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Sep 08 2011

“You’re talking about a straw man”: From the Mailbag

“The problem is that you’re not talking about any actual progressive religious types I’ve ever encountered. You’re talking about a straw man, a portrait of the religious progressive that certainly doesn’t represent all of them, and which may not even exist.”

I get a fair amount of mail from readers — sometimes religious believers, sometimes not — wanting to debate with me about things I’ve written. Back in the days when I didn’t have ten hours worth of work for every hour of spare time I had, I used to engage with these people in private email. But I simply don’t have time anymore. And in any case, it seems like a waste of time. Why waste my efforts on just one person, when I could be sharing them with thousands? And why waste the eloquence and intellectual powers of my regular readers and commenters? (Which are, quite frequently, prodigious. I love having an army of bulldogs who can make my arguments for me — and often make better ones than I would have — at the times when I just don’t have the time and energy to get into the fray myself.)

So I’ve decided to start taking some of these emails and opening them up to vigorous public debate in my blog. I now ask my querants if it’s okay to publish their letters on my blog, and debate them publicly instead of privately. If they say yes, it’s game on. (Please take note of my comment policy before participating. Names of letter-writers will only ever be published with permission of the authors.)

Today’s contestant has chosen to remain anonymous for the time being. They are responding to my Sept. 2 piece on AlterNet, Progressive Religious Believers’ Big Hypocrisy: Cherry-Picking the Parts of Religion they Like and Ditching the Rest. Here is their letter, published in its entirety, with no edits, and no illustrations until my reply.

*

Good morning. I hope this Monday finds you well.

I’ve read a bit of your work on Alternet lately. I mostly enjoyed your piece about the benefits of casual sexual experience. I generally feel the same way. But I think your recent piece about progressive religious believers really misses the mark. It suffers from a mistake common in a lot of anti-religious writing I’ve encountered. “I would hope that the problem…would be obvious. But experience has taught me that it’s anything but — so I’m going to spell it out.”

The problem is that you’re not talking about any actual progressive religious types I’ve ever encountered. You’re talking about a straw man, a portrait of the religious progressive that certainly doesn’t represent all of them, and which may not even exist. Beyond that, you spend more than half of your essay declaring what religious
people believe. I’m a white male; I’m not arrogant or ignorantly condescending enough to tell the world what lesbian feminists believe. That would be laughably stupid. And yet that’s analogous to what you’re doing in your essay.

I’m sure I don’t need to mention that you also, like a typical myopic westerner, reduce the vast concept of “religion” to merely the Judeo-Christian-Muslim tradition.

I hope this brief email will give you pause, and maybe even inspire you to engage in some more thoughtful and nuanced exploration and criticism of the tensions between religion and progressivism. If not, I hope you write back and attempt to seriously engage the points I’ve raised. But based on the essay in question, I wouldn’t be surprised if you ignored me, or merely responded with curt, unconsidered dismissal. Indeed, you’re probably just going to assume I’m religious and therefore not worthy of your time. That would be incorrect, and your loss more so than mine.

Have a nice week.

Okay. I don’t really have time and energy to respond to this line by line. But I can get the ball rolling for the rest of y’all.

The problem is that you’re not talking about any actual progressive religious types I’ve ever encountered. You’re talking about a straw man…

So because you, personally, have never encountered anyone making this argument, therefore nobody ever does, and it’s a straw man?

I can assure you: There are believers who make this argument. There are believers who are making this argument in the comment thread on the post you’re discussing. You’re making the exact mistake you’re accusing me of making — assuming that your personal experience is universal.

…a portrait of the religious progressive that certainly doesn’t represent all of them, and which may not even exist.

Nowhere did I say that this essay describes all believers. In fact, I was careful to avoid saying that. I repeatedly said things like, “Most progressive believers,” “many progressive believers,” “If you’re acknowledging that you’re relying on your own observations and experiences and instincts…”

I do think some form of cherry-picking is pretty much universal among religious believers. In most religions, strict fundamentalist following of the religious text is literally impossible. But yes, I understand that believers have different ways of dealing with this cherry-picking — ranging from flat denial that it’s happening to the defense of cherry-picking I describe in this piece. This defense of cherry-picking does happen, however. It happens frequently. And I have seen it happen very often among progressive believers. Again, it happened in this freaking comment thread, the one on the post about why exactly cherry-picking was a problem. If your observations and experiences are not mine, that doesn’t contradict the assertion that mine are real.

Beyond that, you spend more than half of your essay declaring what religious people believe. I’m a white male; I’m not arrogant or ignorantly condescending enough to tell the world what lesbian feminists believe. That would be laughably stupid. And yet that’s analogous to what you’re doing in your essay.

Actually.. it’s not analogous. Atheists are a marginalized group in the U.S. — and like most marginalized groups, we are, on the whole, better- informed about the privileged group than the privileged group is about the marginalized group. We have to be. Also, most atheists were at one time religious believers — I was — and as such, we have more experience with religion than most religious believers have with atheism. So atheists’ observations about religion are most emphatically not analogous to straight white men’s observations about queers/ people of color/ women.

And besides — it is, once again, simply not the case that I spent more than half of my essay declaring what religious people believe. I spent my essay declaring what some religious people believe. Based on, you know, things they’ve said about their beliefs.

I’m sure I don’t need to mention that you also, like a typical myopic westerner, reduce the vast concept of “religion” to merely the Judeo-Christian-Muslim tradition.

Where did I do that? I used Christianity as an example of what I’m talking about, since it’s the tradition I’m most familiar with and that most of my readers will be familiar with. But the points I made are aimed at any sort of theism, and nowhere did I say that I was only talking only about the Abrahamic traditions. I specifically said, “How do you know which parts of the Bible/ Torah/ Koran/ whatever are divinely inspired, and which parts are human and flawed?” Emphasis on the “whatever.” In fact, every time I referred to a specific sacred text or teacher or teaching, I made a point of either generalizing it (“religious teachings,” “sacred texts,” etc.), or making it clear that I was referring to just one particular example (“to give just one example,” “or whichever sacred text we’re talking about,” etc.)

But based on the essay in question, I wouldn’t be surprised if you ignored me, or merely responded with curt, unconsidered dismissal.

I mention this passage for an odd reason: I’m going to ask my readers to not address it. I can see why you might want to; I was tempted to myself. But I hate, hate, HATE debates that focus on tone rather than content. So please do me a favor, and don’t go there. (The only comment I’ll make is this: I am not able to respond personally, or indeed on my blog, to all the letters I get, and I have serious objections to the idea that “ignoring” an email represents some sort of failure of intellect or courage on my part.) Thanks.

*

So that’s my quick- and- dirty response. Readers, what have I missed here? Anonymous, what do you think?

Everybody, please remember the ground rules for my blog: Stay civil. Critique ideas as harshly as you like — but DO NOT engage in personal insults, and please keep the snark to the minimum required to make your point. This isn’t Pharyngula. I love that Pharyngula is Pharyngula — but that’s not what I want for my blog. And please don’t critique grammar, spelling, tone, or other irrelevancies: please stay focused on content. (In particular, please don’t go after Anonymous for staying anonymous — people do have good reasons for protecting their identities online, and I hate it when doing so gets treated as a form of cowardice.) Enjoy!

137 comments

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  1. 1
    Classical Cipher, Murmur Muris, OM

    Well, I was going to latch right on to that “white male talking about what lesbian feminists believe is just like atheists talking about what progressive religious people believe” bit, but you beat me to the entirety of my point and, as usual, with more eloquence and grace than I would have managed… So here’s my remaining complaint: Anonymous Emailer doesn’t actually go into the substance of where his assessment of progressive religious beliefs differs from your assessment. I have no idea whatsoever why he thinks you’re strawmanning, because he hasn’t made his actual position clear. It’s just the vague accusation.

  2. 2
    Neil Rickert

    Your correspondent probably has a point.

    When you see somebody apparently cherry picking, you can only conclude that they have a highly nuanced way of reading their scripture. And if they agree that they are cherry picking, that might only because their nuanced view is too complex to easily explain, so it is easier to go along with the crude “cherry picking” description.

    You can’t be sure that they are assuming a supernatural god. They might view god as being identical to nature itself. I know one Christian who says that if it turns out that Jesus never existed, the moral teachings would still be just as valuable and valid.

    Sure, this makes it hard to criticize that kind of religion. If you are going to criticize, best to stick to what they actually say, rather than what you have assumed them to believe.

  3. 3
    Improbable Joe, bearer of the Official SpokesGuitar

    Hmmmm… here’s my early-AM impression:

    A basic problem right off the bat is that a claim of “strawman” or any other fallacy must be demonstrated and not simply asserted. It isn’t enough to say “you’re not describing people correctly”, you actually have to contrast the description with the claimed reality. There’s zero substance in that email that serves to establish that the claim of “strawman” has any validity.

    In fact, there’s really no substance AT ALL, so how exactly is anyone supposed to respond to it? In my experience that’s a feature, not a bug, of so-called “progressive/liberal” theists. By refusing to make an open, honest, and meaningful declaration of what they do and don’t actually believe, they can successfully avoid any criticism… at least in their own minds. “We don’t all act that way” isn’t a statement of truth, it is a self-serving delusion that protects the theist’s ego.

    So, you’re not being accused of making an unfair attack on theists because you’re wrong, but because you’re right and it is negative and there’s no real way to contradict what you’re saying. After all, what was the initial claim? Some theists are fundamentalists, and other theist are more liberal. Neither group has presented evidence for their faith-based positions that is sufficient to convince atheists, or even the majority people of other faiths or sects within their own faith.

    Pointing that truth out isn’t a “strawman” simply because it is negative, and it isn’t “unfair” just because theists have no adequate response to it.

  4. 4
    Daniel Schealler

    Damnit Greta!

    You did this last time.

    Leave us something to pick at, would you?

    Grr.

    (I’ll go over this again and see if I can come up with anything you haven’t already said.)

  5. 5
    csrster

    Greta – I think you’re probably right about how most progressive believers deal with sacred texts. But at the same time the problem with the “most believers say” type of argument is that it really is hard to discuss because any given opponent can always be dismissed as unrepresentative. We’ve all seen arguments that go
    -”Your typical atheist is just angry at his parents”
    -”I’m not”
    -”So you’re not typical”

    I think it’s a lot more interesting to focus on specifics. Find one religious progressive who clearly is cherry-picking and then ask other religious progressives whether they agree.

  6. 6
    Chris

    “You’re telling me”

    As much as I would love to discuss, agree, disagree, or refute Mr.Anonymous’s argument, I really don’t see that he has one. All I see are assertions without examples. Does anyone else find it ironic that he raises the the concept of straw-man fallacies, when his entire message is essentially filling, with zero substance? Greta had every reason to ignore his hollow screed without apology. The only insight I gleaned was contained in its insecure denouement. Also, it hurt my head.

  7. 7
    Daniel Schealler

    @Anonymous Emailer

    Like Cipher, I would also like to hear more from you about what you consider a progressive Christian to actually be.

    I want to accuse of you committing a No True Scotsman fallacy here – “No true progressive cherry-picks their religious beliefs that way!”

    But I can’t.

    You haven’t said anything about what a progressive actually is at all.

    As it stands a No True Scotsman fallacy would be a step up.

    On those grounds, I dismiss your criticism thus far on grounds that it is worse than a fallacy.

    Fortunately, this is an easy situation for you to remedy.

    Just tell us more about what your position is.

    In particular, it would be interesting to know what your position is regarding the following topics:
    01) Slavery in the Bible
    02) Genocide in the Bible
    03) Child Sacrifice in the Bible
    04) Murder in the Bible
    05) Rape in the Bible
    06) Scientific Inaccuracies in the Bible
    07) Animal Cruelty in the Bible
    08) Sexism in the Bible
    09) Historic Inaccuracies in the Bible
    10) Moral Absurdity in the Bible (e.g. Leviticus 19:28 – is voluntary tattooing oneself really a moral issue?)

    Note that I don’t expect you to discuss all of these – that would be unfair. Pick which ones you want – and no, I won’t make the obvious pun about ‘cherry-picking’ in context of selecting just one or two topics from this list. Please don’t anyone else do that either.

    @Everyone Else
    I invite the rest of you to suggest additional topics that might tickle AE’s fancy if ey finds emself in the mood to comment back.

    Right… Been a long time trying to think up something of value to contribute, so I’ll click ‘Submit Comment’ and see how many people beat me to the punch.

  8. 8
    Daniel Schealler

    Oooh yay! I wasn’t ninja’d. Excellent.

    ^_^

  9. 9
    Eric M. Cherry

    “…inspire you to engage in some more thoughtful and nuanced exploration and criticism of the tensions between religion and progressivism.” – Anon Emailer

    I think that the original article explored “the tensions between religion and progressivism” with as much thought and nuance as is possible. Greta made the point that a given holy text is either to be believed and obeyed 100% (fundamentalism) or to be interpreted in such a way that the hard-to-swallow bits can be disregarded (cherry picking). Is there some other avenue to coping with holy writ? To restate in tabular form:

    100% Belief and Obedience –> Fundamentalism
    ~.001% to ~.999% Belief and Obedience –> Progressivism
    0% Belief and Obedience –> Atheism

    How many ways exist for a believer to fall into the Progressivism range? To reject even a line of holy writ is to be either a sinner (“I believe, but I can’t obey; do we have a sacrament for reconciliation…?”) or to justify disobedience (“That can’t be what the deity meant; it’s really like this, see…”).

