Walking Like a Dick

October 27, 2011

I’ve gotten to know people with an incredible variety of beliefs regarding God’s existence. I cherish those friendships and conversations that I’ve had. If you sense a “but” coming, you’re wrong, generally speaking. One of those people is Derek Colanduno of the Skepticality podcast. While he and I don’t know each other particularly well, we’ve had some interesting conversations. Recently he posted a picture on his Facebook wall:

As you can imagine, an interesting conversation was had. There were bombs thrown, naturally. But I got to thinking about this whole “Hitler was a Christian!”/”Mao/Stalin/Pol Pot was an atheist.” meme that tens to show up early in these games. There’s an old saying “If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.” The duck test applies here. Christianity, the Bible itself, uses this sort of inductive reasoning.

Jesus says, speaking of prophets, “You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?” Paul in Galatians 5 says “22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law… 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” If you fail this Christian duck test then no one will have any reason to believe that you’re a Christian, or so I thought.

Derek is quick to jump on the notion that Hitler was a Christian supposedly because he said that he was one a sufficient number of times. That strikes me as bad logic. If Hitler was a crazy as a fruit bat (a rabid, insane, Jew-hating fruit bat), then why should we accept that he was what he said he was? Particularly when he had a habit of tacking on all manner of non-Christian religious tradition to his worldview, politics, etc. I can’t think of any other reason than it suited his purpose to paint Christianity as a force for evil.

Something else Derek said jumped out at me, referring to Hitler and the rest, “As for the rest on the list, they were not Atheist, they just wanted to make sure the citizens who they ruled had no one above themselves as the leader. They were more like hard-line slave owners, had pretty much zero to do with actual Atheistic views.” I’m curious as to what those “actual Atheistic views” are. I asked him, but he didn’t answer other than to say “Basically he was not an Atheist, in any way, shape or form.”

Now, I don’t know what Hitler’s true religious views were. He pandered to the German people and add his fruit bat-ness on top of that and I don’t think it matters. These men were crazy. That much we can be relatively certain of. If you wipe out large portions of your population to make others toe the line in service to some half baked ideology cobbled together from your own insecurities then I honestly don’t think a religious belief or lack thereof can be the root cause.

I would like to know what “actual Atheistic views” are, outside of a lack of a belief in God. If I were to take the views of the Atheists (I capitalize the A to denote people who are “militant”) in that Facebook post and elsewhere:

“You do not talk to god. You do not have a personal relationship with an imaginary being. This delusion of yours is an exaggerated sense of your abilities.”

“I’m sick of being told by society that I have to “respect others’ beliefs.” No I don’t. ”

“Religion is child abuse.”

and the responses of some Atheists to Phil Plait’s admonition to not be a dick, then I would have to come to the following conclusions. If you’re an Atheist then you believe that you’re a better person than anyone who believes in a god of any stripe. You believe that your worldview will ultimately lead to the betterment of mankind through the casting off of the ancient morality most religious people stick to. In general, you know more about the universe and your place in it than your theistic counterparts. You’re essentially a mirror image of that which you hate.

Now, I won’t paint all atheists with that brush. I know some of you are capable of respectfully disagreeing. We can have discussions without despots being brought up as examples of anything other than despotism. We won’t tell the other person what they believe. We will express love for the Other as best as we are humanly able.

I do want you to know though, that if you are an Atheist (or a Theist) and your waddle gives you away as a dick, you’re not going to convince anyone of anything, religious or otherwise. I suspect that most people of this stripe are okay with that. None of them actually seem to want to do much more than beat their chests and feel awesome about themselves. I seriously doubt that any of those sort will comment here, and I also recognize that this post may well bounce back in my face. It needed to be said for my piece of mind though at least.

19 Responses to “Walking Like a Dick”

  1. Oh, boy.  That really hits home to a discussion that started on a former FB friend’s page.  I wound up unfriending someone I’d known quite awhile because I got tired of the “straw man” setup and knock down.  Later, he messaged me and said that I was “different”. Except, as I told him back, I’m not.  If believing in the Lord of the Bible means I’m out of touch, then I am. If accepting the inerrancy of Scripture means I’m in the “dark ages”, then book me a trip to 1200 (or whenever).

    I’m done being “tolerant” (which means accepting others’ beliefs as equivalent to mine, just different, apparently). I’m standing for my Lord and my faith and if that gets me unfriended/unfollowed, so be it.   Quack that. 🙂

  2. Janet, certainly you should stand up for what you believe in so long as you’re doing so in a spirit of love.

  3. well said

  4. Thanks James!

  5. Unfortunately, “weirdos on your side are on your side, but weirdos on my side are weirdos” arguments are way too common on any divisive issue.

