Christianity and Straw Men

by Luke Muehlhauser on May 17, 2009 in General Atheism

strawman

In my review of The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, I wrote that:

I give this book 5 stars not because it convinced me that a magical super-being spoke the universe into existence and revealed himself to ancient, ignorant people through the virgin birth of a man-god who did party tricks, got killed, then rose from the dead and flew off into the sky. No, I give this book 5 stars because it’s the best defense of such a myth that can possibly be mustered.

Cartesian replied:

Luke, though I’ve noticed that this is a habit of yours, I think you’re better than painting such crude caricatures of your opponents:

“a magical super-being spoke the universe into existence and revealed himself to ancient, ignorant people through the virgin birth of a man-god who did party tricks, got killed, then rose from the dead and flew off into the sky.”

This sort of rhetoric may score you points with people who already agree with you, but it doesn’t advance the discussion.

Is what I said a “crude caricature” of mainstream Christianity? Am I attacking a straw man?

I would like to know which part of my statement is a straw man. Surely, Christians of various types may deny one or more parts of my statement, but I think it fairly represents mainstream Christianity.

Cartesian, which part of my statement does the average Christian deny?

Does the average Christian deny that God has magical powers? No. God supposedly controls things through non-natural means. That’s the very definition of magic.

Does the average Christian deny that God is a super-being? Certainly not. There is no being more “super” than God.

Does he deny that God spoke the universe into existence? No. That’s the standard account of creation, found in Genesis.

Does he deny that God revealed himself in the person of Jesus to ignorant, superstitious people of the ancient Middle East? No.

Does he deny that Jesus was born of a virgin? No.

Does he deny that Jesus was both a man and a god? No.

Does he deny that Jesus turned water into wine for a party or walked on water to show his magic powers to the disciples? No.

Does he deny that Jesus got killed? No.

Does he deny that Jesus rose from the dead? No.

Does he deny that the resurrected Jesus ascended into the sky? No.

You may deny some of these things, but most Christians do not. This is not a caricature. This is really what more than a billion Christian believe, and it is what I was taught to believe (and did believe) as a Christian for 21 years.

I am not attacking straw men. I am attacking standard Christian doctrine.

The problem is not that I mock standard Christian doctrine. The problem is that standard Christian doctrine is so easily mockable. Please don’t complain that I’m sometimes not nice about your belief that you have an invisible friend. Instead, please stop believing you have an invisible friend.

I respect a great deal about many theists, including Cartesian. That should be clear in my review of The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, which I gave 5 stars. But that does not change the facts about what most Christians actually believe.

Some Christian philosophers do not believe in magic. They are Christian materialists. And some Christian philosophers do not think that Jesus is invisible, nor their personal friend. They have a more abstract notion of God. But mainstream Christians do believe such things, and they should stop pretending that they don’t.

If you’re an average Christian, you do believe in magic, you do believe you have an invisible friend, you do believe Jesus was a man-god, and you do believe Jesus resurrected and flew off into the sky. Once you admit this, we can have a more honest discussion.

Now, it might actually be the case that magic exists, that you do have an invisible friend, and so on. That’s what Christian apologists have tried to show, and that’s what this blog debates. These theories are possible. They might even be less crazy than some of the findings we’ve made in the quantum world.

My message to mainstream Christians is this: Don’t pretend like that’s not what we’re debating. Don’t hide behind obscurantist language. You believe you have a magical invisible friend who sometimes grants you wishes and you know it. You just don’t like how ridiculous it sounds when I state your beliefs in plain, simple English.

If the shoe fits…

Previous post:

Next post:

{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

Alden May 17, 2009 at 6:16 pm

Luke, it’s not what you say, necessarily, but your attitude in saying it. You have a lot to learn about carrying on a well-reasoned, civil discussion.  I could simply call you a fool based on a couple of Biblical passages (which would be true from a Biblical standpoint), but it would kill any kind of honest discussion.  I think you have to decide if you’re going to follow the example of someone like Bradley Monton, or of someone like PZ Myers.

At the risk of quoting Scripture, “do unto others …”   It’s really just common sense.

  (Quote)

Anselm May 17, 2009 at 6:59 pm

I agree with Alden.  I used to enjoy participating in the comments section of this blog, but it has all-too-often deteriorated to a juvenile level of discourse.  “Mocking” is not civil discourse, not matter how strongly you disagree with another’s position.

  (Quote)

Lorkas May 17, 2009 at 8:10 pm

The real problem is that you trivialize Jesus’s magic powers by referring to them as “party tricks.”

