Sorry Liberal Christians, But Jesus Is Dead To Me

70

Ever since I deconverted from conservative Evangelical Christianity I have been reflexively resistant to theological liberalism's penchant for clinging to the Christian tradition (or religious traditions in general) as specially valuable or true. Upon abandoning my belief in the true, literal authority of the Bible, I immediately came to see it as not only false but even dishonest, prejudicial, unliberated, and outright intellectually offensive to take religious texts, figures, and ideas and just rationalize everything about them such that every time you improved your beliefs and values you just read them back into your tradition as what it really meant all along.


I am not saying that those who read their religious texts in nastier, more stagnant, more regressive, and more scientifically and historically illiterate ways are necessarily always truer adherents to their faiths or always have a more honest hermeneutic. Today’s religious reactionaries who call themselves “conservatives” are projecting their prejudices and theologies into the texts too. They are as guilty of selective, hypocritical reading as the liberals are.   And so long as religious traditions exist, I do hope their adherents’ interpretations and practices would conform with and promote more actual truth and more actual goodness rather than less. (See my posts on “True Religion” and philosophy of religion for how I think this might work.) And I am happy to admit that sometimes a progressive’s interpretation can not only accomplish all this but also successfully read a text for its original intent or spirit than a regressive theologian’s interpretation does.

But honesty also requires admitting that sometimes religious texts and traditions contain unmitigated evils and lies that should be wholeheartedly and unequivocally denounced and disowned, rather than soft-pedaled, downplayed, or rationalized to be completely true and perfect if only you squint, cock your head to the side, read upside down, and backwards, and say the pledge of allegiance while you read the text in Swedish. Sometimes even metaphorically read, the basic themes of the Bible are still problematic.

I think it would be far better if critically thinking religious people just joined the more religious of humanists in breaking free of all fealty to received theistic traditions. Stop giving obsolete traditions the support of numbers and the appearance of monopoly. Contribute to a counter-force of rationalistic religion that foreswears all prejudices and rationalizations altogether. Promote truly open-ended, scrupulously rational, free thought instead.

When I finally freed myself from Christianity, the intellectual freedom to truly think for the first time with no fears of changing my mind anymore was the greatest gift I’ve ever given myself. I get people want to stay religious because they enjoy rituals and symbols and myths. But these should not have to come at the cost of depriving oneself of mental liberation.

Meanwhile I see so many halfway liberated minds still dragging around the chains they grew up with or grew into. And the most annoying and ludicrous thing they do is try to whitewash Jesus endlessly, resolved at all costs to preserve his status as a uniquely and irreplaceably morally brilliant thinker and human, even were he not God. Even atheists mouth banalities about how they didn't think Jesus was God but of course he was still a great moral teacher who said some great things that it would be nice if Christians would actually follow. And in this I usually hear only deference to Christian power in another form. Or at least a concession that Christian power has to be carefully worked within to persuade any Christians. When liberal believers or non-believers are going to still trip all over themselves to find some way, consistent with their disbelief in Jesus's divinity, to still be respectful of Jesus, I hear the undue hegemony of Christianity in our culture exacting mental tribute.

I want people's intellectual and emotional consciences to be freed up to read and respond to Jesus with the same kinds of critical responses they would have had had they never grown up in a culture that in the first place drilled into their heads that he was either God or, at least, had to be the most admirable moral teacher ever. Intellectual honesty and freedom of conscience mean no more undeserved inflation of Jesus's reputation.

I am not saying in an ideal scenario people would throw out every word Jesus said as automatically worthless or misinterpret even those good things attributed to him in the Gospels as evil. I am saying ideally all would read with the mixture of agreement and disagreement they treat others when reading them with no prejudice. And I am saying that in the current situation, Jesus's deification by all too many makes it too important that what is awful in him be warned against explicitly and what is good in him not be blown up and abused to prop up undue reverence for him.

Being a former Christian who devoted years of my life to literally worshipping this human being, proselytizing on his behalf, and dividing myself from all non-Christians emotionally on account of him, this is a serious sticking point. This is more than just a routine case of some thinker's ideas or character being overestimated. People by the hundreds of millions, maybe billions, down through the centuries have been systematically brainwashed into worshipping this particular person, and to sacralizing ideas, texts, institutions, and supposed representatives associated with him. When someone's veneration extends to these extremes of power it's a moral obligation to subject precisely that person and the institutions and ideas grown up around him to far more rigorous scrutiny than run-of-the-mill hit and miss philosophers get. The inordinate respect he receives, even by the non-worshipping atheists and extreme theological liberals, spiritually supports an outsized and falsely acquired influence, with power to be disproportionately destructive.

When the power of Jesus, the Bible, or Christian ideas and symbols is as extensive as it has been for two millennia, the negative impact of even small mistakes about facts or inadequacies in values is drastically magnified. And when hundreds of millions of people are unable to see through a centuries' long literal deification of a particular human and the institutions associated with him, and so mentally and morally subjugate themselves to that person or institutions, it is irresponsible for those who do see through it all to go on contributing to the aura of reverence towards that figure, rather than bluntly and unequivocally disabusing people of it.

Being aggressively and systematically deceived from childhood about the character of Jesus trapped me in delusions and blatant falsehoods that took away my ability to autonomously think and feel as clearly as possible about what was true and false and good and bad in life. Asking me to carry on mouthing platitudes about how awesome Jesus is, after that, is about as offensive as  asking the escapee of a cult to never say a bad word about their former cult leader. It's like telling them even to go on singing his praises. Sometimes literally! It's like asking them to endorse others to vote him to stay in a position of power that he has held for centuries and which he used to ensnare you in the cult in the first place.

"So what if now you see he's not a god, why can't you at least admit he was awesome anyway?"

Because he claimed to be a god. Or at least “the way, the truth, and the life”, which is just as bad. And too many still worship him as God and surrender their intellects and consciences to him. So he was not awesome, is not awesome to celebrate, and probably never will be. 

He is a weapon of ecclesiastical institutions. I understand the strategic impulse of liberals to want to take control of this weapon and use it for their own ends. I understand they fear that going up against nasty theocrats and other ecclesiastical authoritarians who are armed with Jesus without picking up their own Jesus to fight back with would amount to going to ethical war unarmed. But I for one would rather rely only on honesty and rationality themselves than keep the arms dealing churches in business in perpetuity.

And, finally, I'm going to be very honest, even if my assessment maybe is harsh or not as widely applicable as it feels to me. I am troubled to see so many liberal believers who were once fundamentalists who seem to be suffering from a spiritual and intellectual analogue to Stockholm Syndrome. The endless desperate contortions to justify their religious traditions and to preserve their identity within them resonate as all too familiar to me from my days as a Christian doing anything I could to stay believing, while terrified of ever leaving. Maybe some theological liberals are really emotionally and intellectually free and clear-eyed. Maybe some are just calculating political operatives who are just determined to beat their faith from within, rather than launch a full frontal assault from the outside and get mowed down as a clear enemy. Maybe I'm just projecting my former rationalizing religious self into them. But, nonetheless, all too often I feel like those liberalized former evangelicals are in arrested spiritual development; and that they are simply unable to grow up into apostasy, all because of an irrational but psychologically understandable incapability to imagine life beyond their captor's reaches.

Your Thoughts?

Daniel Fincke has his PhD in Philosophy from Fordham University. He blogs at Camels With Hammers and Empowerment Ethics.  He is now accepting enrollments in his interactive philosophy classes, which he holds through video conferencing sessions online and makes available to the general public.  You can friend him on Facebook.

 

Written By: Dan Fincke
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70 COMMENTS

  1. If anyone manages to make it through this essay all the way to the end, could they summarize it for me as I’m sure it’s fascinating.


    Every one of this guy’s links is to another essay by himself, containing its own links to other essays by him, containing their own links…

    I’m beginning to think Mr… hang on while I shoot up to the top of the thread to find his name… Mr Fincke is a raving egotist.

    • In reply to #1 by Katy Cordeth:

      Every one of this guy’s links is to another essay by himself, containing its own links to other essays by him, containing their own links…
      I’m beginning to think… Mr Fincke is a raving egotist.

      I think it’s called in-links or back-links which is an important part of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). By referring your readers to other pages of your blog, or other pages in your arsenal of blogs, you not only keep their eyes on your website (s), you increase your ranking on search engines like Google. It’s a manifestation of today’s web-based news/blogging, which means many bloggers write not just to attract readers, but to keep them trapped in a maze of the author’s previous works. It’s very effective, but smacks of egotism.

