Atheists who love the Bible

Both Christopher Hitchens, and Richard Dawkins have written recently about their love of the KJV. The new-atheist glitterati are doing their bit to pry the Bible out of the hands of “the religious” and into the hands of English teachers.

There’s a great article on The Punch by the Bible Society’s Roy Williams responding to this trend of atheists damning the Bible with faint praise. It’s well worth a read. The comments aren’t. They’ve become a playground for the type of person who thinks writing lengthy rant comments to reinforce one’s own views is a good use of one’s time. While I love comments here. And discussions (online and in person) there’s something about the complete lack of respect that anti-theists show to any “woo believers” on the internet that just makes me angry and pushes me from my position of centre hugging moderate towards religious extremist. If I read many more of these threads I’ll be voting Family First and donating to the Australian Christian Lobby in the hope of making atheism illegal.

From the article:

“Dawkins is quite candid on this score. He admits that he cannot abide translations of the Bible other than the KJV, whether they are closer to the meaning of the original ancient texts or not. He wants the KJV taught in schools “not as history, not as science and not (oh please not) as morality. But as literature.”

There are serious problems with this argument.

For a start, the 47 men who “wrote” the KJV would have scoffed at any suggestion that their primary task was to produce fine literature. Appointed and supervised by the Bishop of London (later Archbishop of Canterbury), Richard Bancroft, they were chosen on the basis of two criteria.

First, their pre-eminence as biblical scholars – in particular, their detailed knowledge of at least one of the three ancient languages in which the books of the Bible were originally written (Hebrew and Aramaic in the case of the Old Testament; Greek in the case of the New Testament).”

An open letter to my Christian Facebook Friends about School Chaplaincy

My Facebook newsfeed is jammed full of articles, cause invites and petitions suggesting that the Christian sky will fall down if I don’t voice my support for the government funding of school chaplains.

For some background – the Australian government provides some funding for schools to employ chaplains (after consultation with the P&C and support from the local community (which means churches). This funding is generous and has allowed for many chaplains to be hired around the country. In Queensland these services are generally provided through Scripture Union (SU) who are an umbrella body, and a Christian organisation. Chaplains roles are limited because they offer services to people of all faiths, beliefs, lack of faiths, etc. An atheist from Toowoomba doesn’t like that government money is going to what is arguably a religious service, that arguably enshrines Christianity as a state religion (though the legislation is all very clear that chaplains don’t have to be Christian). This is the website for the High Court Challenge. Here’s a few paragraphs from a news story from September last year:

“Mr Williams said that while the rules of the program prohibited chaplains from proselytising, the Queensland provider, the biblical literalist Scripture Union, has as its aim ”to encourage people of all ages to meet God daily through the Bible and prayer”.

”It’s absolutely, totally out of control here. You can’t prevent your children being exposed to chaplaincy,” Mr Williams said.

In Victoria, state school chaplains are employed by ACCESS Ministries, the same group that provides non-compulsory religious education. Chaplains in Victoria are better qualified than in other states, and are required to have at least one degree in teaching, theology or counselling, as well as further training in another of those fields.”

I won’t be joining said causes, signing said petitions, (though I will read the articles).

I think government funding for chaplains is actually borderline a bad thing, for a number of reasons. I wrote something along these lines back in 2006 when federal funding was first announced, and nothing I have seen since has changed my mind.

In case you’re sitting there thinking “oh no, all the chaplains I know are lovely people, and should totally keep their jobs” – I agree. Entirely. One of my best friends really is a chaplain, several other close friends are too. Chaplains, on the whole, have had an incredibly positive impact on the lives of children at school – and somebody in the school community should be doing the job they’re doing, I’m glad the people currently doing the job are Christians. I really am.

I have a couple of problems with the scaremongering going on around this issue.

1. There’s an assumption that government funding of chaplains is a good thing.
2. There’s an assumption that this money is free.
3. There’s an assumption that chaplains would disappear if the funding was pulled.
4. There’s an assumption that chaplaincy, in its present form, is good for the spread of the gospel.

I’d challenge the first three, and suggest that in the case of the third this is no axiom, but reflects the exception, not the rule (indeed, I’d say for chaplains to be spreading the gospel they’d have to be putting their federal funding and positions in danger).

It’s this kind of approach to the interaction with church and state that I think characterises much of what is wrong with the church – we assume we have some sort of entitlement to special access.

