Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Open Letter to John Loftus and the "DC" crowd
The Peaceable Kingdom, Edward Hicks
The "DC" crowd: the folks at Debunking Christianity blog.
I have two purposes here. I do want to say a word about my manner. This is not an explanation about why I seem insulting at times nor is it another apology. I did apologize and I covered "why" in the last post here. I will say something about it. Secondly, I want to speak to a statement John Loftus made on the Triblogue. He said something to the effect "why don't you block with us and not them (the fudnies) because you have more in common wit us. This is the primary reason for this "open letter."
As for my insulting nature, this is all I wish to say: when I utter words such as "go to college get an education" that is not the devastating insult it may seem. Now I'm not saying that those offended don't have a right to be offended. I do not mean to hurt anyone, and this does come accords in a way that does offend, I am sorry for that and I am trying to change so I don't do it again. I also am not denying that I have been insulting to many in the past. Regardless of the reasons, I have been an ass at times. I do regret that. I am trying to change. Quiting message boards (except for my own) is part of that attempt. Aside from this. I did go to the Gingus Khan school of diplomacy. I am gruff and I can be cold. When I feel insulted I know how to insult back. But just telling someone "get an education" is not the insult it seems. I do not say that to imply "you are an idiot." I know you read it that way. Perhaps there's no other way to read it in the context of a heated argument. I am not making excuses and I am trying to change so that I say it more gently. But I do have grave concern that a great deal of the bitterness of atheists comes from just not knowing enough about religion, theology, and history. I hasten to add Christians, and all people must be included there. The whole culture is less literate than it used to be. We are not taught the kinds of things our parents were taught in therms of liberal arts, literature, history, we are forgetting their importance. We are so hung up on empirical data we have forgotten about other kinds of knowledge. I see the most abismal logic on message boards and blogs, not all from atheists either! I just stay out of moral arguments because neither side understands meta ethical theory and most of those discussions are so messed up it's hopeless.
To me learning is not a fixed position. If you have a deficiency in education, that doesn't mean you are stupid or no good. It means you need to learn more. Do it! I mean it, in a nice way! Read some books, take some classes and try to learn more! I am a teacher. I am a born teacher. It's all I ever really wanted to be since I was in tenth grade and I first faced the realization that I was born to teach. When I see a lack of education in some area I have to point it out. Now, as I say, I could do that in a more gracious way and hopefully I will.
As for John's statement, do I actually have more in common with atheists on DC than I do with fundies? In a way it's true, but it depends upon how you look at it.I was an atheist. But that was a long time ago, and the atheist community was very different then. There was no internet. IT wasn't even thought about. In that day when I first began to call myself an atheist and really up to the point where I was born again, computers were big main fame things with spools of tape, there was only one or at most two in a city no one every thought about having one of his own. Atheists did not come together on the internet, they met primarily through universities. There was only one atheist organization I ever heard of, that was Madelin Murry O'Hair's group in Austin. I knew a good friend of hers, an eccentric English paperhanger who was an old man when I was in highschool. He ran his own discussion group in Richardson Texas. He's long dead. It was a cool group. I got into it through a friend I knew in the McGovern campaign. That's right, it was 1972! That's how atheists had to meet back then, by accident in connection with things held in common. Almost all the atheists I knew before the internet I knew from Universities. Those I met through the English guy who put me on to the O'Hair group, were fanatical and seemed kind of dumb. I didn't hang with them much, I did not like them. I liked the old guy's discussion group. Most of those people were not atheists, but they were generally tolerant and "fellow travelers."
In those days the major influences upon atheism were not from science. Today it seems like a large portion of atheists are either people angry at religion, or people who like scientific stuff, or they overlap. In those days there was a huge influx of Marxists, which you don't find on message boards much. There was a smaller group of those who were existentialists, influenced by Jean-Paul Sartre. I was both, Marxist and Sartian. that was also common since Sartre was a Marxist himself. There was no appreiceable objectivist influence. In those days objectivism was quite rare, and when I did meet one I was instantly an enemy and tried to drive them away. Obviously, because they were anti-Marx. By "drive away" I man out argue in class or in the discussion group, or what have you. I didn't physically drive anyone anywhere.
