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Monday, June 20, 2011

How Jesus has Liberated Women I: Intro

One of the most popular criticisms of Christianity is that it has hurt women, imprisoned them in a dungeon with chains around their wrists, in spirit if not in body, as this cartoon shows. 
In 2011, atheist author John Loftus posted this cartoon (which actually does abuse women, by making them look like they are missing upper bodies and necks, and their legs are made out of silly putty), reciting the usual refrain from the Atheists' Catechism:

"One of the main reasons I do what I do is because of what religion has done and continues to do to women. I argue against religion for that reason alone."

My gut reaction was to challenge John to a duel:

"Resolved: That the Gospel of Jesus has done more to help more women than any other teaching in the history of Planet Earth.

"I challenge you, John."

John, unfortunately, said he doesn't have time for this debate at the time.  Several of his followers, however, insisted I defend my claim (on-line -- like John, I've written about the effect of religion on the status of women in previous books, especially Jesus and the Religions of Man).

Three years later, Loftus STILL had not responded substantively to this series, though he responded triflingly, more than once.   Loftus also edited a book called Christianity is Not Great, which perpetuates these falsehoods -- see my review of Annie Gaylor's wretched chapter.)

Three books and a dissertation await attention, also unweeded vegies and a dog wanting to run . . . But this is a vital topic, often raised by skeptics, and worth attention.  So here goes: I hope this will prove a helpful resource on this vital issue. 

My initial argument took five posts, then I responded to criticism.  This post is introductory, and explains what I plan to argue and how.

In Part II, I tell my personal story, as it relates to the Gospel and the treatment of women.

Parts III and IV gives the meat of my argument.  In Part III, I show that based on objective research, sponsored by the United Nations, the status of women tends to be consistently higher in societies deeply influenced by Christianity than in other societies. 

In Part IV, beginning with the life of Jesus, I then show how people inspired by the Gospel have in fact FREED billions (yes, that's a b) of women down through the centuries, from dungeons of various makes and models -- including in many non-Christian countries.  I argue that the Gospel not only explains the UN data given in Part III, but that evidence UNDERSTATES the positive influence of the Gospel on women throughout human history, and around the world. 

In Part V, I trace this influence in detail to the gospels.  I describe all major passages in the gospels which directly and specifically touch on the status or happiness of women (plus some less-important passages), to show why all this history was not a fluke, why correlation does denote causation in this case, which it would be wrong to credit to, say, the Enlightenment.

(Seven years later, the series continues, and the upcoming book is beginning to reveal its essential outlines, at least to me.  Click here to pick and choose which episodes in this ongoing saga you would like to peruse.)  

A. What I mean.

By "Gospel," I mean the teachings and actions of Jesus, as described in the New Testament. 

By "help" I limit my argument to worldly effects: how the Gospel has led to women living healthier, more fulfilled, happier, and especially longer lives.  I'm not going to talk about how the Gospel brings women (or men) into heaven, since that is, from our perspective, unverifiable.  Nor am I going to talk about the moral benefits of, say, chastity or sexual faithfulness, since atheists often fail to recognize those benefits, unfortunately.  I'll limit our argument here to benefits that are tangible and obvious to almost everyone.

B. Background 1: the Biome

Voltaire was surprised when fossil fish were discovered in mountains rocks, knowing that fish live in the ocean.  How did they get there?  Of course!  Pilgrims and crusaders often trek in the mountains!  He suggested, "Rotten fish were thrown away by a traveler and were petrified thereafter." 

When you find something in an unexpected place, it is natural ask, "Where did it come from?"  So let us begin by asking, "Where does sexuality begin, au naturale?"   

Justice and equality are not obvious characteristics of how plants and animals relate to one another, including when it comes to sexuality.  Some spiders eat their mates.  Male lions or bears sometimes kill cubs born to their mates by other fathers.

In most advanced species, females seem to sacrifice more for their young than males.  The male emperor penguin, though, tends to his wife's egg for months at a time without eating, while she goes fishing.  

Wolves are, in their family habits, generally more considerate than most animals.  Males sometimes have been seen giving mates a break from child-rearing, so the bitches can go hunting.  But as with most species, there is a general distinction of labor between sexes.  One finds little trace of pure equality in the natural world: like the perfect circles Platonists thought the planets revolved in, equality is a philosophical ideal, not an empirical reality.

So looking at animal life in general, it would be surprising to find perfect equality of status AND function among humans.  Nor does one. 


C. Background 2:   Human Society

Great variety in the relationship between the sexes can also be found among early tribes.  In some tribes, women seemed to enjoy a reasonably high status.  In others, like the Yanomamo in Amazonia and the Yali in New Guinea, women were treated as property, or unabashedly raped when opportunity presented itself.  (See, for instance, Napoleon Chagnon, Yanomamo, or Mark Ritchie, Spirit of the Rainforest.) 

In graves by Paleolithic campsites in North America, men and women have been buried with tools they used in their lifetimes.  The tools tend to be gender-specific, but both sexes are about equally well-furnished for the afterlife. 

As people settled along rivers and began to build up advanced civilization, society became more stratified, with the chief, a king, or a class of aristocrats being increasingly treated as superior, even divine, compared to commoners or low caste tribes.  The status of women varied from culture to culture, and could change.  Women led troops in battle during the Shang Dynasty in China -- in other ways an oppressive and cruel era.  (Retainer sacrifice was normal, so the skeletons of a king's leading officials are found in the grave with the king, and sometimes the skeletons of his enemies with their heads gone.)  But under the influence of Confucianism, the role of women became increasingly domestic, even while society in general grew a bit gentler.  From the Song Dynasty, 1500 years after Confucius, the practice of crushing and binding girls' feet to make their walk more sexy, became fashionable.  Similar trends in India led to the practice of sati, or burning (especially upper-caste) widows after their husbands died, to tend them in the next world.  Women had some freedom before the time of Christ in India, but increasingly lost it over subsequent centuries.  While Mohammed married a career woman, Muslim doctrine likewise made it increasingly difficult for women to participate in public life in most Muslim countries.

We shall cover some of these cultures in more detail later.

So "progress" is not automatic. Often new ideologies and new canons seem to justify and regularize new patterns of oppression, whether or women, or, of outcasts, unbelievers, or Jews. 

The status of women seems to have been relatively high in parts of Europe before the birth of Christ.  (Perhaps highest in Sparta, where they owned perhaps 40% of the land.)  Still, Romans saw the husband as a family dictator.  Girls were usually married young, 44% by the age of 14.  (Stark, The Rise of Christianity, 107).   Marriage and childbirth of course spelled the end of education, and the latter involved great danger for young women.  Abortions, which were also highly dangerous, were usually decreed by the husband.  But upper-class women could live comfortably, and with a fair degree of freedom.  The examples of India, China, and Islam show that things often get worse for women over time as a civilization matures, as we shall see.   

D. How can we demonstrate historical causation? 

One skeptic asked me for "some way of reliably tracking the historical impact of doctrines in a comparative fashion."

A generally fair-minded atheist named Neil warned me not to use a double standard when it comes to the effect of Christianity:

"Of course, most apologists will still blame the religiously inspired wars, holocausts, bigotry, oppression and tyranny that may have occurred on simple 'human nature,' no matter how obvious the religious justifications.  Funny how that works in the apologist brain...all great achievements require religion, and human nature is not enough, whereas all the wars and abuses are not the fault of religion, just human nature- even when the directives come straight from the pulpit or the 'word of god' itself.

"So what about it David?...are you at least honest enough to take some of the bad with all the good?"

