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Saturday, October 06, 2018

Mountains in Fall back in Seattle

Aside from visiting family outside Seattle on a break from teaching in China, which has been nice, the past week has been one of the best of my life for photography.  This is meant to be more a public than personal space, so I'll share some of the latter with you here. 

The day after I returned, with jet-lag and two sore knees and a sore heel, John, James and I and the dog naturally took a 10-11 mile hike up to Malakwa Lake.  Then the next day Mayumi joined the humans for an overnight in Leavenworth: wonderful hotel, excellent breakfast, and some of the scenes you see below nearby. 

A small storm passed over Wednesday night, with the snow line plunging suddenly. Fall color is at its peak. I hoped to reproduce one of my favorite all-time photos, only with greater clarity: a scene looking down on Snow Lake with its turquoises and lavenders and deep blues, fall colors in the foreground, the cliffs of Chair Peak behind, one waterfall raining down, with snow hidden behind clouds. But the snow was 1500 feet lower than expected, and the breeze was chopping the surface of the lake and obscuring its colors, so I got something different from expected -- and arguably better.  

Vine maples in peak color under their first snow.

A spooky Snow Lake.  





A ghostly fir backlit by a mountain in fresh snow, with fog in between.

We did this photo several years ago.  

Icicle Creek, Leavenworth.

One of my favorites.  The burned logs and the fall colors and the green river with reflections . . . 

Mountain ash is glorious.  



The deadly aminita breaks ground.

A few tips for young photographers:
(1) Your four most important pieces of equipment are your eyes and legs.
(2) A decent camera with telephoto lens doesn't hurt, either.
(3) Look in unexpected directions.
(4) Sunrise, sunset. Sunrise, sunset.
(5) Clouds are your friends, even if Joni Mitchell can't make up her mind.
(6) Weather will produce wonders: it is your responsibility to skip class when it does.
(7) Move to Washington State. (Alaska or Hawaii will do, too.)


Friday, September 21, 2018

Why Richard Carrier's Anti-Christian Harangues are Always Bad


I haven't deconstructed any bad arguments by Richard C. Carrier for a while.  Sorry, I'm writing three books this year, plus working a full-time job, and the skeptical blogosphere is a target-rich environment.   But it is as hard to restrain oneself from messing with Richard's earnest self-worship as it is to not tweak the red nose of a clown, or laugh at a basset hound's sad eyes and floppy ears.

The title of his recent piece is "What's the Harm?  Why Religious Belief is Always Bad."

I wrote the title of my reply before reading Carrier's piece, based on
confidence grown of long experience that Carrier's piece will be awful.  My guess is, he won't even define "religion" usefully.

And what do you bet he will completely ignore all the evidence for the profound good the Gospel has done in the world?

I'll put Carrier's comments and mine in dialogue format, with his in light blue, highlighting points I will dispute with underlining and numbers.

If arguments were goats, Dr. Carrier would go hungry in this profession.
"I’m often asked, 'Christianity doesn’t really hurt anyone. Why is it so important? Just let people believe what they want. At least in religion. Why should we bother critiquing and opposing belief?'

In some cases the question is terribly naive. In others, it’s meant to refer not to conservative and fundamentalist religion—whose dangers to society and to every individual, both within and without the faith, are countless and well documented ,(1-2) but to liberal theologies, so-called 'safe' religions, that don’t appear to cause any overt harm . . . "

(1) As if the fundamentals of all "religions" were the same, or likely to have the same effect.  

(2) I have copiously documented the benefits of serious Christian faith to the human race, and one of the books I am presently writing will break a lot of new ground in that area.  As we have seen before, Carrier doesn't know what he's talking about very well when it comes to Christian history.  


"Why Conservative Theologies Are Dangerous

"False beliefs lead to bad decisions. (3) And that can be dangerous on a mass scale. Paradigmatic examples: the Catholic Church is an international rape factory (4); a majority of Evangelicals are perpetually pushing for war (5), the expansion of poverty (6), and the suppression of women’s autonomy (7); and Donald Trump is President (8)." 

(3) True!  Carrier's false beliefs have led to numerous bad decisions, ask his former wife.  I said his present harangue would be bad, not that every single comment in it would be false.

