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Unbelief in the pews - Comments

Sean_W's Avatar Comment 1 by Sean_W

Hi Mike,

Does social convention trump dogma as a primary reason for church attendance?

I've never understood church attendance unless you're a real believer -in something. If it's not all that goes with Christianity then it's belief in belief.

----//----

BTW, as a pastor you obviously spoke with other pastors from other congregations, and probably a variety of other religious leaders as well: did you guys ever talk about the absurdity of having churches on every corner of the city? Is that something people in the industry acknowledge? I mean if it's a community of believers then surely the people attending church at 3522 Holy Ln could stand to worship with the believers attending service at 3523 Holy Ln -surely.

Wed, 18 Apr 2012 21:28:33 UTC | #935565

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 2 by Alan4discussion

@ OP -Perhaps the questions being expressed by the growing numbers of non-believers in the U.S. are having an impact, and secret skepticism is more prevalent in the pew than we realize. I would be interested in hearing if others are experiencing something similar with their believing friends. Does social convention trump dogma as a primary reason for church attendance? Are we reaching a tipping point in the social acceptability of free-thought?

On the other hand I still know too many people who feel like they have to keep their unbelief to themselves.

In many areas religious groups or sectarian alliances have discriminated against other religions or non-believers, with some quite inclined to throw their weight around when the opportunity presented itself.

What is changing in many areas, is the recognition that these militant belligerent groups are a lot smaller than their noise levels and media presence suggests, with modern communications making factual data available to refute wild and exaggerated claims to numbers, standing and levels of support.

The mutually supporting of false confidence in their "knowledge", along with the arrogance and self importance of such people (particularly fundamentalists), means that when they bombastically challenge the scientifically educated, in many places, they are promptly cut down to size and exposed as assertive ignoramuses or frauds.

In many countries they no longer have the numbers or influence to exact reprisals on the rest of the community when they are nolonger allowed to dominate, so now resort to playing the "offended" victims of "disrespect"! This will of course be laughed at in communities where respect for views has to be earned and supported, by personal integrity, evidence and reasoning.

Conducting some reputable scientific surveys could indicate realistic levels of belief in different parts of the US.

Here are some interesting articles & discussions we had recently on the situation in the UK:-

http://richarddawkins.net/articles/644941-rdfrs-uk-ipsos-mori-poll-1-how-religious-are-uk-christians

http://richarddawkins.net/articles/644942-rdfrs-uk-ipsos-mori-poll-2-uk-christians-oppose-special-influence-for-religion-in-public-policy

http://richarddawkins.net/articles/568607-religion-respecting-the-minority - In the latest 2010 BSA report, published earlier this month, only 42% said they were Christians while 51% now say they have no religion.

Wed, 18 Apr 2012 21:32:30 UTC | #935566

Zeuglodon's Avatar Comment 3 by Zeuglodon

I've heard similar anecdotes from Richard, who says that he's been thanked on many occasions by people who weren't clear about their beliefs or positions but were convinced by his book TGD. Sadly, it's difficult to gauge how many believers are secretly unbelievers (for obvious reasons), but here in the UK, as Alan4Discussion's links show, a surprising number of self-described Christians (the percentage according to the 2001 and 2011 censuses went down quite a way in the interim) aren't actually Christian in the full-blooded religious sense. This is a reassuring sign of progress towards the reduction of religious influence. All in all, it's like a revolution except slower and minus the bloodshed.

Wed, 18 Apr 2012 23:48:45 UTC | #935593

Red Dog's Avatar Comment 4 by Red Dog

" I think Jesus was just a really good salesman."

I'm sorry but that is an incredibly ignorant comment. Assuming Jesus actually existed (and all the serious biblical scholars I've read think he probably did) he was about as far from a good salesman as you can get. I've actually had the misfortune to work with a lot of salesmen and although there were a few decent ones in the bunch none of them would go out of their way to preach that we should act morally with each other. A good salesman wouldn't have thrown the money changers out of the temple, he would find a way to make a buck by marketing commemorative Jesus coins.

There was an article a while back on the Jefferson bible. I had never read it so I borrowed it from the library. The actual book wasn't all that special, I've read the New Testament several times so I was familiar with the verses. But the introduction with discussion about Jefferson's actual thoughts about religion was fascinating. He thought about Jesus quite a bit and putting together the Jefferson bible was not just a whim. He believed that Jesus actually had some profound things to say and I agree.