Around the same time in 2006 that I wrote that post linked above, I wrote another post, suggesting that because of Christianity’s place in Australia’s heritage we do have a place in the educational spectrum. Particularly in modern history. And I think RE is appropriate – because all students have equal access to religious instruction, and religion is a huge part of life outside of school, and I recognise that there is a spiritual aspect to one’s development as a person that is rightly addressed in an RE program.

But chaplains aren’t even allowed to teach RE. What’s the point of having a Christian voice in a school if they’re not allowed to teach Christian things?

“While exercising their roles from within a Christian framework and promoting positive Christian values, SU Qld Chaplains will be sensitive to and respectful of people who hold beliefs and values different from their own. SU Qld Chaplains will be available to all students, staff and parents within their schools, regardless of religious affiliation.” – From the SU Chaplaincy site

The Queensland Government’s position on Religious Education in schools is quite clearly articulated here.

As is their position on what chaplains can do as part of their role

Whilst personally modeling and owning their own faith positions or belief, chaplains avoid any implications that any one religion, denomination or other set of beliefs is advantageous or superior to any other denomination, religion or belief.

Chaplaincy programs are compatible with policies and practices that apply to delivery of any service in a multi-faith and multicultural state school community. A chaplaincy program is inclusive of and shows respect for all religious and non-religious beliefs and other stances represented in the school community. All activities and events provided within a chaplaincy program are non-discriminatory and equitably available to students of all beliefs who choose to participate.

That earlier link spells this out a little further when it comes to the subject of teaching RE…

Teachers and chaplains are not to teach religious instruction. It is not part of their work duties. However, if a chaplain or a teacher works part-time, they may choose to teach religious instruction in their own time, outside of work hours.

Accepting government money, in a nation where church and state are separate (which is a good thing), creates a relationship of dependency and shifts the power dynamic in this separation to the person giving the money (I suspect this will eventually become a problem with regards to the tax benefits churches enjoy).

The “Save Our Chaplains” campaign is making this a do or die issue for school chaplaincy (and if you disagree with me, go there and sign the pledge – this post then becomes “awareness raising” so everybody wins). I think we can all acknowledge some truth to this campaign, an overturning of the federal funding may well see a bunch of chaplains out of a job – which is not the outcome we want. But if the church, as a whole, believes chaplains are worth keeping – then we should be paying for them ourselves. It’s great that the government wants to recognise the role that these guys play – but as soon as we take their money, they take control. And suddenly there’s a bunch of truths we can’t speak. Can a chaplain, funded by the government, be known to believe that homosexuality is a sin? Can a chaplain explain to a troubled child that Jesus is the only way to God? Can we make any claim that offends any other taxpayer? I don’t know. I’m not a chaplain – but I’ve been to a couple of SU Supporters nights and noticed that it’s all about “having positive impacts on children’s lives” and “being there” – and there’s almost never a mention of God at these nights at all. I once offered to pay $100 per year for every mention of God at one of these dinners, and it didn’t cost me a cent. And this is when they’re preaching to the converted. It’s not even “Scripture Union” anymore. It’s SU. Which is one of those branding decisions that’s made when you’ve moved away from the core product but want to keep your history… SU’s aims and working principles document is still thoroughly Christian, and commendable.

The guy launching the court action against government funding seems to be a bit of a jerk. But he’s a jerk with principles that are actually based in reality – church and state are separate. And we want them to be. Because we can’t afford to have the government controlling our message – look what happens to state churches in European (especially Scandinavian) countries. For a perspective on the issue from the other side (the atheist side) of the equation read this article – it’s long, and it makes some sound points, and some points from a “religious teaching is child abuse” kind of perspective.

Figuring out how to maintain the distinction between being on school grounds teaching Christianity as part of a religious education program and government funded positions for religious workers who can’t teach religions is tricky. One of the other spin-offs of this court challenge against chaplaincy in schools, and the introduction of ethics classes in NSW, and a host of other campaigns being driven by opponents of the gospel who conflate the two into one issue, is this attack on the teaching of RE in schools, or CRE, or RI, or whatever “scripture lessons” are called in your states. This is a period of time allocated for volunteers to come into a school to preach. There’s a campaign on Facebook that wants to keep RE taught in Victorian schools, which is a cause I’d support (not least because the guy running the Facebook cause is a friend of mine).

I won’t be signing anything to keep chaplaincy in its current guise in schools. I love my chaplain friends dearly. And I’d love to continue financially supporting them in the future so that they can get into schools and preach the gospel to kids without the shackles of government funding tying them down.