There warnings came in ironic contexts: (1) Following a rant by Iranian Marxist Maryam Namazie, against religious inquisitions.  When I pointed out that Marxists have carried out far more nasty inquisitions of their own, several atheists refused to admit that those inquisitions had anything to do with atheism, even while blaming Christianity for the Medieval inquisition.  So the warning about "taking the bad with the good" seemed a bit misdirected, in the original conversation.  (2) PZ Myer had also just claimed that religion inhibits creativity.  This in the face of the obvious fact that religion has inspired much of the world's great architecture, music and painting.

Which only goes to show that Neil's warning is worth heading.  It IS easy, for all of us, to play the game of, "Mine is mine, and yours is negotiable" when it comes to influence. But this sword can cut more than one way.    

So how do we know if A really did cause B?  Let's start with four simple rules:

First, A must precede B. This may seem obvious, but it is remarkable how often the principle seems to be forgotten. In this case, what it means is that Christianity cannot be blamed or credited for a state of affairs that was general before its birth.  For instance, Christians did not invent marriage, since people were getting married long before Christ was born.  Christianity may conceivably have made monogamy more popular, though, since polygamy was accepted in most societies around the world when Jesus was born. 

This is why I began with a few remarks about sexuality in general.  We need to know where the fish started, before asking how it got to the top of a mountain.

Second, immediate influences seem more likely than distant influences.  A book can change how people treat one another across long gaps in time: you might read the Discources of the Stoic Epictetus after work today, be moved by the 2nd Century Roman's noble teachings, and mend your life accordingly.  But more often, we are influenced by teachings that we see lived out around us.  Even when a teaching is codified in a text, what moves us more is how people in a community of faith with which we come into contact, interpret that text.  This is a well-known principle of sociology. 

Third, something in the alleged cause should explain its supposed effect. If Islam is blamed for encouraging prepubescent marriages, one should find something in the life of Mohammed or Quranic teaching that encourages or allows men to marry young girls.  (Such as his consummating marriage to the 9-year old Aisha.)  If Christianity is credited for saving girls from foot-binding in China, the case that it did so will be seen as stronger if we find that Jesus or the apostles helped women in similar ways in the New Testament (as we do). 

Of course, we should not be simplistic about causation, especially with so overwhelming and important a phenomena as sex.  We begin with universal, "basic instincts" for mating, dominating, and caring for young.  Culturally, each society possesses time-honored customs and ways of thinking about sex before Christianity arrived.  Human beings are also creative.  There is no simple, deterministic calculus by which we can easily weigh all the variables.  Often, the unexpected occurs -- practically the definition of the word "romance."  One cannot predict the plot of Romeo and Juliet.  Nor could one predict a priori that foot-binding would arise in China, or the enthusiastic flourish with which the Aztecs would develop age-old Meso-american rituals of human sacrifice.

But fourth, causation is also clearer if the change moves "uphill against human nature." Why would any man want to have sex with more than one woman? The answer is too obvious, to men, to need stating.  Lust and philandering need no explanation, nor do rape, polygamy, or the enslavement of the weak.  But loving those who belong to out-groups is contrary to our strongest instincts, and therefore requires more of an explanation. 

So a religious explanation for a social change is stronger if the teaching precedes the social change, especially closely, if there is in that teaching a clear justification for the change, and especially if that teaching and the change it seems to work against our strongest instincts.


E. My Procedure

One fairly objective (though imperfect) measure of the status of women was a survey taken in 1988 by the United Nations in 99 countries.  I'll use that survey to roughly measure the influence of religions on the status of women around the world in two upcoming articles.
 
But correlation by itself may not prove causation.  Nor is the influence of a religion always limited to  those who follow it: powerful ideas, like communist class warfare, Hindu reincarnation, and the Christian influence on compassion for the poor and outcast, have spilled beyond the boundaries of the original faith community.  So in the fourth article in this series, I shall try to show how committed Christians improved life for women not only in "Christian" countries, but on all inhabited continents. 

One can then look for evidence in the example and teaching of a religious founder, and in its sacred books, to explain how the fish got to the mountain-top.  My fifth post in this initial series will give that evidence in detail, focusing on Jesus' life, teaching, and actions, in the four gospels.

After having made my initial case for how the Gospel has liberated women around the world, I will follow this first series with two more: (2) responding to some of the best or most interesting of the hundreds of critical answers that skeptics have made to my arguments, over the past several years; (3) compare the Gospel record to the record of other faith traditions in more detail/

Let me begin, briefly, with my own story.

38 comments:

TruthOverfaith said...

Hi David,

Do you have a blog post that explains at what point in the 14 billion year history of our universe that your invisible sky-god decided to personally trot around among an unenlightened, mostly illiterate, superstitious, pre scientific group of peasants in the ancient Middle East for the purpose of allowing his own creation to hang him to a tree and savagely beat himself to death in the most disgusting, vile manner possible for the purpose of some kind of Neanderthal blood sacrifice?

How are you not embarrassed beyond all human dignity at openly believing such Stone Age lunacy?

And as far as Jesus improving the lives of women, how many women disciples were there?

How many women were at the Last Supper?

How many times did Jesus specifically confer to any woman the authority to preach his gospel?

And besides filling the purpose of a birth canal, what part did Jesus' mother Mary play in his ministry, before or after his death?

How many times did Jesus command his followers to treat women as equals?

How many times did Jesus command that women should attend schools and be educated, just as well as men?

Before you strain your deluded Jesus brain, the answer to the above questions is "none" or "never".

David B Marshall said...

"Truth:" We cater to adult conversation here, not adolescent rantings. With all due respect, grow up, show some sign of reasonableness and civility, and deal with the arguments, or be gone.

Angela Hoescht said...

The term 'Biome' is used by scientists to classify particular ecosystems according to their vegetation structure, environmental characteristics, physiognomy. Hence, it is ridiculous to speak of 'the' biome, but only 'a' biome. This whole section borders on the inane. Just what is your point here?

"Where does sexuality start, au naturale?"

You're so coy, David. Fortunately for you sexuality is commonly studied by biologists everywhere. Perhaps you can teach yourself something?

In most advanced species, females seem to sacrifice more for their young than males.

Your criteria for 'advanced' species? most? Really, David, you don't even know what you're talking about here and you expect people to take you seriously?

though not usually to the extreme of cannibalism!

Cannibalism? non sequitur.

This whole section is just inane. How does any of this relate to anything you've said previously? Also, start by reading Foucalt's History of Sexuality then come back and write something that isn't drivel.

This is why I began with a few comments on sexuality in general.

Huh? You haven't said ANYTHING about sexuality except a few inane statements about various animal mating habits and a few anecdotes on the role of women in various cultures.

I'll return to my very first point: Do you even know what it is women are concerned about?

Perhaps if you stopped listening to yourself speak you can actually hear what others, especially women, have to say.

Angela Hoescht said...

I find it funny David that you claim in this post to be laying the framework for your thesis on how the gospel improves the lives of women, yet you spend no amount of time actually discussing any issue that would be important to women. Do you know any women? (besides your mother)

But hey, I'll be nice. Let's take a look at your framework.

In Part III, I show that, based on a 1988 UN survey...

Which UN survey and why are you examining one that was taken 25 years ago? What statistical method does this survey use? In what ways does this survey reflect conditions that were only relevant to 1988? Since you don't mention the UN organization that took the survey, its purpose or its limitations, I am imagining that you don't really care as long as it displays the numbers you think prove your point.

people inspired by the Gospel have in fact FREED billions

As a historian, you need to be critical of history, yes even the supposed life of Jesus. If you can't accomplish that in your writing then your conclusions will always be tainted by prejudice and consequently treated with caution. I return to my first point: freed from what exactly? and why do you believe women need to be freed from whatever it is? and do women today believe this freedom is important? How? Why? David, you really are not thinking very hard at all here.

