Boy, I’ve sure stuck a stick in the hornet’s nest now, haven’t I? 🙂
My thanks to all who engaged in this discussion so far, both on my blog and on Captain Cassidy’s. The situation in a nutshell: The Captain wrote an article about Christian rebirth, I wrote a response, she and some of her readers responded in kind… and then I left to go visit my in-laws for the weekend, so I couldn’t respond with the promptness that I would have liked. In a way, though, it was nice to have a break — allowed me to slow-cook some of the important issues that were brought up.
I will respond, in brief, to some of these specific topics in this response, but this will mostly be a meta-discussion so that everyone know where I’m coming from.
There’s this show I enjoyed called White Collar, which was essentially what a spin-off of Catch Me if You Can might look like: A convicted criminal partners with the FBI to help them catch other con men like him. I enjoyed the show’s character development and the pseudo-bromance between the criminal (Neal Caffrey) and his FBI handler.
It’s established early on that Neal doesn’t like guns — he prefers to use more subtle tactics. However, in one episode, Neal is able to demonstrate, as part of his undercover front for a particular case, his impressive skill with a rifle. His handler (who is also undercover with him), comments when he gets the chance: “I thought you didn’t like guns” — to which Neal replies, “Just because I don’t like guns doesn’t mean I can’t use one.”
Now, I’m certainly no Neal Caffrey (a side-by-side abdominal comparison would be more than sufficient to bring that truth home), but he and I agree that going in guns blaring isn’t usually the best approach to a situation. Those of you who have read my purpose statement for this blog know that my goal is not to create just another theological debate site. If someone enjoys the rough-and-tumble debate style that seems to be the norm when this topic is discussed these days (especially online), God knows there’s already plenty of that to go around. I, on the other hand, have become pretty disillusioned with that approach — not only does it seem pretty ineffectual for either side, it’s probably more counter-productive than anything else if the purpose is to get across your point of view. Plus, personally, I’m sick of it, and don’t like whom I become when I engage in it.
What I am interested in is good, honest discussion, in getting to a place where people who disagree can sit across from each other at a table and talk it though — not for the purpose of imposing beliefs, but in order, primarily, to get to know the other person. Where are people coming from, why do they believe as they do, is there anything I can learn from them? I would much rather discuss these kinds of questions than engage in intellectual pissing contests.
I’ve said much of this before, but I think it bears repeating, as it will help contextualize what I say and how I say it. It will also help those who have weighed in so far, perhaps, to decide whether they wish to continue the discussion or not — i.e. if you’re more interested in fighting over Christianity or anything else, then you will not find me a willing sparring partner, I’m afraid.
If you’re willing to get to know me a little bit and are prepared to have me get to know you a little bit… then we will certainly have much to talk about 🙂
In this spirit, then, I’ll move on ahead in my response to the Captain’s counter-points, and those from some of her readers:
First of all, apologies yet again for anything I said that came across as threatening or insulting. I’d like to think that I’ve been misunderstood, for I intended neither of these in the least — however, as they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and I know enough about myself to allow that there’s often a hefty berth between my intentions and my ability to choose words that follow them. I ask Captain Cassidy’s forgiveness yet again, and I apologize to her readers who felt I slighted or insulted her in any way — and, though it is no excuse, I hope it can be accepted that I intended no such things.
As for the threats I am supposed to have made, perhaps someone can help me see them. The Captain seemed to think that I was using Pascal’s Wager against her, and though I mentioned a roulette wheel as an analogy it certainly had nothing to do with hell. That accusation, in particular, confused me.
Also, I’m glad the Captain mentioned the discussion in her subsequent article — her points therein helped me grasp at the root of her objections of my answer. (It can be hard to keep the big picture clear when there are so many sub-topics being discussed.) It seems much of her response to my points boil down to two specific criticisms: 1) my use of an Argument from Consequences (regarding the consequences of removing faith in an afterlife from those who cling to it as a source of hope), and 2) the assertion that only Christianity can provide such hope to those who need it.
1) To the first: I know full well the spectrum of “Argument from X” fallacies, and such are bad models if one is trying to make an evidential argument if favor of a particular position — however, it was not my intention in this case to support the truth of Christian claims. I was actually, I believe, following suit from what the Captain laid down in her original article, which criticized the Christian doctrine of rebirth from three angles: a) the lack of foundation in the Christian worldview itself, b) the harms of the rebirth doctrine, and c) the doctrine’s demonstrated ineffectiveness, both in light of a perceived state-of-being in behalf of Christians and a demonstrable lack of need for it, as evidenced by the fulfillment present in the lives of those who reject the doctrine.
