Friday, March 16, 2007

Bob Hypes' Reply to My Critique of His Article: "Religion and How I Lost It " and My Counter-Reply

--- See the original exchange for background ---

Bob Hypes recently started corresponding with me, after he found out about my critique (I was unsuccessful in contacting him at the time) -- and, I might add, in a commendably friendly and cordial manner. He has graciously granted permission to publish all his words on my website, so that this dialogue can continue. If someone wants to contact Bob, his e-mail address is hypes.bob@gmail.com. His words will be in blue.

I was recently directed by a friend to a rebuttal to an article I wrote several years ago at the urging of Farrell Till for Skeptical Review. This was nothing new, though most of the previous contact about my article had been sent to me personally, and most of it favorable, not that that is important. Your rebuttal had me scratching my head. You were responding to an article that I didn't write. Oh yeah, I wrote that article, but it was not written in the way in which you read it. What you took to be generalizations and attacks were mostly first person happenings or things that I have observed, or both. It was not intended to be a scholarly treatise, but a personal, accessible, article. If it had been the sort of thing that should be picked apart as you saw fit to do, I would have written it as a scholarly piece. I do not deal with generalities in scholarly works. I do not engage in slap dash prose in scholarly writings. I do not attack those I don't know, and do not guess at their motives, reasons, intellect, or other
things of the sort. Oh that we all should write in such a civilized manner.

What I would like to do is to send you a point by point answer to your rebuttal to try to help you through this simplistic little article
that you totally misunderstood. You have made a few valid points and I'll say so when I believe it to be true. But you have missed the mark
on the vast majority of what I wrote. You're trying to parse it out like a graduate school study of Ulysses and in comparison all my
little article is, is a first person "what I did on my summer vacation" story.

I know we're only in the "preliminaries", but as I compile this latest exchange I feel compelled to respond here to this notion of a merely "personal" or entirely subjective or private article, as it has already become a recurring motif in your latest round of replies. I don't find this to be a coherent idea at all. It doesn't make any sense to me, and here are my reasons why:

First of all, your article was written for a magazine, ostensibly for the purpose of persuading others or dissuading Christians from their position (just as you were in ways which the article describes). Otherwise, why write it? This being the case, and assuming (as is generally understood) that pieces written in a magazine are fair game for criticisms and both expressed agreement and disagreement, this idea that it is merely private, and befuddlement as to why I have critiqued it in some detail is very curious and even, I think, a bit odd. If your experience and intellectual odyssey has no relevance at all to anyone else, then by all means, don't write it for public consumptin (I would even urge you to remove the piece from the Internet as irrelevant and one huge non sequitur, if you insist on taking this point of view).

Secondly, if indeed this was only "personal" (so much so that responding to it is somehow improper or "overkill"), then it is a contradiction in terms for it to be published for public consumption, for the goals of a private and a publ;ic piece are diametric opposites. If this is your experience and yours alone, and has no relevance whatsoever to anyone else: whether Christian or atheist or three-toed, green-eyed Rastafarian moth catcher, then again, why does it exist "out there" on the Internet to be read at all? Your own personal taste is of no relevance to anyone else. Either these things have an objective basis, in which case others can enter into the discussion and dispute your factual and philosophical / experiential / religious claims, or they do not. If the latter, the article is an oxymoron. If the former, then your complaint makes no sense.

Either way, you are caught in a logical conundrum. It would be like writing an article about how one loves chocolate ice cream rather than vanilla. Who else cares about that? It is not "newsworthy" material. It's not something to discuss or ponder. Or you could write a purely "personal" account of how you like to wear purple pajamas, stand on your head, and munch cinnamon raisin bagels while watching Jeopardy every night. That's fine and dandy, but no material for any public magazine, let alone one on so important an issue as whether God exists, and how we order our own existence and behavior in relation to others who differ from us. In fact, your article was not just personal or applicable to you, in its very grammatical structure, for you often write in a plural sense, referring to (many) more people than just you (emphases added presently):

They may formulate the base experience for many others as well. [the third sentence]

We next learn that God is the creator of all that we behold and all that we will never understand. He is the grandfather many of us never knew . . . [who is the "us" if this is only a "personal" piece, with no relevance to anyone else?]

Then we are introduced to the Holy Spirit and the unfathomable tale of the Trinity. That three can equal one is totally outside of our ability to understand. In fact, few, if any, adults can comprehend this one. [many further examples could easily be produced]

Thirdly, if the article is "simplistic", as you describe it (and you as the writer would be in a position to make such a judgment), and the intellectual or persuasive equivalent of "what I did on my summer vacation" stories (which sounds to me like children's stuff, which is ironic since you made a big deal about how childish religion often is for folks), then again, why does it exist? It seems to me that this would disqualify it as worthy of a magazine of this type, which routinely deals with the question of the truth or falsity of Christianity and other religions. If it is so "simplistic" that it can't withstand any critique, then what purpose does it have, for heaven's sake (no pun intended)?

Fourthly, you claim that your article contains hardly any "generalizations" or "attacks". You wrote that "I do not attack those I don't know, and do not guess at their motives, reasons, intellect, or other things of the sort. Oh that we all should write in such a civilized manner." Indeed; what a great dream that would be if only it were true. But you did not in fact (consciously or not) abide by this characterization and lofty goal of your own writing. Here are some of the things from your piece which undeniably partake of the characterizations above, which you have denied committing (emphases again added):

Theists base their belief on faith, belief based on emotion and culturalization. [note the extreme generalization, and claim that theists -- no qualification at all is given -- don't even attempt to incorporate reason into their thinking; this is certainly "guessing" at both the "reasons" and "intellects" of theists; not just one isolated example (which might be perfectly acceptable if rational demonstration occurred, but en masse. This is not rational or factual analysis. It partakes of the very emotionalism which it is purporting to critique]

When reason and rationale challenge that faith, then the reason can have no value and the rationale must be incorrect. Faith is irrefutable and errorless because it must be in order to validate all in which they believe. [this is the very next sentence, which serves to reinforce my critique. Reason is placed in absolute antithesis to faith, as if most or all Christians approach the matter in such a fashion. You may have dome so in your defective Church of Christ atmosphere, but I can assure you that I and many other Christians have never done so. So the generalization is false, and it is incorrect to claim that you made no such generalizations.]

They then raise their children into the habit of accepting absurdities, mysteries, convoluted thinking, and supplication. They do this while the children's minds are supple and moldable. They know that the habits of thought thus formed stand a good chance of lasting a lifetime. [this is not questioning the "motives" of Christian parents? One can disagree with a worldview without attributing gross irresponsibility and near-deliberate dishonesty to parents raising their children. Again, there is no qualification at all, so that the reader gets no sense that any Christians out there in the real world function any differently than this. I suspect that it is simply a projection of your own Christian past onto others. This will not do (to put it mildly).]

They either live in judgment of anyone who does not believe as they do, or they begin to question their own values. [again, this is far from being merely a personal account. It is a vast generalization. I don't function like this at all as a Christian. I haven't judged you personally at all, but I find much to object to in your reasoning.]

A major purpose of fundamentalist religions is to supply a safe harbor for those who are insecure, fearful, lost or lonely, by justifying a way of life with narrow, defining principles and prejudices. [more of the same, which is hardly consistent with the way you have described your article above]

No reasonable person can believe that the guesses of preliterate man, upon which the myths of gods and the supernatural are based, were true. The beliefs of these primitives, however, were more reasonable in terms of their limited and insignificant knowledge, than the beliefs of today's religionists who have masses of information available to them. [this is not massively jaded, prejudicial language against Christians? This doesn't attack "reasons, intellect, or other things of the sort."? Imagine if I applied this kind of prejudiced language to your belief-system. See what you would think of it:

No reasonable person can believe that the guesses of modernist and postmodernist man, upon which the myths of atheism and agnosticism are based, were true. The beliefs of these primitives, however, were more reasonable in terms of their limited and insignificant knowledge, than the beliefs of today's atheists and agnostics who have masses of information available to them.]
I could go on and on with similar examples. Your article is filled with them. So I must beg to differ as to your description of the nature of your paper. If you can't see these huge biases and the objectionable nature of much of your rhetoric, I as a Christian certainly can. It's always very different to be a recipient of a criticism (especially a false or grossly exaggerated one) than to be the perpetrator of same. The non-Christian audience (which makes up probably at least 80% of the readership of Skeptical Review, if not far more) will eat this stuff up, and love it. But is it accurate, is the proper question?

- - - I responded initially to Bob's first letter, saying I would be happy to have further dialogue - - -

Thank you for responding to my inquiry. I think to begin with, before I would enter into an actual point by point defense of my Skeptical Review article or a generalized dialogue on the subjects raised therein, I should let you know where I'm coming from in general regarding my view of religion.

As you certainly could tell from the article in question, I came from a background of fairly fundamental religion, though not nearly as severe in interpretation and insinuation into people's lives and psyches as many of the more fundamentalist cults indulge in today. From a normal childhood beginning and basis in things religious, I progressed toward religious maturity through my teens and into my young adulthood. I majored in theology in college, searching for answers to many questions by which I was troubled about this religion. Under the tutelage of men who had spent their lives devoted to these studies and the issues they raise, I found that opinions and beliefs among these "experts" were varied and often turned on the slightest of evidence or premise.

Well sure, you will find a lot of contradiction. That gets into the issues of legitimate religious authority and epistemology.

For twenty or so years after college I continued my search as time and energy allowed. I examined in depth many source materials from the first and second centuries, both secular and religious. I read the works and studied the opinions of theologians from the earliest of the so called 'church fathers' down to those with whom I was contemporary.

Okay.

There was no sudden epiphany. No opening up of the sky or shaking of the earth to signal my realization that for me there could be no god, no devil, no heaven, no hell. Just a slow, gradual, point by point realization that I could not believe in my heart what my head found to be false. For me god shrunk away and disappeared over this twenty years or so of profound research and reflection. Maybe that journey started much earlier than my active search for answers began. Maybe I had my first doubts when I realized a biblical contradiction for the first time at the age of twelve or so. Maybe even before that time for some reason I no longer remember.

Maybe you could be convinced of the Christian view in some of these areas by an apologist like me. :-) I appreciate your honest report of your "journey." A lot of times, I think that people get only one kind of information, rather than seeing both sides. We all make decisions as to what we are gonna read and study. And they can shape our intellectual and spiritual destinies. That may or may not have been true in your case. But your willingness to dialogue is a sign to me that you remain open-minded on the overall issue. And that makes for good dialogue.

With my realization that to me there could be no god and that I could no longer pretend to believe, I found peace and ease and comfort in my life that I had never had before. No longer burdened by doubts, no longer having to sublimate my thoughts so as to fit into a mold that others expected, I became a better husband, father, neighbor, brother, son, and friend to those around me. I found liberation in my new worldview that I had never found anywhere else.

This is one big reason I am an apologist. I recognize that (as you say) one cannot follow what their mind rejects as false. I certainly couldn't do that, nor would I ever wish to. I'm here to try to demonstrate that Christianity need not involve such a conflict, and that unbelief, on the other hand, ultimately does become burdened by such intellectual difficulties.

Still, I am not an evangelical atheist, nor a militant in the cause. Atheism to me is a distinctly personal decision based on my own personal journey of seeking truth and finding answers.

Understood. Yet by dialoguing at all, you will be making your personal opinions "public" to some extent. It goes to an objective ground that is something more than mere subjectivity and personal preference (like a favorite color or flavor of ice cream). Propositions will be debated as to their truth or falsity.

I believe that each of us is personally responsible for whatever we believe. I believe that we should each be able to delineate what and why we believe, and not by resorting to tautological arguments such as "I believe the bible because the bible is true."

Yes; I agree.

I will not even discuss my views with anyone who resorts to such argumentation.

I'm trying to learn to avoid people like that too. :-)

If one does not possess arguable, debatable, logical argumentation for one's point of view, whatever that may be, then one does not know whereof he speaks in such matters. It would be like discussing opera with someone who has heard a few arias in his life and has decided that he is an aficionado of all things operatic.

Yes; good point!

To wrap up this initial clarification of where I am coming from on these issues, I will tell you that I do not belong to any atheist or humanist organization, nor do I agree with much of the way they conduct the dissemination of information supporting their viewpoints.

Okay. You seem like a rational and amiable enough fellow to me.

Again, I feel that each of our journeys to whatever we find to be the truth for us has to be personal. When we follow the dictates of a church, or a religion, or a secular group, or another person, we are not then truly knowledgeable in our belief.

All belief systems have tenets and structures of thought that are accepted by authority or faith. That includes science, which presupposes certain fundamental axioms, and (on a theoretical level) the truth (at least provisionally) of various widely-held theories or hypotheses. Every philosophy starts with unproven axioms, etc. So I have to disagree that any acceptance of deeply-entrenched beliefs, opinions, or dogmas, whether in science, religion, or philosophy, constitutes a lack of knowledge. People often act as if religious matters are merely subjective whims, with no objective rational basis.

So having said all of this, convoluted and rambling as it has been,

Not at all. I think it was good . . .

I want to assure you that will not put myself on the soapbox to prove my case or disprove yours. I will discuss the issues contained in my original article and in your rebuttal to it for purposes of clarification. If you want to discuss pertinent issues which relate to the overall issue I will attempt to expand beyond the above parameters as time and energy permit.

Okay. I just follow my thoughts in reply wherever they lead, while trying hard to stay on the immediate subject (it's a delicate balance). If you raise issues that I think require a solid Christian response, then I must do that, because this is what apologists do, after all, and I'm trying to function as a teacher for my readers, and to offer pedagogical materials.

Hope this gives us a bit more of a base from which to work.

Yes.

I will begin to work on a defense of my article if this scenario seems to be a worthy one to pursue in your opinion. Am waiting to hear from you at your leisure.

Great. I will await your next installment. In the meantime, I'll go re-read the existing paper, because it has been a while. Then we can go from there. Is it okay for this initial exchange (perhaps including some earlier stuff) to also be part of the posted dialogue? I think that would be helpful for readers, unless you think something here was overly personal. We can have an arrangement where you would okay the final draft of our dialogue before I post it, if you want. The main think I try to achieve is a dialogical, Socratic, back-and forth format, because I believe that is an excellent way for observers to work through the issues, by seeing both sides interact and actually dealing with opposing arguments, rather than ignoring them (as is so often -- sadly -- the case).

As you suggest, I have no problem with you putting our dialogue on your website. As I have said, I am not an evangelical atheist, and so do not write with that in mind, only to clarify that which I feel you didn't understand or which became distorted in your critique of my article.

In your latest response to me you wrote, "A lot of times, I think that people get only one kind of information, rather than seeing both sides. We all make decisions as to what we are gonna read and study. And they can shape our intellectual and spiritual destinies. That may or may not have been true in your case. But your willingness to dialogue is a sign to me that you remain open-minded on the overall issue. And that makes for good dialogue."

I hope to provide one half of a good, reasoned dialogue. Don't take that as a sign, however, that I am 'open-minded' to the degree of having my viewpoint softened on these issues.

I didn't. But I take it as axiomatic that every seeker of truth must be open to having his viewpoint overthrown, if the evidence requires and warrants this. I include myself in that equation. I don't think it very likely at all; I have virtually no expectation of that happening in actuality, yet I believe that all thinkers must have this approach to truth, and a willingness to go wherever it leads, otherwise we can easily become mere propagandists, immune to criticism, and possessed of an irrational, unfalsifiable belief-system, which does no one any good.

I will respond to those things in our dialogue about which I know or which I feel are worth a response, and will hopefully raise issues to which you will respond.

You further stated in your reply: "I'm here to try to demonstrate that Christianity need not involve such a conflict, and that unbelief, on the other hand, ultimately does become burdened by such intellectual difficulties."

We each have a viewpoint on this issue, and they are in conflict. I don't believe that the argumentation of this issue is a good place to start, however, but just mention this conflict, parenthetically. In fact, by way of a reasoned and honest dialogue, we can possibly further illuminate this dichotomy in such a way as to better define our individual positions. Maybe this better definition will, by default, be the final summation.

I think that is a worthy goal in and of itself (particularly where both parties are exceedingly unlikely to change their positions). I am most concerned about your excessive generalizations about, and portrayals of, what Christianity is supposedly about. I think they are greatly in need of qualification and tempering. In many cases, I would readily agree, if your criticisms were only directed towards smaller (often sectarian, in the worst sense of that term) Christian groups (such as your own former Church of Christ) and/or those individuals who distort the actual nature of our religion in one way or another, and take it in an unhelpful, problem-laden direction. But you insisted on generalizing almost everything (while recently denying this) and doing a sort of "cynical psychoanalysis" or "psychology of religion." I am here to present a more balanced picture of what Christianity is about.

. . . Of course you may use whatever I write. That is the point of my trying to set the record straight as what I wrote in my earlier article and to clarify some of what you attacked about the article. If any of this helps to clarify those positions, then the readers can see for themselves what you have already defined. All I seek here is clarification, and if that can be achieved by expanding the dialogue, then feel free to print that which I write.

Having said all of that, I will now start in the point-by-point discussion of your critique of my article that was printed in the Skeptical Review. I am largely a 'stream of consciousness' sort of writer, so will respond as naturally and conversationally as I can.

That you felt compelled to write a point-by-point critique of this article in the first place gives the simple message of my deconversion a sense of much more importance than it deserves.

It acquired that importance by being published (or else do you wish that I regard all published materials in Skeptical Review as "unimportant"?), and by other internal factors. I wrote at length about this at the top of this paper, so I won't belabor the point.

I only ask to use this forum to clarify a few things in your critique, which as the author of the piece in question I feel I have the right to do.

Absolutely. I'm delighted that you have an interest to do so.

I am just sorry that it took these many months for your piece to be brought to my attention.

I tried at the time . . .

I will try to follow the order of the original article in much the manner that you did in your rebuttal. In this way I will also be answering the issues you raise in the same order as you presented them.

First though, I must clarify that this article was originally written at the urging of Farrell Till, and I tried to honor his request to keep it in the vein of my own personal experience rather than present it as a theological treatise. I feel that your critique of my article missed this fact and that in many places you tried to hold me to account for things that were not said nor intended.

If you didn't intend to make many many generalizations about Christians (per my several excerpts from the piece, above), and go far beyond merely your own experience, then I must say that your view of the nature and function of language must be explained to me, because I don't get it. I really don't . . .