I also attempt to quantify ...

By what methodology will you "quantify" this history? Is this a methodology you just invented or has it been used before by historians with good results? I deeply suspect you are just making stuff up here, David.

the Gospel not only explains the UN data,

In other words, you are going to employ an invented historical methodology to underscore the percentiles of a 25 year old survey whose statistical methods were completely different in order to prove your point? David, how is this any different than guessing?

In Part V, I trace this influence in detail...
You have yet to tell anyone what it is exactly you are talking about. David, I have failed undergraduate papers that were better than this. Are you really working on a dissertation or are you pulling our leg?

By "help" I limit my argument to worldly effects: how the Gospel has led to women living healthier, more fulfilled, happier, and especially longer lives

'more fulfilled' and 'happier' are very subjective measures. I highly doubt your 1988 UN survey will demonstrate that the Gospel was the cause of an increase or decrease in these measures. You need an objective measure. I suggest measuring quantum smileons to determine the level of happiness.

As far as 'healthier' and 'longer lives', you should take a look at the several statistical studies that have linked religiosity and health, for instance at the Office for National Statistics UK. I don't think you are going to like what you find there, especially for female health. Here, for instance is a 2001 study (http://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?id=959)
which reports that the incidence of poor heath among muslim, christian and jewish females is several percentages higher than the males, and that muslims, christians and jewish reported more ill health than the general population.

Anonymous said...

I find it funny David that you claim in this post to be laying the framework for your thesis on how the gospel improves the lives of women, yet you spend no amount of time actually discussing any issue that would be important to women. Do you know any women? (besides your mother)

But hey, I'll be nice. Let's take a look at your framework.

In Part III, I show that, based on a 1988 UN survey...

Which UN survey and why are you examining one that was taken 25 years ago? What statistical method does this survey use? In what ways does this survey reflect conditions that were only relevant to 1988? Since you don't mention the UN organization that took the survey, its purpose or its limitations, I am imagining that you don't really care as long as it displays the numbers you think prove your point.

people inspired by the Gospel have in fact FREED billions

As a historian, you need to be critical of history, yes even the supposed life of Jesus. If you can't accomplish that in your writing then your conclusions will always be tainted by prejudice and consequently treated with caution. I return to my first point: freed from what exactly? and why do you believe women need to be freed from whatever it is? and do women today believe this freedom is important? How? Why? David, you really are not thinking very hard at all here.

I also attempt to quantify ...

By what methodology will you "quantify" this history? Is this a methodology you just invented or has it been used before by historians with good results? I deeply suspect you are just making stuff up here, David.

the Gospel not only explains the UN data,

In other words, you are going to employ an invented historical methodology to underscore the percentiles of a 25 year old survey whose statistical methods were completely different in order to prove your point? David, how is this any different than guessing?

In Part V, I trace this influence in detail...
You have yet to tell anyone what it is exactly you are talking about. David, I have failed undergraduate papers that were better than this. Are you really working on a dissertation or are you pulling our leg?

By "help" I limit my argument to worldly effects: how the Gospel has led to women living healthier, more fulfilled, happier, and especially longer lives

'more fulfilled' and 'happier' are very subjective measures. I highly doubt your 1988 UN survey will demonstrate that the Gospel was the cause of an increase or decrease in these measures. You need an objective measure. I suggest measuring quantum smileons to determine the level of happiness.

As far as 'healthier' and 'longer lives', you should take a look at the several statistical studies that have linked religiosity and health, for instance at the Office for National Statistics UK. I don't think you are going to like what you find there, especially for female health. Here, for instance is a 2001 study (http://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?id=959)
which reports that the incidence of poor heath among muslim, christian and jewish females is several percentages higher than the males, and that muslims, christians and jewish reported more ill health than the general population.

David B Marshall said...

Angela: You haven't read the later posts, so you complain that what is in them, isn't given in the first post. Every word is always vague. Happiness isn't defined. I get the impression, from the rest of your comments, that you have a whole kit of weapons that you habitually employ to attack any view you disapprove of, without going to the trouble of considering it.

Also, the link you gave doesn't seem to work.

Anonymous said...

"until great tyrants like Qin Shihuang and Mao Zedong came along."

This gave me a laugh. Those two individuals are separated by over two millennia. Way to gloss over all of recorded Chinese history. Does a lot for your credibility.

David B Marshall said...

Anon: No kidding. How is that supposed to undermine my point? Got anything besides irrelevant snark?

Ander said...

Oh stop whining and bickering, all of you, and try to wake up.

God doesn't care what you think. You don't even know why you think what you think. You have no idea how your brains work, or why you happen to have the particular values, beliefs or preferences you do. You don't "control" your thoughts, feelings or actions any more than you could pick yourself up by your own feet.

The conscious mind is just a reflection of unconscious activity, as the various modules of our brains compute and communicate in an ongoing effort to do two basic things:

1. Avoid pain

2. Seek security and pleasure

The mind is just an interface. It's like a computer monitor that imagines it's controlling the computer it's attached to.

It's vanity. Vanity is our specialty. Some of us are even vain enough to believe that we little creatures, on our infinitesimal speck of dust floating through this unfathomably vast cosmos, are the Center of Everything. It's vanity on a cosmic scale.

If there is some all-powerful creative intelligence out there, it certainly has no illusions about us. If anything, it's having a good laugh over our ludicrously narcissistic contortions, like these messages---including this one. :?D

David B Marshall said...

Ander: Who are you talking to? Do you imagine there is anyone to hear you?

Do you post this cheery message everywhere on the Internet where there is "bickering?"

Must be a full-time job, I would imagine . . .

Unknown said...

David,

As I posted on Amazon's Religion Virus, Anonymous' points are neither irrelevant nor are they snarky. Actually, his points are blisteringly spot-on and intelligent and I think you should answer his queries. It is disingenuous to simply dismiss him.

David B Marshall said...

Steve: If you claim Anon's posts are not snarky, then you don't recognize snark when you see it.

Anon / Angela hadn't even bothered to read the posts she is snarking at in these posts. She's playing a childish game, not even attempting to deal with the evidence. That she can formulate her vacuous challenges in the language of pseudo-scholarship, should not distract the attentive reader from the fact that she has not even attempted to deal with the facts. She has a little tool-kit of pseudo-intellectual snark that she looses on arguments whose conclusions she doesn't like, that frees her from actually dealing with the arguments rationally and fairly.

For instance, I use an in-depth UN study on the status of women in 99 countries around the world. Angela doesn't bother to look at the results, that might be too dangerous. No, she points out that the study is 25 years old. (Well, yes, and the religions I'm testing are thousands of years old -- so what?) She speculates derisively about my historical methodology, again without bothering to read the articles. She then stupidly asks how studying a broadly-based, ideologically-neutral United Nations survey of societies that include 92% of the world population, on dozens of important aspects of gender relations, is different from "guessing?"

How absurd is that?

"Blisteringly spot-on," baloney. Rather, this is exactly the sort of "blind faith" you ought to rail against.

Unknown said...

