Fugitives from Fundamentalism

The Musings of Adult Missionary Kids (MKs) & Former Born-Again Believers

Angry Conversations with a Childhood Friend & Calvinist: Part V

Posted by Clamence/The Chaplain on April 30, 2009

Calvinist Friend:

Well I can see that you are a fairly angry and close-minded individual who will only accept limited evidence that fits into your own framework and that only subscribes to your own narrow definitions, so I agree that it would be better that we both call it quits for now (I’m sure you haven’t heard the last of me though). You actually fit nicely into the box that I imigned you to be in when we first started this conversation. It’s always a devilishly warm feeling when people fit into the stereotypes that I have of them. I continued the conversation up to this point for four reasons: 1) because I was sad for you since I grew up in Africa thinking I knew you and now years later I’m shocked to find the depth of the devil’s lies that you have fallen into (no need for the rabid demon possession that you prayed for in your experiment; the devil has unfortunatly already won the battle for your mind), 2) I wanted to confirm that you would use the same arguments and tactics that I thought you would use in defending your belief that there is no god and that you would reject the evidence that I provided, 3) I generally enjoy debate as it is good intellectual stimulation and also serves to allow me to sharpen my mind by reconsidering my own position and making sure that it still holds up to the best evidence as I see it (I detest blind faith- it gives Christians a bad name and is not what the God of the Bible has called us to), and 4) in a sense I guess you could say that I did see you as a project in that I hoped an outcome of our conversation might be that I could convince you of the truth of the evidence that has pursuaded me and millions others down through time. Perhaps I haven’t explained myself as well as I could. I wish I had more time to articulate better. And I certainly have not meant to offend you, so I apologize if taken that way. I call it as I see it and I see that you do the same. Since I recognize that we’re both just calling it as we see it then I tried not to take offense in spots where my instinct was to take offense from some things you said (and I did think you used some carefully crafted insults at various points). But maybe I’ve been too harsh (my wife tells me this all the time), and for that I apologize. I’m sorry too if I wasted your time, although you could have stopped at any point and yet something kept your taking the time to provide lengthy responses to me. I guess the only other thing I would say on your continuation of the conversation is that usually people don’t continue conversations with people that they are annoyed by. You seem annoyed, as if I struck up something in you, and yet you continued to respond. Maybe I did get to you (either your mind or your emotions) and that’s why you continued to respond. I believe I read on your blog that someone suggested the best way to shut Christians up is to simply ignore them (I think the supporting example was used of nobody believing in Zeus anymore). So I’m surprised you didn’t just ignore me if you find my ideas unintelligent, “superstitution”, boring, or just plain annoying. As an aside, I would say good luck to anyone who tries that approach and really believes that Christianity will go away.

What I will leave you with is to once again challenge you as to what you will accept as evidence that a god (and I won’t even go so far as to say my God) exists. You previously said “any evidence” but then when I provided you with evidence you basically called it bad evidence. So really what you meant was any good evidence? And then that begs the question as to what is “good” evidence. I somehow get the feeling that no evidence will be good enough for you in this one area of the existence of god, minus god meeting you in person and shaking your hand. I’m sure you would deny this, but consider it. Also, I’m not sure what theological writings you have read, but my guess is that any seminary student would find your reading list in this area lacking. So I would challenge you also to not limit your reading list and don’t assume that you’ve read everything there is to know on a perspective that doesn’t agree with you or even seems patently ridiculous to you. I think you would really appreciate the style of the likes of R.C. Sproul and Ravi Zacharius, even if you don’t accept their conclusions. I don’t have their curriculum vitae in front of me to present their formal credentials but I assure you that they are well credentialed in the area of theology/philosophy. These men hold Ph.D.s and spend considerable time traveling to secular universities to lecture and debate different viewpoints such as yours. They are not mainstream popular names but when did popularity count for anything. Do yourself a favor and check them out. You’ll never learn all that you can, regardless of the journey you’ve already been down. Best wishes to you in your intellectual journey though. I have prayed for you already and will continue to pray for you as you come across my mind. Again, I’m sure I’ll continue to provide my thoughts so you probably haven’t heard the last of me, especially as I come across your article postings on your facebook page.

The Chaplain:

It has been very difficult for me to take our conversations seriously. Perhaps things were poisoned from the get go when you started out using a Hitler ad hominem attack. Things only got worse from there.

I said from the beginning that we have no common ground to discuss these issues. As an argument teacher, I know that common ground is necessary for argument to take place. It is clear that we have not been participating in debate. People who debate construct their arguments with their audiences in mind—something that you have not done very well and something that I have not even attempted to do.

I will be blunt and tell you my opinion. I think that you have gone to great lengths to fool yourself into believing something that is preposterous. I think that you are purposely wearing blinders for some reason I cannot fathom. Perhaps fear of family reaction and fallout if you reject their faith? Whatever the reason is, I am not interested in embracing ancient superstitions. Freedom is frightening, but we are all free and we should embrace reality. No amount of aggressive evangelism is going to convince me to believe in make believe. I think it is time for you to respect that decision of mine, or simply to keep your disapproval to yourself (or off of my FB page at the very least.)