(4) Abuse of young men and women was the norm in Greek society when Christianity arrived.  Novelists didn't even pretend to mind, cheerfully comparing the thrill one gets from male or female slaves, respectively.  It appears to have been Christianity that forced western man to recognize the evil of such abuse, and the danger of corrupt institutions.

As for the claim that the frequency of rape in Catholic is higher than that in secular schools of the same sort, apparently there is little evidence for that.

(5) "The majority of Evangelicals are perpetually pushing for war?"  I'd love to see the data behind that claim.  I seem to recall spending the whole day today without advocating a single war, battle, or even gang fight.  I guess I'm in an exceptionally mellow mood?

We have plenty tulips our own, as you can see.
True, I believe mass-murders like Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pott, Saddam Hussein, and Osama bin Laden occasionally need to be man-handled.  And I'm grateful that God has given America the power to be a force for good in the world, by and large, over the past 100 years, stomping on genocidal maniacs, bullies, and oppressors when required.  Personally, I think it's wise to distinguish between restraining a tyrant who has killed millions and has used weapons of mass destruction, and, say, invading Denmark to steal a tulip.

(6) I won't try to guess what Carrier means by "the expansion of poverty," or how he relates that to Christianity.  Steven Pinker seems to think poverty has contracted over the past several centuries, pretty dramatically. 

(7) The Gospel has probably liberated women more than any other force in history.  That's what one of my new books is going to demonstrate; but most of the evidence is in other threads on this site, already.

(8) Yes, if evangelical Christians had wanted a cheerleader for Planned Parenthood in the White House, Hilary Clinton would undoubtedly be sitting in the Oval Office, unsecured laptop on top of her lap, and Bill roaming the hallways looking for interns, right now.  Though credit for Trump's victory has to be shared with the press, which was obsessed with his every comment during the primaries and ignored his numerous more-qualified opponents, giving him billions of dollars worth of free publicity, and to Democrats, for nominating someone even creepier.

I don't think Christians need to be ashamed about voting against Hilary Clinton, though I personally couldn't bring myself to vote for Donald Trump.

"But just in case a few examples aren’t enough to make the point clear, let me give you a slightly expanded tour of the horrors of religious belief . . . (cut, reference to another website)

"Conservative religion causes misery to countless people infected with it who don’t conform to its false worldview, from producing self-hating homosexuals (9) to little girls terrorized by the idea they might burn eternally in hell (10) for merely asking questions (11). And countless other examples we could name.  Conservative religion also inevitably corrupts us into ignoring or even supporting evil." 

Most of this is too vague and unsupported to rebut, but let's focus on these three points briefly.

(9) I am attracted to young, beautiful women, not to men.  But the Bible tells me not to lust (a couple times) and to limit my love to one person.  This does not feel natural, especially when that one person is not by my side, or in the mood.  

Does the fact that normative biblical sex conflicts with my desires, mean I "hate" myself?  I find no such emotion within me.  I find numerous problematic tendencies, to be sure, but have no difficulty reconciling "love the sinner" with "hate the sin" in my own case.  I find this conflict between desire and moral restraint universal, outside a sad circle of psychopaths: the only person who is never a hypocrite, is one who admits no moral restraints at all.  

I recognize the conflict, however, and the selfishness and potential harm of my desires.  (Again, ask Carrier's former wife how having your husband play the field can hurt.)  So I don't think my situation is utterly dissimilar from that of people who have other desires they cannot scripturally fulfill.    

Let me ask a hard question now. 
How many homosexuals are alive today because they obeyed Christian sexual mandates?  How many naturally promiscuous heterosexuals, like myself, would have died of syphilis or mad husbands or sired poor and lonely children, if they had not obeyed the Bible?  

The truth is, if everyone obeyed the biblical injunctions on sex, STDs would go the way of the dodo bird or small pox in a generation.   More children would know their fathers.  The world would be a much happier place, maybe even for Mrs. Carrier and any little Carrier pigeons. 

(10) When I was a child, even though I grew up in a conservative Christian home, I think I was more terrified of the prospect of dissolution than of hell.  After all, Christianity teaches that you can do something about God's judgement -- repent -- but atheism had no solution to the problem of death. 

