christians should boycott john's pez dispenser stand at the flea market
11/15/2006 02:38:00 PM
It has been reported that John of John's Pez Dispenser Stand at the local flea market today was bitten by the same misquito that just two hous before had bitten a cop that arrested a man last night for speeding. The blood of the cop was contaminated with some of the nitrogen that was exhaled by the man who was speeding and injected into John's body. Because in turned touched every Pez Dispenser on display at his stand, they too will be contaminated. So to avoid speeding, do not buya Pez dispenser for John at John's Pez Dispenser Stand at the local flea market.
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the atheist's carrot: freethought
11/05/2006 08:23:00 PM
I have stated many times and have noted many times that one of the main objections to religion is the lack of intellectualism and the perceived entrapments of doctrine. Many atheists will bolster their claim to atheism with this objection saying they have been freed from the perceived entrapments. They call their freedom free thought, which as they see it is the polar opposite of dogma, and is often the carrot before the mule for atheism. On the surface, this seem to be a grounded objection, and I can honestly see how some atheists would want to reject faith because of the dogma that does exist in certain theistic circles. But I think this throwing the baby out with the bath water: a few theistic sects that promote dogmatic views do not make the whole theistic thought bad. I personally believe in a faith that is grounded in historical fact, and I will address this more later.

Before one we can talk about free thought though, we need to define freethought. Wikipedia says: "Freethought is a philosophical doctrine that holds that beliefs should be formed on the basis of science and logical principles and not be comprised by authority, tradition or any other dogmatic or other belief system that restricts logical reasoning. The cognitive application of freethought is known as freethinking, and practitioners of freethought are known as freethinkers."

The Freethought Alliance says, "Freethought is the name of an American intellectual and cultural movement that can be traced back to the writings of the founders of our nation, the philosophers of the French and German Enlightenment, and the secular populists of the 19th century. A freethinker is a religious unbeliever who forms his or her judgments about religion using reason rather than relying on tradition, authority, faith, or established belief. Members of the freethought movement strive to free the mind of ignorant presuppositions and superstitions and are generally secular and humanist in outlook."

Both of these definitions reject dogma for logic and reasoning. What could be said then, if one can show that the Christian faith is not based on dogmatic thought, and that free-thought has essentially the same thought processes, then one has shown atheist's objection saying that the Christian faith is dogmatic is unfounded.

First, we should note that freethought is not novel. A lot of what Freethought claims as freethought territory is borrowed from the traditions of others, particularly theistic thinkers. One such idea is the separation of church and state. We do not have to go far before we find a free-thought society page that is promoting this idea, but the idea of separation of church and state was championed by the Separatists in England during the 16th and 17th centuries. The idea was brought to America not by the Puritans and the Pilgrims, but by the Baptists. One such man was Roger Williams, who founded the colony of Rhode Island and the city of Providence. Rhode Island was one of the first colonies to promote religious tolerance. Rogers wrote extensively on the topic of religious tolerance in the work, "The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution, for Cause of Conscience." In this piece, he promotes the idea of freedom of conscience, which says a person should be allowed to worship (or not to worship) as his or her conscience dictates without coercion and persecution. Another such person who promoted soul conscience and separation of church and state was George Calvert, also known as Lord Baltimore of Maryland, who was a Roman Catholic. He established the colony of Maryland on the basis of religious tolerance, and he encouraged Protestant and Catholic alike to immigrate.

Another area in which free thinkers borrow ideas are from theistic principles. C.S. Lewis in his book Mere Christianity wrote:
My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. Just how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? . . . Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too, for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist, in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless. I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality, namely my idea of justice, was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.
Lewis is making an argument for the existence of God based on the notion that he was borrowing the idea of justice from somewhere. He is was judging the world based on an objective standard that he didn't created, and as he notes, cannot do this without having got that objective standard from somewhere. He also notes that such an objective standard is not the product of chance. He attributes his knowledge of justice to something outside himself, which he perceives to be God. Freethinkers are often involved in social justice, but one has to ask, where did they get the idea of social justice from? It comes from the theistic proposition that God created the objective standards by which we live, or at least how we should live.