      As for the OP: better writing from Mr. Fincke. But I still think the blog is too long, and, worse, that he’s creating strawmen (his undefined “conservatives,” “theological liberals,” “atheists,” “liberal minds,” “nasty theocrats” and so on), then trying to impress by knocking them down. He really should learn how to give precise examples of these people, with supporting quotes, too, of what they say! Otherwise, I suspect strawmen.

      • In reply to #8 by RDfan:

        many bloggers write not just to attract readers, but to keep them trapped in a maze of the author’s previous works. It’s very effective, but smacks of egotism.

        I incorporate the copious links because when I say things that I cannot explore in depth in the piece at hand, it makes natural sense to link to the place where I do flesh out the point for those who want a defense of the point. That’s it. It allows people to engage with me further on precisely whatever points they are skeptical about or interested in.

        The fact that it keeps readers on my site is also great. But that’s only going to happen if they continue to like my writing. So what’s the problem? If they like me and they want to dig into my writing. They can find all sorts of pieces, based on relevance, by following my links. They can figure out pretty quickly that the bulk of my links lead into the maze of my own archive. There’s no deception there. It’s all an efficient way for people to find my older writings as they’re relevant to my new articles. I’m proud of my articles. I think they have good things to say. I write stuff that doesn’t become quickly dated. And I make it so a reader never just leaves my site because they feel like there’s nothing more to see. If they are interested in more it’s easy to find.

        Being a blogger and building your own audience reader by reader means hustling very hard to get your writing in front of people’s eyeballs against a lot of competition. I’m not an egotist, I just have to be the marketing department of my own work or it will never get read, even if it’s great stuff.

    • In reply to #1 by Katy Cordeth:

      If anyone manages to make it through this essay all the way to the end, could they summarize it for me as I’m sure it’s fascinating.

      Every one of this guy’s links is to another essay by himself, containing its own links to other essays by him, containing their own links…

      I’m beginning to think…

      Funny, I had decided just as soon as I saw the Camel w/ a Hammer guy’s picture that I would read the article and make up my own mind about it before reading the comments. This guy has taken a beating here at RDF and it has biased my opinion of him but I wanted to give him another chance.

      He had two main points.

      1)Jesus gets undo respect as a moral thinker, therefore he (DF) believes we should take a warts and all approach in scrutinizing the King of Kings teachings.

      2) Liberal Christians, even the smart ones, are emotionally tethered to their religion.

      Overall I enjoyed the piece. Though I must agree that he seams a bit self centered.

      • In reply to #9 by The Jersey Devil:

        Though I must agree that he seams a bit self centered.

        Why? Because I frame the discussion in terms of my own former religious experience and my own post-Christian experience? Would you rather that I spoke for all atheists as the representative of atheistdom? I fear if I did that I would look much more self-aggrandizing. I’m making this about my resentment of pro-Jesus rhetoric and rationalizations because (a) on this point I can only speak for me and not all atheists, (b) most readers prefer personalized narrative to impersonal philosophical writing (though I usually do more philosophical writing my personal posts about my deconversion get overwhelmingly the most appreciative responses from people because they report identifying with them), and (c) I am complaining about my having been misled into worshipping Jesus which is a personal thing to me, that I wanted to emphasize my personal anger about.

        And as I’ve explained elsewhere in this comments section, I link to myself not because I’m self-centered but because I want to give skeptical readers the articles where I defend points I don’t have room to spell out in the piece at hand. That’s it.

        • In reply to #33 by Dan Fincke (CamelsWithHammers/Empowerment Ethics):

          In reply to #9 by The Jersey Devil:

          Though I must agree that he seams a bit self centered.

          Why?

          The title might have been, ‘Sorry liberal xtians, but Jesus is Dead’.

          I do like the fact that you are willing to come here and defend yourself.

          There is more I want to say but it’s late and I’m on a phone. I’ll try to say more tpmorow when I have accessto a computer.

    • In reply to #1 by Katy Cordeth:

      I think this is the best (and hint the shortest) of Dan’s pieces so far. He is also making a point that I agree with and that we don’t hear too often. This paragraph in the middle contains a summary for you, Katy:

      “Meanwhile I see so many halfway liberated minds still dragging around the chains they grew up with or grew into. And the most annoying and ludicrous thing they do is try to whitewash Jesus endlessly, resolved at all costs to preserve his status as a uniquely and irreplaceably morally brilliant thinker and human, even were he not God. Even atheists mouth banalities about how they didn’t think Jesus was God but of course he was still a great moral teacher who said some great things that it would be nice if Christians would actually follow. And in this I usually hear only deference to Christian power in another form. Or at least a concession that Christian power has to be carefully worked within to persuade any Christians. When liberal believers or non-believers are going to still trip all over themselves to find some way, consistent with their disbelief in Jesus’s divinity, to still be respectful of Jesus, I hear the undue hegemony of Christianity in our culture exacting mental tribute.”

    • In reply to #1 by Katy Cordeth:

      If anyone manages to make it through this essay all the way to the end, could they summarize it for me as I’m sure it’s fascinating.

      Every one of this guy’s links is to another essay by himself, containing its own links to other essays by him, containing their own links…

      I’m beginning to think…

      Special Delivery for Katy Cordeth. Please sign here and here and here and initial here and… here.

      Sorry it is still too long but for accuracy’s sake, I left most of the points in.

      Aquilacane does not endorse the following nor accept any responsibility for the summary provided, it’s accuracy or any content that may be misrepresented, omitted or added.

      Sorry Liberal Christians, But Jesus Is Dead To Me (AKA: A summary for Katy)

      Since deconversion, I have become aware that some people use religious text to push their own agenda (all of them actually). Wouldn’t it be nice to know what was actually intended by the text. Some of it is anti-social (these should be denounced not downplayed) and some not (yeah).

      Wouldn’t it be great if very religious people looked at the bible more critically, like some others do. Get rid of shitty traditions (all of them in m opinion). Thinking critically sure is fun, shame some people prefer tradition and ritual. They’ll twist themselves into knots to hang on to them. lol…

      Even atheists ( I assume the ones with no respect for evidence as there is no evidence for the existence of a Jesus in the time of the bible) think Jesus was a swell chap with big ideas. Shame Christians don’t actually follow those ideas.

      Liberal Christians and non-believers try to work within the Christian mindset to kiss the Jesus ass as a bridge of peace (or something like that), how yucky.

      I want people to like Jesus for the Jesussy sayings and stuff, forget who his father is. Basically call a spade a spade.

      I mean, I was a real ass kisser, brainwashed into worshipping the J-man. We need to chill and take the J-man down a notch. Sure, Jesus was a great character in a book but he’s no Harry Potter.

      People get carried away with this shit. Small mistakes and errors have big consequences.

      I was brainwashed as a child and basically rendered incapable of rational thought (or as I like to say—Rationius Noncapabilus, which means nothing and isn’t Latin). To throw the J-man at me now is a full on diss. Like asking Smokey Bear to light a fire.

      “So what if now you see he’s not a god, why can’t you at least admit he was awesome anyway?”
      Because he claimed to be a god Or at least “the way, the truth, and the life”, which is just as bad. And too many still worship him as God and surrender their intellects and consciences to him. So he was not awesome, is not awesome to celebrate, and probably never will be._

      No sir, the J-man is pure weaponised mind control and all kinds of people and groups want to get armed with the dude.

      Honestly, I’m harshin’ on J-man big time but too many liberal believers are presenting with Stockholm Syndrome, and can’t get off the Jesus pipe. They are terrified they will have to fill a gap in the calendar with yoga or badminton. Not all of them, and some are probably just in “arrested spiritual development” They won’t grow up. Shit, damn.

    • In reply to #1 by Katy Cordeth:

      If anyone manages to make it through this essay all the way to the end, could they summarize it for me as I’m sure it’s fascinating.

      Every one of this guy’s links is to another essay by himself, containing its own links to other essays by him, containing their own links…

      I’m beginning to think…

      I reference other articles in order to show where I defend those points. My posts taken together aim to do systematic work. It is impossible in any given post to extensively defend every point without making the piece unwieldy in length. So, I link to posts where I made the arguments that support my premises. It’s not egotism, it’s not an SEO trick, it’s thoroughness about offering defenses of everything I say, even if only by way of link. I say things I can’t adequately defend in the piece at hand so I refer people to the posts where I do defend them.

    • In reply to #2 by Andrew B.:

      I made it through the essay. Don’t blame others for your laziness. Maybe comic books are more your speed.

      Hey, comic books can be very smart. On average, there are smarter things of comic books than is normal books. Just look at any comic section and the self help / spiritualism section of any book store.

    • In reply to #4 by Mormon Atheist:

      This post could have easily been half the length and still made your point effectively. As has been said many times concerning your posts on this site you are needlessly verbose.

