So here's my point-by-point analysis of Zuckerman's Fireworks. I'll put Phil's comments in orange, in honor of the holiday.
It's so weird when David picks and chooses his examples. He didn't tell you about the Australian aboriginals, perhaps the most peaceful society ever known (among) humans. An indigenous, non-Christian people, who were horrified by the acts of the missionaries. So yeah, pick the Yanomamo, the most notorious violent people you can find in all of anthropology, but ignore the aboriginals. Again, he's always taking the worst example, rather than admitting there could be hope elsewhere, and I don't know why. I detect it's defensiveness.
If Phil had read my books, he'd know how strange an accusation this is. Since True Son of Heaven: How Jesus Fulfills the Chinese Culture was published in 1996, I have reveled in the wisdom, insight, beauty, and goodness that can be found in non-Christian traditions. Four years later, in Jesus and the Religions of Man, I found nuggets of truth even in Communism, and highlighted valuables of Hindu, Buddhist, and tribal traditions as well. I believe the Gospel "saves" more truth in pagan traditions, than Secular Humanism possibly can: God in Islam and traditional African cultures, the Hindu idea of sacrifice, Chinese dreams of a Sage who would sacrifice himself for humanity, Marxist talk about justice, the Sawi idea of a Peace Child, the Dani concept of being born again. My last book, Faith Seeking Understanding, features a chapter on the beauties of non-Christian traditions, by my friend the anthropologist Miriam Adeney.
The Gospel prepares me to find that goodness. This is an ancient Christian insight (shared by St. Paul in Athens, Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Augustine, Mateo Ricci, G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, and many others) that I developed in my doctoral thesis, that I call "Fulfillment Theology." I argue that it constitutes the most orthodox and intellectually satisfying model of religions.
What Zuckerman is referring to, though, is that during the second Q and A period, I mentioned the fact that both prehistoric societies and early civilizations are often oppressive and violent. That is true. The Yanomami are hardly a rare exception: as an older and wiser Margaret Mead came eventually to recognize, the concept of "noble savages" was badly oversold:
"All primitive peoples . . . lead miserable, unhappy, cruel lives, most of which are spent trying to kill each other."
I think "all" here is overstated. But it is true that tribes I lived with in modern Taiwan used to celebrate manhood by cutting off the heads of lowlanders -- getting your first lowlander made you a man. And it's true that most "advanced" civilizations in the Americas, from the Incas to the Mayans to the Olmec (probably) to Cahokia and southwestern settlements, practiced human sacrifice. The murder rate among Yanomami males does not appear to have been higher than many other tribes in Amazonia and New Guinea.
Tribal cultures vary, true: the Yali in Highlands New Guinea, living on the cloudy side of the mountains, appear to have been gloomier and stricter in their religion than the Dani on the sunny side. But both were intensely, almost permanently violent, as were the Sawi and their neighbors in the swamps.
I have, indeed, heard of relative exceptions. Some Eskimos seemed to face such harsh natural conditions that making war on one another became a low priority. Wilhelm Schmidt, with whose theories I am in sympathy, believed that the tribes that were simplest in artifacts were often most "advanced" in morals and theology.
What about the Aussies? Now it's ironic, but Iowa State Religious Studies prof Hector Avalos took me to task after my last debate, for generalizing loosely about Australian tribes in what I deemed a positive rather than negative way. (They believed in God.) Avalos himself played fast and loose with the facts, as I show here. But it is true that Australia contained hundreds of tribes, and general statements about all of them may seem overly bold. It was a short debate, and I can understand if Zuckerman didn't feel he had time to give details.
Were they all peaceful and non-violent? Were any of them? Perhaps there were tribes like that in arid interior Australia. There seems to be widespread evidence dramatically to the contrary. It appears that many tribes were extremely violent, including towards their women. The Maori in New Zealand sure weren't pacifists.
So I'm damned when I praise the Aussies, and damned when I criticize them, too. I guess that's part of the fun of public debates.
But while I wouldn't go as far as Margaret Mead, since it does seem there were some relative exceptions, my milder comments about how harsh "primitive" society often was, seems justified by most of the evidence.
That doesn't mean that these often violent and troubled people are not in many other ways admirable, a point Don Richardson makes, for instance, in our anthology, Faith Seeking Understanding, and that I make in Jesus and the Religions of Man, all of thirteen years ago.
Or maybe that's me being defensive. Sorry!
Defensive, yes, and inaccurate! I am glad Phil is looking for the good in other cultures. This is an attitude very different from, say, David Hume. But many think, and I'm among them, that Rousseau caused the world a lot of grief with his loose romanticizing of primitive tribes. And as we'll see, Zuckerman might understand the stats he cites later to make Christianity look bad better, if he kept the general state of tribal societies more clearly in mind.
