Sunday, September 02, 2012

Religion, Fascism, and Norway

Last week, we heard the Norwegian courts sentence their country's worst ever mass murderer. We all know who he is and what he did, and everyone also knows the verdict and sentence. Everyone also has an opinion on it.

It is my opinion, however, that very few of those opinions reflect positively on the potential for Sustainable Human Flourishing. Most, in fact, have left me shaking my head sadly for our poor, oh-so-human race.

Even normally rational secular humanist groups have been seething with old testament "eye for an eye" insanity since the verdict was announced - Comment threads like this one left me feeling very disillusioned and more than a little pissed at my fellow "humanists".

In my funk, I unfairly lashed out at an old high school friend who posted his opinions on his Farcebook wall. This old school mate who I'll call Max (because he approved that I use his real name) also happens to be a pastor at a "Bible Christian" church in my old home town of Perth in Western Australia… As always, Max was gracious and patient with me, and our extended exchange took some interesting twists and turns over the course of almost a week. Despite my many uncharitable anti-theistic barbs, we remain friends, and he has graciously assented to our conversation being re-published here for (potentially) wider scrutiny than it received on our little corner of Farcebook…

Below is the thread as it appeared on Max's wall - apologies in advance from both of us that our logic lacks crispness in parts, but we were both time-stressed and just chatting amongst friends. Apologies also that it is so long - feel free to read it a bit at a time, over the period of a week to recreate the original experience if you wish ;-) I'm publishing it here in this form because I really want to continue exploring some of the issues for myself, and I find that writing stuff down helps. I left Max last right of reply on his wall and promised to stop bombarding his poor parishioners with my religion bashing, but I respond below and re-open the conversation to Max and anyone else who would like to pick up on the many threads we've left dangling…

Anders Breivik was just sentenced to 21 years in jail for massacring 77 people. That comes to less than four months jail for each person he brutally slaughtered. This isn't justice. It's a joke.
24 August at 11:42 near Perth, Western Australia 

What is a good Christian punishment for such a good Christian fighter as him Max? You'd prefer that he gets his wish of martyrdom to the cause?
24 August at 12:13 

This definitely isn't justice, Jamie. And no, he wasn't "a good Christian fighter" by any definition of Christianity.
24 August at 12:16 

It's disgusting!! I couldn't believe such a light sentence when I heard it! He should get that for each person that he killed, in my opinion...:(
24 August at 12:33 

I'm interested to hear the kind of justice that you feel is applicable, of course, but I hope you will read his stuff before you judge. His is a profoundly Christian worldview. His politics are not so different to yours either, I suspect. The main difference seems to be in the methods he feels are appropriate to realise his goals.
24 August at 13:01 

He should've been given 77 life sentences. That means he'll still get a life once he does his time!
24 August at 13:10 

I've read a fair amount about him and his ravings/writings too, Jamie, and he certainly does not demonstrate a "profoundly Christian worldview". As Jesus taught, following God can be summed up by loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and loving your neighbour as yourself. Breivik's actions are the fruit of a heart filled with self-centeredness and hatred, not love and self-sacrifice that are the fruit of a heart focussed on following Christ.
The Bible teaches that human life is so sacred because we are creatures made in God's image, that murder is the ultimate crime and deserving of the highest penalty. 21 years for the massacre of 77 people shows a very low worth of the value of human life.
What would you feel would be justice in this case, Jamie?
How do you define the Christian worldview?
24 August at 13:31 

What do you mean Jamie so think, him beening a Christian he should able go around killing people and get away with. They shoul shut the door and not open it again.
24 August at 14:33 

Max, as you well appreciate, there is no such thing as "the Christian worldview" – even within your little flavour of Christianity, there are thousands of sects. You cannot deny that Breivik identified as a Christian, and that he did what he did because he believed that he was advancing the cause of the Christian religion.
Speaking as a rational humanist, the only rational and humane way to approach such an atrocity is to explore the root causes and to expose the systemic societal problems that allowed it to happen. As the courts found, this was not the work of a madman – Breivik is sane, his motivations were clear, his actions were premeditated. Although there is no denying that they were an absolute atrocity, his actions were entirely consistent with his worldview – a worldview for which he remains unremorseful.
While others share similarly dangerous ideologies, it is delusional to pretend that Breivik is some kind of aberration – It is not reasonable to pretend that everything will be ok again if we just "remove" him from society without addressing the root causes of his behaviour.
24 August at 14:51 

Jamie you talk a lot shit coming up with reason for this man in the name of Christianity. That is why their is so any problem in the world with people thinking like Breieik.
24 August at 15:23 

You deny that he was a Christian TB?
24 August at 15:27 

No I am not staying that but you are tryin to come up with reason that because he's a Christian what he did was rigth.
24 August at 15:33 

Agreed-absolutely appalled by this decision.
24 August at 15:34 

Absolutely not my point at all TB. What he did was appalling and absolutely wrong. My point is that he did these appalling and wrong things consciously, and in in large part in the name of Christianity. Any Christian response to his acts must acknowledge this responsibility.
24 August at 16:06 