That is all.

Things to click (and read)

Sometimes I need to clear the thirty tabs I have open in my browser and I can’t be bothered posting them separately. This is one of those times, and it reflects on me, not on the content of these links that you should read.

There’s a rumour that floats around the Internet every now and then that Facebook is responsible for one in five divorces these days as people rediscover old flames. This rumour is just that. A rumour. The Wall Street Journal kills it.

“The 1-in-5 number originated with an executive at an online divorce-service provider in the U.K. Mark Keenan, managing director of Divorce-Online, which allows Britons to file uncontested divorces at low cost, had just launched the company’s Facebook page and wondered what role Facebook has in precipitating divorces. After determining that the word “Facebook” appeared in 989 of the company’s 5,000 or so most recent divorce petitions, he had Divorce-Online issue a news release in December 2009 stating “Facebook is bad for your marriage.”

Mr. Keenan acknowledges that his company’s clients aren’t necessarily representative of all divorces, and he adds that his firm never claimed that Facebook actually causes 20% of divorces. “It was a very unscientific survey,” Mr. Keenan says.

Elsewhere, Clayboy (a newie for me) has two must read posts about the new atheists – the first about the conformity of “free thinker” thinking, as demonstrated by a magazine called The Freethinker, the second about whether Christians can value atheism.

“I might even ponder whether the award for secularist of the year (apparently a “prestigious” one – who knew?) reflects this. The winner is not Salman Taseer, the nominee who was assassinated for opposing the Pakistan blasphemy laws mainly aimed at Christians, but Dutch Euro MP Sophie in ’t Veld who, er …, bravely organised a protest against the Pope.

I am somewhat underwhelmed in my admiration for such a courageous achievement advancing the cause of rational civilisation.”

Slate says the lack of looting in Japan is down to the Yakuza. Which is pretty cool.

“Organized crime. Police aren’t the only ones on patrol since the earthquake hit. Members of the Yakuza, Japan’s organized crime syndicate, have also been enforcing order. All three major crime groups—the Yamaguchi-gumi, the Sumiyoshi-kai, and the Inagawa-kai—have “compiled squads to patrol the streets of their turf and keep an eye out to make sure looting and robbery doesn’t occur,” writes Jake Adelstein, author of Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan, in an e-mail message. “The Sumiyoshi-kai claims to have shipped over 40 tons of [humanitarian aid] supplies nationwide and I believe that’s a conservative estimate.” One group has even opened its Tokyo offices to displaced Japanese and foreigners who were stranded after the first tremors disabled public transportation. “As one Sumiyoshi-kai boss put it to me over the phone,” says Adelstein, ” ‘In times of crisis, there are not Yakuza and civilians or foreigners. There are only human beings and we should help each other.’ ” Even during times of peace, the Yakuza enforce order, says Adelstein. They make their money off extortion, prostitution, and drug trafficking. But they consider theft grounds for expulsion.”

Elsewhere, I’ve been taking part in an increasingly lengthy discussion about gay marriage on the solapanel.

Five Senses Coffee offers a great diagnosis guide for figuring out what is wrong with your espresso. Well worth a read if you think your coffee could be better.

First Things has a good list for engaging with people in the online world. Especially for responding to people you don’t know who disagree with you.

“The manner of your answer will affect your inquirer more than its content. You are often, as far as you can tell, trying only to encourage him to hear the answer, to open a crack in his defenses that might over time open into a door. Hope and pray that you are only one—perhaps the first, but perhaps not—in a series of encounters that will bring him to see the truth. You do not need to win the argument to change his life.”

You should be reading Things Findo Thinks – I haven’t linked to it for a while, but Findo seems much more interested in engaging the nu-atheists than I presently am, so if you want your fix of fallacy busting, head there. Try this post about arguments from authority on for size. It’ll help you avoid bad arguments about your arguments.

It’s iPad 2 week this week. And luckily my wife is going to let me buy one. Unlike this guy in the states, who allegedly had to return his iPad because his wife said no. At least that was the reason he gave on the post-it note that went to the store, that was passed on to Apple Corporate, who may or may not have sent back the iPad with a note reading “Apple says yes”… brilliant if true.

