Friendship Evangelism: If you want to show genuine interest you have to know how to fake it

As Evangelicals come to realize that their doctrines are a harder sell to an ever brighter, more skeptical and information literate generation, they look for ways to bypass the critical faculties. Often this is referred to as “friendship evangelism.” You may, for example, be interested in stamp collecting or running 5ks. So you target someone else who is interested in the same things, and gradually introduce him or her to your Best Friend, Evangelical Republican Jesus.

People who encourage this always harangue the audience about having a “genuine interest” in the person. But how can you have such an interest if you are hagridden by an end game scenario if making them believe what you believe? When do you get to just enjoy their company? If he or she is skeptical or doesn’t fall on his or her knees to say the sinner’s prayer, when do you decide to cut your losses and ditch them?

In short, it is impossible. It is like trying to whistle while eating a peanut butter sandwich. The average person who tries this–or thinks he or she should try it–will eventually give up and go back to hanging with people who believe the same things he or she does. But they’ll feel guilty about it.

So we come to the true result: yet another impossible demand on the believer that will nag at him or her subconsciously and make him or her feel guilty, inadequate, and incapable of making decisions.

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In which I piss off everybody

I’ve heard many people say they lost their faith by reading the whole Bible. Usually the part of the Bible they find most repellent are the first five books, Genesis through Deuteronomy. These books bring into question many of the things people thought they knew about God. Why does he seem not to know things, for example? Why does he seem threatened by the possibility of the inhabitants of Babel storming heaven? Then there are the legalistic regulations about sacrifice… The draconian punishments… The promotion of genocide. Apologists try to explain all this away. Reasonable people ignore it and lapse into cognitive dissonance, or become atheists.

Here’s my take. Despite all the lip service paid to being “biblical,” most people’s spirituality has little to do with the Bible, much less with the relevance of Leviticus as a Message For Us Today.

You say that you’re a Christian because you have an experience of/ relationship with God/Jesus. Let’s ignore for the moment the questions raised or begged by such a statement. Did the Bible as such have much to do with that? Be honest. If not, why *can’t* you pick and choose among the scriptures? Why can’t you say that the Bible is not the word of God, but contains the word of God, as some Sophisticated Theologians do? Does that in any way change the Personal Relationship you claim to have?

Are you worried that Christians as a group may not be able to agree which scriptures are authoritative or normative? There’s already a pretty broad consensus that the sacrificial regulations and purity codes are obsolete. And why do you have to agree? Spirituality is personal, right? To me, it seems the only reason to enforce agreement is for social engineering and psychological manipulation.

So in conclusion I’m saying that if your spirituality is beneficial to you, and you have a personal relationship with God, maybe you don’t need the Innerrant Infallible Word of God to justify it. And while you’re at it, you might take a second look at some of the more distasteful ideas and sentiments you’ve felt obligated to accept and espouse on that basis.

Am I wrong? Naive? Simplistic? Feel free to tell me so.

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Why so angry?

The answer: I’m not. At least not as angry as the tone of some of my posts might suggest. I hold the perhaps misguided hope that if I am provocative enough, I might be able to prod someone into giving me some honest answers. At least I might get someone to seriously consider my questions.

On some level perhaps I hope someone can rise to the challenge and make Christianity and/ or theism make sense to me again. But I know that’s not likely to happen. To use IT analogies, once you begin poking around in the code, you realize that many of the contradictions, absurdities, and maddening logical fallacies of Abrahamic theism–perfected in Christianity–are not bugs, but features.

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In a way, i’ve always been secular, and maybe you have too

Some years ago I was attending an adult Bible study class. The topic of discussion was the raising of one’s children with “biblical” values, which at the time I took to be synonymous with morals and ethics. The leader asked me how I would deal with a situation in which my child informed me about immoral (sexuality was implied, I think) activities of other teenagers. I started to talk about how I would engage him/her in ethical reasoning. He cut me off. “All you have to do,” he said, “is show him what the Bible says. You don’t have to reason about it, because you have the clear word of God.”

I nodded, but something seemed wrong with this. He had all the right buzzwords: Bible, God, etc., but still… I consulted other Christians, and many of them also thought this was a terrible approach, especially if one was raising children to make mature decisions.