I will not belabor this point, however, but will from time to time raise it as it applies at certain junctures of your rebuttal.

And I will keep appealing back to my initial remarks above, as needs be, which I think require a solid answer.

You seem to have thought more about my opening paragraph than I did when I wrote it. It was a simple beginning, and one that did indeed represent my early childhood concept of the religion into which I was born. The childishness and unsophisticated nature of the lyrics, "Jesus loves me" cannot be overstated, and yet it is consistent with the inculcation that many, including me, have undergone before any erudition has been developed as to a religious worldview.

You say about that paragraph, "So what? When children grow up, one would expect them to be a bit more sophisticated. St. Paul talks about moving from milk to solid meat." I couldn't agree with you more. But I see as the operative thought in your statement, the concept of "one would expect them to be a bit more sophisticated." In all too many instances this greater sophistication never develops, and often, even when it does, never achieves full intellectual maturity. Far too many religionists of every faith keep one foot in the playground of their childhood religious views and all too often default to the tautology of childish reasoning instead of ever gaining that maturity or sophistication of which you speak. This statement should be understood as a generalization and as a personal opinion based on a significant number of theists I know, and have known, and is not an attack upon them, nor upon the general population of Christians.

I agree that it is a big problem for a significant number of Christians, who have not been taught to integrate their rational thinking with theology and spirituality, and to synthesize faith with culture (both goals being a major purpose and function of my own apologetic endeavors). What I objected to was your overly-generalized language, and the predictable attempt to proceed onto a "psycho-babble" analysis of religious faith (note that this went far beyond your own personal experience in a sort of fundamentalism that I have never been a part of -- nor have many millions of other Christians), that can only be seen by Christians as insulting, just as it historically has been, when attempted by people such as Feuerbach, Marx, and Freud. And the tables can be turned on that sort of "psychology of religion" (I have done so, myself, in my apologetics). I don't find this line of thinking very helpful or productive or insightful at all. I only deal with it insofar as atheists and agnostics insist on doing it. But if I had my way, we would all get beyond that and discuss the objective issues that divide us, not subjective states of mind, emotions, wishes, motives, judgmentalism, projection, supposedly widespread, epidemic infantile or anti-intellectual mentalities, etc.

It only offends and creates more unnecessary division (where there already is far too much in the first place). If you and others insist on presenting Christianity in the worst possible light, based on the worst possible examples of its practitioners, then this attempt can only backfire on you when someone like me comes around and calls you on it. You wouldn't put up with such cynical characterizations of your worldview group. We only ask that you extend the same courtesy to us. I've often chided Christians for approaching atheists and agnostics as if they were purely "evil, wicked" or intrinsically dishonest people (I've written papers about that, too). Again, we could use a few in your camp who object to such unfair treatment of my group (usually as ignoramuses or intellectual troglodytes). This is stereotypical and prejudicial language, and neither helps advance the discussion along at all.

Bottom line: if infantile acceptance (the song "Jesus loves me," and so forth) of theological tenets formed the basis of your own religious thinking, then let it be your own report of your own foibles, and kindly refrain from projecting it onto those of us (Christians) who have never gone through such a phase, and have never approached God or theology in such a fashion. You wanted your paper to be a personal one, so make it so; not an exercise in projecting your own past behavioral and intellectual deficiencies onto millions upon millions of Christians of all stripes. The Church of Christ is assuredly not an adequate representation of Christianity as a whole (and as an apologist for 24 years, and former Protestant, I am in a good position to know about such things). Your experience was in that distinct sub-group. The Church of Christ doesn't even believe, in, for example, original sin, which virtually all trinitarian, Nicene Christian groups accept. They are distinctly out of the mainstream of Christianity.

You go on to say that, "Christianity is not intrinsically childish or juvenile or unsophisticated." I would beg to differ, and do so from the perspective of one who has seen this issue from both sides.

Well, this is a case in point, of precisely what I have been objecting to in your analysis, isn't it? You quickly go from writing (hopefully): "This statement should be understood as a generalization and as a personal opinion based on a significant number of theists I know, and have known, and is not an attack upon them, nor upon the general population of Christians", to the absurd assertion that Christianity is "intrinsically childish or juvenile or unsophisticated" (since you denied my denial that it was such). I find this quite astonishing, and wonder how decent dialogue is possible with one who takes such a jaded view of my belief-system. Perhaps you can explain that to me in our next installment. I believe in an "intrinsically childish or juvenile or unsophisticated" set of beliefs, yet I can be sensibly talked to as a thinking adult? Why would you want to bother? Yet another inconsistency in your position . . .

In this I am not unique, and do not claim accuracy based on the duality of my viewpoint. I think that Christianity can, indeed, be a childish, unsophisticated diversion from reality. At least Christianity as practiced by some of those within the circle of my personal knowledge.

This is already a contradiction of your statement above. Either you are not thinking logically here, or writing sloppily (thus causing further confusion). I specifically used the word "intrinsically." That means that Christianity (or anything else), in and of itself; by its very nature," is a certain thing (whatever that may be deemed to be). I denied that it was childish or juvenile or unsophisticated in this fashion. You, in turn, denied that, meaning that you are asserting that it is intrinsically, by nature, childish, etc. Yet you turn around immediately and soften that by saying it "can" be this stuff (is able to be, might be, could be, is capable of being, etc.). Well, of course it "can" be (and often is, sadly, due to ignorance, sin, cultural influence, and many other factors), in the sense of sectarian diversions and corrupt practices, but this is a different proposition from asserting that it is intrinsically so, as a belief-system. Christianity is a set of beliefs, after all. That's why we have creeds and systematic theologies. Then you use further qualifiers: "At least Christianity as practiced . . . " Well, if you believe the qualifications, then it seems to me that logic and fairness demand that you retract the claim about the supposed intrinsically juvenile nature of Christianity. You can't have it both ways (not if you wish to be non-contradictory and coherent).

In my article, I next offer that the concept of the song, if not the song itself, is symbolic with the primary religious training of many preschool children. This training is based on unqualified love of the brotherly Jesus figure, giving the child a feeling of protection and comfort, contrasting with the child's own fragility.

You rightfully state, "And what is wrong with that, as far as it goes? The child clings to its parents for the same reason." But you are right only in the fact that it happens, and that nothing intrinsically bad is immediately the result of this simple source of comfort. The problem lies in the fact that the parents are real, in a tangible way. Jesus is not.

But this is your presupposition that is, of course, quite arguable and controversial. You can't start a critique of Christianity with a bald axiom of "Jesus isn't real," without first defending that assertion. That's why I object to the nature of your article as overly-general and subjective analysis. It never gets to the real, important issues that have to be worked through. It is simply psychological analysis. You might spend your time far more profitably explaining to us Christians why you believe that Jesus isn't "real."

The parents are experienced in a corporeal way, while Jesus is experienced differently.

So what? This presupposes that the only reality is physical, which is itself a huge discussion within philosophy, to this day, with able proponents taking both sides. That's not even acceptable within physics. They still don't know, for example, whether light is a particle or not. It may not be "physical." But no one denies that it is real.

Your attempt at psychoanalysis of atheists in general, and me by inference within your rebuttal of my words, is interesting.

But this is done only for the rhetorical, philosophical purposes explained above: to turn the tables. I think the whole attempt to psychoanalyze those who believe differently than ourselves is ultimately a futile (and usually uncharitable) exercise.

You mention that psychologist Paul Vitz has shown a close correlation and connection between a great many famous atheists' bad relationships with their fathers and their atheism itself.

I can speak for no one else, nor would I pretend to do so.

I think I have by now demonstrated over and over that -- to the contrary -- you often judge and treat quite harshly the great mass of us Christians, and make sweeping judgments, all the while strangely denying that you are doing so.

As for me, I had a wonderful, close, warm relationship with my father. I looked to him for wisdom and guidance until his death several years ago, and still honor his example to the best of my ability. While I will grant you that some atheists may have had bad relationships with their fathers, I will also wager that many Christians have had just as bad of luck in this regard. Maybe these Christians are searching for a father figure who won't let them down, or ignore them, or abuse them, or abandon them. They're willing to give up the comfort of a real father who fails them in some way, or ways, for the imagined acceptance and comfort of a fictional father who loves them, and all they have to do to win this love and keep it is to believe with their hearts that which their lucid mind may not be able to honestly grasp.

This illustrates the bankruptcy of this sort of "pop-psychoanalysis" (and I am being charitable in my terminology) on both sides. Your experience was a different one. Of course there are exceptions to almost anything, and anecdotal evidence doesn't accomplish much. Vitz showed from much gathered historical fact that there were many such instances among well-known, influential atheists of a terrible father-son relationship. His whole purpose (as is mine) was to turn the tables on the garden-variety atheist / agnostic polemic of "Christianity as a psychological crutch." It's self-evident that those on both sides can -- and often do --, create projections either for or against a God, based on their earthly parents. So it's a wash; it doesn't advance the discussion; it doesn't rationally resolve anything. What we object to is the hypocritical double standard of applying this analysis to Christians while ignoring it where atheists are concerned, as if Christians are uniquely prone to fall into psychologically unhealthy or infantile patterns of behavior. So Vitz turned the tables, and I do the same, when it is required, to defeat this rather silly, substanceless, worthless line of argumentation against Christianity.

I then posit in my original article, that this childish image of Christianity will always be a part of our being, and may be the hardest thing we have to shake off when we grow to question and doubt this religion.

Yes, it may have been for you, because you were raised in a certain fundamentalist environment that didn't foster a rational approach to theology and culture and matters of the mind.

You answer, "Precisely." Then, having said that, you attempt to argue against my point without apparently understanding the point.

My "precisely" must be understood in a qualified sense only. You concentrate on one word taken out of context (where you haven't even grasped the sense in which I used it). But here are some of the other words I wrote:

I was almost sure the author would argue that the childlike sentiments in "Jesus loves me" would set the tone for a lifetime of Christianity. Again, it may for some fundamentalists or misinformed and underinformed Christians of any stripe (Catholic, Orthodox, etc.) but this does not disprove Christianity . . . The criticism of the sub-group would serve fine if the subject matter were "fundamentalism," but ostensibly the topic is the much larger "religion," and the explanation for why it is untenable and unworthy of belief by rational men.
You say that being a misinformed or underinformed Christian does not disprove Christianity, and I concur with those words. Christianity was quite capable of disproving itself to me with little help from misinformed Christians.

That may be (that is, you may think that it does), but you have given me exactly no reason to accept such a perspective, by this "psychological" reasoning you have adopted. If you have reasons for believing that Christianity is disproven, then by all means produce them. But this kind of analysis is wholly insufficient for that task. All you have proven was that you yourself adopted an infantile understanding of God and theology in your own past. Again, I say (I hate being so repetitious) "so what"? What bearing does this have on anyone else? And if it has no relevance, why was it published in such a magazine?

I also agree with your further elucidation on this point: "one does not refute Christianity or religion generally-speaking by recourse to a warped, simplistic, minority expression of it. The sub-group does not represent the entire group, or the worldview." But then truth likewise cannot be ascertained by majority opinion.

Of course it can't; I agree. I am only asserting the principle that in order to refute a large belief-system like Christianity, it is absolutely necessary to have a good grasp of what it is in the first place, and to critique the thing itself, not objectionable practices of it.

A thing can be wrong and be believed by a vast majority, or can be right and only be grasped by a small number of people. Truth is not democratic nor is error the sole dominion of subgroups or minority opinion.

Absolutely. As we have no disagreement there; we have no need to discuss that point. I am objecting to your particular arguments against Christianity as invalid or irrelevant or equally applicable to atheists, or all of the above.

Your final portion of the above reply has left me somewhat bewildered, but not chagrined. Clearly, as I stated earlier, you did not understand the nature of the piece that Farrell Till asked me to write.

That may be, but by the same token, I don't think you have adequately thought through the implications of your language and various claims, and how a Christian would rationally perceive what you assert, nor how it becomes a larger issue than your own odyssey, by its very nature and the language that you have used; also the various contradictions involved that I believe I have spotlighted.

It was to be a personal account, not an exercise in theological academia.

You say that (and I am not accusing you of insincerity), but I haven't found this to be the case, as I read it.

While you're trying to read it as a thesis,

I'm reading it according to the usual rules of English grammar and meaning, and logic. Since this is a public piece, it is susceptible to critique.

it is but the honest, personal ramblings of a simple man who has lived life on both sides of the border between religion and reality.

Note how religion is set in opposition to "reality." Very nice turn of phrase there. How would you feel if I said that "I was an atheist, and then I discovered reality and became a Christian," as if atheism were merely fantasy with no rational basis whatsoever? I assume that you know that one of the most basic definitions of mental illness is a denial of reality. So are you proposing that all Christians are mentally ill, having lived in an "unreal" world?

I was not trying to elucidate the reasons why religion in general, and Christianity in particular, are unworthy of belief by rational human beings.

That doesn't follow from your excessive language.

I will leave that up to each who makes the journey of discovery for himself.

If you were really doing that, then you would leave out all the sweeping condemnations, and implications that many or most Christians are ignoramuses and simpletons, wouldn't you?

That you find this simple paragraph referenced above to be "wholly insufficient for its purpose" does not concern me in the least. I didn't claim, and never intended, that this paragraph, nor the work as a whole, achieve what you have tried to make it do.

Then I say that your language is improperly suited to the task you set out to achieve, and the whole piece ought to be re-written, or removed, as contrary in its language to your stated purposes.

Then you write, "Either the author doesn't comprehend these points of logic, or he wishes to merely explain his own gross intellectual deficiencies and ignorance in matters of religion, in which case the article is wrongly titled (being much more about himself than about religion per se). I don't claim that he is being merely a clever propagandist, utilizing illogical axioms for his purposes (but this would be a possibility, too)."

While I wasn't a 4.0 student in Logic at the university,

I think you could have been a 2.0 student in logic (I believe I was a 3.0 student in that course), and avoided the many logical errors I have discovered in your argument.

neither was I a failure in the class. I understand the points of logic that you infer, but they were not integral to my article, and so were not included in that account.

I agree; logic was often left out of the picture in your account.

As to my gross intellectual deficiencies and ignorance in religious matters, I had hoped that I had put those aside when I stopped believing in old men in the sky

Technically, God has no age, as He had no beginning and will have no end. He is outside of time, in orthodox Christian understanding. Therefore, it is illogical to refer to Him as "old" since that is a strictly temporal understanding of a being who progresses from youth to old age. This isn't the case with God at all. Without time, there is no relative progression of a living being. God doesn't change. He simply is. So chalk this up to another misunderstanding on your part as to what Christian belief involves. Maybe you thought God the Father had a long beard and sat in a rocking chair, too, or that He looked like Michelangelo's representations of Him?

and angels and saviors and all other fairy tales.

That's a nice touch. All Christian belief is "fairy tales." More infantilism . . .

I am not saying in inference that those who still believe in such things are intellectually deficient or ignorant,

Oh, of course not. Who would ever get that impression?

only that I would personally have to be disingenuous and intellectually dishonest to go on professing belief in something which my own personal path of rationalism has convinced me is untrue.

Of course, but that doesn't give you a license to mock the beliefs of others as infantile, mere wish projections, "fairy tales," "old men in the sky," and so forth.

I have been called many things, but "clever propagandist" is not one of them until now.

I'm afraid you still haven't been called one, because I didn't do so, either. What I wrote was the following:

I don't claim that he is being merely a clever propagandist, utilizing illogical axioms for his purposes (but this would be a possibility, too).
I specifically denied that I was calling you this ("I don't claim . . ."). I only suggested that it was a "possibility." And that was because -- frankly -- I found the arguments such commonly-used ones, not out of any desire to question your motivations at all.

I blush at the quasi compliment. Clever would be a nice thing to be, and can only hope that someday I may achieve that status. But I am not, and won't be, a propagandist. I really don't care if everyone, or no one, believes as I do. It doesn't make me safer or less secure either way.

Then why write the article? For what purpose? To show that you are rational, but a billion and a half Christians aren't?

It neither puts money into, nor takes money out of, my pocket. It doesn't make me happy nor sad, proud nor chagrined, right nor wrong either way.

So why write it? For what purpose does another human being read this article of yours? You claim that you aren't trying to convince anyone of your belief, because you "really don't care." Okay, I believe you, but I don't know, then, what you were trying to achieve with the article. If you really think Christians are so gullible, infantile, and irrational, then it stands to reason that you have a desire to persuade them to reject that position. Yet you claim that you're not trying to do that. I confess that I am out to sea trying to understand how this all fits together in your mind.

When one has a truly personal belief, arrived at through his own unique yearning, searching, studying, and has endured tears and laughter, doubt and certainty, acceptance and rejection in the journey of acquisition, he doesn't need, nor want, converts to his way of thinking.

But you seem to have a great need to go on and on about how rational your belief is, and how silly and irrational Christian belief is. You go after psychological tendencies (real or imagined) rather than discuss the actual philosophical issues at stake.

My main argument is that we are each responsible for our own beliefs. I will not allow my beliefs to be a carbon copy of someone else's, and for that reason I reject all affiliations with atheist or humanist groups or individuals. Their journey is their own and mine is mine.

Yet you argue precisely as many many atheists have through the centuries. You may claim that you are relatively or exceptionally unique in your thought-processes, but virtually no one is. There's nothing new under the sun. You and I are both recycling ideas that have been held by many before our time, and will be held by many after we die. We're no more unique than one grain of sand on an ocean shore.

I can no more understand why they are atheists than I can understand why you are not one. I only know, and am only responsible, for my own philosophy and do not flinch from that responsibility.

Then why are we doing this, if there is no possibility of you even understanding any other position? Now we are beyond the realization we both have of the virtual impossibility of convincing the other, to this notion that even better understanding is a futile effort.

On the other hand, I am not a militant, nor am I evangelical in my atheism. I will gladly discuss it with anyone who wants to listen, but I will not waste my time trying to bring others to my point of view.

