Author Topic: I appreciate that you're getting a lot of unconstructive criticism, so... [#214]  (Read 915 times)

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Offline DL


http://www.tddm.org/bb/viewtopic.php?p=136019#136019

It is a critical evaluation, and as a once (and still now, sometimes) skeptic of religion... well, see for yourself.

Offline spider

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Well at someone out there understands that criticism comes in different forms, some valid and some not. 

Unfortunately that URL is 404ing on me.  If anyone else can get into it, can you post some excerpts? 

Bookmark.

Offline leese

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Well at someone out there understands that criticism comes in different forms, some valid and some not. 

Unfortunately that URL is 404ing on me.  If anyone else can get into it, can you post some excerpts? 

Bookmark.


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 Posted: Tue Aug 12, 2008 8:34 am    Post subject: Ten Questions for every intelligent Christian   

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Just quickly, I should point out that, despite the impending wave of criticism, this video should be watched, for reasons that will later become apparent.

There are two main problems with this video: firstly, it seems to assume an overwhelming hegemony in terms of Christian thought. Consider: as an Anglican, I do not believe in the "power of prayer" in a physically healing sense (although many other Anglicans do), and so the questions regarding prayer are somewhat redundant. Secondly, it takes a rather Dawkins-like approach, in that the author has defined for himself what it means to be rational and intelligent, and those who fall outside these parameters are irrational, and wrong. Delusional. Moreover, his response to the question of God, i.e. God is imaginary so now all these questions can be answered sensibly, is of no more logical weight than, for example, the statement that God is a brutal, insane, sadistic demi-urge who lusts after our misery and bewilderment with all the passion only a being on a higher plane can muster.

Sadly, this sort of response shows a woeful ignorance, and indeed, bigotry on the part of religious sceptics. I take no issue with the idea of being sceptical of religion itself, but sweeping statements about "your religion" which don't recognise the great differences in theology between, say, mainstream American Baptists and mainstream members of the Church of England, simply cause the argument to fail because it does not apply to Christians as a unit, merely to a very particular kind of Christian, partially invented by the author to suit his purposes.

Other issues include the author's lack of knowledge about, amongst other things, the Levitical code: as I have pointed out before, the concept of homosexuality did not exist in Old Testament times, and so, inflammatory though the remark about "killing all the gays" might be, it's... well, wrong. Delusional, in fact. There is also the story of Jonah, sometimes considered a Judeo-Christian myth or allegory, like the story of Job. The story of Noah's ark is one which has been documented by persons of other faiths as well. Indeed, it is a common element of fairy tales from that part of the Middle East (if I recall correctly) and some biblical scholars have therefore drawn the conclusion that the story of Noah's ark is simply the "hewbrewified" version of a story which has its roots in a local flood.

There are also issues with, for example, the author's dismissal of the miracles of Christ. No evidence left behind? So...what? I assume that there was some point behind that, but I'm somewhat amiss as to what it might be. I assume, also, that the accounts of the gospel writers don't count as evidence, for some reason.

Which brings me to my next point: I cannot speak for most Christians by any means, but in South East England, at least, most of us are happy to say that the Bible was written by men. Indeed, most Christians should claim this, unless they're quite, quite mad, although they would probably also add that the persons who wrote the books of the Bible were penning the words which God was planting directly into their brains. I don't, indeed, cannot believe this, given the discrepancies between the gospels. Rather, I acknowledge that humans are fallible, and in trying to deal with the notion and actions of something far removed from our own existence, fallible humans wrote books explaining, incompletely, things that they couldn't hope to understand fully. This is reflected in the books of history in the Bible (such as Kings), the poetry of the psalms (some of which were appropriated from other Middle Eastern cultures) the theology and philosophy of Ecclesiastes, the letters of St Paul, and so on and so forth.

He also displays a lack of knowledge about ecclesiastical liturgy and rite. Not all Christians practise the Eucharist, and of those who do, not all believe in the transubstantiation, instead, taking communion as an act of rememberance, reflection, and contemplation, and considering the words of Christ at the Last Supper to be, much like His parables, heavy with spiritual metaphor, rather than simple edicts.

I will say that the author does at least, and I would say, importantly, challenge the unthinking faith professed by many self-named Christians, and such challenge of assumption and half-hearted rationalisation is important. Why believe in the power of prayer if the legless will not regain their lost limbs? Indeed, have never done so. He also communicates effectively to his perceived target audience, and points out that glaring inconsistencies regarding rational thought, criticism, and the practice of faith are simply intolerable if a person wishes to be, and to be treated as, an adult: a rational, intelligent and mature human being.

