Tuesday, October 29, 2013

David Timms asks questions (Marshall-Zuckerman IV)

David Timms: News organizations remind us every day that our society seems to find new depths of dishonesty, violence, greed, sexual depravity.  How does your position offer hope for the future? 

Zuckerman: Whoo!  I'm going to try to calm down, sorry. My coffee kicked in.

I'm going to go philosophically first of all.  As I understand it, and I could be wrong -- but my in-laws are born-again Christians, my wife's relatives, I've studied Christianity, my first girlfriend was a born-again Christian.  As I understand it, Christianity views this world as sort of a back-stage staging area for a much grander and more glorious, or fiery, eternity.  So when I compare 70 years, 50 years, 40 years, to eternity, 50, 60, 70, 80 years is nothing.  That's my understanding that Christianity teaches that there's another, better, bigger or worse reality that's far more significant than this. 

Secular Humanism teaches, this world, this life, this time, that's it.  And I know that message doesn't pack churches.  But to me, and my wife, and my kids, this is all I will ever -- this is it!  If I die tomorrow, that's that, life over. 

I believe that if you think this world -- oh, oh, not just a staging area, many Christians believe this world is about to be destroyed in some rapturous tribulational prophecy.  And they welcome that as part of God's plan.  So if you think this world is just an insignificant blip to get you to a greater eternity, or you think this world's about to end in some rapture, and you welcome that, why would you care to solve the world's problems?  I mean, what's the deal?  If I said, you know folks, we're going to be here for five minutes and then somewhere else for ten billion years, would you bother with, "Oh, my seat's not comfortable."  Secular Humanism says, "This is it!  This is all we have!"

There is an imperative, there, to make this world as good as it can be for ourselves, our children, our grandchildren and other human beings.  We don't get a second chance!  This is it!  We want to make this world as just, as fair, and as peaceful as possible, because for us, this is all there is.  And I believe that would lead to a much more proactive and ethical civil society than one in which we teach our children, "This is just temporary.  Or its gonna end soon." 

Marshall: Well earlier I was asked to defend theocracy.  Now it seems like I'm being asked to defend Gnosticism.  We as Christians of course place value in our short, brief lives in this world, as I've indicated already, historically. 

When I was in Taiwan, I had a couple friends, by the names of Frank and Annie Bartellato.  They had suffered from a lot of the problems that Dr. Zuckerman talked about.  They were drug addicts.  Frank was in the Vietnam War, he married a pretty Chinese girl.  They started to sell drugs, do drugs and started to fight.  Her body was ruined by the drugs, doctors said she wouldn't be able to have any children. 

Now Dr. Zuckerman says that one of the problems with Secular Humanists is that they don't have enough children.  They became Christians in what they described as a miraculous way, they told me the story.  A doctor prayed for her, and she had a beautiful son.  And in Taiwan they set up a drug rehab center.  And when I visited their place on the coast of Taiwan they would have 50 or 60 people who were drug addicts, who were being taken in and helped.  They'd often take in prostitutes as well. 

What the Gospel does on a small scale like that -- I've met hundreds of people like that, the Gospel changing the world.  I've traveled in many countries, and I've seen this over and over again.  What the Gospel does on a small scale, it can do on a big scale, and has done historically. 

Timms: The second question that we might ask you gentlemen to respond to: how important is a common moral code for the development of a civil society?  In other words, can we function civilly with a plurality of positions on what constitutes "moral."

Marshall: Sure.  Christianity first arose, Jesus preached the Gospel -- it was not the dominant religion.  Jesus didn't set up a camp in Mecca or Medina.  The Gospel arose in a society in which it was not dominant for the first 300 years or so -- it was a pluralistic situation.  So I don't think Christianity needs to be forced or subjected on the rest of the population. 

But there needs to be some basis for society itself -- in other words, if sharia law were instituted in the United States, obviously we couldn't live in those sorts of conditions very easily.  Or if the communists took over, or something like that. 

Talking about communism, some of the things Dr. Zuckerman was just talking about, how civil society is benefited by Secular Humanism reminds me of many of the slogans of the Marxists.  I studied Marxism when I was in college at the University of Washington.  And a lot of the slogans they used were kind of the same way -- that, you know, "You worry about what's going on in the Hereafter, and we just worry about what's going on today."  And in fact, communism grew up in that kind of a New Atheism "clique" in Berlin, at the University of Berlin. 

I think we have a lot of common ground, because we both agree about democracy, we're both democrats, we think there should be a plurality of views.  And I believe the Gospel welcomes a plurality of views.  And Jesus set the example not of forcing people to believe, but inviting people to believe. 

Zuckerman: OK.  Man, I thought drooling Vikings who raped women was a tough one to be linked to.  Now I've got the awful communists. 

Hey, that's history.  I don't deny it, and it's true. 

It's just strange to me that Dr. Marshall keeps saying, "Yes, we can have a plurality.  But Christianity should be the basis of a civil society."  That's, too me, very hypocritical.  Sorry.  I mean, but what do you say?  I'm not Chri -- There's a lot of people who aren't Christian in this world.  What are you saying to them? 

