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Category Archives: Religion

Dr. Moreau & Why Christianity is Different

I’ve been asked, “What makes Christianity different than any other religion?”

Answer: it addresses a fundamental problem of human nature in a way superior to all other religions.

The problem in question is ontological — can we overcome our natural inclinations through sheer willpower alone?  Can we train away our very selves?  Or, put another way, can nurture overcome our nature? Read the rest of this entry

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Do Apologists Employ the “Humpty Dumpty” Defense?

When Alice meets Humpty Dumpty in Through the Looking Glass, she finds that he uses words very creatively.  In fact, a word means exactly what Humpty wants it to mean, no more and no less.

Christian apologists are sometimes accused of employing a “Humpty Dumpty Defense” by the atheists we argue with.  This particularly is seen with faith, which is understood as a form of loyalty to a patron based upon that patron’s proven ability to deliver on his promises.

Following the link, you will read a robust defense of why faith is understood this way, as opposed to the popular use of the term to mean “belief in the absence of, or in the teeth of, evidence.”

However, both militant atheists and uninformed Christians use faith in the Richard Dawkins/Mark Twain fashion to “cover up” a lack of evidence for God or the action of the Holy Spirit.  A majority of people believe faith to be “blind faith” — trusting when there appears to be no reason to.  Belief in the absence of evidence is a virtue to these people.  The less God shows himself, or (better) if the evidence actually leads one to believe that God is fictional, the more reward there will be in heaven for believing God does exist.

This is a serious mischaracterization of true Christian faith.  And when I — or others — argue for the traditional understanding of faith, we are accused of employing a “Humpty Dumpty” Defense.

And that is wrong.  Now let me tell you why. Read the rest of this entry

Top 10 Reasons Why Religion is a Negative Force in the World (part 2)

Kieth Murphy, a user in the ThinkAtheist Forums, posted his Top Ten reasons why religion is a negative force in the world.

Not surprisingly, every single reason is a non-starter.  I covered the bottom reasons, now let’s continue where we left off — #5:

There have been cases in the United States and some other country where person’s have lost their jobs due to lack of faith or alternative faiths and sometimes on the bases of sexual orientation (which is thought to be justified because of certain beliefs)

There are also cases of people who have lost jobs because of their faith.  In the United States right now, some of the provisions of ObamaCare require a person to provide health services against their conscience.

This happens on both sides of the equation.  Does it then follow that atheism is bad because it forces the religious to do things against our religion in order to function together in society?

Of course not.  That’s ludicrous.

There are always bigots.  Some incorrectly use religion as a justification.  That’s human nature.  Our solution?  2 Corinthians 5:17 — take off our fallen, sinful human nature and put on a heavenly one.  Atheism’s solution?  Oh, that’s right — there isn’t one.  We are what we are.

Number 4:

Religion tries to justify many forms of discrimination including but not limited to, homophobia, sexism, racism and class

No, some people in religious instutions attempt to incorrectly use the Scripture to justify discrimination.  But the perversion of something shouldn’t lead us to negatively judge the thing itself.  That’s throwing the baby out with the dirty bathwater.

Number 3:

Certain nations such as Iran and Uganda take their discrimination justified by religious beliefs a step further by improving atheists and murdering homosexuals

So, we don’t really have 10 reasons on this list.  5, 4, and 3 are basically the same reason stated different ways.

Number 2:

Religion has caused many to rebel against its corruption. While this mostly occurs in changing religions or declaring oneself atheist; that is not always the next direction for some. For some they take that faith and change it for their own purposes, often resulting in more extreme and harmful faith systems mostly regarded as cults. These cults involve all sorts of dangerous acts, such as mass suicide and sometimes violent attacks of non-beleivers of their faith.

Wow.  Ignorance to the millionth power.  Pol Pot.  Stalin.  Mao.  Corruptions of something should not lead us to negatively judge the thing itself.  Those guys don’t mean atheism is evil or wrong.  Cults, therefore, do not mean religion is evil or wrong.