Jamie, I totally disagree. I certainly do believe that there exists a "Christian worldview", although I'd probably more accurately describe it as a "biblical worldview". Yes there are many things that Christians disagree on, but I would argue that there is an essence to biblical Christianity about which all followers of Christ would agree. I would also say that to the extent that Christianity departs from the good news about Jesus (the "gospel") - it ceases to be real "Christianity".
Secondly, I don't deny that Brievik, in his writings, claimed to be a Christian. Heck, it was on his Facebook page, so he must have been serious about it, right? But just because he called himself a "Christian" doesn't mean that he was one. I could call myself a car and go and sleep in my carport, but that won't make me a car.
He also hated Protestant Christianity and hated Muslims and hated the multicultural politics of his country to such an extent that he chose to slaughter 77 people. (As an aside, I'm pretty put-out that you would suspect my political views are similar to Brieviks...)
Regarding claims, Jesus himself said, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." In other words, many will say they were followers of Christ, but "you will recognize them by their fruits," said Jesus. There's nothing at all about Breivik - his actions or his writings - that were Christlike in the least. He wasn't motivated by love or a desire to reflect Christ. He wasn't living the way Christ taught his followers to live. Not in the least. He was driven by a white hot hatred. His actions were in complete contrast to the essence of Christ's teaching.
You mentioned the "root causes of his behaviour" Jamie, and this is where it's at. His problem is the same problem we all have to deal with. It's my problem too and it's that I'm a sinner. I don't just sin (rebel against God and do my own thing), I sin because I'm a sinner. So, I must admit that although I follow Christ and own myself as a Christian - there are always going to be things I do and say that fly in the face of my profession. I've definitely got that in common with Breivik, as we all do. There are many things I'm ashamed of, too. I battle with sin in more ways than I could list. But I pray that I'm slowly, day-by-day, conforming to the likeness of Christ as my life goes on.  
24 August at 16:59 

Well said Max.
24 August at 17:07 

Hear, hear Max. Agree totally with what you have written. People think that because someone might say they are a christian that makes them one. It's because they don't know Christ or His word and so make presumptions which are totally incorrect.
24 August at 17:17 

It's also worth noting how exactly Breivik characterized his "Christianity". He called himself a "cultural Christian" and wrote "myself and many more like me do not necessarily have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and God." Seems pretty clear to me.
One of the bigger, more interesting questions though is why do people seem so eager to label Brievik a "fundamentalist Christian"? Granted, the media and others don't do it as much now that they've read his hatred filled, racist rantings and read what he's said about what his own self-identification as Christian. But why?
I don't have time for that discussion right now though. Got to get to work. :)
24 August at 17:34 

he should get life in prison for each person
24 August at 20:37 

so in otherwords he will die in prison
24 August at 20:38 

Thanks for the considered response Max – I know that I’m being deliberately provocative over a very sensitive subject, but I do think that we must take these kinds of opportunities to reflect upon what has happened, and why.
Here we have a highly intelligent, clinically sane person who has told us in great detail what motivated him to slaughter dozens of innocent children in cold blood. He has told us in great detail why he believes others should follow in his footsteps, and how they can do so.
He is alive and well, and he can answer questions. This is a rare opportunity to explore and address some of deepest problems that afflict our society – please let’s not sweep this under the carpet like is done pretty much every other time something like this happens – please let’s not let those 77 innocent people die in vain.
And please don’t get me wrong – I know as well as you do that Breivik is not representative of Christianity as a whole – I know that the vast majority of Christians of all denominations are good people who are as shocked and disgusted as I am by this terrible, terrible act by a terrible, terrible individual. His kind of politics and his kind of Christianity are unquestionably far too extreme for reasonable people – Breivik is indeed an individual who is driven to obscene acts by hatred, racism, and bigotry – his brand of Christianity is not in any way "Christ-like" as you say.
Breivik is not insane though – he was fully aware of what he was doing and why. He is without doubt exceptional in how he has acted out his extreme worldviews, but such extreme worldviews are not exceptional. His hatred, racism, and bigotry stem from his extreme right wing, extreme nationalist influences. As in this case, such extreme and hateful behaviour is all too often proudly on display under the banner of Christ.
Max, If you belong to a group that allows hatred, racism, and bigotry to exist within its ranks, then you cannot act surprised when people assume that you approve of those things. If Christians and Followers of Christ want reasonable people to believe that Christianity is a religion of love, then reasonable people need to start seeing you guys doing a *lot* more to *proactively* disassociate yourselves from hate-filled racists and bigots.
It is too late to push for an insanity plea or to claim that "he’s not my kind of Christian" after an atrocity like this.
24 August at 22:32 

