The Raving Theist

Dedicated to Jesus Christ, Now and Forever

2002 July

The God of the Scientists

July 31, 2002 | 1 Comment

Because the majority of modern scientific, analytic minds are of an atheistic bent the scientist-theologian is a relative rarity. Many of those odd birds are today creation scientists, but the proposition that the Earth is but 6,000 years old is so facially risible that they receive little respect from either the scientific or religious mainstream. However, there is a more respectable sub-class of scientific believer, a believer with an unassailable scientific pedigree in physics or biology who is willing to shamelessly pimp that knowledge in the service of God. In recent years such efforts have been legitimatized by the $1 million Templeton Prize, a sort of Nobel Prize in Astrology, and this year’s winner was Sir John Polkinghorne of the University of Cambridge, a professor of particle physics and Anglican priest. Like most apologists of his ilk, Polkinghorne plugs the most recent findings of science into the old, discredited argument from design before leaping off into an analysis of the historicity of some divine (and in Polkinghorne’s case, Christian) revelation.

The Raving Atheist was greatly heartened, then, to see Sir Polkinghorne’s pretensions so thoroughly deflated in the article “An Unbeautiful Mind” in the current issue of The New Republic by a fellow Cambridge professor, atheist Simon Blackburn of the philosophy department (and author of Think and Being Good). Unfortunately, the text of the article,” — a review of Polkinghorne’s books, Faith, Science and Understanding and The God of Hope and the End of the World — has not been made available online. Hence, I will leave you with a couple of my favorite quotes (with explanatory introductions) and encourage you to go out and pay full newsstand price. [or go here. Ed.]

Blackburn, on Polkinghorne’s embrace of the design argument:

Polkinghorne’s favorite fact is the minute adjustment of the various cosmological constants and magnitudes without which large atoms and molecules could not exist. Why do they have these fortunate properties? We do no know; and in the absence of fairly wild cosmological speculation, there is no evolutionary story to help us. Most scientists would surely leave it there . . . But Polkinghorne jumps in. The problem signals the need for a “deeper from of intelligibility, going beyond the scientific.” In other words, it must be due to the divine architect, or providence, lovingly going to all that trouble to make a universe especially for us.

Hume and Kant told us that such thinking is natural, but not scientific. It is extravagant, and it is not falsifiable, since it generates no new predictions. It merely represents a primitive preference for explaining the unknown in terms of agency rather than in terms of nature — a tendency that science had to suppress and to overcome before it could develop.

Blackburn, addressing Polkinghorne’s argument that the resurrection “is much more likely to be the kernel of an historical reminiscence” than a “made-up tale” due to the differences in various biblical accounts of it:

[O]ne wonders if Polkinghorne the scientist would take the hesitation and the uncertainty and the lack of agreement that attended certain laboratory observations to be confirmations of their accuracy. It is true that there are occasions when agreement is suspiciously perfect, and many frauds have been detected because of it; but this does not turn a confusion of witnesses into a reliable indicator of anything.

Blackburn’s sad conclusion:

I did end Polkinghorne’s books, with their supreme contempt for philosophical reasoning and historical thinking, in despair about humanity’s desperate self-deceptions and vanities and illusions. Everything will be all right in the end, we are washed in the blood of the lamb, we are blessed, and above all God is on our side. Who could dissent? Fantasy beats reason every time. People believe what they want to believe

16 Nevada Children Blessed with Miracle Cancer

July 30, 2002 | 3 Comments

Fallon, Nevada, July 30, 2002
Special to The Raving Atheist

Defying the odds and baffling medical science, sixteen children in Fallon, Nevada have contracted the rare acute lymphocytic leukemia. Because the disease normally strikes at a rate of only three per 100,000, the expected incidence of the cancer in the town, with a population of 26,000, would be only one case in five years.

