How Fundamentalists Won the War and So Killed Christianity

Read this post on the Friendly Atheist where a liberal Christian makes the observation that atheists accuse her of not being a true Christian, or otherwise having a fundamentally flawed understanding of Christianity, because she supports LGBT rights.

Fair enough. Then read the comments, where comment after comment after comment is a variation of: its in the bible, you don’t believe it, therefore you’re not a real Christian. Erm, you didn’t read the article there, did you?

It occurred to me as I gamely tried to respond, but got intimidated by such a massive wall of stupid, that the fundamentalists have won. They have successfully convinced the world that Christianity is nothing more or different to bible worship. That being a Christian is believing in an inerrant, absolute bible. That the ultimate goal of Christians is to follow every instruction in the bible. We get epic lack of self awareness like:

[after ‘agreeing’ that we shouldn’t tell Christians they aren’t real Christians, returning ad-nauseum to the point that liberal Christians aren’t following the bible:] This seems like a lot of contradiction for a religion or believers in a holy book that is supposed to be somehow timeless, perfect, or even just “inspired” by god.

Yep, High five for Pat Robertson and his cronies there, right out of the fundy play-book.

Of course, you might be thinking, it isn’t just fundamentalists that believe the bible is inspired by God. It is in the creeds and statements of faith of many churches. True, but you have to actually find out what the phrase means. And it seems that fundamentalists have won the PR war to get their vision of theology to be accepted as default, as the right one. Perhaps because it is so simple, and obvious. Perhaps they snare atheists the same way they do new converts: by packaging Christianity in a shiny plastic packaging with a 10 second sound bite.

I don’t blame a blog full of ignorant atheists for not having a grasp of theologies of the bible, nor of not wanting to (heaven knows it isn’t the best way to spend your time). But I find it borderline incomprehensible that you can reply to someone saying “I have a different understanding of how to use the bible to fundamentalists” by saying, effectively, “the fundamentalists are right”. I suspect it greatly pleases the religious right that they’ve got so many atheists parroting their theology. Well done fundamentalists, you won.

But if that sticks, if Christianity only gets to be defined by extremists on the right. Well it probably doesn’t have a very long future. Maybe that’s what these atheists want. Maybe its a calculation, that if they side with the fundamentalists against liberal Christians, they’ll divide and conquer. Maybe. But I suspect there isn’t nearly that degree of awareness going on.

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44 Comments

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44 responses to “How Fundamentalists Won the War and So Killed Christianity

  1. Steve

    Great article. I’ll have to say that I don’t think the atheists calculated such a diabolic type plan. Most, like Dawkins, refuse to even debate a “Christian” in public. Mainly, because whatever they say is right and to disagree makes you an atheist and not knowledgeable on theology. I think the fundamentalists won because they are willing debate no one and call it a success, and it makes for good “news” when you have a bunch of IDiots at rally’s protesting gays or spewing hate on TV. It’s almost as if no one wants to watch tolerant people accept one another, or at least it makes for bad TV.

  2. SpaceGhoti

    If it’s a deliberate plan, then nobody bothered to tell us about it. Mind you, I’m the sort of atheist who will defend your right to call yourself whatever you want, but will still call you on your beliefs when they’re not supported by the scripture that serves as the foundation of your religious beliefs.

    It’s not that the fundamentalists are right. It’s just that they’re more honest about the religion they follow.

  3. Berty Russell

    Listen, you are the ones who brought this on yourselves. The mainline, traditional churches got bourgeois, fat, and happy, while the fundamentalists stole your congregations and won the internal debate with your notions of Christianity.

    The atheists are happy to debate educated, competent theologians and have done so repeatedly. They are not going to share a stage with unlettered misanthropes and mysogenists who can’t respect or participate in rational discourse. That may seem unfair or cowardly to you, but that is because you have given your life over to your peculiar brand of irrationality.

    Yours is admittedly a tough path, these days. To the right, you have the brawny, uneducated monsters of fundamentalism; to the left, the towering, lettered intellects of atheism. You can’t win: this new generation is choosing between hot, blind passion and cool, knowing perspective–your tepid, milquetoast religion offers nothing interesting, when positioned between those two choices.

  4. Ian

    I suspect you might be in danger of being a parody of the views I’m drawing attention to here. Since you seem to have completely missed the point that I am not a Christian, and seem to have misread most of the rest of the article too.

    Of the one bit of your comment that appeared to be a declarative statement not based on a false premise:

    “The atheists are happy to debate educated, competent theologians and have done so repeatedly. They are not going to share a stage with unlettered misanthropes and mysogenists who can’t respect or participate in rational discourse.”

    I think the second sentence is self-evidently untrue. Unfortunately unlettered misanthropes (or worse, those misanthropes lettered to the hilt with unaccredited certification) manage to wheedle themselves into debates all too regularly. And debates between pairs of competent and educated people are frustratingly rare. Oh that there were more debates like this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bHTSESAqfZo and fewer like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FhT4IENSwac

    Regardless of the blustering bad aim of your comment, let me compliment you on your eloquence. I appreciate your turn of phrase: “tepid, milquetoast religion” is a particularly fine one that I may appropriate.

  5. Ian

    Are you a Poe? The Atheist form of one? Because I seriously can’t figure out how someone can respond to a post about atheists making unwarranted assumptions about what constitutes true Christianity, in turn motivated by atheists seemingly not understanding a post about atheists making unwarranted assumptions about what constitutes true Christianity, by making exactly the same unwarranted claims of what constitutes true Christianity.

