Replies to Comments on Acorn Post (Part 1)

January 23, 2008

This gets very complicated. For the last couple of years, I have read and posted extensively at worldmagblog.com, the blogging site of World magazine, a leading magazine and web site for American evangelical Christians. This was very odd as I am not a religious believer. At the beginning of 2008, I decided to take a six month (at least) “sabbatical” from participation at that blog. I may not return to posting there.

Some of the Christians at wmb have found my participation there interesting and amusing at times, though I think all believe that my participation would be immeasurably improved if I converted to Christianity. Others have found my participation offensive and irritating.

Some of the people who regularly read and post at my blog site include people from the more or less favorable group, including Cameron and Mommy, (both of whom commented on my “Acorn” post) and Vicky, Janie, and Kyle, who have not. Pete is a bit of a special case; we “met” at wmb. Unlike me, he is a Christian. Like me, he has some doubts about wmb being that useful a place to participate for a long period of time, though obviously his reasons are not all the same as mine.

I seldom delete comments (only one deletion in the history of my blog), and not because of disagreement. I am quite willing to delete a comment, but it would be because I found it boring or tedious, not because it expresses a different point of view on politics or religion. I find it very charming that Cameron reminds me that I can delete her comments. Pete has said something similar. It does not distress me when a Christian posts a comment affirming their Christianity or expressing a Christian point of view. I consider the probability of Cameron (or Pete for that matter) posting a message I found any reason to delete about as low as I would reading in the newspaper that either of them had been arrested as a terrorist. I don’t have a microscope powerful enough to see a probability that low.

I suppose if someone posted an entire sermon (of hundreds of paragraphs), I might say, “That’s quite enough,” but I’ve seen no sign of such happening, and a few paragraphs are fine.

Briefly, in terms of what Cameron and Mommy said, my response to the Christian belief that we humans are all fallen is:

1) As a metaphor, I find it describes how humans behave in a moving and powerful way.

2) As a literal description of how humans actually began, the story of the Garden of Eden and of Adam and Eve is not convincing to me. In any given month, wmb contains hundreds of messages expressing vigorous disagreement between evangelical Christians (who consider the theory of evolution a myth) secular people and a few “liberal” Christians who consider the Garden of Eden story a myth. I think it sufficient to acknowledge the disagreement exists. If someone decides to start the evolution vs. Creation flame wars in my blog, I will start deleting messages. It’s perfectly OK to refer to your beliefs in this regard as part of a message.

3) As a belief system I do not find the Eden story admirable. The book Milton’s God by the brilliant and eccentric British critic William Empson presents this point of view better than I can.

4) In this regard, I find evolutionary theory a convincing (though not yet complete) theory for accounting for both altruistic and benevolent human behavior and for evil and wicked behavior. Cameron and her husband Tim, a minister who has an excellent Christian blog at http://gairneybridge.reformedblogs.com/ has criticized my arguments with considerable good-humored vigor at their blog.

(Most of Tim’s posts are very serious and very religious. However, just by coincidence, when I visited his blog just now, his latest post was a very—if I may dare to say so—very “Random” piece of satire about Christian libertarian Congressman and Presidential candidate Ron Paul. I was feeling a little “guilty’ (not the right word) about leaving Ron out of my recent satire about Presidential candidates. Tim took care of that unplanted ground quite nicely—I don’t think anything will grow there for quite a while. By the way, Cameron, you can tell Tim he is now so in trouble …)

http://gairneybridge.reformedblogs.com/2008/01/21/i-hope-this-doesnt-get-me-in-trouble/

OK, back to my theme. As I’ve argued with Tim and Cameron in his blog, I think the basis for altruistic human behavior lies in part in our capacity for empathy. To the extent that we, as human beings, can vicariously imagine what another human being feels, we are reluctant to cause that person pain and we feel (and occasionally act on) an urge to help other people when we see suffering. The Christian expression of this impulse is what we call “The Golden Rule.” I rather offended Tim a bit in his blog by describing Christianity as a “virtuous swindle,” though he no more deleted my message than I would be tempted to delete one of Cameron’s messages.

I agree that the term is not an especially felicitous one. I am very resistant to supernatural explanations of the universe. We seem to live in a universe that follows natural laws which have been described by what we call science. I do not find a chronicle that tells of a “virgin birth” and a “resurrection from the dead” convincing. There are Biblical scholars such as Bart Ehrman and Robert Price who are very skeptical about the assertion that Jesus was literally the “Son of God.”

Tim is a formidable Biblical scholar, and I think it fair to say that he would argue that I don’t know what I am talking about. If Cameron (or Tim) or Vicky or Kyle or anybody else wants to make a comment to this post expressing a different point of view, I am comfortable with that.

However, I will probably not turn my blog into a pale imitation of World Magazine at http://www.worldontheweb.com/ the leading evangelical Christian web site, or of the Secular Web at www.infidels.org, the leading atheistic web site.