Second, we should note that free-thinkers think like other free-thinkers. Often times, free-thinkers will elevate a particular free-thinker a place of authority and fall in line with a particular view of things. I don't know how many times atheists have prescribed a particular book to me, telling me that I should read it and it will convince me that theistic thought is bad. If one does this, then for all practical purposes a free-thinkers just giving up one set of beliefs or teachings for another, which would then raise the question about doctrine.

Doctrine is a "belief (or system of beliefs) accepted as authoritative by some group or school", so it not bound specifically to religion. A military operates under particular doctrines. The military doctrines define the situations in which a military power will begin an operation. Such a doctrine is one known as the "Bush Doctrine" which outlines the operating paradigm Bush uses to justify war. Another such is the Primakov doctrine that was used by Russia in the late 1990's when Yevgeny Primakov, a nationalist, was appointed as Prime Minister in the late 1990's. He had an operating paradigm on which he acted during the Kosovo crisis in relation to the United States and other NATO states. Likewise doctrine can be taught as a school of thought too. If this is true, then atheism is a doctrine. Atheism is a lack of belief in God, but teaching lack of belief is an affirmative activity. I can teach that the moon is not made of cheese in same manner atheists teach God does not exist. In fact, most atheists are on a mission to "educate" the public with non-theistic teachings. So for an atheist to say they he or she does not have doctrine is really a double standard if he or she were to teach atheism.

The real debate then is whether or not Christianity has dogmatic doctrine or not. There are essentially two ways to look at dogma. Dogma can either be a religious doctrine that is proclaimed as true without proof, or a doctrine or code of beliefs accepted as authoritative. The former is the stereotypical view of Christian doctrine, but the latter is really more how most Christians think-- even the early church fathers. Paul based what he taught and preached on historical events, namely the resurrection of Jesus and the Jewish tradition which is the Old Testament. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul says that the Christian faith without the historicity of the resurrection is vain. This is probably the reason so many atheists attack the historicity of the resurrection.

One might object, and say that one cannot use the Bible as historical evidence because it is a religious book. This however is anachronistic. All of the New Testament at one point was extra-canonical, meaning it was not part of the Bible. The original Scriptures of the 1st Century church were contained in the Hatanak, or the Jewish Scriptures. The New Testament writings were accepted as canon some time later under several litmus tests that were used to test their authority and authenticity. Only the writings that passed these tests were added as Christian canon. There were more books that did not make it than there were those that did. So one cannot say the Bible is dogma without proof, because it, unlike other holy books, is composed of a number of writings that were not written for the purpose of sacred scripture. These writings testified to historical events before they had the stamp of "canon" on them.

Additionally, if Christianity was based on belief without proof, then there would be no need to refute evidence for Christianity. When someone like Keith Parson writes "Why I am Not a Christian", he is essentially granting that there is evidence for Christianity, although he might not accept it. Parsons treats the Bible as if it were evidence and attempts to refute it using the same methods one would use to refute evidence for other historical events. In doing so he granting that the Christian faith is grounded in proof, even it is false proof to him.

If Christianity is the second form of dogma, then Christian doctrine is authoritative with proof. This is no different from a free thinker appealing to an authority. If ever a free-thinker appeals to an authority such as Dennet, Parson, or Dawkins among others, then he or she is in essence committing to a dogma in the sense of second type of dogma: claiming an authority backed with reason. It should also be noted that free-thinkers appeal to writers of the enlightenment: the "writings of the founders of our nation, the philosophers of the French and German Enlightenment, and the secular populists of the 19th century." If these writings are the foundation of freethought, then it should be noted that they are attributing authority to these writers, which is essentially the same thing Christians do in attributing authority to their faith's founders.

I think it pretty clear that there is nothing freeing about freethought because its formation and form of reasoning is essentially works the same way the Christian faith works. The difference is doctrine free-thinkers teach and what Christians teach. If one wants to reject Christianity on the basis of dogma and replace it with another dogma, then really they have gained nothing.
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a biblical basis for reason
11/01/2006 12:01:00 PM
Back in the early nineties and late eighties, there was a series of anti-drug commercial that all had the catch phrase, "A mind is a terrible thing to waste." Each commercial would show examples on how drugs ruin lives because drugs impede the mind. A similar context is given in Hebrews chapter 5 where the writers of Hebrews says that the readers of the letters were simple minded, and he admonishes them to move beyond basic theology because it leads to a fuller understanding of Christ. The writer of Hebrews prior to this admonition has just spent five chapters trying explain some complex theology, but it seems as if he stops dead in his tracks and says that he wants to explain more. He can not because the recipients are slow to learn.

