Monday, February 16, 2004

Dialogue With a Skeptic of Christianity (vs. Charlie Kluepfel)

Charlie is a former Catholic, who still believes in God in a somewhat unorthodox, self-described "theistic" fashion. He is, however, quite skeptical of Christianity. I discovered his writing and website while doing a word search on the book Surprised by Truth (ed. Patrick Madrid, San Diego: Basilica Press, 1994): a collection of conversion stories (including my own). He critiqued several of the stories in the book (but alas, not mine, except in a very brief way). I had neither time nor desire to engage him on every point he would bring up (e.g., alleged Bible contradictions, and complicated hermeneutical matters), and so have abridged this dialogue, eliminating particular exchanges where I didn't give a sufficient Christian reply to some criticism (not wanting to provide a skeptical viewpoint a free ride on a Christian website, when in fact solid answers could be given by someone with more time on their hands).

But as you will see I did interact with him at length on several points in order to give readers (and my friendly opponent) an example of how a Christian apologist might answer a severe critic of Christianity. And I did allow him to "have the last word" in several sections, simply because I didn't have the energy or desire to keep the debate going on and on and on. Furthermore (lest I be accused of unfairness or double standards), Charlie has included the complete dialogue on his website (I thank him for that exposure in a non-Christian venue), which I am happy to link to. He will get the last word on his website; I usually get the last word on mine. This is how "partisan" websites are. Yet I have allowed him to "speak" a non-Christian viewpoint on my Christian website, and he has allowed me to speak on his secularist website. Long live free speech and inquiry! Charlie's words shall be in blue:


I have read your webpage How Newman Made me a Catholic, . . . Indeed it makes quite a convincing case that if Christianity is true, then Catholicism is indeed the true Church.

Thanks! Too bad you have doubts about Christianity itself, then. Maybe I could have persuaded you.

Obviously argument by authority of the Church Fathers such as St. Augustine is not going to convince me of the truth of Christianity.

I realize that now. I thought you were a Protestant at first. Then I thought that since you were motivated to critique peoples' conversion stories and hadn't spent much effort on mine for some reason (you really offered no counter-arguments at all to speak of), that you might be interested in my longer version (my story was the shortest in Surprised By Truth).

There are some details in your document that I must take exception to, such as where you paraphrase your friend John McAlpine: "the Catholic Church had never contradicted itself in any of its dogmas." This brings to mind the recent sudden loss of Limbo. When I was growing up, and even in my later years as a Catholic, Limbo was the accepted place where the non-baptised good folks would go. Now the Church rejects it as incorrect theology.

Of course this is not true. It was always an allowable opinion (and continues to be), but was never declared as a dogma. Recently, fewer theologians have held to it than formerly. But since it doesn't involve a question of dogma, your point above is - quite literally - a non sequitur.

This brings up the subject of how the Church can say "Oh, that was never ex-cathedra belief." Well, it was surely taught to me as if it were, and it would be hard-pressed for a Catholic to identify what's obligatory belief.

This is classic, garden-variety misunderstanding about how the Catholic Church works. The indisputable fact is, that it was never a dogma in the Church. As a child, you were not able to distinguish between the complex layers of authority in the Catholic system (don't feel bad: most educated Catholic adults aren't able to, either), so somewhere along the line you picked up this false assumption. Catholics can know what is obligatory belief by consulting the new Catechism. There were Catechisms before that, and documents of Trent, Vatican II, etc. And papal encyclicals. The beliefs have always been "out there" for anyone who made an effort to find them. But of course they usually don't make the effort, and catechetics has been very poor in the last generation.

I am often amused, though, how non-Catholics will charge the Church with contradicting itself, then, when informed that no dogmatic matter was involved (e.g., the prohibition of meat on Fridays, or priestly celibacy), they will complain about how the Church didn't contradict itself, as if some sleight-of-hand or deception or "jesuitical casuistry" is involved. :-) Clearly this is a ludicrous methodology and epistemology. The Church is what it is. It is silly to complain about the way a system is set up, as if that is improper or unsavoury in and of itself. That is a separate question to be disputed (in the area of ecclesiology and authority: biblical or otherwise).

But in effect, this argument implies (unconsciously, no doubt) that the Church should be the way the critic wants to define it, and it is wrong for not being that way!!!! :-) So the entire endeavor is entirely circular (even comically so) and thus able to be dismissed immediately by anyone who is serious about the real issues involved. Such a methodology also implicitly belittles the Church, as if it were a fundamentally silly and irrational and non-reflective thing, when in fact it is not at all. Unfortunately, untrue and unfair stereotypes are utilized as much in religious polemics as in political discourse.

Also, as you well know and point out, the Catholic Church believes in the divine inspiration of the Bible. Yet you also make it clear that the Catholic Church treats Biblical writing as allegory. It is obviously in the interpretation of allegory that one can make any writing or scripture say just what you want it to say, rather than what it does say.

Very disappointing. These are your first two arguments, and I must say that I am completely underwhelmed. First of all, I never stated that the Catholic Church always interprets Scripture allegorically. That would be ridiculous. The Bible has many different forms of writing, and must be interpreted according to context and the style of the book, the intent of the author, the cultural, ethnic, and linguistic background, etc. Like Protestants, basically we interpret literally unless there is a clear contextual indication to do otherwise (e.g., the Catholic interprets John 6 very literally, because it is a proof - we believe - of transubstantiation and the Real Presence in the Eucharist). Most Protestants interpret that allegorically, or "spiritually," to lesser or greater degrees. So this matter of hermeneutics is far more complex than you make it out to be.

For example, when Jesus says: But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father--the one in heaven. (Mat 23:8-9), both the spirit and letter of this saying (not rabbi, not father--no honorifics) clearly contradict Catholic usage, and no amount of allegorical claim can change that.

A typical example of Jewish hyperbole. This is easily answerable, so I need not trouble myself here with it.

You allude to the "sign of Jonah" and refer to Jesus "three days and three nights buried in the earth", yet the allegory is destroyed by the actual words elsewhere that state it began on the eve of the Sabbath and ended before dawn on the first day of the week--parts of three days, but certainly not three nights, strongly suggesting the combining of contradictory early myths about Jesus.

This also depends on the Jewish idiom and use of words - quite different from our modern, more literal and scientific understanding of words and phrases.

It is unfortunate that one of your links (Anti-Catholicism on the net) considers "attacking Catholicism as being un-Christian" or "ridiculing or misinterpreting Catholic doctrine or practice" to be anti-Catholic in the sense analogous to anti-Semitism. Catholicism is a set of beliefs that must withstand scrutiny just like any other set of beliefs, and the mere study and pointing out of discrepancies in a doctrine is not equivalent to hating people for the accident of the circumstances of their birth.

I agree. My definition of anti-Catholic is simply one who denies that Catholicism is a Christian religion. Such a belief is often (probably usually) accompanied by derision and ridicule, but it is not of the essence of the definition (at least the way I and most Catholic apologists use the term).

This website mentions, among other sites, the Secular Web, as Anti-Catholic, and of course it would be difficult to take its arguments into consideration if one thinks that he or she (the Catholic) is being attacked personally. That would be unfortunate, as, if I had taken arguments against Christianity as personal attacks against me, I would never have found my way out of Catholicism in particular, or Christianity in general.

I would have to see what this website says, in order to properly respond. But I have stated my own views, and I explain them in much more depth in various pages on my website.

I think it would be more appropriate to continue my response to you by considering your "Why Believe In Christianity?"

That was meant to be a cursory overview of the reasons to be a Christian. I wrote it very fast, and it is not nearly as rigorously reasoned as my longer testimony was. I think you are on a much higher level than that (even though I am most disappointed in your first two arguments in this letter).

