Monday, November 06, 2006

Ted Haggard update

US evangelist preacher admits battle with 'dark side'

And by ‘dark side’ he wasn’t referring to his old sparring partner, Richard Dawkins.

This is one of those blog things which seems profound, but is actually trivial. Or perhaps it is something which seems trivial, so you might think it’s really profound, but actually it turns out that it is trivial, after all.

52 Comments:

Blogger Harry Eagar said...

They're real good at forgiving each other. People who don't share their superstitions, not so much.

He, and they, are evil, all right, but it has nothing to do with buggery.

His recreational activities are, indeed, trivial. His religion, no, not trivial.

November 06, 2006 10:18 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

It's been my observation that more often than not the kind of people who pursue religious ministries tend to be emotionally unstable in one way or another. I think they have a lot in common with show business types, because they are all basically performers. I think this is true especially with the evangelical denominations. These "low church" movements are very personality-driven, relying on charismatic, larger than life figures, such as Johnathan Edwards and George Whitefiels. These were the first popular "superstars" of American culture.

It is only natural that such a profession will attract a fair share of attention-craving narcissists. How else would you describe people who are not content with naturally looking hair.
Indeed, one of the worst things you can say about someone is that he has "televangelist hair".

November 06, 2006 5:47 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Probably. The most obnoxious evangelical on our island hanged himself, along with his wife, a couple years ago.

I have better things to do with my time than worry about these guys. And better things to do with my time than listen to their phony lessons.

If that sounds callous, well, they spend a lot of time talking about love but it's like the strong force in particle physics -- the farther away you get from the nucleus, the less it matters.

Preacher, heal thyself.

November 06, 2006 6:08 PM  
Blogger David said...

Harry's the only person who thinks that by distracting priests from their vocation, the young boys prevented real damage.

November 06, 2006 8:43 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Indeed, one of the worst things you can say about someone is that he has "televangelist hair".

I know what you mean, although in my circle the ultimate epithet is "Darwinian tits". Thank goodness blogs like this exist to promote reasoned dialogue and help us all overcome prejudice.

November 07, 2006 1:23 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

You've got to admit there is something suspicious about men who spend that amount of time and money on their bouffants and fake tans.

November 07, 2006 2:09 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

Anyway, the opposite of 'televangelist' is not darwinist.

November 07, 2006 2:11 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Perhaps not, Brit, but tell us, what is the opposite of trivial?

Though I just can't wait to tell old Aunt Bertha that I've found some really cool new secular friends who are sure there is a link between evangelical fundamentalism and meterosexuality. The old dear is a firm no-nonsense Anglican and has been saying as much for decades. When she's not condemning Catholics for their loose morals, that is.

Not to worry though. As those scary creationists fall one by one to the lure of sordid vice and hypocrisy, the cool-headed champions of objective truth just keep on truckin'. It can't be long now.

November 07, 2006 3:16 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

"what is the opposite of trivial?"

Beethoven.

Da da da dummmmmm. Da da da dummmmmm.

November 07, 2006 3:36 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Yes Peter, reasoned dialogue is all fine and dandy, but now that we have paid sponsors there is always pressure to "sex it up" a bit.

November 07, 2006 6:02 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I'm just showing as little compassion for him as he shows for people like me.

The only difference is, I do it for free.

November 07, 2006 10:34 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Harry, I can't think of anything more certain to cause your head to explode than a Christian showing true compassion for you.

November 08, 2006 1:55 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

I listened to a discussion between the Archbishop of Canterbury and John Humphries on a BBC Radio 4 programme called "In Search of God".

Nothing could more starkly illustrate the utter, frustrating intellectual futility of the moderate Christian position, and also the utter goodness and likeability of the moderate Christian.

Since I fund the BBC and you don't, you can have this one on me, should you wish:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/programmes/misc/insearchofgod.shtml.

November 08, 2006 2:15 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Here is an interesting WAPO comment on the Evangelicals and here is a good one on Brit's link.

Leaving blow-dried hair and dodgy megalomaniacs aside for a moment, I've been re-reading Niall Ferguson's Empire and he tells an interesting tale that made me think of our frequent discussions about religious vs. secular morality. In early 19th century Britain, when the East India Company still ruled in India, there was a popular brouhaha about thugee, suttee and female infanticide. These had been known about for decades and Ferguson paints a good picture of Company nabobs and Colonial Office types of a rational, Georgian/Regency bent expressing great personal distaste for the savagery, but always talking themselves out of doing much about them---they had to be carefully weighed against respecting native religion, civil peace, good order and profit. Along come the Evangelicals from Clapham who agitate and, as they had done with slavery a generation earlier, demand they be stopped. Both sides could agree that they were barbaric and immoral, but the difference was that the Evangelicals didn't care about the cost--evil was evil and had to be fought. The "old hands" were appalled, of course, and warned of big trouble ahead, which one could argue came in 1857.

It's pretty easy to fast forward to Iraq and Sudan, isn't it? Or even worse.

Do you really want to live in a society without that impulse ("Europe, come on down!")? You may be able to reason yourselves into righteous anger about burqas and female circumcision and mass murder, but sacrificing sons to do something about them is a different game, one that doesn't necessarily prize goodness and likeability.

November 08, 2006 3:21 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

I had been looking at an angle on this, but Brit beat me to it. Given Richard The Dawkins' exchange with Mr. Haggard as part of The Root of All Evil, I would used the title "Ted's Awfully Dangerous Adventure." However, fear of Brit's team of vicious copyright attorney's dissuaded me.


