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Monday, February 15, 2010

Theologians have a lot to answser for

Rant warning!

I was reading Consilience by Edward O. Wilson. Happened to switch over to Augustine. It struck me, as it does from time to time, the sudden change. Wilson is reasonable, balanced, fair, clear. He argues and explains without making threats. He treats the reader with respect. Augustine is quick to condemn. Even when not specifically condemning someone or other, the very subjects he addresses and the way he addresses them drip with implied condemnations of someone or other. And on what basis? Because this passage or that passage from the Bible tells him so. Respect for the reader? No. The reader is to be bludgeoned into acknowledging his truth. I say "his" intentionally. The man was swimming in unacknowledged, unrecognized ignorance. He appeals to God to give him knowledge, confesses his dependence on God to provide him with knowledge, and then proceeds to make pronouncements on dozens of matters about which he knows next to nothing and press upon the reader the necessity of adopting his opinions or perishing.

I am not picking on Augustine; this is a pattern generated, not by failings in his personality or character, but by the nature of his beliefs. Judeo-Christian "orthodoxies" do this to people. They are a baleful influence. In short, as a professing Christian I think Christopher Hitchens is on to something: religion ruins everything. I can't speak about other religious traditions, since I don't know them well. But I can speak about Christianity from long personal experience. Orthodox Christian theology is poison in the well of the human heart. There is good in orthodoxy, but it is ruined by foolishness which invariably accompanies it. I am not saying religion is the ultimate cause of human evil. The ultimate cause is our own nature. Evolution has endowed the human heart with very destructive, malicious passions. Nobody escapes this. The problem with orthodox Christianity is that it masks its own malice in holiness. The consequence? The God clung to by the orthodox becomes a monster.

For a start, consider the prophets. Ancient Israelite society was no paradise on earth. The prophets testify to many "sins," some against God himself, some against fellow Israelites. But according to the prophets, God has a very limited set of remedies, almost always consisting of an invading army followed by devastation of the land and atrocities against the people. This God of the prophets is supposed to be superior in wisdom, mercy, and power to the evil Israelite aristocracy, but in practice he does nothing except destroy, destroy, destroy. Why? The prophets were realists; if Assyria, Babylon, or Egypt wants to overrun Palestine, what are the kingdoms of Israel and Judah going to do about it? But in order to get their message accepted they have to turn necessity into a virtue. Voila! God WANTS the foreign invader to succeed in order to punish the evildoers among his people. Never mind that the people most likely to suffer are the people already victimized by internal injustices. They have to suffer twice? So what? They deserve it; they're idolaters!

And then, of course, God avenges his people eventually. How? By really giving it to the invaders! But not the invaders that caused the problem in the first place. Their descendants get it, the ones unfortunate enough to live when the foreign empire's vitality is ebbing away and competitors start ravaging the homeland. But we can be more specific about this. The vast majority of those who suffer from this vengeance are peasants, people who most likely profited little or nothing from the devastations wrought by the ancestors of their overlords. And how does this help those Israelites who originally suffered injustice?

Are you a theologian? Fix this problem with orthodoxy. Tear the God-damned prophetic theology apart and put it back together so that it stops slandering God.

Friday, February 12, 2010

What if Eve had been a trained scientist?

This essay is a brief thought experiment meant to explore the implications of an alternate version of the story of Adam and Eve found in Genesis 2 & 3. In the alternate version Eve practices the forms of reasoning employed in modern sciences to decide what to do about the serpent's "temptation." Using these techniques the "scientific" Eve either falsifies the serpent's claims without any human being eating the forbidden fruit or, depending on how Adam and God respond to her, falsifies many of the theological/anthropological/cultural constructs underlying the Biblical version of the story. If Eve had been a trained scientist, there would have been no "fall."

I attempted a simpler form of this experiment many years ago. At that time my primary purpose was to dispatch to my own satisfaction a variant of Calvnistic/Reformed orthodoxy known as Van Tillian presuppositionalism. One of this position's claims, based on its own approach to Genesis 2 and 3, is that modern scientific ways of knowing the world are inherently prejudiced against true knowledge and love of God. Primarily, this is due to the fact that the modern scientific way of knowing does not accept the already self-evident knowledge scientists have of God from the inerrant Word of God in the Bible, the creation around them, and their own being and constitution. All of these things speak to them very clearly, and in being exposed to them scientists encounter God himself. But scientists fail to respond properly to this knowledge. Instead, they suppress and deny it; they doubt things they know deep down to be true. Or, more exactly, they doubt the One they know deep down to be Truth.

In other words, consistent methodogical doubt is sinful and disastrously counterproductive when confronted with the God of the Bible. I don't accept this at all. But I was not happy with the idea that presuppositionalism would go one way and I another and the two would have nothing to say to one another. I would press reasons and arguments starting from my set of givens and they would press reasons and arguments starting from their set of givens (primarily the Bible), and we would talk at one another but make very little progress. Ah, I thought, if I can show that the use of scientific methods by Eve would rule out the "fall," the entire presuppositionalist position is overthrown. That was my initial intent. Whether this thought experiment achieves that intent knowing readers will have to judge for themselves.

In any event, that is no longer my primary intent. I have broader goals now. For one thing, writing out this experiment is more fun for me and anyone who happens to read the posts. For another, I think the contrast between the two versions of the story will make some features of the Biblical version clearer and easier to evaluate. These are good things, no matter what your beliefs about Genesis 2 and 3.

Next post in the series coming soon!