Wed, 18 Apr 2012 23:58:25 UTC | #935595

ZenDruid's Avatar Comment 5 by ZenDruid

Comment 4 by Red Dog :

There was an article a while back on the Jefferson bible. I had never read it so I borrowed it from the library. The actual book wasn't all that special, I've read the New Testament several times so I was familiar with the verses. But the introduction with discussion about Jefferson's actual thoughts about religion was fascinating. He thought about Jesus quite a bit and putting together the Jefferson bible was not just a whim. He believed that Jesus actually had some profound things to say and I agree.

The early 19th-century version of the gospel of Thomas. Given the sources available at the time of TJ, it is as close as anybody could get to the unrediscovered original, imho.

I am wondering whether our nonbelieving friends yet in the pulpits could use the Naj Hammadi (early Coptic) scripture as a way of segueing into (a sort of) heresy instead of declaring hair-on-fire apostasy. Or maybe just a "Woa, I read some interesting early Christian scripture that blew my socks off" kind of thing. I daresay, a pastor skilled in meta-diplomacy could possibly bring his whole congregation along.

Thu, 19 Apr 2012 00:22:25 UTC | #935598

AtheistEgbert's Avatar Comment 6 by AtheistEgbert

Mike, welcome to reality! I saw you on Chris Hayes' show, and I thought you did brilliantly.

For whatever reason, America appears to be a bit of a paradox. The greatest secular and liberal state on the planet, is also one of the most conservative and religious. Statistics seem to show that religion is declining in America, and also in most parts of Europe, and this has long been happening before the more vocal and critical atheism that has become so popular recently.

I think sceptics and atheists have won the intellectual debate, but what needs to happen now is that we win the ethical and political debate, which goes to the heart of religion. As long as people believe that being ethical means being religious, they will view the non-religious as evil and immoral.

And so yes, it's all about social convention, particularly in America. Religion is equated with morality, and history is written so that atheism and non-belief are equated with the horrors of state communism, fascism or Nazism. So naturally, a good American must be a Christian.

People need to face the truth about history, and we need to now win the ethical and political debate, which I know is also on the side of freethinkers.

Thu, 19 Apr 2012 00:52:56 UTC | #935603

Red Dog's Avatar Comment 7 by Red Dog

Comment 5 by ZenDruid :

Comment 4 by Red Dog :

There was an article a while back on the Jefferson bible. I had never read it so I borrowed it from the library...

The early 19th-century version of the gospel of Thomas. Given the sources available at the time of TJ, it is as close as anybody could get to the unrediscovered original, imho. ... I am wondering whether our nonbelieving friends yet in the pulpits could use the Naj Hammadi (early Coptic) scripture as a way of segueing into (a sort of) heresy instead of declaring hair-on-fire apostasy. Or maybe just a "Woa, I read some interesting early Christian scripture that blew my socks off" kind of thing. I daresay, a pastor skilled in meta-diplomacy could possibly bring his whole congregation along.

The Gnostic gospels are quite fascinating to me. Although calling them Gnostic as if they are just one alternative to the conventional gospels isn't quite right IMO. They are really all over the map. Some are metaphysical mysticism and some are practical guides to living a decent life. Some are intensely spiritual and some go so far as to advocate free love and even in one (although its open to interpretation) case gay love. Of course all of this is highly dependent on interpretations. Virtually none of the Gnostic texts survived in tact and so much depends on the interpretation of a few lines here and there. One of the first contributions of the Roman Catholic church was to rule that Gnostics were heretics and to proceed to burn all their books (as well as many of their followers).

Thu, 19 Apr 2012 01:29:12 UTC | #935609

QuestioningKat's Avatar Comment 8 by QuestioningKat

I would bet that many people who attend liberal churches at one point or another experienced some sort of agnosticism. After all, they usually left one religion for another church with a different set of beliefs. I was raised Catholic, became an atheist for a couple of years during college and after not being able to prove or disprove God became an agnostic. This was before the internet so I really didn't have anyone to help express and clarify my doubts.

Then when I was in my early thirties, I read the Artist's Way and was blown away by the concept of a loving God. Who is this God? I thought. One of the credits in the book mentioned a Unity Church and I decided to look them up. For the twelve out of thirteen or so years that I attended this "religion" I was not a member because many of their views did not completely click with me.I became a member at a new church which was created after a split with the first church, just so that they could become affiliated with the main Church. Yet, the sermons were usually dead on with what was going on in my life. Also the music was mostly secular so we'd sing anything from the Beatles to pop music. I knew the Unitarian church was a better match for me, but it was boring. The minister wore robes. It wasn't very fun or enjoyable at all. At Unity, some weeks were like going to a party.