I mean, the guy was so cool that his spit heals blindness–that is fucking awesome. He’s so cool that storms back down when he waves his hand at them. I mean damn.

  (Quote)

Hjalti May 17, 2009 at 9:25 pm

An article arguing the same thing: Are the ‘New Atheists’ avoiding the ‘real arguments’? Good read, like your blog :)

  (Quote)

lukeprog May 17, 2009 at 9:53 pm

Lorkas,

I don’t think all of Jesus’ magic powers were devoted to party tricks. He also did exorcisms, healings, and some kind of soteriological action. Party tricks were just one kind.

  (Quote)

lukeprog May 17, 2009 at 10:12 pm

Alden and Anselm,

It should be clear that I have some appreciation for the role of civil discourse on matters of religion. A great deal of this blog qualifies as ‘civil discourse,’ and that may be why both of you still read it. My post series on the KCA certainly qualifies. Also, I don’t just try to slap some sense into Christians – I can be pretty harsh with some atheist beliefs, too!

But, as I’ve said before, civil discourse is just one of many approaches I take. A more aggressive tactic can also be useful. I know this because civil discourse never got through to me as a Christian. The full force of what I believed in – a magical invisible friend who granted me wishes – had to slap me in the face before I was able to consider the evidence fairly.

And I already addressed the “Okay, you’re right, but you’re not nice” complaint. If you aren’t willing to admit the plain and simple nature of what you’re really defending, how can we have an honest dialogue about it? Christian theology may be prima facie laughably absurd (like some claims of quantum physics) and yet still be known to be true on good evidence (like some claims of quantum physics).

What I want is for Christians to be honest with themselves. I want Christians to accept the full brunt of what they are really claiming. I want them to feel it in their bones and then stand up and defend it proudly if they think it is warranted. I want them to say, “Yes, I do have a magical invisible friend who sometimes grants me wishes and here is why I believe that…”

Can you do that? Or are you going to hide behind your complaints that I’m not properly respecting your beliefs in an invisible friend, or not being nice about your beliefs in an invisible friend?

  (Quote)

jesusfreak574 May 18, 2009 at 5:58 am

lukeprog: I want them to say, “Yes, I do have a magical invisible friend who sometimes grants me wishes and here is why I believe that…”

I understand that you’d rather Christians frame their beliefs in the mocking sort of tone that you prefer, but that’s absurd.  Is it really possible to have “more honest discussion” when you get to determine the words allowable for each side?

  (Quote)

Anselm May 18, 2009 at 6:17 am

lukeprog: And I already addressed the “Okay, you’re right, but you’re not nice” complaint. If you aren’t willing to admit the plain and simple nature of what you’re really defending, how can we have an honest dialogue about it?

I’m sorry, but that is just a rationalization of your desire to mock and ridicule.  I think many Hindu beliefs are absurd, but it would be wrong to communicate my objections like an obnoxious jerk no matter how absurd I think those beliefs to be.  And imagining myself to be in the business of “shock therapy for Hindus” would just be a way to justify the feeling of smug intellectual superiority I would be indulging in by engaging in mockery and ridicule.

  (Quote)

lukeprog May 18, 2009 at 6:28 am

jesusfreak574,

No, that’s not what I meant. You can say, “My friend Jesus is the invisible God who can control the universe with supernatural power, and the reasons I think that’s true are…” However you want to put it. Just be honest about what you’re defending. And when I put it in different words that mean the same thing, I think it’s fine for you to say, “Well yes, though I wouldn’t put it that way…”

  (Quote)

Matt M May 18, 2009 at 6:43 am

I think you’re right about the need for different approaches – mockery may well be the only way to get through to some people.

But I do wonder if it might be ultimately counter-productive. For every small dent you make in the beliefs of close-minded believers, you risk alienating a large number of the more open-minded – as seems to have happened here, based on the various comments above.

  (Quote)

Lorkas May 18, 2009 at 6:49 am

On the contrary, I think he’s calling for Christians to be honest with themselves. If you’re a Christian, you probably really do think that God is invisible and is your friend and sometimes answers your prayers. The call is for you to defend the proposition rather than get offended when people characterize it in that way.

If it isn’t what you believe, explain that, but if it is, then explain why the proposition should be accepted as true.

For example, as a biology teacher, I often have students mock the idea that the ancestors of humans were not all human. When a student says, “Do you really believe that it goes ‘from goo to the zoo to you‘?”, the appropriate response is not, “How dare you mock the truth?” but “Well, I don’t know about the goo part, but it is true that humans evolved from nonhuman ancestors, and here’s how we know that.”

