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Attack the Action

I was recently involved in an email conversation with a conservative, fundamentalist Christian (well against someone like that it was, somewhat inevitably, more an argument than a conversation) where I defended the sort of groups they traditionally attack. Specifically this time it was the opponents of Israel in Lebanon. My opposition basically claimed Israel had no blame at all for the conflict there and that all the blame should be placed on Lebanon.

It’s ridiculous of course, because no conflict is ever 100% caused by one side. There is always blame on both sides and no group ever acts with total morality – not even Israel!

I concluded my email by saying that I despise fundamentalist Muslims but that I equally despise fundamentalists of other types, such as fundamentalist Christians. I realised after sending the email that I had more-or-less said I hated him because that’s effectively what saying I despise fundies really means.

And I realised that wasn’t really what I meant. I don’t hate him at all and I don’t hate any other fundies (of any type) I have met. I do hate the belief system they have but that’s a totally different thing. It’s a basic law of fair debating: attack the idea not the person. Attacking the person generally equates to an ad hominem attack and, although I think it’s OK to point out a person’s past history of fake beliefs or other relevant attributes, that should not be a major part of a debate. The facts are what really matter.

Actually I’ll take the idea even further. Its best not to attack what people believe but what they do. If someone has silly beliefs but still acts like a moral person then they are still a good person. There are several church groups who do good charitable work. Sure they have silly beliefs but they act positively and that’s more important.

Unfortunately there is often a link between silly beliefs and behaving badly. Surprisingly (perhaps) many fundamentalist Christians actually don’t follow the traditional interpretation of Jesus’ teaching very well. They aren’t very charitable, or forgiving, or understanding. So I might dislike them for that but in some ways it’s not their fault. They are trapped by their silly beliefs so again it gets back to despising the idea rather than the person.

Maybe it’s too easy to find a belief system to explain anyone’s bad behaviour but I’ve never met anyone yet who is genuinely inherently evil. Maybe I’ve just been lucky!

  1. May 12, 2010 at 8:50 am

    Your post was mistakenly entered twice, you might wanna edit that out. [FIXED]

    And I think, with that delightfully helpful gesture, that I just proved your point.

    (Although I still don’t think my views are crazy.)

  2. ojb42
    May 12, 2010 at 9:08 am

    Is it really posted twice? In some areas seems it is and in others not. And you try to figure out how to delete something in this convoluted system! Can no one design a simple, clean system any more?

    Anyway, are you really a fundy? If you are then I’m sorry but I *do* think your views are crazy. Nothing personal!

  3. May 12, 2010 at 9:23 am

    Yeah, I can see it all repeating.

    I wouldn’t be a fundy by your definition. But well, I come from Australia, it’s all a bit different.

    I believe that the bible is the inspired word of God. So that’s gotta get me some points.

    But I also believe in evolution, would vote liberal if I was American, never liked the Iraq War, am not racist, am not homophoebic, love science, don’t own a gun, quite like France, quite like Stephen Colbert etc etc.

    I wouldn’t be an American fundy.

    The American fundy is a curious thing, and an easy target.

    We need a better word than fundamentalist. The sort of strange bible belt fundy views are not drawn from the bible. They are not fundamental christianity. In fact, often quite the opposite. There would be no better compliment to me than to call me a fundamentalist christian.

  4. ojb42
    May 12, 2010 at 9:33 am

    Yes, believing the Bible is the inspired word of God is pretty silly. Which Bible would that be? And what about the contradictions and all the silly rules and the immoral stuff? Come on! Who would really believe that?

    The rest sounds good, and yes, you would definitely not make fundy status in the US! Congratulations!

    The thing is that just about every sect of Christianity thinks the others have got it wrong. They all think the others have misinterpreted the Bible. As I have said in past blogs: that’s because there’s no real meaning there to start with!

  5. May 12, 2010 at 10:30 am

    ‘Which bible would that be? And what about the contradictions and all the silly rules and all the immoral stuff.’

    There are a whole lot of books that have helped me think about those questions. Most of the specific ones are locals, and I am not sure if they are around in America(e.g The Christ Files, Is the New Testament History,) I am not as excited by the big American blockbusters. But friends have enjoyed these over the years, and they probably add something to the debate.

    If you really do want to keep thinking about the alleged problems that you pose, these books may help:

    1. God Actually – http://amzn.to/9JU7yP

    2. The Case for Christ – http://amzn.to/dlalww

    3. The Reason for God – http://amzn.to/9Fewo5

    4. God is Great, God is Good – http://amzn.to/9ZKawf

    5. The Case for Faith – http://amzn.to/aMkvua

    I also recommend the God Delusion, God is not Great and the End of Faith. They have also very much helped me form my views on some of the problems you pose.