    And you also didn’t read either closely enough, nor read the about page, to find out I’m an atheist.

    I seriously suspect you’re pretending to be one to give atheists the unfair reputation of being unable to do basic reading comprehension. Surely nobody could be that stupid?

  6. Berty Russell

    Huh, after 3 degrees in lit and law, I am apparently still unable to read for comprehension. To wit, I have read your piece three time now, and I remain unable to spot the moment when you clue everyone into the fact that you aren’t a disappointed progressive Christian.

    Doesn’t mean it isn’t there; I just can’t find it myself.

  7. Berty Russell

    Oh, and thanks for the nice compliment! I do sincerely appreciate it.

  8. Ian

    What was the post about if not jumping to conclusions and telling someone what they believe without asking?

    A click on ‘about’ would have told you, or a glance at the resent post list. Condemning first and finding out facts later is precisely the problem that incensed me — a human tendency to which your learning should perhaps have inured you. I’d suggest that it might be more fruitful to approach interlocutors with the assumption of complexity, humanity and nuance, rather than caricature. In my experience, even people who pretend to be unnuanced rarely are.

    But I’ve been rude enough, and have no desire to be so, unnecessarily, so let’s move on, in the spirit of the compliment!

    Welcome. Please do have a look around, and feel free to be vocal and forceful in your criticisms of anything you find here. There is plenty I have written here for just about anyone to strongly disagree with. I can’t think of a single regular commenter who hasn’t found at least one post objectionable.
    .

  9. Ian

    NP. Under the rules of engagement for internet arguments, as the person with the first comment without any hint of criticism in it, you win ;)

  10. Berty

    True enough that a spin through the other postings would have dispelled the impression that the piece left me with, specifically that you were a lamenting progressive Christian.

    Unfortunately, the day is short and polemics long. One link, among hundreds, doesn’t get the focus it perhaps otherwise deserves.

    Finally, I tend to assume a little needling is in good fun, on the web. No harm done.

  11. Ian

    “a little needling is in good fun, on the web. No harm done.”

    Likewise, and totally worth it for the “milequetoast tepid religion”

  12. Jakob

    I would consider myself a Christian but regard the bible as poetry not prose.It is full of myths, stories that aren’t true but contain truths. So the fundamentalists hate me and the atheists dislike me. Consequently I have few friends(!) and only raise my head above the virtual parapet because you have no idea how tired I am of these debates (have you seen the “Is there a God?” thread on Amazon?) and feel I should at least do my bit to point out, Buddha-style, a middle way.

    As a mathematician you may appreciate the following analogy (non geeks, look away now). The atheist says the square root of -1 doesn’t exist, the theist says it is called “i” (or “j” if you are an engineer). We can argue about that until the cows come home BUT complex numbers (the i’s) are useful and help us increase our knowledge of the world. For me that is sufficient.

    I live with the slim hope that Christianity will become a practice and not a belief. When we stop having these endless debates over facts and start engaging with a valuable tradition from which we can benefit then there may be some hope.

    I don’t think there is a competition to be won, I do though think that the voices of the fundamentalists are just louder than those of the rest of us. As Rowan Williams said, if religion is like a swimming pool then all the noise is coming from the shallow end.

  13. Pingback: Connection Between Fundamentalists and Atheists

  14. I liked this blog entry the issue that the ‘middle ground’ is either being squeezed out or silenced – are outspoken “religious fundamentalism” and outspoken “militant atheism” really just two sides of he same coin. I’m right, you’re wrong, and nothing you can say will convince me otherwise but listen to this argument …

    Is a belief system a choice whether you come to it through faith (heart) or reason (mind)?

    and yes, I’m being somewhat vague on my actual thoughts on the matter before I get labeled a milequetoast :)

  15. FO

    Angry atheist here.

    If people calls themselves “Christians”, it is legitimate to assume that they are followers of Jesus Christ.
    The New Testament is basically the only document that speaks about said Jesus Christ, which means that what you know about Jesus Christ comes from the Bible.
    If you want to follow JC, you have to trust the Bible one way or another.

    While it is legitimate to read the Bible in whatever way you want, it is a very legitimate assumption to think that if you trust the Bible on JC, you also trust the Bible on everything else it says.

    If instead you stick with a personal, subjective way to decide what to pick, a way based on your feelings, this is cherry-picking.
    As a rabid, fundamental, militant, foam-in-the-mouth atheist, I do think that progressive Christians are guilty of massive cherry-picking.

    Which is really fine and dandy, really!
    It is a legitimate way to believe, I am really fine with it.
    But it has limits.
    Being **subjective** you cannot expect it to make sense to others.
    You cannot make any rational argument out of it.

    When Fundies tell you that homosexuality is a sin, your answer will eventually fall on “I FEEL it is wrong to discriminate homosexuals”.
    Your argument is weak, is subjective.
    Instead, the Fundie can appeal to an authority you also accept at least partially, the Bible.
    Their arguments are just stronger.

    “Gnu Atheists” are merciless with ideas.
    Cherry-picking is bad for rational arguments and if prompted I think it is good to point that out.

  16. Ian

    You’re just restating the same thing that my article, the original article, and the article in the pingback here are calling you on.

    We understand that you don’t understand how anyone can not be a biblical literalist. We understand that you don’t understand any other theology of the bible. We understand that you’re ignorant of the workings of non-fundamentalism, and that fundamentalism is great for you because it is easy.