“It’s a miracle,” said the mother of Adam Jones, 10, who died last year. “The doctors said he should never have been sick, but not only was he sick, but he was terminally sick.” Mrs. Jones added that she experienced a second miracle shortly before Adam succumbed to the deadly cancer. “After the doctors told me he wouldn’t live through the night, God gave him the strength to live for three days,” she said. “Of course, God apparently gave the cancer even more strength.”

Some local health officials are eyeing a nearby jet fuel pipeline and arsenic-tainted drinking water as possible causes of the cancer outbreak. But Mrs. Jone’s faith is not shaken. “Scientists are always searching for naturalistic explanations for miracles like this,” she said. “But I will not deny glory to God.” Mrs. Jones acknowledged, however, that God might have worked through the fuel pipeline or the arsenic to bring about her son’s miracle, much as he sometimes works through doctors to cure diseases.

More Miracles

July 30, 2002 | Comments Off

The nine men starved and frozen in a mine this week have nothing on People Magazine’s “living miracles”. The “lucky” seven featured in this week’s cover story were blessed, respectively, with 1) being trapped upside-down in a flaming SUV, 2) falling 14,500 feet with a malfunctioning parachute 3) losing two legs in an auto wreck, 4) plunging 80 feet off a bridge, 5) being afflicted with a rare kidney disorder, 6) suffering heart-stoppage after a 12,000 volt shock, and 7) having a skull blown apart by a line drive.

Apart from the privilege of being part of a miracle, each survivor learned a special lesson. For example, Joan Murray, whose parachute-less dive has left her limping to work with a metal rod in her right leg and 5-inch spikes in her pelvis, learned to take time for the important things in life, such as 1) continued skydiving 2) saying “I love you” and 3) divorcing her husband the very next year. And Paul Wilk, a lapsed Catholic who suffered five broken ribs and a collapsed lung when he drunkenly stumbled off the bridge, vowed to start going to church, which he says “hasn’t happened”. God promised that the Pennsylvania miners would also see the power of their miracle reshape their lives, either through alcoholism or protracted litigation amongst themselves and TV producers over the rights to their inspiring story.

Miner Miracle

July 29, 2002 | Comments Off

The “God Gave Us A Miracle” signs are already up in Somerset, Pennsylvania celebrating the rescue of the nine men from the Quecreek mine. Of course, they’d be there if miraculously “only” one man died, or “only” two, or even if all nine had died and someone had somehow miraculously managed to scratch out a crucifix on the wall of the mine in his last desperate, pathetic moments. For an amusing (but unfortunately serious) account of God’s miraculous efforts to limit the damages on 9/11, read Rick Deem’s nutty analysis.

God Squad Review II

July 29, 2002 | Comments Off

This week’s God Squad advice column again offered practical advice devoid of any specific theological analysis or insight. The first letter is from a man complaining of his rich brother’s scheme to buy the family’s summer home from his parents at a bargain-basement price and use it to entertain his corporate friends. The Squad’s advice

StarvationPreferredPlusPlan (TM)

July 28, 2002 | Comments Off

As anyone who watches the Lifetime Network knows, it’s all about choices. And the freedom to make them. It doesn’t so much matter what choice you make—what’s crucial is that YOU make the choice, and that it be one that fits in with your busy lifestyle. Making the choice that’s right for you is what’s important. For example, take your cell phone service. Some people are told where to call and when to call, but the folks at Sprint offer “AnyTime Minutes”(TM) to give you the choice to call anywhere at anytime.

Likewise, the Anti-Defamation League understands that the freedom to choose your torture-death in a Nazi concentration camp is key. After all, “[t]he Holocaust for Jews was about the absence of choice“. It’s not so much the trivial detail that they were tortured and slaughtered, but that they were not offered a choice in the matter.

