Feb 11, 2009

Christianity Is Not Great, Pt. 2

What's So Great about Christianity? by Dinesh D'Souza; Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.; 2008; 348pp.

Part 1: The Future of Christianity
Ch.1 The Twilight of Atheism: The Global Triumph of Christianity

Dinesh D‘Souza begins his popular apologia by taking a big-picture view of religion and secularism that convinces him it is time to declare that “God has come back to life,” and “Nietzsche is dead“(3).

If true, that is not good for the future if one is secular-minded - the resurrection of God; that is; Nietzsche’s death - that is a benefit to rational secularists. And that should be very much to the dismay of the resurrected God.

Nonetheless, as D’Souza explains in his big-picture view, around the world religion has an active role to play in people’s lives, partly due to the failures of secularism. The “secular thesis” formulated in the early 20th century held that reason, science, progress, and modernization will lead to a more secular West and entire world. Secularization, however, is failing to meet important needs, needs which (supposedly) only religion can fulfill. Secularism is not important to the long-term big picture because its leading of civilization to inevitable progress has been shown to be untrue in many ways, from totalitarian regimes to the inner emptiness felt in people. D’Souza further shows that the future belongs to religion for reasons like religious societies having high birth rates, interest in “traditional religion” is on the rise, religions are spreading to new territory because of globalization, etc.

D’Souza tries to separate the resurgence of religion from the rise in religious militancy. He does this by making a distinction between fundamentalism and militancy. According to some analysts, the growth of religion around the world is largely a growth of religious fundamentalism, but this is an incorrect analysis by D’Souza‘s reading. After pointing out that the term, “fundamentalism,” originally identified certain Protestant groups in America who read the Bible literally, he writes, “[f]undamentalism is a meaningless term outside this context”(4). What is described as an increase in fundamentalism is really an increase in “traditional religion.” He states, “the growth of religious militancy and the growth of religion are very different”(4).

Anyone else notice a glaring omission on D’Souza’s part? He has no explanation why the literal reading of holy texts in other religions is not also “fundamentalism.” That is a perfectly legitimate concept that need not be confined to describing some American Protestants. So, by D’Souza’s definition, Islamic fundamentalists, for instance, do not exist after all…yet they do exist.

D’Souza argues that secularism has been tried and its deficiencies have contributed to a global resurgence of what he calls, “traditional religion,” which he defines as “religion as it has been understood and practiced over the centuries”(5).

This is not a good definition because there is, for the most, part, no monolithic way that religions has been practiced over the centuries. Some religions standstill for centuries; many change fairly often, producing offshoots that may or may not last. Nonetheless, D’Souza believes “traditional religions” - whatever that means - are growing and are going to significantly shape this century.

The convergence of religion and secularism is being best handled by oriental peoples. D’Souza seems to approve of how Asians want “Western” prosperity and technology and to also retain their traditional religions and way of life. Their slogan is “modernization without Westernization”(8).

That may be the goal of many in Asia but it is not that simple.

Prosperity and technology are not products of other-worldly mysticism and tribal tradition. Prosperity and technology are possible to minds that are reality-oriented and rational, meaning, fundamentally secular. In the 19th and early 20th centuries in Europe we find two precedents of this phenomena of countries wanting to have Western-like prosperity and technology without changing their other-worldly and tribal mindsets, deliberately rejecting in philosophical terms reason and the mind’s adherence to reality. Those countries were Germany and Russia, the two countries that supposedly embodied the worst of secularism. Asian countries along with any sympathizers in the West who call for “modernization without Westernization” would do well to learn from the examples of Germany and Russia. But that is a subject to visit later.

“Western” is a type of culture and society, one significant aspect of it is its grounding in reality-oriented, rational thinking. That can and should be a trait of any and all cultures. Prosperity as such is not merely a cultural trait, nor is technology, like some tradition is. Prosperity and technology are the effects of deeper causes. This is a point that seems to be lost on D’Souza as much as it was lost on the Germans and Russians back then - and I do not know if it is lost on any of the Asians now. If Asians want modernization without Westernization, that is fine as long as they understand and are ready to commit themselves to being rational and reality-oriented, regardless of how that conflicts with and undermines their inherited traditions and religions - that is modernization, period. That is what their slogan actually means, whether they realize it or not. Much of what is “traditional” in a society that has not advanced itself toward a rational orientation to the world is darn well going to be lost to modernization. That is a good thing.

The major mistake D’Souza makes is failing to realize the triumph of religion in this century is no more inevitable than secularism’s triumph or decline. Long-term factors and trends cannot be discounted in predicting the future, but there is an equally important variable factor to understand as well: the human mind. Men can choose to think and live either religiously or secularly because men have free will. If men choose to abandon living by their minds, they doom themselves to the living death of religion. If they choose to live by reason they will be secular and progress will be inevitable - as long as the choice to be rational and worldly is committed to. Lack of that commitment to reason has been the problem of Western secularism.

