Evangelists panic when they’re losing ground

Hark, for I’m going to tell you a tale of olden times. Back in the days of yore, when our lives were little better than those of the cavemen, there were no podcasts. In those days, all we had for entertainment on long drives was an archaic device known as “The Radio.” On this radio, I used to listen to a lot of Christian shows, with my favorite being “The Bible Answer Man” with Hank Hanegraaff.

In these more enlightened times, I have so much regular entertainment to choose from that I can easily fill all my driving time and more with shows which confirm my own personal beliefs and prejudices, and much of the time I do. But when Beth asked her Facebook friends what fundie podcasts she could listen to last week, it reminded me. How is Hank doing? I really should start listening again.

And I’m so glad I did. Because if I hadn’t listened to the August 1 episode, I never would have run into this great article by Jerry Coyne. It’s titled: “As atheists know, you can be good without God.”

To put it mildly, Hank did not like this article.

Here are a few excerpts.

…[I]t’s clear that even for the faithful, God cannot be the source of morality but at best a transmitter of some human-generated morality.

This isn’t just philosophical rumination, because God — at least the God of Christians and Jews — repeatedly sanctioned or ordered immoral acts in the Old Testament. These include slavery (Leviticus 25:44-46), genocide (Deuteronomy 7:1-2; 20:16-18), the slaying of adulterers and homosexuals, and the stoning of non-virgin brides (Leviticus 20:10, 20:13, Deuteronomy 22:20-21).

Was God being moral when, after some children made fun of the prophet Elisha’s bald head, he made bears rip 42 of them to pieces (2 Kings 2:23-24)? Even in the New Testament, Jesus preaches principles of questionable morality, barring heaven to the wealthy (Matthew 19:24), approving the beating of slaves (Luke 12:47-48), and damning sinners to the torments of hell (Mark 9:47-48). Similar sentiments appear in the Quran.

Should we be afraid that a morality based on our genes and our brains is somehow inferior to one handed down from above? Not at all. In fact, it’s far better, because secular morality has a flexibility and responsiveness to social change that no God-given morality could ever have.

Sentiments I think most of us can get behind, but that’s no big surprise, right? Most of you readers are on Jerry Coyne’s side, as I am.

Now I don’t know if you’ve ever heard Hank Hanegraaff, but he’s got this very calm, very soothing voice, with what I would describe as almost a Jim Henson-like quality. He sounds reassuring, authoritative, certain of his facts. Most of the time.

On this particular occasion, as he talked about the terrible injustice of Coyne’s article, he just kept getting more and more agitated. He didn’t actually refute these claims about the Bible, mind you — he threw them out there, dismissed them by saying they were “out of context,” and then said he’d go over them in depth on another day. Which I loved, because there’s no more effective way to stoke an opposing argument than to repeat it without refuting it properly.

By the time he was done with the subject, Hank was doing a passable impression of Yosemite Sam, bringing up the usual red herrings like Mao Zedong and Pol Pot (even implying that Pol Pot was just a humanist trying earnestly to set up an “egalitarian society,” which made me say “WTF?”)

The best line of the show, however, was when Hank said in a voice of grave and sorrowful concern: “The thing that I find particularly troubling about this article… is that when you read it without discernment skills, you can end up believing it.”

Dead on, Hank. Of course, with proper analysis, it’s even more plausible. But I think Jerry Coyne should graciously accept the compliment that his rhetoric is so good that people without discernment skills are more likely to accept his reasoning than the Bible stories that they usually take as a given.

That’s what bugs evangelists about the internet in general. They’re used to stating their case in a vacuum. When someone like Hank Hanegraaff says, as he did to a caller later in the show, “God loves you so much that He sent His son to die for you,” he’s counting on the assumption that some rude and dickish atheist isn’t going to pop up and ask something like “How do you know that?” And when they solemnly proclaim that only God makes you moral, they hate it when you point to passages where Jesus endorses beating your slaves.

Similar sentiments abound these days; just a few weeks ago, Josh McDowell was saying that “The Internet has given atheists, agnostics, skeptics, the people who like to destroy everything that you and I believe, the almost equal access to your kids as your youth pastor and you have… whether you like it or not.”

Equal access? That’s what we’re gaining that’s so terrifying? Apparently religion can only thrive if they can muzzle the atheists, shut them up, shame them into not making a peep while we’re being slandered.

Keep on scaring them, folks.

The Biblical Spin Continues

ACA member and frequent commentator David Tyler went on the campaign trail briefly with Mark Loewe to John Hagee’s Cornerstone Church. David’s trip report is in our November Austin Atheist Newsletter (p. 2). I’m sorry I couldn’t go to this service. I’ve always wanted to see John Hagee in action. If you missed my 2008 Atheist Experience episode on John Hagee (episode #557), he’s a major wackjob with a large following in San Antonio. His main shtick is promoting end-times theology, complete with apocalyptic theology books, a major lobbying effort to bring about the end times, and an insistence that Hitler was inspired by God to bring Jews together (so good Christians can be raptured).

