facts.The fact that some books have exaggerated those facts does not erase those facts.Incidentally, the Website you link to as a reliable source is itself full of inaccuracies, obvious even at a glance: for example, he refers to Richard Carrier, when it comes to history, as among “amateurs and hobbyists.” In fact, Carrier holds a Ph.D. in ancient history from Columbia, not exactly an amateur or hobbyist when it comes to history! (And, no, I do not agree with Carrier on everything: we have many, many disagreements. But an amateur or hobbyist he is not.) The blogger similarly dismisses Robert Price, who holds Ph.D.s in both theology and the New Testament and is a former Baptist minister turned atheist: again, there are many issues on which I disagree with Price, but to dismiss him as a hobbyist or amateur on issues related to the New Testament is puerile.The blogger you cite is, in short, a person who is very, very, very careless with the facts.Gilbert also wrote to me:> I, on the other hand can't be bothered beyond referring you to someone who really cares about internet atheists being ignorant of actual history.Yes, Christians “can’t be bothered” with the undisputed historical facts about Christianity, because those facts would make ordinary decent human beings want to throw up.Dave

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08016230732925516069 Gilbert

    @DaveYes, Christians “can’t be bothered” with the undisputed historical facts about ChristianityThis is a flat out misrepresentation of what I said and you know it.So I realize I just over-estimated your sincerity.The reason I took you serious was that I had interpreted you a lot more charitably then I do now.With your general praise of science I had thought the "reign of terror on Europe for over a thousand years" might actually refer to the alleged suppression of science and knowledge, i.e. the discredited conflict thesis. In which case you would have still been wrong, but honest. Because if true that would actually be unique.Turns out it was much simpler then that.You where talking about a "reign of terror on Europe for over a thousand years, the most vicious reign of terror ever to have existed in human history".Now I see you mean the Albigensian genocide. I don't deny it. But I already know the rest of the script. When I point out your country's recent Iraqi adventures killed about as many people without turning the US into history's worst reign of terror you will next scream belittlement. Because, corpse-counting is, like, totally OK when you use it against religion but totally inhumane when the religious do it. It's an effective debating trick but not an honest one. So I'm not interested.As for Tim O'Neill calling people amateurs:He uses the term to contrast people who write advocacy books from people who publish in peer-reviewed journals and are payed to do it. That is indeed an inflammatory way to put it, but then he is a New Atheist and that is his culture of discussion. He isn't careless, he is polemic – like you. Frankly, that will be true for almost everyone willing to have this discussion. Because its academic analogue has been over for a long time and only people with axes to grind are still having it. For some people that axe actually rationality. And for others it is atheist tribalism.As you might guess I am now even less interested in discussing the question with you, so you have the last empty word.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11111405959451703182 PhysicistDave

    Gilbert wrote to me:> This is a flat out misrepresentation of what I said and you know it.No, I don’t think so at all.Look: you accused me of having a “simplistic view of history,” which is a blatant falsehood: I know a great deal about the relevant history, and you have not pointed out even a single error that I have made.So, I responded that you cannot be bothered with the facts, which is quite evidently the case.Tit for tat, young child.Seems you can dish it out, but you can’t take it.Poor young Gil also wrote:>With your general praise of science I had thought the "reign of terror on Europe for over a thousand years" might actually refer to the alleged suppression of science and knowledge, i.e. the discredited conflict thesis.Well, not just science, of course: they burned Bruno at the stake not just for his scientific views but also for his theological views. So, I’d say it was suppression of freedom of thought in general: Bruno was not the only fellow (or gal!) burned at the stake, you know! The Albigensian Crusade was one part of that millennium-long suppression of freedom of thought, the burning of Bruno another part. Lots and lots of parts. You Catholics are pretty evil folks, like Christians in general.And, if you think those facts are “discredited,” well, I’ve got a bridge I’d like to sell you!Young Gil also wrote:>When I point out your country's recent Iraqi adventures killed about as many people without turning the US into history's worst reign of terror you will next scream belittlement.Well, I have loudly condemned the US war crime of invading Iraq from the beginning. But that was plain old murder – certainly evil, but different from a millennium-long suppression of freedom of thought. The US government does not much care what people think so long as they obey. I condemn the US government whenever I get the chance, and I fervently hope for its abolition, but the US government, for all its horrific faults, does not systematically try to suppress freedom of thought as your Church did for over a millennium.Gil also wrote:>As for Tim O'Neill calling people amateurs:> He uses the term to contrast people who write advocacy books from people who publish in peer-reviewed journals and are payed to do it. That is indeed an inflammatory way to put it, but then he is a New Atheist and that is his culture of discussion. He isn't careless, he is polemicNo, Timmy’s just a liar: you see, Carrier has published in more than one peer-reviewed journal, and he does manage to get paid for his work. To be sure, he also publishes in books, etc., but so do most scholars I know of: that is the academic norm.As I said, I could write a lengthy essay on matters on which I disagree with Carrier: I am not a fan of his. But Carrier is not an amateur or hobbyist in any normal sense of those words in the areas Tim was addressing: Timmy was just lying.Gil also wrote:>As you might guess I am now even less interested in discussing the question with you,Oh, Gil! I would never have considered having a serious discussion with someone like you. I am pointing out your lies for the benefit of the public, but actually “discussing the question with you,” no, that never even crossed my mind.Dave