    But it really can’t be that hard to ask yourself “on what other basis might a Christian use the bible?” and come up with something a little more interesting than “subjective cherry-picking”.

    ““Gnu Atheists” are merciless with ideas.”

    If only. Certainly some prominent Gnu Atheists can think. But most of the responses to these posts from other atheists have shown that they are unbelievably unaware of their own basic ignorance, and violently opposed to addressing it. You can keep telling yourself you know it all, but you just come across like an 18-year-old with a bad grudge. I don’t agree with progressive Christians, I think they are wrong, but we can disagree without telling them what they believe or what they should believe. It is no different to when creationists tell me what I must believe if I am an ‘evolutionist’ (“you believe dogs turn into cats”, for example). It is rare to find a rabid, militant, frothing at the mouth creationist who will genuinely pull the stick from their ass long enough to *find out*. But that’ just basic humanity. I don’t mind if a creationist disagrees with me on science, its their right to think what they like, but they’re just a monumental dick if they approach the conversation without any desire to find out what evolution actually is. You come across in exactly the same way.

  17. FO

    I cannot study or know all the possible beliefs of everyone, even within Christianity in a single country, every prog Christian is different.

    Expecting me to understand such a huge amount of different ideas is vain at best.
    I’m only human and yes, I am ignorant.
    Therefore, I work on what seems sensible to ME.

    The burden on explaining why that is NOT cherry-picking is on the prog Christian, especially because each will have a different explanation.

    This book convinced you that Jesus is real and is the way to salvation.
    I assume that you believe everything on that book.
    You don’t?
    Explain, but don’t get angry if I can’t read your mind or understand your specific reasons on the fly.
    Yes I know you are atheist.

  18. Ian

    “This book convinced you that Jesus is real and is the way to salvation.” See, there you go again. No matter how many times you’re told that these people DO NOT BELIEVE THE BIBLE IS THE ULTIMATE AUTHORITY, you cannot seem to grasp it, at all. I get that you’re busy foaming at the mouth and being rabid and stuff, but surely it isn’t that hard.

    Here’s a true story.

    I did my PhD in evolutionary math. I care about creationism — I think it is pernicious, dangerous, and worthy of derision. So I get into arguments quite often about it.

    In one such argument I was accused of cherry-picking Darwin, because I pointed out that I didn’t think that some of Darwin’s Origin was true. The fundamentalist I was talking to simply couldn’t understand how my belief in evolution could function without some holy text to base it on. “Was Darwin wrong then? Why not throw it away?” – “No, Darwin wasn’t wrong, and the book is the most significant single work in Biology, ever, but he got some stuff wrong.” No matter how I tried to talk about Mendel, the neo-Darwinian synthesis, and genomics, he couldn’t get it. Eventually he said something like “You’re not a real evolutionist if you think Darwin was wrong.”

    In fact, he was right. I do cherry-pick Darwin. I love the Origin, but I’m happy to cherry-pick the stuff that’s true, and the bits that aren’t are interesting in their historical context. In fact there isn’t one bit in the whole origin that I directly based any of my research on. I recognize that it was the foundational document in my field, but doesn’t guide it.

    *Some* Christians feel much the same way about the bible. In fact the evidence in the earliest Christian texts is that the first Christians felt this way about scripture. Literal biblical inerrancy based on the bible being the dictated Word of God is an idea that is about 100 years old only.

    Your problem is not that you have the core and can’t be bothered to find out about the fringe views. But that you believe the fundamentalists when they tell you their idea is the real one, and you can’t be bothered to find out about the beliefs of the other 90% of Christianity. And that’s understandable, because Gnu Atheism is primarily an anti-fundamentalist movement.

  19. Ian

    Was that +Rowan? I didn’t know where it came from.

    Fundamentalism, as it was originally conceived, definitely did see it as a competition. There is a lot of military language used in the founding documents. So maybe part of the problem of why they won is that they were fighting a battle, while progressive Christians weren’t.

    Thanks for your response. Welcome. On another blog post without quite such a tendency to descend into atheist cliche, I would push back on you and ask, specifically, what is useful or increases knowledge in Christianity. Hopefully you’ll stick around and we can have that discussion somewhere else. As a progressive Christian you’re very welcome here, you will be respected and not hated one bit, but like all the other Christian commenters on this blog you may be challenged to describe and justify some of what you believe (as, indeed, I sincerely hope you’ll challenge the non-believers too).

  20. alnitak

    The notion that Richard Dawkins is avoiding “Christians” (why the quotes?) is bogus. Try a search for video footage and you’ll find many exchanges between Dawkins and religionists of all stripes. Dawkins avoids *debates* because they’re about confrontation, not about education, and because they’re resume builders for religionists. Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Dan Barker, and a host of others have and do debate “Christians” and other religionists. Dawkins, Harris, and many other atheists believe that the tolerance of liberal religionists extends to fundamentalists. Where are the Christian voices fighting fundamentalism in their own religion?

  21. Ian

    I agree, I think the fundamental premise of a debate – that one should attempt to sway an undecided audience in an hour – is bogus. I would much rather see this kind of thing done in print. How about a series of letters between, say NT Wright and Dawkins, where they each address each other’s issues. That would be a much better framework, I think.

    Debates with considered and learned people are interesting. But all too often you get either a Hitchens, or a WLCraig, and the debate hangs on the pithy one-liners and bombast, not on substance.

    If I were Dawkins I wouldn’t take part in any debate.

  22. Ian

    “Where are the Christian voices fighting fundamentalism in their own religion?”

