a reflection on something I read recently…

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Straight off the bat, It’s been ages since I last sat down to write anything so, I ask you to be a little patient with me as I progress with this post!

What stirred me enough to sit down at my computer and write a blog post I hear you ask?

Of course you are not asking that, chances are you are reading this in passing and don’t avidly follow my on-line musings. Allow for my little flourishes of personality though, I find that sometimes the things I write about are quite heavy going and need to be balanced with a lighter, chattier narrative voice!

Well, I was sat in the hospital the other day (long and entirely unexciting story believe me), and found myself with a stinking headache and several hours to kill and only a handful of books at my disposal (via my I pad). I found myself attracted to a really well known book that I bought earlier in the year but forgot about: God is Not Great by the wonderfully witty and sophisticated late, Christopher Hitchens.

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I only managed to get the introduction out of the way before my reading was interrupted by, ‘hospital stuff’ and shall base this article only on the little I’ve read.

I will assume that Christopher deals with the points of contention I currently hold in a little more depth later on in the book and, when I finish the book shall write a more elaborate and lengthier engaged discourse but, for the time being I wish to air my current point of contention as the points made by Hitchens are shared almost universally across the atheist community.

So, without further ado, I shall present the passage I am going to counter as it is printed:

‘There still remain four irreducible objections to religious faith: that it wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos, that because of this original error it manages to combine the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism, that it is both the result and the cause of dangerous sexual repression, and that it is ultimately grounded in wish-thinking.’

As I have said, I’m sure Hitchens goes into great lengths throughout the book to substantiate all of these objections and I fully intend to engage with them on that wider level in the near future but, for now (call it a taster of a larger essay if you like) I shall be drawing only on the above passage to level my criticism.

Of these four objections, the first is by far the easiest to counter. It will suffice to say for now, without going in to great detail, that I reject that objection on the grounds that it is based entirely on an subjective assumption based on  some objective evidence. it is the same as me saying that, atheism is a flawed view because it wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos. It’s a poor argument that I’d be making in the face of contrary evidence and I wouldn’t expect to find it in a leading atheist thinkers’ opening thesis.

I always like to assert the following when debating anyone on the subject of my religious faith verses their atheistic outlook:  My fundamental assumption that cannot be empirically substantiated is this: There is a creator God.  However, let’s not draw upon this assumption as our grounds for debate because, your fundamental assumption: there is no creator God, is equally as empirically unsubstantiated.

I believe Hitchens is making a similar error here when he asserts the first of his four objections.

The second objection can be dismissed quickly when one notes that it is based on the assumption that the first objection is factually correct. However, I don’t think this quite rises to the deeper underlying objection that religious faith can be perceived as combining,’the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism’. 

I would like to commend Hitchens on his use of language here as it really manages to capture not only a personal objection but also a hyperbolic form of expressing ones’self. Using the words, ‘maximum’ alongside a word contextualised in excess really is quite provocative. It is problematic though because it expresses a mistrust of,  ‘Abjectly submissive’ (http://goo.gl/FuS78rbehaviour. This mistrust is personal and doesn’t belong outside of the context in which it was written.

I hope i’m beginning to demonstrate that Hitchens’ second objection is entirely subjective and cannot be used as grounds to argue against religious faith. Just as my subjective experiences of God’s presence cannot be used in a similar discussion to substantiate my claims.

Hitchens’ third objection is interesting.

It can and will be noted here that there is a contextual extent to which Hitchens’ assertion holds some merit. I can only argue from my own perspective and therefore am only going to defend the Christian faith here on this blog. Because of this I can only say in passing that most major faith groups in the world have and are still actively involved in acts of sexual repression. The church is no different.

I have a theological position to take here that requires a blog post of its own to outline. I don’t want to detract from the central theme of my post so I shall not be going into detail about that position here (here’s an article I relate to concerning That debate: http://goo.gl/32IdKf).

