Sunday, March 23, 2014

I Reject Christianity Because It’s Not True, Part IV

The following is the fourth and final installment in my little mini-series of blog entries examining reactions by James Anderson to “four common objections” to Christianity, which can be found on the Gospel Coalition’s article titled I Reject Christianity Because _______________.

The previous installments in this series can be found here:
In the present entry, I will examine Anderson’s reaction to the fourth common objection raised in the Gospel Coalition’s article.

The fourth common objection which Anderson responds to in his interview is the following:
It's narrow-minded and intolerant to claim Jesus is the only way to God. No religion has the whole truth—including yours.
In response to this, Anderson states:
If it's narrow-minded and intolerant to claim that Jesus is the only way to God, then Jesus himself must have been narrow-minded and intolerant, because that's exactly what he claimed about himself (see, for example, Matthew 11:27 and John 14:6).
Notice the tendentious manner in which Anderson characterizes this: “Jesus himself” is said to have claimed this about himself. As a commenter posting under the name “Phil” wrote in reaction to Anderson’s statement put it, “that's whatever who wrote down Mathew and John claim Jesus said.”

Since Christianity’s beginnings, believers have shown the habit of putting words in other people’s mouths. Even conservative apologists will admit that the gospels were not penned by Jesus. And yet their authors are continually putting words in Jesus’ mouth by attributing speeches and sayings to him in their narratives. This habit did not end with the gospels. Rather, the gospels have been taken as a model of sorts in this sense by believers ever since. Apologists today have continued this tradition with relish as they have perfected the practice of projecting views onto their critics to a fine art.

A non-Christian, for example, can articulate his position on the uniformity of nature, for example, but apologists will simply ignore what is affirmed there and insert words in the non-Christian’s mouth without batting an eye. This naturally makes it easier for the apologist to roll out his canned slogans, for they only work on the most superficial objections, as we have seen in this series. And of course, this is not restricted only to interactions with non-Christians; Christians do this to each other when tensions between different factions arise.

Now it’s true that anyone who takes a firm position risks the charge of being “narrow-minded” from those who either reject the position or distrust the firmness of its defender’s stance. Moreover, to call a person “narrow-minded” is not an argument; it is not a refutation of the position so affirmed, nor is it just cause to reject what is claimed. The position could be true, for that matter, while the charge of being “narrow-minded” can really only apply to those affirming it. Besides, were Jesus a real person and able to reply to the charge of being “narrow-minded,” some statements put into his mouth by the authors of the gospels suggest that he would happily agree. For example, in Matthew 7:14, the evangelist has his Jesus say:
strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
But supposing that a person actually did make this claim about himself – that he was god-made-flesh, that he was “the way, the truth, and the life,” and that no one can go to “God” except through him , then we can safely say that he was simply deluded by his own mystical indulgences, and his disappearance in history is to be expected (just as so many hundreds of thousands of other mystics no longer walk the earth). What we have that persists today are throngs of believers - human beings who succumbed to the primitive worldview of Christianity and who subsequently run around the world (and now, the internet) insisting that this guy who supposedly made these claims about himself nearly 2,000 years ago still lives and will someday (“soon”!) come back and vindicate his faithful sheep. Thus we hear about this Christ and the message ascribed to him by early fashioners of tales and myths, not from a supernatural being itself, but from other human beings. Men tell us that there is a god and that it said such-and-such.

The book of Acts gives a precedent within Christianity for the most effective way that the Christian god could use to gain converts, and that’s by appearing in a form before the desired proselyte which he or she cannot deny or err in identifying. Of course I have in mind here Saul the Persecutor. According to Acts (but curiously, not according to Paul’s own letters), the risen Christ appeared in a glorious manner right before Saul, just as he was on his way to heckle Christians in Damascus. According to the Christian storyline we all hear in Sunday School, this turned the wicked warrior into a sermonizing saint, spreading Christianity around, putting out doctrinal fires, and gallivanting all the way to Rome in the hopes of having audience with the Emperor himself. Of course, this precedent, so famous as it may be within Christianity, flies directly against Morna Hooker’s claim that “the living Lord is encountered only by those who believe” (“Jesus and History,” in Linzey and Wexler’s 1991 book Fundamentalism and Tolerance, p. 31; quoted in Wells’ 2004 book Can We Trust the New Testament?, p. 71). It is curious how those who should know the Christian story forwards and backwards often make statements which themselves appear to be a product of failed integration.