    I think what Anonymous refers to as “tensions between religion and progressivism” is about the emotional damage wrought by faith in holy writ. When someone fails to live up to the fundamentalist way of life, they’ve got to cope with guilt. There’s some degree of punishment/atonement possible (in accordance with whatever the holy writ says is the law), or there’s fatalistic acceptance of damnation (in accordance with…you know), or there’s Progressivism.

    So what does the Progressive say when Grandma Fundamentalist says, “Why are you picking and eating cherries on Sunday? That’s a sin!” The Progressive says, “Well, that’s not what the Prophet meant when she said not to pick and eat cherries. To their culture, cherries were something really bad for you, so it really means we’re not supposed to suck on tailpipe exhaust…” And Grandma Fundamentalist makes everyone miserable at the next family gathering, because of the cherry picking.

    I wonder if the Young Progressive doesn’t see that entire script coming at them, and thinks about how Grandma Fundamentalist isn’t going to be around forever, so maybe he just swallows his cherries quietly when she’s not looking. And he feels a bit guilty.

    Or maybe all of that thought process takes place in the emotional range beneath articulate thought, and all the Young Progressive gets is the guilt of being a sinner in the eyes of Grandma Fundamentalist while quietly swallowing cherries. And since it isn’t articulated, that guilt just sort of becomes a vague and amorphous thing in the mind, making the Young Progressive unwilling to really commit 100% to the cherry picking.

    I think that’s the real “tension between religion and Progressivism.” It’s someone who hasn’t got the backbone to stand up to Grandma Fundamentalist and proudly pick cherries, chew ‘em up, and swallow ‘em down at the big family dinner held once a year on the Prophet’s holy day.

    If Anonymous has some other specific example of this “tension” that should be treated with more “nuance,” that might change my reply.

    – emc

  10. 10
    GemmaM

    What Classical said. I’d love to hear more about how this guy’s beliefs differ from the notions Greta was arguing against. Even if I might not take him at his word that nobody believes that, I’d be interested to take his ideas into consideration. But he says nothing about them!

  11. 11
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    I got the same impression as CC:
    What actually is the alleged strawman and why? Just claiming it to be doesn’t make an argument.
    I’d like to invite Anonymous Emailer over to Germany, where even most catholics are progressive. But I’d like you to take more of a look at the Lutheran protestants who, in general, are as cool a bunch of people as you can get in most areas.
    Their whole approch boils down to the children’s Noah’s Ark version, where they only ever talk about Noah and his fluffy animals (If you want to amuse yourself, try the other version with believers. Tell about this little boy and little girl who played with their puppy and their kitten while their baby-sibling was sleeping in the cot and who then got drowned while their desperate mother tried to save them, and if you’re very cruel, play some tsunami-videos on your computer at the same time).
    It’s always about Jesus and hope and forgiveness and love and care. If you point to the stupid stuff and historical facts, they often dismiss them as “unimportant” to the great message of love and hope and care (if by now you’re hearing bad violins and see pink unicorns, yeah, that’s about the flavour).
    If in anything, they believe in belief. They truely care.
    They will also have the most splendid explenation as to why I’m not going to burn in hell since I’m such a nice person and obviously good.

  12. 12
    Gordon

    I’d start at the beginning. What is it that this person is saying *no* progressive religious person really believes?

    It is certainly not clear to me where they think you have made a mistake.

  13. 13
    Janney

    Well, I’ll run with this ball for a little while.

    I’m a white male; I’m not arrogant or ignorantly condescending enough to tell the world what lesbian feminists believe.

    This is an awkward assertion. If you’re not a feminist—that is to say, if you disapprove of sexual equality—then you’ve just demonstrated arrogance, ignorance, and condescension sufficient to overwhelm the rest of your questionable point. And since you did it in a tossed-off analogy to that point, I have to assume that this is information you actually wished to convey. Exactly how weird and foreign do you think feminists are, that you can claim to have no insight into what they believe? It’s not complicated (spend ten seconds here).

    While I’m at it: exactly how weird and foreign do you think lesbians are? This is like Fox News asking what atheists do in times of crisis, as though they had no idea. I have no knowledge of you personally, but—assuming you’re an actual human being—I can assert with some confidence that your experience of the world has a lot in common with a lesbian’s experience of the world, as hard as that may be to believe (the social world being a very meaningful exception). Have you ever talked to a lesbian? They’re remarkably like people.

    You are speaking, in short, as though real inter-human communication were impossible. You clearly do not believe this, given that you are speaking, which makes it a particularly desperate attempt to shut down a conversation. You equate Greta with white male, and religious believers with lesbian feminists, in order to deliver a “curt, unconsidered dismissal” of your own: it’s a believer thing, you just wouldn’t understand. (And you never will, ever ever, world without end, letusneverspeakofthisagain).

  14. 14
    davesmith

    Anonymous Emailer,

    I was once very religious, and my family are all still very religious. It has been my experience that “cherry picking” is ubiquitous among my religious friends and family.

    It took several forms. One form is a willful ignorance with an anti-intellectual twist — it’s dangerous to learn too much. Many of them didn’t even read the whole Bible (or Biblical history) — they just assumed they knew what it said based on their own sense of right and wrong. They read the parts of the Bible that they liked and ignored the rest. To put it another way, the Bible said exactly what they wanted it to say because they read it selectively.

    The other form is more common among people who had actually read the whole Bible for themselves and knew it well and had grappled with some of its nastier or more embarrassing parts, such as genocide, enslaving daughters, or Jesus copping Pythagoras (I’m trying to write this before my daughters wake up — references provided upon request). Their response was mostly that times change, and those parts of the bible are obviously wrong.

    A third way regarded the bible as an important cultural book, but not a sacred one. I don’t think of this as cherry picking. The Bible is an important cultural book, though I don’t think it deserves its position of prominence.

    So I guess my response is to ask whether we really have traveled in such different circles that the people we know have nothing in common. Do you really mean that you don’t know ANY progressives who cherry pick? Or do you mean that you know a lot of progressives who don’t cherry pick and who actually do something else? If so, I’d be interested to read something you write that describes these progressive religious folks you know, and how they grapple with the truly horrible parts of the Bible, or how they make the Bible a sacred book and a central part of their lives without cherry picking.

    Following on from Giliell, connaiseuse des choses bonnes above, why not take the specific example of Noah’s Ark. Was it a real event or not? How do your progressive friends interpret that bit of text?

    Here’s to hoping for a productive discussion…

  15. 15
    Kevin, Youhao Huo Mao

    “You made a straw man! That doesn’t represent us at all.”

    And… what’s a more accurate representation?

  16. 16
    jose

    He doesn’t like the expression “cherry-picking”. He prefers a more satisfying word, like “interpreting”.

  17. 17
    Stilts

    So two points.

    1) If you don’t feel that the person we’re describing when we criticize religion represents you, then guess what: we aren’t discussing you! This conversation does not involve or concern you! If you object to using “religion” as shorthand for christianity, judaism and islam (to the exclusion of wicca, buddhism, roll-your-own-and-smoke-it pantheism, “I just have a hinky feeling” pantheism, and all the other “I’m religious, but I’m not like *those* religions…” greatest hits), then realize that ~85-90% of Americans self-identify as christians, jews or muslims and get over yourself.

    2) It is not necessary to critique the whole and entirety of both contemporary and historical religious beliefs in order to provide a useful, helpful, productive and otherwise appropriate criticism of religion as commonly practiced in our own communities.

    The e-mail author seems to have no problem criticizing “westerners” or “atheists” writ large for the alleged offenses of a single person, even as he condemns you for making similar assumptions about the religious. He’s falling into his own rhetorical trap here.

  18. 18
    rick020200

    “The problem is that you’re not talking about any actual progressive religious types I’ve ever encountered.”

    Anonymous Emailer has hedged everything possible in this one sentence. Perhaps in his mind, progressive and religious are oxymornonic, and he prefers to think of himself as “spiritual”. Perhaps he sees anyone who would treat a religious text with any high regard as non-progressive. Perhaps he doesn’t remember the encounters he’s had with people who earnestly felt John 3:16 was the perfect summation of all Christianity, yet ignored John 3:18 and the condemnation it heaps on the millions of people who existed before Jesus, or whom Christianity hasn’t touched. Look at any bumper sticker theology and you’ll see cherry-pickers who conveniently ignore Matthew 19:21 (how could they have a car and a bumper sticker if they believed that verse was the true word of Jesus?). I assume Anonymous Emailer doesn’t consider these folks “progressive.”

    Anonymous Emailer has made the perfect counter argument to the perceived straw man–no true straw man. He should put his money where his mouth is–if he claims that he himself doesn’t do this (I assume he’s an “actual progressive religious type”) he should explain how. How does he believe/follow anything in a religious text and NOT cherry pick?

  19. 19
    Maria

    “I have no idea whatsoever why he thinks you’re strawmanning, because he hasn’t made his actual position clear. It’s just the vague accusation.”

    This was my first thought as well! I mean I think you can safely argue that one of the actual defining features of progressive moderate religious believers are that they are, you know, not fundamentalists! And to get from fundie to progressive you have to do some cherry picking to lose the bad stuff you just can’t stand behind, as things you are suppose to live by (even though as Greta says, the fundies do that too, really, the progressives just do it so very much more). And he’s never met a single religious person like that? O_o

    I would think there is no dispute there are people who cherry pick their religious texts and teachings, the article was about how that doesn’t make more sense, really, than a more literal approach. So, yeah, strawman accussations almost always comes up, but in this case it just seemed to be an unusually clumsy one.

    BTW, has the reply function of the comment threads gone missing?

  20. 20
    Cory Brunson

    Re: myopia, most people living in the U.S. won’t have the opportunity to engage with people hailing from a region dominated (or at lest permeated) by a non-Abrahamic religion, but we certainly see our share of self-identified pagans, wiccans, and Buddhists, plus a variety of New Age spiritualities. These people still make factual claims about the healing power of fake medicine, personal (usually female) intuition, the conscious experiences of living things regardless of neural sophistication (or even presence, in the case of non-animals), time-of-the-month sex as an effective form of contraception, and so on. Yet somehow they not only acknowledge the cherry-picking they do amongst the various beliefs individuals ascribe to but encourage it! For each person, “reality” is just “their reality” — whereas a lot of moderate Abrahamic practitioners might assert moral relativism, i’ve had about a dozen friends in these non-Abrahamic religious demographics express this idea that reality itself is relative. Perhaps they should be addressed explicitly, but many of them might not take Christina’s accusation of cherry-picking as a criticism.

    It’s a different culture and a different take on religion but it succumbs to Christina’s criticisms just the same: Factual claims of supposedly divine origin contradict each other, and practitioners perform both approaches Christina identified: (a) Scholarship: They claim that “science” is so fraught with biases that “real studies” into the efficacy of charms and alternative medicine and so on are rejected from the professional literature and must continue in alternative publications. (b) From the heart: They take personal morality to the extreme of personal reality, i.e. repeatability, explanatory and predictive power, etc. are not so useful for determining what’s true. (This is, of course, mostly from personal experience. Ask your local coven or alt-med crowd for more examples.)

  21. 21
    asmallcontempt

    Seems like this is a pretty common thread in the comments as well…I spent a few minutes reading them and I got a pretty good flavor of “hey! I’m not this kind of Christian, this isn’t fair!”

    I was trying to explain to my mother why I am so frustrated and saddened by the Republican party, and she countered with: “Well, do you think all Christians are bad people?!?”

    …no. That’s not what I said, or even close to what I meant. But thanks for circumventing my argument altogether, right?

    As soon as someone points out an ACTUAL issue with Christian culture, doctrine, or a sacred book, all the “true Christians” somehow scatter and disappear.

    I would be interested to know how Anonymous Emailer would respond to the actual problem of the article: how do you decide which parts of your holy book will inform your life (i.e. the directive to “save people” from hell versus the directive to “love others”, or enacting judgement versus mercy) when it is often contradictory in the first place.

    The curious part is that when you look at Christian subcultures like WBC or the Quiverfull movement is that Christians will look at them and say “they’re doing it wrong!”, when in fact they’re doing it exactly right. When I visited the Creation Museum, the longtime atheist I went with said that he was, to a certain degree, impressed with the fundies we saw there, if only for their unwavering commitment to strict Biblical interpretation.

  22. 22
    rick020200

    @Janney: “Have you ever talked to a lesbian? They’re remarkably like people.”
    As a white straight male, I loved this. I have talked with numerous lesbians, and I have to agree, it is very hard to distinguish them from people.

