Do Christians REALLY Believe? (part 2)

by Luke Muehlhauser on July 5, 2010 in General Atheism

David Brooks writes:

The pope and many others speak for the thoroughly religious. Christopher Hitchens has the latest best seller on behalf of the antireligious. But who speaks for the quasi-religious?

Quasi-religious people attend services, but they’re bored much of the time. They read the Bible, but find large parts of it odd and irrelevant. They find themselves inextricably bound to their faith, but think some of the people who define it are nuts.

Earlier, I asked: Do Religious Believers Really Believe? If someone really believed their unbelieving friends would be tortured for all eternity without Christ, wouldn’t they try a bit harder to get them to see the light? It seems they don’t really believe, or they are astonishingly cold about the fate of people they profess to care about.

Perhaps many religious people do not really believe the ancient superstitions, but rather suffer from what Daniel Dennett called “belief in belief.” People who believe in belief think that mankind needs myths to live by, so we ought not examine religious myths to closely. It’s a good thing to believe, whether or not it’s true.

Adèle Mercier has similar concerns in “Religious Belief and Self-Deception” from 50 Voices of Disbelief. She writes:

Believing something, and believing that one believes something, are not the same thing…

I can know how to spell ‘chrysanthemum’ without knowing that I know how to do it. Likewise, you believe many things that you don’t realize you believe, so in that sense you lack the belief that you believe them. For instance, you probably believe that there are more fish in the Pacific Ocean than there are birds on the Galapagos Islands, though until this minute, you probably weren’t aware that you held this belief. It’s not that you didn’t believe this a minute ago, and only just now formed the belief: nothing in the previous sentence has taught you anything that would have caused you to form a new belief you didn’t have last week. You already had a first-order belief about Pacific fish v. Galapagos birds, yet you lacked the second-order belief about yourself, namely that you held that first-order belief…

Believing something differs from believing that you believe it in a still stronger sense. First-order beliefs are compatible not only with the absence of second-order beliefs, but with their outright denial. Perhaps I know how to spell ‘chrysanthemum’ even though I’m sure I don’t know how to do it. Similar paradoxes occur with belief. The Pravda, a newspaper controlled by the state, was the official source of “news” in the Soviet Union. When polled, its readers would forcefully deny believing anything they read in it, conscious as they were of its being an organ of state propaganda. Yet when polled about their first-order beliefs, about events going on in the country, Pravda readers held beliefs and opinions they could only have formed from reading the Pravda. It is easy to see how this can happen. You read ‘P’ in the Pravda, and you say to yourself “P comes from the Pravda and so is groundless and false.” As time goes by, you remember ‘P’ but not where you got it from (who keeps track of that!). First thing you know, you’re believing P…

Even more important for present purposes is the other way around: believing that you believe something is not the same as believing it… If you are like my Canadian father-in-law, you believe that there is a t-sound in the word ‘butter’… But you clearly do not have this belief, at least not if you are a competent speaker of North-American English. For if you did, you would say “buTer” (with a t-sound) rather than what you do say, which is “buDer” (with a flapped d-sound). What you believe then, to recap, is that the normal pronunciation of ‘butter’ is “buDer” – witness how you actually do it – but you also believe (mistakenly) that you believe that the normal pronunciation has a t-sound in it. Just because you believe that you have a belief doesn’t mean you have it, anymore than believing that you know how to spell ‘chrysanthemum’ implies that you do know how to do so.

Mercier then makes a striking claim:

Most people don’t really believe the religious claims they purport to believe.

Mercier’s first example is the one raised by Doug Stanhope: “If you really believe that death leads to eternal bliss, then why are you wearing a seatbelt?” Mercier concurs:

For instance, whatever they may think or say about what they believe, most people believe that life ends at death. If you really believed that life goes on after death, you wouldn’t put such care as you do in avoiding death. Dying would be like going to bed: a bummer if you’re having a good time, but heck, you’ll have another good time tomorrow (and if not tomorrow, then the next day, or the next one after that). You would wish, encourage, and hasten the death of the poor, sick, depressed, or otherwise worst off, since their next life could only get better.

Certainly most people, whatever they may think or say, do not believe that an eternity of bliss awaits the pure and innocent. No matter how happy your life is, it’s nothing compared to the everlasting bliss that awaits you as long as you haven’t done anything worthy of eternal damnation. Given that your life is a little speck of nothingness compared to eternity, and that every day you go on living increases the risk of your doing something bad for which you would spend an eternity in hell, what loving parent would not self-sacrificially wring your neck the moment you were born, to save you from eternal damnation? (They could explain to an understanding God afterwards why they had done the right and loving thing by you.) Perhaps you think that God does not condone killing people for their own good. (Why not, if he is good, and it’s for their own good?!)

Still, if you really believed in the afterlife, you would at least be an extreme risk-taker: you would want to die as soon as possible before succumbing to some temptation that would damn you to hell forever; you would never look before crossing the street, in the secret hope of being soon done in by a truck; you would take your children on dangerous expeditions on icy precipices and hope they fall to their end while still pure and innocent. If you really thought God punished the unjust you would not be so selfish as to protect your children for your own enjoyment at the risk to them of an eternity of suffering. Yet that is not how most of us feel and not what most of us do…

The best example of true believers in life after death and eternal bliss, whose actions reveal the genuineness of their first-order religious beliefs, is provided by suicide bombers…1

Mercier concludes:

Most people who claim to have religious beliefs have scarcely ever analyzed the contents of their belief, and indeed are reluctant to do so even when prompted. Ask a theist pointed questions about God, or about the concept of God, and you end up with non-answers: at the end of the line will invariably be things we really can’t understand, concepts that are not only beyond comprehension but essentially mysterious, and so on. So their first-order beliefs have referents they can’t refer to, and their second-order beliefs can’t be of the sort that are about concepts, since the concepts about which they would purport to be are themselves undefined, indeed purposefully so. The concepts making up their belief are essentially vacant.

…There is a good reason why most people refuse to examine the details of the religious propositions they profess. Let’s face it, most first-order religious beliefs are daft: that Jesus was born from a virgin impregnated by a holy spirit; that Mohammed split the moon in two; that evil is the consequence God has to put up with to grant us freedom. Such beliefs are as implausible as Athena’s springing fully clothed from the head of Zeus, the Earth being supported by a tortoise, the gods requiring that virgins be thrown from cliffs or Christians thrown to the lions. And most people (first order) know it: the very same who believe the ones would scoff arrogantly at the others.

…Religion is all about believing that one’s beliefs are right, not about having right beliefs. If first-order religious beliefs had content, their content could be checked against the truth. It is precisely because such beliefs lack content that one can go on believing that one believes them despite any and every evidence. But the price of second-order belief in vacant first-order beliefs is self-deception.

All forms of self-deception are dangerous, but none is more cruel than that which robs one’s very reason for living of its authenticity.

And so I ask again: Do most Christian really (first order) believe?

  1. I added paragraph breaks, here. []

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{ 181 comments… read them below or add one }

humbly July 5, 2010 at 6:28 am

the answer to doug stanhope’s question, from a christian perspective, is that christians aren’t – or oughtn’t be – motivated by selfishness. the apostle paul wrestled with a not dis-similar dilemma, and concluded that it was better to stay alive for the benefit of other people. if he was only in it for himself, he would certainly have wished to die immediately. you can read it in philippians 2vv23-26 if you’re interested.

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Ajay July 5, 2010 at 6:34 am

Interesting thought humbly, but I’d need evidence that most Christians are staying alive mainly for the purposes of helping others. That doesn’t seem to be the case.

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lukeprog July 5, 2010 at 6:37 am

Humbly,

But that misses the point. I have never met a Christian that is so motivated. The evidence is that they fear death and avoid it at all costs even when they have no such notion that they should stay alive for the benefit of others.

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lukeprog July 5, 2010 at 6:43 am

Humbly,

BTW, your answer was precisely the one given by ancient Indian brahmin to the unbelieving Lokayata when they asked the same question I have. See here:
http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=9793

I am just as skeptical of the answer coming from ancient Indian brahmin.

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Steve Maitzen July 5, 2010 at 7:09 am

Luke: I’m glad you’re blogging the Mercier article. I think you’ll find value in the Rey article that I mentioned as well. In our interview, you said something curious that I didn’t comment on at the time:

I was a Christian if anyone was a Christian. I was experiencing God and praying and having visions and really studying God and chasing after Jesus and doing everything that the most on-fire Christians do, but I never celebrated the death of Christian children who I knew would go to heaven. So I don’t know that that says that you weren’t a Christian unless it says that nobody’s a Christian.

I couldn’t tell which disjunct in the last sentence you meant to endorse: (a) one can be a Christian without looking favorably on the death of Christian children or (b) nobody’s a Christian. If (a), why?

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Nance July 5, 2010 at 7:25 am

On my way home from a Unitarian-Universalist service yesterday, I was pondering the same question, including the thought that suicide bombers must, indeed, be the best example of those who’ll bet their lives on an afterlife. When we’re on the west coast, we attend this UU “church” because they let atheists like me in to ponder the big questions with a group of really smart, politically liberal, socially activist folks whose beliefs range from Far East to Going To Hell to None Of The Above.

Those who indoctrinate young suicide bombers obviously DON’T believe so thoroughly in an afterlife, themselves; they might say they serve their countrymen best in this way, but what they are actually trying to do is rid their turf of great swaths of those who disagree with them in general. They send in the true believers to scare the rest of us away (taking out not a few innocent-bystanding believers along the way).

I’m not entirely sure that the young suicide bombers believe every step of the way from beginning to end of their missions. What happens to the ones who change their minds at the last minute?

I think it’s correct to say that religion began as an effort to control other humans and the powers of nature, which makes it political by definition. Practices and theories evolved and devolved from that effort, accumulating mumbo-jumbo along the way and powered, primarily, by the need to be right. Being right and gathering in others who want to be right confers safety…it convenes a posse.

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Briang July 5, 2010 at 7:33 am

“If you really believe that death leads to eternal bliss, then why are you wearing a seatbelt?”

This is a lot like saying if you really believed in evolution, you wouldn’t provide care for those with genetic defects. If someone has a genetic defect that causes blindness it would be better to let them get hit by a car so they don’t pass on their genes.

But this is just silly. It’s taking a single belief in isolation and trying to develop a whole moral philosophy out of it. Then attacking the person for not following his belief to it’s logical conclusion. The problem is in these instances you have to add other beliefs that the person doesn’t necessary hold. In the case of evolution, you’d have add the belief that purifying the gene pool outweighs helping another person. But a person can believe in evolution without believing that. In the case of seat belts, a person would have to believe that the afterlife is such that a person shouldn’t value and preserve this life at all. But that seems a pretty implausible belief, given the rest of Christian theology.

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lukeprog July 5, 2010 at 7:33 am

Maitzen,

I actually phrased it that way so I could express agnosticism on the issue. One might marshall support for (a), however, by noting that our word-tools are most usefully defined in terms of their use. So if it turns out that it’s false to say that people who call themselves Christians (first-order) believe in the afterlife, then we should not declare that nobody is really a Christian, but rather that our concept of ‘Christian’ had a slight error in it that must be corrected so we can continue to use the term to designate much the same thing we have always intended. Basically the same thing as when we decided to keep using the term ‘atom’ after findings these basic constituents of molecules are not, in fact, indivisible.

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Márcio July 5, 2010 at 7:36 am

The life of a true Christian is not his own. Christ is the owner of our lives, that is why we have to treasure it. Not for the sake of others, but because our lifes belong to Jesus.

Of couse that there are a lot o Christians that doesn’t understand this and life life the way they want.

Of course a Christian have to work and try to present the gospel to the maximum number o people possible. He/she is not obligated to do, but there are treasures in heaven for good deeds.

We earn salvation through grace, by believing in Christ as our savior. And we gain treasures in heaven acording to our works in this life.

So a person that only believes in Jesus but doesn’t work for Him, is saved but gain no treasures in heaven.

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Márcio July 5, 2010 at 7:36 am

That is why we wear seatbelts when driving.

ehheheheh

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Haecceitas July 5, 2010 at 7:48 am

I wouldn’t want to be put to a 10 inches distance from some angry wild animal even if I fully believed that the invisible glass that was put between me and the beast was strong enough to prevent an actual attack.

Believing that something is true isn’t all that matters in our behaviour. We’ve been given (by God, evolution, or both) a strong instinct for preserving our life. It isn’t particularly surprising that we tend to act in accordance with that instinct. To the extent that there are theological reasons for preserving one’s life, one is likely to rationalize one’s behaviour in light of those. But since we aren’t fully rational creatures, we need that instinctive side too.

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Tom Gilson July 5, 2010 at 8:44 am

Luke, surely you can do better than this.

Mercier’s conclusions would be defensible if believers believed nothing else but that our destiny after death is a good one. Suppose, however, that’s not the only thought in our teensy, daft little minds? Suppose we believe, for example, that there is good to be done on earth (Phil. 1:20-26)? Suppose we believe that our lives are not our own (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)? Suppose we believe that our good future can be made even better by living well in the present (1 Corinthians 2:10-14)?

One more hypothetical question: suppose people who pronounced on what Christians believe would actually pay attention to what we believe? But no, that would be daft.

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Steve Maitzen July 5, 2010 at 8:50 am

Maitzen,

I actually phrased it that way so I could express agnosticism on the issue. One might marshall support for (a), however, by noting that our word-tools are most usefully defined in terms of their use. So if it turns out that it’s false to say that people who call themselves Christians (first-order) believe in the afterlife, then we should not declare that nobody is really a Christian, but rather that our concept of ‘Christian’ had a slight error in it that must be corrected so we can continue to use the term to designate much the same thing we have always intended. Basically the same thing as when we decided to keep using the term ‘atom’ after findings these basic constituents of molecules are not, in fact, indivisible.

Muehlhauser,

I get that “meaning is use.” If ordinary usage defines “Christian” sociologically, then a Christian is anyone who would be called “a Christian” by most people who call themselves “Christians.” But what if ordinary usage instead requires that any Christian accept doctrines that include the doctrine of a heavenly afterlife? I take it you’re conceding there may be few if any Christians on the latter definition.

I notice, by the way, that none of the rebuttals to your post have addressed my point in the interview about the attitude of self-described Christians toward the deaths of Christian children.

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al friedlander July 5, 2010 at 9:00 am

“If someone really believed their unbelieving friends would be tortured for all eternity without Christ, wouldn’t they try a bit harder to get them to see the light? It seems they don’t really believe, or they are astonishingly cold about the fate of people they profess to care about.”

I’m not trying to pick on anyone, but this is something that’s always bothered me. Back when I was a believer, I was in denial about hell. I essentially ‘lied’ to myself, saying that if God exists, there was no way He could do such a thing. I created my own fantasy.

As I grew older, I started realizing that I was rationalizing everything to keep myself sane. Honestly, no matter how much some people try to sugarcoat it, if hell -really- does exist, we have some -huge- problems. It’s supposed to be the -worst- experience possible. Worse than torture; worse than the Holocaust, worse than major depression; ETERNAL torment.

I’m not trying to be ‘holier-than-thou’, but I’m completely honest when I say that if one really did believe that hell existed, I’m surprised that they aren’t losing sleep over it.

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RedKing July 5, 2010 at 9:02 am

This Sunday I went to church with someone very close to me. She’s a Christian, I’m an atheist. She spent most of the sermon engaged in hushed conversation with a friend (this was a big megachurch where she could get away with it). On the way home, I asked what she thought of the sermon (I thought it was atrocious), and she said she wasn’t even listening to it. I asked why she and her friend didn’t just meet for lunch somewhere. She said that meeting at church was convenient, but that lunch sometime might be a good idea so they could get away from “all that God stuff.” (Her words.)

I’ve never been in a position to, but if I believed that the all-powerful all-knowing creator of the universe had a plan for me, I think I’d spend just about every waking moment trying to figure out what the plan was. So I too am skeptical about how most believers reconcile their purported beliefs with their actions (though, in fairness, this applies to much more than just religious belief).

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Justfinethanks July 5, 2010 at 9:09 am

I’m not trying to be ‘holier-than-thou’, but I’m completely honest when I say that if one really did believe that hell existed, I’m surprised that they aren’t losing sleep over it.

When I was a believer I read “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.” In it, a priest gives fire and brimstone sermon which includes a graphic depiction of hell and what its occupants endure. I got about five hours of sleep over the next three days because of that.

