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Friday, January 10, 2020

US NEWS on the Impact of "Religion"


Why schools should teach history better. 
Teaching high school kids how to think and do research sometimes drives me to despair.  Not because they don't get it, but because they generally do.  And then I turn around and look at how "successful" thinkers in the Media and often even the Academy argue in public, and I have to wonder if I'm wasting my time.  Maybe, after all, sloppy use of key terms, broad generalizations based on anecdotal and impressionistic "evidence," the profligrate employment of logical fallacies, and in short, shoddy reasoning that makes emotional appeals to key segments of your audience, is the way to make a name for yourself and grab your share of the world's approval and financial renumeration.  Maybe I'm setting these kids up for failure by teaching them how to think and argue rationally.   

Such, at least, was my gloomy reflection upon reading Deidre McPhillip's "Religion Needs a Savior: Most people think religion is the root cause of the world's problems, according to an international study," on the US News website.  (And a discussion linked to that article at a secularist website that promotes the "future of reasoning.")
I tell my students that one of the first things they need to do to make a sensible argument, is to define key terms.   
So what is "religion," used twice in the headine alone, which allegedly causes most the world's problems?  The term is famously tricky.  Sociologist Peter Berger divided definitions of religion into two kinds: substantive, which focus on the content of belief, and functional, which key in on the use society makes religion.  For instance, you can define religion as "Belief in God or supernatural powers," or as "The overarching ideology which a group of people take as fundamental in establishing rules of behavior."  (Or Paul Tillich's simpler "ultimate concern," to give another "functional" example.  The sociologist Emile Durkheim was probably the most famous "functional" theorist.)   
People ignore this distinction all the time, though it is critical.  Functional definitions often include secular ideologies, and therefore challenge the frequent assumption that "religious" people are somehow distinct from those who hold to purportedly unbiased, objective, scientific worldviews.  They level the playing field, reminding us that the same psychological and social forces work on us all, whatever our beliefs.   
But an even more important, and obvious, distinction the title of this piece begs is "Which religion?"  
As everyone knows, including those taking the survey, some Muslims have behaved badly in recent years.  Yes, I know, so have some Christians, especially if you go back to the Inquisition -- why do our minds immediately leap to that connection?  Because both are "religions“ we are told.  So we don't think, "Yes, but atheistic communists murdered one hundred million innocent people a few years back."  
Asking if "religion" has done the world harm is misleading not only because "religion" is defined to filter out murderous secular ideologies, but also because once defined, it includes many very different things.   A fallacy of composition is implicitly committed.  It is unfair to ask respondants about "religion in general" when they probably have particular religions in mind.   

"Are the Lutheran Brethren the root cause of the world's problems?"   
No?  How about Communism?  How about Capitalism?  Technology?  Try asking those questions, and see how people respond.  

Suppose the survey asked, "Is Islam the cause of most of the world's problems?"  How many people would answer "Yes" to that?   
I know, I know.  You can't ask that question in Mecca, because they won't let the kind of people who would ask it go there.  And you can't ask it in Lahore, because you might get stoned.

The title of the article raises two more red flags, which must be examined before the actual content of the article.  

What does "most of the world's problems" mean?  Grab a scratch pad and try listing a few of the more serious ones: 
 (a) Death. 
(b) Cancer. 
(c) War. 
(d) Mosquitoes and the diseases they bring. 
(e)  Ticks and the diseases they bring. 
(f) Traffic jams. 
(g) Bureaucrats.
(h) The threat of nuclear weapons. 
(i) The upcoming robot arising. 
(j) Irritating music in elevators. 
(k) CNN newscasts in airports when you want to watch the Superbowl. 

Maybe your list is a little different.  But still, start with daily life, and the things that actually impact you, and you have to say "Huh?" to this headline.  Clearly, most of the world's problems are not caused by religion collectively or individually, however you define the word.
  
Here in China, where few of the 1.4 billion citizens has a religion in sense (1) (which is the assumed sense), and the public, observable effect of Buddhism and Christianity is negligible (while Islam is suppressed even more heavily), I suspect "dropping my I phone on the sidewalk" would rank higher as a source of heartache.  Never mind "unrequitted love" or "getting fired."  

So why might people answer "yes?"  Because in such contexts, polls are generally intended, and perceived, as opportunity to vent, not to think analytically.  And who are respondents venting at?  Not at themselves, of course.  At people of other religions. 

So the premises that a public poll is a way to address the question of where most our troubles come from, or that people asked this sort of loaded question are likely to answer dispassionately even according to their own experience and beliefs, seem highly unlikely.  A critical thinker should understand that.  If I can teach it to high school students, why can't journalists muster at least that many skills in critical thinking?    