So again, I ask, if the article explained why you are an atheist, does that not immediately imply that it might offer reasons for others to also become atheists? If not, then again, I ask, why does the article exist at all? Is it the intellectual equivalent of an explanation of why one person likes the color blue the best, and another likes green? Or why one prefers Beethoven to Mozart? If so, then your sweeping judgments and uncharitable characterizations of Christians are most out of place, for we don't condemn others who like vanilla ice cream better than chocolate. That's their choice, and no one denies the validity of those choices. You can't have it both ways. If everything is radically individualized and subjective, then you have no grounds to go after Christians as ignorant, infantile, simpletons, as you do (and which has been fashionable for over 200 years). You should simply live and let live. But as is so often the case (for Christian and non-Christian alike) we rarely live up to our stated ideals, either morally or intellectually, do we? As so often, the actual words of your paper do not synthesize very well with how you now characterize it. You claim to not care about what others believe. Yet you write, near the end:

When one defends, propounds, and propagates such error as fact and refuses to examine other information objectively, it is intellectually reprehensible, and I will challenge that type of belief every time.
So hey; if you want to challenge these beliefs "every time," then I am more than within my rights (and duties as a Christian apologist) to critique your reasoning. This is clearly more than just your personal odyssey. That's fashionable to say in the current zeitgeist, but virtually no one of any belief ever truly lives up to it. They can't help trying to convince others of what they think is true, in some fashion.

Lastly, even the editor's note at the end of your paper reveals the intentions here, which go far beyond only your own report. Note the usual jaded generalizations. Your story was immediately seized upon as typical of many (emphasis added):

He is a former Church-of-Christ preacher, and he tells a familiar story. He grew up believing what he had been taught in his childhood, but when he engaged in serious Bible studies as an adult, he found things in it that made it impossible to continue believing what he had been taught as a child. Many former fundamentalists will say that the Bible is its own worst enemy. If we could just get more Christians to study this book that they claim to believe in so much, the inevitable result would be fewer Christians. The Christian religion thrives on ignorance of the very book that is its foundation.
Now we are ignorant of our own sacred book, too. Atheists know more about it than we do. This is an old tired theme (I've encountered it and refuted it myself, many times, showing how atheist biblical exegesis comes to the most ludicrous, irrational conclusions). All we have to do is honestly study the Bible and we would leave Christianity in droves. If you can't see how this is both severely insulting and ridiculous, then explaining it would certainly be a futile effort.

I think this is a good place to stop at this time. If you wish to respond, which I assume that you would, I will further discuss those issues you raise about this reply. I will also continue my response to your critique within the next day or two, as time permits.

Thanks for your time. I appreciate it. Nothing personal at all is intended in the above criticisms; I am only interested in flaws in your argument.

Thanks for the reply to what I have written in rebuttal so far. I am sorry not to be able to supply you with a worthy intellectual foil for your apologist position, but I'll do the best I can whether you find what I write to be comprehensible or not.

First I will reply to your latest response, posted on you website, to what I have written thus far, as referenced above. I am not going to belabor it too much but will continue to write from my stream of consciousness method, for better or worse. I will then continue to respond to your original critique to my article.

You say in your latest response that you don't find my idea of a 'personal' article, as I contend my original to have been, to be coherent. Without trying to sound totally flippant I can only say that I don't really care about your ability to cohere my claim with the way you choose to read the article. You make an assumption as to my motives by putting your own personal methodology and prejudices onto my article, and as a reader, that is your right to do. It is also you right to critique the article. But you exercising those rights does not mean that you are right and that I am wrong. Hopefully I have not, nor will I, impute motives onto you and your apologist viewpoint which you don't intend, and only ask the same courtesy. Whether you grant such a courtesy or not really doesn't matter, but it would help to elevate our discussion to a more civilized tone.

You seem to have taken extreme umbrage at many of my word and phrase choices, and claim that they undermine my rationale and logic. I can only say that I wrote this at a time and frame of mind that was unique and that if I were to write the same article today it would be written differently. I would not disavow my philosophy. On the contrary. I would be comfortable with it and would delineate it in a more fleshed out way. Likewise, I would not disavow my inner feelings that run contrary to any belief in theism, but I would write it in a less impassioned manner. Chalk up my original to an overzealousness that was not properly in check in some areas of word usage.

Then again, and I hate to keep bringing this up, for clearly I have not adequately gotten the point across to you, but this article was written as Farrell Till suggested and approved. It was not a polemic, it was not a thesis, it was not scholarly, as evidenced by the lack of any scholarly footnotes or citations. It was simply my first person account of having put aside one way of thinking and one worldview for another. I was asked to not make it an academic study as the Skeptical Review was filled with such articles in every issue.

I can see from your confusion that you do not recognize the literary license which I used in many places in the article, writing in second and third person while thinking in the first person. Again, you are trying to read it as a condemnation of others while it was an explanation of what I had seen, felt, believed, and from the shadows of which I had escaped. The other error which seems to have you confused since you mention it so frequently, is that the article was written for a specific audience, and not intended for a broad audience, much less a Christian one. That is why it was in the Skeptical Review, which you yourself observe, "The non-Christian audience (which makes up probably at least 80% of the readership of Skeptical Review, if not far more) will eat this stuff up, and love it." Like almost any writer, I wrote to the audience, not to convince, not to unduly ruminate, but to share with those who could relate, just as others had shared their stories with me.

I believe that the above facts, whether you believe them or not, understand them or not, or whatever your response, pretty much invalidates a lot of your further points, but I will address a few in a gesture of fairness to try to understand the ground upon which you are building your criticism. However, just to reiterate, since I don't seem to have had any luck at explaining this in a way that you can believe or understand, I wrote what I was asked to write by the editor of the magazine. I wrote for an audience who I took to be nearly unanimous in their having escaped the bonds of theism, and as you have said, constitutes 80% or more of that readership. Finally, I engaged in a literary technique that would not be valid in a thesis or other scholarly work, but which is used a great deal in general literature; I wrote a first person account largely in the second and third person. Grammatically incorrect, perhaps, but a style that is widely used.

You ask why this article exists if it is not intended to change people's minds or to attack theism or Christianity in general. Hopefully this further elucidation of the facts I have tried to explain before will help to answer that question. If not, then please seek clarification from the magazine and its editor for it was they who saw fit to publish it, and in fact, to ask for the article in the first place.

I will thus plead guilty of using a poor prose style. Likewise, I will plead guilty to writing a piece at the direction of the editor who had asked for an article of this exact type. And I will finally plead guilty of writing to a narrow audience in a magazine which largely serves that particular segment to which it was addressed. I will defend myself against your broad and specific charges that are contrary to those constraints.

You ask how I would feel if you applied some of my terminology and viewpoints to my beliefs. First of all, you are certainly free to do so and it wouldn't bother me in the least. You can attack my non-god in any way you like and it does me no harm. Since I don't technically have a 'belief', but rather the lack of one, it would mean nothing. You can even attack my philosophy, which I feel is largely objectivist, with a smattering of other viewpoints thrown in on select issues. I do not feel attacked because someone disagrees with me. Neither do I feel compelled to do battle under such circumstances. It is interesting to engage in an intellectual discussion with those who have different viewpoints, if for not other reason than to solidify my own resolve that my way is the right way for me. And I reiterate, for me.

A final comment about this response you recently posted. After I had said that I really don't care if anyone or no one believes as I do, you asked, "So why write it? For what purpose does another human being read this article of yours?"

I really have no idea why anyone would read it. I really don't care why they would or wouldn't. I wrote it because I had been asked to write it and I suppose was somewhat flattered by that fact. I wrote it because I felt like doing it. I wrote it because I like to write. There are probably a lot of reasons, but converting anyone to my viewpoint was not among them.

If I had written this article about how I decided not to be a fan of the Chicago Cubs any longer, it wouldn't have been with an idea to convert other Cub fans away from this brand of quasi religion. I might have pointed out the futility of having been a Cubs fan and of coming to the conclusion that I could no longer support their ineptitude nor those who reveled in the fandom of that futility. I am sure that those who read it and were never Cub fans would have agreed with the end premise but could not have related to the journey that led to that decision. I am likewise sure that those who had fallen away as Cub loyalists after their own personal journeys of discovery would have seen common ground between my article and their experiences, and undoubtedly would have noted many differences as well. Those who would have screamed the loudest would have been those who still worshipped at the altar of Wrigley Field. How dare I attack their intellect, their maturity, etc.

Hoping that I have not overdone or oversimplified the sports analogy, this is largely parallel to the article which I did write, and with the strength of your own personal convictions, you attack what I have written just as a good Cubs fan would have attacked the hypothetical article. It's part of our human nature to pick those things in our lives about which we feel passionately and then to defend those passions against any attack or perception of an attack, no matter how slight the actuality of that attack might be.

I will send this along to answer these issues you raised, and will send a further point by point analysis of your original critique within the next day or two.

You are picking and choosing very carefully what you wish to respond to, and making broad statements that don't help to advance the discussion along, precisely because they are not specific and interactive enough. There are massive logical problems and worldview clashes here that cannot be gotten over without much further discussion. In the meantime, we're virtually two ships passing in the night, as the proverb goes. You claim I don't understand your reasoning; I say the same about you, vis-a-vis mine. Good dialogue requires that both parties truly understand the other.

In my original article, I next laid out a little more sophisticated view of god. As one matures in age, he should likewise mature in intellect and understanding. Within that paragraph I am merely delineating the fact that this god often takes on the role of a grandfather-like presence in the lives of those who are raised in the faith. This was certainly true in my case and the cases of many others with whom I grew up.

I don't deny that. I maintain that this is not necessarily a bad thing, and to the extent that it is in some cases, the same sort of deficiency is equally applicable to atheists. I don't see much use for this "pop psychoanalysis." You obviously do, so you keep using it.

You reply to this comment with, "I see nothing intrinsically implausible or unreasonable in that, per the above. Atheists are the ones who are more irrational, by dismissing the possibility or existence of God simply because their earthly fathers were scoundrels. One bad father has nothing whatsoever to do with the classic philosophical question of God's existence."

Again, you play the role of psychoanalyst, pretending that you know the root cause of atheism, that being hatred or loathing of one's father.

Not really. As I explained above, I am simply turning the tables on you. I am only criticizing atheists who have reasoned in this sort of utterly fallacious way. I think the "root causes" of atheism are many: probably dozens, not one simple explanation. I would never show the intellectual contempt and condescension towards your worldview, that many of your brethren exhibit towards mine. I know too much about both people and ideas to do that.

And again you are wrong to generalize, as is normally the case in generalities.

But I wasn't doing that. I was turning the tables on one common atheist argument (which is exactly what Paul Vitz did, too).

If my lack of belief in a god had anything to do with having a scoundrel for a father, then I would never have come to atheism. My journey to atheism was an exercise in intellect, not an escape from a tormented childhood.

I wasn't discussing your own specific case, but the garden variety atheist "psychological crutch" so-called "argument" against theism.

I next wrote, "We also become aware of God's propensity for wrath, and we are told not to tempt him or displease him." Here again I am laying out an incremental growth of belief and understanding that was part of my own early nurturing and rearing. Your response is somewhat convoluted and tautological in its presentation. It is also so full of holes that I don't know where to begin.

I know the feeling, believe me . . .

In an attempt to keep it brief, I will say your analogy of your god and a father whose son wreaks havoc with his property is an interesting one. I suppose it depends on one's point of view as to whether chaos was visited upon the property by the wayward son, personally, or by a set of circumstances beyond his control, such as "acts of nature" or "acts of god". It would also be interesting to know if you believe that one who acts as an agent for your god, such as a pope or minister, or powerful world leader who professes belief in your god, always, sometimes, seldom, or never, acts in good faith with this god's property.

People fall short and play the hypocrite all the time. It's called sin, and original sin. It's called the flesh, the world, and the devil. It's called the fall. Does this surprise you? It's been said that original sin is the most manifestly demonstrable and proven of all Christian doctrines. :-)

For instance, G.W. Bush, a professed born again Christian invades Iraq who has never attacked the U.S., was not involved in any way in 9/11 terrorism that we can ascertain, and who were already powerless to act against us due to our sanctions and embargoes. Is that not defiling the property of this god?

The ethical justification of any particular war is always debated by conscientious folks. Hence, Christians and Catholics are debating the present one. Pacifism is not taught in the Bible or in mainstream Christianity. I've debated Catholic friends of mine on this war. I thought it was quite justified. My friend did not. But he's not a pacifist. He objected to this particular war as inconsistent with traditional Catholic just war theory.

Is Iraq not part of his creation?

Sure; so were Hitler and Stalin and Mao and all the other tyrants who killed millions of innocent people (also part of God's creation, last time I checked) before they were stopped (or not stopped, as in the last two cases). Stalin starved ten million Ukrainians in the 30s while the liberal newspaper men winked at his crimes and denied that they were happening, and affectionately referred to him as "Uncle Joe." Later he was our ally against another bloodthirsty murderer. Preborn children are part of His creation, too, but it seems that only traditional Christians are speaking out against their wholesale slaughter. Why is that? Occasionally you will get an ethically consistent atheist like Nat Hentoff, who will join us in our opposition to the butchery and genocide of the most helpless among us. They manage to be for the "littlest of guys" along with the "little guy," according to the (now almost nonexistent) traditional liberal emphasis on standing up for the innocent and the oppressed.

How about all of the Christian businessmen who rape, pillage and plunder the earth as if it were their own little sand box on the playground?

We are to be good stewards of what God has given us. I agree. That's why I think that when God grants a couple a child, that they ought to love it, not slaughter it on the altar of sexual freedom, personal convenience, and selfishness. After all, a human being is infinitely more valuable than a strip mine, right? Maybe they're even worth more than a whale!

Are they not defiling the creation of the god they profess to believe in?

Sometimes, yes, of course. But that pales in comparison to the massive genocide of child-killing that secularism, the sexual revolution, atheism, and situation ethics have brought us. The reasoning seems to be: "there are a lot of children around, so the value of new ones being conceived is less, and they can be disposed of." This is the "scarcity theory of value." Christians believe each person is infinitely valuable because they are made in the image of God and have an eternal soul. But if God is taken out of the equation, what gives a child inherent value? Obviously (however you would argue the ethics or claim inconsistency in practice), secularism has led to the culture of death, where mass murder is casually justified and people think little of it. Even full-term babies are now slaughtered (it's called "partial-birth abortion"). The child is delivered up to the neck and then scissors are inserted into the back of its neck and hos or her brains are removed. This is our liberal, secularized, compassionate society. We wouldn't even treat a baby pig or skunk in such a cruel, savage, heartless fashion. I prefer Christian morality, thank you.

I also find it odd that you would pretend to know the wellspring of my disbelief with your last sentence in this section: "I say that many of these common skeptical notions flow from simple prejudice and lack of solid thinking, rather than from detached reason and proper, fair analysis." Since you are critiquing my article, I can only suppose that you are referencing my personal journey of discovery, even if only parenthetically.

I'd have to look at the context again. I can only go by what you are saying, and yes, I see in you (rightly or wrongly) a great deal of prejudice against Christians and Christianity. You make many charges against my view, so I see this as a relatively small charge and matter.

If you wish to think that my philosophy is the result of prejudice or faulty thinking, that is your prerogative. When, however, you announce that premise to the world, I take exception with your doing so under the guise of an intellectual dissertation. I, and I alone, know how deep, how broad, how lengthy, and how exhaustive my search for truth has been.

When you start speaking about my beliefs and my worldview (beyond just yours), then you have the ethical and intellectual responsibility to do so accurately. Your journey is your own. I haven't judged your character or motivations, only your ideas. I can only criticize your stated viewpoint insofar as it is based on demonstrable falsehoods, such as (especially) how you have mischaracterized Christian beliefs in various ways. There are factual matters which can be debated, after all. As for "faulty thinking," I've shown over and over how your thought is incoherent and illogical (i.e., at those points where I criticize it). Readers can draw their own conclusions. If something is persistently incoherent and illogical, it ought to be rejected, as far as I am concerned. At the very least, some warning flags ought to come out. It's your side which is making flat-out stupid, entirely prejudicial statements like:

If we could just get more Christians to study this book that they claim to believe in so much, the inevitable result would be fewer Christians. The Christian religion thrives on ignorance of the very book that is its foundation.

(the editor's remark at the end of your article; emphasis added)

You either agree with this or not. If you do, I say you are being quite patronizing and condescending insofar as concerns Christianity. If not, then you can say so here, and render an objection to your editor, for having such a remark associated with your piece, as if you agree with it. You, too, have made similar remarks not much less prejudiced.

And that search brought me answers completely at odds with my subjective wishes at the start of this journey. I began my study to find the truth, and I thought the truth existed in the religion with which I was raised. I fought against the contrary evidences and put off the conclusions as long as I could. I finally had to give in to intellectual honesty and admit that god does not, never did, and probably never will, exist.

So you say. Others disagree. Nothing you have written leads me to accept this on a purely rational basis. In my opinion, you've provided no reason whatsoever for someone to believe that God doesn't exist. Granted, you have other reasons you haven't written about, but in what you have written, I don't find the slightest reason to overturn my belief in God. I don't deny that you sought truth, according to your own motivation and internal perception. I don't get into that. I assume people are operating in sincerity and good faith unless and until massive evidence to the contrary forces me to think otherwise. So that's not at issue.

That all which I held dear in those regards from my earliest youth was a fairy tale just like those written by the Brothers Grimm, or the Norse folklorists, or the African shamans.

Again, I've seen nothing in what you have provided us that would compel one to adopt such a conclusion.

You can think I entered this search with prejudices, and I did. Prejudices to prove that which I have come to know is not the truth.

Exactly. You eventually became prejudiced against your former beliefs (some true, some false), and this contributed to your drive to change your mind. Thank you.

You can think that it is the result of unclear thinking,

That's why I am doing this; showing that your thinking does not withstand proper rational and factual scrutiny.

but you did not pour over the thousands of books, articles, manuscripts, etc. that I read until my head hurt and my eyes burned from lack of sleep and reading in light unfit for the task.

You can read all the atheist and liberal Christian books in the world, but unless you can rationally defend that which you believe, it means little or nothing to anyone else.

Smugly think what you will, but I rest easy in the knowledge that you are wrong in your assumptions, and am even more comforted by the fact that I don't really care what you or anyone else thinks, or why.

For not "caring," you are sure putting a lot of effort into this; far more than I wish to myself, and I am a Christian and Catholic apologist, who certainly wants to persuade others of my viewpoint.

I next mentioned the concept of the trinity as it is understood by a young person, and unfortunately, all too many adults who likewise cannot grasp the concept. You go off trying to make it all seem so simple and my mention of it so trite and so non-understanding.

