Friday, July 08, 2005

Al Qaeda Kills Brits and Loses the War

The Al Qaeda freaks have zero political acumen. They should have just kept trying to destabilize Iraq and left the West alone. Eventually, our weak-kneed, no-policy-but-an-anti-GOP policy lefties would have managed to turn Iraq into another Vietnam and we'd be out of there just in time to welcome in a Hussein clone or even the man himself. Instead, they hammer the U.S.'s biggest ally. Error. More dead westerners with whom Americans strongly identify will simply mean a new infusion of determination.

This action looks like an unforced error. Why not let America's left-wing nuke the enterprise through constant agitation? The answer is that the error may not be unforced. The Afghan/Iraqi projects may be going well enough that Al Qaeda had to introduce a desperate gambit like this one. If they could make Britain "do a Spain," then America would truly seem alone and would be harder pressed to continue. Won't happen, fellas. You've given us what we need to marginalize the "hate America" Americans and the Bush-hating Eurofashionistas.

As S.T. Karnick would say, "Many thanks."

63 comments:

John Huisman said...

I hope you're right, but I'm not as confident as you. Have you not seen John Debyshire's National Review piece, "Britain will do a Spain. I am sure of it."

Anonymous said...

I agree with John Huisman, regarding Derbyshire's article, located on NRO today. I have read it, and found it disturbing, and perhaps a bit simplistic. However, it is a consideration, and a legitimate question: do the British, much less Americans, have the stomach to press forward in a war as nebulous as this one? I certainly hope so, but human nature does not inspire complete confidence in me.

Hunter Baker said...

I think Derbyshire has a proven track record of being wrong about a lot of things. He's a curmudgeon and entertainingly so. I read the piece and almost always read him. Nevertheless, the nation from which he emigrated will prove him wrong. They're sentimental about London.

Anonymous said...

This may be a rhetorical question at best, and it is based on HB's last post. He said:

"I think Derbyshire has a proven track record of being wrong about a lot of things."

If that is the case, and my limited experience reading JD would tend to agree, then how did he manage to acquire, and now continue to maintain, a position at the illustrious National Review?

Hunter Baker said...

Derbyshire is there for entertainment value. He's lived an interesting life, knows a lot about the Orient, and has a gift for invective. He's just plain fun to read.

I don't rely on him for predictions about the future. I need to go find a prediction piece he did a couple of years ago that I think would not have held up very well.

James Elliott said...

You're really going to have to justify your "Hate America" rhetoric. How is questioning governmental policy anything but quintessentially American? How is exercising the freedom to dissent anything but American? How is asking the hard questions of their leaders anything but American? How is asking for American troops to be removed from danger (not a position I support) anything but LOVE for your fellow Americans?

How does that square against lying to the public; opaque governmental decisions that have nothing to do with national security; starting armed conflict on incorrect information and then failing to admit the mistake; or stonewalling Congress's Constitutionally mandated responsibility of providing a check and balance to executive power? By definition, these actions "hate" America.

There are two ways to love America: 1) By constantly striving to make it a better place and 2) By being a nationalistic jingoist. The "Why do liberals hate the twin babies Jesus and America?" crowd fall in the latter.

Kathy Hutchins said...

There are two ways to love America: 1) By constantly striving to make it a better place and 2) By being a nationalistic jingoist. The "Why do liberals hate the twin babies Jesus and America?" crowd fall in the latter.

Could we start an "Undistributed Middle Fallacy Howler of the Day" segment? This one deserves to be immortalized somewhere.

And just to tarnish my reputation as a rust-encrusted wingnut of the right, I can't stand to listen to Sean Hannity because he's always scooping this flavor of logical fallacy himself. And I'll never forgive him for teaching Alan Colmes how to do it too.

Anonymous said...

JE-

To whom is your post directed? To Anon (me), who posted that I did not think Americans had the stomach to press forward in a war as nebulous as this one? What part of that question is unclear? I am a bit confused. Please enlighten.

To respond to your statement: "How is questioning governmental policy anything but quintessentially American?" What is the defition of America, or to use your words, what is its 'essence'? Is the essence of America nothing more than mere gadflymanship (as beneficial as a gadfly might be in the search for truth and openness)? Are we nothing more than a collection of dissidents who were spurred to action by a few curmedgeons who wanted to wrest power from England and give it to themselves? I think not.

I believe what is 'quintessentially' American is not its government nor its "freedoms", but its religious liberties. That, to me, is what made America unique in the world, and as we lose our religious freedoms in the name of Secularism, we lose our essence.

Anonymous said...

Of course, the word is correctly spelled "curmudgeon".

"Where, o where, has my spell checker gone?"

James Elliott said...

Anonymous, while my original post was addressed to Hunter, I'll address yours:

First of all, religious liberties have very little to do with America, though this is a fallacy that has been long-perpetuated because it sounds awfully nice. Each colony had its own chosen religion. For example, Massachusetts Bay was exclusively Puritan at its founding. The Mayflower monkeys didn't come here looking for religious freedom for all, just freedom for Puritans from Anglican/Catholic oppression. Religious tolerance grew out of necessity, not principle. As the colonies grew, so did their religious "footprint" as Tlaloc might say. Survival in a new world depended on community, and that took precedence over religious wingnuttery.