    This seems to be a common point lots of atheists are making. The answer is, everywhere! But I bet you buy far more books by atheists than you do by progressive Christians. I bet you pay more attention to statements by atheists than to statements by liberal Christians. Could you get any clearer on these issues than, say, the Quaker’s declarations on same-sex marriage. I don’t think so. It isn’t that there aren’t voices raised, its just that you’re not standing anywhere near these people to hear them.

  23. alisewrite

    Thanks Ian. I was kind of overwhelmed by the response.

    I didn’t call that language attacking, I didn’t blame atheists for bigotry in the Christian community, and I didn’t excuse bigotry (in fact, I specifically said the opposite). I don’t mind people disagreeing with my thoughts, but disagreeing with straw men was pretty disheartening. There seemed to be a lot of arguing against the narrative of how Christians are supposed to be than my actual piece.

  24. Ian

    Thanks Alise. Yes, I agree, I wasn’t fazed by the disagreement, even vehement disagreement. But the lack of ability to grasp that people can have different views was quite shocking. Even more so, all the blogs that picked up your story were full of exactly the same comments. It made me realise just how theologically illiterate most atheists are. More so than I’d expected, it turned out.

  25. FO

    For being such a stalwarth defender of Christian sensibilities, your are extremely condiscending.
    I would appreciate that you continued this conversation by assuming that I am an intelligent person.
    I am not insulting you because, no matter the points I make, you fail to grasp them and stick to the “Christians don’t take the Bible literally” shtick.

    I argue that since the Bible is the *only* source of information about Jesus Christ, deciding which parts you like and want to make yours makes the figure of Jesus Christ completely arbitrary, and therefore subjective.
    While this may work for the individiual, it’s not a useful basis for convincing others.

    You won’t believe this, but I love hearing the reasons, feeling and rationalizations of believers, I love to understand what they think, and without even answering back.
    I’m just curious.
    I have a lot of friends more or less religious, and no desire to challenge them.
    All of them have a huge and diverse range of beliefs.
    I have onlya vague idea of what they believe before I ask, and often times they are kinda vague as well.
    If they start to make statements about reality that are obviously false, then and only then I answer at all.

    There is a huge difference between cherry-picking the Origin for evolution and the Bible for Jesus.
    The Origin is not the only evidence of evolution (in fact, it’s no evidence at all).
    Per contrary, Jesus appears only in the Bible (and in the social context where you grew up).
    We know what parts of the Origin are true and which are not, because we can pit them against evidence.
    Cherry-picking the Origin is of no consequence whatsoever, because we don’t use it to determine the truth.
    We have an **objective** way to determine the truth beyond the Origin.

    You can’t do this with the Bible.
    You can’t find other relevant information about Jesus Christ outside of the Bible.
    If you believe something about Jesus Christ is because you or someone else red a Bible.
    When people quote Jesus, they quote passages of the Bible.
    If you are Christian, directly **or indirectly** the only source of ideas about Jesus Christ is the Bible.

    Now, it’s really ok for me if people have different ideas, but you can’t really blame Atheists for making the practical assumption that if you call yourself “Christian” you must rely on the only book that talks about Jesus Christ.
    It’s up to the Christian to explain me the relation he find between a character of the Bible and the whole Bible, not up to me to read the mind of each different Christian I meet.

  26. Ian

    “For being such a stalwarth defender of Christian sensibilities, your are extremely condiscending.”

    I won’t point out your spelling mistakes then. :) You might want to read more on my blog if you think I’m a stalwart defender of Christian sensibilities.

    EDIT (2012-06-18 13:50) — Rest of this comment deleted, because it wasn’t helpful.

    “I am not insulting you because, no matter the points I make, you fail to grasp them and stick to the “Christians don’t take the Bible literally” shtick.”

    You need to tell the difference between ‘failing to grasp’ your points, and bringing you back to the fact that you haven’t yet acknowledged that Christians can have other reasons for discerning God’s will other than the literal interpretation of the bible.

    I understand, for example, that you’re trying to segue me off into the biography of Jesus, here. Because that’s your strongest suit. The gospels are the primary account of the life of Jesus. But I also understand that that is not what the original post was about, nor my response, which were both moral issues. You’ve gone through “I can’t be expected to know everything that everyone believes”, through a gambit on cherry-picking, all without acknowledging anything other than a fundamentalist view of the bible.

    So maybe, if you want a smart conversation, you could try this: describe in a few lines a theology of the bible that a progressive Christian may hold that does not put ultimate authority in the bible, and try to describe it in a way they might recognize. Just one, I’m not asking you to know every nuance, but just to demonstrate you aren’t (as you appear to be) just totally without a reference point in the debate.

    Unless you understand the basics, or are willing to, we’re going to get nowhere. If you, similarly, think I’m just not getting some foundational issue, then I’ll do the same exercise for you. Seems like a sensible basis for a conversation – no point arguing until we can be reasonably confident the other person understands what we’re arguing about.

  27. Ian

    Previous comment deleted, let me change tack, because obviously if I’m criticizing you for saying the same thing over and over, then responding with the same response over and over is not very smart!

    So, let me express what I think you’re saying, but rephrased in my own words:

    The bible is something that we can all access, and read. Christian, atheist, whatever. It is objective: the same for everyone. It is unique in that way.

    Christians of various stripes want to make statements and have those statements be objective. They want to claim Jesus said “Love your neighbour as yourself”, for example. And when they say that, they mean he really did say it, it is an objective truth. So to do that, they have to anchor it to the bible. They don’t just say “I believe Jesus said ‘Love your neighbour'”, they make the claim based on the gospel account. So Christians use the bible as an objective reference for at least some of their beliefs.