  6. ojb42
    May 12, 2010 at 10:38 am

    I have read the God Delusion, God is not Great and the End of Faith recently but, as far as I can remember, I haven’t read the others. I don’t have a lot of time to read right now unfortunately. Can you summarise some of the more critical points the other books made?

  7. May 12, 2010 at 10:52 am

    So you read mainly from one side but not the other? I don’t reckon it’d take more than a couple of missed blog posts to read one of the above.

    These are big issues. You could write ten thousand pages on any of the above, full of counter and counter-counter arguments.

    ‘Which bible would that be?’ – One composed of the documents read by Christian believers since straight after Jesus’s death.

    ‘What about the contradiction?’ – They dissolve in context.

    ‘The silly rules?’ – Sensible in their context, making clear symbolic points. Now fulfilled and completed.

    ‘All the immoral stuff?’ – Requires a massive mindshift about the purpose of the universe to understand, same with the problem of suffering. But once you get it, you get it. But not easy, hence why this is so often debated and so difficult to convey. The average person pulls in a bag full of modern assumptions that just aren’t biblical, and tries to use them to judge the bible. How about if there were things in the universe more valuable than human happiness?

    There’s a couple of sentences on each. I don’t think I have the skill or time to really engage with these massive issues.

    I would compare me giving such a shallow treatment of those issues to… me asking my dad to explain the details of string theory over dinner.

  8. ojb42
    May 12, 2010 at 11:14 am

    I have tried to read from the “other side” but I find it just too frustrating in most cases. Maybe I’ve tried the wrong books but I’ve found them full of unsupported presuppositions, invalid logic, and simple untruths. What’s the point?

    Christian believers read several different Bibles and all have translation and interpretation errors of various sorts. How can this be the word of god?

    I have seen many excuses for the contradictions and most just seem too contrived to be taken seriously. I’m sure that some of the perceived contradictions do have genuine explanations but I’m equally sure many others don’t.

    So keeping slaves, killing innocent people, etc are all OK in some “greater universal context”. Isn’t it more likely that this is just a book written by primitive desert nomads?

    And finally, what about other holy books. Most other religions are just as convinced as you are that their holy book is the real word of god. They can’t all be right. But they certainly can all be wrong!

  9. May 14, 2010 at 5:52 am

    I find myself getting quite frustrated reading Dawkins, Hitchins etc. Perhaps as frustrated as you get reading Christian apologetics? For me, the problem was quite simple.

    An argument will begin somewhere and end somewhere.

    Dawkins for example begins with a host of assumptions. Assumptions that I could call, ‘unsupported presuppositions,’ that seem to be ‘simple untruths.’ I could not disagree more with some of Dawkins assumptions. From where I come from, it is intellectual suicide to suggest that all religions have similar levels of evidencial support and are all founded upon blind faith. Yet such assumptions are used as the pillars upon which he constructs seemingly crushing conclusions.

    I could go ahead and get angry. Or I could realise that his books starts at point B, and quite validly works its way to point C.

    I shouldn’t dismiss his assumptions or his argument. I need to recognise its scope. Perhaps Dawkins has good arguments to support his movement from A to B? It is rather time consuming to argue for every one of your assumptions. It takes away from the flow of what you are really trying to say.

    Perhaps you could work at discovering the particular assumptions that you disagree with in Christian apologetics, and find foundational books that discuss those assumptions in more detail.

    For example if you are hearing an argument that is working with the assumption that the bible is one of the most reliable, unchanged and well preserved texts in the history of literature. And you read it still thinking of the bible as something filled with interpretation errors. Then of course you are going to find the end conclusion of the apologetics work unsupported etc.

    This is a complex discussion. Like the building of a tower it requires layer after layer. I am confident that I have consistent beliefs from basement to roof. I am confident that many of the christian apologists I recommended have the same consistency. The problem may be that you are presupposing your levels in their building. Consider them by their own merits.

  10. ojb42
    May 14, 2010 at 6:47 am

    Yes, I agree that much of what Dawkins says in “the God Delusion” is oversimplified and not necessarily accurate. However, I think his overall message is still valid. Remember that it wasn’t really intended to be a technically accurate book. Dawkins himself said it was more intended to evoke debate, which it obviously did!

    I don’t quite understand what you are trying to imply regarding the accuracy of the Bible. The Bible is clearly rubbish: either its full of errors and inconsistencies or its full of metaphors mixed with facts with no way of saying which is which.

    Saying its complex and multi-layered us just an excuse. Its primitive, superstitious nonsense with little literary, historical, or moral merit. I have debated this with many highly ranked apologists, read a thousand web pages on the subject, and read books. There’s just nothing there. Its just totally empty! The emperor has no clothes!

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