I would argue that a plurality of moral values and perspectives is an unavoidable fact of the modern world.  I mean, you can't wish it away.  It's just the way it is.  So civil society will work better if we work together for greater good of all.  And this is best accomplished when there is a plurality of perspectives having a seat at the table.  If you say "Christianity is the basis," a lot of people aren't going to be able to sit at that table. 

You privilege one race, or one ethnic group, or one ideology -- only communism allowed -- or one religious group, you are squelching the conversation!  And that's exactly what our founding fathers sought to avoid!  I mean, it's strange to me that this isn't just given!  To me, you want a common moral code -- let's take the Bill of Rights!  Can we agree?  I mean -- to me, it's awesome!  Awesome! 

But there's no God in that document!  There's no Jesus!  There's no Mohammed!  There's no Buddha!  It's a secular document! 

My point is not that we're arguing government.  My point is that democracy is a necessary foundation for a healthy civil society.  And I would argue, that if we're going to say, "Because God said so," that's going to be the basis of our moral order, we're in trouble. 

Let me just give two quotes, since I don't like to take the worst of my opponent's examples.  I would rather take the best, and show why mine's better.  But here we go. 

The Christian Scriptures say twice in Titus and Ephesians, "Slaves, obey your masters."  And I've heard Christian apologists explain this one all kinds of different ways, up and down, but those are the words!  And if you don't think those words have been abused. you haven't been paying attention. 

Now what does the Universal Declaration of Human Rights say?  Article 4, "No one shall be held in slavery or servitude."

Which is more open to abuse.  The gospels -- which many here believe come from God -- "Slaves, obey your masters" -- or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which makes no pretension to be divine.  It's just human beings in 1948 writing something.  And they say, "No one shall be held in slavery or servitude -- slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms."

Clearly we see some progress!  We see some progress.  And it's progress that I would think we could all agree on. 

So I don't think we need a common moral basis.  There can be a plurality.

And I think Secular Humanism is about that.  Let's take the best of Buddhism, the best of Christianity, the best of Islam, the best of Confucianism, the best of any philosophy, and see what we can work together as humans on equal footing. 

The minute you privilege one religion -- and you may like it, because it's your religion --- how would you like it if it was a different religion. 

David Marshall said he doesn't want sharia law.  Well why should his religion be the one that our civil society dominates? 

Timms: There does seem to be a different of opinion on our confidence in the intrinsic goodness of humanity.  Christian seem to take a somewhat low view of the intrinsic goodness of humanity, and therefore are appealing to a moral code, if you like, beyond our ability to just get along with one another.  Secular Humanists, it would seem, would take a fairly high view, that "We can do this!  We can do this together!" 

How much, in fact, does a civil society depend on human goodness? 

Marshall: It's hard for me not to respond to some of that, because I think there's a misunderstanding, here.  Government should be neutral between religions.  But society is influenced.  Dr. Zuckerman is a sociologist, so I can't really blame him for looking at things in this way.  But I'm an historian, and I tend to look at things historically. 

How is it that we now agree, around the world, that slavery is wrong?  It's because of the work of the Gospel on human cultures, down through the centuries.  And I think I demonstrate this in one of my articles on-line.

How is it that so many values that the world now shares in common -- there's a difference between saying, "Yes, we should be neutral between religions and non-religious points of view," (that is), the government should be neutral, and on the other hand, "What influenced us?  What changed us?  How did we get from point A to point B?"

And there's another question here.  We talk about Secular Humanism being like this, these are the qualities that Secular Humanism affirms.  But that's myopic.  That's because we're living in a particular culture with a particular historical influence.  The communists -- I'm sorry I have to bring those bad boys up again, but you did bring up some bad Christians as well, so I don't feel too bad about that -- the communists rejected religious belief in its totality.  I would say that Secular Humanists reject certain aspects of the Christian tradition, but they don't reject it in totality.   And I would say that's the big difference between them.

Now I haven't answered your (new) question, (and) I don't think I have the right to answer two questions at the same time.   So what shall I do? 

Zuckerman: Thank you.  My coffee is almost out, so I'm going to be switching to water soon. 

Where do I begin?  I mean, I would like to respond to what Professor Marshall has said.  But I do want to answer the question. 

If history has shown us anything, it's that humans can be both wonderful and horrible.  And I think we should avoid metaphysical speculation about an ultimate human nature -- is it either good or evil.  I think (that's) a fool's errand -- a misguided errand.  I think it's clear that humans can (be), and are, both. 

But Secular Humanism strives to bring out the goodness in humanity.  And this is best done by looking at the intrinsic value and beauty of humanity.  And if we teach people, if we teach children, that they are inherently bad, that they have an intractable sinful nature, I think this is a bad way to create a civil society.  And I think it's a recipe for disaster. 

I mean, when I look at my children -- and I have three -- and I look at my cousins' kids, and I look at the kids at the college where I teach -- or I look at the kids at St. Matthew's Day Camp where I was a counselor for ten years -- or when I look at the children in the preschools in Denmark where I lived for two years -- I'm sorry, I guess I'm wrong!  I see wonderful, love, potential, warmth, curiosity -- I do not see sin in the eyes of these children.  I don't know what that looks like, I've never seen it.  I'm not a Christian, I don't know. 