Have you ever wondered why you have to immerse yourself in so much light reading by Sproul and Zacharius to maintain these superstitions? Have you studied ancient religions? Have you looked at what these religious groups believed prior to the time that the Israelites co-opted their religions? Nothing in your holy text is original. Even if it were, it certainly does not connect to some supernatural realm and supernatural creatures. It would probably help if you kept the same standard for evidence with your God that you keep for everything else. The syllogism you were using as “evidence” was a use of logic in the loosest sense. dog-tongueFor instance, I could create the following logically-sound syllogism:
1) Dogs have tongues.
2) I have a tongue.
3) I am a dog.
I’m sure you see the problem. The problem with the syllogism you created is that it hid all sorts of assumptions that you just wanted me to accept with no debate. For instance, you stole Ravi’s idea of evolution being in violation of the 2nd law of thermodynamics and assumed that I would accept that. I do not, and nor do any scientists getting published in peer-reviewed journals that I can think of. So, right away, your syllogism is a no go, before we even get into the other issues with it.

Why would I care that a theology student finds my reading list incomplete, and why would I even need to read any theology? Have you read Hindu, Islamic and Shintoist theology? If not, then how do you know that their religions aren’t right? See the problem with your argument here?

Theology is made for people who are already believers; these people have already taken the biggest mental leap there is by deciding that faith (belief in something without evidence) is a useful heuristic for approaching the world. The goal of theology is to convince wavering believers, who have the raw materials to escape their brainwashing, to stay in the fold—therefore making the less intelligent Christians in your group to feel all the more justified in believing in superstitions of the past.

I was already familiar with Ravi, since he is very popular in Evangelical circles. He is also notorious among the people I read (i.e. scientists getting published in peer-reviewed journals), because of his very sad attempt to use the 2nd law of thermodynamics to attack evolution. I’m guessing you are familiar with this, since you were repeating it to me. I looked at both of their CVs on Wikipedia (Ravi and Sproul) and they are trained in theology. This is like having a degree in Jedi-ism. Sure, it would be entertaining to speak to someone with a doctorate in Jediism (at least to the Star Wars nerds like me), but of what use is a degree like that? It’s like being an expert on aura color.

Calvinist Friend: I have prayed for you already and will continue to pray for you as you come across my mind. Again, I’m sure I’ll continue to provide my thoughts so you probably haven’t heard the last of me, especially as I come across your article postings on your facebook page.

I think your use of the “journey” metaphor is a good one. Being in academia is a journey of constant discovery and ideas. I absolutely love it. Feel free to pray if you would like. Those double-blind tests that don’t seem too impressive to you have shown that prayer is answered at the same rate as chance, so your efforts will be like, well, like doing nothing! I promise not to pray for you, because I don’t view you as beneath me or in need of help. The way you live your life and what you believe is totally up to you, and I feel no desire to publish my opinions on your Facebook page. I ask that you do the same and respect me. I can always tweak my FB settings so that you are unable to see the items I post, but I would prefer not to do that. If you would like to discuss your beliefs, then the Fugitives from Fundamentalism website is an ideal venue for that. That way, you can get the other contributors in on the discussion as well.

Calvinist Friend: Well I can see that you are a fairly angry and close-minded individual […]

I know that this is one of the myths about non-believers that gets perpetuated by the evangelical community: that we are arrogant and angry individuals. This isn’t true. I just don’t think like you or agree with you. That is all. I get annoyed when people troll on my FB wall with self-righteous anger and insulting comments about my intelligence, but even a saint would find that irritating.

Calvinist Friend You actually fit nicely into the box that I imigned you to be in when we first started this conversation. It’s always a devilishly warm feeling when people fit into the stereotypes that I have of them.

I imagine you do. On a serious note, I don’t think people fit into neat stereotypes. Everyone has different reasons for thinking what they do, but each person is unique.

Calvinist Friend: I continued the conversation up to this point for four reasons: 1) because I was sad for you since I grew up in Africa thinking I knew you and now years later I’m shocked to find the depth of the devil’s lies that you have fallen into (no need for the rabid demon possession that you prayed for in your experiment; the devil has unfortunatly already won the battle for your mind)

cottonI can’t help but chuckle reading this. It sounds like a sermon by Cotton Mather. Place yourself in my shoes—wear my worldview and absorb all of its implications (it’s implications from my point of view, not from yours)—to see why. In some ways, we are on very unfair ground discussing religion. I fully understand where you are coming from and what you think, because I have lived and inhabited the same role. However, you are unable to place yourself in my position without wearing your Christian glasses. You can try to imagine what I think, and you can hear the reasons I give, but you can never fully live it like me. I have lived your world, and now I live this one.