During that segment, two things became clear: First, Mr. Haggard had established a cult of personality. Second, it is astonishing how many people are dupes for a cult of personality.

There is nothing to gloat over here, nor is there even any reason to raise charges of hypocrisy.

But what it does raise is Christianity's moral bankruptcy with respect to homosexuality.

Clearly, Ted Haggard had no choice regarding his homosexuality: God made him that way.

Just as clearly, no specific sex act, whether hetero or homo, has any inherent moral component. Rather, it is all about context.

One of these decades, the obvious will sink in, even with Evangelicals.

November 08, 2006 5:34 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

Thanks for the Telegraph link. In his opening paragraphs I think that Stanford is unnecessarily aggressive about Humphries. He falls into the trap - which Rowan Williams, with indeed saintly patience emphatically does not, by the way - of being overly defensive, assuming that Humphries is out to attack religion.

Which shows that your take on Humphries's programme will depend on how much sincerity you attribute to him when he says that he genuinely wants to believe, that he does try to 'open his heart', but that he simply (so far) can't find any faith. The same goes for any discussion with those of us who don't have faith.

If you doubt his sincerity, and he is really just out to make Williams look foolish, then yes you will attack the whole project. But if you assume that he is sincere - as I believe you have to if the thing is to be anything more than a waste of time - then you need to look at his problem.

The problem seems to me to boil down to this: with the problem of suffering, the answer must always be "we don't know what God's purpose is, we can't know, we can only have faith."

So it becomes a question of "why did God give faith to you, but withold it from me?" with the supplementary question of "and will God punish me for that?"

Interestingly, both Williams and the Muslim Tariq Ramadan in part 2 gave identical answers to both questions, and they are the optimistic but entirely arbitrary answers you'd expect of good, caring, moderate human beings.

November 08, 2006 5:37 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Here's an interesting take on Haggard from Frederica Matthews Green in First Things:

But I also saw a photo of Haggard and for the first time connected a face with the name. So that’s the guy! I had seen this face before, I guess in photos of evangelical leaders. It sure had struck me as a crazy-scary one—somebody I’d instinctively step away from. The zones of his face are sending out conflicting messages. It looks like both terror and attack. The overall effect is frenzied.

So it's not just the anti-religious types who find something creepy in the peraonalities that run some of these megachurches. But Green makes another good point about these churches:
So it is a mistake to present Christianity the way some churches do, as if it is the haven of seamlessly well-adjusted, proper people. That results in a desperate artificial sheen. It results in treating worship as a consumer product, which must deliver better intellectual or emotional gratification than the competition. And that sends suffering people home again, still lonely, in their separate metal capsules.

November 08, 2006 6:14 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I guess maybe Orrin is going to have to rethink that hypocrisy thing. Maybe people prefer that their neighbors actually behave, rather than just saying other people should.

Anyhow, the effect of the Clapham Sect on Indian customs is equivocal. Nobody doubts that suttee existed, but Indian scholars are adamant that thuggee was an imaginary construct -- sort of like the imaginary child abuse cases for which the evangelical imagination so thirsted back in the '80s.

If we're going all cosmic, I'd rather pick as my starting point people capable of critical analysis of evidence. Then, when we figured out what was going on, we'd be in a position to ask ourselves if we wanted to change it.

Besides, I wouldn't be too quick to absolve evangelism of thuggee-like behavior. I was idling through a collection of old photographs last night and came across one of a Catholic who had KKK carved into him by evangelicals for refusing to recant Catholicism.

The question is: Is the well-known restraint of 21st century evangelicals self-generated or imposed?

November 08, 2006 11:08 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Brit:

"why did God give faith to you, but withold it from me?"

Because you piss Him off?

Certainly respect and sincerity help, which is why a Haggard/Dawkins debate would never rise above the level of a WWF match.

I don't agree with the "no evidence, just faith" line. There is plenty of evidence, but it isn't what Skipper would call first order evidence and if you restrict evidence to that accepted by scientific rationalism in order to explore the transcendental irrational, there is obviously going to be an obstacle. Also, it seems to take a years of hard study and a special kind of education to learn how to be blind to it because the other 99% of humanity sees it with varying degrees of clarity. Faith is not about taking a shot in the dark on a nice tale, it's about seeing the limits of human potential and transcending the here-and-now.

Look, I have no problems with all your questionning of faith, challenging the evidence, etc. Nor do I pooh-pooh anyone who worries about where unreasoned, unthinking, uncritical, ossified, temporally-greedy or fundamentalist faith can lead--there is plenty of evidence that it can lead to some awful places. Everybody should worry about that. What intrigues me more than anything about you guys (after years of argument with you)is your steadfast belief that secular rationalism somehow protects you from political or social excess, keeps you on the side of human kindness and civic virtue, and forms a more reliable foundation upon which to guide you in navigating the stormy seas of human affairs. Surely you would admit many scientific truths and orthodoxies change as fast as fashion, especially those that relate to human actions and interactions, yet you see it as some kind of timeless rock of authenticity. I assume that is why you are so quick to argue natural explanations for anything and everything no matter how implausible or conjectural or untested.

But c'mon, faith isn't that hard to grasp. Look at Skipper. Nobody--and I mean nobody--is going to shake his 100% TOTAL conviction that gayness is determined genetically, even though nobody has found the gene. I
HE DO BELIEVE!