For the large part, I left a) alone altogether — except to hint here and there that the lack of an evidential basis for Christianity is a case that, while perhaps closed in her mind, may not be altogether as decided as she makes out. Plus, it’s a whole big can of worms, isn’t it? It’s in fact the root of the whole discussion: whether or not the claims of Christianity have any evidential basis. I argue that they do — the Captain argues otherwise. That’s a matter to be settled over a lifetime of discussion, and I for one am content to leave the matter open for further discussion and accept, for the sake of argument, the obvious conclusion that if Christianity lacks evidential foundation in reality, then the doctrine of rebirth and the afterlife are almost certainly false.
The second approach b) is (ironically) an “Arguments from Consequences” — this is what I meant when I said I followed suit. It points out that the doctrine of rebirth is bad because it causes people to “insulate [themselves]… from the human situation.” This is based, it seems, on the premise that Christianity “[pretends] to offer protection from the human situation and a hard-reset on life’s troubles.” To this, I responded with a counter-interpretation of the doctrine hopefully illustrating that the Captain’s extrapolations of the doctrine might not be altogether accurate. (I, of course, welcome any further discussion on this point.) I also pointed out that I failed to see how the Captain was able to demonstrate any real “harm” in the doctrine (unless, of course, we take for granted her conclusion that Christianity must be false) — and this is when I employed my own “Argument from Consequences” (somewhat tongue-in-cheek), essentially questioning the merit of going out of one’s way to pick on others’ personal beliefs if no harm from this belief can be demonstrated. (More on this later.)
And, of course, the perceived harmfulness of the doctrine has no bearing whatsoever on whether or not it is true — thus, I think the point fails on both fronts, neither demonstrating the harmfulness of a belief in rebirth or afterlife, nor providing any evidence that would directly support an argument against its veracity.
As for the third approach c), I must clarify that I never (contrary to accusation) meant to imply that Christianity corners the market on personal fulfillment, nor that atheists cannot live fulfilled lives — I had hoped that my praise of the Captain’s portrait to these ends would have been sufficient to show that I believe no such thing. It must be pointed out, though, that this is not really a great argument from either side. Captain Cassidy and some of her readers were quick to point out to me that they (as well as several people they know) deconverted from Christianity and are better now for it, as though this point were tantamount to a case-closed illustration of the falsehood of Christianity. (I also found interesting the insinuation that they seemed to believe that it would be news to me that such things happen.) Well, though I am of course interested in people’s stories and would very much appreciate an opportunity to discuss such details with anyone who would be willing to share, I am of course also aware that personal experience does not an argument for truth make, in my story or any others’. If I were alone a Christian in a world of atheists, this would have no bearing at all on which ideology is actually true. Incidentally, if anyone is interested, my story is the exact opposite: I left atheism for Christianity, and am the better for it 🙂
Which leads beautifully into the second major criticism the Captain seemed to have of my response, involving my supposed belief that Christianity is the only hope for personal fulfillment:
2) My “Argument from Consequences” regarding the Third World touches on this objection as well. There was, I admit, another tactical decision to using an argument that I knew to lack any real substance: Of course I don’t actually believe that Christianity corners the market when it comes to giving meaning to life, and if those people to whom I referred were not Christians they would likely find some other way to cope with their reality — however, I was eager to elicit a response from the Captain on this point (specifically, what hope she would offer to people in the kinds of situation I outlined), and thought hyperbole a useful method to tease out such an answer.
As for the rest, this criticism of my worldview is entirely off-target. I understand where it might come from, especially in the Captain’s case — she was honest about her exasperation being due, in significant part, to past discussions she’s had numerous times before, and it’s easy in such situations to make assumptions and read into certain statements things that aren’t there. She accused me of much the same sort of thing, and it very well might be true — it’s difficult business to separate one’s perception of reality from the actual elements that led to that perception, and hence is one common difficulty that atheists and theists both share. Yet another plug for my reasons in forming this blog as I did: These are the sorts of things that usually are brought to light far more through forthright, respectful discussions than they are through cutthroat debate. It’s much easier to look at one’s hidden biases and motivations with the aid of another, and it’s much more likely to happen if some level of trust has been established — rarely ever before.
Anyway, I think I’ve said enough about this for now. I’ll go back and respond to some of the individual points made by the Captain and her crew under the comments they made — but I wanted, first, to lay out my cards on the table and remind everyone what I’m here to do. If respect and the quest for mutual understanding is something you can get behind, you’re more than welcome to stick around — if not, you’re still welcome, it just won’t be as fun for either of us 🙂
Thanks, as always, for reading, and have a great rest of your day 😀