That is why, in part, the ADL objects to the canonization of Catholic Priest Maximilian Kolbe, who voluntarily chose to be starved to death in the place of a fellow Auschwitz prisoner. Rewarding Kolbe with sainthood — after he already cashed in his “Infrequent Eater” miles — would be as unfair as awarding a SprintSense AnyTime customer the additional benefits of the Global Savings Plan. Kolbe HAD a choice between living a long life and dying horribly, and chose the latter. Giving him an extra, posthumous existence is sort of like giving the families of deceased WTC firefighters extra money simply because their relatives made the lifestyle choice to rush in to save others.

Brave Waitress Spends $5,000 on Unpopular ‘Pledge’ Billboard

July 27, 2002 | 1 Comment

Stewartsville, Pennsylvania, July 27, 2002
Special to The Raving Atheist

Risking the wrath of her fellow citizens for the good of her country, a highly-intelligent and not at all self-promoting Pennslyvania woman has spent nearly $5,000 on billboard messages that support the keeping of the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Marguerite Hansen, of Stewartsville, Pennsylvania, was spurred to action by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal’s recent ruling that the Pledge constitutes an unconstitutional “establishment of religion” by virtue of its reference to God. “To me,” said Hansen, “the words ‘under God’ are a completely meaningless form of ceremonial deism having absolutely no religious or spiritual connotations whatsoever.” In fact, she added, “until I read about the decision I had barely even noticed the inclusion of those completely secular and insignificant words.” Noting that the removal of the non-theological reference from the Pledge would make no difference to her whatsoever one way or the other, Hansen said that she was outraged that the California court would waste its time issuing such a trivial, unnecessary and redundant ruling.

Hansen, an eccentric genius who snared a position in the highly-competitive field of waitressing at the tender age of 38, stated that it is well worth starving her two children by exhausting three month’s wages from her sub-minimum wage job. “My kids must learn that the ends of judicial economy will not be served if the courts feel that they are free to preserve intact the meaning of a patriotic exercise by removing words that effected no change at all when they were added fifty years ago,” she stated. “The next thing you know, some crazy court will insist that our children recite that there is “freedom” and justice for all instead of “liberty” and justice, or that our nation is “nondivisible” instead of “indivisible.”

Hansen recognizes that her unpopular stand will earn her the wrath of the nation’s powerful atheist lobby, which views the word “God” as an affront to its non-belief. “I have received countless death threats from infidels who insist that the word does in fact refer to the all-powerful, all-knowing deity in which I passionately believe,” she related. “However, I will not be intimidated into sacrificing my children’s right to mouth a word which, in the public schoolhouse setting, is a completely empty sound which does not even remotely refer to the “God” of the exact same name who will cast my enemies into a lake of fire on Judgment Day.”

Ms. Hansen will consider her efforts a victory if even one motorist is moved by her message. “I wanted to get everyone to think about what is going on. About what we have now and what we don’t want to lose,” she said. “Of course,” she continued, “the phrase ‘what is going on’ does not refer to the anti-religious conduct of an out-of-control, ivory tower secular humanist judiciary,” and ‘what we don’t want to lose,’ does not refer to our right to force everybody to pray in school.” Rather, she explained, “I want people to think about the profound way in which their lives will be changed if nothing is changed at all, as opposed to how things will also not change if the Pledge is changed in a way that does not change anything.”

The billboards urge drivers-by to call their elected representatives to save the Pledge. But Hansen realizes that galvanizing Congressional support on the issue in the current political climate is like spitting into the wind. She noted that not even Senator Jesse Helms, a devout Christian, voted for the resolution calling for the impeachment, disbarment and beheading of the three-judge panel behind the Pledge decision. “He claims he was sick that day,” Hansen recalls. “Scared sick, perhaps

Pope Makes Spontaneous Utterance That Does Not Make Immediate Sense

July 26, 2002 | 1 Comment

The Vatican, Rome, July 26, 2002
Special to The Raving Atheist

Pope John Paul II made “a spontaneous utterance that did not make immediate sense” yesterday at the World Youth Day, according to today’s New York Times.

Specifically, the Pope shocked his audience by suggesting that the last World Youth day took place in Krakow, Poland. In fact, the last World Youth day in Poland was held in the city of Czestochowa in 1991.

