Smart people saying smart things

Smart people saying smart things August 7, 2012

Rob Bell in Jesus Wants to Save Christians (via)

Most of the Bible is a history told by people living in lands occupied by conquering superpowers. It is a book written from the underside of power. It’s an oppression narrative. The majority of the Bible was written by a minority people living under the rule and reign of massive, mighty empires, from the Egyptian Empire to the Babylonian Empire to the Persian Empire to the Assyrian Empire to the Roman Empire.

This can make the Bible a very difficult book to understand if you are reading it as a citizen of the the most powerful empire the world has ever seen. Without careful study and reflection, and humility, it may even be possible to miss central themes of the Scriptures.

Eugene @ A Life in Juxtaposition: “Unimpressed Martyrs

If there is one thing I’m consistently irked by it’s the Persecution Envy of modern Western Christians. They live in a world where they have more religious freedom than at just about any time in history and yet you wouldn’t know that just by listening to them. Somehow this privileged group considers itself the most persecuted group in the world. They keep finding more and more ridiculous reasons to feel “persecuted.” Schools teaching evolution is not persecution. Someone calling you a bigot because you said gays were abominations that will destroy civilization as we know it is not persecuting you. Neither is someone who doesn’t agree with your view that everything will be perfect if only we got rid of democracy and got a Christian Theocracy instead.

How did we come to a point where criticism = persecution? That’s an insult to everyone who has ever been actually persecuted — for instance the countless Christians who were robbed, beaten, tortured and killed for their faith through the ages. Two thousand years ago persecuted Christians had to face lions, now they just have to face facts.

KiriAmaya: “Sometimes ‘Good Faith’ Doesn’t Mean Much

There are people who claim to want “dialogue” with us queer folks when what they really want is to shut us up and/or shut us down. Take, for example, the evangelical counter-protest against the Day of Silence, formerly called “Day of Truth” and now renamed “Day of Dialogue” even though both the message and the method of this protest have changed very little.

Still, I’m willing to believe that even the purveyors of that nonsense are acting in “good faith,” insofar as they are doing what they believe to be right. After all, what’s a little disingenuousness here and there if it leads people to The Truth, right? Heck, I can even believe that some of them aren’t being disingenuous at all, that they honestly think there’s somehow a parity of opinions that makes respectful dialogue possible, and/or that they’re just truly not aware of how they’re hurting folks with their words and actions.

… A lot of us “social justice bloggers” will debate whether and to what degree intent matters in particular scenarios, but pretty much everyone can agree that, if you hurt someone, then you are responsible for having hurt them regardless of whether you meant to or not. Evangelicals, apparently, seem willing to suspend this when attacking us queer folks: to them, their intent is all that matters — the Lord looks at the heart, after all! – and so we should never be angry or unkind to them regardless of how they hurt us, because, well, they didn’t mean to.


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  • Matri

    Without careful study and reflection, and humility, it may even be possible to miss central themes of the Scriptures.

    “May”?

    Possible“??

  • I find Bell’s statement (quoted in the first link above) “Often times when I meet atheists and we talk about the god they don’t believe in, we quickly discover that I don’t believe in that god, either” to be disingenuous. An atheist disbelievers in all gods, so the odds are high that Bell can find one they both disbelieve in.

  • Jurgan

    You’re missing the point.  A lot of atheists have a presumption about what Christians believe about God.  Many would say they can’t believe in God because they constantly see God presented as small-minded, bigoted, and cruel.  Rob Bell is saying he believes God is bigger than that, and Christians are failing to present God in an appealing way.  It’s not a hard concept.

  • Jurgan

    This is probably the worst example of the “Christian Persecution complex” I’ve ever seen.  The insufferable Chuck Asay picked up on a proposed law, never passed, that would make it illegal to criminalize anti-gay speech.  Never mind that that law would be rightly overturned as unconstitutional, Asay supposes “what if the Romans had this law- Paul would have been arrested for hate speech!”  Never mind the fact that Paul was actually executed for sedition, America is much worse, of course.

    http://i.minus.com/jChhjqfFADwnj.gif

  • Erp

     Did Bell present his God to find out whether the atheist believed or disbelieved in it?  Atheists disbelieve in a whole variety of gods so it is not surprising Bell found one that they both disbelieved in.

  • Sqrat

     

    Many would say they can’t believe in God because they constantly see God presented as small-minded, bigoted, and cruel.

