Busting the Internal Logic of Christianity

by Luke Muehlhauser on December 11, 2009 in Christian Theology,General Atheism

bubble boy

Yesterday I stumbled upon two things that came together and gave me an epiphany. (Those for whom the below is obvious will have to forgive me.)

The first was an interview with Noam Chomsky about why we shouldn’t ridicule right-wing fundamentalists:

…right now… there is a right-wing populist uprising. It’s very common… to just ridicule them, but that’s not the right reaction. If you look at those people and listen to them on talk radio, these are people with real grievances… If you can sort of suspend your knowledge of the world and just enter into the world of the people who are calling in, you can understand them… These people think, “I’ve done everything right all my life, I’m a god-fearing Christian, I’m white, I’m male, I’ve worked hard, and I carry a gun. I do everything I’m supposed to do. And I’m getting shafted.”

And in fact they are getting shafted. For 30 years their wages have stagnated or declined, the social conditions have worsened, the children are going crazy, there are no schools, there’s nothing, so somebody must be doing something to them, and they want to know who it is. Well Rush Limbaugh has answered: it’s the rich liberals who own the banks and run the government, and of course run the media, and they don’t care about you; they just want to give everything away to illegal immigrants and gays and communists and so on.

Well, you know, the reaction we should be having to them is not ridicule, but rather self-criticism. Why aren’t we organizing them? I mean, we are the ones that ought to be organizing them, not Rush Limbaugh. There are historical analogs, which are not exact, of course, but are close enough to be worrisome. This is a whiff of early Nazi Germany. Hitler was appealing to groups with similar grievances, and giving them crazy answers, but at least they were answers; these groups weren’t getting them anywhere else. It was the Jews and the Bolsheviks [that were the problem].

I mean, the liberal democrats aren’t going to tell the average American, “Yeah, you’re being shafted because of the policies that we’ve established over the years that we’re maintaining now.” That’s not going to be an answer. And they’re not getting answers from the left. So, there’s an internal coherence and logic to what they get from Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and the rest of these guys. And they sound very convincing, they’re very self-confident, and they have an answer to everything; a crazy answer, but it’s an answer. And it’s our fault if that goes on. So one thing to be done is don’t ridicule these people, join them, and talk about their real grievances and give them a sensible answer, like, “Take over your factories.”

Chomsky has said many important things here, but one of them is that even if the right-wing looks ridiculous from the outside, it makes sense from the inside, which of course is exactly how right-wingers are seeing things. So it won’t matter if you ridicule them about how crazy their ideas look from the outside. You need to understand the internal logic of their position and make an appeal to them from within the internal logic of their position.

The same point is made in a video I found at Unreasonable Faith. The speaker says:

When debating or reaching out to a Christian, debunking the Bible itself should be your top priority… [You could] argue scientific discovery until you’re blue in the face and get nowhere because they have faith in the Word of God… Most Christians only trust the science that doesn’t threaten their beliefs… So instead, go with what the Bible says. There are enough ridiculous stories and inconsistencies in that book to help you make your point in an arena that they can understand.

This man, too, sees the value in reaching out to be people by showing the problems with their worldview when viewed from within. The Outsider Test for faith makes sense to a lot of critical thinkers, but many believers will only see a problem with Christianity if they see cracks in its own internal logic. They can ignore attacks lobbed from the outside as long as their warm bubble makes sense from the inside, where they are.

Many believers will be wise enough to evaluate their worldview from the outside. But for most Christians, we’ll need to show them why Christianity also fails the Insider Test.

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{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

ayer December 11, 2009 at 12:09 pm

Don’t tell me you are a Chomskyite? You have researched him, right?

http://97.74.65.51/readArticle.aspx?ARTID=24447

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Bill Maher December 11, 2009 at 1:01 pm

Luke, if I could make one extremely helpful suggestion it would be to consider George Lakoff’s ‘Don’t Think of an Elephant’ in which he talks about worldview and how it effects reaching out to people. Lakoff states that you can not easily break through someone’s worldview and if you do not frame your values correctly, they will bounce right off.

It is a very historic document anyways because it is the strategy the democrats used in the last election to win big. Howard Dean (the then chairman of the DNC) did the newer forward of the book and followed it down to a tea.

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Jason Finney December 11, 2009 at 1:16 pm

Hiya Luke, hey what’s with the little boy? is that stock photography… I hope?

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lukeprog December 11, 2009 at 1:22 pm

ayer,

I read the Anti-Chomsky Reader and came out thinking all their criticisms either blatantly misrepresented their view or revealed Chomsky’s critics as the bigoted jerks that Chomsky says they are. But I will read that article when I have a chance.

Yes, I’m definitely a Chomskyite. It says so on my About page.