So the terror is a two-way street.  Both Christianity and atheism describe the world in ways that can be frightening.   Atheists who claim Christians are deluding themselves with "pie in the sky" implicitly concede this point: so how can they have it both ways?  How can Christianity be both rose-colored glasses on a frightening world, and a form of psychological terrorism?  (To paraphrase Chesterton.)  

(11)  I don't recall anyone telling me I would go to hell for asking questions.  People asked Jesus questions all the time.  He didn't answer them all, because he perceived that not all were sincere.  


"Lawrence Krauss wasn’t wrong when he wrote in Scientific American that (my emphasis [RC]):

"Religious leaders need to be held accountable for their ideas. In my state of Arizona, Sister Margaret McBride, a senior administrator at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix, recently authorized a legal abortion to save the life of a 27-year-old mother of four who was 11 weeks pregnant and suffering from severe complications of pulmonary hypertension … Yet the bishop of Phoenix, Thomas Olm­sted, immediately excommunicated Sister Margaret, saying, “The mother’s life cannot be preferred over the child’s.” Ordinarily, a man who would callously let a woman die and orphan her children would be called a monster; this should not change just because he is a cleric. (12)

Even just the idea of giving enemies of the people a “pass” merely because they profess to be pious or clerical, is a threat to society that must end. But worse is the very production of such vile beliefs. Kill moms? Really? And that’s but one example."

(12) I don't agree with that decision, if it has been accurately represented.  But tens of millions have been orphaned because their parents refused to obey the biblical commandments on sexuality and marriage.  Where is the compassion for them?

A woman who needs an abortion should probably not go to a Catholic hospital, even in extreme circumstances.  But yes, if Krauss was representing the situation accurately (but why was he beating this drum in Scientific American?  What is the scientific angle here?) faced with a tough choice like that, I think you have to save the mother's life.

"In actual fact the Catholic Church is an international rape factory. And has been for decades; possibly untold centuries . . . "

Again, no attempt is made to support the claim or put it into context.  Newsweek finds the claim false, as linked above.

When Catholic priests came to Japan, they were horrified at how Buddhist priests regularly abused the young men put into their care.  I get the feeling from reading their accounts that they did not find this appropriate or normal. 

The notion that the Catholic Church invented or popularized sexual abuse is utter nonsense.  I have been reading ancient texts on women and sexuality for the past few years, and do not think I have even encountered the notion that a man should not take his slave girl or boy whenever he desires -- unless you apply the Ten Commandments strictly.  Christianity helped impose the idea that such actions were abusive.

"And that’s not the only horror (13) that Church has unleashed on the world. Even now that same Church also teaches false and dangerous, even lethal, things about a great deal else, from condoms and AIDS in Africa (14), to mental health and marital and parental and sexual relationships. The Church even denies charity to aid groups that so much as associate with gay people. (15) And likewise enforces other positions it irrationally and harmfully endorses. Add it all up, and the harm Catholicism does well exceeds any good. Just see the Intelligence Squared Debate on whether the Church has been a force for good in the world—the affirmative is thoroughly annihilated by Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry." (16)

(13) This links to a list of the usual items, such as Crusades and witchhunts, by a blogger who seems to know as little as most people who make such lists.

(14) "Condoms and AIDS in Africa," is a little vague, so nothing more need be said.  (Except maybe that westerners who celebrated the sexual "freedoms" of African converts didn't seem to see that one coming.  One anthropologist wrote a book about how wonderful sexual wantonness was in a certain district in Africa; AIDS has since devastated that district, where she found a boyfriend for herself, while she was hanging out.)

(15) There is something particular perverse about chastising an organization for not giving charity to one group, without pausing to first note that they give charity.  That is the herd of elephants in the room: the enormous amount of good that Christians have done for Africans and people on other continents, while totally escaping the censorial and self-righteous eyes of philandering arm-chair quarterbacks of philanthropy.

I received an e-mail a few days ago from my former pastor Ron Rice, who has helped build wheelchairs for thousands of Nigerians, Christian and Muslim, crippled by polio.  They have a factory in Nigeria, run by a colleague who himself needs to use one of their products.

I guess Carrier doesn't get those kinds of e-mails.

Some atheists and skeptics have recognized the power of the Gospel in Africa, but such notices pass Carrier by, as well.