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Mark July 5, 2010 at 9:11 am

I think you’re underestimating people’s ability to believe contradictory or at least conflicting things. And it’s not the case that we fully “internalize” everything we believe.

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ayer July 5, 2010 at 9:23 am

“And so I ask again: Do most Christian really (first order) believe?”

That question can easily be turned around on the atheist, as William Lane Craig does in his essay “The Absurdity of Life Without God” in the section “The Practical Impossibility of Atheism”:

“About the only solution the atheist can offer is that we face the absurdity of life and live bravely. Bertrand Russell, for example, wrote that we must build our lives upon “the firm foundation of unyielding despair.”6 Only by recognizing that the world really is a terrible place can we successfully come to terms with life. Camus said that we should honestly recognize life’s absurdity and then live in love for one another.

The fundamental problem with this solution, however, is that it is impossible to live consistently and happily within such a world view. If one lives consistently, he will not be happy; if one lives happily, it is only because he is not consistent. Francis Schaeffer has explained this point well. Modern man, says Schaeffer, resides in a two-story universe. In the lower story is the finite world without God; here life is absurd, as we have seen. In the upper story are meaning, value, and purpose. Now modern man lives in the lower story because he believes there is no God. But he cannot live happily in such an absurd world; therefore, he continually makes leaps of faith into the upper story to affirm meaning, value, and purpose, even though he has no right to, since he does not believe in God.” http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5389

J. Budziszewski also makes this point well:
http://www.boundless.org/2005/articles/a0000054.cfm

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Lorkas July 5, 2010 at 9:27 am

This is a lot like saying if you really believed in evolution, you wouldn’t provide care for those with genetic defects.

Those aren’t analogous at all. Evolution doesn’t claim that letting those people suffer and die will be better for them individually, which is what the Christian belief claims. It’d be careless and cruel to let someone suffer because of their genetic makeup in order to benefit this vague concept called the genome (on evolution), but it would be merciful and selfless to let a person who is suffering move on to another, better life (on Christianity, if the person is a Christian).

The greatest extent to which you can take the evolution example is that it *might* benefit future people who would have suffered (by making them not ever be born, of course), while the argument from Christianity for letting the suffering die benefits the person themselves, immediately, as long as they have faith in Jesus.

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Mark July 5, 2010 at 9:41 am

That question can easily be turned around on the atheist, as William Lane Craig does in his essay “The Absurdity of Life Without God” in the section “The Practical Impossibility of Atheism”:

They can be turned around on the atheist, maybe, but not so easily. Surely you’ve been on this site long enough to be aware of Nagel’s article on the absurd, since Luke mentions it every time Craig’s article on the absurd comes up.

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TDC July 5, 2010 at 10:26 am

I’m not sure if the question could be turned around on ANY atheist, but I think moral relativists may be especially vulnerable. Very few people live consistently with that view.

In any case, I still think Christianity has a greater difficulty here, to bounce off of alfriedlander and Justfinethanks.

As a Christian who doesn’t really know what to believe for sure these days, I spend a lot of time reading. I keep trying to study to see if Christianity is really true, and WHICH Christianity is true if it is. My friends think I spend too much time on it, because it is getting in the way of me getting a career and living a normal life. They think I spend too much time worrying I’ll go to hell.

But this is completely ridiculous! If hell exists, who cares if I should waste my entire life trying to seek the RIGHT Christianity? If eternity is at stake, it makes perfect sense to use up all my time studying this stuff and seeking.

And to continue off of points previously made, hell does indeed make every moment that a Christian wastes not evangelizing the most callous thing imaginable. How much time and money do you see Christians waste on movie nights, going out to eat, watching TV, etc? The fact that we can do such things so often and still believe that, in the mean time, numerous people are on their way to eternal suffering, is pretty damning.

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lukeprog July 5, 2010 at 10:58 am

Tom,

I already responded to your objection, in the second comment on this page. I know that many people hold to the doctrines explicated in the verses you quote. But many clearly do not have such strong convictions, and yet they still supposedly believe in a blissful afterlife and still avoid death with everything they can. Maybe there are some Christians like yourself that avoid death purely because of what you believe it is your calling to do in the present, but I doubt they are the majority. I suspect you’re accusing me of ‘straw man’ when you should be saying ‘not my theology.

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lukeprog July 5, 2010 at 11:00 am

Steve,

Okay, I’m calling you Steve now because I realized I’d rather be called “Luke.” :)

Yeah, I’m going to follow this post up with some points about your argument concerning the deaths of Christian children.

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lukeprog July 5, 2010 at 11:01 am

Mark,

You’re probably right.

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ayer July 5, 2010 at 11:09 am

“The fact that we can do such things so often and still believe that, in the mean time, numerous people are on their way to eternal suffering, is pretty damning. ”

This evidences a rather uninformed view of the doctrine of salvation. Some reading on the perspective known as Molinism would be helpful to you. See:

http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/politically.html

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cl July 5, 2010 at 11:14 am

A few others have already alluded to the point I’m about to make:

If you really believed that life goes on after death, you wouldn’t put such care as you do in avoiding death. [Mercier]

As someone who believes that life continues after death, I find that to be a terribly crude and unpersuasive argument. Believing that life continues after death doesn’t lead to the conclusion that we should leave this life as soon as possible. Mercier’s “argument” is just a mild version of, “If you believe in life after death why don’t you kill yourself?”

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Lorkas July 5, 2010 at 11:20 am

Another argument for the Christian male:

1) You wouldn’t masturbate if Jesus was in the room watching you.
2) You do masturbate.
3) Therefore, you don’t believe that Jesus is in the room watching you.

I call it the Argument from You Masturbate.

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cl July 5, 2010 at 11:23 am

Lorkas,

Are you implying that Christian females don’t masturbate??

:)

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piero July 5, 2010 at 11:30 am

cl and others:

Precisely. Why don’t you kill yourselvelves? Presumably because it is sinful. But why is it sinful? Because God says so? Why does he say so? Why did he not create us in heaven already?

Why don’t you kill your loved ones? Because it is sinful? So you are not prepared to sacrifice yourselvees for your loved ones. After all, you would go to hell, but your loved ones would go to heaven. Would that not be the most selfless act imaginable? Would that not be the greatest possible act of love?

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ayer July 5, 2010 at 11:30 am

“Surely you’ve been on this site long enough to be aware of Nagel’s article on the absurd, since Luke mentions it every time Craig’s article on the absurd comes up.

Well, to continue the tu quoque: regardless of the merits of Nagel’s article (which I do not find persuasive) the point can easily be turned around on all those atheists who have NOT read Nagel’s article (just as Luke’s point would apply only to those Christians who are–for some reason–unaware of the biblical and natural law admonitions regarding the value of human life, e.g., “Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life…”)

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cl July 5, 2010 at 11:43 am

I really can’t believe that people are actually persuaded by these “arguments”.

piero,

Why don’t you kill yourselvelves? Presumably because it is sinful.

For one, I love life, immensely. For two, it’s not about selfishness. It’s not about what’s best for me. It’s about what’s best for everybody.

Why don’t you kill your loved ones? Because it is sinful?

No: I don’t kill them because they’re my loved ones, and because generally, I don’t believe in killing people.

After all, you would go to hell, but your loved ones would go to heaven.

That implies the “good people go to heaven, bad people go to hell” type of theology that has nothing to do with biblical faith.

Would that not be the most selfless act imaginable? Would that not be the greatest possible act of love?

No, killing my loved would not be selfless, or some great act of love. In my opinion, it would be perhaps the most reckless course of action possible. I have no possible way of knowing who’s accepted the gospel and who hasn’t. I don’t make assumptions based on external details and the Bible is very clear on one thing: many who say “Lord, Lord” don’t belong to Jesus.

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ayer July 5, 2010 at 11:58 am

“After all, you would go to hell, but your loved ones would go to heaven. Would that not be the most selfless act imaginable? Would that not be the greatest possible act of love?”

That is why Christians overwhelmingly reject the sort of bizarre consequentialist ethics you assume here; divine command or natural law ethics do not lead to such weird results.

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cl July 5, 2010 at 12:13 pm

As a corollary “argument” taken from Alonzo’s post Trivial Hobbies, does Fyfe “really” believe in desirism? If so, why does he spend time playing electronic video games to get a win?

Same thing.

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ayer July 5, 2010 at 12:33 pm

Excellent point, cl.

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Robert Gressis July 5, 2010 at 12:41 pm

I find these considerations fascinating. I don’t think they’re particularly good or bad arguments; it’s more like I think they point to a problem. I think hard determinists have a very hard time believing in hard determinism when they’re trying to make a decision, but they can very easily believe in it when they’re in the study. The same thing is true about external world skepticism, Peter Singer’s utilitarianism, and, arguably, belief in an afterlife. I’m not sure what we’re supposed to conclude from this; are we supposed to conclude that no one is an external world skeptic? What if they’re really convinced by Unger’s arguments in Ignorance? What if you’re convinced by Singer’s arguments? In order to be convinced by something on an intellectual level, do you have to act that way on a practical level? Why should I believe that thesis?

I think that Mercier’s paper gets to fundamental questions about the nature of what it is to believe something, but I think this is a problem that faces everyone.

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Mark July 5, 2010 at 12:42 pm

Well, to continue the tu quoque: regardless of the merits of Nagel’s article (which I do not find persuasive) the point can easily be turned around on all those atheists who have NOT read Nagel’s article (just as Luke’s point would apply only to those Christians who are–for some reason–unaware of the biblical and natural law admonitions regarding the value of human life, e.g., “Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life…”)

Uh, I don’t know what you mean. My point was that Craig’s arguments are not good ones. He doesn’t give any decent reasons for his views that a proper, cognitive dissonance-free atheistic life is unlivable. On the other hand, the Biblical admonitions you speak of are anything but clear. Maybe we shouldn’t murder, or protect our own and our children’s lives – but where does it say to protect other people’s lives when it’s against their own spiritual interests? And what about what’s proper just on the level of emotions? Suppose an unforeseen earthquake destroys a nursery but harms no adults. No one could have done anything about it, and presumably all the children are now enjoying eternal bliss. Shouldn’t we all feel awesome about that?

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cl July 5, 2010 at 1:00 pm

ayer,

I try.

Robert Gressis,

I think that Mercier’s paper gets to fundamental questions about the nature of what it is to believe something, but I think this is a problem that faces everyone.

That’s precisely why I think it’s juvenile to point the question at Christians, as Luke does.

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Paul Wright July 5, 2010 at 1:00 pm

Luke, have you seen Eliezer Yudkowsky’s new take on Carl Sagan’s invisible dragon analogy? Sagan’s original point is the virtue of falsifiability. Yudkowsky’s point is that the dragon-believer knows in advance what excuses to make for the failures of tests for the dragon’s presence, so the believer in some sense knows how the tests will fail: the believer speaks-as-if there’s a dragon, but anticipates-as-if there is not, to use Yudkowsky’s behaviourist terminology. The few religious believers who persistently anticipate-as-if God exists are saints or lunatics or tragic cases.

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Jeff H July 5, 2010 at 1:14 pm

I think the discussion here most clearly shows that humans are capable (somehow) of holding contradictory beliefs at the same time. I don’t think it’s a problem just for Christians, but for people generally. For example, if I think that eating healthy is important, why do I eat greasy hamburgers? If I think that it’s important to give money to help the poor, why do I still have money to buy the new iPhone?

It just goes to show that we spend a lot of our time rationalizing things that we’ve already decided to do, and somehow we keep our brains from exploding. We can argue all day about whether I truly believe in eating healthy food, or whether I truly believe in the importance of giving money to help the poor, but it seems to me like the argument is completely useless – the answer is “yes” and “no”, both at the same time.

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Steve Maitzen July 5, 2010 at 1:28 pm

For example, if I think that eating healthy is important, why do I eat greasy hamburgers? If I think that it’s important to give money to help the poor, why do I still have money to buy the new iPhone?

Clearly you don’t want to give up your hamburgers and your iPhone. But what would it cost Christians to celebrate (or rejoice in, or look favorably on) the deaths of the children they regard as heaven-bound? And they do regard plenty of children that way, if we’re to judge by what’s said at funerals.

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ayer July 5, 2010 at 1:38 pm

“No one could have done anything about it, and presumably all the children are now enjoying eternal bliss. Shouldn’t we all feel awesome about that?”

Since in the Christian narrative, death was a tragic result of the Fall and part of the curse of sin, and results in those left behind missing those who have passed on, I don’t see anything inappropriate with a mixed feeling of sadness because the loved one will be missed and joy that they are now in heaven. What’s the problem here?

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lukeprog July 5, 2010 at 2:04 pm

Lorkas,

Nice. We make that logically valid like so:

1. If you believe Jesus can see all you do, you do not masturbate.
2. You do masturbate.
3. Therefore, you do not believe Jesus can see all you do.

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lukeprog July 5, 2010 at 2:06 pm

Thanks for the link, Paul Wright.

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Mark July 5, 2010 at 2:26 pm

Since in the Christian narrative, death was a tragic result of the Fall and part of the curse of sin, and results in those left behind missing those who have passed on, I don’t see anything inappropriate with a mixed feeling of sadness because the loved one will be missed and joy that they are now in heaven. What’s the problem here?

So if the children are orphans, then…?

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ayer July 5, 2010 at 2:31 pm

“So if the children are orphans, then…? ”

Then we mourn for the loss of all the good they could have done and joy they could have brought to others in this life, but are comforted with the knowledge that they will live eternally in heaven. This isn’t that hard to grasp.

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Steve Maitzen July 5, 2010 at 3:10 pm

Then we mourn for the loss of all the good they could have done and joy they could have brought to others in this life, but are comforted with the knowledge that they will live eternally in heaven. This isn’t that hard to grasp.

I think “comforted” sells heaven short, at least as heaven is traditionally held out to believers. “Overjoyed” would be more like it. Compared to the infinite bliss of heaven, earthly existence is worse than a Nazi death camp. If your child makes it out, it’s selfish (to put it mildly) to bemoan the fact that you’ll no longer have her presence in camp or the joy she might have given other prisoners — especially when God permitted the child’s escape in the first place. Where’s your trust?

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cl July 5, 2010 at 3:44 pm

ayer,

This isn’t that hard to grasp.

For those grasping at reasons to criticize Christians for human weaknesses, it is.

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Mikeanthoney July 5, 2010 at 3:59 pm

I like this topic. I often find myself tangled in the same dilemma. As an atheist, I don’t hold the view that there is any divine purpose or meaning in life or in the universe. But I certainly live my life as if there were some kind of meaning. I wake up early in the morning, even though I hate to do it, and go to work at a job that I despise so that I can support my family. I understand that this monotonous march will ultimately lead to my death and that my family is careening toward the same end. I recycle aluminum and paper even though I know that the sun will eventually swell up and consume the very planet that I’m trying to preserve. I am profoundly curious about the nature and structure of a universe that I know will one day dissipate into a massive dark cloud of radiation.
This is a depressing but apparently true aspect of my life. One might point out that I can imbue my life with my own sense of meaning, but surly I know that I’m just tricking myself by doing this. How do I reconcile this? Should I assume that I don’t actually believe that existence is absurd? That’s difficult to understand since I can reasonably articulate why I believe that it’s absurd. Perhaps one could point out that we have evolutionary tendencies to appreciate life in spite of its transient and gloomy character. But, as a rational creature I am perfectly capable of distinguishing my knowledge of a pointless existence from my own natural inclinations to care about life. So, natural tendencies may explain why we don’t put a bullet in our brains, but they seem to do little to explain why we should care about a pointless life.
It may be unfair to expect Christians to provide an answer to this dilemma while I can’t. In fact, a Christian who operates as if life has meaning while under the assumption that it does have meaning is obviously living a life that is less contradictory than my own.

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ayer July 5, 2010 at 4:07 pm

“earthly existence is worse than a Nazi death camp.”

Certainly not. A core Christian belief is that creation is good but fallen. Roger Olson’s “The Mosaic of Christian Belief” might be helpful to you as a basic primer on Christian theology to prevent caricature. As he point out there: “The great church father Augustine theorized the existence of ‘greater and lesser goods,’ and this has been taken up into Christian thought to help support and explain the reality of a creation that is both dependent–and therefore not God–and good, and therefore not to be disdained or escaped.”

see http://tinyurl.com/22wlcbc

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Ajay July 5, 2010 at 4:29 pm

Does anyone else ever feel like ayer’s main recurring point is: “No, idiot, if only you believed all of the other numerous and complicated aspects of Christianity, then [X] would make perfect sense to you!”?

