Where Are all the Reflective Christians?

Carnival of the Godless

One recurring criticism of Dawkins’s The God Delusion (and Hitchens’s God Is Not Great, Victor Stenger’s God: the Failed Hypothesis, and others) is that these authors attack a simplistic conception of God, one that no intelligent, educated person believes in anyway.

Plantinga, for instance, writes:

According to much classical theology (Thomas Aquinas, for example) God is simple, and simple in a very strong sense, so that in him there is no distinction of thing and property, actuality and potentiality, essence and existence, and the like. Some of the discussions of divine simplicity get pretty complicated, not to say arcane.

Let’s set aside for a moment the fact that this is the sort of semantically empty babbling that I’ve complained about before, and take him at his word. Plantinga and Dawkins could agree on a great number of things: God is not a magic bearded man in the sky. God does not whisper to you where you found your car keys. Chemotherapy works better than prayer at curing cancer. Jesus will not descend from the clouds by next Thursday at the latest and whisk all the unbelievers up in a flash of special effects to live forever in happy-cloud-land.

But why is it up to atheists to point this out?


Take a look at some Steve Foss Ministries videos, or this interview with Huckabee supporters in Tennessee, or just about anything when Pat Robertson opens his noise hole.

These people do believe in a magic man in the sky who helps them find their car keys, in between smiting cities with hurricanes, Sim-City-like, for not stoning enough homosexuals, and planning his upcoming comeback world tour when his most devoted groupies will get a free rainbow-farting pony if they suck him off up to him enough.

So why aren’t the intelligent, reflective Christians telling them they’re full of shit? Where is Plantinga’s The Rapture Delusion, or McGrath’s God Is Great, But You Still Have to Pump Your Own Gas?

Propositions like “God had sex with a young woman and got her pregnant with himself” or “The earth is 6000 years old” or “The crator of the universe cares deeply whether you eat bacon” are not matters of taste. They’re matters of fact. They’re either true or not, regardless of what we want. Now, if Christians like Ray Comfort, Kent Hovind, or Ken Ham believe something, but sophisticated Christian theologians know better, shouldn’t they (the theologians, that is) be pointing out the error, if only so the mouth-breathing ignoramuses don’t give Christianity a bad name?

A couple of months ago, when I asked this on Christian Forums, I was pointed at the Jesus Seminar, a group that tries to disentangle legend from fact and figure out who the historical Jesus was.

I searched for “Jesus Seminar” at Amazon.com and used the “Look inside” feature to see what the best-selling books on the subject had to say on this subject. I found that six of the ten best-selling books with that phrase presented a negative image of the Jesus Seminar, and only two presented a positive image. Popular apologist Lee Strobel said that the Jesus Seminar does not represent mainstream scholarship. I realize this isn’t very scientific, but it does seem as though, as far as what Americans are reading, they’re being fed a huge load of what Hitchens, Plantinga, Dawkins, and McGrath would all agree is codswallop.

Of course there will always be disagreements between atheists and theists. But we’re now at a point where a substantial number of religious people hold beliefs that are beyond absurd, and often beyond parody. It’s time for sensible theists to stand up and call bullshit.

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12 Responses to Where Are all the Reflective Christians?

  1. Ian says:

    Look for the Fellows of the Jesus Seminar on their own – John Shelby Spong, Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan – those are the big three. The fundies hate Spong with a passion. His Jesus for the Non-Religious is probably the sort of thing you are looking for. It has an Amazon sales rank of 4,203, versus 8,061 for Strobels latest book (comparing hardback to hardback; Spong’s book has been out since Feb 2007, Strobel since September) and 2,035 for The Case for Faith, his most successful book on Amazon (which is used an a tool for evangelism, you can buy them in bulk). Crossan’s latest book isn’t out yet, and it has a sales rank of 2,703,

    While Spong isn’t mainstream scholarship, Borg and Crossan certainly are. More importantly, don’t trust a word Strobel says. He calls himself a journalist looking at the evidence – he interviews critics of the Jesus Seminar, but none of the supporters. He simply outlines “the other side” himself (sets up a straw man) and then pulls the legs out from under his straw man. It’s like when he talks to Dembski in his second book, and lets Dembski present both sides (or something equally dishonest, it was a long time ago and I don’t remember the details).

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  2. arensb says:

    Ian:

    Look for the Fellows of the Jesus Seminar on their own

    Do you mind if I leave that as an exercise for the reader? This sort of thing takes time.

    The fundies hate Spong with a passion.

    I’m not surprised. I attended one of his talks when I was in college, and it was one of the most sensible things I’d ever heard.

    More importantly, don’t trust a word Strobel says.

    I’d already reached that conclusion independently, from trying to read The Case for a Creator. I’m guessing he belongs to that large sect that ignores those bits of the Old Testament that they don’t like, such as the ninth commandment.

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  3. Pingback: Life Before Death :: Carnival of the Godless #86 :: March :: 2008

  4. simple z says:

    I would say that us other Christians, don’t consider someone who believes in prayer as “full of shit”.
    It’s not a mean thing to believe in.
    I concentrate on complaining at people who commit killings/wars/discrimination in the name of God instead.