      I’m not needlessly verbose, I’m scrupulously careful about not making omissions or writing in the kinds of generalizations or shorthands that allow hostile readers to seize on an unreal opening and attack me. I cover my bases so that my argument is insulated from as many tangential attacks as I can manage.

  2. Liberal Christians who were formerly fundamentalist stop in their progress away from the faith, held back by some form of Stockholm Syndrome.

    Done.

    No insight into why or how. No revealing metaphors or anecdata only a crippling sophistry, a needless finessing of points.

    A joke or two would be refreshing on the journey. Perhaps telling the thing in comic book form, with some punchy aphoristic headings for the panels…?

    Logicomix, a graphic novel, about Bertrand Russel was a delight. This might be a great example of how to write coherent, focused, pithy, and engaging text about complex topics….should Dan get around to that.

    • In reply to #6 by phil rimmer:

      Liberal Christians who were formerly fundamentalist stop in their progress away from the faith, held back by some form of Stockholm Syndrome.

      Done.

      No insight into why or how. No revealing metaphors or anecdata only a crippling sophistry, a needless finessing of points.

      I did talk about why. I talked about how we come from a culture where it’s ingrained in us from the time we’re born that Jesus is special. I talk about what I went through literally worshipping Jesus, proselytizing on his behalf, dividing the world into Christian vs. non-Christian. All of that makes me suspect that others who were in my shoes had it so deeply ingrained in them that this person is to utterly dominate their minds that even when their beliefs are liberalized they still can’t let go of his domineering influence. I explain that I used to be desperate to rationalize rather than let go and suggest that that’s what I see in the liberals. It’s all in the piece.

      • In reply to #36 by Dan Fincke (CamelsWithHammers/Empowerment Ethics):

        In reply to #6 by phil rimmer:

        Liberal Christians who were formerly fundamentalist stop in their progress away from the faith, held back by some form of Stockholm Syndrome.

        I explain that I used to be desperate to rationalize rather than let go and suggest that that’s what I see in the liberals.

        This is not the anecdata I’m looking for. Your personal feels are not enough. Besides my Bayesian brain really doesn’t flip the salient switch for a singular anecdote. From a man of your training I would expect some researched material to bolster your suspicions.

        All of that makes me suspect that others who were in my shoes had it so deeply ingrained in them that this person is to utterly dominate their minds that even when their beliefs are liberalized they still can’t let go of his domineering influence.

        This has no analysis. To suspect a process of “ingraining” for the Jesus fetish is to fail to ask the question of why God the Creator is not a co-equal fetish, for instance. Yet for some, one is easily lost and the other seemingly stuck for life. There are interesting possibilities here about how we relate to a human, of meeting him, of having him in our lives, of touching him, being touched by him. How is the “kin detector” in us possibly co-opted into the process? Why Liberals? Or whatever.

        Such lines of analysis are crowded out by filler. Even just acknowledging that there is a problem (why does this particular aspect get ingrained?) that follows on from your observations would help open the piece up and challenge us to think.

    • In reply to #7 by Katy Cordeth:

      Liberal Christians who were formerly fundamentalist stop in their progress away from the faith, held back by some form of Stockholm Syndrome.

      Done.

      Thank you. War and Peace next, please.

      Even the rich can find it tough

      How about Crime and Punishment:
      There be dumb dumbs

  3. the author seems to forget that his audience contains persons of advanced degrees and education
    (one of the biggest reason I read here) and those like myself, common stone chuckers with a ged.

    but I can get through it and usually find stuff I can learn and some I can chuck.
    a win win for me :) for Katy maybe not so much since stone chucking is a rather advanced in and of itself.
    do i chuck with my right or my left arm? do I ever use both? when my arms get tired do I use my feet?
    these are complicated issues that shirley everyone can see is best left up to the pros. oh and yes the linking
    is an seo strategy and is done in a useful manner. imho

  4. DF’s use of this convoluted language to express seemingly simple ideas does have the effect to discourage many like Katy, or generally people who are too lazy or busy.
    This may be his natural style . On the other hand may be he does it on purpose to impress others that he knows something others don’t- and should learn. In this case, they should note that DF “is now accepting enrollments in his interactive philosophy classes”.

    • In reply to #12 by catphil:

      DF’s use of this convoluted language to express seemingly simple ideas does have the effect to discourage many like Katy, or generally people who are too lazy or busy. This may be his natural style . On the other hand may be he does it on purpose to impress others that he knows something others don’t- and should learn. In this case, they should note that DF “is now accepting enrollments in his interactive philosophy classes”.

      I assure you not. I never write to be obscure. I have no interest in not being understood or in being misunderstood. I add each word because it adds an important nuance. That’s the only reason. If my sentences get contorted 9 times out of 10 it’s because I’m just trying to make sure that all the relevant qualifications to an idea are in the sentence with the idea so that no one gets lost.

  5. The late Indian guru Sai Baba is a modern figure who had a lot in common with Jesus. He is said to have walked on water, cured the sick and raised the dead. His followers value his sayings greatly. But he was exposed as a fraud when videos showed his “miracles” were mere sleight of hand. He was a cheap trickster and a liar and this must surely have a very negative effect on the assessment of his teachings.

    The same goes for Jesus. In the gospel of John, Jesus is confronted by unbelievers and he says ‘have you not seen my works?’ To me that is an example of the dishonest Jesus using his fake miracles to sell himself as a spiritual teacher. (Incidentally, John’s gospel is also largely empty of the poetic, admirable sayings of Jesus… No “do unto others”, no “blessed are the peacemakers”. He comes across a bit better in the other gospels). But my point is, if you don’t believe in the whole supernatural trip, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Jesus was a rather dishonest chap. CS Lewis also said as much.

    Thanks Sam Harris for the Sai Baba comparison.

    • In reply to #14 by stylofone:

      my point is, if you don’t believe in the whole supernatural trip, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Jesus was a rather dishonest chap. CS Lewis also said as much.

      I think that it is possible to escape this conclusion if we consider that most of what the “official sources” say about JC is unlikely to reflect reality . For instance, he could well have been merely a rather charismatic preacher -honestly trying to reform some Judaic practices- and agitating against Roman “oppression” . He may never have himself claimed ( as CS Lewis asserts, without evidence ) to be God ( “son of God”, can mean anything!). After he died, his followers gradually made a legend out of him, inventing all the stuff we now can read.

      Naturally, I cannot prove this particular scenario, but I find this “presentation” plausible and less offensive (as is, in passing, Sam Harris calling JC a “hippy”) to our Xtian friends and relatives than the dishonesty charge.

      • True, catphil, but doubts about the official sources cut both ways. Scribes and scholars creating the Bible as we know it today would surely have embellished and improved the Jesus story to make him look better, especially if they were devout Christians themselves, or working under a regime which violently and repressively required devotion. The historical Jesus might be a lot worse than the one portrayed in the gospels.

        In reply to #19 by catphil:

        I think that it is possible to escape this conclusion if we consider that most of what the “offici…

      • In reply to #19 by catphil:

        In reply to #14 by stylofone:

        my point is, if you don’t believe in the whole supernatural trip, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Jesus was a rather dishonest chap. CS Lewis also said as much.

        I think that it is possible to escape this conclusion if we consider that most of what the “offici…

        There was a very interesting book recently called Zealot with a hypothesis about the historical Jessus. It was rather close to your description except he said that Jesus was probably a Jewish teacher claiming to be the messiah — something that other Jewish teachers of the time did as well. If that were true then Jesus did indeed constitute a threat to the Roman authority which makes sense. The author claims that crucifixion was reserved for the worst criminals, mainly political criminals.

    • In reply to #16 by Bob Springsteen:

      Anyone who has read the New Testament and describes Jesus as a good man is calling the so-called Son of God a liar. See Mark 10:18.

      I’m sure your post is tongue in cheek but just in case; Jesus was simply correcting the man’s address to him. No rabbi was ever titled ‘good’ rabbi. Only God was called ‘good’ by ancient rabbis hence ‘ No one is good except God alone.

  6. The exasperatingly tedious style is an affront to good writing, but I, too, consider the “nice” liberal Christians to be in their own way as big or bigger an obstacle to clear thinking as the fundies. They are the ones who, for example, are eager to swear “So help me God” and think I am a bit of a shit not to want to.

  7. In reply to NUMBER 19 by catphil. Jesus may never have claimed to be God : According to the Bible, Jesus did claim to be God. In the Old Testament Jehovah describes himself as the “I Am” (Exodus 3:14). In the New Testament, Jesus identifies himself as the “I Am” (John 8:58). Jesus clearly claimed deity when he called himself “I Am”.