The thing is: the teacher was–biblically and religiously–correct. If the Bible is the word of God with all the truth we need for any given situation, moral reasoning is superfluous.  On the other hand, if the Bible is just another thing to help us think better–ludicrous in itself, given all the errors, contradictions, and morally repulsive or meaningless commands found therein–then it is unnecessary or dispensable.

So here it is: Theists, and even fence-sitting, unchurched “spiritual but not religious” people, accept uncritically that religion or faith is necessary for morality, or at least that it has something to do with morality. At the same time, they will take for granted that reasoning– often on utilitarian or situational grounds–is fundamental to mature ethical decisions. I say that “biblical morality” is the death of any system of ethics beyond “because I (if the I happens to be God) said so.”

Biblical morality provides for divine command, and nothing else. Its philosophy is: If God does it, it is not immoral. Moral reasoning leads to things like Eve eating the fruit. Cain deciding to put the Almighty on a vegan diet. Saul deciding not to commit as much genocide that day. None of those things ended well. Conversely, Abraham provisionally agreed to child murder. Lean not your own understanding. That’s the Bible.

If you live and function in the modern world, you probably reach your moral decisions through reason, or possibly rationalization. You may think your conscience is guided by the “Word of God,” but the Bible is really just a lucky rabbit’s foot, a talisman. And (pardon the pun) thank God.

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Read the Instructions

Once again, listening to atheist podcasts, this time  Ardent Atheist ( http://ardentatheist.com ). Ardent Atheist is a very freewheeling podcast, the kind ITunes labels as explicit, because it is–well–explicit. And Ardent Atheist is ardent. Most of the guests are stand up comics of one level or another; as the hosts tell us, we know them from “show biz,”  except I don’t. You may well be on your way to religious skepticism of one degree or another if you aren’t offended by Ardent Atheist, or can laugh at the hosts’ and guests’ jokes without feeling guilty.

Not everyone on the podcast is atheist. They usually have one theist or believer in the supernatural on as fresh meat. Given how ardent Emery Emery and Heather Henderson (the hosts) are, they are pretty respectful of the guests as people. One gets the sense that they are all good friends who can discuss pretty much anything and come away with no hard feelings.  At least the disrespect is ritualized, or directed toward what they see as bad ideas, rather than the people who hold them.

Anyhoo… I bring them up because of something said by the believer of the week in either this or last week’s podcast. Something that could offend me, if I were easily offended. It goes like this:

Atheists can hold Christians or Muslims (the two groups he specifically mentioned) to a higher standard, because they have a rule book, the Bible or Quran. Atheists have no such book, so therefore they make up their morality on the fly, and you can’t hold them to any standard. I’m paraphrasing of course, but I’m trying to be fair.

What’s wrong with this… So much that I hardly know where to begin. But let’s start with the Bible as a rulebook. Is it up to this task? Was it even meant to be? I find this concept of scriptural authority to be most widely held by people who believe in the Bible the most, and actually read the sucker the least. I would challenge anybody to tell me just what biblical morality or ethics are. Personally, I think most of the rules in the Bible are actually subethical, primarily concerned with ritual purity and worship rather than with the issues of minimizing harm and  establishing fairness and justice that most modern people regard as ethical issues. And I’m not even bothering to drag out the passages about when it’s okay to rape a virgin, etc. So is his rulebook the “nice” Bible, or the “nasty” Bible? I don’t know! How can I trust him?

Then there is the whole concept of a rulebook. Do you really need a rulebook to process everyday–or even unusual–decisions and situations, and to do the right thing? Or to know what the right things are? Do we need a rulebook to tell us baby rape is not optimal? Even in religion soaked American society, most ethical decisions or judgments–by Christians or whomever– are indeed made on the fly, and they’re usually the right ones. Madoff is a thief with or without the ten commandments, for example. And as I stated in an earlier post, every immoral action you can conceive of can be justified by the holy book or creed of your choice.

All that being said, not all the responses of the atheists on the show were adequate. One of them brought up a statistic showing that most convicted felons were believers. Ummm…. You don’t think there might be a small socioeconomic bias there, do you? This might not be the sort of thing that makes people think atheism is strictly a white, male, university educated thing, would it?

