CPBD 039: Ashley Paramore and Jonathan Weyer – Atheists and Believers Working Together

by Luke Muehlhauser on May 12, 2010 in Podcast

cpbd039

(Listen to other episodes of Conversations from the Pale Blue Dot here.)

Today I interview Ashley Paramore, an atheist who works closely with Christians, and Jonathan Weyer, a Christian who works closely with atheists. We discuss the value of getting atheists and believers working together and how to make that happen.

Download CPBD episode 039 with Ashley Paramore and Jonathan Weyer. Total time is 31:48.

Ashley Paramore links:

Jonathan Weyer links:

Links for things we discussed:

Note: in addition to the regular blog feed, there is also a podcast-only feed. You can also subscribe on iTunes.

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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

noen May 12, 2010 at 10:52 am

I thought it was interesting and also a bit validating when Ashley talks about how atheists can be just a fundamentalist as Christians can be. Her experience and reactions are a lot like mine. I’m a little more direct and pointed in my criticism however.

I’m doubtful that the culture wars will simply disappear just because people get tired of it. There are some truly alarming Christian movements out there. Most notably Dominionists. You cannot engage in dialog with them.

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Lee A. P. May 12, 2010 at 10:58 am

I have yet to run across any atheists who believe that people who disagree with them will be charbroiled for eternity because of their opinions. Yet there are literally millions of Christians who insist that this will happen to atheists.

Atheists cannot possibly match Christians on the “fundamentalist” scale unless they match that hatefulness.

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Zak May 12, 2010 at 12:48 pm

A quote from Sam Harris comes to mind, when discussing the similarities between Christians and atheists…

“There is, in fact, no worldview more reprehensible in its arrogance than that of a religious believer: the creator of the universe takes an interest in me, approves of me, loves me, and will reward me after death; my current beliefs, drawn from scripture, will remain the best statement of truth until the end of the world; everyone who disagrees with me will spend eternity in hell… An average Christian, in an average church, listening to an average Sunday sermon has achieved a level of arrogance simply unimaginable in scientific discourse — and there have been some extraordinarily arrogant scientists.”

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Mark May 12, 2010 at 1:18 pm

I think the link to Jonathan’s website is broken.

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Chris K May 12, 2010 at 2:07 pm

Great interview, I found it to be very encouraging.

Lee and Zak,

Did you catch Ashley’s distinction between being able to respect a person but not being able to respect a belief? Do you think that this is possible?

Suppose this situation: A Christian finds herself committed to a particular view of interpreting the Bible. She then finds that this interpretation commits her to the belief in an eternal hell. She does not rejoice in this belief, in fact, she finds that she doesn’t like it at all. At this point she is faced with a decision: she can choose another path of interpretation, she can reject Christianity entirely, or she can remain rooted in the view that posits an eternal hell – a view that she may in fact hate – because she thinks that truth may in fact come in forms that she’s not all that comfortable with.

Now, suppose that it is not the case that most Christians like the idea of hell. I think that it is quite plausible that most Christians don’t like it. What doesn’t seem plausible is that we can accuse Christians of being arrogant or hateful for finding themselves committed to a view of divine revelation.

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lukeprog May 12, 2010 at 2:36 pm

Mark,

Fixed, thanks.

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Lee A.P. May 12, 2010 at 4:13 pm

Great interview, I found it to be very encouraging.Lee and Zak,Did you catch Ashley’s distinction between being able to respect a person but not being able to respect a belief? Do you think that this is possible?Suppose this situation: A Christian finds herself committed to a particular view of interpreting the Bible. She then finds that this interpretation commits her to the belief in an eternal hell. She does not rejoice in this belief, in fact, she finds that she doesn’t like it at all. At this point she is faced with a decision: she can choose another path of interpretation, she can reject Christianity entirely, or she can remain rooted in the view that posits an eternal hell – a view that she may in fact hate – because she thinksthat truth may in fact come in forms that she’s not all that comfortable with.
Now, suppose that it is not the case that most Christians like the idea of hell. I think that it is quite plausible that most Christians don’t like it. What doesn’t seem plausible is that we can accuse Christians of being arrogant or hateful for finding themselves committed to a view of divine revelation.  