Jamie :-(-:(
25 August at 02:21 

ARGH! I just wrote a lovely little post, Jamie, but I hit the wrong button and lost it! :)
I'm not sure what you mean by me belonging to a group which *allows* hatred, racism, bigotry, etc. to exist within its ranks... Ultimately, the Christian faith has no gatekeeper. There is no person or governing body who declares who can and who cannot call himself a Christian. Anyone can claim to be a Christian. It has always been this way and it will always be this way. This means that anything can be done in the name of Christ—even those things that are so obviously directly opposed to all that Christ taught. I would say that Scripture furnishes Christians with a complete worldview and standard for living, but there's no one standing at the door saying, "You cannot call yourself a Christian! Give me back your ID badge!"
But I think I made the point quite clearly that Brievik's atrocious, brutal life (not just his actions, but his very goals) are a repudiation of the essence of Christianity. I wonder when you think Christianity ceases to be Christianity? But in the end, it's not your definition of Christianity we need. Quite clearly Scripture is the standard, not the label one chooses to give themselves.
Jamie, as an atheist you can number within "your group" people like Stalin, Kim Jong-il, Pol Pot, Mao, (insert atheistic regime leader), whose victims in the 20th Century numbered in the hundreds of millions. Far, far more people were slaughtered by atheistic regimes in the last century than by committed Christians. ;) Would it be fair for me to prohibit you from saying, "But they were not MY kind of atheist"? After all, wasn't one of their goals to rid the world of Christianity and other religions? Couldn't some say, "That's what happens when atheism is taken to the Nth degree? That's what happens when societies and people reject God and his claim on their lives?"
I'm sure you'd disagree if I played the same game with you.
And I'm worried - I'm not sure what kind of Christians you're hanging out with up there in Belgium... There must be a dearth of good Christians in Europe. :)
25 August at 03:55 

Sorry that you lost your post Max - would have liked to see it.
Your replacement is clear though and you make some great points, which must be addressed. will do so, but will take more time than I have today because we're taking the kids to Grotte de Han and then catching up with an old mate who's over from the States for dinner. Hope to get you a response tomorrow. Enjoy your weekend mate
25 August at 09:40 

Jamie and Max, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your comments, you took me back to school unfortunately not to SSHS but to my year 12 in Melbourne at Greythorn High. An entire English class we listened to two fellow students debate on Christianity and it was fascinating. Thanks for the memories.
25 August at 17:07 

Hehe ND. Hopefully there's a benefit to it somewhere! Wears me out because I have a wee little brain. :)
26 August at 01:25 

Hey there ND - Thanks for your note - it is heartening to hear that there are people in this corner of FB who appreciate the art of informed debate :-) Like Max I hope that people will benefit from listening to and thinking about ideas, even if those ideas challenge their worldview.
And Max, I honestly would love to be able to sympathise with your "wears me out" comment because I can imagine how difficult it is for you mate - I don't want to sound uncharitable, but can't sincerely sympathise, because it is your choice to argue against the exponentially increasing sum total of human understanding using only one book that describes a few moral tales told about a tribe of people who lived in a desert more than 2000 years ago. This is why I usually try to avoid debating bible Christians - The debates can't progress - we never get to any of the really interesting stuff about human potential that would actually start to exercise more of your *far* from "wee little brain" Max
I will persist here a bit longer though - Not because I enjoy sounding like a supercilious arsehole, but for the reasons stated above… I honestly believe that this is a very rare opportunity to talk openly across ideological divides about some of the deepest problems afflicting our society. I really don't want those 77 people to have died in vain.
26 August at 19:53 

I want to get back as quickly as possible to the purpose of this thread but hope to quickly address your "tu quoque" accusation about Stalin and other "infamous atheists" Max, because it is largely (but not entirely) a distraction from Breivik - what made him what he is - why he did what he did - and most importantly, what we as good people of all faiths (and non-faiths) can do to try stop such things from happening again.
Max, I'm an "out" atheist, so you can be sure that I've heard many times that it was because Stalin et al did not believe in a supernatural deity that they were able to commit their heinous crimes against humanity. As a conscious rational humanist, I have of course grappled with this troubling accusation and have researched it extensively.
You guessed right :-) I do not believe that it is fair of you to make such an insinuation against all atheists for several reasons - I will quickly try to summarise the most significant of those reasons here:
  1. My *not* believing in a supernatural deity does not make me a member of a group (As someone rather cleverly put it, atheism is no more a religion than *not* collecting stamps is a hobby ;-)
  2. Just because a leader of a movement is an atheist, does not make the movement itself atheistic
  3. Although extreme communism does generally portray itself as "godless", it does not wage war in the name of atheism
  4. None of the leaders you mention (or the other founders of their "godless" ideologies such as Marx, Trotsky, etc) were raised as atheists - most were raised under Abrahamist religions (apart from Pol Pot who was raised both Catholic and Buddhist)
  5. Insofar as many infamous atheist leaders demonstrated personal animus towards religion, it seems to have been a response to direct religious abuse during their childhoods.
Bad people do bad things. These were bad people. It would certainly be relevant to the Breivik discussion to explore whether religious indoctrination of children has a role to play in the creation of bad people, but I doubt whether that would be productive in this forum, so I'm going to leave it alone…
... history demonstrates that religion is a very useful tool if you want to make otherwise good people do bad things though.
More personally though Max, and as a direct response to your earlier comment that "The Bible teaches that human life is so sacred because we are creatures made in God's image, that murder is the ultimate crime and deserving of the highest penalty."
It is my experience that in addition to (occasionally) teaching (varying degrees of) respect for (certain kinds of) human life, the bible unfortunately teaches all sorts of other complete rubbish that is commonly misappropriated to justify atrocities such as Breivik's.
A non-theistic worldview teaches that *all* life is sacred, for no other reason than because it is *life* and because life is absolutely, bloody, insanely cool and amazing!!!
It also teaches us to live the best life we can, and to be the best human we can because there is nothing to look forward to after we die.
26 August at 22:52 