    • In reply to #20 by Bob Springsteen:

      In reply to NUMBER 19 by catphil. Jesus may never have claimed to be God : According to the Bible, Jesus did claim to be God. In the Old Testament Jehovah describes himself as the “I Am” (Exodus 3:14). In the New Testament, Jesus identifies himself as the “I Am” (John 8:58). Jesus clearly claimed ..

      But this is “according to the bible”. If you believe -like implicitly CS Lewis and many others-that the bible is the word of god or even remotely an account of historical facts, then I have nothing to add.

      If, on the other hand, your assessment is that of most serious independent historical scholars, that only about 5% of this text written in Greek (!) after at least 40 + years after the event ( with various versions “redacted” at the Councils in the 4 th Century, under Roman influence) reflects reality, then my hypothesis-and others- are admissible.

  8. …I immediately came to see it as not only false but even dishonest, prejudicial, unliberated, and outright intellectually offensive to take religious texts, figures, and ideas and just rationalize everything about them such that every time you improved your beliefs and values you just read them back into your tradition as what it really meant all along.

    That has always been one of the greatest proofs of the fallibility of the supposedly infallible. It’s a joke really, a horrible, horrible joke.

  9. In reply to NUMBER 19 by catphil. CS Lewis : I have noticed that the name CS Lewis often appears on different threads. Why is this? The leading Protestant theologian of the 20th century is Karl Barth. Far more innovative and influential than the tedious Lewis. Martin Luther King, Billy Graham, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Pope John Paul 11 have all called Barth the most important Christian thinker of the age. Pope Pius described Barth as the most creative theologian since Thomas Aquinas. CS Lewis or Karl Barth? It’s a bit like trying to make a comparison between Showwaddywaddy and the Beatles.

    • I dunno about Karl Barth, but Lewis is very famous for condensing the problem of the divinity of Jesus down to one very handy quote: “You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.” I don’t think the best theologians usually give it to us non- and anti-Christians on a plate like that. So Lewis and his so-called trilemma become a favourite for us. Usually theology all comes across as no more valuable than debates about how many angels can fit on the head of a pin. I would be surprised to find Barth was any different.

      In reply to #24 by Bob Springsteen:

      In reply to NUMBER 19 by catphil. CS Lewis : I have noticed that the name CS Lewis often appears on different threads. Why is this? The leading Protestant theologian of the 20th century is Karl Barth. Far more innovative and influential than the tedious Lewis. Martin Luther King, Billy Graham, Dietr…

  10. Dan, I’ve edited your piece for you (in italics below). It’s now 437 words, a third of what it was before. It gets across your major points, but without long digressions into autobiographical details which aren’t relevant. There are two things that I think you’re missing, which is why people here are frustrated.

    (1) Your autobiography is not as compelling as you think it is. There are many people who have broken free from fundamentalism, and who have given their history extensive analysis. Your experience at a highly conservative Christian college is interesting, but not unique. I think you rely too heavily on the fact that you used to be a Christian to motivate your articles. For instance, in this piece, it’s just not relevant to your major point, which is (I take it) that you think liberal Christians are contributing to the hegemony of less progressive Christianity. Whether you were once a Christian or not is irrelevant to the argument. Further, if it’s because you want to speak from experience, what you experienced was not this variety of Christianity, and you’ve admitted that you went directly from fundamentalism to rejecting liberalism, so there’s still no reason to include biographical information.

    (2) You resort to generalizations without substantiation. This is related to (1) because I see you using your biography as evidence rather than pointing to specific people who are acting as you claim. Which liberal theologians or churches are your target here? Are you familiar with the work of John Caputo, for example? Is he (a philosopher) staying religious because he likes “symbols and myths”? And, further, are symbols and myths a bad reason to remain religious in some degree, if that religiosity can be shown to be harmless? These are questions worth addressing. Psychologizing people’s motivations for being religious is all well and good, but then when theists do the same to atheists, can you cry “foul”? Louise Antony, in her interview with Gary Gutting in today’s NYTimes “Stone” column, makes this point quite nicely.

    I think it would do you well to consider the responses of the folks here, since if you want to move beyond your blog’s readership, these are the kinds of critical responses you are going to encounter.

    Critically thinking religious people should break free of all fealty to received theistic traditions. Stop giving obsolete traditions the support of numbers and the appearance of monopoly. Contribute to a counter-force of rationalistic religion that foreswears all prejudices and rationalizations altogether. Promote truly open-ended, scrupulously rational, free thought instead. They should do this because honesty requires admitting that sometimes religious texts and traditions contain unmitigated evils and lies that should be wholeheartedly and unequivocally denounced and disowned, rather than soft-pedaled, downplayed, or rationalized to be completely true and perfect if only you squint, cock your head to the side, read upside down, and backwards, and say the pledge of allegiance while you read the text in Swedish. Sometimes even metaphorically read, the basic themes of the Bible are still problematic.

    People may want to stay religious because they enjoy rituals and symbols and myths. But these things should not have to come at the cost of depriving oneself of mental liberation.The most annoying and ludicrous thing they do is try to whitewash Jesus endlessly, resolved at all costs to preserve his status as a uniquely and irreplaceably morally brilliant thinker and human, even were he not God. When liberal believers or non-believers are going to still trip all over themselves to find some way, consistent with their disbelief in Jesus’s divinity, to still be respectful of Jesus, I hear the undue hegemony of Christianity in our culture exacting mental tribute.

    When the power of Jesus, the Bible, or Christian ideas and symbols is as extensive as it has been for two millennia, the negative impact of even small mistakes about facts or inadequacies in values is drastically magnified. And when hundreds of millions of people are unable to see through a centuries’ long literal deification of a particular human and the institutions associated with him, and so mentally and morally subjugate themselves to that person or institutions, it is irresponsible for those who do see through it all to go on contributing to the aura of reverence towards that figure, rather than bluntly and unequivocally disabusing people of it.

    Jesus is a weapon of ecclesiastical institutions. I understand the strategic impulse of liberals to want to take control of this weapon and use it for their own ends. I understand they fear that going up against nasty theocrats and other ecclesiastical authoritarians who are armed with Jesus without picking up their own Jesus to fight back with would amount to going to ethical war unarmed. But I for one would rather rely only on honesty and rationality themselves than keep the arms dealing churches in business in perpetuity.

    • In reply to #29 by Majikthise:

      Dan, I’ve edited your piece for you (in italics below). It’s now 437 words, a third of what it was before. It gets across your major points, but without long digressions into autobiographical details which aren’t relevant. There are two things that I think you’re missing, which is why people here ar…

      I reference my deconversion narrative not because I think it is unique, but because as boringly familiar as it may be to atheists saturated with such narratives, I regularly receive e-mails from people who benefit from reading it because it’s something they identify with. Your edit doesn’t preserve all the nuances that I wanted in the piece to prevent misunderstanding.

      Can theists psychologize atheists in return? Sure, on Sunday I wrote a long piece exploring a number of ways that psychology may influence who becomes an atheist or a theist and then analyzed the ways my own psychology developed with respect to my theology. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/2014/02/before-i-deconverted-my-dad-and-my-god/ There is relevance and irrelevance in psychological analysis. Sometimes it’s brought up to evade the logic of arguments. That’s bad. Sometimes it is generates worthwhile hypotheses as to why people are engaged in doubling down on illogical arguments and rationalizations. I think it’s perfectly fair in this post to say, “Look, liberals, you are noticeably committing to a dogmatic position that Jesus will always be right no mater what, MAYBE psychologically this is because you can’t let go and I know something about this because I spent years desperately rationalizing my own faith.” I don’t see the problem with challenging liberals to look inward and ask WHY they are so committed to an approach to reasoning that any other field of inquiry would denounce as fallacious.

    • In reply to #29 by Majikthise:

      Are you familiar with the work of John Caputo, for example? Is he (a philosopher) staying religious because he likes “symbols and myths”? And, further, are symbols and myths a bad reason to remain religious in some degree, if that religiosity can be shown to be harmless?

      Did I say symbols and myths are a bad reason to remain religious in some degree? No, I said “People may want to stay religious because they enjoy rituals and symbols and myths. But these things should not have to come at the cost of depriving oneself of mental liberation.” And in the paragraph before I suggested a way to be religious without clinging to a problematic way of being religious that I was criticizing. It was right there in the piece! “I think it would be far better if critically thinking religious people just joined the more religious of humanists in breaking free of all fealty to received theistic traditions. Stop giving obsolete traditions the support of numbers and the appearance of monopoly. Contribute to a counter-force of rationalistic religion that foreswears all prejudices and rationalizations altogether. Promote truly open-ended, scrupulously rational, free thought instead.”