I don't think arguments in either direction should be considered anti- anything in the pejorative sense. Our own beliefs are what they are, and as my town's parish's Father Matt said, "We're not here to debate, but to spread the truth." Well, that's what each of us is trying to do, but it sure does look like a debate.

I stick to the logic, plausibility, and consistency of the beliefs expressed, and do not attribute ill motives and bad faith unless there is indisputable demonstration of same. The "anti" in my understanding of "anti-Catholic" refers strictly to beliefs and not people (though, as I said, the two often exist side-by-side). I am thankful for the opportunity to engage in such dialogues, as most of my interaction online has been with fellow Christians. But before computers (BC), I engaged in dialogue with people of virtually every imaginable belief, since 1981.

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I am not inclined to enter into this general debate at the moment (at least not with full zeal and rigor and vigor), but I will offer a few comments (indented portions are from my earlier paper, "Why Believe In Christianity?"):

    Sure, Christian beliefs still require faith, by definition, but it is not an irrational, unreasonable faith. It doesn't contradict reason and logic.

Of course, if the Bible is taken as allegorical, its contradictions then become explainable.

I've already dealt with this.

But then so do any contradictions or incongruities in the Koran or the Book of Mormon or any such scripture. When Jesus says he will return in the lifetimes of some of his listeners, but doesn't, it must be allegory. Or when he says that all who say "thou fool" shall be liable to hellfire, but on another occasion says "thou fools and hypocrites", we must understand the allegory, despite the blatant contradiction of the words. A Mormon would explain away impossibilities in the Book of Mormon; a Muslim would explain away the absurdities of the Koran.

And an evolutionist would explain away the absurdities of evolution. Marxists explain away the absurdities and false prophecies of that myth. Atheists rationalize or dismiss the absurdities and dire implications of their view. And Freudians. And radical feminists. And one-world conspiratorialists. And crazed environmentalists. And Moonies. Etc., etc. Christians don't have a monopoly on rationalization and bias, by any means.

At any rate (rhetorical flourish aside), in this area, one must understand biblical hermeneutics and exegesis. You have not demonstrated to me that you have much expertise or understanding in that regard. You simply take the cynical view whenever a Christian grapples with ostensible difficulties in the biblical text. One would expect such difficulties in a multi-faceted, complex, and huge book like the Bible. There are those of us who see much, much more in the Bible than these alleged difficulties and contradictions. At least Christians have made some attempt to resolve these - be they shallow or insufficient or in fact satisfactory. Give us an "e" for effort, if nothing else. :-)

Once one says one needs faith, then the choice is "what faith?" There are many to choose from. Indeed, as you say, "nothing can be absolutely proven," but in seeking truth, lacking syllogisms to prove our case, we must rely on Ockham's razor to determine what the most likely explanation for certain records and beliefs would be, rather than assuming that just because an assertion was made, that it is true.

We rely on evidence of many types (e.g., empiricism, logic, experience, history, and yes, revelation), not just Ockham's razor. Reality is complex, so simplicity in theory will not suffice to explain reality.

    There is fulfilled prophecy (including messianic prophecies about Jesus), verifiable by virtue of historical fact.

Again, Jesus said his return would be within the lifetime of some of his listeners. Paul so much as expected to be alive when Jesus returned. It didn't happen. I don't know what messianic prophecies you had in mind, but certainly a prophecy from hundreds of years before, referring to someone named Emmanuel (not Jesus), and supposedly fulfilled near the time it was given, is not such a prophecy.

I'm curious: are there any Christian arguments which you consider compelling or at least strong, thought-provoking, or worthy of respect and consideration? Are you completely skeptical on all counts? And have you read any Christian and/or Catholic apologists, or just all this skeptical stuff? We are what we eat . . .

Note the switch of topics here. That's something that Fr. Matt, in his apologetics seminar, says should never be allowed to someone that you are discussing issues with, per Beginning Apologetics I (see below). But I'll answer your questions, and return to the topic switch afterward.

Note that such topic-switching is directly attributable to - and flows from - a repeatedly-stated lack of time and desire to engage you in all these topics. If I hadn't stated that, then you would have a valid point (and one I have often made myself). If both parties intend to answer all the opponents' arguments from the outset, then you would have a point (as I would clearly be evading you). As it is, I have spent many valuable hours answering your letters despite my reluctance, so you ought to cut me a little slack.

As to your questions: if I found any Christian argument compelling, that would mean I returned to being a Christian, which I haven't, so logic tells me that I haven't found any argument compelling. The more I look at it the more I see that each piece of "evidence" is merely wishful thinking or acceptance of ideas from our childhood that we never looked at critically, from the eyes of someone outside looking in.

The fact is, that as a child I was a very nominal Methodist who knew very little of my supposed faith (not even that Jesus was God incarnate). Then I didn't go to Church for ten years at all. Therefore, this early childhood experience hardly fits into your scenario of me merely accepting the propaganda of my upbringing. Maybe that was true for you before your "deconversion," but it never was in my case.

No, I arrived at all my Christian beliefs critically and with deliberate study and intent. As for "wishful thinking," if that is what I was after, I surely wouldn't be a Christian. I think I would be a hedonist (maybe a playboy like Clinton - if the girls would have me LOLOL) or an anarchist. It's clear to me that virtually everyone is oriented towards this life, not the next (even Christians, despite the "pie-in-the-sky" caricature). If I was into wishful thinking, then Christianity would be the last thing I would adopt, as it makes life more difficult more often than not. Celibacy before marriage is very difficult. Loving your enemies is very difficult. Loving your wife is difficult quite often, too! :-) There are many Sundays I don't feel like going to Mass, etc. So I say that your wishful thinking scenario applies far more to non-Christians than to Christians.

Oftentimes, there are ill or unworthy motives for unbelief. See, e.g., Degenerate Moderns, by E. Michael Jones, or Intellectuals, by Paul Johnson. I am not, however, making a blanket charge of insincerity or deliberate deceit. I want to make that clear. I have just often observed that other factors clearly often come into play here (especially sexual and political ones).

    Some people want to maintain that Jesus never claimed to be God in the flesh (this is called the Incarnation in Christian theology) - that His followers merely made them up out of an exaggerated sense of hero-worship and a "cult of the martyr," etc. This is an absurd, groundless hypothesis.

Aside from the Gospel of John, where does this claim come from the mouth of Jesus? In fact this is an example of the disunity of the Bible.

For copious references, see: Jesus is God: Biblical Proofs.

I even separate Jesus' words from those of other biblical writers, so that will be convenient for you to pursue. But again, you display a great ignorance of the content of the Bible. It is not conducive to a convincing or compelling anti-biblical or contra-Christianity presentation on your part. That's why I am always thankful that I went through a biblically-oriented Protestant phase.

These "copious references" all hinge upon the acceptance of the truth of the Bible.

That doesn't follow at all. E.g., I could say that the Koran teaches that Mohammad is God's greatest and final prophet. That is a true statement. Does it therefore follow that I accept that assertion? Of course not. Joseph Thayer was a Unitarian who wrote a famous Greek Lexicon of the NT. Being a Unitarian, he didn't believe that Jesus was God incarnate. But being a competent scholar of the NT, he was honest enough to admit the obvious: that the NT taught that, and that Jesus Himself believed and claimed it. If you want to make a textual argument, and dispute every instance of this, that is one thing (and you have a gargantuan task ahead of you). But you seem to be claiming that these things aren't even there - quite another proposition altogether.

All, even the first, are dependent on what the evangelists wrote, assuming that the quotes of Jesus, for example, were literally the words of Jesus.

We do believe that, yes. There is no reason to believe otherwise. He left teaching with His disciples, and they recorded it for posterity.

You claim that you "separate Jesus' words from those of other biblical writers", yet give no indication as to how you know that these are Jesus' words other than that the "other biblical writers" claimed that these were Jesus' words.