There is something wrong with being able to hold contradictory beliefs like “God is love” and “God will torture the majority of humans in hellfire for eternity if they hold incorrect beliefs”.

Consider this. “God is love”. “God will violently rip off the testicles of 100,000 two year olds in 2012 because he knows they will grow up and eventually reject the Bible.” Now what millions of Christians actually believe that God will do to non-believers is infinitely worse than that. It is really sick. After judgement, God gives humans bodies that cannot perish. This provides the hell sufferer the ability to feel the pain but never die. Truly disgusting

I started to agree that you can respect the person but not the belief but it is really difficult to not lose respect for a person who holds to beliefs of eternal torment. The only reason it is tolerated is because it is an ancient religious belief. Otherwise people would recognize it as the abhorrent, arrogant hate filled belief that it is.

So, can I respect a person who believes in eternal torment as much as someone who doesn’t? I don’t think I can. I think that the recognition that eternal torment is hateful is a “properly basic” belief ;) .

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Chris K May 12, 2010 at 7:00 pm

Lee,

To my knowledge, according to the Bible, only those who are resurrected in Christ receive a resurrection body, not non-believers. This rules out physical suffering as an aspect of hell. Thus, it is false that hell is sick and disgusting on the grounds that you give.

I also think that a distinction needs to be made between three claims: the claim that “eternal torment is hateful,” the claim that the belief in eternal torment is hateful, and the claim that the person who believes in eternal torment is hateful. These three statements each have very different meanings, and I fear they are being collapsed here. For instance, the person who believes in eternal torment does not likely believe that eternal torment is hateful. He or she would likely say that hell is not an expression of hate, but an expression of justice or love, perhaps using the (loosely-applicable) analogy of a parent disciplining a child, or perhaps appealing to the idea that hell is simply separation from God initiated by one’s own free will.

I tend to find that I don’t like defending hell – I can give some kind of explanation by analogy, but, in the end, I don’t understand enough about the logic of God’s justice, or even what hell is and means. Yet, I don’t find my aversion to the doctrine of hell or my inability to fully explain it reason to undermine my faith. Sure, these considerations can make me question the nature of God, etc., but I have other grounds for thinking that God exists that sustains my belief over and above the question of hell.

The very fact that a belief such as hell would cause the Christian to question her faith, however, signals to me that she is not arrogant and hate-filled. It also signals to me that there are many other possible descriptions of eternal torment and the belief in eternal torment which elude the title “hateful.” How do we decide what the best description is? How do we figure out the motives of God?

So, perhaps I’ve given your “properly basic belief” a defeater…in which case, it is no longer properly basic!

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Portwes May 12, 2010 at 8:10 pm

Chris, it is irrelevant whether hell or the people inhabiting it are physical entities. Even if it is a nebulous realm where dis-embodied souls suffer negative emotions for eternity, it’s still an arrogant concept on the part of people who believe they have the correct belief to escape going there.

Yesterday on the bus I ran into a old church friend who did not know that I am no longer a christian. He is the nicest guy, and when I hinted that I was no longer a believer, he was still nice to me. However, I am sure he believes that I will go to hell (whatever that may be) unless I repent and return. On the surface, he is not arrogant and never will be. But his theology and beliefs are arrogant.

Which begs the question: what exactly is arrogance, and can we separate arrogant beliefs from a sub-conscious arrogance? I don’t think it is possible.

How can there be an equally respectful dialogue, when one person thinks the other is destined to go to this bad place in the afterlife? Give up heaven and hell, and then I think it is possible.

(BTW, I’m glad you can keep your faith while not liking the hell concept. I could not. It was the single largest factor in rejecting my evangelical faith of 46 years!)

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Steven Carr May 13, 2010 at 1:54 am

It is hard to have a dialogue between Christians and atheists, when atheists are fundamentalists who are forever quoting the Bible.

How can you dialogue with somebody who says ‘Look! This bits got a talking donkey in it, and this bit says God sends lying spirits and this bit says God sends evil spirits.’

Christians find it very hard to dialogue with somebody who had already heard what you say from other people and already knows why it is wrong.