I didn't say the concept was simple (of course it isn't, neither is nuclear physics, calculus, or any number of true things), but that your breezy dismissal of it (showing very little comprehension of the doctrine) was.

Well that was the point. Again, this article was written and delineated at a different rate and with a different focus than that which you are
attempting to argue against. That's fine. I knew some people wouldn't understand it, and clearly you don't.

That's obviously becoming your standard response in cases where I call you on some logical or factual deficiency (I don't "understand" you). That's alright; readers are sharp enough to notice that. This is all part of the reasoning and critical process: one observes how people react when they have inadequate answers to give.

It is written, I will say it again, as a series of details of my own personal journey, and it is not written as an academic treatise or dissertation.

And it is untrue, however you characterize it. If you can't appeal to my ignorance or that of Christians (like your editor does), then you can appeal to your own, I suppose. You've done it several times now. It seems to me that if you've read "thousands of books, articles, manuscripts, etc.," (that's quite a few!), then at some point you should stop appealing to ignorance, and offer up some solid arguments that you can defend and not run from (by appealing to ignorance) when challenged. Or is that again irrelevant because your story applies only to you and no one else? Massive supposed Christian ignorance is objectionable but your own is fine and dandy because (as you tell us over and over) it remains yours alone, and so is no one else's business? That might apply to your own atheism, but again, when you start coming after my views, and those of Christians (the Holy Trinity, etc.), then it is a different ballgame, and we have every right to respond. As a Christian apologist, I also have a duty to do so, to protect Christians from false ideas that run contrary to our beliefs.

The baby steps of understanding that led me from a child with a "Jesus loves me" warm and fuzzy, to a teenager struggling to understand that which aged and learned theologians have debated for two millennia. You are not even addressing the issues in the manner in which they are written, but I'm the one who is non-logical, non-intellectual, with a scoundrel for a father,

When did I ever state that, pray tell? So now your miscomprehension of what I was even arguing obviously has you responding emotionally and non-rationally. Hopefully, we can get back to the real issues soon.

and with such an all consuming hatred for him that I am rebelling against the father figure of your god. Even if he does have a multi personality disorder.

More nonsense about my supposed arguments or beliefs . . . Clearly you can't handle having the tables turned on you, with regard to this "psychological crutch" issue. If so, I would suggest not using it next time. And maybe now you have an inkling of how it feels for Christians to be routinely subjected to this kind of asinine, second-guessing, condescending psychological "analysis." How does it feel, Bob? I don't even believe these things about you and your father. I was making strictly a general rhetorical reply to the atheist polemic. But we're literally regarded as infantile ignoramuses by so many oh-so-smart, smarter-than-thou atheists. I've demonstrated how that reasoning utterly fails; not that your father was a scoundrel or any of the nonsense above that you somehow wrongly think I was asserting.

Then I wrote in my original article, "Belief becomes a habit driven by fear of the unknown or the fear of rejection if we doubt or question, so our questions are internalized, and we begin to feel guilt."

To which you reply with more long distance psychoanalysis, "More pop-psychological pablum; unworthy of serious attention, as it is again merely assumed as some grand explanation for religious belief."

Not assumed, but lived.

Sure, you lived this, but it doesn't follow that all other Christians did, or that, furthermore, this is one reason of many to reject Christianity, or "religion," as your article describes it. Your past or present problems in emotion or belief are strictly your own. They have no bearing on the truth of falsity of anything, let alone Christianity, except as matters of fact about your own experience and past belief-system.

This is another personal part of my own youth, grasping for sense out of faith, understanding out of belief. I wouldn't know pop psychology pablum from oatmeal, though I do believe that many Christians make use of a lot of this sort of thing. Groups like Focus on the Family, Promise Keepers, and others are real big into the mass hysteria, mass psychology thing. Or is it mass psychosis?

Case in point. If submit that you should follow your own advice, whereby you lecture me for doing such quack analysis.

Next I wrote, "We now learn a more rigid set of moral values. We learn that thinking a wrong thing is the same as committing the act."

I don't want to sound like a broken record, but once again you respond to my particular, unique, personal growth of understanding as a young man, as though it were a generalized charge leveled at everyone.

Okay, so then you agree that it applies only to you and no one else, per my second comment back. Good! Great! Too bad, though, that you don't apply that consistently, because you can't help making wild general accusations, such as we just saw in the last reply (Focus on the Family, etc.)

You defend the concept of thinking a wrong thing as being equivalent with a wrong act by saying, "I think this is quite sophisticated ethics and psychology, and it is thoroughly Christian. But Mr. Hypes seems to think it is silly and unwarranted. I don't think he has adequately thought-through these issues. Or at least so it appears, going by this article alone."

That's the point. It is thoroughly Christian and it has held the social order back in Christian countries for centuries.

Oh, has it? That's a grand claim indeed.

A lot of people, most people in fact, think a thing from time to time that if committed would be a crime, or immoral, or hurtful, but if they don't do the thing and the thought passes on, no harm is done. Some Christians would have us believe that this thought is equivalent with the actual act. It isn't and no amount of nattering on your part will change that fact.

I see. Why, then, does the legal system require a greater penalty for a premeditated crime, than for one that wasn't planned beforehand? Why is manslaughter punished even less? For what reason? Have such laws also "held the social order back for centuries"? Obviously, an evil act committed is a greater sin that thinking about such an act only and not acting upon the thought or desire; yet the essence of the evil act is in the will to commit it, which precedes the act. That was Jesus' reasoning when He stated that to lust after a woman in your heart was to already commit adultery. And this is precisely because human beings are far more than mere animals. We think about things and have a will. We're not just robots who have no choice but to do what we do.

As to this whole subject, again, it is from my personal experience and my recall of how things came to fall into place for me as a young man searching for answers to my questions about faith and belief. If I have not adequately thought them through, it may be because I didn't have to do so. I did not write a thesis which made assumptions and offered proofs. I did not write a scholarly study of these topics too quickly discussed and passed over, nor was that the intent.

Okay; so you admit that your article does not offer solid reasons to be an atheist, or "proofs." That's a major concession; thanks. I could hardly ask for more, for my purposes! You didn't "have to" think things "through" in any "adequate" sense. Glad you said it, not me . . . Suddenly now, at least your own path to atheism doesn't strike one as all that reasoned or rational. Not that this surprises me . . . but for the many folks brainwashed by our school system and higher academia into thinking that secularists and atheists are always so sharp and smart and reasonable and that Christians are not (and indeed, supposedly opposed to reason, by nature), perhaps this comes as a great awakening (no pun intended).

When I next wrote, "The feelings of inadequacy wash over us, challenging the depth and the coldness of the baptismal immersion", you felt moved to mock that deeply personal moment in my teenage life. I did not feel that I was good enough to be given the grace that I was told this god would bestow upon me, and those feelings are the ones I address in this "poetic flourish" as you lamely call it.

Perhaps I misread that. If what you meant was that you didn't deserve God's grace at all, that is good, solid, orthodox Christianity. The trouble with the Church of Christ sect is that it doesn't believe in original sin, so the significance of baptism is greatly lessened.

You go on to make some sort of sociological point about inadequacy being tied to a social construction of one or more sorts. And then you say that to tie this "simplistically" to Christianity is ridiculous.

Read the paragraph immediately before the one above and you might see that it is your answer here which is simplistic in that you did not understand the tone, tenor, purpose, or much else about my article. It makes me wonder why you picked this article out of cyber space and felt so compelled to rebut it.

I will let the reader decide who understands whom better. We've been treated to spectacles like, for example, my alleged claim that you hated your father, and that this made you become an atheist . . .

My quote from Thoreau: "They think they love God! It is only his old clothes, of which they make scarecrows for the children. Where will they come nearer to God than in those very children?" is a deep, meaningful, and true statement. And it is in keeping with the purpose for my article. In that we are inculcated at a young age to fear this god or someone else's concept of this god, and yet it is the innocence of those children that is really god-like. I don't find it to be a particularly anti-religious viewpoint from Thoreau, nor did I offer it as any proof of such a viewpoint. It is merely what I feel is a truism and worthy of inclusion in this article. I'm sorry if you don't get it, or don't agree with it, or whatever. From my perspective it's worth more than all the words that will be uttered or propounded in the average church next Sunday, or the one after.

Thanks for your further clarification.

My statement, "Theists base their belief on faith, belief based on emotion and culturalization," is, again, based on my own life experiences and observations.

Exactly. Then please refrain from repeatedly projecting your own unique experience onto Christians en masse.

You don't get it and say as much in your convoluted reply to this simple sentence. You say that I assume that reason and intellect play little or no part in religious belief. Could you cite where I said that?

I've cited enough of your own words back to you, so why should I bother digging more quotes up (except that readers can see that you are again inconsistent)?

Oh, I might have hinted at it I suppose, or someone might interpret that I had such intentions in what I wrote. But no, you misunderstood what I was saying and then went off tilting at windmills thinking they were dragons, only they weren't even wind mills. This whole line of argument was erroneously elicited out of a simple experiential observation which I made.

Then you go on to castigate me for not using reason and intellect and boldly claim those areas as your own domain. Well, you certainly have used reason of a sort and what might pass for intellect,

So I have no intellect (only what "passes" for it)? Thanks for that compliment. Readers can decide if my argumentation been a mere masquerade of intellect, but not really so.

but by using them to respond to my simple little piece about a personal journey in search of the truth, it seems as though you've used all of those powers of logic and rationalism for naught. I would liken my article to a primer, a Bobbsey Twins story, or a piece of child prose, while you have attacked it with the full power and wrath of Christian intellect, and I am not using that phrase as an oxymoron.

You may not have intended this, but I thought those last two words were usually considered by atheists to be an oxymoron, and that Christians are quite ignorant people, unacquainted with the powers and joys of reason and intellect??!! After all (according to your illustrious editor), we don't even understand our own sacred book, and if we could only be brought to the light of the profound atheist understanding of the Bible, that we would leave in droves for the sunny, lofty fields of atheism?! Faith is, we are told (by you, among many others), outright antithetical to reason. Yet here I am using it???!!! Thanks for the left-handed compliment, by the way . . . If I must be criticized, I am quite proud to receive a complaint about using too much intellect.

But thank you for clarifying things by pointing out that you have been using reason and intellect. I shudder to think that this salient fact should go unnoticed in our exchange.

No problem . . . I should also think that your logical fallacies and factual inaccuracies ought not to go unnoticed, either, both for your sake, and that of our readers.

My paragraph, "When reason and rationale challenge that faith, then the reason can have no value and the rationale must be incorrect. Faith is irrefutable and errorless because it must be in order to validate all in which they believe" has also been misunderstood by you and you compound this error of understanding with your unnecessary attack on these simple words.

You say, "This is quite unfair as well. Everyone believes in some things without fully understanding them: no exceptions." First of all, it isn't unfair. It was my article and I said what applied to me.

Not in this instance (as in many others). The statement "faith is irrefutable, because . . . " is a general one, not applicable to you alone. At least that is how English grammar (and logic) works. For it to be understood by the reader as applying to you alone, it should have read (it seems to me) something like: "my [own, personal] faith was irrefutable, because . . . " No one would take that as applying to faithful people in general, whereas your statement is quite easily interpreted in that way. Whether you intended that or not is your problem, because we are accustomed to interpreting words and sentences according to commonly accepted meanings of words, and English grammar and syntax.

What I had lived, and what I'd seen, and what I'd known others to live through.

See, now there you go. You want to have your cake and eat it, too. On the one hand, you keep appealing to this as your own experience, and so you object (several times now) when I interpret your arguments as applying to others. Yet you can't even object to my supposed irrational, mistaken interpretation without stumbling into the fact that you also had others in mind. And so it turns out that I wasn't that far off, after all. You are generalizing and trying to speak to more Christians than just yourself. But why should I care about one circle of Christian friends, anyway? If they were mostly Church if Christ (Christians usually hang around those in the same denomination), they will all tend to approach this matter in the same general way (itself not a conventional Christian one, as Church of Christ is highly sectarian and exclusivistic, and far out of the mainstream of Christianity, and grossly heretical in some areas, such as in its denial of original sin). So the experience of 10 or 100 or 1000 of your fundamentalist friends still does not prove a general reality about Christians (though I readily agree that many Christians are quite scandalously ignorant and unsophisticated in their faith; I simply deny that the nature of Christianity is such that such things are intrinsic to it -- as argued earlier).

It's only unfair if it is directed at someone else whose circumstances I don't know. Kind of like your unfair assumptions about my father hatred, lack of logic, intellectual vacuity, etc., which pepper your critique.

For the last time, I never said you hated your father (what I do say is that it is ridiculous and foolish for you to come to this silly conclusion, based on anything I ever wrote); critiques of lack of logic apply only to individual arguments, not your entire brain and thought processes, and the characterization of "intellectual vacuity" is also a great overreaction to strong critiques of your argument (not your brain or mental or intellectual capacities). If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

Though I do agree with your statement that everyone believes in some things they don't understand, my agreement is so full of caveats and exceptions that I won't go into them unless you want further elucidation on these matters. Suffice it to say, as an example, I don't know how or when the universe came into being, but I do believe that it did so without any outside intervention from some pre-existent cosmic magician.

Oh, I see. So you have made atoms your god(s). They can do everything that the Christian believes God can do. But somehow that is more "rational" and "believable" than theism. I wrote an entire paper about this, partially tongue-in-cheek, called The Atheist's Boundless Faith in Deo-Atomism ("The Atom-as-God"). Instead of believing in one God, you (much like primitives in many cultures and their idols) believe in trillions of them: each capable of the extraordinary things that the Christian God can do.

But see, instead of inventing a story to explain it, or grabbing hold of some millennia old folklore to explain it,

Or (to return your polemical favor) some Johnny-come-lately atheist mythology and fanciful thinking . . .

I'm perfectly o.k. saying, "I don't know, and I really don't care."

Back to that, again. If you cared so little, then you wouldn't "care" enough to make garden-variety swipes at Christianity ("cosmic magician," "folklore," etc.), as if we have no rational basis other than adoption of ancient old wives' tales and children's fairy tales for what we believe. This gets old. It's more of the smug, "smarter-than-thou" atheist mentality that is so prevalent. You don't "care" about this and that, so you say, yet you insist on making fun of Christians and our supposed sublime ignorance at every opportunity. Then it stands to reason that you "care" enough about your belief that Christianity is false to mock and deride it at every opportunity. It's almost as if you have certain mantras that you repeat; which are fashionable in the atheist community (not to mention, in postmodernist thought). You're taught to mouth these platitudes, so as to appear above the fray of all these silly debates and concerns that many of the rest of us have entered into. You "don't care" about any of this stuff, yet here you are, spending many hours carefully responding to my critique. So I don't buy it. I don't see that your rhetoric matches your behavior or your expressed beliefs. Now it's altogether likely that no one has ever confronted you with this anomaly before, so you (like all of us at some point or other) simply haven't thought about it. That's why dialogue is good. But unfortunately, you don't seem to appreciate very much the opportunity to have your beliefs challenged, so that you can strengthen your own opinions and make them more solid than they were before, by being forced to defend them at every turn.

The explanation, if there is one, cannot be verified by experimentation or absolute evidences, therefore, your viewpoint on this would be an opinion, while probably opposite of my own, no more provable to an unbiased observer.

That's right. I completely agree that neither view can be proven. But I also believe that both are equally reasonable and require roughly the same amount of faith to accept. That's where the atheist will usually differ: they will insist that the Christian view is gullible and credulous (and unscientific), whereas the atheist cosmology is eminently reasonable (and of course, harmonious with science). They always have to attack the theistic and Christian ability to reason and think. It's simply part of the ethos. And so you must speak of "cosmic magicians" and "folklore" when describing theistic or non-materialist cosmology. You can't help but be condescending. You have to use loaded terms. It's too much a part of atheist culture and thinking to avoid patronizing theists and especially Christian theists (with fundamentalists being the very incarnation and quintessential examples of Christian folly).

You say, "The author must know that his statements are far too broad if he has met any theists at all (folks like philosophers, scientists, etc.). if he knows this, then he is obligated to not absurdly generalize, as he is doing."

No, my statements are not broad. They are narrow.

Narrow-minded? Just teasing . . .

They are down to a first person narrative. And when you claim that I am absurdly generalizing, you only further compound what has been obvious throughout my reading of your rebuttal. You have not grasped what I was saying or how I was saying it. But then it is not incumbent on me to write so that you or anyone else understands it. I only have to write so that one person might understand it, and from other responses I have gotten from this article, I can honestly say that you are the only one to come to my attention who hasn't grasped it.

I see.

I'm sorry that I forced you to go into a screed about the public school system with my mention of how children's minds are molded at young ages to accept those things that defy critical evaluation. Again, this is something I was on the receiving end of for a long time as a child and beyond. And it is true. The vast majority of supplicants in any religion, cult, creed, or whatever, were raised in families and/or communities that believed the same things.

Which is also true of atheists, of course . . .

Like it, don't like, argue against it, I don't care, it happens all too often and is a primary reason why religion is such a self perpetuating affliction of mankind. And I use the term affliction without prejudice against those so afflicted. I no more hold them to blame for that than I do someone who has a chronic disease. They are to be pitied, not vilified.

Yes, especially the atheists raised in those environments . . .

My next sentence, "They either live in judgment of anyone who does not believe as they do, or they begin to question their own values," is more of my personal observation, not a general indictment, per se, of Christians or Christianity, which you correctly point out.

I particularly agree with your statement here: "These are simply attitudinal and cultural problems that need to be avoided by all and sundry." I couldn't agree more, even though I know many people who fit my indictment, and did so myself to at least some extent for a long period of time.

I then wrote, "What I thought of as an honest and critical look at the religion I had embraced all of my life had gone on for years as a halfhearted effort." You replied, "I can see that. Would that the author would give us some rational argumentation, since he claims to have attained such an exalted state of enlightened reason, due to his having cast off the shackles of antiquated and groundless religion."

In answer to your criticism, I apologize that I wrote the article in the manner it was requested and that this fact was not made clear within the article, apparently. At some point after my defense of this article is completed, I would be happy to offer some of the rationale for my deconversion. Not in an attempt to bring others to my point of view, but to answer the charges that I have not based my reasons for atheism in rationalism. Just because I did not reveal them within the context of an article which did not require such revelations does not mean that they don't exist.