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TaiChi July 5, 2010 at 4:29 pm

If someone really believed their unbelieving friends would be tortured for all eternity without Christ, wouldn’t they try a bit harder to get them to see the light? ” ~ Lukeprog

So, at least some answers have been given to the child death question.. but what about this one? Why is proselytizing left to a handful of missionaries, and seldom enacted by the average Christian?

(@Luke, your “Do Religious Believers Really Believe?” links refer to this post.)

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Steve Maitzen July 5, 2010 at 4:30 pm

“earthly existence is worse than a Nazi death camp.”

ayer: I feared you might quote those words without the crucial opening phrase: “Compared to the infinite bliss of heaven.” (I can only hope the omission wasn’t deliberate.) Compared to God, you’re dumber than a donkey, right? But you’d rightly feel insulted if I left out those first three words.

One can judge creation to be “good but fallen” and still judge heaven to be a vastly, vastly superior state of existence. As for Olson’s “not to be escaped,” I’m not talking about deliberate escape. I’m talking about kids who die. Heaven-bound children who die go to an indescribably better place. Or else people should stop saying so at funerals.

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ayer July 5, 2010 at 4:37 pm

“Does anyone else ever feel like ayer’s main recurring point is: “No, idiot, if only you believed all of the other numerous and complicated aspects of Christianity, then [X] would make perfect sense to you!”? ”

This comment reminds me of this passage from C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity:

“Very often, however, this silly procedure is adopted by people who are not silly, but who, consciously or unconsciously, want to destroy Christianity. Such people put up a version of Christianity suitable for a
child of six and make that the object of their attack. When you try to explain the Christian doctrine as it is really held by an instructed adult, they then complain that you are making their heads turn round and that it is all too complicated and that if there really were a God they are sure He would have made “religion” simple, because simplicity is so beautiful, etc.”
http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:-I2OCMyHr6kJ:lib.ru/LEWISCL/mere_engl.txt+mere+christianity+simple+religion&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us

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ayer July 5, 2010 at 4:44 pm

“As for Olson’s “not to be escaped,” I’m not talking about deliberate escape.”

If not, you are certainly engaging in what Olson calls “disdain” in describing creation as a Nazi death camp. And if it were like a Nazi death camp (even with your qualifiers), why are you NOT talking about “deliberate escape”? That’s just not Christian doctrine, but instead what Lewis called “a version of Christianity suitable for a child of six.”

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Ajay July 5, 2010 at 4:44 pm

Oh! One of the other things you do ayer is utilize extended quotes from Christian books as though others might find this in the least convincing. Thanks for reminding me.

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cl July 5, 2010 at 4:56 pm

Ajay,

What does whining about ayer accomplish? Come with an argument.

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Steve Maitzen July 5, 2010 at 4:57 pm

“As for Olson’s “not to be escaped,” I’m not talking about deliberate escape.”

If not, you are certainly engaging in what Olson calls “disdain” in describing creation as a Nazi death camp. And if it were like a Nazi death camp (even with your qualifiers), why are you NOT talking about “deliberate escape”? That’s just not Christian doctrine, but instead what Lewis called “a version of Christianity suitable for a child of six.”

@ayer:

1. Do I disdain you when I say that you’re dumber than a donkey, compared to God? Surely you’d say the same about the smartest person you know.

2. Why am I not talking about deliberate escape? First, because — unlike Christians — I don’t believe there is a heaven indescribably better than earthly existence. Earthly existence is as good as existence gets for us. Second, because I don’t need to in order to show Christians that their attitude toward the death of Christian children is in tension with their Christianity, even though their attitude makes perfect sense on atheism.

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ayer July 5, 2010 at 5:15 pm

“Second, because I don’t need to in order to show Christians that their attitude toward the death of Christian children is in tension with their Christianity, even though their attitude makes perfect sense on atheism.”

Actually, you do, because your understanding of the Christian view of creation is just wrong, and the “tension” results only from your caricature.

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Ajay July 5, 2010 at 5:22 pm

I was simply pointing out two standard methods of argumentation he uses – 1. To disdain everything as a ‘caricature’ (see above, and everywhere) and 2. To quote Christian literature as though it might convince anyone here of anything. That’s all.

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Mark July 5, 2010 at 5:38 pm

Then we mourn for the loss of all the good they could have done and joy they could have brought to others in this life, but are comforted with the knowledge that they will live eternally in heaven. This isn’t that hard to grasp.

Really? Because this seems to me like an absurd attitude to take. The children, especially if they were born in certain cultures, would be extremely likely not to go to heaven. Trading the certitude of eternal bliss for the probability of a not-too-great human life and eternal torment thereafter feels like the worst bargain imaginable. I wouldn’t wish it on anybody, even the worst murderers.

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Steve Maitzen July 5, 2010 at 5:39 pm

Actually, you do, because your understanding of the Christian view of creation is just wrong, and the “tension” results only from your caricature.

The Nazi death camp comparison is perfectly apt, but I don’t need it in order to make my point. So I’ll drop it. Surely you hold that heaven is, as I’ve been putting it, indescribably better than earthly existence — i.e., so much better that we can’t really describe how much better. In that case, however good earthly existence is, a heaven-bound child who dies goes to a place indescribably better. If so, then any sadness about his/her death should be overwhelmed — not merely tempered — by our joy about the child’s blissful state. Where’s the caricature?

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lukeprog July 5, 2010 at 6:37 pm

Ajay,

But don’t naturalists have the same problem? Physicalism about the human mind only makes sense if you also believe numerous other complex things about the universe: reductionism, the results of cognitive science, etc. The difference is not that one belief is plausible only given a huge number of other facts, but that the evidence supports the facts in the naturalist’s worldview and not the supernaturalist’s.

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cl July 5, 2010 at 6:59 pm

A few general points:

1) I think it’s odd, this idea that Christians don’t have some degree of happiness for those who’ve passed. After all, how many times do we hear Christians say something like, “It’s okay, so-and-so is in a better place now?” Only someone who actually believes in what they profess to believe can say that.

2) Not all Christians believe that once you pass you continue to live in some place called Heaven. Some believe that the dead stay dead until the day of judgment and subsequent new Earth. It’s illogical to expect such Christians to be happy for those who’ve passed.

Ajay,

Look at your own method of argumentation. Here you are over-generalizing and drawing attention away from the pertinent arguments. Since I didn’t see the usefulness in the strategy, I spoke up.

I was simply pointing out two standard methods of argumentation he uses – 1. To disdain everything as a ‘caricature’ (see above, and everywhere) and 2. To quote Christian literature as though it might convince anyone here of anything. That’s all.

I prefer conservatively-stated, well-reasoned arguments over exaggerations such as those you just made. ayer doesn’t disdain “everything” as a caricature, and I find some of the “Christian literature” ayer cites to be quite convincing on one point or another. So your implication that ayer’s citations won’t convince “anyone here of anything” is just plain wrong. No hard feelings, I’m all for hearing you two have a good argument, but this flanking is unimpressive.

Steve Maitzen,

If you don’t mind, let me give it a shot.

If so, then any sadness about his/her death should be overwhelmed — not merely tempered — by our joy about the child’s blissful state.

See general points 1 & 2 above, then consider: no matter how happy a parent is to see their child go off to college, they’ll never get over the pain of not having their child around anymore [presuming a loving parent-child relationship in the first place, of course]. Such parents aren’t holding contradictory positions IMO. Would you agree? If so, what’s so different about the situation with the children going to heaven?

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Jeff H July 5, 2010 at 7:39 pm

Well, to put it in desirist terms (which is completely irrelevant here, I know), perhaps the desire for the child to remain on earth is an unmalleable desire that strongly outweighs the malleable desire that the child be in a better place, even given the person’s beliefs about the afterlife.

Or in other words, maybe they just have conflicting desires, which we know happens all the time to everyone…so I don’t really see the problem. We might say it’s an irrational desire, but really, how many of our desires, when you get down to it, are really based on reason? You guys seem to be arguing that Christians should be less human.

Maybe we need to bring in the confusing language about “taking action so as to bring about a state of affairs where the proposition X has the status of being true”…

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cl July 5, 2010 at 8:02 pm

Jeff H,

You guys seem to be arguing that Christians should be less human.

I agree. I think it’s silly and juvenile, especially coming from Luke who is known for such comments as, “irrationality is a human weakness, not a religious one.” [paraphrased]

Maybe we need to bring in the confusing language about “taking action so as to bring about a state of affairs where the proposition X has the status of being true”…

LOL! And Luke upholds Fyfe as possibly “the clearest, most careful thinker in the atheist blogosphere today… a great writer, [who] may have made a huge contribution to ethical philosophy with desire utilitarianism.”

PUH-LEASE! Desirism is no huge contribution to ethical philosophy, whatsoever, and that’s being charitable. Great writers respect word economy and clarity. Careful thinkers announce it loudly to the world when they’ve changed the definition of a key term in their theory. Careful thinkers don’t eschew valid criticisms. Careful thinkers take responsibility for all of their claims and provide evidence and/or explanation for them. If one needs confusing language, there’s likely something wrong with the theory at the bottom.

I’m not hating, either; I’m disagreeing. I’ve read some very clear and articulate posts from Fyfe, but unfortunately his key defenses of desirism are not among them, IMO.

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Chuck July 5, 2010 at 8:05 pm

I once believed as ayer and seemed to get a lot of satisfaction out of it until I realized all the supernatural precepts only had power because they were imaginary. I dropped the imaginary and my life actually remained as meaningful without the complicating confusion of giving ancient theology central focus. I wish you well ayer but your worldview is something I find nothing more than superstition. And despite Craig’s assertion I need enter a second dimension to grasp meaning, I don’t.

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Hermes July 5, 2010 at 8:06 pm

Ayer, do you realize that atheists aren’t just atheists in regards to a generic Abrahamic deity?

Let me be crystal clear: If *ANY* set of deity, yours, the Hindu deities, the Muslim Allah, … you name it. If *ANY* deity was more plausible to me than not, I would not be an atheist. I would bet that most atheists in these discussions would agree as they aren’t stubborn, but they follow the facts as best they are able to. Do you understand this?

For convenience, and because there are so many Christians, many atheists tend to frame things in terms of an Abrahamic+YHWH-Jesus-HS style deity of some sort, but most of us really do not consider that to be very credible. It’s not even discussed by sophisticated Christians. A deistic style deity is, and for good reason.

I tend *not* to do that since I do not want to give a false impression about what I’m really thinking. Christianity has little to do with my not being a theist. Lack of support for any form of theism does.

I would bet that if you polled atheists about the most likely set of deities they know of, the Christian one would be towards the *bottom* of the list, not the top or even the middle. Of those who did consider a form of the Christian deity to be plausible, it would probably not resemble anything like what is commonly discussed by Christians, but it might be closer to what Christian theologians discuss when away from the flock. The abstract, non-Biblical, and distant one that is only a sneeze away from full deism.

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Hermes July 5, 2010 at 8:20 pm

Cl: Are you implying that Christian females don’t masturbate??

Well, I bet some even get into the “habit” of it. Oh, my.

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Hermes July 5, 2010 at 8:27 pm

Cl: For those grasping at reasons to criticize Christians for human weaknesses, it is.

There are no others that aren’t human to criticize or to praise.

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Hermes July 5, 2010 at 8:33 pm

Ajay, yes. I also agree: Quotes from Christian apologetics books kinda misses the point.

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Chuck July 5, 2010 at 8:40 pm

Well the CS Lewis quotes do make Christians feel cultured. I know that was the pretense I enjoyed even though the Oxfordian’s arguments suck.

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Robert Gressis July 5, 2010 at 8:42 pm

@ Steve Maitzen,

I don’t quite get what you’re arguing. Are you saying that no self-professed Christians, or only a very few, are actually Christians? Do you think they don’t believe, in any significant sense, that their loved ones are in heaven?

As for why a Christian would cry for the death of her child, it could be because of any number of factors: (1) she’s afraid her child is in hell; (2) she believes her child is in heaven but she’s sad because she thinks she’s going to go to hell and so will never see him again; (3) she thinks her child is in heaven, and she thinks she’ll eventually go there, but she finds it indescribably painful that her child had to suffer before he died (assuming this is true), combined with the fact that she won’t see him again for something like thirty years; also, she believes that her child is in heaven but sometimes she loses confidence in that belief; or (4) (continuing with much of what was the case in (3)), she thinks her child is in heaven, but she doesn’t understand why things have to be this way, and her confusion is itself a source of pain; (5) of she thinks she’s going to go to heaven, and her child too, but yes, she is indeed selfish. Maybe she doesn’t want to be, but she is.

I think there are probably a lot more possibilities too.

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Lorkas July 5, 2010 at 8:43 pm

Are you implying that Christian females don’t masturbate??

No, only that being a female doesn’t necessarily imply that the individual masturbates like being a male does.

Statistically speaking, the argument would work for 50% of females too, but science says that it works for all men (or at least a value of men that is statistically insignificant from 100%).

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Steve Maitzen July 6, 2010 at 2:48 am

@ cl and Robert Gressis:

1. I think your explanations undervalue heaven, at least as I’ve seen theists portray heaven (infinite bliss, perfect satisfaction, or even just indescribably better than this life). It’s not like going off to college (!), an experience that’s a mixture of apprehension, excitement, and fear. Heaven is unalloyed joy, or else it’s been misrepresented all these years. “It’s okay; so-and-so is in a better place now” is too tepid a reaction, given what heaven’s supposed to be. “It’s okay”? The abbot’s joyous reaction on p. 356 of Dawkins’s The God Delusion is more like it.

2. Robert’s point (1) is a red herring, since I’ve been referring to Christians who are confident the child is heaven-bound.

3. cl’s point (2) is a red herring, since I’ve been referring to those many who say at funerals that the deceased child is now in heaven.

I’ll continue to ponder the other interesting points while I appreciate the irony of thinking better of heaven than perhaps some Christians do.

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Martin July 6, 2010 at 8:07 am

I’ve heard some Christians explain it like this:

When someone travels abroad, they can still email, write, phone, etc. But after death there is no communication of any kind until later when they meet up in the afterlife.

This, coupled with what I presume is not an absolute assurance of salvation for everyone, coupled with fear of the unknown (judgment, meeting God face to face, etc), I think is a reasonable answer to the question.

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Robert Gressis July 6, 2010 at 9:01 am

Hi Steve,

For what it’s worth, my point (1) wasn’t intentionally a red herring. I haven’t been following the debate as closely as I (perhaps) should have before spouting off.

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Geoffrey of Ballard July 6, 2010 at 9:05 am

I once asked a missionary “Why do you believe the Bible to be true?”

The person couldn’t give even one answer. “I remember someone talking about that in college way back when” was the closest I got.

Here is a person who spent an entire career translating the Bible into other languages, and they can’t even give one reason why they think it’s authoritative?

And from my experience, I don’t think that’s an exception.

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cl July 6, 2010 at 9:41 am

Steve Maitzen,

cl’s point (2) is a red herring, since I’ve been referring to those many who say at funerals that the deceased child is now in heaven.

Oh please. A red herring is a rhetorical device employed for the purpose of diverting attention. I’m trying to get you to focus and justify your position. Did you happen to notice that my 2 was under the section, “general points?” Yes, I told you to consider that point, not because it applied directly to your argument, but because I was questioning whether you’d thought of that. Consider it something like a peripheral mention.

So, how about actually giving this a shot instead of being all stand-offish? You appear to be arguing if Christians aren’t all joyous when somebody passes – that is, somebody who they’re confident is in heaven right now – then the Christians are being inconsistent. Is that an acceptable paraphrase of your argument? If not, help me out.

If you don’t like the college analogy, come up with your own, any other situation where a child is leaving for a better life, but don’t nickel-and-dime the analogy while sidestepping the point. Show me one situation where a child leaves home for a better life, and the parents don’t mourn, despite their joy that the child left for a better life.

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Cory July 6, 2010 at 9:46 am

Lorkas

“Another argument for the Christian male:

1) You wouldn’t masturbate if Jesus was in the room watching you.
2) You do masturbate.
3) Therefore, you don’t believe that Jesus is in the room watching you.

I call it the Argument from You Masturbate.”

Oh my god, that is the best! Also, the title is brilliant!