Unity was good for me because it helped me overcome much of the damage as the result of my Catholic upbringing. It helped improve my perspective on relationship and my self perception. Most of the teachings were "psychologically sound." On the negative side, I found myself to be at odds with some of the New Age influences and people who delved in that direction. I learned to simply accept that this was "their spiritual path." I tried some of the woo and alternative views that many became involved in, but never fully accepted some of it.

Finally, when I realized that the first church that I attended was in financial trouble and that the minister viewed me as the poster person for someone who should be contributing more (I attended on a regular basis and became supportive by contributing my time.) I realized that I need to start to ween myself from the church. This was the beginning of December. At Christmas, I attended a Christmas party thrown by a friend who is a fundamentalist. I was the last person to leave and she questioned me about my church. I was informed that I was warped by the New Agers and that I was blindly believing in science. I was also informed that I was going to Hell and that I had no relationship with God and that I was evil. Strangely, this did not upset me and I knew she was facing a serious illness at the time. Her explanations were really odd and I was shocked and stunned. As someone who has always believed in evolution, I never heard all of the "flood" explanations and did not previously know people believed that the world was 6K years old. It was like listening to a bizarre tall tale. I always thought of this person as intelligent and I was could not believe I was hearing this garbage. She was clearly priming her daughter by being an example. What was more unbelievable is that the explanations that I learned through my church that I was voicing to her also sounded odd. I realized that I did not actually believe that I had a Higher Consciousness and that God was within me. At this point, I did not believe in an afterlife, Hell, nor the Devil. This did not sit well with her at all.

I decided the best thing to do was seek out people who were good at seeing through BS. Recalling my experience when I was 18, I decided atheist were the best ones to help me sift out any untruths. I read the God Delusion which did nothing to help me with my New Thought beliefs, but I found Richards Utube videos to be very helpful. I decided to pick what I thought was the most intelligent atheist site and found the people on there to be extraordinary examples. (Are you listening Seti?) I just kept pushing through the depression, self-hatred, loss of direction, and other hardships as each belief dropped one by one. One belief would fall and then another. It was a very difficult time for me personally.

I stopped attending that church for six months, but went back a few weeks before all Hell broke loose at the church. In one day, the church split because of financial mismanagement. A new church with a "grounded" new minister was formed. After a year, I started to attend this new church all the while slowly deconverting. At times taking breaks from questioning and holding onto the belief that consciousness exists beyond the physical. After a couple of years, I was clearly agnostic, the few people that I told that I was possibly agnostic didn't seem to have an issue with it - after all, it was simply my spiritual path.

Finally, someone nominated me to run for being a board member. At this point, I decided that I needed to clarify my beliefs once and for all. I declined and realize that I was not only agnostic, but possible even atheist! I pushed more to understand and clarify what I really believed in or did not believe in. Previously, I was accepting of people who expressed woo. Now I could not tolerate it anymore. One man who regularly commented that "his mind and the mind of God are the same, blah blah blah." ticked me off. But I realized that that was what was actually said in the Course of Miracles, so I dropped studying the piece of garbage. I continued to attend this church and found that the two or three time that God was mentioned in the service to be acceptable. Even the minister of this new church brought up people like Bishop Sponge and admitted that the more he studied history the more he needed to ask God for strength because of questioning his faith.

Then I was asked to be someone who would be available to pray with people on request (I declined) and then started to realize that even though this was an enjoyable place with good people, by continuing to attend this church, I was being inauthentic to myself. I stopped going. The minister contacted me and I explained that I was agnostic and could no long attend the church. He wished me well and said he was available for any conversation or talks about Humanist options. He is really a good guy and I hope one day he pushes to find the answers also. With his background of being an attorney, he would be an asset to the atheist movement. Unfortunately, I find New Thought religions to be "evolving" beliefs so getting whatever the core belief is that keeps someone a theist is very difficult and varies with each person.

Sorry about the long post, but I hope that it will help someone who stumbles upon it.

Thu, 19 Apr 2012 01:29:26 UTC | #935610

wolfhoundGrowl's Avatar Comment 9 by wolfhoundGrowl

The young guy who ended up not going to rason rally ... thanks for sharing that.

