Saturday, July 22, 2006

Stuffed animal atheism

Many unbelievers want to cement a Gentlemen’s agreement between fidelity and infidelity.

One the one hand, the unbeliever wants to pat himself on the back for what a manly, tough-minded boy he’s become.

Unlike those cringing, sentimental Christians, who take pathetic refuge in harps and pink clouds, the atheist is prepared to follow the evidence wherever it leads him, and if that means following the evidence right over the cliff and plunging into the abyss below, so be it.

This is the steely, stiff-lipped front that an atheist likes to present to the church. That’s what he holds the Christian to. The firm foundation of unyielding despair.

On the other hand, he’s rather less appreciative if a Christian leaves the unbeliever strapped into the wheel chair as it goes careening over the cliff.

So the unbeliever plays a selective game of chicken. He’ll dare the Christian to a drag race. But as he approaches the precipice, the unbeliever will suddenly slam on the brakes while his Christian competitor sails over the cliff—or so he hopes.

For when he is staring into his own grave, with nothing on the other side, a militant atheist is the first one to blink. Yet he demands of us that we take no notice. We’re supposed to indulge his illusion of valor.

A militant atheist is like a boy who catches a rattlesnake by the tail and takes it to the birthday party to show it off to the other kids.

He’s very proud of himself for handling such a dangerous animal. And he’s expecting the hostess to honor the Gentlemen’s agreement.

The boy and the hostess both know the snake is a real snake. And a very venomous snake, at that.

But when she expresses mild concern—bordering on polite disapproval—at the prospect of a rattlesnake swimming in the punchbowl, the boy becomes indignant and assures her that it’s only a stuffed animal.

And so the hostess is duty-bound by all that’s good and decent to play let’s pretend.

For her to pertinaciously point out that the creature in question is a real snake, and is distinctly unwelcome at a birthday party, would be a breach of social etiquette—the likes of which have not been seen since Ella-Mae wore a red dress to the square dance. No proper hostess would dream of being so unladylike.

So the boy is free to set the snake on the loose. And so it slithers around under the table, biting the bare ankles of the little boys and girls.

But they’re not supposed to cry. They’re expected to humor the boy and be a good sport about a touch of gangrene. After all, playacting is a natural part of childhood.

When, one by one, they fall down dead, the child in the next chair looks the other way and licks the frosting off the cake.

Finally, the snake bites the boy who brought it to the party. But the hostess doesn’t dial 9/11.

For that would be discourteous. That would hurt his feelings.

Good breeding demands that our hostess play along with the charade from start to finish.

To tell the snakebite victim that he’s going to die—well, that would be rude, you know.

Worse than rude! Why, it would be—cover your ears, now—offensive!

But I have to break it to you, and I confess that this is a blight on the church—there are some unmannerly so-called Christians out there who actually think it’s more considerate in the long run to warn everyone concerned that the colorful critter under the table is not a stuffed animal, but a real live rattlesnake. They refuse to honor the Gentlemen’s agreement. And their impertinence is a stumbling block to many.

11 comments:

  1. There are other equally venomous worms slithering through our churches today. In my own church, a Southern Baptist congregation in Indiana, there is an avowed antitrinitarian. There are easy-believists. There are those who put the Bible aside while teaching Sunday-school so that they may read from a text-book. There are even some who are unsure whether God literally created all things. Aye, a rattlesnake in the punchbowl, a copperhead in the cake, a moccasin in the peanuts. My church is a veritable reptile house.

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  2. Steve,

    I'm unclear is this is supposed to insult me or not, but I'll take the "safe bet" and assume so.

    The failure in logic with respect to the analogy of someone like me "playing with a rattlesnake" and it biting some poor believer (I take this to be an analogy for unbelief and how it can poison believers?) is that according to your worldview, those who are bitten, as well as those who are not, are predetermined by God and I am a tool in God's hands, just as your are. In that sense, being afraid of the snake is showing weak faith in the promise of Jesus that he would "keep all those" who his father "gave" to him.

    What, exactly, does one such as yourself have to use as an excuse for not taking up serpents, as the good book indicates? ;)

    Mustard Grains,

    How dare they think differently than the orthodoxy demands! Stake them! I've got some extra tar and feathers too.

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  3. Daniel,
    You know as well as I do that what you do, you do because you want to. You do it, presumably, with the intention of persuading others to become atheists. You are responsible for your actions, just as I am.