Now, finally, back to Breivik and to his extremely dangerous worldviews. Apologies, but I will segue one last time through your Stalin comment (as mentioned it is not entirely a distraction…)
Although Stalin and co did not share Breivik's religion or his desire for a shortcut to afterlife/martyrdom, the people you named all shared Breivik's über-fascist, über-nationalist politics. (Max, I do apologise for suggesting that you shared such extreme political views - It was not intended to be taken literally, but rather as an acknowledgment that you are significantly further right on the political spectrum than me, and hence more likely to see value in *some* of his political ideas than I can ;-)
Anyway, when I talk about Breivik's worldviews above, and about this rare opportunity to explore the root causes that allow them to propagate, I am obviously not only talking about Christianity (or even religion generally) - I'm also talking broadly about the many, many groups of hate-filled fascists and nationalists that broadly permeate human society.
I am not by any means suggesting that such groups are filled with highly religious people any more than I am denying that many atheists are also members... Whether you choose to acknowledge it or not though Max, *many* of these groups do exist under the tacit protection from criticism provided by association with your religion. When you claim innocently that you are "not sure what you mean by me belonging to a group which *allows" hatred, racism, bigotry, etc" I must call you out and respond that your passive stance grants the protection of your church and of your parishioners to hate groups (such as the KKK, the Westboro Baptists, countless groups of neo-nazis and others) and to individuals like Breivik who commit hate crimes in the name of Christianity.
Again, I am not saying that you or your church actually approve of hate crimes, but your claims of powerlessness because your kind of Christianity doesn't have a bouncer checking membership cards simply does not fly with reasonable people. It reflects as a very serious flaw in your "personal Jesus" doctrine that starts to transform your kind of Christianity from harmless self indulgence into something far more dangerous - into something that reasonable people can sense is becoming an increasing menace to civil society.
Max, If I am a member of a club that I know is doing something illegal or immoral, then I have a responsibility to speak up about it, or at the very least to get the hell out of the club and call in the authorities! This is how good people are supposed to behave.
Somehow though, good Christians are able to turn a blind eye to such things in their midst? Is it really in the best interests of Christianity (and religion generally) that normally quite reasonable "live and let live" types like me are increasingly forced to view certain unspecified kinds of Christians with suspicion previously reserved for members of doomsday cults or jihadist Islamists?
I would very much like to hear your thoughts (and those of your parishioners, and others) on this Max?
26 August at 21:59 

Oh, and on the last point let me try to save you some time Max - I don't want to hear you to restate your personal beliefs about what makes a good Christian. I believe in your sincerity and dedication to your beliefs about Jesus…
Non-Christians like me will not be convinced that Christianity is a religion of love though until Christians start to *demonstrate* (in this life) that Christianity is also a religion that is anti-hate. What is stopping you?
26 August at 23:20 

Jamie, my apologies for not having the ability to devote a great deal of time to this right now. But I want to be fair to the good work you've put into your thoughts. I appreciate that.
My point in bringing up Mao, Stalin, et al was not to assert that you hold the same ethical values as those monsters. You don't, obviously. But just as it would be unfair of me to lump you in with the worst of those who reject the existence of God and to judge that you're guilty of not taking a strong enough stand against their crimes, so it's unfair for you to claim that I am guilty of passively condoning the actions of the worst of those who would call themselves Christians.
I know you pointed out that atheism isn't a club or religion, but I believe that the evils of atheism are a direct outgrowth of the teachings of atheism. I don't believe all atheists are "evil" or that atheism equals killing. But I do believe, and history is on my side here, that where there has been a strong anti-Christian / anti-theistic worldview ideology, blood has flowed freely.
If there is no God and if there is no judgement and consequence for our actions here and now, why not live without restraint? "Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die..."
On the other hand, where the good news about Jesus has been freely proclaimed and people have turned in repentance & faith in Christ - lives and nations have been radically transformed for the good.
Yes, you can always point to abuses. In the Church, most of those abuses have occurred where Christians have picked up the sword and have rejected Christ, not where they've lived to honour him. Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world..." The tools of the gospel are not swords and political agendas, but God's Word transforming hearts.
Re. your accusation of my passivity: I can only say from my perspective:
We DO call out heresy and false teaching, hatred and injustice. My teaching and preaching is often aimed at standing against these things and for a life of holiness. And yes, I could always do more. I'm no more perfect than you are.
Interestingly enough, I consider part of my calling as a pastor to call people in my fellowship to account and emphasize that just because they've grown up "in the church" or just because they name themselves "Christian", does not mean that this is the truth. There must be a real relationship with Christ which will in turn lead to a transformed life.
But since you've put yourself in the judge's chair on this, Jamie, I'm not sure what I can say to satisfy your accusation on this.
Ironically, that's what began this post. My point was that justice was not done in the case of Breivik, at least from the way I see things biblically. The sancity of life seems to be held in very low regard in Norway.
Certainly, Christians can do better. Atheists can too. :) But the solution to immorality and injustice is not LESS Christianity (your solution), but a deeper and more Christ-like Christianity. If there are moral problems; if there are injustice problems; if there is hypocrisy - the gospel provides us with the tools to deal with these things. The solution to the KKK is not for them to become MORE pagan and MORE rebellious against God (as they are), but to repent and turn to Christ.
And there are always going to be hypocrites. There will always be people who do things directly opposed to what they claim to believe. But there could be no hypocrisy if there were no standard with which to measure these things. Christians have a standard. They have a weapon to fight against immorality and hypocrisy. It seems to me Jamie that you're trying to fight against Christianity with borrowed Christian weapons. :)
But back to the original point of the post:
I believe that the sentence meted out to Brievik isn't justice. 21 years for the slaughter of 77 people is not punishment enough.
What do you believe would be justice in this case, Jamie? Poking and probing him as to the foundational reasons for his crime is important, yes. But what punishment would you call satisfactory? And secondly, why?
27 August at 03:50 

