liberalism

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 odd Christmas wishlist for the religious

R. Joseph Hoffmann is an interesting kettle of fish – he’s a biblical scholar who in his own words spends time fighting new atheists and old faitheists. Reading his blog, and wikipedia entry, he seems to be a bit of an angry man trapped in a theological liberal’s body.

The blogosphere would be much less confusing if people identified exactly what they believe about the topic they write about in their “about” page.

Anyway, Hoffman has posted a list of Christmas wishes that shows he probably has more in common with the atheists than the religious. Patronising lists like this annoy me.

1. All of you need to relinquish belief in heaven, hell. eternal reward, and eternal punishment. And of any God who participates in such abusive game-playing. These things do not exist except in your head. To the extent any of your conduct–towards virtue or towards killing infidels who don’t agree with you–is motivated by eschatology, you are living a dangerous fantasy and teaching your daughters and sons it is true.

Jesus believed in heaven and hell. He talked about it. You might as how I know this – I know this because I choose to trust the eye witness accounts as documented in history – some no doubt wish to reject these accounts claiming “special knowledge” or casting aspersions on the writers, their agendas, or any claim of some sort of absolute truth from historical documentation. I reject that premise and thus I embrace the accounts of witnesses and doctrines of heaven and hell.

These things exist outside of my head. In the Bible (and in many other religions). If I was making up a religion of my own imagination the benefits would be immediate and intangible. They’d be a psychosomatic peace or tranquility. That would be much easier to sell than the notion of loved ones sent to hell.

2. All of you need to grow up a little. Some religions more than others, some people within each tradition more than the rest. It’s no wonder that some of our best minds since the nineteenth century have compared religion to infantile delusion and childlike behavior. Sorry to say, most of the people who see religion this way have been semi-believers or unbelievers.

But who’d deny that the Taliban behave like two year-olds with guns rather than like men, whether they are beating girls or blowing up Buddha statues in Bamyan. The robust beards are only masks for the deep sense of masculine insecurity they mistake for obedience to God’s will. Their wives will know better.

I’m assuming that by “religion” this writer means “belief in God” – a common use of the word – if he speaks of the trappings that people with beliefs attach to their doctrines – then perhaps we agree.

But working from that hypothesis, I wonder who the “best minds” he speaks of are? That’s such a bold assertion to make with no evidence. I’m sure I could counter any list of “best minds” who think that way with a list of “best minds” who agree with my take on things. That’s pure subjectivity. Of course those people have been semi-believers or unbelievers. The nature of the claim. By claiming that such belief is delusion you distance yourself from that belief. This is an odd statement.

No one would deny that the Taliban are nuts.

3. Value secular learning. I do not know whether the truth will make you, or me, free. I do know that religious truth is normally a shortcut for the intellectually lazy, crafted and sustained by preachers who like one-book solutions to the manifold problems of a complex world.

Both the Bible and the Quran have served that purpose in their time. But Truth in the sense religions try to frame it–as dogma or superior knowledge–isn’t worth a confederate dollar. Knowledge of history, science, and the things of this world will get you a lot farther down the road to true salvation than religion will. Embrace it.

Who doesn’t value secular learning? It’s hard though, for those who believe in a sovereign God to completely remove his influence from human discovery. Once that is your null hypothesis then every scientific discovery is a revelation of the mechanics of this God’s works or design.

I understand that this sort of thinking is not the target of this piece – which seems to be those who are superstitious of anything thought up by humans. It’s hard though when you believe that humans are naturally inclined to try to remove God from the picture.

What purpose did the Bible serve? Why is it limited to a particular timeframe? This is what happens when you read the Bible as some sort of social control mechanism (which it never claims to be), or history book, or science text book, rather than theology. The Bible primarily helps us understand God. That’s it’s purpose. It’s right to understand the world through a lens of understanding God – but I don’t know any farmer who uses the Bible to understand how best to raise sheep – though there is an account of raising sheep in the Bible. Most believers are cluey enough to figure out what the Bible is for. It reveals a God who loves his creation, sustains it and shows mercy to those who follow Jesus Christ.

Learning these exciting secular truths this guy speaks of will no doubt be helpful in the short term – they won’t necessarily help you once you die – if death is all there is. I don’t understand the rational of trying to redeem helpful cultural parts of religion. If I rejected religion I’d do what the Bible suggests is the natural outcome of life without God – I’d eat, drink, and be merry.