    You ought equally to know that 'poisioned' does not apply only to those who, like yourself, become atheists. One of the problems with scepticism is that it serves to paralyze believers. Those of us who were brought up in the older denominations, such as the Church of England, the United Reformed Church, etc. well know believers who have persevered to the end, but have been rendered totally ineffective through the sowing of doubts as 'the assured conclusions of modern scholarship.'

    As to your remarks about "mustard grains'" statement, again, your comments are foolish. Churches which operate according to a doctrinal statement ought to discipline heretics and not permit them to teach ideas contrary to the standards of the Church. If these people wish to teach their own perculiarities, by all means they may. But let them do so with their own resources and under their own colours. As you have left the Church to pursue your atheism.

    Presbyterian Church of Wales, like the other denominations, has been transformed into an ineffective, shrinking, rationalist sect by the actions of such 'reptiles.' And as for persecution, evangelicals execised 'tolerance' until the modernists would no longer tolerate the evangelicals and insisted that everyone agree with their heresies or be denied pastorates/preferment (I can cite specific cases).

    As the late J. Gresham Machen so rightly observed, the Nonconformist denominations are voluntary associations. No-one need belong to them, and if one disagrees with one's church, one may separate from it and ought so to do if conscience can no longer agree to the standards of the denomination.

    There's nothing so false as the whinge that the attempt to enforce the rules is 'persecution'. Tell me, Daniel, what would you think of a Republican who joined a Democratic Club and endeavoured to teach Republican principles?

    Here in Britain in the 1980s, the Labour Party had a real problem with this, which we call 'entryism'. Members of a Trotskyite Party called 'Millitant' were joining the Labour Party and attempting to turn local Labour Party branches into Millitant branches. The idea was that they'd eventually become the Labour Party, and in time the Government. If they'd started as an independent party, they'd have stood no chance, but they did manage to get a few candidates selected, one in the safe seat of Bermondsey (which he lost to the Liberals). Similarly, the 'venomous worms' 'mustard grains' refers to enter existing denominations knowing they would attract few adherents if they stood alone, and so seek to take over. This sort of action is banned by all political parties in Britain.

    Is this political persecution? I should argue that, far from it, it is good party discipline. If you were a Tory but move to the left, you should leave the Party, not seek to 'convert' it if your beliefs are contrary to Conservative principles. Similarly, refusing to let someone hold office in a Church when that person's beliefs are diametrically opposed is not persecution but good discipline.

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  4. Is this wretched analogy supposed to have some coherent point?

    Or is Steve simply blowing smoke up his own pompous arse?

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  5. It's striking how unbeliever's life Danny and anonymous take offense at my little parable.

    Aside from the fact that they can only be offended if they recognize themselves in the parable, which seems like a rather self-incriminating complaint, I'd just have one question for them:

    How is it possible to insult a "colony of bacteria," a "self-reproducing robot," or a "blindly programmed survival machine"?--all epithets bestowed on human beings by Richard Dawkins.

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  6. How is it possible to insult a "colony of bacteria," a "self-reproducing robot," or a "blindly programmed survival machine"?--all epithets bestowed on human beings by Richard Dawkins.

    Dawkins said it, I believe it, that settles it...no, wait.

    Atheists do not all share the same values, Steve, which you are quite intelligent enough to know. Just because Dawkins said something, you don't have to play pretend that I agree with him, just as I don't hold you to what Pelagius said, just because he was also a believer.

    It's not so much that I'm all that insulted, but that you fail to see the obvious -- in your worldview, God predestines the bitten, the biter (serpent), and the snake handler...so what do you have to be afraid of? Why aren't you taking up serpents, Steve, as your Book says that you will (if you are a disciple of Jesus)??

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  7. Hiraeth,

    If persons join a church (or political party) in order to subvert it, or at least move it towards a different philosophical persuasion, then I feel sorry for them in one way, and admire them in another. After all, they are acting on the conviction that their interpretation or doctrine is the correct one, morally or logically.

    In that sense, it seems no different than Paul or anyone else going into a culture with the intent to change their thinking via argument and evidence. That's the beauty of a "free marketplace of ideas" -- natural selection acts to filter out the crud (eventually) as useless and/or silly ideas don't stick around for too awful long. At least that's my hope. Then again, there was the Heaven's Gate cult...in the 20th century...which somewhat dashes that hope.