One last thing I thought might be helpful, Jamie:
I'm mindful of the fact that you probably just look at me or other Christians as just members of some nebulous, organized institution - the "religion of Christianity".
In the interests of being clear here and knowing where I stand: I don't consider myself part of some "religion" in that institutionalized form. Let me say that there's a radical difference between that kind of thing and what real gospel Christianity is all about. "Religion" is all about us doing this or that trying to earn favour with God and in the world. Gospel Christianity (the kind the Bible, as a whole, reveals) teaches us that our standing with God is completely a gift of grace.
Drawing this distinction between some institutionalized religion of "Christianity" and the gospel is important because they both produce a very different type of community and character.
If I'm all about the "religion" of Christianity--it's all about moral superiority and self-righteousness. It produces religiously warranted wars and violence and all kinds of abuses that we've already talked about.
But that's not the gospel. That's not "the gospel delivered to us" in the Bible.
The gospel, on the other hand ought to bring a mixture of humility and confidence and hope in God. It ought to produce a respect and love for each other. It ought give us a "default position" of grace and mercy because God saved us as rebellious sinners, He forgave us and He's still working on us.
Jamie, you're exactly right that "non-Christians will not be convinced that Christianity is a religion of love until Christians start to *demonstrate* (in this life) that Christianity is also a religion that is anti-hate." That's what Christ taught.
An institutional religious view of Christianity won't get us there. The gospel will. And there's a massive difference.
27 August at 04:15 

Thanks as always for your considered response Max - we are both far too busy for this, of course, so I'll try to respond as quickly as possible to your points above and throw a couple of parting ideas out for you to consider and respond to at leisure - I will then gladly retire from this enjoyable and enlightening, but exhausting thread. To try make up for my ungracious comments above (and below, probably) I offer you the final right of reply - Enjoy Max, I promise that I won't pollute this part of your wall further with any more of this atheist nonsense ;-)
First - let me (finally) respond to your perfectly reasonable question… "What do you believe would be justice in this case, Jamie? ... what punishment would you call satisfactory? And secondly, why?"
Ok - On one level, this is an entirely rhetorical question - A sane guy, premeditatedly slaughters 77 mostly young, entirely innocent, people in cold blood.
I believe as you do Max - I believe that Breivik deserves "the maximum penalty" - of course he does!
And that is exactly what he got...
The reason that we're having this discussion is because you (and an InterWeb full of Facebookers, Bloggers, Twitterati, etc) think that *you* are more qualified to determine what "the maximum penalty" should be in Norway than the Norwegian legal system is.
Norway has a modern judiciary, a well-run democratic government, and an extremely well educated public. They have one of the highest standards of living on the planet. In my personal experience and by any other reasonable measure that I can come up with, Norway is an incredibly civilised country that knows how to look after itself and its people (Coincidentally, they are also one of the least religious countries on the planet, so I am quite convinced that their legal system is based on rational principles without too much of that old testament "eye for an eye" stupidity.)
Justice has been done.
Importantly, justice has been done in such a way that this case is having a major positive impact on Norwegian society - A discussion is being had about whether the maximum penalty is high enough for such crimes, but more importantly a discussion is being had to try to stop such crimes from happening again.
The Norwegian legal system is reconfiguring itself to deal with this new reality, and Norwegian society is doing the same - in the same way as the Australian legal system and Australian society reconfigured itself after Martin Bryant - in the same way that the Belgian legal system and Belgian society reconfigured itself after Marc Dutroux.
In precisely the same way that the American legal system and American society steadfastly *refuses* to reconfigure itself after every new bloody Aurora massacre.
Would you care to discuss…?
28 August at 00:11 