I had been calling myself a Humanist until recently because Humanist is a softer blow to my beleiving family and friends (I'm a former preacher too) ... I've switched to plain old atheist because I now think that for the sake of edification of other closeted non-believers it's best to be striaght-up and strong about what I mean.

The people around me understand a certain reejction of belief and accepance of reason by the use of the word 'atheist' in it's context as a pop-culture term; to strengthen the community of nonbeleivers I think we need to use words which are percevied to be strong rather than hde behind techincally correct [academically more correct actually] words which make less of a statement in pop-culture (such as Humanist)

Thu, 19 Apr 2012 10:02:49 UTC | #935680

Jay G's Avatar Comment 10 by Jay G

"Does social convention trump dogma as a primary reason for church attendance?"

I would say yes, at least in my community (orthodox jewish). Most of the people I know were brought up to be orthodox jews and have never given much thought to questioning the basic teachings of the Torah, as explained by the Rabbis. If they DO give any thought at all, they content themselves with reading standard questions and the the cookie-cutter answers they are told to accept.

"On the other hand I still know too many people who feel like they have to keep their unbelief to themselves."

I am such a person. While I am not a full-blown atheist, I do keep most of my opinions and questions to myself for fear of what will happen if I don't.

Thu, 19 Apr 2012 10:26:38 UTC | #935682

SaganTheCat's Avatar Comment 11 by SaganTheCat

two things come to mind

  1. religion is like a big important house of cards. few people see the whole building but know if they start picking at the one card that they don't quite understand it might bring the whole house down.

  2. religion is delivered by preachers and sometimes we forget just how important they are in contolling peoples beliefs, much in the same way parents do for chilldren.

it makes me wonder what would happen if more preachers came out like this. most of their congregation have hung on their every word for some time and while they see themselves as religious are possibly just showing a naturl respect for a figure they see as wise.

for the most part preachers are hardly likely to change their tune so there's no way of seperating the message from the messanger. when one openly points out they don't believe the reaction of his followers might be "well that's it, i no longer respect you" but i doubt if that would go for the majority.

thinking back to my own younger days and especially the questions i asked at catachysm, i have no doubt that had my proiest ever said he didn't believe, my belief would have vanished there and then to be replaced by a thousand repressed questions that had been building.

for the clergy to turn apostate must be the scariest issue for a the church hierarchy to have to handle

Thu, 19 Apr 2012 10:49:59 UTC | #935691

wolfhoundGrowl's Avatar Comment 12 by wolfhoundGrowl

Many people in the pew do not care whether it's true or not.

In attempts to 'liberate' my own sister (lol) she has responded that she does not want to think about it becuase she's happy doing what she's doing.

If that's how some people are approaching their religion then we have to respect their autonomy and leave them to it.

Others want to come out ... and I think the best can do to help them to be be visibly out ourselves (as per my post above) because again, we need to respect their autonomy, if they approach us, we can help with the liberation, if they see us, they may be inspire to insitiate their own liberation, but I don't think we have a right to approach people and ask them whether or not they want to be liberates (haha, love using this supurfluous language) - but we must respect that many people who are unbelievers do not want to come out and leave or are simply not yet ready to come out and leave.

If there are unbelievers in the pews then that's their business ... our business to be be visibly out and liberated.

Thu, 19 Apr 2012 11:27:33 UTC | #935704

Bobwundaye's Avatar Comment 13 by Bobwundaye

MIKE AUS,

Thanks for sharing your story. Do you have any links to a video of the show you came out on, or to newspaper articles that were about your coming out as an atheist? I'd be really interested to see how you handled it all, and people's reactions to you. I'm in the slow process of coming out to my friends, many of whom I met in church where (although I wasn't a minister) used to preach, teach and lead them in their faith.

Comment 8 by QuestioningKat

Sorry about the long post, but I hope that it will help someone who stumbles upon it.

Yip. It helped me. I identify with a lot of what you said. One of the things I miss most about church is just the regular get together of friends and extended friends, in a huge big family/party atmosphere. Also, the sharing of philosophical ideas regarding morality and interpretation of scriptures, I found very alluring and interesting; and so did many of my friends. Of course, the music was just as big if not bigger draw card.

I wonder if the atheist movement couldn't mimic this idea of church-going in some way. It doesn't have to be a weekly thing, or anything like that, but could an event like the Reason Rally be an event like this? Also, what if we scaled down Reason Rally to a smaller version and were able to hold it more often.