Hitchens teaches a liberal minister the true meaning of the word Christian

I’ve said before that Christopher Hitchens’ treatment of Christianity is a little shoddy. He is guilty of creating a straw man Christianity out of the very worst of “Christian” behaviour and setting it on fire in beautifully vitriolic prose. He is, I think, the most dangerous of the nu-atheists because he is so articulate and personable. He’s more appealing than Dawkins, I think, because he demonstrates a sense of humour.

Here, in this article, he is interviewed by a Unitarian minister, Marilyn Sewell, who wants to know if he doesn’t like Liberal Christians as much as he doesn’t like fundamentalists…

Sewell: The religion you cite in your book is generally the fundamentalist faith of various kinds. I’m a liberal Christian, and I don’t take the stories from the scripture literally. I don’t believe in the doctrine of atonement (that Jesus died for our sins, for example). Do you make and distinction between fundamentalist faith and liberal religion?

Hitchens: I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian…

Read my full take on this, and some more interesting bits from the interview, over at Venntheology.

An astronomical problem with Dawkin’s thinking

Richard Dawkins is not an idiot. But sooner or later the blinkers through which he tries to ram his view of the world are going to become obvious to everybody. That process started a little with this guest post on the ever popular BoingBoing.

Dawkins gets on his soapbox, or behind his pulpit, hoping to preach to a sea of sympathetic listeners. It is the internet, afterall. The playground for the New Atheists.

His target, in this post, was an astronomer named Martin Gaskell. Gaskell recently missed out on an academic position that he was more than qualified for. Essentially because he’s a Christian, who, while not holding a young earth creationist position himself – is sympathetic to those who do.

Here’s what Gaskell says in a pretty fantastic piece of writing on the overlap between astronomy and the Genesis creation account (and varying positions within the scientific fraternity).

“I have a lot of respect for people who hold this view because they are strongly committed to the Bible, but I don’t believe it is the interpretation the Bible requires of itself, and it certainly clashes head-on with science. This viewpoint is something of an “American” view and has been much less common among Christians in Europe.”

Sounds moderate. Right? Some would say positively liberal (having just read Al Mohler’s Atheism Remixed I’d hazard a guess that that’s where Mohler would place him on the spectrum).

So Gaskell sued this college who didn’t give him the job, because the head of the interviewing panel was stupid enough to put the following in writing:

“If Martin were not so superbly qualified, so breathtakingly above the other applicants in background and experience, then our decision would be much simpler. We could easily choose another applicant, and we could content ourselves with the idea that Martin’s religious beliefs played little role in our decision. However, this is not the case. As it is, no objective observer could possibly believe that we excluded Martin on any basis other than religious…”

That’s a smoking gun. Here’s how Dawkins, in this ill-informed diatribe, approaches the Gaskell question:

Step 1. Make allusions to Gaskell’s position on Creation – tying him to the YEC position while admitting that he is not in that camp:

“My own position would be that if a young earth creationist (YEC, the barking mad kind who believe the entire universe began after the domestication of the dog) is “breathtakingly above the other candidates”, then the other candidates must be so bad that we should re-advertise and start afresh.

Martin Gaskell claims, however, that he is not a full-blooded YEC although he has “a lot of respect for people who hold this view because they are strongly committed to the Bible”

Step 2. Compare people who hold a young earth position (which Gaskell does not) to eye doctors who believe babies are delivered by stork, and geologists who believe in a flat earth while promising to teach otherwise.

“Even if a doctor’s belief in the stork theory of reproduction is technically irrelevant to his competence as an eye surgeon, it tells you something about him. It is revealing. It is relevant in a general way to whether we would wish him to treat us or teach us. A patient could reasonably shrink from entrusting her eyes to a doctor whose beliefs (admittedly in the apparently unrelated field of obstetrics) are so cataclysmically disconnected from reality.”

Step 3. Suggest that people with religious beliefs are essentially unfit for any job in academia (though, to be fair, probably in the sciences).

“I don’t care whether his beliefs are based on religion or not, they affect his suitability for the job, and I am going to take them into account.” A law that encourages you to say, “If a candidate’s private beliefs are based on religion I shall ignore them, otherwise I shall take them into account”, is a bad law.”