Now that is out of the way, there are a couple of other points you make that I must address before walking away :-)
You say that "I believe that the evils of atheism are a direct outgrowth of the teachings of atheism." - Again, this is a complete misunderstanding/misrepresentation of atheism Max - Atheism is the opposite of theism - there is nothing to teach (other than "think for yourself", of course.) Religion must be taught Max, not atheism. Atheism is the natural human state - Every child is born an atheist. Depending on where they happened to be born though, they are very quickly labeled a "Christian child, or a "Muslim child" or so on, and are subsequently indoctrinated into the religion of their parents.
Likewise, you have entirely missed the point of an atheistic worldview with respect to consequences for our actions with your "Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we [may] die…" quote (which I've corrected in braces ;-)
I don't entirely agree with the idea posited in your quote, but I sure as hell find it more humane than the inverse "Starve, parch, suffer, pray, for tomorrow He may come…", which sounds a lot like the kind of Christian message that is being evangelized in many parts of the third world today...
Ah, serendipity, look what just flashed past my timeline:
I'm not sure if the top is a gross mischaracterization of the biblical Christian perspective of such matters, but the bottom one pretty much nails it for me and most other rational atheists that I know Max.
28 August at 00:15 

Finally, I appreciate your attempt to clarify that you are not a part of some nebulous institutional religion Max - It was unnecessary though because unlike most Australians, I do appreciate that you follow a different kind of Christianity - I lived in the US for 5 years, and it took quite some time to realise just how different you guys are to a typical "Australian Christian" or "European Christian" - How different your beliefs are to those that I was taught in RE at school, or to those of my aunts, uncles, neighbours, etc.
I certainly agree that institutional Christianity has some very serious problems Max and completely agree that it "won't get us there", but I'm struggling to see how your kind of Christianity is going to do it either… In fact, it is my discomfort with your kind of "Personal Jesus" Christianity that drives many of the concerns that I expressed above - I personally see it being as fatally flawed as Islam - by which I mean that in the absence of a central authority "American millennialist Protestantism" (I hope that's an ok label?) appears to be rapidly devolving into increasingly extreme "cults of personality" - As I'm sure you know, there are now thousands of eschatological Christian sects that are often led by highly charismatic "Christian Mullahs" - influential leaders who are guided and controlled by no other authority than their personal relationship with their personal idea of a personal Jesus who has given them a personal mission to prepare the world for his imminent return.
I'm a reasonable guy who believes in "live and let live", but I simply don't see this being a sustainable situation. I'm not suggesting that you are a "Christian Mullah" Max (nor am I suggesting that you are uncharismatic, of course ;-) but I would really love you to try to ease my real-world concerns with something other than biblical quotes?
Back to Breivik though because I think I've beaten your religion up enough for a bit ;-) You rightly point out that Breivik was not "your kind of Christian" - He did *not* have a personal relationship with Jesus, and he is in fact explicitly contemptuous of your kind of evangelical protestantism. He did have a very personal religion though - It may not have been built around his personal relationship with Jesus, but like your own, his religion is personified largely in his head - in his case influenced by only a small group of like-minded extremists on the Internet.
I would propose that Breivik was able to do what he did because he was "personally religious" - Had he been a part of a mainstream church, attending and socialising with other parishioners on Sundays, it feels unlikely that his view of Christianity would have been able to devolve so dangerously far from the harmless mainstream. Instead, through the Internet, it seems that he was able to find equally extreme viewpoints and was able to hear his hateful ideas reflected and amplified rather than repudiated.
I put it to you that the same thing is happening today all throughout millennialist Christianity (and Islam) Max.
28 August at 00:27 

Lastly, there is one final point on the fascist stream before I walk away from it once and for all...
I have seen a strong case made that that there is a natural affinity between the monotheistically-trained mind and fascism. Some very interesting claims have been made that the all too common link between adherents to Abrahamic religions and extreme right-wing politics is facilitated by the fact that such religions are inherently fascist - If a child is taught from birth that there is an all seeing, all powerful, supernatural dictator who can punish them not only for incorrect acts but also for incorrect thoughts, then that child's mind is also likely to be open to the idea of domination by a real-world dictator. (This is most true when it is dressed up in religious finery though, of course - An exception must be made for godless communism, but it is not a desire to free the poor suffering atheist proletariat from their chains that causes good Christian soldiers to kit up for war against the commies - it is the opportunity to install their own celestial dictator, right Max?)
Regardless, it is easy to imagine (and test) that children brought up without the mental chains of submission to an unquestionable authority will grow into adults who respond differently (and in my view far more appropriately) when faced with fascism in the real world...
28 August at 00:32 

Sorry - I should have closed each of those with "Thoughts...?" not "Discuss...?" because as promised, I do not intend to continue, but I am genuinely interested in your thoughts Max - Of course if anyone else wants to discuss with Max, then I'd love to read your thoughts too.
28 August at 00:39 

I think my brain just grew from reading this debate/discussion!!!
28 August at 01:19 