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Jason Finney December 11, 2009 at 1:25 pm

Hey you know I might echo what the ayer bloke said above about Chomsky. I’m worried you would quote a nutbag like Chomsky. Remember I said your next stop would be a remote cabin in the Montana mountains? I might not have been so far off, eh? Geez. What are ya man, a revolutionist?

Chomsky is the wank who said “I have often thought that if a rational Fascist dictatorship were to exist, then it would choose the American system.”

This guy is flippin janky, mate.

Put the shroooooooooomz down yank! Really!

:D

Cheers,

Jason

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Paul December 11, 2009 at 1:31 pm

ayer: http://97.74.65.51/readArticle.aspx?ARTID=24447

Was the irony intentional considering it came from Front Page?

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Konstantin von Neurath December 11, 2009 at 2:05 pm

Chomsky?????? You mean chumpsky right????

Chumpsky openly declares the United States is a TERRORIST state and calls Reagan, Clinton, Bush, and Obama TERRORISTS.

You are not only atheist, you are aamerican. You got all kinds of troubles mans!

Sorry but I don’t swing on your vine man!

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Penneyworth December 11, 2009 at 2:06 pm

Everyone should read (at least half) of that article that ayer linked to. It’s like reading nazi propaganda. Its author clearly supports the state(war machine) with truly dogmatic fevror. Anyone daring to spread knowledge about the war crimes of the particular state that claims dominion over the author of this article is to be condemned as a vile, loathsome hate-monger.

In your opinion, ayer, what did motivate the 9/11 attacks? Was it because they hate our freedom? I would like to hear your answer. I would also like to hear your rebuttal of any of Chomsky’s statements that amount to America and Israel being the true terrorist states (nevermind his bunk economic theories – he’s no economist).

Chomsky is a glimmer of hope within the darkness of the mass’ acceptance of the state propaganda that tells us that we are the state. We are not the state. The state is terribly corrupt organization that funds itself by pointing its guns at us, and it grants itself the moral right to terrorize and murder anyone it sees fit on our dime.

Critisism of the state is not an anti-christian viewpoint. If you don’t like Chomsky, look to Ron Paul (start with his book, The Revolution). He is a christian, but can also see that America really is the bad guy, and that we americans must put an end to the madness (preferably before the collapse of our economy forces us to).

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ildi December 11, 2009 at 3:00 pm

The delicious irony of linking to an article written by David Horowitz: pot, meet kettle?

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lukeprog December 11, 2009 at 4:58 pm

ayer,

There’s not much to say about the Horowitz article on Chomsky. He’s got damn near everything wrong. Here’s just the start of a list that could go on a very long time:

1. Chomsky often praises the U.S. as one of the most free societies one earth, so it’s a bit odd to call him “the ayatollah of anti-American hate.” What Chomsky does is require that we hold our own actions to the same standards we apply to everyone else’s actions.
2. Chomsky has never defended the terror of Osama bin Laden or Hussein.
3. Chomsky does not deny that terrorists caused 9/11. But he does point out that perhaps if we were not constantly invading them and humiliating them, they would not want so badly to attack us.
4. Horowitz paraphrasing Chomsky: “Look away, America, from the injury that has been done to you, and contemplate the injuries you have done to them.” Um, yeah. And what’s wrong with that? I’ll say the same thing another way: “America, you should take the plank out of your own eye before inspecting the speck in your neighbor’s eye.”

etc., etc.

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Jeff H December 11, 2009 at 5:05 pm

I honestly don’t know much about Chomsky (I had a sheltered upbringing lol), but I agree with Penneyworth that that article is…well, strongly biased would be one way to describe it. I can’t speak to the accuracy of the quotes taken from Chomsky – like I said, I don’t know the guy. But America has been a major force in the perpetuation of a corrupt system that keeps many populations, both within the US and outside, in poverty. The amount of control that major corporations and lobby groups have over government policy is staggering. Seriously, to admit that America has faults is not being unpatriotic. Quite the opposite – it shows that one has looked at the damage done and is willing to help fix it.

Anyway, Luke, since you said you were a Chomsky-ite, do you have any recommendations for good reading? I figure if I’m going to give the guy an honest chance, I might as well read something straight from the horse’s mouth.

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svenjamin December 11, 2009 at 5:45 pm

I think I would have to agree with Chomksy on all the “delusional” points people are ascribing to him. They all sound pretty reasonable to me. However, he does have a reputation within academia for pulling a guru-attitude when it comes to his field. I have an interesting article around somewhere that doesn’t paint him very well in light of his responses to the discovery of the Piraha tribe considered to be a counter-example to his linguistic theories.

On the original topic: One of the first steps in my rejection of Christianity was reading about Wittgenstein’s notion of a language game: that it is entirely possible to have contradictory yet internally consistent worldviews. I don’t recall exactly what he said, but that is what I took away from it. That led me to the conclusion that I ought to test my belief systems from the outside as well as the inside. Just because, as a Christian, I could generate some ad hoc circumvention of any objections someone posed to my beliefs didn’t mean that I was right. And eventually that led to my de-conversion about a year and a half later after I began studying other religions.