(Actually, as I’ve said, I consider myself a “Radical Agnostic” rather than an atheist, but I’ll talk about that on another day.)

I have more to say in response to some of the other comments, but I need to get on the treadmill and then head out to the ferry. It occurs to me that if they made exercise bicycles connected to the ferry engine available to all the passengers, we could pedal our way to the mainland and save a lot of gasoline as well as getting into shape. This idea needs work, but that’s the idea.)

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11 Responses to “Replies to Comments on Acorn Post (Part 1)”

  1. Tim Says:

    Tim is a formidable Biblical scholar, and I think it fair to say that he would argue that I don’t know what I am talking about.

    OK, Random, I’ll bite: You don’t know what you’re talking about. 😉

    Actually, if you’re going to reference Ehrman and Price, you might want to look at thoughtful stuff from the other side of the aisle as well. Ehrman, btw, no longer considers himself a Christian but a “happy agnostic” (a reference that Christopher Hitchens seemed greatly surprised by in a recent interview; I think Hitchens thought that Ehrman represented some mainstream form of Christianity, when it is obvious that Ehrman, though a respectable scholar, is actually an opponent of Christianity and even absolute truth). I thought that term used by Ehrman was quite ironic (ironic that you mentioned him!), since you call yourself a “radical agnostic.”

    Actually, I’m not posting to pick at you (but I couldn’t resist!). I wanted to 1) thank you for the mention of my blog and 2) make a minor correction: my post was not really satirical about Ron Paul as much as it was about his followers. I’ve met some of these folks (the Secessionists and 9/11 Troofers I mentioned — the same folks, btw) and the tongue-in-cheek comments, while obvious exaggerations, do reflect the “fringe-ness” of some of the folks in support of Dr. Paul. Personally, I like some of his thoughts on small government and tax cuts and the like, but other things he advocates are more of a bitter pill that I cannot swallow.

    Thanks again!

  2. Cameron Says:

    Goodness! Thank you for the kind words 🙂 I look forward to your next installment.

  3. modestypress Says:

    There are around 6 Billion humans alive on the earth right now. At this very instant, some person X is in the act of killing him or herself.

    At this very instant, some person Y is in the act of killing another person Z.

    If the most intelligent, articulate and decent Christian or the most intelligent, articulate, and decent atheist were transported the the location of these deeds, probably neither would be able to talk X or Y out of going through with their actions.

    The two basic questions of human life may be, “Why live?” and “Why be good?” Neither intelligence nor knowledge provides an unassailable nor overwhelmingly convincing answer to these questions.

  4. pandemonic Says:

    Very thought provoking. I’m going to have to ponder this some more.

    The idea about bicycle/ferry synergy is one that needs to be looked at.

  5. mommy Says:

    Mr. Random,
    I have no comments on your beliefs, although I do think you have somewhat of a persecution complex. I have seen you repeatedly post comments suggesting that WMB’ers disdain you and/or your daughter’s lifestyle but can’t ever remember seeing such an actual critisism of you (not saying they didn’t exist, but I don’t remember ever seeing one).

    My beef with your participation there was that you interjected [multiple] LENGTHY posts that were not on topic and were not conducive to generating discussion about current events or life situations. I love reading that stuff here. It irritated me there because it clogged up the threads and made them harder to follow. That being said, I do sincerely miss your opinions and humorous germane comments at WMB.

    blessings.

  6. modestypress Says:

    Tim,

    After teaching teenagers as a high school teacher, and being poked many times, I am fairly poke-resistant. Poke away.

    Cameron, I’m still installing.

    pandemonic,

    With the state patrol officers, sniffer dogs, and Coast Guard special forces agents I see on the ferry from time to time, I an inclined to be careful about what I look at carefully.

    mommy,

    For now, I will be brief in my reply to you.


  7. My beef with your participation there was that you interjected [multiple] LENGTHY posts that were not on topic

    Whereas my experience of you has been that you interject multiple lengthy comments that are on topic. I live for them, you know.


  8. PS Have you warned Mrs. Random that if she likes any of her records,I’m going to brave the fish bonker and try to steal her from you?

  9. modestypress Says:

    #7 Most people strive to be monogamous in their relationships. I am fairly typical in that regard. However, I have known a few people who were in “polyamorous” relationships–where they had intimate relationships with more than one other person in the open without pretending otherwise.

    This does not offend me from a moral point of view. However, the difficulty of trying to please everybody at once strikes me as so impossible to achieve I wouldn’t dream of trying such a task.

    #8 If she likes the records, I won’t tell you about it. Also, if too much fissionable material is placed in close proximity, a nuclear explosion is the result. I would hate to see my pleasant little island suffer the same fate as Hiroshima and Nagasaki.


  10. Oh, c’mon … how could you deprive the world at large of such a newsworthy event?

  11. renaissanceguy Says:

    I don’t have a specific comment. I admire many things about you, including your honesty, openness, and intellectual integrity.

    I miss you at WMB. You were a moderating influence there.


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