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Absurd Theologians and Atheists
Posted: 25 February 2007 07:42 AM   [ Ignore ]  
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Sam Harris in his book, “Letters to a Christian Nation” says this,

  “Take the religion of Jainism as one example.  The Jains preach a doctrine of utter non-violence.  While the Jains believe many improbable things about the universe, they do not believe the sorts of things that lit the fires of the Inquisition.  You probably think the Inquisition was a perversion of the ‘true’ spirit of Christianity.  Perhaps it was.  The problem, however, is that the teachings of the Bible are so muddled and self-contradictory that it was possible for Christians to happily burn heretics alive for five long centuries.  It was even possible for the most venerated patriarchs of the Church, like St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, to conclude that heretics should be tortured (Augustine) or killed outright (Aquinas).  Martin Luther and John Calvin advocated the wholesale murder of heretics, apostates, Jews, and witches.  You are, of course, free to interpret the Bible differently-though isn’t it amazing that you have succeeded in discerning the true teachings of Christianity, while the most influential thinkers in the history of your faith failed? (Pages 11-12)”

My Response

I agree with Sam Harris, it is true that Aquinas, Augustine, and Luther said some immoral things on how certain people should be treated.  But before I discuss why I think Aquinas, Augustine, and Luther were wrong in some of their actions I would like Mr. Harris to discuss why he believes these three men were wrong in their thoughts and actions?  What materialistic basis does Mr. Harris have in saying the actions that three men advocated were wrong?  Mr. Harris has still yet to claim where his standard of morality comes from, and until he does so his claims hold no warrant. 

The Christian however does have a standard of morality; this standard of morality comes from inspired scripture.  Aquinas, Augustine, and Luther should also get their standard of morality from the same inspired scripture as I do.  Yet I have a totally different view on how I should treat my Jewish neighbor.  Mr. Harris wants the reader to believe the Bible is confusing on whether or not Christians should spread the gospel through the sword.  He goes on to rightly show that Aquinas, Augustine, and Luther believed that violent actions against Jews were morally sound.  Because of this fact Christianity must in some way discuss that violence should or can be used against Jews.  Yet I would like Aquinas, Augustine, or Luther to show me where in the scriptures the gospel should be spread through the use of violence?  When discussing the Inquisition and Pogroms against Jews scriptural verses are not used to justify their acts.  For example, In Martin Luther’s book, “On the Jews and their Lives,” Luther tells the reader to set synagogues on fire, expel Jews from Northern Europe and even sanctioned the murder of Jews.  Why did Luther allow such a sanction?  According to Mr. Harris Luther must have had his reasons steeped in the Bible, after all he is one of the most popular Church leaders, and Luther would never sanction something outside of the Bible.  In his book, Martin Luther discusses that Jews were murdering Christians; it was widely believed in Europe that Jews not only murdered Christians but drank their blood as sacrifices to God.  While the first reason was a lie believed by Luther, his second reason was a fact.  Luther excused violence toward Jews due to the fact that a large number of Christians, during the first 300 years of its existence, were persecuted and murdered by Jews.  Many know about the slaughter that Romans did toward the early Christians yet many do not know that Jews also did the same.  For example, during the Jewish uprising of “Bar Kokhura” the Jewish community was staging a rebellion against the Roman authority.  The Jews called on the Christians in the community to rise up with them against the Romans.  The Christians refused to attack a government that persecuted themselves, thus were slaughtered by the Jews.  In fact up to 100,000 Christians were slaughtered either by the Roman Empire or by uprising Jews.  Yet in recorded history there are no examples of Christians taking to the sword in order to spread Christianity or for that matter in defending Christianity.  So why was it that early Christians took a pacifistic view of spreading and defending Christianity?  The main reason is due to their foundation of knowledge placed in the Bible.  Many early Church founders, such as Justinian, called for peace while being attacked by Jews.  In his writing, “Servitude of the Jews” he says, “Absurd theologians defend hatred toward the Jews.”  Justinian does not call hatred toward a group of people absurd through his own thoughts, but rather gains these thoughts through the word of Christ.  For example in the book of Matthew Christ says,

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’  But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person.  If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.  And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.  If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.  Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.  You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.  He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?  Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others?  Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 538-48.)” 

