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Why would a Christian want to change the world?
Posted: 23 August 2012 03:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 31 ]
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TimB - 22 August 2012 10:25 PM

I have argued, before, on another thread for adopting some of the methods that make religions successful.  But making a religion out of secularism seems to me to be the wrong way to go.  One of my over-riding values is that dogma sucks.  Religions are prone to creating dogma.

What makes you so sure that all religions necessarily are dogmatic? Wouldn’t you want to know the content of what I have in mind before tarring it with this characterization? How do you know that my idea of “religion” is the same as yours? Has it ever occurred to you that someone else might see something you don’t see? And when you make the word “religion” the launching point for your conclusions, without regard to the content of what that word might mean, don’t you have the tail (label) wagging the dog of content?

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Posted: 23 August 2012 05:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 32 ]
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Since I left religion, I’ve read enough history to conclude that the people of Abrahamic times, with all the tyrannizing and killing they knew, found life so awful that they formed groups that fantasized a happier future life.

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Posted: 23 August 2012 06:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 33 ]
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PLaClair - 23 August 2012 03:27 AM
TimB - 22 August 2012 10:25 PM

I have argued, before, on another thread for adopting some of the methods that make religions successful.  But making a religion out of secularism seems to me to be the wrong way to go.  One of my over-riding values is that dogma sucks.  Religions are prone to creating dogma.

What makes you so sure that all religions necessarily are dogmatic? Wouldn’t you want to know the content of what I have in mind before tarring it with this characterization? How do you know that my idea of “religion” is the same as yours? Has it ever occurred to you that someone else might see something you don’t see? And when you make the word “religion” the launching point for your conclusions, without regard to the content of what that word might mean, don’t you have the tail (label) wagging the dog of content?

I didn’t say that all religions are necessarily dogmatic, because I don’t know If that is true.  I said ” Religions are prone to creating dogma.” as you can read above.  Either you didn’t read it correctly the 1st time, or you purposefully and manipulatively mis characterized what I said. 

I have given you genuine reponses based on the posts of yours that I have read and from briefly checking out your website. (I also noted your signature line that indicates that you have some issue with the authority on CFI. That is fine, but it seems to belie your stated interest in secularists not reacting against authority, whatever you mean by that.)

I think that you are free to express what you mean by religion, though I suggest you should start your own topic on this, rather than further hijacking this thread.

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Posted: 23 August 2012 07:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 34 ]
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There’s a difference between disagreeing with a leader of an organization and having an issue with authority.

This discussion took this path, Tim, because you asked me a question. So I answered it. This is my first encounter with you and I don’t know that I’ll care to have another. What have you added to this discussion? From my perspective, all you’ve done is raise objections based on your personal reactions to things - which was my point in the first place. So let’s end it here. You can have the last word if you like.

My point is that we Humanists weigh ourselves down with a lot of baggage. Anyone who would look at this spittin’ match, for example, probably wouldn’t be favorably impressed.

[ Edited: 23 August 2012 07:36 PM by PLaClair ]
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Posted: 23 August 2012 07:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 35 ]
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PLaClair - 23 August 2012 07:31 PM

...My point is that we Humanists weigh ourselves down with a lot of baggage. Anyone who would look at this spittin’ match, for example, probably wouldn’t be favorably impressed.

Dialogue can naturally include disagreements and misunderstandings. So if you truly want genuine dialogue about your opinions and beliefs (and not just submissive affirmation) you should develop a tolerance for disagreements and misunderstandings.

As far as how the particular dialogue that you and I have had, impresses people, I would guess that most people who have read it, at all, have skimmed through it, paying it little heed one way or the other.

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Posted: 25 August 2012 07:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 36 ]
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PLaClair, I didn’t mean to suggest that it‘s easy for secular people to figure out or agree about what should be done. After all, it’s pretty obvious that secular people are going to be arguing forever about markets, taxation, protectionism and welfare. My point was just that, compared with trying to figure out how to maximize the overall number of souls saved and the like, it does seem pretty easy! Being rather optimistic, I do think that secular people can find some common ground. I do think that most of them can agree that a world with less war and fewer children starving to death would be a better world.