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lukeprog December 11, 2009 at 7:38 pm

Chomsky for beginners:

You could read Hegemony or Survival. Even easier is simply to watch one of his bajillion online lectures. (Collected here.) But I would start with: Distorted Morality and Is Capitalism Making Life Better?. (Those who wonder what the alternative to capitalism might be, consider Michael Albert’s proposal: parecon.)

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lukeprog December 11, 2009 at 7:39 pm

svenjamin,

I’d like to read that article on Chomsky’s reaction to the Piraha if you can find it.

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ayer December 11, 2009 at 8:01 pm

lukeprog

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Lorkas December 11, 2009 at 8:44 pm

Konstantin von Neurath: Chumpsky openly declares the United States is a TERRORIST state

Well, George Bush said, “We fight the terrorists and we fight all of those who give them aid. America has a message for the nations of the world: If you harbor terrorists, you are terrorists.”

So, any nation that harbors terrorists or terrorist groups is considered to be a terrorist state by the founder of the war on terror. I guess he just meant terrorists that are hostile to capitalism (if they’re fighting communism with terrorist tactics they must be freedom fighters or something).

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Robert Gressis December 11, 2009 at 10:31 pm

Hi Luke,

You may want to read this: http://www.mekong.net/cambodia/chomsky.htm

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Ben December 12, 2009 at 12:40 am

Wow, lots of comments that don’t seem to be about Luke’s epiphany at all. Lame.

Ben

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danielg December 12, 2009 at 1:02 am

Do you suppose that atheism, or any ideology, can stand the scrutiny from the inside, and seem totally consistent?

For example, atheism’s real problem with answering the question of objective morality may seem answered by your desirism or some other ism, but perhaps all ideologies have weak points that we can ‘exploit’ to destroy their faith.

In the end, while some claims about the metaphysical can be shown to be clearly bogus, some will perennially
lie beyond the reach of reason, even the claim that there is NO God.

I think you would do more good using this strategy against ideologies that are real problems in the world, like Islam, than against Xianity, which has in my estimation done more good, and continues to do more good, than any other, including atheism.

I see atheism as a retreat out of the metaphysical into the very limited ‘safety’ of the empirical. No faith, no trust, and quite literally no hope or answers. It claims that it just wants to live in ‘reality,’ but since it can’t really positively prove the absence of the numinous, it is content to attack it with its crude instruments.

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Edson December 12, 2009 at 3:06 am

“Most Christians only trust the science that doesn’t threaten their beliefs”

I think the real issue is not about trusting Science but trusting a particular Scientist and the theory he promulgates. When you have so many people today who are called Scientists, consistently portraying Science to be anti-God and anti-Christianity, most Christians are perfectly justified to doubt, to challenge, or to take with the grain of salt the scientific theories espoused by those Scientists.

“You could argue scientific discovery until you’re blue in the face and get nowhere because they have faith in the Word of God”

You will only argue to blue with a Christian only if your motivation to argue with him is to dismiss what is most valuable to him, in this case, his Faith in God. I have always struggled with this question that why atheists have always wanted to shove down Christian throats that to discover something through Science is always better than the trust in God.

“But for most Christians, we’ll need to show them why Christianity also fails the Insider Test.”

It always isn’t a wise thing to do to spend some time of yours telling other people that something that they consider absolutely valuable for their existence is not really valuable as they seem to think. Unless, of course, you have something better to offer them.

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Haukur December 12, 2009 at 3:45 am

Luke, if you’re interested in criticism of Chomsky’s views within linguistics I suggest the 2002 article by Pullum and Scholz on the “poverty of the stimulus” argument. Reasons why I recommend it:

a) It has a minimum of unexplained linguistics jargon.

b) The underlying subject (how do people learn to speak?) is of general interest, not least if you’re going to study philosophy of language.

c) It gives an idea of the weird guru status Chomsky has had within linguistics.

d) It’s a very solid and tightly argued article with lots of interesting methodological points. In my opinion it delivered crushing blows to its intended targets.

So, without further ado: Empirical assessment of stimulus poverty arguments

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Alex December 12, 2009 at 4:51 am

The response here to someone even mentioning Chomsky is nothing more than hysterical. The funny thing is though, it proves his propaganda model through and through. If you ever want to see it in action, see the way a mainstream liberal reporter (even of the left) will essentially try and shut him down and out of argument with a string of misrepresentations and weakly veiled personal insult. Andrew Marr of the BBC is a case in point.

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lukeprog December 12, 2009 at 5:35 am

Robert,

Thanks for the link; that looks like a more substantive critique of Chomsky than the previous link. In any case, I should note that I’m oblivious to his positions on the Khmer Rouge. That hasn’t been a part of his work with which I have engaged.