Martin Luther’s acts against Jews qualify him, in this perspective, as an absurd theologian.  In many areas Martin Luther was a great contributor to teaching the rich history of Christianity.  What made Martin Luther a great contributor is when he took the riches found in the Bible and applied them into his works.  Yet when you read Martin Luther’s book, “On the Jews and their Lives” Luther uses no scripture to justify his actions against the Jews.  Luther fail victim to the Northern European racist views of Jews and believed in the lies perpetrated about the Jews.  In this aspect if Martin Luther would have held to his own teaches on Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone) he would have not been incorrect in his thinking.  Sola Scriptura is the view that scripture, the Holy Bible, is above all men in determining the truths in this universe.  Mr. Harris is right that many popular Christians have said some wrong things.  Yet when you see all of these wrong things occur it is when they break away from the principle of Sola Scriptura.  For example, the Catholic Church for hundreds of years preached the practice of indulgences.  An indulgence is a piece of paper given to one who pays a certain amount of money to the Catholic Church.  When one received this paper they were guaranteed a place in the Celestial City of Heaven.  On another point it doesn’t surprise me and it shouldn’t surprise any Christians that previous Church leaders were wrong in some of their thinking.  Christianity, that is Protestant Christianity, does not hold anyone up to a higher standard of creating objective right/wrong claims.  We are all sinners and will make sinful actions with our hearts, minds, and hands.  Luther was a sinner, as is everyone else in this world.  So Martin Luther was at times an absurd theologian, should this surprise me?  It doesn’t.

Because these posts are on defending Christianity from the atheist Sam Harris I thought it would be interesting to take his argument against Christianity and turn it against his own belief in Atheism.  I have changed Mr. Harris words a little bit to fit an argument that I would like to make

Sam Harris,

While the Jains believe many improbable things about the universe, they do not believe the sorts of things that lit the fires of European Imperialism in Africa.  You probably think Social Darwinism in the late 1800’s was a perversion of the ‘true’ spirit of Atheism.  Perhaps it was.  The problem, however, is that the teachings of Atheist are so muddled and self-contradictory that it was possible for Atheist to happily kill Europeans/non-Europeans for a century.  It was even possible for the most venerated patriarchs of Atheism like Thomas Huxley, Thomas Malthus, and Francis Galton to conclude that whites are the superior race.  From these men many Social Darwinism advocated the wholesale murder of Africans, Asians, and Indians.  You are, of course, free to interpret Atheism differently-though isn’t it amazing that you have succeeded in discerning the true teachings of Atheism, while the most influential thinkers in the history of your faith failed? 

Sincerely, Fletch_F_Fletch

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Posted: 25 February 2007 07:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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Fletch, what is it that allows you to assert that Atheism gives rise to Social Darwinism via a cause and effect relationship? Please elucidate. Biological Darwinism does not imply Social Darwinism. The latter is an error. Even atheists make errors, but it is not necessarily the atheism that is the cause of the error. Is it that you wish to argue otherwise?

The Christian however does have a standard of morality; this standard of morality comes from inspired scripture.

Urrrrrp!

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Posted: 25 February 2007 08:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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Did you read the entire article?

Social Darwinism was a product of naturalistic evolution, while you do not have to be an atheist and a Social Darwinist many of the leading atheist in the late 18th century were followers of Social Darwinism.  My point is there are many Christians who take the Bible out of context and there are many atheist who disgree with Sam Harris on how one ought or should be an atheist.  The difference is Luther and Aquinas are objectivly wrong when it comes to the word of God where Sam Harris has no objective standard in telling Huxley is wrong.

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Posted: 25 February 2007 08:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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fletch_F_Fletch - 25 February 2007 01:05 PM

Social Darwinism was a product of naturalistic evolution, while you do not have to be an atheist and a Social Darwinist many of the leading atheist in the late 18th century were followers of Social Darwinism.

Geocentrism was also a product of naturalistic evolution, in your view of things. Both geocentrism and social darwinism are extinct as ideas. Care to comment on the similarities?

Sam Harris has no objective standard in telling Huxley is wrong

The objective standard Harris has in saying Huxley was wrong about social darwinism is that the latter is extinct as a scientific concept. Huxley, by the way is extinct, too, though his better ideas may not be. Christianity is likely to be an extinct idea as well someday, since it depends to some extent on ideas about reality that cannot be corroborated by experience, just as Huxley’s ideas about social darwinism did.

[ Edited: 28 June 2008 09:25 AM by Traces Elk]
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Posted: 25 February 2007 09:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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The easiest way to understand the difference between an atheist standard of morality and a theist standard is:

Theism is based on morality being external to mankind.
Atheism is based on morality being internal to mankind.

When an Athiest says that murder is immoral, he is creating a standard based on human experience and understanding of what is best for humans.

When a Theist says that murder is immoral, he is creating a standard based on his understanding of scripture and what is best for God.

The real question is, Are humans moral?

If so, then our innate morality will be superior to any external morality. If not, then imposing an external standard on us is just an exercise in cruelty.