  6. We need to kill all the weirdos and let Cthulu sort them out.

  7. Love your thoughts Scott. For me living the faith is all about living from the heart. Sometimes the intellect of the heart is not easily understood by the skeptical brain.

  8. Thanks Bob.

  9. Not that I’m unsympathetic, but a few points of logic from the rationlist side of the fence:

    “By your fruits shall you know them” is the No True Scotsman fallacy, which is a cheat that allows people to dodge unsavory associations and/or unsavory implications of their group and/or belief system respectively. Saying “Hitler was a Christian” is an (overused and problematic, granted) argument against people that try to advance Christianity on the “Christianity is useful” front of attack (i.e. morality has no foundation without belief in Jesus, which is a favorite tactic of most contemporary apologists). Many of the other arguments that you’re bridling against above are of the same character–counterattacks against the ubiquitous slander that Athiests either 1) are immoral by virtue of their doctrinal nonconformity, or 2) morally suspect because their morality has no ultimate spiritual foundation.

    The confusion (and understandable irritation on both sides) comes at least partly from the choice of terms. Setting “atheist” against “Christian” is an apples-and-oranges comparison, because it’s not comparing a worldview against a worldview, but rather a worldview against a feature of a worldview–akin to comparing the fuel injection manifold of a Honda Civic against an entire Ford Mustang.

    “Theism,” after all, is the belief in an interventionist, active, omnimax god–a diety featured in the big three religions and several others (though not in all religions). Atheism is a denial (either affirmative or tentative) of this diety’s existence. Other words (pantiesm, panentheism, dharmism, polytheism, etc) exist to describe other conceptions of God.

    A proper comparision against Christianity would need to invoke a philosophical system: Metaphysical Naturalism, Enlightenment Humanism, Postmodernism, Communism, Objectivism, Confuscianism, Nihilism, etc.

    Most (though not all) western athiests are either Enlightenment Humanists or Metaphysical Naturalists (or both, as Derek certainly is and I am). Unfortunately, because of the allure of sexy defiance, most shorthand it with “athiest” even though they would disavow Communism, Objectivism, Postmodernism, Nihilism, and Confuscianism as being utterly destructive and often evil pseudo-religions. They’ve all got nasty records–not just in the sense that they started from faulty moral or intellectual principles, but also in the sense that they failed to grow and adapt in response to new information. Mao was a Confuscian. Stalin was a Communist. Pol Pot was a Confuscian. These are the cars that have driven great massacres and oppression–that they all happened to have an injection manifold called “athiesm” is no more relevant to the argument than that they all depended on printed books to propagate. The destructive parts of their ideology are found elsewhere–most often in their epistemology, which was based largely on theory and authority rather than on evidence and self-criticism.

    Enlightenment Rationalism (naturalism, humanism, et.al) also started from faulty assumptions about human nature, but it has adapted and improved because it has at its root value a self-critical epistemology that is suspicious of authority and dogmatism.  Christianity, being based upon a three pronged epistemology of doctrinal authority, revelation, and experience, tends to be adaptable, but only very slowly, and only because new generations gradually chip away at doctrinal authority as a result of their personal experience and intellectual epiphany (which often gets classified as second-tier revelation).

    This difference in epistemology is where the true conflict comes from. It’s why western atheists (myself included) do NOT respect the beliefs of other people–the entire foundation of our philosophy is a DISrespect for unjustified beliefs, and a suspicion even of our own beliefs. We do not respect beliefs, though many (most) of us DO respect people that have goofy ideas. After all, we *know* that we will someday consider some of our own ideas goofy, naieve, destructive, or just plain wrong, we just don’t know which ones.  That’s why we tend to think that religious doctrines are arrogant to the point of comedy, even though those of us who have been religious know that many thoughtful religious folk don’t *feel* arrogant and aren’t self-consciously superior. The doctrines themselves, by stating as ultimate truth propositions that are either 1) impossible to prove or 2) very easy to disprove, seem to us the textbook definition of intellectual arrogance (even, or especially, when the come out of the mouth of someone who feels very humbled by the belief that God is great and humans are not).

    This difference in epistemology is also why people calling themselves atheists get very angry when Christians play the moral equivalence game.