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Cory July 6, 2010 at 10:13 am

Ajay,

Yes. Ayer always comes with the old when-in-doubt-just-keep-talking strategy, which takes the two forms that you cite. I might add that Ayer will also sprinkle in some willful misunderstanding (see above) and appeal to the absurd (see about 75% of posts on this site).

Luke,

I see significant differences between Ayer’s strategy and the position of the physicalist. When the physicalist says “you misstate the physicalist position” that’s not in general because the attacker failed to pick out some exceedingly obscure and esoteric variation on something which most physicalists would actually deny.

The following may not be the best example, but it is taken from this post. Ayer cites a Craig argument which relies on the idea that life in this world, apart from the “I’m going to heaven” business, is meaningless, inconsistent with happiness and overall bad. This means the atheist is in denial. Now, our other friend, CL, contends that this life is good, which is why the main argument from the post is so wrongheaded: We should try to live, killing is wrong, it’s not the best thing ever when christian children die, and so forth. Which is it? Is life in this world good or bad?

Ayer and CL pretend to be on the same side and arguing for the same position. It seems to me that Ayer is a rhetorical opportunist who pulls out anything that seems helpful in the immediate discussion without attempting to put together a consistent position. And also likes to link to silly articles from apologists.

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cl July 6, 2010 at 10:39 am

[Sigh...] This is probably a waste of time, but..

Cory,

The vapidity of your comment has left me near-speechless. In short, don’t put words in my mouth and stay on topic. We’re discussing whether or not it’s inconsistent for Christians to mourn the loss of those they believe have died and gone to heaven. If you have a salient point to make, make it. If not, get your own blog and rant about who you dislike there.

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al friedlander July 6, 2010 at 11:07 am

“Trading the certitude of eternal bliss for the probability of a not-too-great human life and eternal torment thereafter feels like the worst bargain imaginable. I wouldn’t wish it on anybody, even the worst murderers.”

Many Christians I know are pretty nice people, and many are my friends. There was one soon-to-be-lawyer, probably-fundy apologist, however, that really made me think.

One of my nice friends found out I was ‘falling out’, and decided to bring me to a ‘knowledgeable-friend’ who could answer my ‘hard questions’. Despite his good intentions, this turned into a nightmare real fast.

The guy was slippery and relied on verbose-philosophical-gymnastics; I honestly had a -very- hard time following him because I had no idea what he was trying to say. I really got the impression that he was trying to ‘smother my face in the dirt’, not save my soul.

Finally, I corned him into admitting something. I said, “according to your logic, isn’t a -very- small % of the human population going to be qualified for heaven?…like maybe…let’s just pick a number, about 5%?”

I still remember his cold grin as he said, “well, yea”.

Honestly, with some versions of Christianity, life is a -curse-, not a blessing. You’re better off not being born at all. No exaggeration, whatsoever.

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al friedlander July 6, 2010 at 11:11 am

*cornered*

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Cory July 6, 2010 at 11:37 am

CL,

You’re kind of right about me ranting off topic – kind of.

But, at the same time, is living in this world, as its own thing, supposed to be good or bad? Also, how would the comparative existence of a heaven people go to after this affect the answer? For example, sitting calmly and spacing out might be good as its own thing, but, compared with the alternative of having sex with an underwear model, is kind of stupid and crappy.

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piero July 6, 2010 at 11:43 am

For one, I love life, immensely. For two, it’s not about selfishness. It’s not about what’s best for me. It’s about what’s best for everybody.

With all due respect. how do you know your death would not be best for everybody, including you?

No: I don’t kill them because they’re my loved ones, and because generally, I don’t believe in killing people.

Begging the question much? Why don’t you believe in killing people?

That implies the “good people go to heaven, bad people go to hell” type of theology that has nothing to do with biblical faith.

So Christianity has no reward for good people, nor punishment for bad people? Then what’s the f*****g point?

No, killing my loved would not be selfless, or some great act of love. In my opinion, it would be perhaps the most reckless course of action possible. I have no possible way of knowing who’s accepted the gospel and who hasn’t. I don’t make assumptions based on external details and the Bible is very clear on one thing: many who say “Lord, Lord” don’t belong to Jesus.

So you are saying that your faith offers no moral guidelines at all. Since you cannot tell whether you or your loved ones have really accepted the gospel, presumably nobody else can either. In other words, you can strive to live your whole life as a good Christian, and end up in hell all the same. What a marketing nightmare awaits you!

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cl July 6, 2010 at 12:37 pm

Cory,

I’m not “kind of” right about you going off topic [and putting words in my mouth, which you of course declined to take any responsibility for], I am right. Your opinions of ayer and any purported coherence between our positions has absolutely nothing to do with the topic matter. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those people who whines about off topic comments per se, because often, off topic comments can lead to interesting secondary issues, and freethought works best when not constrained by boundaries. However, when an off topic comment is as assinine as yours was, that’s a different story. Still:

…is living in this world, as its own thing, supposed to be good or bad?

According to who? You’re asking me to make a ridiculous foray into subjectivity here. Further, what the hell is “supposed to be” supposed to mean?

…how would the comparative existence of a heaven people go to after this affect the answer?

I don’t know; the question is so horribly inarticulate I honestly have no idea what you’re asking. What is “comparative existence of a heaven” supposed to mean? Compared to what? How would an answer have any bearing on the consistency of Christians who mourn departed Christians?

For example, sitting calmly and spacing out might be good as its own thing, but, compared with the alternative of having sex with an underwear model, is kind of stupid and crappy.

Purple bricks don’t chew gum. If you think that’s a nonsensical reply, welcome to your questions.

———

Look, I don’t mean to be harsh, but when you come along and offer nothing but a bunch of irrelevant gibberish and backhanded derision, and that in the absence of anything salient, you should expect some mockery. Somebody’s gotta do it. After all, this is a desirist’s blog, and desirism claims “we” should use the tools of praise and condemnation to mold people into having “better” desires.

piero,

With all due respect. how do you know your death would not be best for everybody, including you?

Are you serious? I’m tempted to completely ignore you, but… well, because my immediate family loves me and derives benefits from my being alive, benefits that would not be as easily attainable if I were dead. Also, dead folks can’t do much for the gospel. I mean, come on.

Begging the question much?

You’re misusing language there. Recall that you’d asked me why I don’t kill my loved ones. To answer, Because they’re my loved ones is not an instance of petitio principii.

Christianity has no reward for good people, nor punishment for bad people?

Stay in context. Keep your interlocutor’s statements in scope. Recall that I was objecting to your claim that if I killed my loved ones, they’d go to heaven and I’d go to hell. That claim reveals a fundamental misunderstanding about what the Bible actually teaches. Of course, none of that has any bearing on the consistency of Christians who mourn departed Christians, so I’ll stop there.

So you are saying that your faith offers no moral guidelines at all.

No. I said that killing my loved ones would be the most reckless course of action possible.

——–

Listen, if you have an argument that explains why Christians should be joyous and without mourning for departed Christians, let’s hear it. If not, please, spare me the duty of another response.

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Chuck July 6, 2010 at 12:44 pm

Didn’t William Lane Craig defend the OT genocides by saying that all infants go to Heaven and the pagan babies were in a better place for having been slaughtered? If Christians share this view then why don’t they celebrate the annhilation of non-Christian infants?

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lukeprog July 6, 2010 at 12:52 pm

Chuck,

Yup, that was part of Craig’s defense of the Canaanite slaughters.

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Justfinethanks July 6, 2010 at 1:00 pm

Yup, that was part of Craig’s defense of the Canaanite slaughters.

Catholics believes that people become morally responsible for their sins at age seven.

On Craig’s protestant view, I wonder how old you have to be before you lose your “get into heaven free” card.

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cl July 6, 2010 at 1:01 pm

I’m still boggled as to how any reasonable thinker thinks, “Why aren’t you happy that Christians die?” is some kind of tough – or even relevant – question. Generally, Christians believe we were created for life, not death. Death is an interruption or intrusion on God’s original plan. Accusing them of inconsistency for not celebrating death is completely absurd.

Now, if the argument was that a suicidal Christian is being inconsistent, I’d be right there with you.

Chuck / Luke,

I don’t suppose ol’ Bill gave scripture to support his case, did he?

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piero July 6, 2010 at 1:02 pm

Recall that you’d asked me why I don’t kill my loved ones. To answer, Because they’re my loved ones is not an instance of petitio principii.

How so? You are in fact saying “I don’t kill my loved ones because I love them”. So you are saying that loving them prevents you from killing them. Which is precisely my objection, because then they would live happily everafter, which in turn means you do not really love them that much. It’s not that hard, really. Keep at it.

Re. your claim that it is not true that your religion offers no moral guidelines, would you be so kind as to enlighten me? My specific question would be: how can you possibly know right from wrong if you cannot tell whether your actions are actually taking you to hell or to heaven? If that was really the case, then you would have no basis at all to condemn a child rapist: how do you know for sure that God’s inscrutable criteria wouldn’t actually reward the child rapist with eternal bliss? Make up your mind, please. I don’t have time to waste on meaningless babble.

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Chuck July 6, 2010 at 1:10 pm

I’d have to revisit Craig’s argument to see how he uses his faith to rationalize genocide. Not sure what kind of scriptural support there would be.

I do think it would be interesting to respond to the Christian funeral trope, “He/she is in a better place,” with a high five. The Jesuit Anthony deMello in his book “Awareness” does come out and say that those who grieve are selfish codependents because the person being grieved for is not in pain. I appreciate his honesty but I see all religion as selfish codependence.

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cl July 6, 2010 at 1:27 pm

piero,

You persist:

You are in fact saying “I don’t kill my loved ones because I love them”.

Correct; had I said, “I don’t kill my loved ones because I don’t kill them,” you’d have a point. Your question is utterly ridiculous, on par with, “Why doesn’t bachelor X get a divorce?”

Consider:

X: Why do you believe in God?
Y: Because the Bible tells me so.
X: Why do you believe the Bible?
Y: Because God wrote it.

That’s petitio principii. It occurs when one assumes the premise they’re obligated to prove. You didn’t even ask a question that lends itself to falsifiability. Your accusation is completely without justification but I’m afraid you’re fancying yourself on the intellectual high ground here.

Which is precisely my objection, because then they would live happily everafter, which in turn means you do not really love them that much.

Presuming they’re in the Book of Life, they’re going to live happily everafter whether I kill them or not, so how does my refusal to kill them indicate a lack of love? Honestly. What you’re saying is so backwards I have to wonder whether you’re just trying to get a rise out of me. If not, please… where’s your argument?

Re. your claim that it is not true that your religion offers no moral guidelines, would you be so kind as to enlighten me?

The Bible is literally chock-full of moral guidelines. My “religion” clearly offers moral guidelines. That I am unsure of anyone’s eternal destiny doesn’t mitigate that fact.

I don’t have time to waste on meaningless babble.

Then you should either quit talking, or listen to what’s being said. You ask me to “make up my mind” as if I’ve offered some sort of contradiction, but you’re mistaken.

Chuck,

Let me know if you find anything. I’d be really interested in hearing a scriptural justification for this. The New Advent link that was supplied provides nothing but a bunch of arcane Catholic babble without so much as even a single Bible reference.

No wonder people think believers are nuts; I would, too, if I didn’t know the Bible.

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Cory July 6, 2010 at 1:37 pm

CL,

I apologize. You were clearly deeply offended that I attributed willfully misunderstanding things to ayer and not to you as well. So, I’m sorry I left you out like that. You also are a master of willfull misunderstanding. Your replies to Piero and others exemplify this even more than your replies to me. Good job.

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cl July 6, 2010 at 3:05 pm

Cory,

Nice evasion, although, I wasn’t offended; I was annoyed at your intellectual recklessness, more specifically, your complete willingness to put words in other people’s mouth when we have the luxury of cut-and-paste. As I suspected, responding to it was a waste of time. I figured as much when you got all giddy about the argument from masturbation. Whatever though; you’re the one that has to live with yourself. As far as “willful misunderstanding,” you can make your baseless assertions all day long. I’ve already asked you for an argument – to no avail.

So, the choice is yours: continue to be intellectually reckless and dodge my points, or, actually explain what it is you claim I’m misunderstanding, so that maybe one or more of us can learn something. I, and others, have already explained why it’s not contradictory or inconsistent for Christians to mourn the passed.

Unfortunately, many (a)theists think in black-and-white when in actuality, the world is in color.

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Justfinethanks July 6, 2010 at 3:26 pm

Let me know if you find anything. I’d be really interested in hearing a scriptural justification for this.

The only scriptural justification for “automatic salvation” of children I’ve heard comes from Matthew Ch. 18, where Jesus says.

“Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

Well, if adults need to become like little children in order to achieve salvation, then surely little children don’t need to do anything at all for salvation, since they are little children.

Plus I think that most believers simply think that punishing someone who isn’t morally culpable (as is arguably the case for small children) isn’t compatible with a just and loving God.

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Martin July 6, 2010 at 4:14 pm

Unfortunately, many (a)theists think in black-and-white when in actuality, the world is in color.

Amen, brother. In my view, atheists have recently been descending deep into tribalistic behavior. I heard that Chris Mooney visited Dawkins’ forum and was mercilessly attacked as one of those “accommodationists.”

Ug! He not one of us! Ug! He same as fundie!

The South Park episode is coming to life before my very eyes…

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Chuck July 6, 2010 at 5:09 pm

But Mooney is an accomodationist.

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cl July 6, 2010 at 5:29 pm

Disclaimer: I realize there are many, many people who think CSA is just a bed of roses. Each of our experiences are unique and I don’t mean to insult or belittle those who see no problem with CSA.

Martin,

What gets me is that despite the increasing fundamentalist leanings of those who espouse it, the atheist position is [generally] touted as the more rational, more intelligent position, yet more and more as I frequent this blog [and others], I see more irrational, partisan crap. I mean, look at this post and this thread as the latest example. Certain people are more concerned with voicing their distaste of theist commenters than actually producing a cogent rebuttal to anything the theist commenters have said [I'm referring mostly to Ajay, Hermes and Cory, at the moment]. That’s not rationalism, it’s exactly the sort of shallow-minded tribalism you mention. Cory calls me “our old friend cl” which implies the “us vs. them” mentality common to all forms of tribalism.

This blog used to be way better; the signal-to-noise ratio was different. Many commenters from a year or so ago aren’t even here anymore. Now, we have people like faithlessgod accusing another of being a “racist” all because of some stupid disagreement. We have Luke upholding Alonzo Fyfe as a “careful thinker” when the guy eschews valid criticism after valid criticism. We have Luke stonewalling and contradicting himself [about desirism and who he's willing to address, respectively], and trotting out the Courtier’s Reply. How many people have expressed their concerns with desirism’s shortcomings? I’m willing to bet at least 2x as many as desirism’s supporters, whom I can count on one [or two] hand[s]. We have the tumultuous tirades caseywollberg subjected us all to at our expense. I could go on, but I’m already totally ranting and I’m sure people are already sick of it. Most amazingly, all of this gets a pass from the consensus of atheists. How in the world is any of that compatible with the impartial pursuit of truth?

It’s just frustrating, but I guess that’s what happens when your front door is wide open to whoever may walk by. At the same time, it’s also a motivation to come up with a better alternative for those who would enjoy nuanced philosophy and debate without the partisan nonsense and low-level argumentation. I’ve got some ideas; we’ll see what happens. Anyways, thanks for speaking up, I’ll see ya around.

[/RANT]

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Chuck July 6, 2010 at 5:39 pm

cl

Why don’t you start your own blog?

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lukeprog July 6, 2010 at 5:53 pm

Chuck,

Is that a joke? Click cl’s name.

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Chuck July 6, 2010 at 5:57 pm

Not a joke Luke, just a tribal atheist unaware of cl’s rep. Checked out his blog and it seems interesting but all the quotes from his detractors seems narcissistic and odd. I will read more. He has a nice vocabulary although his sense of self-worth seems over-valued.

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cl July 6, 2010 at 5:58 pm

Chuck,

If you were any more observant, I’d think you were legally blind. Anyways, thanks for exemplifying precisely the shallow-minded lack of attention so seemingly on the upsurge in the atheist community.

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Mark July 6, 2010 at 6:01 pm

*eyes glaze over*

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Chuck July 6, 2010 at 6:07 pm

Actually cl the only communities I am part of are Evanston Bible Fellowship, Chicago Dramtists Theatre, and Al Anon. I am an atheist though just not affiliated with any formal communities. I will check out your blog. Why do you post comments from other blogs as blurbs on your blog? It is strange. Do you have OCD?