David,

I recall from our first encounter some years ago that, ostensibly, you seemed a reasonable and rational guy. However, I have come to realize that you aren’t that fundamentally different from most apologists I have met. Don’t misunderstand me for I do think that you are a well-read and smart person, but you suffer from a severe case of confirmation bias; in other words, you see what you want to see. Moreover, when all else fails, you then engage in niggling ad hominem attacks. Here are two perfect examples:

“The adjective [blind] is necessary, because you fundamentally misunderstand the meaning of the word.”

This one is taken from your blog:

“If you claim Anon's posts are not snarky, then you don't recognize snark when you see it.”

Oh really, I don’t recognize a snarky remark? It’s simply because it wasn’t snarky David; here, please see anonymous’ post for yourself:

“As a historian, you need to be critical of history, yes even the supposed life of Jesus. If you can't accomplish that in your writing then your conclusions will always be tainted by prejudice and consequently treated with caution. I return to my first point: freed from what exactly? and why do you believe women need to be freed from whatever it is? and do women today believe this freedom is important? How? Why? David, you really are not thinking very hard at all here.”

http://christthetao.blogspot.co.uk/2011/06/how-jesus-has-women-i-intro-one-of.html

Anonymous’ questions were simply too much for you because he revealed your confirmation bias and you did not like that. It is interesting that every time that I (or others) disagree with you I get accused of misunderstanding; I see a pattern here. However, I do clearly understand the concepts of “faith” and “snarky” and you’re simply avoiding having to explain yourself, so you engage in petty personal attacks. Anon’s queries were most definitely not snarky but they were straightforward and powerful questions which you simply avoided as you have done with me. It is you who does not understand the word faith David. I understand it perfectly. As I noted, the type of faith that I have in science isn’t the type of faith you have in religion. The difference between us is that you equivocate and I do not.

So, I will keep asking you David: where is your evidence that supports your faith? It is curious but not surprising that I have asked for it but you have yet to deliver it. Strangely, typically vociferous apologists become strangely silent at this point of the conversation.

David B Marshall said...

Steve: I posted a series of five blogs full of all kinds of evidence to support my contention that Christianity has bettered the lives and improved the status of women: a broad United Nations survey of many different indices in 99 countries that included 92% of the world's population, historical data that showed how Christian in fact helped women in many countries, quotes from leading scholars, a survey of every single Gospel text touching on the status of women, my own story.

You ignored all that, and rhapsodized over a vacuous critique by a woman who hadn't even bothered to read it, but looked for a priori ways of dismissing what she hadn't read. (Among other things, the survey was done in 1988 -- as if that were some sort of defect, in measuring the impact of different religions!)

She asks "freed from what," but all she would have needed to do, was read the articles, to find out. But why should she do that, if skeptics like you will accept empty snark in lieu of real and substantive engagement with the facts? Her questions were idiotic and lazy, refusal to come to grips with a mass of challenging data. But apparently she did understand enough to know that would satisfy a lot of internet skeptics.

These are not "petty personal attacks." How can anyone respect an attack on "faith" that begins by claiming faith ignores the evidence, then when faced with a mountain of evidence, simply throws out petty-fogging a priori complaints about methodology, without even bothering to look at the evidence? If one doesn't want to be treated with contempt, one should not act contemptibly.

In my review of The Religion Virus, where you first challenged me, I also pointed to numerous errors in that book, to explain my negative appraisal. You haven't shown that any of my remarks are wrong. NONE of my points requires me to offer you a general outline of the evidence for Christianity, and prove that it is solid. As a matter of fact, I have done some of that in several published books -- Jesus and the Religions of Man and Why the Jesus Seminar can't find Jesus, and Grandma Marshall Could, in particular. I don't suppose you've read those books? It is not my duty to compress all my arguments for Christianity on obscure sites, for you personally. Nor should my failure to do so in any way imply that I haven't done so elsewhere. Nor do I want to talk about plate tectonics in Inner Mongolia, or how the Designated Hitter would affect On Base Percentages if it were adopted in the National League. If you want to talk about the evidence that the Gospel has liberated women, please read all five of my blogs on the subject, and deal with the evidence, not just the snarky comments of another skeptic who refuses to look at the evidence. If you want to talk about my arguments for Christianity, then read them, and respond substantively and fairly in the appropriate forums.

Your claim that Christians don't provide evidence for their beliefs, is a universal claim. You can't subtantiate it merely by pointing out that I haven't tried to prove Christianity in this blog, for heaven's sake. That would be like saying "The moon is a myth" because you can't see the moon from your bathtub.

Unknown said...

David,

I have tried penetrating your stubbornness before, so one might ask why I am attempting it again. If you have any ability to analyze material but even more importantly to be honest with yourself then surely you see that you’re making a classic causation/correlation error. There isn’t any question that good-old liberal religion has done some good throughout the world (my undergrad degree is from a Catholic university). However, your claims are simply giving Christianity far too much credit, for Christianity is merely a cultural development of the West. David, yours is an overly simplistic argument that is grasping for far too much.

There are far better explanations for why women have been lifted out of poverty and freed from the dire effects of patriarchal societies than the Gospel of Jesus. Far a far better and sweeping account one merely needs to read Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs, and Steel.” As I have asserted before, you suffer from a serious case of confirmation bias. As I noted, the Judeo-Christian tradition has certainly done some good, but these are certainly not the only factors that have lifted women from under the thumbs of men. Here is a little blurb from Professor Diamond:

“Why, then, did the Fertile Crescent and China eventually lose their enormous leads of thousands of years of years to late-starting Europe? One can, of course, point to proximate factors behind Europe’s rise: its development of a merchant class, capitalism, and patent protection for inventions, its failure to develop absolute despots and crushing taxation, and its Greco-Judeo-Christian tradition of critical empirical inquiry” (Diamond 4).

However, you simply ignore socio-economic features other than to show your results; which, by the way, is interesting because everyone one of the 12 countries you mentioned has embraced some form of socialism. In fact, the greater the level of government intervention the higher the prosperity, and where ones finds prosperity one typically finds women who are educated and empowered. In fact, Japan (and now China and other countries) is a perfect example of this and it has been largely free from the traditions of Christianity. So, what you haven’t done is to demonstrate that Christianity has caused this female empowerment; what you have done is show that there is a correlation and that is exactly what Professor Diamond has done. However, the Greco-Judeo-Christian tradition played an ancillary role.

David, my best advice for you is to stop hiding behind the minutia. It makes you look pedantic and petty. You are making all sorts of grandiose claims, but whenever anyone challenges you, you then hide behind such statements as "We have adult conversation here." I asked for evidence because of the claims you were making. You refused this time as you have done the time before. Strange, don't you think?

somethingemailish said...

Thank you for addressing this imporortant subject. It is thought provoking and sincere in approach. I look forward to reading the other parts to it.

-Bethany R.

David B Marshall said...

Thanks, Bethany! Thanks also for bringing attention to this thread -- apparently I never did answer Steve's last challenge. (His best so far, and one of the better I've received on this subject. Maybe it deserves a post of its own.)

David B Marshall said...

Steve: You are, at least, making interesting arguments this time. But you need to read the entire series. The question of what changed things for women is an HISTORICAL question, not an abstract one that one can answer by talking about which continents allow for east-west trade routes, and where the most easily domesticated beasts or grains were located. (Yes, I have read most of Diamond's book. I ran out of steam when I got to the depressing chapter on epidemics.)

I refuse to give evidence? There's a wealth of evidence in this series, if you'll read the whole thing.

Nor, of course, am I claiming that religion is the ONLY important variable -- though I think it is far and away the most important. And the evidence I give in the rest of this series demonstrates that, in my opinion.

The most important changes occurred long before socialism appeared on the scene.