November 08, 2006 12:59 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

... your steadfast belief that secular rationalism somehow protects you from political or social excess, keeps you on the side of human kindness and civic virtue.

Well, I don't recall making that claim. (Although I'm willing to suggest that widespread mild skepticism is a decent antidote to the cults of personality that are required to get to the worst excesses.)

But religionists do make such a claim, and they make it exclusively, despite manifest evidence that such claims are mere selective self-congratulation.

I don't think any Dunnoists here would ever assert that Christians are incapable of moral reasoning, but there are plenty of Christians who are perfectly happy to make that very claim of non-Christians.

Look at Skipper. Nobody--and I mean nobody--is going to shake his 100% TOTAL conviction that gayness is determined genetically, even though nobody has found the gene ...

Nobody, and I mean nobody, is going to shake me of my conviction that all, and I do mean all, mammals start life as females, and that it is an intricate process to turn the female body plan into a male.

And nobody is going to shake my faith that there are already known gender disorders related to either inadequately expressed hormones, or inadequate fetal sensitivity to those hormones.

Nobody is going to shake my faith that since there are, for instance. XY "women", factors other than genetics have an extremely powerful, and ineradicable, effect on what we become.

By the way, the basis for my faith statements above is called evidence.

Now, based upon that evidence, I form an expectation that homosexuality is another type of natal aberration, just as inborn, and non-genetic, as, say, cleft palate. (In fact, the evidence that such is the case is just as sound as that for smoking as a cause of cancer -- the mechanism of which still eludes us.)

Let's do a hypothetical: tomorrow a future Nobel prize winner produces a conclusive case for hormonally mediated homosexuality.

Where is that going to leave eons of Christian hyperventilation on the subject?

November 08, 2006 2:09 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Also, it seems to take a years of hard study and a special kind of education to learn how to be blind to it because the other 99% of humanity sees it with varying degrees of clarity. Faith is not about taking a shot in the dark on a nice tale, it's about seeing the limits of human potential and transcending the here-and-now.

I don't think it is blindness. I "see" what you "see". I hear the voices in my head. But I see what I see for what it is - false sensations. The best analogy I can use to describe it is optical illusions. Optical illusions are proof that we don't see things precisely as they are, but that our minds interpret our sensations, introducing biases. We interpret two-dimensional images with a bias for three-dimensions.

So it is with our bias for agency. Our habit of anthropomorphizing objects, phenomena and even phrases like "research suggests" is so common as to as to be almost unnoticeable for its ubiquity. It is so ubiquitous, so second nature, that the bulk of religious people refuse to even consider this tendency as an explanation for their beliefs.

I'm of the opinion that religious belief is not something that a person can consciously control. As I mentioned, the mind interprets sensory data and presents it to the conscious mind. This happens sub-consciously. I believe the same is true with worldview construction. Where there are conflicting alternative interpretations, the mind at some point chooses one frame of reference over another. With optical illusions you can see this with the picture that can be a vase or two profiles, or the corners of cubes that can appear to be sticking out at you or pointing away from you.

It's hard to know what evidence the subconscious uses to support a given worldview, but a worldview that has been maintained for most of a lifetime can "flip" when some new piece of information is processed by the mind that cannot be reconciled with the old worldview. There have been several well-known people whose religious worldviews have flipped, among them Bart Ehrman, a Biblical scholar who lost his Christian faith when his studies led him to the conclusion that the early scribes of the Church intentionally misquoted Jesus. Also there is Anthony Flew, a committed atheist and scientist who suddenly developed a belief in God at the age of 81.

Not to mention John Derbyshire, who chronicled his recent lapse from faith for the National Review.

November 08, 2006 3:46 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

'your steadfast belief that secular rationalism somehow protects you from political or social excess'

I don't think that describes anybody here, though you could find people in, eg, Berkeley that it would fit.

November 08, 2006 4:32 PM  
Blogger Brit said...

Peter:

Because you piss Him off?

It's a good answer, I can't deny it. (The rest of your comment attacks a position I don't hold, however.)

Duck:

The Derbyshire article is a good read.

This bit is relevant to Haggard:

Can Christianity make you a worse person? I’m sure it can. If you’re a person with, for example, a self-righteous conviction of your own moral superiority, well, getting religion is just going to inflame that conviction.

And I wish I'd come across this bit earlier as fuel for my "nobody really believes it" shtick:

I was once hanging around in the National Review offices talking to an editor (since departed) who was also an Anglican, though an American one — which is to say, an Episcopalian. We got to talking about the Thirty-Nine Articles that define Anglican faith. Did she actually know any of the articles, I asked? No, she confessed, she didn’t. I admitted that I didn’t either. We looked them up on the Internet. There we were, two intelligent and well-educated Anglicans, a fiftysomething guy and a thirtysomething lady, gazing curiously at the articles of the faith we had professed all our lives. That’s Anglicanism.

In England it is quite a common thing for some Anglican bishop to get into the news by saying publicly that the Virgin Birth, or some other point of doctrine, is most probably false, and worshippers shouldn’t feel bad about not believing it.

November 09, 2006 2:00 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

But I see what I see for what it is - false sensations

I would have no difficulty if you had written "But I see what I see for what I believe it to be-false sensations". But you have appropriated omniscience for your team. That's a long way from simply telling the religious their accounts are far-fetched and contrary to natural evidence. It's essentially an exercise in intellectual delegitimizing that has political repercussions, as guys like Dawkins intend. That's why he called his book "The God Delusion" rather than "The God Fallacy" or "The Illogic of God" or whatever. It seems to me that the only difference between you and him is that he is ruder and more impatient.