This objection is difficult to address as it all depends on definition. Sexual repression is a dangerously ambiguous term as it is entirely dependant on several sets of contextual circumstances.  As it is Hitchens’ own objection I must wait until I write the larger article concerning his book. Because it is a personal thing though I can discredit it generally as it doesn’t pack any real punch to the debate on God’s existence or even his greatness.

And we come to Hitchens’ final and potentially most lethal objection. Religious faith is wish thinking. This is a polite way of saying exactly what Dawkins asserts: “Such delusions of grandeur to think that a God with a hundred billion galaxies on his mind would give a tuppenny damn who you sleep with, or indeed whether you believe in him.” (http://goo.gl/zpnFdh). 
Either way, the assertion is the same, in thinking wishfully rather than objectively, we (people of faith) are completely and entirely deluded. My brother, in a somewhat harsh tone, during a debate resorted to the following language to describe the extent of that delusion, ‘The very fact you describe yourself as a witness too [sic]  god healing people suggest signs of mental illness and I’d advise medical assistance, as hallucinations could be detrimental to your very existence.”. this is a very damaging way of talking to somebody else, it puts the asserter (that Christians etc. are deluded) into the position of superior and the assertee into the position of inferiority thus, making the field of conversation/debate entirely unfair and biased in favour of the side dealing the biggest blow.  Calling out somebody as being deluded without substantiating it is actually fallacious (Argumentum ad hominem).

I suppose it would be wise to draw some conclusions.

I was entirely surprised reading Hitchens’ introduction to his best seller that has been described thus: ‘the ultimate case against religion’.  It doesn’t appear to present anything of the sort. Instead, what I observe, is a series of arguments from a very personal position that make a case against Hitchens’ own view of what religious faith consists of but, it doesn’t attack the faith I personally have nor does it attack the faith I know millions of others follow.

I look forward to reading the book in its entirety and contemplating the bigger challenges it may present.

Conversations with other Atheists….part 2

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Right, gotta be more on point this time!

It’s so easy to get carried away isn’t it?

So, just a quick recap…

I have decided to respond to, “tweets” sent to Richard Dawkins with the hashtag #Imanatheistbecause.

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Without further ado, let’s jump straight in with this one:

I became an atheist when I was told at church that it doesn’t what you do if you aren’t Christian you go to hell @RichardDawkins #Imanatheistbecause.
Well, this one’s  a fairly straight forward one to respond to.
There are two possible reasons why this person has come to this conclusion.
  • The leaders at this person’s Church were incompetent and taught a fundamentally flawed doctrine of salvation.
  • This person has drastically misunderstood the doctrine of salvation.
Just so we’re all on the same page, here’s what the bible has to say about it.
23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
So, because of the fall, the cost of mankind’s shortcomings before God is death. We all die! This verse refers to a little more than just physical death of course.
Let me use an illustration (I’m not the greatest of artists!) to show what I’m getting at here:
illustration of seperation
So we are one side of this huge  chasm that separates us from God.
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (Romans 3:23) 
I’ve added my own emphasis there because, ‘all’ is the key to this. There is no one on earth better than anyone else. We all come short of God’s standards.
It says a little later, in revelation:
Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. (Rev 20:15) 
Basically, you get your name in the book of life when you realise the following:
  • That is you up there in that picture! You are separated from God by a huge gaping chasm of sin. But, don’t worry, we’re all in that position, you’re not alone!
  • God  has come up with a way for us to be reconciled to him, through Christ

 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18)

  • Accept this gift from God…… this is the easy bit, it’s a free gift (the best we’ll ever receive)

That’s it, your names down on the list….

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So you see… Despite wether this is a misinterpretation on the tweeter’s part, the Church who taught him about it or whatever, the point was lost in translation.

It isn’t a message of: If you’re not a christian you will burn in hell, that is such a warped interpretation.

The truth is much more elegant and beautiful. God loves us, always has, always will; we overlooked that in favour of self gratification. We rejected God. God says, that’s cool, if you want that then you can have that for eternity. However, if you want to regain that original relationship, you can do it simply by receiving the gift of Christ on the cross.

I’ve done it again haven’t I?

I picked out a simple one at the start with the hope of having time and space for a few tweets and responses but, i’ve gone off on one!