Comment 9 by wolfhoundGrowl

I think we need to use words which are percevied to be strong rather than hde behind techincally correct [academically more correct actually] words which make less of a statement in pop-culture (such as Humanist)

I think you're right. However, I've come out to some of my friends as an "atheist", but to my mom, I'm very much avoiding using that word. In fact, I'm only sharing my doubts with her, and telling her that personally God doesn't make sense, not even airing the idea that I hold to the fact that universally the idea of God does not make sense.

So perhaps, different strokes for different folks?

Thu, 19 Apr 2012 11:48:55 UTC | #935711

Zeuglodon's Avatar Comment 14 by Zeuglodon

Comment 13 by Bobwundaye

I wonder if the atheist movement couldn't mimic this idea of church-going in some way. It doesn't have to be a weekly thing, or anything like that, but could an event like the Reason Rally be an event like this? Also, what if we scaled down Reason Rally to a smaller version and were able to hold it more often.

I like the idea, if only because church architecture and choir music are so astonishingly beautiful to me, but I don't think it would be a good idea to make it explicitly atheistic, as that suggests atheism is a crippled and parasitic facsimile of religion. The whole idea behind atheism is that it is not something, and the only way for it to work here would be for it to be anti-theistic as well, which could be criticized as simply being reactionary and tribalistic ("uniting people by common hatred of an enemy"). If a rally had to be called, it should be for something, not against something. A reason rally of sorts could be just as effective, but if it's going to be church-based, the one idea that must be conveyed is that religion does not have a monopoly on enjoying beauty and community-feeling.

Thu, 19 Apr 2012 12:17:34 UTC | #935715

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 15 by Alan4discussion

Comment 14 by Zeuglodon

I like the idea, if only because church architecture and choir music are so astonishingly beautiful to me

I studied the history of architecture at school, so I find all old buildings interesting.

I suppose with dwindling congregations, as more churches close, some prime examples of churches will be kept as museums.

That's what the Russian Communist regime did with the ones in the Kremlin - and other selected examples!
I looked at some of them while I was in Moscow with a UK group of scientists in the 1970s , looking at space-craft the Russians were keen to show off to the world - but apparently not so keen to show off to people who knew what they were looking at. (Hence we were discreetly watched by the KGB.)

Thu, 19 Apr 2012 13:36:40 UTC | #935724

Bobwundaye's Avatar Comment 16 by Bobwundaye

Comment 13 by Bobwundaye

Do you have any links to a video of the show you came out on, or to newspaper articles that were about your coming out as an atheist?

I did a very cursory search on your name, and found that laying aside my laziness actually yields some results. I watched the MSNBC interview and thought you were great on it.

For any one else who wants to watch, here it is:

Thu, 19 Apr 2012 13:57:56 UTC | #935726

crookedshoes's Avatar Comment 17 by crookedshoes

The death knoll to many many churches would be to require them to pay taxes. Aside from the reasons people go to church, let's think about why people might START a church and perpetuate the fraud on their congregations, even long after they themselves (the pastors) realize their atheism.

How many of these corner churches are run by a pastor who doesn't pay taxes and who has his family entrenched into the "family business" so that they do not pay anything into the system? They can buy property in the churches name and a car and a church van etc....

Tax them.

Thu, 19 Apr 2012 14:28:39 UTC | #935731

Southern Humanist's Avatar Comment 18 by Southern Humanist

Mike, great interview. I hope you're post coming out meetings with your congregation went well!

I have a theory ( http://tinyurl.com/6ug3ovc ) that we may have to thank folks like Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, and Michelle Bachmann for some of what I'm sensing as a burgeoning wave of secularism and reason.

For the past six plus months until quite recently, the country has listened to them very publically bang a Christian drum while spouting homophobic and anti-intellectual garbage and I think the sheer publicity of it in debate after debate, forced some of the "on the fence" folks to question Christian "moral authority," particularly when trying to square it with an instinctually better way to treat people.

Thu, 19 Apr 2012 15:53:07 UTC | #935743

skeptichick's Avatar Comment 19 by skeptichick

Comment 9 by wolfhoundGrowl :

The young guy who ended up not going to rason rally ... thanks for sharing that. I had been calling myself a Humanist until recently because Humanist is a softer blow to my beleiving family and friends (I'm a former preacher too) ... I've switched to plain old atheist because I now think that for the sake of edification of other closeted non-believers it's best to be striaght-up and strong about what I mean.