I know that because I know the NT is historically trustworthy on the independent basis of archaeology and historiography.

. . . only one of the later evangelists quotes "Before Abraham was, I Am"--the only actual claim to divinity that Jesus is said to have made.

According to you. I have shown many more, but you simply dispute them out of a prior dogmatic theoretical disposition.

Such an extraordinary statement, scandalously blasphemous to the Jews, would certainly have stood out and been included in any Gospel purporting to cover fully the teachings of Jesus, yet Mark, Matthew and Luke do not have this.

So you assert one contingent hypothetical, based on another speculative hypothetical, and you find that compelling? And you were the one waxing eloquent about empiricism?

Needless to say, the arguments from Pauline Scripture are not convincing to me.

Why does that not surprise me? :-)

I have not seen any other places in the NT where Jesus claims to be God. John 10:30, and John 8:58 are both, of course, in John, while Matt.22:31-32, for example has Jesus quote God, and refer to him in the third person.

I referred you above to my paper Jesus is God: Biblical Proofs, which lists dozens of instances. But of course you always have the very convenient luxury, whenever you wish, of just claiming that Jesus didn't say these things (completely arbitrarily and without solid substantiation, other than your axiomatic bias). Here is an overview of the non-Johannine evidence, from Jesus' own words:

    • He accepted worship (Matt 14:33, 28:9,17);
    • He habitually spoke in His own name and authority, whereas the prophets had appealed to "the Lord says" (e.g., Matt 23:29-39);
    • He forgave sins in His own name, which only God can do (Mark 2:5-10; Luke 7:47-50);
    • He identified Himself with the Messiah-figure of the Son of Man, from Daniel, which caused the high priest to accuse Him of blasphemy (Matthew 26: 57-68; Mark 14:53-65; Luke 22:66-71);
    • He claimed virtual equality with the Father (Matt 11:27);
    • He claimed "all authority in heaven and on earth" (Matt 28:18);
    • He implied His own omnipresence (Matt 18:20, 28:20);
    • He claimed to be uttering eternal words (Matt 24:35);
    • He claimed to be the Judge of mankind, which was, of course, God's sole prerogative (Isaiah 66:15-16, Matt 16:27, 25:31-33,41);
    • His second coming originally referred to a fiery appearance of God the Father (cf. Psalm 110:3, Joel 2:4-5,10-11, Zech 2:10, 9:14, 12:10, 14:3-5 with Matt 16:27, 24:30);
    • Same thing for God's "throne," titles of "King" and "Savior," "Good Shepherd," which He applied to Himself, and on and on and on.

When you add John, the epistles, Revelation, and Old Testament parallel verses, there are literally hundreds of proof texts.

Is that enough for you? Or will you now dismiss all that with a wave of your hand, and a half-smile, as textual additions by over-zealous, deceitful followers and go on your merry way? In any event, you have once again shown yourself exceedingly ignorant of both the text and thought of the New Testament (not to mention basic Christian theology, judging from some of your alleged "contradictions"). I would say that your credibility as any sort of "textual critic" is shot beyond any hope of recovery, short of an extensive course in Bible study and exegesis.

You're free to engage in your skeptical philosophy, but when you come onto our ground of biblical studies and interpretation, you better be prepared, so you don't make a fool of yourself in your deluded "confidence." Tough words, yes, but you have "anointed" yourself as a critic of the Bible and Christianity (and quite dogmatically at that), so I think they are well-deserved. There is nothing so irritating as ignorance masquerading as expertise.

Would you have us believe that the evangelists were so bad at writing that they would have left out humanizing touches of doubt concerning a strange (to Jewish listeners) idea? This is similar to the belief-provoking aspects of the "doubting Thomas" story.

I agree (that's precisely what happened at the John 6 discourse). But to me this rings true, and as such is a strong indication of the NT's historical trustworthiness. The Bible in general doesn't gloss over the sins of people.

Anyone who believes the Gospels are historically accurate (including the Resurrection, for example) must be a Christian.

That would be reasonable, but it doesn't follow absolutely, as someone could deny that the Resurrection proved the divinity of Jesus. There are even some Jews who accept the Resurrection, amazingly enough, but remain Jews.

How could anyone believe in the historical accuracy of that event without being a Christian?

Because they still have the free will to interpret it and accept or reject it accordingly.

The question was Does the inclusion of mention of some actual historical locations imply that the remainder of the historical statements of the Bible (including the New Testament) are accurate? An affirmative answer could not help but make one a Christian.

It is extraordinarily trustworthy in historical details. That would lead any reasonable person to accept it at least as a valuable historical document, whatever they make of its theology.

"John said that Jesus said that he was God." That's hearsay evidence.

Since when is eyewitness testimony "hearsay?"

I don't have to prove that he never said it--you have to prove that he did, based on more than just hearsay.

Besides the trustworthy NT, we have the accounts in the rabbinic literature which confirm it.

In fact, even John has "The father is greater than I," plus the inserted "Before Abraham was, I Am."

Of course, "inserted" is a gratuitous assumption.

    All one can do with Jesus after recognizing what (and Whom) He did claim to be is consider Him a "Lord, Liar, or Lunatic," as C.S. Lewis argued in his famous and influential book Mere Christianity. There is no other plausible choice. When someone goes around claiming to be the one God (in the Western monotheistic sense, not an Eastern monistic religious one, where everything and everyone is "god" or part of "god"), we immediately consider him or her a lunatic. But Jesus is the most admired and respected (and important) Person in history. He is either what He claims or not. Christians simply take Him at His word, and accept the confirming historical, eyewitness evidence of His miracles and Resurrection (legal-historical evidence).

Another choice is he never said it. The Gospel of John is at least 60 years after Jesus' death--plenty of time for add-on stories to grow.

But you have to prove this, and that is no easy task. Skeptics usually just assume that their proof is "strong" without providing hard evidence for their hostile presuppositions which in turn profoundly affect their theory.

Aristotle believed in a God (not the plurality of Greek Gods) even before Jesus. Jews believe in God. God's existence doesn't prove Christianity. The proofs do not necessarily identify the Christian God, nor even the Jewish God. Many are also not convinced by these proofs.

It is not to be expected that all will believe. There are many reasons for unbelief - many not at all intellectual in nature. E.g., there are motives for rebelling against God, so that one doesn't have to live by His moral commands.

    Modern science began in Christian western Europe during the Renaissance, and that is no coincidence. It began there because Christians have a base with which to begin scientific inquiry: the notion that the universe is orderly and objective, follows natural laws, and is ultimately created by God, who gave us rational faculties and senses with which to organize knowledge and discover scientific (empirical) facts.

The Renaissance is a long time after Christianity took hold in the Roman Empire. By this time Aristotelianism had found its way into the church. Books long lost to the western, Christian, world were reintroduced via translations from the Arabic, preserved by those infidel Muslims. The word "algebra" comes from the Arabic, and "geometry" from the Greek. What is from the Aramaic or Hebrew? And again, the Greek philosophers believed in a God (rather than the Gods, which they took to be mythological), and it is the newly rediscovered Greek spirit, previously suppressed by Christianity, as in the suppression of the Arabs in the Crusades, which drove the enlightenment.

The "suppression of the Greek spirit" would be news to St. Augustine, a Platonist, or Boethius, or Anselm, or Justin Martyr or St. Irenæus or Origen or Tertullian or Erasmus or any number of Christian intellectuals. If - as you correctly say - Aristotelianism (as opposed to Platonism, which is also "Greek", last time I checked) became incorporated into Christian philosophy and theology via Aquinas, how is it that it could be "suppressed" again for hundreds of years before the onset of the Renaissance and so-called "Enlightenment?" It simply wasn't. There may have been certain aspects of it, contrary to Christian thought, which were excluded. But the Church has always valued reason and philosophy. Indeed, Aquinas is thought by many observers to have been a crucial forerunner of modern science. Whether he was influenced by the Arab Muslims is irrelevant. Truth can come from many places. You are trying to say (altogether typically of skeptics of Christianity) that Christianity was hostile to classical learning and philosophy. This is not the case.