But at the risk of further exasperation, let's get to the actual article:   
"Raised as a conservative, Sunni Muslim girl in Canada, Yasmine Mohammed said she was taught to always be in fight mode.
"'The first thing Islam teaches you is to not question, but follow,' she says. And what she had to follow was a 'Muslim supremacy ideology' that called for violence against anyone who fell out of line and full armies prepared to join the fight when the caliphate was to rise.
"Systematic suppression of critical thinking is what makes Muslims ripe to join groups like the Islamic State group or become suicide bombers without questioning the motives of their directives, she says."

Not to defend Islam, of which I am not fond, but let us not ignore the fact that, as numerous anthropologists affirm, human nature is fundamentally tribal.  Nor am I sure critical thinking needs to be suppressed.  I think it needs to be developed. As mentioned, if it came naturally, I'd have to seek employment elsewhere.   And you will see from this article just how hard it is for some educated people even to fake it.   
"As a radical sect of Buddhist nationalists persecute the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict wages on and a film challenging the Orthodox Church spurs violent protests in Russia, it seems that asserting sovereignty is the only thing the world's religions can agree on today."
Here, for instance.  What is this supposed to mean?  What is the "line of reasoning?"   Does the author seriously wish to extrapolate from four instances in which groups of "religious" people quarrel (though Israel is one of the least "religious" countries in the world) to argue that there is some sort of general agreement among "the world's religions" to . . . what?  "Assert sovereignty" I suppose means "make use of power."  

Since as Aristotle said, "Man is a political creature," and politics means the assertion of power, clearly the use of power is a universal human (not to mention lupine) characteristic.  

How is it criticall reasoning to argue from four vague instances to a trait covering 6 billion people, while implicitly exempting the "non-religious" billion or two people from that generalization?  Never mind the power games that New Atheists play among themselves!  And let us ignore the history of Marxism!
"In a recent Best Countries survey of more than 21,000 people from all regions of the world, the majority of respondents identified religion as the "primary source of most global conflict today."
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"Spiritual beliefs create an inherent "us vs. them" scenario, experts say."
Which experts?  Is this another composition fallacy? 

Sports and politics also create "us" vs. "them" scenarios.  Take Brexit, for instance.  One might say that every assertion of truth, every scientific or historical or psychological claim creates an "us vs them" scenario.  

What's wrong with that, exactly?  Should we all think alike?   
"'When societies shatter, they generally shatter along tribal lines. People are seeing themselves as irretrievably different from their neighbors,' says Sam Harris, a neuroscientist and philosopher who has published books on Islam and the conflict between religion and science."

The movement Harris briefly helped to lead has also shattered along tribal lines.  The website Sam Harris and the Future of Reason is a site largely for tribal warfare between atheists who hold differing political opinions.  That's one reason I find it interesting.  If everyone said the same thing, it would bore the heck out of me.  

Humans are tribal.  Welcome to Anthropology 101.  

"The divisions created by religion are deeper and potentially more harmful than those formed through other aspects of identity such as race, nationality or political affiliations because they confront individuals with differing opinions on the ultimate purpose of life, experts say. And more than 80 percent of those surveyed said that religious beliefs guide a person's behavior."

There are those ”experts" again.  

Which experts, besides Sam Harris?   What do they say?   What evidence do they offer to back up their opinions? 

I'm a credentialed "expert" in "religion."  I don't hear fellow historians, theologians, or students of comparative religion, saying this.  

Indeed, this sounds like something an on-line soap box psychologist dabbling in fields he or she knows little about might say.  But this claim that religion is a more dangerous division than "race, nationality, or politics" can be answered theoretically.  (Notice the fudge word "potentially," which is a concession that the author cannot back the point up with good evidence.)  If you have evidence that "religious" people (by whatever clear definition you wish to hazard) are in fact more violent or cruel or mean than people who lack any beliefs or purpose in life, or that "religion" causes more warfare than politics or other forms of self-identity and group power accumulation (hah!) please show us your hand! 

"Religion often becomes the master variable," Harris says. "It provides a unique reward structure. If you believe that the thoughts you harbor in this life and the doctrines you adhere to spell the difference between an eternity spent in fire or one spent on the right hand of God, that raises the stakes beyond any other reward structure on earth."

Still just one "expert," Sam Harris.  Odd, if “experts" in general are making this point, that she keeps on citing the same young man.  