He must realise, however, that his own, well-motivated attempt to "make those delusional god-botherers snap out of it" is not applicable to many of us. Indeed, he may even have a harder time when dealing with those of us who are well-read, or he might say "indoctrinated" (and I may have to agree, sometimes), when we rattle off quotes made by great Christian thinkers: "God has no hands but ours" said Mother Theresa. St Anselm said, "Disasters teach us humility". The last two thousand years have spawned a vast amount of writing by educated, articulate, and dare I say "rational" people, mostly coming down on the side of their own particular religious leanings (in Europe, this has been Christian, primarily Roman Catholic, and virtually all Christian theology, as well as Western society itself, has been shaped by this). Consequently, I think that the sceptics' cause really needs to start doing some very real, very deep exploration and criticism of theology before it can hope to make its cause realised. Sadly, it would seem that, like Dawkins himself, few have the discipline or wherewithall to deal with the issues properly, preferring a populist, shallow approach, which is sadly remniscient of doomsday preachers and charismatic "Christian" charlatans from the southern reaches of the United States.
http://www.tddm.org/bb/viewtopic.php?p=136019#136019

First post in it's entirety.
 
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Offline Airyaman

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Nothing new here. I think most of us know Anglicans don't take the bible seriously.
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Offline spider

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Yes, but this is constructive criticism. I think that the video is not the whole picture of what the site wants to say about Christianity, and probably hopes to pull in as many of those Christians that it doesn't apply as it does, yet I wonder if it misses many by being so singly focussed on one kind of Christian.  They seem to feel they're off the hook because of it, so the conversation is over and the video is deemed irrelevant. 

Like the poster up there says, it is an important challenge to lack of rationality in belief, but it needs something to keep other Christians and perhaps other theists accountable.

Offline Airyaman

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I think the tactic is to go for the low hanging fruit. Fundies take most of the bible literally, so they go after that. You just don't know what liberals are thinking.
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Offline JustMe

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I think the tactic is to go for the low hanging fruit. Fundies take most of the bible literally, so they go after that. You just don't know what liberals are thinking.

Fundies may be low hanging fruit in that their arguments are easy to find holes in because they make no sense at all. But in terms of actually being able to convince people their beliefs could use a change, fundies are very hard. Going for the group of Christians that have some rational capacity but also have some danger of becoming fundamentalist if they let their beliefs go just a little bit further seems more productive to me. And those people might be called "liberals" relative to the standard mailbag content. And this site is not directed at those people.

Since liberals believe all kinds of different things, perhaps there should be a series of shorter videos, rather than one longer one. So "if you believe in the power of prayer, you need to be able to answer this question". "If you believe in transsubstantiation, you need to be able to answer this one". Etc. That way we get responses where people aren't wasting time saying "but this part of the bible is wrong" and getting "of course it is, I don't believe in that, that's just stupid" or "it might be right, but I don't personally believe in it" in response.

Watch how Hitchens gets repeatedly wrongfooted by using arguments that work against "typical" Christianity while debating with a liberal Jew. He looks like he's opposing religion because he "doesn't know what _true_ religion is supposed to be" sometimes, when that's not really the case.

http://www.ajula.edu/Content/ContentUnit.asp?CID=1766&u=7037&t=0

Another thing we could do, if we want to understand what someone who seems semi-liberal thinks, is ask. Starting off a thread by saying "we get people who believe a lot of different things here - do you believe in x?" avoids looking like a biased religion-hater for making an incorrect assumption, and focuses the debate on things someone actually does believe, instead of areas where spending time and energy getting them to agree with us involves no change in their beliefs.

Maybe people do stop to ask, but I haven't seen it happen much.
« Last Edit: August 15, 2008, 11:41:04 AM by JustMe »

Offline velkyn

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Quote
There are two main problems with this video: firstly, it seems to assume an overwhelming hegemony in terms of Christian thought. Consider: as an Anglican, I do not believe in the "power of prayer" in a physically healing sense (although many other Anglicans do), and so the questions regarding prayer are somewhat redundant. Secondly, it takes a rather Dawkins-like approach, in that the author has defined for himself what it means to be rational and intelligent, and those who fall outside these parameters are irrational, and wrong. Delusional. Moreover, his response to the question of God, i.e. God is imaginary so now all these questions can be answered sensibly, is of no more logical weight than, for example, the statement that God is a brutal, insane, sadistic demi-urge who lusts after our misery and bewilderment with all the passion only a being on a higher plane can muster.