  23. 23
    Jason S

    As a gay man, I have dealt with a lot of very hurtful discrimination, even from my own family. They have always based their discrimination on their own interpretation of a few choice lines in their sacred texts, even they choose to ignore or translate in favor of a more peaceful meaning on hundreds of other issues brought up in those same texts. I can assure you that the unnecessary hurt that those people have injected into my life did not come from straw men, or people who do not exist.

  24. 24
    Mattir-ritated

    Anonymous Commenter, you didn’t give any examples of how you choose what to cherry pick, Or which branches of progressive Christianity don’t fit into Greta’s formulation, or what you do if you discover your cherry picking is wrong, or…

    As I said in the original comment thread, cherry picking is fine IF you admit that YOU are the one doing it, that you could be wrong, and that the will of the deity is not something that people have much of a clue about. Bonus points if you define god as the wisdom tradition of a community rather than the more usual Magic Sky Fairy. Sure, these versions of progressive religion are functionally indistinguishable from atheism, but I’m sympathetic to the desire to have community, traditional holiday stuff, and pageantry.

  25. 25
    Eric

    Long time lurker, first time commentor.

    Like many of the other comments I find the letter somewhat difficult to refute, if only because it contains no information to refute.

    Your anon e-mailer needs to learn that an assertation is not an argument. I was particularly amused by the line in the letter….If not, I hope you write back and attempt to seriously engage the points I’ve raised.…I had to go back and re-read the letter to see if somehow I missed some points but like many others found no points whatsoever, merely assertions.

    Your response to the letter is more than adequate to the task.

  26. 26
    tinkdnuos

    Hey all. Thanks for the comments. I’m the anonymous emailer. This may be long. If this ends up beyond one comment I guess I can make a blogger account and move it there, at Greta Christina’s discretion.

    So it’s her blog, and she obviously posts what she pleases, but I kinda wish she’d mentioned my follow-up email. I’ll paste it here (typos, warts and all):

    “Of course you can use it in your blog. I’d just ask that you not publish any identifying info for me just yet.

    And I apologize if my tone is more annoyed or confrontational than necessary. Yours was not the first essay I read today that I felt missed the mark on the same question of religious progressives, but it was the only one with a feedback mechanism I could use from the office. It was also snarkier than the other two, but that just gave me fodder for snark of my own.

    And I stress that generally I dig what you write. I’d actually read and quoted your fat-positive skeptic entries months ago in a different context, and only just now realized I was corresponding with that same author. So I mean no offense, but I do mean to challenge you to consider the possibility (which informs my perspective greatly) that religious people do not necessarily behave or or believe as non-religious people are surprisingly certain that they do. As you mentioned comparing fat-positivists to fat-negativists, sometimes the “golden mean” rule holds true, and both extremes risk missing what’s of value in the other.

    For the record, I’m really NOT a religious believer at all. I’m just a pain in the ass.”

    So first off, my choice to remain anonymous has to do with a) writing from work and b) not being a regular reader of THIS blog, having only encountered GC’s writing on other sites, and therefore not being quite sure what would be posted or how it would be used. It’s not cowardice. I can promise you that. I’m confrontational to a fault, at times.

    I can’t respond to all the comments here but I can say a few things to clarify, if what I’ve pasted above doesn’t help at all. I’m an atheist in the sense that I don’t believe in a personal god of any kind, and an apatheist in the sense that I really don’t care that much about the question as it pertains to my own life. God(s) or no god(s), I’m eating, drinking, sleeping, shitting, loving, thinking, fucking and fighting the same way. I’m not surprised that people assumed I was just an offended religious progressive. Mistakes happen, and that was an easy assumption to make.

    Someone questioned my feminism. I admit I was probably asking for it. But I’d consider myself a feminist. I occasionally find myself having to own up to gut reactions that echo the patriarchal, but I suppose that’s part of being human. I didn’t mean to use the term derisively in my email. Just descriptively, to underscore (perhaps crudely) my assertion that those adopting a position in reaction to another might have a tendency to distort that other. As GC points out, the analogy is a little poor in terms of in- and out-group dynamics, but I’m willing to let it stand in terms of its other layers. And before I’m accused of avoiding or equivocating, please understand that my email was meant to be sharp, not nuanced. So rather than avoidance or equivocation, this is expansion.

    Now, as to what I believe about religious progressives, based on my own experience: most religious progressives I have known in my life did very little cherry-picking. They did a WHOLE LOT of creative destroying. And most of them essentially rejected sacred text (the bible generally, as most of these folks were christians of some stripe) as authority and viewed it as a subject of intellectual, emotional, and philosophical study. There’s little need to choose the rules you’ll follow (or the supernatural explanations of natural phenomena you’ll believe) when you simply accept that the bible is the work of human beings. And accepting that does not, surprisingly to some, require rejecting the basic tenents of christianity.

    I guess the straw man I see being constructed is the religious progressive as a schizophrenic hodge-podge of guilt-driven social progressivism and fear-based, quietly desperate blind belief in superstition; someone who clings to religion in the face of cognitive dissonance because of a lack of confidence in their ability to live without it, or a fear of eternal damnation. On the contrary, most I know are quite rational, and generally, if disappointedly, accept mockery, derision and the blanket dismissal of all religious belief as one of several “correct” and rational responses to the idiocy of major organized religions.

    So there’s a brief response to the responses. To those (and it was most of you) who gave real thought to what I was saying, I appreciate the opportunity to discuss. This community seems to have a decent handle on balancing snark with substance.

    My final thought (for now) regards the worldview I reference in the email I pasted above. I believe that it’s a mistake to view religion and the religious as being in conflict with reason and science. I don’t want to presume too much about any of you, but I’m willing to guess that like me, most of you would like to live in a society that is governed and defined by reason, intelligence, compassion, justice, freedom of thought and expression, and more good stuff like that. And like me, you have a very real fear that we are headed in the opposite direction. I simply believe that it’s a mistake to attack religion in conflation with ignorance, when directly attacking ignorance itself would probably be more effective.

  27. 27
    Another Matt

    I think we need to not use “cherry picking” as an accusation of some kind of logical or moral failing. In Greta’s original post she took great pains to say how much better for the world moderates are than fundamentalists.

    We want people to support things that are morally supportable and to reject things that aren’t. We atheists who find beauty in the language and message of individual verses of the KJV but who recoil at other parts are also literary cherry-pickers.

    To my mind the biggest problem is not cherry-picking per se, but the explicit belief that something in the Bible that happens to be good is good because it’s in the Bible, combined simultaneously with the (probably implicit) stance that not everything in the Bible is necessarily true or good. It leaves a lot of room for moderation and making stuff up but not a lot of room for out-in-the-open critique of Biblical authority.

    It’s good that much religious belief and action has changed over the centuries, and it’s not true that the reasons for this are anything but secular progress. But in my experience I don’t think it gets us anywhere to point this out as a gotcha — however frustrating it is! — but rather we should reason through individual moral dilemmas and points of scientific and historic fact one at a time. Do some work with trees and not worry as much about the forest.

    =================================================================

    Side note – the cherry-picking problem is exacerbated by the fact that a huge portion of the Bible is meaningless “inspirational” bromide. Consider 1 Timothy 6:11 (NIV) — “But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.”

    A lot of family has been quoting that to me lately, asking how I could possibly argue against that sentiment. My answer is that it doesn’t say anything until one learns what the writer actually believes about righteousness, love, gentleness, etc.

    It isn’t true that “everyone knows that these things mean” (the usual rejoinder); as it is this verse follows a full-throated defense of slavery and rejection of reasoned argument, so it’s hard to put the writer’s appeal to “righteousness” in any kind of sympathetic context. I have to wonder how much of the cherry-picking we see relies on happy interpretation of meaningless verse.

  28. 28
    Psych-Oh

    Like others have noted, I do not know what the straw man is that you are talking about. It seems that in order to be a “progressive Christian/Jew/Muslim/etc.” one must also be a “cherry picker”.

    Progressive = A person advocating or implementing social reform or new, liberal ideas
    Cherry Picker = (slang) The origins of this term may come from the notion of “cherry picking” as attempting, or picking, only those things that are easily obtained, or only what suits your taste best, as a cherry might.

    As Eric. M. Cherry says:

    100% Belief and Obedience –> Fundamentalism
    ~.001% to ~.999% Belief and Obedience –> Progressivism
    0% Belief and Obedience –> Atheism

    Who is the straw man?

  29. 29
    Maria

    “Now, as to what I believe about religious progressives, based on my own experience: most religious progressives I have known in my life did very little cherry-picking. They did a WHOLE LOT of creative destroying. And most of them essentially rejected sacred text (the bible generally, as most of these folks were christians of some stripe) as authority and viewed it as a subject of intellectual, emotional, and philosophical study. There’s little need to choose the rules you’ll follow (or the supernatural explanations of natural phenomena you’ll believe) when you simply accept that the bible is the work of human beings. And accepting that does not, surprisingly to some, require rejecting the basic tenents of christianity.”

    That IS cherry picking!

  30. 30
    Psych-Oh

    That IS cherry picking!

    Exactly. “Creative Destroying” is simply a positive spin on the phrase “cherry picking”, which has negative connotations.

  31. 31
    rick020200

    tinkdnuos, thanks for the very thoughtful and not-defensive reply. Kudos.

    And most of them essentially rejected sacred text (the bible generally, as most of these folks were christians of some stripe) as authority and viewed it as a subject of intellectual, emotional, and philosophical study.

    I know just the sort of person you’re talking about–pretty much applies to my whole family.

    I would argue these people are functionally equivalent to your apatheism (a term I like very much)–to think of them as religious seems a bit of a stretch then. If the text that is used in their weekly congregational meetings (I won’t call it worship) isn’t considered sacred, in much the same way Harry Potter isn’t considered sacred by a teen book club, then I think it strains the definition of religion. For example, I don’t think I would consider Unitarian Universalists as religious. Philosophical, “spiritual”, friendly–sure. Religious? Not so much.

  32. 32
    Maria

    “Exactly. “Creative Destroying” is simply a positive spin on the phrase “cherry picking”, which has negative connotations.”

    Yes. They ‘hold onto basic Christian tenents’ but reject the bible as being written by humans (and there are no basic Christian tenents in the bible, huh? Why not reject them too then, for the same reason? Because they see them as… good??).

    How is that not a classic school example of cherry picking?

  33. 33
    MisterJohnGalt

    Most progressive Christians are like Obama, publically pretending to believe the central dogmas (resurrection, eternal life, etc.) while privately dismissing these beliefs as allegorical. However, they may have some vague belief in God or a “higher power” and couple it (tenuously) with a set of political principles approximating the charity and altruism expressed by Christ (who they regard as just a wise man). In this regard, they’re no different than many atheists who have a nebulous belief in “progress” or “the greater good” and couple it with respect for a particular philospher or political scientist.

    Atheists may still resent this kind of Christian for merely uttering the verboten “God” word, but it’s a bit misguided. First, that kind of God is at least as meaningful as atheistic vague and indefined expressions of “justice”, the “good”, i.e., not particularly meaningful at all. Second, different atheists disbelieve in God for different reasons, and their are as many contradictions and conflicts between these positions as there are in the arguments for God. So quite a few atheists disbelieve pursuant to unsound or illogical disproofs, even if they are coincidentally correct in their ultimate conclusion. I see little difference between the the progressive atheist who disbelieves for the wrong reasons and the progressive Christian who believes for bad reasons. Both are subject to the same attack for being aiders and abettors of irrationality.

  34. 34
    tinkdnuos

    @Maria, I disagree. Cherry-picking, as I think GC means it, is saying “I accept that part of dogma/text as divine word, but that part is clearly not because I strongly disagree with it.”

    It’s not cherry-picking to say “the whole thing is just some words written by people. NONE of it is divine and NONE of it is truth, but much of it is brilliant and all of it is worthy of serious consideraton.”

    I tried to clarify what I feel is the difference in my further description of the straw man I see being propped up too commonly.

    I’d like to point out something that I found a bit off about many of these comments. GC’s essay was about religious progressives. These people are about as far from religious fundamentalists as one can get without rejecting religious belief completely. But many of the comments in response to my email (which was in response to THAT essay) seemed to focus on fundamentalists. Of COURSE fundamentalists are going to quote religious text to you as law. But that’s irrelevant, because this isn’t about fundamentalists.

  35. 35
    Maria

    “It’s not cherry-picking to say “the whole thing is just some words written by people. NONE of it is divine and NONE of it is truth, but much of it is brilliant and all of it is worthy of serious consideraton.””

    If they don’t think ANY of it at all, no part of Christianity at all, is in any way shape or form divine.. They’re not religious, and the article was not about atheists!

  36. 36
    tinkdnuos

    Maria, there’s a difference between the fundamental tenents of christianity (resurrection, eternal life, etc.) and the text of the bible.

    One can completely reject the notion that any part of the bible was the literal, transcripted or translated word of god, while still believing in the resurrection of jesus and salvation of souls, yadda yadda. You may think such a person is stupid and not worthy of your time and consideration, but you can’t deny their existence.

  37. 37
    MisterJohnGalt

    If they don’t think ANY of it at all, no part of Christianity at all, is in any way shape or form divine.. They’re not religious, and the article was not about atheists!