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al friedlander May 13, 2010 at 2:32 am

“For instance, the person who believes in eternal torment does not likely believe that eternal torment is hateful. He or she would likely say that hell is not an expression of hate, but an expression of justice or love, perhaps using the (loosely-applicable) analogy of a parent disciplining a child, or perhaps appealing to the idea that hell is simply separation from God initiated by one’s own free will. ”

I hear this a lot, and in my humble opinion, I find it to be a very weak argument.

The first problem occurs with the ‘expression of justice and love and/or disciplining a child’. The point of disciplining a child, is not to torture them for all of eternity. Rather, it’s to inflict a minimal amount of damage to the child in order to correct an inappropriate behavior. Society is also rather clear about ‘the rules’, and they usually have to be rather ‘fair’. If for example, a parent spanks a child for not getting straight A’s, we find that morally reprehensible because it is an unfair demand. Similarly, God demands way too much of us, especially in a world where He’s rather talented at hiding Himself and giving legitimate arguments for the opposition.

The second issue is deciding to go to hell ‘due to one’s free will’. This is much less of a problem if we can prove for sure that the annihilationist position is correct. Problem is, I find that not to be the case with most Christians. Also, I’ve never really ‘bought’ this bit on choosing to go to hell due to ‘free will’. Due to genetics and environment, an individual is already heavily predisposed to a certain belief system. This hardly sounds like free will to me.

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Edson May 13, 2010 at 2:58 am

“How can there be an equally respectful dialogue, when one person thinks the other is destined to go to this bad place in the afterlife?”

And how can there be an equally respectful dialogue, when an atheist thinks Christian beliefs are false and Truth is on the atheist side? On the surface an atheist is not going to show it but deep down he believes a Christian he is conversing with, is terribly deluded.

I don’t like the idea of somebody looking down on me and so my opinion is: there is no way a committed atheist and a committed christian are going to have completely common outlook without compromising key tenets of their beliefs. I meet an atheist and deep inside of me I know he lacks something and he meets me and thinks I’m deluded. Consequently, we will have to learn the art of showing tolerance on the surface when at the core of our hearts there are deep disagreements.

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Steven Carr May 13, 2010 at 5:00 am

EDSON
I meet an atheist and deep inside of me I know he lacks something….

CARR
Yeh, how come I don’t get an imaginary friend?

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Leviathan May 13, 2010 at 6:49 am

I never got how defining hell as “separation from God” is supposed to make it less like torture. Imagine solitary confinment and intense emotional distress for eternity. That’s torture.

Furthermore, re-interpreting literal hell-fire ignores nearly 2000 years of orthodoxy. I guess Augustine and Aquinas just didn’t get it, eh? Oh and Matthew, Mark, Luke…

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Leviathan May 13, 2010 at 7:06 am

I do, however, disagree with Bertrand Russell’s statement “I do not myself feel that any person who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment.” I didn’t used to, but the squirming to cast the fires out of hell by modern theologians is a sign that they know something’s not right here. See Dale Allison’s “The Problem of Gehenna” in his Resurrecting Jesus: http://books.google.com/books?id=4KN7sYmz7IUC&lpg=PP1&dq=dale%20allison&pg=PA56#v=onepage&q&f=false

There are some who seem to delight in the belief in hell for their enemies, most notably the authors of the New Testament as well as many modern fundamentalists. This is a serious moral failing and I do not respect those that hold it.

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Justfinethanks May 13, 2010 at 7:44 am

I never got how defining hell as “separation from God” is supposed to make it less like torture.

Yeah, the solution to the problem of hell I got when I was growing up was “Look it seems harsh, but only because we aren’t perfectly just.” But I always found that troubling, because what does it mean to say that God instilled in me a sense of right and wrong if that sense tells me that an action by God is horribly wrong. Either my moral senses reliably detect right and wrong or they don’t, and if hell is just, then they certainly don’t.

But the response of the modern theologian seems even worse: “Look, it’s bad, but it’s not that bad. Fire and burning are just metaphors.”

When you have to soft-pedal millenia of religious doctrine just to make your beliefs coherent, maybe it would be just smarter to abandon it all together.

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al friedlander May 13, 2010 at 10:08 am

“I meet an atheist and deep inside of me I KNOW he lacks something and he meets me and THINKS I’m deluded.”