    At first glance, that’s a strange reason for disbelieving in God, since one can easily imagine a supernatural being who was small-minded, bigoted, and cruel.  It probably arises from the Christian premise, well nigh universal though rarely stated explicitly, that their God must be the biggest, bestest god there could ever possibly be, and that’s the only kind of god that there could ever possibly be.   

  • GDwarf

     The thing that really gets me about that comic is that it disproves itself. It contains the text that it’s arguing is no longer printable in the USA.

    Is there a term for an argument where the premises disprove each other? If not, there should be.

  • AnonymousSam

    It’s that whole Bible thing. It contains plenty of material to prove both premises: Wonderful God of Love Incarnate and Small-Minded Dick God.

  • Sqrat

    Other than the whole Bible thing, we have pretty much zero genuine observations of God on which to base either the argument that he is a Wonderful God of Love Incarnate or the argument that he is a Small-Minded Dick God, or something in between.  And I wouldn’t bet the farm that the Bible recounts any genuine observations of God either.

  • AnonymousSam

    Neither would I (caveat: now, as opposed to when I was young and readily accepted it because it was so commonplace), but it doesn’t help if the designated authority on God’s existence is prone to contradictory signs, yet still gets cited as the proof of his benevolence. It’s like continuing to draw from a poisoned well because the water still tastes sweet.

  • Jurgan

    But he’s saying most people assume he believes in the small-minded vindictive God that is popular, and are surprised to find he doesn’t.

  • Hth

    Other than the whole Bible thing, we have like forty thousand years of human history, chock full of people who have as plausible a claim of making observations of God that are as genuine as anything else that people experience.  I truly don’t understand why people who aren’t of the Abrahamic faiths keep buying into arguments premised on this tiny set of religious texts written over a few hundred years in (roughly) one location being The Real Canonical User’s Manual for Divinity.  It’s certainly not because it’s somehow representative of the whole scope of human religious history.   

  • Sqrat

    Other than the whole Bible thing, we have like forty thousand years of
    human history, chock full of people who have as plausible a claim of
    making observations of God that are as genuine as anything else that
    people experience.

    There are two mistakes here.  The first is that we have “forty thousand years of human history.”  I leave the identification of the other mistake as an exercise for the reader.

  • Jurgan

    I agree with that, and that’s why I take a sort of Rawlsian view of theology.  I realize that, had I been born to a Muslim or Hindu family I would probably be a Muslim or Hindu, so I think it’s naive to assume I lucked into being born into the right religion.  So, while I may believe Jesus Christ was the incarnation of God and died to save the world, why couldn’t he also have approached Muhammad or the Buddha or anyone else in a way that would work for them?  God’s big enough to incorporate other cultures, and we shouldn’t assume ours is the only group who got it right.

  • Actually it was recently reported that the date of what we might call modern civilization has been pushed back about 20,000 years.

  • Kiba

    How did we come to a point where criticism = persecution?  

    I don’t understand this either. I do not understand how criticism can now be equated with persecution or an attack. I’ve also noticed that this particular stance seems to go hand in hand with the penchant to be a faux martyr. 

    It’s irritating and completely shuts down any attempt at dialogue because one’s disagreement gets labeled as an attack and/or persecution.    

  • You’re missing the point.  A lot of atheists have a presumption about what Christians believe about God.  Many would say they can’t believe in God because they constantly see God presented as small-minded, bigoted, and cruel.

    If atheists arrive at their views about what kind of God Christians believe in based on how they see God presented, what they have is a conclusion, not a “presumption”. A presumption comes before the evidence, not after it. A conclusion may be faulty for one reason or the other, but being faulty does not turn a conclusion into a presumption. Furthermore, I doubt that Bell has really never met an atheist who is acquainted with Christians who come out of more liberal traditions. Many (certainly not all) atheists were at one time Christians, from a wide spectrum of Christian beliefs. There are atheists who ceased to believe in Bell’s god, or one of his close cousins, before meeting Bell.  

    Rob Bell is saying he believes God is bigger than that, and Christians are failing to present God in an appealing way.  It’s not a hard concept.

    Even if Christians present God in an appealing way, that is not the same thing as presenting evidence for God. 

    So, no, I don’t believe I have “missed” the point; I think Bell’s point is, as I said, disingenuous. I’m sure it is quite easy for Bell to find a mutual God not to believe in when dealing with someone who doesn’t believe in hundreds of Gods.

  • I’m sure it is quite easy for Bell to find a mutual God not to believe
    in when dealing with someone who doesn’t believe in hundreds of Gods.

    Hundreds of Gods? Mere hundreds? There are billions and billions of Gods I don’t believe in!

