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

From: Bill Powers <>
Date: Wed Dec 02 2009 - 17:15:50 EST

Recently, Moorad asked Bernie whether he had personally rejected Jesus.
I may not be remembering this exactly, and I've unfortunately discarded
the email.

I would ask the question something like, " Have you, like the disciples
on hearing that they have not eternal life unless they eat of his body
and drink of his blood, turned from Him. Have you personally rejected
the person of Christ. It seems to me all can do this. They can say to
Him, "You are not the Messiah, not my Savior."

Bernie never really answered the question. He replied that Jesus was
mostly legend, as I remember.

I am listening to a sermon right now (The Gospel for those broken by the
church, by Ron Rosenbladt). In it a story is told of Sam Hinson
(spelling?) by his brother in whose arms Sam died after a car accident.
The interviewer, on Sixty Minutes, spoke of Sam's well known antagonism
to Christianity. To which his brother replied that his brother had
always been a Christian. His problem was never with Jesus. It was with
the church.

Moorad's question gets at the heart of faith for me, and I presume for
many others. It is this reason that all of Bernie's "problems" fall
flat. For some the issue of faith appears to be one that is more
"academic" than personal. It is quite a different matter to no longer
"believe" if the matter is personal rather than a matter of say
something like "truth." If personal, one must feel betrayed. If simply
a matter of "truth," then one has simply rejected a "theory" that one
had previously held (e.g., the god hypothesis). The one seeking
knowledge, always holds something back. Theories are always revisable
and tentatively grasped. This is not faith, as I understand it, and
surely not the faith God gives and through which salvation is obtained.


Mon, 30 Nov 2009, Bill Powers wrote:

> Briefly (for other duties call), logic, as reason, are otiose (a nice word
> introduced to me by Plantinga). They are utterly impotent without external
> imput, i.e., metaphysics or empirical. So while they are useful tools, tools
> without anything to work on can accomplish nothing.
> So if this is your "bottom line," your "god" is impotent.
> Impotence, however, is not a necessary reason to seek another "god."
> Faithfulness and faith dictate that you abide with your god, no matter the
> consequences or the trouble it engenders or the seeming contradictions it
> arouses.
> bill
> On Mon, 30 Nov 2009, Dehler, Bernie wrote:
>> Bill said:
>> " What I am interested in is what is the bottom line. What is it that you
>> will not, or cannot, give up, no matter the consequences or strife?"
>> I think the thing I will not give up (the bottom line) is logic. I figure,
>> if there is a God, He gave us brains, and should be proud of us if we use
>> them, as we are proud of our children when they use them and bring home
>> good grades from school.
>> I will not accept a God who gave us brains and then expects us to believe
>> things that are contrary to the best use of the brain.
>> Jesus said he is the way, truth, and life. I figure he can be put to the
>> test; since he claims to be the truth, then if we seek the truth it should
>> lead to him.
>> So then, I guess you are saying 'logic' for me is my God. All I can say to
>> that is, if you don't use logic, what do you use? I think both evangelism
>> and apologetics relies on logic heavily, too. And I don't claim to follow
>> logic only; I also know the place of faith, and it is valid. However, I
>> think there is NO valid place for faith that runs counter to clear-headed
>> logic. And I know there are those on this list, because I have met them
>> and they told me in person, that they have a kind of cognitive-dissonance
>> (knowing there is a contradiction in what they believe vs. facts they
>> know), and they just live with it. I've found that becoming an atheist
>> (secular humanist) has a wonderful effect on ridding oneself of
>> cognitive-dissonance.
>> I think in the OT, God was very upset with people who followed false gods.
>> But those were other gods, and not/never things like logic. In Isaiah, God
>> even says "Come, let us reason together..." It is as if God is making an
>> appeal for us to use our thinker.
>> The NT says we are also to be like God "Be Holy as I am holy." We are to
>> become Christlike. If God is all knowing, then pursuing education should
>> also be a good thing- never bad (contrary to the YEC's like Ken Ham who
>> seem to hate modern science; and contrary to modern day right-wing
>> (Christian) Republicans who glory in anti-intellectual politicians like
>> Sarah Palin (although I admit she is pretty/charming/charismatic...but she
>> doesn't have the intellectual fire-power to be second-in-command)). I've
>> very happy that the intellectuals are back in the White House (how's that
>> for a red herring for the whole topic?... sorry, a little ranting on the
>> anti-intellectual Christian movement in America...)
>> ...Bernie
>> (Friend of the ASA)
>> -----Original Message-----
>> From: Bill Powers []
>> Sent: Sunday, November 29, 2009 9:19 PM
>> To: Dehler, Bernie
>> Cc: asa
>> Subject: RE: pendulum swings (was: Re: [asa] Gospel in the Stars WAS Star
>> of Bethlehem presentation?)
>> Bernie:
>> What I am interested in is what is the bottom line.
>> What is it that you will not, or cannot, give up,
>> no matter the consequences or strife?
>> Such a place cannot be assessed or evaluated because there is no place
>> from which to do so. The buck stops here.
>> This is the place that you will find your "faith" and your "god."
>> Speaking merely of what you "appreciate" is insufficient were we to
>> presume that your being matters to you.
>> What interests me is the nature of this "place" and the means by which
>> it is shown to us. This is why I consider it to be an existential
>> quest, hence evidenced at that interface between being and nonbeing.
>> Can the materialist qua materialist know this? Or is his own
>> subjectivity denied him?
>> bill
>> On
>> Sat, 28 Nov 2009, Dehler, Bernie wrote:
>>> "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."
>>> I don't think Satan or Jehovah or Zeus exists. Therefore I don't think I
>>> worship any of them. I don't think there's anything I worship; but there
>>> are things I appreciate, like logic and science.
>>> ...Bernie
>>> -----Original Message-----
>>> From: [] On
>>> Behalf Of Cameron Wybrow
>>> Sent: Saturday, November 28, 2009 4:30 PM
>>> To: asa
>>> Subject: Re: pendulum swings (was: Re: [asa] Gospel in the Stars WAS Star
>>> of Bethlehem presentation?)
>>> 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
>>> fundamentalists.
>>> 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
>>> obtaining
>>> 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.
>>> Cameron.
>>> ----- 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 Wed Dec 2 17:16:25 2009

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