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Posted: 25 February 2007 09:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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The Jews called on the Christians in the community to rise up with them against the Romans. The Christians refused to attack a government that persecuted themselves, thus were slaughtered by the Jews. In fact up to 100,000 Christians were slaughtered either by the Roman Empire or by uprising Jews.

Can you give some reference for this information ?

Thank you.

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Posted: 25 February 2007 09:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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Because these posts are on defending Christianity from the atheist Sam Harris I thought it would be interesting to take his argument against Christianity and turn it against his own belief in Atheism.

Atheism is NOT a belief, my theist friend, it is a lack thereof.  I am aware that theists like to call atheism a belief, as well as darwinism (evolutionism), but the fact is that neither is true.

Atheism (mine at least) is due to a lack of sufficient evidence for there being anything supernatural in the universe.  I ACCEPT evolution (not believe in it) as the best explanation for all of the available data.  The moment we discover a humanoid fossil in the same strata as a trilobite, I am prepared to change my thinking.

In your case, assuming you are a typical theist, there is absolutely nothing, no evidence whatsoever that would shake your belief.  If there is, I would love to discuss it, otherwise you are just another check-your-brain-at-the-door theist.

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Posted: 25 February 2007 10:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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Okay I’ll make this quick, my first two replies were erased and my daughters have cabin fever, one is chewing on my headphones…

People still have superior genes over others.  Are not people born retarded or with severe mental handicaps.  Can not a social darwinist still take these facts and apply them to a survival of the fittest philosophy?  I wonder if many aborted down syndrome fetuses is not a ripple of social darwinism?  Pertaining to evolution species develope into more complex species.  What happens when a new homo-erectus species forms, are they not incline to follow the rules of survival of the fittest?  Many scientist believe homo sapians killed off the Neanderthals, why can’t a species eventually kill us off?  Social Darwinism from a cultural perspective still exists, if one culture is stronger than another culture than one could easily believe they have the right to thrust their superiority over the weaker culture.  All things that perfectly fit under the evolution model.  Yet Christianity teaches, “Greek, Jew, Scythian, Slave, ext. are all part of the body of Christ”. 

A theist gets their morality form an objective source, the characteristics of God.

An Atheist gets their morality from within, based on pleasure/pain.

Some cultures get pleasure loving their neighbors, other cultures get pleasure by eating their neighbors.  Can you care to share where you can point me to which one is right from a materalistic perspective?  Is it in photosynthesis or the metric system?

Just like Huxley is dead and his social darwinist views, Luther is dead a long with his anti-Jewish views.

About the ‘up to 100,000 Christians’  Wikipedia, i’m not sure what the footnote was.  Lets just say it was only 10,000 Christians, my point is still valid.

Atheist believe in a materialistic universe…..That is a belief

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Posted: 25 February 2007 11:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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[quote author=“fletch_F_Fletch”]Atheist believe in a materialistic universe…..That is a belief

Well perhaps we need to do some more work here on defining “atheist.”  I have usually taken it to refer to a person who does not believe in an all powerful being who created the universe and is wholly good, etc.  Now, maybe I am using the term wrong or misunderstanding, but nowhere in my above definition is there anything that commits an atheist to materialism.  Nor is there anything that commits an atheist to any particular view on the source of objective morality.

Why can’t an atheist believe in a non-material realm?

Why can’t an atheist believe in an objective morality?

(by the way, it is crucial to note that a theist who believes that God is the source of morality does NOT believe in objective moral rules.  Rather they believe that, ultimately, morality is subject to God’s whim.  In other words, what God says goes.  This makes morality entirely subjective.  Imagine a morality that says that waltercat’s commands are the source of morality or that morality is based on what is good for waltercat.  Ridiculous, right?  Entirely subjective.  But what goes for me goes for God as well.)

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What do I care for a hell for oppressors? What good can hell do, since those children have already been tortured? And what becomes of harmony, if there is hell? I want to forgive. I want to embrace. I don’t want more suffering. And if the sufferings of children go to swell the sum of sufferings which was necessary to pay for truth, then I protest that the truth is not worth such a price.
-Ivan Karamazov

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Posted: 25 February 2007 11:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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[quote author=“fletch_F_Fletch”]. . .
. . . Mr. Harris has still yet to claim where his standard of morality comes from, and until he does so his claims hold no warrant. 

The Christian however does have a standard of morality; this standard of morality comes from inspired scripture.  Aquinas, Augustine, and Luther should also get their standard of morality from the same inspired scripture as I do.  Yet I have a totally different view on how I should treat my Jewish neighbor.  Mr. Harris wants the reader to believe the Bible is confusing on whether or not Christians should spread the gospel through the sword.  He goes on to rightly show that Aquinas, Augustine, and Luther believed that violent actions against Jews were morally sound.  Because of this fact Christianity must in some way discuss that violence should or can be used against Jews. . . .