First off, thanks for the discussion, Jamie. I do try to conduct myself with grace and respect (and yes, as I said earlier, I honestly do feel rather intellectually slow during these exchanges and that's not some kind of false humility). Hopefully I've corrected a few of your mischaracterisations of Christianity and I've grown in understanding you a little better (as I always do in this threads). Glad RT and others have enjoyed things too.
I'll probably not nibble at all the bait you've put before me. Tempting, but it's probably best to draw this discussion to a close, think about what's been said and leave most of it for another exciting and enlightening exchange in the future.
Firstly, although you claim that you're not indoctrinating your children, you are. It's rather naive to say otherwise. The Bible says (yeah I know...but Scripture is the standard I go by) that what can be known about God is plain to us. God has revealed himself in the universe in a multitude of ways and people (children especially) can clearly see God's fingerprints on his creation. But when it's our desire to live life our own way and reject our Maker's rule over us - we "suppress the truth" that's clearly seen around us. I believe every person is born with a void that only God can fill. People try all kinds of things, but none but Christ satisfy.
C.S. Lewis wrote:
"If we are made for heaven, the desire for our proper place will be already in us, but not yet attached to the true object, and will even appear as the rival of that object. . . . If a transtemporal, transfinite good is our real destiny, then any other good on which our desire fixes must be in some degree fallacious, must bear at best only a symbolical relation to what will truly satisfy..."
Anyway, that's a discussion for another thread, but just to say that theist parents aren't the only ones who teach their children about the world around them, morality (and the reasons for that morality), etc.
Secondly, I'll just make the point that whatever we think about the Norway verdict, and I've said that I believe the sentence errs on the side of being too light, I believe my Christian faith has a great advantage here:
Picture the worst, most evil person who has ever lived. He is about to die and you sit beside him as he utters his last words. Let's call him Pol. ;) And Pol has no regrets. He's done his own thing. Experienced immense pleasure and enjoyed unbridled power for most of his life. He's caused all kinds of suffering and hardship to others. And he's able to mutter: "And I'm going to get away with it."
An atheist has no answer for that kind of injustice. If this life is the end, then no matter whether you're Mother Theresa or Adolf Hitler, we'll all go to the same reward when this life is over.
Wearing your anti-theist hat, I wonder what you would say to Mr. Pot?
(Another discussion would be why or why not you would think this is such an injustice. I know that you are a deeply moral person, Jamie, but what's the basis for your morality? Why is something good and why is something bad?)
Back to Mr. Pot: the Christian could say, "Yes, this might have been a miscarriage of justice from an earthly point of view. But there will be a reckoning. God will judge and he will balance the books perfectly in the end." So not only do I have an objective standard for morality, I also have a steadfast hope that justice will ultimately prevail.
I'll close by saying that I don't want to face justice either. I'll never stand in God's presence on the basis of my own goodness. God is holy and I am not. I'll never be good enough to confidently face my Maker. So God met my need. God's Son Jesus Christ is my righteousness. He lived perfectly for me and bore the penalty for all my hypocrisy, rebellion, lies, hatred, lust, etc. I'm relying on him. On that day when we move from this world into the next, we will all need a Saviour.
Yep, I've ended on a preachy note - but that's is who I am. Know that I appreciate you, Jamie, and I'm praying for you. :)
28 August at 04:12 

Check out the pictures of the prison where he may be held. It looks like an Ikea store. Incredible! 
28 August at 04:36 


And that is the end of the discussion at it evolved on Max's wall over 5 days, but he's raised some important points that must be addressed - I'll try to do so now...

As a father, this question of "indoctrination" of children is seriously important to me, so I'm going to clarify where I stand on this, and how I believe that my position differs from Max's...

I completely agree with Max's statement that "theist parents aren't the only ones who teach their children about the world around them, morality (and the reasons for that morality), etc." I would probably go one step further and say that all adults (whether parents or not) are directly responsible for the education of the children under their direct care, and they also play a very important role in contributing to the general education of children in their broader sphere of influence. 

We are in complete agreement - I understand that the children in our lives learn from us, because that is what children do. Children build their mental models of how the world works, and they learn what is right and wrong by observing, socializing with, and emulating the adults in their lives.

In fact, whether or not adults assume this responsibility to teach is immaterial - for the first few years of their lives, children will try to do what the adults in their lives do and they will believe without questioning everything that those adults tell them. They will do this because throughout all of human evolution, pretty much every child who did not do this died before they were old enough to propagate their disobedient genes.

I find it deeply ironic that the church has been one of the most scrupulous in accepting this proof of Darwin's evolution, and indeed of using it to demand as much access as possible to children in their earliest and most mentally spongiform state. I find it troubling that they use this access to mold unsuspecting brains in such a way that it is often difficult for them to recognise what has been done to them, even once they are old enough to think critically for themselves. 

When we are told as two-year old children that one holy book or another is the source of all morality, then that lie is likely to persist throughout our lives. The lie persists, even after we are old enough to read these supposedly moral books for ourselves and discover that any valid moral guidance is utterly overwhelmed by appalling tales of immorality, hatred, and genocide. As I saw some clever wag tweet recently.
Reading the bible for morality is like digging for sweetcorn in shit. Sure there's some in there, but is it really worth it?
The lie often persists even when as young adults, we are exposed to the work of earlier philosophers and find that the best of these moral tales are plagiarised - All too often, the lie prevents us from undertaking the modest reflection needed to reveal the best "holy" ideas as simple statements of human nature (as in "the golden rule" of "do unto others…") without which humanity could never have survived as a species...

I consider lying to children to be a particularly damaging and evil thing to do.