(16) And I believe I "annihilated" (to use Carrier's word) Hitchens' arguments in The Truth Behind the New Atheism, at least those that seemed worth addressing.  He is not an historian, and I think would only impress those who, like Carrier, don't know Christian history well, or that side of it that Carrier hides from.

"Do you think mass child rape only happens in the Vatican’s corporate properties? Look over the nightmarishly vast collection of reported “black collar crime” that Freethought Today has published at least two whole newspaper pages worth nearly every month for decades now (e.g. the June 2018 edition). And the crimes they document aren’t just rampant child molestation, but range from fraud to manslaughter. Faith, trust in religion, support of religious institutions, makes this possible. Churches should be treated just like any other corporation: just as self-interested, and just as much in need of suspicion, criticism, oversight, and regulation." (17) 

(17) "Power corrupts."  Whose verdict on history was that again?  Was Lord Acton an atheist?

Of course all human institutions tend towards corruption.  What follower of Jesus Christ, who spent his career calling out corrupt religious leaders, can deny that and affirm scripture at the same time?

I know a pious Christian who helped bust a sex-abuse ring posing as a kind of child-care center.  Of course perverts, abusers and sadists are going to create such fronts.  They will naturally gravitate towards positions of power and places they can get to vulnerable young people.  So long as we have schools, or even families, or humans congregate at all, including of course New Atheists at conferences, the strong will seek gratification at the expense of those who are weaker.

This is one reason Marxism failed: it located evil in a class, and thus overlooked it in the heart of Marxist leaders.  (Solzhenitsyn makes this point well.)  By rejecting Christian orthodoxy, Marxists rendered themselves more liable to tyranny and abuse.

But notice what Carrier does not do.  He provides no general overview, no backdrop against which to evaluate the Christian record.  He does not prove abuse was worse in churches at any period, let alone down through history, as he implies.  He cherry-picks.  He points at every piece of data that supports his thesis, and ignores all those that fail to do so, or that disconfirm it.

Such an approach is fundamentally irrational.   It is precisely the kind of pseudo-argumentation I am seeking to overcome in How Jesus Liberates Women.   If the New Atheism is going to grow up, it needs to learn how to argue rationally, bravely, with all the evidence on the table.

"And it doesn’t end there." (18) 

(18) Reasoning hasn't started, yet.

American Evangelicals lobbied for the mass murder of gay people in Uganda.(19)  Hundreds of thousands of American voters have in recent years supported “kill-the-gays” candidates even in the U.S.(20)   See my section on “Equivalence” in my article on Islamophobia for that and more. And again, that’s just one example. (21)

(19) Is this like the claim that "the majority of evangelicals are perpetually pushing for war?"   Did all of us lobby to murder all the homosexuals in Uganda?  I don't recall hearing anyone I know recommend murdering gay people in Africa.  I'd have had strong words for them, and so, I think, would most serious Christians.

(20)  Hundreds of thousands?  Out of hundreds of millions?  You can get some people to light their own shoes on fire.  Voting for fools hurts less, short-term, and is therefore even more popular.

Meanwhile, one quarter of the French population sometimes voted for communists.

(21) Anyway, that's two examples if we're charitable, none if not.

"Homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexism, prejudices galore, all get rationalized, defended, and spread by conservative Protestant sects (and Orthodox sects and every other kind). On every political issue I’ve ever tried lobbying for, (22) from environmentalism to peacekeeping to fighting poverty to women’s rights to stem cell research to abolishing vice laws to death-with-dignity legislation to improvements in tax and social welfare policy—literally everything—one group was always in my way: conservative Christians. Always. Their opposition to human betterment and social progress is extensive, multi-faceted, well-documented, and shameless. Faith. Belief. They create and feed that monster. And that’s why they must go."

(22) Richard is such a light in the darkness.  I'm sure if he's for a given piece of legislation, there can't be anything to be said against it.  I mean, how could legislation encouraging old people to die more quickly possibly go wrong?

But where does Carrier want us Christians to go?

I'll go to my school, tomorrow, the mother school of which was founded by Presbyterians.  The last school I worked at in China, completely secular like this one, belonged to a network founded by missionaries from Yale, who also started the main medical hospital in that province.

It really is shameless, how these Bible-thumpers are so constantly opposed to human progress.

