May 5, 2013

An 'Opening Salvo' against Backpack Radio

Here is a critical review  letter we at BACKPACK RADIO received. It is from a New Testament expert and a professor at Mesa Community College in Mesa, Arizona. He is also an atheist. Yesterday, I posted  his preface to his responsa to "Truth: What it Look (sic) Like." Here is the body of his letter to us ...

Your panel says: The “Biblical view of truth” is the only source of Truth while mocking the ramblings and fumblings of people trying to define truth. Fair enough . . .

Then you claim that “God is always Truth” – Well, then how do you deal with Biblical morality and ethics that are not palatable or followed by modern Christians? History shows us quite clearly that this “Truth” is really quite mutable from era to era. Is it not better then to say that God is “sometimes” Truth?

Then Pastor Bob says that there are “things we can know truly about God” – like what?

Then you all agree that there is “sufficient knowledge” of God and truth – such as?

All of these are just assertions. You (plural) give no evidence or examples of these claims. In fact, these are only premises and presuppositions, using in this discussion Paul’s letter to the Romans (1:18-25) as a proof-text, but these issues of “truth” are not self-evident, objectively or subjectively, unless one is infected with the God virus (cf. Darrell Ray’s interesting atheist treatise) or has learned the behavior, rhetoric, and sophistic tactics of Christian apologetics . . .

It is the height of hypocrisy, not to mention that of intellectual dishonesty, to tout and celebrate “Biblical Truth” – which undeniably implies Bible in toto – as the only legitimate definition of truth, as you do in this podcast, and then, without any embarrassment, proceed to explain away or ignore such modern distasteful “moral” codes as, say, death penalty for adulterers (Mark 10:11-12; Deuteronomy 22:22), which I suspect your church does not promote. More significantly, though, it betrays the game – replete with the shifting manmade rules per historical situation or era – that is Christian apologetics. Modern Christianity and the “discipline of apologetics” are basically “trick” decks of cards employed to maintain an unreasonable and fanciful world of meaning, and one grounded in some sort of “capital T” truth (which itself is also part of the game being played) that is encased in an ancient set of documents, which are demonstrably irrelevant to our era. To be sure, everything in life is not an all-or-nothing deal, but when one claims that the Christian Bible enshrines “Truth,” it is beyond disingenuous to then limit the ramifications of this so-called truth by cherry-picking only what is amenable to modern American society or to your own communal liking. This preposterous rhetorical maneuver is therefore worthy of scorn and ridicule. non credo quia absurdam est.

Christian apologists of course do not “recognize” the dishonesty and/or trickery intrinsic to this game. In fact, they have legitimized its nonsensical rules and wishful thinking in order to uphold the delusion that is a “Christian” worldview – in short, it is a game they can never lose. For this reason, among others, non-theists and non-religionists refrain from even entering or engaging the game in the first place, and this refusal to play, I submit, riles Christians more than just about anything (which is one reason why atheists are more hated than homosexuals or witches or Muslims). We non-theists recognize not only the game but the rules of the game as manmade and pointless, and we have better things to do with our time, energy, thought, and life. Moreover, we refuse to become complicit in the harmful and immoral nature of the game, for although this game is structurally not unlike the Tooth Fairy, which is arguably harmless mythmaking for children, the Christian game is dangerous and repressive, to say the least.

In summation of this segment of the podcast, I must say that I am always perplexed with how Christian apologists are so obsessed with ultimate definitions of truth. Why not simply face the threat of anomy honestly and squarely with rest of us without constructing (and then expending huge amounts of time and energy defending) a fantastic and unsustainable system of meaning (i.e., religion)? After all, the mass of men cannot ultimately define gravity or love, for instance, yet we all live with it and in it everyday. “Truth” is an ideal, and a manmade one at that. What is so difficult about this to grasp? If the fear is loss of community along with meaning, then there is plenty of communities (even “reality”-defining ones) to join.

 An aside: Have you ever wondered why the “discipline of apologetics” is even needed if Christianity or the Christian worldview is so true, or if Biblical Truth is really self-evident truth? Is it not vanity of vanities (Ecc. 1:2)? Or just fighting a losing battle?

NOTE: We will respond and READ UP TO HERE ON the 05.12.2013 edition of Backpack Radio With guests MARTY CLAPP & SHAWN WHITE ...

Podcast turns to Romans 1:18–25: 
Here is a sticking point for non-theists (or non-Christians, at any rate). Pastor Bob raves about how profound this passage of Paul’s is, but verse 20 presents a real problem, then and now: “For the unseen things of him, being understood from the creation of the world in/by the things that are made, are clearly perceived, both his eternal power and divinity, so that they are without excuse” (my translation, which is more direct and accurate and less periphrastic than the translation you read in the podcast). The sticking point occurs in the supposed “unseen” attributes of God: there is no reason that we must discern divinity in “the things that are made” (i.e., everyday realia and existence), unless one is taught to do so. So we are not “without excuse” if we do not play the theological game Christians play or if we do not make the unwarranted leap into theocentric explanations for human meaning . . .