    Some Christians then want to claim that some things in the bible aren’t reliable. The bible might be reliable it is claim that Jesus said ‘Love your neighbour’, but not when it claims that Noah built an ark. It may be reliable when it claims Jesus came from Galilee, but not when it says Jesus was born to a virgin. It may be reliable in its description that Jesus was crucified, but not that Jesus had a literal physical resurrection. (I pick those last two because they are the two specific claims singled out in the original fundamentalist manifestos of the early C20 – claims that fundamentalists saw were being dismissed by progressive Christians).

    Therefore fundamentalists are the most intellectually honest, because they claim that the bible is reliable throughout, but progressive Christians have to use some other method for determining what is reliable and what is not. And all such methods must be no more than personal preference and cherry picking.

    Is that a fair statement of your view? That’s what I’ve read you as saying and what I’ve been responding to. But let me make sure I’m not misinterpreting you. If it is, I’ll respond to it in a different way.

  28. FO

    Very fair, indeed.
    I appreciate the effort, and in turn will use the spellchecker.

    In the last sentence, I would substitute “And all such methods must be no more than personal preference and cherry picking.” with: “In my experience all such ‘methods’ reduce to subjective feelings”.

    I have never met a non-fundie Christian that had consistent and objective criteria for assessing the truth/reliability of Bible claims, and I do expect that the choice of such method would be very subjective in itself.

    To keep it more in topic:
    The fundies appear stronger because, sticking to the Bible, they can present a somewhat more uniform and apparently consistent argument, they have the authority of the Bible.
    Progs on the other hand, must accept one way or another the authority of the Bible but are not fully committed to it: they come out as weak and as taking the easy way.

  29. Ian

    Great. So let me suggest one other way of basing what you believe on something that I don’t think is subjective feelings (and we can later go on to the many others where you’ve just begged the question with that judgement).

    Fundamentalism was a movement that started around the beginning of the 20th century in reaction to the development of ‘historical criticism’ – i.e. the use of historical methods in looking at the bible. The historical method aims to determine what happened, based on the biblical texts, just as it would on any other corpus. This method is almost ubiquitous now outside evangelical scholarship of the bible. After Vatican II, it became the dominant method in Catholic biblical work, and has a vast hegemony among protestant scholars outside the US.

    There are sizeable numbers of Christians who’d answer “how do you tell what bits of the bible are reliable and which aren’t?” with some variation of “you have to use the best historical research to find out.” On that basis, for example, such Christians would conclude that (for example) the virgin birth in Bethlehem and Noah’s flood are likely to be inventions with little or no historicity. Whereas there are reasonable historical arguments for thinking that Jesus was crucified, for example.

    Now, I know that atheists are currently in love with ‘mythicists’ who claim there was no Jesus. But that is irrelevant to this discussion. I’m trying to suggest a basis on which to judge which bits of the bible to keep: and that method is to base your views on the historical scholarship of the world’s leading scholars (none of whom are mythicists). Whether you personally agree with those scholars or not, whether you’re personally a mythicist or not, you can, I’m sure, imagine someone basing their views on the scholarly consensus.

    There is then some objective criteria for determining reliability. The set of reliable things may and will change over time: the method is empirical and objective and as such all its conclusions are provisional. But if I am committed to that, it is no longer a matter of my subjective feelings.

    So if a Christian says that they are happy to view as fictions those elements that scholarship suggests are not historical, are they less honest in some way? Are they less committed to the bible? (if so in what way?). Is a Christian who believes in resurrection visions, and not the empty tomb, less of a Christian? On what basis can you say so?

    Please don’t change the discussion as to which side ‘seems stronger’ – that is an altogether different thing. Remember we’re talking about whether fundamentalists are correct when they assert they are the only true Christians, and that the other 90% of Christians are somehow fundamentally mistaken in their view of their own faith.

  30. FO

    I am begging no question, I am making an explicit judgment.

    Also, please do not try to change subject.
    We are not talking about fundies, we are talking about whether atheists are justified in assuming that a progressive Christian is guilty of cherry-picking.

    BTW, the above is true because most progressive Christians don’t really think about it.
    But let’s talk about those who do.

    “Now, I know that atheists are currently in love with ‘mythicists’ who claim there was no Jesus.”
    I wonder what the source of your knowledge is, because it’s wrong.
    Ask at Unreasonable Faith, they’re all atheists and most have no problems with an historical Jesus.
    Strawman anyone?

    Anyway, I think understand your approach, but I am not convinced.
    First and foremost, because none of the several Christians I meet in my daily life have never pulled this out, and they certainly qualify as “Progressive Christians”.
    Second, because it just moves the problem from cherry-picking methods to cherry-picking scholars.
    Again, my statement comes from discussions with Progressive Christians on UF, that eventually degenerate on discussing the specific merits of a scholar.
    It all boils down to an argument of authority.
    But I will concede that reading the Bible just as an historical document is indeed a more objective method, and not one I had thought of.

    Still, this leaves our Christian to follow a guy that may or may not have existed (can say neither for sure), said a lot of nice things, said a few really bad things.
    Coincidence, the good things are trustworthy and the bad things are historically unreliable?
    This would be cherry picking and no, we don’t want it!

    So, Ian, could you give me an example in the Bible where Jesus says something bad and is considered historically accurate by modern historical reviewers?