      See? Join religious humanists. Contribute to a counter-force of rationalistic religion.

      Is John Caputo interested in symbols and myths? It’s hard to say. I’m just talking here about the many religious liberals who stay for that reason. I never said all the liberals had the same motives. Throughout I talk about different liberals with different motives. Some might have the spiritual and intellectual analogue of Stockholm Syndrome. Some are knowingly subversive, trying to reform from within as a strategic choice where they might just as well have chosen to attack from without. It’s hard for me to get a clear idea why Caputo still weds himself to the Christian tradition.

      All these comments attacking me for writing too many words but then also attacking me when I don’t make even more qualifying remarks are really at cross-purposes. I couldn’t address every single nuance in the piece and I get heckled on this shallow level for bothering to raise so many nuances at all. It’s tedious. There’s hardly any attempt to engage the substance of the ideas, just all this ridiculous condescension over my writing style.

      • In reply to #38 by Dan Fincke (CamelsWithHammers/Empowerment Ethics):

        In reply to #29 by Majikthise:

        I’m just talking here about the many religious liberals who stay for that reason.

        Who? Can you give us an example? How common is this motivation? What evidence is there of this motivation?

        In reply to #38 by Dan Fincke (CamelsWithHammers/Empowerment Ethics):

        In reply to #29 by Majikthise:
        All these comments attacking me for writing too many words but then also attacking me when I don’t make even more qualifying remarks are really at cross-purposes….There’s hardly any attempt to engage the substance of the ideas, just all this ridiculous condescension over my writing style.

        I’ve given you several examples of substantial problems with your argument, done so in a way that I thought was gently suggesting some ways to strengthen your argument. But if you want engagement, fine, gloves off. Below is an example of thoroughly uncharitable rhetoric which does nothing to advance a reasoned criticism of what you are calling (without characterizing it) “liberal Christianity”:

        The endless desperate contortions to justify their religious traditions and to preserve their identity within them resonate as all too familiar to me from my days as a Christian doing anything I could to stay believing, while terrified of ever leaving. Maybe some theological liberals are really emotionally and intellectually free and clear-eyed. Maybe some are just calculating political operatives who are just determined to beat their faith from within, rather than launch a full frontal assault from the outside and get mowed down as a clear enemy. Maybe I’m just projecting my former rationalizing religious self into them. But, nonetheless, all too often I feel like those liberalized former evangelicals are in arrested spiritual development; and that they are simply unable to grow up into apostasy, all because of an irrational but psychologically understandable incapability to imagine life beyond their captor’s reaches.

        In this passage you observe what you think are “contortions” because they seem analogous to your religious experience. You admit that perhaps you are “projecting”, but, having raised that possibility, you simply assert ‘nonetheless, I feel….” Seriously? What Philosophy 101 student would get an A for an essay that say “Opponents of the epistemic closure principle are motivated by their irrational fear of skepticism’s impact on our daily life. Maybe I’m just projecting, because I think that skepticism would be damaging, if we couldn’t respond to it, but nonetheless, I feel like these opponents are in an arrested psychological stage.”

        Really? You raise a possible objection to your argument and then meet it by saying “you feel like” you’re right? There is no argument here! You admit that maybe some liberals are clear-eyed. Or that some are trying to work from within. Having raised these as conceptual possibilities, you then ignore them rather than demonstrating that they are (1) conceptually impossible by virtue of what it is to be a liberal Christian or (2) empirically falsifiable because, to your knowledge, they have never been observed.

        The frustration with your writing is simultaneously a frustration with your content. Again: pick a smaller topic. Be specific in your claims. Provide examples. Edit and repeat. There are interesting core ideas here, but they are woefully undeveloped and hampered by rhetorical flourishes that disguise conceptual weaknesses. Good luck.

      • In reply to #38 by Dan Fincke (CamelsWithHammers/Empowerment Ethics):

        In reply to #29 by Majikthise:

        All these comments attacking me for writing too many words but then also attacking me when I don’t make even more qualifying remarks are really at cross-purposes.

        No! Less fluff more substance. Simple.

  11. he’s creating strawmen (his undefined “conservatives,” “theological liberals,” “atheists,” “liberal minds,” “nasty theocrats” and so on), then trying to impress by knocking them down.

    I’m not creating strawmen. I don’t define these characters because there’s not room in THIS piece to go over each with a fine tooth combed. They’re not the point. I make general remarks about these groups just to map my positions related to them before getting to the heart of the matter–why I don’t like Jesus, what sort of general ways that I find people being dishonest whenever he comes up and why. That’s all that’s relevant. People already complain the post is too long and you want more than that from this one 1,500 word piece?

    • In reply to #32 by Dan Fincke (CamelsWithHammers/Empowerment Ethics):

      he’s creating strawmen (his undefined “conservatives,” “theological liberals,” “atheists,” “liberal minds,” “nasty theocrats” and so on), then trying to impress by knocking them down.

      I’m not creating strawmen. I don’t define these characters because there’s not room in THIS piece to go over each w…

      So pick a representative person. Imagine if one of your philosophy students tried to write a 1500 word paper arguing against, say, utilitarianism without mentioning any particular philosophers or philosophical claims, but just saying things like, “in general utilitarians have an aversion to gray areas and that’s why they are so focused on calculating units of happiness.” I would hope you’d tell them to (1) narrow their focus, (2) support their representation of utilitarianism (rule? act? does it matter for your argument?), and (3) focus on what utilitarians argue and not a psychological analysis of their reasons.

      Granted, you could do a genealogical analysis of utilitarian concepts along broadly Nietzschean lines, and psychological motives could have some role to play in that, but you’d still want to give some evidence to be sure you’re not just reading them uncharitably.

      • In reply to #34 by Majikthise:

        I stay general because I don’t want the post to be about one specific example liberal because then it becomes just about that particular guy. And that’s a distraction or an opening for someone else to say, well I’m not like THAT guy. It does just as well to refer to general types. If people want to insist to me nobody (or no significant numbers) of people fit the types I brought up. Then fine. If you think that, which ones don’t you think exist? Then I can go on and provide examples and evidence of their existence. For the sake of the argument, I state their existence as a given, a premise, and move on to my points in response to them.

        YES, it is fair to just say, “utilitarians generally have this aversion to gray areas and that’s why they calculate exact units of happiness” without a specific example IF you give reasons for thinking that such an aversion explains their tendency to calculating units of happiness. You can take as a given “they calculate exact units of happiness”. This is reasonable to assume as given. In this piece it was reasonable that I could say liberals engage in rationalization to salvage problematic texts of Jesus. Is this REALLY a hard point to prove that needs a cherry picked example from a liberal to prove? I can’t just state that as a premise? If in response someone wanted to challenge the premise, I could go track down a zillion examples but for the sake of getting to the point of the piece, it’s not necessary. It can be taken as one of the givens. What is worth proving is the WHY of their rationalizations and WHY I REFUSE TO PARTICIPATE. That’s what THIS piece was about. My reasons to not play along with whitewashing Jesus, my arguments to liberals that it would be better to stop propping up outmoded traditions and create alternatives instead, and to throw out a few speculations that POSSIBLY all the factors that made me WORSHIP Jesus and rationalize on his behalf COULD be the kinds of pressures at work in liberals such that they do all this rationalization themselves instead of just move on already. And, hey, doesn’t this kind of look like Stockholm Syndrome? I don’t see where I need any exact citation of a liberal theologian to make those points.

        • In reply to #43 by Dan Fincke (CamelsWithHammers/Empowerment Ethics):

          In reply to #34 by Majikthise:

          In this piece it was reasonable that I could say liberals engage in rationalization to salvage problematic texts of Jesus. Is this REALLY a hard point to prove that needs a cherry picked example from a liberal to prove? I can’t just state that as a premise?

          No. Here’s why. John Dominic Crossan, who is one of the foremost liberal “Jesus Scholars” interested in investigating the historical Jesus, says this: “My endeavor was to re­construct the historical Jesus as accurately and honestly as possible. It was not my purpose to find a Jesus whom I liked or disliked, a Jesus with whom I agreed or disagreed.” You are, in your piece, arguing that Crossan’s conclusions are the result of a subconscious Stockholm Syndrome, I take it. Or, if he is not one of those tainted by this syndrome, then he’s an exception–and a pretty important one–to your claim that liberal Christians are just determined to whitewash Jesus. And by the way, he says some things which are suggestive that he is (Read his take on how Jesus was a non-violent revolutionary fighting against imperialism, and how he lays blame at the feet of Chrisitians: “Is Bible-fed Christian violence supporting or even instigating our imperial violence as the New Roman Empire?”)