"But this has already been thoroughly demonstrated, on countless different dimensions. Marlene Winell’s advocacy for “Religious Trauma Syndrome” is but one example. For many, many more, see John Loftus’s Christianity Is Not Great, Hector Avalos’s Fighting Words, Valerie Tarico’s The Dark Side, Janet Heimlich’s Breaking Their Will, Billy Wheaton’s Hooks and Ladders, Darrel Ray’s Sex and God, Jerry Coyne’s Faith Verses Fact. (23) You know. Just for starters."

(23) I've refuted numerous bad arguments along these lines by Loftus, Avalos, Tarico, Ray, and Coyne on this site, on Amazon, and in some cases in print, "just for starters."  I won't pause to link them right now; feel free to look around.  Refuting such books isn't difficult, because most such attacks are as vacuous, one-sided, ill-informed, and poorly reasoned as the present harangue by Dr. Carrier.  

"Conservative religion not only damages the individual believer with false, harmful, even hateful beliefs about themselves and the world, it is “also highly correlated with violence and physical and emotional abuse, and the suppression of the liberties and well-being of others” (Problems with the Mental Illness Model of Religion).(24)  It therefore must be opposed."

(24) This link goes to another long blog piece by Carrier.  The evidence I've seen, for instance in Patrick Glynn's God: the Evidence, and in Arthur Brooks' Who Really Cares, points in the opposite direction.  Glynn shows that committed believers in America tend to be far happier and mentally healthier than their peers.  Brooks shows that they are also several times more generous, on average, in giving to charity, and even more apt to give blood.

But as far as opposing "religion," whatever that is (my prediction was right, Carrier has offered no definition so far), I am sure he is preaching to the converted.  His fans are against the thing already, whether or not they know what it is.

"But what about “nice” religions?

"Why All Theologies Are Dangerous

"First, all religions are systems of lies, designed to keep us trapped and controlled by fear. (25) Liberal, conservative. Doesn’t matter."

(25) Maybe that's the definition of "religion" I've been looking for?  A "system of lies, designed to keep us trapped and controlled by fear?"

Hmmm.  Carrier has made dozens of errors so far in his over-the-top attempt to instill fear of "religion" in his followers.  So is Carrierism also a religion?  There may be something to the notion that Carrier intends to trap secularists in his systems of lies by means of fear.

This was supposed to be an argument, by one of the world's greatest philosophers and historians, if you believe his press releases. (And Carrier does.)   But all I've found so far is an emotional harangue with hardly a single element of rational reasoning in the whole piece: no definitions, qualifications, methodologies, control populations, or mention of contrary evidence vast as it may be -- one begins to tap one's foot and look at the clock.

How long is this sermon going to go?

Let's cut a bit of the blather, and see if we can find some morsel rationality or serious argumentation in Part II, Carrier's attack on liberals:

"We should be appreciating those we love while they still exist, enjoying our loved ones’ company more now, (26) knowing full well it will end, rather than deferring it to a fictional future; we should be dealing with our grief and loss so we can move beyond it, rather than bottling it up in fear and false hope."

(26)  Those religious people, they just don't appreciate their loved ones like Richard Carrier does!   And by "appreciate" I mean, run off on your wife after she works you through grad school and chase other women!

Because if Christians did care for their loved ones, they might -- I don't know, build hospitals to take care of them? Start hospices?  Carve statues of saints on churches?  Name holy days for those who continue to inspire them?

Some scholars say what distinguished the early Christians was precisely their willingness to care for their loved ones.  Two of my last articles at The Stream paid tribute to Christians who have meant a lot to me: my Mom (and father), and Don Richardson.  So I wonder that Carrier seems to think the idea of showing people appreciation while they still live was an idea that is so foreign to the Christian tradition: western culture is filled with monuments that prove the opposite.

"If you really think religion’s only utility is in comfort, then you should condemn all religions that carry any dangers and discomforts, and fully support everyone fabricating any belief system that makes them happy. Lovable faerie worlds. Benevolent polytheism. Post-mortem solipsism. We get to live forever in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. (27) Anything. It’s all the best thing ever. All other religions, a curse. That should be your position. If it’s not, then you don’t really believe we should believe false things merely because of the comfort they bring us." 