Verse 13 points out that believers should be capable of understanding more complex things. It is not that they can not learn, it is that they are either lazy or complacent. He says that they ought to be teachers, and by implications that means they must have been believers for quite some time and have had good discipleship.

Teachers in the New Testament had the duty of guarding the flock against false teachers. These were the ones who understood doctrine and helped correct doctrine when something came up that was not inline with orthodox teaching. The Greek word for "teacher" is didáskalos. Paul referred to himself as a teacher, and the word is generally applied to Jesus. There were at least two other types of teachers in the New Testament that were used to refer to those who imparted doctrine, but in the negative since. They were pseudodidáskaloi, which means "false teacher" and heterodidaskaléo which means "different doctrine".

The writer of Hebrews uses the contrast of milk and solid food to illustrate the point. Milk is for children, or those who are immature and solid food for adults, or those who are more mature. In verse fifteen, it is in reference to their spiritual maturity, which correlates directly with their abilities to understand the "oracles of God". The purpose of being raised up into maturity is so that they will be able to discern (diákrisis) between what is evil and what is good. The writers of Hebrews does not really qualify what is meant by evil and good, but one could infer from the context that the writer is talking about evil and good action as well as evil and good teachings.

Colossians 2 picks up where Hebrews leaves off. Colossians 2 gives more flesh as to why believers should not be afraid to increase understanding. Paul asserts here that having knowledge of Christ will help a believer defeat deceptive arguments. He starts in verses 1-3 saying that wrapped up in Christ there is full knowledge and understanding. The way Paul constructs the sentence in Greek implies that understanding (súnesis) will lead to full knowledge (epígnosis). The Greek work epígnosis is different from the Greek word gnosis, which Paul uses later. It carries the weight of life changing knowledge while gnosis seems to imply general knowledge, or something more like common sense. Epígnosis can understand the mystery of God, which is Jesus who brings salvation.

In verse 4, Paul says that it is in Jesus that one can find wisdom and knowledge. Wisdom (sophia) was generally used to refer to the wisdom sought by Greco-Roman philosophers and knowledge (gnosis) refers to things like general information and common sense. As mentioned before, it does not carry the same punch as epignosis.

Paul encourages the believers at Colosse to find their knowledge in Christ so they will not be lead away by false wisdom and teaching. Paul then begins to address a few of the worldly philosophy (philosophia) and deception (apáte) that they had encountered. Paul is not down-playing the use of ones mental capacities when he is down-playing philosophy. He was referring to the philosophies of the Greeks, and he deals with the Stoics and Hedonists in particular. Deceptions (apáte) are just plain lies. The church at Colosse was established in a pluralistic society. Philosophies and religions sprang up daily, and people could almost make their own religion al-la-carte.

The particular philosophies that Paul addressed were two extremes. In Greek thinking, the flesh was something that was evil and the spiritual things were that which was good. The Stoics were those who denied their flesh, so they would not taste or touch things that might have brought pleasure. The other extreme was Hedonism, which allowed for fleshly indulgence because the body was something that was to be discarded anyways.

Additionally, Paul addresses the traditions of men in the passage as well. Paul was probably addressing the Judaizers here. Verses 11-13 talk about circumcision and verses 16-17 talk about Sabbath regulations. The traditions given to Moses had been added to and modified particularly by the Pharisee, so much so that they probably had lost their meaning and had become tradition for the sake of tradition.

While Paul and the writer of Hebrews encourage believers to grow up in their understanding, believers can never have an exhaustive knowledge of God. Job in the Old Testament was a person who questioned God. After God presents Job with a series of questions, Job realizes his limitations. He replies, "Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know." Job then repents of his lack of understanding. The readers of Job fortunately get a bird's-eye-view of whole thing. Job in all his suffering never understood why he suffered, but he does realize that he cannot fully understand God.

To illustrate this, think of a tree. A person does not need to have exhaustive knowledge about a tree to know it is a tree. But in order to distinguish it from other trees, he might want to know the species, it's location, how many leaves it has, or any other number of properties about a particular tree. This is similar to God. The more understanding a believer has about God, the better a person will be able to discern between what is good and evil and what is true and false teaching, but nobody can have exhaustive knowledge of God.
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