I am reminded of two relevant quotes from G.K. Chesterton:

    There is something odd in the fact that when we reproduce the Middle Ages it is always some such rough and half-grotesque part of them that we reproduce . . . Why is it that we mainly remember the Middle Ages by absurd things? . . . Few modern people know what a mass of illuminating philosophy, delicate metaphysics, clear and dignified social morality exists in the serious scholastic writers of mediaeval times. But we seem to have grasped somehow that the ruder and more clownish elements in the Middle Ages have a human and poetical interest. We are delighted to know about the ignorance of mediaevalism; we are contented to be ignorant about its knowledge. When we talk of something mediaeval, we mean something quaint. We remember that alchemy was mediaeval, or that heraldry was mediaeval. We forget that Parliaments are mediaeval, that all our Universities are mediaeval, that city corporations are mediaeval, that gunpowder and printing are mediaeval, that half the things by which we now live, and to which we look for progress, are mediaeval."

    {"The True Middle Ages," The Illustrated London News, 14 July 1906}

    Nobody can understand the greatness of the 13th century, who does not realise that it was a great growth of new things produced by a living thing. In that sense it was really bolder and freer than what we call the Renaissance, which was a resurrection of old things discovered in a dead thing.

    {Saint Thomas Aquinas, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image, 1933, p. 41}

All ethics apart from the starting-point of God have insuperable problems, in my opinion. Only theism and especially Christian theism can provide the needed premises to establish a "righteous" and "just" ethics. The breaking-down of the Judaeo-Christian ethical standard is clearly the root cause behind virtually all the chaos and tragedy that we see in our society today (e.g., the sexual revolution, just to cite one example where a major shift has occurred).

People had ethics long before Jesus.

I didn't deny that. Christianity (and Jesus) presuppose this. What I said was that these systems "have insuperable problems."

"Pagans" such as Hammurabi instituted legal codes; the Greek philosophers discussed ethics. Even today, many ethicists are atheists. As I have said concerning Hans Kung's Why I Am Still a Christian, where he says, "there can be no civilized society and no state without some system of laws. But no legal system can exist without a sense of justice. And no sense of justice can exist without a moral sense or ethic. And there can be no moral sense or ethic without basic norms, attitudes, and values."

None of this mitigates against my thesis. I say that such ethical systems ultimately collapse if thought through properly, lead to despair, or else must be inconsistently lived-out by unconsciously benefiting from the moral and intellectual capital that Christianity still provides - even today - in western civilization.

I say: Then, strangely enough, he (Kung) goes on to say "If (as I have suggested) it is exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to justify ethics purely rationally, then we cannot recklessly ignore the significance and function of ... religion ... without accepting the consequences," even though he has just justified ethics purely rationally, with the starting axiom of the need for a civilized society, in the preceding paragraph.

There is no contradiction, because Kung would say that God is the ground and foundation of the universal sense of ethics which we find in the world. The atheist or non-Christian religionist is affected by God whether or not he believes in Him, because he is made in His image. So the theoretical "world-without-God" can only exist as an abstract, since God in fact exists. But we can point out the logical end of such systems. The logical outcome of atheism is Nietzsche: dying in despair and in lunacy.

The "sexual revolution" may have it's problems, but problems should be worked out, not shoved under the rug.

Yeah, you mean by shoving condoms at every teenager, rather than explaining the ill and now manifest consequences of premarital sexual promiscuity? By giving a condom to a homosexual, where he will entrust the risk of getting AIDS and possibly dying to a piece of thin rubber? If that's not "shoving under the rug," I don't know what is.

The sexual repression of the church is worse.

Yeah, the sexual morality of traditional Christianity destroyed our culture and our personal "freedom", whereas the ethics of the sexual revolution have clearly strengthened the bonds of love, commitment, marriage, family, the inner city communities, personal fulfillment and happiness, etc. Yeah right . . . And I have some ocean-front property in Kansas for you, too.

Would you point out the activities of people at large, today, as evil, while claiming that any mention of the pedophilia that occurs among the clergy is anti-Catholic bigotry?

I wouldn't say that, unless it is used in a propagandistic and selective sense, in an effort to denigrate the clergy, the ideal and discipline of celibacy, or the Church at large (and of course that is usually how it is used).

Problems are problems regardless of where they come from, and our God-given intelligence is here to solve them, rather than to rely on arguments from "authorities" from the past.

I agree on the first part. I just don't pit intelligence against Church authority, which was given by God, just as our intelligence is.

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I'm not that concerned as to which is the proper type of Christianity, just that the assumption of Christianity leads to contradictions, with some people seeing that it requires Protestantism, others that it requires Catholicism.

Then why bother critiquing an entire book of conversion stories? That's a lot of work and mental energy. What is in it for you?

At the time I was writing, an agnostic friend (another former Catholic) said that I should seek the other point of view. The first book that presented itself was Surprised by Truth, and I read through it, disagreeing, of course with its main assumption: the truth of Christianity. I have since found other works, previously mentioned, that address themselves to that issue, and I have continued with those. But yes, Surprised by Truth was sort of a detour from what I was really getting at.

Wouldn't your zeal and obvious intelligence be put to better use propounding a positive view of the good life, or the meaning of life (whatever you think that is), rather than merely negatively critiquing someone else's outlook?

At my website you can see "But What About Morality?" and "What Am I?" The first is my view of ethical behavior; the second my view of ultimate reality. Needless to say, neither of us has invented a worldview in a vacuum. Your view is based on that of the Catholic Church. I, on the other hand find myself in agreement with thinkers like Descartes, Bentham and Mill (to take one metaphysician and two ethicists), and more moderns, like Alan Watts. Both of us include quotes from others supporting our respective positions.

A quote that means something to me is: There is Being. Being is aware. Being acts. The action of Being (from our perspective as participants) represents itself (in part) as the physical universe in historical space and time. The universe enacts a pattern of evolution in which accumulating action propagates as continuing process. Evolution results in a nucleation of processes into complex process-structures which are the physical representation of the nucleation of Being into individual centers of awareness and action.

I'll also admit to a lack of knowledge: I can't know everything. In that sense you could say that I am an agnostic. But that Being, with a capital B, in the above paragraph is the same personal Being that Berkeley calls God, and keeps the universe in existence, and of which we are the nucleations. I have to accept that this is about all we can say about ultimate reality. It's not true because someone said it; it just presents itself to me as being true. There is no one source for ultimate truth, but truth can be sought through the means you and I agree on: Experience (empiric truth), logic and Ockham's razor. I even trust what is said by some reporters, but I apply Ockham's razor on which. (I take to heart that maxim: believe nothing of what you read and only half of what you see.)

The reason I challenged you initially was because I thought that if you were so into questioning people's reasons for conversion, then you would surely take on my story. But instead you seem to want to do a garden-variety "1001 objections to the Church and Bible routine," which I have neither the time nor desire to engage in (it always proves futile), except in brief. Note that I didn't say I was unable to do it. I trust that you can see the distinction.

Perhaps the reason it is "garden-variety" is that it is common sense. That's why they have whole books devoted to "difficulties of the Bible," as if God's personally inspired writers couldn't write clearly enough.

But if fewer modern theologians believe in Limbo, while maintaining the "of faith" doctrine that the unbaptized are excluded from the vision of God in Heaven, then that leaves to them a fate worse than Limbo, which seems cruel.