But the main point of the post was to suggest that, because some Christians are so obsessed with trying to make excuses for God and trying to put the blame on human beings for everything bad that happens, they are in danger of becoming paralyzed when it comes to knowing how to change the world for the better. Things that looked bad must have been for the greater good overall, so how do we know that things that look bad now aren’t also for the greater good? Moreover, they argue that human free will is of such overwhelming value and importance that God couldn’t do anything to interfere with Hitler. Well, if that’s the case, then why should we interfere with the free will of similar people today? On top of that, you also have some fundamentalists condoning the genocide in the Old Testament. This obviously puts them in a very tricky situation when they try to condemn genocide in the modern world. What a mess!

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Posted: 25 August 2012 09:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 37 ]
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Dom1978 - 25 August 2012 07:54 AM

PLaClair, I didn’t mean to suggest that it‘s easy for secular people to figure out or agree about what should be done. After all, it’s pretty obvious that secular people are going to be arguing forever about markets, taxation, protectionism and welfare. My point was just that, compared with trying to figure out how to maximize the overall number of souls saved and the like, it does seem pretty easy! Being rather optimistic, I do think that secular people can find some common ground. I do think that most of them can agree that a world with less war and fewer children starving to death would be a better world.

But the main point of the post was to suggest that, because some Christians are so obsessed with trying to make excuses for God and trying to put the blame on human beings for everything bad that happens, they are in danger of becoming paralyzed when it comes to knowing how to change the world for the better. Things that looked bad must have been for the greater good overall, so how do we know that things that look bad now aren’t also for the greater good? Moreover, they argue that human free will is of such overwhelming value and importance that God couldn’t do anything to interfere with Hitler. Well, if that’s the case, then why should we interfere with the free will of similar people today? On top of that, you also have some fundamentalists condoning the genocide in the Old Testament. This obviously puts them in a very tricky situation when they try to condemn genocide in the modern world. What a mess!

I have no quarrel with you at all, Dom, and your points are all well-reasoned, but you may be overlooking a fundamental truth about human nature. Even the most reasonable among us don’t operate mainly from reason. To my observation, this is pretty nearly as true among self-described secularists as anyone else. Some of us hold ourselves in check better than others - but then so do some Christians on most issues, they just compartmentalize their theology. That is the only place where some of them go off the deep end. Consider Kenneth Miller, the biology professor at Brown Univ., who is a leading spokesperson for evolutionary theory. He was the lead witness for the good guys in the Kitzmiller case [http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/dover/kitzmiller_v_dover_decision.html], where Judge Jones shot down so-called intelligent design. Ken is a brilliant debater and thoroughly logical - until he starts justifying his theology.

Compare and contrast that with what comes from some self-described secularists. On this very topic, I just had a rather unpleasant exchange with “Tim.” In my view, he wasn’t listening, wasn’t being open to what I was saying, and was imposing his meaning onto my words. That’s not going to work, if one of the goals is to understand each other, and it didn’t. I don’t see that quality in you but in all likelihood if I pushed certain buttons I might see something like that, and you might see it in me if someone pushed on my sore spots. The best we can do is commit ourselves to getting past our emotions and our biases, but no one does it all the time.

My experience with Christians is a very broad one, reflecting the broad scope of personalities among Christians. The woman I told you about in an earlier post insisted that sex outside of marriage was forbidden. Meanwhile, we were both in our twenties and flat-out crazy about each other. So we used to sit on her bed, legs crossed, buck naked after having sort-of satisfied ourselves in one way or another, arguing about it. The absurdity or that scene didn’t escape me, then or now. Thornton Wilder wrote it well in “Our Town”: “wherever you come near the human race, there’s layers and layers of nonsense.”

I’m just urging caution in labeling any group of people as illogical or unreasoning, even if they self-identify with a theology that - I agree with you - isn’t reasoned or based on evidence. If we do that, we will find very quickly that the larger community will see our own biases very quickly.

[ Edited: 25 August 2012 09:14 AM by PLaClair ]
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Posted: 25 August 2012 03:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 38 ]
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Dom1978 - 25 August 2012 07:54 AM

...
But the main point of the post was to suggest that, because some Christians are so obsessed with trying to make excuses for God and trying to put the blame on human beings for everything bad that happens, they are in danger of becoming paralyzed when it comes to knowing how to change the world for the better. Things that looked bad must have been for the greater good overall, so how do we know that things that look bad now aren’t also for the greater good? Moreover, they argue that human free will is of such overwhelming value and importance that God couldn’t do anything to interfere with Hitler. Well, if that’s the case, then why should we interfere with the free will of similar people today? On top of that, you also have some fundamentalists condoning the genocide in the Old Testament. This obviously puts them in a very tricky situation when they try to condemn genocide in the modern world. What a mess!