This factual error was the first ever for the Pontiff, who believes that in this twenty billion year old universe God watched dinosaurs stomping about the Earth for hundreds of millions of years before first deciding, two thousand years ago, to engage in some form of non-sex with a virgin Hebrew woman for the express purpose of having a son to kill and thereby erase all human sin. Given the Pope’s iron-clad grasp of reality, observers were shocked by the inaccuracy regarding the location of the last World Youth Day. They pointed out that the Pope had accurately identified Fatima, Portugal as the place where his murdered son’s mother, Mary, had last hovered over a tree to predict to three illiterate shepherd children both world wars and the 1981 assassination attempt on his own life, even though that prophecy occurred way back in 1917.

The Pope resumed making immediate and perfect sense, however, when he cautioned his listeners against enjoying the “fleeting pleasure” of the five senses, an activity commonly know as “being alive.” He also condemned materialism and capitalism. As an example of the evil that may result when capitalists rely on their five senses, the Pope pointed to the destruction of the World Trade Center last September by anti-capitalists who suffered from non-sensory-based delusions regarding an alternative universe where murderers enjoy sex with 70 virgins apiece.

God Broken-Hearted over Abduction, Rape and Murder of Little Girl

July 25, 2002 | 12 Comments

Garden Grove, California, July 25, 2002
Special to The Raving Atheist

The abduction, rape and murder of five-year old Samantha Runnion has saddened God, says the pastor who will preside over her funeral. According to Rev. James Kok of the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California, which is holding services for the young victim, “as many people as possible should come [to the services] so that they feel the hurt and feel the sorrow and become enraged . . . I think it’s important that people get enraged because it is often only rage that moves people to action, to change things . . . I would encourage people to feel their pain and to realize that God is broken-hearted over this too.”

“Yes, I am unhappy,” said God. “And I do hope that the people that Rev. Kok whips up into a blind rage during the funeral services for Samantha appreciate that I am sad.” God added, “I agree that if people “become enraged,” “get enraged” and experience the “rage that moves people to action,” they may well change things, especially if they also realize that I, too, am disappointed about this.”

God stated that he fully understands the public’s uncontrollable fury and outrage over the savage kidnapping-rape-murder. “As I said, I feel glum,” God noted. “Seeing Mr. Avila rip through the walls of Sam’s tiny vagina with his over-sized penis as he battered her face with his sledge-hammer fists was, in a word, disheartening.” Furthermore, God explained, it was not only the brutal, vicious act that disconcerted him. “When I first heard Alejandro tell Sam about his ‘lost puppy,’ I felt a sad, sinking feeling. I knew he didn’t have a dog, and by the way I could see that he was fantasizing in his head about her naked, writhing body being raked against a pebbled forest floor, I suspected I would shortly find myself in a blue mood.”

God said he expects his sorrow over Samantha’s pedophilic-sodomy-slaughter to linger for some time. “After all, the sadness of it has been lingering with me since I first foresaw it infinity years ago at the beginning of time,” he observed. “And although I had been replaying in my mind every instant up until the moment Sam was dragged screaming into the mountain woods, nothing quite prepared me for the woefulness I felt when it was over.”

God compared his experience to what people must feel now every time they see that videotape of missing teenager Elizabeth Smart playing her harp, over and over again every five minutes on CNN, Fox News and CNBC. “You just know how it’s going to turn out, but nothing quite prepares you for that feeling of inevitable, sad weariness when her body is discovered, in Elizabeth’s case by a hungry stray dog dragging a headless torso out of a dumpster in back of a Provo Dunkin’ Donuts.” God added, “I know that when you see that, on August 27th, you will think back to that harp-footage and feel some sort of dismaying sensation, and, I guess, perhaps rage–even though you will not have to watch her trying to play the harp with the bone fragment protruding from her neck stump forever like me.”