So what do we have in common? One might think I can related to you as atheists becasue I was one. But I don't. I think the differences in the kinds of atheism I was into and the kind I see today are so great, I don't' feel any real kinship there. I can relate to some basic ideas of enlightening society, struggle to make things better, social consciousness, I relate to that strongly. I have been a political activist all my life. I was a major Dallas organizer for the Central America Solidarity movement in the 80s. I was a Vietnam protester from 6th grade (1968) to the end of American involvement (something around 74). I can relate to that but what I can't relate to is the association of social consciousness with determinism and reductionism. I see these ideas as the enemies of the people, the essence of what is oppressive in capitalistic society. I see atheists today as pulling for the death of humanity, the putting to sleep any real human sensibility and striving to turn humanity into number crunching robots. I lump in with this materialism, brain/mind functionalism, and all those things that reduce reality from an open ended metaphysical question to a quantified and spelled out chemical determinism. To me nothing is more fascist than Dennett's stuff on reducing mind to brain function. Now I don't know what John's views are on these things. But I am sepaking of atheism in general, and I'm probably wrong to generalize about what all of you think.
I saw these issues about social consciousness as disproofs or challenges to Christian belief, even though the core values that motivate them probably go back to my childhood upbringing in the church of Christ. Even so, I held those things out against Christian belief as reasons to abandon it, when I was an atheist, and a young Marxist and existentialist. Those core values that I have always clung to as the standards of what knew so undoubtedly that they could be used to judge even the truth of faith, include: compassion for others, an abstract love of something called "humanity," a desire to make the society we live in better, more humane and more reasonable, and love of the arts and love of learning. These are the ideals I would say my life is about. I would lay odds that good number of you would agree with that list, although perhaps adding some to it. I am guessing you are thinking "these are things we agree upon." They are I'm sure. There's also another sense in which we agree, and that is the modernity of my life. This is something that gives me more in common with John Loftus than with a good many fundamentalists.
Fundamentalism is an attempt to hide form modernity. Fundamentalism began as a reaction against the encroachment of the modern world. I grew up in the South, in Texas of the 1950s. I was raised in an exclusive group that saw itself as the only true Christians, for a bunch of picky reasons no one outside that group could ever relate to. They were things like "we don't use instrumental music." The Church of Christ of my youth was unlike it is today, unbelievably legalistic, exclusivistic, closed minded, bigoted, ignorant, agnry. I was raise with the idea that modern world is wrong, that's the "world" the Bible warns us of. Like all young atheists and good liberals I went through a coming of age ritual that involved shedding these ideas and embracing the modern world. As a liberal theologian I seek to translate the gospel in to the modern world, while the fundie seeks to hide from the world to save the gospel. So that in a sense does give us some common ground, but there is a problem.
While I did see these values as challenges to the faith I was raised with, when I got saved I saw that there's a much greater fit between these values and the gospel of Christ. These are not challenges to faith, they are result of faith. They are the fruit of knowing Christ. It took time to see this, it good graduate school to see how it all came together; but it does. Faith is Christ is a much better foundation for these values than is atheism. Fudnies would probably agree with most of the list of values as they stand, so the real issues are all in application. Fundies are not going to say "No I hate people, I don't want things to be better of the individual." Now some may actually not want that, but they don't know they don't want it. I always thought the end times stuff was very anti-human. We can't make society better, it's going to get so bad God just has to wipe it all out and call the game an "take us home." Did you not know that Christians haven't always thought that way? Did you knot know that in the days of the abolition movement (which was about 90% Christian) they believed that the social Gospel would make the world good, and Jesus would came back to find a socially perfect world with no war, no poverty, no prejudice. That was called "post millennialism." The Pre millenarianism of today that replaced it (the world will just worse until the whole things is destoryed in fire and Jesus will rapture out the faithful and the evil will burn in hell) that view came in on the heels of post civil war despair.
The sense of modernity I share with you, which includes wanting to understand science, and taking scientific evidence seriously, hence I'm an evolutionist, is tempered with a postmodernist sensibility. I realize that modernism was arrogant, overblown, gave short shrift to the value of the past. As the Great Marxist revolutionary Leon Trotsky once said, "opportunists think principles are dead weight when in reality they are ballast." I'm not calling John an opportunist, but by the same token the values of the past are not dead weight, they are ballast that help us stay up right in the stormy passages of life. We need continuity. While the postmodern might dismiss faith as a meta narrative, postmodernist itself becomes a meta narrative if we don't recognize when something is pulling us under and when it's acting as ballast and keeping us from capsizing. In post modernity everything is up for grabs. So religion has as much a place on the playing field as any other assumption.
Sartre and Marx were like photographers. Their photos were true images of the world, they just got mixed up as to what was the negative and what was the positive image. Sartre's project was about showing the consequences of the world without God. But he neglected to realize that there is a God. So while he was right that life is absurd, he was wrong about it being meaningless. While he was right about us being radically free, he was wrong about Christianity being a limitation to freedom. Christianity is the basis upon which true freedom is predicated. Thus what Sartre saw as the negative, Christianity, is the positive. His positive, his own ego, was the negative. But the image of the world he presented is a true picture of what's out there. We are free and we are condemned to be free in an absurd world, and a world that often seems meaningless, but the meaning is there if we seek it. Those aspects of modern thought which seek to eliminate freedom and reduce us to robot status are not bridges to a world of human compassion, they are death and they are slavery and death.