  (Quote)

cartesian May 18, 2009 at 7:07 am

Luke,
I think it’s sad that I have to explain this. You originally said:

>>a magical super-being spoke the universe into existence and revealed himself to ancient, ignorant people through the virgin birth of a man-god who did party tricks, got killed, then rose from the dead and flew off into the sky.>>

I said that I think you’re better than painting such crude caricatures of your opponents.

You asked:
>>Is what I said a “crude caricature” of mainstream Christianity? Am I attacking a straw man? I would like to know which part of my statement is a straw man. Surely, Christians of various types may deny one or more parts of my statement, but I think it fairly represents mainstream Christianity. Cartesian, which part of my statement does the average Christian deny?>>

So you along some readers of your blog were quite diligent about looking up words like “magic,” “party tricks,” etc., but I think you would have been better served by looking up the word “caricature”:     
1. a picture, description, etc., ludicrously exaggerating the peculiarities or defects of persons or things.
2. any imitation or copy so distorted or inferior as to be ludicrous.

When someone draws a caricature of you, she exaggerates some of your actual characteristics, drawing them out of proportion to create a humorous effect. For example, Heidi Klum is an attractive woman. Here is a caricature of her: http://www.magixl.com/caric./globeb/klum.html

The caricature does not represent her as an attractive woman, since it overemphasizes her cheekbones, upper lip, etc.

Now suppose Heidi were to complain that she had been inaccurately represented by this caricature, and suppose the artist were to reply: “Well which part of it do you deny? Do you deny that you have cheekbones, or that you have an upper lip?” Clearly, the artist would be missing the point. What she most strongly objects to is the *proportionality* of this representation. There are many, many details about Heidi’s face that have been left out of this caricature, and it is those details that make her face as attractive as it is. To pick up on these few peculiarities and exaggerate them produces the distorted, inferior, and humorous effect.

Similarly in this case. The inaccuracy of your caricature lies (*mostly*) in the distorted proportions. You’ve highlighted some parts of your opponent’s worldview, and mentioned only those. The effect is a caricature: some characteristics of your opponent’s view are exaggerated, distorting the whole picture.

The Christian worldview is broad, deep, and complex. There are many details about it that have been left out of your caricature, and it is those details that (to my mind at least) make the Christian worldview as attractive as it is (for example, they explain why Jesus had to be God and man, why he was killed, why he was raised from the dead, why he ascended into heaven, etc.). To pick up on the few peculiarities (out of context) and exaggerate them as you have done is what produces the distorted, inferior, and humorous effect. That’s what produces the caricature. You’ve left out parts of the story that frame, explain, and make the details you’ve cherry-picked beautiful, just as the caricature artist did with Heidi Klum.

Being a caricature artist takes some skill, no doubt. It takes a certain sensitivity and sense of humor to know which characteristics would, if exaggerated, be humorous. But even more impressive is the skill to accurately represent one’s subject, as e.g. Rembrandt did. And in serious intellectual debates of this kind, that’s the only sort of skill that should be exercised. Leave the caricatures to the village atheists.

Final point: If you can’t, even in the honesty of your own mind, see how your statement above is a caricature, then I suspect you never really understood Christianity. Similarly, if someone couldn’t recognize that picture I linked to of Heidi Klum as a caricature, then I would suspect that this person had never seen Heidi Klum

—————-

I’ve said that the *main* complaint about your statement was its disproportionality. It presents a distorted view of Christianity by mentioning a choice few of its doctrines without any explanatory context. But a secondary complaint about your statement is that it is misleading or false. For example, I think a Christian would object to the word “magic.” Now you find one definition of “magic” according to which it means “of or relating to the supernatural.” But let’s be honest with each other and read the other five definitions in the source you provided:
n.
1. The art that purports to control or forecast natural events, effects, or forces by invoking the supernatural.
2. a. The practice of using charms, spells, or rituals to attempt to produce supernatural effects or control events in nature.
2. b. The charms, spells, and rituals so used.
3. The exercise of sleight of hand or conjuring for entertainment.
4. A mysterious quality of enchantment:
adj.
2. Possessing distinctive qualities that produce unaccountable or baffling effects.