And the #1 reason:

Religion has literally caused people to go to war due to the influence of the faith and disagreement with certain policies based on religious beliefs (especially when a doctrine influences such actions)

According to The Encyclopedia of Wars (New York: Facts on File, 2005), which chronicles every war from 8,000 b.c. to 2003 (1,763 wars), less than 7% are religiously motivated.  Religions are not the main cause of warfare.

I’m not denying that religions have caused wars.  But, if you were trying to prioritize a strategic plan to eliminate causes of warfare, religion wouldn’t be on your list of causes to address.  It wouldn’t even be a factor in your plan.

So there you have them — a list of 10 reasons (actually 8, since 3 reasons were different iterations of the same reason) that religion is a negative force that are poorly thought out and just plain ignorant.  Many work against atheism as much as they do against religion.

Is consistency too much to ask from the side that considers itself more logical and rational?  It would seem so.

Top 10 Reasons Why Religion is a Negative Force in the World (part 1)

Kieth Murphy, a user in the ThinkAtheist Forums, posted his Top Ten reasons why religion is a negative force in the world.  Not surprisingly, every single reason is a non-starter.  Let’s dive in with #10:

Religion and religious persons impose their faith into public policy and politics. Where it clearly doesn’t belong.

There’s a problem with this line of thought.  Faith is more properly thought of as loyalty, not blindly accepting premises without proof.  So if one is loyal to God, then religion “done right” is going to affect every single decision you make, and that includes what public policies to vote on.

For all the talk about religious hypocrites and how they make religion look like a sham, it seems that this objection is asking the genuine follower of a religion to become a hypocrite when voting.

In other words, “You religious people are wrong, so vote like us.  Conform.”

Number 9:

Religion is still very much mediatory in the schools of nations such as Republic of Ireland, where it has no place. Churches were built for a reason. This makes many members of other faiths and no faiths feel uncomfortable and excluded during a time when young persons find it difficult to fit in as it is. It isn’t a matter of talking about religion, but actively telling young persons to practice it mandatory.

This is a hypocritical complaint.  Atheists generally defend the position that society creates morals.  Well, if society feels its in their best interest to teach the practice of a state religion in schools, then who are we to judge or try to change that?

On the other hand, if morals are independent of society (a position theists most often defend), then a moral reformer can come along and challenge society’s mores and act as a catalyst for change.  There isn’t a place for that in moral relativism; there is only what society decides is right for its situation.

To issue this complaint makes the defender of relativism a hypocrite.

If the complaint is made by the rare atheist who defends objective morality, then it begs the question.  Why is it best to leave to religious education in churches, but not in schools?  True religion done correctly changes the core of your being; you are a new person through the power of the Holy Spirit.  That should touch every facet of your life, even your schooling.  Therefore, a society primarily Christian should teach Christianity in schools, a society primarily Muslim should teach Islam in schools.

Moving on down to #8:

Many nations make it difficult for the non-religous to have any sort of successful career in politics (and being honest about their lack of faith at the same time)

This is my favorite.  This is roughly equivalent to an ardent supporter of Nazism complaining that he can’t get elected to represent a Jewish borough.  The people will elect a representative that will vote as they would.  So if you are unlike your community in some way, then you aren’t going to get elected.

Then we have #7:

Many religious groups impose their views of abortion on others and seek to make abortion illegal. Because of religion in other nations it now is or has been for sometime, outlawed medial practice. Abortion is not murder, murder is the illegal killing of a human being, not a pre-human being.

This begs the question.  First we need to prove that abortion is the best alternative and that life doesn’t begin at conception.  There are, in fact, many reasons to think the opposite of both points.

Number 6:

Religion demonises many educational fields in contrast with its doctrine, such as certain aspects of history and many accepted theories

I’d love to know what he’s talking about here.  Most likely Creation vs. Evolution.  But there are many documented cases of Intelligent Design proponents being bullied, terminated, or forced to resign for supporting ID.