God said, however, that he hoped humanity would continue to remember the girls by praying to the crosses he left behind at the two murder scenes. “There are two twigs sort of glued to the back of Sam’s left thigh, and I placed a broken beer bottle under Elizabeth as Mr. Ricci was raping her so that it would carve a crucifix into her back,” he noted. “Behold them, and know that I am always up here watching over you, seeing what happens to some of you, and feeling sad when things go terribly and enragingly wrong.”

No Big Deal

July 24, 2002 | Comments Off

In the May 2002 issue of First Things, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia defended the morality of the death penalty with the observation that “for the believing Christian, death is no big deal.” Many commentators seized on this comment to attack the judge’s political support of capital punishment as callous and shallow, without seriously addressing the theological content of his remarks. The Raving Atheist, while concurring with Scalia’s ultimate view on the death penalty, believes that the judge’s religious views — and in particular, what his discussion of them reveal about his philosophical and logical reasoning ability — are what render him unfit for the bench.

First, Scalia’s quote in its full context:

Indeed, it seems to me that the more Christian a country is the less likely it is to regard the death penalty as immoral. Abolition has taken its firmest hold in post-Christian Europe, and has least support in the church-going United States. I attribute that to the fact that, for the believing Christian, death is no big deal. Intentionally killing an innocent person is a big deal: it is a grave sin, which causes one to lose his soul. But losing this life, in exchange for the next? The Christian attitude is reflected in the words Robert Bolt’s play has Thomas More saying to the headsman: “Friend, be not afraid of your office. You send me to God.” And when Cranmer asks whether he is sure of that, More replies, “He will not refuse on who is so blithe to go to Him.” For the nonbeliever, on the other hand, to deprive a man of his life is to end his existence. What a horrible act!

* * *

Besides being ess likely to regard death as an utterly cataclysmic punishment, the Christian is also more likely to regard punishment in general as deserved.

Before addressing the theological problems of this passage, some sense must be made of its hopeless internal logic. It is important to note that Scalia confuses two completely different kinds of “death” in his analysis. The death that Scalia declares to be “no big deal” is the death of an innocent person, the average Christian. Such a person, like Saint Thomas More in his example, merely transitions from this life to a better life with God.

However, the death with which capital punishment concerns itself is not the death of an innocent person. It is the death of the executed criminal, whom, accordingly to Scalia, “lose[s]” his soul” and presumably (in Scalia’s Catholic theology) goes to Hell or at least “end[s] his existence.” Plainly, that sort of death is a “big deal” and precisely the sort of “utterly cataclysmic punishment” and “horrible act” which would make a Christian more likely, not less, to oppose the death penalty. To assert that Christians don’t regard the execution of a criminal to be a “big deal” because they themselves experience a very different form of death is to confuse apples with oranges.

Similarly illogical is Scalia’s conclusion that “intentionally killing an innocent person is a big deal.” If, as he assures us, the resulting death itself is no big deal, the killer can hardly be blamed for his act. The killer has actually sent his victim to a better life — presumably some sort of celestial Disneyland — and should be rewarded rather than punished.

The larger problem with Scalia’s analysis, nevertheless, is his theology rather than his logic. Contrary to Scalia’s premise, there is no God, no afterlife, and hence death is always a “big deal” because it does in fact end a person’s existence. There is not a shred of evidence that any of the 80 billion or so humans who have died have continued to be conscious or brought back to life. Scalia’s fantasy (an unfortunately widespread one) that there is some invisible realm where the dead live on has no more support than the proposition that we are surrounded, everywhere we go, by vicious, but invisible, tigers. Only in some trivial, skeptical, metaphysical sense there is a “possibility” that the tigers are there, and no one would suggest that we continually shoot at the air all around us to ward off the attacks which might arise in such delusional hypothetical universe. For the same reason, Scalia’s delusion cannot form the basis of our death penalty jurisprudence.