          I’m not a Christian, by the way, and I have experience in both fundamentalism and liberal Christianity, both academic and personal. So my stake in this is about doing public philosophy well. Do you think Crossan’s explicit explanation of his method and conclusions (which can be found easily online) is something you think should be rejected in favor of a psychologistic explanation? Or do you think that it’s worthwhile to grapple with some of the claims liberal historians like him make? Personally, I think it’s pretty dismissive to go straight to a hidden psychological motive for someone’s conclusions, and I think it’s worth engaging in argument.

  12. In reply to #35 by Dan Fincke (CamelsWithHammers/Empowerment Ethics):

    In reply to #29 by Majikthise:

    Your edit doesn’t preserve all the nuances that I wanted in the piece to prevent misunderstanding.

    Fine, but my point is that your argument, as it stands, is not helped by your personal experience and people are expressing frustration with its intended rhetorical aims. So, reasons to reflect.

    In reply to #35 by Dan Fincke (CamelsWithHammers/Empowerment Ethics):

    In reply to #29 by Majikthise:

    I think it’s perfectly fair in this post to say, “Look, liberals, you are noticeably committing to a dogmatic position that Jesus will always be right no mater what, MAYBE psychologically this is because you can’t let go and I know something about this because I spent years desperately rationalizing my own faith.

    Okay, but you didn’t present it as “maybe”, you just asserted it. Again, how would you respond to someone flat-out asserting that the reason you left Christianity was merely for certain psychological reasons? And again, I think if you have a particular example, your case would be stronger.

    You can ignore my remarks, which is fine, but I’ll add that I’m an academic philosopher as well and I’m only adding these suggestions because I think your desire to engage publicly as a philosopher is commendable, but you’re guilty of some egregious errors, both rhetorically and argumentatively. These mistakes are ones I don’t think you’d let go in your students or with someone who was a Christian, so why let them go in your own writing?

    “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” That’s doubly true in philosophical writing.

  13. The problem, Dan, is that anyone can make claims about “those guys over there,” and “those things which they said,” on ” a day and time which will remain unspecified.”

    The trouble with that approach, which is your approach, is: your readers are liable to think (a) you may or may not be right about “those guys,” but as you provide little evidence of your sources, we have no way of knowing which it is; or, (b) you’re making things up.

    It’s true that your main man, Nietzsche, was notorious for not providing references for his ideas or arguments. But just because it worked for him, doesn’t guarantee it will work for you — actually, you could provide end notes or in-line links to your arguments and that won’t add to the main article’s word count.

    As for writing length, I think you’ll have greater impact if it’s less than 600/800 words. Life on the Internet moves too fast, for me at least, for anything longer than that — unless the author/subject has a rare ability to grab my attention.

    P.S; I’m actually somewhat of a fan, Dan. I just want you to tighten that shit up; it will make your writing more enjoyable!

  14. Hasn’t some intellectual scholar, who is an expert on Roman politics, proposed (backed up with considerable amount of evidence) that the Character Jesus may have been some political invention used in an effort to control people within the structure of a new organised religion?
    In which case, all of the new testament is surely part of the political propaganda (or a by-product of that propaganda)

  15. @ Dan Fincke

    Whilst the “I haven’t read it” comments make no sense, as someone who is constantly told that I am boring and repetitive in my writing you do seem to have similar problems in cutting to the case.

    I got the concept and agreed almost immediately, and like many others I’d just like a little more substance (real examples – not straw-men) and less packaging peanuts. Christopher Hitchens springs to mind as someone who could be both marvelously eloquent and succinct.

  16. “I’m not needlessly verbose, I’m scrupulously careful…..

    Are you kidding?

    Yes, you are verbose. One redundant sentence after another, and another, and another (irony intended).

    What’s wrong with saying “I’m not verbose, I’m scrupulous”?
    It makes me sad when I agree with someones point of view but their endless delivery forces me to wish I didn’t.

    I realize that you are only responding to a question in this instance, and the questioner was being redundant as well.
    But the question was already asked. Why make it worse by quoting verbatim?

    ‘It was impossible to get a conversation going, everybody was talking too much.’
    ~Yogi Berra~

  17. Dear Dan Fincke,

    Thanks for a very interesting article. You have the energy of the “deconverted” and you want to tell the world about your new-found atheism. Keep writing and don’t let yourself be discouraged by the old atheist fuddy-duddies here at RD.net. The accommodationist vs. militant atheist debate keeps popping up, and your contribution is very timely and interesting. We have deluded individuals here who think Islam is a race and, rather than defend their deluded reasoning, give URL links to Richard Dawkins-haters instead. That’s pretty rich when they accuse you of not elaborating on your arguments.

    • In reply to #52 by Stuart M.:

      Dear Dan Fincke,

      Thanks for a very interesting article. You have the energy of the “deconverted” and you want to tell the world about your new-found atheism. Keep writing and don’t let yourself be discouraged by the old atheist fuddy-duddies here at RD.net. The accommodationist vs. militant atheist debate keeps popping up, and your contribution is very timely and interesting. We have deluded individuals here who think Islam is a race and, rather than defend their deluded reasoning, give URL links to Richard Dawkins-haters instead. That’s pretty rich when they accuse you of not elaborating on your arguments.

      I haven’t noticed anyone do that, Stuart. There are a couple of posters who maintain that Islam is to all intents and purposes a race, no less than Jews or the Scots can said to be anyway, but I think they defend their ‘delusion’ quite well. If there are some here not capable of arguing this view, could you point me to some of their comments and I’ll be happy to help them out.

      Thanks.

    • In reply to #52 by Stuart M.:

      We have deluded individuals here who think Islam is a race

      Do they really? Who thinks Judaism is a race? What can be said is that Islamophobia and anti-Semitism are forms of racism.

  18. I agree, the article made sense to me and since you conveyed what you were thinking to me, job done.
    Who in their tiny minds thinks that Islam is a Race of people and not a Abrahamic/monotheistic organised religion started by some geezer from medina in the 7th century?

  19. And, finally, I’m going to be very honest…

    You mean you’ve been lying to us thus far, or you just haven’t been completely honest? Never mind.

    …I am troubled to see so many liberal believers who were once fundamentalists who seem to be suffering from a spiritual and intellectual analogue to Stockholm Syndrome. The endless desperate contortions to justify their religious traditions and to preserve their identity within them resonate as all too familiar to me from my days as a Christian doing anything I could to stay believing, while terrified of ever leaving.

    These contortions performed by the newly atheist doubtless have much to do with their not wanting to sever all connections with family and friends. The urge to evangelize can find a new lease of life in this situation, as I think Mr Finke’s piece demonstrates, and those close to the recently converted non-believer may find themselves the target of this zeal; having to act as a reluctant sounding board for the maelstrom of ideas swirling around the convert’s head which are bursting to find expression. Smart newbies know not to push it.

    If you want to proselytize for atheism Mr F, best of luck to you, and if you think deconstructing Jesus is the best way to go about it… well that would seem to be the logical approach. We’re all no doubt familiar with the bit of vampire lore which states if you kill the head sanguisuge, those it vampirized will become human again.

    I think, though, there’s a reason Christianity and Islam have come to dominate the world in the way they have and this has to do with their messiah figures: Jesus in Christianity, obviously, and Mohammad in Islam. Evolution has imbued us with a warlike nature and desire to spread our genes far and wide, killing any rival gene machines that stand in our way. It’s given us big brains and opposable thumbs and everything else required to facilitate planetary dominion. Joker that it is, it also furnished up with a conscience and a capacity for empathy, and this is where our two messiahs come into the frame.

    Having God on your side is all very well, but he is all powerful; he’s like ten Supermans, and isn’t even allergic to Kryptonite. He’s pretty aloof too, having only ever spoken directly to a handful of living people. Sure we may get to see him when we die and go to Heaven, but it will be from behind a rope and he’ll be surrounded by bodyguards… it will be like seeing the Queen or the president.

    What’s required is a God-proxy; someone willing to come to earth and press the flesh, get to know us, seem like he’s one of us. And most importantly, love us. Enter Jesus and Mo. I’m aware Mohammad wasn’t sent here by God the way Jesus was, but he performs exactly the same role: personalizing his religion, putting a human face on it. Jesus has an added advantage when it comes to recruiting new Christians that Mo doesn’t: he went and died for our sins (there’s also the fact that Jesus is a minor prophet in Islam, meaning the figurehead of the world’s biggest religion can never be fully demonized by those members of the second biggest. How much easier would it be if Jesus could be the Great Satan rather than fly-by-night US presidents or the country itself? It may be that had Jesus not played a role in Islam, it would have triumphed over its sister religion aeons ago. Take that, Jesus haters: the little feller may have prevented the world becoming a universal caliphate).