Is your motivation in delving into these thoughts, that you would like to help Christians overcome the distorted and conflicted thinking, so that they will focus on changing the world for the better?  Or are you only pointing out why they often don’t or often can’t?

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Posted: 25 August 2012 07:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 39 ]
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Creating a cause for atheistic community outreach or services that many religions do would be no different than representing your organization as a religion because it begs a connection between the ideology, namely atheism, to the function of the aid it’s trying to do. Someone can have a religious belief in a god that commands its followers to do particular social services for the people. The intrinsic nature can justify their actions. On the other hand, atheism, is not really a belief or cause. If there were no religions, no one would be calling themselves an atheist because no one would question their lack of belief in something that doesn’t exist—it would be redundant, superfluous, and strange to even suggest such a position.

Social concerns have nothing intrinsically connected to atheism. The secular institutions in a country that keeps religion out of politics are the only necessary outlet for social aids. When religions help, they keep things under the banner of their ideology. If you want to help others but have no religious belief, then create the organization solely defined for its cause, not on external irrelevant opinions.

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Posted: 25 August 2012 07:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 40 ]
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Tim, the main point of the post was simply to attack Christianity and to try to show that it’s an incoherent mess, but everybody here seemed to agree with me on that point anyway. I was hoping that that a few people would try to show that saving souls and improving the world really are one and the same thing, but that didn’t happen. 

Now, I’ve just thought of a little thought experiment that might make these ideas clearer. Imagine that you have two possible worlds, and each has a population of one billion people. The first is a terrible world, full of war, torture, tyrants, terrible governments, starvation and disease, but nonetheless it turns out that six hundred million people get saved. The second world is a wonderful place, where most people treat their neighbours as they would wish to be treated, and where there’s very little war or starvation. However, in this world, only five hundred million people are saved. Christians seem to be committed to the absurd conclusion that the first world is better!! Of course, you could also consider a third possible world where there are ten billion people and eight hundred million people are saved. Would this be better than the first world even though loads of people are going to hell? 

Anyway, I want to stress here that I’m attacking Christianity, and not Jesus. Jesus himself seemed to believe that people get saved not by believing the right things but rather by treating people well and helping the poor. And so he would say there really is a tight connection between saving souls and making the world better. He would say that the first world in my example couldn’t possibly have more people going to heaven than the second world. So a lot of this comes back to the faith/works thing, with Jesus believing we’re saved by works and Paul believing we’re saved by faith. And so it’s Paul who’s ultimately to blame for all of this, with his insistence that it’s all about believing that Jesus was raised from the dead.

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Posted: 25 August 2012 08:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 41 ]
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Dom1978,

You would have to be more specific. “Why ...a Christian [would] want to change the world?” suggests that all Christians have one solidified particular set of beliefs. The term, Christian, just describes one as a person with a philosophy founded on some understanding of the historical Jesus Christ. It says they value his teachings or philosophy at the least. But I think that you are assuming a particular type of Christian…one who believes in the particular conservative and fundamental interpretations that believe that God will fix the order and justice of things in death and the end of the world.

My natural mother had a particular belief that good acts in this world cannot assure your place in heaven. The only salvation was to believe in Jesus and simply asking for his forgiveness will assure you a place in heaven. This is the assumption that Jesus’ salvation was meant to replace the pascal lamb, a scapegoat to transfer all your evils from you.
The original historical intent was to save mankind from permanent death that God cursed him from when he originally sinned by eating the fruit of the tree of wisdom in Adam and Eve. The Indulgences sold in the Middle Ages assured the purchaser the forgiveness of sin. The Protestant movement protested to say that this wasn’t right and originated the idea that Jesus naturally forgives without money to afford to purchase an [edit] Indulgence. This transferred to the assumption that this was the underlying core of salvation of Jesus.

Asking this particular type of Christian why they would even want to change the world is sensible. I think that most Christians nowadays, though, takes the view that their deeds can still determine their judgement by God, contrary to their founding authorities.