Speaking of the great man, do you agree that your hard-nosed natural materialism can take us from the fossil record to here unaided?

November 09, 2006 2:27 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Brit:

That's almost an obligatory scene in postwar British novels and I hereby accuse Derbyshire of being a literary hack. Even Rumpole told that tale about his vicar father. Too many boozy High Table dinners at Oxford with science dons, I guess. I would certainly agree that the future of Christianity would be bleak if it had to roll the dice on the British Anglican clergy.

Your explanation is perfectly plausible, but there are others that focus more on the intellectual path of the Anglican Church over the past few generations and, frankly, the maturity of these guys, many of whom seem to be stuck in their undergrad years, if not the nursery.

November 09, 2006 2:56 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

Peter:

As I read the Derbyshire article, it occured to me that it could have been written by your faithless doppelganger.

November 09, 2006 3:17 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Brit:

Sure, some days, although I hope I would never imagine that story to be of general interest. C.S. Lewis, he ain't. Oh well, I suppose I should be thankful he didn't conclude by handing down his own personal Ten Commandments to guide us all.

There is enough there to keep the Daily Duck in posts for a year. A few preliminary, off-the-cuff reactions:

A)It's hard not to come away with the impression he thinks God has let him down. Here he was believing in those comforting mild pieties all these years and then bang--the scourge of the Anglican clergy and famous British spiritual disorder hits.("I say, Nigel, I must confess I can no longer make any sense of the thirty-nine Articles. Be a good chap and take this week's sermon for me, would you?") Bummer. He didn't go to Church and there is no indication he took much intellectual interest in theology, etc. The idea that there was any work involved is completely foreign to him. Would you take much interest in his political or economic views if he had never read a book on any of them or attended a seminar?

B)We all understand that in 2006 there is always a material explanation for religious beliefs and ceremonies. Two hundred years of science and determinism attracts us to them as instinctively as medieval peasants were attracted to divine explanations for the natural. If they satisfy you, fine, you stop there. If they don't, you roll up your sleeves and move beyond. But what's all this about the natural being an actual disproof of the "supernatural"? Is this a "Yeah, so where are the miracles?" whine? As David would say, the man completely misapprehends Creation. For someone of his age, wit and experience to see his kids' instinctive religious inclinations as an argument against religion blows my mind.

C)One obstacle to the modern mind "accessing" religious truth or experience is we expect, insist and demand that it all operate at the individual level. Both many religious types (esp. Protestant Christians) and the faithless argue on that level. The notion that God may have a more collective or indirect modus operandi is hard to even understand, let alone accept. I do not have an answer to this, but I think I recognize that our tendency to interpret and analyse scripture the same legalistic way we do the U.S. Bill of Rights makes us awfully self-focussed when it comes to the transcendental and eternal. We're about as humble as an ACLU-sponsored Plaintiff and no less certain of our intellectual entitlement. Derbyshire seems not to even countenance the thought that the way he and his family live have an effect on his beliefs or "access". Its all about his little grey cells. There is lots of both Christian and Jewish thought on the futility of that.

D) Finally, where is he now, and where are all those depressed Anglican vicars? That very same kind of deconstructing analysis can be done to secular naturalism. Does he now believe in Darwinism but with the same casual absence of mind he gave to religion all those years? If so, bully for him.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot good old Uncle Fred:

At some point he lost his lifelong faith, and died an atheist, railing at the folly of religion.

Brit, do you really believe a convinced atheist would do that? The German national soccer team maybe, but religion?

November 09, 2006 6:34 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

I would have no difficulty if you had written "But I see what I see for what I believe it to be-false sensations".

OK, I believe to be false sensations. I can't prove that entities I imagine don't actually exist. Lets just say that, along with the monster that lives under my bed, their existence is so improbable as to make the "I believe" part of the statement a formality.

When was the last time you said "I believe the sun will rise tomorrow morning.

November 09, 2006 6:49 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

Peter:

A) Only Derbyshire could defend himself from the accusations of intellectual indolence – I don’t know him well enough. I would have thought, though, that had he lived an unexamined life he would be more likely to have remained in his default Anglican position, not less.

B) It’s true that a natural explanation doesn’t always disprove a concurrent supernatural one. But it is the cumulative effect of natural explanation after natural explanation that can chip away at a man’s faith in the supernatural. Every generation of Christians attributes less to divine intervention that the one before, which is why science IS corrosive to religion, whatever the compatibilists say. A man of strong religious convictions can withstand pretty much anything the naturalist throws at him, but there comes a point where strong conviction becomes wilful obstinacy; and where optimism becomes desperation. Where you place that point will vary.

C) Which is why the only humble position is Dunnoism. Strange that you accuse those who readily admit they haven't a clue of arrogance, but you always do. Regarding Derbyshire – he doesn’t claim atheism, only that he isn’t a Christian. A Mysterian seems to be somewhat more hopeful being than a Dunnoist (as well as arch-enemy to Captain Scarlet).

D) Apparently he does know something about darwinism, but darwinism is one of those things you can take with an attitude of casual indifference. Darwinism – being the absence of the supernatural and itself ever-evolving – demands no more leaps of faith than does the science of the internal combustion engine, and has just as much to say about meaning.