I think you’d agree that the Christian would deny that he believes in a “magical super-being” in any of *these* senses, correct? And, to my mind, these are the primary senses of “magic.” When I hear the word “magic,” I think of sleight-of-hand, charms, spells, witches, seances, etc. And I bet that you do as well, which is why you chose this word in your caricature of Christianity. Now, you do have some weasel room since, according to this source, “magic” does mean “of or relating to the supernatural.” Clearly Christians would agree that God is supernatural. But here’s the point, Luke: you chose “magical” because of its connotations. You chose it because it sounds ridiculous, silly, laughable, etc. *You chose it because of its other senses*, namely those I just listed above. You were going for a comic, mocking effect, which is why you chose “magical” rather than “supernatural.” Otherwise, if you really did just intend “magical” to mean “supernatural,” why not use “supernatural”?

“Super-being” has the same defect, I believe, though to a lesser degree. The connotation that you’re playing on here, it seems to me, is our association of “super” with “superhero,” “Superman,” and other creatures of fiction. That association is what produces the humorous effect when you charge your opponent with believing in a super-being. It *sounds* like your opponent, dupe that he is, believes in some creature of fiction exactly like Superman. Arguing by connotation has no place in a serious intellectual discussion. You’re better than that.

“ancient, ignorant people”: Why mention that they were ignorant? Ignorant of what exactly? Aren’t *we* still ignorant of quite a bit about the universe? The only reason I can see to mention this is that you want to subtly create the impression in your reader that these people were particularly credulous, and so their testimony can’t be trusted. Those poor benighted savages! If only they were enlightened by modern science they would have realized that virgins tend not to have babies, water tends not to turn into wine, and dead people tend to stay dead. But surely they did believe all those things, didn’t they Luke? So in what relevant way were they ignorant? (And how is it relevant that they were “ancient”?)

“Party-tricks”: Do I really have to explain this? The associations that we have with this term have to do with cards, coins, sleight of hand, and cutesy entertainment. Do you really believe that this is what Jesus was up to? The only miracle I can think of that *might* fall into this category would be turning water into wine. But that wasn’t sleight of hand, and he didn’t do it for entertainment purposes. And if you’ve missed the OT connections as well as prophetic foreshadowing of his own death and the Eucharist, you’ve missed the point of this miracle. It’s rich with symbolism. All this makes me deny that it was a party trick.

This is getting really long, so I’m going to leave it there. Just by way of summary, my main complaint is that this is a caricature, mentioning only a few characteristics of Christianity in such a way as to produce a distorted, inferior, and humorous effect. My secondary complaint is that some of your language, e.g. “magical,” “super-being,” “ignorant,” and “party-tricks,” succeeds only in arguing by connotation and equivocation. For example, if by “magical” you just mean “supernatural,” well then the Christian view doesn’t look silly anymore. But if by “magical” you mean “having to do with charms, potions, conjuring, etc.” then sure Christianity looks silly, but the charge is also untrue.

  (Quote)

cartesian May 18, 2009 at 7:19 am

“Yes, I do have a magical invisible friend who sometimes grants me wishes and here is why I believe that…”

I’ve already talked about “magical.”

“Invisible friend” has certain connotations, namely the creatures of fictions that children invent for comfort and companionship. Clearly, you’re playing on these connotations. By associating Christianity with this sort of childhood delusion, you argue against Christianity by connotation. That’s lame.

“Grants me wishes” also has certain connotations, namely the device in many works of fiction, e.g. a genie in a lamp. By associating Christianity with this sort of device of fictional literature, you argue against Christianity by connotation. Again, lame. Also, it communicates to me that you never really understood Christian prayer, if you think the point is to try to get God to grant our wishes.

These caricatures don’t serve as shock-therapy for your audience. Really all they accomplish is to undermine the force of your deconversion story. What would be really disturbing for a Christian would be to learn that an intelligent Christian who fully understood the view came to reject it. What is NOT disturbing is to learn that someone who never really understood it came to reject it.

Similarly, someone who tried to convince me that Heidi Klum is unattractive by showing me caricatures of her wouldn’t find much success. I’d only conclude that this person had never really seen Heidi Klum.

  (Quote)

Alden May 18, 2009 at 7:21 am

Wow.  It seems your whole series on critical thinking just flew out the window.   Apparently it’s ok to abandon reason in favor of empty rhetoric if it meets your needs.  You’re making an assumption that Christians are all crazy for believing what they believe- let’s use the Apostle’s Creed as a standard framework for basic Christianity.  That tells me that you don’t have a clue about why Christians believe what they believe.  Either that, or you are resorting to rhetoric and ridicule to avoid the real issues yourself. 