4. Don’t rely overmuch on “interfaith dialogue,” the corporate certainties of the religious world, the merging of fantasies in favour of a grandly mistaken worldview and the substitution of “dialogue” for serious reflection and discourse. As religions grow less confident in the twenty first century, at least in terms of their ethical and explanatory value for human life,they will turn again to the arena of martyrdom as a proving ground for faith above reason. Do not be fooled.

Most people who genuinely hold on to a faith – be it Christianity, Islam or Judaism (the three Hoffman addresses in other lists within the post) – aren’t interested in “interfaith” dialogue in the sense of finding a common thread. Sure, there’s common ground on a couple of moral issues (like abortion) – but mostly we agree to disagree and seek to show people where they’re wrong.

Hoffman seems to be holding up strawmen from each belief he picks on – like the bearded Taliban member overcompensating for his emasculating religious beliefs.

All I want for Christmas is for an atheist/liberal/agnostic list writer to actually engage with the orthodox beliefs held by the people they attack rather than with the caricatures. I want them to deal with the thinkers from these beliefs rather than the loony fringe. That’s where the real discourse takes place.

The slippery slope of liberalism

In the grand scheme of “who annoys Nathan most” there’s a battle between the rabid anti-theists and the waffling liberals.

They seem unlikely bedfellows. But liberals like Spong and his ilk, and atheists like Dawkins, work off each other in a symbiotic way – both pulling people away from Christianity like a fat frog pulls moths away from a lamp.

Today I read a post where an atheist asked what religious believer fellow atheists would mourn in death – and many admitted an admiration for Spong – some even claimed that it was reading Spong that lead to their atheism.

I’ll be sad when John Shelby Spong passes away. It was by reading his writings that I started to shed my fundamentalist views, and if it were not for him, I would not be the happy atheist I am today.

Then I read this article on the Sydney Morning Herald about how significant Jesus is to history. The author, a politician, couldn’t quite decide what his response to this historical Jesus should be…

From whatever perspective we come, thinking people ought to be able to agree, the birth of Jesus was a good day for mankind. I suspect I may never quite shake the childlike hunch that there is some uniquely divine imprint on the central individual of the human story. Happy Birthday, Jesus.

But the rabid commenters on the article were quick to point out what his response should be.

I don’t believe the arguement that without religion we would not have morals, if we followed the morals of the Church we would be burning alternative medecine practitioners (aka witches) and would say goodbye multicultural Australia. Sorry Christmas day is a sad day for humanity it made hatred justifiable.

The anti-slavery movement was founded in Enlightenment principles — all men are equal, and all that — principles that the Christian churches fought every step of the way, until at the very last the unquestionably correct fight was joined by some fringe (at the time) Protestants.

It’s funny how we all read history differently and often with the prejudice that comes with our philosophical views.

Once you get to the point of liberalism – of distrusting and second guessing the only account we have of God communicating to the world, or of reinterpreting history through a postmodern lens, you may as well pack the whole thing in. Which is why this “shocking” billboard campaign from a Liberal Anglican church in New Zealand doesn’t actually shock me at all… it saddens me.

It creates a dichotomy between “progressive” Christianity and “fundamentalist” Christianity. What it actually means is people who reject the Bible and read it through the lens of culture and people who believe the Bible and interpret culture through it. When did they think the Bible was culturally relevant? Was the culture of Corinth – where a man was permissibly sleeping with his step mum – really that much different to our sex charged culture today? Did people really only discover sexual freedom in the 1960s?

Here are some quotes.

Fundamentalism believes that Christianity is essentially about individual salvation and admission to an after-life off the planet. What one believes rather than how one behaves is paramount. This planet is merely a testing ground.

Progressive Christianity however emphasizes behaviour above belief. How one treats ones neighbours, enemies, and planet is the essence of faith. The celebration of the birth of Jesus is a celebration of God in every birth and every person.

For fundamentalist Christians the incarnation is about the miraculous arrival of a baby soon to die and by his blood save us. For progressive Christians the incarnation is about the miracle of this planet earth and all life that exists here.