In my experience, our side is much more open to free inquiry than the other side.  Question evolution respectfully and reasonably on PZ Myers’s blog and see if you get a polite education on the fundamentals of evolutionary theory and how well it’s supported in multiple branches of science, with helpful links and suggested reading.  (Spoiler alert: You won’t.  They’ll try to make you cry by calling you names with crass descriptions of bodily orifices combined with colorful metaphors for excrement.)

Tomorrow, we’ll look at what this user put at the top of his list.

Why Be Catholic?

Godless Girl tweeted:

I’ve noticed a trend: points that atheists make seem to make a lot of sense on the surface.  But, once you dive below the surface and actually think about what they say, you realize how stupid it actually is.

Atheists own Twitter because their arguments are best kept to 140 characters.  More importantly, their opponents should have the same limitation because it takes more letters to unpack and understand a concept fully.  In this way, they sound superior to us ignorant Christians.

But this time, Godless Girl seems to have a point.  I mean, why should anyone remain Catholic?  After all, there was worldwide abuse and this institution just covered it up, shoveled priests to different parishes or dioceses, and then paid out their butts in settlements to keep some of the more damning stories out of the media.

If a corporation had that kind of record, people would boycott its products and services and drive the company out of business.  Why would anyone want anything to do with such a corrupt organization?

Except that’s not really true, is it?  Think about Jack-in-the-Box.  They purposely designed their cooking procedures to emphasize speed and not food safety.  They didn’t cook their ground beef to a proper serving temperature and as a result made hundreds sick.  Children and elderly died of E. coli poisoning.

And they’re still in business.  Evil corporate money-grubbers slayed children with bad hygiene and food safety standards — why would anyone support that institution?

Because the products, services, and messages are separate from the messenger — and the public knows that.  It appears to have escaped Godless Girl.  Jack-in-the-Box revised their cooking procedures and now serve safe food.  It was really never about the food — it was the process, the lax enforcement, and lack of food safety standards that were to blame.  The product was still good, and people were willing to give it another go when Jack-in-the-Box had fixed the real problems.

The Catholic Church, like all Christian churches, has been entrusted by Jesus with a message of salvation to mankind.  None of us are perfect; only Jesus had the mantle of sinful flesh but remained unstained from sin.  We only point the way to him that saves you; we don’t save anyone.

The Catholic Church is the mechanism of this message, but it isn’t the message nor is it mankind’s salvation.  It merely points the way, without being the Way.  Christ himself said that only he is the Way (Jn 14:6).

Another example should suffice.  Let’s say you were sitting on a crate that you really didn’t know the pedigree of.  It’s ticking; could be a bunch of clocks, right?  Then a guy comes up to you, frantic, and screams, “Get off!  Get off!  That’s a bomb, and it’s set to go off!”

You recognize this guy from a database of registered sex offenders.  So you remain on your perch and resolutely declare, “You’re a registered sex offender!  So I know this isn’t a bomb.  I know you’re lying because rapists are liars!”

It’s usually the concussive force that kills people like you, not the shrapnel.  You won’t even feel the broken boards or nails, therefore.  Your insides will already be soup from the explosion.

Judge the message on its own merit, not the merit of those who bring it.  The Catholic Church isn’t perfect.  My church isn’t perfect.  We are, however, co-laborers for one who is perfect; and we point to him, not ourselves.

More Dumb Tweets: Belief and Morality

Juan A. Raposo put up a fascinating tweet:

The implication being that theists are only moral because our belief in God keeps us moral.

So if not for that belief, we’d be vicious killing machines.  That thought misses a grand contradiction: Ask yourself, “What restrains the atheist from raping and pillaging?”  Belief that those things are wrong.

Is that belief fundamentally different from belief in God?

The atheist would say yes, but if he were consistent he’d be forced to admit that it differs very little.  After all, the Atheist Mantra is that there is “no evidence” for God and  God can’t be scientifically proven, right?

