Wednesday, April 14, 2010

I don't know if I'm fighting the "good fight," but I'm certainly fighting.

The internet is full of people, this much we know for sure. All kinds of people, really. Just look at this blog! In this one tiny area of cyberspace we have quite the smorgasbord of intellects and ideals. Let's look at religion.

We have people like myself and Green (hope you don't mind being lumped in with me) who've done our time in one sect of Christianity or another and though finding it unfulfilling (to put it very lightly), we're still skeptically open to the possibilities.

We have people like the good Teresa, who is very sure that there is no god, and more power to her.

We have people like Travis, who is completely sure that there is a god, and although he has failed to convince me that the case is concrete, god bless him, he keeps trying.

And then we have people like my wife, Leah, who remain comfortably disinterested in the whole matter. This is the stance I envy the most.

So here we are, this quaint little community. I think everyone is, generally, polite, courteous, and pleasant. Even Travis, who opposes almost every single thing I say about religion, does so in a respectful, even tempered, way. For this, I am very thankful. It's not like this everywhere else, as I've just experienced.

Remember The Naked Pastor? I wrote about him, briefly, a while back. Well, David Hayward (the Naked Pastor), has recently decided to leave his church. He just feels like he doesn't belong there anymore for whatever reason and he is leaving on good terms. Of course, this is met with an outpouring of support from his friends and blog readers. I, personally, sent no note of encouragement because, while I enjoy his blog, I don't really care if he works at a church or not. But he seems like a decent guy and I do wish him all the best.

So then there is a blog called Remonstrans written by a guy named Norm who goes by the alias "Dissidens." I believe the blog is set up to be a critique on the "emerging church" but honestly, I haven't looked at it past the post in question. Dissidens doesn't like Naked Pastor. Seems to have a vendetta against him, to me. So he posted this blog about David's leaving. I didn't really find anything terribly awful in the post. He's entitled to his opinions. I thought calling David a "basket case" was petty, but mild.

The only reason I found the blog was because David linked to it in his response. But it wasn't until I saw the first two comments that I thought I should speak up. Here is the conversation, as it pertains to me, in its entirety.
Team Us is in bold.
Team Them in italics.

Dissidens said:

That’s true: the horror of this hits someone who has read Dave’s jitney creed and the sycophants he’s attracted.

When these people desire a theology that commends itself to their sad intellects, this is what they get and this is the price they pay! Hayward questioned everything but himself, and this is his legacy.

What a grisly soul.

So I said:
Sad intellects? Jesus, you guys clearly know everything. Better a sycophant than an asshole.

It was several comments later before anyone thought that what I said was worth commenting on and it came from someone calling themselves "The Divine Passive."

I can't tell if Taylor is both praying AND cussing, or merely cussing. The NP would be proud either way I suppose.

Well, I couldn't have people think I'm praying so....
The Divine Passive,
I'm just cussing.

Simple enough, right? I really thought that I was done there, but Dissidens couldn't have me leave without a dose of good ol' scripture.

Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

Do you not fear God, Taylor?

Well, he asked me a question, so he deserves an honest answer. I've always thought the terminology of "fearing God" is strange, but I've had it explained to me in more ways than I care to remember so I get it. I know what Christians mean when they say it, more or less.
If there is a god, then I'm relatively sure it's not Jehovah, so I would say that I fear your god about as much as I fear Santa Claus.

Also, I guess I should clarify that I don't fear Santa Claus

Now here is where it gets really juicy. Dissidens comes out swinging!

Now see, this is exactly why I think Hell was a brilliant idea. You’re not sure there is a god, but you’re pretty sure it isn’t one particular god, and on the strength of that uncertainty you blaspheme his name when he explicitly told everyone not to.

If you can’t reason with such a person, what more appropriate future could there than eternal confusion?