Unknown said...

Hi David,
It’s been a while since we’ve exchanged ideas, so I do honestly hope that this post finds you well. David you are a smart guy but, as I said, I think you have a serious case of confirmation bias. Firstly, how does one separate an abstract idea from a historical one? Indeed, they are often both one and the same. My point about Diamond’s thesis was to illustrate the sweeping scope of history—historical developments that likely allowed for the rise of Christianity. To be honest, I think you do Professor Diamond’s thesis a grave disservice; it deserves far better. Its explanatory power is astonishing.
Quite frankly, the issue I have always taken with your thinking is, for example, you assert Diamond’s thesis is abstract but seemingly fail to consider that your own is even much more so. To claim that Jesus or his Gospels freed women is not only an abstraction it flies in the face of all available evidence. Where one finds virulent religion one finds women in bondage; I can’t think of a single exception. Religion itself has done little to free women, but arguably much of its liberalising effects might have something to do with it—indirectly, speaking of course.
In my opinion, here is a great example of what constitutes your confirmation bias: in your blog above you stated that “when I pointed out that Marxists have carried out far more nasty inquisitions [sic] of their own, several atheists refused to admit that those inquisitions had anything at all to do with atheism, even while blaming Christianity for the Medieval inquisition.” This is another causation/correlation error and it is one that is well known. All socialists are atheists but not all atheists are socialists. A simple historical analysis—one that has been done countless times—will reveal that socialists and religionists have a great deal in common. Because I have lived in Europe for a while now, I can confirm that there are great similarities in the behaviour between socialists and fascists. Socialists attacked the religious and other groups not because of their atheism but because of their socialism. Socialists attacked the church because it was part of the bourgeoisie and it directly competed with the state. To claim otherwise is to write off thousands of pages of scholarly work. Quite simply David, I remain unconvinced by your claim about women, for they have been subjugated and humiliated throughout history by the very entity which you claim has freed them.

David B Marshall said...

Steve: Good to hear from you, again.

I recognize that my comments about Diamond's thesis were a bit of a caricature, and I agree that his model can explain a lot. (I have cited some parts of it myself.)

But I don't agree that Jesus is "abstract." Human beings cause things all the time, as seems undeniable to me. That some human beings liberate other human beings, is something I have seen with my own two eyes, and is not an abstraction at all. (Well the word "liberty" might be abstract, but the bars and pimps who mind those liberated are not.)

"To claim that Jesus or his Gospels freed women is not only an abstraction it flies in the face of all available evidence."

No, it doesn't. I give oodles of evidence in the rest of this series. Have you still not read it? You would have to dismiss every bit of that evidence for this comment to be true. Are you really trying to do that?

"Where one finds virulent religion one finds women in bondage; I can’t think of a single exception."

The word "virulent" rather begs the question. It derives from the word "virus," with associations of colds, HIV, malaria, rabies. Bad religion, by definition, does bad things. But I have shown that Christianity has, in fact, liberated billions of women. So apparently Jesus is not "virulent." He's more the cure than the disease. And apparently people who write books comparing it to a virus, are doing a disservice to something greater than Dr. Diamond.

"All socialists are atheists but not all atheists are socialists."

I would say, neither. Many socialists are Christians -- fortunate in their religious choice, unfortunate in their political choice, I would say.

"I can confirm that there are great similarities in the behaviour between socialists and fascists."

I agree. And there are historical and ideological reasons for those similiarities. Mussolini was a socialist before he became a fascist, for example.

"Socialists attacked the religious and other groups not because of their atheism but because of their socialism. Socialists attacked the church because it was part of the bourgeoisie and it directly competed with the state. To claim otherwise is to write off thousands of pages of scholarly work."

Scholars who say that are wrong, as David Aikman proves in Atheism in the Marxist Tradition.

But if you want to talk more about women and Christianity, please read the rest of the series, first. Because if you can read it, and honestly claim there is "no evidence" that Christianity has helped women, I'll feel like a tour guide to the South Pole with a customer who claims he doesn't see any ice.

Unknown said...

Good Morning David,
I do agree that human beings have liberated other human beings (I wasn’t claiming otherwise), but if I understand your point correctly then it is indeed an abstraction to say that Jesus has liberated people or even women for that matter. To do this you would have to make a causal link between “Jesus,” his Gospels, and the liberation which you claim—even if, for a moment, one were to dismiss the metaphysics. As I have stated, you are grasping for far too much here.
I don’t want this to devolve into an endless refutation of one another but there are some things you wrote wit which I take issue. Here is one example: “why would any man want to have sex with more than one woman? The answer is too obvious, at least to men, to need stating. Lust and philandering need no explanation, nor do rape, polygamy, or the enslavement of the weak.” Actually, to call it lust or philandering renders what is a biological imperative into religious terms. The answer is obvious but only from an evolutionary standpoint: it makes perfect biological sense for men to sow their seed with as many women as possible. To call a perfectly normal human function or desire as being mere “lust” is an effort to reduce it to vulgarity; to hijack it thereby placing it into religious terms.
In addition, you also stated that “but loving those who belong to out-groups is contrary to our strongest instincts, and therefore requires an explanation.” Indeed, I agree and think that this is the crux of the matter. This was my point about socialism, fascism and religion in general. Each of these social phenomena engenders in-group out-group behaviours which can and often become virulent; thereby, making it that much easier “to enforce” the party line on others—particularly those in the out group (PS the word virulent means more than what you have asserted). As it is generally defined, atheism is a lack of belief so I fail to understand how a lack of belief can cause someone to do anything. As an atheist I reject the assertion made by all religions based on an overwhelming lack of evidence; it’s really that simple.
Lastly, David, if I may, you can at times appear to be somewhat flippant with you statements. Historians, theologians, and philosophers do not “prove” things in the same way as a scientist or mathematician. Ergo, your statement that “scholars who say that are wrong, as David Aikman proves in Atheism in the Marxist Tradition” borders on the absurd. No, this is a subject that I happen to know a lot about and there is more than sufficient evidence to support what I said. There is a historical consensus with regard to that point. There are always fringe theories—which is fine—but to say that he proved it wrong is simply false. As I said, religion, like socialism, fosters in-group out-group behaviours and it requires one to prostrate one’s self before the order. Neither classical liberalism nor atheism fosters this type of behaviour.

David B Marshall said...

Steve: The concept of "lust" is familiar I think to most if not every culture (even the Yanomamo, who thought rape was cool), including the concept of inordinate sexual desire. I see no reason why I should read common human experience through the narrow lens of reductionistic evolutionary theory, as if we were no more than animals. Or should we neutralize the term "slavery" in the same way, since exploitation of the Other -- a "perfectly normal human function" as you put it -- is also common in biology? You seem to admit this is illegitimate later in your post.

It is wrong to have sex with as many women as one can because it (a) creates children one cannot care for; (b) induces or heightens hostility between males; (c) reduces women to commodities; (d) people have higher-order needs and desires that may be obscured by unrestrained sensuality; (e) restaining one's appetites is, in any case, part of healthy maturity. All that without so much as mentioning God's commandments, which are for our good.

Atheism is a "lack of belief," so how can atheism cause evil? I'm seeing this line a lot, lately. So since Christians lack belief in the pagan gods, Christianity can't be blamed for ever persecuting pagans, tearing down temples, etc? After all, we just disbelieve one fewer God than you do! Thanks for the absolution.