(27) Bugs Bunny cartoons are amusing to watch, but would be a nightmare to live in forever.

This paragraph is part of a long rant against the notion of believing in religion merely because someone supposedly finds it comforting.  I've been saying that for decades, and leading Christian thinkers, for millennia.

Carrier follows with the usual unevidenced conceit that Christians believe by means of blind faith.  Without, of course, offering any real evidence.  But he then offers an interesting complaint about religious liberals:

"They may be on the right side of most things, unlike conservatives; but they often still stand in the way of future advances in social wisdom, with their own peer pressuring and passive-aggressive judgmentalism—such as punishing anyone who becomes ethically nonmonogamous (28), or reinforcing mainstream everyday “benevolent” sexism."

(28) Gee, what might Carrier mean by "ethically non-monogamous?"  Could he refer to his own sleeping around while deluding his wife?  Because nothing says "ethical" like finding willing women on the road and then coming home to tell your loved one fairy tales.

But notice the contradiction in Carrier's arguments here about Christianity and sex.

Apparently the problem with Christianity is that it both allows sexual predation, and criticizes it.   Unless we are to believe that Richard Carrier has treated women like a gentleman, which notion just made my BS-detector blow up and take out half the floor.

But then Carrier says something interesting (almost done, don't leave!), citing the radical Religious Studies prof Hector Avalos:

"Liberals are also less able to really debate conservatives, which is why they almost never do. Because the liberals “have no text.” That is, they do not use the Bible as written (unlike the conservatives claim to).  They use human interpretations—which means any interpretation can replace it. In truth, the conservatives always do this too; but they pretend they aren’t, giving them an often impenetrable self-righteous edge . . . What the liberal theologian insists is true, is no longer anchored to any evidence, any proof, anything that could persuade . . . In its practical effectiveness, it’s worse than atheism."

Rather than cite a liberal Christian to prove how weak liberal Christianity is, though, he quotes an atheist Jew:

"When (in Does Christianity Harm Children?) Phil Zuckerman tried explaining the basic Christian doctrine, which even liberal Christianity endorses and graphically depicts in its own ways, to his young daughter, a child, he had to confess, “The whole thing is so totally, horrible, absurdly sadistic and counter-intuitive and wicked. (29) Not to mention baldly untrue.” 

(29) Oddly, when Zuckerman interviews secular people in Scandinavia and asks them what shaped their progressive beliefs, again and again they credited their "sadistic, wicked" Christian heritage for their moral virtues.  I cited him when we debated in California, and Phil didn't deny the quotes.  I could have given many more.

Anyway, Zuckerman is an odd person to cite here, as if one of America's most anti-religious sociology professors "had to" admit he didn't like religion.  Of course Carrier is also famous for downgrading the "Argument from Embarrassment:" his use of it is certainly uncommonly weak.

At the end of his piece, Carrier returns to his First Hate: orthodox Christianity. Liberalism is bad, but Christianity in its original state was ghastly indeed:

"This should be one of the most obvious lessons of the last three hundred years: the secularization of governments and human rights has created a context in which religion could be moderated by dissent over time.  (30)  Which is precisely why Christians aren’t waging crusades and inquisitions anymore (31-32), and though hundreds of thousands of Americans still want gays executed, they are now but a tiny and shrinking fraction of Christians in America, most of whom find these murderous peers repulsive and would never support their passing of laws." 

(30)  Oddly enough, Jesus himself told his followers to stand down when they got that murderous twinkle in their eyes.

This is because he was deeply influenced by the Enlightenment.  Or was it the other way around?  It's so hard to keep track of whether the past influences the future, or vice-versa, especially while reading skeptics like Richard Carrier.

(31)  If secularization stopped the Inquisition in 300 years, why did Christianity take 1200 years to start it in the first place?  And why did the Soviet Union and China, which proudly promoted the story of the Enlightenment and the death of God as announced by Feuerbach, Nietzsche, and Marx's buddies at Berlin University, kill more people in a couple days of their inquisitions than the Spanish killed in 300 years?  Can we call a forest fire a "moderation" of the light that a firefly put out?

(32) As for the Crusades, I think the first of the bunch saved Western Civilization, which seemed a good idea, at least until the likes of Richard Carrier and his friends came around.