So not only is this lovely soul glad that there is a hell (or glad he can think there is, anyway) he's particularly pleased that I'm going. Now the concept of hell is a discussion I'm not trying to have right now, but I will say that the idea that god will forgive child molesters, rapists, and murderers but has no room in his heart for people who are not easily convinced of the far fetched, is....weak sauce. Anyway, this was my favorite response because his was so primed for parroting. So I said....
Now see, this is exactly why I think cussing was such a brilliant idea. You've got no empirical evidence that there even is a god, but you're somehow certain that you've picked the right one, and on the strength of that unjustified certainty you belittle and condescend to people who differ from, but are still just as clueless as, you. At least the folks over at Naked Pastor seem to enjoy a sense of self awareness that you're apparently not privy to.

If you can't reason with such a person, what more appropriate future could there be than to be eternally called an asshole?

So he said...
Who says a) that I don’t have empirical evidence for the existence of Yahweh? and b) that only empirical evidence is sufficient for belief? Why couldn’t faith derive from logic and first principles?

You’re as good a philosopher as Dave is a theologian. I can see how you would appreciate his sense of self-awareness.

And then I went home and lived life and Todd and Hollie came over and we played in the park and ate pizza and watched Lost and went to bed. So I didn't have time to respond and in my absence, Mike The Infidel stepped in and said a lot of what I wanted to say...
I'm more than a bit amused by someone who describes hell as 'eternal confusion' in a comment on a post talking about people's attitudes being non-biblical. Where, pray tell, does this conception of hell come from?

As for:
a) Please, provide it.
b) Faith is enough for belief, certainly, but why should faith be valued?

Before Dissidens could get back to him, The Divine Passive was back and he had some questions for Mike and I...
Mike and Taylor

How should I (or any other Christian) understand your hanging around Christian sites if your "spiritual journey" has taken you away from Christianity? And what is it about the NP that you find attractive?

Well, I don't recall being much of a philosopher on here, but this is great, I've been looking for someone who has all the answers and here you've been all along. If it weren't for the Naked Pastor, I'd never have found the one person with empirical, testable, verifiable, evidence that not only does god exist but we know his name.
So, although Mike already beat me to the punch here, if you've got such evidence, prove it. My email is taylorglenmuse (at) gmail (dot) com. If you don't mind, write me an email explaining and demonstrating this evidence. If it is truly empirical, then you should be able to prove yourself right, beyond a reasonable doubt. Try to remember my "sad intellect" though and use small, concise words.
However, if you can't really prove it, then all you've proven yourself to be is an unyielding, arrogant, person who puts theology ahead of people. In other words, you're a pharisee, and we all know how Jesus felt about them.

The Divine Passive:
I can't speak for Mike, but I'm only on this blog because NP linked it, and then this guy called people that read NP "sycophants" with "sad intellects" so I called him an "asshole," and so on and so on. I guess the shorter answer is "because I have a lot of free time at work, and I find religion interesting even if I no longer partake."
What I like about the NP, is that he's often pretty funny and/or insightful, and while a lot of Christian blogs tend to sell what I consider unjustified certainty, while being completely unable to understand how anyone could disagree with them, it's refreshing for someone to be the slightest bit humble about their faith while understanding how some can not believe.

AND HERE COMES DISSIDENS...only he doesn't really want to talk...He'd rather talk about talking.

God works in mysterious ways, doesn’t he? I don’t guess we get many readers via, but then not many people get to Nineveh via a nasty fish. God appears to have a wicked--if I can use that word--sense of humor.

I can see you’re having trouble focusing here, Taylor. I understand how a steady diet of the assumptions and platitudes one gets from Hayward could encourage a habit of sloppy thinking, but let’s tidy this up a bit. Back while you were scrambling for a spell-checker you said, (comment #28) “You've got no empirical evidence that there even is a god…”. That is the kind of self-serving assumption a lot of skeptics make about my life.

If you read my answer more carefully than you read the opinions on NP, you will discover that I never said a) that I ever had empirical evidence, or b) that I could “prove it”—your words. I was challenging your own claim that I had no such empirical evidence; you don’t know if I have or if I haven’t. So here right at the beginning of your gymnastic routine you’ve already fallen slap off the beam.