No; the view would be that they would go to heaven, based on God's mercy and loving nature. Or else they would be judged on what they would have done, had they lived (God knowing everything past, present, future, even contingencies and potentials). They wouldn't go to hell out of predestination, with no choice of their own. That is Calvinism, not Catholicism, and it is blasphemous, in my humble opinion.

However, the average Catholic, or even the informed Catholic, would be hard put to define all the obligatory doctrines.

Well, it can be difficult at times. But truth is like that, isn't it? Catholicism is a thinking man's religion. We wouldn't expect it to be simple, if deeply analyzed.

You recommend the Cathechism.

Indeed I do.

More to the point, the infallibility of the pope depends on the infallibility of the council which defined the infallibility of the pope. That in turn rests upon the "authority of the church". But the church is all the people. At one time 2/3 of bishops and their flocks believed in Arianism, yet were later declared wrong. It is arbitrary to say that only by meeting in council can declarations be made infallibly. In logic, it is known as begging the question. Maybe that early majority was right and the council wrong; who's to say? (Of course I agree with anyone who says Jesus was just a man, assuming he existed as one individual at all).

The teaching of papal infallibility is grounded in Scripture itself. See my Papacy Page.

Furthermore, the Catholic teaching has always been that Ecumenical Councils were valid or infallible in particulars, only if ratified or accepted by the pope. Therefore, the decree on infallibility wasn't circular. It was merely making dogma what was always accepted as a matter of course.

Regardless of the universality of a given belief, or the changeability or lack thereof of dogma, there is still no real basis for belief in the Church to begin with.

I see. With no reason given, how do you expect me to respond? I have a ton of reasons why I believe in the Church on my Church page. Not that you would be convinced of any of it. Christian belief requires God's grace as well as reason. One can spurn that grace and become overly skeptical, and adopt fallacious objections.

Again, this leaves us with no room for rational discussion. It makes me wonder though, why you choose to use rational discussion to win Protestants over to Catholicism. Needless to say, others posit karma or atman, etc. rather than grace.

As usual, the skeptic must respond illogically, totally missing the point. When did I say that rationality was irrelevant? This whole discourse ought to show you that I have the very highest respect for reason. You say there is little reason involved in faith at all. I am saying that faith is reasonable, and not contrary to reason, but that it also requires God's enabling grace.

This is even worse: the interpreter then first gets to decide which portions are allegory and which are literal. Then he gets further to decide upon the meanings of the allegorical parts. While you may feel this is objective, I'm sure the protestants feel equally strong that, say, Luke 22:19 should be taken symbolically rather than the literal interpretation that Catholics give.

The difference being, of course, that we take into account historical interpretation and hermeneutics. We don't approach the Bible in a vacuum, as if no one had ever thought about its meaning before. Catholics believe that the apostolic Tradition has been passed down historically, and that we are not at liberty to change it in any essential manner. So that affects biblical interpretation. We don't re-invent the wheel in each generation, as Protestants do in some measure.

But that process of hermeneutics or exegesis, in instances such as "in the lifetime of some of my listeners", goes against the common understanding of words. This is what makes me and others like me feel that hermeneutics is just a way around common sense approaches to understanding, to avoid the embarrassment that different, conflicting belief systems has their ideas incorporated into church teachings. The belief system that included Jesus coming within the lifetimes of some of his apostles obviously had to go later on, but the evangelists were stuck with what couldn't be denied of the early teachings.

Whereas you apply "hermeneutics", which I would call "obfuscation with the desire to reach a pre-ordained conclusion", the rationalist would apply Ockham's razor: Is it really more likely that someone rose from the dead (an extraordinary claim that demands extraordinary evidence) or that seemingly conflicting stories are in fact conflicting, and therefore part of a self-contradictory belief system?

I do not understand the use of John 6 in defining transubstantiation--the real presence. But regardless of what passage is in question, be it Luke 22:19 or John 6, while "the Catholic interprets [it] very literally, because it is a proof - we believe - of transubstantiation and the Real Presence in the Eucharist" that is an example of a completion of the circle in a circular argument, for it is necessary to interpret Luke 22:19 literally in order to use it as a proof of transubstantiation, but now you're saying its the fact that it constitutes (or is needed to constitute) proof of transubstantiation that makes the Catholic consider it literally. Perhaps you meant "it's apparent that Catholics take it literally, as evidenced by the fact that it's considered a proof". That would take away the admission of circularity, but it still begs the question of why this particular passage should be taken literally when so many others are taken allegorically or symbolically. That's why I'm tempted to take your statement at face value: it's needed as a proof of Catholic doctrine, and that's why it's taken literally.

You love the charge of circularity, don't you? But you have failed to establish it in all cases thus far. The reason to interpret John 6 literally is based on the linguistics and context, not a prior commitment at all. I go into this at great length, with much biblical and linguistic rationale given: see my Eucharist page.

I see, for example, supposed man of faith Fr. Wm. G. Most, Ph.D,

"Supposed?" Why question that, pray tell?

saying "Mormonism rests on alleged appearances of an angel to Joseph Smith. But there is no hard proof of it. And further, since it does not follow the Gospel, it falls under the condemnation given by St. Paul in chapter 1 of Galatians, where Paul says that even if an angel from the sky should teach a different doctrine: Let the angel be cursed. That applies to Joseph Smith." But there is no hard proof of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John's writings either--that's why there's faith.

Archaeology, history, manuscript evidence, eyewitness testimony of the earliest Christians, inability to explain the empty tomb, etc. You are far more skeptical than the average scholar familiar with the real evidence would be ("no hard proof" for all the Gospels!!!). That's why it is useless to dialogue in any depth with you. Clearly, no proof is sufficient for you, even the most undeniable ones. And of course that leads one to suspect that there may be factors going in in your life besides merely intellectual ones, to make you so hostile to Christianity.

. . . I believed much as you do now. (Except I went along with the general consensus in Catholicism that Evolution is correct as a scientific theory). I spent years with the humiliation of confessing masturbation to a priest. You say, ahah! You just want sexual license. Wow! Masturbation causes AIDS? (You imply that sexual immorality leads to disease, etc.) No! If more people masturbated there would be less AIDS. It's perfectly legitimate sexual release that priests somehow made us believe fell under the 10 commandments prohibition against adultery. Talk about double-talk.

Yes, I have personal reasons, good reasons, for not wanting such idiocies visited upon others like myself, with certain mythologies brought in to support the power of the priests to enforce their own morality and claim it has divine authorization. Beliefs have consequences, indeed. Actions also have consequences, and should be judged on those, not on ancient stories.

And Christians (such as Paul) were booted out of the synagogues, much as Paul would condemn those who tell a different story from his. We could say the rabbis (or temple priests, of earlier days) warned against idolators, like Paul. Plus ca change, plus le meme chose. One man's new religion is the old one's heresy. The book of Mormon should be rejected because it contradicts the Gospel and was what Paul warned about. Well the Gospel should be rejected because it contradicts Judaism and was what the Jewish priests warned about (idolatry in worshipping a man).

Here we go with circularity again. The NT and Christianity are accepted on the authority of Jesus, passed down through the Apostles, and attested to by miracles and eyewitness testimony, and the Resurrection. It builds on the OT, as opposed to rejecting it altogether. Mormonism is based on Joseph Smith, who has been proven to be a fraud and a plagiarist, and of quite dubious character, among other things. Mormons even construct a ridiculous archaeology of the New World which no scholar besides themselves would seriously consider for a moment.

The bottom line is that there's not much there to convince those outside the church to come in.

Not if they are closed-minded as you seem to be. If they are open at all to the evidence, there is plenty.

I am closed minded if I do not look through your voluminous set of links to links, while you can't examine the Secular Web? Or is it because I don't agree with you? As mentioned, I am the one who changed after 40 years of thinking one way, and after examining the evidence, decided Christianity is just not true.