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lukeprog December 12, 2009 at 5:45 am

Haukur,

Thanks for the linguistics link. I’m not very interested in Chomskyian linguistics, though I’m quite aware of his uber-guru status there and have always suspected that may be skewing an honest interpretation of the data within linguistics.

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Jeff H December 12, 2009 at 7:32 am

lukeprog: Chomsky for beginners:You could read Hegemony or Survival. Even easier is simply to watch one of his bajillion online lectures. (Collected here.) But I would start with: Distorted Morality and Is Capitalism Making Life Better?. (Those who wonder what the alternative to capitalism might be, consider Michael Albert’s proposal: parecon.)  

Thanks for the links. I’ll check some of them out when I get the chance. I actually stumbled across parecon not too long ago, and it seemed like a pretty interesting idea. I’m not sure whether it would work in practice (it seems like society would be reduced to an endless stream of meetings…oh joy), but an interesting idea nonetheless. I’ve been trying to figure out what my own views on economic systems are. I agree with a lot of the criticisms that communists make against capitalism, but I don’t tend to agree with the solution that they provide. A lot of their arguments FOR communism tend to be just arguments AGAINST capitalism, as if those are the only two options. I think I’ve somewhat settled on free market socialism, utilizing primarily worker cooperatives to provide workers with ownership over the means of production.

I suppose nobody really cared to hear about that anyway, but there ya go. Had to tell somebody :P

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lukeprog December 12, 2009 at 8:46 am

Jeff H,

Yup, that sounds like we agree quite a bit.

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Rich December 12, 2009 at 11:23 am

lukeprog: ayer,I read the Anti-Chomsky Reader and came out thinking all their criticisms either blatantly misrepresented their view or revealed Chomsky’s critics as the bigoted jerks that Chomsky says they are. But I will read that article when I have a chance.Yes, I’m definitely a Chomskyite. It says so on my About page.  (Quote)

Also, Ayer, David Horowitz is exactly the sort of right wing demagogue that Chomsky is targeting. No wonder he’s upset!

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Jeffrey December 12, 2009 at 2:51 pm

Thanks for the link! I swear I’ll be back some day, most likely in January 2010.

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ayer December 12, 2009 at 8:06 pm

Rich: Also, Ayer, David Horowitz is exactly the sort of right wing demagogue that Chomsky is targeting. No wonder he’s upset!

I know this is not a political blog, so I didn’t intend to sidetrack the discussion. But suffice to say that Horowitz is not the only severe Chomsky critic; Christopher Hitchens is as well.

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Robert Gressis December 13, 2009 at 11:25 am

Hi guys,

Regarding Chomsky, it’s not quite fair to say that the “hysterical” reactions to him prove his propaganda model, any more than that Luke’s “hysterical” reaction to Christianity proves that he rejects Christianity because it makes him give up, say, sexual pleasures, as some dude named Summa argued not so long ago. The fact is, Chomsky is seen as something of a faultless demigod by his followers, and if you’re a left-winger, which is sad, because there are better people to read than Chomsky. The problem with Chomsky is that he’s not that careful and misrepresents things to support his view (he doesn’t outright lie, really; he just leaves out some crucial information a lot of the time). As a general rule, you should be skeptical of Chomsky’s foreign policy commentary because what he tries to cover is just far too vast to cover in anything like a fair way. The fact that he tries, and seems to have really plausible answers to a very wide variety of things, should clue you in to the fact that he’s operating with something like an ideology rather than a fair-minded empirical approach.

For the record, in my early 20s I was a Chomskyite.

As for more criticisms of Chomksy, these two pieces by left-wing economist Brad DeLong are also good:

http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/Politics/Chomsky.html

http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/movable_type/archives/000155.html

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lukeprog December 13, 2009 at 1:08 pm

Gressis,

Keep the anti-Chomsky links coming. Hopefully one day I will have time for them.

I’m not sure about the details of his ideas, but the really, really simple points that he makes are so rarely said that I applaud his courage.

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svenjamin December 14, 2009 at 4:27 pm

Luke,

The article was printed out and given to me by a friend from school, so I had to dig it out of “the pile” and track it down online. But here you go:

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/04/16/070416fa_fact_colapinto

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lukeprog December 21, 2009 at 12:57 am

Robert Gressis,

Cool.

I had a chance to read those Chomsky articles, and followed links to a few more. I can’t find any satisfying defenses from Chomskyites. So now my #1 hero is busted and I’ll be much more skeptical of his views in the future.

I still think Chomsky is right on a lot of basic things, including the general meaning of the quote above, but I’m even more willing than before to investigate his claims individually.

Which is a shame, because it would save so many brain cells if I could just trust somebody! :)

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