Actually, if D’Souza’s projection of the future is right it makes the case for the importance of another Enlightenment - a new Enlightenment that learns from the first one’s mistakes - before human civilization is again swallowed up by that great obstructer of life and progress: religion; like it was in the world before the Enlightenment. Those who do not learn from history…

Next post: Ch. 2 Survival of the Sacred: Why Religion Is Winning
Christianity Is Not Great, Pt. 1

Feb 7, 2009

The Christian Sick "Moral Teaching" of the Day

Just a little while ago I got in my truck and because there is nothing else on the radio, turned on the local Christian AM station and heard host Chuck Bentley on his show "Moneylife" talking about the topic of suffering in the context of job loss and hard financial times. (I should point out that I missed some of the minor details in the following because I had to pay attention to traffic.) So Bentley read from the Bible a letter by Paul about the sufferings and persecutions he went through as he spread the Christian religion to others. Bentley's point was that this was important because Paul's example showed other Christians how to "suffer well" when they have to. I think, okay, fine, when times are tough one has to cope with it, perhaps to the point of finding strength within oneself one did not even know was there. What does anyone need a guy on the radio to point that out for? Well, it got better... or should I say, worse? This is religion after all.

Bentley then related a story about an older man who lost his job and the pastor went to see him. The older man said that as he lost his job he had no fear or worry because he "knew" that God was there watching him and this is part of God's plan so it will all work out in the end, or something like that. So here Bentley gets to his point: God has us suffer so we can be an example to others of how to suffer well.

Beliefs like that are imaginary rationalizations to help religious believers cope. This gives them a positive attitude, no doubt, so they can persevere. Meaning, as well, is projected on their suffering so it seems more than just a loss without reason. But more important, what does that rationalization really mean? Would one do to one's own children what God did to His "children" - make them suffer so they are good examples to their siblings of how to suffer well?

Imagine your child comes to you all distraught with a tale of how his life is suddenly turned upside-down in some way and you say to your child, "I love you and I know you are strong and can suffer well until you make things right again. By the way, I am responsible for turning your life upside-down. I did it so that you can serve an example to your brothers and the other children of how to suffer well. Be comforted by that until you make things right again."

Should the response to that parent be heaping on him praise and love - or is it perhaps time to call social services (to say nothing of a psychotherapist)?

I do not think I need to articulate just how irrational and immoral that parent is. It should be pretty evident. If, however, God does that same thing it demonstrates how wise and wonderful He is and how good it is to believe in Him.

I do not know who is more morally and psychologically depraved: a God who acts like that or Chuck Bentley who praises and worships that God.

Feb 4, 2009

Christianity Is Not Great, Pt.1

Dinesh D’Souza is one of the most prominent intellectual defenders of religion against the new surge of outspoken atheism D’Souza’s book, What’s So Great about Christianity?, is intended to provide Christians with the knowledge and understanding to effectively answer attacks by atheists on their religion. The book’s scope is fairly broad and includes topics like “intelligent design,” religion and atheism in political theory, and defending faith as reasonable. In these topics D’Souza gives me so much to strongly disagree with that I shall write a series of posts arguing against his book, chapter by chapter.

What's So Great about Christianity? by Dinesh D'Souza; Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.; 2008; 348pp.

Preface: A Challenge to Believers - and Unbelievers
Here, D’Souza’s point is that Christians should understand and be ready to defend their faith. Many Christians are not able to do this, though they should be. “Without realizing it Christians have become postmodernists of a sort: they live by the gospel of the two truths. There is religious truth, reserved for Sundays and days of worship, and there is secular truth, which applies the rest of the time” (xiv).

He next points out that according to the Bible, Christians should not be of the world with its “distorted priorities,” but they have a mission to be fully engaged in it (xiv).

By what standard are the world’s priorities considered distorted? What distorts them? If the world’s nature is what it is, then how are priorities in it “distorted”? If the standard is something in the world, that in turn implies they can be non-distorted; or are they “distorted” according to a standard not of this world? If so, how is that that standard even known?

People can have distorted priorities in this world and they can have non-distorted priorities. People are not infallible and can have mistaken or irrational priorities, or they can have correct, rational priorities. In time the consequences of their priorities will indicate whether they are distorted or not; and if they are, then it is up to the individual to recognize that his priorities are distorted and to figure out what to do about it. Such is life. Is D’Souza conflating these possibilities in an undifferentiated concept of the world having, by its nature, “distorted priorities”?

The “easy” alternative, however, is taken by religionists in their expecting - or inventing - automatic, infallible, authoritative priorities in the forms of scripture, commandments, dogmas, etc., to simply obey and always believe no matter what. The real distorter of anything in the world is belief in the supernatural. Having otherworldly notions and applying them to life distorts it.