And, sigh, still no mention of evidence.  Nevertheless, we press on: 

"Tribal tendencies are natural for humans who need groups and community to survive.  But the driving forces behind especially alienating, fundamentalist beliefs are a combination of nature and nurture, experts say.
“'Any beliefs that concern the sacred are integral to people’s identities,' says Andrew Tix, a psychology professor at Normandale Community College whose nationally recognized research focuses on religion and spirituality. 'People differ in how much they’re threatened when the sacred is brought into question.'” 

Finally, another expert is mentioned.  This one is a young instructor, not professor, at a community college.  He does have a PhD in psychology, however.  These two comments hardly seem to require a PhD in psychology to affirm.  
"He points to psychology’s Big Five theory in which openness to experience is one of five key personality traits that is influenced by genetics and shaped by experiences.
"Some people have found ways to 'hold their beliefs more lightly and with a sense of mystery,' he says.  They would score high on ‘openness,’ while fundamentalists who hold their beliefs with heavy conviction would more likely score low."

So -- you may want to sit down for this.  People who are convinced about what they believe, really believe it.  Ponder the implications: if you firmly believe that the Earth goes around the Sun, you will score low in measurements of how open you are to changing your mind.  Profound, no?  

For this, we need experts.  
"Religious communities teach different ways of responding to criticism of their identity, Tix says, but it comes down to the notion of threatened egotism.
"The stronger a person’s convictions in their identity – of which religion is often a key part – the more likely they are to be violent when their identity is threatened."

You may find it hard to keep up with all the expert profundity.  But what this seems to mean is, if you don't care much about your religion, you probably won't get mad if someone trashes it.  Are we going too fast? 

Also, if you don't care much about your country, you probably won't care if someone invades it.  If no one cared about anything -- no country to die for, and no religion, too -- why just imagine! 

So I am not sure if our experts got all this expertise from their PhD studies, or from an old Beatles record.  But on we forge:     
"The Muslim identity surrounding Mohammed in Canada's British Columbia was strong. She was beaten for not memorizing the Koran and married to a member of al-Qaida as a teenaget/  

But after taking a religion course at college, Mohammed said the unease she had always felt with what she was told to believe finally started to take shape.
In voicing her newfound convictions to her family, she immediately became part of “them” instead of “us.” The fight turned against her. She says her family disowned her and threatened to have her killed. She fled to different parts of Canada, changed her and her child’s names and says she feels lucky the death threat has so far only been a threat.

May God give this woman a family and freedom!  Also believers who are persecuted in China, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Iran, Myanmar, Vietnam, North Korea, and other countries founded on intolerant theistic and anti-theistic ideologies. 

"It is only in comparison with modern Islam that modern Christianity and other religions appear more benign, says Sam Harris, who is very publicly atheist."

Or in comparison to the greatest atheistic movement in human history, Marxism-Leninism.  
“'It’s more than inconvenient that these old [religious] books support things like slavery and the killing of women who are not virgins on their wedding night,' he says. 'None of these books is the best we have on anything we care about.  All could be improved with editing, and that should banish any notion that they are the product of omniscience.'”

I have seen attempts to "improve" the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount with editing.  (Cough, cough.)  

But we seem to be straying a little from the topic -- and have yet to see any evidence to support the notion that "religion" (whatever it is) is to blame for most of the world's ills.  (Still less the Christian religion in particular.)  
"But religion is not going away."

And if it did, we wouldn't know, since you haven't defined it yet.  
"Estimates from Pew Research Center predict that the worldwide population of religiously unaffiliated people will shrink from about 16 percent in 2010 to 13 percent in 2050. In the same time frame, the share of Muslims is predicted to grow from 23 percent to 30 percent of the world’s population."

Pew Research is an expert in the present, not the future.  We have no idea whether there will be any human beings on Planet Earth thirty years from now, let alone what they will believe.  A LITTLE intellectual humility on this point would be reasonable. 

Few predicted the sudden growth of Christianity in China.   In recent years, a phenomenon never seen before has occurred in the Muslim world, too -- millions converting to Christ.   While in other countries, the church has suffered sudden reversals.  What path people follow in the future, will kind of be up to them.   

But we have to endure more "experts," still:  
"Experts agree that finding a human connection at some level can help build empathy and bridge the gap between conflicting ideologies and identities.
"In many Muslim-majority nations, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, religion is directly tied to national policy and politics."

As is atheist ideology in China.  
"For 18 years, the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy, founded by Douglas Johnston, has facilitated faith-based dialogue to find commonalities in these conflicting sides.


“'What you’re doing is shifting accountability from an ideology or political movement to god. If you do that, you tend to find that people behave nicer,' Johnston says. 'It’s incumbent upon all of us to search our beliefs, our instincts and the rest of it and do what we can to be agents of reconciliation.'”

