Re: pendulum swings (was: Re: [asa] Gospel in the Stars WAS Star of Bethlehem presentation?)

From: Schwarzwald <>
Date: Fri Nov 27 2009 - 22:03:22 EST

Heya Cameron,

While I'll avoid psychoanalyzing Bernie (or anyone in particular) for now, I
will say that many times atheism seems motivated by something other than
religious belief itself. A good number of atheists target Christians because
they come across as political enemies first and foremost - people who are
"conservative" (or, in some cases, "liberal") and therefore are a problem to
be dealt with for reasons unconnected to their particular beliefs, though
with the hope that disrupting their religious beliefs will nullify or change
their political beliefs as well. Even Dawkins mentioned that his principle
beef with liberal christians is that they enable the more conservative ones
- a declaration which should probably be reason to pause for some liberal
christians. Since in that case we have an atheist saying that liberal
christians can function as useful idiots, but right now their utility is

I also think there's a secondary draw - something Vox Day mentioned as the
hope that by changing their demographics, a person also changes their
personal makeup. Meaning that a person who becomes convinced that atheists
are the smarter group may think "by becoming an atheist, I'll be smart too!"
Which, sadly and (as far as watching goes) painfully, tends not to work out.

Either way, my own experience is that someone who becomes less and less
enamored with Catholicism, etc, typically becomes vaguely
religious/spiritual at most. Unenergized, unsure, and perhaps agnostic in
the truest sense of the word. They tend not to even think enough about the
topic to take on a label like "atheist", or even eschew "Catholic" or
"Christian". They don't, as you notice, suddenly become frantic devotees of
one atheist or another or start talking about naturalism, etc. And I really
suspect that this group is the one that Christians should be reaching out to
and addressing - committed and fierce atheists are a tiny group, and seem to
have spent the bulk of their new energy in a few short years.

On Fri, Nov 27, 2009 at 8:54 PM, Cameron Wybrow <>wrote:

> Apparently Bernie doesn't like my use of the "pendulum swing" metaphor. I
> guess, for him, "pendulum swing" means a direct, instantaneous leap from one
> position to its opposite. I can understand that usage, so I won't contest
> it. So let me rephrase: Bernie started as a fundamentalist and now is an
> atheist, albeit stopping for relatively brief periods at some half-way
> houses along the path. The key point I was making, regarding not only
> Bernie and Bart Ehrman but many others, was not about the *instantaneous* or
> *direct* nature of the shift from fundamentalism to atheism, but the fact
> that the fundamentalism-to-atheism shift is so common in American culture.
> And it's not just atheism that is produced by this shift, but often a sort
> of militant atheism, which wants to "take on" the fundamentalism it used to
> believe in, whether it does so as Bernie does, by arguing on the internet
> with Christians, or whether it does so as Bart Ehrman does, by writing
> scholarly books and teaching university classes to disprove the beliefs of
> his youth.
> If you look, on the other hand, at Catholics or Anglicans or Greek Orthodox
> or mainstream Protestants who become atheists (with a few exceptions, such
> as Catholics who have been badly burned by immoral priests or by the
> hierarchy), they are rarely preoccupied with the religion in which they used
> to believe. They just drift away from it, going to church less and less
> often, until churchgoing stops altogether (except for weddings and
> funerals). And they don't run to bookstores to snap up the latest tomes
> which refute six-day literalism, and they don't join all kinds of internet
> groups where they can denounce the teachers they used to respect, and trash
> the beliefs they used to hold. They don't read books by Richard Dawkins or
> Sam Harris or Daniel Dennett, either. They just live secular lives, not
> thinking all that much about religion at all. It no longer has a hold on
> them.
> This is actually a much healthier way to leave a religion, because it is
> liberating. The religion is no longer present in one's life, even as
> something which must be consciously repudiated. It's just forgotten, as
> something outgrown, like one's teddy bear or one's first girlfriend or one's
> first pair of sneakers. This type of non-believer carries on without a bad
> conscience, not concerned to repeatedly justify his choice of abandoning his
> faith, to others or to himself.
> Bernie's recent posts, on the other hand, provide an example of the
> militant sort of anti-religion I'm talking about. He's absolutely
> determined to get as many people here as possible to affirm or deny as
> historical fact certain narrative events related in the Bible, or to affirm
> or deny that the Bible contradicts itself. Thus, in his latest post, he
> writes:
> "So then, if no contradiction, did Joseph and Mary travel to Egypt after
> Bethlehem, or did they instead go back to Nazareth?"
> Since Bernie no longer believes that Jesus was divine, or that the Bible is
> inspired, or that it is important to know anything about the parents of a
> non-divine Jewish carpenter from the first century, why should he care so
> much about the answer to this question? Why does he keep pushing to
> convince others, or himself, or both, that there must be something *wrong*
> or *incorrect* or *false* about the Biblical story, that the Biblical story
> is not something that can be trusted or believed? Why doesn't he just say
> that he doesn't believe the Bible any more, and get on with his life? That's
> what all the former Catholic and Anglican atheists I know would do. They
> wouldn't waste *two minutes* arguing on the internet about such questions,
> let alone invest the time to write four posts every day to a list like this
> (and who knows how many other lists).
> The answer, I infer, is that Bernie still feels the need to convince either
> himself or others that he is justified in regarding the Bible as false
> and/or self/contradictory and/or unreliable. And this is typical of the
> fundamentalist-to-atheist outcomes I've observed. It is never enough simply
> to walk away from fundamentalism. One must constantly show oneself and
> others that the Bible is not worthy of belief and that one's choice to walk
> away is therefore vindicated.
> I don't think I've falsely described Bernie's spiritual journey. I took
> the biographical facts from his public posts to this list, so presumably
> they are accurate. And my analysis, which is based on my experience of many
> people who have made Bernie's move, is confirmed with every new post that
> arrives from Bernie. And my prescription for better spiritual health
> remains the same for Bernie as for all other people of the type I have
> described: If you are no longer a Christian, stop trying to justify your
> decision, to yourself or anyone else. Simply stop being a Christian, and
> become whatever it is that you currently think is better than Christian, and
> make no apologies and offer no explanations for doing so. If you still feel
> the need to keep making such apologies and explanations, then you still
> haven't really put that Christian dragon to rest, and if that's the case,
> you need to ask why.
> Cameron.
> ----- Original Message ----- From: "Dehler, Bernie" <
> To: "asa" <>
> Sent: Friday, November 27, 2009 1:08 PM
> Subject: RE: [asa] Gospel in the Stars WAS Star of Bethlehem presentation?
> Cameron said:
>> "I would add that the pendulum swing from fundamentalism to atheism is not
>> restricted to Bart and Bernie."
>> This fallacy keeps getting repeated over and over again. I was not a
>> fundamentalist when I left Christianity. I was a well-informed evolutionary
>> creationist. I see it repeated so much. I also doubt that Bart went from
>> "fundamentalist to atheist." I see from Wikipedia that he got his Ph.D and
>> M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary. Ya, sure, what a fundamentalist
>> seminary.
>> Thinking that we go from one extreme to another is a convenient way to
>> write us off. Why don't you instead engage in content?
>> In the example from Pete, someone says to Bart "get over your
>> fundamentalism." If it was me, I'd reply "I did long ago. Why don't you
>> admit that what I'm saying is what non-fundamentalist evangelicals also
>> believe, and they are wrong?" Instead, you want to make this impression
>> "You are arguing a faulty position from fundamentalism, so you can be
>> dismissed." Wrong. And if you think you are correct, you need to provide
>> evidence and details (content), rather than just try a brush-off.
>> ...Bernie
>> -----Original Message-----
>> From: [] On
>> Behalf Of Cameron Wybrow
>> Sent: Thursday, November 26, 2009 10:32 AM
>> To: asa
>> Subject: Re: [asa] Gospel in the Stars WAS Star of Bethlehem presentation?
>> Pete:
>> I agree with your point about the varied intentions of the Gospel writers,
>> and also with your point about Ehrman. I would add that the pendulum
>> swing
>> from fundamentalism to atheism is not restricted to Bart and Bernie. I've
>> noticed it over and over again. In secular Religious Studies departments,
>> student after student, coming from a very conservative background (ranging
>> from Pentecostal through Baptist and everywhere in between) comes in and
>> after a few years of study "throws the baby out with the bathwater". It
>> happens less often with traditions which place less emphasis on Biblical
>> literalism (Anglican, Catholic, etc.). Ironically, then, fundamentalism
>> is
>> a great breeding-ground for future atheists.
>> I always recommend to former fundamentalists who are losing their faith
>> that
>> they read more widely and deeply in the Christian tradition, so that they
>> can see that there are more options than fundamentalism and atheism. But
>> it
>> rarely works. The fundamentalism has generally so shaped their souls that
>> they cannot envision any other form of spirituality, and it seems they
>> have
>> to "bottom out" as atheists before they can begin a long climb upward to
>> recover a warmer and more balanced form of spirituality. But
>> unfortunately,
>> many of them never make the climb.
>> Thus, my biggest beef against fundamentalism is not its hostility to
>> science
>> or its terrible grasp of history. It is its stifling spirituality, which
>> drives so many toward atheism, as the only escape route. Rigid
>> intellectual
>> assent to the bare words of a book, taken literally, is not what
>> Christianity or any religion is about. Yet people like Bart Ehrman (and a
>> good number of Ph.D.s in Biblical studies, especially New Testament
>> studies)
>> appear to have been permanently spiritually damaged by this conception of
>> Christianity, and this conception of religion. And when people in
>> Bernie's
>> position look up to people like Ehrman, they just repeat the mistake,
>> instead of learning from it. An atheism that is built upon railing
>> against
>> the religion one used to hold is not liberating, but imprisoning. It
>> keeps
>> one within the thrall of the religion that one is seeking to escape.
>> Happy Thanksgiving to all.
>> Cameron.
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Received on Fri Nov 27 22:03:47 2009

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