And that means that belief in God is worthless.  The underlying principle is a form of logical positivism, variously called empiricism or scientism.  It accepts only that which can be proven scientifically (scientism) or that which can be experienced by the senses (empiricism) as valid evidence.  Most atheists use this to disqualify evidence or argument that God exists.

The flip side is that morality can’t be scientifically proven, either.  So the belief that it is immoral to rape and pillage local towns is on the same grounds as God.  If one accepts the implied tenet that only that which can be scientifically proven is worth believing, then one cannot be consistent and also believe that raping and pillaging are morally wrong.  One has to prove that case.

So we both believe, without empirical evidence, that something restrains us from committing grievous harms against our fellow humans.  And that, by Raposo’s estimation, means neither of us are moral — but that’s the whole point of needing a Savior, isn’t it?

An Exercise in Picking & Choosing What to Read AND Believe

This post and this post have engendered some spirited discussion between a poster named Clare Flourish, a Christian who defends the homosexual lifestyle as a God-given gift, and me, who follows what the Bible says on the matter.

Clare’s follow up post is a veritable case study on how to read into things what you want to be there, instead of what is actually there.  She does that to both my words and the words of the Bible.  I suppose if she’s lax with Scripture reading, I should expect no better given that Scripture contains the words of God himself while I am just a man with no special revelation.

[Cory] wants to save me from that Hell to which all unrepentant gay people will inevitably go after death. I want to save him from hell now, from the idea that humanity is naturally wicked. [1]

Really?  That’s interesting.  If you read my comment, I said this:

Finally, gay people are no more damned than any of us, for ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. But we are also urged to live in a manner worthy of the calling to which we are called, which gay people who are living in homosexual relationships are NOT.

Does that mean you’re going to hell? Well, I wouldn’t say that. Probably not. It means that you have a sin in your life and that must be dealt with. It doesn’t mean God loves you less; he did, after all, call you to be a Christian.

You will have to deal with this in your own time and in your own way. I see you’ve given this issue a lot of thought, and I applaud that. However, I think you’ve come to the wrong conclusions and I’m not afraid to say that you have. Just as you are not afraid to say that I’ve come to the wrong conclusions. (emphasis added) [2]

So I’m not trying to save Clare from any hell, future or otherwise.  What I’m trying to do is be her Christian brother and point her away from sin that is impeding her relationship with the Lord.  I don’t think she’s going to hell and I can’t save her from a place she’s not going.  I think she has a sin that needs to be eliminated.

As to the idea that humanity is naturally wicked, well that’s pretty much the unanimous teaching of Scripture and of history.  I’ve already covered that elsewhere, so I’m not going to dive into it now. Read the rest of this entry

But, You Really DO Hate Gay People!

As I figured I would be, I’ve been called out on this post.  A blogger named Jessica Sideways insists that I really do hate gay people and seek to deny them rights.

The whole post in which she does this is, frankly, a waste of the bits and bytes used to store it on her server.  Those could have been used for something far more worthwhile, like a nice virus or maybe another iteration of a Socially Awkward Penguin meme.

Before I respond, an open note to Jessica:  I have a feeling I know how this back-and-forth is going to go.  Therefore, this post only will be in a Minimal Sarcasm Zone.  Only truly inane points you make will be subject to scathing, ironic humor.  If you choose to respond and show the same remedial grasp of philosophical issues I’ve already seen, you will be subject to sarcasm that will make you think of J.P. Holding as a nice guy.

You’ve been warned, now class is in session. Read the rest of this entry

Must Catholics/Christians Hate Gay People?

I put a link to this article on my Facebook page.  I wondered why people who hold beliefs antithetical to Christian doctrine would want to be Christians.  One of my friends responded:

so you have to hate gays to be catholic or christian? if you in don’t agree with everything the church tells you then you can’t be christian or catholic? not trying to debate the issue just making sure I’m clear that’s what you mean by NOT for you a little intrigued by your post for some clarification of your point of view that you mean if you think like this you can’t involved in church? courious

I hear this again and again: Christians hate gay people, and we’re not allowed to disagree within ourselves because if we disagree then what we have isn’t from God.