See, there are a couple of problems here. It’s not uncommon for Dawkins to completely misrepresent Christian beliefs and essentially create strawman pictures of Christianity based on Fox News reports and televangelists. But the other problem is that Dawkins himself links to Gaskell’s own testimony about his own beliefs. A document that contains passages like this:

“Historico-Artistic Viewpoint” – emphasizes that we have to realize that the Genesis was addressed to people 3400 years ago in a form and in descriptive terms they would understand. Moses wouldn’t have got very far if God had quoted from a modern introductory astronomy text to him! (“Say, God, what’s a quark?”). A senior physicist, who had been chairman of a large physics department in the US (and who was, incidentally, not someone with a high view of the Bible), once said to me, “if we put what we now believe to be true about the origin of the universe into poetic language someone would have understood 3000 years ago, we would come up with something very much like Genesis 1 & 2”. The historico-artistic viewpoint would also emphasize that Genesis 1 is in the form of a poem. It has a very definite literary structure. Phrases and patterns of words repeat (e.g., phrases such as “Then God said…and it was so” or “…and God saw that it was good” or “and there were evening and morning…” But we must be careful to note that whether Genesis 1 is poetry or prose has nothing to do with whether it is an actual very literal description of what happened or whether it is allegorical or something. We must not make the distinction prose = fact; poetry = fiction. ”

And this:

“The “scientific” explanations offered by “creationists” are mostly very poor science and I believe this sort of thing actually hinders some (many?) scientists becoming Christians. It is true that there are significant scientific problems in evolutionary theory (a good thing or else many biologists and geologists would be out of a job) and that these problems are bigger than is usually made out in introductory geology/biology courses, but the real problem with humanistic evolution is in the unwarranted atheistic assumptions and extrapolations. It is the latter that “creationists” should really be attacking (many books do, in fact, attack these unwarranted assumptions and extrapolations).
While discussing controversies and interpretations of Genesis I should mention something that has been much debated in recent years but is not an interpretation of Genesis: what is called “Intelligent Design”. This movement, which is often erroneously confused with young-earth creationism, is just exploring the question of what evidence there is in the universe for design by an intelligence. This is really a general, non-religious question (although with obvious religious implications), and there is no opinion on the interpretation of Genesis.”

Now, I’ve got no significant bones to pick with those who hold to a less than literal, or a literal, view of Genesis 1-2:3. I thought that was the worst part of Mohler’s book (Atheism Remixed) – which was actually a pretty good primer on the debate and used arguments from Alister McGrath and Alvin Plantinga (amongst others) to show just how shoddy Dawkins is with regards to his treatment of Christian belief and with regards to philosophy (ie he begs the question of scientific naturalism because he’s bought into evolutionary theory as a unifying theory of everything1). But Dawkins wants anybody who has any religious belief excluded from jobs on that basis. And the beauty of the post on BoingBoing is that its readers call him out. And they are, based on past experience reading the comment threads, a pretty agnostic bunch.

Here are a couple of the comments.

“Oh, just come out and say it, you want to discriminate against a certain class of people even though there is no real objective logical reason to do so. You get an ick factor. Which is eminently stupid. Competence is by definition the ability to get the job done in a satisfactory or better than satisfactory manner. If the person is competent, but somehow throws you off personally because of cultural predilections, that’s frankly a problem and a weakness of your comfort level. Imagine a world where you could hire and fire based on that. I would certainly like to see what you’d have to say when someone refuses to hire an Atheist, because “it tells you something about him.””

And another…

” To not choose the right person for the job, when they have demonstrated in the past that they are fully capable and suitable for it, on the basis of the fact that you don’t like the way they think privately, is pure bigotry.

If he shows evidence that his beliefs are interfering with his work then by all means fire him, but thought is inherently private. Should you equally deny somebody a job in finance because they like to read Marxist literature? What about denying somebody a job as a bartender because they’re teetotal? Where do you draw the line when making that decision for other people?”

One that opens with a quote from Dawkins in the post:

“I suspect that most of my readers would discriminate against both these job candidates…”
If by “my readers” you mean the echo chamber at that you’ve grown accustomed to, certainly.”

My favourite of the lot:

“I think what you are doing here, Richard, is similar to what you do when you criticize religious people in general: you pick prominent but basically ignorant religious people, demonstrate what idiots they are, and then say “well, these guys are prominent, so no doubt the best examples of their lot. Hence, any other example will be even more idiotic, and we therefore need not examine them.”

Here you say “look, we have a competent person who holds religious beliefs someone found objectionable” (for reasons unstated, at least by you). “Isn’t it basically okay that he was discriminated against on the basis of those beliefs, since all people who hold those beliefs are idiots or insane? … The fact is that you appear to know very little about religion (and certainly as a self-proclaimed “atheist” you are entitled to that state of ignorance, at least in regards to religions involving the worship of deities). So it’s hard to see how you’re qualified to even ask this question, because you’re not competent to discriminate accurately between religious people who are idiots or insane, and religious people who are neither.”