    As for the rest of your analysis, namely:
    “You believe that your worldview will ultimately lead to the betterment
    of mankind through the casting off of the ancient morality most
    religious people stick to. In general, you know more about the universe
    and your place in it than your theistic counterparts”

    Most of that is basically true. But I’ll take each point on its own:

    1) “casting off ancient morality and dogma results in the betterment of mankind.” This is self evidently true, at least so far. The sum total of human suffering is smaller after 400 years of enlightenment rationalism and the social technologies (market economies, democratic governance, universal sufferage, civil ilberties, scientific and technological advance) is unbelievably smaller. Wars are less common, slavery is now rare instead of common, famine doesn’t exist except as is caused by politics, and pollution per-person in urban society is lower than in any agrarian society. Of course, there are a LOT of problems left to solve, including problems that previous advances have created. But you can’t solve them by appealing to ancient texts. Freedom of communication and trade create peace where common religious community does not (read the history of Europe for a stark example of this fact). Freedom of inquiry and invention creates technological solutions to human disease and poverty, where religious charity and prayer do not. The list goes on.

    2) “In general, you know more about the universe
    and your place in it than your theistic counterparts.” This also is self-evidently true, particularly if you look at the “in general” qualifier. MOST Christians in the world understand less about cosmology, evolution, microbiology, biotechnology, quantum mechanics, classical mechanics, psychology and sociology than do MOST Western Rationalists. The reason? The Bible contains ancient answers to most of the questions that these diverse fields of study interrogate, and MOST believers are uneasy about the fact that most scientific answers are at odds with most Biblical teachings. Notice, though, that I said “most,” not “all.” In some circles–mainly those of high prosperity and education–Christians are not anti-intellectual and are happy to adapt to scientific discovery (this is called “theological liberalism). The trouble is that most believers assume that all believers agree with them, when the well-documented facts are that most religious people in the world (including Christians) are anti-intellectual fundamentalists. (See Mark Knoll’s “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind” for a conservative Christian lament about this very thing).

    So, yeah, that’s pretty much an accurate take on the basic attitude we’ve got. But it doesn’t necessarily follow from that that ALL believers are 1) stupid, 2) ignorant, or 3) barbaric. It only follows that many of the beliefs that Christians pay lip service to are 1) barbaric, 2) archaic, 3) demonstrably false, or 4) nonsensical or delusional, if you drill down into their philosophical bedrock and really probe the edges of their implications.

    Fortunately, most people in liberal democracies are positive-sum thinkers, socially thoughtful, and universalist in mindset (meaning they see all humans as fellows rather than only seeing their immediate community as fellows). I certainly know a number of Christians (yourself included) who are decent, thoughtful, responsible people who are a net benefit to civilization and who would never dream of putting into practice the barbaric potential of their tradition. Unfotunately, I also know too many theonoimsts, con artists, reactionaries, and nascent totalitarians who, given their druthers, would roll the clock back to a “better time” when religion ruled the world. Folks like this, alas, are not uncommon–though thankfully they are in the minority. When “atheists” get on your case about these things, it’s because that minority is very vocal, and by championing your Christianity or your theism without equally loudly proclaiming your enlightenment values, you are seen as giving tacit support to and/or engaging in tacit common cause with the larger, more fundamentalist strains of Christianity that really do still burn witches, block science education and research, oppose freedom of speech, engage in slavery, and keep women and non-conformists socially (and sometimes politically) oppressed.

    Don’t know if that helps, but it’s what I got. Can’t wait to hear more 🙂

    All the best, Scott. Keep thinking out loud–the world is a richer place for it


  10. I’m not Scott; I’m his wife.  I can’t be as eloquent as you.  However, I defend my archaic sisters and brothers (those following Christ’s mandate and not their own mislead, self-serving purposes).  “Christianity” and “Christian” are extremely broad terms as the world and many christians think of them.  I would dare say that an accurate definition of both would be a bastardization, a mating of biblical concepts (I call them truths) with self-serving ideas that idolize God (a token  who must be appeased in order for wishes, success, hopes, etc. to be granted) and thus promoting all kinds of hateful ideologies and horrific crimes against others.  

    Don’t get me wrong, I serve an awesome (meaning an unfathomable greatness that I can’t fully know, but acknowledge with “fear” (like something terrifyingly wonderful) and full confidence that I am still safe) God.  No idol is he.  I cannot earn, buy, or beg his favor.  No deeds I do or don’t do will make me a better or worse “sogstfij” (*smile* a new word that I can’t say meaning servant of God saved through faith in Jesus).   I certainly believe there is sin and sanctification.  I am confident of a future where there is perfection but know full well that in this life I am not perfect and neither is anybody else.

    Despite the actions of many, the Jesus in the New Testament would not launch the crusades, burn witches, blow up abortion clinics, verbally or physically assault homosexuals, force people into relationships, abuse children, slander others, finagle poor widows out of their last pennies, throw beggars in jail, let the poor starve … Some Christians have forgotten the message of Christ.  Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.  Instead their fear of their own sin or the sin of others has caused them to build fences and sharpen spears to keep out and attack the very people they are to love. 