If you could point to one particular document that seems convincing in your eyes, please point it out.

I wouldn't point to one, because I believe it is a cumulative argument for the faith which is compelling.

Why don't you present to me your non-circular, coherent view of the world, the universe, reality, purpose, etc.? Maybe you can only shoot down others' views, while not having one of your own? Of what use is that? If that is the case, I maintain that that is intellectual cowardice. It is always easier to poke holes in another view than to boldly present and defend one's own.

Maybe if you looked harder you'd see it. The link on my main religion page to "What Am I?" points out my metaphysical outlook, and "But What About Morality?" my ethical outlook. Each is only one page--not a hundred links to other links, so it's not like the whole secular web, or your site.

Of course, pretending to know what one does not is intellectual braggadocio. I freely admit the limitations of human reason in finding all the answers. When confronted with a lack of epistemological knowledge, I don't seek to find it in some inerrant source of revelation. That is not cowardice, but ordinary prudence.

I freely admit, e.g., that it is much easier to cast doubts upon evolutionary theory than to present an alternate creationist version. But I am honest enough to admit that I haven't developed an entire creationist scenario (and that this is a weakness in the overall position), while still being justifiably skeptical about present evolutionary theory. The least you could do is admit that you don't have anything to offer the world which is superior (or even equal) to what Christianity has offered it (even considered apart from its ultimate truthfulness).

I do my best in this world. I write letters to the editor, supporting utilitarian positions and human rights. Each of us does what he or she can to better the world. None of us is a Messiah or Pope. Each has his or her own small gifts.

By the way, the hardest thing for me to understand about Christianity (and I glossed over this lack of understanding while a Christian), is: Whatever does it mean to say that Jesus was/is God? To be God is to be omniscient and unchanging, yet Jesus grew in wisdom while he was growing up, according to the Bible. A Baptist neighbor has said this is called kenosis. To me that is just what each and every one of us, "made in the image of God", does, and, as God is Our Father also, this is no different from what we are. To say that it is a mystery is an insult to language; when we say something, it should mean something, otherwise we are not really saying anything.

That, of course, gets into very deep theological waters, and I refer you to the links on my Holy Trinity page which should be more than sufficient to give you an answer. In a nutshell, we believe that God emptied Himself to an extent, in order to become a Man (that's the kenosis: see, e.g., Philippians 2:5-11) - and that in order to redeem us by taking upon Himself the sin of the world, as a vicarious representative of the human race. This also gets into the Hypostatic Union, whereby Jesus is both God and Man. As God, Jesus couldn't change, grow in wisdom, or die. But as Man He could do all those things, while not losing His divine essence and identity. As I said, very deep - so deep it requires theologians to really explain adequately. But that is a summary of the Christian view on this matter, as far as I understand it. Does it require faith? Yes, of course. You don't have that faith. What can I say? I do, and I don't think it is ridiculous or credulous or irrational.

Believe it or not there are limitations on my time also, and when I look at a few of the links and other material on your website that are, to me, begging the question,

:-) Your favorite charge! Can't you ever flat-out disagree with a viewpoint without making the ubiquitous charge of circularity? It undercuts the effectiveness of your arguments if you use a tactic all the time (and often wrongly, as I think I have shown).

that I find it as unproductive as browsing the literature of Muslims, Mormons, Buddhists, Hindus, etc. That is, yes, I do look at the arguments, but no, I can't devote every waking moment to it.

Well, we have similar feelings. I don't feel I can deal with every timeworn objection of yours to the Bible, the Christian God, etc., either. I simply don't have time for "hard research" which that sort of particularistic, technical debate requires. It wouldn't be fair to you, or to my family. LOL

If someone says in a court of law that 500 other people saw something, that is not allowed, and for good reason.

But what if the 500 people themselves came in and said it? Then what does a Mr. Skeptic like you do? Accuse them of mass hallucination or conspiracy to deceive?

But they didn't. It's only that someone said they did.

So how do you account for:

    1) the empty tomb;

    2) the behavior of the early Christians - willing to die for a lie or mass hallucination?

Or are all the martyrdoms just a myth, too; dreamt up by the NT writers and Roman historians?

By the way, hasn't the Catholic Church accepted evolution?

Not officially, in the sense that creationism is ruled out. It allows either view as an acceptable opinion. Catholics must believe that there was a primal couple, and that each soul is a direct creation by God.

My "cynical view" is merely a statement that nothing shows that the Bible and the Church which mutually support each other (yes, I know that's redundant, for emphasis of the circularity involved) has any more claim to truth than any other ancient writings or beliefs, which in many cases, such as Mithraic communion, bear many similarities to Christianity, which is known to be syncretistic (site of vatican on old Mithra temple, date of Christmas from pagan celebrations, celebration of Sunday instead of saturday ostensibly for resurrection, but based on pagan Mithra holy day; Easter named after the goddess of the dawn; patron saints of ... replacing god of ...; etc.) and is more likely to have borrowed these ideas, than for actual events in history (as for example the resurrection is claimed) to be represented by the Bible and/or the Church.

This is why you are beyond hope . . . LOL Now you're repeating warmed-over, half-baked, insufficient arguments made by the worst sort of anti-Catholic fundamentalists. My enemy's enemy is my friend?

I look out my window and see a certain configuration of light and shadow that I recognize from experience as something I call rain, and something else that I call grass. From that I make certain predictions as to how it would feel to walk outside in it. I use Ockham's razor to say that it's a more likely explanation that it really is rain and grass rather than an immense illusion perpetrated by a deity or an alien space being. (Illusion in the sense of a false front which doesn't behave the way I expect rain or grass to behave.) Logic tells me that since rain is wet, if I don't want to get wet, I had better stay indoors, or at least use some protection like an umbrella, although experience tells me that even the use of an umbrella will allow me to get somewhat wet, if I'm not careful.

Fine, but I don't see how this mitigates against either Christianity itself, or my apologetic for it. I am big on empiricism (within its proper limits) myself.

The syllogism that "All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore Socrates is mortal." is based on the empirical experience of all people dying. This is extensive enough so that we believe the history books when the supply a date of death for everyone. We decide on laws based upon past experience with human behavior, and use logic to determine what the consequences of those laws will be, adjusting them by logic and further experience with the outcomes. Revelation is suspect, as the republicans will say one thing while the democrats say another.

The many false premises here are as follows:

    • P1 Empiricism is true.
    • P2 Revelation is not empiricism.
    • C Therefore, revelation is suspect.

Additional fallacies are assumed:

    • F1 Empiricism is sufficient to explain all of reality.
    • F2 All starting assumptions necessary for empiricism to be workable, are assumed to be true (e.g., my senses are trustworthy, I exist, matter exists, logic and empiricism are harmonious, one's interpretations or prior abstract theories have no bearing on observable facts, etc.).
    • F3 Revelation is altogether incompatible with empiricism, if not contrary to it.
    • F4 Since there are competing revelations, no one of them can be true.

Etc., etc.

You had said just above you agreed with the use of empiricism. You still claim P1 is false?

The progression of P1 / P2 / C is false, not P1 alone. It was a bit unclear on my part.

Logic must take a back seat when establishing our axioms. But that's when experience and Ockham's Razor become even more important, since logic is not available. And both experience and Ockham's Razor point to the danger of relying on hearsay, also known as faith, also known as the ad hominem argument from authority.

You have proven neither that all faith is hearsay, nor that all authority is illegitimate. You would accept scientific authority, I imagine (and don't tell me they don't have it). Until you disprove the possibility for a true revelation to exist, it is foolish to already dismiss authority which stems from it.

There are compelling arguments that if one accepts Christianity one should accept Catholicism, as you so well point out.

I'll have to tell my Protestant friends that you said that!