  31. Ian

    “begged the question” – the question you begged was whether something being subjective feelings disqualifies it from being ‘real Christianity’ at all. I meant that specifically, sorry if I gave the impression that I thought you were begging the question more widely.

    “we are talking about whether atheists are justified in assuming that a progressive Christian is guilty of cherry-picking.” Then we’re talking about different things. The OP was a complaint by a progressive Christian that atheists and fundies alike claim she wasn’t a real Christian, which inspired a post by me to say that fundamentalist theology of the bible seemed to be assumed as the only possibility by many atheists.

    You’ve been focussed on the phrase ‘cherry picking’, but I’ve pointed out why it isn’t a very useful phrase to me, since I recognize that I cherry pick all the time, as a scientist, as an atheist, and as everything else. If you’re pushing me to defend something against cherry picking, I may as well concede with a “so what?”.

    What I thought we were discussing was this: does Christianity based on fundamentalism have an inherently better claim to being real or true in some sense that Christianity based on historical scholarship, say, or some other hermeneutic. You’ve put forward what I thought was a position that you judge the merits of a method of biblical study by its objectivity – the degree to which two separate people honestly and diligently using the same method could come up with the same result. And you therefore conclude that a fundamentalist theology of the bible is the only honest one, because it is the only one with claims to some degree of objectivity. I am trying to show that there are a range of such methods, although I’d like to return to look at whether your position itself is helpful (i.e. the begging of the question).

    Also, if you really want to talk only about cherry-picking, then we need to go back to fundamentalists, because they cherry-pick every bit as much as everyone else. Theologically they claim to believe in the whole bible as equal revelation, but they have hermeneutics that specifically don’t. So again, I can’t see if cherry-picking is your only criteria, how you can end with fundamentalists being the most honest.

    “First and foremost, because none of the several Christians I meet in my daily life have never pulled this out” – fair enough. This is a basis that is relatively academic, so I’d say isn’t the most common with most pew-fillers, but is crucial to the biblical theology at a denomination level. It was my first example – I have a dozen or so more!

    “Second, because it just moves the problem from cherry-picking methods to cherry-picking scholars.” I don’t think so. I mean, you can imagine somebody not following the method properly, and jumping around on a whim – the equivalent to quote mining, say, or what global warming deniers do when citing random bits of favourable research without looking at the whole. But doing the method badly doesn’t stop it being an objective method, one that potentially increases in accuracy over time.

    “It all boils down to an argument of authority.” I disagree. Authorities tumble all the time as more data is found and more work is done. Biblical scholarship has dramatically shifted over the last 50 years with discoveries of new early manuscripts.

    “Coincidence, the good things are trustworthy and the bad things are historically unreliable?” – no, I don’t think that’s true. Something like “those who believe in me must hate their father and mother and wife and brothers and sisters” by consensus appears in the ‘most likely authentic’ group of Jesus sayings, for example. Most scholars would support that notion that Jesus’s disciples were armed at the arrest, as another. These are things that don’t it well with gentle Jesus ideas.

    Remember I cited historical-critical method as *one* basis of figuring out what to cherry-pick. There are others. Many, in fact. We can talk through some more (maybe some that are more familiar to your Christian friends).

  32. Ian

    … I’d also say that begging the question is fine halfway through a discussion, as long as the circle is closed at some point. I didn’t mean it as pejoratively as it sounds on rereading. Sorry.

  33. FO

    “the question you begged was whether something being subjective feelings disqualifies it from being ‘real Christianity’ at all.”
    False.
    Subjective feelings disqualify rational arguments and the expectation to convince others, but they are still legitimate.

    “The OP was a complaint by a progressive Christian that atheists and fundies alike claim she wasn’t a real Christian”
    You are right.
    I may need to clarify.

    I think it is acceptable for an atheist to assume that a Christian, by definition a follower of Jesus Christ, is someone that accepts the authority and metaphysical particularity of the only document that tells us about Jesus Christ.

    I think it is acceptable for a Christian to have different approaches to learning about Jesus Christ; as long as the commitment to follow Jesus Christ is genuine, one should be able to use the ‘Christian’ label.

    I think that different approaches to learning about Jesus Christ have varying degrees of consistency and impact on others should the Christian try to argue for his ideas.

    Regarding to “cherry picking” apparently there is one type that allows to convince others, and one that don’t.
    In science, either you are “cherry picking” according to some objective criteria, either you are cheating and hoping none gets you.

    Further, the fact that there are several methods for historical reading, still reeks of cherry picking.
    But again, I have never met such a Christian, so I cannot really evaluate these claims.

    And yes, I agree that fundies cherry-pick, but I am not so uptight about the “true xtian” definition.

    Ian, I will close the discussion here, mostly because I hate arguing in the comments, but also because I don’t know much about these “progressive Christians”; to be honest, I am not sure that their number or influence is significant enough to warrant my time on it, but I am curious about it.
    I think I learned a few things and thank you for that.

  34. Ian

    Thanks FO. Thanks for sticking with it.

    My aim in this post was purely to defend liberal Christians against the idea that they aren’t doing Christianity right. Motivated by my sense that ‘doing Christianity right’ is a notion that fundamentalists love, and I dislike fundamentalism. If we’re reached agreement that there isn’t some ‘True Christianity’ out there, that progressive Christians are failing at, then that’s all cool by me.

    “I think it is acceptable for an atheist to assume that a Christian, by definition a follower of Jesus Christ, is someone that accepts the authority and metaphysical particularity of the only document that tells us about Jesus Christ.”