  • Found on my LJ friendslist:

    It was supposed to be a realistic lesson on the dangers missionaries sometimes face overseas.
    But after a mother’s complaint that her teen daughter was injured and terrorized during a mock terrorist kidnapping staged by the Glad Tidings Assembly of God Church in Lower Swatara Twp., it might be up to a criminal jury to decide whether the church crossed the line.Almost four months after the fake raid and complaint by the mother of a 14-year-old girl identified only as K.T., police on Friday charged youth pastor Andrew Jordan and, in an unusual move, the church itself.

    Didn’t Fred have a post some time back on this sort of thing and the consequences if someone didn’t realize it was fake?

  • Hundreds of Gods? Mere hundreds? There are billions and billions of Gods I don’t believe in!

    I suspect the constraint of “Gods that at least one person believes in”, or at the very least “Gods that at least one person has ever believed in,” was implicit.

  •  Well, I was originally going to say with “millions” (just look at all the Hindu gods I don’t believe in!), but then I realized that I could make an obscure Carl Sagan reference…

  • Other than the whole Bible thing, we have pretty much zero genuine observations of God on which to base either the argument that he is a Wonderful God of Love Incarnate or the argument that he is a Small-Minded Dick God, or something in between.

    You might not; some of us do have.

  • AnonymousSam

    Subjective evidence – isn’t. One man’s divine intervention is another man’s divine interference. Both tend to fall directly within the realm of statistical possibility.

    As for prayer and response, I prayed for understanding recently and received a hallucination which explained to me the difficulty of communicating not only with people of many different backgrounds and dispositions, but also of leaving something of permanence whose value wouldn’t be distorted or lost over time.

    So… the one direct communication I have ever received from God told me, in a nutshell, that God cannot communicate with humans.

    (This was also a hallucination brought on by illness and sleep deprivation. No less enlightening, however.)

  •  

    So, no, I don’t believe I have “missed” the point; I think Bell’s point
    is, as I said, disingenuous. I’m sure it is quite easy for Bell to find a
    mutual God not to believe in when dealing with someone who doesn’t
    believe in hundreds of Gods.

    Personally, I think it’s disingenous to pretend that, in a culture dominated by christianity, there aren;t’ an awful lot of atheists — maybe most — who DO hold a distinction; there are many gods who they don’t believe in because “well of course I don’t believe in Melek Tavos/Vishnu/Krishna/Zeus Xenios/The Flying SPaghetti Monster, that’s just silly”, and *one* God whom they *specifically* reject: they reject the Abrahamic God because of having made a positive decision to reject the predominant god of the larger culture, and have made a “default” decision to reject all other possible gods for exactly the same reason the theists do.

  • Okay, if the point was supposed to be “my religion is privileged so therefore atheists have to have special reasons for rejecting my god”, then yes, I guess I did miss the point. 

  • Mary Kaye

    I think Bell’s comment was a (probably misguided and awkward) way of trying to say “It frustrates me when people who criticize my religion are criticizing a version of it that I personally don’t believe in.”

    I get very tired of people whose response to finding out I’m Wiccan is to razz me about claims about the antiquity of Wicca which I have never made and which I in fact strongly disbelieve.  I think Bell is describing the same experience.

  • I do recall this – I even remember being shocked that nobody thought about how bad it could have snowballed if law enforcement had thought there was an in-progresss hostage situation with armed apparent-terrorists.

  • Omnicrom

     I think Bell’s statement is less about Gods and more about the people who worship them. When he talks about Atheists not believing in a god he doesn’t believe in I think it’s a reference to how Atheists see Christians. The loudest and most vocal Christians in the media are sadly the cruel, reactionary, bigoted, and downright unpleasant Christians; what I think Bell means is that Atheists are surprised not by the god but the man because Bell as a Liberal Christian likely has similar beliefs and values to those the Atheist in question holds.

    This is a trap I and many other Atheists fall into or have fallen into, and it’s something we need to do less. It has nothing to do with God and everything to do with the people who use God as an excuse for their bad behavior.

  • godlessveteran

    Jurgan, Christians have far more presumptions, and false ones at that, about what atheists believe.  They claim we “hate god”, (no, we just don’t believe in him); that we just don’t want to submit to god’s authority so we don’t have to be accountable (see previous explanation), that we worship Satan (see previous explanation), that we have no morals because we reject god (seriously, we just don’t freakin’ believe!), and probably a number of equally fucktarded presumptions which don’t immediately come to mind.