  (Quote)

Lee May 18, 2009 at 7:30 am

Luke,

You said that you attended some Scientology “Roasts”.  If you are familiar with any of their semantics you’d know that they have a sort of sophisticated type of terminology for things that really are nothing more than pseudoscience– down right silly, elementary type shit that they  attempt to make sound less silly or more important or relevant than it actually is.

The Christian is similar and when you dumb down their terminology and regurgitate it back to them in a plain speak they don’t like it. “Magical friend” is insulting.  “All powerful, omnipresent master with whom I have a close, personal relationship”  isn’t — yet they really are the exact same thing!

Christians know this is how we feel about their beliefs (magical, fairy tale, ect.). This is no surprise to them. And most all of them believe we will be eternally tortured for disagreeing with them about an ancient book, yet they cry foul when we poke fun at their far fetched tails? I think they hold the “insult trump card”. Whats worse, poking fun at a belief you disagree with or believing that all others who disagree with you will be roasted eternally for it?

  (Quote)

Lorkas May 18, 2009 at 7:31 am

The best argument against making a caricature of Christianity is all of the bitching and moaning that follows it.

  (Quote)

Anselm May 18, 2009 at 8:00 am

Lee: yet they cry foul when we poke fun at their far fetched tails

If you want the level of discourse to be at the level of “poking fun,” that’s fine–you have a right to free speech.  But of course any legitimate dialogue with Christians will end at that point; any maybe you don’t care.  The problem with this blog, however, is that the author wants to have it both ways–uphold civil discourse while also engaging in mockery and ridicule.  That won’t work–the Christians will just have to give up the dialogue and leave the atheists to their echo chamber.

  (Quote)

Lorkas May 18, 2009 at 8:05 am

Matt M, I think you make a good point–it may be that mockery is ineffective in a public forum, since it may alienate as many as it causes to reconsider their beliefs.

I will try to be more careful in the future about how and when I use ridicule–something I have not been very thoughtful about in the past.

  (Quote)

Reginald Selkirk May 18, 2009 at 8:15 am

jesusfreak574: Is it really possible to have “more honest discussion” when you get to determine the words allowable for each side?

Which view is that argument supposed to rebut? Who is placing limits on words used to describe their position?

  (Quote)

Lee A. P. May 18, 2009 at 8:17 am

If atheists can dialogue with Christians who almost all believe atheists are going to be ETERNALLY TORTURED for disagreeing with them then theists can take flames such as “magical friend” in stride.

The crux of the original post was that “magical friend” is not a straw man! And Luke is correct — it’s not. You just don’t like the way the words are expressed.

We do not have to always pretend that we do not hold harsh opinions against each other. I think Luke kisses more Christian ass than any other atheist blogger on the net. You guys can get over it.

  (Quote)

cartesian May 18, 2009 at 8:44 am

Lee,
You said:
>>And most all of them believe we will be eternally tortured for disagreeing with them about an ancient book>>

For what it’s worth, I’m an orthodox Christian and I don’t believe that at all.

>>yet they cry foul when we poke fun at their far fetched tails?>>

I think you meant “tales,” but it’s funnier the way you wrote it.

Look, I’m not personally offended by Luke’s caricature anymore than Heidi Klum’s boyfriend would be depressed by seeing a caricature of her. (After all, he gets to go home to the real thing at night.) I just think Luke is smart, and I hope he finds his way into the serious academic discussion of philosophy of religion. I’m trying to encourage him to prune off these village atheist branches that he’s sprouting, so he doesn’t get stuck in the ignorant din of the atheist blogosphere.

  (Quote)

Lee A. P. May 18, 2009 at 9:08 am

Cart,

Sorry for my silly typo. Do you believe that we will be annihilated for disbelief then? If so this is only a somewhat less hateful belief than eternal punishment. If you are a universalist then “hooray! I disagree with you about Christianity but it ultimately does not matter does it?

Your comparison to Klum does not work.  Calling Jesus an invisible friend is accurate and not a caricature.  He is generally not seen with human eyes and he is calimed to be a “friend”. Much of what is written in the Bible sounds like childrens stories — THATS THE POINT! Walking on water is exactly what one would expect out of a childrens story.

The simply fact is that much of the stories surrounding Jesus read just like made up stories and so any desciption of him that is similar to “children’s stories” then cannot then be a caricature.

In fact, the gospels themselves are most likely pretty extreme caricatures of the acutal Jesus!