As for Uncle Fred, the story might be hackneyed hackery for all I know – but I’ve seen a similar thing happen in my own family; and the explanation was nothing cosmic. Derbyshire hints at it: the problem seemed to be that none of the fellow churchgoers could be arsed to visit the patient in hospital.

November 09, 2006 7:22 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Duck:

When was the last time you said "I believe the sun will rise tomorrow morning.

For years I was sloppy about that. But then some crazy fundamentalist televangelist wrote a book called "The Sun Delusion", which argued that astronomers were all dangerously loopy and that it might very well not rise tomorrow unless we behaved ourselves. He started a lawsuit in Dover, PA to keep astronomy out of astronomy class. Since then, I've demanded greater rigour of both sides. You know, mutual respect and civilized dialogue and all that. It's what we Canadians do.

November 09, 2006 3:40 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

If you'da been on the other side of the US, you'da ripped somebody's heart out.

November 09, 2006 3:51 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

One obstacle to the modern mind "accessing" religious truth or experience is we expect, insist and demand that it all operate at the individual level. Both many religious types (esp. Protestant Christians) and the faithless argue on that level. The notion that God may have a more collective or indirect modus operandi is hard to even understand, let alone accept.

I think you have it backwards. It is the atheist who doesn't see his own reflection in the divine. It is the atheist who doesn't "take it peraonally", it being the universe and all the random things that it foists upon him. Religion is all about taking it personally. That is the whole impetus of agency detection, the idea that fortune, good or ill, is the result of a benevolent/angry presence watching and reacting to your every thought and act. Take the personal out of religion and you have John Derbyshire. There's no motivating force behind an impersonal religion. It's an oxymoron.

Now I and many other athiests/agnostics/dunnoists/mysterians are very capable of looking beyond ourselves to collective needs and priorities. We just don't see the need to traverse through metaphysical realms to get there.

What intrigues me more than anything about you guys (after years of argument with you)is your steadfast belief that secular rationalism somehow protects you from political or social excess, keeps you on the side of human kindness and civic virtue, and forms a more reliable foundation upon which to guide you in navigating the stormy seas of human affairs.

Call me arrogant, but it is my firm belief that a secular rationalist can avoid political and social excess and stay in touch with human kindness and civic virtue as well as a religious person can. I've obviously done a terrible job of communication if the last three years of my debates with you have given you the idea that I claim more than parity for the secular community in relation to the religious.

The point about foundations is an interesting one. You make a foundation using the materials that are indigenous to your environment. If your worldview is religious, that is what you use. If you can't maintain a religious faith, then that is not an option. Think of losing faith as like a homebuilder who is used to building brick structures on the sturdy bedrock of his home country, then being stranded on a sandy island with nought but palm fronds, vines and sandy soil. He can no longer build on bedrock, but he needs shelter so he teaches himself to make do with what he has. Once he's got a few thatch huts of variable quality under his belt, he's regained his craft and can now build himself an abode fit for an island king, as suitable for his new clime as the brick house was for his old.

We can argue about which foundation is bedrock and which is sand. Frankly, to me religious faith is the much shakier foundation, because I once had it but it couldn't stand up to scrutiny. It couldn't withstand the tremors of doubt, and what once seemed solid turned to quicksand in a flash. There's no bitterness or disappointment in that observation, it's just how it is.

November 09, 2006 5:40 PM  
Blogger Brit said...

What intrigues me more than anything about you guys (after years of argument with you)

The other thing you must have noticed is that all 'us guys' have different approaches to the whole thing. Talking of which, where the hell is Herdegen?

November 10, 2006 1:07 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

I don't think I have it backwards, Duck. I was talking about both sides here in the sense that it has become harder and harder to debate morality or religion or non-religion or just about anything else of human interest other than an hyper-individually focussed way. For example, anyone who suggested that maybe Derbyshire lost his faith because his wife didn't go to church or the British Christian community had offended Someone would be looked upon as either embarassing or dangerous. "The sins of the father...etc." offends us mightily today, even though the Old Testament is full of such collective notions. I confess that my teeth grind whenever I hear a sweet young thing talk about how "Jesus taught me how to love myself.", even though she may just be talking about serenity. On the other side, look at the number of people who get very angry at the god they say they don't believe in over tsunamis. "I could never believe in a god that lets children die of cancer" has to be one of the most non-sensical statements to ever come out of man's mouth. We all demand individually tailored belief and justice and we get mighty cranky if anyone says we aren't guaranteed it. You have to be either a very serious, old-fashioned religious person or a very philosophically stoic rationalist to see how that is a feature of our time and place and how far we push the envelope on that one. And surely Dawkins' silly and widely-applauded politically correct commandments belie your assertion about how clear-headed atheists are on this score.

but it is my firm belief that a secular rationalist can avoid political and social excess and stay in touch with human kindness and civic virtue as well as a religious person can.