D’Souza continues. He sees the atheists as no longer content with being tolerated (when atheists have been tolerated in America, he neglects to mention) but are now intent on “taking over the public square” and evicting Christians from it. They want to make religion disappear altogether (xv). As if Christians do not now or never had wanted to make atheism disappear!

D'Souza writes that most people "sense there is something out there that provides a grounding and an ultimate explanation for their deepest questions, yet that something eludes them. They feel the need for a higher sense of purpose in their lives, but they are unsure where to find it." (xvi).

Yes, Dinesh, most thinking people do need a grounding for their deepest questions and they also need a clearly defined higher purpose for their lives. That is exactly what philosophy is supposed to do. A rational, reality-based philosophy like Objectivism achieves that; an imaginary philosophy like the Christian religion only pretends to achieve that.

D'Souza goes on to say that the atheists have not been adequately rebutted and his book will do that. "Their arguments have gone largely unanswered." From D'Souza they will feel "the horse kick of a vigorous traditional Christianity."

I agree that their arguments have been unanswered. Even considering all the philosophical flaws in the arguments of the "new" atheists they can effectively attack religion, at least up to a point, because religion is, ultimately, void of intellectual substance. I will hold D'Souza to being different and actually delivering a "vigorous horse kick" to my atheism, unlike his fellow Christians. All the credit to him if he does!

After outlining his books agenda, D'Souza then concludes the preface by addressing atheists and their beliefs as he sees them, but it is in a way that I think is over-generalizing: "You have been engaged in the pursuit of happiness for a fairly long time; ever wonder why you haven't found it? How long do you intend to continue this joyless search for joy? Older societies had much less and felt abundant; why do you, in the midst of plenty, continue to feel scarcity pressing down upon you" (xvii)?

Maybe that is true of some atheists on the nihilistic left - I would not doubt that. I am sure it is certainly not true of Objectivists, who are atheists. It is not true of me as an Objectivist. D'Souza is mistaken in lumping all atheists together. "Atheism" is merely a negative concept. People can be atheists for many different reasons and have very different philosophies. One should therefore be cautious about generalizing about those who simply lack a specific belief.

As to the old, religious societies that had less but felt abundance, I reply that because they felt something does not mean they were right or that what they "felt" was real beyond the feeling. Of course, what he is hinting at is "feeling" the Holy Spirit or some such otherworldly being. I do not know, but I will bet that D'Souza - and this goes for many religious believers - cannot even conceive how an atheist can legitimately and genuinely "feel" an "inner abundance" (to use his terms). Here is a very sad consequence of holding a mind-body dichotomy. Such religious pre-conceptions are why that kind of an atheist is unthinkable, even undiscoverable, by their minds. (Then again, maybe not. Some Christians are discovering, after the initial conceptual shock, that one can be an atheist and actually be moral!)

So, in sum, the agenda for What's So Great about Christianity? is to educate and motivate the believers to challenge the atheists.

Christianity Is Not Great, Pt. 2

Feb 2, 2009

"Fairly Distributing Pain" - Human Flourishing According to Christianity

The purpose of morality is to teach you, not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live. -Ayn Rand

Surreal - and absurd - describes this OneNewsNow story by Pete Chagnon on Christians contemplating the subject of human flourishing:
'Human flourishing' -- biblical? or humanistic?
InterVarsity's "Following Christ 2008" conference was held in Chicago on December 27-31. The conference, with the theme of "Human Flourishing," featured a bevy of speakers and was open for students, professors, faculty, and professionals.
"And the idea is that God has designed us in a certain way, and Jesus Christ was human flourishing epitomized -- the perfect example of human flourishing," [Gordon Govier] notes. "And all that he did was in service to God and reflected God as the creator, and we're able to do that in our professional lives that we have and the careers that we choose."

Jesus "epitomized" human flourishing?

According to these Christians, human flourishing means not independently pursuing one’s goals and values and not making oneself better at it and for it, but denying that and pursuing the interests of God instead. One chooses to be as much of a means to God’s ends as is possible. To call that “flourishing” is monstrous. It is a vicious deformation of human life and its potential. Adding insult to this injury is the notion that this God who is omnipotent and benevolent, yet is dependent on humans fully devoting their lives to serving Him. How “glorious” and “moral” would the Christians consider a man who demanded others devote their lives to serving him (i.e., a cult)? When God does or demands this, it is good; but that same thing done or demanded by a man is not good. Back to Socrates’ question: is something good because God commands it or does God command it because it is good?

Granting for argument's sake that is true that Jesus flourished, there is then the not so small matter of him being God with Godly knowledge and powers, knowledge and powers that humans attempting to flourish, lack. So, Christians, how does God in human form epitomize human flourishing?