This quote seems to contradict everything that went before it.  "Religion" was the shark in the pool.  Now political ideology becomes the real danger, while faith in God can make us all nicer.  The author does not even seem to notice the contradiction, yet alone try to resolve it in some way.  

Of course, not all religions, especially defined functionally, appeal to God.  John Hick tried to get around this by describing a "Real" that is the truth behind surface manifestations in all religions, like the sun around which different planets orbit.  One eastern critic pointed out that Hick's "Real" was implicitly theistic, while many theists find it implicitly unreal.   So Hick's attempt to satisfy everyone ended by satisfying almost no one, as such faded universalisms usually do.    

But I think Johnston hits closer to the truth than the other "experts" McPhillip has cited.  Of course people can appeal to "Gott Mitt Us" to do terrible, tribal, cruel things.  Yet anyone who recogizes the image of God on the person on the subway, and who listens to Jesus tell him that all morality and prophetic writings are summed up in "Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself," cannot go full tribal and be consistent.

I read part of a doctoral dissertation today by an orthodox Jew who noted that the Miao people in China had been fighting the Han people, and losing, since forever.  Their conversion to Christianity, he noticed, allowed them to begin to forgive the Han.  And his own faith in God seemed to give him something in common with evangelical missionaries and Chinese minorities alike.  


So I found this article singularly irrational.  Life is complex.  Humans are complex.  Religions are complex, varied, and contradictory as life and humans, which they try to describe and direct.  Simple-minded a priori generalizations, inspired by abstract psychological theories and absent sound empirical research carefully analyzed and reported, don't tell us much about anything.  Neither do answers to loaded questions, especially when those questions are loaded with nothing more explosive than flem.  

Reasoning on the cheap is no more intellectually persuasive than the wave in someone else's football stadium.  

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Don't eat the Rich!

My article explaining why I like Bill Boeing, Bill Gates, and maybe even Jeff Bezos, better than Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, or at least find their work a lot better for America, was just published on The Stream. Share it with the socialists in your family:

Monday, October 21, 2019

Man! What have your notions of Christianity and Women to do with Truth?

David Madison wants to know why any women remain within the Christian church.  After all, the Bible is thoroughly antagonistic towards women, he claims.  






Madison boasts a PhD in biblical studies from Boston University, so presumably he can do his own research.  Instead, Madison rests his treatise (published on the Debunking Christianity website a few days ago) on the tattered reed of one of the most counter-factual pieces of exegetical hogwash I have ever had the guilty pleasure of defenestrating: Annie Gaylor's "Woman, What Have I to do with Thee?", a chapter in one of John Loftus' books.  (Be fair, John.  When you write well, as you sometimes do, I give you credit.  Don't expect me to put a ribbon around a pig in a mud bath.) 

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Culture of Death, Thou Shalt Die!

They called my new article on The Stream "Halloween, Zombie Morality, and the Light of the World." My chosen title was a paraphrase of John Donne: "Culture of Death,Thou Shalt Die." In any case, it's my fullest apologetic for the Gospel of Life, for the good Christ has done for the world, in that forum yet. Shares welcome!  Celebrate Halloween by reminding people what "all the saints" who follow Jesus have really accomplished, and can still do to save us from our follies today:

https://stream.org/halloween-zombie-morality-light-world/

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Bernie Sander's "Green New Deal" is Moldy

I hesitate to argue with a politician, as I hesitate to argue with a bratty child.  Most politicians use the arts of rhetorical persuasion at a level not much higher than that a five-year old kicking her heels against the front seat of the car to get another scoop of ice cream.

But surely Bernie Sanders is a mature man?  He studied at Columbia so he must be smart, right?  He's a Jew and a socialist: both groups are generally well-read, by and large?





Saturday, June 15, 2019

The Racism of the "anti-Racists"

Some people are obsessed with the evils of racism.  Not surprisingly, these people often seem to be projecting their own racist attitudes and schemes upon others.

Take this Meme I came across this morning, for instance:

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Is Scandinavia a Secular Paradise?