Consider this a bonus, it means you will get loads more posts! You lucky so and so’s…

Love.

Conversations with other atheists….

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Richard-Dawkins-Devil

I was browsing the web the other night, looking for something to keep my brain ticking by and I stumbled across a friend’s link to, ‘Darwin’s bulldog’ Mr Richard Dawkins’ blog. There was a very interesting thread on there asking people to respond in a twitter style (hashtags and 140 character count) to the following: I’m an Atheist because. This got my creative juices flowing and I thought to myself, ‘I’d love to make a blog post about this’.

After much thinking, I feel the best way would be to share a few of the responses on his site (anonymously) and write a little bit of a thought or refutation of my own based on what has been said. There are literally thousands of these, “tweets” and I only copied about a hundred or so. So, please don’t expect me to trawl through the lot of them but, I shall answer some of the ones I find most intriguing or urgent!

Without further ado…..

@RichardDawkins u know, those RC priests worked real hard for 19 years to keep me brainwashed, & with one fell swoop u undid everything. #Imanatheistbecause

I actually find it surprising just how many people i’ve heard say pretty similar things to this. The worse thing is, I’m sort of on this guy’s side!  There are some huge underlying issues here which I could quite happily fill a fortnight’s worth of blogposts with. I will, thankfully, save you that pain. However, there are still a few important issues to adress here.

If we disregard the fact that this guy was, “enlightened” by Dawkins for the time being and focus on where this guy’s problems with faith lie….

I don’t have a problem with the Roman Catholic church per se, there are some great Christians within it but, as a religious organisation with countless wealth and power, I have some huge problems.

First, the big underlying problem that comes to the foreground all too frequently is the issues concerning child abuse and corruption in the Church. This is a very well documented controversy and I shall not elaborate too much but, it is a huge problem facing an organisation that should be glorifying God.

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Secondly, the Catholic church favour some odd practices and doctrines. I’m not the most theologically educated of Christians and, for that matter, not the most mature of Christians so I feel slightly out of place commenting on their theology. I’ll keep it brief…   There is no mediator between man and God with the exception being found only in Christ (but Christ and God are the same and you shouldn’t really see Christ as merely a mediator). Why on earth do catholics feel the need to sit themselves in a musky box and tell a priest their sins before they bring them to God?

And, thirdly, what’s with the Mary worship? I could recommend a good timothy keller book to the Mary worshipers… I agree that Mary was a fine example of a good Godly woman. I agree that she should be remembered in that sense but, let’s remember what Jesus himself said about worshipping Mary:

He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” (Luke 11:28)

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Ok, it’s happening again isn’t it, I’m getting carried away to digression-land again!

Back on point, The guy is talking about being brainwashed by his Roman Catholic Priests and, I genuinely sympathise with that. I’ve heard a few Catholic preaches in my time and one thing that I can say, from my own experience, is that they have a tendency to ram doctrine down your throat.  It’s not that I disagree with all of their doctrines (It’s the opposite actually, I really do agree with a lot of their doctrines), it’s more the style of delivery. A good man once told me that you can win an argument and loose the person. This is one of my biggest issues with my own character and, as a result, it’s close to my heart. I think that the style of Catholic indoctrination this tweeter is referring to is close to abhorrent! It’s certainly not how you win people over to the glory of God’s kingdom.

So we have a dissatisfied, clearly quite passionate young tweeter who has become dissolusioned with his upbringing into a Roman Catholic form of relligious practice, along comes hyper-charismatic Dawkins with a well thought out, intelligent and rational argument and this guy is won over! My challenge to any charismatic type Christians who happen to be reading is this: What can we do to insure that those who are becoming disillusioned with their religious upbringing, meet with Christ??

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Looking back on this post, it is apparent that I have a lot to say in response to these tweets and certainly won’t be able to squeeze a hundred or so tweets into this single post. With that in mind, it’s clear that there’s room for that wonderful opportunity in the life of a blogger: the series! I shall make this, ‘conversations with other atheists’ into a series of posts responding directly to atheist questions and arguments.