I take your point about the word "prove." I usually don't use that word for historical claims, except when I feel a bit provoked.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Hi David,
My apologies as I did not mean to provoke you in any way. In your post you stated that “I see no reason why I should read common human experience through the narrow lens of reductionistic [sic] evolutionary theory, as if we were no more than animals.” However, you should see it this way simply because this is where the evidence leads; we are indeed animals. The problem you see is how we react when we hear the word animal; we are simply animals which, through our inherited biology, have attained consciousness. I do not get your analogy with slavery at all. Slavery is not a perfectly normal function—not in the way human sexual intercourse is. This is a completely false comparison. Yes, slavery is not only illegitimate it is an abomination.

Your second paragraph reveals your religious thinking. Having sex with a lot of women is only wrong if it harms one’s self or others. In many cases I would indeed agree with you. As you know, I am a hard-lined atheist but one who is happily married to a lovely women and I wouldn’t cheat because it would harm her. It doesn’t mean that my desire for other women has gone away. I don’t cheat because it will harm her and it will harm me. What you seem to forget in your rather narrow “four definitions” is that women—biologically speaking—also reduce men to a commodity. I could point out a number of things both wrong and right with each point but in no way do any of them render my assertion null. We don’t need a god to tell us that indulging in any behaviour too much is going to harm us; indeed, this is just simple common knowledge. Invoking a god only adds unnecessary complication.

David, atheism is indeed a lack of belief so, I would think, you’d have to see how silly this point actually comes across. I reject belief in gods simply for a lack of belief. In your case, you lack belief in pagan gods—even though there’s as much evidence for them—but you believe in the Christian God. In short, I lack belief and you believe, so I am not really certain your point holds water. There have been great evils done in the name of belief—whether it is in the form of socialism, fascism, religion, nationalism, etc. As I noted before: virulent belief of any kind fosters in-group out-group behaviour which usually leads to such evils as inquisitions, slavery, racism, pogroms, genocide, etc. I don’t need a book or a belief to tell me that harming my fellow human being is wrong; I just know that it is.

David B Marshall said...

Steve: Surely you meant to provoke me in SOME ways. I certainly mean to provoke you. : - )

Exploiting other people for one's own pleasure and benefit without due regard for their ultimate good is the general category into which both sexual and economic exploitation fall. So thinking about it, I recognize that not only is the analogy quite close, but it is not just an analogy at all -- both slavery and randy sexuality are specific instances of the same general thing, using other people for one's own benefit without their full good in mind.

Of course, sharing some premises but not the premise of Christianity, I don't expect you to agree with all my views on sex -- but apparently we agree on some of them, which will have to do for now.

Your last comment sounds humane but I think is historically naive, even from an atheistic POV. People are products of their cultures, in part. Your views, including what you think is "right," are in fact largely formed by the Bible and the teachings of Jesus, whether you recognize it or not -- even if you were born in Japan or India. This series itself explores one aspect of that influence, if you have read the whole thing.

Rejection of belief in God is as much a metaphysical position as belief in Athena is. Obviously, people often do hate, persecute, and kill because of metaphysical positions involving rejection as well as involving acceptance of some belief. If you're an absolute nihilist, and don't believe anything at all, even that you exist, maybe you won't do much harm to anyone but yourself. But every other metaphysical position of rejection is ALWAYS combined with positive beliefs, and MUST BE -- which means that the total package will conflict with other packages, and disbelief ITSELF will be taken as a point of pride, discrimation, bias, and hatred.

This is part of what the "human animal" clearly is. The empirical evidence that atheists can hate and murder in hatred for what they reject, is overwhelming. To deny that, is to deny the 20th Century.

Unknown said...

Hi David,

Our discussion about sexuality reminds me of one of my favourite Bible passages: “Everything is permissible, but not everything is helpful” (Corinthians 10:23—a loose translation but it makes the point). In the context of exploitation I better understand your point; however, wouldn’t you also agree that by reducing the word exploitation to such a narrow definition reduces it to absurdity? Consider, if you will, that exploitation in one sense isn’t the same in another. Sexual exploitation of one another can be enjoyable and mutual whereas exploitation in the sense of slavery is non-consensual.

You said that “people are products of their cultures, in part. Your views, including what you think is "right," are in fact largely formed by the Bible and the teachings of Jesus, whether you recognize it or not -- even if you were born in Japan or India,” but this is a claim that I have made for decades. I can be called a lot of things naive isn’t one of them. Do not forget that the Bible endorses slavery; moreover, the Bible itself has been shaped by society as well. You are actually making one of my underlying philosophical points. It’s all interconnected so the Bible cannot lay claim to too much.

David, I must insist that you’re wrong with the following assertion: “rejection of belief in God is as much a metaphysical position as belief in Athena is.” Indeed, no. There is a difference between disbelief and denial. I have had this argument so many times that I grow weary of it. It is a position but it is not similar in any way. Atheism is not a belief; it is not a cult; there isn’t a leader and we don’t meet on Thursday nights. My best advice to you is to not play slow loosely with words for specificity is our friend when it comes to such conversations—wouldn’t you agree? Here is where you are wrong: “but every other metaphysical position of rejection is ALWAYS combined with positive beliefs [...].” A rejection of a belief doesn’t mean acceptance of another. This is a common misconception.

You then said—of course to provoke me :-)—that “the empirical evidence that atheists can hate and murder in hatred for what they reject, is overwhelming. To deny that, is to deny the 20th Century.” Again, here you are playing loosely with wording. The evidence is clear that atheists can hate and murder—this I never denied—but there isn’t any evidence to support the notion that it was their atheism that caused them to hate or murder. I’ll keep saying it: it wasn’t their lack of belief that caused them to hate and murder but rather their belief in something else—socialism. Even that is likely debateable...

David B Marshall said...

Steve: In the present discussion, I am using "exploit" in a deliberately pejorative sense. If sex with another person does that person no harm, then even if it is immoral (by my lights, or by biblical lights) that is not what I mean by "exploit" at present. Of course, we disagree about the nature and extent of harm: I think loss of virginity is a harm to unmarried people, as are the birth of children out of wedlock, VD, heartbreak . . . Indeed, I think it is very hard to have sex with another person you are not married to, without hurting them in some way, even in this life. But I recognize we probably won't agree on all of that.

I wouldn't say the Bible either endorses or forbids slavery, its ambiguous. (As, in some ways, slavery can be, itself.) But I do think the Bible undermined the institution, and ultimately brought an end to it, in ways Rodney Stark explains in For the Glory of God.

Yes, there is a difference between belief and denial, but both ARE metaphysical positions.

There are volumes of evidence that atheism was an "active ingrediant" in Marxism, that helped lead to mass torture, enslavement, and murder. Aikman shows this, with Mark, Engels, and Lenin themselves. There is plenty of contemporary evidence on this score, as well. People do kill for what they deny as well as what they affirm -- people holding to many and diverse worldviews. Why should one assume otherwise? Again, Christians do NOT believe in Zeus, Kali, or (in some cases) the Virgin Mary, as a virgin -- yet have committed a few crimes against those who did. There is neither historical nor psychological justification for assuming that human beings are incapable of killing for a disbelief. Heck, one could even say Hitler killed for his disbelief in the humanity of the Jews.

Unknown said...

Hi David,

In your previous post you stated that “exploiting other people for one's own pleasure and benefit without due regard for their ultimate good is the general category into which both sexual and economic exploitation fall.” I don’t see this as pejorative at all but rather reflective of a rather narrow interpretation of values—particularly through the lens of Christianity. Some of your points are ones with which I agree but others I simply do not. I agree with your point about VD and possibly with children out of wedlock; I wouldn’t, however, agree with your point about children if it is two unmarried, consenting adults; with regard to children, marriage is largely if not completely irrelevant. You have to be honest here, David—you are merely projecting your Christian values. Consider that people who have never had sex with other people often stray out of curiosity—talk about heartbreak?