Marx' negative of the world is his materialism. The images he saw truly was the need to understand a material critique, social sciences which understand the material limitations and how they govern people's lives, and to see that clearly and scientifically without mystifying it with a bunch of hokus pockus. But he published this image in its negative, where he sees religion as the problem and a totally secular world as the answer. He was deluded by Fuerbach. Ah there's another good photographer who couldn't tell which was the negative. God is the mask of money. Fuererbach got that one right! He gives us a true image, but as with Sartre and Marx we have to turn it around from negative to positive. The need for material social critique does not mean the need for materialist metaphysics.
When I put things together, scientific understanding of social problems, the condemnation to freedom, the truth I find in art, the intrinsic need for meaning, the grounding of world views in values which are themselves ungrounded, it all tells me that these areas of thought I've always sought to follow, to understand, to explicate, my friends, the familiar things I've always lived with, my friends the ideals, these tell not of the need to discord belief in Christ, but the need to embrace it. So while we do have a lot of common values, we have very different orientations about what they mean. I'm speaking in very general terms, trying to cram in a life-time of learning and study into a few simple ideas, and speaking in great generalizations. By and large you can't ground social utopia in a society that can't be any more free than the ability to quantify freedom and reduce consciousness to chemicals. You can't build a better society in world where freedom is grounded in meaninglessness and absurdity. You cannot have a social utopia in a world that is meaningless and absurd. But "utopia" means "nowhere." There is no perfect society in a fallen world. To ignore that and then try to build a better society in a world that can never anything more than meaningless is as bad as trying to pull the holy down from heaven and construct it on earthy by confusing the distinction between the divine and temporal political power.
I bring this up because it demarkakes the line that I am willing draw between who I block and who I do not block with. Those who would cast the aura of the sacred over their temporal projects, the right wing fundamentalists who confuse their own reading of the Bible with God's word itself, are setting society up for a crystal night, but those who would cut off any sort of higher meaning in the name of quantification are merely setting up a killing field. The values I speak of only work if they are grounded in the divine, and if the distinction between the sacred and profane is very clear. That's why Secularization is not bad, its' a good thing. That was the solution to the religious wars, make a vocabulary everyone can share and speak that in the public square.
The most important thing to me is God. I had a classic "born again" experince, with a vintage Pentecostal "baptism of the Holy Spirit" with the famous "signs following."
You can read all about it here. Nothing is more important than the Gospel and representing it fairly. I don't don't expect atheists or even Christians who have not had such experinces, to understand. It was not just a matter of feeling better about things, it was not merely a matter of not worrying about hell, it was like going form death to life. It was as though I spent why life in a coffin and suddenly it was open I discovered a world of wonder and beauty I never dreamed existed. So of course that is the most important thing. Thus I choose alliances lexically, in the order of that which most serves the interest of the Gospel. There have been times that I blocked with the atheists against fundamentalists. But it has to be when I feel that the fundies are a bigger threat to the Gospel the atheists in that given issue. That does happen at times. There was my Falling out with CARM and Matt Slick. You can read about part of that those two previous links and Here. The issue began with evolution. I got sick of all these really stupid posts fundies kept dragging over form the creation board. I tried to put them wise on evolution because all of their criticisms revolved around issues they just did not understand in science. That fiasco ended with the fudnies on cARM calling me "the spawn of satan" and Matt Slick and I exchanging really harsh words. We have made up sense then. I went on to start fundies watch and was banned for six months.
I have now quite carm for good, but that was because of the atheists not because of Matt. The point is I am willing to block with atheists against fundamentalists, but only when the fundies are being a bigger danger at the moment, a danger to spreading the gospel, then are the atheists. That has to be the deciding factor because that's the most important thing in the world, because that's life. that's where life is found, knowing God. That's what its all about and nothing is better than that. The sense of being a modern person and learning understanding the world and so on those are all illuminations that help illustrate the path, they are not the path itself. the mistake atheists are making is they are using the illuminations to obscure the path instead of following where they really lead. The fundies are a bigger danger to the Gospel when they make following their social agenda the true test of the Gospel. When they confuse the temporal power they seek with the end for which they seek it, they are a greater danger. When they make agreement with their opinions the true test of faith, when they forget what grace is and think the Gospel is about idolizing the bible, they are a greater danger.
The answer is not so simple as to just start mocking the fundies, because the atheists can be a danger too at times. No one sets out to be a danger. Everyone is seeking truth, but everyone want it on his own terms. The only answer is to keep saying the truth. If that means fighting against both sides, that's just the way it has to be.