Now the preacher gets that distant gleam in his eyes, as he peers through the fog of war towards the Celestial City, the promised, post-Christian Valhalla:

"We sometimes forget how enormous a shift this is from the Middle Ages. (33)  If it can happen to Christianity, it can happen to Islam, and anything else. And really, that’s the only way it’s going to happen. You aren’t going to convert a billion Muslims to atheism. But you can create a context in which they will gradually liberalize themselves over the next two hundred years. Like we did. Because that’s the only way we did it. That then opened the way, gradually to be sure, for atheism to have breathing room, and eventually itself grow. This all simply requires the secularization of governments and human rights—such as accepting freedom of religion and freedom of speech as fundamental rights."

(33) The paradox is, there are far more Bible-reading and believing Christians today, as a percentage of the world's population, than there were in the Middle Ages.  Churches were fairly empty, and few even knew what the gospels said, as Stark shows in Secularization, RIP

Not, of course, than the Middle Ages were the hell-hole so many secularists believe.  They represented probably the greatest civilization the world had yet seen: greater freedoms, more food, inventions, commerce, and art.

Carrier also ignores the fact that Islamic fundamentals focus on Mohammed, who modeled child abuse, slave-trading, war-mongering, and mass murder.  He is reifying the word "fundamentalism," like the idol of a demon by which to terrify children -- his very definition of "religion."  
  
"But for all that, even liberal theologies pose their own dangers we must still continually oppose. We should not want these faith-based systems of false-beliefs to continue. They are handy as a gateway. But that bridge ultimately also needs to go. Because liberal theologies saddle us with dangerous epistemologies, they hold back our growth as human beings, they leave us more vulnerable to oppression, fraud, and abuse; indeed more vulnerable to causing and spreading abuse ourselves. They distract us from what we really ought to be doing, which is building evidence-based, testable, revisable worldviews. Meanwhile, conservative theologies pose far greater and even more obvious dangers we must oppose in every civil way possible.

"So when someone asks, “What’s the harm?” The answer is that. All that."

An impassioned sermon, but without a trace of real thinking behind it.

Carrier's concession at one point in another part of his article that even things we don't call religion exhibit the pathologies he decries, is framed as a "trump card" moment, but really ruins the whole sermon, if you think about matters reasonably.

This concession reminds us that (as predicted) Carrier never bothered to define "religion."  So the word means "belief in God" when he wants, but "ideology of all kinds, like those supposed atheists on the other side of the Iron Curtain," when that definition seems more useful.

It reminds us that people often do bad things in groups, whether you call them "religious" or not.

It reminds us that Carrier has not once tried to differentiate intellectually between the harms Christianity may have caused by virtue of its teachings, and the harms it may have caused by virtue of creating human institutions -- often originally positive and useful ones.

Which further reminds us that all the good Christianity has done -- nations reformed, educated, healed, liberated, wars ended (yes), slaves liberated (yes), crops sown, science encouraged, the opposition to evils like human sacrifice, widow burning, foot binding, and individual lives immeasurably enriched -- are completely ignored in this long article.  Not one word of all that is mentioned.  Not a single of my friends is mentioned, who overcame drug addiction, were liberated from forced prostitution, gained an education, or were healed under the sign of the cross.  Still less does he cite Robert Woodberry's studies showing that Protestant missions led to the institutions of civil society and democracy around the world.

Carrier has also cited no control groups: civilizations apart from Christianity, where children are never abused, group think is absent, and science progresses from glory to glory without the dead weight of theology dragging it down.

Still less, of course, has Carrier given us a methodology by which to compare Christian to non-Christian societies in a fair and systematic way.

Richard Carrier's harangues are, indeed, always bad: this one worse than some, if not (in my opinion) quite the worst.

But this sloppy mess of flow-of-conscious argumentation reminds me what I need to do better, to make a real historical argument:

a. However frightening, you must consider contrary evidence if you wish to persuade reasonable people.

b. Define key words properly before use.

c. Argue from systematic data, rather than mere ear-tickling anecdotes.

d. Beware of your own biases, and guard against them.

e. Compare the Christian track record to that of other traditions.

f. Read up on missions, if you wish to write about Christian history!

g. Distinguish carefully before the effects of human nature and of particular moral teachings. If something is universal, it wasn't caused by one particular faith, though it might be exacerbated by it.

h.  Remember that causes generally come before their effects.

i. But you also need to show that the cause was proximate enough to credibly lead to a given effect, either because the first event happened shortly before the second, or because it led to a credible chain of events ending in that end result.