An aside: If God is “evident to us” in his creatures, as Pastor Bob says when echoing Paul, is this not then a form of pantheism: that -ism which is so abhorrent to Christians?

Let’s say, though, that we do fully “acknowledge” this Biblical Truth in God, as Pastor Bob puts it, then what does this really explain? In practicality? I would say, very little. To be frank, Christians do not really follow the Bible’s dictates (i.e., the only source for deriving application of “truth,” besides what Christians fabricate from era to era): indeed, inconsistency is in the DNA of Christianity. Hence acknowledging this “truth” is mere rhetoric. In fact, this situation reminds me of the inconsequentiality of the Creationists’ or ID proponents’ insistence upon Genesis as the blueprint for the origins of humanity and Earth, not to mention their insistence upon its inclusion in science classes in public education – even if we grant accuracy in their ludicrous canard, it still explains nothing other than an “origin” itself; it cannot explain anything about the history of humanity or the planet or life as we know it since “Elohim (gods plural, by the way) created the heavens and the earth.” This delusional theory of origins certainly cannot explain anything related to what is now called science (on which, by the way, all Christian apologists, along with everyone else, rely day in and day to exist in modern society, whether they want to admit it or not).

To demonstrate the pointlessness of this so-called Biblical Truth in action, imagine for a moment an eight-grade science class founded on Genesis instead of the theory of evolution. The whole of the class would take up maybe one week of assertion, textual analysis of the J and P sources in Genesis, and perhaps a little discussion, and then the teacher would have exhausted the matter, for there is nothing this theory (or this Biblical text) can elucidate about, say, contemporary astronomy or recent advances in particle physics at CERN or – more pertinent to most folks’ everyday reality – modern medicine. So the entirety of a student’s “science” education (within this suggested theology-based world) could be completed in, again, less than a week. This scenario you will no doubt protest, but this is the reality of such “Biblical Truth” nonsense taken to its logical conclusion. Wow, just imagine how dumb our already ignorant culture would become if this scenario played out . . .

And so it goes with morality, however one defines this vague concept. Of course, Christian apologists are in love with the self-righteous rhetoric of morality and ethics as grounded in Biblical Truth, but care little for the practical application of the codes of conduct (i.e., morals) prescribed in Bible, in both testaments. For example, let’s say we grant the “Truth” of Bible and that we should all behave according to the injunctions contained therein (or let’s make it easier and say just those injunctions of Jesus). In such case, Christians do not adhere to this Biblical morality; nor do they even really attempt to do so in real life. It is enough for them to pay lip service to an outdated authoritative text and proclaim, for instance, something a “sin” and proceed to judge others accordingly, even if in the face of hypocrisy – again, I say, a rigged game.

Moreover, as Sam Harris makes clear in his Letter to a Christian Nation, Christians “imagine that their concerns are moral when they are not” – for the simple reason that their morality is not really concerned with human “suffering or its alleviation” (p. 25). After a lifetime of studying Christians, (the history of) Christianity, and Christian behavior, I have to second Harris’ notion here. Evidence for this imaginary morality is everywhere in America, a supposedly Christian nation, but one that wallows in violence, greed, inequality, sexual dysfunction, etc. Christians do not really care in practicality about human suffering or even maximizing human happiness; they are more concerned with maintaining their fantasy world of meaning and beliefs through rhetoric and power – the crux of “religion” in any case. 

Indeed, I concur with Harris, Dawkins, and Hitchens that this fantasy morality is downright immoral much of the time (if the premise of “morality” is the alleviation of human suffering, as it should be and, by the way, as is implied in Jesus’ Golden Rule). Consider, for example, the vast expenditures of time and vitriol and violence against abortion (about which Jesus had nothing to say), while one cardinal moral of Jesus – take care of the poor amongst you – goes unattended daily. The infringement of women’s rights in this case is undeniably immoral, as are all those self-righteous Christians in Congress voting down all sorts of aid for the poor in America (cf. McKibben’s “The Christian Paradox” for more on this travesty), while greed rules the day (blatantly contra Mark 10:17ff). And these are just a few of the daily “immoral” acts and behaviors (according to Jesus, the supposedly highest moral authority) of Christians. Examples of this hypocrisy can easily be multiplied . . .

An aside: If we must use an ancient text (because of its antiquity, with which religionists are so enamored), and one that is not purely humanist, then why not worship and adhere to Plato’s MenoGorgias, or Republic? At least, these sources have the added benefit of being somewhat relevant to modern Western culture. Bottom line: If we’ve got to have some sort of written moral code, then anything would be better than the self-contradictory mess that is the Christian Bible, and I should know about messes since I have studied Bible in its original languages for more than a decade (cf. Avalos’ The End of Biblical Studies for more on this mess).

