Our September 2nd 2018 service featured Guest Speakers Rex Burks and Owen Younger who returned to present on “Countering the Five Christian Claims.” They listed these generic claims as:
1) God is real. Miracles are real.
2) The Bible is a divine, perfect book.
3) God's plans are beautiful.
4) Christianity is very good for humanity.
5) Life without Christianity would be meaningless and hopeless.
These claims, they said, are ordered roughly from the “most fundamentalist” at #1 to the “most liberal” at #5 but all, they said, are false. The “more liberal” ones may even be the more insidious since they appear more benign and, in many people's view, less arguable. Still, this is obviously an awful lot to counter. Burks and Younger summarized unbelievers' answers to these claims as:
1) There is zero evidence for God or miracles.
2) The Bible is obviously man-made.
3) God's plans are often grotesque, arbitrary and offensive.
4) Christianity is an extreme obstacle to human flourishing.
5) A life of reason and free thought can be meaningful and beautiful.
Their discussion of the first included the issue of where the burden of proof lies and, of course, that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” On the second, not only is there no evidence that the Bible is “God's Word,” but there is abundant evidence that it was written by people. And that these people wrote from the perspective of others of their time and place and certainly had no superhuman knowledge or wisdom. Rather, the Bible is exactly what we would expect to have been written by literate people of the time. Indeed, it bears many similarities to other written works of the time. This is especially relevant to the third claim as the writers of the Bible took the rather primitive attitudes and morals of their time – including those towards gender and slavery - as acceptable and even praiseworthy. Moreover, even if one accepts such claims as that Jesus was a real person and was executed by the Romans, this does nothing to establish claims that he worked miracles, died and came to life again or was divine. And yet believers often try to conflate the two, supposing that if Jesus was a real person then everything else in the Gospels must be true.
The most obvious answer to the third Christian claim is that not only is “God's Plan” according to the Bible nonsensical – become a blood sacrifice to oneself !? - but it hasn't even “worked.” The world is divided between many religions and even Christianity is balkanized. Religion is based far more on geography than on any standards of facts and reason.
The 4th and 5th claims and the answers to them involve more perspicacity. Burks and Younger cited such things as the generations of many people's efforts required to build monumental cathedrals that were, in their view, a waste of time and energy that could have been devoted to better things including scientific progress. An analysis of history would find many similar examples. In the present, the main examples are Creationism and hatred of gays. But even a “more enlightened” version of Christianity may still oppose reproductive freedoms.
In the extreme case of very “liberal” Christianity, even “atheist Christianity,” the problem then becomes one of in what sense these more benign ideologies are any different, much less better, than that of unbelief. Very “liberal” Christians might well agree with unbelievers that there is nothing wrong with a life of reason and Freethought.
At one point, it was said that Christianity was nevertheless “poison” and “mental cyanide,” citing Proverbs 3:5 which says “lean not unto thine own understanding.” In discussion afterwards, some took issue with the idea that this could only mean that one is not allowed to think for oneself. Some thought that this was not quite fair inasmuch as the passage can be seen as simply a recognition, shared by Freethinkers, that it is often better to admit that one does not know or understand something and must come to grips with that. As with the Genesis Creation story, it is more a matter of how the words are understood than of “what they really mean.”
At another point, one of the speakers, after vehemently objecting to Christianity, said something to the effect that “this is not angry atheism,” when it certainly did seem to be “angry atheism.” Again, afterwards over lunch, there was discussion as to whether anger – and how much and/or in what way - is an appropriate response to Christian absurdities and abuses.
Our next NTCOF service on Sunday, October 7th, will feature material and discussion on a seminal episode in American history and in the history of religion and the law: the 1692 New England Witch Hysteria, also known as “The Salem Witch Trials.” We plan another “Moment of Science” for our service next month. It promises to be an interesting and entertaining service!
And then, coming in November at our service on the 4th of that month, we are planning to host and hear from Professor Christel J. Manning. Dr. Manning is a sociologist of religion who has been an atheist since the age of 16. Her most recent book is Losing Our Religion: How Unaffiliated Parents are Raising their Children which won the 2016 Distinguished Book Award from Society for the Scientific Study of Religion. She is currently researching for another work on how unbelievers view and deal with end-of-life issues and plans to interview some of our members age 70 and older on this subject. [contact us if you are willing to be interviewed!] More about Dr. Manning is here:
https://www.sacredheart.edu/academics/c ... anningphd/
Yes, it IS reason for optimism that her employer is a Catholic college!
Please post your thoughts on any of these things below!
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