(From How Jesus Passes the Outsider Test, David Marshall)


As noted above, the secularist community has, in recent years, often pointed to such countries as Denmark, Norway, and Sweden to demonstrate the superiority of Secular Humanism over Christianity.  The work of sociologist Phil Zuckerman has been especially important in making this argument popular and seem credible.  While more cautious than some of his disciples, Zuckerman does indeed write with enthusiasm and persuasiveness about happy, “peaceful, and relatively godless Denmark” and Sweden:

“Quaint towns, inviting cities, beautiful forests, lonely beaches, healthy democracies, among the lowest violent crime rates in the world, the lowest levels of corruption in the world, excellent educational systems, innovative architecture, strong economies, well-supported arts, successful entrepreneurship, clean hospitals, delicious beer, free health care, maverick filmmaking, egalitarian social policies, sleek design, comfortable bike paths – and not much faith in God.”[1]

Friday, March 22, 2019

Did Christianity mess with Valerie Tarico's Mind? The Evidence



Perhaps one should ignore such a post as vulgar sneering, and move quietly along.  But it is our job here to parse facts and seek truth.  Does Christian faith (in whatever form) mess with our minds?  Let's consider Tarico's arguments: 

A local psychologist, Valerie Tarico, posted today, with typical New Atheist grace (pardon the language), on "Evangelical Christianity's 10 Biggest Mindfucks."



"Just messing with you.  Those are the
droids you're looking for, after all."
1. It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship. This quip is popular with campus evangelism groups like Athletes in Action and Cru. You might even have seen it on a bumper sticker at some point, because it’s one of Evangelicalism’s favorite ways of saying, We’re not like all those other (obviously false) faith-based belief systems. We just love Jesus and Jesus loves us, and he loves you, too.

From the inside, this relationship thing feels really real and really good. But from the outside its a bunch of transparent hooey. Your born-again Christianity is a love relationship—with a character whose name and history you got from a set of ancient texts that were compiled and handed down by a vast hierarchical organization that once torched dissenting texts (and people). And this not-religion has sacred writings and rituals and leaders and schools of systematic theology, and it dictates what people are supposed to believe and how they’re supposed to behave. And it provides all the same social functions and structures as religions. But Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship. Uh, huh.

I'm not fond of this saying myself, not because I don't get the point, but because it is a cliché, because the word "religion" is vague and misunderstood, and because the dichotomy between "religion" and "relationship" is false on most understandings of the former. 

But none of that is as Dawkins-awful as Tarico's history.  The gospels were copied by scribes who were not, in fact, associated with murder or censorship, however Tarico may strain to draw the link.  The "vast hierarchical organization" view of the Catholic church is anachronistic and not a little paranoid, also has nothing whatsoever to do with the gospels.

So religion is to be defined by "social functions and structures?"  Good.  I'm glad we're agreed, then, that Communism and Secular Humanism are usually religions.  Not all New Atheists see that.

See the source image
Krishna and Arjuna
Even so, social functions and structures are, in fact, about relationships.  Islam posits certain relationships between man and God, among believers, and between believers and unbelievers.  The Hindu Bhaghavad Gita is, from one perspective, all about relationships.  So even more clearly are the Confucian scriptures.  So is the Communist Manifesto. 

Christianity is both a religion -- on most definitions -- and a set of relationships.

Yes, the heart of my faith is my relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  Even an atheist should understand that even a common historical figure whom one cherishes-- say, Gandhi -- can become so important in one's life that he or she seems like an active participant in one's decision-making.  This was the nub of the ancient idea of discipleship.  The ancients were asking "What would Socrates do?" for centuries after he did anything.  Why should an atheist sneer at that?  Surely a psychologist should understand the concept of mimesis? 

As a Christian, I think God hears my prayers.  Something I almost wish He didn't see so clearly into my soul.  Call me delusional, if you like.  But I am conscious of He with whom I have to deal.  Tarico should read and contemplate Francis Thompson's poem the Hound of Heaven, if she wishes to understand this concept from the inside, as one would expect an open-minded psychologist to try to do.

2. That’s the OLD Testament. In my childhood Bible, the Old Testament is bound together with the New Testament in a gold-stamped blue leather cover with these words on the title page, “The words of Scripture as originally penned in the Hebrew and Greek . . . are the eternal Word of God.” This statement is followed by a verse from the Old Testament book of Isaiah. “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever (Is 40:8).

To Evangelicals, the Old Testament is the timeless Word of God, except when the vile atrocities described there become inconvenient or when people quote horrible verses—say those that demean women, endorse slavery, condemn homosexuality and shellfish eating, promote the idea of Chosen bloodlines, or make statements that are scientific nonsense. Then it’s just the Old Testament, and Evangelicals pull out all kinds of fancy “supersessionist” language to explain that those verses don’t really count because of the “new covenant” or the “Dispensation of Grace.” But just try suggesting that a Bible believer take the Old Testament out of the Holy Bible. 

What does Tarico imagine the words "old" and "new" mean?