It seems that the jig is up. When the masses start picking up the critique of your interlocutors in the sphere of published debate, and they’re doing it in a forum that should cede you home ground advantage, your methods are in a bit of trouble.

1 On this note, I really don’t get how explaining the mechanics of something, explaining the question of how something works, does away with agency. It’s like finding a ball floating in the air towards a target and suggesting that because you understand everything about its motion it must not have been thrown. Or like listening to a piece of music and suggesting that understanding the underpinning musical theory, and the function of the instruments in an orchestra, does away with a composer. It’s philosophically untenable. Just dumb.

John Dickson on the Bible’s place in history

Brilliant. Use this next time you’re talking to an idiot atheist about the historicity of Jesus and the New Testament.

John Dickson is a top class Bible teacher and historian – taken seriously in both spheres. In fact, the only reason I don’t take him seriously sometimes is that he still includes “musician” in his bio – even though his days in the band “In the Silence” are long gone. It’s Bonoesque. But his stuff is still worth reading.

“The so-called religious nature of Christian writings in no way diminishes their value as historical sources. Historians take the Christian agenda into account when they analyze the New Testament, just as they take the imperial bias into account when studying Tacitus or the Jewish bias when reading Josephus. But historians do not place the New Testament in a special category called “religious literature.” Indeed, in Australia’s largest public university ancient history department (Macquarie) you will find undergraduate and postgraduate courses like “The New Testament in Its Times” and “The Historical Jesus.””

Good article on the Gospel Coalition. Read it.

Fat Atheists, PZ Myers, Chuck Norris, and the Internet

I mentioned Conservapedia in that last post. And it’s hilarious. Have you read it? Apparently being an atheist makes you fat. It’s their “Article of the Month” at the moment – Atheism and Obesity,” basically the argument boils down to “atheists are fat. Y’all.” Actually. Most of the atheists I know are fat.

Here’s an excerpt…

“Two of the major risk factors for becoming obese according to the Mayo Clinic are poor dietary choices and inactivity, thus given the above cited Gallup research, it appears as if non-religious are more prone to becoming obese than very religious individuals.[8] The Bible declares that gluttony is a sin.[9] Furthermore, the Bible declares the physical body of Christians to be temples of the Holy Spirit.[10] Therefore, it is not surprising that many very religious Christians would leave healthy lives.

Christianity is the world’s largest religion and it has seen tremendous growth over its 2000 year history.[11] In the last fifty years, Christianity has recently seen explosive growth outside the Western World.[12][13][14][15] In 2000, there were twice as many non-Western Christians as Western Christians.[16] In 2005, there were four times as many non-Western Christians as there were Western Christians.[17] Of course, a big reason for the explosive growth of Christianity outside the Western world was due to highly religious people propagating the Christian faith and there are now more non-Western missionaries than Western missionaries.[18] Besides non-Westerners often being less sedentary, non-Western diets are often healthier than the diets Westerners consume and there is significantly less obesity in those non-Western cultures.[19][20][21] Therefore, in recent history Christendom has seen a large influx of very religious people who live healthy lifestyles and have low levels of obesity. For example, the noted Evangelical preacher Rick Warren recently made a public commitment to lose 90 pounds.[22] Have you seen any of the prominent atheists make such a pledge?”

The article then goes on to feature pictures of fat atheists. Like PZ Myers.

Who is contrasted with the super-fit, and Christian, Chuck Norris.

Perhaps the best bit of the article is Chuck Norris’ warning for Christian parents about atheists and the Internet.

“Atheists are making a concerted effort to win the youth of America and the world. Hundreds of websites and blogs on the Internet seek to convince and convert adolescents, endeavoring to remove any residue of theism from their minds and hearts by packaging atheism as the choice of a new generation. While you think your kids are innocently surfing the Web, secular progressives are intentionally preying on their innocence and naivete.

What’s preposterous is that atheists are now advertising and soliciting on websites particularly created for teens.