Anderson continues:
Jesus also claimed to be the Son of God from heaven and that only those who believe in him will have eternal life.
Again, it is not Jesus who claimed this. Rather, it was the authors of the gospels who made such claims and put them into Jesus’ mouth through their storytelling.

But let’s assume some guy named Jesus did actually say this about himself. Outside the NT, what tells us that this claim is true? What do I need to examine in the world that would indicate that a) there is a god, b) Jesus is the "Son of God," and c) belief in Jesus somehow gives a person "eternal life"? What objectively discernible facts even suggest that anyone will ever even have "eternal life" to begin with? All objective data that I know of confirms (as I explain here) that consciousness is biological in nature, and thus certain biological organs – e.g., a brain, a nervous system, sensory organs, etc. – are required for consciousness to be possible in the first place. I can, of course, imagine consciousness without these things, but I’m interested in facts here, not merely imaginary things.

Notice also how much power Christianity grants to mere belief. This is an expression of the primacy of consciousness. Belief is a type of conscious activity. By granting such power to mere belief, even if belief is confined merely to acceptance of some set of claims as true, Christianity ascribes tremendous power to a type of conscious activity. Just believe what you are commanded to believe, and reality will conform accordingly. But this is subjectivism through and through.

In interactions that I’m aware of, Christians typically acknowledge (in one way or another) the primacy of consciousness in the case of their god (e.g., they don’t dare deny the doctrines of creation, miracles, providence, the notion of “God’s plan” for history, etc.), but hasten to qualify this by insisting that Christianity does not affirm the primacy of consciousness in the case of human consciousness.

For example, Christian apologist Matthias McMahon wrote (for details, see my blog A Reply to Matthias on Subjectivism and the Believer :
Do you know of many Christians who believe that their own wishing makes something so? Let’s ignore, for the moment, their wishing that Christianity were true (if this simply means the desire that it be true, then doesn't everybody?). I don’t agree with that, and Christians understand their own belief to mean that whatever God says is true regardless of their wishing. If Christians believe that only God can wish something into existence, then it’s not a true “subjectivism” they’re holding, is it?
Of course, the notion that any consciousness can or does wish something into existence grants metaphysical primacy to the subject of consciousness over its objects, which is the metaphysical root of subjectivism. But so does the notion that merely believing that something is the case determine the eternal fate of one’s soul.

Then there’s astrophysicist-Christian apologist Jason Lisle, who recently wrote (in a comment on his own blog):
Truth is dependent upon the (conscious) mind of God. Truth is not dependent on human consciousness of course.
Of course, if one’s belief in Jesus means he is saved, is not his salvation true? That is what Christians have been telling us for millennia. But now Jason Lisle says that’s not the case. I suspect that Christians’ worldview is so deeply steeped in the primacy of consciousness that they don't even know how to distinguish it from the primacy of existence or that their own affirmations assume the primacy if consciousness. Believe X is the case, and your eternal destiny is altered forever. That unmistakably grants metaphysical primacy to some type of conscious activity over reality.

Anderson writes:
Yet when we read the four Gospels, we don't encounter a narrow-minded, intolerant, arrogant man. Rather, we see a wide-hearted, selfless, and humble man, full of grace and compassion toward others.
According to what is attributed to Jesus in the gospels, he made it a condition of discipleship that those who follow him must hate their fathers, their mothers, their brothers and sisters, their spouses, their own children, even themselves. No, I’m not making this up. Read Luke 14:26 for yourself:
If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.
Does a “wide-hearted” man who is “full of grace and compassion toward others” require this of those for whom he has such compassion and grace? Making man’s eternal fate hinge on surrendering his rationality in exchange for believing something he cannot possibly verify objectively, for no other reason than that he surrender the very faculty which he needs in order to live qua man, hardly seems “compassionate” or "full of grace." Quite the opposite I’d say!

Genuine compassion would at minimum involve the recognition that rationality is man's fundamental distinguishing attribute as well as respect for each individual's need for the liberty to use his mind according to his own best judgment, given what he perceives in his daily experience and the needs he must satisfy as a biological organism in order to live. But demanding that man accept as all-important "truths" claims that he cannot confirm by application of his rational faculty, can only be the demand that he sacrifice his rational faculty, a choice he is to make on the basis of fear - i.e., on the basis of emotion rather than fact.