[ Edited: 25 August 2012 10:30 PM by Scott Mayers ]
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Posted: 25 August 2012 09:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 42 ]
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Dom1978 - 25 August 2012 07:37 PM

Tim, the main point of the post was simply to attack Christianity and to try to show that it’s an incoherent mess, but everybody here seemed to agree with me on that point anyway. I was hoping that that a few people would try to show that saving souls and improving the world really are one and the same thing, but that didn’t happen. 

Now, I’ve just thought of a little thought experiment that might make these ideas clearer. Imagine that you have two possible worlds, and each has a population of one billion people. The first is a terrible world, full of war, torture, tyrants, terrible governments, starvation and disease, but nonetheless it turns out that six hundred million people get saved. The second world is a wonderful place, where most people treat their neighbours as they would wish to be treated, and where there’s very little war or starvation. However, in this world, only five hundred million people are saved. Christians seem to be committed to the absurd conclusion that the first world is better!! Of course, you could also consider a third possible world where there are ten billion people and eight hundred million people are saved. Would this be better than the first world even though loads of people are going to hell? 

Anyway, I want to stress here that I’m attacking Christianity, and not Jesus. Jesus himself seemed to believe that people get saved not by believing the right things but rather by treating people well and helping the poor. And so he would say there really is a tight connection between saving souls and making the world better. He would say that the first world in my example couldn’t possibly have more people going to heaven than the second world. So a lot of this comes back to the faith/works thing, with Jesus believing we’re saved by works and Paul believing we’re saved by faith. And so it’s Paul who’s ultimately to blame for all of this, with his insistence that it’s all about believing that Jesus was raised from the dead.

OK, I will briefly play the foil as the type of Christian you are thinking of:

Yes the 1st world in your thought experiment is preferable to the 2nd, because 100 million more people will spend an eternity in paradise with God.  And in the 2nd world 100 million more will spend an eternity separated from God, enduring the agonies of hell.  The relative experiences of the people in either of those 2 worlds during their single earthly lifetime, is nothing, compared to their eternal experience.

Also, you mis-characterize Jesus to some extent, because he said “No man comes to the father except by me.” Did he not?  Also, please note John 3:16.  The key to everlasting life is believing in Jesus.  That is all that is actually necessary to spend eternity with the Father.

You are correct however about my being perplexed re: the 3rd world (as to whether it is better than the 1st) as there are 300 million more in the 3rd who will be with God for eternity, but 9 billion 200 million who will be damned for eternity.  If pressed, I guess I would go with percentages, and say that the 1st world is still the best.  Fortunately God has not made us responsible for the souls in alternative worlds, only this one.

So you see that my thinking is not actually an incoherent mess.

[ Edited: 25 August 2012 09:56 PM by TimB ]
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Posted: 25 August 2012 11:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 43 ]
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Scott, you don’t need to tell me that the Christian tradition is complex. It’s precisely this complexity that causes so much trouble for the Christian. They have all sorts of ideas coming at them from different times and different places, and when you lay it all out, it just doesn’t fit together.

Tim, one of my original points was that whereas secular people are consistent when they say their main goal is to make the world a better place, Christians are not consistent when they say this. Anyone who chooses world 1 over world 2 is being inconsistent when they also talk about how we really need to devote our lives to making the world a better place.

I guess one thing that motivated me in writing the original post is that I get really annoyed when I see secular socialists and Christians getting together and claiming that it’s all about helping the poor and the downtrodden and creating a just world, and that the only difference between them is that the Christian has a few supernatural beliefs tacked on. In fact, the secular socialist is perfectly consistent in dedicating their entire life to creating a better world for everyone, but the Christian is not, and we need to remind the Christian
of this. It’s not belief in the supernatural per se that’s the problem here; rather it’s
the specific beliefs that the Christian has that cause serious inconsistencies. 

Yeah, my comments about Jesus were a bit controversial. I was assuming that John isn’t necessarily trustworthy when it comes to determining what Jesus is actually likely to have said. But we needn’t get bogged down in thinking about what Jesus or Paul really said or thought. The point is that all of these different ideas are swimming around in Christianity. Still, I do think that if Christians are serious about wanting to make the world a better place, and if they also want to be consistent and rational, they should secularize completely or else just say they haven’t got a clue about the afterlife or salvation or God’s plans or other such things.