That's right. But I can hardly reply to an argument I haven't seen, can I?

Then I continued in the article: "I wanted to find the truth, yet I wanted that truth to support that in which I had always believed. In other words, I was frontloading my search by trying to find corroborating evidences, not by searching for the real truth."

You correctly point out that, "We all tend to do that because we all have our existing beliefs, and they inevitably influence our further searches. This is why we must compare and contrast: looking at the most able proponents of any given position (not the worst ones) and make up our own minds as to truth."

I get the feeling from this that you believe that I must have misled myself by listening to the worst proponents of the theological positions which I studied.

It's usually predominantly theological liberals in these cases (i.e., those who no longer believe in the positions they are supposedly still advocating). I would bet quite a bit of money that this was true in your case. This will obviously provide one with a jaded view of Christianity: if the best orthodox apologists and theologians are not also sought out, to provide a balance.

I suppose it depends if you see particular theologians or historians as good or bad in this context if the above statement would be true.

That's right. And that always comes down to one's prior opinion or disposition. No one can avoid this.

I have a hunch that we would disagree diametrically on who was propounding good theology and who was teaching bad theology.

So do I. I only suggest to people who are working through the issues, that they read the best proponents of each position they are considering, not just one side. If they read one side, then they will obviously come out on that side, if they are prepared to change their mind in the first place. If they read both sides, then at least they have eliminated the problem of inherent bias that each advocate has for their position, and can make a decision with much fuller and adequate knowledge on which to do so.

And there's nothing wrong with that. It is merely more of this personal viewpoint issue which I have raised repeatedly.

If you believe there is no one truth "out there" to be discovered, then you would believe that, yes. But you are sure certain about what isn't true, aren't you?

Actually much of my rejection of religion in general, and Christianity as my particular brand of religion, came from the bible itself and required little or no outside proponents at all. That the bible is the basis for our knowledge of what Christianity is makes it central to the argumentations as to its content. More about this if you want to pursue this as a separate and seminally important issue.

No thank you. I've seen all I need to see about the merits of atheist biblical exegesis. It's some of the worst I have ever seen: and that includes goofy fundamentalist interpretations.

I then quote the Maxim of Freethought and write of how it helped free me to look more objectively for the truths I sought: "He who cannot reason is defenseless; he who fears to reason has a cowardly mind; he who will not reason is willing to be deceived and will deceive all who listen to him." This struck home to me personally, even though I am sure it does not move you in any appreciable manner.

It doesn't? You're "sure" it doesn't? That's strange you would think that, since I agree entirely, wholeheartedly with this sentiment. You are the one who has discovered it and changed your mind. I've always believed similarly, as long as I thought about anything at all. The thinking Christian has no objection to reason. It's what is considered reasonable and what isn't, and why, where the disagreement with atheists (and other non-Christians) comes in. In other words, the argument isn't over the validity and goodness of reasoning itself, but over the truth and falsity of particular premises.

I realized my cowardice to recognize and admit the truth as I was discovering it to be, and resolved to overcome that weakness. I threw myself anew into research, but with a new approach. Your reply to this is not at all unexpected given the tone of some of your other writings which I have perused.

Nor have you surprised me much at all, as I continue to reply . . .

You said, "All this shows is that Mr. Hypes' own Churches of Christ version of Christianity was devoid of reason; not at all that Christianity, period, or theism, are devoid of reason. So I have been given nothing whatsoever here to cause me to cease believing in God or Christianity. All this piece can accomplish, as far as I am concerned, is to give comfort and solace to other atheists who are former Christians, so that they can rationalize their loss of faith and feel good about themselves (much as testimonies of conversion serve in many Christian communities). Ironically, then, the author falls back on the same sort of non-rational mere emotionalism and sentimentality that he purports to be criticizing. Touting reason, he continues to communicate nonrationally when 'explaining' his rejection of Christianity."

This reply to my earlier point is long and multifaceted so I will try to respond concisely and to stick to a couple of major points I would like to defend. I can only say to the issue of reasoning as it pertains to my former denomination, that it is probably more reasonable than some and certainly no less so than many others.

That's how it perceives itself, since it spends much of its time denying the validity of all other Christian denominations.

Your issues with denominationalism of any sort other than your own which I have read outside of this particular piece seem to make your writings more of an apologetic for Catholicism than an honest critique of Christianity itself.

Bingo! (no pun intended). I'm a Catholic apologist. But I'm also a Christian apologist when Protestant-Catholic issues are not in play (as presently). I have many dozens of articles which don't discuss Catholic distinctives. In fact, I've written two books as a general Christian apologist, as opposed to a Catholic one.

And that's alright. It's your blog and you're entitled to your opinion. I, however, find any religion to be basically lacking in reason

Like I said: atheists always have to judge basically all Christians and their religions as unreasoning, irrational ignoramuses. I've always marveled at this, because of how uncharitable and condescending it is. But apparently it is part and parcel of atheist self-understanding. Atheists seem to have a great need to put down the reasoning capabilities of those who differ from them. I submit that this might perhaps suggest a bit of intellectual insecurity and lack of confidence in one's own position.

so would concur in your assessment that the denomination in which I found myself lacked reason, but then I go a few steps further and say that, in my opinion, your denomination also lacks reason, as do all others.

Of course . . .

If my article, as you suggest, gives comfort and solace to other atheists or those who are seeking a path similar to that which I took, then I might have accomplished something worthwhile. The world is full of Christian viewpoint. Everywhere from newspaper editorial pages, to broadcasting, to book publishing, to the man on the street pontificating about issues that relate to religion. If an atheist or an agnostic or one who simply doesn't know where to turn on these issues is touched by something I have written, then I'm o.k. with that. Not that I want them to stop their own search for truth with something I have written, nor for them to believe me without their own examination of these issues.

This shows once again, that any article of this type is far more than merely a personal account. That's what I've been maintaining from the beginning, yet oddly, you have been objecting to that.

Finally as to the above complex reply you offered, you say that I fall back to non-rational emotionalism which I have previously criticized. You say that while I tout reason, I am being nonrational in my explanation. I agree with your assessment to a degree after rereading what I wrote at that time. When I wrote this article I wasn't all that far removed from having still been a theist. Old habits are hard to break and I fell back somewhat on one of theism's major defenses of itself, emotionalism. I apologize for backsliding by using this form of argumentation.

Thank you. No offense, but frankly, I don't see how you have progressed all that much in the interim . . .

I will say though, that the intent of the paragraph in question wasn't to be either reasonable nor unreasonable, just to present the truth as it happened to me. That quote did energize my search for truth into a new avenue of investigation. An avenue that held truths I was previously hesitant to admit knowledge of or to increase my knowledge from this venue. If that is nonrational then I plead guilty to the charge without any embarrassment, for it led to this place of rationalism where I dwell today.

I only regret that you thought rational thinking and Christianity were at odds. If you could have been disabused of that false notion, perhaps you would still be a Christian today. And (if you followed your denomination's thinking), you would be saying I wasn't one, because I am a Catholic. :-)

Because we might have chosen a questionable path at different junctures of our journey, once the destination is reached it is of little significance. Moving on. I next wrote a longer paragraph than usual delineating how biblical literalism and the inerrancy doctrine has led to cultism, denominationalism, sectarian hypocrisies and prejudices, and other negatives in our society as a whole.

Not really. Historically speaking, it was Protestantism's change of the principle of authority: from Church, Tradition, and Bible, to Bible Alone as the only infallible authority, that immediately led to sectarianism, which has been continuing ever since. That hadn't happened prior to the 16th century. There was one major split (the Orthodox) and a few lesser ones. Now we are blessed with many thousands of contradictory groups and hundreds of theologies, thanks to the new Protestant principle.

[the preceding is the only instance in this "dialogue," I believe, where I have specifically written as a Catholic, rather than as a generic Christian apologist, because -- from a Catholic perspective -- the subject matter demanded it, and it was required to refute your false claim]

You responded by saying this is a jaded argumentation and pointing out that the extremes of historical Christianity are not reasons to reject the religion in today's world. You are right to some degree. Inquisitions, crusades, and other prejudicial and sectarian excesses of the past may not be part of Christianity today, though those excesses cannot be whitewashed nor forgotten, and they still dwell within the worldview of many Christians who feel a need to judge the rest of the world by their narrow standards. On the other hand, I was not speaking only of historical anomalies. I mentioned the eccentricities of the Amish, the snake handlers, and those who refuse medical treatment as conditions of faith within their particular sects. And what I said about these sects, or cults if you will, is that they are based in literal interpretations of what their adherents believe to be an inerrant bible. That statement is true.

I think there is a great deal of truth in it. I only object (as always) to a broad judgment of the Bible or of Christianity-at-large, because of sectarian excesses of relatively small groups. It's simply fallacious reasoning. And there are much larger issues of exegesis, hermeneutics, etc. that need to be dealt with. Snake handlers and those who refuse medical treatment comprise only a tiny, tiny amount of the whole of Christians (and Jehovah's Witnesses, who refuse blood transfusions, are not even correctly classed as Christians, as they deny the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and other orthodox Christian doctrines). No generalization based on such dinky groups carries much weight or force at all. Nor can the Bible itsef be blamed for stupid interpretations of it.

If I erred in any way in that paragraph it was by not inserting a caveat that I was speaking of those anomalous actions and beliefs that set these Christians apart from others of different sects. Again, I have personal history with people with these and other beliefs, all of which come under the banner of Christianity, and their eccentricities and sometimes foolish behavior and beliefs made clear to me that religion can twist those who are vulnerable by extolling the empowerment that one can gain by believing in some particular versions of biblical literalism.

Sure, some false tenets in the religious arena can twist some people gullible and foolish enough to believe them; of course. I've made it my life's work to oppose these kinds of false ideas. I wrote an article against the silly notions of "God always heals" in 1982; it's on my website. I've attacked biblical literalism in interpretation, and defended the traditional fourfold method of biblical exegesis (hyper-literalism is largely a Protestant fundamentalist error). I haven't written about snake-handling, but certainly utterly condemn that as an excess and sad misapplication of one biblical passage. None of this, though, has the remotest relevance to the larger questions of whether the Bible and Christianity are true.

You went on to say, "But, you see, his background is not every Christians' experience or rationale for their belief. And he is foolish to think that it is. This is the most fundamental flaw of his article. He hasn't uttered a word about Catholicism or Orthodoxy or High Church Anglicanism. Those things don't even enter his radar screen. Instead, he is on a crusade to excoriate his own past fundamentalism."

Bingo! That is exactly what I was doing.

But -- contrary to your repeated claims -- you do not stick strictly to that plan. You can't help but venture out into general criticisms of Christianity as a whole.

As I said before, Farrell Till contacted me to write an article of just such a nature. One which would resonate with the readers of the Skeptical Review who had escaped, were trying to escape, or might not yet know there was an escape, from this very insidious beast of fundamentalism.

And to use that unfortunate past to engage in a sort of irrational prejudice and pretense that this warped version of Christianity is somehow a reason to reject all of Christianity . . . you encouraged them in that; I would guarantee it, even if it wasn't your intention at all. That's the power that language -- interpreted within the cultural and intellectual context of one particular milieu [in this case, atheism or agnosticism] -- has.

I could not write an attack on Roman Catholicism, nor Anglicanism, for I did not live inside their cloister and had little knowledge about their methods of mind control over their supplicants.

"Mind control"? Interesting choice of words . . . So do you maintain that all Christians are victims of brainwashing?

I also have always thought it to be a bad practice to attack those who believe differently than I do, for that only confounds the real arguments without really accomplishing any positive result.

Funny that you have repeatedly done so throughout this "dialogue," then (particularly the rational capacities of Christians). For heaven's sake, in your sentence immediately previous to this last one, you have made yet another of your ridiculous, condescending claims which attacks Christians en masse as mind-controlled (i.e., literally brainwashed) dupes. If you want to pretend that you make no such "attacks," go ahead. But if anti-Christian prejudice is inside of you, it will always come out. It can't help but come out, whether you deny that it is present or not.

I'm not sure if I was trying to excoriate my past fundamentalism as you write, but reading this now with some time having passed, I think you might be right. Now I would write a more reasoned, less impassioned article.

If you believe in something false, you'll always have to adopt bad reasoning at some point. I think we can agree on that, from our different perspectives.

As I said above, I was not that far removed in time from having broken those ties and there were still, no doubt, some things with which I was struggling.

You then finished your rebuttal to this section by giving some of your own background. I was intrigued by your journey. From where you started to where you now find yourself. If this completes your search for truth and where you will remain then I am glad that you have found the solace you sought.

Thank you (though I was quite happy as a Protestant; I simply found something even better: from "very good" to "better" or "best," rather than from bad to good).

My journey was somewhat the opposite and has led me to a place of solace and comfort and I would only want that end result for anyone who wades through the miasma of religious study, whatever their end may be. I am not anti religious,

I beg to differ, having observed many of your extreme statements. I see no necessary reason why you feel compelled to paint virtually all Christians and Christian systems as irrational and almost fundamentally dishonest and ignorant: not even understanding the Bible, as any intelligent atheist easily could.

nor pro atheist, merely a seeker after truth who wishes that all could, and would, make the journey to seek out truth rather than to accept it on someone else's terms. You claim to have done that, and that's commendable. You at least thought for yourself and that's the center of what I believe about religion. Each of us must do our own search and come to our own conclusions. I have and you have, and we differ in our conclusions.

This is good, but I think a lot of your rhetoric is inconsistent with this high ideal.

Next, I wrote of the insular world of fundamentalism within Christianity and the use of the bible as the final arbiter on any question within this community. Again, I was writing from an insider's view. An insider who had stepped out and looked back in and saw it all so much more clearly from that perspective.

You replied that since fundamentalism is a distortion of Christianity that my viewpoint was a fair one if applied only to those sects who are identified as fundamentalist. You believe that I didn't make this distinction prominent enough, however. I am not sure how much more prominent I could have made it, since this entire article was based on having freed myself from fundamentalist Christianity and now having the ability to stand outside and see it more clearly. I don't believe that I once mentioned any sect or denomination other than my own and others like it. Denominations who use biblical literalism and inerrancy as chains with which to shackle their supplicants. And my intention, as Mr. Till's suggestion, was to do just that.

As I've already shown (and could easily demonstrate with much more evidence), you did far more than that. The very title would be misleading, if this were the case (and titles -- as any English teacher or newspaper editor will tell you -- are supposed to give an accurate indication of writing purposes and goals and content). Your piece didn't bear the title: "How I Freed Myself From Fundamentalist Church of Christ Christianity." No; it was infinitely broader and very misleading (given your stated goals): "Religion and How I Lost It." Man! That goes far beyond one fringe Protestant, quasi-cultic sect to beyond even the Protestant-Catholic divide; indeed, beyond even Christianity to religion in general. This is how language works. How many times do I have to repeat this? You say it was strictly about your own brand of isolated, culturally-backward fundamentalism, yet you (or the editor, for all I know) give it this title?!

But nevertheless, you insist on faulting me again and again for reacting to it in a general sense, as applicable to much more than just your own sect. One gets a flavor of the tenor and content of an article by reading the title in the first place. If someone reads that title, I contend that they would immediately think (using reason and understanding simple definitions): "this is a critique of religion." They wouldn't think: "this is specifically a critique of one fringe Protestant group: one which doesn't even accept some mainstream Christian doctrines held in common by virtually all historic Christians, and which attacks all other groups as grossly inadequate or non-Christian or apostate." See the difference? In the latter case, I could even agree with much of what you write, as long as it remained denomination-specific, and didn't make wild claims and charges based on Church of Christ and other fundamentalist group deficiencies. And your own language constantly branches out into general statements such as:

Theists base their belief on faith, belief based on emotion and culturalization.

Faith is irrefutable and errorless because it must be in order to validate all in which they believe.

No reasonable person can believe that the guesses of preliterate man, upon which the myths of gods and the supernatural are based, were true. The beliefs of these primitives, however, were more reasonable in terms of their limited and insignificant knowledge, than the beliefs of today's religionists who have masses of information available to them.

Hope there is at least a little more clarity now about what I wrote and why. If not, at least I tried my best to illuminate that which was obviously murky from your point of view.

Whoever is to blame, we are not communicating in a constructive fashion. But I do think those on both sides can learn a lot about how atheists and Christians talk past each other, and how one or both sides misunderstand. If I have misunderstood you so massively, as you claim, then at least I am fair-minded enough to publish this thing in its entirety on my website, for readers to make up their own minds about what has gone down here. And if that helps someone to think through the issues in a better way (i.e., even if I am wrong about some stuff), then great, because that's my goal, too; not to always be right, no matter what.

I then wrote in the original article. "To be human means we are doomed to explaining our world, not simply and directly, but only indirectly, through these interpretations. We dwell in our interpretations. In explicating a phenomenon, we always put it in terms limited by our ability to understand, always based in our own prejudices and preconceptions. This means that we will understand things partially and inadequately, through language rather than a godlike omniscience."

Your response was: "I agree. This is true for atheists and theists alike. Theists; however, claim to be in possession of revelation: which is God explaining the world and spiritual truth to us. It is an additional source of knowledge. If it exists, it is supremely important; if it does not, then it is a big joke and a farce."

I am glad that you agree, for this paragraph, to me, is the most important one that people understand, and upon which there is some shared agreement. I believe, as you say, that it is true for theists and atheists alike. We are not all that much different after all. As you point out, the theist has the added baggage of revelation that rounds out their world view beyond that of human reasoning. You say that it is an additional source of knowledge, but I would say that, in my viewpoint, it is a delusion of knowledge.

But as the reasons I have seen atheists produce for that negation are at worst (and I say, usually) ludicrous, and at best questionable (certainly not compelling), your claim does not carry much force with me.

Which then causes me to agree with your final words in that paragraph, "then it is a big joke and a farce."

Why am I not surprised?

The difference between atheists and theists is that at least some atheists get the joke whether they find it funny or not.

I think they "get" far less than they make out. That has been my consistent discovery in 24 years of talking to them.

I continued in my original article: "Therefore, we internalize our belief structure, i.e., that which causes and enhances our beliefs. At the same time, we externalize its effects on our lives and that of those about us. This duality of nature does not lead us to understanding or knowledge but to faith. Faith in an improperly arrived at conclusion based on ill-conceived thought processes becomes so entrenched that it is often thought to be the truth even when it flies in the face of reality."