    This to me is the true beauty of Christianity. Its followers get to spend millennia invading, torturing, inquisitioning, exterminating and generally victimizing the hell out of anyone who isn’t Christian (or is) – all the while believing or affecting to believe (probably a combination of both) they are the victims. It’s pure, unadulterated genius.
    And it continues to this day: marriage equality isn’t about granting the same rights non-gays enjoy, it’s to do with persecuting Christians; go about with a Happy Holidays on your lips in the weeks leading up to Christmas and you might as well be punching the baby Jesus in his manger, you sickening non-American traitor you. Christianity has become the single most powerful force in our species’ history, putting other empires to shame, and it’s done so by adopting a perpetual state of victimhood. I say it again: Genius.

    Now Muslims are getting in on the act and playing this card themselves, and who can blame them? Their own Jesus, aka Mohammad, didn’t suffer an agonizing death on the cross of course, preferring to fly off to Heaven on Al-Burāq and as such their protestations against perceived insults toward him don’t have quite the ring of authenticity Christian ones do. What’s the problem, guys; your man got to enter Paradise on a winged stallion? He’s fine now.

    So go after the head vampire, Mr Fincke. Be aware though that a) Christians as we know are not always the most logical of beasts, and b) they positively thrive on outrage, particularly when they get to be outraged about a perceived attack on this little dickens. Far better I think to attack the institutions that hide behind him and his darker skinned, brown-eyed brother in arms. To do otherwise could just be playing into their hands.

    • In reply to #57 by Katy Cordeth:

      there’s a reason Christianity and Islam have come to dominate the world in the way they have and this has to do with their messiah figures

      Not really. It’s the result of military conquest, taking over political and economic power and having control of the civil service and education.

      • In reply to #58 by aldous:

        In reply to #57 by Katy Cordeth:

        there’s a reason Christianity and Islam have come to dominate the world in the way they have and this has to do with their messiah figures

        Not really. It’s the result of military conquest, taking over political and economic power and having control of the civil service and education.

        That’s superficially the reason for the success of those two faiths, but it isn’t the whole picture. While there have always been conquerors, these historically haven’t been too concerned with winning the hearts and minds of the ones being conquered; all they were after was slaves to toil for them, new breeding and soldier stock, and whatever natural resources were there to be exploited.
        When the Roman Empire was at the height of its powers, it wasn’t interested in changing the religious allegiance of its subjects. Religion was in fact useful as it kept the indigenes occupied. Nor did conquerors traditionally claim moral superiority over those whose nations they overtook; you won if you had more soldiers on your side or if your tactics were better, or, yes, if the gods were smiling on you.

        Christianity changed all this. Foreign lands were no longer just desirable for the reasons they had been before; now they were home to enemies of God, whose murder was in service of God. Suddenly, war is about good versus evil. Instead of a soldier’s being rewarded with some loot or the opportunity of a nice bit of rape, what’s now being promised is immortality and everlasting joy – in addition to the earthly joys of loot and a nice bit of rape.

        The nature of God is the critical thing here, hence the need for a messiah figure: someone who isn’t an aloof, omnipotent superbeing but a flesh and blood human who died for your sins, aldous, and who loves you. He gave His life in order that you, specifically you, could be redeemed at the moment of death. Yet there are those who don’t worship Him? How is this possible; how could anyone be so ungrateful after the sacrifice He made for them? They must surely be evil, and ripe for slaughter, as you are yourself if you ever think about rejecting Him.

        A few hundred years later along comes Islam with its own messiah, and the rest as they say is history. Is it coincidence that of all the belief systems which our planet has borne witness to over the millennia, the two which have this god-proxy figure have come to dominate? I don’t believe so.
        If you look at the way some Muslims react when they think the Prophet is being traduced, or at Tea Party members who act as though Christianity is on the verge of disappearing altogether any day now and they represent a diminishing minority despite America’s being overwhelmingly Christian, you’ll see that regarding yourself as a victim is a powerful motivator: a cornered animal is at its most dangerous.

        Writ large this attitude of victimhood, more perhaps in Christianity than in Islam given Jesus’ status as the ultimate martyr, means you never get to rest on your laurels; you’ll never be able to relax fully as there will always be someone coming to get you. Far better to get them first.

        • Christianity changed all this. Foreign lands were no longer just desirable for the reasons they had been before; now they were home to enemies of God, whose murder was in service of God. Suddenly, war is about good versus evil. Instead of a soldier’s being rewarded with some loot or the opportunity of a nice bit of rape, what’s now being promised is immortality and everlasting joy – in addition to the earthly joys of loot and a nice bit of rape.

          You don’t think foreign lands were conquered in the name of God before Christianity or Islam? There is plenty of killing and raping with God’s approval in the OT.

          And there have been plenty of Gods to kill for.

          “We are men to whom Zeus has given the fate of winding down our lives in painful wars, from youth until we perish, each of us” Odysseus, Iliad.

          Don’t you think those conquering in the name of other Gods may have thought themselves morally superior to the conquered?

          Is it coincidence that of all the belief systems which our planet has borne witness to over the millennia, the two which have this god-proxy figure have come to dominate?

          10 Christ-like Figures Who Pre-Date Jesus

          In reply to #60 by Katy Cordeth:

          In reply to #58 by aldous:

          In reply to #57 by Katy Cordeth:

          there’s a reason Christianity and Islam have come to dominate the world in the way they have and this has to do with their messiah figures

          Not really. It’s the result of military conquest, taking over political and economic power and hav…

    • *In reply to #57 by Katy Cordeth:..

      I must say I disagree with this analysis which suggests the “retentive mechanism” of the faiths are the same. I think these are quite distinct. I think the more recently invented one, the more effective, thought-through, robust and purposeful.

      “Jesus” presses all the kin detector buttons with a thoroughgoing narrative of mothering and fathering, of nurturing and kindness to sweeten the view lest you become depressed by the prospect of the ring-fence of hell. (They figured out they needed more carrots.)

      “Mo” sticks with loyalty, duty and principled living.There is little central focus on family and such cockle-warming, here-and-now, stuff. At a stretch he is the elder-brother-as-good-cop, reminding all, more consistently, of the rewards of the hereafter, with his “bad” cop mates, outside, guarding the ring fence of hell, saving those who stray near by a swift dispatch.

      (I live in evidenced hope of this alpha-male centred here-and-now dystopia being progressively softened by the brute fact of women.)

      • In reply to #59 by phil rimmer:

        *In reply to #57 by Katy Cordeth:..

        I must say I disagree with this analysis which suggests the “retentive mechanism” of the faiths are the same. I think these are quite distinct. I think the more recently invented one, the more effective, thought-through, robust and purposeful.

        “Jesus” presses a…

        I’m inclined to agree. What I think has begun to happen in recent years is that Islam has taken on more of the trappings of its older abrahamic brother, at least in its dealings with the West, and now plays the Christian victim card for all it’s worth. It has gone from cocksure alpha dog to whiny martyr: “Boo hoo, stop saying mean things about the Prophet.”

        Mohammad today, instead of the badass, Uzi-toting warlord he used to be, is some wimp who can’t even be depicted visually without his followers needing to come to his defense.

        (I live in evidenced hope of this alpha-male centred here-and-now dystopia being progressively softened by the brute fact of women.)

        When the revolution happens I will see to it personally that you do not suffer the same fate as most of your fellow Y-ers, Phil.

        • In reply to #61 by Katy Cordeth:

          In reply to #59 by phil rimmer:

          I will see to it personally that you do not suffer the same fate as most of your fellow Y-ers, Phil.

          Kind, but not needed. My Great Uncle Philip (who, you may recall, sewed all the sequins onto his own dresses) had this covered.

          some wimp who can’t even be depicted visually without his followers needing to come to his defense

          Something this brittle seems in danger of breaking quite dramatically, when the crack runs.

  20. In reply to #63 by Marktony:

    In reply to #60 by Katy Cordeth:

    Christianity changed all this. Foreign lands were no longer just desirable for the reasons they had been before; now they were home to enemies of God, whose murder was in service of God. Suddenly, war is about good versus evil. Instead of a soldier’s being rewarded with some loot or the opportunity of a nice bit of rape, what’s now being promised is immortality and everlasting joy – in addition to the earthly joys of loot and a nice bit of rape.

    You don’t think foreign lands were conquered in the name of God before Christianity or Islam? There is plenty of killing and raping with God’s approval in the OT.

    True enough. Are we accepting that all events in the Old Testament actually occurred now? All the burning bush and chicks turning into salt stuff?