No and no.  Let’s lay this out:

  1. Homosexuality is a sin.
  2. Marriage is between a man and a woman.

These are both eternal truths defined by God clearly in Scripture. These truths are to be upheld by the Church, and therefore the membership of the Church.

To be Catholic, you cannot be in favor of same-sex marriage. That is not the institution of marriage that is spelled out in Scripture by the Lord himself. The long and the short of it is that we humans don’t get to define marriage or church sacraments — God, who is eternally and perfectly good, is the one who defines those things.

Our nature is fallen from grace, and therefore we don’t really understand what “good” is or what it looks like. God is who we need to look to for that, not ourselves. If we look at homosexuality as something innate to us and think that is somehow “good,” then we are missing the mark by a lot. Remember — we are not good by nature; we are sinners by nature. What we do or what we are cannot be the standard for “right.”

When we use ourselves as the standard for “right” or “good” or “fair,” we will never get to the essence of those terms because no one consistently treats others “right” or “fair.” No one is consistently “good.” Better to ask instead, “What standard are we using for good?”

Every time we judge something moral or immoral, right or wrong, good or bad, we use some kind of standard. The standard cannot be society, for society changes far too often. Opinions and social mores are up for grabs, and differ every generation. Worse, this prevents us from judging any society as “wrong” or “immoral.” Implications?  The Nazis were on solid ground when they did the Holocaust!

For reasons I’ve already discussed (fallen nature), the standard can’t be what is in our own nature.

Therefore, the standard is God.  God is outside of ourselves, and therefore not subject to a fallen nature.  God also is not a part of society, and therefore not caught in the sweeping changes of morality we see as a society.

Read God’s Word — homosexuality is condemned throughout. Read Catholic doctrine — again, homosexuality is condemned throughout. Early Church Fathers were divided on many, many issues — but this was not one of them.  (See some selected writings here.)

Homosexuality is a sin, but not everyone in our pluralistic society shares the view that sin is a problem.  Does that mean we seek to deny them equal marriage rights using our religion?  We deny them nothing.  They have the right to marry a member of the opposite sex, just as I do. Men can only marry women; men joining to men or women joining to women is not marriage. Homosexual “marriage,” therefore, is the homosexual community asking to change the entire sacrament of marriage, thereby perverting its original intent.

Fine, homosexuality is a sin.  Homosexual marriage isn’t marriage, so it’s not a denial of a right.  Does that mean I hate gay people?  On the contrary, I have gay friends (one of whom owns a lesbian bar and is the founding member of Toledo Pride), I’m a huge Elton John fan, and I’ve been to a lesbian wedding (such as it is; gay marriage is still illegal in Ohio).  Where’s the disconnect?  Well, most people are tired of this expression, but I’ll say it anyway: Love the sinner, hate the sin.

“But I was born gay! If homosexuality is a sin, and if you hate the sin, then you hate me!” Absolutely right! I’m not even going to deny that.  But I’ve already covered this: Sin is innate to all of us, and we’re all sinners.  However, each of us are susceptible to different sins. The challenge as a Christian is to learn to hate that part of ourselves, to crucify it with Christ, and live in a manner worthy of our calling. Is it hard? Yes! I’ve heard it said that Christianity isn’t tried and found wanting; rather, found difficult and left untried.

Could someone in favor of homosexual marriage become involved in church? Could gay people become involved in church? Absolutely to both!! Hopefully through church they will learn that homosexuality is a sin and that it is something that they need to put to bed (no pun intended), not a part of themselves they should explore. No different from any other sin. We wouldn’t exclude adulterers or murderers from our congregations, but Catholic priests would certainly deny sacraments to ones that remained unrepentant.