The speaker was co-Christian lunatic and propagandist, David Barton, of “Wall Builders” fame. I’ll be talking about Barton on this Sunday’s episode, but I wanted to draw attention to his “4 values” that he promoted to get the flock to vote his way:

1. Open display of worship (prayer in schools and government functions).
2. No killing of innocents (abortion, Pro-life).
3. Honor your father and mother (traditional marriage, family only – no gays).
4. Protection of private property (no government eminent domain seizures).

Barton allegedly got these directly from the Ten Commandments. I wanted to point out how self-serving his interpretation is.

1. While proselytization is nothing new to the Christian faith, the 10C in the Exodus fable was directed at the Israelites, God’s supposedly chosen people. If you weren’t part of that chosen people, advertising wasn’t going to help you. For Christian “leaders” like Hagee and Barton, advertising is necessary to sell that lemon of a religion. Who cares if you have to embrace the tactics of the Pharisees condemned in Matt. 6-5.

2. When did “Thou Shalt Not Kill” get turned into something about killing of innocents? Innocent by whose standard? I guess to these Christian leaders, killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans is completely just. The abortion thing is simply made up (bearing false witness). There’s no mention of abortion anywhere in either the Old or New Testaments. The penalty for causing a miscarriage is a fine (Ex. 21:22)… paid to the father–the one whose property has been taken. Remember that the wife is property herself and has no real rights under Biblical law.

3. I was amused by the “honoring thy father and mother” turning into a slam against gay rights. That one’s new to me. Jesus never said anything about gays, but he did make it very clear in Matt. 10:34-38 that people should disobey their parents, leave their families, and follow him. Jesus should have been killed for his contempt of Jewish law. Too bad there were no serious followers of Jewish law around to extract the penalty of death. But what drama would there be in that?

4. Let’s take a look at Biblical property rights, especially in that “coveting” commandment (Ex. 20:17). Wives, slaves, animals, and tangible property are all listed as a man’s property. Elsewhere, it’s clear that his children are a man’s property, as well. It would seem that would make Barton pro slavery, against women owning property, for multiple wives, and against anyone interfering with a man’s desire to have his own children aborted, should he so choose. Christians self-servingly never associate the “coveting” commandment mentioned their meddling with others’ reproduction–others’ property, according to their own Bible.

You’ll also never hear Barton associate his pro-Christian twisting of American History with the commandment about bearing false witness. Lying is his livelihood just as peddling Christian snuff porn is Hagee’s. So Barton’s plug for the 10C is really about promoting the Christian agenda of advertising their crap, the manufacture of future tithers, selling hatred of gays as red meat for rabid followers, and making sure Christian leaders keep their profit$ and tax advantages. They’ll both say and do anything to make a buck and their followers are too stupid to know they’re being conned.

Atheism in the news? Not really…

Read this post from the blog of the religion reporter at our local newspaper.

My comment was long, so I wasn’t sure if it got posted and thought I’d post it here, as well.

Three comments, in mixed order:

First, the study isn’t worth the attention it’s getting. In addition to all of the other problems with IQ, the variance here simply isn’t notable. This is a weak correlation and little more.

Second, the UTSA event is not to everyone’s taste, but your question; “why equate it with pornography?” is an interesting one. The implication is that you’d like to label porn as ‘bad’ but the Bible as ‘good’ or ‘not as bad’. I don’t find pornography objectionable, yet I find the Bible incredibly objectionable…so, your implication is correct, they’re not equal. I think most Bible-supporters know this which is why, despite calling it the “Good Book” not one of them would agree to let me read Bible stories of my selection to their children.

Some people are uncomfortable about nudity and sex, and that’s their prerogative.

Those, though, who would exalt a book that explicitly endorses slavery – the owning of another human as property, the beating of that property and the instruction for slave to obey cruel masters – just one of many objectionable points, can never claim the moral high ground. They have sacrificed their humanity for a poisonous and corrupt ideology.

And that, leads me to the third point – the focus on the fact that this individual had books on atheism and demons. There is nothing within atheism (because it’s a single position on a single question) that would direct one to burn a church. Atheism is not a necessary and sufficient cause for any act, let alone this one.

But the problem here is the self-righteous bigotry in both the headlines, the focus and the commentary. Where is the headline that reads “Bible found among clinic bombers belongings”?