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cl July 6, 2010 at 7:08 pm

Chuck,

Nice selective attention. Since it appears you didn’t notice, the quotes from my detractors are juxtaposed against quotes of support from thinkers of all stripes, whereas, without exception every detractor is an atheist – more specifically – an atheist who had a hard time with me in a debate. The reason I put them there is so people can get a balanced story. Yeah, on the one hand, I get a lot of hate from pissed-off atheist bloggers. OTOH, how many believers get comments of support from the FFRF, for writing letters criticizing the mainline Republican right-wing church crowd at that? [cf. Jack Waldvogel, Chairman of the Emmet County GOP] How many believers get nods of approval from working microbiologists for correct representation of the sufficiency of microevolution arguments? If so many atheists weren’t so damn flippant and holier-than-thou, I wouldn’t have to even bother. It has nothing to do with narcissism, but I’m already convinced that you’ll see what you want to see.

Actually cl the only communities I am part of are Evanston Bible Fellowship, Chicago Dramtists Theatre, and Al Anon. I am an atheist though just not affiliated with any formal communities.

Did I ask? No. I said that you exemplified precisely the shallow-minded lack of attention so seemingly on the upsurge in the atheist community. Though I understand many atheists cling to the illusion of independence with the tenacity of Disney, I didn’t say you were part of any community, now did I?

Why do you post comments from other blogs as blurbs on your blog? It is strange.

Well, unfortunately you’re apparently as concerned with clarity as a person wearing a pair of muddy spectacles, so I have no idea exactly what it is you’re alluding to. If you’re alluding to comments from Hermes, I posted them on my blog because I already told Hermes 1000x that I wasn’t interested in pursuing conversation here.

BTW, Mr. Assumption Maker, what makes you assume I’m a “he?” Perhaps you’re as patriarchally inclined as those religious people you accredit to “selfish codependence?”

Mark,

It doesn’t surprise me that you apparently don’t see any validity in anything I said. It doesn’t surprise me one bit. In fact, it further confirms what I’m saying. If you can’t step outside the party lines for a second and admit that there’s some problems here, good luck.

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Jeff H July 6, 2010 at 7:16 pm

cl, I’ll certainly grant you your point that the signal-to-noise ratio here has gone down in the past little while. However, I think that’s inevitable as a blog gains popularity. When I started visiting here, there also weren’t very many posts that got 100+ comments on them (such as this one). It sucks, but unless Luke goes into North Korea censorship mode, it’s not likely to get better :(

Anyway, I’ll take your side on many of the things you’ve said here – I agree with the others that Christians can be seen as inconsistent (since everything pales in the light of eternal, infinite bliss), but really no more inconsistent than any other human being.

Let’s imagine that you are a parent, and your child wins a special lottery. As a result, he will receive $75 million dollars, and live a life of opulent luxury. He’ll be wined and dined on a fantastically expensive yacht and have every joy imaginable. The only catch is that he won’t be able to stay in contact with anyone from his old life, including you – his parent.

Now, what parent would not experience mixed feelings about such a thing? You want the best for your child, but you also want to be with them and have the joy of their presence. This is perfectly normal, and I would suggest even rational. It seems silly to me to say that the parent should not be sad that their now-fantastically-wealthy child would not be around anymore. The sadness mixed with joy or at least reassurance is exactly what we’d expect in a situation like this, and I would argue it’s exactly what we’d expect in the situation of death/afterlife. Certainly the infinite bliss part of it changes the analogy slightly, but it still doesn’t strike me as an issue worthy of doubting the sincerity of the Christian over.

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Chuck July 6, 2010 at 8:14 pm

I assumed you were a he because your writing reads like a macho alpha male whipping his dick out and marking his territory. I mean do you need to advertise you are a member of the writers’ guild? Your defense of the variety of blurbs simply confirms the grandiose self congratulation. But like I said, I’ll read your blog because you have a cute personality sort of like Morton Downey and an interesting vocabulary. Have you sold any screenplays?

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Hermes July 6, 2010 at 8:25 pm

Good comments Jeff.

While I hate to bat away an olive branch that was offered over the last few weeks, I feel compelled to add that it takes two to tango, and Cl has on occasion batted away some prime opportunities with various different people.

Additionally, mostly *NOT* Cl, quite a few theists have kept to a drone like script and not actually addressed what was being discussed, thus eliminating many many more opportunities.

Personally, I can’t and wont let that slide. I am not an affable atheist bitch. From the time of Robert Ingersoll most of these issues have been addressed as a matter of fact. That’s largely the reason why theologians are taught one thing and the laity are taught by the same theologians something quite a bit different. Why? Facts don’t always impinge upon beliefs, as beliefs are more stubborn and resistant to mere evidence even before pillars of dogma are seriously examined.

I admit that my own attitude is often not a palliative; I am not soothing or sympathetic towards long-time and unrepentant theists that insist on me agreeing with them first before I’m considered to be civilized (tamed and thus harmless).

Yet, there seems to be little that will break through the wall many put up. The most annoying and rude tendency from the theists is when an individual that I thought was with me on the facts turns around and tells me what I think after I’ve spent considerable time saying exactly what I do indeed actually think. Then, in the next movement, they negate the facts with suppositions.

Yet, after a few decades of these forums — from the BBS days through to now — I can say without a doubt that the quality is going way up.

Any dip in quality is strictly on a local or per-incidence level, and does not reflect the general trend. Even the theists are being more honest and thoughtful, though many fight that tendency and the results often seems to refute that. (Case in point: Pascal’s Wager is dropping off the greatest hits list, though like Disco it still gets some air time.)

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godless randall July 6, 2010 at 9:02 pm

@Cl: it’s true about the party lines thing but just pay the idiot trolls no mind. i come here once every few weeks and always see pretty much the same thing. rational people can see thorugh their shit like Hermes who always has to start shit but then suddenly gets silent when you hand his ass back to him

remember that atheism is just like anything else there are thickhead idiots in every group. you have ten times as much going as them i’d rather see you put energy towards the good atheists instead of refuting ignorant fools

and no its not inconsistent for Christians to be sad when people die its natural

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JS Allen July 6, 2010 at 9:05 pm

Lorkas, FTW!

You’re damn well going to wear that seatbelt if you’ve just done something that might change the sort of afterlife you’ll have. It’s not as if Christianity promises the same afterlife to everyone. I bet St. Augustine wore his seatbelt: “Da mihi castitatem et continentiam, sed noli modo!” :-)

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Mark July 6, 2010 at 10:47 pm

It doesn’t surprise me that you apparently don’t see any validity in anything I said. It doesn’t surprise me one bit. In fact, it further confirms what I’m saying. If you can’t step outside the party lines for a second and admit that there’s some problems here, good luck.

Haha. O.K. My comment was meant to express the general inanity of this entire thread, or what it turned into. I guess I’m comfortable being partisan, if I belong to the Party Of Staying On-Topic.

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Mark July 6, 2010 at 11:07 pm

When someone travels abroad, they can still email, write, phone, etc. But after death there is no communication of any kind until later when they meet up in the afterlife.

And that’s admittedly sad. But as Maitzen points out, in the case of dead children it seems quite odd that these feelings wouldn’t be utterly flooded by tremendous relief. If you and your son are consigned to Auschwitz and your son miraculously manages to escape to America and live a happy life, then sure you’d miss your son a lot, but you’d primarily be overjoyed that he’s in such a better place. Heaven is indescribably better than Earth, and a long Earthly existence carries the ever-growing risk of choosing a path that leads to eternal torment. Why not be similarly overjoyed that your hypothetical dead son escaped from this veil of tears?

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Atheist.pig July 6, 2010 at 11:44 pm

Why not be similarly overjoyed that your hypothetical dead son escaped from this veil of tears?

Because genes are thicker than beliefs, religious/superstitious beliefs of an afterlife are no match for millions of years of evolution hard wiring us to be distraught at losing an offspring and thus 50 percent (or so) of our selfish genes and also potential grandchildren.

I know the point your making is more philosophical but I felt the point needed to be made.

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Chuck July 7, 2010 at 3:53 am

What’s with the coddling of cl? The kid had an arrogant and pedantic shit-fit amounting to poisoning the well for all future atheist dissent to her overwrought arguments. Screw that. If you don’t like the tone of the debate then retreat to your self aggrandized blog. Your pedantic swipes fail to do anything but make you seem like an authoritarian bully.

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Steve Maitzen July 7, 2010 at 4:13 am

This thread has recently produced so much more heat than light that I hesitate to rejoin it, but I’ll give it another shot.

I apologize to cl and Robert for my sloppy use of the phrase “red herring.” I didn’t mean to imply that cl raised his/her point (2), or that Robert raised his point (1), deliberately to distract attention from the main issue — I meant only that those points didn’t address the claim I was making. There’s a use of “red herring” out there on which it needn’t be deliberate (I’ve been accused of it myself), but I should’ve been more careful in my choice of words.

I criticized cl’s “going off to college” analogy as inapt, and he/she challenged me to give a better analogy, but I already had: the Nazi death camp analogy (see earlier comments). In order to avoid needless wrangling, I stopped using that analogy when ayer protested it, yet I still think it’s perfectly apt.

Rather than debate which emotions it’s appropriate to feel or display at the death of heaven-bound children, let’s back up a step. We all think we can often assess the overall positive or negative value of situations (“I know that your medical procedure really hurt, but it’s a very good thing you had it done”). I say that the death of a heaven-bound child is, when we add it all up, an overwhelmingly good situation, for the reasons that I and others here have already given. Not that it doesn’t have bad aspects, of course, but given what heaven is supposed to be, it’s overwhelmingly a positive development when a heaven-bound child dies, particularly when we remind ourselves that God in his wisdom permitted the child to die and that a heaven-bound child might become a non-heaven-bound adult. Can we all agree on that italicized statement for starters?

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Hermes July 7, 2010 at 5:04 am

godless randall, it’s OK that you aren’t getting it. It’s a shame, but it’s your loss.

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Hermes July 7, 2010 at 5:12 am

Chuck, you get it. That said, I think Cl is capable of adapting, though. There’s some real thought going on inside Cl’s head along with the yelps from the soft and tender exterior. Better yet, it’s not all reactionary. The same can’t be said of many theists who come to these conversations regardless of how much they wail or act conciliatory.

My preference would be to get the pain out of the way first so that there is no confusion about larger issues. Unfortunately, not everyone is like that and they do require a softer touch; any disagreements or even deceptions wrapped in a designer gooey sweet niceness.

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Martin July 7, 2010 at 6:01 am

If you and your son are consigned to Auschwitz and your son miraculously manages to escape to America and live a happy life, then sure you’d miss your son a lot, but you’d primarily be overjoyed that he’s in such a better place.

Perhaps it would be more like your son was suddenly whisked away to another country that you’re not sure exactly what its like or what’s happening to him. Many say that it’s a wonderful country full of candy and roller coasters, but others say it may be somewhat grim and threatening. While it’s probably the former, you don’t know for sure and the Fear of the Unknown constantly looms.

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Chuck July 7, 2010 at 6:18 am

I find cartoonish self importance like cl has shown to be common amongst those claiming special knowledge atrributed to god(s) and the supernatural. I could care less what these folks believe but throeing temper tantrums because those of us who can’t find any utility from invisible worlds is not a convincing choice to compel us to believe.

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cl July 7, 2010 at 8:11 am

Separating the wheat from the chaff, with “wheat” being responses pertinent to the OP, and “chaff” being responses pertinent to all the side drama:

WHEAT:

Jeff H,

The sadness mixed with joy or at least reassurance is exactly what we’d expect in a situation like this, and I would argue it’s exactly what we’d expect in the situation of death/afterlife.

I wholeheartedly agree.

Steve Maitzen,

I apologize to cl and Robert for my sloppy use of the phrase “red herring.”

Hey no worries, I’ve made similar and worse mistakes. What counts, in my opinion, is the ability to acknowledge an oversight or mistake. It’s a rare trait in (a)theists.

I criticized cl’s “going off to college” analogy as inept, and he/she challenged me to give a better analogy, but I already had: the Nazi death camp analogy (see earlier comments). In order to avoid needless wrangling, I stopped using that analogy when ayer protested it, yet I still think it’s perfectly apt.

I’m not persuaded by your analogy, because, well… let me at least quote what I think you’re referring to, since, we do have the luxury of cut-and-paste, which means we don’t need to put words in each other’s mouths like “our old friend” Cory:

If your child makes it out, it’s selfish (to put it mildly) to bemoan the fact that you’ll no longer have her presence in camp…

I purposely omitted the bit about bringing joy to other prisoners because it’s not relevant to my defense. Given the death camp scenario, it is *NOT* selfish to “bemoan” the fact. Whether we’re talking millions of years of evolutionary hardwiring or the God-given instinct to love and want to be with our offspring, it is natural to feel a sense of loss when we’re separated from our offspring. It is also natural to feel a sense of joy that they’re in a better place. Don’t you think?

I say that the death of a heaven-bound child is, when we add it all up, an overwhelmingly good situation, for the reasons that I and others here have already given.

I understand, but try to understand where I’m coming from. You’re right; the fact that somebody was given salvation is an overwhelmingly good situation. However, death is only non-contingent because of sin. It wasn’t meant to be. Therefore, death also entails a sense of tragedy and loss in the manner I described, and as Jeff H suggests, I believe it would be cold and irrational to not feel that sense of loss.

Can we all agree on that italicized statement for starters?

Certainly. Where do we go from here?

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cl July 7, 2010 at 8:23 am

Separating the wheat from the chaff, with “wheat” being responses pertinent to the OP, and “chaff” being responses pertinent to all the side drama:

CHAFF:

This is just a general note to those of you who don’t like me: don’t respond to me. If you respond to me, especially with more inanity, I’m going to have to clear things up.

Mark,

My mistake, my apology. Sincerely. It was a heat-of-the-moment oversight that I’m completely responsible for.

Steve Maitzen,

You better not talk about Nazis too much or faithlessgod might come here and accuse you of being a racist, too! :p

Jeff H,

I’ll certainly grant you your point that the signal-to-noise ratio here has gone down in the past little while. However, I think that’s inevitable as a blog gains popularity. When I started visiting here, there also weren’t very many posts that got 100+ comments on them (such as this one). It sucks, but unless Luke goes into North Korea censorship mode, it’s not likely to get better :(

I agree that kitzche tends to increase with a blog’s popularity. I disagree that censorship is the only tool Luke has at his disposal for encouraging better inter-commenter relations. After all, he’s a desirist. He already knows that he has the tools of praise and condemnation available to him. For example, when someone like faithlessgod gives atheists, rationalists, and CSA a bad name by leveling baseless accusations of racism against another commenter, Luke and other atheists can condemn – and have reasons for action to condemn – that type of intellectually reckless behavior. Why don’t they?

Chuck,

I mean do you need to advertise you are a member of the writers’ guild?

No. Does John Loftus need to advertise all the organizations that he’s a member of? Does Richard Dawkins? Do you equally assume that they’re self-congratulatory narcissists? I bet not. Why not? I’m willing to bet because they’re within the party lines.

Your defense of the variety of blurbs simply confirms the grandiose self congratulation.

Sure, for a thickheaded guy like you bent on seeing what he wants to see. Listen, if I was really into this for kudos, or if I really thought I was as important as you pretend, I’d blog under my real name. I’d include a complete list of books I’ve published and authored, or produced screenplays of mine. I don’t, because I don’t care about that crap when it comes to blogging, and I think people who over-promote that sort of stuff are compensating for a lack.

The kid had an arrogant and pedantic shit-fit amounting to poisoning the well for all future atheist dissent to her overwrought arguments.

First off, what you describe as a “shit-fit” is nothing more than me speaking my mind where I believe it’s appropriate. If that’s some big offense to you, you’re nowhere near the rationalist you think you are. Second, yours is obviously a slippery-slope argument: that I spoke my mind doesn’t subvert “all future atheist dissent” to my arguments. Way to go, rationalist! Third, you’re too predictable: I booked you on the “he” assumption because I had a feeling that instead of actually asking, you’d just make another assumption in the opposite direction. You did. Way to go, rationalist!

If you don’t like the tone of the debate then retreat to your self aggrandized blog.

I don’t mind the tone. I actually respect and enjoy reading those with strong opinions. What irks me is the quality – actually, the lack thereof – that certain commenters repeatedly display. Two totally different issues, Chucky-poo.