The people around me understand a certain reejction of belief and accepance of reason by the use of the word 'atheist' in it's context as a pop-culture term; to strengthen the community of nonbeleivers I think we need to use words which are percevied to be strong rather than hde behind techincally correct [academically more correct actually] words which make less of a statement in pop-culture (such as Humanist)

I agree with your assessment of the term "atheist", wolfhoundGrowl, and I am reminded of Susan Jacoby's last "Spirited Atheist" column in the Washington Post from December 2011. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/spirited-atheist/post/american-atheists-must-define-themselves-not-be-defined-by-the-religious/2011/12/27/gIQAovELMP_blog.html

We have a long way to go in the atheist, freethinking, skeptic, humanist, etc... movement to REDEFINE OURSELVES instead of letting the religious right define US. I'm sorry you didn't get to come to the Reason Rally - it was a powerful, positive gathering, and I expect you would have appreciated the strength of community there.

Thu, 19 Apr 2012 17:08:15 UTC | #935761

rrh1306's Avatar Comment 20 by rrh1306

Hello from Kingwood, Mike. Thought your interview was great.

Thu, 19 Apr 2012 18:20:49 UTC | #935783

Quine's Avatar Comment 21 by Quine

Hi Mike, I want to join others here in thanking you for publicly coming out. I watched you on Chris Hayes' show from my room at the hotel prior to the start of the American Atheists convention and felt it was a major turning point. That was driven home all the more when you and Teresa took the stage, there, the next afternoon.

For the last couple of years I have been looking into how people of reason can better talk to people of faith. I started a thread, here, where I have asked folks to tell us what they say to their religious friends and neighbors, and would very much appreciate it if you would add something about how you are now doing so.

Thanks again, very much, for your courage to stand up and publicly say what you know is unpopular but also is true.

Thu, 19 Apr 2012 18:45:04 UTC | #935787

Nordic11's Avatar Comment 22 by Nordic11

@ Sean W

did you guys ever talk about the absurdity of having churches on every corner of the city?

What an excellent point! Think of all the money wasted on bricks and mortar, and only half the pews are filled, but we still continue building more churches! If we followed the New Testament model of house churches, far more of our resources could go to the "widows and orphans" and the poor, which is emphasized again and again in both testaments. Personally, I no longer give money to my church; instead, I directly support orphans in poor sections of the world through organizations that specialize in this service.

@reddog

He believed that Jesus actually had some profound things to say and I agree.

Excellent comments reddog, but I will go one step further. Jesus was either who said he was (God's son), a lunatic, or some type of pathological liar. If you study the gospels carefully, it leaves little wiggle room for Jesus being a "good salesman" or "moral example."This is not my idea, by the way. I know theologist Josh McDowell expanded on this idea in a book he wrote in the 70s, and I do believe either Dawkins or Hitchens also voiced a similar choice.

@ crookedshoes

How many of these corner churches are run by a pastor who doesn't pay taxes and who has his family entrenched into the "family business" so that they do not pay anything into the system?

Very good point, crookedshoes. This is another reason I stopped giving to churches. I do not believe the apostles ever envisioned members giving up their hard earned money so that we can support a plethora of pastors living a middle or upper middle income lifestyle. It sets a poor example.

@ rleebays

For the past six plus months until quite recently, the country has listened to them very publically bang a Christian drum while spouting homophobic and anti-intellectual garbage and I think the sheer publicity of it in debate after debate, forced some of the "on the fence" folks to question Christian "moral authority," particularly when trying to square it with an instinctually better way to treat people.

Another excellent point. Intolerance will never win anyone over, and most Christians in the spotlight do not emphasize love, kindness, patience and a host of other fruits of the spirit that Christians are supposed to display. I believe this underscores a larger theme that I think we all can agree on- both Christians and nonbelievers alike. If Christianity is real and the Holy Spirit is alive and well among committed Christians, then nothing will ever stop it. If it is not real, it does not deserve to exist, and one day it will not exist despite everything Christians try to do to keep it alive. Time will tell.

Thu, 19 Apr 2012 18:47:28 UTC | #935790

Quine's Avatar Comment 23 by Quine

Comment 22 by Nordic11:

Jesus was either who said he was (God's son), a lunatic, or some type of pathological liar.

Or misquoted, or made up, or ...

Don't fall for the false dilemma rhetoric.

Time will tell.

Yes, today's theology has always become tomorrow's mythology.

Thu, 19 Apr 2012 19:11:53 UTC | #935799

Red Dog's Avatar Comment 24 by Red Dog

Comment 22 by Nordic11 :

@ Sean W

@reddog

He believed that Jesus actually had some profound things to say and I agree.