Christianity teaches peace. But which are the most peaceful societies today? The least Christian.
Nah, I take that back. North Korea's pretty awful, and they're not.
But on average, if you just look at democracies, and get the dictatorships and the fascists out. Which democracies are the most peaceful? The least Christian democracies.
More dubious assumptions, here.
Does Christianity "teach peace?" Well, no, because "peace" is an abstract condition, not a moral imperative. Christianity teaches us not to hate our neighbors, not to murder or steal or get drunk, which often leads to rampages -- as do most reasonable ethical systems.
The prophets and Jesus also warned that evil being ubiquitous, one should not expect too much peace in this world. "But I have overcome the world."
I had already shown in this debate that the murder rate in Scandinavia fell dramatically during those centuries when reading of the Bible was being popularized by the pietists, and reformers like Hans Hauge were emerging. Furthermore, being intimately familiar with the tribe here in Seattle, Scandinavian-Americans seem no more violent than Danes or Norwegians, except maybe to casseroles.
It is true, most of the cities in the world where the murder rate is highest are in the Western Hemisphere or sub-Saharan Africa. Whether or not Columbia or Swaziland are especially "Christian" countries, and whether flight to faith is more often the cause of, or caused by, the violence and danger one faces, are not questions I would expect Zuckerman to answer in five minutes -- maybe he can answer them now?
As for "Christian" violence, I don't need to use a "No True Scotsman" defense here, because the accusation is so vague, that serious Christianity has not really even been asserted of the criminals.
But why might there be a correlation between violence in general and a vague cultural Christianity, or even genuine Christianity?
Two reasons. First, if tribes, while free, tend to be far more violent than settled and "civilized" people, which appears to be the case, and if human culture tends to persist, as it does, then modern nations made up of tribes and not ruled by powerful central states are likely to retain a high level of violence. And they do. Yet peoples in those conditions are also far more likely to convert to Christianity than, say, lowland Burmese Buddhists, or Japanese urbanites, who have been "pacified" by centuries of strong and often tyrannical government. (Government that, almost needless to say, is capable of great violence itself, which is not taken into account in many surveys of murder rates, or Secular Humanists discussions thereof.)
Christianity often spreads rapidly among very violent peoples like the Yali, Sawi, and Dani in New Guinea, the Wa, Naga, or Hmar in South Asia, or the Taya of Taiwan. Did "accepting Jesus" and reading the Bible make theses people more violent? On the contrary, it appears to have made them far less violent. But the Vikings were not utterly transformed in a day -- as I showed, it took them centuries to mellow out. So why we should expect modern tribes to settle down and beat their blowguns into origami swans overnight?
Second, as Zuckerman himself has pointed out, more violence in a society might drive people into the church. (Read the stories in Cross and the Switchblade, or Chasing the Dragon, to see how a high level of gangsterism and the drug culture can, with a godly catalyst, result in many conversions to Christianity. Or talk to some of the converted gangsters, druggies, revolutionaries, and even terrorists I have met in churches around the Pacific Rim.)
And by and large, if the church is not Peoples' Temple, they'll behave better, once there.
Who is most for going to war and attacking other nations in this country? Evangelical Christians, and Mormons.
Who's the least in favor of going to war and attacking other nations? Secular Americans.
Attacking other nations? Like Canada? Or Nazi Germany?
That way of framing the question demonstrates the vagueness of this charge. Invading Canada, and seizing their oil and land, might make excellent sense from a mercantile or imperial point of view. But neither Evangelicals nor Mormons advocate that invasion, despite all the good fishing up north.
Nazi Germany needed to be invaded and liberated, for the good of humanity. If evangelicals were solidly behind that, as I'm sure they were, did they do a good deed, or a bad one?
What about countries that America has invaded recently -- Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein's Iraq? Neither was run by Adolf Hitler, precisely. But Saddam Hussein did share with Adolf Hitler a propensity for starting wars, killing Jews, and using poison gas on his own people. Despite the many misdeeds of the Canadians, such as hogging the gold at the Vancouver Olympics, these countries were clearly closer to the Nazi side of the spectrum than to the Canadian side.
Whatever the rights or wrongs of particular foreign policy positions, clarity is not achieved by lumping all such acts into one category, and assuming that your side is simply and unambiguously more righteous, because they happen to agree with you. Liberal Democrats, after all, do not exactly have their hands clean of foreign (mis) adventures during the 20th Century.
Child-abuse fatalities are four times higher in Kentucky, than in Oregon.
Now that's a strange stat to throw out. Is it true? What is it supposed to mean?
Only half the people in Kentucky appear to be affiliated with a Christian church. 69% of Oregonians consider themselves (of course this is broader) Christian. What does Zuckerman think explains this alleged stat? What is his point?
