Thursday, 13 December 2007

A Veritable Barbecue of Christians

If you saw an event entitle "Grill a Christian", would you go? Well, it turns out I would, even if I was only attracted by the slim outside chance that this might be some kind of penance for all those stake nights back in the middle ages. So, along I went, accompanied by a couple of friends from the Atheist Society.

It turned out that the event actually consisted of a panel of five christians from the Christian Union and an audience made up of we three (meeting again as we do, witch-like, on a regular basis) and maybe half a dozen other christians. At least we were told afterwards that they were probably christians. There was certainly plenty of meekness in evidence, so I assume there's a title deed for the planet heading their direction one day (lucky them). To put it another way, I don't think they brought any metaphorical barbecue sauce with them. So, it was up to us to "be blunt" as we were instructed and ask anything that popped into our heads.

Now, I'm not a very good note-taker at the best of times, and being in turns bored to death and driven to distraction doesn't aid my perspicacity one little bit. So I'm going to try and reconstruct some form of account of events from several scruffy sheets of A4, which appear to be the doodle-ridden ravings of a madman. Much of it looks like: "MORALS?", "WHY?", "PROOF!" and "PRAYER!?" interspersed with several questions that were left unasked or unanswered. There were a few interesting answers, which I shall now summarise as best I can. (it was yesterday after all!)

It turns out - and always seems to in the end - that we can all do pretty much what we like. We have all been pre-forgiven in advance thanks to a bloody human torture and sacrifice, which is apparently OK because Jesus was both human and not human at the same time. At this point there is much fallacious pontificating about how we simply haven't grasped the "obviously logical" nature of the holy trinity and that even though God is omnipotent and created Jesus, it's still a sacrifice to let us borrow him for a bit and then take him back.
But, ladies and gentlemen (I'm generously assuming I have an audience larger than 3 here...) I digress. Because, as I said at the start, we can do whatever we want to whomever we desire! Apparently, no proper Christian would ever want to murder, rape or steal (although so so many do) but, when it comes down to it, if you really say sorry afterwards you can still be forgiven. Excellent. This Christmas I would like the Junior Vlad Impaling Kit and the Flagelator 3,000 cat o' nine tails please.
When pressed, I was informed that I could indeed do anything I wanted and still be forgiven by Jesus (who loves me even if I think he's all made up) if I asked nicely.

OK, here goes, and hold on tight because this makes about as much sense as a tofu bicycle. God answers your prayers and you are special, except if you do statistical studies on it, you find zero effect of prayer. Now this is because he at the same time answers enough prayers to still be God but not enough for them to appear above the noise in any experiment. So don't get your hopes up. He also does heal people, but only of things that are conveniently open to occasional spontaneous remission or that have no serious external symptoms. Those poor amputees out there are just not praying properly or hard enough for new legs and arms.
To further enable my rapid conversion from atheism to complete nonsense we were given the following example: "My friend in the pew next to me had a crick in his neck one day, so I prayed for him and a minute later it was gone."
Well go get the holy water folks I think I need an emergency baptism after that compelling chestnut! I had a crick in my neck once and a minute later it went away by itself! How moronic to you have to be to accept this as evidence? Seriously.

OK, all they have here is the Bible, but the way they talk about it you'd think that this ragtag collection of books by many authors at many different times was the most reliable source ever. They unquestioningly accept the work of historians, many of whom - rather conveniently - have the first name "Father" or "Reverand". They completely ignore any of the controversy or discussion surrounding the texts and accept the most favourable aspects from a whole range of accounts, many of which disagree with each other. When it comes down to it, their evidence is the same old "God wrote the Bible and it says he exists so he does" circular argument, given a veneer of historical credibility by the sheer weight of religious research into the matter.
When it comes to scientific evidence we cannot, they say, expect God to show himself to us now. Not now that we have reliable ways to test and document such things. That just wouldn't be cricket! It has to be hard to believe in him because he loves us. Or something. None of it makes the remotest bit of sense!

There's a reason the defence of faith is called "apologetics". That's all it is. The making of excuses and apologies on behalf of religion. There is no reason here. There is no logic or observation or discernible method. Only a massive engine of self-reassurance designed to stop people from asking the truly difficult and interesting questions. When it comes down to it, all of the arguments we got that day can be summarised like this:

"It's like that because that's the way we want it to be!"

It's been a long time since that kind of argument was acceptable in any other sphere of investigation. Let's all hope for the day when religion is routinely subjected to the same standards of evidence as science.


RIch said...

I found the time passed quite quickly, I was dismayed not to have got round to various things. If nothing else I am grateful to now know the importance placed in historicity; it seems to me another approach in our favour.

Stephen Bain said...

I'm not sure if the historicity works in our favour or not. We all knew the main reason many people are Christian is because "the Bible tells them so" already. And they already believe it to be, in varying degrees, historically inerrant.

It is difficult to debate that angle because, if we are to use a lack of historicity as an actual argument, we need to understand the huge range of historical opinion on the subject.

Rich said...

We shouldn't necessarily dismiss something as a useful argument because it's too much hard work though. Isaac was unable to give me any historical evidence for the resurrection despite saying that was all his faith was based on and that was before I'd considered the argument. The best that he could come up with was an independant source corroborating with a specific event which is referred to in the same passage. While that may improve its historicity it's hardly a reason to believe. Personally I think it's a most promising direction.

Stephen Bain said...

It's just that when discussing ideas like when the gospels were written and by who, there are a wide range of estimates. We could take the most chronologically distant one because we like it. However, to find the most plausible date would require some work that I certainly don't have time to do.

The fact should be that in order to confirm supernatural events such as miracles and resurrections you should need more than historical guessing anyway.

I'm also interested in the argument from Jesus not being really special anyway. Why are Jesus deeds considered miraculous (in the context of the Bible) when people throughout the Old Testament raise the dead, heal the sick and so on all the time?

Rich said...

I agree to make a good case you would have to do a lot of work but it seems relatively easy to dispute the validity of someone's belief when they say their faith is entirely based on evidence, that the acceptable rational evidence is historical and then we show that it isn't.

artificialhabitat said...

Hmmm, it may indeed be hard work, but as usual, someone already seems to have done it