Excellent comments reddog, but I will go one step further. Jesus was either who said he was (God's son), a lunatic, or some type of pathological liar. If you study the gospels carefully, it leaves little wiggle room for Jesus being a "good salesman" or "moral example."This is not my idea, by the way. I know theologist Josh McDowell expanded on this idea in a book he wrote in the 70s, and I do believe either Dawkins or Hitchens also voiced a similar choice.

I think you need to distinguish between the Jesus of the Gospels and the historical Jesus. I agree that the Jesus in the Gospels is either a lunatic, liar, or son of God. However, if you read books such as Jesus Interrupted by Bart Ehrman its clear that the people who wrote the Gospels never met Jesus in person. What is more they each had different agendas, different words they wanted to put into the name of Jesus. Ehrman points out this was a common practice in ancient writing. Another example is Plato putting his ideas into the voice of Socrates. Some of the Gospel authors wanted to convert pagans to their new religion some wanted to convert Jews. That is why the Gospels actually contradict each other on important parts of the story and why the person they portray would naturally seem like a liar or lunatic.

Of course who that historical Jesus actually was is impossible to know for sure but I think he may have been sane. In any case even if he was a looney my point is that if you can strip away the looney mumbo jumbo there is the core of a good idea in what he was saying. To some extent you would expect that to be true because it is obvious that there was something in the idea that grabbed the imagination of so many people in the ancient world.

Its funny because I've been recently reading up on basic evolutionary biology especially related to things like kin selection, altruism, and game theory. And it occurs to me that you can perhaps essentially boil down the one good idea Jesus had to "all humans should treat each other as kin".

Thu, 19 Apr 2012 19:29:22 UTC | #935805

rrh1306's Avatar Comment 25 by rrh1306

Hi Nordic11.

My problem with the liar, lunatic, or lord question is I don't think anyone really knows what Jesus said about himself in the first place. All we have are stories that were wrote down 30 to 50 years after Jesus died that were informed by oral tradition, and were written in a different language then Jesus spoke.

And looking at the Gospels, yes Jesus calls him self the son of god, but word son was used a lot in the Torah and in Jewish culture to infer a close connection. The title "son of God" was applied in the Old Testament to persons having any special relationship with God.

I believe that only in the gospel of John (the gospel most biblical scholars think was the last to gospel to appear) does Jesus explicitly proclaim himself as divine. Maybe the author of John just got it wrong or had their own reasons for saying Jesus was divine. Bart Ehrman added a four choice to the Liar, Lunatic, or Lord scenario, Legend. Jesus may never actually said he was a divine being.

Comment 22 by Nordic11 :

@reddog

He believed that Jesus actually had some profound things to say and I agree.

Excellent comments reddog, but I will go one step further. Jesus was either who said he was (God's son), a lunatic, or some type of pathological liar. If you study the gospels carefully, it leaves little wiggle room for Jesus being a "good salesman" or "moral example."This is not my idea, by the way. I know theologist Josh McDowell expanded on this idea in a book he wrote in the 70s, and I do believe either Dawkins or Hitchens also voiced a similar choice.

Thu, 19 Apr 2012 19:45:10 UTC | #935812

skeptichick's Avatar Comment 26 by skeptichick

Comment 4 by Red Dog :

" I think Jesus was just a really good salesman." I'm sorry but that is an incredibly ignorant comment. Assuming Jesus actually existed (and all the serious biblical scholars I've read think he probably did) he was about as far from a good salesman as you can get. I've actually had the misfortune to work with a lot of salesmen and although there were a few decent ones in the bunch none of them would go out of their way to preach that we should act morally with each other. A good salesman wouldn't have thrown the money changers out of the temple, he would find a way to make a buck by marketing commemorative Jesus coins.

There was an article a while back on the Jefferson bible. I had never read it so I borrowed it from the library. The actual book wasn't all that special, I've read the New Testament several times so I was familiar with the verses. But the introduction with discussion about Jefferson's actual thoughts about religion was fascinating. He thought about Jesus quite a bit and putting together the Jefferson bible was not just a whim. He believed that Jesus actually had some profound things to say and I agree.

Mike, Jesus as a salesman was one of the comments you heard from a former parishoner, is that right? It's generating a lot of good discussion! IMHO - it's politicians and organized religions that are good salesman!