I am delighted that the Old Testament is part of the Bible, and that the Church has rightly resisted attempts to ditch the Jewish Scriptures.  But yes, Jesus came to "fulfill."  And when he fulfilled Jewish prophecies, ancient promises, subtle hints of hope, images and pictures throughout Jewish history, the world began to be renewed.

I included many passages from the Old Testament in the first volume of my Foundations of World Literature.  The stories of creation, of God's calling on Abraham and his family, of the Exodus, of Ruth and David and Solomon, the great prophetic writings, the Psalms and poetry, the epic and gut-wrenching poem Job, are among the richest treasures of human literature.  Anyone who can't see that, is a fool.  Anyone who wished their Bible were rid of such treasures, should not work in sales. 

But how the OT and the NT relate is a complex theological question, which Christians answer in a variety of ways. 

My own preferred perspective is what the philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff called "appropriated discourse."  People said and wrote things -- often great things -- which God divinely appointed and drew up into His revelation.  In the larger context of that revelation, particular passages often retrospectively acquired new meanings.

Especially in light of Jesus Christ.

Now I don't think the Old Testament as a whole "demeans women."  In fact, MOST women in the Old Testament are depicted as heroic to some degree.  I have demonstrated that in this forum. 

But what is strange about Christians reading the Jewish Scriptures in light of Jesus Christ, whom we regard as their center?  What do you think the first six letters of "Christian" refer to? 

Apparently what Tarico warns against with the vulgar term "mindfuck" is what the rest of us would call "complexity."

She wishes Christians to either blindly embrace or fully disavow all the Old Testament.  Either she is simple-minded, or demands that Christians comply with her vision of us as simple-minded.  She wants to get a win on the cheap, with a sneer, rather than have to deal with thousands of years of nuanced and insightful Christian thought about a complex and deeply fascinating subject.

The relationship between Christian thought and insights which various pre-Christian cultures emphasized is a subject I wrote about for my PhD.  It is hard to imagine Tarico facing up to the thought of, say, N. T. Wright, on how the NT and OT relate, without her poor little head exploding.  Her comments on the subject are embarrassingly crude, vulgar, and misinformed.

3. Yes, no, maybe. God answers prayer. Except when he doesn’t. The New Testament says, And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive  (Matthew 21:22; Mark 11:24). But everybody knows that in the real world that doesn’t happen. Christians face bankruptcies and bad test scores and death at the same rate as other people. God answers prayer at the margins of statistical significance, if at all—even when parents are asking for their kids to get healed from cancer, or kids are pleading that parents stop hitting them.

How does one explain that? The age-old Christian answer has been that when your prayers aren’t answered you should doubt yourself rather than God, assuming that your faith was too weak or you wanted something you shouldn’t. But Evangelicals have come up with something even more clever: God does always answer! It’s just that he sometimes says no, or maybe, instead of yes. That ask anything and it shall be done Bible verse really meant, ask selectively and he might say yes.

Clever of modern evangelicals to come up with that "yes, no or maybe" thing!  Nice ad hoc rationalization!

Only our model, Jesus Christ, asked 2000 years ago that the cup be passed, and God said, "No."  Jesus replied, "Not my will, but yours, be done."  And Paul, his most effective preacher, said he'd prayed several times that some trouble or injury be taken from him, and was told in response, "My strength is made perfect in weakness."

So apparently getting told "no" is not a new thing, even for Jesus Christ himself, or his top surrogate. 

Does God only answer prayers "at the margins of statistical significance?"  Some of the prayers I've seen Him answer were pretty statistically significant.  And people I trust relate even more remarkable answers to prayer.

4. Be selfless for your own sake. If you want to be great in God’s kingdom, learn to be the servant of all, say the lyrics to one Christian song. Got that? “If you want to be great,” not “if you want to do the most good in the world.” Granted, learn to be the servant of all beats some other paths people take when they seek status, but it is a path to status nonetheless, which is why the church is full of self-proclaimed servant leaders who actually aspire to great man or woman status.

Like the people who astounded G. K. Chesterton with the same fault, Tarico actually attacks a paradox here for being paradoxical!  If you fail to grasp the purpose of this rhetorical device (I teach literature, and try to make it clear), please keep quiet when one of the world's great masters of paradox is playing his fiddle.  Your silence would be less painful for all concerned.

5. Christianity is humble. According to Catholic theology, pride is one of the seven deadly sins. Evangelical preachers tell us it was Satan’s original sin. Pride cometh before the fall, so humble yourself before God. Couple this claim about humility with the idea that you should preach [your version of] the gospel to every creature—and things get turned inside out and upside down.