Those are a few of the elementary principles that the great historian and philosopher Richard Carrier has utterly neglected in this half-baked argument.

Not that he's alone in committing such oversights.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Don Richardson floats on The Stream

You know how it goes.  You travel into a mosquito and crocodile-infested swamp to tell people about a God of love who sent His Son to heal, feed the hungry, free women, and give his life for the world.  But it turns out the cannibals who hear the story think Judas is the hero.  What a man!  He cleverly pretended to be Jesus' friend for years, then betrayed him with a kiss -- a true Sawi artist!  A new standard in the macho art of betrayal!

My article telling Don Richardson's remarkable story, and the lessons to be learned from it, was just published at The Stream.  Pass it around!  I think you and your Facebook friends will enjoy it:

https://stream.org/don-richardson-warring-cannibal-villages-christ-missions/

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Does Christianity Help or Harm? (Analyzing Assertions)

Now the rubber meets the road.   Having gathered numerous assertions by skeptics and Christians about the impact of Christianity, then tried to trace those supposed affects to Jesus, the Bible, or later Tradition, we now ask whether those claims are true or not.  

Monday, August 06, 2018

Does Christianity Help or Harm? (Gathering Assertions)

How we see right and wrong depends on how we see God, Nature, and Society.  If you're Maori, then the "mythological origin of women" explains why the male symbolizes "success, prosperity, and vigor," while the female symbolizes "calamity and distress."  (Maori Women, Berys Heuer, 10)  In which case, don't let your wife near your house or canoe while you are building them, but you might have her consecrate them afterwards with her evil powers.  Likewise, a clear change for women can be traced during the evolution of early Hindu thought.  Ramayana already began to idealize the woman who burnt herself to death.  Then the Law of Manu warned widows they would be born as jackals if they remarried, which I think helps explain why two thousand years later, Rajput women still refused to remarry (Sitah's Daughters: Coming Out of Purdah, Leigh Minturn, ).  (Even if they were virgins.)

Clearly, ideas have consequences.  

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Christ and the Babylonians

See the source image

I just finished Women in the Ancient Near East, a source book edited by Mark Chavalas.  The book focuses on one aspect of life in the Fertile Crescent (how women are portrayed), good preparation for a book I have been working on for several years arguing that "Jesus liberates women."   It features a sample of non-Jewish texts from the region from about 2400 BC to about 600 BC, which proves interesting for a few other reasons as well.

Monday, July 09, 2018

Suetonius and Jesus

I have long been prejudiced against the Romans, but am glad I finally broke down and read the Roman historian (or biographer) Suetonius.  And not only because he confirms my prejudice!  (Though that is always welcome.)

Friday, July 06, 2018

The 30 best movies ever!



It is an indictment of modern civilization that it deems movies like Elmer Gantry among its best.  Bullfeathers.  Who ever wanted to watch Elmer Gantry again?  That's the test.  Either that, or you are so haunted by one viewing that you don't DARE watch the film twice.

Here are my top 30. 

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Hector Avalos vs. Jesus, Round IV

Sigh.  It's Bambi vs. Godzilla, all over again. 

Hector Avalos wants to step back in the ring with Jesus of Nazareth. 

Friday, May 18, 2018

Richard Carrier and Germs

Sometimes it takes me a while, but reading the Mark passage about washing hands this morning on the roof of my apartment, it suddenly occurred to me how I should have answered Richard Carrier's challenge (and on-line argument) on this subject, several years ago when we debated in Huntsville, Alabama. 

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Mom and the Bible

The Stream just published a short piece I wrote about Mom and the Bible -- right before Mother's Day!  Happy Mothers' Day to those of you who are.   It made me think about the sort of legacy I would like to leave to my children -- I'm afraid I haven't measured up to my own parents on this score.

Sunday, May 06, 2018

"Marshall is a Cowardly, Moronic Atheist."

Those of us who are Christians should care deeply about truth.