It seems obvious to me that the values imposed by Christianity are inhumane and far-too restraining. Perhaps we should teach people a little stoic philosophy instead; it is not so much the loss of virginity that is the problem but rather our emotional reaction to it. Moreover, you still didn’t address my point that exploitation can be mutual and beneficial and therefore not necessarily bad or wrong. Looking at it your way marriage itself is a form of exploitation. This is why I said that we are reducing its definition to absurdity.

To your next point, however, I must protest; indeed, the Bible does unequivocally endorse slavery, and I am surprised that you would even suggest that it doesn’t. It is anything but ambiguous David. Here, please allow me to provide a little clarity (I could have provided 20 more quotes):
Ephesians 6:5—“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ”.

Leviticus 25:44—“Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves”.

David, the Bible endorses slavery and even sets laws around it. The Bible didn’t bring an end to slavery, but rather it has been legalised and repealed numerous times throughout history—many of which predate the New Testament. Christians like to lay claim to almost every good even in history from freedom to free markets and abolition of slavery, etc. I have never read convincing arguments for any of these claims.

Next, you stated that “Yes, there is a difference between belief and denial, but both ARE metaphysical positions”. Firstly, the point I made was about disbelief and denial but they are categorically not just metaphysical. For example, I do not believe that the earth has been visited by aliens (there isn’t any viable evidence) but I don’t deny that it is possible. I deny any claims which assert that the earth is flat. You are making the exact error to which I referred earlier; it is not disbelief that drove the communists to cull populations but rather their belief in something else. Religion is belief in an afterlife and socialism is belief in an ideal.

I have to be honest your last paragraph is not only poorly written but it is almost incoherent. I am a little surprised as your writing is usually quite good. You stated that “again, Christians do NOT believe in Zeus, Kali, or (in some cases) the Virgin Mary, as a virgin -- yet have committed a few crimes against those who did”. Firstly, I think you meant “few crimes” rather than “a few crimes”, yes? You still seemed confused between belief and disbelief or you’re engaging in blatant obfuscation. Your final statement really demonstrates this—“[...] one could even say Hitler killed for his disbelief in the humanity of the Jews”. Let’s reword this “one could say Hitler killed the Jews for his belief that they weren’t human”. It’s all in how one words it. Let me say it again: people do not act or kill out of disbelief.

David Marshall said...

I think sex is such a powerful and ambivalent force, if you don't know you're doing good, you're probably doing harm. Yes, I do think sex and love should go together, love of the other person, which means wanting the best for them more than the pleasure. You don't have to tell me what motivates sex, and "curiosity" isn't the word I'd use.

Is that my Christianity talking? Maybe. But then what is talking from those who justify casual sex? Objectivity? Compassion? Hah. What we have in America now is a situation, with 40% + children being born not having anyone to call "Daddy." Christianity may allow me to see what a trajedy that is, and the broken lives it accompanies, but I think that just shows that the Gospel reveals truth.

Sex is a drug. It intoxicates us, and like any other drug, inclines us to fool ourselves.

"Mutual exploitation" sounds like a recipe for disaster. Mutual love, with all that implies when love means more than lust, at least gives a relationship a chance. Sure, we need one another in relationship, but "exploit" implies all take and as little give as possible -- a nightmare relationship.

This will evidently take more than one post. I think this will be my last commment on sex, though, since there's too much to say about that for this obscure forum, and I'm probably not going to change your mind, anyway.

David B Marshall said...

On slavery, you need to read Stark. Yes, the Bible is ambivalent, and so is the institution. How could the Bible not be ambivalent, when there are some 700 references to love, which is the cornerstone of NT morality? There are just as many passages that question slavery in some way. The NT does depict slave-traders as the worst kind of criminals. (I Tim. 1:10) Paul does ask Philemon to receice a runaway, "no longer as a slave, but as a brother." That's ambiguity, at worst. I'm not denying there are a few passages that seem to sanction slavery -- why do you want to deny passages that clearly point the other way? And as Stark shows, reasoning intrinsic to the biblical way of thinking did develop a theology of liberation that did ultimately change the world.

The Bible did not directly and unequivocally challenge the institution of slavery, and I'm not entirely sure that it should have. The Atlantic slave trade was unambiguously against Christian morality, obviously.

As I explained before, there is a great deal of evidence that hatred of religion, predicated on disbelief in God, was one of the "active ingrediants" in communism that fueled persecution. I regard that as historical fact, and cited an academic work that explores the issue in historical detail. (Which I have done, as well.) I also pointed out that disbelief in one thing or another can also be seen as the "active ingrediant" in all kinds of persecution. It wasn't socialism, pure and simple, it was a form of socialism that was dogmatic atheistic. And the atheism mattered, deeply. If you deny that, you deny reality.

No, I meant "a few crimes." I was being slightly ironic.

Yes, one can rephrase things, if one likes. "Kim killed the Christians because of his belief that there is no God." Nevertheless, both positives are also denials, both beliefs are also disbeliefs. Communists denied God with anger. Nazis denied the humanity of Jews with equal anger. Inquisitors denied Kali in Goa with a touch of the same anger. You have given no reason, against this massive flood of historical evidence, why disbelief can never help to motivate villainy. Obviously, it often does.

Unknown said...

David,

You’re not getting it for you stated that “Kim killed the Christians because of his belief that there is no God." Nevertheless, both positives are also denials”. As I have been saying, you are assuming that disbelief is the opposite of belief. In this sense, there isn’t any distinction between the two words—they’re merely belief but stated differently. Using your definition, then, atheism is merely the belief that there isn’t a God or gods. However, atheism is the rejection—citing a lack of supporting evidence—of the assertion that a God or gods exist. So, I will keep saying it: disbelief doesn’t cause anyone to take action only belief can do that. I think we have driven this point enough but it is a common misunderstanding.

In addition, I find it rather astonishing that you keep asserting that one man’s opinion somehow overrides the historical consensus because it simply doesn’t. To fail to understand why the socialists were atheists is to fundamentally misunderstand western history. The church and heads of state have been intertwined since before the fall of Rome. Although the quote below is poorly worded it nevertheless serves the point.

“During the Russian Revolution, much like the French Revolution, the churches and clergy sided with the Czars of Russia. This is because there was an established relationship between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Czars, much like there was a relationship between the Catholic Church and the French Crown prior to the French Revolution. Because of this, the church was opposing the revolution and working against the peasants and oppressed masses in their struggle to better their own condition” (http://rationalrevolution.net/war/russian_revolution.htm).

Moreover, In Article Four, Chapter 13, Section 64 of the 1918 Constitution of the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic it states that “The right to vote and to be elected to the soviets is enjoyed by the following citizens of both sexes, irrespective of religion, nationality, domicile, etc., of the Russian Socialist Federated Soviet Republic, who shall have completed their eighteenth year by the day of election:” The old canard that atheism and socialism are interchangeable is a lie mixed with some truth. Your scholar friend is wrong; there is too much evidence to support this and it is obvious.

David B Marshall said...

Steve: I agree with your definition of atheism, though many atheists do not. But of course the cognitive act of rejecting a claim can and often does impact the real world. If a skydiver denies gravity, that rejection will have an impact -- his own, onto Planet Earth. And history shows that rejection of God also had an impact, as great atheists SAID it would.