Podcast turns to the famous “The truth shall set you free” (John 8:32):

Well, free from what? This question is never answered. In all practicality, one can never escape one’s humanness, with all its foibles (e.g., Romans 1:24: “in the lusts of their hearts to impurity,” as Pastor Bob notes that God them over to). What is pure then? Certainly not humans as such – unless, in keeping with “Biblical Truth,” they adhere to Torah steadfastly and without fail (i.e., play by the rules of the game of Bible). “Purity” and “impurity” are human and societal constructions whether or not you want to recognize them as such.

An aside: It is curious to me that Paul exclaims repeatedly and proudly that a Christian is a “slave (doulos) in Christ,” yet this predicament is somehow today supposed to be considered freedom. From my perspective, Christians are slaves to a fantasy world and fairy tales, although they misrecognize it as redemption in Christ from sin.

Vermon or Bob says that they (non-theists) persist in “suppression of the truth even if they are not aware of it” – Pardon me, but this is sophistic nonsense, and only serves to uphold your theological premises; it is not a valid argument.

Of course, the contaminant in the discourse here is “sin” (i.e., missing the mark). This notion betrays the rigged deck of cards in this game: the construction and definition of sin are manmade. Thus with this precept of sin, it becomes a tautology to ground judgment of others’ conduct by the shifting manmade definitions of sin: the “mark” (historically and societally contingent as it is) is set by man, whether you recognize it as such, and then it is “missed” by man – clearly a rigged game. If we extract the notion of sin from the game, then we remove the tautology and hence remove the basis of “Biblical” judgment, as well as the need for any adherence to Bible or to a supposed Biblical Truth.

But of course by doing so, this obliterates the game itself of Christian apologetics, so the notion of sin, however mutable or manmade, can never be extracted from the discourse or the game; otherwise, the Christian “world” would crumble along with the game. So self-preservation begets defense (apologia) . . .
In response to Vermon’s claim that the gospel truth is grounded in historical fact, Pastor Bob quotes Paul: “If Christ has not been raised up, then our kerygma is empty, and our faith is empty (or in vain)” (1 Cor. 15:14, my translation). Well, the spurious reports in the NT about folks having seen a resurrected Jesus (even bracketing out their aretalogical Tendenzen and pretending that they record actual events) constitute awfully flimsy historical evidence for the “truth” of Christianity, or God acting in history through the person of Jesus as Christians so proudly claim. From my perspective, Paul was right: they are both empty . . .

Then you quote John 3:33, et al. – Note that each of the passages you recite is simply an assertion about God and truth, not evidence for “God in reality” as you claim. In fact, this rhetorical tactic is a major downfall of Christian apologetics: the confusion of assertions or premises for evidence. Yet, as mentioned above, this tactic is part of the game being played, so it must be maintained at all costs.

In reference to Ephesians 4:15, Vermon mentions “truth speaking” and “speaking the truth in love” – Well, why do Christians lie all the time, not to mention often with malice and vitriol? This is hardly living in “God’s truth.” And by the way, according to Romans 1:28–32, gossip or slander is not only “not the way of the Lord,” as Vermon says, but it is “worthy of death.” I have not seen many gossipers executed lately. Just think of all the Christians on Facebook gossiping daily and courting the disaster of exclusion from the Kingdom of God, according to this game. Shall you determine that they deserve to die, as Paul declares? I think not. This system of “Truth” as grounded in Bible is woefully inconsistent, as well as rather silly – it is all just rhetorical flourish and game-playing . . .

Vermon says that “Christians have an obligation then to tell people about God and to tell people about Jesus Christ” – Well, no, this is not entirely accurate or, at any rate, not very honest. It is a self-serving and self-validating action or compulsion, not an altruistic one. Pestering people about God and Christ only serves to make Christians feel better about themselves – their individual and collective identities – and their constructed yet rickety worldview: it’s sort of like the more one says something, no matter how untrue or imaginary, the more “true” it becomes (i.e., self-validation at its purest). Put differently, Christians need to rehearse and repeat their self-legitimating story to others as part of their regular “reality-maintenance.” In any case, it is not “helping people see the reality” of their lives, as Vermon asserts; it only helps Christians defend their illusions. 

More offensive, though, is the fact that this compulsion to pester is only misrecognized as “obligation,” when it is really about the exertion of power and control over others. This will to power, even if unconscious or inadvertent, is part of the reason for the retaliation (and so-called bitterness) of non-theists, especially after a lifetime of being “witnessed to,” as we all have been in Western culture. It is also one of the reasons that Christopher Hitchens says that “religion poisons everything” – truer words have never been spoken! 

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