When I read the gospel portraits of Jesus, I find a worldview infused with anti-man sentiment; anti-man because it is anti-values. Man needs values to live. If one’s worldview is anti-values, then it can only be anti-man. Consider the hallmarks of the Christian worldview: the demand that one hates his own loved ones and himself; the demand that one deny himself; resentment of wealth; disapproval of personal achievement (only “God” gets all the glory; man is nothing); repudiation of earned values (they get in between the believer and “God”); condemnation of man's mind, man's rationality, man's aspirations; vilification of pleasure, and insistence on self-sacrifice; the upholding of Jesus' sacrifice as the moral ideal for man, etc. That Jesus is to be regarded as “selfless” only confirms all these things. Yet even the Christian cannot maintain this very far, for man is supposed to sacrifice to the Christian god, which means that the Christian god is supposed to be the collector of those sacrifices. Is this what Christianity means by “selfless”? At best we have a bait-and-switch here.

Moreover, the insistence that everyone give up everything in order to serve him is hardly indicative of humility. "He who saves his life shall lose it; he who loses his life for my sake shall save it" (cf. Luke 17:33).

In terms of its implications for political philosophy, the biblical worldview is essentially collectivistic in nature. This is evidenced not only in the overt racial divide found throughout much of the Old Testament, with the Jews figuring as “the chosen people,” and their neighbors as despised enemies destined for destruction, but also in the pronounced us-vs.-them mentality of the New Testament, where believers are to separate themselves from “the world” since the world is “bad” (because it does not believe what Christianity teaches), and not to fellowship with non-Christians (because they don't believe what Christianity teaches).

Citing Heikki Räisänen, Professor of New Testament Exegesis at the University of Helsinki, G. A Wells makes the following point (Can We Trust the New Testament?, p. 180, quoting Räisänen’s ‘The New Testament in Theology’ from Routledge’s 1995 Companion Encyclopedia of Theology):
observes that preachers still want to use the Bible as a guide to the way life should be lived today. But today’s most pressing need are for peace and justice, and these are ill-served by the spirit of enmity obtruded in substantial portions of the Bible: “Whether it pleases us or not, in Scripture itself suspicion, even hatred of the ‘others’ is one conspicuous theme, running from the Old Testament narratives and Psalms all the way through the book of Revelation.” Indeed, the very notion of the absoluteness of Christ has “contributed to the annihilation of those who disagreed, trusting their own traditions.” And it is no way out of all this to “demythologize” offensive or erroneous scriptural notions by reinterpreting the relevant texts “to the point of complete vagueness.”
Does the world really need the arbitrarily informed us-versus-them mentality that is inherent to so many religious worldviews? Isn’t this at least in part fundamentally responsible for so much sustained conflict and injustice in the world?

Anderson writes:
When you say, "No religion has the whole truth," I have to ask: How do you know? How could you know? Have you thoroughly investigated every world religion? And wouldn't you need some kind of access to the whole truth yourself in order to make the judgment that no religion has the whole truth?
Let’s first consider the question: What is religion? Religion is essentially primitive philosophy - i.e., an attempt to provide man with a comprehensive view of life that is non-rational and pre-scientific. Characteristic of religious worldviews is the affirmation of supernaturalism in metaphysics, mysticism in epistemology (e.g., faith in “revelations”), some form of sacrifice-based ethics, and collectivistic social theory.

Since the discovery and validation of truth comes under the heading of epistemology, we need to consider religion’s answer to this branch of philosophy to address Anderson’s questions. In epistemology, the only alternative to reason (i.e., looking outward at the facts of the world and identifying and integrating them according to an objective method) is some form of mysticism. In contrast to reason, mysticism is the view that knowledge is acquired by looking inward into the contents of one’s emotions, wishes, imagination, etc., as though they held some kind of primacy over facts in determining what is true about reality. Such an approach to knowledge and truth itself rests on the primacy of consciousness in metaphysics: i.e., the notion that reality originates in and/or conforms to some form or activity of consciousness. An obvious example is the Christian doctrine of creation: according to this view, a supernatural consciousness essentially wished the universe into being. Here an act of consciousness is held to be the source of the universe and everything in it. But notice even here, we do not discover that the world was created by an act of consciousness by looking outward at the facts; looking outward for the source of inputs to inform our knowledge presupposes the opposite metaphysics – the primacy of existence, i.e., the recognition that existence exists independent of conscious activity. Rather, in order to “know” that the universe was created by an act of consciousness, we have no alternative but to imagine this and ignore the facts which, by their nature, tell us throughout all our experience that they obtain independent of conscious activity.