Famed Puritan hellfire-and-brimstone minister Jonathan Edwards said, “We must view humility as one of the most essential things that characterizes true Christianity.” Edwards also expounded with righteous certitude about the torments of the wicked in hell—wicked meaning anyone who didn’t share his Puritan beliefs.

Anyone who has spent much time in an Evangelical church community knows that superior humility can be a powerful form of one-upmanship. But competitive humility aside, what could possibly be more arrogant than thinking the universe was made for mankind, that only we bipedal primates are made in the image of God, that all other sentient beings are here for us to use, that you happened to be born into the one true faith among the tens of thousands of false ones, and that the force that created the laws of physics wants a personal relationship with you. 

Which logical fallacy does Tarico display first in this three paragraph argument?  If you said "straw man," you guessed (or saw) right: the very first three words! 

"Christianity" is not humble, of course.  That is a gross act of reification and confusion.  Christians are supposed to be humble.

Chesterton warned against lodging the organ of humility in the wrong place: this is what he meant.  Humility should be about our selves, not about truth we perceive. 

"God created man in His image, male and female He created them."

"For God so loved the world . . . "

These are statements about reality from within the Christian worldview.  Statements of alleged fact: "The universe began with a bang 3.8 billion years ago;" "Albany is the capital of New York State;" or even "I am king of the world!" are best evaluated first as "true" or "false." 

It is false, for instance, that Christians believe that the universe "was made for mankind."  Where did Tarico get that idea?  Did she make it up?  Or did she hear it from some heretic? 

I suspect Edwards was mistaken in some of his ideas about hell.  But why should I assume that his error (if it was an error) arose from pride?  It might have arisen from the humility of taking Scriptures at face value, or listening to Reformed teachers who exposited Calvinism before him. 

I'm happy to believe, if Tarico wishes, that whales also display the image of God in some sense -- an impressionistic sense, Chesterton (who answered most of what a Tarico offers in the way of arguments long ago) suggested.   My Chinese students, encountering Genesis for the first time, can usually come up with some ways in which human beings resemble the theistic idea of God which whales do not: greater rationality and creativity, for instance.  It's a pity that in her reactionary haste to make Christianity look foolish, she makes herself look so foolish as to so badly underperform against 16 year old pagans learning how to read literature for the first time, and in a foreign tongue, at that. 

6. Christianity isn’t sexist; God just has different intentions and rules for men and women. Just because in the Old Testament God (identified by the male pronoun) makes man first, puts men in charge (male headship), gives men the right to barter women and take them as war booty doesn’t mean they’re unequal. Just because the New Testament forbids women to speak in church, tells them to cover their heads and submit to men, and excludes them from leadership positions doesn’t mean that women are to men!

The Bible may be rife with stories with predominantly male protagonists. It may show women competing to have sons. Genealogies may be determined by paternity. God may convey his word exclusively through male writers and may take the form of a male human. But that doesn’t mean men and women are unequal! They’re just “different.” All of those generations of Patriarchs and Church Fathers and Reformers and Preachers who said vile things about women—they just misunderstood the Bible’s message on this point.

As I have shown in these pages in great detail, this is a grotesque and dishonest misrepresentation of how women are treated in the Bible.   

Hundreds of comments have been posted in response to my arguments.  I dare you to find any that overthrow my thesis that in fact, the Gospel of Jesus has liberated billions of women around the world.  (And the roots of that lie in the OT.) 

7. Believe and be saved. Right belief, according to Evangelicalism, is the toggle that sends people to heaven or hell—as if we could simply make ourselves believe whatever we want, regardless of the evidence, and as if the ability to do so were a virtue. Right belief makes you one of the Righteous. Wrong belief makes you one of the Wicked. God may have given you the ability to think, but you follow logic and evidence where they lead only at your own eternal peril. If you don’t believe, it’s because you secretly just don’t want to.

Granted we all are prone to a greater or lesser degree, to what psychologists call “motivated belief,” meaning we have a tendency to selectively seek evidence for things we either want to be true or, more rarely, fear to be true. But this is hardly a sign of robust character or moral virtue. Quite the opposite.

Another simplistic straw man.

Now I happen to agree that many evangelicals over-emphasize faith.  But the faith they emphasize is not mere ascent to a set of propositions (unless they are heretics), but the act of faith referred to by the word "repentance."  Trust in God for good reasons, and acting on that trust, not merely coming to believe certain propositions.  "The devil believes, and trembles." 

I believe God has given Valerie Tarico the "ability to think" too -- that is why I think humans are made in the Image of God more than snow leopards or sea urchins.  But see, above, how she uses that ability to "fuck up her own mind" (her expression) rather than to seek truth. 