It is probably unfair of me but really have to single out one of Max's best quotes
...that what can be known about God is plain to us. God has revealed himself in the universe in a multitude of ways and people (children especially) can clearly see God's fingerprints on his creation.
I read this as a father of two young children, and I shake my head because I can only translate it to mean that Max equates "God" with "childish ignorance". I know that this is not a fair characterisation and hope that Max will clarify his real intent, but there is something to that idea that really speaks to the difference between indoctrination and education. 

My kids are 5 and almost 3, and I believe that anyone who has ever had young children in their lives will recognise this as a typical breakfast conversation for a 5 year old:
Why is the sky blue daddy?
Why do platypuses lay eggs daddy?
Where does the sun go daddy?
What makes snow daddy?
What are stars made out of daddy?
Why is that lady black daddy?
Why can't I fly daddy?
Why do people get sick daddy?
Why do I need to do a poo daddy?
Why can't dogs talk daddy?
Why is fire hot daddy?
Why do you sound so funny when you speak French daddy?
When the stories in the bible and most other similar religious texts were written, the most common response to such questions was quite reasonably something along the lines of "God's fingerprints are everywhere - now hurry up and finish your tiny morsel of breakfast so we can go try scratch an existence out of the dirt."

At that time, no father had access to answers to these questions. At that time, no father even imagined that there were answers to these questions - let alone answers simple enough for a 2 year old to begin to understand… At that time, therefore, it was not "indoctrination" because there was no willful intent by the father to withhold information from his children.

That is simply not the case today though. A parent who passively fails to share the naturalistic answer to such questions today is guilty of lazy and irresponsible parenting because they are stunting their child's critical thinking capacity...

A parent who actively and consciously chooses to suggest instead that "God's fingerprints" are somehow responsible is not being lazy and irresponsible though. They are guilty of willfully indoctrinating their children.

Intellectually, there is no doubt that we are all "born with a void" as Max says. There is perhaps some truth to the idea that this void might fill if you keep shoving "God" in there. If He is the only answer to every question, then a kid is going to stop asking pretty quick and learn to be comfortable with ignorance. On the other hand, the child who learns to question everything will never run out of questions. Their void will never fill but their lives will fill instead with a wonder and beauty of nature.

Max need look no further than his own self and his own family to see this truth - Max is the man he is today in very large part because his father, a "bible Christian" missionary left America and moved to Australia with his young family to preach his personal version of "The Word" of his personal Jesus to heathens Downunder… Max is no doubt as grateful to his father for the way he was educated as I am to mine (and for not entirely dissimilar reasons) so I don't say this to be uncharitable. I say it as a statement of demonstrable fact - religiosity is environmental - It is overwhelmingly a product of the environment in which a child is raised.

Children learn their religion from their parents or from other adult authority figures when they are very young. Voilà - my secular interpretation of the wonderful biblical phrase, "Sins of the fathers..."

Now, onto the Pol Pot question - my answer to this one is quite simple… Max almost certainly is sincere in his belief that "An atheist has no answer for that kind of injustice". This kind of sincerity is not really tenable though, given that theistic ignorance of the atheistic position is willful. Greta Christina makes that point better than I can in her excellent AlterNet post on the matter.

- As an aside, I find it an interesting insight into the theistically trained mind that Max is able to imagine himself in a hypothetical personal relationship with such an evil hypothetical person - Max is able to fantasise about sitting graciously and nobly, chatting with this beast on his deathbed. Reflecting, no doubt praying quietly to himself, thanking Jesus for finally stopping this monster.

To Max and others, I say that there most certainly is a non-theistic response to this kind of evil. I refer you back to my earlier statement that "children brought up without the mental chains of submission to an unquestionable authority will grow into adults who respond differently (and in my view far more appropriately) when faced with fascism in the real world…"

The non-theistic approach to such evil is the same as the non-theistic approach to any injustice. We get off our arses and we do everything we can to stop it before it gets out of control!

As the late, great Madalyn Murray O'Hair famously said before she met her terrible end 
An atheist believes that a hospital should be built instead of a church. An atheist believes that a deed must be done instead of a prayer said. An atheist strives for involvement in life and not escape into death. He wants disease conquered, poverty vanquished, war eliminated.
Non-theists don't fantasise about a non-earthly paradise where such evils can't happen - we imagine that paradise - here, on this Earth! Non-theists don't pray for release into an afterlife in a better world - we strive to make that world happen - now, in this life!

Max's hypothetical tyrant simply cannot exist in a world where enough people believe that they only have one life, and that their purpose in that life is to flourish, while leaving a better world for their children. 

A child who is taught to think critically will not swallow dangerous logical fallacies such as C.S. Lewis's "If a transtemporal, transfinite good is our real destiny..." - If a child is lied to about an afterlife, however, they will be exploited in this life.

I'm going to close with my personal answer to Max's valid question "Why is something good and why is something bad?"

I believe that something is good if it contributes to Sustainable Human Flourishing (in this life), and I believe that something is bad if it detracts from Sustainable Human Flourishing (in this life). 

I believe that it really is that simple, and I also believe that if theists re-read their favourite moral tales in their favourite holy books with this simple idea in mind, they will find that their favourite holy figures have no real problem with my definition either.

No comments:

Post a Comment