    I’m not going to argue this, but I would just encourage you to keep thinking about this. This is quite a modern notion, and the one that fundies want to push. Historically by far the most common has been that someone is a Christian if they are a member of and accept the authority of the church. A bit of church history makes it obvious just how much current right-wing Christianity is a modern sect. That’s not to say I agree with any version of Christianity, of course.

    But your final point is key – if you are an activist atheist, what are the most important battles? Given that fundamentalism wants to systematically limit our rights and expounds immorality: I’m with you that they should be the battlefront.

  35. Flawed

    Actually, I do not live in the US and religion doesn’t touch me much on a personal level.
    And I am no activist, for now, and it is entirely possible that I take part in discussions such as this for pure entertainment and intellectual stimulation.

    I do believe however that The Root Of Most Evil (TM) is the inability of us humans to see when we may be wrong.
    We desperately need certainties and we can’t accept that often times we are wrong and that there is nothing bad with it.
    I want humans to learn about the pitfalls of our understanding, to learn not to trust too much our ideas, and to look honestly and bravely in the mirror.

    Faith is the complete antithesis of this, and fundamentalist or progressive doesn’t make much difference to me.
    Any Christian still lends authority to this insanity, which instead ought to be ridiculed.
    If fundies aren’t considered for the wackos they are, it’s because of the holy and the sacred that so many subscribe to.

    Now, on the global scale, I do not know how much the idea of Faith damages our ability to see, acknowledge and correct our own cognitive mistakes, so I am not sure it is my battle.
    But I have no doubt that Faith is an enemy.

    (And BTW, I think you can drop Faith, be rational and still believe in the supernatural, gods included.)

    Still, I’d much rather engage with thinking Christians, that are part of the problem and more numerous, than with the raving godbots.
    Burn the grass around the fundies, and they will weaken.
    Cut the undeserved respect and authority that faithful thinking has, and they will wither.

  36. Flawed

    Reposting here due to Threading Fail. =(
    ———————————-

    Actually, I do not live in the US and religion doesn’t touch me much on a personal level.
    And I am no activist, for now, and it is entirely possible that I take part in discussions such as this for pure entertainment and intellectual stimulation.

    I do believe however that The Root Of Most Evil (TM) is the inability of us humans to see when we may be wrong.
    We desperately need certainties and we can’t accept that often times we are wrong and that there is nothing bad with it.
    I want humans to learn about the pitfalls of our understanding, to learn not to trust too much our ideas, and to look honestly and bravely in the mirror.

    Faith is the complete antithesis of this, and fundamentalist or progressive doesn’t make much difference to me.
    Any Christian still lends authority to this insanity, which instead ought to be ridiculed.
    If fundies aren’t considered for the wackos they are, it’s because they are supported by the holy and the sacred that so many subscribe to.

    Now, on the global scale, I do not know how much the idea of Faith damages our ability to see, acknowledge and correct our own cognitive mistakes, so I am not sure it is my battle.
    But I have no doubt that Faith is an enemy.

    (And BTW, I think you can drop Faith, be rational and still believe in the supernatural, gods included.)

    Still, I’d much rather engage with thinking Christians, that are part of the problem and more numerous, than with the raving godbots.
    Burn the grass around the fundies, and they will weaken.
    Cut the undeserved respect and authority that faithful thinking has, and they will wither.

  37. Julie

    “How Fundamentalists Is Winning The War and Is Hurting Christianity”.

    I corrected the title for you.

    Fundamentalism will fail.

    Good is greater than evil.

    When you title with the lie: “How Fundamentalists Won the War and So Killed Christianity”, you are implying THE LIE that evil is greater than good & evil one….which as we ALL KNOW IS BOGUS!

    Now, rewrite the article, NOW! “How Fundamentalists Is Winning The War and Is Hurting Christianity…and HOW WE MUST CONTINUE TO FIGHT…AND WIN!”

  38. Ian

    Julie, sorry, this comment got put in the spam box for some reason (the caps, maybe?). Anyway, it is here now.

    “you are implying THE LIE that evil is greater than good & evil one”

    Or else I am being obviously hyperbolic. One or the other ;)

  39. oxymandias

    A way of rephrasing this that might be more palatable to you. There are two extant forms of Christianity. Type A (fundamentalist) is wrong. Type B (liberal) is not even wrong.

    Type A will make concrete, testable statements concerning their religion, that differ from what you’d expect of a Godless universe. Type A Christians will claim that the world was created 6000 years ago, that God unleashes natural disasters on the sinful, and that believers can handle poisonous snakes without peril. These claims are all demonstrably wrong.

    Type B will, as you say, change their beliefs to suit the facts. (But only when challenged.) They will change their beliefs to suit the prevailing cultural mores. (Unless they don’t like those mores.) And they won’t take for granted that God has a hand in absolutely everything. (Except for this one time…) This makes them extremely frustrating to discuss religion with: when pressed, they are functionally atheist. I think this is what some atheists mean when they claim liberal Christians aren’t “real” Christians.

    From a political perspective, liberal Christianity obviously a vast improvement on the fundagelicals. But, from a scientific perspective, a belief system that’s untestable is arguably much worse than a belief system that’s flat-out wrong. To put it another way, the average creationist is “fixable” – they at least try to cite evidence, so you can challenge them on that evidence. Sometimes it works.

