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

From: Cameron Wybrow <wybrowc@sympatico.ca>
Date: Tue Dec 01 2009 - 05:53:34 EST

Merv:

Granted, my choice of the word "healthier" could be debated. There might be
times in which continued spiritual conflict is healthier than simply
choosing God or no God and getting on with it.

I guess I was counting on recognition of a certain common usage of
"healthier". You know, someone might still be angry at a high school coach
for cutting him from the football team, 30 years later, or someone might
still be angry with a political party which denied her the nomination in her
electoral district, 10 years later, or someone might be a former socialist,
now converted to Ayn Randism, who spends four hours a day on the internet,
seven days a week, year after year, arguing with socialists and defending
himself against the charge of selling his soul to the greedy men in black
top hats. There are times when reliving one's past is not healthy, and
there are times when the defense of one's choices, rather than being an
activity one engages in only when needed, becomes an obsession, wasting time
and energy which could be better directed elsewhere.

I have known, and known of, very honest and moral secular people who, though
raised in a Church, never think about God much at all, and have no
conventional religious beliefs any longer, but still lead productive lives
and contribute much to community life, charitable organizations, etc. Is it
not better to spend four hours a week helping out in soup kitchens, or
sewing for the blind, or teaching new immigrants English on a volunteer
basis, or raising money for a new community centre where teens will have
constructive things to do, etc., than spending that much time time on the
internet, justifying to one's former fundamentalist allies why one now
thinks that the Flood was only local and not global, or why one thinks that
there was no real Adam and Eve?

Of course, a real, continued wrestling with God, with the questions really
open, is in my view healthy. But (and here is where my prejudices come
through, I guess), I can't see how going over and over the same set of
tedious arguments about Genesis (contradictions, geology, dating, Cain's
wife, etc.) constitutes "wrestling with God". If one wants to "wrestle with
God", why not do it over the suffering of children with cancer or malaria,
or over the justice of double predestination, or over the fate of virtuous
pagans, or over the nature of prayer, or over the continued possibility of
miracles, or over pacifism, or over the Holocaust, or over something
substantial? I just don't see how saying to oneself repeatedly that Genesis
1-11 is a pile of lousy science and bad history and superstition, and
constantly wanting to argue with people to prove that to them, constitutes a
real wrestling with God. It seems to me more like a dialogue between a new
self and a former self, with the new self trying to convince itself that
it's a "new and improved" (i.e., intellectually superior) version of the
former self. That's why I don't see it as healthy. I've met very, very few
people in my life who spend large amounts of time arguing over the
literalness of Genesis (or of the Bible generally) who are impressive
spiritually, and of that small group, I've met no
former-fundamentalists-turned-atheists who are impressive spiritually.

Thanks for telling me about Chesterton. I only know him through a few juicy
and insightful quotations, but I know that a lot of thoughtful people
respect him as a Christian writer, a sort of Catholic version of C. S.
Lewis. I would think that Bernie's time would be much better spent
wrestling with the writings of someone like Chesterton than arguing
"evolution versus creation" against Ken Ham and Henry Morris. Why have a
sword-fight amidst arid sand dunes, when one could sample the sparkling
fresh water in an oasis?

Best wishes,
Cameron.

----- Original Message -----
From: <mrb22667@kansas.net>
To: "Cameron Wybrow" <wybrowc@sympatico.ca>
Cc: <asa@calvin.edu>
Sent: Friday, November 27, 2009 11:25 PM
Subject: Re: pendulum swings (was: Re: [asa] Gospel in the Stars WAS Star of
Bethlehem presentation?)

>I have a reaction to this portion of Cameron's post. (My response is below
>this
> excerpt of his post.) (actually the excerpt may be more of a reaction to
> Murray's post on another thread... but I'm still interested in any
> thoughts...)
>
> Quoting Cameron Wybrow <wybrowc@sympatico.ca>:
>> 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.
>>
>
> I take issue with this "healtheir way to leave..." notion you raise above,
> not
> because I have well-solidified answering arguments in my head yet, but
> just from
> my intuition that this flies in the face how some Christian thinkers might
> react
> to this. Specifically, I have Chesterton in mind right now as I am
> reading his
> biography of St. Thomas Aquinas (the Dumb Ox). I would like to type below
> an
> excerpt from Chesterton's book in which he describes Aquinas' response in
> a
> debate to one Siger of Brabant who Chesterton describes as having a
> philosophy
> dangerously close to that of Aquinas but with a poisonously dangerous
> difference
> that provoked uncharacteristic ire from Thomas. Here is Chesterton:
>
> "Siger of Brabant said this: the Church must be right theologically, but
> she
> can be wrong scientifically. There are two truths; the truth of the
> supernatural world, and the truth of the natural world, which contradicts
> the
> supernatural world. While we are being naturalists, we can suppose that
> Christianity is all nonsense; but then, when we remember that we are
> Christians,
> we must admit that Christianity is true even if it is nonsense. In other
> words,
> Siger of Brabant split the human head in two, like the blow in an old
> legend of
> battle; and declared that a man has two minds, with one of which he must
> entirely believe and with the other may utterly disbelieve. To many this
> would
> at least seem like a parody of Thomism. As a fact, it was the
> assassination of
> Thomism. It was not two ways of finding the same truth; it was an
> untruthful
> way of pretending that there are two truths. And it is extraordinarily
> interesting to note that this is the one occasion when the Dumb Ox really
> came
> out like a wild bull. When he stood up to answer Siger of Brabant, he was
> altogether transfigured, and the very style of his sentences, which is a
> thing
> like the tone of a man's voice, is suddenly altered. He had never been
> angry
> with any of the enemies who disagreed with him. But these enemies had
> attempted
> the worst treachery: they had made him agree with them."
>
> <End of excerpt>
> Now, in the midst of absorbing Chesterton's thoughts (and Lewis' thoughts
> in
> other readings), I am imagining them reacting rather strongly to your
> sentiment,
> Cameron. I could be mistaken on my understandings, but I'm not so sure I
> would
> say indifference is a better ground than fiery hostility. On the surface
> it
> would seem so, and even now I'm not so sure I can craft an argument
> otherwise.
> But I'll only suggest this as fodder for thought: better a man be
> passionate
> about truth and yet be mistaken about what that truth is than to be
> indifferent
> about it even in its presence. I'm not convinced that the former is a
> worse
> state than the latter. (St. Paul in his continued zeal may be a good
> example
> for this.)

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Received on Tue Dec 1 05:54:29 2009

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