Every single one of our basic rights, enumerated in the Amendments to the Constitution, has its origin in a pattern of abuse by George III. The Puritans were largely expelled and oppressed in English territories because of Cromwell's revolt against the crown. People were not allowed to question the decisions of the crown (indeed, the members of the Continental Congress were branded criminals by their government), and the crown had a pattern of silencing critical publications. Hence the First Amendment.

English citizens were not allowed to bear arms for fear of another Cromwell arising. Second Amendment.

The list goes on. Forced quartering of troops by colonials. A justice system sorely lacking in justice. Coerced confessions. A Parliament that, at the time, lacked the power to check the monarch.

Absolutely everything in our founding is directly related to these abuses. Our very country is founded on freedom of expression, especially where it pertains to government. It is founded on the very notion that the people have the right to vocally stand in opposition to their governors' decisions and to be heard.

That is why dissent is quintessentially American in nature. We were founded by dissenters who wanted a better system.

And Mrs. Hutchins, you can belittle and laugh all you want, but you have yet to actually refute anything I've written in any thread with anything of substance on your part, which implies that you have none to offer.

James Elliott said...

Correction: That first sentence should read "...little to do with the FOUNDING of America..."

Hunter Baker said...

Kathy,

My group once hired Sean Hannity to be a banquest speaker. He charmed the crowd, but I've grown to like his program less and less. I get so sick of the "You're a great American" crap he and his fans goop all over each other. I also get tired of the "I'm a lethal debater" notion that underlies his rhetoric. Please. You can keep an audience going for three hours with heavy reliance on callers. It's a very valuable skill, but it doesn't make you brilliant. There are a lot of talkers who need to learn that.

James, community over "religious wingnuttery?" No, it wasn't quite like that. Pluralism brought religious liberty long after the basic survival problem had been licked. In fact, it was probably because survival was not the chief concern that issues like religious liberty could be entertained.

Anonymous said...

Ah, James the not-quite-so-just (the irony here is that your name is the same of a 20th Century Christian martyr). Apparently you have a rather sizeable chip on your shoulder when it comes to religion (I would assume Christianity, but I will impose that until confirmed). Let me ask you: were you ‘liberated’ from faith yourself, or were you raised in a ‘liberated’ household? [I intentionally do not use the term “liberal” because that is taking it in a direction I do not wish to go- political (even in a religious sense).] Or rather, what ‘opened your eyes’? I would be interested to know.

That aside, you can opine as you like, and you can reason as you so desire, but your comments do not change one iota the facts. “Dissention” is not the essence of America, for if it were, the bounds of this nation would have been broken long ago. For example, was not the South merely exercising its right to dissent when succeeding from the Union? If Dissention were the founding principle, then on what grounds could the Succession be condemned (I am aware of the economic and other rationales for the Civil War)? This is asked in a purely philosophical manner.

I do not believe that “Dissention” is a foundation strong enough on which to build anything, especially a nation that has endured for over two centuries. Why? Because the definition of dissention is “disagreement, especially: partisan and contentious quarreling; discord.” How can one build agreement out of discord? Can peace be formed from contentiousness? That is nothing more than building the proverbial house on the sand, or more aptly, building the mansion on the California hillside.

By the way, I enjoyed the revisionist view of the Constitution. You probably also view it as “living” and malleable. However, that is the beauty of America- the freedom to speak. Like it or not, that has a religious foundation, though if you so require, you may comfort yourself by saying it does not. You also have the freedom to be wrong.

Anonymous said...

Of course, I meant "not impose" in my first paragraph. There needs to be some way to edit these comments without having to make a new one.

Oh, I am thoroughly enjoying the debate today, as self-serving as that may seem.

James Elliott said...

First: Hunter. I'm willing to entertain your notion. Plurality forcing tolerance is, I think, a function of survival. I think we've arrived at the same conclusion via different mechanisms. Plurality is usually good for the community, especially when it results in playing nice with others.

I'm sorry, Anonymous, but where are your FACTS? I, for one, have historical documentation. You can look back and see the abuses of the rule of George III and his predecessors. How is my interpretation in any way "revisionist?" If history gets in the way of your interpretation, doesn't that make you the revisionist?

The problem is, you're gunning for dissention as a "foundation" and that's not what I'm saying at all. I'm saying it's a quintessentially American trait, an act upon which this country was founded, not a principle. You're redefining it to try and fit your thesis. Nice try though, come play again.

Nice of you to try and just end the "living" versus "dead" document debate as though it were settled. Your condescension aside, prove it. There is ample evidence that the Constitution is a living document. 200 plus years is a long time for social consensus to remain static. James Madison, who rarely had a thought that wasn't influenced by something Thomas Jefferson uttered or wrote first, wrote the Constitution. Jefferson, and his protege Madison, believed that subsequent generations were not supposed to be bound by the mores and decisions of their forefathers. Hence, the Constitution is open to revision and interpretation based upon evolving social standards. Not a single member of the Constitutional Convention raised a voice in objection to Marbury v. Madison (and Madison was the loser!), and ever since then, an "interpretationist," living view of the Constitution has prevailed.

As for the "chip on my shoulder," I'd have to say that this is more an aspect of your perception of hostility. I, personally, harbor no hostility to religion. As H.L Mencken once said, "The problem with Communism is the Communists, just as the problem with Christianity is the Christians."