Aiye…

“There are some who seem to delight in the belief in hell for their enemies”

Including Jesus himself. This…really disturbed me when I discovered this.

“But the response of the modern theologian seems even worse: “Look, it’s bad, but it’s not that bad. Fire and burning are just metaphors.” ”

Interestingly enough, it’s usually something along the lines of: it’s not bad in the way you think it’s bad…but, eh, honestly, it’s still pretty damn bad. I mean… -WHAT-?!

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Chris K May 13, 2010 at 1:24 pm

Leviathan and Al, et al,

I’m not sure where you find that Jesus and the NT authors delight in hell. I don’t find this. It is certain that the influence of Dante’s depiction of hell in the Divine Comedy has done much harm in church history. But it is to be remembered that this is a work of sheer speculative fiction. So what appears to be the backpedaling of the modern theologians is more of a working against the literalist/physical stereotype that we’ve all received from Dante.

I think that maybe the best route to go is to admit that hell is an eschatological concept, and as such, there is much more that we don’t know than what we do know.

The main question that I’d like see worked on here is, “Is it possible to respect and thus have authentic dialogue with Christians who have a belief in hell?” I think that Ashley says yes, it is possible to respect a person who holds a belief that she whole-heartedly disagrees with. I think that the key is to recognize that a person is more than an isolated belief – or even a whole network of religious beliefs. I think that there are probably massive areas of agreement between atheists and Christians – in Ashley and Jonathan’s case, this agreement includes doing service for the larger community: practical and ethical areas!

So I think that it’s just false that an atheist should consider a Christian morally impaired because of the hell issue.

I also think that the arrogance part cuts both ways (like Jonathan mentioned). Atheists are just as likely to be susceptible to arrogance as theists. Everybody tends to think that people who have differing belief-systems are wrong. I don’t think that arrogance has to do with the content of beliefs so much as the manner in which they’re held.

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Leviathan May 13, 2010 at 1:47 pm

Chris K, the orthodox view of hell as an eternal lake of fire is right out of the NT. Dante’s hell is actually more humane; at least he tried to make the punishments somewhat fit the crimes, and he provided righteous pagans a place to chill out.

As for the NT authors wishing hell on their enemies, I may have overstated it by calling it “delight.” I don’t have the verses at my fingertips, but there definitely is a sense of lust for vengence in there.

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Leviathan May 13, 2010 at 1:50 pm

Oh, and as I stated in a previous comment, I agree with you that we can respect some people that hold hell beliefs.

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portwes May 13, 2010 at 2:15 pm

And how can there be an equally respectful dialogue, when an atheist thinks Christian beliefs are false and Truth is on the atheist side? On the surface an atheist is not going to show it but deep down he believes a Christian he is conversing with, is terribly deluded.

Edson, I think you mischaracterize the average atheist take on “truth”. When I was a christian, I was much more convinced that I knew the truth, than now, as an agnostic. I have no claims to truth in the metaphysical world. If I can discuss with a christian who claims also not to know the metaphysical truth, then that can be a starting point. BUT, have you ever met a christian who claims they don’t know the truth (except the most liberal, unitarian kind of christian)? And yet I have met many, many atheists who claim no special knowledge of the truth, as it relates to the metaphysical.

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Mark May 13, 2010 at 2:27 pm

If, as Jonathan says, Christians participating in these “intermural” activities report that their faith is strengthened, I’m not sure why I would want to participate. Increasing tolerance and mutual understanding is obviously desirable, but I also have very little interest in inadvertently promoting beliefs I find morally repulsive.

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Chris K May 13, 2010 at 4:53 pm

“Oh, and as I stated in a previous comment, I agree with you that we can respect some people that hold hell beliefs.”

I’m glad!

I understand that the words “lake of fire” are used in Revelation 20. The question is, how do we understand what is happening there? For instance, we’re also told that Hades is thrown into the lake of fire. What the hell does that mean? (okay, that was bad) The point is that there is a ton of symbol and metaphor in Revelation and therefore it is notoriously and ridiculously difficult to interpret.

Also, I don’t think there is any “orthodox” teaching on hell. As far as I know, the church rejected universalism somewhere in the 6th or 7th century, but there have never been any creedal specifications on hell that I’m aware of.

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