To which you reply: "Here again is the dichotomizing of faith and reason. It need not be so at all. But this is never pointed out."

And again, this is spoken from the first person as the article was intended. I agree that this disconnect between faith and reason need not be true, but in my case, and the case of many others, the putting away of reason is the only way in which this type of faith can exist.

Then you need to make that clear in the article itself. You did not, so the reader is left with a general sense. The problem started in the very title of the piece. And of course atheists will be predisposed to generalize the comments to all religion (which might explain -- I suspect -- why the article has the title it has in the first place).

Anecdotally, I would add, I have received several dozen communiqu├ęs from others who have put away their faith, or were struggling with the conflict between faith and reason, who wanted to share with me their fellowship on this point.

Of course. We all want to be with kindred spirits, with similar experiences. Hence, Catholic converts and other apologists often contact me.

I next go out on a limb of sorts, and do abandon my primary caveat in writing this article, though I stand by it nonetheless. I wrote: "No reasonable person can believe that the guesses of preliterate man, upon which the myths of gods and the supernatural are based, were true. The beliefs of these primitives, however, were more reasonable in terms of their limited and insignificant knowledge, than the beliefs of today's religionists who have masses of information available to them."

You replied: "Biblical revelation (in the Old Testament) is not "preliterate." Moses could write. The question is whether God revealed Himself or not, to the Jews, the chosen people. If He did, when it happened is irrelevant. The knowledge revealed would have relevance for all time."

First of all, whether Moses could write or not, or whether Moses even existed or not, is a moot point within the context of what I said above. Writing is not the only sign of literacy, there is also comprehension and understanding of what is said or written. My point here was not about Moses nor the writing of scripture, per se. It was about how religion came to be in the first place, even before the time of Moses.

The definition of "literate" in my dictionary is: "able to read and write." So we again clash on the simple meaning of words. My interpretation -- beyond coinciding with the dictionary -- was not out of place, seeing that not long ago, many liberal "Bible scholars" contended that in the time of Moses, the Israelites were illiterate (in the dictionary sense). Subsequent archaeological discoveries blew that out of the water (not that we Christians -- or observant Jews, for that matter -- were at all surprised). It remains arguably prejudiced and condescending to describe the Bible-era ancient Israelites as "preliterate" or "primitive." But this is standard atheist fare. Any condescension is permissible as long as it is directed towards Christians or the ancient cultures which form the backdrop to Christianity and the Bible. Quite "tolerant" and open-minded, isn't it?

Secondly, the statement that a god revealed himself to a people four or five thousand years ago must be taken by faith

Not entirely. There exists legal-type eyewitness evidence of various miracles. There is an enduring culture to be accounted for (whereas most other ancient cultures are either extinct or vastly different from what they used to be). We have prophecies in the Bible that this culture produced, which can be verified as accurate or false. Even messianic prophecies provide great evidence that some super-intelligent being was behind the Bible, as there were so many true predictions about Jesus alone, written hundreds of years prior to His birth. The first two evidences are not particularly compelling to a skeptical sort; I agree, but the last is worthy of a serious consideration that it is rarely given.

and has no relevance at all as to the knowledge endemic in, or the knowledge bestowed as a result of, such a revelation. Within a world of reason there is not room to supplant that reason with revelation unless the revelation is real and can be demonstrated in much the same way that reason can be called to testify on its own behalf.

Fulfilled prophecies and extraordinary factual verification from archaeology and historiography testify to the inspired nature of the Bible. Obviously, you reject all that, but it remains untrue that the Christian can stand on simply blind faith, in order to accept the Bible as inspired revelation.

If preliterate man, before Moses, invented gods out of their miscomprehension, simplistic view of the world and its natural order, or other externalized stimuli, we cannot today call that a revelation from those gods.

But you presuppose that Abraham (who was no more "preliterate" than Moses was) "invented" monotheism, which, of course, is the very matter in dispute. You can't simply assume something is false without argument and act as if that is a rational argument.

We can contend that it could have been, or that such might have happened, but we cannot rationally make that claim in such a way as to make believers out of those who doubt. That is more or less what I was trying to say in that paragraph.

You usually can't convince an atheist with reason, because that is often not the basis upon which his atheism is based (when it is closely examined). Your own case is illustrative. You yourself admit that your basis was largely emotional and a reaction against fundamentalism. You claim to have reasoned through things, too, and I don't deny that, but we know from your own report that emotion (which is non-rational, technically-speaking) also played a key role, since you converted before having gotten such emotionalism out of your system, as you say.

Our world and how we know it is a complex thing with many sides to some issues of defining truth. There is absolute truth, such as 'the sun rises in the eastern sky in the morning', with the caveat that at some points on earth, at or near the poles, there are exceptions to this truth. There is perceived truth which can be fraught with errors of human emotion, observed evidences, etc. It is within this area of 'truth' that the vast majority of what we call 'truth' actually exists. And there may even be revealed truth, though I think it is but a subset of perceived truth. Revealed truth has no burden of proof upon one claiming to have received it, and no way in which that proof would be universally accepted anyway.

To the contrary, it is both falsifiable and verifiable, in ways that I (and others) have detailed: prophecy and factual verification as to accuracy in reporting various details. Accuracy doesn't prove inspiration, of course (not at all); yet if something is inspired, it will be accurate, so this removes one objection to the possibility that the Bible is indeed inspired. It's a "minimum requirement," in other words. If biblical prophecies were shown to be habitually false, and none could hold any water, then I would agree that this would cast serious doubt on the divine inspiration of the Bible (or else on the manuscript that we have, as corresponding to the actual historic Bible).

If a trusted friend of mine who I knew to be reasonable and logical, one day came to me in an agitated state claiming that he had seen the sun rise that morning in the west, I would know he was wrong. I would likewise be fairly sure that he wasn't lying, since he was an honest and honorable man. I would know he was wrong, for his claim would deny the absolute truth that the sun rises in the east at our point on the planet. So I would assume that he had experienced some sensory failure that had disoriented him from distinguishing direction on that morning, or that he had dreamed it so vividly as to believe it. He would not be lying, for he truly believed his claim, but yet what he
said was not the truth as it is known to exist. Now if he claimed that some supernatural revelation had led him to make this claim I would worry more about him and his clarity of mind.

Yeah, me too.

The perception of truth, even when it is in error, can be explained logically and will lead few thinking people astray. Revealed truth, on the other hand, in the minds of many who believe in it, supercedes any and all other forms of truth if that revelation falls within the parameters of being an article of faith. That can be delusional, and can lead others astray who are pliable enough, or well enough conditioned, to believe by faith rather than reason.

That may be your experience. It has not been mine, among those Christians who think to any significant degree at all about their faith. You'll always have non-thinking Christians, just as with any other massive group. So what? I continue to urge you to go back to the thing itself rather than the worst examples of it. All the major groups in historic Christianity would vehemently deny that there is an inherent dichotomy between faith and reason. They all believe that the two exist harmoniously, as ordained by God, and are not in conflict. You can always find fideists and so forth, but they are not the mainstream, and that's my point. So I again reiterate for our readers that what you are talking about does not -- repeat, NOT -- represent mainstream historic, orthodox Christianity. To the extent that you make out that this is so at all, you are deceiving your readers, and being most unfair to the viewpoint that you seek to critique. You had several chances to clarify this in your article, but never did, to my knowledge. You continue even now to make unqualified, extremely sweeping statements about the intellectual and rational deficiencies of Christians en masse. This is not right, from any fair-minded ethical perspective, because it misrepresents, which is a form of lying or bearing false witness (one of the Ten Commandments, as it were).

My next statement is a simple one. "It is apparent that such faith is based upon emotion, rather than reason."

Your answer is nearly as simple. "This is not apparent at all. It is only apparent that some folks pit reason and faith against each other, as if they were fundamentally hostile."

Well, to me it is apparent, and to many others with whom I have corresponded or spoken with on this point, it is apparent.

Whether it is "apparent" to you or not is irrelevant. There are facts here to be ascertained. The fact remains that you moved in fundamentalist, quasi-cultic circles as a Christian, and now you are in atheist circles. As far as I know (you can correct me if I'm wrong), you have not spent significant time with (committed, informed, educated, orthodox) Catholics or Orthodox, or even Anglicans, Methodists, Lutherans, Reformed, or other forms of mainstream Christianity. Thus, your former circle of acquaintances does not represent a firsthand knowledge of that which you purport to critique. In fact, you were a preacher in a sect which habitually blasts all those other groups, so you were hardly in a place to consider them fair-mindedly or dispassionately at all. Thus it appears to me that you have pretty much simply projected Church of Christ errors upon all Christians. I've been a Protestant and am now a Catholic. I moved in the circles of many of the Protestant traditions when I was there (Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist, Reformed, non-denominational "Jesus Freak," messianic Jews, etc.).

I have many friends, from virtually all the major categories of Christianity. So I (as a published, professional Christian and Catholic apologist) know what I am talking about. I (despite my Bible-reading) know my subject, and I am claiming that you don't know what you are talking about, because you insist on bringing up, over and over, your own former small, fringe group and extrapolating that onto other Christians. You say you don't do this, and don't intend to, but by your language you do nonetheless, as I have shown again and again. At best, all you can say is that "many [or, too many] Christians dichotomize faith and reason." As I would readily agree with that, it is not at issue between us. It's a big reason why I am an apologist: I try to show Christians how to synthesize what ought to be synthesized, and what all major Christian groups believe ought to be in harmony, not at war. It's only when you use that as a launching point to a wider critique of Christianity and the larger category of theism or non-materialism that I must vehemently object.

I am not responsible for your comprehension of the points I have made.

Here we go again. Think what you will of my "comprehension." Yours is not all that great concerning my argumentation, either, if we must go there. However ignorant I am of your reasoning process, you're still making unwarranted attacks on my belief-system (which I believe to be objectively true), and I won't stand for that. Your reasoning will be subjected to intense scrutiny as long as I have anything to do with it, and as long as you insist on attacking Christianity on unreasonable and unfair grounds.

On the other hand, I do think that faith and reason, if not actually anathematic of one another, are certainly polar opposites to many who have escaped the bonds of religious faith.

For them, they are, because they obviously never learned to properly practice their Christianity, nor (most relevantly to our discussion) "how to think Christianly." That's why they're no longer Christian! If they had thought it was reasonable, they would have presumably stayed. I contend that they had a woefully insufficient understanding of their faith and the issue of reason, faith, and revelation in the first place. They (and you) left for the wrong reasons, in other words.

Coming near to the end of my article, I next wrote: "Emotion needs no proof and rejects all questioning. Reason demands answers, questions conflicts, and objectively studies the issues from every available source and viewpoint. Reason is fearless thought, undeterred by legal, spiritual, or social penalties. Dissenting viewpoints do not alarm those who seek truth. The knowledge seeker who has a passion for truth fears nothing except error."

You responded thusly: "Amen! I am very much in agreement with this sentiment. My reason has led me to theism, the Christian God, and to Catholicism. And it has shown me how atheism is untrue. One may disagree with my conclusions, but they can't claim that reason did not play the crucial role in my belief-system."

I think we are lot more alike than either of us may understand.

Good. But I don't think atheists as a whole are nearly as stupid and gullible as you seem to think most Christians are. That's a major difference. I think they have flawed thinking, based on false premises. That's far different from the charge of stupidity, irrationality, infantilism, "fairy tales" and all the rest of the usual contra-Christian charges. I think atheists have not properly thought through the issues; therefore have arrived at wrong conclusions. And various other factors extraneous to pure reason enter in also, just as with all human beings.

Your agreement with my above statement shows a kindredness of spirit and intellect, at least to some degree. I certainly would not claim that reason has not led you to your viewpoints, nor would I want it said that reason did not lead me to mine. Even though we are diametrically opposed in our view of religion and theism, we have arrived at these opposites through our own journey of examination. We can only suppose that differences beyond intellect then have played a large part in our assimilation of what we have as divergent views of truth.

Or that one or both of us have accepted false premises along the way, and built a flimsy castle on a foundation of sand.

I went on to say: "I have found the average skeptic to have a much broader knowledge of the Bible and theological issues than the average Christian."

Your response was: "I don't know what sort of Christians Mr. Hypes has been talking to. I have found just the opposite. In fact, atheists are abysmally ignorant of even rudimentary biblical exegesis and hermeneutics. I have demonstrated this on several occasions in the course of my apologetics."

Well, I only wrote what I personally knew in this regard, and the intervening years has done nothing to make me alter this observation. I guess I must know more Christians who do not question, examine, and study the breadths and depths of their religion than you do. As to your claim that atheists are abysmally ignorant in even the rudiments of biblical dissertation, I can only guess that the atheists to whom you refer are those who never journeyed through the world of religion. They are most likely those who were raised atheist and never examined the other side.

One, as I recall, was a philosophy professor, Dr. Ted Drange, who claimed to be an expert on the Bible. I made mincemeat of his "exegesis," and it wasn't hard to do. Any reasonably-informed Christian could have done it. He would up looking rather silly and foolish because he was dogmatically claiming to be so biblically knowledgeable, whereas he was, in fact, quite abysmally ignorant. Most atheists I have dialogued with were, like yourself, raised as some sort of Christians, and accepted it themselves to more or less degrees as adults. The last one I dealt with, Ed Babinski, was at first a Catholic, then a fundamentalist Protestant. Steve Conifer, a very sharp graduate student with whom I had several meaty dialogues, was, as I recall, a Catholic, and lost his faith in college (like so many, because they are inadequately prepared for the secularist onslaught that they receive there). So you're simply wrong -- at least regarding my own dialogical experience. It's the very fact of having formerly believed something that gives many people their great zeal to now go out and refute it. I think they're warring with their own past to a large extent, and have a need to justify their new belief and to justify rejecting their old.

Much like Christians who are born into their religion often take no interest in really knowing what and why they believe. The atheists and agnostics with whom I converse and communicate are mostly of the sort who came to atheism or agnosticism through thorough examination of religion, theology, and philosophy, and nearly to a person they are well informed and knowledgeable in these and other fields of study.

They think they are so informed about Christianity, but they are not; I'll guarantee that. I've yet to meet one who didn't suffer from several basic miscomprehensions concerning Christianity. I realize that both sides will always tend to say that those who left never really understood what they left. It can only be demonstrated on a case-by-case basis.

Then I wrote: "Whether led to skepticism by knowledge or led to the knowledge by their skepticism, the truth of the skeptic is that he is ultimately led by a search for truth."

Your response was: "They have no corner on that search; nor is it immediately evident that the search for truth characterizes the motivations and goals of all skeptics and atheists. Aldous Huxley, for example, admitted that his rejection of Christianity was due to basically a desire for sexual freedom. He was honest. And I dare say this sort of "reason" is quite widespread."

I never said that atheists have a corner on the search for truth, but it is my own journey to atheism about which I was writing and so in that context it applies, not just to me, but to others of my acquaintance. As to Huxley's reason for embracing atheism, I would say that it was extremely shallow and self serving if you cited him correctly, and is not at all characteristic of the atheists I know. Atheism is not a license to do whatever one wants.

Okay; let's take a survey of the sexual beliefs of atheists. How many are against premarital sex? How many think abortion is wrong? Or do they take the view that every individual is on his own sex-wise, and can do whatever he or she wants (up to and including murdering their own children that they don't "want"), as long as no one else is "exploited" (genetically human babies exempted from the human race, of course)? We see this in Christian circles all the time, too. Someone doesn't like the Catholic teaching on divorce, and they want to get divorced, so they leave the Church in order to do that. We have a saying in Catholic circles: "all heresy begins below the belt." I'm not saying that this explains atheism -- not at all -- but I would insist that these sorts of self-serving, sexual, non-rational considerations factor into many behaviors of many people, either consciously or unconsciously. It applies to Christians as much as to atheists or any other belief-system. If we deny this, I think we are fooling ourselves. The Christian believes that this kind of thing can be overcome only by God's grace. If it weren't for that, human sin would take over and totally dominate.

It is not a negation of scruples or morals, only another vantage point from which to view morality. Morality did not spring from the mind of a god, but is a collection of societal constructions which work in a civilized framework. It is not only wrong to murder from a religious viewpoint, but is wrong from nearly all societal standards that apply under any social construction. The same is true of all other moral laws and guides of social propriety, and it is these upon which civil law is based and upon which personal morality should be judged.

I agree, by and large, and I understand the perspective. I've known many atheists whom I consider fine, upstanding, moral people of integrity (including one who used to attend monthly discussions in my home). That doesn't negate the observation that atheists are rather more free than Christians to do and believe as they wish. After all, what ultimately constrains them? You may have many internal "checks" and guidelines of various sorts, but they are nothing like the belief in a God Who oversees and judges and is all-powerful (and all-Good). But that's a huge discussion (one I have had with atheists before). There are the actual ethical beliefs of atheists and also what I would argue are the logical consequences of atheism as pertains to ethics. Sometimes I am referring to the latter, and I get accused of charging atheists in practice with what I think is a logical conclusion or reductio ad absurdum of their views.

Next I wrote: "Few Christians can delineate the reasons and evidences for their faith. Almost any attempt to elucidate qualitative responses on the subject elicit catch phrases and incoherent babbling."

You wrote in response: "I am an apologist, whose field is defending the Christian faith and giving reasons for why we believe what we do. I have had no problem offering sound answers to atheists. They are a challenge, but by no means an insurmountable one."

Reading that paragraph of mine now makes me wince just a little. The spirit of what I said is correct, in my experience, but I think that equating the speaking of theists about their religion to babbling was a bit too strident, and certainly too generalized.

Thank you.

I then stated: "If one believes, based on naivety or innocence, it may appear charming or quaint, such as a child believing in Santa Claus. If one believes culturally, because he was raised to believe certain things, it can be understood, even if there is no other basis. If one believes as a result of erroneous information or faulty study, it is lamentable. When one defends, propounds, and propagates such error as fact and refuses to examine other information objectively, it is intellectually reprehensible, and I will challenge that type of belief every time."

You responded: "I agree. Well-stated. I'm all for challenges and dialogue. Bring them on! But not many people are truly interested in
that."

Not much to say here except if you are reading these words, then my view is being presented in contrast to yours. I am not a topflight intellect as you seem to be. Just a simple country boy who grew up and studied theology, formally and informally, searching for answers to questions I could not ignore. What little I learned along the way, and what I am able to recall after all these years that is usable in this dialogue, may be unworthy of inclusion in this discussion. All I can say is that I have served up the truth as I know it, and will offer up such evidences as are applicable if you ask.