Religion is a fine fashion for a community to provide existential security for its members and pass along an ethical code of behavior.
I just feel that mankind has evolved past the need for a theologically based ethical code, and can proceed into a conscious, community-based code. We are sufficiently self-aware for that.

No, I was not raised in a religious household. My father was turned off by my grandfather's fanatical anti-Catholicism, and my mother lost her faith when she could find no divine plan in her mother's early, painful death. My parents happily exposed me to religions, and allowed me to make my own decisions, such as the decision to wed a woman who was raised in a devout Seventh Day Adventist home who has a deep and abiding faith in God and Jesus Christ as his Son.

You see, Anonymous, my "awakening," as it were, came when I realized that all religions, be it a largely accepted one like Christianity or a minority religion like the Mormon cosmology or Norse Gods revivalists or anything else that is existential in nature exists upon an unproven foundation. They all, ultimately, rest on belief in an unprovable (being the nature of faith: to believe in something you cannot know). That makes every one of them equally valid and equally deserving of society's respect and protection. I feel no need for an existential transitional object to protect me from the dangers of the world, nor do I need religious teachings to instruct me on how to behave in a community.

As with any ideology, the problem becomes people. Namely, the zealous and fanatical who believe there's is the only right way and all others must convert or be eliminated as threats. Just as I despise religious zealots and Far Right fanatics, I likewise hold in contempt Far Left fanatics who refuse to compromise. Idealogues are dangerous, no matter their stripes. Sometimes they become dangerous enough that you have to put them down. Fanaticism is like rabies: toxic and highly contagious.

As for your Civil War analogy: I see no reason why it was wrong for the South to secede and, in light of recent events, it's not too late to let it go.

Hunter Baker said...

You're interesting, Anonymous. Declare yourself.

By the way, that's secession.

Anonymous said...

JE- I fully appreciate your dialogue, and hope to respond more in a bit.

HB- Thanks for the word correction. Seccession was the thought, because the South most certainly did NOT succeed.

"Interesting" can be taken in so many ways. A horrific accident on the Interstate with multiple fatalities can be considered "interesting" due to the response it gets. I hope I am not that kind.

I desire to have a "Blog" on which to anchor my identity soon (the irony of that is delicious), but in the meantime, I am,

E.B. Crow

Hunter Baker said...

James, the notion that there is some code free of religious baggage just isn't really true. You and the other "community-based ethic" folks don't realize that you are hip deep in soil cultivated with and infused by Christianity, Judaism, etc. for a long, long time. To mix my metaphor, you're standing on the shoulders of giants who went before.

The question is, what if values are ever completely unmoored from a religious (or transcendent) foundation. Elton Trueblood called that the cut flower civilization and the end result isn't pretty.

By the way, great quote from J. Budziszewski:

"If I (as a Christian) am to blame for the religious butcheries of the sixteenth century, is he (the atheist/secularist) to blame for the secular savageries of the twentieth? I see your thousand Frenchmen; I raise you a million Chinese."

Kathy Hutchins said...

religious liberties have very little to do with America, though this is a fallacy that has been long-perpetuated because it sounds awfully nice. Each colony had its own chosen religion

I have you, Mr. Elliot. You are thoroughly dished. Do you not know that in Maryland, from the original charter granted to the Catholic George Calvert, Lord Baltimore, religious plurality was actively sought, freedom of religion was zealously protected, and there was no established religion, no tithes, and no persecution of any sort? Admittedly, it was done largely because Calvert recognized there were not enough Catholics in England to populate an entire colony the size of Maryland, and he wanted Maryland to succeed because it would enrich him. Imagine that -- not only were the Papists the ones who got it right, it was because of market forces!! Score two for my side.

As far as never having substantively refuted you, either one understands that the statement of the form: "There are two kinds of X: my X is one sort and all the other Xs are the other sort" commits the fallacy of the undistributed middle or one does not. Apparently you do not; that changes not the fact that it is a logically fallacious construction.

Hunter Baker said...

James, I'm out of argumentative mode, just trying to communicate.

You're deceiving yourself if you say all religions are equally unprovable. It's simply not true. Christianity and Judaism both make some very concrete claims about history. Jews talk about what happened or did not happen at Sinai and several other key events. Christians talk about what happened in the life and death of Jesus.

I'll leave the Jewish apologetics to Homnick or another RC member, but as far as Jesus goes, there is a very sophisticated case to be made. Both Jewish and Christian apologetics will rise far above what you might get from Mormons, Hindus, Zoroastrians, etc. It would be worth it to you to get beyond the dimestore atheist view of religion and explore some of this stuff deeply.

Anonymous said...

I'm interested in your case for the provability of Christianity. Other than the gospels, which were written at least forty years after Jesus died, what else do you have?

James Elliott said...

To deny the theological underpinnings of a religion is not to deny the existence or philisophical importance of a religion's founders or thinkers. Ultimately, a religion, any religion, relies upon a spiritual dimension that CANNOT be proven. You say there is a God, I say there may or may not be and I don't care either way. We'll find out who was right when we die. Problem is, we won't be able to tell our progeny. 'Tis ever the nature of faith. It is simply unproven. Therefore, the idea that God created Adam and Eve and chucked their behinds out of Eden is just as valid as the Aboriginal idea that gods sang the earth and heavens and all their creatures in to being. That is where they are equal.

