An odd response

My latest post at Evangelical Realism seems to have attracted the attention of a self-described “New Evangelist” named David Roemer. It’s an odd response, though. My post was about William Lane Craig’s problems with the doctrine of Hell and Christian exclusivism, and, well, see if you can tell what (if anything) Roemer’s response has to do with the post he’s responding to.

There are three theories about our purpose in life: 1) To serve God in this world in order to be with Him in the next. 2) Life has no meaning. Man is a “useless passion” is the way Jean Paul Sartre put it. 3) To achieve self-realization and serve our fellow man.

There is a considerable amount of evidence for #1, some for #2, but none at all for #3. # 3 is irrational because we can achieve self-realization in different ways. The problem of life is deciding how to achieve self-realization. Concerning # 1, we are not guaranteed salvation. It is something to hope for with “fear and trembling

That’s the whole post response, including the two missing punctuation marks at the end. But what does he mean by this odd response?

This looks like a classic case of someone reading something that disturbs them, and rushing to put up a response—any response—so that they can feel like the problem has been dealt with. It doesn’t matter whether the response is relevant or even correct, as long as they can feel like there is an “answer.”

We can see the rushed and inattentive nature of this response both in the missing punctuation and in the fact that he has accidentally fallen into preaching salvation by works. Evangelical Christianity teaches that we are saved by grace through faith, not by serving God in this life so that we can be with Him in the next. We are supposed to serve Him (they say), but this is supposed to be a response to salvation, not the means of obtaining it.

Then there’s the matter of his shallow philosophizing about “purpose,” as though it would necessarily be a good thing for someone else to impose a goal that’s not necessarily in our own best interests. “Purpose” is a code word for the idea that it’s really all about me: I’m so important that God Himself has to focus His energies primarily on making sure that I end up in a state of eternal bliss. You never hear Christians bragging about what a good thing it is that God intends for most people to end up suffering the eternal torments of Hell, even though Biblically speaking that’s the “purpose” most people are ultimately subject to. No, when believers talk about “purpose,” they mean the nice things God is necessarily going to intend for themselves, and never mind about the damned. Yet the damned are allegedly the vastly greater majority, so if it were God’s purpose to save us, He’s going to fail in that purpose far more often than He succeeds. And that’s a pretty poor excuse for a God.

The good news is that we are actually free to pursue our own purposes, and there’s no divine decree that says our personal goals and intentions are necessarily futile and irrelevant. Sure, it would be nice if the most powerful being in the universe had nothing better to do with His/Her/Its time than to make sure we were always happy, but any serious examination of the real world will document the fact that happiness and blessing are not the result of sitting around waiting for some higher power to do all the work. True blessing comes from men and women setting their own goals, and working together to improve life for themselves and those around them. That’s a purpose that’s inherent in our nature as material beings, and it’s all the purpose we really need.


  1. josh says

    I often understand posts like these–where they don’t respond to what you’ve said–as being pre-conceived. Either he’s been holding onto this idea that he wanted to get out and is just using your thread like a Jackson Pollack canvas, or someone gave him this idea and it’s the only way he knows how to respond.

    Either way, it suggests he hasn’t considered the ramifications of what you said.

    • josh says

      It just occurred to me another possibility is that he hadn’t had his coffee yet…which is my excuse if people think I’ve failed to address your thread.

  2. sailor1031 says

    “we can achieve self-realization in different ways. The problem of life is deciding how to achieve self-realization”

    By George! I think he’s got it. Forget the rest of whatever it was he wrote…

  3. Tony Hoffman says

    “It doesn’t matter whether the response is relevant or even correct, as long as they can feel like there is an “answer.” ”

    I see this all the time with apologetics. My favorite is Craig “solution” to the Euthyphro dilemma, and the way it’s eagerly accepted as a solution by those who find aspects of divine morality uncomfortable. (Non-theist: “Um, okay, that doesn’t get around the dilemma at all — it just punts.” Christian: “No it doesn’t.”) These kind of disconnects between criticism and response always remind me of the scene in Spinal Tap, where Nigel tries to explain (to Rob Reiner?) that amplifier is lounder because it goes to 11, even though the amplifier would be just as loud if had 10 marks on the dial.

  4. steve oberski says

    He skulks around Eric MacDonald’s blog and when he isn’t just plain incoherent he comes up with this sort of bigoted nastiness:

    These ideas came from Darwin. Just as humans are more evolved than animals, the white north European races are more evolved that the African races. In my opinion, liberals gave up their racialism when Hitler gave racism a bad name.

  5. d cwilson says

    I’m still hung up on the part where he says there is “considerable” evidence for #1. Really? Citation missing.

    I think Roemer’s problem in his response is that he doesn’t understand the difference between justification by faith vs. good works. As someone who was raised Lutheran, my experience is that most Christians find this concept difficult to grasp. The ELCA teaches its members that they receive salvation through their faith in Jesus and that the good works then flow from allowing him into ones heart. Good works or “serving God” is the result of being “saved”, not a prerequisite.

    Of course, the fallacy of this is easily demonstrated by the existance of people of faith (Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich) who don’t seem have been transformed into doing good works (unless you define good works solely as mouthing religious platitudes) as well as people who do good works even though they have no faith in Jesus (See: Any non-Christian who has ever committed an act of charity throughout history). This fallacy is one of several factors that eventuallky pushed me out of Christianity.