    There's nothing so false as the whinge that the attempt to enforce the rules is 'persecution'.
    I suppose it depends on the society and group we're speaking of -- whether it is free or not. I obviously don't care whether Christians persecute themselves to oblivion, as they have for thousands of years, for their differing doctrines. I also obviously don't support the use of violence or coercion to "change minds". The church has, hopefully, learned that lesson.

    Tell me, Daniel, what would you think of a Republican who joined a Democratic Club and endeavoured to teach Republican principles?
    What do you think of a missionary who joins a happy Fiji pagan tribe and endeavored to teach Christian principles?

    Fear of dissent, and the desire to shelter a group from its cultural competition, or ideological challenge, is pathetic. As a freethinker and atheist, I spend more time talking to Christians than I do other atheists. I learn more from you all about your beliefs than I would in going to skepticsannotatedbible or the like.

    Do you all wish for me to leave? Obviously not. You have invited skeptics here. You have a desire to convert me. I don't really care whether you remain Christians or not. I just like to debate and think and challenge my own assumptions.

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  8. It's striking how unbeliever's life Danny and anonymous take offense at my little parable.

    Yo...pompous twit!

    I didn't take offense, I asked if there was a "coherent point" to it.

    Picture me like a clueless disciple of Jebus, and you gotta 'splain yer brilliant parable about the snake and the punchbowl to me.

    Cause it sure seems like meaningless twaddle to me.


    How is it possible to insult a "colony of bacteria," a "self-reproducing robot," or a "blindly programmed survival machine"?--all epithets bestowed on human beings by Richard Dawkins.


    Garsh twit...I'm guessing you can't insult bacteria, 'cause they ain't got no ability to hear or understand your insult.

    I see your mom probably skipped biology when she home schooled you.

    Now you could TRY to insuly me, cause I do have a brain and an ability to understand language and the emotional capacity required to be insulted and to reproduce sexually.

    But yer gonna hafta do better than this incoherent snake in the punchbowl parable tripe to do it.

    I'm wondering Steve...who ever told you were a good writer? I'm guessin' it was your mom...

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  9. Daniel Morgan wrote:

    "Why aren't you taking up serpents, Steve, as your Book says that you will (if you are a disciple of Jesus)??"

    Where does scripture say such a thing? You can't cite Paul's experience in Acts 28, since nothing in the text suggests that all believers will do the same. You can't cite the additions to the closing of Mark's gospel, since later additions aren't equivalent to what the author originally wrote. What passage of scripture are you referring to, then?

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  10. Anonymous said:

    “Garsh twit...I'm guessing you can't insult bacteria, 'cause they ain't got no ability to hear or understand your insult.”

    Garsh twit, I’m guessing you missed the point. The question is not whether it’s possible for you to feel insulted, but why you have a right to feel insulted when, according to Dawkins, you’re just a colony of bacteria or a blindly programmed survival machine.

    “I see your mom probably skipped biology when she home schooled you.”

    I attended public school K-12.

    That said, many homeschoolers are outperforming students in the public school system.

    “I'm wondering Steve...who ever told you were a good writer? I'm guessin' it was your mom...”

    It’s revealing to observe the deep streak of misogyny that unbelievers have been exhibiting in the combox of late.

    I take it that Ted Bundy is a folk hero in atheism.

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  11. Daniel,
    I am not worried about the 'marketplace of ideas' nor about society. Hence the political analogy and the reference to British history.

    A person who goes into an organisation such as a church or a political party with the intention of spreading teaching contrary to the belief of said organisation can, and should be disciplined.

    A person who goes into a culture and is open about their intent, like that missionary, is different. Do not think me so naivé as to not the 'bait and switch' tactic.

    Again, you may have noted the reference to 'voluntary associations' which can set their own rules for membership. Do you disagree with this? If so, who would you have set the rules for membership? Or would there be any rules for membership?

    The problem, Daniel, is not that you and I disagree as to the metaphor of the marketplace of ideas. The problem is that we disagree as to its location. I see it, as your examples showed, as society. You seem to see it inside the individual trading-houses.

    Like I said, I have no problem with the existence of anti-trinitarian churches or rationalist sects, or atheist clubs (or Socialists, or Liberals). That is because I believe that ultimately, they will fall. My problem is when people try to skew the game by joining one trading house from another with the intention of skewing the system. We see in the decline of the old, liberal denominations which have been compromised that their ideas are, ultimately, rejected. It's just that the rejection causes a lot of heartache along the way.

    In conclusion, I agree with your metaphor, but your examples work better within the framework I have articulated above.

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