Your pedantic swipes fail to do anything but make you seem like an authoritarian bully.

Your continued agitations fail to do anything but make you look like a little boy with a bruised ego. So what’s your point? If you want to drop this and get back to the argument, I’m willing. Or, if you want keep trading blows, well… that’s mildly entertaining but I don’t think it’s ultimately fruitful.

I could care less what these folks believe but throeing temper tantrums because those of us who can’t find any utility from invisible worlds is not a convincing choice to compel us to believe.

Look how poorly-formed that sentence was. Rushing a bit? Besides, I’m not here to convert you. I’ve got way more respect for Luke and other atheists than that.

Hermes,

While I hate to bat away an olive branch that was offered over the last few weeks,

Don’t fool yourself. Remember, people act such as to fulfill the strongest of their desires, given their beliefs. If you really didn’t want to bat away the third olive branch I gave you, you would have accepted it and proceeded.

…I feel compelled to add that it takes two to tango,

That’s correct. I’m not denying my proclivity to defend myself against instigators, haters and chest-puffers.

godless randall,

Thanks for speaking up. It’s reassuring to know that other atheists can see what I’m saying.

rational people can see thorugh their shit like Hermes who always has to start shit but then suddenly gets silent when you hand his ass back to him

Good point. As for Hermes, you’re right. Check the most recent Newdow post for a perfect example. Or, the recent Naturalism of the Gaps post where I extended yet another olive branch to Hermes – that he got silent on. Or, check out the post on my own blog that I made specifically because of Hermes’ petulant cries for attention, that he [of course] neglected to respond to. Or, check out this post, that Hermes challenged me to respond to – which I did in thorough detail – and Hermes said nothing.

I mean really, there’s four citations in a row that illustrate my point. How many citations do you see from ol’ son of Zeus? Zilch?

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Hermes July 7, 2010 at 8:29 am

Cl: Don’t fool yourself. Remember, people act such as to fulfill the strongest of their desires, given their beliefs. If you really didn’t want to bat away the third olive branch I gave you, you would have accepted it and proceeded.

I didn’t see anything interesting to add to your request, so I didn’t. If silence is not acceptable, and speaking what I think is not acceptable, then … what?

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Steve Maitzen July 7, 2010 at 8:32 am

@ cl: Thanks for your measured and helpful reply.

we do have the luxury of cut-and-paste

It is a nice feature, and I encourage everyone to use it rather than trying to remember what it was someone said. However, your cut-and-paste might have a slight glitch in it: you have me describing your analogy as “inept,” when the word I used was “inapt” (i.e., not apt, rather than incompetent). Just a technical heads-up.

Given the death camp scenario, it is *NOT* selfish to “bemoan” the fact. Whether we’re talking millions of years of evolutionary hardwiring or the God-given instinct to love and want to be with our offspring, it is natural to feel a sense of loss when we’re separated from our offspring. It is also natural to feel a sense of joy that they’re in a better place. Don’t you think?

I think your reasoning, as I understand it anyway, commits the same fallacy that godlessrandall committed in his comment: using “it’s natural” or “it’s instinctual” to infer “it’s not selfish.” Why can’t natural or instinctual feelings sometimes be selfish? I think they often are. They can also be irrational.

But let’s leave aside, for now, the debate over how to classify the emotions. I’m encouraged by what you say next: that we certainly can all agree on the truth of the statement “It’s overwhelmingly a positive development when a heaven-bound child dies.” I think the statement has striking implications, but I want to ponder them further before I say more. So far, this is progress.

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cl July 7, 2010 at 9:17 am

Hermes,

It would have been polite – and indicative of good faith – if you had acknowledged it. Instead, you revert to the same old tactics that motivated me to cut you off in the first place. What tactics? Oh, you know… talking a bunch of crap rooted in personal dislike without so much as even one citation to sustain your assertions. If that’s what counts for rationalism in your book, no wonder we can’t see eye-to-eye. You puff up your chest and boldly challenge me to all these arguments, then you relent, and then you accuse me of batting away opportunities on top of that! I mean, come on! Do you really not any problem there?

Steve Maitzen,

However, your cut-and-paste might have a slight glitch in it: you have me describing your analogy as “inept,” when the word I used was “inapt” (i.e., not apt, rather than incompetent). Just a technical heads-up.

No glitch, that was my mistake.

I think your reasoning, as I understand it anyway, commits the same fallacy that godlessrandall committed in his comment: using “it’s natural” or “it’s instinctual” to infer “it’s not selfish.”

Well now hold on! That “it’s selfish” wasn’t the point of the OP. Luke’s OP implies that Christians who mourn the death of other Christians are acting inconsistently with their beliefs. I’ve never denied that there was some degree of selfishness, so the unnamed fallacy you allude to is non-existent. Also, if you’re going to charge us with a logical fallacy, could you at least explain which one? If you don’t, how can I strengthen my arguments? At least for me, that’s the whole point: we use one another to improve.

I think the statement has striking implications, but I want to ponder them further before I say more.

I was [and am] hesitant about overwhelmingly, because I’m not sure what you think that logically entails. I suppose I’ll wait and see.

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Steve Maitzen July 7, 2010 at 9:41 am

@ cl:

You wrote:

Well now hold on! That “it’s selfish” wasn’t the point of the OP.

Through the wonders of cut-and-paste, I had actually quoted the reasoning of yours that I was characterizing as fallacious:

Given the death camp scenario, it is *NOT* selfish to “bemoan” the fact. Whether we’re talking millions of years of evolutionary hardwiring or the God-given instinct to love and want to be with our offspring, it is natural to feel a sense of loss when we’re separated from our offspring.

Notice your caps and asterisks in “it is *NOT* selfish.” I took the rest of the passage to be your reason for declaring that it’s not selfish, i.e., that it’s natural (your italics). I then alleged a fallacious — by which I mean invalid — inference from “It’s natural” to “It’s not selfish.” “It’s natural” doesn’t have that implication. Natural feelings can be selfish, irrational, inconsistent, and so on. (I hate having to cut and paste the same thing twice; it wastes time.)

I was [and am] hesitant about overwhelmingly, because I’m not sure what you think that logically entails. I suppose I’ll wait and see.

My “overwhelmingly” comes from the idea that heaven is overwhelmingly better than earthly existence, however good earthly existence may be. (Compare Pascal’s idea that heavenly life is so much greater than any earthly life that the Wager makes sense no matter how great an atheistic life may be.) I hope this makes you less hesitant about my use of “overwhelmingly.”

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Chuck July 7, 2010 at 9:48 am

Thanks cl

And this will be the last I post on this tangent. Staying on topic is much better.

I see much psychological projection on your part specifically the need to lump all atheists into a tribal state as evidenced in your knee-jerk reaction to judge my comments against the measure of a hard rationalist. I told you I associate with an Evangelical community as an atheist so therefore am open to other ways of knowing.

Also, my 20 years of working in both theatre and advertising has allowed me to encounter men and women of your character (pedantic judges) and my experience suggests you’ve produced nothing. I doubt your assertions to production or publication are anything more than “sound and fury”. But keep up the bloviating school marm behavior. The pretense is appropos for the apologist set and is quite amusing.

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Hermes July 7, 2010 at 9:55 am

Cl: It would have been polite – and indicative of good faith – if you had acknowledged it.

Agreed. Just as if you did the same after my messages addressing your posts. Yet, I didn’t. And you didn’t. So … is my treating you in the same way as you treated me a real shock to you?

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cl July 7, 2010 at 10:54 am

Steve Maitzen,

You’re absolutely correct. I contradicted myself. For the record, here’s what I’m saying, short and sweet:

Yes, there is an element of selfishness at work whenever anybody “bemoans” the passed, but that’s not the point of the OP.

No, that Christians “bemoan” the passing of those who presumably have salvation is not an indication of inconsistency on their behalf. That is the point of the OP, and it’s invalid.

I hope that helps.

Hermes,

Just as if you did the same after my messages addressing your posts. Yet, I didn’t. And you didn’t.

Are you kidding? First off, clarify precisely what you’re talking about. If you’re talking about the Naturalism of the Gaps thread, I acknowledged your messages addressing my post. I said something to the effect of, “I appreciate the good faith, if you’re willing to omit the words natural and supernatural I’m willing to proceed. So,

A) Are you mistaken?

B) Are you lying?

C) Are you alluding to some thread besides the Naturalism of the Gaps one? If so, which one(s)?

D) Are you trolling to get a boner?

Chuck,

…this will be the last I post on this tangent. Staying on topic is much better.

I sure hope so; it’s tough refuting all your nonsense, to the point that it’s impacting my clarity in other arguments. Geesh!

I see much psychological projection on your part specifically the need to lump all atheists into a tribal state as evidenced in your knee-jerk reaction to judge my comments against the measure of a hard rationalist.

Whatever you say Freud, but can you at least get the facts straight? I have no desire to lump – nor have I ever lumped – all atheists into the “tribal” category. There are certainly plenty of atheists who don’t exude the negative character traits I’m criticizing here.

I told you I associate with an Evangelical community as an atheist so therefore am open to other ways of knowing.

1) Unfortunately, rationalist, your argument is invalid. The fact that you associate with an Evangelical community does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that you are open to other ways of knowing;

2) Did I ever say you weren’t open to other ways of knowing? No. In fact I’ve not said anything about you other than that you weren’t being observant and that you seemingly have little respect for clarity or balance. Are you feeling the need to defend something?

…my 20 years of working in both theatre and advertising…

Ha! Woo-hoo! You say I’m the one into tooting my own horn?

I doubt your assertions to production or publication are anything more than “sound and fury”.

They are not assertions, they are facts, but go ahead: doubt is all you’ve got. Anyways, as if I need your approval. As for your claim, it’s bunk. You have no evidence other than your gut feeling and this odd “guilt-by-association” argument you seem to have pulled out of your arse. I, on the other hand, have boxes of evidence for my claim. I realize that you “skeptics” have a harder time believing things; would it help if I scanned my membership cards from the past seven or eight years? Or, if I mailed you a box of junk only WGA can get? I will.

BTW, since you’re such the experienced theatre guy [20 years you say?], how is it that you don’t know one can’t be WGA without bona fide production credits?

Look, no hard feelings, just pay better attention next time. A snarky oversight on your behalf is exactly what started our little tirade [why don't you start your own blog cl?]. If you want to apologize for some of the unkind things you’ve said to me, I’ll apologize for mocking you relentlessly. Or not. Point is, I’m willing to grant you respect, completely overlook all of it and continue with the relevant discussion anytime. Your call.

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cl July 7, 2010 at 10:57 am

Steve Maitzen,

One other thing:

I hope this makes you less hesitant about my use of “overwhelmingly.”

I’m not – and wasn’t – hesitant about how you defined it. For the purposes of this discussion, we agree there. I was – and am – hesitant about the conclusion you think the fact leads to. It’s a small – albeit important – difference. As I said, I’ll wait and see.

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piero July 7, 2010 at 11:27 am

cl, your ego does not strike me as very Christian. If I were you, I’d be more careful, lest I end up in hell.

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Chuck July 7, 2010 at 11:27 am

I’d like to apologize cl but I fail to see my indiscretion. I will reserve the right to not believe the credentials you state until I further examine your blog. Your attitude reminds me too much of the insecure egoists I’ve met who either invent credits or campaigns. I doubt you’ve done anything you state based on the sensitivity and arrogance you project. You seem like a garden variety pretender in desperate need of attention (think Pufkin in “King of Comedy”). I’d venture you live in your mom’s basement.

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Hermes July 7, 2010 at 12:09 pm

Cl: Are you kidding?

No. I’ve posted multiple messages in response to your comments over the last month plus, and addressed you directly. Silence. To return the favor, my interest in your comments are just not a priority. That may seem an insult to you, but I have to be practical. After all, how many thousands of words can I write in a day (and most of them not here)?

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cl July 7, 2010 at 1:39 pm

piero,

cl, your ego does not strike me as very Christian. If I were you, I’d be more careful, lest I end up in hell.

1) Judge not, lest ye be judged;

2) According to the Bible, one doesn’t go to hell based on whether or not their ego strikes some random internet commenter as “very Christian”, so your admonition indicates a lack of familiarity with Scripture;

3) I check myself daily and I am prepared to accept the consequences of my actions. My advice to you is to take your focus off of me, and worry about yourself.

Chuck,

I’d like to apologize cl but I fail to see my indiscretion.

I figured as much.

I will reserve the right to not believe the credentials you state until I further examine your blog.

What are you hoping to find there? I already explained that I keep my professional writing and my blogging separate [for the most part].

Your attitude reminds me too much of the insecure egoists I’ve met who either invent credits or campaigns.

What is my attitude? I’m simply calling attention to what I believe to be trollish statements that have nothing to do with the OP, and tactfully mocking somebody I believe is treating me like a jerk. If you don’t like it, you shouldn’t have mouthed off in the first place, and you shouldn’t have followed up that mistake with attempted insults. At least I’m not attempting to insult you directly, as you are to me.

I doubt you’ve done anything you state based on the sensitivity and arrogance you project.

Gee, great argument. As if a successful writer just couldn’t be arrogant or insensitive, right? Seriously though, why do you claim I’m arrogant when I’m one of the few in this thread who’s actually admitting to errors, and I already offered to exchange apology for apology with you? An arrogant person wouldn’t do that. An arrogant person strives to save face and avoid apology at all costs. You know, much like yourself in this thread. Now, I don’t know if you’re arrogant or not, but if that sounds familiar, is it possible that you might be?

You seem like a garden variety pretender in desperate need of attention (think Pufkin in “King of Comedy”). I’d venture you live in your mom’s basement.

I’ve been on my own every day since I was 17 and I’m content to bask in the irony of insults like yours preceded by accusations of arrogance, insecurity and egoism.

…this will be the last I post on this tangent. Staying on topic is much better.

Ha! Now, we’ve [perhaps inadvertently] arrived back to the OP: did you really believe what you said about that being your last post on the tangent? Do you really believe staying on topic is much better? If so, why did you dig back into your keyboard for more insults instead of staying on topic?

See Chuck, I just knew that wouldn’t be your last post on our little tangent. This, however, will be mine. Assuming you have nothing on topic to say, best of luck to you.

Hermes,

Don’t you think it’s disingenuous for you to accuse me of ignoring you after I vowed to ignore you?

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piero July 7, 2010 at 1:50 pm

cl, I labour under no illusions. I’ll die and I shall rot. So I do not need to worry about myself, you see?

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Hermes July 7, 2010 at 2:05 pm

Cl, I’m just not inspired to dump good words after you. Think what you will, be insulted, be fragile, be whatever. I see no reason to adapt to your peculiar passing proclivities; I’ll neither ignore you nor focus my attention on you. If something good comes up, let it. If not, it won’t be a surprise.

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Chuck July 7, 2010 at 2:22 pm

cl

See you at your site. I am going to start with your take on “film”. I think I will be able to determine your level of intelligence with the medium via those posts.

I responded to your invitation to a mutual apology (different subject) and let you know I don’t apologize to people who don’t deserve one.

Your Dickensenian personal story does explain what seems an incredible inferiority complex buoyed by pedantry and bluster.

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cl July 7, 2010 at 2:31 pm

[re Chuck] Yippee! One down; how many to go?

piero,

…I labour under no illusions.

I disagree. I think you’re quite disillusioned about petitio principii and some of the other things we talked about, but I noticed you dropped those in favor of judging me. Still, I’ve been thinking about what you said for the past day, and I think I understand why you mistakenly accused me of petitio principii. I’m willing to discuss further, and more than willing to concede error if you can show it. Your call.

BTW, lest my use of Latin become more fodder for accusations of egoism and arrogance, let me state that I use the term petitio principii for clarity, as ambiguous use of the phrase “begging the question” is quite common in discourse, and disastrous.

I’ll die and I shall rot.

I agree. I’m not exempt from entropy, either.

So I do not need to worry about myself, you see?

To each their own, I suppose.

Hermes,

Distracting? Yeah. Annoying? Perhaps, but I already explained that you’re not insulting me. I would have to be taking your diatribes seriously in order for that to happen.

I figured you’d evade the question. I understand; who could possibly look respectable when accusing someone of ignoring them after the person promised to ignore them?

I also figured you’d [yet again] refuse to provide evidence for your baseless claims, despite your preposterously grandiose but pathetically empty appeals to rationalism.