Marx, Engels, and Lenin all vehemently and vocally opposed religion, even before the Russian Revolution. It would have been astonishing if intelligent clerics didn't get the hint, and oppose (rightly) the inhuman revolution from the beginning. You can learn how their attitudes towards religion developed in David Aikman's Atheism in the Marxist Tradition.

What is a lie was, of course, that phrase in the 1918 Constitution. There was little "right to vote" in any real sense, in the Soviet Union, so much less for people who believed in God. I haven't claimed that "socialism and atheism are interchangeable," my claim, as something of an historian of communism, is that atheism was an essential ingredient in Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong thought.

Unknown said...

Hi David,

I do agree that “[...] the cognitive act of rejecting a claim can and often does impact the real world.” However, equally so, the cognitive act of accepting a false claim can and often does impact the real world.” Indeed, just look at the heinous and barbarous acts of religious people every day. In the sense of gravity there isn’t any rational basis for one to reject gravity as there is too much evidence to support it. I will always go back to what I have always said. I reject or, at minimum, suspend judgment on those claims for which there isn’t any evidence. David, no offense is intended but, as I see it, this is a fancy way of equivocating. Indeed, the rejection of belief in gravity is in no way similar to rejecting religion or God.

We agree that the Bolshevik Revolution was indeed inhumane but I remain uncertain whether we’d agree as to its underlying causes and whether, in the end, it was just. As I keep saying, Marx, Engels and Lenin opposed the clergy not so much because of belief itself, but rather because the Church was itself just another oppressor of the poor. I think we can agree that the 1918 Constitution looked good on paper. However, I contend that the socialists were indeed justified in their suppression of the Church, but I would never advocate violence but I suppose that it is often necessary. Which brings me to the final point: the socialists did not so much reject God as they did organized religion, but the rejection of God cannot have any consequences in the real world. How can something that is made up have any impact on the real world? I don’t believe in flying fire-breathing dragons either, but they are great fun to watch in movies.

David B Marshall said...

If you genuinely don't think there is evidence for Christian faith, of course you shouldn't believe it. But if you are fair-minded, then you should remain open to such evidence, and read those who offer it -- the Tom Wrights, Gary Habermases, Bill Craigs, and maybe my new book, How Jesus Passes the Outsider Test, which just came out, and which gives four "new" reasons to believe.

If violence is necessary, why would you not advocate it? But the kind of violence we are talking about, here, is torturing millions of innocent men and women, stealing their children, taking their jobs and goods, and in many cases, shooting them or starving them to death. Feel free to explain why torturing and murdering them was "necessary," even if you do not recommend it, for some reason.

The communists -- not all socialists, again -- did indeed reject God, as Marx and Engels made clear, already. (For reasons Aikman describes.) Even today, Communist Party members in China are supposed to be atheists (though not all are). And of course if the Communist Party cared so much about the poor, they would not have forced churches to stop trying to help them.

Unknown said...

David,

You always seem quite keen to take an edgy tone. There isn’t any great mystery in what I said. I do not like violence but it is often necessary. The science fiction author Robert Heinlein stated it much better than I did:

“Anyone who clings to the historically untrue -- and -- thoroughly immoral doctrine that violence never solves anything I would advise to conjure up the ghosts of Napoleon Bonaparte and the Duke of Wellington and let them debate it. The ghost of Hitler would referee. Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than has any other factor; and the contrary opinion is wishful thinking at its worst. Breeds that forget this basic truth have always paid for it with their lives and their freedoms” (Heinlein).

Again, I don’t advocate violence but I can see why it is often necessary, but I fail to see why you would willingly twist my words to make it seem that I advocate torture and such. We both know it isn’t true. You said that “but the kind of violence we are talking about, here, is torturing millions of innocent men and women, stealing their children, taking their jobs and goods, and in many cases, shooting them or starving them to death.” Indeed, the very same sorts of things that the Czar and company were doing to the poor and working classes. Violence solved this issue: even though he abdicated he was nevertheless taken from power. The rest, of course, is history.

Yes, I agree that it was mostly the communists, and I don’t know what point Aikman made but it is well known why Marx rejected religious thought. As the Russian (Canadian) historian Pospielovsky noted “[Marx] argued that religious belief had been invented as a reaction against the suffering and injustice of the world. In Marx's view, the poor and oppressed were the original creators of religion, and they used it as a way to reassure themselves that they would have a better life in the future, after death. Thus, it served as a kind of "opium," or a way to escape the harsh realities of the world.”

David, for a man who claims to know a lot about history the following comment tells me and anyone else who has studied the Bolsheviks that you’re really not grasping it. You stated that “And of course if the Communist Party cared so much about the poor, they would not have forced churches to stop trying to help them.” The Bolshevik revolution was a revolution by the poor and working classes although Lenin was hardly a member of this class. Taking care of the poor was, in their estimation, a job for the state not the Church.

David B Marshall said...

Steve: I don't mean to be prickly. I agree that violence is sometimes necessary, which is why I sometimes advocate it. I was struck, though, by your saying it was necessary, but you did NOT advocate. Anyway, the devil is in the details.

What is "well known" about Marx is not necessarily what is true. Aikman is an historian who has studied this matter closely, and he argues that in fact, Marx turned violently away from God long before he became interested in economics or "the poor," the latter interest never being all that central for him. His rebellion against God was poetic, psychological, even (Aikman shows) "demonic" in the historically-relevant sense of the day, it was not primarily economic.

Sorry, but I think it is you who don't grasp the reality of communist revolution. Lenin was not working class, neither were most other leaders of the communist party. Most seem to have been professional intellectuals, like Marx himself, like Lenin and Mao and Lin Biao and Zhou Enlai and Kim Il Sung (apparently) and Castro and Che Guevara and Abimael Guzman and Ho Chi Minh and Pol Pot, while Engels was the son of a rich capitalist. There were exceptions, like Peng Dehuai, but even he became a professional soldier at the age of 16.

Unknown said...

David,

Admittedly, I haven’t read Aikman but he is Christian and that makes him pretty suspect. I say this simply because the very nature of his worldview. Perhaps one of the most authoritative authors on the subject is professor Orlando Figes and his work titled “A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution: 1891-1924.” Based on what you have written it seems that Aikman wants to make it a religious struggle rather than what it was: an economic struggle.

David you stated that “[...] I think it is you who don't grasp the reality of communist revolution. Lenin was not working class, neither were most other leaders of the communist party.” David, I have studied the Russian Revolution at length so I assure you that I understand as well as most. Did you read what I wrote? Here is what I said “The Bolshevik revolution was a revolution by the poor and working classes although Lenin was hardly a member of this class.” Did you notice the last bit that stated “[...] although Lenin was hardly a member of this class.” Lenin was ridiculous and I think history has been overly kind to him. He lived off of his mother so he is hardly credible.

I am curious about something: did you revive this old post because you need someone to argue with? I bet that if we took the religion out of it that you and I would likely get on pretty well. We are both cantankerous, argumentative old farts who are likely really nice guys on the inside.

David B Marshall said...

Well, I'm not THAT old. And I'll have you know I was argumentative enough already in single digits.

I've been out of the country for a year, and am catching up with my blog lately. I was pointing people to this long thread, for which this is the first entry, as a subject on which I'm planning to write a book. (To introduce the book I just wrote, How Jesus Passes the Outsider Test.) So that explains how I wound up here. I wasn't PARTICULARLY looking for another argument.

But OK, we've tossed Lenin, that creepy little shrimp, around enough for one week. Enjoy your Christmas holiday.