Make A Note: I didn’t say I had empirical evidence, I said you couldn’t know whether I have or haven’t. That was your first faceplant.

It might—but probably won’t—interest you to know that I believe God is 1) invisible, 2) inscrutable, and 3) ineffable; I cannot see him, I cannot comprehend him, and I cannot explain him—even to myself, let alone to a miseducated skeptic. If God doesn’t want you to see him, he could sit on the bridge of your nose and whistle to you and you still could not detect him, even “empirically”.

Your second faceplant was the assumption that the only way I might come by reliable knowledge (or faith) was empirically. If your Mom could go to the bookstore and bring home an idiot’s guide to flossfy, you could look up the word “empirical” and learn that not all knowledge comes through experience or science. If your Mom won’t do that for you, go here and follow the links.

Read Kant if you can, he’s helped many people all over the world.

"Don't say I don't have evidence!!!" OK, what evidence? "I NEVER said I had evidence, you're stupid. Read Kant."

And then a newcomer joined in, by the name of Warren, and he's got a few assumptions he'd like to make...

I enjoyed the Pharisee slight from someone who believes that Jesus was wrong about Theology and therefore people anyway.

I also like the fact you borrow from Theistic morality to judge. Unless of course you can define morality from naturalism.

I clicked on his link only to be unsurprised by the kind of up-our-own-ass apologetics that are so tiring. "If you want me to believe it I need proof" "You won't believe it no matter what the proof is!!" "Well, we'll never know until you actually show me some, will we?" "First you prove me wrong!" *Facepalm.

While I was drafting my final response, a fella named Joshua Allen joined in. I'm not sure what side he's on but I got a chuckle out of his response, either way...
@Taylor: You're challenging the wrong person. You should demand proof from God Himself. You should challenge God to a game of chess, and publish the challenge details far and wide, so that God cannot fail to hear you. If He shows up and beats you at chess, you'll have a story to tell. But if he doesn't show up, you'll be able to tell everyone that God doesn't exist, or at least that you are a better chess player than God.

Clearly, God would not let a challenge from a mortal like yourself go unanswered, since it would be so damaging to His reputation. Therefore, failure to appear is proof of lack of existence, or else fear of something even worse -- being a bad chess player.

Alas, I already know that I am a horrible, horrible chess player and I'm painfully aware of what a waste of time this has been and would continue to be. I just wanted to throw a little support behind David, call an asshole an asshole and be on my way, so I said...
Well, as fun as semantics and assumptions can be, I don't appear to have been wrong, do I? I said you didn't have evidence, you implied that that was not the case, I asked for it, and now you want to make the argument about whether or not you ever really said you had any. And you want to accuse me of intellectual gymnastics?

I know this is a complete waste of time, but if god is all the things you say he is, how did you come to know so much more about him than everyone else? There doesn't seem to be anything of substance here, just a theological "I know you are but what am I?!"

"...I believe God is 1) invisible, 2) inscrutable, and 3) ineffable; I cannot see him, I cannot comprehend him, and I cannot explain him—even to myself, let alone to a miseducated skeptic."

How convenient. You'd think those beliefs would lend themselves to a more humble approach but I suppose Kant can explain how you should be a dickhead to everyone that disagrees with you. I think we're done now. You talk a lot but don't say very much.

Is it not possible to disagree with some things a person says and agree with others? Just because I don't believe that Jesus was god doesn't mean I don't think he said some lovely things. I would ask you to explain how Theists have exclusive rights to morality but I'm probably not going to be around to read it. I would also ask why you assume I'm a naturalist. Naturalists aren't the only thing you can be if you're not a theist, you know.

So that's what I've been doing. It was a good time but I won't be going back to see if anyone responds further, because I don't want to get drawn back in, and I know I could be. But it did make me appreciate the conversations that we have here that much more. I kind of understand them calling me names and saying I'm painfully ignorant or whatever they would say, but I think it's really weird to have that level of animosity towards David, who differs greatly on a lot of issues, to be sure, but still believes the same basic things. Seems theologically cannibalistic.