Sadly, this sort of response shows a woeful ignorance, and indeed, bigotry on the part of religious sceptics. I take no issue with the idea of being sceptical of religion itself, but sweeping statements about "your religion" which don't recognise the great differences in theology between, say, mainstream American Baptists and mainstream members of the Church of England, simply cause the argument to fail because it does not apply to Christians as a unit, merely to a very particular kind of Christian, partially invented by the author to suit his purposes.

seems to reduce down to "there is only one type of true Christian" and that "we have the real magic decoder ring". 
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Offline Airyaman

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Most liberal Christians aren't serious enough about their faith to even check out the videos.
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Offline Red McWilliams

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Good morning children.  Today's word of the day is...



SPAG!!
Today I step into the shoes of a great man, a man by the name of Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho.

Offline JustMe

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seems to reduce down to "there is only one type of true Christian" and that "we have the real magic decoder ring". 

And unless we actually do, we ought to make videos for different types of Christians.

Offline Hermes

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[ This is strange posting after JustMe; that was my name on the old WWGHA forums and is my current name on ATT ]

And unless we actually do, we ought to make videos for different types of Christians.

I disagree that should be done here.  There are many sects of Christianity and to deal with each of them would muddy the waters.

Basically, there are _three_ groups of Christians regardless of sect;

1. Theologians and academics.   (book ends on the left side of the shelf)

I suggest ignoring this group for the reason that Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Daniel Dennet point out; these folks will give a sophisticated explanation of Christianity when challenged with serious questions and an entirely different answer when talking to the flocks of normal believers.  Why?  Normal mediocre Christians are not sophisticated enough to understand.

2. Normal believers.  (the mediocre middle)

Religion is good and not all of the details are believed literally.  When in doubt, whatever they deem is good must be religiously based.  This group ignores or -- at most -- is moderately annoyed when religious leaders do bad things.  They believe because believing itself is a good thing and they will trust that the details are handled by group #1.

These folks read either no religious books or read pop religious books and think they are spiritually educated.

3. Fundamentalists.   (book ends on the right side of the shelf)

Literalists.   Religion is what is dictated from on high.  The middle is despised and must be made into proper Christians by any means possible -- souls are at stake and our declining morals are at stake.  While a smaller group, this is the other set of book ends propping up the middle.


So, why talk with any of them?  It's not to deconvert them.  I could care less about that.  What would be good, though, is that they address reality and are more informed about what they (currently) talk about as true.  It would be good if they acknowledge the latent bigotry that religions promote against those not in the specific sect they are in.


So, who should we talk with?

2. Mainly, the mediocre middle.  A few simple questions, as posed in the videos, can spark some investigation.  Many of these Christians will be angered or stupefied when encountering these videos as they 'must be wrong'.  Like a rash, they will scratch it by throwing out nonsense like Pascal's Wager.  (I had a friend do this a few weekends ago.  I doubt that he knows what Pascal's Wager is, and it would take a while to walk him through the details.  He's someone that would be furious if he deconverted so I'm not pushing him directly on the issue.  I mainly state my POV and why I think as I do...and don't bring up issues of religious dogma.)

Why not the other groups?

1. The theologians may even agree with 90% of what the videos say.  If they don't agree, changing their minds won't have much impact.  They will talk with us one way, and will talk to the mediocre middle Christians another way ... and very little will be passed along.

3. Some fundimentalists will be angered enough to engage the videos if they know about them.  This may or may not lead to a softening or deconversation.
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Offline JustMe

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My apologies, what I was suggesting was not clearly stated. I agree that trying to deal with Christians by sect would be a waste of effort. I was suggesting we do videos based on individual beliefs (the power of prayer to cause divine intervention, various miracles being "true", etc). Even within sects, there is a wide variation in beliefs due to SPAG. Videos that dealt with individual beliefs could end up addressed to people who held those beliefs regardless of sect. Saying "since you're a Christian, you must believe this, this, this and this" will end up with them defending beliefs they do not hold becasue they see giving ground on one as a slippery slope. Even intellectuals end up doing this. Have a look at the Hitchens video I linked above, and you will see a rabbi defending Christian beliefs that as a Jew he does not share, says he does not need to defend, but then goes on to defend anyway out of some kind of religious solidarity.

I concede the point that offending normal believers is one method to prod them into coming here. However, this tactic is likely to offend the fundies much, much more, and if that is not our target audience, perhaps a different approach may be equally effective on normal Christians but less likely to bring in fundies. I'm not entirely sure on this, but I think it's something that's worth trying to see what effect it might have, I can't see that it would hurt. If I had video editing experience I'd do it myself, but I don't.

[ This is strange posting after JustMe; that was my name on the old WWGHA forums and is my current name on ATT ]

And unless we actually do, we ought to make videos for different types of Christians.

I disagree that should be done here.  There are many sects of Christianity and to deal with each of them would muddy the waters.