Update: Sociologist George Yancey read this post (but not yet "Does Faith in God up the Murder Rate?") and noted:
"I strongly suggest that you read 'Christians are Hate-Filled Hypocrites' by Bradley Wright. He is a friend of mine and a Christian social scientist. Some of the claims of Zuckerman are incorrect or not completely accurate. In the book for example Wright shows how claims that Christianity is correlated with certain social ills makes the mistake of using the wrong units of analysis. He shows that it is the 'blue' areas in certain 'red' states that drive up certain anti-social behaviors."
Might this apply to Kentucky and Oregon? Certainly the Oregon Ducks are evil.
Who's more in favor of guns? Last time I checked, guns could be peaceful, for self-defense, but you know, assault rifles and automatic weapons -- who's most in favor of distributing guns of all kinds? Strong Christians. Who's the least supportive? Secular Americans.
Again, it would be nice to know Zuckerman's source with all these "facts" he's tossing around.
The United States Constitution guarantees citizens a "right to bare arms." That's the Constitution that Zuckerman praised because it didn't have any mention of Jesus in it. Those proto-Secular Humanists apparently thought citizens should be well-armed.
While this is not a right that I much care about -- I don't like loud noises -- I do kind of see its point. The idea is that government in America belongs to American citizens. Defense of our liberties was originally the work of citizen soldiers, state militias, and volunteers. Citizens are still seen not merely as subjects, but as free and independent actors from whom government arises.
This, too, is a complex political issue, and just assuming that everyone should share his position on it, does not, I think, much advance Zuckerman's argument among those who recognize its complexity.
Christianity teaches mercy and forgiveness.
Well, who supports the death penalty in this country? Strong Christians. Who's most against the death penalty? Secular Americans.
A flippant response, which would probably alienate the other side rather than convince them, would be to ask, "Why do Secular Humanists support the alleged 'right' of parents to kill innocent babies five minutes before they are born, but want to protect someone who has raped and murdered a child from justice? Is that your idea of 'mercy?'"
Life is complicated. Reasonable people understand that values, such as mercy and justice, often conflict, and untangling the knot may prove difficult. It may be that some Christians emphasize justice over mercy too much. It may be that society needs to emphasize justice more. These are not simple questions, and again, not grounds for a fair "gotcha" argument.
Who supports the governmental use of torture? Strong Christians. Who's the most against the governmental use of torture? Secular Americans.
In the "ticking bomb" scenario, when a terrorist has hiding a nuclear device somewhere in a large American city about to go off, would Phil Zuckerman be willing to dunk that terrorist in water, or maybe even break out the thumb screws, to save the lives of millions? Is this a simple question, too?
I feel conflicted over it, myself. I can't see how any civilized and responsible person wouldn't. Is it more moral, to send drones to bomb our enemies and their families in Pakistan?
Christianity teaches love -- amen to that! Which among white Americans were most supportive of the Civil Rights? Secular Americans. Who was the most against it? Strongly Christian.
Again, I'd like to see the stats on this.
If true, this is embarrassing. I think I know the explanation, though. Atheists are highly concentrated among the best-educated, less so today than in the 1960s. As such, they are susceptible to the fads and notions of that class -- whether racial progress, environmentalism, Nanny State socialism, Social Darwinism, Freudianism, communism or eugenics, whatever values are accepted by the intelligentsia of a given generation.
In Christ, says Paul, there is neither Greek nor Jew, slave nor free. There is no getting around the fact that the racial egalitarianism and universalism of the New Testament has taken a long time to filter down into the consciousness of Christians -- and we will continue to resist it. Often, Christians can indeed learn from our "competitors," like Gandhi.
South Africa and apartheid. What whites were most supportive of apartheid? The most Christian. What South African whites were most against apartheid? The most secular, and the Jewish.
If true, while probably explicable in the same way, this would certainly be embarrassing.
Which Americans today are most opposed to amnesty for illegal immigrants? The strongly Christian. I guess there is no room at the inn.
But who's most supportive of amnesty for illegal immigrants? Secular Americans.
Arthur Brooks reports a strange and ironic phenomena. While secularists tend to be more in favor of big government, and therefore social spending, they give less than a third as much of their personal finances to charity as do committed believers.
Taking "politically correct" public positions should be distinguished from genuine charity. As Victor David Hanson points out, his highly secular, successful, and left-wing friends in northern California are appalled that he sent his children to public schools with Hispanics. (Subtitle: "If you're hip and liberal, you don't have to go to school with the gardener's kids.") "Correctly" answering opinion polls is what you call "cheap grace," and should not be taken too seriously.
Who's most against the Affordable Healthcare Act, or Obamacare? Strong Christians. Who's most supportive? Strongly secular.