  1. It's painful to my braaaaain, really, to read their comments and your comments...and to see how clearly & logically you lay out what you are saying while they, as you said, have to do verbal gymnastics to even TRY and make a point (which they don't, really).

    I enjoyed your "sum ups" of some of their comments.

  2. Taylor,

    You would not believe your eyes
    if ten million fireflies
    Lit up the world as I fell asleep!

    Try that one on for size.

  3. I don't mind being lumped in with you. I've stuck around here so long because we agree/are confused by similar things, and because you've gathered a nice little debate squad here.

    A lot of what was said here made me giggle, made me angry, would be too much to try to respond to, and I don't think you want that either. I can say, however, that that guy was, indeed, an asshole.

    The one thing I will reply to is his claim that God is: "1) invisible, 2) inscrutable, and 3) ineffable; I cannot see him, I cannot comprehend him, and I cannot explain him"

    My response to this is pretty much what it always has been to those here who have said similar things: if he is those things, and you can't do any of those things... I'm not saying it means you're wrong, but I am saying that it means that you have no real reason to believe beyond your personal desire to believe.

    I'm just not willing to try that hard to believe in something. And I'm the kind of person who is devoted to understanding things. As a teacher/writer there are thousands of things I want to understand. I even want to understand religion. I have spent hours and hours trying to understand it, but believing is not something I can just do.

    I feel the same way about Religion as I do about Surrealism: I can feel its pull- I know there's something interesting there, but I also know that that is not how the world really is. And I'm pretty happy about that. Clocks melting and water turning into wine? Cool, but no thanks.

  4. Hey Taylor,
    Thanks for giving my husband a shout out. Travis and I had a pretty shitty day yesterday (gotta love those assholes out there), and this made the both of us smile.

  5. Thanks for the mention, although to some people I'm sure it translates to "Teresa the big asshole here." :P

    God is invisible. Haha. Oh, that's just rich.

  6. That was almost (read almost) as bad as the combox at Pharyngula.
    We have people like Travis, who is completely sure that there is a god, and although he has failed to convince me that the case is concrete, god bless him, he keeps trying.
    hahaha! Is that what I've been doing? I thought I was just throwing stones.
    ...I believe God is 1) invisible, 2) inscrutable, and 3) ineffable; I cannot see him, I cannot comprehend him, and I cannot explain him—even to myself, let alone to a miseducated skeptic.
    I'm not sure exactly what he means by this, but it doesn't sound like a Biblical position. Christians have always thought that God could be known through general revelation in nature and through special revelation in the Bible. Historically, it's actually Muslims who think that God is totally beyond the scope of reason. But the church has historically considered that position a heresy.
    About the empirical knowledge bit.. I mean it's obvious that a great deal of our knowledge isn't empirical (truths of mathematics,logic, ethics, aesthetics, metaphysics, the necessary assumptions we bring to science...etc.) Obviously, that doesn't give us license to believe anything we please, but it should prompt us to ask ourselves whether the thing in question is of the sort that empirical evidence is especially relevant. It would have been nice if this guy had taken the time to actually make an argument though. Simply saying 'read Kant' is a kind of intellectual bullying, and judging by the way he was speaking it doesn't sound like he has actually read Kant either. Oh well.

  7. A modern Parable-

    Once there were unborn twins living inside the womb of their mother: Carey & Larry. One day, Carey says to her twin brother, “Hey Larry, I believe in life after birth. Do you?”

    Larry replies, “No, I don’t believe in life after birth. This is all there is and all there will ever be!”

    Carey sighs and says, “Not me! I’ve got to believe there is another place. A place of light. A place of colors. A place where we will have the freedom to really live.

    Larry says, “Well, go ahead and believe that if it makes you feel better! But I don’t see any evidence of any other existence than this.”