    And there have been plenty of Gods to kill for.

    “We are men to whom Zeus has given the fate of winding down our lives in painful wars, from youth until we perish, each of us” Odysseus, Iliad.

    I don’t think that’s quite the same.

    Don’t you think those conquering in the name of other Gods may have thought themselves morally superior to the conquered?

    Possibly. Although it was customary in the time of Alexander the Great and his ilk after conflict to conscript soldiers from the army of those you conquered into your own ranks. Not just as footsoldiers either.

    Is it coincidence that of all the belief systems which our planet has borne witness to over the millennia, the two which have this god-proxy figure have come to dominate?

    10 Christ-like Figures Who Pre-Date Jesus

    Perhaps I phrased that badly. Yes there have been other religions which had their messiah figure yet still crashed and burned. I’m not saying the only thing required for your new faith to be a success and take over half the planet is that it have this God-proxy. If that were all it took, a couple thousand years from now our descendants would be worshiping David Icke, with turquoise tracksuits the ecclesiastical garb of choice.

    There were plenty of other factors involved in Christianity’s rise to dominance; Islam’s too. I just think having this über-victim as the titular figurehead of Christianity taps into something deep in the human psyche: perhaps a desire to commit atrocities with celestial impunity, and all the while thinking of oneself as victim.

    The most common visual representations of Jesus depict him either as a babe in arms or battered and bloodied on his cross (a cross incidentally which most Christians wear around their neck; cf. Bill Hicks). Each of these poses represents vulnerability: viewers are being manipulated into wanting to protect him. They’re being invited to think of themselves as this, and I don’t think anyone can deny it’s been a success.

    Recently, because of the planet’s new status as global village, most Muslims have become aware that we in the Christian west actually have it pretty good whereas they live in hellholes. Their Prophet is starting to look like kind of a wimp; someone who needs protecting from us infidels.
    Those Queer Eye guys have been at him, given him a makeover, and turned him into Jesus. Our Jesus, not minor prophet Islamic Jesus. Kickass Mohammed doesn’t need his followers to blow people up because they say mean things about him, whereas Victim Mohammed does.

    I remember an episode of The Daily Show in which Jon was interviewing Bill O’Reilly. Bill was saying the usual stuff about how he feared for the future of America and was scared that the Constitution… blah blah, the usual stuff. Stewart interrupted and made the point that he, a five-foot-six liberal Jew, in contrast to the blustery six-four Irishman O’Reilly, didn’t really get afraid in this way. Make of that what you will.

    • True enough. Are we accepting that all events in the Old Testament actually occurred now? All the burning bush and chicks turning into salt stuff?

      Certainly not. At best, exaggeration of past events by the authors, but the frequent description of genocide gives us some idea of the values of the people of the middle east around the middle of the first millennium BC.

      I also don’t accept the NT as giving an accurate telling of the life of Jesus – may be some exaggeration there too? I take your point about the über-victim, but I think you came closer to the reason for the success of Christianity when you mentioned the Roman Empire. Christianity really took off after being adopted by Constantine – of course some fundamentalists would say that the Roman Catholic version was a corruption of the teachings of Jesus.

      In reply to #64 by Katy Cordeth:

      In reply to #63 by Marktony:

      In reply to #60 by Katy Cordeth:

      Christianity changed all this. Foreign lands were no longer just desirable for the reasons they had been before; now they were home to enemies of God, whose murder was in service of God. Suddenly, war is about good versus evil. Instead…

    • In reply to #64 by Katy Cordeth:

      In reply to #63 by Marktony:

      Kickass Mohammed doesn’t need his followers to blow people up because they say mean things about him, whereas Victim Mohammed does.

      I think this is more than an interesting idea. I think it might be a useful lever to pull.

  21. This article makes a lot of sense. I would have written it differently, but I’m not Dan Finke. Why are so many people beating him up because they don’t like his writing style? Wow. I was thinking about submitting an essay on my take on atheism and politics, but I sure as hell won’t do it now.

    Katy, you really poisoned the air.

  22. In reply to #66 by justinesaracen:

    This article makes a lot of sense. I would have written it differently, but I’m not Dan Finke. Why are so many people beating him up because they don’t like his writing style? Wow. I was thinking about submitting an essay on my take on atheism and politics, but I sure as hell won’t do it now.

    Katy,…

    I think Dan Finke is Kickass Dan Finke and not Victim Dan Finke. He has been introduced here as something of a fixture. He’ll be back here again and again and he’ll be better and better I have no doubt. We have been somewhat spoiled here by some of the best writing on the planet. Also, the site has been taking a nosedive in intellectual quality of late. We must do all we can to lift these things. Perhaps more than any in the world, this is the go-to site for current Atheist thinking. Those of us who care about our advocacy of it must care about the professional aspects of the site.

    I looked back over your posts and found them easy, direct and clear. I look back over some of my earlier posts and find them often self-defeating with distractions and qualifications, as often as not, to fend off future criticism. This makes me sensitive to similar such failings. They can be fixed with sufficient awareness.

    Dan’s fantastic strength is he will come back to the thread and argue the points. I wish, I wish other OP writers would do as much. Given this I propose Dan, perhaps, views his pieces as pump priming exercises rather than complete arguments and then feed us the rest as the debate unfolds.

    As you said before, “… he takes far too long to say it and I stopped reading after I ‘got it.’

  23. In reply to #66 by justinesaracen:

    This article makes a lot of sense. I would have written it differently, but I’m not Dan Finke. Why are so many people beating him up because they don’t like his writing style? Wow. I was thinking about submitting an essay on my take on atheism and politics, but I sure as hell won’t do it now.

    Katy,…

    There is a big difference between a discussion topic and something published as an original article on this site. The standards for an article should be much higher A discussion topic is in my view just a long comment I never criticize the writing quality of a discussion topic

    But an original article is quite different. It baffles me how Dawkins can let such awful writing be published I only hope that like Ron Paul he just doesn’t read everything he publishes

  24. In reply to #66 by justinesaracen:

    This article makes a lot of sense. I would have written it differently, but I’m not Dan Finke. Why are so many people beating him up because they don’t like his writing style? Wow. I was thinking about submitting an essay on my take on atheism and politics, but I sure as hell won’t do it now.

    Katy, you really poisoned the air.

    It kinda sounds like you’re blaming me for your own lack of courage, Justine. CC is correct as usual: professional writers such as Mr Fincke are held to a higher standard than ordinary posters like you and me. I would never criticize the writing style, grammar or even spelling of a fellow contributor, if that’s what you’re worried about, and I would condemn anyone who did. It’s a form of ad hominem. Only your ideas are fair game.

  25. While I agree with pretty much everything the author says about Christianity here (not sure it applies to all religions, but definitely those that espouse traditional monotheism), I would ask the author if there is any reason why we shouldn’t apply this model to ANY/ALL individuals/groups held up before us as revered or deserving of unquestioned respect? How about political parties? Would this article be any less pertinent if we substituted ‘Democratic (or Republican) Party’ for Christ? How about if we substitute Reagan or Clinton? Now you can start to see the evil that religion (in general) and specifically Christianity has wrought in our society. The polar extremes of our political spectrum mirror the religious animosities of our communities. Right wing and left wing extremists completely disregard the evils of their own party, justifying them away with the sporadic acts of seeming goodness. The parties are becoming impossible to criticize from the point of view of their adherents. Obama supporters will completely ignore that he is facilitating the overreach of executive power, that he is continuing to protect those in his administration (and previous administrations) from criminal prosecution for blatantly criminal acts, that he continues to maintain programs of warrentless wiretapping, extraordinary rendition, and the destruction of habeas corpus. And why do they ignore these things? Because Obama supports gay marriage, gay rights, and a women’s right to choose. So they clamor about how well he is doing with respect to these things while completely ignoring how devastatingly evil his actions are with respect to the others. And yet Obama supporters are not alone in this. Bush supporters made the same mistake. They justified Bush’s many evil aims (the War in Iraq, the War on Terror, the Patriot Act, etc.) because of his pledge to lower taxes and destroy social programs. Just like the Obama supporters who followed them, the Bush supporters were all to happy to turn a blind eye to his grievous actions so long as he held out a carrot (tax cut or government bailout) to them every once in awhile. This mentality was made possible by the prevalence of religion and it is religion that continues to support it. You need look no further than [Texas' recent attempts to outlaw critical thinking][1] in their elementary/secondary schools to see how this works. The legislature laid it out in plain text:

    “Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order
    Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking
    skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of
    Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on
    behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the
    student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority
    .”

    They state it outright. They don’t want their kids to ever question the beliefs of their parents. This has got to end if we are ever to progress as a society.

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