Christ came to heal the sick, which is why he is sometimes called the Great Physician. The unrepentant sinners among us are the ones who need Christ’s love the most, and therefore they need church involvement that much more.  We should never deny church attendance or involvement to a sinner, because then no one would qualify for membership.

I’m not saying I’m perfect. There’s a lot for me to work on. A lot. I don’t practice what I preach here, so trust me this applies equally to me as it does to any gay person.

The point is that we all have our challenges with living as Christ did, and this life is about that journey to becoming more Christ-like. God promises to get us there, and he works differently on each of us. Homosexuals have their challenges, as I have mine. Church is about giving each other that accountability. It’s about helping each of us on the journey. That’s the point of fellowship.

But, before we can offer the needed accountability, we have to be clear on what constitutes a sin, which is (in my view) the real reason the young man in the article was denied confirmation. If you give approval to those who practice a sin, then you aren’t modeling Christ for unbelievers. Worse, you’re inviting the same judgment on yourself.

I hoped that would clear things up for my friend.  She’s a dear friend and I’d hate to lose her over what I would actually consider a non-issue.  Fortunately, she enjoyed that treatment and said she learned some things.  So kudos for remaining open-minded to other perspectives!

Surprise: Atheists Don’t Lack Morals!

Did I say atheists have no morals? I don’t THINK I said that…

Atheists really like to fight against us ignorant theists who say they have no morals.  We’re the backwards hicks who take instruction from a book written by ignorant goat-herders who believed the earth was flat and that the sky was a dome that contained the sun, moon, and stars (all of which circled the earth!).  What do we know about morality?

Atheists are so enlightened that they’ve thrown off the shackles of God-belief and are doing the right things because they’re the right things, not because some ancient patriarch shakes his finger at you from 1,000 years ago and says, “Do it or I’ll spank you!”

So of course they don’t lack morals!  In fact, they’re more moral than religious people — the vague statistics quoted above don’t lie!

Sensing the sarcasm yet?

I hope so.  Because I don’t know how to lay it on thicker than what I just did.

Atheists are not immoral.  They are amoral.

Difference?

Immoral means acting contrary to established morality.  It is a question of ethics, not ontology or epistemology.

Amoral means lacking morals.  It is a question either of ontology or epistemology, not ethics.

Morality represents the essence of good behavior.  Ethics represent the execution of good behavior — in other words, the pudding that the proof is in.

In Plato’s dialogues, Socrates asks the good priest Euthyphro what piety is.  Euthyphro comes up with several examples, which Socrates says were good but that only covers pious acts.  Socrates wants to know what piety is.

By giving him extensive examples, Euthyphro wasn’t actually answering Socrates’ question.

The above graphic does the same thing — it only shows that atheists behave more ethically than religious people.  But why do they do that?

They can’t tell you — there is no ground for morality given atheistic naturalism.  That’s where the difficulty starts.  Ethics can change; sometimes dramatically.

It was once legal to bet on (or against) your own team in professional sports.  Professional sports also allowed the use of steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs without batting an eyelash.  Now, both practices are deemed cheating in most professional sports.

What we need is something to ground our ethics in; something immutable that we can return to to see what goodness looks like.  That way, when we find something new, we can create a code of ethics for it patterned after that which gave us the example of good ethics in the first place.

If morality is an immovable anchor and ethics are a boat on the rough, unforgiving seas of our culture, the boat is free to move about within the radius of the anchor.  It might go adrift, it might even do something unacceptable, but it will remain in the range of the anchor.  Conversely, without the anchor, the ship is free to be tossed around the sea of possibilities, moving unflinchingly into uncharted, dangerous waters with nothing to bring it back to safety.

The nature of God is that immutable ground of ethical behavior for the theist.  The atheist has none.  We are the boat that will return to safe waters, they are the one that will be tossed out to sea without a guide.

I have no problem with considering atheists ethical; the above examples show they are.  However, they have no ultimate ground for the morality that informs their ethics and that means they will go seriously adrift.