Hawking Up Hairballs

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Onward Christian Soldiers

I hate Christianity. Not that I much care for any religion but, if one lives in America, it’s Christianity that he has to confront. The thing that irks me most about it is its intellectual dishonesty. Any ideology which encourages one to accept certain positions on “faith”, even when those positions run counter to the facts, is bankrupt, and Christianity is bankrupt. I’m not just referring to the brouhaha over evolution and intelligent design. It’s bankrupt at its very source, claiming that Jesus Christ was a deity who died for the sins of mankind on the cross. Yeah, and Santa Claus lives at the North Pole. He’ll be visiting your house in a few days.

The intellectual dishonesty comes in when Christians take a position on faith and then try to twist the facts to fit that position. If they can’t twist them, they deny them. They even do this when it comes to their own Scripture. For example, the Catholics claim that Christ’s mother Mary was a virgin. This is an article of their faith. However, in the Gospels it says that Christ had brothers and sisters. They are even named. How does the Catholic Church get around that? Well, they claim that Mary never had sex, and that an angel implanted Jesus in her womb. Since her family didn’t want her child to be born a bastard, they found this widower named Joseph who agreed to marry her. He had children from his previous marriage and the Catholic Church claims that these are the brothers and sisters referred to in the Bible, even though there’s no Scriptural support for them.

But, hey, what else are we to expect from a creed that believes in ritual cannibalism, and the Catholics do. They claim that by a process called transubstantiation the bread and wine become the actual body and blood of Christ. That’s right, the actual body and blood, and the congregation are supposed to consume it.

Not that the Protestants are any better. The fundamentalists among them claim that the Bible is an inerrant guide to behavior. Never mind that the Scriptures view practices like slavery as acceptable, and they do. Paul even tells slaves they should be subservient to their masters. It also leads them to make such ridiculous claims as that the earth was created in seven days 10,000 years ago. That means that they deny the validity of scientific practices like carbon dating, as well as those physical processes that led to the formation of the earth. Then, of course, there’s the big kahuna, evolution, and that’s what inspired this post.

As most of you probably know, there has been a political firestorm in Kansas in recent months over the question of teaching the “theory” of intelligent design in science classes in the public schools. I put “theory” in parentheses because intelligent design isn’t a scientific theory. It’s more along the lines of a philosophical bias.

Fundamentalist Christians succeeded in forcing the teaching of their views in the science classes in Kansas, but that hasn’t ended the political controversy. Recently, Paul Mirecki, chairman of the Religious Studies Department at the University of Kansas planned on teaching a course entitled “Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationism, and other Religious Mythologies”. In the course, he planned to support the position that evolution was science, but that creationism and intelligent design were mythologies.

In an email to a sympathetic student group, Prof. Mirecki derided Christian fundamentalists, using the term “fundies” in referring to them. Fundamentalists apparently consider the term a slur and, when the contents of Prof. Mirecki’s email were made public, a controversy was ignited. Mirecki apologized for the use of the term and cancelled the course. However, that apparently wasn’t enough for the fundies. Mirecki was subsequently forced to the side of the road and beaten by two men who referred to his position as they were pummeling him. That served only to stoke the controversy, and Mirecki ended up resigning his chairmanship.

First of all, somebody needs to have a long talk with Mirecki about the concept of moral courage. If you’re going place yourself out there in the middle of such a controversy, you can’t go run for cover when the going gets tough. However, the real problem isn’t Mirecki, it’s the fundies.

The very concept of democracy rests upon tolerance. That doesn’t mean that you have to accept or even respect the positions of those you disagree with. It does mean that you have to respect them as people, and respect their right to hold those positions. That tolerance also rests upon the realization that your beliefs just might be wrong. Since the fundies aren’t willing to accept that possibility, they are by their very nature anti-democratic, and they are perfectly willing to shove their beliefs down the throats of others. There’s a name for that and we’ve seen it before. It’s called fascism.


Blogger David Matthews said...

Good essay. I agree with you whole-heartedly.

11:46 PM  
Anonymous Jeff Dockman said...

Wow, where to start.

You say Christianity is bankrupt for claiming that Jesus died for the sins of mankind on the cross. What about this claim makes Christianity bankrupt? Is it because it seems foolish to us that God would utilize this method for the salvation of man? Paul says as much in 1 Cor 1:18: "The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God." Why would God choose this biblically acknowledged foolishness? The text I just mentioned goes on to tell us. It is so we are reminded that it is not what we do that overcomes the obstacle of sin but God's grace. We have not overcome it through our own wisdom but through God's action. This is where "faith" comes in. The Christian idea of faith is that we entrust our redemption to God through the sacrifice of Christ. This is not to say that we should blindly put our trust in something with nothing to back it up - Christianity has never asked that of us. The apostolic church preached first-hand experience. They testified to what they saw and experienced. The New Testament and other early Christian writings record these experiences and pass them along to us. They are not one person's account but the testimony of many and are written to teach us the faith and help us believe.