Take this for example: Geologists have determined that, at the estimated time of the Jews' exodus from Egypt, a volcano detonated on an Aegean island, causing it to collapse into the sea, creating a tsunami that devastated the Meditteranean coast and changing the topography of the ocean. It is believed that it temporarily changed the ocean floor of the Red Sea, possibly creating an effect that would account for Moses' "parting the Red Sea." It is also thought to be the origin of the Atlantean myth, as the island in question was a huge part of the Minoan empire.

Lacking a modern-day understanding of meteorology, geology, global media, and satellite monitoring, it isn't a far stretch for someone in such a position as the Jews to assume divine intervention. It's a concrete view of history with a faulty explanation. Faulty not because the believers were flawed, but because they lacked the tools to fully comprehend the events that occurred.

James Elliott said...

To further elaborate, I have conceded that religion is an excellent method for passing on an ethical code within a community. The precepts of those codes are still valid whether or not one believes they are divinely ordained or merely really good rules for people to get along by. The underlying basis of them, whether theological or mundane, doesn't change their efficacy.

You're arguing something entirely different than I am, namely the underlying basis for them.

I think it is possible to live by those codes without the need for a deistic authority figure to keep us in line, because the human condition has evolved.

EB Crow said...

Let it be known that all the anonymous posts until the last were from me. (I wonder if the last anon post was a "straw man" for JE to refute?)

JE- You may become a martyr of another sort here, though not one to the death (which seems to contradict the word) but to the ideology! I will respond to our repartee, but only after I read your response to Mrs. Hutchins.

Anonymous said...

Don't call me a strawman.

-The Liberal Anonymous

Anonymous said...

HB, et al at the Reform Club

May I congratualte you on a lively discussion!

Anon2- My apologies in referring to you as a "straw man." Perhaps I should have said "straw person," at best.

In all seriousness, LA, to what end are you asking regarding the provability of Christianity. Like my fellow responder, the sophist JE, it would appear that you have some questionable information.

Hunter Baker said...

The provability of Christianity is a big topic. Clearly, the gospels provide the primary source documents. What I'm talking about are the arguments to be made from those documents and the writings of Paul.

As for sources, I would recommend Alvin Plantinga, Nicholas Wolterstorff, C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer (I'm thinking The God Who Is There), or even a super-popular treatment like Lee Strobel's The Case for Christ. I probably shouldn't fail to mention To Everyone An Answer edited by my friend Francis Beckwith.

I'm also very fond of Peter Kreeft's Between Heaven and Hell which was somewhat decisive for me, personally.

By the way, conservative anonymous (E.B. Crow), let us know when you get a blog up.

John Huisman said...

Hunter said, "You're deceiving yourself if you say all religions are equally unprovable. It's simply not true."

I think the best way to describe this issue is to say that the essential truths of the Christian faith cannot be definitively proven, but that the evidence and arguments in support of them are often very good. Better, as Hunter says, than that of other faiths.

But proof is a high standard. If we could actually prove definitively the articles of the Christian faith then everyone would become a Christian. And this just does not happen.

The Christian's knowledge of God, Jesus, etc. rests upon something better than argument anyway. Actual experience through divine revelation. Christian's believe what they do because they encounter God through the Word of God and they believe it. This ability to believe is a gift of faith given by God through the Holy Spirit.

Anyone who maintains that we can come to know these truths in some other way, by pure reason and argument for example, is not really speaking biblically. The arguments come forth from us after the religious encounter. The best an argument can do is point us in the right direction---to the revelation, to the Word of God.

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's very clear that the Gospels are a primary source at all.

First, we have the astonishing amount of overlap between Matthew, Mark and Luke. For primary sources, they sure seem to be cribbing from each other, or from some earlier text, now lost. In fact, most scholars believe this to be the case.

As for John, it was written so long after Jesus' death, and differs so much in its message and story, that it is hard for me to take it seriously as a historic document. Rather than a lens through which to view the Synoptic Gospels, it seems to be a demonstration of an evolution of Christian thought. It certainly portrays a different Jesus than the others.

Regardless, we can't be certain who wrote the Gospels. Where they aren't plagiarized from each other they disagree over many details. Finally, the motivations of their authors were to convince the reader of divinity, rather than to record history.

You can call them the oldest sources available, but it stretches the meaning of the word "primary" to call them that. And even if we accept them as primary sources, they are rather poor ones.

-LA

Kathy Hutchins said...

Lacking a modern-day understanding of meteorology, geology, global media, and satellite monitoring, it isn't a far stretch for someone in such a position as the Jews to assume divine intervention

And lacking a background that enables one to detect the internal contradictions of materialism, it isn't a far stretch for a 21st century atheist to fail to realize that God can intervene through bubbling magma. Identifying an immediate cause does nothing to settle the identity of the prime mover.

Anonymous said...

The Christian's knowledge of God, Jesus, etc. rests upon something better than argument anyway. Actual experience through divine revelation. Christian's believe what they do because they encounter God through the Word of God and they believe it. This ability to believe is a gift of faith given by God through the Holy Spirit.

