Reasonable Atheism (11): Of Theisms Humourless and Sophisticated

This is a brief one, and more ‘for the record’ than anything else.

The aspect-blindness that I am in the process of criticising as ‘humourless’ when it appears in an atheistic perspective is not at all a logically necessary part of atheism – it also appears in a great deal of apparently theistic argument too. Most especially in North American Protestantism.

I have no desire to defend a humourless theism. As I see it the arguments between atheists and (some) theists is best characterised by what is shared between the two perspectives, that being the sense that the Bible is best understood literally and ‘all-or-nothing’, that facts are the most important forms of knowledge, and that science is the royal road to establishing such facts. (It might seem paradoxical to say that theists give such a high role to science, but historically it is indisputable, and it is the source of the venom and antagonism displayed towards Darwinism – an idol is being dethroned).

I’ve written a lot about this elsewhere. See in particular Why I hate fundamentalism.

Conservatism and Trust

This is picking up on a comment that Al made here. Al argues that “Conservatives like short sharp shocks, prison and capital punishment” and “Trusting properly is of course a huge ask. You might end up getting nailed to a tree. But I think it’s clear that that is what the Gospels ask us to do. And politically they ask us to tend away from punishing and towards liberalism.”

My trouble with your perspective, Al, is that you have defined the terms to suit your argument. A conservative is, by your definition, someone who does not trust; they are therefore deficient in some way (not quite fully enlightened); and their position needs more psychoanalytic treatment than reasoned argument. (You’re describing what I would call a reactionary.)

There is no reason on earth why a conservative shouldn’t embrace carrots as much as sticks – whatever works is good, that’s a very pragmatic (=conservative) approach.

It’s a bit like a race that everyone’s invited to, but then the rules are revealed saying that only those who can place their feet on the ground one after another can win, so all those in some way handicapped (as just defined by those rules) get excluded from participation. There aren’t enough steps between there and the gulag for me to feel comfortable.

As for trust, I think the issue isn’t about whether one side or the other is trusting or not, it’s about where the emphasis of trust is placed. Conservatives place their trust in local and customary relationships, emphasising the face to face and the personal virtues. Progressives (at least if I can also indulge in something of a caricature) trust the representatives of a well-meaning state ideology to ‘do good’ on behalf of other people. What conservatives actively distrust is that those latter people are all too willing to use force to achieve their point, and that their well-intentioned interventions often accomplish more harm than good.

There will be blood

This was a magnificent film; a tremendous portrait of a man descending into the depths in every sense. Lots of rich imagery and symbolism to ponder (I especially loved the ‘anointing’ of HW very early in the film). However – and you knew there was a however coming – this is not as spiritually rich as ‘Magnolia’ principally because there was no orthodox view represented; thus no redemption. That was probably the director’s intent, but it is still a disappointment.

4.5 out of 5.

Book tag

Byron tagged me with this meme, which was nice, because I never get tagged 🙁

1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages).
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five other people.

As it happens, I have Kim Paffenroth‘s ‘Gospel of the Living Dead’ next to my elbow. So the relevant text is:

Out in the streets, a further setback for the human survivors is that the electrified fence is still turned on, and therefore they cannot escape out of the city, making Riley’s earlier observation of the fence all the more prescient and chilling: “I can’t help but think we’re all locked in.” We see a crowd of people trapped at the fence, with zombies closing in on them. Riley anticipates this problem, and as he drives Dead Reckoning towards the fence, he shoots off fireworks to try and save the trapped people, but now it is to no avail, as the zombies are no longer distracted by them.

It’s from a synopsis of 2005’s ‘Land of the Dead’ – but I haven’t got to that point in my re-watching yet (though I have seen the film a couple of times).

I tag: Paul, Tom, Joe, Jonathan and Juliet.

All comments gratefully received

I’ve just received this e-mail, which I plan to reply to probably tomorrow, and I already have a good idea how I’m going to reply to it (it’s from somebody that I’ve met in real-life as opposed to over the internet!) but I’d be interested to know how other theologians/clerics would reply.

I wonder if I can ask you about something which is puzzling me, and which I cannot ask the average Christian. I do not expect the average Christian to have read Leviticus 25, but I assume that one does not become a vicar without reading the complete Bible.

While browsing your site I found “3rd November – shibboleth #1 – “But the Bible says…” “. Were Leviticus 25 verses 20 and 21 amongst those discussed.

I find these verses very interesting. It is the only place I can think of where God makes a clear promise that something verifiable will happen at a regular time, i.e. every 7 years the crops in Israel will yield “the fruits of 3 years”. It is also the only promise which is not dependant on the behaviour or belief of people. God promises the bumper harvest so that the following year the Israelites will be able to keep the commandment to let the land lie fallow.

God clearly does not keep this promise. Charitable appeals are made to support the farmers who do keep the Shmitta year, and the Rabbis and Israeli Supreme court jump through hoops to keep most Israelis from obeying the restrictions in Leviticus 25. I have asked several people who claim that the restrictions should be observed if they can give any figures to show how harvests vary over the years. They have all been silent.

Christianity requires that one has faith that God will keep His promises. How do you and other thinking Christians cope with the fact that there is a clear promise which it is easy to prove God does not keep? (I don’t trust anyone who does not keep promises.)