As noted above, the Raving Atheist concurs with Scalia that the death penalty is an appropriate penalty for those who take innocent human lives. Because the death of an innocent is, contrary to Scalia’s assessment, a big deal, the penalty for killing should too be a big deal. And the fact that we reach the same conclusion does not make differences in our reasoning irrelevant. Apart from revealing the depths of Scalia’s illogic and delusion, his position, unlike mine, would excuse the execution of an innocent defendant as “no big deal.”

What’s Kooking?

July 23, 2002 | Comments Off

Because the “free exercise” clause of the First Amendment bestows special privileges upon people who subscribe to delusional, sky-god, baby-talk beliefs, the Raving Atheist is tormented on virtually a daily basis by legal decisions awarding his tax money to one crackpot or another. A particular peeve of his is how he is forced to finance expensive meals for prisoners who demand compliance with God’s cookbook. However, he takes some solace in the fact that the law treats every religious food belief as equally demented, and does not purport to adjudge the truth or accuracy of any one. He knows that if a sane judicial mind were undertake that evaluation it would declare all religions false, impose atheism as the law of the land and feed all prisoners the same bland slop. However, since that is not going to happen, he contents himself with the doctrine of “neutrality” that is currently applied.

Indeed, the Raving Atheist was even amused a few years back when a New York inmate won the right to receive kosher meals, despite the objection of the prison’s Rabbi that the inmate was not Jewish because he hadn’t been born Jewish or completed a formal conversion process. The Second Court of Appeals held, in Jackson v. Mann, that the Rabbi’s opinion was irrelevant and all that mattered was “whether the beliefs professed by [the plaintiff] . . . are sincerely held and whether they are, in his own scheme of things, religious.” The court also emphasized that it didn’t matter whether the inmate’s beliefs were “logical or accurate” or whether he belonged to a particular organized religious denomination. In other words, if you sincerely THINK you’re Jewish, you’re Jewish.

(Actually, the most amusing thing about the decision is that its recitation of facts begins by identifying the plaintiff as “Nathaniel Jackson, an African-American,” even though the court never explains the relevance of his race to its ruling or even mentions it again in the opinion. The court does drop a coy footnote, noting that “[i]t has not escaped our notice that for almost ten years in other prisons, Jackson got kosher meals . . . [w]hy the Shawangunk Facility saw fit to make an issue of Jackson’s status as a Jew, engaging the attention of four federal judges (so far) remains an enigma.” Ah, what could it all mean).

Imagine my distress, then, this month when I read the New York federal District Court’s decision in Ford v McGinnis (New York Law Journal, July 11, 2002, p. 36) denying an inmate a Muslim “Eid ul Fitr” feast. The dispute this time was not over whether the Mr. Ford was a Muslim — that was conceded — but over whether the meal, because it was served more than three days after the close of Ramadan, had any religious significance. Although Ford sincerely believed it did, the court took the side of the prison’s Muslim clerics. The judge found, quite bizarrely, that the Jackson case only protected an inmate’s “belief that he is a member of an established religion” but not “any individualized, subjective practice whether grounded in an authentic religion or not.” By way of example, the court noted that a Catholic inmate could not demand real blood instead of wine for Holy Communion because he would be “wrong” as to what Catholicism demands.

Hmmmm. A court claiming that a religion is “authentic” sounds like Dionne Warwick claiming that her hotline has the “real” psychics. If, under Jackson, a court can’t evaluate the fundamental rules governing the entry requirements to a religion, it is hardly in a position decide the rights and wrong governing the minutiae of its dietary laws. Once you’ve told a Jew who believes in Jesus that he can be a Jew, it’s just a little silly to deprive him of his kosher pork because the house Rabbi disapproves of it. The point is that the courts, as explained in Jackson, are forbidden to evaluate the truth or falsity of any religious rule. And while it is true that no court would permit the religiously-mandated ingestion of human blood, the reason has nothing to do with the “authenticity” of the religion demanding it. The drinking of human blood is simply something that cannot be reasonably, legally, or safely accommodated, whether it is prescribed by an “established” religion or a lone crackpot.

