Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Christian Delusion - Why Faith Fails, by John Loftus: Chapter 1.

This should be fun. Apparently John Loftus is being honored as a great atheist philosopher, and he has assembled a book of great atheist writings that purport to show the failings of Christianity. To be fair, each chapter tries to cover a lot of ground, making sweeping generalizations and oversimplifications necessary. So I will acknowledge this before beginning my critique ...

"Christianity, like any religion, is a Culture." - The Cultures of Christianity, by David Eller, Ph.D.

Smirk! This is the first major premise. The next is that there are numerous culturally or organizationally distinct cultures of Christianity. The unspoken conclusion is that at most, only one of these can be true Christianities, and it is just simpler to assume none.

The first premise is, however, a disaster area as far as evidence and logic is concerned. Culture is driven by history, geography, ethnicity, natural resources, economics, proximity to other cultures, and countless other non-religious factors. Comparing an Arab Bedouin to a Malay, we can find Muslims among them both, yet their cultures are drastically different. Both are required to avoid pork by Islam and participate in Ramadan, as well as perform Islamic prayers. Religion is related to culture a bit like a boat in water. The boat will make waves in the culture, but "boat is water" and "religion is culture" are equally illogical statements.

Taking things the other way, Christianity is a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. It was multicultural from the start as the Grecian and Jewish Christians worked things out, followed immediately afterward by Greek and Latin Christians, yet the commonality of the relationship is with Jesus Christ. As we look at the large number of Christian "sects", it is quite clear that the cultural differences are a key factor in the multiplication of organizations, yet at the same time the underlying church still remains unified on the basis of Jesus. Other religions have their own premises, with Islam having major cultural mandates, thus, they really need to be treated independently rather than trying to treat all religion as alike.

The section on the spread of Christianity to other cultures suffers primarily because it doesn't distinguish between colonialism and proselytizing. The attempt to digest 2,000 years of missionary work into two pages is hopeless. But what of atheism itself when put under the lens of anthropology? We will find that atheist communities only exist either in Christian communities or post-Christian communities. Without getting into the details, it seems that atheism is a Christian sect. Perhaps something to explore more later ...

Dr. Eller also includes this statement: "... evidence and logic - the atheist's stock in trade". My own sense is that on a practical level, atheists are neither more nor less capable of "evidence and logic" than Christians. On an abstract level, however, Evidence and Logic take on a mythical character. In reality, Evidence is very hard to obtain and even harder to be certain of, while what is Logic when the questions are intractable? Thus, we have the E&L Myth, which the atheist has mindlessly bought into, and only consists of atheist meta-narratives.

10 comments:

James Pate said...

I am looking forward to reading this series!

Delirious said...

Well, honestly, I do understand his point. While Chrisitianity isn't a culture, there is a culture within each religion. We often talk about the LDS culture, and how there is a learning curve for new members. We have a different lifestyle from the worldly cultures, so that takes some getting used to. While they may have been used to having a beer with their friends, once they join the church, it is expected that they will give up alcohol. We also have many abbreviations for things in the church such as YMYW. (young men, young women's organization), or FHE (family home evening). The women in our church culture, by and large wear dresses to church, and the men wear dress slacks, white shirts and ties, or suits. Those things don't make up the gospel of Jesus Christ, but they do make up our culture. So he is right that there is some culture involved, but that isn't the essence of Christianity.

Looney said...

James, hopefully this can be useful to someone!

Looney said...

Delirious, today I was in Bryn Mawr, PA attending a Presbyterian church where all the women wore long dresses and the men wore suits. My family also doesn't drink, and we also have abbreviations for various church groups. On the other hand, can you enumerate cultural differences between your church and a Taiwan LDS church?

You will also like what the author said about Mormon women:

"Mormon women wear the 'high' hair piled and curled in specific ways". Is that true? ;-)

James Pate said...

I'll be reading your summaries, Looney, and also Ken Pulliam's, at www.formerfundy.blogspot.com.

Delirious said...

Looney,
Well, I almost laughed out loud at his description of Mormon women. He must be thinking of Mormon women in pioneer times, when ALL women wore their hair on their heads, or he is thinking of polygamists who are not members of our church, but who broke away from the church when polygamy was abolished. Those polygamists do wear their hair on their heads when they marry. Young girls wear their hair down. If you drive through Colorado City, Arizona, which is right on the border of Utah and Arizona, you will see women like that.

I do think there might be some slight differences in culture between our congregation, and congregations in other countries. But the differences are very slight. Because the church is well established in Taiwan now, much more so than when I was a missionary there, we are already to the second and third and even more, generation of Mormons there. So, for example, when I was a missionary there, many women came to church in pants. They were new members who had not been exposed to the culture. But the last time I went to Taiwan, all of the women wore dresses and skirts. The only differences I could see were minor things like the kinds of activities we do as a congregation. While our congregation in Utah might have a barbecue and game night, in Taiwan they might have an activity more related to Chinese culture. But because the church curriculum is standardized throughout the world, you will find every congregation teaching the same lesson on the same Sunday (that might vary by a lesson or two, but pretty much they are all on track). There are also other slight differences that don't really matter. For example, in modern revelation, we are told that the food and water we use for the sacrament isn't as important as how it is administered, and how we partake of it. So in Africa, where my parents served a mission, if they didn't have any bread, they would make do with whatever cookies they had available. But even in countries that impoverished, male members still try to wear a white shirt and tie when performing Priesthood duties. Well, I didn't mean to write a book. :)

James Pate said...

I watched a PBS documentary on the Mormons---at least part I. What surprised me about the polygamous Mormon women was how normal they looked.

Delirious said...

James, I thought I should answer your comment in a shorter comment that would be faster to read so that it wouldn't get lost. :)

Mormons aren't polygamists. Members of our church who are found practicing polygamy are excommunicated. At one time the church did practice polygamy, but revelation was received that abolished the practice. We believe that throughout the Bible, God required some to practice polygamy, but disallowed others. Currently it is not allowed. So those you see in the PBS special who do have multiple wives, are not members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (nickname Mormon)

Delirious said...

And I should add that as a practicing "Mormon", I was very displeased by the PBS special. I found it to be filled with numerous inaccuracies. Many of their "scholars" were "former" church members, which to us means "excommunicated". Basically, the whole series is more of a "Mormon bashing" than anything else.

James Pate said...

I thought the series made clear that they had been excommunicated---or weren't in the official LDS church, Delirious. I was using the term "Mormon" rather loosely in my comment. The documentary also narrated some of the history that you mentioned in your comment: it said that Joseph Smith received a revelation saying it was allowed, but, years later, a prophecy banned it. I haven't watched Part 2 yet, but I saw from the preview that it gets into the tension between the historians and the church hierarchy.