By the way, whenever I use the word ‘Christianity’, I know there are people thinking that what I’ve said doesn’t apply to process theology or various kinds of liberal Christianity, but by ‘Christianity’ I mean something like what CS Lewis meant by ‘Mere Christianity’. The deeper point, and one that Robert Price always makes, is that there is actually no such thing as mere Christianity, but hey, you all know what I mean by it.

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Posted: 25 August 2012 11:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 44 ]
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TimB - 25 August 2012 09:50 PM

OK, I will briefly play the foil as the type of Christian you are thinking of:

Yes the 1st world in your thought experiment is preferable to the 2nd, because 100 million more people will spend an eternity in paradise with God.  And in the 2nd world 100 million more will spend an eternity separated from God, enduring the agonies of hell.  The relative experiences of the people in either of those 2 worlds during their single earthly lifetime, is nothing, compared to their eternal experience.

Also, you mis-characterize Jesus to some extent, because he said “No man comes to the father except by me.” Did he not?  Also, please note John 3:16.  The key to everlasting life is believing in Jesus.  That is all that is actually necessary to spend eternity with the Father.

You are correct however about my being perplexed re: the 3rd world (as to whether it is better than the 1st) as there are 300 million more in the 3rd who will be with God for eternity, but 9 billion 200 million who will be damned for eternity.  If pressed, I guess I would go with percentages, and say that the 1st world is still the best.  Fortunately God has not made us responsible for the souls in alternative worlds, only this one.

So you see that my thinking is not actually an incoherent mess.

Yeah, I think that this would be the kind of argument from this type of Christian but it is quite scarecrow-like because it is too easy to demolish as such an interpretation. I think what a careful Christian arguer would do would be to try to draw a comparison between their belief and the non-believer by demonstrating their active ethical social values as opposed to those without. It would be one of claiming, yeah, we may not be great because we accept that we are all sinners, but without any grounding in a god at all, how could anyone justify any better of an ethical justification to behave; At least, as a Christian, they would claim to know right from wrong.

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Posted: 25 August 2012 11:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 45 ]
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Dom1978 - 25 August 2012 11:06 PM

Scott, you don’t need to tell me that the Christian tradition is complex. It’s precisely this complexity that causes so much trouble for the Christian. They have all sorts of ideas coming at them from different times and different places, and when you lay it all out, it just doesn’t fit together.

Tim, one of my original points was that whereas secular people are consistent when they say their main goal is to make the world a better place, Christians are not consistent when they say this. Anyone who chooses world 1 over world 2 is being inconsistent when they also talk about how we really need to devote our lives to making the world a better place.

I guess one thing that motivated me in writing the original post is that I get really annoyed when I see secular socialists and Christians getting together and claiming that it’s all about helping the poor and the downtrodden and creating a just world, and that the only difference between them is that the Christian has a few supernatural beliefs tacked on. In fact, the secular socialist is perfectly consistent in dedicating their entire life to creating a better world for everyone, but the Christian is not, and we need to remind the Christian
of this. It’s not belief in the supernatural per se that’s the problem here; rather it’s
the specific beliefs that the Christian has that cause serious inconsistencies. 

Yeah, my comments about Jesus were a bit controversial. I was assuming that John isn’t necessarily trustworthy when it comes to determining what Jesus is actually likely to have said. But we needn’t get bogged down in thinking about what Jesus or Paul really said or thought. The point is that all of these different ideas are swimming around in Christianity. Still, I do think that if Christians are serious about wanting to make the world a better place, and if they also want to be consistent and rational, they should secularize completely or else just say they haven’t got a clue about the afterlife or salvation or God’s plans or other such things.

By the way, whenever I use the word ‘Christianity’, I know there are people thinking that what I’ve said doesn’t apply to process theology or various kinds of liberal Christianity, but by ‘Christianity’ I mean something like what CS Lewis meant by ‘Mere Christianity’. The deeper point, and one that Robert Price always makes, is that there is actually no such thing as mere Christianity, but hey, you all know what I mean by it.

The problem with this is that people who believe in a particular strain of one religion, not to mention all the other non-Christian religions out there, is that it is just an arbitrary belief of one unique religion. I’m not in agreement that non-religious people have a more just reason to argue for moral values.

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