Basically, there are _three_ groups of Christians regardless of sect;

You and I basically agree on the target audience, which leaves us debating tactics for reaching that audience most effectively. I think public discussions with theist intellectuals may have an important role to play, but only as a means to sway the majority in the middle. If the objective is not deconversion but a more sensible and realistic set of beliefs for the middle section (which again I wholeheartedly agree with), having intellectuals on this forum will force them to present arguments which, as you have correctly pointed out, they may not normally use to a less informed audience. The more informed arguements they present in defense of their faith here may sway some middle of the road theist onlookers to adopt more enlightened positions themselves, where a pure atheist argument would not do so. Effectively, in defending themselves, theologians and academics can do some of our work for us, because they will be arguing against "bad religion", and will acknowledge, when pressed, any evil done in the name of religion, and admit that many of the practices of mainstream religion are not sensible. I have gotten one, for example, to admit that although he believes in the divinity of Jesus, he thinks miracles could possibly turn out to be explained by natural means (in every single case except for the Jesus one), and prayer can legitimately be undertaken only as a means of thanks, and not in the expectation that God will take some action on your behalf. Having a respected theist support these positions publicly in order to defend the legitimacy of god-belief can help to change the minds of middle-of-the-road Christians, in my opinion. So I think attracting more of the higher-end theologians to this forum has value. Whether we can do it is another matter entirely, however. The 10 questions video will certainly not do it, and the tone of the debate here could be problematic as it's not particularly intellectually engaging much of the time (due to the large number of nutjobs that come through the mailbag).

Also, I didn't know when I took this account that there was someone else who normally used it. I'm new to this sort of thing, as of a few weeks ago. You reputation precedes you (you got respect from Davedave, by the way, which I understand is almost unprecedented), and I've had to explain several times that I'm not you. If you'd like the account back, let me know and we'll sort it out.

Offline Hermes

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The theistic intellectuals (aka my group #1; theologians and academics) have two audiences;

I. Other theistic intellectuals and those who can discuss on that level.

II. The public.

The message to both groups is different. 

If you convince them on the intellectual level (I.), they will still talk to the public (II.) on a different level.   This happens over and over and over again...so, I don't see much of a benefit to focusing on these people.  The videos (while crude and blunt) do a much better job and don't have to deal with these people who aren't going to be blunt and tell folks what they really know. ^^^

To focus on them is a waste of time; they largely agree with anyone else who has looked at the facts -- and they are flexible when new facts are available to inform them!

That's why I ask theists -- any theists -- what they are going to do when they are informed of the damage that the religious group they are in are responsible for.  I have to admit that I get three typical responses;

1. They agree and are already doing something.  (a small group)

2. They agree and are puzzled why I'm asking them to clean up the mess.  (a larger group)

3. They ignore it and when pressed pass the buck or say it's not their responsibility.  (an even larger group)


(Note that I'm not advocating ignoring them outright.  I am recommending that they not be the focus as they are at best lax in passing along any insights they garner from these conversations.)





^^^. I kinda understand why they are reluctant to do this heavy lifting.  For one, it is not good idea to tell your boss (the masses in the middle) that they should basically be spiritual atheists.  Secondly, even if they don't advocate some kind of spiritual atheism, they would have to explain the concepts they have learned in detail.  This is taxing for them and only pi$$es off folks who are interested in the same basic story they learned as a kid and not some updated version.
Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons. --Michael Shermer

The history of religion is a long attempt to reconcile old custom with new reason, to find a sound theory for an absurd practice.  --Sir James George Frazer

Offline Hermes

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A different forum -- something along the lines of what happens on the Apologia podcast -- would be more appropriate;

http://www.drzach.net/apologia.htm

If you have a method for filling this gap here, within the current context, go for it!  I'd like to see something concrete.  I don't think you'll get much cross pollination between the 1s and 2s.
Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons. --Michael Shermer

The history of religion is a long attempt to reconcile old custom with new reason, to find a sound theory for an absurd practice.  --Sir James George Frazer

Offline Hermes

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If you'd like the account back, let me know and we'll sort it out.

Well, the account name is yours.  I dragged my heals getting an account.

If you could ask the admin to change the display name a little (if not the username too), I would appreciate it.  I don't want anyone confused.  This is completely optional and I make no demands; it's my d@mn fault.  Since you don't make me look like an idiot, I'm not climbing the walls over this.



FWIW: Regardless of what you do or are allowed to do by the admins, I'm going to keep the name Hermes.   I can see where folks would be confused over display names, though.
Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons. --Michael Shermer

The history of religion is a long attempt to reconcile old custom with new reason, to find a sound theory for an absurd practice.  --Sir James George Frazer