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

From: Bill Powers <>
Date: Sat Nov 28 2009 - 00:13:25 EST


I agree with your assessment of the situation.
I would only add one thing

I will speak but little of Bernie. I don't know him well
enough to do so. He is being used more as an ideal than a person.

It seems to me that there is a version of Christianity which is the flip
side of atheism. Both are progeny of the Enlightenment. They require
that their commitments and beliefs be supported by reason and evidence.
It is a kind of foundationalism.

Such postures are as much applied to their relationship with God as it
is to their neighbor and the world. They are uncomfortable with faith.

I presume by a fundamentalist you mean someone who is committed to a
more literal interpretation of Scripture. Where the posture I'm
speaking of shows up is in requiring that the picture they take from
Scripture be found in the world. It is a kind of natural theology. So
they will not just be satisfied with affirming a Six Day Creation. They
must go about creating a science that is consistent with it, and
declaring that it is plain to everyone who would only not resist the
truth. They are uncomfortable with gaps, uncertainty, and ambiguity.

However, a crisis may come to such a person's life: The death of a
child, the unhappy marriage, or the evidence that had served to buttress
their so-called faith begins to crumble and have feet of clay. They
seek a place of certainty nonetheless. If not in a certain and reliable
Scripture, then in the non-existence of god. Surely we can marshall a
host of evidence to support that claim. All of science is on our side.
Finally, we can be comfortable in the role of a skeptic, a non-believer.

In this way, it seems to me that this brand of Christian modernism is
really the flip side of an atheistic modernism. What I think the
modernist, of all stripes, finds, however, is that ambiguity and
uncertainty always remain. Reason and evidence is simply insufficient
for human life.

Bernie apparently believes that he was a "Christian" based on the truths
of certain propositions that he now takes to be false. He apparently
believes and wants to convince others that his reasons for not believing
are the same reasons that everyone ought not to believe. However, he is
mistaken. The reasons he gave for believing and now for not believing
are not sufficient for either. A person believing all that Bernie
points to might well be a believer. That ought to be clear. This means
that for Bernie to succeed he must do one of two things: either abandon
the notion that one can be "reasoned" out of faith, or openly join Satan
in his battle against Christ. You see, Cameron, you have missed an
important, but less well documented journey: the one from Christ to
Satan. If we can't believe in a Good God, we will gladly abandon
ourselves to death and evil, what so easily abounds in this world.
Because I don't see Bernie doing the latter, I don't take Bernie to be
an atheist, although he may not be a Christian. He has a god. It is
just not the Triune God of Christianity. Indeed, it may be that it is
this very same god that he has always worshipped and still does. He's
just changed the name he calls it.


On Fri, 27 Nov 2009, Cameron Wybrow

> 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 Sat Nov 28 14:39:05 2009

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