Fletch, for a reasoned examination of how the New Testament resulted in horrific treatment of Jews for almost 2,000 years, please see John Shelby Spong’s The Sins of Scripture. Spong, as you may already know, is a retired Episcopalian bishop, and has impeccable credentials to make the sorts of claims and analysis that he does. Spong continues to regard himself as a Christian (unless he’s gone apostate without my having heard about it), and for that reason can be considered biased, if anything, on your side. The evidence he cites is compelling to the point that if you p.m. me with a P.O. Box number, I’ll be happy to order and pay for a copy, if you’re currently financially stretched. (Thanks, hampsteadpete, for the example.) Or just go to your local bookstore, order a grande cup and read Chapters 21 through 24.

As for Sam Harris’ standard of morality, you’re not suggesting that atheists have no internal sense of morality, are you? Please think through that absurd notion for a moment.

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Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can in the end only describe it. For it cannot give it any foundations either. It leaves everything as it is.
Ludwig Wittgenstein

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Posted: 25 February 2007 11:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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[quote author=“fletch_F_Fletch”]An Atheist gets their morality from within, based on pleasure/pain.

—enhanced by cultures that have recently emerged which allow individuals to grow up knowing with certainty that it’s not okay to kill and eat other people, or to act in any way that results in your standing before a judge/jury who orders you out of the picture.

Fair warning, Fletch: I’m baiting you.

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Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can in the end only describe it. For it cannot give it any foundations either. It leaves everything as it is.
Ludwig Wittgenstein

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Posted: 25 February 2007 11:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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fletch_F_Fletch, it appears you have read Sam’s book with the same critical eye as an atheist would read the Bible - to find holes and inconsistencies.  This is two sides of one coin, yet you see only one side.

However this is only speculation.  Why did you read Sam’s book?  What did you expect to gain from it?

[ Edited: 25 February 2007 11:54 AM by ]
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Posted: 25 February 2007 11:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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Slip… Your right, I’m definetly biased, I was really debating if I should post anything on this discussion, because I question my own motives.  However, I have grown up a little and the days of using sarcasim and trying to ‘bait’ someone are over. 

About Spong, can you give me his arguments, I have a long list of books to read.

God’s character never changes therefore morality cannot change, thus cannot be subjective.  I believe matter does not give us instruction on what is morally right/wrong.  I believe the fact that we view rape as wrong is God giving us a bit of his character.  I’m not going to answer the question, Is rape wrong because God says its wrong?  That is a loaded question. 

Have a nice night, be careful with the snow everyone on the East Coast

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Posted: 25 February 2007 12:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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[quote author=“fletch_F_Fletch”] I’m not going to answer the question, Is rape wrong because God says its wrong?  That is a loaded question.

In fact it is NOT a loaded question. It is a very pertinent question. And for an analysis, you should start your reading with Plato’s dialogue Euthyphro.
According to the Divine Command Theory (the theory of morality that you appear to be endorsing) an action (e.g. rape) is wrong just because God comands that we not rape.  And, if God had chosen different commands, he could have made rape acceptable.  He could do so just by not commanding that we not rape.

Thus morality, on the Divine Command Theory, is entirely subjective.  It is dependent only on the will of God. 

So, please tell us why the question is a loaded one.

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What do I care for a hell for oppressors? What good can hell do, since those children have already been tortured? And what becomes of harmony, if there is hell? I want to forgive. I want to embrace. I don’t want more suffering. And if the sufferings of children go to swell the sum of sufferings which was necessary to pay for truth, then I protest that the truth is not worth such a price.
-Ivan Karamazov

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Posted: 25 February 2007 12:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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[quote author=“fletch_F_Fletch”]. . . I have grown up a little and the days of using sarcasim and trying to ‘bait’ someone are over.

Touche.

As for the Spong chapters, I’ve summarized them in other posts which you could search out if you wanted to, but I suspect you’re not the type who will settle for a watered-down version of something so important. The author explains things better than I ever could, I assure you.

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Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can in the end only describe it. For it cannot give it any foundations either. It leaves everything as it is.
Ludwig Wittgenstein

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Posted: 25 February 2007 03:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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I believe the fact that we view rape as wrong is God giving us a bit of his character. I’m not going to answer the question, Is rape wrong because God says its wrong? That is a loaded question.

Actually, God ignored rape completely. Among all the abominable crimes meriting death, such as eating shellfish, rape is conspiciously absent.

The most important educational tool for Christians is a dictionary. They should look if the word “Morality” and then look up the word “Obedience”. They are not only spelled differently, they even have different definitions.

In a system based in obedience, the only possible act of morality is disobedience.

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