Thu, 19 Apr 2012 19:51:43 UTC | #935814

Quine's Avatar Comment 27 by Quine

Comment 26 by skeptichick:

Mike, Jesus as a salesman was one of the comments you heard from a former parishoner, is that right? It's generating a lot of good discussion! IMHO - it's politicians and organized religions that are good salesman!

You make a good point. The "Jesus" of the bible stories was not a great salesman, because he did not tell folks what they wanted to hear (or even could understand). As the story goes, he only ended up with a few followers who were "sold" on his ideas. Your good salesman was Saul of Tarsus (Paul) who went around like a traveling salesman selling, not so much Jesus (whom he never knew in person), but his own idea of "The Christ." That was packaged "life everlasting" (sans circumcision), and that sold very well indeed.

Thu, 19 Apr 2012 20:06:17 UTC | #935816

Ignorant Amos's Avatar Comment 28 by Ignorant Amos

Comment 24 by Red Dog

Of course who that historical Jesus actually was is impossible to know for sure but I think he may have been sane. In any case even if he was a looney my point is that if you can strip away the looney mumbo jumbo there is the core of a good idea in what he was saying. To some extent you would expect that to be true because it is obvious that there was something in the idea that grabbed the imagination of so many people in the ancient world.

I don't see why? We just need to think of some of the charlatan cults of modern times....Scientology and Mormonism for example. Even in a world of modern technology that can show them to be bogus beyond doubt to even the worst of the gullible, they still have millions of followers and are worth billions of dollars.

There were loads of religions around at the time of the fledgling cult of Christianity. Christianity was nothing special. We know why Christianity succeeded and I don't think it was much to to do with the application of the Jesus message.

Thu, 19 Apr 2012 20:14:04 UTC | #935820

wolfhoundGrowl's Avatar Comment 29 by wolfhoundGrowl

@ comment by 19 skeptichick

I couldn't go to Reason Rally as I live in Belfast (N. Ireland) but I have been reading up on it and I'd love to help organise something on a smaller scale in a similar vein for Ireland.

Thanks for the link to the article.

Thu, 19 Apr 2012 21:34:06 UTC | #935832

Red Dog's Avatar Comment 30 by Red Dog

Comment 28 by Ignorant Amos :

Comment 24 by Red Dog

Of course who that historical Jesus actually was is impossible to know for sure but I think he may have been sane. In any case even if he was a looney my point is that if you can strip away the looney mumbo jumbo there is the core of a good idea in what he was saying. To some extent you would expect that to be true because it is obvious that there was something in the idea that grabbed the imagination of so many people in the ancient world.

I don't see why? We just need to think of some of the charlatan cults of modern times....Scientology and Mormonism for example.

Comparing Christianity to Mormonism or Scientology is ridiculous. Christianity essentially overthrew the Roman Empire without a fight. Christianity inspired countless people to let themselves be tortured to death rather than renounce their faith. Christianity helped to inspire a great proportion of the best European art, music, and literature. Christianity gave us MLK, the abolitionist movement, the civil rights movement, and liberation theology. Mormonism (which I think could be considered a later branch of Christianity anyway) gave us Salt Lake City and Scientology gave us Tom Cruise.

Even in a world of modern technology that can show them to be bogus beyond doubt to even the worst of the gullible, they still have millions of followers and are worth billions of dollars.

There were loads of religions around at the time of the fledgling cult of Christianity. Christianity was nothing special.

Yes there were! And to assume that the fact that Christianity won out does not imply it somehow resonated with humanity strikes me as incredibly narrow minded. I mean perhaps it did, I just don't know. IMO we don't have nearly enough understanding about the scientific reasons that people create and adopt religions. However, I suspect that when we do its quite likely we will find there was something about the ideas of Christianity that made it more of a lure to the average ancient person than its competitors.

Your statement is an example of the kind of narrow minded thinking that is unfortunately so prevalent on this site (I'm talking about the comments not the actual content). You assume that because Christianity is obviously false (I think it is as well) that therefor anyone who is still a Christian is your enemy and that any kind of argument that shows some potential interesting idea from Christianity is automatically false. That is exactly the opposite of what a scientific approach to analyzing religion, based on reason and critical thinking, should do.

We know why Christianity succeeded and I don't think it was much to to do with the application of the Jesus message.

Then why was it? Do you know because I don't and I don't think most anthropologists or others who study these things would claim to know with any certainty either. That is why I try to keep an open mind and examine things impartially, not just assume things based on my pre-existing beliefs.

Thu, 19 Apr 2012 21:42:07 UTC | #935836