I finally wound up the article with this paragraph: "Biblical literalism presents more questions than answers. It offers a god we cannot respect or understand, a god who changes vastly from passage to passage and event to event, a lack of consistency in what should be consistent if our faith is not to be shaken. What is impossible for our minds to believe our hearts cannot worship."

Briefly: biblical literalism (as it is usually practiced by the types of Christians you describe) is an erroneous approach which has been rejected by the great majority of Christians through history. The notions about God being inconsistent have been dealt with time and again and are based on both an inadequate biblical understanding and incoherent thought as to what is entailed in a Divine Being, Creator, Judge, etc. People object to hell; they think God "changed" between the Testaments from a wrathful, rather petulant and arbitrary avenger to a loving, merciful God. This is the mythology; not the accounts which are called mythology by those who don't believe them. All these things can be solidly answered with plausible reasoning.

At long last we have arrived at your final response, as well. You wrote: "First of all, "biblical literalism" is not the whole of biblical interpretation. Hyper-literalism characterizes fundamentalist Protestantism, but not historic Christianity. Secondly, biblical so-called "contradictions" are often not that at all, once scrutinized. Often, statements such as the above (about God changing, and this being a biblical teaching) flow from ignorance of Christian theology and the Bible, and of Hebraisms and Ancient Near Eastern expressions, idiom, and culture."

This could easily require an entirely new article, just responding to your above statement.

Yes; these are all huge topics.

I will try to be brief, though brevity is not my strong suit, as you can tell.

:-)

I agree with you that 'biblical literalism' is not the whole of biblical interpretation within Christianity as a whole. I do suggest, however, that it is central to the belief system of a large number of Christians.

It's large, but it is still a small minority. It's a minority of a minority: of Protestantism. There are about a billion Catholics and 300-400,000 Orthodox. Neither system accepts this kind of biblical interpretation. Protestantism contains maybe 500,000 people, if that much. Fundamentalism is a relatively small sub-group (probably no more than 15-20% of Protestants, if that much). You do the math. By any estimate, it's a very small minority among all Christians. This is even more so if you approach it from an historical perspective.

And it is from that wellspring of theological reasoning

What reasoning? That was the problem . . . Church of Christ and fundamentalism in general not only glory in anti-intellectualism; they are also almost completely a-historical. They care little or nothing about Church history, which I would argue is directly contrary to the historic self-understanding of Christians and the biblical worldview, which is overwhelmingly of this mindset (and opposed to Bible Alone, or sola Scriptura). Christianity is in essence an historical religion. Yet these kinds of Protestants (not all Protestants, by any means) act as if history has nothing to do with it at all.

that I began my journey to finding truth in such matters. I do believe, however, that literalism of interpretation of the bible is endemic of nearly all denominations, cults, and sects.

Here I thought we were making progress, and then you say this. It's not true, my friend. The Bible is to be interpreted as any other literature is: in some places it is poetic; in others, it utilizes legal-type language; in others it is a narrative; in others it is philosophical, or nearly so (Paul's epistles; especially Romans and the two letters to the Corinthians, Ecclesiastes); then there is apocalyptic and prophetic literature. There is allegory, parable, metaphor, sarcasm, hyperbole, and other sorts of language and literary forms. When it is intended to be taken literally, of course it should be, just as any article in the daily paper should be, if it is a literal account.

And I'm not going after your term, hyper-literalism here, but just plain, "the bible says it, so it must be correct," literal interpretation.

The inspiration and divinely-revealed nature of the Bible is a different proposition from "literalism" -- let alone the stupid, anti-intellectual, culture-rejecting fundamentalist variety.

Was the universe created in six days? The bible says so. If it is not so, then the bible is in error or it has been misread and misinterpreted by all of those who believe in a six day creation.

But then the question immediately becomes, what does the Hebrew "day" (yom) mean, or I should say, what can it mean; what range of meanings can it have? And of course, it is not restricted to a literal meaning of 24 hours. This is also true in English. We say, for example, "in this day and age," or "in my day, things were different," or "it's a new day" (in a wider, metaphorical sense). The same was true in ancient Hebrew. So the hyper-literalist is ignorant right off the bat. St. Augustine in the 4th century understood what I wrote above. This is nothing new.

How many who believe in that biblical passage literally would believe it if the bible were silent on the subject? If that idea had sprung from the sacred writings of another religion or was the theory of a modern day scientist, but the bible said nothing about it. How many who believe it now would believe it under one or more of the alternate scenarios above?

I agree that the idea obviously comes from the Bible. But it is a matter of interpretation.

Of course this is a hypothetical question and serves only to illustrate one example of biblical literalism that is widely believed simply because it says so in Genesis. I could as easily have used examples such as the resurrection of Jesus or the theology of Paul.

This is entirely different ground. All orthodox Christians must believe in the Resurrection, because it is an article of faith, and why we are Christians in the first place (Jesus rising from the dead was the proof that He was Who He claimed to be: God). We must believe that God created the universe. But we aren't at all required to believe that it was in six literal days.

Christians who believe in the resurrection do so as a result of literally interpreting the bible and making this point an article of faith upon which they base their beliefs in a messianic being who they choose to follow.

Yes, because that miraculous event was reported as a literal historical event, and it was and is verified through various evidences of history and legal-type evidences. If Jesus wasn't God, and didn't rise from the dead, Christianity would utterly collapse, as Paul himself said. In this case, the Bible was supposed to be interpreted literally, because it was historical narrative. In the case of the creation, that is not required by the language or type of literature. The divine creation itself is literal, but the times involved have a leeway.

They do not get this story anywhere else, and if they did, would they believe it if the bible was silent on the issue?

Sure, just like we believe in, e.g., the theory of relativity or chemistry or algebra or classical logic or any number of things that the Bible does not address.

So yes, I think that biblical literalism is at least one of the central issues within Christian belief to a vast majority of Christians, and to some degree, all Christians.

You are simply mistaken, in the sense in which you are trying to argue.

On to part two of your response. When I wrote of god changing, I had in mind things like the multiple covenants which god is said to have issued over the millennia, for instance. His covenants with Adam and Eve, Abraham, Noah, and Moses were all superceded, according to Christian theology, with his covenant of blood with the sacrifice of his son. I'm not saying that it is wrong that god refined his covenant in increasingly more all encompassing ways, but a changeable god can also be the sign of a god created by man to be self-serving for the empowerment of one nation or people or belief system over another or all others.

But this is no more proof that God "changed" than a tree which grew from an acorn "proves" that acorn and tree are fundamentally different things. God simply chose to reveal Himself more progressively to man, over time. These covenants don't contradict each other; they develop from each other, just like the New Testament did from the Old (mainly in the sense of being more and more inclusive; branching out from individual Jews to the Jews as a whole, and then to all mankind who would accept Jesus as Messiah).

God goes from living among man to spending time with certain select men, to being removed from man's presence but still in vocal communication, to falling silent and having angels carry his messages, to total silence, unless one believes that people we think have mental abnormalities really are picking up god's voice yet today. This incremental and lasting disappearance of god from the temporal world is not proof that he does not exist, or never existed, but it does demonstrate, possibly, the way in which man's need for the god he created has diminished in importance. This is a change of god and his presence that is evident in the bible.

I don't see it as evident at all. God acted differently at different times, for several reasons. How is that contradictory, let alone some tremendous disproof of biblical theology proper (i.e., the theology of God Himself and His attributes)?

There are many other examples which I won't belabor the point with at this time.

If they are this insubstantial, I appreciate the courteous gesture. :-)

Other contradictions and flaws . . .

"Other"??!! Let's first start with you demonstrating one! You haven't, thus far.

exist in great numbers within the bible, and that is not from an ignorance of the bible, but from a detailed study.

Yes, a "study" whose goal is to find "contradictions" (even where they don't exist at all) and to make the Bible and Christians look ridiculous . . . That is hardly a compelling, dispassionate methodology.

Not just a study which I undertook, but one which thousands of theologians and learned scholars have known of for centuries. These contradictions have nothing to do with Hebraic idioms, though there are, undoubtedly, examples that do.

A vast understatement . . . check out my extended dialogue with Ed Babinski (cited above). His dogmatically-stated exegesis was an absolutely classic example of atheist ignorance and tunnel vision concerning the Bible.

They are not rooted in cultural differences, but are simple contradictions within a book which is believed by faith, and part of that faith is to believe in the truth of that book and everything that it says. When it says two things, and one contradicts the other, then a reasonable mind will make note of that discrepancy. A reasonable mind does not throw out the whole book on the basis of one such contradiction. And a reasonable person will want to try to rectify the conflict, to find a common ground upon which both scenarios can be inclusive rather than exclusive.

But then a reasonable mind will begin to add up those contradictions which stand the test of further evaluation and which demonstrate an
inability to reconcile.

As many more recent philosophers have shown, the larger frameworks of belief-systems often predispose one to see a "contradiction" where there may not be one at all. No one (not even know-nothing fundamentalists) exists in an intellectual vacuum. The atheist or "biblical skeptic" approaches the Bible the way a butcher approaches a hog, or a lumberjack approaches a tree. That is hardly conducive to an objective, fair analysis. If one is to err in interpretation, it stands to reason that we can likely better trust one who respects and loves his subject matter, as opposed or compared to one whose motive is strictly a negative enterprise: to show how rotten and culturally and intellectually destructive something is. So, for example, would anyone think that a racist would be able to do as accurate and worthwhile study of black culture and history, as one who loves that culture (whether black or white) would be able to do? Of course not. Yet we Christians are irrationally, arrogantly asked by atheists to accept the "fact" that they understand the Bible far better than we do: we, who have studied and revered it our entire lives, and devoted (in a case like my own, as an apologist) countless thousands of hours reading, studying, and defending it. It's just not plausible. Use a little common sense . . . And this severe bias and negative approach produces some truly ludicrous opinions, as I have shown in my dialogues on the subject with atheists. That's the bottom line.

At some point, if enough of these contradictions come to light, and if they are egregiously enough in error, individually or collectively, then a reasoned mind must begin to wonder what sort of foundation for the faith the bible really is.

At some point, if enough of these alleged atheist-produced "contradictions" are refuted and revealed to be the non-examples that they are, and if they are egregiously enough in error, individually or collectively, then a reasoned mind must begin to wonder what sort of foundation the atheist zeal for chasing after imaginary biblical "contradictions" really rests on, and what causes otherwise intelligent people to adopt such obviously-deficient and desperate "reasoning."

If you wish to converse further, feel free to do so.

We'll see. There is nothing much new here, from my past dialogues. I would probably want to do a much more specific discussion, if we were to continue. We have milked this "general discussion" as much as we can. I would give any reader who is not sound asleep by now a medal for heroic perseverance.

I will respond as time and energy allows, and no topic will be off limits as it pertains to the issues at hand. I will not have all the answers, and many of those I do have will not seem satisfactory to you. Just be aware that I will feel the same about some of what you offer up. I only ask for a reciprocation of respect even in adversity of opinion.

Thanks for your participation and willingness to share your viewpoint in an overall cordial, courteous manner. I can't say that I think much of your characterizations of Christianity, and I think you have been too often quite illogical and incoherent (you often return the favor), but you have been a gentleman, and that is rare enough in Christian-atheist dialogue, and a great thing in and of itself. That has allowed us to present an exchange where both sides have been fully presented without rancor and acrimony, which is wonderful for our readers' sake. So I appreciate your participation in that worthy enterprise. I sincerely hope I have been a civil gentleman also, and apologize beforehand for any offense I may have caused. It was not my intention at all.

Thanks for your speedy and detailed response to my rebuttal of your earlier critique of my article in the Skeptical Review. I hope that line of definition is not too convoluted so as to not make perfect sense . . .

You clarified the intent of your citation of Paul Vitz in the critique in question, for which I would like to thank you. I always like to have things I don't understand, or misapprehensions at which I grasp, clarified so that I can learn more about the thought processes of those with whom I exchange ideas. Vitz, by trying to draw a parallel of sorts, and your citation of his reasoning in your critique, left it up to the reader to determine whether or not terrible father/son relationships could lead to an easier embracing of atheism. Had I understood that this citation was offered, not as a pathological reason for one embracing atheism, but as a 'turning of the tables' as you characterize it now, I would not have paid it any attention whatsoever. I am sorry for any mental deficiency which led me to read your words, and the citation of Vitz, as a serious rejoinder.

Sometimes it is the reason for atheism (just as similar things sometimes cause a belief in Christianity). Vitz's primary reason and mine were as I have described. That doesn't mean such things never happen. I happen to think the argument from psychology is ultimately futile, as it is secondary to the real issues, and usually offends those on both sides. In any event, I made no specific charge regarding you and your father.

But then again, I am allowing you to explain that which I took as a misstatement or generalized attack on atheists in general and by inference, on me personally, and am accepting that you meant it only as a sort of parlor trick meant to elicit an emotional reaction.

It's not a "parlor trick," it is classical logic and argumentation. Atheists like yourself insist on psychoanalyzing people of faith, so we are simply turning the tables, in order to show the shallowness and inconclusiveness of such an approach. The only "trick" here is the double standard whereby Christians can be trashed and pilloried, but we are not allowed to make any return criticisms of atheism and atheists. This won't do.

If only you would allow me that same literary license rather than holding all of my words up to a scrutiny which you define as necessary to defend your own beliefs from the assumption that I launched hurtful attacks by some words and phrases within my article.

I can only deal with what you write. Words mean things. Folks can always clarify later. That's what we're doing.

I am also heartened by your words, if they are true, that, "I would never show the intellectual contempt and condescension towards your worldview, that many of your brethren exhibit towards mine. I know too much about both people and ideas to do that." This is a very good attitude and a lofty, and attainable, goal. Contempt or condescension of another, or the views of another, adds nothing to the body of intellectual or reasonable exchange of ideas.

Thank you. But then I can only wonder at why you keep insisting on demeaning Christians as "ignorant" and in that state precisely because of the Bible, not despite it.

Yes, people of all philosophies, religions, cultures, ethnicities, levels of understanding and intellect do fall short of some goal that is called 'the norm' or some such designation. Some more often and more egregiously than others, and some with mitigating circumstances and others out of sheer manipulation or other willful desires. To a Christian theist, particularly those who are guilt-based in their personal or societal viewpoint, this can be called sin and can be attributed to what is called, "the Fall". We can agree on that generalized premise, but when you actually speak of what I feel is an aberration and a man-made convenience to explain human nature within a theistic framework, as 'sin' as if it is a real state of humanness, then the rest of your litany of guilt associated definitions fail to resonate with me. While as a Christian sin, the devil, etc. are manifest and real, such may not be universally recognized and believed by others. It's more a case of preaching to the choir than making logical, rational, real-world connections to those you would like to sway with your argument.

That's correct. At that point, I was not making an argument, but merely stating Christian theology. All of these topics are huge and require an in-depth discussion. As they are tangential to our topic, I couldn't do that here.

And certainly, I am guilty of this same use of understood definition and narrowed viewpoint coming from the other end of the spectrum. It's the bane of human communication that we are often times cursed to selecting language and thoughts that lie most easily and readily within or subjective grasp rather than accessing the whole of language and thought.

I couldn't agree more. That's why I have critiqued your words and logic, according to "the whole of language and thought," not some thing in your head that I have no access to, other than what you reveal by your words.

Another statement that made me pause just slightly was when you wrote, "Pacifism is not taught in the Bible or in mainstream Christianity."

Whether or not it's taught as from the viewpoint of pacifism or not, I would mention that the biblical phrase 'to turn the other cheek' has certainly been used by many Christians and others who are pacifists. Even if this initial thought was expressed by the Buddha long prior to the onset of the common era as defined by the birth and life of Jesus.

See my paper, Dialogue on Christian Pacifism and "Just War": Biblical and Social Factors.

I would also like to point out that your mention of the "traditional Catholic just war theory" is not universally held by the world in general, nor by many others within the body of Christianity itself.

Did I say it was? At that point I was discussing internal Catholic affairs and ethical viewpoints. You need not point out the utterly obvious to me, as if I think the whole world is Catholic. How silly is that?

To define the world and the use of deadly force by the justifications of one sect, or even by many, cannot be logically defended as right or reasonable, nor would such a viewpoint be worthy of universal support. Is Iraq not part of his creation?

Already answered . . .

You next make some points about Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and then go off on an anti-abortion tangent to which I feel no need to respond within this forum.

Of course not. That would make it quite difficult to pretend that you are so concerned about the rhetorical "God's creation" that you would actually include preborn children in the mix. Best to ignore it and rant and rave about Iraq and how hypocritical "born again" President Bush supposedly is . . . .

Since this is a matter that transcends the bonds of one sect or one world view compared with others, and ends up usually being largely personal and nearly always contentious, I see no gain to be made by responding within the framework of the reason for this exchange between us.

Whenever I have any opportunity, I must speak up for the most defenseless and innocent among us, who are being led to slaughter every day, at the rate of 4000 in the US. You spoke up for what you feel is an unjust war; I responded with my concerns for innocent slaughter. One concern is no better or worse than the other. Therefore, it is the furthest thing from a "tangent" that I can imagine. You brought up Iraq and the war, not I. I'm merely responding by including all human beings who are being killed into consideration. If that makes you uncomfortable, fine. It should.

Certainly Pagan, heathens, atheists, and others who do not believe in theism as you interpret it have committed acts of brutality, murder, rape, pillaging, and mayhem of all sorts, so too have those who professed the Christian faith of some sort or another. I need not mention the Inquisitions, the Crusades, the sectarian wars that ravaged Europe three and four hundred years ago. I need not mention Baptist, Catholics, Mormons, and others who were discriminated against in 17th, 18th, 19th century America and beyond, to the point of torture and death in all too many cases, at the hands of others who called themselves Christians. Having said that, I reject your broad assumption, unsubstantiated by anything more than you having said it, that secularism is any more at fault for this culture of death as you characterize it, than is the Catholic Church or Christianity in general. You may have your Christian morality, but I reject it as a contradiction is term when offered up as an absolute basis for behavior.