This seems to be rather circular. The proof is meaningful to you only because you believe in the veracity of your experience. Essentially, you are saying that Christians believe what they do because Christians believe what they do. Now, that's fine, but it doesn't constitute better proof than a logical argument. A lot of people "know" a lot of things to be true based on personal experience, and some of those folks are (no offense) hallucinating schizophrenics.

Of course, we now face the danger of descending into a debate on the meaning of knowledge.

As an aside, if faith is simply a gift from God, over which we have no control, then what is the utility of evangelism?

-LA

Hunter Baker said...

Lib Anon, I'm not going to get into the very high-powered realm of Bible scholarship with you. I'm not a Bible scholar and I'm pretty certain you aren't either. I think your "most scholars now believe" statement is probably not very easily supported. Maybe, most scholars from x set of institutions.

My own reading is that the Gospels agree with each other to a remarkable extent and the message is very clear no matter how much we might pretend not to perceive it.

Anonymous said...

And lacking a background that enables one to detect the internal contradictions of materialism, it isn't a far stretch for a 21st century atheist to fail to realize that God can intervene through bubbling magma. Identifying an immediate cause does nothing to settle the identity of the prime mover.

James is saying that people experienced events that they could not explain, and so they invented supernatural explanations. He's explaining where the idea of God came from. How does what you just said refute this, beyond simply "goddidit"?

-LA

Anonymous said...

Hunter:

Indeed, the Gospels agree with each other to a remarkable extent. For example, it is my understanding that there are only 24 verses in Mark which do not appear word-for-word in the other Gospels. Considering the order in which they were written, I don't see it as too unreasonable that some copying took place.

E.B. Crow said...

While I was away it appears that there has been a great discussion of Christianity and the Bible. Sorry I missed it.

HB, Reform Club, and the masses:
it is now up and running.

James Elliott said...

I like how everyone assumes I'm an atheist. What I've said is that I don't CARE whether there's a god or not, and if there is, I don't think it's necessarily as the Judeo-Christian, or any other, mythology teaches. That's a far cry from atheism. Spirituality is a beautiful, individualistic thing. To each their own, and that includes form and intensity of belief.

As to the historical veracity of ANY faith: I could, should I choose to devote more time than I can spare to it, select a people out of history for whom a general thread of events is known, but the causes are not. Taking that historical thread, I could come up with a mystically based cause-and-effect narrative and create a theology. Since little was known about them, the historical record spotty at best, it might even seem to have some veracity, especially if it were viewed from, say, 2000 or more years out when knowledge of the time is even more haphazard.

But really, all LA and I are doing is playing Butch and Sundance to your Bolivian Army. It's fun, but ultimately no one is swaying or convincing anyone else of anything.

Tom Van Dyke said...

"Religion is a fine fashion for a community to provide existential security for its members and pass along an ethical code of behavior.
I just feel that mankind has evolved past the need for a theologically based ethical code, and can proceed into a conscious, community-based code. We are sufficiently self-aware for that."


Au contraire, mon ami, and your conclusion about where we can proceed from here illustrates the crisis of modern philosophy.

After we dispense with a Creator, we dispense with any unalienable (inherent) rights man may be endowed with. Man becomes the measure of all things, thus we have only those rights our fellow man deigns to accord us.

You take Richard Rorty's shortcut that rights have been conventionalized, and therefore we need not concern ourselves with their origin. Cut flowers. No roots.

To your conclusion, it is those unalienable rights of the individual that many or most Americans still maintain have primacy. Your "community-based" code allows for virtually anything that subjugates the individual for any putative "greater good," like Kelo, for instance.

There are those of us who aren't cool with that. You yourself, on most issues.

Besides, conventions come and go, like the definition of marriage. They have only a tenuous efficacy, and can be obliterated at the whim of only 5 Supreme Court justices.

(The proposition that we have "evolved" since, say Attila the Hun or even Jesus, is chancy at best. Science would expect only a minor variation in so brief a time, and the events of the past century do not support an empirical claim.)

"Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity,
religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man
claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great
pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and
citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to
respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their
connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked,
Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense
of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of
investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the
supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may
be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar
structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national
morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."---G. Washington, Farewell Address, 1796

I don't mean to attempt to prove you wrong, Mr. Elliott, but we cut the flowers at our own great peril. Perhaps we need to evolve a bit more.

Hunter Baker said...

Some good points there, TVD. Points I've made without much hearing going on.

As far as the 2000 years thing goes, the Christian bit has been continuously exhaustively examined since it happened. It wasn't all at the remove of a couple of millennia.

John Huisman said...

Anonymous said, "This seems to be rather circular. The proof is meaningful to you only because you believe in the veracity of your experience."

Anonymous, I said I do not regard these type of arguments as "proofs." Second, I believe that all argumentation occurs within the context of ultimate religious committments born of faith, Christian or not (including secular faith). So yes, all knowledge is at bottom circular (for everyone, not just Christians). The reason why is because you have to start somewhere, and those starting points cannot themselves be explained rationally. Indeed, it is they that determine what will be rational for us. They must be accepted instead by faith. That is, we must trust something to be revealing itself as ultimate, religiously speaking (so all of us are religious, willy-nilly).

"Now, that's fine, but it doesn't constitute better proof than a logical argument."