Putting that awkward question aside because attempting to answer it will only offer unproveable assertions and rationalizations of the supernatural persuasion, there arises a question whose answer can be safely limited to its own subject matter, that being the (supposed) life of Jesus. He could barely support himself by spreading his teachings, which attracted only a handful of followers and ultimately got him executed like a criminal at age 33. By what estimation is that a life "epitomizing" human flourishing?

I would hate to see what Govier regards as human failing.

Actually, there is a historical example of a man imitating Christ,
St. Francis. He renounced wealth, property, work so he could imitate Jesus. He “married” his “lady poverty” and lived with his followers as a wandering ascetic, dressed in rags and singing to birds. Did that constitute human flourishing? After all, he was living as Christ-like as a man can.

"All that Jesus did was in service to God." Why would an omnipotent God need mere mortal men to serve Him? Wait...but isn't Jesus...God himself? If Jesus is to be our model, this needs clarifying - do we serve God or ourselves? Do we accept altruism or egoism? We, unlike Jesus, are not part-God, and therefore unable to override nature's laws to selflessly serve ourselves... And, yet, even with that advantage he failed…Okay, this nonsense is not worth thinking about further.

We are next informed from this highly learned conference on human flourishing that the spread of pain is insufficient:
According to The Associated Press, key speakers at the conference questioned whether pain from the economic downturn is being fairly distributed...

To righteously advocate sadism, leave to religion.

Why is this sadistic Christian’s evil and irrational idea that somebody in government should be overseeing that “pain is fairly distributed” even being considered at a conference?

Who exactly "distributes" pain and by what means? If one person is feeling the consequences of his unsound financial practices the “pain” he feels is the effect. No-one “distributes” that pain to him - other than himself. Why should others who are not involved with his unsound financial practices share in the “pain”? Simply because they have the capacity to, financially, is the implication. That would be “fairness,” which is altruist-speak for “equality.” The bad thing about the downturn, according to the sadistic Christians, is that there is not enough people feeling the right amount of pain according to their ability to bear pain. Nevermind that they may well not deserve this pain The altruist morality implicit in what the sadistic Christians asked is only about giving and receiving undeservedly.

In this, the Christians subject us to more of their tortuously irrational thinking: pain is not good, but somehow it is good for it to be evenly “distributed,” implying that it is something to work for - instead of eliminating the cause of the pain.

...while two other speakers suggested that a restructuring of the world financial system is needed. Although Govier says his organization has no stance on the issue, he encouraged students and faculty to look to scripture for answers.

"There's a lot of things in God's Word about justice and being fair and taking care of the poor," he points out. "Those are all issues that world leaders today should be thinking about."

Did Govier never hear of the welfare state, international aid, and the federal laws and programs designed to privilege the poor in buying homes that caused this economic downturn and pain in the first place? We do not need to look to ancient, irrelevant scripture for answers, “answers” that that if we heeded would make things worse - we need to look to reality for answers (a mental endeavor quite alien to the religious mind) starting with accepting the reality of the folly and harm of government aid to the poor at the expense of others - and the need to end it. That is the needed “restructuring of the world financial system.”

"A document on InterVarsity's website discusses the concept of human flourishing in detail. However, the document concludes that studying the concept may leave one with more questions than answers."

Meaning, studying the concept from the standpoint of believing Christianity leaves one with more questions than answers. What a surprise.

T.A. McMahon, executive director of
The Berean Call, "As far as I'm concerned, human flourishing is not a goal that the Bible teaches. It is primarily a humanistic objective," he contends. "For the Christian, fruitfulness is a byproduct of completely submitting one's life to Christ, denying self, taking up one's cross and following him, doing things his way according to his Word -- and that's not a program academia has been interested in."

Wrong. Academia does not deserve that much credit - it is interested in that program, albeit by substituting society for Christ.

Besides, why would a good God inspire a book that teaches his creatures how to live successfully and flourish in the world He made for them? A trivial concern like that is obviously beneath such greatness and glory that is Him.

Human flourishing pertains to improving human life and that is not a concern of Christians, their Bible, or their God. Flourishing is what ethics is ultimately about and the Christian religion has no realistic guidance to offer in the matter, indeed, Christianity would end human flourishing as it has in the past (see the thousand years of the Dark and Middle Ages). Christians always loudly claim that we need God for morality, yet the above mix of depravity and imagination is what they call "morality": that we should model our lives on the most glorified of history's countless failed messiahs as how to flourish.

Sorry Christians, but I take life and ideas more seriously than that.

Lastly, and off on a tangent, we should not overlook this amusing tidbit from the story: McMahon also admitted he is troubled by some of the speakers featured at the conference. "Dr. Francis Collins -- who headed up the [Human] Genome Project -- he professes to be a Christian, but he also believes in evolution," he explains...