IMO, something good already came up: I have [once again] effectively proven that when it comes to me, you’re full of nothing but hot air, unjustified dislike of another human being, and personal issues.

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piero July 7, 2010 at 2:43 pm

cl:
OK, I’ll bite. Why did I mistakenly accuse you of petitio principii?

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Hermes July 7, 2010 at 3:06 pm

[ shrugs ] Meh. And they call me a troll.

For what it’s worth, while I argue aggressively I do so in the British manner.

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cl July 7, 2010 at 3:48 pm

Hermes,

Keep dancing; I’m enjoying your British two-step.

piero,

Well, if all you’re looking at is the short version of what I said [I don't kill my loved ones because I love them], I can see a resemblance to petitio principii, but it’s a semantic resemblance that fails to take the extended explanation into account. The extended explanation is strewn across a handful of comments, but here’s one premise thereof: “I have no possible way of knowing who’s accepted the gospel and who hasn’t.” The latter is clearly not an instance of assuming as a premise a statement which has the same meaning as the conclusion.

Does that make sense?

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Hermes July 7, 2010 at 4:34 pm
piero July 7, 2010 at 4:46 pm

cl:
Fine, I see what you mean. I’ll explain my reasoning:

1. I assumed that by “love” we were referring to the love Christ showed by knowingly and willingly subjecting himself to sacrifice for our sake. In other words, I did not include the selfish need to avoid the pain of bereavement.

2. If you loved someone in that sense, then you would eschew no sacrifice in order to bring them the most happiness.

3. Ergo, a loving Christian parent would gladly kill his/her newborn child (and in the process condemn himself/herself to eternal torment, if need be) in order to ensure that his/her child’s soul went to Heaven (I assume that a newborn child is human, so he/she has a a soul, but has not yet acquired the capacity to sin, and is therefore immaculate).

4. In the case of fully conscious human beings your objection acquires relevance: how can you be sure that they would go to Heaven? They might have sinned, and you might be depriving them of the chance to atone for their wickedness. You should, however, consider that penance confers atonement; in other words, suffering somehow contributes to clean sins away. By killing your loved ones, you would be subjecting them to the worst possible pain (what can be worse than being harmed by a knowing and willing loved one?), and so chances are your monstrous cruelty would turn in their favour. A rational probability calculation should lead you to conclude that killing them (with as much pain as possible) is a pretty good idea.

5. Hence, your retort “I don’t kill them because I love them” is equivalent to the statement “loving someone and wanting to kill them are incompatible”, which is precisely the point in question.

Perhaps I did not make myself clear enough. Perhaps I’m mistaken. Perhaps I should not have called it petitio principii. In that case, I submit you are smarter than I am, and hence that I’m closer to God’s kingdom as per the sermon of the mount. Blessed is me!

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Chuck July 7, 2010 at 5:44 pm

cl

Checked out your blog. Your work indicates you just might be a writer. I think I will blogroll it and see if you have anything interesting to say.

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Mark July 7, 2010 at 7:06 pm

Perhaps it would be more like your son was suddenly whisked away to another country that you’re not sure exactly what its like or what’s happening to him. Many say that it’s a wonderful country full of candy and roller coasters, but others say it may be somewhat grim and threatening. While it’s probably the former, you don’t know for sure and the Fear of the Unknown constantly looms.

Right. And isn’t this just to concede that Christians are distraught, rather than relieved, by the death of their Christian/underage loved ones because they haven’t internalized their beliefs?

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Steve Maitzen July 8, 2010 at 4:12 am

@ cl:

Earlier, you wrote:

I understand, but try to understand where I’m coming from. You’re right; the fact that somebody was given salvation is an overwhelmingly good situation. However, death is only non-contingent because of sin. It wasn’t meant to be. Therefore, death also entails a sense of tragedy and loss in the manner I described, and as Jeff H suggests, I believe it would be cold and irrational to not feel that sense of loss.

But on the Christian view, the “death” of a heaven-bound child is only the death of the child’s body; it’s not the death of the child’s immortal soul (obviously) — what’s really essential to the child’s identity and what survives to enjoy the infinite bliss of heaven. So I fail to understand the sense of loss that you say Christians ought to feel. Should Christians feel a sense of tragedy and loss on learning that the child’s body was cremated rather than buried, or that the child’s once whole body has now decomposed? “O Death, where is thy sting?” (1 Cor. 15:55). So I guess I don’t understand where you’re coming from.

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cl July 8, 2010 at 2:13 pm

piero,

I began another reply to you, but, I thought I’d hold off and see if anything I’m about to say to Steve Maitzen might get us closer to the same page.

Steve Maitzen,

…on the Christian view, the “death” of a heaven-bound child is only the death of the child’s body; it’s not the death of the child’s immortal soul (obviously) — what’s really essential to the child’s identity and what survives to enjoy the infinite bliss of heaven.

You say “the” Christian view as if there’s only one. When is that ever the case? Hardly ever, right? Some Christians believe that Heaven is entirely spiritual, something like an exit from material existence that transitions into a spiritual one. At present, I tend not to believe that, because the Bible – to me at least – clearly teaches otherwise. From what I can glean, the resurrection is a physical thing, else, why all the talk about glorified [as opposed to spiritual] bodies, and a new Earth? Why all the talk of the “saints who are asleep?” I don’t want to spin this discussion off into the realm of Bible interpretation, but at least so we can be on the same page, I’m under the impression that when a person dies, they are effectively asleep or “out like a light” until the day of judgment.

…I fail to understand the sense of loss that you say Christians ought to feel.

I believe that we were created eternally alive and that only with sin did the curse of death come. By that logic, all death is a loss, even if only temporary. When my mom dies, although I believe she has encountered grace, I’m still going to feel a sense of loss, because I believe we were all created to live, and the more I think about it, it’s not entirely selfish. I will mourn not only for the love and happiness she is unable to give to me, but also for the love and happiness I am unable to give to her. At the same time, I’m still going to feel a sense of relief that she’s not in pain anymore, and I’m still going to feel a sense of joyful expectation that we will meet again. I don’t see the slightest inconsistency in any of that.

Should Christians feel a sense of tragedy and loss on learning that the child’s body was cremated rather than buried, or that the child’s once whole body has now decomposed?

I’m not following there… perhaps you could clarify?

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Steve Maitzen July 8, 2010 at 3:23 pm

@ cl:

1. As I said in an earlier comment, I’ve been addressing those who think the child is now in heaven, “in the loving arms of Jesus,” as one sometimes hears people say. I took this to be a representative Christian view; for what it’s worth, ayer seemed to agree in an earlier comment (see above) that the “loved one [is] now in heaven.” But never mind that. Even if the child undergoes a period of unconsciousness (“out like a light”) before enjoying infinite bliss, that doesn’t reduce the overwhelmingly positive value of her situation that you and I agreed on before.

2. You wrote, “I will mourn…for the love and happiness I am unable to give her.” If heaven is all it’s cracked up to be, then she won’t be missing anything (at least not while conscious), or else heaven would be deficient in that regard.

3. Most important: All your talk of “death” is misplaced if only the body dies and the (immortal) soul survives. Whether or not the soul sleeps for a while, it doesn’t die; only the body does. At least that’s what I hear Christians say. That’s why I asked, rhetorically, if Christians ought to feel loss at the cremation or decomposition of a body. I presumed the answer “Of course not; the body isn’t what’s essential to the person’s identity.”

4. Even if “we were all created to live,” it wouldn’t follow that we can’t (or shouldn’t) be temporarily unconscious. (Did Adam and Eve never sleep until the Fall occurred?) Nor do I see temporary unconsciousness as a loss if it’s a precondition for enjoying endless, infinite bliss.

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cl July 8, 2010 at 4:01 pm

Steve Maitzen,

Even if the child undergoes a period of unconsciousness (“out like a light”) before enjoying infinite bliss, that doesn’t reduce the overwhelmingly positive value of her situation that you and I agreed on before.

I agree, and wasn’t arguing otherwise.

If heaven is all it’s cracked up to be, then she won’t be missing anything

However, those who remain, would.

Nor do I see temporary unconsciousness as a loss if it’s a precondition for enjoying endless, infinite bliss.

The temporary unconsciousness is not the loss. The separation from one’s loved ones is, which is why it is perfectly consistent for a Christian to feel a sense of loss on the one hand, and a sense of relief or joy on the other.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but you appear to be arguing that a Christian who feels any sense of loss about another who has passed is acting inconsistently with their beliefs. If that is in fact what you are arguing, I don’t think you’ve made the case at all.

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Chuck July 8, 2010 at 4:13 pm

cl

The Apostle Paul summed up existential despair quite well when he said “to live is Christ and to die is gain”. You contradict the first half of that when you declare self-centered grief is appropriate for a christian when you suggest your missing your mother is an occasion for sorrow. Why would a believing christian even be slightly concerned with their emotional loss when all is made perfect in life through christ? I guess one could make an argument for that type of believer lacking faith or doubt their salvation but to legitimize that selfishness contradicts the saving grace of jesus.

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cl July 8, 2010 at 4:28 pm

Chuck,

As much as I’d like to have a civil discussion with you, I believe you owe me an apology for all those insults.

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Chuck July 8, 2010 at 4:35 pm

OK cl, I’m sorry for insulting you.

Now please provide a biblical exigesis that justifies your emotional selfishness on the occassion of your mother’s deat in the wake of St. Paul’s wisdom.

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Chuck July 8, 2010 at 4:38 pm

Meant to type death not deat. Small keyboard on my handheld.

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Steve Maitzen July 8, 2010 at 4:59 pm

cl,

I appreciate your forthright statements:

I agree, and wasn’t arguing otherwise.

However, those who remain, would.

The temporary unconsciousness is not the loss. The separation from one’s loved ones is….

We agree, then, that on the Christian view (or yours, at least):

1. The heaven-bound don’t really die but become — at worst — temporarily unconscious before enjoying endless, infinite bliss.

2. The heaven-bound won’t be missing anything (otherwise there’s a defect in heaven), even if “those who remain would.”

3. The passing of a heaven-bound person is overwhelmingly a positive development for him or her.

So I renew my original charge: It’s gallingly selfish or at best self-centered for the Christians left behind to feel sad at the passing of the heaven-bound. It’s self-pity. It’s selfishness like that displayed by a parent who’s sad that his child has escaped the death camp. (Sorry, ayer.) If you look back over this thread, you’ll find that I never alleged inconsistency, only selfishness. Indeed, the first use of the term “inconsistent” occurs in one of your comments, not mine. (The behavior becomes inconsistent with Christian teaching, of course, if Christianity teaches us not to be selfish.)

Furthermore, it’s no defense of selfish, self-centered, or self-pitying behavior to say that it’s natural or instinctual; that’s no defense of any unbecoming behavior.

By contrast, naturalists can sensibly feel sad for the deceased: for being deprived of joy that he/she would’ve experienced but now never will, something that assuredly can’t be said about the heaven-bound (who will experience endless joy).

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Chuck July 8, 2010 at 5:08 pm

A Christian could argue that their sinful flesh creates despair with death but that would be a self-annhilating statement to the assertion that belief in Jesus Christ has conquered sin and death. Christian funeral grief if not selfish then it is self-contradicting.

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cl July 8, 2010 at 6:23 pm

I would like to make it clear that, although I currently believe in the “lights out until the resurrection” concept, the matter is far from decided in my own mind. There are verses that seem to plainly point against my position, too, but that’s beyond the scope of this discussion.

Chuck,

OK cl, I’m sorry for insulting you.

Accepted, and, as promised, I’m sorry I resorted to mocking you in return.

Now please provide a biblical exigesis that justifies your emotional selfishness on the occassion of your mother’s deat in the wake of St. Paul’s wisdom.

Why do I need a Bible verse to justify the fact that I’ll miss my mom here and now when she dies? Honestly? Steve Maitzen and yourself seem to be arguing that I should only be full of joy when she passes, without the slightest sense of loss whatsoever. Don’t you find that the least bit odd?

Steve Maitzen,

If you look back over this thread, you’ll find that I never alleged inconsistency, only selfishness. Indeed, the first use of the term “inconsistent” occurs in one of your comments, not mine.

Well, I’ve been going along with the arguments from the OP, which are that Christians who wear seatbelts are acting inconsistently given their beliefs [which I think is an absurd argument]. The insinuation that developed later in the thread was that Christians who mourn the passing of other Christians are equally inconsistent.

At any rate, if you’re not alleging inconsistency, then where’s the disagreement between us?

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Chuck July 8, 2010 at 7:00 pm

cl,

You said, “Why do I need a Bible verse to justify the fact that I’ll miss my mom here and now when she dies? Honestly? Steve Maitzen and yourself seem to be arguing that I should only be full of joy when she passes, without the slightest sense of loss whatsoever. Don’t you find that the least bit odd.”

You need a bible verse because you’ve been defending bible based Christianity relative to the OP and Maitzen’s additional challenge.

You also argued against Maitzen’s premise by offering a view of Heaven based on your biblical exigesis relative to the eschaton.

Just be consistent. If you are going to use the bible to argue for your perspective then reconcile the whole bible with your perspective otherwise accept the inconsistency we see christians embracing.

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Hendy July 8, 2010 at 8:05 pm

Quite the long discussion!

I don’t know that I entirely see the point of the charge. On one hand I suppose that if you absolutely believed that this life was dust and worthless compared to a guaranteed blissful life ahead that lasted for eternity… you would want to die and go there and be ecstatic for anyone you were confident was also going their after death.

On the other hand, however, Christianity has never seemed to be about becoming inhuman… Supposedly, even the son of god wept and he should have had nothing to weep about. Even if there is a heaven waiting, it is a human inclination to deeply love those around us and want to preserve our own life. I find suggesting that believers be a complete emotionless rock with regard to traits that permeate the entire human landscape to be asking a lot. We’re nostalgic as a species, fancy hopes of erasing failures in relationships, entertain regrets of how we would do things better and just plain cherish the time we spend with loved ones.

Perhaps supporters of the charge should suggest ways in which believers should train themselves not to care and to only be ecstatic about death?

As an example, consider this non-religious illustration:
- Step 1: I tell you that I will, under no circumstances, actually punch you in the face
- Step 2: I throw a punch which comes within 1mm of your face
- Effect: You blink
- Step 3: Repeat steps 1 & 2 and observe result to satisfaction
- Step 4: Conclude that you don’t really trust me since you keep blinking

You may fully believe that I will not hurt you but cannot deny your human tendency to protect your face. Would I be justified in insisting that you don’t actually trust my integrity as a result of this experiment?

Back to the first hand, one could put forth the fact that someone on acid standing on the edge of a building who thinks he can fly… will try to fly. Though it takes a powerful chemical that alters one’s mental processes to actually convince someone of this…

Is anyone familiar with the historical validity of this suggestion? In other words, would we find more people living as if they really believed in the teachings of Christianity the further back we go? My tendency would be to say yes, but I’m not sure… Questions/an example I can think of:
- were there more martyrs earlier in history than their would be today if a mass persecution arose?
- were more willing to give away everything and beg for their entire livelihood in the past than today?
- Thomas Aquinas reached the conclusion that it is in everyone’s best interest to kill heretics.[1] He put the belief, ‘heaven is the ultimate good’ into practice, and in a logically valid manner concluded that anyone threatening that good for another should be removed from earth since it is a temporal/lesser good. I don’t think anyone really supports that conclusion today…

Thoughts?

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Aquinas#Treatment_of_heretics

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Chuck July 8, 2010 at 8:45 pm

I don’t follow your analogy Hendy. If you were to exhibit the behavior you describe it would be perfectly sane to attribute distrust.

My suggestion to the christian to ameliorate grief would be to believe what they assert, Jesus conquered sin and death and let the person of the Holy Spirit give them revealed knowledge to calm their emotions.

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Hermes July 8, 2010 at 9:03 pm

Hendy, welcome.

I think the point is *not* that believers are emotionless rocks, but that they are definitely *not* emotionless rocks, and that those emotions are telling.

There is sorrow and there is joy.

Those emotions do indeed — as you aptly say — permeate the human landscape; sorrow as well as joy and other emotions are a part of being human.

The question is this; Why is there sorrow in death, let alone a high usage of safety belts, if Christians really believe what they say they do about an afterlife?

It’s a blunt question, but it strips away quite a bit of pretense.

So, it’s not an issue of training. It’s not even an issue of knowing or evidence. It’s an issue of belief.