  • http://moralmindfield.wordpress.com/ Brian Green

    "It was after all the Catholic Church, not some group of crazy Protestants, who imposed a reign of terror on Europe for over a thousand years, the most vicious reign of terror ever to have existed in human history."Um, yeah. Anyway, you use the phrase "reign of terror" as if it didn't refer to a specific period of time of the French Revolution. You know, THE Reign of Terror, the part where they killed so many thousands of people in the name of secularity and reason.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reign_of_TerrorJust wanted to point that out. It's ironic.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11111405959451703182 PhysicistDave

    Brian Greene wrote to me:>Anyway, you use the phrase "reign of terror" as if it didn't refer to a specific period of time of the French Revolution.Yes, the difference between proper nouns (capitalized) and common nouns (not capitalized). Of course, the Church’s reign of terror was enormously worse, lasting over a period of more than a millennium; the French Revolutionary Reign of Terror lasted way under a decade.BG also wrote:>You know, THE Reign of Terror, the part where they killed so many thousands of people in the name of secularity and reason.The slogan of the Revolution was “liberty, equality, fraternity.” I don’t recall that they added “secularity.” They were motivated mainly by nationalism and democracy, both of which I of course condemn.Not too many atheists, either – they tended to be deists, a variety of theists.And, I think if you check out the details, you will find more influence from the proto-Romantic Rousseau than from, say, the rationalist Voltaire (Voltaire despised Rousseau, with good reason).Not to say atheists can’t be murderers, of course, but you have your time-frame wrong if you are trying to pin the French Revolution on us atheists!As I stated above, what is really horrific about the Church’s reign of terror is not simply the murders but more importantly the fact that for over a thousand years freedom of thought, freedom of speech, and freedom of writing were extinguished in Europe. That is what makes it the worst reign of terror in human history.Have you read Areopagitica? Milton argues that, in a way, it is worse to burn a book than to kill a man, because burning a book is an attempt to violently extirpate an idea, and ideas are more emblematic of humans than even their physical bodies; in his words:>Who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God's image; but he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself, kills the image of God, as it were in the eye.He had a point, which is why I consider the Christians’ millennium-long suppression of freedom of thought and freedom of expression to be the greatest reign of terror in human history.What is rather disturbing is the number of present-day Catholics such as you and young Gil who are unwilling to condemn that horrific reign of terror and even to praise those dark centuries. I guess Christianity just cannot shed its evil nature.Dave

  • http://moralmindfield.wordpress.com/ Brian Green

    So, let's hear your alternate history. What if The Christian and Catholic Church never existed. How would history have looked then?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11111405959451703182 PhysicistDave

    Brian Greene wrote to me:> So, let's hear your alternate history. What if The Christian and Catholic Church never existed. How would history have looked then?I think Sagan has written on that, suggesting that the progress in Greek math and science might have continued.But, of course, the truth is: no one knows.It’s also irrelevant.Suppose Hitler had never existed. Maybe some greater anti-Semite would have come along, one clever enough not to declare war on the US after Pearl Harbor and wise enough not to invade Russia in ’41, so that the Germans might have won WW II (they had basically won by the beginning of spring ’41, then Hitler blew it). Might have happened if there had been no Hitler: anti-Semitism was “in the air.” A smarter anti-Semite might have won, a result even worse than Hitler.Does that possibility in any way get Hitler or Nazism off the hook morally? At all?If you want my own honest guess – and it is only a guess – I think that crazy, irrational mysticism was “in the air” in the late Roman Empire (vide the “mystery religions” and neo-Platonism). If there had been no Christianity, mysticism and irrationality would, I suspect, still have triumphed.On the other hand, neither the other mystery religions, aside from Christianity, nor neo-Platonism seem to have had the focus Christianity had on the utter depravity of the human race nor the idea that a just God was condemning most of the human race to eternal torment.It is easy for me to see how you get a crazily mystical society without Christianity. It is hard to see how you get a millennium-long suppression of freedom of thought without Christianity.But, it really makes no difference: it is in fact Christianity that imposed that millennium-long suppression of freedom of thought, in accordance with the precepts of the greatest of Christian thinkers (e.g., Thomas), and it is Christianity which should therefore be judged accordingly. Dave


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