Why is it, then, that in any legitimate survey on the issues of abortion and infanticide and euthanasia, assisted suicide, etc., it is overwhelmingly traditional Christians who are against these things, while more secular folks and so-called liberal Christians favor them? The culture of death is, therefore, a secular phenomenon. Liberal theology is simply orthodox theology that has been compromised, corrupted, and secularized.

You then wrote, "I see in you (rightly or wrongly) a great deal of prejudice against Christians and Christianity. You make many charges against my view, so I see this as a relatively small charge and matter."

If I were reading my article from your viewpoint, I would likely see in it some of this prejudice which you mention. I guess that falls within the purview of perspective and opinion. I would counter by saying that what I believe to be a more accurate word than 'prejudice' is 'discrimination.' And I don't mean discrimination as it is so often narrowly defined and used, but rather more in it context of having tried too things and preferring one to the other without overt prejudice toward the one spurned. To discriminate is to choose or is used as a basis for choice. In that I am guilty. I have looked at theism and atheism and lived within the confines and succor of each and have discriminatingly chosen atheism. That this discrimination could seem to be the more contentiously defined prejudice is a natural result of my preference and I acknowledge that and am comfortable with defending my point of view against the charge of being negatively prejudiced. I concur with your calling it a small matter, however, and will move on.

I stand by my original charge, based on the words you use.

You go on to say, "I can only criticize your stated viewpoint insofar as it is based on demonstrable falsehoods, such as (especially) how you have mischaracterized Christian beliefs in various ways." So you subjectively assert.

No; so I ojectively assert, as a Christian apologist, who knows what he is talking about, and knows when someone else doesn't know what he is talking about, insofar as he is entering into territory where I have a bit of expertise.

One thing I learned a long time ago though is that an assertion is not necessarily a fact. When you say that my viewpoint is based on demonstrable falsehoods, I am not surprised, but I would like to see how you so demonstrate what you hold to be the obvious.

I'm quite capable of substantiating anything I assert with rational argumentation and fact. For example, what you later get frustrated about -- my statement that atheists do lousy or (by analogical implication) "goofy" biblical exegesis -- I have indeed demonstrated in dialogue with atheists. I showed how their conclusions were ludicrous or groundless, and I cited the papers. Those are facts to be disputed. So you would have to go to those papers and show how my rebuttals were invalid, and that in fact, my atheist friends' exegesis could stand up to scrutiny. That would be a fact-based argument. But thus far you have simply protested against my negative characterization of atheist exegesis. I've done the work on this. You may have also, but you haven't shown it in this exchange. So if you want to see "demonstration," you need only go to those papers I linked to above.

You then wrote, "As for "faulty thinking," I've shown over and over how your thought is incoherent and illogical (i.e., at those points where I criticize it)."

So you subjectively assert.

It is "objective" insofar as I was successful in showing that you were indeed illogical, by the rules of logic agreed-upon by most thinking people. Readers can decide that. They don't do it by accepting your bald charge that I am "subjective." They decide what's what by reviewing my critiques and your responses, and deciding which makes more sense and is more plausible.

And again, an assertion is not necessarily a fact, and on this assertion I would differ with you. If there is any incoherence and illogic, I think a fair share of it is emanating from your criticism and I believe that I have adequately demonstrated that assertion.

Let readers decide that . . .

Your statement: "It's your side which is making flat-out stupid, entirely prejudicial statements like: 'If we could just get more Christians to study this book that they claim to believe in so much, the inevitable result would be fewer Christians'," makes me wonder at your clarity of thought just as you have questioned mine. First of all, there is no "my side" or "your side", per se.

In context, Christians and non-Christians, or atheists and theists; those who accept the Bible as revelation and those who do not. Those are certainly "sides."

I stand in opposition to much of what other atheists say and do, for their experiences are not mine and their viewpoints are not universal within the entirety of atheism.

I accept that, but you still don't believe in God and reject the inspiration of the Bible. Since that was our immediate subject, it is not improper at all to refer to you as standing on that side, with regard to those matters.

Secondly, when you charge that someone is making "flat-out stupid, entirely prejudicial statements," you must realize that you may be sounding just as "flat-out stupid and prejudicial" as those you rail against. Whenever one replaces reasoned, intellectual discourse with broad, unsupported, totally subjective statements like the above, credibility of argument diminishes exponentially.

It's not an argument at that point; it is an impassioned cry of disagreement and protest that such prejudice has to intrude upon a good, substantive dialogue. Saying that an entire group is "ignorant" and would cease being what it is if only it understood its own holy book like atheists (who try to constantly tear it down, mock, and denigrate it) do, is not only pure prejudice, it is condescending and patronizing and extremely offensive to any Christian who loves the Bible. I won't stand for it, and will call it what it is. If you don't like that, fine. That doesn't change the truth of it, and it remains true that I have not made equivalent sweeping charges about atheists. I haven't said they were immoral or evil or uniformly rebellious against God, or deliberately dishonest, or ignorant or stupid en masse, or all going to hell. I've said none of that because I believe none of it. At worst, I have said that they do lousy biblical exegesis (precisely because that is my area; something I know about), and say prejudiced things about us, and have some massive ionconsistencies, especially on ethics, and issues such as the intrinsic value of all human life. I can easily back all those things up with tons of evidence. You're the one making sweeping statements about my group, and I am objecting. Any fair-minded reader can grasp the huge difference between what you have stated along those lines, and my protest against it.

And I do believe, as you charge above, that if more Christians would really study their sacred texts that the inevitable result would be that more would question certain aspects of their belief system and ultimately that more would fall away from the faith.

And I believe that is a prejudiced remark, especially when we learn your particular Christian background, and what you think constitutes legitimate biblical study. You keep projecting your own past deficiencies onto all Christians, and that simply isn't fair (or logical). Your own mistakes were your own. I understand that you are embarrassed by them now, but that doesn't mean that all of us Christians thought in the silly ways that you used to think.

I believe it because I have experienced it and have come to know hundreds more to whom this has happened.

. . . within your own isolated Church of Christ bubble, as I have stated over and over. That doesn't amount to the whole spectrum of Christianity. It's merely a fringe group of a minority sub-group. So what?

I'm not saying all Christians would ultimately fall away from their faith, and probably not even a large or statistically significant number, but I reiterate, some would do so.

There are many reasons for falling away from faith, so it is not all that meaningful to try to pin such a move on Bible-reading. There will always be other influences, I guarantee it.

Now for you to infer that this would not, or could not happen, and for one to think so is "flat-out stupid and prejudicial" is to not recognize the obvious facts. Christians walk away from their faith every day, for a variety of reasons, no doubt. One of those reasons is that they have come into a state of greater knowledge of their religion, its tenets, its sacred texts, etc. and can no longer ignore the contradictions, inconsistencies, conflicts, and more.

And here you presuppose what it is you are purporting to prove: that it is shot-through with contradiction (circular logic). I deny that, and have explained why in my dialogues with atheists concerning so-called Bible contradictions. So I have provided everything you are demanding. I defended the Bible and my religion. The atheists did not provide any good counter-response. They knew when their arguments were shot down.

It happened to me and it has happened to many, many others who I know personally or have come to know via correspondence on this matter.

Anecdotal, experiential evidence is not compelling at all. If I were to say I know thousands of Christians who had a different experience, you would immediately dismiss that. But when it comes to the atheist "testimonies," all of a sudden you seem to want to make that the centerpiece of your rationale or epistemology. Nice try, but it won't fly.

You then challenge me to support or declaim Farrell Till's editorial remarks at the end of my original article, specifically the words, "The Christian religion thrives on ignorance of the very book that is its foundation." . . . While I am not responsible for Farrell's remarks, I do not disagree
with them.

Thank you. Observe closely, readers . . .

If you wish to believe that having a viewpoint that is alternate from your own is to be "prejudicial" then you are free to so define that fact.

Nice try at some clever rhetoric and polemics. Of course I did no such thing. You can disagree all you like, and I'll respect you for it. That's why I love dialogue, and have almost 300 of them posted on my website. It's when the line is crossed into wholesale denigration of the basic intelligence or morality of the other group, that I must strenuously object. You have done that with regard to Christians, on utterly inadequate grounds. I haven't done so with regard to atheism. Quite the contrary, I am often on record stating that most atheists I have known (including yourself) seem to me to be quite moral and very intelligent folks. I've defended them in a paper, denying that all atheists would go to hell. Etc. I specifically sought to find much common ground with one very friendly atheist (I even asked her if she would like to co-write a book).

On the other hand, for you to offer this definition as though it were the only one, or the best one, or whatever, is likewise prejudicial in some way, for you are discounting the facts which are endemic within Farrell's statement which you quote, and some of my statements to which you allude.
From the perspective of one who has put aside the belief in fairy tales and myths that others hold sacred, the words of Farrell's which you quote, resonate with me.

Of course. You have a crusade against your own past beliefs. So it's in your interest to portray the larger category of those beliefs in the worst possible light, in order to justify your change of mind. But I have shown that Church of Christ anti-intellectual fundamentalism is NOT representative at all of mainstream Christianity.

They also resonate with many others who have gone through this learning process. I would not expect one who has not experienced it to understand it, and frankly, I would be surprised if one who still adamantly professes religious faith would not feel threatened by what those words imply.

Yes; I'm quite thankful that I never went through a fundamentalist phase, as you did.

I am glad to see that you have gotten at least some of the facts about this article which I have been trying to point out since the inception of this current discourse. You say that I have provided no reason whatever that proves god doesn't exist. That I have given you no reason to overturn your belief in god. Exactly. Just as I said. I would not want you to have your beliefs overturned by anyone who offers you reasons. I would only want you to come to that conclusion, if at all, by finding your own path that led to that conclusion.

An excellent exposition indeed, of the relativist postmodernist viewpoint . . . Yet if you somehow influence my own thinking, you played a role in persuading me to your position. There's no denying that. You can play the game of individualist subjectivism all you like, but it doesn't change the fact that we change our minds based on input from others.

[some material omitted because of repetition]

. . . you are arguing with things to which you attach some importance without understanding that I have offered up nothing in this article that claims the magnitude of importance that you want to imply that it has. If that has become my standard response, it is because it is an accurate one, and because your standard allegation and line of attack has had little of nothing to do with what I wrote. As you yourself have said, I offered up not one reason for the reader to abandon his faith. I'll take that as a recognition of the fact that I didn't intend such a result and did not write my article for any such purpose.

And you say that you have called me on 'logical or factual deficiency', to which I can only shake my head. Nothing in the article in question was intended to stand up to the scrutiny that you want to indulge in, so I am not surprised that you would make such a statement.

So you concede that logic and fact play little role in your presentation. Thank you very much. I couldn't have said it better myself.

. . . There are literally thousands of facts, ideas, conjectures, viewpoints and more that went into my growth to atheism. I could only delineate a small number of them, and would be happy, as I've said before, to go into more detail on these matters when the task at hand is complete.

If you actually think those would constitute a "factual and logical" discussion, I've already said I might be interested in specific subjects (excluding biblical exegesis).

Sure you have every right to respond, and you have, and are doing so. I even understand your self-appointed status

I'm not "self-appointed." I have had the recommendations of many people highly-placed in the Church from the beginning of my apologetic writing. For example, one of these was the late Fr. John A. Hardon. S.J., one of the leading catechists in America, and close adviser to both Pope Paul VI and Mother Teresa. That hardly is "self-appointed." He wrote the Foreword to my first book.

as a keeper of the faith and warrior who feels the need to protect those other Christians from being led astray by these 'false ideas', and I'm sure that there are many out there who will sleep more comfortably tonight knowing that you are keeping the heathens at bay. But there might be one, or even two who would like to think for themselves,

That's exactly what I am trying to encourage, by providing dialogues for people to work and think through, rather than lecturing them with only my own viewpoint.

and whose view of the falsity or truism contained in an idea might be a little more personally held, rather than part of the group think.

Catholicism as a whole believes certain things. So does Protestantism; only to a lesser extent.

Maybe those few who feel that way will look down the road and set out on their journey of discovery. Maybe they'll be made stronger in their faith for that journey. Maybe they'll question that faith, and maybe even reject it. But you go on thinking for the rest of those who need you to be on
guard, for false ideas are dangerous things and we live in dangerous times.

There is a place for rational defense of religious faith, yes. It's precisely your own inability to synthesize faith and reason that is, in my opinion, probably a primary factor in your abandonment of the Christian faith. The more reasoned a faith is, the less likely a person will reject it.

I've been on both sides of this issue, so I know how it felt to be a smug, self-righteous purveyor of religious intolerance.

Again, kindly speak for yourself. I've never been a "purveyor of religious intolerance" that I'm aware of, let alone a "smug, self-righteous" one. But I have no reason to doubt your self-report. If you were that, then you were. It doesn't mean all of us Christians were or are the same way you were. And now, ironically enough, it is you who talk about "sides," whereas you disagreed with me when I did. And for you, the Christian side is, of course, explained in these patronizing way: "smug, self-righteous purveyor of religious intolerance." Yet you continue to deny that you have a strong irrational prejudice against Christianity.

I remember how it felt to claim that society was so against us, and our values were being challenged at every turn, and we were being made into laughing stocks, etc. I also remember knowing that those claims weren't true. Not in a nation that has more churches than schools, more churches
than hospitals, more churches than movie theaters, and in which 90% of the population claims to believe in a god. But it puts more butts in the seats on Sunday and more money in the offering plate if we keep repeating the mantra, "The world is against us, and they laugh at us, and they think we're fools. They want to destroy us and they want to belittle us and they want to erode our values so that we all become atheists like 'them.'"

Thanks for further self-report and cynical analysis of those of us too unfortunate to have become as enlightened and progressive as you are.

As to your demonstrating the failures of non-theist reasoning, I must have blinked, for I have seen nothing approaching proof, and little that is much more than polemic in nature. When polemics can be defined as proof, I might give this paragraph more attention.

Readers may judge.

I will end here for this portion of the reply to your responses. I'm sure this has clarified nothing to you,

Quite the contrary . . .

but then again, we are writing for those unseen readers out there who can decide for themselves, aren't we?

Yes.

I'll let Bob have the final word, as this is quite long enough; and I have already dealt with all that he writes below:

I entered into this dialogue in order to answer specific charges and allegations that you made about an article I had written for the Skeptical Review several years ago. You inferred that such a dialogue would be welcome in your opening commentary about making an effort to contact either Farrell Till, the editor of the magazine, or me about your critique.

When I first became aware of your singling out my little article, written to a specific audience, that being the majority readership of the Skeptical Review, I contacted you about having a civil dialogue in which I could explain the genesis and the focus of the article in question. You accepted that idea and have provided a forum within which to have this dialogue, and I thank you for the courtesy of not amending my words nor altering my side of the dialogue in any way other than that imputed by your editorializing and commentary, which is within your right.

You have incessantly commented on my lack of specifics as to why and how I came to reject theism, and I have tried to explain that such specifics were outside of the purview of the article I was invited to write. I was asked not to go into those specifics, but to share a general overview, personal history of the search for truth that led me to reject theism. This I feel I accomplished, and have written repeatedly during our interchange testifying as to that fact, and trying to show the irrelevance of your charges of not having covered those areas of discourse in my article. If that was specifically not to be included in the article and was consequently left out on that account, it is unfair to castigate the article and chastise me for not having included it. It would be like not ordering cruise control on a new car and then berating the dealer when the car is delivered without that feature.

Regardless of the fairness or unfairness of such issues being raised by you, even after being informed repeatedly that those issues were moot as they related to my article, I have tried to plow ahead, probably with too much explanation and too much condescension to civility. To set the record straight on this matter, I have said in several instances throughout our exchange that this dialogue was narrowly defined as a defense and explanation about this article which you critiqued. To go too far afield into matters not addressed in the original article would not be to the point of the dialogue as I initially proposed it and as you accepted that proposal. I have at the same time repeatedly said that I would be happy to discuss more specific issues that have led to my rejection of theism, but under a different and separate dialogue.

After I had read through the first portion of your latest rebuttal of my explanation and posted my response to that section, I read ahead to the next part of your reply with an interest in responding to those points worthy of mention. Imagine my surprise when I saw your comment, "No thank you. I've seen all I need to see about the merits of atheist biblical exegesis. It's some of the worst I have ever seen: and that includes goofy fundamentalist interpretations." This was in reply to my paragraph, "Actually much of my rejection of religion in general, and Christianity as my particular brand of religion, came from the bible itself and required little or no outside proponents at all. That the bible is the basis for our knowledge of what Christianity is makes it central to the argumentations as to its content. More about this if you want to pursue this as a separate and seminally important issue."

To continue to deal with such bigoted attitudes as your above words display would be frustrating at the least, but would be able to be endured for the greater discussion that lies beyond that which has so far engaged us. If I had used the phrase 'goofy Christian interpretations' or 'goofy Catholic interterpretations' you would have excoriated me for insensitivity and intolerance. While I concur with your 'goofy fundamentalist interpretations', I would merely go a few more steps beyond and include others besides fundamentalists as being goofy. I guess by degree that migh make me more abrasive than you, but I would suppose that intolerance is intolerance no matter how many groups or subsets you qualify within your definition of 'goofy'.

You have pontificated prior to my knowledge of your interest in critiquing my article that my reasoning was flawed and that I lacked rationality because I did not address these issues, even though that was requested by the editor. You have further raised this issue time and time again since our dialogue has begun, even after being sufficiently informed as to the intent within the framework of the article to leave out those specifics.

Now after my repeated acknowledgement of that point and my likewise repeated offer to pursue those areas of interest as inferred by you, after this specific dialogue has ended, you reject such an offer out of hand.

[I did no such thing; I only declined a discussion of biblical exegesis. One has a right to not enjoy certain discussions, if they think little or nothing of value was offered by the opposing party in several previous attempts]

That is your prerogative, but I certainly don't want to waste further time and energy in pursuit of clarity and understanding if this all leads nowhere. It's like building an interstate highway and then not building an interchange where one may enter or exit.

Thank you for access to your forum, and thank you for your interest in my article in the first place. Even though we end this discussion with many areas of disagreement unresolved, it was obvious that it would end up that way to some degree. I only hoped to explain things that you were not privy to from the inception of the article and some background as to what led up to that article. I guess I did that and will leave it up to the discerning reader, if he or she exists, to decide who has been the most reasonable, civil, and true to the precepts of an honest, open dialogue.

Uploaded on 23 March 2005 by Dave Armstrong.

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