Writing or telling a story in which Jesus looks like a stoned out hippy with 1,000 people lined up, smacking him one after the other as he turns his cheek back and forth, back and forth — that would be a caricature.  It would be a caricature of the caricture to be exact.

  (Quote)

Teleprompter May 18, 2009 at 11:25 am

Personally, I don’t see how Luke exaggerated the “proportionality” of Christianity to such a degree that the charge of misrepresentation could be leveled. Is anything that he said fundamentally inaccurate, and is the picture he composed giving people a false impression of Christianity?

Yes, I agree with you that he neglected many details of the Christian worldview — however, does the lack of these details really distort Luke’s description so much that it is fundamentally misrepresentational? No.

Yes, I understand how one could say that some of the language is mocking, and if I were Luke, I may have removed phrases like “party tricks”. However, I still do not see any difference between the basic beliefs of the Christian religion and Luke’s description which is so apparent that he could be accused of misrepresentation.

Also, I really am curious to know why exactly you believe that Luke’s series on critical thinking “flies out the window”? Wouldn’t a good critical thinker know the difference between misrepresentation and a summary, albeit a possibly crude one? This is not misrepresentation. 

Yes, I understand that Luke could have been more empathetic. But empathy does not always reach people. And one can be empathetic generally and blunt occasionally, no? Luke is just being blunt here – I do not think he is being rude, or fundamentally misrepresenting the nature of your claims.

Heidi Klum does have the features of the caricature. She would not deny that she has those features. That is not misrepresentation. It is an exaggeration for emphasis. Now, perhaps by looking at the caricature of Heidi Klum, one could come away with a false perception of her appearance, which is what you are claiming is true for Christianity in Luke’s description. 

What’s missing from your analogy is that, for a good caricature, everyone knows that the image is Heidi Klum, and everyone knows that Christianity is what Luke is depicting in his example.  Neither caricature is a distortion, but both are exaggerations of certain qualities for emphasis, so that people may be aware of the features emphasized in the caricature.

  (Quote)

Anselm May 18, 2009 at 11:42 am

Lee A. P.: Do you believe that we will be annihilated for disbelief then? If so this is only a somewhat less hateful belief than eternal punishment.

You need to check out Luke’s response in a comment on this blog several weeks ago when he was presented with a hypothetical choice between annihilation and going to heaven to worship and praise God for all eternity.  He chose annihilation–and I believe most honest atheists would as well.  So why is it so offensive to you that Christians believe you will not exist in a heavenly afterlife that, even if you were convinced it was real, you would freely reject anyway?  If this offends you, then to accuse Christians of hypersensitivity for objecting to blatant mockery is the height of hypocrisy.

  (Quote)

Lorkas May 18, 2009 at 12:26 pm

It seems that there is a difference between claiming that non-Christians will be annihilated and claiming that they will be tortured for eternity in punishment for their beliefs.

To be sure, I would prefer annihilation to the most common explanation of what heaven is (praising and worshiping God for eternity sounds awful to me, regardless of how awesome God may be), but there’s nothing that can be worse that eternal, infinite torture. I would consider those who wish such a fate on even their worst enemies to be sadistic.

  (Quote)

Lee A. P. May 18, 2009 at 12:40 pm

If God could have me convinced that all of his actions are benevolent and that I was mistaken about him then I would choose him.  I’m not aware of the particular post that Luke made, it was probably something like “I’d rather be annihilated than worship a God who thinks killing first born babies is the best way to make his point. ” I’d bet if Luke could be convinced that he was wrong about God and his actions and could be made to understand then he would feel differently.  Only Luke can answer that question.

While annihilation does take away a degree of the sadistic hate of the hell doctrine it is still hateful and repugnant as God could offer many more options. He could simply leave others to be as they wish and to fend for themselves. To say its “Choose me” or “be annihilated” is not at the height of compassion. The only truly, ultimately compassionate and just view is that of the Universalists, those who believe that it will all work itself out in the end and we will all come to an ultimate understanding that Jesus us the king pin pimp of the universe after all and we all live happily ever after. And that an appropriate punishment will be doled out as needed for our transgressions, not an eternal one and not “Oh you where wrong about an ancient book so you will get annihlated from existance”.

I am not offended by the hell doctrine because I do not believe in hell and I am quite used to Christians holding to that opinion.  It is when Christians claim to be offended by atheists over their criticism of Christianity that I then point out that if there is anything in a belief that can one could take offense to, Christians and their hell doctrines for non-believers would hold the ultimate trump card.  