Well it's pretty obvious who was right about that one. And please, let's not conflate Obamacare with "taking care of the poor." I expect I'm poorer than Phil Zuckerman is, and it appears to me that Obamacare is shaping up as quite the fiasco.
We have seen this pattern over and over again.
Yes. Self-confident Democrats assuming their position is the only morally tenable one, when they are not only not self-evidently correct, but in some cases, just plain wrong.
But I bent over backwards to avoid political issues in this debate, so much so that one skeptical poster thought Zuckerman and I were both Democrats.
If (Christianity) would be the basis for Civil Society, I fear that the love ethic might not be the basis, but division. Because we're not all Christians. We're Buddhists, we're Muslims, we're Jews, we're Bahais, we're Shinto, we're Hindu, we're atheists, we're Sikhs, we're Scientologists, we're Nez Perce, we're Wiccan, we're Druid.
And so again, while we may not all be Christian, we are all human.
Throughout the debate, I felt either as if Phil were arguing with some strange shadow being that was crouching under my podium, or that he was trying to force me into some weird position - against democracy, for theocracy or Gnosticism, and now apparently against allowing people who don't belong to either side in our debate a voice in America.
Sure, we're not all Christians. But even less are we all Secular Humanists. And yet as I am demonstrating in my series on education (and Peter Boghossian defends this vociferously in his new best-seller, A Manual for Creating Atheists), many Secular Humanists are trying to force their beliefs down the throat of our children through the public schools.
I hope Dr. Zuckerman disagrees with them. I hope he will join me in fighting to keep public education neutral between religious and non-religious viewpoints, and not allow the squelching of dissent on American universities, as some secularists are trying to do.
And I think some Wiccans and Druids and Muslims may even agree with me about that.
Secular Humanism is an orientation to life, created by people, for people.
Now I think there's a place for faith. I can't imagine life without it. I think there's a place for hope. I can't imagine life without it.
But when looking at how we're going to structure a society, we need reason. We need evidence. We need experience.
Amen! And I briefly described the role Christianity has played in empowering reason, in my opening argument. It wasn't invented by Paul Kurtz.
"We the people" is how this country was founded. It was good enough for our founding fathers, and it is good enough for us all today.
Again (looking furtively over my shoulder)-- was someone making a case for theocracy?
And I will just end with the heart of Secular Humanism, which is, "Treat others as you wish to be treated." That is the heart and soul.
Professor Marshall keeps calling Secular Humanism "squishy," or "squeamish" or something.
No, it's pretty darn simple. Treat others the way you want to be treated.
Actually, it can't be that simple, or Jesus would have been a Secular Humanists.
In truth, Secular Humanism is the doctrine that there is no God or afterlife, but we should care for ourselves and for others. And how one should care for them, according to what set of values and beliefs about human flourishing, make every school of SH complex -- or it cannot meet the inherent complexity of life.
By "squishy" I meant that because it is so minimalistic, developed Secular Humanism can and does take many forms. (And not all of them are nearly "squeamish" enough!)
And that ethic is universal. It is found long before the gospels. Thousands of years (ago) in ancient Egypt, in ancient China. All over the world.
I can't speak for Egypt. But advanced Chinese ethics grew out of the Classics, especially the highly theistic Book of Poetry and the Book of History. Confucius and Lao Zi, both arguably theists, then developed great ethical systems anchored by a divine absolute called Tian or Heaven, the Zhou-era term that substituted for Shang Di or "God" in the earlier Shang Dynasty and in the earliest classics. But the man who preached universal love the most vociferously was Mo Zi, who said that because Heaven loved mankind, we also should love others.
I am happy that Phil agrees, at least with the last part. And I'm glad that Christians in the room heard Phil say that -- I think it helped to build bridges, which for me was one of the points of the evening.
But "God loves us, so we should love others" is not exactly a ringing endorsement of specifically Secular Humanism.
Why? Because its based on basic concepts like empathy, for which our brains have evolved, (and) experience. It's reciprocity is self-evident. And there's no God necessary to understand it or to live it.
And I believe if we're going to have any basis for a civil society, it should be, "Treat others as you would like to be treated," and I think we're all good. Which, by the way, is also quoted by Jesus. So I see wonderful common ground, there.
Yeah, I think we should be able to go a long way with that. And that is why I am glad that there are Secular Humanists like Phil Zuckerman out there. Whatever our disagreements, and whatever shortcuts he may take in understanding the Christian tradition, I do think we are on the same page on a lot of things -- including on central moral precepts, what C. S. Lewis called the Tao (correctly borrowing Confucius' use of the term). And I hope Phil attracts many of the more radical Secular Humanists to his own "kinder and gentler" form of that philosophy.