Calvinist Friend: 2) I wanted to confirm that you would use the same arguments and tactics that I thought you would use in defending your belief that there is no god and that you would reject the evidence that I provided,

I think I already thoroughly explained what the problem was with your “evidence.” I also don’t know that you can justify using the word “all” in front of “evidence”; I remember only one syllogism. If you do not see the flaw in your syllogism, it is because you do not comprehend the difference between good and bad evidence. I know you don’t agree with me on that, so there is no need to repeat it; I just wanted to clarify.

Calvinist Friend: 3) I generally enjoy debate as it is good intellectual stimulation and also serves to allow me to sharpen my mind by reconsidering my own position and making sure that it still holds up to the best evidence as I see it (I detest blind faith- it gives Christians a bad name and is not what the God of the Bible has called us to),

This sounds sensible to me. I also love debate, although I have no patience for certain styles of argument (aggressive or abrasive), since they contradict the goal of discussions like this. In a courtroom, traditional, winner-takes-all approaches are necessary. In private discussions, or in debates where the goal is to politely inform the other side of one’s position and reasons (or even to persuade the audience) courtroom style debate is counterproductive. It also gets one labeled an insufferable asshole. ☺ I’m not just referring to you; I’m speaking of myself as well.

Calvinist Friend: and 4) in a sense I guess you could say that I did see you as a project in that I hoped an outcome of our conversation might be that I could convince you of the truth of the evidence that has pursuaded me and millions others down through time. Perhaps I haven’t explained myself as well as I could. I wish I had more time to articulate better.

Many people have said the same things, made the same arguments, and made very useful skill of rhetoric to do so. Skill is not enough, so don’t beat yourself up. ☺ You mention the millions of people down through time who have been convinced by evidence. I actually don’t think this is true. We can probably agree that they weren’t convinced by the 2nd law of thermodynamics argument, since that is a fairly recent one. But forget about that for a minute, and think of all the other types of “evidence” they might have used. It seems to me that the Bible itself was taken as evidence. Look at some of Sigmund Freud’s books. Even though he started a robust and increasingly scientific field, he had some unsubstantiated and bizarre ideas. In other words, just because a book says something doesn’t mean it is so. So where does this leave us? We have to accept what the Bible says on FAITH. Beneath the “evidence” of the Bible lies faith. If one thinks that virgins do not get pregnant or that men do not walk on water (based on one’s prior experience of never witnessing or seeing this scientifically documented) then a book that claims these things should probably not be believed. You talk about faith in your next message, so I will cover that topic in more detail then.

Calvinist Friend: And I certainly have not meant to offend you, so I apologize if taken that way. I call it as I see it and I see that you do the same. Since I recognize that we’re both just calling it as we see it then I tried not to take offense in spots where my instinct was to take offense from some things you said (and I did think you used some carefully crafted insults at various points). But maybe I’ve been too harsh (my wife tells me this all the time), and for that I apologize.

I could have written in a different manner had I chosen to be more conciliatory. In that vein, I also apologize. I should mention (not as a caveat, but as an aside) that we are going to offend each other because we think the other person is wrong—I guess it is the degree of offense that can be moderated through one’s writing style and rhetorical decisions. Anyway, that is basically what you already said.

Calvinist Friend: I’m sorry too if I wasted your time, although you could have stopped at any point and yet something kept your taking the time to provide lengthy responses to me.

I only view it as a waste of time when the same points get repeated without evidence (the old “begging the question” fallacy—Rush Limbaugh and most of the other talking heads on those entertainment shows that masquerade as researched news programs LOVE this fallacy. People who fill the same positions on the Left do the same thing, of course).

Calvinist Friend: I believe I read on your blog that someone suggested the best way to shut Christians up is to simply ignore them (I think the supporting example was used of nobody believing in Zeus anymore). So I’m surprised you didn’t just ignore me if you find my ideas unintelligent, “superstitution”, boring, or just plain annoying. As an aside, I would say good luck to anyone who tries that approach and really believes that Christianity will go away.

arthur_c_clarkeThat quote was by Arthur C. Clarke, “Science can destroy religion by ignoring it as well as by disproving its tenets. No one has ever demonstrated, so far as I am aware, the nonexistence of Zeus or Thor, but they have few followers now.” I agree that religion will probably never disappear—unless the tendency towards that type of thinking is evolved away. However, if one theory for why people believe in the existence of the supernatural holds true, it can never go away: children who don’t believe what their parents tell them probably won’t survive as well as those who do. Clarke didn’t word his quote very well (or maybe he does mean precisely what he said). Since he used the examples of Zeus and Thor, I took it to mean that specific religions end up being destroyed. Of course, Christianity is so global in its reach, that it is hard to imagine it ever going away. It can definitely evolve to the point where it no longer resembles what it originally was though. The slave-owning Christianity of the South, the Jew-hating Christianity of Europe and the Spanish Inquisition come to mind.

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