YouTube, the most popular video site on the Net for young people, is one of their primary avenues for passing off their secularist propaganda.[35]”

Why do atheists read Christian blogs

For a while last week I thought about unsubscribing from the atheist blogs I read. They fill me with frustration. Especially the snarkiness that oft goes on in the comment thread. I even have a post drafted saying that I had made that a resolution for the year. But then I changed my mind. Bizarrely because I read this article on the Huffington Post about why atheists read articles by the religious…

“In my opinion, Atheists want to be well-informed. They want to know what others are saying, and then what they’re saying next. They wish to keep up with all that they’re contesting, not to change their minds. Others who I’ve spoken with speculate that some self-professed atheists may actually be agnostics who are seeking answers to address internal doubts.”

I think there’s a little in that. But I also think they like to gather together and hunt in packs because that’s what minorities do. And if atheists were in the ascendency I’m sure there’d be a bunch of Christian voices clamouring to shout them down.

Plus, the internet is an atheist playground. And they are the resident bullies. So it makes sense they go where the easy targets are and hang out in gangs elsewhere.

Defining Faith

My biggest problem with the New Atheists boils down to this:

That’s not faith. Here’s how Hebrews 11 defines faith:

1 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for.

I would suggest, humble readers, that this definition of faith – belief in the unseen – is not the same as deliberately not seeing. Which is the way most atheists seem to frame it. Seeing something and denying it is not faith – which is a problem for some Christians, I’ll admit. But thought and faith are not in opposition – faith simply deals with that which we hope and do not see. I don’t have faith that a chair will hold me. I trust that it will. Because I have watched it, or experienced it, holding me. That’s where, I think, faith and trust are different.

If I had found any contradictory evidence (ala point 1 of the above definition), ie if I had seen it – then it would no longer be faith keeping me in a position (according to Hebrews 11) but stupidity. Taking something “on faith” does not mean not seeking to confirm the thing by investigation, or observation – and it does not mean holding a position contrary to logic, reason, or observation. This is where I think Atheists 2.0 have it most wrong. At least second most wrong. I think not believing in God is where they have it most wrong…

That is all.

Jesus is ___: Fill in the blank

In an advertising campaign reminiscent of Australia’s Jesus All About Life campaign – a church in the states is running a “Jesus is ____” website asking for people to submit their ideas about who Jesus is. A nice idea. Hijacked by atheists. So if you’re not an atheist, and you don’t think Jesus is a baseballer hitting at 0.216, then head on over and try to even out the numbers. This is the problem with user generated content in the day and age of pharyngulation. Atheists are aware of these campaigns and hit them pretty quickly. For giggles.

I like the campaign.

Here’s their blurb:

“What goes in the blank?

Everyone has an opinion of who Jesus is. That’s why this website exists: as a platform for people to express who Jesus is to them.

Jesus is a lot of things, but the answer is in the Bible. It says that Jesus is the Son of God, who came to earth on a mission to restore mankind to God. By living a perfect life, dying on a cross, and coming back to life, His mission was a success. We can know God because of Jesus.

So maybe the reality of who Jesus is remains too big for the blank.”

And the promo video.

JESUS IS ___. from The City Church on Vimeo.

Research shows Christians are nicer than atheists

Yeah. Read it and weep those of you in the religion poisons everything mob. The results are in. In America anyway.

Forty percent of worship-attending Americans volunteer regularly to help the poor and elderly, compared with 15% of Americans who never attend services. Frequent-attenders are also more likely than the never-attenders to volunteer for school and youth programs (36% vs. 15%), a neighborhood or civic group (26% vs. 13%), and for health care (21% vs. 13%). The same is true for philanthropic giving; religious Americans give more money to secular causes than do secular Americans. And the list goes on, as it is true for good deeds such as helping someone find a job, donating blood, and spending time with someone who is feeling blue.

England’s Telegraph follows this USA Today story in breaking the news.

No doubt there’ll be a long queue of atheists lining up to debunk this theory on the internet. Because they’ve got so much spare time (since they’re not out and about, you know, helping people.

And the answer to the question of why this is the case isn’t “because we’re told to be good from the pulpit” – no, it’s good old peer pressure, in the form of community.

What is it about friends-at-church that fosters good citizenship? It could be that requests to get involved carry more moral weight when they come from someone you know through your congregation rather than work or your bowling team. Or perhaps religious congregations simply foster peer pressure to do good. At this point, we do not know the precise magic civic ingredient in religious friendships.

Not knowing exactly how religious friendships foster good neighborliness thus leaves open the possibility that the same sort of effect could be found in secular organizations. But they would probably have to resemble religious congregations — close-knit communities with shared morals and values. Currently, though, such groups are few and far between. (Communes might qualify, for example.)