Keep in mind again, though, that in a perfect world run by the Raving Atheist all prisoners would be served tasteless gruel meeting the FDA minimum dietary requirements.. Until that time, he will insist that the current insane rules be applied in an insane, but consistent manner.

Nambla

July 22, 2002 | Comments Off

According to today’s New York Times, the Catholic Church may establish a new religious order comprised of pedophile priests. As Father Canice Connors explains, “[t]here are parallels in history . . .[w]hole communities were founded to take care of lepers . . . [t]hese men are not lepers, but society is regarding them that way.” While the Raving Atheist agrees that society is unjust to view pedophiles in the same light as those immoral lepers, the more pressing question is what to name the new order. Any suggestions?

God Squad Review

July 22, 2002 | Comments Off

Each Monday, the Raving Atheist will examine the published wisdom of the God Squad. The Squad, consisting of Roman Catholic Priest Tom Hartman and Reform Rabbi Marc Gellman, contributes a weekly column to the “Faith” section of Newsday each Saturday. The Squad also appears regularly on “Good Morning America” and has its own syndicated television program. Although one would expect them to espouse mainstream Reform Judeo-Catholicism, they recently clarified that their theology embraces “the unified belief of all the Abrahamic faiths – including Judaism, Christianity and Islam – and, with some theological nuances, also the belief of Hindus and Sikhs and most Buddhists.”

Before turning to this week’s column, it might be helpful to familiarize the reader with the mindset and reasoning ability of this Judeo-Christian-Islamic-Hindi-Sikh-Buddhist tag team. In criticizing last month’s Pledge of Allegiance ruling, the Squad declared that it “is not true” that the Pledge violates the First Amendment. Their reasoning? “[O]ur rights come from God – not from the state” and “[w]ithout God, politics is idolatry.” Furthermore, they noted, atheism is as wrong as slavery and denying women’s suffrage. Now, while those might be good reasons for abolishing the First Amendment — which is, after all, a state-created law which prohibits the government from endorsing theism over atheism — they hardly explain why the Amendment itself is not violated by the Pledge.

The god content of this week’s Squad offering (in advice column format), is comparatively light. However, some unfortunate theological reasoning lurks behind their response to the first letter, from a father who wonders what he could have done to prevent his son from injuring three friends (one critically) in a drunken car crash into a tree. Rather than actually answering the question, which had to do with what preventive measure could have been taken, the Squad observes that “[t]he very best people we know are the ones who’ve . . . recovered from some terrible youthful mistake . . . [k]ids who’ve never been bumped or broken, who live privileged and protected lives, can grow up to be insufferably self-centered, shallow adults.” This closely resembles one of the more execrable religious defenses to the problem of evil, a defense which proclaims that all evil is only “apparent evil,” and that whatever may appear to be bad is merely part of god’s plan to bring about a greater good. While the Squad has the decency not to make the link between the accident and god’s will explicit, it does little to discourage the inference. And the notion that failing to obtain a DWI conviction is evidence of a “protected and privileged” youth is simply ungodly.

I have few quibbles the Squad’s advice to the second letter, from a woman having second thoughts about her deathbed promise to her sister to care for a troublesome cat. Cheerfully noting that “[l]ots of people get caught in deathbed promises they can’t keep,” the Squad assures her that “[t]rying is all that matters” and suggest she find the animal a new home. The Raving Atheist, of course, has no respect for deathbed promises which have not been memorialized in a will, and believes that the welfare of a live cat always trumps the desires of a dead person.