    I may disagree with your philosophy, but you no more deserve to be yelled at, stoned, mocked, ridiculed, cursed, or rejected than any other person.  You are my neighbor – I don’t have to agree with you but I do have to love you.  That is what so many “Christians” have forgotten.

    Leigh Roche

  11. Oh generalisations… Those things cause a lot of pain. My mother always tell me that I can’t be a good person because I don’t believe in god and that I will go to hell. Even if, and I will admit that it might be possible because I don’t own the truth, god exists I am not scared of the last judgement. Why should I ? Being an atheist doesn’t make me a bad person as well as being a christian doesn’t make someone a good person. To each his or her own belief.

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  16. For me this is old ground, so I don’t have a lot of reaction to it anymore. I oped in IRC chat channels devoted to offering a helping hand Christ style and of course a majority of the people who showed up were there to try and attack Christ and believers. So the as an old vet of the flame wars I try to save my arguments for those who show a genuine interest in understanding Christ and his message.

    That said, I’ve been hearing this new revisionist rhetoric that claims Hitler was a Christian and it not only sickens me it just has no basis in objective reality. I’d be surprised by any credible quote where Hitler EVER claimed to be a Christian. But there’s more. Hitler claims that his government was the Drittes Reich or Third Kingdom. This is an allusion to the writings of a bad historian who created a religion of his own According to that system previous empires had been the Kingdom of the Father (first kingdom) and Kingdom of the Son (second kingdom). By claiming Drittes Reich, Hitler was claiming to be the Kingdom of the Holy Spirit, and himself as emperor and avatar of the God the Holy Spirit. Such claims for the divinity by a human being other than Christ are on the face disqualification as Christian.

    Secondly, Hitler was an esoterist who practiced a for of neo-pagan religion celebrating the Saaxon gods of the Winilli and Angles. Wagner’s Ring Cycle became virtual prophecy of the Nazi Party and Hitler knighted his elite Schusstaffeln as religious knights of his new religion. He collected every piece of esoterica he could locate attempting to discover a means of training functional magicians for the cause of the Nazis. Such practices automatically exclude him from the congregation and body of Christ.

    Thirdly he persecuted the Jews and murdered millions of people because of suspected or real social familial or religious ties to the Jewish community. The Christian texts support the Jewish faith. Jesus said, I have not come to destroy the law, but fulfill it. Paul said, “the gifts and calling of the lord are without repentance” in the context of referring tot he mosaic covenant. Repeatedly the case is made that the only means of Christian Salvation is adoption as “spiritual” converts to Judaism and “grafting” into the heredity of Abraham. I put it to you you cannot be anti Semitic and be a member of the body Christ.

    The only religion I know of where you become a member simply by stating that you are, is Islam. Every other I’ve ever heard of has initiation practices and minimum standards to prevent you being expelled from the faith, not just the organization. It’s important to be historically accurate before you become hysterically active.


  17. I recommend reading Hitler’s “Table Talk” and “Mein Kampf” as well as his speeches, if you want a better background on him.

    As far as esoterics, you’re thinking of Goebells. His diaries are available and also worth a read.

    The truth is actually a lot more complicated than either you or your opponents are making out, and it’s not kosher (if you’ll forgive the tasteless pun) to pretend otherwise.

    Also worth reading, one of Hitler’s favorite books: “On The Jews and Their Lies” by Martin Luther (Hitler quotes from it heavily, usually without attribution, in Mein Kampf).

  18. You’ve got a point here – a valid point – but I fear the Christian faith is based on misunderstandings of what Jesus truly said. It is understandable – he didn’t write his teachings down – nor did anyone else at the time, and we can only imagine how much the teachings changed before they were first written down – let alone how much they’ve changed since. I don’t think the argument here is that which view is correct, Christianity or atheism, but rather, which one is less wrong. 😀

    Give me a choice, and I’ll go for the guy who says he’s an Atheist over one that calls himself Christian any time, not knowing anything else of either, that is – I do think that Atheists are closer to what they should be… Because they allow themselves to be what they are meant to be without restrictions from the Bible or other “holy” book. They accept their souls desire even though they don’t believe in a soul. And that is a good thing. Why would God give a damn about what we believe, whether we believe in him or not, or whether we do this or that or the other… He doesn’t need us to believe in him in order to exist, after all… He is not a fairy.

  19. “we can only imagine how much the teachings changed before they were first written down”

    We can imagine it, but we have no proof that it’s the case.

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