    Liberal Christians are not fixable. They respond to every potential falsification of their beliefs by wrapping them in even more fluffy cotton wool. They seem to think this makes those beliefs less disagreeable; to science geeks, the reverse is true. So I’m surprised neither by the vitriolic attacks on them by atheists nor by their usual reaction of shock and dismay that anyone would be so uncouth as to call them on their fluffiness.

  40. Ian

    I’ve written several posts agreeing with this. I don’t think the categorization is that neat, but there definitely comes a point where religious claims are basically irrelevant in any conceivable way.

    But that was not the point of the original post or my reply above. Both of which concerned the fact that many atheists seem to have so internalised fundamentalist theology that they can’t conceive of anything else.

    It might be a US thing: living with such a politically powerful fundamentalism. It might be a similar reason why westerners tend to think that all Muslims are fundamentalist (because those that are, are more in our face). But historically and numerically, fundamentalist doctrine of the bible is in the minority.

    And that, specifically, was what the OP was about, and what the ignorant commenters parroted back. You might want to ascribe their motives to being a frustration with liberal Christianity being ‘not even wrong’, but that’s not what was being said by the idiots I’m calling out here. They were specific: the OP was not a real Christian because she didn’t ‘believe in the bible’ (under the fundamentalist interpretation of that phrase).

  41. What would your demarcation criterion be, then? Is it simply that, if someone claims they’re Christian, then they’re Christian? Does the concept of “not a real Christian” actually have meaning to you, or do you think it’s an oxymoron?

    If there is such a thing as a “real Christian”, I think it could be argued that liberal Christians aren’t. But no point arguing about that unless you agree the premise.

  42. Ian

    Defining anything is tricky. And everyone is entitled to their own definition. But everyone else gets to ignore your definition if it doesn’t help communicate anything. There is no ‘true’ definition of any word, words get their meaning through communication by consensus. Gay means what it does because we all agree to use it in the same way. Some pedants froth about using it to refer to homosexuality, but they’re now the cranks, because the other definition has the hegemony.

    For the majority of Christian history, Christianity has not meant fundamentalism. Fundamentalism in its current western incarnation is only just over 100 years old, even evangelicalism which it is derived from is only 150 years older. But one very strong characteristic of fundamentalism is its very deliberate campaign to commandeer the language of Christianity. Ask many fundamentalists and they’ll tell you that Eastern Orthodox, Catholics, Episcopalian, aren’t ‘real Christians’.

    Neither Catholics, Orthodox Christians or Episcopalian believe that the bible is the final authority on matters of faith and practice, for example, which is a key tenet of fundamentalism, and is what most of the reaction to the OP couldn’t seem to get their heads around. The doctrine of scripture for the vast majority of the world’s practising Christians is not inerrancy or literalism either: both of which came out of late 19th century reaction to biblical criticism (which then as now is mostly carried out by Christians). Fundies have done a brilliant job convincing folks that literalism is the obvious and natural hermenutic, a claim which would have baffled most Christians through history, and had them burnt at the stake for considerable stretches of it.

    Liberal Christianity is also a relatively modern phenomenon. But worldwide it accounts for a large number of Christians, the majority, if you define liberal as not believing in the literal interpretation of the bible. While fundamentalist Christianity in the US has sucked in a large number of Catholics, worldwide Catholics are far more liberal as a whole.

    There are threads of historic Christianity that are skin to modern liberal Christianity, and threads that are decidedly fundamentalist. There is no good argument, that I can see, that modern american fundamentalism should have a claim to being ‘real Christianity’. Neither by historical precedence, or by numbers of adherents.

    But the point of the title of this article is to say that this doesn’t matter a fig. What matters is that the fundies have managed their PR so well, that it seems most atheists believe what the fundies have told them: that theirs is the true standard of real Christianity. That you find it so obvious that they’re right is really the point.

  43. That you find it so obvious that they’re right is really the point.

    Ah, OK. I see your point now.

    I guess, from a practical argumentative-atheist perspective, what this means is that you need to ask people what Christianity means to them before arguing against it. (And, to rule out the fluffy “christianity is love” type answers, how it differs from e.g. Judaism.)

    Given how fuzzy most Christians are about the finer points of their own theology, let alone anyone else’s, this seems like a bit of a hiding to nothing as far as debating is concerned. So what this means in practice is that we simply shouldn’t try to debate questions like “is Christianity sensible”. Instead focus on specifics like “is transubstantiation sensible”, and let people draw their own conclusions. Do you concur?

    One nit-pick:

    Liberal Christianity is also a relatively modern phenomenon. But worldwide it accounts for a large number of Christians, the majority, if you define liberal as not believing in the literal interpretation of the bible.

    If you define “liberal Christianity” to mean non-literalism then, as you pointed out yourself, it is not a modern phenomenon; it is most Christians throughout history.

    Anyway, I would not consider this a helpful definition, as there is no expectation that non-literalist Christians will have any of the traits we usually associate with the word “liberal”. E.g. Catholics as a group are anti-birth control.

  44. Ian

    “One nit-pick:” Yeah, my bad, that was very sloppy. I was trying to make the point that ‘liberal’ is really a category that only makes sense in reaction to forces that are relatively modern. Treating all non-literal Christians as liberal is an idiotic suggestion, I agree, thanks for calling it.

    “I guess, from a practical argumentative-atheist perspective…”

    Yes, as in many things, there are lots of ways to be wrong. Accusing believers in homeopathy of being holocaust deniers is going to make one look like an ill-informed ideologue. Not making that accusation, however, is definitely not the same as saying that homeopaths are therefore right.

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