Yes, he can and often does. Relating belief to moral behaviour is a bit of a mug's game, mainly because the bare adjectives "religious" or "secular" don't say much. I've seen nothing in life that would lead me to hold religious people are any nicer or kinder than the non-religious--I tend to see both sides lacking badly on that score. But surely at some point it becomes silly to deny any influence whatsoever. "Just because you are Amish (or an orthodox Jew) doesn't mean you are any less likely to leave your family for the foxy young neighbour" strikes me as a bit rich, no? If you had the choice, would you want your daughter lost on a dark street to meet up with a group of strange men coming from Bible study class or the football game? However, the fallacy on the religious side is to see bare belief as a kind of protection from immorality. It can help when it is conscious and serious, obviously, but the way you live as a consequence of the belief is perhaps more important. Nobody ever said free will was the whole story. Faith may help keep a young teenage girl from destructive sexual behaviour, but segregated classes, community nosiness, chaperones and close parental surveillance help too. After all, she is a kid trying to sublimate some very powerful instincts. Did you know Billy Graham resolved many years ago never to be alone with a woman? Hillary Clinton had to bring a friend with her to meet him. Teddy-baby should have done something similar, although in his case an ankle bracelet would have been better.

Anyway, a little humility all around is in order in this area, including with respect to your assertion that it makes no difference and both sides are equally "moral". That reminds me a bit of when I was in Sweden with the Foreign Ministry and met people who insisted there was no qualitative difference between life in the USA and the USSR. At first I was appalled, but I kept hearing it and came to see it was a rote and quite mindless statement of Swedish political orthodoxy and nothing more. I actually began at one point to yearn for someone to tell me the USSR was better. Never found him.

Brit:

where the hell is Herdegen?

Maybe they have sequestered him in a secret government research lab so he can work on the technology that will protect us from getting hurt in the final battle between Good and Evil.

November 10, 2006 3:09 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

"I could never believe in a god that lets children die of cancer" has to be one of the most non-sensical statements to ever come out of man's mouth.

That statement would be nonsensical, but who actually says it? The starting point of the argument is Christianity, not the proposition that God is capricious and wicked.

Most people troubled by the problem of suffering say: "You tell me we have a merciful, loving God. I don't believe in that God."

With the postscript: "And if he is an unmerciful, non-loving God, why should I worship him?"

November 10, 2006 3:27 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

On the other side, look at the number of people who get very angry at the god they say they don't believe in over tsunamis.

On the flip of the other side, shall we count the number of religionists who insisted the tsunami (or 9/11, or AIDS, ad nauseum) was the consequence of an angry God punishing His wayward flock?

That would be my submission for the silliest nonsense ever that didn't issue from Paris Hilton.

I could never believe in a god that lets children die of cancer

Slightly OT, but within the realm of nonsense on stilts, this highlights the drooling, slack-jawed stupidity of ID/Creationists.


If you had the choice, would you want your daughter lost on a dark street to meet up with a group of strange men coming from Bible study class or the football game?

You act as if those two sets are disjoint.

Regardless, I'm pretty darn certain I don't want her coming upon a group of men emerging from a Q'uran study group.

The big fallacy here, and it lies soely on the religionist side, is the presumption of objective morality, and the unique possession of it. Neuhaus, Prager, Robertson, the Texas GOP and others too notorious to name are all wholly guilty. They could all do with some dunnoist humility.


Whether Haggard, or the religionists in the Radio 4 interviews, one scarcely has to move an inch before the hand waving starts. Between the all purpose appeals to "context", or God's ineffable, inscrutable mystery, they all start as dunnoists, yet somehow end up with particularly revealed universalist monotheism.

Mullah al Whatsit was particularly big on the "context" escape clause, yet strikingly silent on justification, or the certainty that context lies in the eye of the beholder.

November 10, 2006 9:46 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Bad week, Skipper?

Don't relax yet. The baroque monarchical crowd is on the march again.

November 10, 2006 10:07 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

'If you had the choice, would you want your daughter lost on a dark street to meet up with a group of strange men coming from Bible study class or the football game?'

You have asked this question before and my answer was, no idea, not enough information.

However, it now arises that that exact situation has occurred. Result of religious study group encounter with 3 young girls walking alone: girls beheaded.

It wasn't a Bible study group, but it was a sacred text study group.

I have said before and stick to it: the sum total of reasons to behave badly is increased by having religion, because it invents reasons to be beastly that would never, ever occur to the irreligious.

The irreligious might, under certain circumstances, cut off a girl's head, but not merely to provide an offering to their deity.

November 10, 2006 11:28 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

However, it now arises that that exact situation has occurred. Result of religious study group encounter with 3 young girls walking alone: girls beheaded.

I should have seen that coming. Am I ever going to learn? No, really?

Harry, do you edit the special secularist edition of the National Enquirer?

November 10, 2006 6:30 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I'll say you should have.

November 10, 2006 10:26 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

If you had the choice, would you want your daughter lost on a dark street to meet up with a group of strange men coming from Bible study class or the football game?


This is Prager's favorite comeback to people who criticize religion. As Skipper pointed out, it is a false dichotomy. The vast majority of football fans are religious. Religious people (adults) who attend Bible study of their own volition are a tiny minority of the religious. Most religious people wouldn't be bothered, their religious education stopped with Suncay school or Cathechism class.

That they are coming from Bible studyjust indicates that they are most likely law abiding adults who are not currently intoxicated and whose purpose for being on the street at that time is not to be prowling for trouble. But you'd know the same thing about a group of men who just came from a Darwin study group. Would you seriously prever the footballers to the Darwin group for your daughter?

November 11, 2006 6:46 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

A Darwinian study group? And I'm the one guilty of false dichotomies? Gee, Duck, I was going to make a snide comment about the dearth of posts around here of late, but now I realize you were just taking time out to celebrate those Darwinian High Holidays.