I never said that personal experience constitutes proof. Proofs are logical/rational arguments. I said we have something better than such arguments when it comes to God and Christian truth. We have the personal experience born of faith. Arguments for God's existence, in contrast, start from evidence, not the immediate knowledge that comes by faith. I think all of us take our experience born of the immediacy of faith as being of a higher epstemic order than an argument based on evidence.

"A lot of people "know" a lot of things to be true based on personal experience, and some of those folks are (no offense) hallucinating schizophrenics."

No offense taken. I think There is always great risk in faith, in trust. That is true not only for Christians, but also secularists. If we get it wrong in this area, I believe there are eternal repercussions. We can make arguments to defend our convictions, but as I implied earlier, their value has limits. Rational argumentation cannot substitute for faith.

"As an aside, if faith is simply a gift from God, over which we have no control, then what is the utility of evangelism?"

Although it is a gift from God, we have a part to play as well. After all, it is we who believe (I make no claim here to fully understand the relationship between God's sovereignty and human responsibility).

I would say that evangelism is a presentation of the Word of God (God's revelation) that provides the opportunity for the Holy Spirit to engender faith in that revelation within us. I have been surprised to discover in the last few years that there are quite a few secularists who say they would like to be able to believe in the
Christian gospel. Some of them have asked me how this could come about. My answer is always that they need to put themselves in a position to experience God's revelation---reading the Bible, going to church, listening to a sermon on the radio, etc. Read or listen with an open mind and ask, if you want, that God would help you to discover the truth about these matters.

Anonymous said...

I have been surprised to discover in the last few years that there are quite a few secularists who say they would like to be able to believe in the
Christian gospel.


First off, I think when you say "secularists", you mean "atheists". That aside, perhaps I can provide an explanation for that wish. Those who have taken the position of uncertainty can see and understand the feeling of completeness and security that comes with the absolute certainty of faith. But to somebody who has truely considered the Universe and decided against religious belief, they can no more have faith in Christ then they can have faith that the sky is green.

So long as belief defies proof, you have no choice in your faith. I've read the Bible, I've gone to church, and I've read many tracts. If the message there is true, then God isn't interested in giving me faith.

James Elliott said...

The Liberal Anonymous is correct here. This is something he, I, and Tlaloc have touched on in this and other threads.

The security that people of faith have with their fates and place in the world is something I envy greatly. I have written before of the the utility of religion as an existential security blanket. This is not merely a fun twist of rhetoric for me. When I consider the gaping maw of oblivion, of nonexistence, that I am fairly certain awaits me, I feel a terror I have never felt before. Not even when faced with my own mortality while being wheeled in to open-heart surgery did I feel as terrified as I do, late at night, contemplating the end. I envy people of faith their security. And I wish them well of it.

That personal experience allows me to reach my conclusion about religion's place as an existential protective barrier between paralyzing terror and the human mind. When I say that man has evolved past needing religion, I say that man now has the mental fortitude to soldier past this terror.

I simply do not agree that inherent rights do not exist without a creator. What are "rights" but the enumeration and expression of universally felt human desires, rules for surviving as social creatures within the human primate hierarchy. They are inherent because they are innate at a genetic level. They are inherent because they are good ideas. The patterns of behavior that is encoded within those desires become more and more cemented as man continues to evolve and grow.

You believe that comes from a god. I believe it comes from man's innate desire to be a successful social creature, because man as a species recognizes the need of a community for survival.

As for you, the rude Mr. Crow, you will have to prove how my reasoning is any more specious than yours. That you rely upon the shared belief in Christianity does not, ultimately, make your belief any more plausible than mine, merely more socially accepted in this forum.

Kathy Hutchins said...

I have to say that the thoughtful turn these comments have taken has delighted and really rather surprised me, given the thoughts I was having re: comments policy just 24 hours ago. There have been some essential questions posed. I'm not sure installment 41 in the comments section of a post about the London bombings is the place to continue, and certainly not at 1:30 in the morning. With the indulgence of the gentlemen, I'll post something tomorrow about my views on the epistomology of faith. I can't resist one comment, though:

I've read the Bible, I've gone to church, and I've read many tracts. If the message there is true, then God isn't interested in giving me faith.

From personal experience, Dear Anonymous: God is interested in giving you faith, in fact there is nothing more important to Him. If you do not find Him in books and tracts, He will find you some other way. Because there is, ultimately, nothing but Him to find.

Anonymous said...

Let's not spoil an otherwise good discussion by proselytizing, please.

John Huisman said...

Anonymous said, "perhaps I can provide an explanation for that wish. Those who have taken the position of uncertainty can see and understand the feeling of completeness and security that comes with the absolute certainty of faith."

Part of my position is that everyone has a religion of some sort or other; everyone has something that they take in faith as ultimate. Apparently, at least within this particular universe of discourse, what is ultimate for you is uncertainty. That is, you are voicing the religious perspective of a skeptic. You've rejected faith in God and have in its place "taken the position of uncertainty." Using my terminology, you have placed your faith in the uncertain as being ultimate; you are certain about uncertainty.

Apart from the self-referential incoherence of such a position, can you see why it would be thoroughly unattractive to most people? Who wants to place trust in the uncertain? Perhaps the lack of completeness and security you experience does not come from a lack of faith on your part, but from what you have placed your faith in.

Anonymous said...

you have placed your faith in the uncertain as being ultimate; you are certain about uncertainty.