  (Quote)

cartesian May 18, 2009 at 12:43 pm

Hey Lee,
You said:
>>Do you believe that we will be annihilated for disbelief then?>>

No. I don’t believe that it would be just to punish or reward people for their beliefs, since our beliefs aren’t under our direct control. (If you don’t agree, try to believe that there’s a pink elephant on your lap.)

Many verses in the NT tell us that people will be judged on the basis of their works, i.e. what they’ve done. For example, 2 Corinthians 5:10 tells us that before the judgment seat of Christ we will receive what is due to us for what we have DONE. James 2:24 tells us that we’re justified by what we do, and not by faith alone.

This doesn’t make me heterodox, it makes me Catholic. I agree with you that lots of Christians think that if you don’t hold certain beliefs, you’ll be condemned to Hell. I think that’s a pretty atrocious view of God, since it would be unjust to condemn people to Hell for something over which they had no control.

>>If you are a universalist then “hooray! I disagree with you about Christianity but it ultimately does not matter does it?>>

Well, I’m not a universalist. But even if I were, I would think that this debate still matters, since it sure would be good to believe true things and avoid believing false things. And if you’re right, presumably none of us will survive death. I’d like to know that, if it’s true. It would really affect the way I live.

>>Your comparison to Klum does not work.  Calling Jesus an invisible friend is accurate and not a caricature.>>
 
Well, I already explained why I think calling God an “invisible friend” is a caricature and an intellectually dishonest rhetorical ploy. It plays on the associations we have between “invisible friend” and childhood delusions created for comfort. It’s an argument by connotation, a rhetorical ploy.
I also think it’s inaccurate, since we can see God in one sense of “see” (the same sense in which I think I see you), namely indirect seeing, i.e. seeing x by seeing something else. I’ve seen Barack Obama in this sense, and so have you. And many people in the Bible, for example Moses, saw God in this sense. And I think that it will be possible to see God in heaven, in at least this indirect sense of “see.” I think it will even be possible to directly see God in heaven.
 
And I hold the somewhat controversial view that we only ever see people by seeing something else, usually their bodies. (If you think people are brains, you should this view too, since we hardly ever see brains.) So I think that all the people who saw Jesus saw God in exactly the same sense in which I see my friend by seeing his face.
 
So it’s false to say that God is invisible. Many people have seen God (indirectly), and many people will see God (directly, in heaven). So God is not my “invisible friend.”
 
And I think it’s obviously false to say that Jesus is my invisible friend, since orthodox Christian doctrine is that Jesus still has a human body, and so is still perfectly visible.
 
>>He is generally not seen with human eyes and he is calimed to be a “friend”.>>
 
Being “generally” unseen with human eyes is not sufficient to be invisible. Otherwise my brain is invisible. And the center of the Earth is invisible.
 
Again, you may be playing on an equivocation here. In whatever sense Jesus is “invisible,” (namely, usually not seen) it’s not at all weird to say that he’s my invisible friend. I have an invisible friend in South Africa, in this sense of “invisible.” We’ve actually never met face to face, and only ever spoken by email.
 
But clearly the force of calling Jesus an “invisible friend” comes from the associations we make between that phrase and childhood delusions created for comfort and companionship. In this sense, it’s incredibly tendentious to say that Jesus is an invisible friend, and that has no place in a serious intellectual debate.
 
So you have a dilemma: either what you say is false, or what you say is seriously tendentious and intellectually inappropriate.

  (Quote)

Mark May 18, 2009 at 1:42 pm

cartesian: Hey Lee, You said: >>Do you believe that we will be annihilated for disbelief then?>>No. I don’t believe that it would be just to punish or reward people for their beliefs, since our beliefs aren’t under our direct control. (If you don’t agree, try to believe that there’s a pink elephant on your lap.)Many verses in the NT tell us that people will be judged on the basis of their works, i.e. what they’ve done. For example, 2 Corinthians 5:10 tells us that before the judgment seat of Christ we will receive what is due to us for what we have DONE. James 2:24 tells us that we’re justified by what we do, and not by faith alone.

Cart, Good points.  A common confusion is that folks think the Bible teaches that folks are punished in hell if they do not believe in Christ.  Folks are not punished for their lack of faith but for their disobedience to God (a.k.a sinful works or failure to do good works God commands).  Anyone who has never disobeyed God has nothing to fear.

Very good point about our beliefs not being under our control.  This seems so obvious now, but was a huge realization for me a few years ago.