    Carey says, “ Larry, I know that you won’t believe this either, but I have decided that I believe in the existence of a mother who gives us life!”

    Larry scoffs and says, ”What are you talking about? Have you ever seen a mother? No, I tell you this place is all there is and we’ve just got to make the best we can of this existence. Why do you want more? I know it’s dark and tight but we’ve got everything we need right here.”

    Carey replies, “ Well, can’t you feel those squeezes and don’t you hear those muffled sounds? I know the squeezes are sometimes painful but I think that they are just getting us ready for another kind of living that is much more beautiful than this- where we will see our mother face to face.”

    Finally, Larry is so fed up with her beliefs that he doesn’t even answer. After all, the womb is all there is and all there will ever be.

    And a few days later, Carey and Larry were born. And Larry realized he was wrong and for Carey it was even better than she ever imagined.

    Is there a God? I can't believe that there is not! Is this all there is? I can't believe that either!

  8. Well, I guess we'll all just have to die to see which talking baby is wisest.

  9. I've yet to hear any muffled sounds, squeezes, or a heartbeat for that matter.

    I'd also like to think I'm wiser than a fetus.

  10. Hi gigi,
    An analytic philosopher named Paul Moser has a parable in the introduction to his book The Evidence For God: Religious Knowledge Reexamined that is a little different. He compares our condition here on earth to being lost in the wilderness with a few different sets of instructions and tools to find our way out. He says we can't be sure which, if any, of the instructions are reliable, or that we can get out at all. Given our situation there are essentially four options open to us:
    1) Despair: We give up and accept that our situation is hopeless and yield to our demise in the wilderness. Maybe we come to think that believing that there is a way out is just wishful thinking. On this option we are practical atheists about a rescuer.
    2) Passively Waiting: We can sit back and wait, largely in doubt, for a possible rescuer to find us. We might even take some pride in our disciplined refraining from actively seeking a rescuer. On this option, we are practical agnostics about a rescuer. (this seemed to be Taylor's reaction to your parable)
    3) Leaping: Even in the absence of evidence, we decide to take a well trodden, convenient, and historically dignified path that claims to be a way out of the wilderness. We would not presume to recommend this path as supported by conclusive evidence, or even significant evidence, but we gladly accept it. Eventually, we would have to ask ourselves whether or not leaping amounts to just wishful thinking on our part. For all we know, the path could be a total dead end. We can call this option practical fideism.
    4) Discerning the Evidence: We can take a long hard look at the instructions for a possible way out of this wilderness predicament. This will involve looking at all kinds of evidence; some purporting to come from a rescuer via the instructions, and some by looking at the wilderness itself. Call this position volitional theism.
    Moser's book is really good, I think, because it presents the issue of God's existence not as a speculative, abstract, or casual question, but one that is morally and existentially challenging to all of us. He thinks the evidence in question extends beyond the realm of philosophers and theologians, and into the lives of all of us as human beings. It's also surprisingly accessible, even if you haven't done much reading in philosophy before. If you ever want to borrow it, I'd be happy to send it to you.

  11. Interesting parable. But I've never heard of a Mother sending a kid to eternal time out for not knowing what "Mama" means right at birth.

    I don't claim to have the answers, but the one thing I absolutely cannot conceive of is a God that would supply us with so little proof of his existence, and then send us to an eternity of Hell for not being convinced. Especially not a loving, benevolent creator god that Christians seem to believe in.

  12. TD- How come atheism is equated with despair? What if we rely on ourselves to survive in the wilderness and aren't seeking a rescuer? This parable is ridiculous and invalid. All it exists to do is reinforce an idea a theist already has using petty fallacies. How original. Next, please.

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  14. Not too long ago, you also wrote about the parable of the elephant & 3 blind men. I recently saw a statistic that said 90% of Americans believe there is a god, but also the majority of Americans believe that no one religion can know the fullness of spiritual truth, and that those who claim they do know the fullness of spiritual truth are arrogant & intolerant. And the common parable that they use to prove the point is the elephant and the blind men.