I don't claim to know anything about Tarico's eternal destination.  But one can see in play even in this short article, the propensity of will that cuts her off from her Creator, rationalizing and justifying the doors she is slamming and locking from the inside with weak excuses that would only fool someone greatly desiring to be hoodwinked. 

8. God loves you and he’ll send you to hell. And once you die, it’s all irreversible. George Carlin put it best: Religion has convinced people that there’s an invisible man … living in the sky. Who watches everything you do every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a list of ten specific things he doesn’t want you to do. And if you do any of these things, he will send you to a special place, of burning and fire and smoke and torture and anguish for you to live forever, and suffer, and suffer, and burn, and scream, until the end of time. But he loves you. He loves you. He loves you and he needs money.

OK, Carlin didn’t have his theology right, at least not from an Evangelical standpoint. You don’t go to hell for violating the Ten Commandments. You go to hell for not accepting Jesus as your savior. But yeah, he loves you, loves you, loves you, and if you don’t love him back and worship him and accept his gift of forgiveness for your imperfection, he’s going to torture you forever. Wrap your brain around that definition of love.

Or deal with Christian theology in a mature form, say by reading C. S. Lewis (the intellectual pope to the American evangelical movement)? 

No.  Too hard.  Let's stick with childish caricatures instead.

9. Free choice under duress. Why is the world full of sin and suffering if God is all powerful and all good? Because he wanted us to worship him of our own free will. He loves us too much to force us, so we had to be able to choose—so the story goes.

But, but, if what he wanted was love and adoration, freely given, then why did he entice us with promises of heaven and threaten us with eternal torture? Can someone really love you if you demand their love at gunpoint? 

This is actually a good question.  (If only it were a question, instead of a "gotcha" argument.)  But one would think the answer would not be hard to find, for a psychologist with experience of many kinds of people.

M. Scott Peck claimed that people could be sorted into four distinct stages of spiritual advance.  I'll explain his idea in my own words:

(1) Selfish, narcissistic stage, in which you take what you can get with no moral concern.

(2) Authoritarian stage, in which the narcissist submits to external force (Church, Army, Parent, Police).  Being in submission, he or she becomes externally moral, and may begin to internalize the moral teachings of his or her authority.

(3) Seeking stage.  The seeker tires of rigid control, become free-thinkers, and wander the world seeking truth. Moral truth is internalized. 

(4) Synthetic stage.  The person at this stage regains religious faith, but not because of mere external fear of authority, and retains the questioning spirit of stage (3). 

As even Hinduism and Buddhism have long recognized, it should be obvious that if God is wiser than, say, Dr. Tarico, He must know that people have reached different spiritual stages in their journeys, and therefore "appropriate means" must be used to advance them.

For a few, appealing directly to the love of God might be most effective.  And experiencing the joy of knowing God is the long-term goal for everyone.

But in the meanwhile, we also need to retrain sociopaths like the young David Wood.  To restrain a sociopath, sometimes you might need a two-by-four. 

10. Lean not unto your own understanding. Faith is just believing. Trust and obey. Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong (1 Corinthians 16:13). The fool has said in his heart there is no God (Psalm 14:1).

The idea that your own mind, logic, and the evidence in the world around you is not to be trusted may be Evangelicalism’s biggest mindfuck, because it is subtext in all the others. Any doubts are just evidence that your mind (and basic human decency) are shaky. Since doubt is a sign of weak faith—and sometimes even direct from the devil—you should never ever trust what you think, feel, see or experience over what the Bible says and the Church teaches. Walk by faith, not by sight. Stop asking questions!

Faith is NOT "just believing."  The devil does that, and trembles.  Tarico begins with devilish heresy, so one can't expect much from this item.

One can't blame her, I suppose.  She says evangelicalism is a series of "mindfucks," and says she used to be an evangelical.  The present state of her mind is, perhaps, the strongest evidence for her complaint that she has yet produced.

"Stop asking questions?"  No one ever, ever told me that.  And I have been a Christian, in at least a rudimentary, Sunday School sense, for more than half a decade. 

I have been asking questions, and intend to keep asking them.  The Christian faith gives me freedom to find answers, and the surprising feeling (again like Chesterton) that many who claim to love facts, evidence, and rational thought, flee it like rats from a sinking ship in practice.

Christian faith is built upon sound reasoning and credible evidence.  The entire Bible makes that clear, as have Christians from the very beginning.  We offered a fair amount of evidence for that in a book called True Reason.  

On the other hand, Tarico's article does seem to provide strong prima facia evidence that something, whether in her evangelical youth or later, has been messing with her sense of proportion and clarity of reasoning.  So there is that.