  (Quote)

Anselm May 18, 2009 at 1:46 pm

Lee A. P.: It is when Christians claim to be offended by atheists over their criticism of Christianity that I then point out that if there is anything in a belief that can one could take offense to, Christians and their hell doctrines for non-believers would hold the ultimate trump card.

Criticism of Christianity is fine.  It is juvenile mocking and ridicule that is objectionable.  It is equally objectionable when it comes from Christians directed at atheists.  Anyone who claims to want civil discourse must jettison such behavior first.

  (Quote)

Chuck May 18, 2009 at 1:48 pm

Eh… annihilation is not the mainstream view. Why are we still talking about this?

  (Quote)

eheffa May 18, 2009 at 3:18 pm

Luke,

I have been considering your initial post & the wisdom of choosing the language you used.  I think that  your use of language which trivializes or diminishes the Christian tenets you are listing has some validity.   It may unnecessarily provoke Christian believers but it also illustrates how much of the Christian ideology is founded on simple time-worn mythological or legendary themes that speak to our deepest & most primitive desires.  Your trivializing these ideas by the use of fairy tale & juvenile terms essentially robs them of some of their power to control our opinions & thoughts.  If Christianity is founded on fabricated  false data or invalid principles, then this should be a valid thing -however much it provokes its adherents.

As an ex-Christian myself, to describe Jesus as an “Imaginary Friend” is an almost  therapeutic act.  It helps me  to rid my mind of these ideas that run so deeply & still try to hold me in their grip.  The idea of Jesus being there constantly  & attentively  knowing my deepest thoughts (good & bad)  is both a  a profound comfort & a profound intrusion.  This belief very effectively held me back for the longest time in pursuing questions related to the veracity of the Christian faith.  What if I were to consider the possibility that the Gospels were actually a collection of fables or an outright fabrication?  What would Jesus think of me then?  I didn’t want him to think that I was ungrateful or unworthy of his love & friendship…  Paradoxically, it was only in recognizing that I also held this Jesus up as the “Lord of all Truth”, that I felt  free to pursue the Truth, whether it ultimately included him or not.  In the end, I was left with the firm conclusion that the Christian faith, like all other religious systems,  is an entirely man-made fabrication with no evidence of divine involvement.

The respectful language you are being asked to use only validates the Christian assertions & perpetuates its power over the imagination.

I wonder whether the Christians offended by your language would also consider similar language describing the convicted fraud artist Joseph Smith & his invisible “magical” disappearing golden plate to be offensive.  Would describing the flying horse that  Muhammad used to ascend to heaven as “magical” , provoke the same reaction?  I suspect, it is only when it is  our own  sacred ox being gored, that we will protest the use of anything but the most respectful authorized language.

Having said all this, if you are trying to argue persuasively & respectfully with those who still feel that the Christians Faith is a valid & sensible belief system, this sort of language may unnecessarily drive them away from your otherwise compelling arguments against the faith.

Thanks for your thoughtful blog.

-evan

  (Quote)

Dan May 19, 2009 at 2:39 pm

Luke,

I think what he meant by you not advancing the discussion is you said things that would make a theist feel stupid acknowledging as correct.  This means you’re making it hard for them to not be defensive about what you said, instead of saying “Hmmm…. I’ll have to give that some thought.”  On the other hand, you still rating the book highly while saying this gives your review far more credibility to atheists, who would benefit from your review than the theists who were reading amazon.

A practice I like to take is “ego preservation,” in which I try to state things in a way that doesn’t activate or aggravate someone’s ego defenses.  It’s a good thing to think about.  A lot more persuasion can be done that way.

–Dan

  (Quote)

Daniel May 23, 2009 at 6:22 am

lukeprog: What I want is for Christians to be honest with themselves.

What do you mean by “honest”? I’m just looking for clarification.

  (Quote)

lukeprog May 23, 2009 at 7:14 am

I want Christians to be honest with themselves about what it is they actually believe. If a Christian literally has an invisible shield, I want them to stop shielding their egos from that fact and admit it.

  (Quote)

Loren Petrich May 30, 2009 at 9:03 am

This reminds me of a poll on the nature of Jesus Christ I once created in a certain messageboard. I expressed the traditional Xian position as “god-man hybrid”, and the resident Xians objected rather vehemently, calling it inaccurate and using a very strict interpretation of the word “hybrid”. I quoted some dictionary definitions and even a Xian site that talked about his “hybrid” nature; I wanted to show that I meant “hybrid” in a broad sense. But that did not affect them.

I think that they reacted the way they did was because they didn’t like the word “hybrid”.

  (Quote)

Leave a Comment