    Under Christian exclusivity, we’re supposed to believe that Newt Gingrich is worthy of salvation but Ghandi is burning in hell. Roemer can’t give you an explanation for this contradiction because I don’t think he even understands the question.

  6. mikespeir says

    It looks to me that he just didn’t copy and paste the whole thing. But what we’re seeing isn’t a good start, so I’m guessing we’re not missing much.

  7. CT says

    This comment — sorry totally left field but this –> “Concerning # 1, we are not guaranteed salvation. It is something to hope for with “fear and trembling”

    Seriously, I have a whole southeastern US full of baptists that will disagree with this. How can someone say this when that is patently not in any version of the new testament??? and they wonder why we think they are all nuts.

    • Stacy says

      CT, that’s Calvinist doctrine. God decided whether you were saved or damned before you were born, and there’s nothing you can do about it, and most people are damned. Even among believers.

      It’s a very grim and pernicious belief system. The Westboro Baptists think like this.

  8. Kevin says

    To theists, the word “purpose” is always related to the after-death.

    It has absolutely nothing to do with your Earthly purpose. “I want to be a fireman to help people.”

    No. It’s express code that means “I’m getting the kitchen upgrade in my after-death apartment, which is going to be really near the water slide and the chocolate mountain.”

    So, it’s a category error. We speak of “purpose in life” as in “life”. They speak of “purpose in life” as in “death”.

    There could not be a more-stark contrast.

  9. smrnda says

    Honestly, the one I see zero evidence for is #2. Even the most depressed people I’ve ever known didn’t feel that life was pointless – they just usually felt trapped in situations that they couldn’t get out of or couldn’t seem to succeed in the ways they wanted, but almost all of them had some idea that with some key changes, life would be worth living.

    When he says that 3 is irrational since we can ‘achieve self-realization’ in different ways, I feel that ‘self-realization’ is a pretty vague and meaningless word and that he has not precisely spelled out what ways other than 3 we can have for achieving it.

    If we take it as a given that most people do not want to be miserable, the best way to achieve that goal is to make sure that nobody is miserable. People who enjoy making other people miserable are usually not actually very happy people, and what makes me think that their solutions are incorrect is that they would, invariably, hate to be dealing with someone just like themselves.

    As far as what’s worth pursuing in life, that’s a problem with no obvious answers, yet most people find a lot of purpose in being alive. I’d imagine that the things motivating most believers were pretty mundane things like “I’d like to run a marathon” or “I hope that my kids go to college” and that they rarely even think about or reference the big picture they believe in – I think that has to be a fact given how many sermons are based on the idea that the faithful are not thinking about God often enough.

  10. Stacy says

    # 3 is irrational because we can achieve self-realization in different ways.

    I just recently read an exchange between believer and non-believer–darn, can’t recall where–about morality. The believer was hung up on the fact that atheists don’t have any source of “objective morality”.

    I think Roemer’s problem with possibility #3 is the same sort of thing. He thinks if there isn’t one single overarching, transcendentally-approved way to “self-realize”, why, anybody could do anything, and chaos would ensue–cats would live with dogs, etc.

    I think both Roemer and the unknown believer in the exchange I followed are basically using the Appeal to Consequences: they fear what would happen without an unimpeachable, authoritative morality (or approved method of “self realization”), and think that that somehow constitutes an argument for the existence of God.

  11. Makoto says

    I’ll go with 4) Try to make the world a better place, since that’s all I’m sure is there for any of us. You never know, perhaps one of the many religions is correct, and I simply have no evidence to prove it.

    But I can help the people around me, and prove that such actions help them. Donate some time or money to a local “feed the hungry” program. It’ll do an infinite more good than prayer for others, of that I’m sure, until someone can go on TV and pray to their god to end or even reduce world hunger in some manner.

    • peterwhite says

      Yes, that has to be him. Of course, having a Ph.D in physics makes him eminently qualified to teach us about biology. For example, his comment on Darwin:

      Jan 11 2012: No, not Darwin. Darwin admitted, more or less, that natural selection couldn’t explain the complexity of the human eye.

      I guess he decided to skip the 3 pages Darwin wrote explaining the evolution of the eye.

      • N. Nescio says

        I’ve been going back and forth with him on his blog (I’m ‘Alexander Sweetcakes’), and at this point it’s pretty clear that he doesn’t give a shit about actually discussing anything or trying to convince anybody that what he’s arguing is actually true. Unless he actually bothers to address any of the points I’ve made, I’m pretty well done there.

        All he does is repeat the same apologetic points over and over, completely ignoring responses. If you google the citation he used – “(Neil Campbell, Biology, 4th edition, p. 776 )” – you’ll see he’s done this all over the place. Eventually he just winds up accusing everybody else of ‘not getting it’.

        For somebody who supposedly holds a Ph.D in Physics, he’s pretty fucking dense.

  12. Robert B. says

    I got a weird off-topic response like this too, just the other day, to a comment I left in another blog. I think it’s actually a reading comprehension fail. Apparently some people read just enough to put you into some kind of pigeonhole – in this case, atheist – and then they trot out their favorite anti-atheist argument. And they honestly don’t notice that you’re saying something different from the other atheist they’re lumping you with in their head.

    And I notice that, while the diction and organization are perhaps a little clumsy, the only actual error in that comment is the missing punctuation right at the end. I wonder if he just hit “post” too soon by accident?

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