And if you think, or you teach, that humans are ontologically wicked, born sinful, you've already lost the battle.  And I hope that is not what is taught.  I doubt it is, because there are so many wonderful Christians.  But if you take it to its logical conclusion, that's really the message.  We're sinners, and we need the salvation. 

As a Secular Humanist, I believe that we have great potential for goodness.  I'm hanging my coat on that!  I got no one to pray to, folks!  So if it's not we the people, I'm outta luck.  

Timms: Maybe the next question gives both of you gentlemen the opportunity to respond to a number of things that have been said, and to look at the other position from a negative.  And that is to say, why do you believe that your opponent's position produces a lesser foundation for Civil Society.  And we'll finish on a more positive note.  But I'm curious as to what it is about either Secular Humanism or Christianity that is actually detrimental to society.   Phil, do you mind starting us off with that? 

Zuckerman: Why do I think . . .

Timms: That Christianity would produce a lesser . . .

Zuckerman: I'm not sure that it would!  I think the Christian values of love and non-violence and charity . . . Look at the Civil Rights!  I can't imagine the Civil Rights without the guiding light of Christianity. 

I am not here to say Christianity is worse or whatnot.  I am simply saying that if I have to choose, the debate was one or the other, I'm going to go with Secular Humanism, for a variety of reasons, philosophical, political, and sociological.

But I would say this.  (And I write about this in my work, Professor Marshall is familiar with it).  Again, look at the societies today that are the most Christian.  They're not doing so well!  Do I think it's because of Christianity?  No!  I think it's economic.  I think it's historical.  I think it's political.  I think it's cultural.  I think there's a whole host of other reasons, but they're this worldly reasons!  I don't think it's Somebody spiting them. 

And if you look at the societies today -- Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands -- these are definitely, I totally agree, these are cultures steeped in Christian heritage for centuries.  But today, they are not believers.  They have the lowest rates of church attendance, the lowest rates of belief in God, lowest rates of belief in the divinity of Jesus, lowest rates of prayer.  And they're doing very well!  They have the lowest murder rates. 

Talk about a civil society.  I lived in Denmark for two years.  The way they treat the elderly, the way they take care of their children, their education, their free health care -- the way these systems work.  They are safe, they are moral, they are humane, and they are very Christian. 

However.  However.  I would like to say, "Well, they have a great Christian heritage.  It seems as though Professor Marshall would say, "They need to be believers again."  I just don't believe that that's true.  I don't see that that's the case.  Because the believers today in Jamaica, are not fairing so well. 

Marshall: Repeat the question, please. 

Timms: Why do you believe Secular Humanism produces a lesser foundation for civil society? 

Marshall: Yeah.  Now, it's interesting to look at the word "humanism."  The word "humanism" seems to imply that it has to do with human beings.  Man, or woman, in the generic sense. 

I wouldn't argue that Secular Humanism is the worst possible religion, as I've mentioned several times before.  (I use the word "religion" rather loosely.) 

But there is a little squishiness about the word "man" these days, when you have people like Peter Singer at Princeton University saying that if a baby is "defective," then killing it would be no worse than killing a pig or a dog.  And when you have abortion, and some degree of infanticide and other things like that going on, that are justified philosophically from a secularist point of view, the question that comes to my mind is, "Are we still defending man -- humans -- or have we gotten beyond that in the evolution of Secular Humanism? 

Now I would agree that (societies) like Sweden or Denmark are very nice places for a lot of people.  Although, as Dr. Zuckerman himself shows in his book, when you ask the Scandinavians, they say yes, this was built on Christianity, these are Christian values.  They've been instilled in our law -- that's what they're saying themselves.  

The Bible prepares us to expect that there can be a time between when people are following God.  And then they stop following God, and consequences happen on down the line.  It might take a few generations. 

And I notice that in Scandinavia, just as in China, when people turned away from God in the Song Dynasty a thousand years ago, it wasn't instantaneous like that, but there was a weakening in the foundation of society.  And there was a weakening in the foundation of society, it seems, of Scandinavia.  As Dr. Zuckerman points out, they're not having many  kids, for example.  We could talk about some other examples like that. 

So I don't think that this particular form of Secular Humanism, that grew up out of Christianity, is the most terrible possible belief system, to found a person's belief (upon).  Obviously Dr. Zuckerman is a very likable person.  And I have a lot of friends who are like that, too.  So that's not necessarily the worst thing. 

But where is it coming from?  And then where is it going in the future?  What are we going to draw upon? 

Because Secular Humanism just says, "There's no God.  There's no afterlife.  We should care for ourselves.  We should care for other people."

But what does it mean to care for ourselves?  What does it mean to care for other people? 

The Gospel goes into more specifics on that.  And I think the specifics the Gospel goes into, are the basis of the greatest reforms in human history.

(Note: Let's skip the audience Q and A for now, and go on to Final Arguments.) 

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