I feel that you've created a definition of faith that is so broad as to be essentially meaningless. Regardless, uncertainty is truely the only thing we can be certain about. I'm interested in how you would rebut that.

can you see why [your point of view] would be thoroughly unattractive to most people?

I don't see how that figures into it. Just because something is unattractive doesn't make it wrong. I admit, a belief system in which you can effectively do whatever you want because your faith secures you paradise in the hereafter is attractive purely from a materialistic point of view. But something tells me that isn't why you chose it.

Hunter Baker said...

There is something that occurs to me to say as we get deeper and deeper into this discussion. Mr. Elliott and LA have punched the profundity button.

One of the things that I think many atheists/agnostics forget when they determine their own beliefs is this:

God is wholly other. God is not merely the Father. God is also truly holy. God is wild. God is dangerous, like a storm gathering over the horizon.

We are made in his image, but we are not little clones of him. We learn in Isaiah that we cannot truly know his mind, ditto from Paul. We can only know and understand in part and that is what the light of revelation plus reason/nature gets us (Paul's formula).

In other words, don't expect to be able to fully understand why things happen in this life.

John Huisman said...

Anonymous said, "I feel that you've created a definition of faith that is so broad as to be essentially meaningless."

A definition of religion has to be broad because the reality itself is so diverse. Mine (that which you take in faith as ultimate) has the advantage of capturing pretty well all the manifestations (that we intuitively suspect as being religious).

"uncertainty is truely the only thing we can be certain about. I'm interested in how you would rebut that."

Actually, I already have, but in brief. I said such a position (skepticism) is self-referentially incoherent. Your ultimate (uncertainty) undermines your faith (in certainty). For a person such as myself who regards faith as the key to the Kingdom, an argument along these lines would not have much force, but for a person such as yourself, who puts a lot of stock in reason and argumentation, I would think self-referential incoherence would be anathema.

"I don't see how that figures into it. Just because something is unattractive doesn't make it wrong."

I guess I was hoping that if I pointed out the unattractiveness you might be willing to re-evaluate.

"I admit, a belief system in which you can effectively do whatever you want because your faith secures you paradise in the hereafter is attractive purely from a materialistic point of view."

Where did you get the idea Christians believe they can do whatever they want? We're the ones who believe in transcendental norms (God's law) that govern human behaviour.

"But something tells me that isn't why you chose it."

I really believe what I said earlier about Christian faith being a gift. We may be involved in the process, but as junior players. But if I were the one experiencing incompleteness and insecurity, I hope that I would be willing to open myself to a better alternative.

John Huisman said...

Anonymous, I messed up my last comment. Instead of
saying "Your ultimate (uncertainty) undermines your faith (in certainty)." I should have said, "Your ultimate (uncertainty) undermines your faith (certainty).

Sorry. I hate that when that happens!

Anonymous said...

... don't expect to be able to fully understand why things happen in this life.

Hunter, how is this different from what I'm saying?

Anonymous said...

A definition of religion has to be broad because the reality itself is so diverse. Mine (that which you take in faith as ultimate) has the advantage of capturing pretty well all the manifestations (that we intuitively suspect as being religious).

Intuition isn't enough of a justification to expand your definition of religion to include that which is not religion. Just because you wish atheism et al to be a religion doesn't make it so; lack of belief is not the same as belief in a negative.

Actually, I already have, but in brief. I said such a position (skepticism) is self-referentially incoherent.

It's certainly self-referential, but that in itself does not create any inconsistency. There's nothing logically wrong with the admission that we cannot truely know anything with absolute certainty.

I guess I was hoping that if I pointed out the unattractiveness you might be willing to re-evaluate.

Sometimes reality is unpleasant. That is not a justification to reevaluate one's view of what is real.

Where did you get the idea Christians believe they can do whatever they want? We're the ones who believe in transcendental norms (God's law) that govern human behaviour.

That's Christianity's pitch, John. We're all sinners, and through acts alone we cannot pass into heaven. Only through faith in Jesus. John 3:16, Romans 10:13, Isaiah 64:6, etc.

Sure, once you have Christian faith, you feel guilty for violating the moral code that the Bible records Jesus as putting forth, but as you may have noticed, for most Christians it ends there.

John Huisman said...

Anonymous said, "Just because you wish atheism et al to be a religion doesn't make it so; lack of belief is not the same as belief in a negative."

But I did not say atheism is a religion. I said that your faith in uncertainty is religious. Atheism is the rejection of a religion, whereas skepticism is the acceptance of a religious position. You said that you have "taken the position of uncertainty," and also, "we cannot truely know anything with absolute certainty." This is not simply the denial of God characteristic of atheism. Rather, this is a deep faith committment to uncertainty. And it is religious because it has the same basic feature that all religions have: faith in something that is ultimate, something that is non-negotiable.

"It's certainly self-referential, but that in itself does not create any inconsistency. There's nothing logically wrong with the admission that we cannot truely know anything with absolute certainty."

The two statements of yours that I quote above are not just self-referential, they are self-referentially incoherent. This type of incoherency goes beyond logical incoherence or inconsistency. Logical incoherence occurs when someone holds to two different statements within the same theory or universe of discourse that mutually exclude one another. Self-referential incoherence, on the other hand, occurs when a claim is made that is in some way incompatible with its own truth. So, for example, Taoists often say, "Nothing can be said of the Tao." This is self-referentially incoherent because to say, "Nothing can be said of the Tao," is to say something of the Tao. So likewise, to say "we cannot truely know anything with absolute certainty" is to say something with absolute certainty. It is incoherent in the self-referential way, because it is incompatible with its own truth; it undermines itself.