Stay classy, Pat

We’ve gotten an email at the TV show address alerting us that on today’s 700 Club episode, Pat Robertson has gone into his usual “blame the victims” spiel regarding the Haitian earthquake. Apparently God decided to level Port-au-Prince, kill untold numbers (estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands), and displace at least 3 million people, because in the 19th century the Haitians “made a deal with the devil to free themselves from the French.” Setting aside the native Vodou religion (which is where Pat gets his debbil from), let us remember that the Haitian Revolution is the only successful slave revolt in history, bringing to an end a minority rule by the French that was enforced — in the way slavery is always enforced — with an oppressive caste system and violence. I guess that’s the way Pat prefers things.

Pat has clearly created his God in his image: they’re both despicable douchenozzles. Decent people, on the other hand, are encouraged to help.


Here it is right from the scumbag’s mouth.

Kazim to Chuck Colson: Slavery and Christianity

References:

I’d like to turn back to your second message, and the question of slavery. I pointed out in my earlier post that, rather than taking it as a given that Christians have always been the natural opponents of slavery, you might acknowledge that the Bible has frequently been used in the past to justify slavery. As an example I brought up the 19th century Reverend Thornton Stringfellow, who wrote a persuasive sermon supporting slavery as a Biblical institution. Your response, in a nutshell, was this:

“There are 1.9 billion Christians in the world today. You cannot judge Jesus Christ by the behavior of any one of them or any group of them, for that matter.”

Well, of course you can’t. I agree: you can’t judge the value of a philosophy based solely on the behavior of its adherents. But if that is the case, then certainly the reverse is also true: You can’t judge Christianity positively based on the good actions of its followers. Yet you do this continually throughout The Faith: you bring up actions taken by historical Christians such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and you present them as if they were some kind of demonstration that Christianity is a good philosophy.

Here’s my problem with that. Either you can judge Christianity by its followers, or you can’t. I admire Bonhoeffer for his bravery, but I don’t regard his actions as a justification for Christianity in their own right. I admire Martin Luther King, Jr. for his work with civil rights, but the respect I have for Dr. King does not require me to accept his faith as correct. It is not that I oppose your pride in members of your faith who exhibited strong dedication to benefitting their fellow man. What concerns me is that your pride in these people is used in your book, as it is in many apologetic works, to implicitly claim that Christianity confers some virtue that is not present in secular individuals like me.

However, if you can judge Christianity by the actions of Bonhoeffer and King, then it is fair game to also judge it by the actions of Reverend Thornton Stringfellow. Stringfellow strongly argued that the Old Testament was explicitly pro-slavery, and having read both the Bible and the speech, I feel like his arguments do have merit. Why don’t we just make an agreement that you cannot judge Jesus Christ by the behavior of his followers, good or bad? Likewise, why not agree that a person such as Joseph Stalin does not represent any kind of coherent atheistic philosophy, and refrain from saying (as you frequently do) that this is where atheism inevitably leads? I am an atheist, and I have no more interest in setting up political prisons or Gulags than you have in owning slaves.

You also write:

“I have made the argument in the book that the Christian church has opposed slavery from the beginning. In no way did I mean to imply that there haven’t been Christians who have been disobedient to the Scripture and the teachings of the church. There have been all through history. There are millions today who claim to be followers of Christ but who do not follow Christ’s commands. All of us, even the strongest believers, are under the effects of the Fall.”

While I would agree that you could not fault Christianity for a misapplication of the teachings in the Bible, we are not talking here about people who read clear injunctions against slavery and rebelled against them. We are talking precisely about what it says in the Bible that clearly supports slavery. For better or worse, Stringfellow seems to me to have been a sincere Christian who genuinely believed that he was acting in accordance with the clear commands of the Bible. The Bible said to hold slaves, and he preached that Christians should hold slaves.

“I also cannot justify the words of the Old Testament. It was a recognition by God to His covenant people of a practice that was wide-spread at that time in every culture, that His people would encounter. But it is in no way carried forward into the New Testament. My argument, remember, turns on the teachings of the Christian church and the New Testament.”

Of course. I have to say I appreciate your honest recognition of some ethical failings in the teachings of the Old Testament; I think it’s very forthright of you.

Yet, the Christian Bible contains both the Old and New Testaments, and Jesus says “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:17-18) Throughout the New Testament, Jesus never explicitly says that slavery is forbidden; on the contrary, he gives further instructions on how to treat one’s slaves rather than taking the opportunity to abolish this practice.

On page 178 of The Faith, you do cite a verse on where Paul of Tarsus says “there is neither slave nor free” (Galatians 3:28) as an example of the New Testament’s opposition to slavery. I don’t see this as a very strong condemnation, however, considering that the same passage also says that there is neither male nor female. That would have interesting implications for our definition of marriage, don’t you think? ;) I find it hard to believe that Paul was literally saying there are no genders; only that a person’s identity in life ultimately doesn’t matter. That isn’t much of a case to free your slaves, any more than it is a case to get a sex change.