    Something like, a group of blind men were asked to describe an elephant and the first one grabbed the trunk and said, “An elephant's like a snake. Yeah it's really weird.” And the other was feeling the leg and said “No, it's nothing like a snake.. What are you, blind? Does that guy not have any hands? An elephant's like a tree trunk.” And the other one on the other side’s like, “What is wrong with these people?” He's feeling the side of the elephant. He’s like, “An elephant's like a wall.”

    And the point of the parable is to show how each of the religions, although somewhat correct, is in the end wrong and that anyone who would steadfastly say, “An elephant is like a snake and I don't care what anybody else thinks or says..", that guy is arrogant, foolish and causes violence against humanity. I have some problems with that parable. I have problems on two fronts. One because I am a believer in Christ, but if you're a skeptic, you don't care. So I’ll skip that one. But I also have problems with this idea because it's intellectually inconsistent, and it uses smoke and mirrors to pretend it's more tolerant than the rest of us, when in reality it's no more tolerant. The only way that parable makes any sense is if the narrator of the story sees the entire elephant. So, the moment anyone claims that ultimate reality is unknowable, then they have just claimed the knowledge that they say can't be known. It’s intellectually inconsistent. And on top of that the belief system that no one can know god in such a way as to invalidate what someone else believes about god is in itself religious, and has it's own affirmations, denials and absolute truths. Their affirmations would be that god is ultimately unknowable, that no one can know the full truth about god. The only way one could possibly know that would be to know how the universe is wired and why it's wired that way, which is the same thing they're claiming can't be known. So what it comes down to is that we are claiming the same thing at different points of emphasis, an understanding of ultimate reality. Only one is calling the other arrogant and himself enlightened. I think in the end, relativism zealously fights to make sure no one believes in any absolutes while using their own absolutes to establish this idea. And here's the thing I love about the church, and what I mean by “love” is, “openly mock,” is christians continually show they don't understand the gospel by pretending we're more moral and more devoted than everyone else. Don't we? We're more moral. It's why we've got to picket stuff. We're more devoted. And despite all the empirical data to the contrary, it's what we like to preach on, it's what we love to talk about, it's what we put on our t-shirts. But if religion had a motto, it would be “I obey, therefore I'm accepted.” That's it. That's religion. Any religion, any belief system, that's it. But that is not the teachings of Jesus. Religion says that morality and religious observance are means of salvation, but that is not the message of Jesus. The stuff he teaches, it is not religious in nature in any way historically as religion has been defined. The teachings of Jesus go contrary, now not necessarily what evangelicals teach and do, but the actual teachings of Jesus. They are very, very different.

    Wait I've gotten side tracked. Actually, not sure I ever had a point. I enjoyed your post, that's all.

  15. Teresa,
    To fit Moser's parable into a comment appropriate size I had to seriously oversimplify it. That being said, you appear to have misunderstood it. Part of what his parable presupposes is that the human condition is like being lost in a wilderness. If you accept that picture of the human condition AND believe that escaping the wilderness is hopeless, then despair is implied by being a 'practical atheist'. Now, maybe in this senerio the practical atheist can rely on themselves to survive for as long as possible, and maybe even live a somewhat pleasurable life in the meantime. Still, as far as escaping the wilderness goes, her situation is totally hopeless. She will have to despair of the goal of escaping. I think what you really wanted to say is that our situation here on Earth is nothing like being lost in the wilderness, and so the options open to a person in that situation are not relevant to us.
    Now, maybe your right about theists like me. Maybe all of our reasons for believing what we do are ridiculous, invalid, and amount to nothing more than 'petty fallacies'. Still, if I were you, I would be a little less cavolier about dismissing out of hand what a significant number of your peers sincerely believe. It would also be helpful for me if you would identify where exactly I am being ridiculous and fallacious. Just making the assertion gives me no reason to take your dissent seriously.

  16. Fugees and Funyuns,
    Never seen you here before, so I just wanted to say, "Welcome to the conversation."