Interesting. Thoughts?

Mail from strangers

So spam commenters are nice, but random strangers who email you are not. That’s what I’ve learned this week after I received this email from a random:

“How does it feel to be an utter and complete idiot who bases his entire life on ancient mythology with no basis in reality?”

It feels pretty good, Brad Johnson, from wherever you are. It feels pretty good.

Seriously. Feel free to email me using that email address up the top of the page – I’ll only reply in an insulting manner if you’re somebody like Brad Johnson who just wants to show me that you think you’re smarter than me.

Does the Bible Contradict itself?

One of the four horsemen of the Atheist Apocalypse – Sam Harris – thinks so. He commissioned this beautiful infographic of “contradictions” in the Bible, which shows, once again, that the New Atheists read the Bible in much the same way as the Westboro Baptist Church. Which is the reason they are so angry about Christianity. When you read it like that mob the Bible is pretty awful. What they don’t do is interact with the other 99.9999999999999% of people who read the Bible with some idea of theology, and how the Bible works, and some basic interpretive skills. Things like recognising genre (for example, one of the “contradictions” is two verses in Proverbs that are deliberately contradictory and placed next to each other to highlight the difficulty of dealing with fools), recognising rhetorical purpose, or recognising literary techniques and difficulties that come from translating Hebrew idioms into English. This couplet from Genesis 8 is one of the “contradictions”…

“4 and on the seventeenth day of the seventh month the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. 5 The waters continued to recede until the tenth month, and on the first day of the tenth month the tops of the mountains became visible.”

Now, I’m no expert on flood physics and geography – but it seems to me that a boat might come to rest on a high mountain before the high mountain is visible, and it may take a little longer for the rest of the mountains to become visible. Which means that even at face value this doesn’t seem contradictory – but there may (and I haven’t looked into this at all) be something going on here with the numbers seven, ten, and seventeen. Seventeen in Hebrew is written as 10 7. So there’s a possibility that we might just have to allow for some literary artistry going on here… Seven is a pretty significant number for Hebrew thought (I’m not going to get all Augustine and start allegorising here) so this sort of verse would have flagged something for the original Hebrew audience.

I haven’t looked into that many of these contradictions. But the two I chose at random seem pretty easy to dismiss. You can get a bigger copy of the graphic (PDF) and go over it with a fine tooth comb if you’d like to. I can’t be bothered. Because I’m going to show this crowing atheist the same treatment I show the Westboro Baptists. I’m going to blog about his stupidity, and then I’m going to move on.

This infographic is from a site called “Project Reason” – unfortunately they don’t extend that reason past science and into literature. It’s sad. The Resurgence has a look at some of the other contradictions put forward, feel free to make note of any you find in the comments here.

Gold from Goldy: On atheism and wisdom

I’m reading Gospel and Wisdom, which I really should have read when I was writing my wisdom essay in the middle of semester, but I forgot. I really did. It was on my bookshelf. And then I ran out of words. He has this to say about atheism. I like it (I’ll be posting a lengthy interaction with the book for the benefit of my Old Testament comrades shortly). He nicely articulates a few of the arguments I like to use against atheism, and makes a few arguments that a few other Christians (Answers in Genesis) fail to take into account on questions of atheistic morality.

“What modern technological man does in a highly complex fashion is at heart no different from what man has always done. He has observed his world and tried to classify his experience as a way of getting to the underlying order of things.”

“Atheistic humanity is thus capable of using the faculties given by an unacknowledged creator, and of continuing to exercise the cultural mandate, albeit in a corrupted way. Society establishes ethical frameworks in order to limit threats to social well-being that come from within.”

“The Christian rejects this assumption of a universe which is shut up against the God of the Bible. He accepts rather, that God is self-sufficient, personal, and in complete control. While the atheist system is a closed system of cause and effect, the Christian view is a universe in which cause and effect are established by God and open to his sovereign intervention.”

“By putting man at the centre, the humanist claims to give him his proper dignity. But this assumption of the pre-eminence of man is a radically dehumanising one since he is not perceived as imaging God. The humanist sees man’s leadership in the world as the result of evolutionary accident. The Bible describes it as God-given dominion over the rest of creation.

“While the Christian accepts his responsibility to search for knowledge he knows that human effort, discovery and reasoning cannot provide a comprehensive understanding of the universe. Empirical knowledge, that which is gained by investigating the world with our senses, cannot include God or the meaning which he gives to the created order.”