    Again, they may have some vague belief in “God”, who they may suppose to agree with the scriptures even if he did not directly or indirectly author them. So they’re still Christians.

  38. 38
    Maria

    “One can completely reject the notion that any part of the bible was the literal, transcripted or translated word of god, while still believing in the resurrection of jesus and salvation of souls, yadda yadda. You may think such a person is stupid and not worthy of your time and consideration, but you can’t deny their existence.”

    (My bolding)

    Where does that belief come from? Where is the ONLY place which speak of the resurrection of Jesus? That is not a historical fact that you can rationally believe in while rejecting the whole rest of the Bible, that is IN the bible! They don’t reject the whole of the Bible if they believe in that. They have cherry picked something from the Bible they like, and they do give it a divine (miracoluous) nature, because people don’t come back from the dead without supernatural intervention! They cherry picked this part, and rejected the rest as being of human origin.

    Now, don’t put words in my mouth, where have I said such a person is stupid? I said they cherry picked, I didn’t mention their intelligence. If you think I did, could it be that it is you who equate cherry picking with stupidity?

  39. 39
    tinkdnuos

    Hey, Maria, chill out. Damn. I’m not the one putting words in the other’s mouth here.

    Yes, that story comes from the bible. So what? I NEVER SAID they had rejected the bible. I said they had rejected the notion that the bible was the literal, transcripted or translated word of god.

    I can’t continue attempting to have a productive discussion with you about it if you won’t grasp that subtlety.

  40. 40
    tinkdnuos

    And no, I don’t associate cherry picking with stupidity, but I do associate it with intellectual dishonesty. The folks I know are actually quite intellectually honest and consistent. They don’t engage in the “I like that bit so it must be divine truth, but that bit’s morally repugnant so I won’t accept it” double-think that I thought GC was writing about in her original essay.

  41. 41
    Psych-Oh

    One can completely reject the notion that any part of the bible was the literal, transcripted or translated word of god, while still believing in the resurrection of jesus and salvation of souls, yadda yadda.

    .
    Then how do they come to that belief? Because my mama told me? Well, how did your mama come to that idea? At some point it has to come back to the bible. At its most reduced form, it seems to go back to the bible in some way.

  42. 42
    Maria

    “Hey, Maria, chill out. Damn. I’m not the one putting words in the other’s mouth here.”

    Hey, MisterJohnGalt! Did you say I probably think this, or not?

    “You may think such a person is stupid and not worthy of your time and consideration, but you can’t deny their existence.”

    “Yes, that story comes from the bible. So what? I NEVER SAID they had rejected the bible. I said they had rejected the notion that the bible was the literal, transcripted or translated word of god.”

    So what? What other reason is there to believe it other than supernatural intervention? The book talks of supernatural interventions, that they believe in. That part is TRUE according to them, even though humans wrote it. Other parts are NOT true according to them because humans wrote it!

  43. 43
    Maria

    “And no, I don’t associate cherry picking with stupidity, but I do associate it with intellectual dishonesty.”

    It can also be compartmentalization, or cognitive dissonance, which is not about dishonesty at all!

  44. 44
    tinkdnuos

    Ok, I’ll try this one more time.

    Psych-Oh says: Then how do they come to that belief? Because my mama told me? Well, how did your mama come to that idea? At some point it has to come back to the bible. At its most reduced form, it seems to go back to the bible in some way.

    Ok. Sure. I agreed to this before. One comment above yours, in fact. This in no way contradicts or even weakens my point. The story comes from the bible. That is NOT the same as saying the bible comes from god.

    And Maria, I’m not MisterJohnGalt. Ayn Rand was a fucking piece of shit. And you’re just insulting me with that assumption. So fuck you very much and have a shitty day. I’m done talking to you.

    Just her, though. Glad to discuss with anyone here who’s actually interested in discussing, rather than telling me that what I said means what SHE thinks, not what I think.

  45. 45
    MisterJohnGalt

    My belief in Thomas Jefferson comes from books. The books might otherwise be full of false anecdotes and false propositions, and I don’t believe it’s divinely inspired. But I still believe in Thomas Jefferson and many of his political positions.

  46. 46
    Maria

    “My belief in Thomas Jefferson comes from books. The books might otherwise be full of false anecdotes and false propositions, and I don’t believe it’s divinely inspired. But I still believe in Thomas Jefferson and many of his political positions.”

    That’s fine, no one ever claimed Thomas Jefferson is of divine or supernatural origin.

    As have been said many times around here, the problems with cherry picking comes from claiming divine authority, or supernatural origin behind the preffered picked cherry, since it gives the preffered picked cherry certain weight, and demands certain respect and certain insulation of it from criticism, which is not deserved!

  47. 47
    MisterJohnGalt

    Hey, MisterJohnGalt! Did you say I probably think this, or not?

    Maria, I’m not clear what comment of mine you’re referring to. Please explain.

  48. 48
    Maria

    I’m sorry, tinknduos, I mixed up your usernames! I do apologize to both of you for that.

  49. 49
    Matia

    Again, sorry about mixing up the people I was discussing with. Sure fucked up royally on that one!

  50. 50
    Another Matt

    My belief in Thomas Jefferson comes from books. The books might otherwise be full of false anecdotes and false propositions, and I don’t believe it’s divinely inspired. But I still believe in Thomas Jefferson and many of his political positions.

    No, your belief in Thomas Jefferson comes from methodologically sound historical practice. The books you read are just by-products of that practice. “I found this in a book” obviously does not put anything on any kind of good or bad epistemic footing on its own.

  51. 51
    tinkdnuos

    Ok, ok, then I’ll back off my earlier kiss-off, sorry. I thought you were snidely insinuating I’d made an alt account to lend myself support. I won’t insist that I’d always be above such things, but I think I’d cut off my own hands before I’d associate myself with a Randian hero.

    But I think it’s funny that you said this:
    “As have been said many times around here, the problems with cherry picking comes from claiming divine authority, or supernatural origin behind the preffered picked cherry, since it gives the preffered picked cherry certain weight, and demands certain respect and certain insulation of it from criticism, which is not deserved!”

    I realize you weren’t directly responding to me, here, but do you understand that what the people I’m talking about do is not the same as what you’re describing here? The people I’m talking about do NOT claim divine authority for the bits of the bible they like in order to shield them from criticism.

  52. 52
    Maria

    “Maria, I’m not clear what comment of mine you’re referring to. Please explain.”

    Sorry! I mixed up some comments, and usernames! It was tinkdnuos who said:

    “You may think such a person is stupid and not worthy of your time and consideration, but you can’t deny their existence.”

    That’s what I responded to. I do apologize!

  53. 53
    Maria

    No, it was simply me being a bit confused about there being so many comments, and simply mixed up the usernames! As if these discussions often aren’t confusing enough, I go and do that :-D I WAS a bit snide though, I must admit, since I did find you ‘Hey, Maria, chill out’ a bit snide in its turn! Only the effect of ‘responding in kind’ kind of got lost when I used the wrong username *facepalm* Well… I’ll try to be more careful about that I use the right name when I respond!

    I realize you weren’t directly responding to me, here, but do you understand that what the people I’m talking about do is not the same as what you’re describing here? The people I’m talking about do NOT claim divine authority for the bits of the bible they like in order to shield them from criticism.

    It seems we are just going around in circles now! If they do not claim divine authority, or any supernatural origin for the bits they like, they are not religious and the article was not about them – they are merely fans of certain kinds of literature. If they do, they are cherry picking in the way the article talked about!

  54. 54
    kagerato

    @tinkdnuos:

    Maria’s completely correct. You’re the one who terribly bastardized her points and is now resorting to childish insults. Stop wasting our time with these foolish semantic games.

  55. 55
    Another Matt

    The people I’m talking about do NOT claim divine authority for the bits of the bible they like in order to shield them from criticism.

    I find this very interesting, because I’ve observed the same thing and have never been sure what to make of it. I’ve noticed two kinds — one is the type that believes certain nuggets of truth that may be found anywhere in literature and philosophy.

    Another is a kind that believes the Bible is not divinely inspired but nonetheless has a kind of mystical authority. I’m just not sure why they think it has any authority in the first place, but I think part of it is reverence for things that are Very Old, and a reverence for mysticism in general; these same people (at least in my experience) are also given to belief in clairvoyance, predictions of the Mayan calendar, the prophetic power of dreams, “spiritual energies,” and so forth.

    This isn’t the same as Dennett’s “belief in belief” — I think it’s just “belief in the ancient” or “belief in the mystic.” Any thoughts?

  56. 56
    MisterJohnGalt

    Maria,

    I don’t know if cherry-picking is a problem tied exclusively belief in a divine text. In today’s political climate, cherry-picking is raised primarily (by both sides) with respect to interpretation of the Constitution.

    To get back to Greta’s post, my point is that there’s little difference between progressive Christians and progressive atheists as far as the quality of their theological beliefs, and the connection between those beliefs and their political philiosophy. The progressive Christian believes in “God”, doesn’t necessarily think Jesus is divine but accepts the notion (allegedly attributable to Jesus) that X number of dollars of tax money should be spent to alleviate poverty. The atheist believes there is no God, but accepts “goodness” or “charity” as a trait to embrace (for the advancement of the species or evolution or for fun or whatever) and also supports a certain level of taxation for poverty programs.

    I see little difference between the two. And as I noted, many atheists haven’t a clue as to the soundness of their anti-God arguments, the connection between those arguments and “goodness”, or the necessity or efficacy of taxation to alleviate poverty.

  57. 57
    Maria

    “Another is a kind that believes the Bible is not divinely inspired but nonetheless has a kind of mystical authority. I’m just not sure why they think it has any authority in the first place, but I think part of it is reverence for things that are Very Old, and a reverence for mysticism in general; these same people (at least in my experience) are also given to belief in clairvoyance, predictions of the Mayan calendar, the prophetic power of dreams, “spiritual energies,” and so forth.

    This isn’t the same as Dennett’s “belief in belief” — I think it’s just “belief in the ancient” or “belief in the mystic.” Any thoughts?”

    Yeah, I agree. These people seem to lean more to New Age beliefs of different kind, than Christinatiy (in the case of the Bible) really, where the big religions of the world is just more plates on the big Smorgasbord of mystic “truths” you can pick from.

  58. 58
    tinkdnuos

    Maria, I’m not sure I agree that we’re going in circles. I think it’s more of a gradual, slow spiral.

    They do not claim divine authority or supernatural origin for the words they like in the bible. They DO claim supernatural origin for certain events which they believe really happened. To them, it’s not “true because the bible says so.” To them “it’s true, and in the bible.” As to their choice to believe in something supernatural? They know just how it looks. Wrestling with it is part of their philosophy. As one of my favorite progressive christians from Swarthmore once said, “what’s more human than absurdity?”

    But it’s funny that you keep saying that they’re not actually religious, if they don’t believe what you have decided religious people believe. That was the central criticism in my original email to Greta Christina. The way I see it, people get to decide for themselves whether or not they are religious, and what they believe, and the labels that others choose to apply out of convenience are merely that.

    And kagerato, say something of substance or go away. You’re a joke and so’s your comment.

  59. 59
    Another Matt

    There’s also the Karen Armstrong type, that tries to find some kind of “true spiritual essence” that permeates various traditions and texts to various degrees, so that while the Bible may be fallible and written by humans, and likewise the Koran, and _______, they all — either as a sum of their parts or as an intersection of the things they agree on — approach some kind of “bottom-up” divine inspiration. This might be “belief in True Religion,” and I find it probably the most frustrating of all. Did you ever read the email debate between Sam Harris and Andrew Sullivan? Sullivan struck me as this type.

  60. 60
    Maria

    We are SO going in circles! -.-

    “They do not claim divine authority or supernatural origin for the words they like in the bible. They DO claim supernatural origin for certain events which they believe really happened. To them, it’s not “true because the bible says so.” To them “it’s true, and in the bible.””

    I’ve already addressed this! The Bible IS the source of this belief, they have nothing else to back up the resurrection of Jesus with! Can they honestly claim to have got that info from somewhere else? Yeah, maybe from their parents, or their pastor, but where did they get it? And so on… There’s no ‘AND in the bible’, it’s ‘FROM the bible’!

  61. 61
    Maria

    “But it’s funny that you keep saying that they’re not actually religious, if they don’t believe what you have decided religious people believe.”

    I have not decided what religious people believe, but words have meaning. ‘Religious’ means something. And it doesn’t mean the same as ‘Atheist’.

  62. 62
    MisterJohnGalt

    I read the Harris/Sullivan debate. It wasn’t productive, as Sullivan has no meaningful background in philosophy or religion and his argumentative skills are negligible. He never actually addressed any of Harris’ points directly, despite Harris affording him the courtesy. Just a lot of precious, fuzzy and incoherent fog.

  63. 63
    tinkdnuos

    Fine, then we’re going in circles. But that’s not my problem. The difference is real whether you acknowledge it or not.

    Perhaps the problem is that “cherry-picking” is an oversimplification which has not been remotely unpacked in the context of these essays.