It came with a pretty bizarre string of comments where people clearly struggle to articulate a cohesive logical view on the incarnation from a “progressive” standpoint.

This one is from a commenter named Matthew who shared a series of statements he no doubt believes are quite profound.

“If Jesus is the product of divine insemination (in whatever format) and not the seed of Joseph, then he is not human, his crucifixion means nothing because he has no connections to humanity, it’s just God killing himself to prove he can.

If however (as must be true) Jesus is an enlightened being birthed from the union of a man and a woman, then his life and his death can be seen as a statement of the possibilities of humanity, not some freak show that simply excites Mel Gibson fans.”

I’d counter this claim with the notion that if Jesus isn’t part divine then all aspects of his divinity are lost and the whole thing falls down. If he’s just human then there’s nothing that “connects” him to God. And why does Jesus require a human father in order to be human? Why isn’t a human mother sufficient? There are so many problems with the logic of the supernatural when people try to translate it into a rational framework.

If it “must be true” that God can’t intervene in the womb of a person then what’s the point of having a God to begin with? What’s the point in believing in a God who didn’t become flesh?

At that point it’s far more honest to be an atheist and join some sort of community group like Rotary where you actually do good things and don’t cause trouble for the true believers – though one suspects Spong isn’t actually too disappointed by the fact that his teachings lead to atheism.

The problem with the liberals

You might be thinking, on the basis of the title, that I’m going to talk about politics. If you want to know what I think is currently wrong with the Liberal Party read here.

Today’s rant is about “liberal” Christians.

I don’t think there has been anything more harmful to evangelism than the watering down of the gospel. There are plenty of things atheists could say about what the Bible actually says that would be grounds for choosing to reject God. But nothing annoys me more in the dialogue than those weak kneed Christians who try to apologise for God’s behaviour. Especially when it comes to that archaic ban on gayness (which is a genetic trait so can’t be wrong) or those cultural ideas of marriage and family. Read any forum where gay rights are being discussed (and I’m not actually opposed to gay marriage necessarily) and you’ll see the type of people I’m talking about.

It is important to place the Bible in historical context and to understand what the text meant to the original readers. But these liberals need to go back to reading their Bibles. They’re kind of missing the point. Right from the nation of Israel to instructions for Christians the idea is that at some point God has to be counter cultural – or there’s no point? How are the people of God to be different if everything that’s natural is fair game? It just doesn’t make sense.

Liberal Christianity is less logical than atheism. Atheism functions on a type of rational and logical framework. Liberalism takes a bizarre mix of the supernatural element of Christianity and the emotional anything goes morality of Atheism and tries to blend them. It stinks.

We should expect sin to be natural. In fact, I’d go as far as to say we should have an inherent distrust for anything that seems natural to us, as humans, because human nature is sinful.

I can see where they come from, sometimes, we are called to love people. Loving the sinner but hating the sin can be pretty confusing. But to suggest that certain behaviour is ok for Christians just because it’s instinctive isn’t just a slippery slope. It’s a fireman’s pole. Straight down.

The fundamental assumption of Liberal belief – from what I can gather – is that somehow we, in the 21st century, are better qualified to understand the mind of God than those primitive disciples and their apostolic proclamations – and heaven help anyone who tries to base a worldview on the Old Testament.

Science, culture and psychology have helped us understand our sinfulness better – they do nothing to turn that which God calls sinful into something pure.

That is all.

At liberty

For those of you reading from the top of the page down – in the last post I mentioned some comments from Dave on a previous post, you should read that… anyway, he also had this to say:

“I think it taps into broader questions of what the role of the government is. Liberalism says the role of the government is to provide as far as possible for the liberty of its citizens and should interfere as little as possible with the choices citizens make. This depends on a shift from ‘government’ to ‘individual’ as the centre of moral decision making.”

I’d be interested in your thoughts on whether or not the government ever had a role to play in “moral decision making”… I would have thought that always essentially occurred via the individual because the government is not operating behind closed doors.

I probably lean towards classic “liberalism” but not so far as libertarianism as suggested by others in previous clean feed debates.

But you know who is a libertarian? WWE’s Kane. That’s who (or at least the guy who plays the character – Glenn Jacobs) – don’t ask me how I know this, but if you’re political views align with a guy who looks like this it’s probably time to reassess…

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