But I have made the rhetorical mistake of allowing you to switch the topic. It has switched from Herod/Quirinius, holy land geography, Old-Testament prophesies of Jesus, and Jesus' promised return in the lifetime of some of his listeners, to whether I have considered both sides, pro and con, vis-a-vis Christianity.

I never agreed to a full-fledged debate on any of those topics. When will you understand that? You wrote an elaborate critique of Surprised By Truth, yet when one of the contributors responds, you no longer want to debate that issue. So you are the original one here who was a topic-switcher, not I. I didn't write to you challenging you on the 1001 objections you like to bring up. That was never my purpose in this exchange.

Given lack of time and desire, one cuts to the quick, and looks for underlying motivations and influences and rationales of the opponent. I like to get down to brass tacks, as a general rule.

A simple question regarding these allegedly historical accuracies and fulfilled prophesies leads you merely to point to some URLs that address a host of other issues, such as that our current biblical texts accurately report the beliefs of the evangelists. One URL for each issue would suffice--not a URL that leads to a couple dozen other URLs, each with a couple of dozen documents, many of which don't relate to the issues raised.

First you say Christians ignore such alleged difficulties; now you are complaining about too many answers to go through. LOLOL So maybe you can relate to my lack of time.

How does one judge someone else's motives?

You can't. All you can do is ask them to examine their own motives. But - even so - some things are very clear. E.g., if a Catholic priest leaves the priesthhod and immediately shacks up with a homosexual guy or is seen in a gay bar, or a whorehouse, would we not be justified in questioning his supposedly noble, gut-wrenching, and "intellectual" reasons for leaving the priesthood?

If a person has two reasons, does that invalidate either one of them?

No.

You make it sound as if those activities would be the sole reason, and the "intellectual" (your scare quotes) reasons merely a rationalization. That's not the case.

I never made the false dichotomy which you again construct here. Reality is always very complex. I've never been one to adopt a single, lone explanation for something as exceedingly complicated as human behavior and motivation. And since I majored in sociology and minored in psychology, I know a little bit about that beyond the ordinary.

Is such a person who leaves the priesthood worse than one who stays, and still practices homosexuality or goes to the whorehouse?

That wasn't the point I was making. My point was that subsequent behavior explains a lot about the motivation of one who leaves the priesthood and/or Christianity. I merely gave one of the most glaringly obvious examples of the old maxim "heresy begins below the belt."

Cannot two methods of arriving at truth both get to the same place?

Of course. But you are dancing all around my point. Don't you admit that sex often leads people out of Christianity? Even in your case, you stated that the prohibition of masturbation was "idiocy."

Or do you suspect, say, Solzhenitsyn's aversion to communism, because he had suffered in the Gulag, and therefore he has no say as to the merits or debits of communism, because he is biased?

LOL. I suppose you would say suffering under the "yoke" of Christianity is highly analogous to the Gulag? LOLOLOL But again, this is beside the point. All I am saying is that reasons for forsaking a belief are not always as purely intellectual as they are made out to be. The will and desire enter into this as well. And we all know how sex is a great motivator to break existing norms (what few actually still remain).

... that what he really hated was imprisonment, or ultimately the lack of consumer goods in the U.S.S.R.?

I wish you would address my point head on, instead of constructing irrelevant "analogies."

Of course if one no longer believes in a given system, one no longer feels bound by its particular rules. That doesn't mean the motive for changing was to get away from the rules.

No, but it often is. And it often accounts for the vigor in which the critique of the former view is undertaken.

Or, in fact, if someone had doubts all along about Christianity's truth, but always thought that "going along" with it was harmless, but then realized that this intellectually erroneous doctrine held him back from valuable experiences, then indeed you would probably say his motive was to get away from the rules. But that's only a secondary motive. It wouldn't exist absent a realization that intellectual scrutiny also shows Christianity's invalidity. Did early Christians who came over from Judaism do so to get away from strict rabbinical law? How can one know? See more below about motives.

Yes; will you assert flat-out that an escape from the morality of Christianity had nothing to do with your departure? If so, then there is no need to pursue this line of thought. If not, then my point is proven, at least in your case.

The final straw, at which I said I could no longer be a Catholic was during time leading up to the Persian Gulf War, when the Pope issued a prayer, condemning "ugly ultimatums", referring to the U.S. ultimatum to Iraq. In that sense I guess you could say this particular straw was a Christian moral one, where I saw the utilitarian aspect of seeking to do the greatest good for the greatest number, and Christianity saying to always turn the other cheek. But the moral argument is only one among many. I remember also a priest around that time sermonizing on the miracle of the loaves and the fishes--that maybe it was just an outpouring of love with people sharing their picnic baskets with one another. So much for the miraculous indication of Jesus' divinity.

But you again skirt the issue by referring to a more or less abstract ethical (i.e., philosophical) objection. I was referring to an objection which had to do with a "repression" of some desired freedom - particularly sexual. All you have to do is deny this, and I will freely confess that - accepting your words prima facie - my suspicion wouldn't apply in your case.

I'm familiar with the libertarian / humanist rationale for ethics. I think it breaks down and becomes arbitrary and incoherent (and evil) at a certain point (e.g., partial-birth infanticide would be one such example). But that is another large topic - one of many you have introduced. I can only comment on most of them in passing.

There's no need for revelation to say what these values should be. We want values that lead to a civilized society, which maximized everyone's benefit.

The need comes when relativism is insufficient to support the sort of overarching morality which can bring about what you desire in the first place.

I don't see where humanistic ethical systems ultimately collapse. You might say that it collapses because there is no motivation or reason for an individual's following it. I would disagree--the motivation is to live in a society in which we can live peacefully without hurting one another.

Abortion destroys that. So the secularist simply diabolically (and quite unscientifically) undefines the preborn child out of existence: new definition ----> ethical quandary solved! To the tune of some 60-80 million legal abortions worldwide since 1973 . . .

I could say that the Christian ethical system ultimately collapses if thought through properly, as thinking things through leads to the realization that "divinely inspired" laws are the result of human ideals of a just society being placed into a theological construct in order to gain adherents, and that in order to perpetuate these ideals, a myth of divine revelation has occurred. You would disagree with that.

Of course. It is false prima facie because - again - if anything is designed to put off possible adherents, it is traditional (not presently watered-down) Christian (i.e., Catholic) morality. Who else teaches something like the indissolubility of a sacramental marriage? Or prohibits contraception? Or forbids masturbation and premarital sex? And you say this was designed to gain adherents?

Yes, I believe in God, but divine revelation is the presence within us of a moral sense--that we do not wish to be hurt, so we agree not to hurt others. It is this internal moral sense that has led some ancient and some not so ancient peoples to build a mythology to incorporate those ideas.

So far so good.

But some are outdated, and some are wrong, such as the kosher laws and prohibition of birth control, and non-acceptance of homosexuality.

I'm interested in why and on what basis you would say the Christian view of the immorality of homosexuality is wrong - having just engaged in a debate with a homosexual myself.

One does not want to wait the 350 years that it takes (as in the case of Galileo, or for that matter, even Thomas Aquinas) for the Church to catch up with the rest of the world.

These are complex issues - far more than they are made out to be (Galileo has been a great "club" for humanists for 350 years. They are not about to allow the complexities of the case stop them). How long - I ask you - will the post-modernists take to figure out that a preborn child is:

    • 1) human;
    • 2) can feel pain at the 8-12 weeks most of them are butchered;
    • 3) is entitled to the right to life, being innocent (of the "mistake" which brought about his or her planned demise), and not the cause of his or her own existence.

I think these things are far more important than the Galileo case.

One way of fighting abortion is to endorse effective birth control. A zygote not yet implanted cannot feel pain--there is no nervous system. Sperm and eggs that do not meet do not add to the supply of life regardless of whether they did not meet because of contraception or because of abstinence or because of homosexuality.

