Over at David Marshall’s blog he has posted a response to one of my Unbelievable Project posts (sidenote: I do promise to get back to that project…I have a number of episodes in the hopper, I just need a block of time to type). At any rate, let me counter again, and see where this goes.
On the topic of “militant atheism”, I pointed out a double standard in the use of the word “militant” to atheists and islamists. Marshall replies
What causes us to call them “militant,” rather, is the refusal to admit the vast amount of good that the Judeo-Christian tradition has accomplished
I think this makes my point. Do we call Militant Islamists “militant” because they refuse to see the good in other people? No, it’s because they blow stuff up. You might call the New Atheists “agressive”, “obnoxious”, “misguided” or “wrong”, but “militant” they are not. Marshall continues:
Have more people been killed by angry Christian terrorists per Christian in recent years, or by angry atheist terrorists? Timothy McVeigh was an agnostic, that would count when atheists take census for the purpose of expanding their ranks. The Unabomber appears to have been an atheist. The Tamil Tigers, who do more of this sort of thing than almost anyone, may be as well.
Now I could counter with things like anti-abortion violence, and that Timothy McVeigh’s religious views were mixed at best, etc… However I think that, even if we grant that McVeigh was an atheist and the Unabomber too, that they didn’t do the horrible things in the name of their atheism. However, the anti-abortion violence, and the historical violence of Christians, has been done in the name of the religion. That’s a big difference, and one that seems to be conveniently ignored.
Further, to compare the New Atheists (say, any of the four of Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, and Dennett) to any of these people, or to Stalinist Russia, or Hitler, or any of them is totally ridiculous. No matter how strident they are, the New Atheists are not “militant” in the same way that militant Islamists are.
On the point about “separation of church and state”, which Marshall has stated was a Christian idea, and that I had countered with: “If the separation was truly was a Christian idea, then I’d expect a totally different European history from 0 AD to 1700 AD! “, he counters with:
But Blais is again not being reasonable about that history, either. First of all, Christians didn’t attain much power until almost 400 AD. And secondly, the world in which Christians then attained power had fixed political structures, which transformed Christianity about as much as Christianity changed it. It is anachronistic to judge the 5th Century by what humanity has attained since.
So, what you’re saying, is that the Christians were victims of the political structure such that the fundamental Christian belief of “separation of church and state” was not able to be implemented for the 1300 year Christian rule? Sorry, but that seems like a dodge to me.
Jesus also said, “Forgive your enemies.” The claim that this, too, is a Christian idea, is not rendered “ridiculous” by the fact that Christians have often actually killed and cursed, not forgiven, their enemies. An idea can be a Christian idea, even can come from Jesus’ mouth, without therefore determining all subsequent Christian history.
Sure. However, since there is no statement “separation of church and state” anywhere in the NT, it seems like quite a stretch to make the same claim. One can probably find a decent number of examples of people throughout the last 2000 years putting “forgive your enemies” to good use, or at least claiming it is a Christian idea. Can you find any examples prior to the enlightenment of any Christian espousing the separation of church and state, except in the most limited cases (e.g. you pay taxes to government not to the church). Clearly every European monarchy was founded on the establishment of a direct connection between church and state.
Marshall didn’t seem to like my response concerning the topic of slavery. I said: ” It is faint praise indeed that the best you can say about the Christian stance on slavery, historically, is that some slaves were freed so that 700 years later (!!!) some small areas in the world, that didn’t feel that they needed slaves anymore, didn’t have slaves. ”
Faint praise? Tens of millions of slaves have been freed, due to the abolitionist movements that began with praying Christians.
To be clear, I am definitely against slavery, and I definitely think it is a great thing that tens of millions of slaves have been freed. That wasn’t the point. The point was that Marshall said in the Unbelievable episode:
Beginning in the fourth century slaves were set free so that by the eleventh century there were areas of western Europe free of slaves.
So, put another way, Christian doctrine was so anti-slavery that, when the Christians had the most power, the best they could do was to take 700 years to rid some areas of Europe of slaves…areas that just didn’t need slaves anyway. I don’t think that’s an impressive record.
Sixty percent of anti-slave organizers were Christian pastors.
Where does this come from? I’d like a citation for this. Regardless, it doesn’t surprise me. I would also guess that most of the pro-slave organizers (like George Whitefield) were also Christian pastors. Why? Because, at that time (and still now, in the US) most of the people were Christians, and further, pastors were social and political organizers. So as a matter of probability, this claim would seem to be likely, and thus carries no weight in the argument.
It is clear the New Testament condemns the slave trade, though. It is clear Paul told Philemon he should accept Onesimus back “no longer as a slave, but as a dear brother.” And it ought be clear that “loving your neighbor as yourself” is pretty hard to do if you put chains around your neighbor’s neck.
But Paul also says this:
“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. 6 Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. 7 Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, 8 because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free .”(Ephesians 6:5-8)
Paul is not being particularly anti-slavery here. This is part of the problem – the message in the Bible is not clear, despite Marshall’s claims to the contrary. Like fables and proverbs, you can find opposite messages, enough to justify whatever you’d like (e.g. too many cooks spoil the broth; many hands make light work). As a result, you get perspectives like:
[Slavery] was established by decree of Almighty God…it is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelation…it has existed in all ages, has been found among the people of the highest civilization, and in nations of the highest proficiency in the arts – Jefferson Davis, President, Confederate States of America
Is he reading the same Bible? Is he simply dense and uninformed? Is the Bible so unclear that people can have such a diverse set of opinions on it?
Finally, on the slavery issue, we have Marshall saying:
But it is unrealistic and unreasonable to expect the Bible to institute a crusade against slavery from the get-go. Slavery was not, in fact, an unambiguous evil in the ancient world: the alternative (as in Herodotus, and even in Homer) was often to just kill enemy soldiers (or even civilians) whom you captured. What the Bible did, was slowly create a society, and a set of moral ideals, that made slavery less and less important, and liberation of slaves more and more admirable, even while glorifying labor, and enriching ordinary workers.
Ok, let me get this straight. Marshall seems to be saying that the same God that created the universe, inspired the writing of the Bible, created our moral sense, and had a direct and personal hand in human affairs from, say, 4000 BC to 50AD (at least!) couldn’t come up with a way to solve the slavery problem? Really? The best God could do was to drop in some conflicting perspectives on the issue into a book so that 1500 years after that we could finally get rid of slaves? Is it truly unreasonable to expect a clear condemnation of slavery in a book purporting to deliver the message of absolute morality from an all-knowing source? This is a remarkable claim!
On to ID. One point of clarification I want to make is the following. Marshall tires of the lying label that I used:
As for “lying,” the charge grows tedious. New Atheists are so eager with this charge — even against C. S. Lewis, recently, and often against me — one just wishes they would choose to argue like adults, frankly.
However, I was not quoting New Atheists here, I was referring to what the conservative, Bush appointed Judge Jones said in his decision:
It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy.
I’ve also read a fair amount about ID, read many of the sources (Behe, Dembski, others), read all of the Dover documents, followed Ken Miller’s seminars, etc… I do not arrive at my opinions about ID entirely uninformed. ID is religion masquerading as science.
Finally, Marshall on corporal punishment and child abuse:
Though I’m a little curious about calling corporal punishment — what, spanking a bratty child on the behind? — “child abuse.”
The classics work.
I was thinking of more extreme examples of corporal punishment than “spanking on the behind”. Either way, however, no matter your attitude toward spanking, the act of simply calling a child “Christian” is even less worthy of being labeled “abuse”. I find Dawkins’ language in this example so over the top that it ceases to be useful.
That’s it for now!