Regarding the twisting of Scripture, I'm sure some is intentionally done to control the masses but I suspect most is fear and/or ignorance (sometimes deliberate and sometimes not) mixed in with honest disagreement on translation and interpretation. For example, I have friends who have to read each passage in the Bible as a literal statement or they think the whole thing falls apart. If God didn't make the world in 6 literal days, the rest of the book is bunk. And yes, they also subscribe to the 7000 year old earth point-of-view. Don't get me wrong, they are loving, committed Christians. They give generously and try to live what they preach. But to them, interpreting the Bible is a slippery slope. If you start reading certain passages as allegory and metaphor, they believe you get to a point where you can't say with any confidence that a particular passage is intended to be literal truth. As a result, they shy away from anything that might call into question their understanding of their faith and the mysteries of Creation.

As to the perpetual virginity of Mary, this is a good example of honest disagreement on translation and interpretation. Catholic scholars believe that the word used of Christ's brothers is also used to describe cousins, half-siblings, etc. Paul uses the same word to refer to brothers and sisters in the faith. They reconcile their understanding of the Scriptures with tradition, both of which carry significant weight in the Catholic faith. They also utilize apocryphal works which, while not considered Scripture, are still considered important documents of the faith. Regardless, the Catholic church is not trying to twist the Scripture to fit its doctrine. Rather, it is reconciling the Scriptural accounts to its tradition by giving examples from other documents of the period.

Regarding ritual cannibalism, another example of honest disagreement. I'm sure you are aware that you are not the first to identify the Eucharist with cannibalism. This charge was levied very early on against the Christians. In fact, some of Jesus's followers left him after hearing his discourse on how he is the "bread of life" (John 6:60). However, he is the sacrificial lamb for the sins of man. The sacrifices of the Jews were consumed after the sacrifice was offered. It is not surprising that the consumption of the sacrifice comes into the Christian belief structure as well. Protestants believe this consumption is symbolic and serves to remind us of Christ's sacrifice while Catholics believe it is a literal change that effects sanctification. Regardless, it is considered to be a mystery of God and not someone sitting down to a plate of Jesus for supper. The doctrine of transubstantiation in no way encourages literal cannibalism of other humans as a lifestyle or suggests that it is acceptable.

I won't address the slavery issue but here is an interesting perspective: Rav Kook.

Regarding ID and whether or not it should be taught in school, I won't address this either. I found this to be an interesting perspective on science and the supernatural. It is clearly biased, but worth reading.

Finally, you address the behavior of some fundamentalist Christians and their reaction to Prof. Mirecki. First of all, there seems to be some speculation as to whether or not the event actually occurred. Assuming it did occur, leveling a charge of fascism at fundamentalist Christians because of the actions of 2 is a bit dramatic. Furthermore, allowing this act to fuel your hatred of Christianity is in itself intellectual dishonesty. These men are no different than the people who riot because cops get away with abusing a black man and no different from the punk who punched Bret (a mutual friend of Chuck and myself) in the eye at Music Midtown. They are no different from the people who broke in to the Bush campaign headquarters and vandalized it. This type of person is looking for an excuse to act a certain way and, when they find that excuse, they exploit it. This is not about Christianity and is not even about a subset of people who claim Christianity. It is about violent men, plain and simple.

You also mention tolerance and respect. Where was Mirecki's tolerance and respect for others? He wrote, "The fundies want it all taught in a science class, but this will be a nice slap in their big fat face by teaching it as a religious studies class under the category mythology," and signed his comments, "Doing my part (to upset) the religious right, Evil Dr. P." Mirecki is not only disparaging the views of people who believe in ID or Creationism, he is also instituting a course (at a tax-payer supported state college) with the intent to offend a group who believes something different than he does. He is taking it upon himself to define science and mythology and determine in what context a particular view about the origins of life should be taught. Is this not an example of Mirecki's unwillingness to accept that his position may be wrong and shoving his view down the throats of others?

The concept of democracy does indeed rest upon tolerance but it can only survive in an educated society. An educated society is one which can examine both sides of an issue and make an informed decision on which side it supports. It need not resort to antagonism and mockery to make its point and it need not resort to violence. It need not make ad-hominem attacks against its opponents. I'd say that few of the vocalists involved in the evolution/ID/creationism fit this bill.

11:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

have you considered this "tolerance" youre advocating is what allowed a creep like hitler to come to power in the first place

2:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hope you really consider the "tolerance" comment someone was kind enough to leave you. Do you plan on riding the mobius strip forever or did you just buy a seasons pass?

2:26 AM  

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