Birth control is what led to legal abortion and an exponential increase in its numbers! You want to put away the fire by adding more wood to it. This is true legally (the reversal of the Griswold v. Conn. case - which Robert Bork talked a lot about in his "inquisition," er, Senate hearing). It is true philosophically, politically, morally, and sociologically as well. The data concerning the correlation is indisputable. In every country which legalized contraception, abortion soon followed. See my paper: Dialogue on Contraception.

I agree that ultimately "God is the ground and foundation of the universal sense of ethics which we find in the world." We, unlike rocks, feel pain, and, not wanting to receive it, agree not to inflict it. That is the divine spark of consciousness that in fact the rock lacks. But no revelation from scripture is necessary, as even Hammurabi was able to define good and evil to some extent. Ethicists constantly strive to increase moral knowledge, but it comes from within, and observations, not from writs inscribed from "above."

I agree Scripture is not logically necessary for the realization of these moral laws - the Bible itself says that in Romans 1. But it is - shall we say - morally necessary as a binding authority later on in the process, when the Hitlers and Pol Pots and Stalins and profit-driven child-killers arise.

I suppose you think that adding safety belts and air bags makes driving perfectly safe. Entrust one's life to a strip of nylon or bag of plastic? I think more people die in auto accidents than of AIDS,

Yes they do, but that is because of sheer numbers of those who drive. Proportionately, far more homosexuals die due to their unhealthy activities, than drivers do. But that won't cause any humanist to objectively observe the situation and conclude that maybe Christianity has a point about that. No; instead, give them a condom and to heck with the possible fatal consequences. So the Christian prohibition becomes a quite loving thing, doesn't it, at the point of the infusion of the AIDS virus unnecessarily.

but heck, a hell of a lot of people die in auto accidents; in principle if everything that carried a danger were considered morally wrong, we wouldn't do anything.

But you neglect to include proportionality in your argument, so this is a non sequitur.

We didn't always have various safety equipment on cars. If car-driving were considered immoral, we'd say that devising safety methods for cars would only encourage people to drive, thereby endangering themselves.

Do you really think the percentage of auto fatalities out of drivers (counting each time they drive) is equal to or more than the percentage of homosexuals who die young due to countless instances of engaging in sodomy? Let's get real . . .

I'm not saying that anal sex is good for anyone, but gays also have other ways of expressing their sexuality such as manual stimulation.

Here we go. You tell me how many do that exclusively. This is obscurantism taken to an absurd level.

But once they are aware of what dangers there are, then they are adults and can do what they want, making an informed choice. (the choice is in the actions, not in the desires). Considered from the moralistic standpoint, no progress would ever be made in making anything that was once unsafe, safer.

The original point was the undesirability of Christian morality. I made an ad absurdum argument by citing the humanist/secularist attitude towards homosexuality. This "enlightened" view always seems to lead to death (AIDS, abortion, euthanasia, Communism, Naziism), yet no one cares. Christianity is a culture of life, hope, and optimism.

What values people find in these things (and different people have different values) is up to them. If they find the lack of commitment, etc. to be unfulfilling, there is nothing preventing them from living monogamous or even abstinent lives. Again, your pointing out of the bad consequences of certain behaviors, also shows that there is a purely rational argument to be made for what you call "Christian" values, but which are subscribed to by various non-christian religions, and also even by some professed atheists.

I agree. But the fact that they get some things is no argument against the Christian espousal of them.

If lack of certain morals leads to such horrors, then why do you need an external God, acting through biblical writers and evangelists, to tell you what to do?

Because human beings obviously need confirmation, guidance (as well as reward) with regard to (moral) behavior. And there must be an absolute scale of justice at some point, or else the world and what goes on in it is ultimately meaningless and without purpose or solace. "If God doesn't exist, anything is permissible" (Dostoevsky, I believe).

I don't have an argument for ruling out belief by faith. It's axiomatic--just because someone says something, doesn't make it so. More on that below, where you argue against "adopting a faith [as] simply a rational exercise."

We're not just saying it; we back it up with history, experience, philosophy, even science (if taken as far as it can go).

As for scientific authority, I have seen the TV sets and computers, etc. that science produces, as well as the healings of diseases. Smallpox is wiped out. Polio is almost non-existent.

Amen. And science itself wouldn't have come about if not for the thoroughly Christian worldview in which it was nurtured. There is no conflict at all between true science and true Christianity.

We have treatments of venereal diseases, that the moralists would wish would go uncured.

Which "moralists" are these? Name even one who isn't a crackpot. I guess secularists like yourself are allowed to get away with outrageous statements like this (except in dialogue with someone like me). In any event, VD was essentially wiped out 30 years ago. It wasn't Christianity which brought these diseases back in great numbers; it was sexual promiscuity, encouraged by the great "Revolution" which was supposed to bring in an idyllic sexual Utopia, free from repressed, asexual, Puritanistic Christianity. As usual, human beings must learn the hard way, and reap the bitter fruit of their sinful behaviors. People's life experiences of "free" sex will teach them far more about morality and right and wrong and consequences than 1000 Christian sermons.

In the meanwhile, Scripture gets around a lack of miraculous cures in the present by claiming that only the faithless ask for a sign. How convenient.

Oh, they are still occurring today. But I suspect that even if you witnessed one yourself, you would deny the evidence in front of you, or seek a naturalistic explanation.

Does your lack of inclination to continue such a dialogue mean you are rescinding your offer regarding the posting of the dialogue that has taken place thus far?

I will post most of it (i.e., parts where I offered some sort of in-depth answer, so it can be a real dialogue, not a one-sided presentation of your views on my website).

So you mean that your best points will be presented, and mine cut off?

When I didn't have time or desire to answer one of your objections adequately, I edited out that portion of your argument, out of fairness to my readers. When I offered any sort of worthwhile answer at all, I left the dialogue intact, even if your section was much longer than mine. It is a matter of principle, not of a deliberate attempt to distort or to be unfair.

On my website I will present basically the whole dialogue.

Great. That provided further rationale for the edited version on my site. At the beginning of the dialogue, I have inserted the link to your fuller dialogue, for anyone who wants to read it.

Your original offer was "What say ye? It's not often that a Catholic website will offer you a forum for presenting your views, is it?" That had sounded like I'd be having my views on your website.

You sure will have them presented - some 40K's worth. In some exchanges, I even let you have the last word. Of course, originally, my offer was specifically referring to a counter-critique of my conversion story. In that instance, I would have been willing to dialogue with full vigor and motivation, and to post the debate in its entirety.

In any case, your views will be presented on my website.

Wonderful. I commend you for your espousal of free speech. Since you had the last word in many instances (portions I didn't include here, for reasons already stated), that makes perfect sense: you can appear to your readers as "victorious." Just make a link to my entire website, if you would, so that people can pursue the other side, if they so wish. :-) I'm happy to get Christian views out in any non-Christian forum. I am confident that they possess their own inherent power (assuming that they are true, of course).

I don't think that belief is a matter of the will. I can will or not will to investigate claims, but at any given stage of investigation I can only find myself believing or not believing any given thing. I can't decide to believe it.

So I see that you labor under the widespread delusion that belief is simply the result of detached, objective, abstract reasoning processes, divorced from matters of will and sin, stubbornness, pride, vested interests, past history, temperament, psychological and political considerations, etc. It isn't as if that is an exclusively Christian notion. Stephen Jay Gould, e.g., writes quite a bit (and insightfully) about inherent biases in scientific thought (including his own), caused by a variety of reasons.

Virtue, in its true sense, is its own reward.

I can agree to that, as far as it goes, and within a Christian framework. And so I will end on a halfway positive note . . .

Compiled on 2 May 1999 by Dave Armstrong, from correspondence.

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