You also mentioned 1 Timothy 1:10 as condemning slave traders. It’s hard to be sure that this is what is meant by the context. The King James Version of the Bible says “menstealers,” which is somewhat ambiguous. The New American Standard and several other versions simply say “kidnappers.” Since many of the Old Testament passages regarding slavery indicate that slaves were either sold by their parents or captured as prisoners of war, this also doesn’t seem to work as a blanket condemnation of the practice.

It certainly is not my intent to argue over what is the correct Biblical interpretation. Clearly you have a more vested interest in that than I do; to me, the Bible is just a book with some good things, some bad things, and some ambiguous things in it. My point here isn’t that the pro-slavery interpretation is right or not; it’s just that the Bible on its own really can’t, and hasn’t been, the final arbiter of moral truth. Reading the Bible, it’s clear that reasonable people can disagree, and their interpretation of which meaning is best will likely be colored by their social background. I have no doubt that before the civil war, a relatively large number of people believed the Bible to be pro-slavery, while today relatively few do.

What this says to me is that morality has an undeniable cultural component, and this worldly influence can be a force for positive as well as negative. I don’t think you’re comfortable with this claim, but I think the whole slavery issue should make it fairly clear that this is true even if the Bible is treated as one possible source of moral values. I would venture to say that we as a society and as a culture are better off now, in terms of quality of life, than we would have been if we had stuck to the old Biblical traditions — both those that turned a blind eye to slavery, and those that explicitly endorsed it.

Dobson: clueless on American slavery

I turned on my local Christian station this morning (99.3 FM in Austin) and ran smack into Dobson gearing up for a rant on abortion. I don’t remember how I knew that it was going to be about abortion, but I could tell from a phrase and the tone.

Sure enough, it turns out they were talking about this clip from “The View.” In this clip, John McCain says that Roe v Wade should be overturned so that abortion can once again be thrown as a matter to the states. McCain specifically says: “I want people who interpret the Constitution of the United States the way our founding fathers envisioned.” Whoopi Goldberg asked: “Should I be worried about being a slave, about being returned to slavery? Because certain things happened in the Constitution that you had to change.”

At this point, Dobson breaks in on the clip and berates Goldberg, saying that, of course it’s the CONSTITUTION that outlawed slavery. Specifically, the 13th amendment passed under the Lincoln administration. And so, foolish Whoopi, she should learn some history.

This obviously misses the point, by a very long way. First, McCain’s traditionalist appeal to the “what would the founding fathers do?” argument is very directly countered by Whoopi’s point that the founding fathers supported slavery, even going so far as to write into the constitution that a slave‘s vote is worth 3/5 that of a regular person’s is worth 3/5 of a person for the purpose of census counts (Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3).* That Lincoln had to come along and fix this only emphasizes that point, which is that no, we DON’T always want to strictly go by “original intent.”

In addition, Dobson should turn the page to the next amendment, because that bears very directly on the kind of “states’ rights” argument that John McCain invokes to indicate that RvW should be overturned. Ratified shortly after the 13th, the 14th amendment says:
No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Later Supreme Courts recognized this as overruling what was originally a states’ rights justification for slavery. Essentially, before the Civil War, individual states were free to allow or not allow slavery as they saw fit. The 14th amendment says that no, individual states are NOT allowed to override what has become the law of the land.

This was the same legal reasoning that was later used in the Roe v Wade decision. Previously, abortion was a matter that was left up to the states to allow or outlaw. Now it’s not. Nobody’s REQUIRED to provide abortions, but nobody can PREVENT you from having one, regardless of which state you live in. Despite what anti-abortion advocates would like you to think, this is not “legislating from the bench”; this is an ongoing process of exploring the legal ramifications of changes to the constitution, and this process started within a few years of the amendment’s passage.

Whoopi had a perfectly valid point in the above clip. Our current interpretation of what the 14th amendment means is based on the way that historical courts have ruled on the matter. And that’s perfectly constitutional. Unlike, say, the Bible, the Constitution isn’t supposed to “interpret itself” (hah); the Constitution SAYS that the courts have the power to indicate what is Constitutional. Whoopi’s point is that you can’t just go back to the way the founding fathers interpreted their laws, because it’s changed. One of those changes was disallowing prohibitions on abortion. Another was disallowing slavery. The same argument that invalidates one would also invalidate the other.

* Edited: The stricken out passage was a total brain fart. Obviously I wouldn’t have meant to claim that slaves had any vote before the Voting Rights Act. Thanks for bringing that to my attention, Tommy.