    Maria, are you telling me that “Atheist” can mean “believes in god and the basics of christianity but believes every word of the bible is the fallible word of a human being”? Because that’s what these people believe. That’s what I’ve been saying over and over and over and over and over, but everyone keeps acting like it’s some kind of impossibility, and either you’re an atheist or you believe that the text of your religion is the word of god. False dichotomy much?

  64. 64
    MisterJohnGalt

    I read the Harris/Sullivan debate. Not very productive. Sullivan has no meaningful familiarity with either theology or philosophy. He never directly addressed any of Harris’ arguments, despite Harris affording him that very courtesy. Instead, he just spouted a lot of dramatic, fuzzy, incoherent fog.

  65. 65
    MisterJohnGalt

    Oops, thought I lost the first comment and had to reconstruct it from memory. At least I didn’t contradict myself in the reporting.

  66. 66
    Another Matt

    I’ve already addressed this! The Bible IS the source of this belief, they have nothing else to back up the resurrection of Jesus with! Can they honestly claim to have got that info from somewhere else? Yeah, maybe from their parents, or their pastor, but where did they get it? And so on… There’s no ‘AND in the bible’, it’s ‘FROM the bible’!

    Well, maybe in the 21st century, but we should remember that Christianity was around a long time before the NT, and that the NT and Greek OT were codified in service of particular extant religious beliefs. That is, it’s a belief that “the Bible has confirmed what we all already knew, but it is not the only source.”

    The Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches talk all the time about how impoverished Christianity based only on the Bible is from just about every standpoint. The (big-O) Orthodox believe that their faith has survived intact via oral transmission from the very pre-Biblical beginning from the apostles all the way down (with the help of some clarifying counsels and the shepherding of the holy spirit).

    In any case, it’s probably better to say that their belief in the incarnation and resurrection comes from “the Christian tradition” (however broad) rather than just “the Bible.” Of course there are all the same attendant problems about divine authority — it’s probably even more of a problem, actually — but a lot of people do put more stock in the broad tradition than in the book itself, and I’d suggest that sometimes this is even for some of the historical difficulties surrounding the bible as a text.

  67. 67
    Arjan

    The thing I noticed was that anonymous accused Greta of telling other people what they think, but at the end of the letter he tells her what she’s assuming about him. I know this is a bit picky of me, but I would think that if you make an accusation you should really make sure your not making the same mistake.

  68. 68
    Maria

    “Maria, are you telling me that “Atheist” can mean “believes in god and the basics of christianity but believes every word of the bible is the fallible word of a human being”?”

    No, I’m saying if you have no beliefs at all in any gods, the divine or the supernatural, you’re an atheist. I never said the people you mention here are atheists. I said if they really don’t think any part of what the bible speak of is divine/supernatural they’re not religious! But the things
    you mention they DO believe in, ARE both divine/supernatural and part of Bible – and then, no I don’t think they are not religious, duh!

    How do they explain how they separate the resurrection from the bible in such a way? What other evidence do they have that rationalizes such a belief? How would they have even known of a resurrection of Jesus even taking place at all, if the bible had not existed?

    “Because that’s what these people believe. That’s what I’ve been saying over and over and over and over and over, but everyone keeps acting like it’s some kind of impossibility, and either you’re an atheist or you believe that the text of your religion is the word of god. False dichotomy much?”

    It is, sort of tricky, because, as I said, that’s where some of those beliefs come from!

    And, no, that’s not what I say. I agree they can believe in supernatural things and still believe that the bible was written by humans, and not be the word of a god. But those humans wrote ABOUT god and what he supposedly did, and they believe in that god and what he supposedly did. They believe in SOME things of the Bible and they cherry pick these things from the things they don’t believe in!

    As I said, they believe some things in spite of it being written by humans, and don’t believe other things because it’s being written by humans. They still cherry pick things from the bible regardless of if they believe it was written by humans, or not. Again, there is NO other source for many of these things, and so what does it matter if they think it’s of human hands or not, they still cherry pick the stuff the like from the stuff they don’t like, with no good objective basis (this is good and true supernatural stuff even if humans wrote it – this is bad and false supernatural stuff, and no wonder, humans wrote it).

    And the stuff they pic, they still claim have a divine/supernatural origin (and where do they get this idea from again…?) no matter if the description of it was penned by humans or directly carved by the hand of god, or inspired by god and written by humans.

  69. 69
    rick020200

    “believes in god and the basics of christianity but believes every word of the bible is the fallible word of a human being”

    This is where I was about 5 years ago.

    Then I realized that the “basics of christianity” were based on fallible words. That the stories were either allegorical, mythological, or false. And that I was picking and choosing what to believe in the bible based on my warm and fuzzy feelings about it.

    tinkdnuos, you may no longer say “you’re not talking about any actual progressive religious types I’ve ever encountered”. I was that person. I did that cherry picking. I considered myself a progressive religious person. I chose to believe that Jesus existed, but that what he’s purported to have said in John was false, and that his resurrection was metaphor, and that Matt 19:21 didn’t apply anymore, but Matt 7:3 did. That’s the definition of cherry picking.

  70. 70
    tinkdnuos

    Maria, I think Another Matt already handled parts of that issue very well, so I’ll refer you to his post above yours.

    But I would like to point out that a lot of the disagreement here comes from the conflict between using “and” or “but” in most of our statements.

  71. 71
    tinkdnuos

    rick, you’re still just one, as opposed to the dozen or so I know who do not, actually, believe as you say you did. So while yes, I admit, I can no longer say I’ve NEVER encountered one like that, I still think it’s incorrect (and far more provocative than constructive) for Greta Christina to assert that “most” are a certain way.

  72. 72
    Maria

    “the Christian tradition” (however broad) rather than just “the Bible.””

    You’re right, though, that is basically like playing a two thousand year long game of telephone, no? They still lean on the texts. The first texts are the result of the telephone game thus far, and have been distorted through time as well. Since there it isn’t a fact that there are NO texts at all, it’s very difficult to say what that ‘broader Christian tradition’ would have actually consisted of without them, or if it would still exist at all today as a tradition. They are mostly reliant on the texts, even when they want to deviate from them. Can they prove their deviations are not just a random pick from anywhere in the telephone game, or things they just made up in recent times?

    I’d still say they don’t really have anything else of substance than these texts, and they are the way they are… But yeah, I can’t say you’re not right in what you’re saying!

  73. 73
    Maria

    “Maria, I think Another Matt already handled parts of that issue very well, so I’ll refer you to his post above yours.”

    I’ve already replied to him!

  74. 74
    rick020200

    Granted I’m a data point of one, and I’m pretty sure that most of the progressive religious types I knew/know worked much the same way as me. So now we’re arguing whether she should have said “many” or “most”.

  75. 75
    Sal Bro

    tinkdnuos,

    …believes in god and the basics of christianity but believes every word of the bible is the fallible word of a human being. Because that’s what these people believe.

    Whether you think the term “cherry-picking” applies to these folks or not is beside GC’s main point, which she summed up in her closing paragraphs. I’ve removed references to cherry-picking so they don’t distract from her other words:

    I’m still going to point out that you have no more reason to think that your instincts are in line with God than the fundamentalists do. I’m still going to point out that you have absolutely no basis for thinking that God even exists…

    And I’m still going to point out that you…[are]…endorsing the very idea of religious faith — i.e., the idea that it’s reasonable and even virtuous to believe things we have no good reason to think are true. I’m still going to argue that this idea is among the most damaging ideas that human beings have concocted.

    How does this closing statement NOT apply to the progressive religious people that you are describing? If they accept that (a) god(s) exist(s), they are doing so in spite of an enormous lack of evidence. They may accept that Jesus existed but, again, they do this without evidence. GC’s main point is that merely entertaining such beliefs–and giving them any importance in one’s life at all–is NOT logical or reasonable. And she’s going to call people out on it.

    You seemed to have missed this larger point of her post for what seems to be semantic hang-ups over “cherry-picking” and “religious”.

  76. 76
    Sal Bro

    Also, tinkdnuos, in your original email you wrote

    I’m sure I don’t need to mention that you also, like a typical myopic westerner, reduce the vast concept of “religion” to merely the Judeo-Christian-Muslim tradition.

    and yet your counterexamples have consisted almost entirely of Christians you know. Could you elaborate a bit on the progressive religious believers you know whose faith is not from the Judeo-Christian-Muslim tradition? I’m hoping it might help some of us here see your larger point.

  77. 77
    tinkdnuos

    Actually, I’m not sure why anyone is really arguing anything. I thought she was heavy-handed and sacrificed subtlety, accuracy, and consideration for punchiness and provocation. I also think that her characterization of the way religious progressives attempt to rationalize their beliefs was not particularly accurate, based on my own experiences with religious progressives, who really don’t try to rationalize their beliefs so much as acknowledge their absurdity, and carry on.

    That’s all this is about. I’m not trying to convince any of you of anything else. I’m actually just trying (and doing a damn good job, considering the way the teams are stacked) to defend my own assertions and explanations (posted in the comments, not necessarily in the original email) from those who seem all too eager to attack them.

    You see, you all have a distinct advantage. I don’t intend to become a regular contributor to these comment threads. So when I tire of this discussion and leave it behind, you all will have “won.” I, on the other hand, can’t win, because I’m not trying to compete with anyone for the primacy of ideas, nor am I trying to discourage anyone from further participation in this, or any other, thread on this blog.

  78. 78
    rick020200

    Let me take this back to the source text… Greta’s essay.
    “How do you know what God is really saying?”

    So, tinkdnuos, if I get your perspective, the progressive religious types in your acquaintance would say “God didn’t say anything in the bible. That was all written by humans.” Is that correct?

    I would still argue that believers would claim the fuzzy “inspired” label for the bible–written by humans, inspired by god. Otherwise it is of no more value than writings by Plato or Newton, etc. Which brings us back to the question, how do we know what was inspired and that which was written for more base human needs? The fact that there isn’t a good way to make this evaluation was the point of Greta’s essay–we pick the parts that are most like what we already believe.

  79. 79
    Maria

    Matt, to clarify a bit, when discussing about the specific people tinkdnous mentions, I don’t think any of them lean on a traditional account of Jesus’ resurrection that is solely and only passed down by word of mouth through the generations, originally from a source present at the event and then from mother and father to child – completely separate from the texts (as in there is no chance any of them could have ever been influenced by them), and that’s how they know. If that was the case I’d agree they aren’t cherry picking the Bible!

    And even so, as I said, I am not sure how much the broader Christian traditions can be separated from any and all Christian texts (it’s an interesting question). And yeah, as you said, today I don’t think they can be separated in that way. The Bible is too much a part of the public imagery.

    I do stand corrected about the facts in itself!

  80. 80
    tinkdnuos

    “I would still argue that believers would claim the fuzzy “inspired” label for the bible–written by humans, inspired by god. Otherwise it is of no more value than writings by Plato or Newton, etc.”

    And as I’ve already stated, I would prefer not to argue anything, and I don’t think that’s what we should be doing. I would, however, disagree that these people I know would claim the “inspired” label as such.

    These are not idiots I’m talking about. They are (save one) Swarthmore alums, most of whom are finishing or have recently finished doctoral degrees in the humanities, social, and “hard” sciences (no, really! One has a ph.d in biology from an ivy league university!). I’ve already stated that at least one of these people consciously and knowingly embraced the absurdity in her position. These are not people who simply fail to think about things, and who have led unexamined lives. Quite the opposite. They are among the most intelligent people of their generation.

  81. 81
    rick020200

    “I also think that her characterization of the way religious progressives attempt to rationalize their beliefs was not particularly accurate”

    And this is the source of our disagreement. I felt like her essay struck home with my own experience as a progressive believer, and what I understand of my family’s current progressive beliefs.

    What got me riled up was your claim of “straw man”–that no one thinks the way she characterized. You appropriately hedged that with “I’ve ever encountered” which I appreciate.

    I hope before you decide to take off and choose to not follow GC’s blog, that you reconsider–there’s lots to discuss on future essays and topics. I think your voice would be valuable.

  82. 82
    rick020200

    “These are not idiots I’m talking about.”

    I apologize if the tenor of my comments made you think I was implying this.

    If you haven’t read it already, I highly recommend “Why People Believe Weird Things” especially chapter 18, Why Smart people believe weird things. Many of the smartest, progressive people I know believe in an inspired bible. Some even in the infallibility of the bible. These people are smart in a great many things. I think in religion they are mistaken.

  83. 83
    tinkdnuos

    “I hope before you decide to take off and choose to not follow GC’s blog, that you reconsider–there’s lots to discuss on future essays and topics. I think your voice would be valuable.”

    I’m glad to hear (well, read) that. To be quite honest, I fully intended to stick around after reading the comments posted BEFORE I came to comment myself. But it seemed as though some folks grew less respectful and thoughtful once they had the opportunity to come at me directly. It makes me wonder whether they’d ever be able to let go of the knee-jerk impression of me as a religious believer, or a childish troll playing mere semantic games, as someone suggested above.

    But I’m not going anywhere just yet.

