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

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Sat Nov 28 2009 - 19:30:08 EST

Bill and Murray:

Thanks for these useful comments.

Bill, I agree with you that there is an overemphasis on rational and
evidential certainty in much fundamentalist apologetic, and I agree with you
that this indicates a kinship of fundamentalism with certain strands of the
Enlightenment (which is ironic, given how fundamentalists rage against the
Enlightenment). I also agree with you also about the logic which drives the
former fundamentalist to wish to disprove what he formerly believed in.
This raises the question whether the religion which ultimately drives the
fundamentalist is not what we normally think of as religion (beliefs about
God, soul, heaven, etc.) but the belief that certainty about ultimate
matters *must be* available, even if that certainty is a negative one (God
does not exist, there is no soul, there is no revelation). It might be that
the ultimate religious ground of many forms of fundamentalism (whether
Christian, atheist, Muslim, or other) is the inability to live with
intellectual uncertainty about ultimate questions.

(Of course, as I think everyone here knows, the original meaning of the word
"fundamentalist" would not come under this analysis, as it springs from a
series of publications, The Fundamentals, which were not "fundamentalist" in
the modern sense of the word, but rather, a restatement of traditional
Protestant Christianity in opposition to extreme liberal views. I'm using
"fundamentalist" in the common popular sense of the word these days, to
cover a certain narrow type of Christian literalism, and by extension,
analogous movements in religions other than Christianity.)

I don't understand your comment about Satan. I don't think you are saying
that Bernie now worships Satan, and I wasn't saying that, either. Indeed,
my point about Bernie wasn't primarily a personal one at all; it aimed only
to show that his posts exemplify a pattern I've often seen before.

Murray: I agree with you that my analysis is based on North American data.
And certainly even in North America there are some celebrated Catholic
atheists -- e.g., Bill Maher. But such loud, in-your-face Catholic (and
Anglican and Orthodox) atheists are rare in North America, and among the
ranks of everyday folk, atheists from those traditions tend to be less
belligerent against what they used to believe than is the case with former

Second, I like your point about "liberal fundamentalists". I've only heard
John Shelby Spong interviewed once, but he does seem to fit the bill. And
indeed, a large chunk of the Christian professoriate in secular Religious
Studies departments (not to mention more than a few non-fundamentalist
Protestant divinity colleges) seem to exemplify what you call "liberal
fundamentalism". It is these "liberal fundamentalists", more than the
actual atheists, who block more traditional Christians (not fundamentalists,
just moderately conservative Anglicans, Catholics, Presbyterians, etc.) from
positions in Religious Studies departments. They tend to select new faculty
in such a way as to reproduce their liberal interpretation of religion in
the next generation. That is why it is very difficult to find religious
conservatives in such places. The religious liberals don't want them there.
And who suffers from the resulting lack of intellectual balance? The
students, of course.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Bill Powers" <>
To: "Cameron Wybrow" <>
Cc: "asa" <>
Sent: Saturday, November 28, 2009 12:13 AM
Subject: Re: pendulum swings (was: Re: [asa] Gospel in the Stars WAS Star of
Bethlehem presentation?)

> Cameron:
> 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.
> bill
> On Fri, 27 Nov 2009, 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 Sat Nov 28 19:30:40 2009

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