[By the way, I have borrowed heavily from Roy Clouser's "The Myth of Religious Neutrality" in the above paragraph]

"That's Christianity's pitch, John. We're all sinners, and through acts alone we cannot pass into heaven. Only through faith in Jesus. John 3:16, Romans 10:13, Isaiah 64:6, etc."

True. But that does not mean we have carte blanche to do whatever we want. See Romans Chapter 6.

Hunter Baker said...

John, the Roy Clouser book is cool. I think it will be widely read by grad students.

LA, my comment on the unscrutability of God is Biblically informed and directed at the kind of response James' mother had to losing her mother young and seemingly without sense. The temptation is to say, God can't be real if he would allow something terrible like this. The problem with that is that we then judge God or assume he can't be real as though he failed a test. The idea of the finite judging the infinite is wrong-headed, no matter how our emotions might direct us to do so.

James Elliott said...

The concept that God is great and wild and unknowable, that His plan is unfathomable to humankind is a blatant attempt to square belief in an ultimately benign end with the fact that horrible, evil things happen to perfectly fine people with incredible faith in God.

All of your arguments, ultimately, descend from the simple acceptance that there IS a divine God. Your arguments cannot hold water without acceptance of that one fact. Your logic requires that frame of reference, making it as self-referential and therefore (using Mr. Huisman's logic) just as incoherent. Your arguments descend from accepting something as absolute. This is just as morally relativistic as anything LA and I have argued.

In the order you describe, all things organize themselves that way because you believe they must, to fit in with your world view. That leads to solipsism.

All roads lead to relativism, Mr. Baker. We simply have the courage to embrace it.

James Elliott said...

Apart from the self-referential incoherence of such a position, can you see why it would be thoroughly unattractive to most people? Who wants to place trust in the uncertain?

I'm afraid you've tipped your hand here, sir. Your entire premise is based on an emotional judgment of value. I.e., it is completely relative.

Your entire absolutist argument rests on a relativistic underpinning. Tell me, sir, does cognitive dissonance hurt the brain, or is it just slightly uncomfortable, like a tickle behind your eyeballs?

John Huisman said...

James Elliott said, "I'm afraid you've tipped your hand here, sir. Your entire premise is based on an emotional judgment of value. I.e., it is completely relative."

Not so. I have plainly stated that my position rests on faith in God's revelation. Putting my trust in that revelation allows me to see that Anonymous' skepticism is unattractive, but I didn't come to my position because of the unattractiveness of skepticism, much less Anonymous' version of skepticism.

So my brain feels just fine, thank you.

Hunter Baker said...

James, this is where John and I might not totally agree. My position is not as "I believe in God and that settles it" as you seem to think.

My faith does have a powerful element of relationship to God through Christ, but I continue to maintain that the Jesus event looks historical to me. I suggested some reading materials in an earlier post. If you really want to explore the faith with an eye toward having it, I think you should consider reading what I've cited. Something else you might like is the bits and pieces of Pascal's Pensees, which has lots of apologetic material in it.

James Elliott said...

I do not, and have never, denied the existence of Jesus Christ as a historical figure and an important philosopher.

But, as Jefferson pointed out by writing the Jeffersonian Bible, you don't need all the mystical claptrap to follow his ethos.

I'll make you a deal. I'll peruse your suggestions with an open mind if you read Julian Jaynes's "The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind."

Hunter Baker said...

James, I'm certainly willing to check out the book you suggest. I'm in the middle of an intensive 100 book reading list for my 3rd year of the Ph.D. program, but I'll happily read your book afterwards.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Fortunately, Pascal's is online for free:

"To begin by pitying unbelievers; they are wretched enough by their condition. We ought only to revile them where it is beneficial; but this does them harm.

To pity atheists who seek, for are they not unhappy enough? To inveigh against those who make a boast of it...


Let them at least learn what is the religion they attack, before attacking it. If this religion boasted of having a clear view of God, and of possessing it open and unveiled, it would be attacking it to say that we see nothing in the world which shows it with this clearness. But since, on the contrary, it says that men are in darkness and estranged from God, that He has hidden Himself from their knowledge, that this is in fact the name which He gives Himself in the Scriptures, Deus absconditus; and finally, if it endeavours equally to establish these two things: that God has set up in the Church visible signs to make Himself known to those who should seek Him sincerely, and that He has nevertheless so disguised them that He will only be perceived by those who seek Him with all their heart..."

And the "wager" from this piece is the most well-known: If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing.

Good luck, Mr. Phelps.

The Liberal Anonymous said...

Ah yes, the famous wager. It is a false proposition on at least two grounds:

1) As I outlined above, belief is not voluntary.
2) It is a false dichotomy. There are multiple religions which threaten damnation for nonbelievers. Which one do we choose?

Tom Van Dyke said...

The Mormons.

James Elliott said...

tvd, you're a South Park fan, aren't you?

"But I was a devout Lutheran!" Heh.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Cheers, Mr. Elliott. :-)