Slightly off topic, here is a pretty good illustration of how that glorious secular spirit of objective scientific inquiry can lead to rank irrational prejudice and worse. "You don't fool us, Mohammed. You may say you renounce violent jihad, but what do you know? That meme virus is still there somewhere just waiting to infect others, so we'll have to kill you. Nothing personal."

November 11, 2006 7:07 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Ah, you dodged the question, as usual. OK, how about the Ayn Rand book club. Pick whatever gathering of young earnest secular nerds you think is more probable for the example, and then answer the question.

I'm not sure why you attribute the article to irrational prejudice. The meme idea is just a metaphor to think about how certain ideas flourish. Don't you think it is worthwhile to study how violent apocalyptic ideas are transmitted and how they grow? If not for your own intellectual curiosity, at least for your own safety?

November 11, 2006 7:18 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

PS, the dearth of posts is related to the dearth of intellectually stimulating content on the web as of late, or maybe just to an increase in distractablilty on the part of yours truly. The election cycle certainly has produced a temporary vacuum of stimulating thought, similar to the way an explosion depletes the supply of oxygen in its vicinity.

Last week I took a home beer brewing lesson from a co-worker's husband. We will bottle the batch next weekend. Sometimes you have to take a break from the world of pixels and "smell the hops".

November 11, 2006 7:27 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Ah, that would also explain the glaring logical gaps in many of your recent arguments. Skol.

Now Duck, as much as you Duckians like to tell yourselves that religion is a comforting, cuddly fairy story timid folks use as a crutch to avoid bravely staring into the existential abyss, the truth is that religion is about submission to authority. That's why it bugs you guys--it challenges your absolute confidence in your unaided righteousness. Religion tells us things we can't do and while there are endless debates within religion about what those things are, I hope we can agree assaulting strange women is one widely-held one. Guys in a religious study group would presumably be confronting this in some way and using the group to acquire the individual and collective discipline and strength demanded of them by the tenets of their faith. Darwinist groups or Ayn Rand groups or whatever would be studying fossils, planning campaigins against theocrats or celebrating boundless individual freedom and authority. Neutral, as far as your daughter is concerned, except for the geek factor.

However, if you hadn't been sampling your latest batch of home brew, you might have been clear-headed enough to argue that you would have been equally comfortable about your daughter's safety if she had met a group of guys returning from a support group for atheists who believe in classical ancient stoicism and are resolved to live by its dictates. That such groups don't exist can be ignored for our purposes, because this is the Daily Duck. I would have had to agree with you on that one.

Geez, do I have to do all the work around here?

November 11, 2006 8:10 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

The meme idea is just a metaphor to think about how certain ideas flourish.

No, it is not. It is a fiction Dawkins invented to cover the rather glaring holes in his theory about genes. Interesting, provocative, stimulating, to be sure, but as memes don't exist, they are really not a very good foundation for our thinking on national security or the views of other humans.

Got any advice for the Christians on what they should do about that secular meme that has infected you, Duck?

November 11, 2006 9:09 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

'I hope we can agree assaulting strange women is one widely-held one.'

No, not agreed. Do you suppose I am making up the murder of the girls?

No irreligious body of opinion I know of requires its members to cut off the heads of young girls. Cannot say the same about religious groups.

November 11, 2006 9:30 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Don't exist? Do you ever fact-check any of your assumptions?

http://www.esc.edu/esconline/across_esc/alretire.nsf/wholeshortlinks2/Science?opendocument
http://bookclub.meetup.com/435/?gj=sj5
http://www.atheistcoalition.org/bookclub.html

Gee, do I have to do your work for you?

So Bible study groups are all about young men challenging each other to resist their bodily urges? That sounds more like a support group for paroled sex offenders. If that were true I'd be very worried about my daughter being anywhere near the meeting place. But with the recent revelations about Pastor Haggard, maybe that's what really goes on.

I've heard that Billy Graham would never allow himself to be alone with women. When he was in Paris alone once, and after strolling the streets full of fetching young women he rushed backed to the hotel and locked himself in. He wouldn't even meet with Hillary Clinton unless Bill was there. Haggard is now undergoing a process of "restoration" which can take 3 to 5 years, and from what I can gather the intent is to remove any shresd of dignity left to him in order to root out all the dark sinful places in his soul.

Such obsessive focus on sexual guilt is itself part of the problem. Peter, have you ever heard the term "self fulfilling prophecy?" When you constantly remind yourself of your sinful nature and obsess over every sexual thought that enters your mind, you're actually weakening your defenses, not strengthening them.

Sure, the atheist sci-fi book club members aren't steeling themselves with stoic resolve to combat their wanton lusts. Their sublimating their lusts with other activities and enthusiasms. Busy minds aren't horny minds.

So I'm not impressed that the young Christian Promise Keeper's chapter members are flagellating themselves in cold showers as they read the Gospel to each other. I really wouldn't be crazy with my daughter hanging around the exit when they walk out the door.

November 11, 2006 9:37 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

You will have your stereotypes, won't you?

You do realize, I presume, that if the picture you have painted is an accurate one, the only logical conclusion is that atheism reduces libido dramatically. And that all that bottled-up hyper-sexuality is dangerous to the social order(twitch, twitch) so the ladies should be accommodating us for their own health and safety.