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  5. Fez says:

    simple z,

    Perhaps it’s time for “you other Christians” to reconsider your position then. What degree of intellectually dishonest behavior do “those other Christians” have to engage in before “you other Christians” decide to speak up and/or out? Or are you satisfied that as long as the more extreme viewpoints remain in the square of public debate “you other Christians” can somehow take advantage of this situation? Sin is sin regardless of the motivation, situation, or consequences (at least that’s what “those other Christians” would lead one to believe); to turn a blind eye to their blatantly dishonest words and deeds when “you other Christians” are well aware of them is to condone the sin.

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  6. simple z says:

    Fez
    As it happens, you’re addressing a person who spends some time in her blog and real life trying to convince religious people of evolution (although this not very tricky in Europe, where only Pentecostals seem to believe in Genesis literally).

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  7. Fez says:

    simple z,

    Noted, and I also note from your blog that English is not your first language although you seem to communicate quite well in it. That said, I don’t feel your motivations invalidate anything I said in my response even if the intended audience might need to be adjusted.

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  8. Buffy says:

    There are indeed intelligent, reflective Christians. However they are not the ones blathering nonsense on cable TV, writing ridiculous hate-filled screeds that sell in bulk to RW book clubs (yet nowhere else), spewing hatred from the pulpits, attempting to force their beliefs on everybody, etc. They are the ones who are generally going quietly about their lives, trying to live as they feel is right and even doing some good in the world. It’s just that their voices are drowned out by their louder, more visible brethren. Much like with the media, negativity sells. People don’t tend to watch the positive and the pleasant, which is why the quiet Christians who do good aren’t as visible as those who rant, rave and spew hatred.

    It would be nice if they’d become more outspoken and start telling the idiots to stop acting like ignorant jerks. However I don’t see it happening unless they are really pressed to the wall. (Some of them even become indignant when the idea is suggested, as if it’s not their responsibility). Right now they still have a majority in the US, all the rights and privileges that go along with that, and accordingly no real reason to act.

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  9. arensb says:

    simple z:

    I would say that us other Christians, don’t consider someone who believes in prayer as “full of shit”.
    It’s not a mean thing to believe in.

    It looks as though you live in Sweden, so you may be unaware of the amount and intensity of religious insanity one finds in the US (just read Fundies Say the Darndest Things or Ray Comfort’s weblog for a while).

    Do you think that praying for rain, as the governor of Georgia recently urged his constituents to do, works better than just waiting for rain?

    Do you think that there is a hell where people will be tortured forever? Do you think everyone deserves to be sent there by default?

    Do you think that the book of Revelation is a straightforward account of things to come in the next few years?

    Do you think that God cares whether you masturbate?

    If you don’t agree, on doctrinal or theological grounds, then why aren’t you educating your fellow Christians? These are not matters of opinion, but of fact: they are either true or not, regardless of whether we want them to be true or not. If religion really offers insight into such truths, then it should be possible for different people to come to the same conclusions independently, and for one person to convince another, on the basis of evidence.

    In short, Christians should be able to figure out among themselves what’s true and what isn’t, and correct each other on matters of fact. So why do atheists get grief for doing so?

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  10. arensb says:

    Buffy:

    There are indeed intelligent, reflective Christians. However they are not the ones blathering nonsense on cable TV

    Yes, but AFAICT they’re not telling the demented blatherers to STFU either. Why not?

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  11. simple z says:

    Arensb
    I do believe in dogma, but am not aggressive and like conversations on the net (although i have little time) with people of other points of view.
    Regarding the book of Revelations: I feel that people who stress that part too much, seem to be a bit more…..trigger-happy than other bible readers. I’ve an old entry about this (in swedish, alas) “The last chapter of the bible is not the ONLY chapter of the bible.”

    I’m well trained to defend my views in a quite calmful way. Most of my Catholic friends do NOT agree on my suggestion of letting women be ordained as priest. Guess whether i get heat from there too😉 I noticed that: A friendly way of discussing, without namecalling, shows confidence and that one actually believes in what one is saying.

    I would say Sweden is one of the most secular countries in the world, accept for Iceland. Famous people/wellpayed/polititians almost never dare to declare any kind of faith whatsoever.

    We share one thing with the US: Our leader is, for some mysterious reason, not allowed to be of islamic faith.

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  12. Dan King says:

    As a Christian, I agree with you completely on this. This is one of the main reasons that I blog, and am involved in discipling others in the church. My biggest platform is that of getting people to think for themselves. I teach a Bible Interpretation class, and in that class I never tell people what they should think, but rather how to discover the answers for themselves. To much of the church blindly follows other (flawed) people, and end up in a place where they are not able to make solid decisions for themselves. I am of the school of thought that people should even challenge what their own pastors say, and study the topics on their own. The same ideas hold true for looking at the world around us, and not just in the church.

    The bottom line, is that I also wish that more ‘reflective Christians’ (as you call them) would speak up against the lemming Christians.

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