Meanwhile, to say that a statement is true, is to say that it corresponds in non-contradictory fashion to the facts of reality on their own terms, regardless of what anyone thinks, believes, wishes, prefers, imagines, dreams, etc., In other words, the very concept of truth rests on and is compatible only with the primacy of existence. Thinkers often explicitly recognize that wishing doesn’t make it so. But why is that? Objectivism answers this by pointing to the primacy of existence: the objects of consciousness exist and are what they are independent of conscious activity. This means that the task of consciousness is not to create and alter reality at will, but to perceive and identify it according to what we discover in it. Wishing does not make it so because reality does not conform to conscious activity. The primacy of existence is the explicit recognition of this fundamental, inescapable fact.

Thus, since religion itself stands on a view which is incompatible with truth (given its assumption of the primacy of consciousness, which contradicts the primacy of existence), the conclusion that religion cannot provide truth is not difficult to draw. And no, one would not “need some kind of access to the whole truth… in order to make the judgment that no religion has the whole truth.” All one really needs is a principled understanding of the nature of knowledge and truth, its implications in terms of the relationship between consciousness and its objects, and the role that reason provides in discovering and identifying facts. In short, one essentially needs to understand that (1) truth requires an objective orientation to facts, and (2) religious worldviews are incompatible with the objective orientation (given their assumption of the primacy of consciousness metaphysics).

Anderson continues:
The more pertinent question isn't whether any religion has the whole truth, but whether the central and defining claims of any particular religion are in fact true.
Since truth absolutely presupposes the primacy of existence, and since religious claims assume the primacy of consciousness, the only rational answer to Anderson’s question is that the central and defining claims of any particular religion cannot be true.

Anderson states:
Christians don't claim to possess the whole truth.
Christians claim to have what could only be characterized as unearned knowledge - i.e., “knowledge” that is not the product of an active process which they perform according to their won noetic abilities, but which is “bestowed” upon them by the compulsion of an invisible “spirit” which forces itself onto the believer’s mind and makes the believer believe what he says he believes. Note also that this “knowledge” pertains to “spiritual truths,” and it is in the realm of these “spiritual truths” that believers find themselves in deepest conflict with one another.

Anderson writes:
Only God could make that claim!
Actually, I don’t see what would prevent anything I imagine from making this claim, particularly if I imagine it making such a claim. I can, for example, imagine Blarko the WonderBeing claiming “to possess the whole truth.” How could one refute that? And how precisely is this fundamentally different from what the Christian does?

Anderson writes:
But we do believe God has revealed the most important truths through Jesus, and that Jesus has more credibility than anyone else in his claim to know—indeed, to be—the way to God.
And it is precisely in the sphere of these “most important truths” that Christians find themselves in deep conflict with each other. Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Calvinists, Lutherans, Anabaptists, Anglicans, Methodists, Pentecostals, Shakers, Hutterites, Branch Davidians, Southern Baptists, Westboro Baptists, etc., etc., etc., do not disagree over how to eat a hotdog, how to sweep a floor, what a wallet is, where paper comes from, etc. Rather, they disagree over how properly to imagine and worship the Christian god. They disagree on matters pertaining to religious doctrine, the very “truths” which they are said to receive directly from a supernatural source via “revelations.”

At this point, Anderson asks a question:
Is there anyone in history who has a more credible claim to know God?
This is one of those beauty-is-in-the-eye-of-the-beholder questions. Only instead of beholding, the operative function here is imagination. I can imagine that Jesus had the most credible claim to know “God,” and I can imagine that Mohammed had the most credible claim to know Allah (i.e., “God”). What alternative to my imagination do I have in either case? Blank out.

Anderson asks another question:
Is there anyone who showed greater insight into the human heart and our deepest spiritual needs?
Sure, Ayn Rand did. And greater insight by far! Anderson concluded his paper with:
Don't take my word for it. Study the Gospels for yourself and draw your own conclusions!
This is the best part of the interview with Anderson. And he need not worry – I won’t take his word for it, as should be clear, for I have done my own investigating, and as should be clear, I’ve drawn my own conclusions. And I have shared my conclusions right here on my blog.

by Dawson Bethrick

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1 Comments:

Blogger Ydemoc said...

Dawson,

This series of posts... another outstanding piece of work!

Ydemoc

March 23, 2014 5:53 PM  

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