Your portrait of Graham would keep them all chortling in the faculty clubs, but that's not the way I heard it. Early in his career he realized he would be travelling a great deal and meeting lots of strangers in intense, intimate circumstances. Sure he was concerned about his own fallibility, but the main reason for the resolution was to give his wife peace of mind while she was back home saddled with caring for the little ones. What a sick puppy, eh?

I remember an episode of Dr. Phil where a young mother of three was upset because her husband travelled a lot and like to go to bars in the evenings. He was forever calling her on his cell to tell her about the cool new people he had met. If he said "It's not like I'm having an affair or anything" once he must have said it a dozen times, which would have alerted any half-competent lawyer, but not the wise Dr. Phil. He told the wife to get over it and "give herself permission to let go." Good advice, Duck?

November 11, 2006 10:04 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

I don't need to invent stereotypes, I just read the news:

Evangelicals are addicted to porn

As far as atheism reducing libido, that's not the point. All young men have excess libido, sexual desire that they can't act on all the time and stay out of jail. So you can either devote yourself to porn and Onanism, which isn't very healthy but better than molesting women, or you find something else to occupy your time. Obsessing about your lustfulness isn't a healthy way to deal with it. Distracting yourself from it is.

As far as the Dr Phil couple, I'd say that the guy isn't helping matters by telling his wife what a great time he's having. But neither do I think that he's obliged to lock himself in his room every night. Having dinner and drinks with coworkers doesn't seem to be something that a wife should get paranoid about.

If that was Graham's reason for staying in the hotel room, then good for him. But not meeting with Hillary alone is ridiculous. To me it's a sign of a subculture that obsesses about lust and sexual guilt a bit too much.

November 11, 2006 1:53 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

... religion is a comforting, cuddly fairy story timid folks use as a crutch to avoid bravely staring into the existential abyss

Once upon a couple years ago, I happened to channel surf over to one of the TV Preachers with a monumental example of Televangelist Hair, talking about his Gospel work at a hospital.

He told the story of a Godly woman facing the end stages of ovarian cancer calmly and spiritually, looking forward to being in God's embrace.

Then he contrasted it with a man, an atheist, in an adjacent room, in similar dire straits, only abjectly terrified at his ultimate demise. Fortunately, our good Pastor Lotsahare was able to work a deathbed conversion so that this man, too, could welcome God's embrace.

So, you want to run that assertion by me one more time?

There may be religions out there that do not assuage that existential abyss, but they are few, and far from widespread.

Why do you suppose that might be?


... the truth is that religion is about submission to authority. That's why it bugs you guys--it challenges your absolute confidence in your unaided righteousness.

At the risk of speaking for other Dunnoists here, I'll say that you have this completely wrong.

What bugs me about religion is not submission to authority, but rather the plethora of such claims, each mutually exclusive, each claiming absolute confidence in the righteousness of their claims, and the lack of righteousness of those who fail to believe.

This has nothing whatsoever to do with any personal notion of righteousness (and if you think you can throw the word "unaided" in there, I suggest you review The Story of the Moral.)

When Bush 41 claims atheists cannot be good citizens, Neuhaus & Prager assert unbelievers cannot be moral, the Texas GOP barks up a similar tree, or a certain well known blogger suggests Duck be deported for his lack of belief, what do you suggest a Dunnoist's reaction should be?

Particularly when, once pushed ever so slightly, clerics of whatever stripe immediately retreat to Divine inscrutability and "context." This should make one thing very clear, the submission to authority of which you speak is nothing other than human, with its mix of nobility and savagery under girded by a concocted Divine Imprimatur.

Religion doesn't tell you there is anything you can't do; just to whom you are not allowed to do it: all things prohibited with respect to believers are completely sanctioned against non-believers.

Absent some cleric nattering on about (nearly always) his notions of context.


Religion tells us things we can't do and while there are endless debates within religion about what those things are, I hope we can agree assaulting strange women is one widely-held one.

Hypotheticals are useful devices for stimulating thought and breaking intellectual logjams. However, it is always possible for a hypothetical to be broken upon the rocks of reality.

Clearly, you would not want to be a lone, unveiled woman, walking past a Q'uranic study group in, say, Australia, where you are nothing more than meat left on the sidewalk for a cat.

Nor would you want to be Kitty Genovese, loudly murdered in a New York apartment stairwell, whose dwellers, many of them no doubt Christian, couldn't be bothered to actually do anything about it.

And it seems that evangelists are just as good at beating their wives as anyone else.


Religion clearly provides great comfort to most believers when considering that existential abyss. That they derive such comfort is all to the good. As well, religion, in providing a sort of support group and conduit for consensus morality, no doubt helps people resist their worst urges.

Sometimes.

At others, it violently enforces baseless dogma and ostracizes, when it isn't killing, those with the temerity to disagree.

You will have to forgive me if I find that last bit somewhat offputting.

November 11, 2006 2:23 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

That's very Arnoldian of you, Duck. Never worked for me.

It's the same argument as for midnight basketball leagues, to get young hoodlums off the street.

About 40 years ago, a colleague wanted to do a newspaper story about mugging. Problem: where do you find muggers on purpose?

Answer: local youth center. The center was directed by an acquintance of my reporter friend. He walked in and asked him, 'Got any robbers here?'

The youth director waved his arm expansively: 'Take your pick.'

As for Dr Graham, I dunno about him, but I do know the Rev. Dr. Schuller (the Crystal Cathedral guy) made a pass at a young lady reporter on my paper.

November 11, 2006 4:07 PM  

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