Specifically, it’s about belief vs. belief in belief. I contend that Daniel Dennett was right that most people don’t have belief, they have belief in belief. It is good, or so it is contended, to believe in an afterlife even if one does not exist. Don’t break it to the naive; just let them believe and maybe we will believe too.

Dennett doesn’t get enough credit for that staggeringly gripping insight.

Give Dawkins all the props he deserves, but Dennett’s one idea is worth a half dozen God Delusions. It is simple. It is direct. It is a leaver to turn the theocratic world on. It’s also largely ignored by those who should be paying most attention to it.

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Chuck July 8, 2010 at 9:17 pm

Hermes

I know of no believer who doesn’t doubt but simply attributes their doubt to sin and thereby never examines their source of doubt as a defeater to their faith assertions respecting Jesus and salvation.

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Hermes July 8, 2010 at 9:32 pm

Chuck, again in general I agree with you. It is a shame. Looking at how things actually are is an important step in any honest analysis. Without that, there’s little that can be said to those that profess beliefs regardless of if they actually have them.

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cl July 8, 2010 at 10:44 pm

Chuck,

Just be consistent. If you are going to use the bible to argue for your perspective then reconcile the whole bible with your perspective otherwise accept the inconsistency we see christians embracing.

I’m not being inconsistent. There’s simply nothing to reconcile. You are the one making the positive claim here [that Christians who mourn are being inconsistent]. As such, the burden of proof falls to you to show how I’m inconsistent because I mourn the [albeit temporary] loss of a [presumably saved] loved one. Is there a Bible verse that says or could be said to reasonably imply, “Thou shalt not mourn thy departed?”

Hendy,

Even if there is a heaven waiting, it is a human inclination to deeply love those around us and want to preserve our own life.

Exactly. I really don’t understand what’s so difficult to grasp about that point.

Perhaps supporters of the charge should suggest ways in which believers should train themselves not to care and to only be ecstatic about death?

That’s exactly what I was alluding to when I said Chuck and Steve Maitzen seem to be arguing that I should only feel joy when my mother passes. If that is in fact an acceptable paraphrase of their position, that’s absurd. If not, perhaps they’ll clarify.

As far as your analogy, here’s another one: say you have a car that you very much enjoy. I tell you that I’m going to take your car and use it for an unspecified amount of time, but promise to return it to you in maximally better condition than when I took it from you. Is it “inconsistent” to feel both a sense of loss that you don’t have your car anymore, but also a sense of joy that it will be returned in pristine condition one day?

Hermes,

The question is this; Why is there sorrow in death, let alone a high usage of safety belts, if Christians really believe what they say they do about an afterlife?

There is sorrow in death because death is a curse that was not God’s original plan. That I will feel sorrow when my mother passes is no sign of inconsistency, whatsoever. Nobody here has even come close to producing a cogent argument demonstrating otherwise.

As for seatbelts, well… you could just take Stanhope’s logic to its ultimate end: if you’re a Christian, why don’t you just kill yourself so you can scoot off to heaven now? Seriously though, how effective are dead Christians at carrying out the Great Commission? Not very, right? We are called to witness and undo the works of the enemy, among other things. For those reasons and others, it follows that we ought to preserve our life – not be reckless.

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Chuck July 8, 2010 at 10:52 pm

cl

I gave you a bible verse that defines a christianls expected attitude towards existential despair and you have yet to address why your rationalized self-centeredness is consonant with the Apostle Paul’s theology. You use the bible to define your scope of the afterlife yet fail to offer a proper exigesis of the passage I cited relative to your claims concerning death. Are you saying the Apostle Paul didn’t know what he was suggesting when he stated “to live is Christ and to die is gain”? I asked for your exigesis and you continue to evade. I don’t think you know much about the bible or christian theology (relative to views on death or Heaven).

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Atheist.pig July 8, 2010 at 11:26 pm

There is sorrow in death because death is a curse that was not God’s original plan.

Is God not omniscient, does he not see his whole plan unfold as he knows it will? Also what curse are you talking about?

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Chuck July 9, 2010 at 1:57 am

cl

Also, it is not my view that you should rejoice in suffering, it is the apostle paul’s. See the epistle to the phillipians. I think your response to your mother’s death is apt, it just doesn’t seem to follow pauline christian theology.

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Steve Maitzen July 9, 2010 at 3:28 am

This has indeed been a long discussion (although if you remove the comments that simply traded insults it’s only half as long). I’ve found it very helpful for testing out the dilemma — Christian selfishness or insincerity — that I alleged when Luke interviewed me in February. Although ayer may protest it, I’ll again use the analogy I brought up before. If you believe the three claims that cl and I agreed on,

1. The heaven-bound don’t really die but become — at worst — temporarily unconscious before enjoying endless, infinite bliss.

2. The heaven-bound won’t be missing anything (otherwise there’s a defect in heaven), even if “those who remain would.”

3. The passing of a heaven-bound person is overwhelmingly a positive development for him or her.

then your sadness at the passing of someone you regard as heaven-bound is like the sadness of a death-camp prisoner when his child manages to escape the camp. I (we?) want to say to the parent, “Get over it! You may not see your child again, but that fact is absolutely swamped by the fact that she made it out of this place. Not all of us do. You love your child, so focus on her good fortune. This is good news!” The parent’s predominant emotion should be joy, and the joy should increase the more the parent comes to appreciate the child’s good fortune.

The less joyful the parent’s attitude, the more likely it is that the parent (a) is being churlishly self-centered or (b) doesn’t really believe the child made it out alive. If we think denying (a) is more charitable, then we conclude (b). So, too, with Christian sadness at the passing of a heaven-bound child: on the charitable assumption that the Christian isn’t churlishly self-centered, we conclude (with Mercier, Rey, and Dennett) that the Christian doesn’t really believe 1-3 above.

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Chuck July 9, 2010 at 4:25 am

I apologize for making this thread over-long with insult.

Steve your case gains poigncy when one considers the “good news” christian assertion that death has no power in christ.

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Hendy July 9, 2010 at 5:28 am

Chuck — sorry the analogy didn’t make sense…

Steve — good point about this not being an issue of training.

The more I pondered this last night and this morning, the more I wondered if it is centered on an unstated assumption that one good can either 1) make obsolete or 2) completely end another.

In other words, we agree that life lived is a good. Relationships are a good.

Does the introduction of an ecstatic life after this temporal one filled with relationships make the current one obsolete or end the current one being a good at all?

To use the child-going-away-from-nazi-camp analogy:
- it is a good that I have a loving relationship with my child
- it is a good that he/she not be in a death camp
- it is a greater good not to be in the death camp than to enjoy the good of relationship
- I send them away

However… the root nature of the original good still persists, does it not? Did the good of their escape ever end or make obsolete the good that exists in our having a close relationship? I am fairly sure that the answer is no.

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Steve Maitzen July 9, 2010 at 5:54 am

Hendy,

You wrote:

- it is a good that I have a loving relationship with my child
- it is a good that he/she not be in a death camp
- it is a greater good not to be in the death camp than to enjoy the good of relationship
- I send them away

Maybe it’s a failure of nerve on my part, but “I send them away” was farther than I was willing to go, since the analogue of “I send them away” is “I kill them.” I was arguing for “I rejoice in their death.” My argument doesn’t assume that there’s no good in a loving earthly relationship, only that its good is overwhelmed by the indescribably better good of life in heaven — in which the heaven-dweller enjoys all that’s good about the earthly relationship, or else heaven is defective (in that regard) compared to earth.

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Hermes July 9, 2010 at 8:21 am

Cl: There is sorrow in death because death is a curse that was not God’s original plan.

Then your particular deity is not all-knowing or all-powerful.

Notes;

1. That, additionally, takes care of any effective utility to being all-good (which doesn’t seem to be the case either if the NT is an accurate reflection of your particular deity).

2. None of what I just wrote is a personal affront. If it gets you riled up, then ask yourself why it does.

Cl: That I will feel sorrow when my mother passes is no sign of inconsistency, whatsoever. Nobody here has even come close to producing a cogent argument demonstrating otherwise.

If my dog seems to die, but I’m told that it’s not really dead and will be returned to me next week, the uncertianty of my dog actually appearing alive and well next week is what makes me upset. If I — in my core — believed that my dog would only be away from me for 7 days, I would miss my dog but I would not morn my dog. There is a qualitative difference.

When people close to us die, that qualitative difference is starkly revealed if it exists at all. Only you can honestly tell yourself if you notice a difference. Is it simply missing the person, or is it mourning?

I would contend that I see mourning but not simply missing from anyone who suffers such a loss.

Cl: As for seatbelts, well… you could just take Stanhope’s logic to its ultimate end: if you’re a Christian, why don’t you just kill yourself so you can scoot off to heaven now? Seriously though, how effective are dead Christians at carrying out the Great Commission? Not very, right? We are called to witness and undo the works of the enemy, among other things. For those reasons and others, it follows that we ought to preserve our life – not be reckless.

The seatbelt example is kinda like the express line in the grocery store. If you only have 3 items, why get in the long line? You’re still adding to the store’s profits, and you’re getting what you need personally. You have no need for 16 items.

If checking out and moving on is the goal, why needlessly delay things? After all, you’re not cutting anyone else off, nor are you rushing things in a panic. For all you know, the express line might end up taking longer to get through or may lead to something else that is not satisfying.

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Hendy July 9, 2010 at 8:23 am

@Steve,

My apologies, I think I missed the point of your post as I skimmed the 150 comments that led to this point. Using a Firefox search, this is the first occurrence of the word ‘Nazi’ and I think was the initial use of the analogy:

“I think “comforted” sells heaven short, at least as heaven is traditionally held out to believers. “Overjoyed” would be more like it. Compared to the infinite bliss of heaven, earthly existence is worse than a Nazi death camp. If your child makes it out, it’s selfish (to put it mildly) to bemoan the fact that you’ll no longer have her presence in camp or the joy she might have given other prisoners — especially when God permitted the child’s escape in the first place. Where’s your trust?”

It looks like I attached ‘…if your child makes it out’ to the camp rather than to existence in general. Sorry ’bout that.

Even so, do you think you’re making a slight equivocation? You seem to imply that any sadness or emotional pain translates to not actually wanting the present outcome or believing it is better. I see human nature as a bit more complicated than this.

You don’t think there’s any leeway for someone to both be overjoyed/relieved that their child is not in harm’s way while at the same time having sadness that their earthly relationship has come to a close?

For the record, I don’t believe in Christianity, I’m just testing the charge and exploring possibilities in discussion. I definitely hear all the supporters on several points, though I still perceive a bit of a double standard with treatment of this belief and its supposed implications with the results of a camera following around anyone of us for a day and constantly asking, ‘Why did you do X if you really believe Y.’

Is the only suitable response to concede that, indeed, I don’t really believe Y or is there something to the tension I’ve presented.

I will say, though, that it appears that fanatic suicide bombers really do believe that they will be eternally rewarded for their killing of infidels. Their belief in a promise of eternal reward is consistent with observed actions. Also, no one commented on the historical questions I posed regarding whether there is evidence that more people acted consistently with full-fledged belief in the past, for example Aquinas’ stance on the treatment of heretics.

I enjoy the discussion and thinking about both sides of the issue.

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Steve Maitzen July 9, 2010 at 8:46 am

Thanks, all. It may be time for me to try to write something up on this topic if I’m ever going to. But first I need to see if the contributors to this other website have left anything unsaid that’s worth saying about it. Cheers.

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al friedlander July 9, 2010 at 10:44 am

“Is God not omniscient, does he not see his whole plan unfold as he knows it will?”

This reminds me of a debate I had with a friend back at church. We concluded that it was theoretically possible that man was so evil and damnable that they could be blamed for the fall of man.

But I also forced him to admit that in any case, the fall was God’s plan. It makes no sense to say God couldn’t anticipate the fall of Adam and Eve. He knew all along, and wanted it to happen for ‘some greater purpose’

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Chuck July 9, 2010 at 11:14 am

Ooooh Al you just triggered a “theist flashback” when I would waste days pondering the kind of navel gazing you describe.

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Hendy July 9, 2010 at 11:47 am

@Al… which is so odd given that god is omniscient and all powerful. It’s like me buying an outdated Amazon Kindle (lesser purpose), foreknowing that I will be so dissatisfied with it as to feel justified in spending $100 more on a new version (greater purpose).

Why not just skip the bullshit and buy the new version?

P.S. Since this shifted to ‘the fall’ check out my comment on the Sagan video post about my thoughts as we shift away from a first-Adam/last-Adam/remotely-literal Pauline version of the fall… (LINK)

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piero July 9, 2010 at 9:42 pm

cl, would you comment on Craig’s defence of the slaughter of the Canaanites?

Moreover, if we believe, as I do, that God’s grace is extended to those who die in infancy or as small children, the death of these children was actually their salvation. We are so wedded to an earthly, naturalistic perspective that we forget that those who die are happy to quit this earth for heaven’s incomparable joy. Therefore, God does these children no wrong in taking their lives. (my italics)

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piero July 10, 2010 at 12:17 pm

cl,are you still there, or have you decided to be coherent?

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Nightvid Cole July 18, 2010 at 8:39 pm

If I am not currently delusional, it is a basic fact of human psychology that our thought process operates on pattern recognition and making analogies with what is contained in the realm of our direct experience. It follows that our thought process cannot be extended to meta-entities which have meta-characteristics far beyond what we have experienced. We have great difficulty visualizing things in four dimensions, and a person who has been blind since infancy has no idea what it is like to actually be able to see things. I think we ought to face the fact that none of us have really ever believed or disbelieved in anything which doesn’t connect directly with our material universe or bear strong analogies with our material universe which we have lived in, or at least, no more than the blind-since-infancy “believe” that “the appearance” of the color “orange” is striking to the senses…

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cl December 9, 2010 at 2:04 pm

Nightvid Cole,

Good comment.

piero,

Sorry for the delay. As I’m sure you know I do a lot of commenting here. If I didn’t keep track of the threads it would be hard to keep up. I don’t subscribe to comments via email for certain reasons. At any rate…

…would you comment on Craig’s defence of the slaughter of the Canaanites?

It’s not the defense I use, nor do I see it as a logically compulsory defense. In fact, I don’t use any defense – unless or until my interlocutor makes a convincing case that a defense is needed. IOW, you’re not going to get a generic response from me on this issue. However, if you have a convincing case explaining why a defense is necessary, let’s hear it.

Hermes,

Cl: There is sorrow in death because death is a curse that was not God’s original plan.

Then your particular deity is not all-knowing or all-powerful.

That’s not true at all. God could have known humanity would fall and not made us at all, and God could have made us all robots. That God chose neither option does not entail any limitations in knowledge or power.

If checking out and moving on is the goal, why needlessly delay things?

That’s just it: what you call “checking out and moving on” is not the end goal. I explained that in my remark about the Great Commission. I’m happy to provide further clarification.

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unkleE August 29, 2011 at 3:13 pm

Luke,

I have just come across the Adele Mercier paper, and found it one of the silliest I have ever read from an obviously intelligent person. There are too many silly, apparently arrogant statements, severe misunderstandings and wild leaps of illogic to comment on here, but here are two of the most obvious ones …

She says: “But what is certain is (a) that humans believe only the irrational tales of their own culture, not those of others”

It is quite obvious, both logically and historically, that this is nonsense, for christianity at least. Think about it. Christianity started with maybe 100 people, in a Jewish culture opposed to it, and within the Roman Empire (a foreign culture which persecuted it). Yet within a few centuries it had won over large slabs of the Roman Empire. It continued to grow by winning over large numbers of people from other foreign cultures (Celtic, Scandinavian, North African, etc, etc) right up until the present day, when enormous christian growth is occurring in China, another culture foreign to it and somewhat opposed to it.

So her statement is clearly untrue historically, and of course, for a religion to grow from 100 in one culture to 2 billion in hundreds of cultures, it must logically be nonsense. If I had to make a conclusion from the evidence, I would say the truer statement would be something like: Christianity is most successful in foreign cultures, but tends to become dormant in friendly cultures..

How could she, and you, ever have thought what she said was true?

Then there is her statement: “What makes otherwise normal people succumb to such daftness is anybody’s guess.”

But surely when we are seeking ideas, we want to read people who have some understanding of the subject matter? So Adele spends pages telling us her hypotheses about belief, then admits she has no more than guesses to offer!? That much seemed obvious on the way through, but to see her say this just confirmed it.

I think you have let your usual critical standards down presenting this paper. : (

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