  84. 84
    Sal Bro

    These are not idiots I’m talking about. They are (save one) Swarthmore alums

    tinkdnuos, this is an appeal to authority (the particular brand of which makes some Swarthmore alums cringe, btw!). Smart people are wrong about things every day.

    It’s also incorrect (and condescending) to suggest that religious folks who didn’t go to your favorite college are “people who simply fail to think about things, and who have led unexamined lives”. Those sorts of arguments won’t win you a lot of friends on a skeptical blog, just as a word of caution.

  85. 85
    Maria

    “knee-jerk impression of me as a religious believer, or a childish troll playing mere semantic games, as someone suggested above.”

    And your knee jerk reaction of me was that I think the people you talk about are stupid, not worthy of my time, and dishonest… when I’ve said no such thing!

    Then you knee jerk reacted again when I (embarrassingly enough) mixed up your username with another persons’, thinking it was an attempt from me to paint you as a randian, when there isn’t even a way for me to know from this discussion that that is something you would find offensive, and I’m not even familiar enough with Rand’s books to know that was a reference to them.

    I’m not bringing these things up again to be snarky or continue any sort of fight, or anything like that. Only to point out that we are ALL human and sometimes prone to knee jerk reactions, and to get riled up in discussions, doing stupid mistakes, and so on.

    We’re having a discussion here, it gets heated sometimes, but we’re not “collectively out to get you” or anything, it just happens that most don’t agree.

  86. 86
    tinkdnuos

    Hey, Sal, IMMEDIATELY before I said what you quoted, I said I wasn’t engaging in argument. So no, that’s not an appeal to authority. It’s a characterization to underscore my point, which is that when I say these people are REALLY thinking about this, and not just glibly picking and choosing based on what feels best, I’m not being inaccurate.

    And I never suggested that religious folks who did not go to Swat (not my favorite, actually, kinda hated going there) are necessarily “people who simply fail to think about things, and who have led unexamined lives.” I merely suggested that folks who DID go to Swat are almost always NOT like that.

    But…thanks for the warning, I guess? You’re making that decision I was talking about with rick much easier.

  87. 87
    Eric

    These are not people who simply fail to think about things, and who have led unexamined lives. Quite the opposite. They are among the most intelligent people of their generation …..and I think this is where your characterization of progressives fails, as I doubt that the vast majority of progressives are amoung the most intelligent people of their generation. It may be that this is the sort of progressive you are aquainted with but they are not by and large representative in my opinion.

    I dont know any fundementalists, I know scads of progressives, they all buy into the “inspired” meme and they cherry pick those sections of the bible they like and those they dont, like everyone else. Some are quite intelligent though none are Phd’s in biology.

  88. 88
    Sal Bro

    Ooh, my 3rd comment made it out of moderation! I had a couple of more substantive posts before that–hopefully coming down the pipeline soon–so my post above wasn’t just a fly-by jab. FWIW.

  89. 89
    tinkdnuos

    I’d also like to respond quickly to some of what Greta Christina writes above, though I know she’s not necessarily able to comment at the moment.

    But I went ahead and reread the essay as posted on Alternet (that’s where I found it, so that’s what my email was written in response to). In rereading, it seems that “all” only becomes “most” when she gets into specifics. I think it would be really hard to genuinely interpret your essay as saying something different than “all religious progressives cherry-pick, by definition, and most do it in these specific ways.”

  90. 90
    Sal Bro

    tinkdnuos,

    I think it would be really hard to genuinely interpret your essay as saying something different than “all religious progressives cherry-pick, by definition, and most do it in these specific ways.”

    This is exactly how I read her piece. She even says it in her 2nd paragraph:

    We point out that sacred texts — the Bible, the Koran, etc. — are typically filled with anachronisms and absurdities, internal contradictions and factual errors and moral grotesqueries, and that nobody actually adheres to all their teachings … not even self-proclaimed fundamentalists.

    As an aside, I see my other comments directed at tinkdnuos posted but have been filed in among the others based on the time I submitted them (3:15 and 3:20).

  91. 91
    Another Matt

    maria:

    Matt, to clarify a bit, when discussing about the specific people tinkdnous mentions, I don’t think any of them lean on a traditional account of Jesus’ resurrection that is solely and only passed down by word of mouth through the generations, originally from a source present at the event and then from mother and father to child – completely separate from the texts (as in there is no chance any of them could have ever been influenced by them), and that’s how they know. If that was the case I’d agree they aren’t cherry picking the Bible!

    I agree. This really is about two different types of belief, I think. For those who believe in the capital-T Tradition, they believe that the Bible can’t be cherry-picked because there’s no interpretation involved at all. They have a painstakingly worked-out set of doctrines that are believed to be authentic (via councils, establishment of credos and heresies before scriptural codification), a scriptural canon which is believed to comply with the doctrines and which is interpreted through those doctrines, and liturgies which form the ecclesiastical practice and sacraments. In this case, their epistemic appeal is to authenticity — find out what Christians believed from Jesus’s death to the codification of scripture and you will have found the Truth. The content of the canons is secondary, but reinforcing and feedbackish. You’re right that this isn’t what Greta’s article is about.

    For those Christians who don’t believe in the doctrinal authority of Tradition (many Protestants will quote scripture about the “traditions of men”), they can decide that the authority comes from the Bible itself because it was “written by God.”

    Or, if they want to be less fundamentalist they can claim it was written by humans but inspired by God, that the “truths” are spiritual and not supposed to be historic or scientific. This opens the door for empiricism.

    OR, to be even more progressive, they can disbelieve in the authority of the Bible altogether, but retain a belief in God (as a person, as a divine essence… that’s immaterial) — and then claim that since Christianity has had so much influence on history, some part of it must be true, “because everything happens for a reason,” etc. This is belief in a small-t tradition. “There has to be more than this, and this is the most familiar or influential thing I have found.”

    What tinkdnuos is talking about some is faith in paradox. The idea is that some things which are flatly contradictory are taken to be profound, in some way. A lot of mysticism depends on this, and caricatures of, say, Zen mysticism rely heavily on the absurdity of the koans. Dennett talks about “deepities,” and in my experience, much of progressive religion is “deepity all the way down” — truth claims don’t really matter so much, and contradictions or logical impossibilities are a feature, not a bug.

    So sorry for the long reply.

  92. 92
    tinkdnuos

    Thanks, Sal, that’s great to know, So instead of one fly-by snipe, you posted several.

  93. 93
    Marvin

    tinkdnuos: Actually, I’m not sure why anyone is really arguing anything. I thought she was heavy-handed and sacrificed subtlety, accuracy, and consideration for punchiness and provocation. I also think that her characterization of the way religious progressives attempt to rationalize their beliefs was not particularly accurate, based on my own experiences with religious progressives, who really don’t try to rationalize their beliefs so much as acknowledge their absurdity, and carry on.

    Funny thing about this argument. Like rick020200, I feel like I used to be a progressive Christian of the type described by tinkdnuos. I’m fairly confident that once I would have identified pretty strongly with that general description. But today, as an atheist, I also see my old self in Greta’s description of the cherry-picker, though I’m sure that at the time I wouldn’t have described myself with those terms. Perhaps I’d have reacted negatively, thinking that Greta had sacrificed accuracy for bombast. Now I tend to think she’s just used directness to cut through a fog of obfuscation.

    Today I find no difference between “rationalizing their beliefs” and “acknowledging their absurdity,” since the latter involves rationalizing the value of the absurd.

    But even that can become an argument, because not all absurdities are equal. Investing divine meaning in stories you don’t think are actually true isn’t my definition of the word “absurd,” for instance. It’s just something between proud ignorance and a lie, depending on the depth of the investment and the details of the story.

    To me, absurdity is about the fundamental meaninglessness of things. Acknowledging absurdity means accepting that life isn’t orchestrated by a higher (or lower, or imminent) power that gives it a meaning beyond those that can be found or made by human beings.

    By contrast, accepting that one’s beliefs are indefensible in terms of fact, history, or logic, is not an acceptance of the absurd. It’s merely the promotion of ignorance as a virtue.

  94. 94
    tinkdnuos

    I think it would go a long way towards the seriousness of this discussion if even ONE of you could say something like “hm, yes, it seems that there ARE some religious progressives who are NOT like those Greta Christina describes in her essay, so maybe she’s not entirely correct and his clumsy email made a decent point.”

    But it seems everyone here is convinced that they REALLY know what all religious progressives believe. This confidence is laughably misplaced.

  95. 95
    tinkdnuos

    @Marvin, you say “investing divine meaning in stories you don’t think are actually true isn’t my definition of the word “absurd,” for instance.”

    That’s fine. That’s also not what the people I’m describing do. I’ve already gone back and forth on this with Maria. They specifically do NOT invest divine meaning in stories they don’t think are actually true.

    @Another Matt, on this same point, it’s not mere “deepities.” They don’t pretend that there’s something mystical about irreconcilable contradiction. They’re not like “let’s be spiritual and embrace the absurd for therein lies truth!” They’re more like “I know, it’s pretty fucking absurd, isn’t it? *shrug* Pass the curry and turn up the Izzard please.”

  96. 96
    rick020200

    Greta said:

    How do you know what God is really saying?

    Most progressive believers will answer…

    tinkdnuos said:

    The problem is that you’re not talking about any actual progressive religious types I’ve ever encountered.

    (emphasis mine)

    tinkdnuos said:

    if even ONE of you could say something like “hm, yes, it seems that there ARE some religious progressives who are NOT like those Greta Christina describes in her essay, so maybe she’s not entirely correct and his clumsy email made a decent point.

    Sorry, but your clumsy e-mail was clumsy. Greta never claimed your progressive friends didn’t exist. She claimed “most progressives” cherry pick. You may argue over whether “most” should be “many” but you seem to want validation that you’ve made a point, when I think, your point has been shredded.

  97. 97
    Maria

    “So sorry for the long reply.”

    Not at all! It’s interesting, and you have both more knowledge of these things, and express yourself better about this, than I do – obviously. (Also, English is not my first language, so sorry for the numerous grammar mistakes and the like.)

    I’d say there are problems with, and possibilities to cherry pick (with a claim of divine/supernatural authority) in all these different kind of beliefs/traditions, though, yes, they will not see it as that themselves, of course.

  98. 98
    Sal Bro

    tinkdnuos,

    Thanks, Sal, that’s great to know, So instead of one fly-by snipe, you posted several.

    Actually, I posted respectful questions and responses to your posts, which you seem to be ignoring. Do you classify everything short of agreement as “snipes”?

    I think it would go a long way towards the seriousness of this discussion if even ONE of you could say something like “hm, yes, it seems that there ARE some religious progressives who are NOT like those Greta Christina describes in her essay, so maybe she’s not entirely correct and his clumsy email made a decent point.”

    Oops, guess not. I won’t waste more of my time, then.

  99. 99
    tinkdnuos

    Sal, you’re a pro cherry-picker. Way to quote HALF of each of those statements.

    And rick, she did not claim “most” progressives cherry pick. She claimed that ALL progressives cherry pick, and then she discussed the ways that MOST of them do it.

    But I’m tired of people telling me I said something I didn’t, and then telling me what people that they don’t know actually believe. So despite your (now clearly disingenuous) suggestion that I consider staying, and that my voice would be valuable. It’s already clear how little my voice would be valued.

  100. 100
    Sal Bro

    rick020200,

    She claimed “most progressives” cherry pick. You may argue over whether “most” should be “many”

    I read her piece as saying something even stronger (as I mentioned to Mr. Anonymous above). GC claimed that ALL religious folks, progressives included, cherry-pick out of necessity (to avoid having to stone their own children and what-not). She then went on to say how “many” or “most” progressives went about justifying it.

    I think the mix-up, as Marvin points out, is that some people shudder at the term “cherry-pick”. Anonymous/tinkdnuos’ beef seems to be that, to him, the term implies that cherry-pickers have been “glib”, when in fact neither GC nor any dictionary seems to suggest that.

    …you seem to want validation that you’ve made a point, when I think, your point has been shredded.

    Seconded.

  101. 101
    Maria

    “And rick, she did not claim “most” progressives cherry pick. She claimed that ALL progressives cherry pick, and then she discussed the ways that MOST of them do it.”

    Actually, I think what she’s claiming is that human beings cherry pick, and then criticized some forms of it, of which some are done by many progressive believers – who themselves often claim that’s not what they’re doing.

  102. 102
    tinkdnuos

    Sigh.

    I’ve wasted too much of my day on a few smugly overconfident people who wouldn’t recognize their own biases and presumptions if those biases and presumptions shat all over their faces.

    Have fun kicking my effigy around in your sandbox, kiddies.

  103. 103
    Daniel Schealler

    @tinkdnuos

    hm, yes, it seems that there ARE some religious progressives who are NOT like those Greta Christina describes in her essay, so maybe she’s not entirely correct and his clumsy email made a decent point.

    Do progressives actually think that the sun stood still in the sky as reported in Joshua 10:13?

    I think well enough of Christian religious progressives to think that if any do believe that the sun actually stood still, they are a very, very tiny minority.

    So in that sense – yes, perhaps there ARE progressives that do not cherry pick… Although how to distinguish these progressives from fundamentalists remains a conundrum.