The Syn of Syncretism

July 21, 2002 | 9 Comments

Earlier this month David Benke, a minister with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (“LCMS”) was suspended for participating in an prayer service with Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and non-Lutheran Christians at Yankee Stadium for victims of the 9/11 tragedy. The charges against him were “syncretism” and “unionism,” which consist of worshiping with pagans and thereby giving the impression that 1) there might be gods other than the one true Christian god, and/or 2) the Christian god might not be a Lutheran. The Raving Atheist, of course, knows that everybody at the prayer service was merely babbling at the sky and bemoans only the fact that his tax dollars were used to finance such a meaningless affair.

However, I share a certain philosophical sympathy the LCMS insofar as its theological position, although false, at least has the virtue of consistency. The ecumenical, interfaith notion that “we all worship the same god” is demonstrable nonsense, since radically different characteristics and moral beliefs are attributed to god. Accordingly, if one god is the true god, then all others must be false.

This view, ironically, puts me into bed with the most fundamentalist of religionists, including Baptist minister John Blanchard, the author of the excellent (and rabidly raving) “Does God Believe in Atheists?” Commenting on the 1986 Day of Prayer for World Peace, an event similar in spirit the Yankee Stadium get together, Rev. Blanchard made the following astute observations:

Organized by Pope John Paul II, it drew together 130 religious leaders, including the Archbishop of Canterbury . . . leading representatives of Buddhism, Islam, Shinto, Sikhism and Zoroastrianism, the Dalai Lama . . . as well as snake worshippers, fire worshippers, spiritists, animists and a gentleman rejoicing in the name of John Pretty-on-Top, chief medicine man of the Crow Indians of Montana. Even if we assume that everyone attending the event was genuinely concerned for world peace, it is difficult to see how they could unite in praying about it. To whom where they praying? To the supreme, sovereign, yet loving God of the Roman Catholics and Anglicans? To some or all of Hinduism’s millions of deities? To Islam’s austere Allah? To the spirits of inanimate objects revered in Tibetan animism? To fire or snakes? To whatever object of worship commends itself to the Crow Indians? And how does one pray to Hinduism’s ultimate principle or Zoroastrianism’s spirit of light and goodness?

There is no “lowest common denominator” which allows all conceptions of deity to be both inclusive and valid . . . It is one thing to defend the right of everyone to freedom of worship; it is quite another thing to say that everyone’s choice is right. Toleration is not the same as validation. Theoretically, all religions may be wrong; logically, they cannot all be right. The idea that all religions are the same is clearly ridiculous, but it is no more sensible to say that they point in the same direction or lead to the same destination.

A similar point was made by devout Catholic Rod Dreher in National Review Online . Dreher expresses a further concern that religious relativism will lead to moral relativism and soft nihilism, and thus ultimately the adoption of a widespread view that “abortion, gay sex, living together outside of marriage, and viewing pornography are morally acceptable.” Unlike Blanchard, however, Dreher is no philosopher and commits a series of embarrassing errors in argumentation.

First, Dreher doesn’t make the slightest attempt to defend what is apparently most important to him: his “truth claim” that “salvation comes exclusively through Jesus Christ, and that the Church of Rome is a necessary part of the salvific equation.” The document he cites, “Dominus Iesus” doesn’t either, but merely sets down a of arbitrary pronouncements which are to be believed on faith because their proof is said to be a “mystery.”

Nor does Dreher explain either how his particular moral beliefs are derived from his claims about Christ and salvation. His point seems to be that moral relativism would disappear if religious relativism disappeared. But even if every religion adopted his objectivist approach, all you would have is what we already have, thousands of churches with no consensus on abortion, gay sex, the death penalty and other debated issues.

Lastly, Dreher’s attack on a mentality that makes moral judgments “without critical reflection on the implications of particular views and actions” is hypocritical. Indeed, his whole point is that we should ignore those implications and simply do the bidding of what some church says that some mysterious god wants. And even in that regard he isn’t consistent, since he attacks his own Pope for going too far in inviting African witch doctors to a Vatican-sponsored prayer conference.

Basic Assumptions

July 21, 2002 | 150 Comments

Figure the rest out by yourself.

  • Basic Assumptions

    First, there is a God.

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