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March 16, 2013 · 9:11 pm

Satan, part 1 of a series

I was just listening to back podcasts from the Thinking Atheist. One of them was a special episode on Satanism. For the most part, it was concerned with the Satanism of Anton Szandor Lavey, known appropriately as Laveyan Satanism. It seemed that the conclusion was that Laveyan Satanists were mostly atheists or agnostics who liked drama and dress up.

In my teenage years, before I accepted Christianity, I read Lavey’s notorious Satanic Bible. Certainly there is plenty one could object to. Much of the philosophy is nearly identical to Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, or the thoughts of such other ultra individualists and egoists as Max Stirner or Ragnar Redbeard. If you don’t find those palatable, there is probably nothing for you in Laveyan Satanism. As far as my own encounter with Lavey went,  I was entertained by his bold, over the top writing style. But overall, it just appeared to me to be yet another vaguely counter cultural self help philosophy in a market flooded with them. It was no more evil or “satanic” than most of the others, and less so than a few.

I am hardly the first to notice that when it comes to the limitless expression of human evil and perversity, Satanism–and indeed the Dark Lord Himself–are completely superfluous. Any evil you or anyone can conceive of can be and has been justified by any of the major “respectable” religions. Child sacrifice? What do you call it when parents refuse their children adequate medical treatment in order to obey or “prove” their religion’s doctrines concerning faith healing? And this without even mentioning all the parents who kill or harm their children to get “the devil” out of them. What religion doesn’t have a “little problem” with the (usually male) authority figures who abuse and molest children or degrade women while still managing to think of themselves as decent sorts? If anything, they owe His Satanic Majesty for giving them the all purpose get out of jail free card, “the devil made me do it.” Even assuming that a personal devil does exist, he has found a home in Christianity and other organized religions. He doesn’t need his own organization.

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A Clarification, and More About Where I Is (mentally)

A reader (perhaps my only reader at this point) suggests that my last post seems to leave open the possibility that I remain skeptical about evolution and deep time. In actuality I was trying to inhabit the mind of a creationist and succeeding perhaps too well. But it does bring to mind the way I viewed the whole thing as a believer in creationism, or at least as a believer in believing in creationism.

Even though I was not brought up in a fundamentalist, creationist milieu and a belief in science–and therefore evolution–was taken for granted, I can’t say it was ever explained very well. What I knew about it could be summed up in the popular image of a monkey becoming a chimp, becoming a primitive hominid, becoming a Neanderthal, becoming a Cro Magnon, finally reaching the pinnacle of evolution, a well groomed 30ish white man in a suit.

So when I met creationists, I wasn’t really able or inclined to defend evolution and the scientific world view, and I didn’t really have any sense of its importance. As I saw it then: Recorded history was more or less 6,000 years. Anything that might have happened before then was a guess. And anyway, the fundamentalist Christians were so nice! They were not the snake handling Bible thumpers I had been led to believe they would be, so they had as much of a chance of being right as anyone. Or so it seemed to me at the time.  I’m ashamed also to admit that the truth of a theory or idea was not as important to me as it should have been. Ironic, isn’t it, that fundamentalism presents itself as being The Truth in uppercase, but in reality depends on one’s willingness to let important matters of fact slide? Anyway the Peace That Passeth Understanding and the sense of direction I saw in fundamentalism trumped such matters for me at the time.

But although I was shamefully scientifically illiterate, I had been a history buff from my earliest years. So even as a fundamentalist, I couldn’t help noticing that many recorded historical events took place in periods that the creationists insisted were antediluvian. I filed that away. Often I would watch PBS documentaries that spoke of things known to have happened 10,000, 15,000 years ago. I noted and proceeded to ignore  the contradiction, developing my history mind or PBS mind, and using my church mind in church or among other fundamentalists. Privately, I began to doubt the 6,000 year model, but assumed still that evolution itself remained a bad guess.

To make a long story short, it was actually meeting and talking to evolutionists and reading books on evolution in an effort to cast doubt upon it that made me what I am today, a fully convinced evolutionist. That deserves more explanation in itself. Perhaps in a future post.

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March 7, 2013 · 12:07 am