    But of my supposed majority of progressives, they are dismissing one part of the Bible as false (Joshua 10:13) while accepting others as true.

    I’m sure that for many, their rationalization for such dismissals would be very elaborate and nuanced, very… sophistricated. But that’s just smoke and mirrors to cover their tracks.

    Every progressive with which I have ever discussed these issues always behaves as if the following underlying principle is true:

    If a part of the Bible makes me blush with embarrassment, then and only then is it a metaphor – as my very clever rationalizations will surely demonstrate once I’ve had time to invent them.

    Greta’s original article seemed to me to be focusing only on those progressives who are honest enough to admit that this is in fact what they’re doing.

    So I suppose in that sense, I can VERY easily accept that many progressives cherry-pick in this way without being honest to themselves and other people about what they’re doing.

    And as I stated above – I can accept that some minority of self-declared progressives do not cherry-pick in any form at all (although how to distinguish such people from fundamentalists remains a mystery to me).

    But in the majority case? I really do think Greta has things bang to rights.

    I can only speak truthfully from my own experiences. I’m powerless to be any more serious than that. If such an endeavor falls short of your requirements, methinks you’re in for some disappointment here.

  104. 104
    tinkdnuos

    Daniel, you clearly either did not read or did not understand my first comment on this thread. This thread has devolved into another pile of bullshit on the internet. I expected better from this crowd, and they briefly obliged, but now it’s clear that they’re collectively not much different from a 4chan forum.

  105. 105
    rick020200

    tinkdnuos, I was NOT being disingenuous–I meant those words exactly as typed, when I typed them. The fact that I continue to engage with you despite our disagreement demonstrates I was NOT being disingenuous.

    “She claimed that ALL progressives cherry pick”

    Best as I can tell, you’re getting this perspective from this paragraph of her essay:

    But progressive and moderate believers take a very different approach. They freely admit to cherry-picking. “Sure,” they say. “The Bible says a lot of things — things that are anachronistic and absurd, factually inaccurate and morally grotesque. The Bible (or whichever sacred text we’re talking about) isn’t a perfect document written by God — it’s a flawed document written by people who were trying to understand God. You think you’re telling us something we don’t know? Yes, we cherry-pick. We should cherry-pick. We have minds, and moral compasses, and we’re supposed to think for ourselves. Isn’t that what atheists do? When you read works by thinkers you find inspiring, you get inspired by the parts that resonate with you, and you reject the parts you think are screwed up. Why shouldn’t believers do the same thing?”

    (but since you haven’t quoted it yourself, I can’t be sure).
    The word ALL isn’t here. You may be reading it into the first sentence, but it is clear from the rest of the paragraph and the false quotes (as a literary device) that she’s making an example. This is much the same as me saying “Doritos are tasty!” to my friend at lunch. I don’t qualify the statement as “all doritos” or “some doritos” or “most doritos”. The implication is that “the doritos I’ve tasted are tasty”. I’m obviously not attempting to speak for all Doritos everywhere.

    So, when Greta speaks for “progressive and moderate believers” and puts words in their mouths as a literary device, I think it is clear she isn’t attempting to speak for 100.00000% of all these kinds of people. Religious belief is always complex. There are always exceptions. This is an essay, not a research paper. She’s allowed to paint with broad brush strokes to make her point. The fact that you have 5 friends whom you claim don’t cherry pick (I’m not sure you’ve explained how they are christian without cherry picking) doesn’t invalidate GC’s point.

  106. 106
    Daniel Schealler

    Sigh.

    I’ve wasted too much of my day on a few smugly overconfident people who wouldn’t recognize their own biases and presumptions if those biases and presumptions shat all over their faces.

    Have fun kicking my effigy around in your sandbox, kiddies.

    *picks up tinkdnuos’ dummy*

    *wipes off spit*

  107. 107
    Maria

    Uh…

    I guess he told us!

  108. 108
    Sal Bro

    It’s already clear how little my voice would be valued.

    tinkdnuos, if we didn’t value your voice, you would have been roundly ignored. In return for the time commenters spent typing out thoughtful responses to you, you self-importantly whine about the responses you’ve received because we don’t agree with you. And instead of engaging dissenting opinions, you’ve chosen to ignore and/or deride them. Seems it is you who is has been disingenuous, and you who has not placed value on other people’s voices.

  109. 109
    Daniel Schealler

    tinkdnuos

    Daniel, you clearly either did not read or did not understand my first comment on this thread. This thread has devolved into another pile of bullshit on the internet. I expected better from this crowd, and they briefly obliged, but now it’s clear that they’re collectively not much different from a 4chan forum.

    I read it. ‘Creative destroying’ is a kind of dishonest cherry-picking.

    I understood that you don’t think this is so.

    See again my earlier comment about progressives cherry-picking while being dishonest to themselves and others that this is in fact what they are doing.

  110. 110
    Marvin

    @tinkdnuos, who said: That’s fine. That’s also not what the people I’m describing do. I’ve already gone back and forth on this with Maria. They specifically do NOT invest divine meaning in stories they don’t think are actually true.

    Then I suppose I’ve failed to understand you. I can’t see any daylight between investing divine meaning in a story and whatever it is that makes your religious believer a believer in something religious.

  111. 111
    rick020200

    “This thread has devolved into another pile of bullshit on the internet.”

    Wow, dude, get the chip off your shoulder. I almost went off on you when you claimed I was disingenuous (aka lying). Now you’re calling our discussion with you bullshit?

    Congratulations on taking the level of the conversation down to where you’re comfortable. I won’t go there.

  112. 112
    tinkdnuos

    I wasn’t trying to “tell you” anything.

    I was never competing with anyone here. I was never trying to “win” any “arguments.”

    I already said this several hours ago:

    “You see, you all have a distinct advantage. I don’t intend to become a regular contributor to these comment threads. So when I tire of this discussion and leave it behind, you all will have “won.” I, on the other hand, can’t win, because I’m not trying to compete with anyone for the primacy of ideas, nor am I trying to discourage anyone from further participation in this, or any other, thread on this blog.”

    So it’s telling that you seem particularly satisfied with my unwillingness to continue participating in a group berating.

    Now that I’ve finally figured out how to unsubscribe properly (the “manage your subscriptions” link below this box links to the wrong blog), I really will be saying goodbye to you folks. I’d love to hear from GC again, and if she decides to comment any further in response to my responses, I hope she’ll let me know directly. But the rest of you seem to have spent the last few hours trying to win a fight against someone who hasn’t bothered throwing any punches. How disappointing.

  113. 113
    Sal Bro

    someone who hasn’t bothered throwing any punches

    Punches, as in, coherent logical argument? Or “This thread has devolved into another pile of bullshit on the internet” punches? Either way, LOL.

    Don’t forget your binky.

  114. 114
    Another Matt

    Another Matt, on this same point, it’s not mere “deepities.” They don’t pretend that there’s something mystical about irreconcilable contradiction. They’re not like “let’s be spiritual and embrace the absurd for therein lies truth!” They’re more like “I know, it’s pretty fucking absurd, isn’t it? *shrug* Pass the curry and turn up the Izzard please.”

    Ah ha, I see what you’re saying; I’m sorry to have misinterpreted.

    Actually, I don’t think deepities are all that “mere.” It’s a recurring thing and worthy of study why such ideas take hold of brains. But what you’re describing is much like how people talk about falling in love. “I know, it’s crazy! But I love her!”

  115. 115
    rick020200

    tinkdnuos come back tomorrow and re-read these comments, beginning to end. When the passion of the moment has worn off a little bit, see if this still feels like a group berating.

    I’m going to take a break now before I say anything disingenuous.

  116. 116
    Daniel Schealler

    @tinkdnuos

    O_o

    Look – you’re annoyed. I get that.

    But you’re coming into a very public forum of people who disagree strongly with your position and the assumptions of your arguments. And they’re saying so.

    I don’t think we’re doing anything wrong here besides disagreeing with you.

    If you’re over the conversation then fine – we’re all very busy people and time is precious. By all means, cut loose. No need for justification. No loss of face. It’s fine.

    But you’re acting as if we’re doing something wrong simply because we’re unpersuaded by your arguments and can give reasons for being so.

    You requested seriousness. So, in all seriousness: What did you expect?

    Ah, oh well. I think I can regognize a signing-off post when I see one. Actually, I think this is the third signing-off post you’ve made, so I reserve my doubts about it’s sincerity… But still, I’ll accept the face of it for now.

    All the best, tinkdnuos. It was fun while it lasted.

    I’m still subscribed, so feel free to come back and comment again any time.

  117. 117
    shaunphilly

    tindnuou said:

    … “believes in god and the basics of christianity but believes every word of the bible is the fallible word of a human being”? Because that’s what these people believe. That’s what I’ve been saying over and over and over and over and over, but everyone keeps acting like it’s some kind of impossibility, and either you’re an atheist or you believe that the text of your religion is the word of god. False dichotomy much?

    People who accept the basics of Christianity, but not its divine authorship, have a HUGE epistemological conundrum ahead of them. As Maria has been asking, where is the source of those beliefs?

    You must conceive of a criteria to accept some things written or in the tradition and to reject others. This criteria must be justified. This, in some sense, is cherry-picking. And what makes it worse is most progressive believers are very ignorant of the history, substance, and context of theology. They do not have the tools to create such criteria, so their parochial beliefs are unwarranted and absurd.

  118. 118
    Improbable Joe, bearer of the Official SpokesGuitar

    Wow, I’m glad I posted early, before the whole thing went pear-shaped. Not that there was much of an actual discussion once Anonymous became… Nonymous? Is that a word?

    If I missed something, someone let me know. But it seems to me that tinkdnuos’s entire position is a combination of “no true Scotsman,” semantic quibbles over “cherry picking” versus “interpreting,” tone-trolling and other Internet posturing, plus a probably not-unfair feeling of being ganged up on.

  119. 119
    scenario

    In defense of the letter writer, most moderate Christians don’t cherry pick the bible because they’ve never read it. Their Priest/Minister etc. is cherry picking for them. Their belief system is emotional not rational. They chose the church that best fits their idea of what religion should be and assume that whatever the priest/minister says is what the bible says.

    This is the case of many arguments. I’ve read many arguments about the recent health care bill. A lot of people argue for and against it but how many of them have actually read and understood the entire bill. Most of the information they are getting is 3rd or 4th hand.

  120. 120
    QuantumFlux

    I think there are three types of believers.
    All three choose what to believe in different ways.
    I see ‘cherry picking’ as the act of choosing what to believe in the context of a specific text like for instance the Bible.

    Type 1: your classic fundamentalists they claim to follow the whole text of whatever religion they pick. They don’t succeed but whatever.

    Type 2: The ‘progressives’ Greta discusses they pick and choose what they do and don’t like from a religious text. They believe that some of it is true and that truth is beyond question.

    Type 3: Not sure what to call these but they basically aren’t willing to give up their faith. They acknowledge that they don’t know anything for certain but they still believe there is more to life than physical reality. They may nominally hold specific beliefs derived from a religious text but they don’t have absolute confidence in those beliefs. My father fits into this third category and I think this third category is what tinkdnuos is describing.

    I will say that all three types believe things without evidence. I disagree with all three on that basis. GC’s central critique is as always of ‘the idea that it’s reasonable and even virtuous to believe things we have no good reason to think are true.’

    I think that GC’s critique is relevant to most but not all of type 3.

  121. 121
    Eric M. Cherry

    tinkdnuos may not be following along, but I’ll take up two threads he set down.

    1. “I’m actually just trying…to defend my own assertions and explanations…from those who seem all too eager to attack them.”

    He claims that he’s not sure why anybody is arguing anything, and that he’s not here to convince anybody of anything. He’s not here to argue.

    But to make an assertion is to make an argument. To defend one’s argument is to argue. Own up to it, man!

    2. “To them, it’s not ”true because the bible says so.” To them ”it’s true, and in the bible.””

    This was interesting for a few minutes (especially when the idea was picked up and clarified a bit by Another Matt). He seems to be saying that a True Believer can come to an awareness of the existence of god(s) and of god’s (or gods’) will on sundry matters from some extra-textual source, then pick up some holy writ as if it were mere commentary to consider in light of the god’s (or gods’) reality. “Cherry picking” would be impossible for such a gnostic.

    So all he’s really saying is that our Young Progressive came to believe in God and Jesus and the rest by osmosis. This Progressive Christian can dismiss almost all of the bible, keeping only those bits that resonate with already held beliefs.

    This person isn’t a Christian as such. He’s dreaming up theological fanfic and choosing to live by it.

    – emc

  122. 122
    rick020200

    Quantumflux–I like your type 3. Describes my wife perfectly.

  123. 123
    Daniel Schealler

    @scenario

    most moderate Christians don’t cherry pick the bible because they’ve never read it. Their Priest/Minister etc. is cherry picking for them.

    Now that is a damn good point.

    Have +100 internet points.

  124. 124
    Another Matt

    If I missed something, someone let me know. But it seems to me that tinkdnuos’s entire position is a combination of “no true Scotsman,” semantic quibbles over “cherry picking” versus “interpreting,” tone-trolling and other Internet posturing, plus a probably not-unfair feeling of being ganged up on.

    I don’t think this is quite fair. It’s easy to dismiss important distinctions as “semantic quibbles.” I think we do a disservice to the discussion by separating groups out into “fundamentalist” and “progressive.” It’s useful for pointing out some stark differences when the focus is on fundamentalist belief, but the varieties of belief that fall into the “progressive” camp (since that’s what we’re talking about) are myriad, and the subtle and sometimes tedious distinctions are worth taking seriously if you’re looking for an accurate picture. It’s fine if you believe — as I do — that religious belief is basically unjustified, but the variety of belief is interesting in its own right. On the other hand, as others here have pointed out, one runs the risk of being more religiously literate than the believers themselves, and committing all kinds of “No True Scotsman” errors.

  125. 125
    Improbable Joe, bearer of the Official SpokesGuitar

    @Another Matt:

    What you see as unfair and a disservice seems to me to be perfectly fair. The reason is that while we both accept that “fundamentalist” and “progressive” each cover a broad spectrum, only you are willing to make a claim that it is unfair to make claims across a broad but defined spectrum. It is true that there is a broad range of beliefs among what we would both call “progressive religious belief,” there is simply no escape from the fact that ALL religious belief, no matter what part of the spectrum it falls upon, is predicated on some sort of faith. If it isn’t faith-based, it would cross from religion to some fact-based discipline.

    Once you accept the common definition of religion as being faith-based, your entire argument against what I’ve said has no merit.

  126. 126
    'Tis Himself

    The problems with the Bible are it was written by many people over centuries, it was edited, revised, rewritten, beefed up, boiled down, translated, mistranslated, and otherwise folded, spindled and mutilated.* The same is true about other religious source books. It’s impossible not to cherry pick it. Look at the folks at Conservæpedia. They believe the Bible is word for word dictated by God, except for those parts with which they disagree.

    GC point isn’t that moderate and progressive Christians cherry pick, it’s that they deny they’re doing so. Anonymous/tinkdnuos seems to be saying “but I know some progressive Christians who don’t cherry pick and they’re Swarthmore graduates, so they know what they’re doing.”

    It is possible to accept the Bible/Koran/Vedas/Tipitaka/etc. as allegorical and metaphoric and not literally true (except for those parts which may be true). But that’s still cherry picking. It’s giving a different interpretation than most religious followers accept for their sacred texts.

    The original question is not about whether or not goddists cherry pick, it’s about whether or not they admit cherry picking.

    *I’m showing my age.

  127. 127
    Greta Christina

    tinkdnuos:

    Regarding the following comments you made in my blog:

    “So fuck you very much and have a shitty day. I’m done talking to you.”

    “And kagerato, say something of substance or go away. You’re a joke and so’s your comment.”

    “I’ve wasted too much of my day on a few smugly overconfident people who wouldn’t recognize their own biases and presumptions if those biases and presumptions shat all over their faces.”

    “Have fun kicking my effigy around in your sandbox, kiddies.”

    Do not ever — EVER — use language like that in my blog again. I expect commenters to treat one another with basic courtesy and respect. I encourage spirited and even snarky criticism of ideas, but I expect commenters to refrain from engaging in personal insults towards one another.

    I said this very clearly in my post. The other commenters adhered to this guideline — they critiqued your ideas, in some cases harshly, but they did not insult you personally. They took your ideas seriously, and they critiqued them seriously. And they did not use anything even approaching the kind of language you used towards them.

    I understand — having been in the situation myself — that it’s difficult to be one person arguing with many. But if you ever again talk like that to other commenters in my blog, you will be banned immediately. Thank you.

  128. 128
    Another Matt

    What you see as unfair and a disservice seems to me to be perfectly fair. The reason is that while we both accept that “fundamentalist” and “progressive” each cover a broad spectrum, only you are willing to make a claim that it is unfair to make claims across a broad but defined spectrum. It is true that there is a broad range of beliefs among what we would both call “progressive religious belief,” there is simply no escape from the fact that ALL religious belief, no matter what part of the spectrum it falls upon, is predicated on some sort of faith. If it isn’t faith-based, it would cross from religion to some fact-based discipline.

    Once you accept the common definition of religion as being faith-based, your entire argument against what I’ve said has no merit.

    Well, yes and no. It depends on what you want to get out of the discussion. I’m perfectly happy, in some contexts, to “make claims across a broad but defined spectrum.” Ultimately I believe that religious belief and faith is unhealthy at best and outright dangerous at worst.

    In my own personal case I left faith little by little over the course of about 4 years. I had no sudden epiphany about the dangers of faith, but it was a kind of steady erosion of particular beliefs. Eventually I stopped believing in so many things that I came to realize that what I was left with was just banal and meaningless, so I gave it all up.

    I think that in order to reach people who are not given to sudden epiphany, in a lot of cases we would do better to argue about the immediate consequences of specific beliefs rather than the broad, lurking danger of faith. The more of those arguments we win and the more of those beliefs erode, the worse-off faith will be. I hate to paraphrase Grover Norquist, but I’m talking about starving faith slowly, point by point and individual by individual, rather than shooting it.

    But this requires a lot of tedious study, and I won’t lie that I’m losing my taste and patience for it; it’s a huge time commitment and sometimes it feels like a waste of time. Still, there is a part of me that is just really fascinated by what humans can make themselves believe, and I find the differences between, say, Roman Catholicism and Calvinism inherently interesting as a cultural phenomenon, like the differences between Hindustani and Carnatic music.

    These differences are fact-based, because they’re matters of fact (with some import!) about culture, whether or not the beliefs are true. It is true that official RC doctrine prohibits the use of condoms as a result of Thomist natural law, and it’s important to be able to process the Thomist reasoning on its own terms before formulating an argument against it, even if my argument doesn’t actually engage the Thomist on his turf.

    There’s also the point that if I’m arguing with a Calvinist, for example, I ought to simply respect him enough as a person to find out how my compatibilist free will differs from his predestination, whether or not he extends me the same courtesy.

    Anyway, I think there’s a lot for us atheists to get out of a discussion about religion that moves beyond “religion implies faith; faith is dangerous; here’s why faith is dangerous.” And I don’t think this is accommodationist — nothing ought to be taboo.

    Sorry for another long post. Goodnight all, and thanks for the fun discussion.

  129. 129
    Marvin

    tinkdnuos says: @Another Matt, on this same point, it’s not mere “deepities.” They don’t pretend that there’s something mystical about irreconcilable contradiction. They’re not like “let’s be spiritual and embrace the absurd for therein lies truth!” They’re more like “I know, it’s pretty fucking absurd, isn’t it? *shrug* Pass the curry and turn up the Izzard please.”

    I have to ask…is the argument that the progressive Christians in question are too lazy to cherry pick, and thus shouldn’t be accused of having made sufficient effort to do something intellectually suspect? Is the point not that they’re cleverer than we give them credit for, but that we’re giving them too much credit (for theological and philosophical effort — not for basic decency and smarts in everyday life) in the first place, and thus misunderstand the nature of their religious beliefs?

  130. 130
    ckitching

    I think I know what bothers me the most about this argument, and those that make near identical ones. Is it too much to ask for authors of screeds like this letter to bother to spell out what he or she actually believes or what in specific is wrong? Arguments like that seem to amount to “You’re wrong because you’re wrong, and I can’t believe you’re so wrong.” Everyone has found themselves arguing for the wrong thing sometimes, but refusing to say what’s wrong doesn’t contribute to a meaningful dialog in any way.

    Frankly, I find this approach a little dishonest. It a way to make your own argument unassailable, while cutting down the other person from a position of safety.

  131. 131
    Another Matt

    I have to ask…is the argument that the progressive Christians in question are too lazy to cherry pick, and thus shouldn’t be accused of having made sufficient effort to do something intellectually suspect? Is the point not that they’re cleverer than we give them credit for, but that we’re giving them too much credit (for theological and philosophical effort — not for basic decency and smarts in everyday life) in the first place, and thus misunderstand the nature of their religious beliefs?

    This sounds like religious belief as aesthetic preference. “I’ve developed a taste for Jesus and I just can’t shake it! Anyone else go for some beer nuts?”

  132. 132
    NathanDST

    @Another Matt:

    I think that in order to reach people who are not given to sudden epiphany, in a lot of cases we would do better to argue about the immediate consequences of specific beliefs rather than the broad, lurking danger of faith. The more of those arguments we win and the more of those beliefs erode, the worse-off faith will be. I hate to paraphrase Grover Norquist, but I’m talking about starving faith slowly, point by point and individual by individual, rather than shooting it.

    What you said in this comment makes sense (not just the part I’m quoting), however, I think you need to put more emphasis than you appear to be doing on “in a lot of cases.” The approach you advocate is a good one, but it should not be given preference over the direct approach of attacking faith itself. While faith exists, and especially while it is considered a virtue, it makes it easier for damaging beliefs to emerge, simply because they are “justified by faith.” Obviously, this doesn’t happen every time. It didn’t happen with you.

    Both approaches are necessary. Some are more given to the epiphany than others, and some will simply respond more to an attack on the foundation than they will to a slow taking apart of the house. Others are going to be like you.

    As Greta said elsewhere, we need the firebrands, and we need the diplomats. We also need those who will take apart a house board by board, and we need those who will dynamite the foundation.

    (I swear, I was more eloquent in my head; I’m tired. If I’m not making sense, let me know. I’ll respond after some sleep.)

  133. 133
    Another Matt

    As Greta said elsewhere, we need the firebrands, and we need the diplomats. We also need those who will take apart a house board by board, and we need those who will dynamite the foundation.

    Yes, I totally agree (with the rest of your post as well). I think maybe another way of saying what I was trying to say in my previous post was that it’s up to us to recognize contextually which method will be more appropriate. It may be that “dynamite” is more appropriate for speeches, public debates and blogs, and “board-by-board” more appropriate for individual conversations and other blogs. Or it may be that it’s dependent on the audience you’re addressing. I think it’s possible to be sensitive enough to be able to switch gears when appropriate.

    Perhaps an example will help. A close family member of mine has just contracted diabetes. He wants to treat it by praying and not by seeing a doctor. Right now, if I argue with him using an all-out assault on his faith, he’s not going to talk to me and he’s not going to see a doctor. However, I’m pretty sure that I can reason with him Socratically on this one issue and get him to make the rational choice to see a doctor and get treatment, all the while recognizing that faith is the culprit. It’s not even out of bounds to make a “God wants us to be rational” argument if it will save a life or incrementally increase the total amount of rational behavior.

    I often end up feeling smarmy or manipulative or dishonest in a “board-by-board” approach, but moral dilemmas are about finding the least worst course of action, sometimes we can’t afford to be anything less than pragmatic about our principles. (Also, I think it’s a matter of ethics in psychological counselling that the counselor works within the world-view of the person they are trying to help.)

    Maybe I’m just describing what happens when our “adversaries” are loved ones who need our help and compassion. It’s essential to empathize with them without necessarily sympathizing with their positions (does that make any sense?).

    =======================================================
    I’m afraid I’m hijacking the thread — sorry Greta (it’s almost impossible to type your name without accidentally spelling it “Great” first).

  134. 134
    QuantumFlux

    I agree completely about the two different approaches. My real issue is that the type 3 people I interact with talk as if the Bible is literally true then retreat from that position whenever you call them on it. So while I’d prefer the board by board approach, the people I know make that impossible by refusing to admit they have any beliefs based on their faith.

  135. 135
    NathanDST

    @Another Matt, I can find nothing I disagree with in your latest comment. It made perfect sense. And I hope you can in fact talk your family member into getting treatment (is that a normal reaction for him? I’m just wondering if there’s a reaction of fear with attendant denial feeding into it. If so, maybe understanding that could help your persuasion. I know I wouldn’t react positively to that diagnosis — I’d have to give up my all time favorite drink, and more).

  136. 136
    Lagerbaer

    Well, last I heard, progressive Christians do not advocate the stoning of adulterers even if it’s in the Bible. This proves right away that progressive Christians pick and choose which of the guidelines laid out in the Bible they follow and which they politely ignore or ascribe (in hilarious contrast to the alleged objective moral of god) to a matter of historical context.

    I don’t see how this is a strawman. The only two groups you can not accuse of cherry picking are the fundamentalists who follow the Bible 100% and the atheists who reject the Bible 100%.

  137. 137
    QuantumFlux

    If I may, I think that you can doubt everything in the Bible and basically decide to pick the bits you like and nominally except some parts as true. But you don’t have to be certain or even consider the Bible as playing any important role in a more generalized theist assumption.

  1. 138
    Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Priciple and “true religion” « The atheist, polyamorous, skeptic

    [...] was just reading the comments over at Greta Christina’s new piece when I ran across this: As soon as someone points out an ACTUAL issue with Christian culture, [...]

  2. 139
    The atheist, polyamorous, skeptic

    [...] religious love fests are ignoring too much of the scriptures they claim to be god’s word, cherry-picking what they like and ignoring what they don’t.  It’s simply annoying to [...]

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