Saturday, August 19, 2006

Tabloid atheism

Having recently discovered a post I did on the Discomfiter late last month, I see that Ed Babinski used this as a pretext to post a very long, unrelated comment in which he attempted to discredit the faith by ad hominem guilt-by-association tactics.

A few elementary clarifications are in order:

1.Traditionally, you had national churches. Church membership was conterminous with citizenship. It has nothing to do with what you believed or how you behaved.

2. In America, we’ve had the opposite experiment. We have no national church. The church is a free association. Anyone can hang out a shingle calling itself a church.

3. Sorry to say, technology has not advanced to the point where we can install scanners in the doorway of the church which will trigger sirens, flashing lights, and ear-splitting alarms when a nominal Christian tries to enter the premises.

Perhaps, with his interest in modern technology, Babinski can point us to some promising research program which will allow us to spiritually X-ray the sheep and goats, wheat and tares, as well as wolves in woolen sweaters or sheepskin suits.

But until such a screening device is installed at every entrance, we can only judge by appearances.

4. The church draws its membership from the ranks of the general culture. As such, the visible church cannot rise a whole lot higher than its source.

It isn’t hermetically sealed away from the world around it. Christians aren’t Borg babies, genetically reengineered in airtight incubators. There’s no eugenics lab in the nursery of the parsonage.

5. Babinski is very promiscuous with the Christian label: “the heads of Enron and WorldCom…were truly devout believers”; “the Reverend Tony Leyva, Pentecostal TV-evangelist who used to wear a Superman costume”; “devout Christian wives murdering their sons and daughters”; “serial killers like the Son of Sam and Jeffrey Dahmer”; “Christian” nudists; Unitarian” Christians; the Cathari; “Christians who accept committed, loving, homosexual relationships (including gay evangelical Church groups like the nationwide Metropolitan Baptist Church)”; the Shakers; the Skoptze; “social Gospel” Christians; Utah Mormons; pot-smoking “Christians,” and so on and so forth.

This sort of thing is only convincing to those who are already convinced. It is written by, to, and for militant unbelievers. Those who are more than happy to believe all the worst about the church.

Babinski makes no honest, good-faith effort to draw any distinction between outright charlatans, nominal believers, and sincere, but struggling believers. No distinction between a genuine believer who may be misguided to some degree, and a charlatan, a cult-member, or apostate.

6.To say that his exposé is one-sided would be a profound understatement. If he’s going to judge the church by the church, then he ought to judge the church by the best as well as the worst.

7.Babinski’s tactic cuts both ways. For an exposé of elite unbelievers, read Paul Johnson’s Intellectuals or E. Michael Jones’ Degenerate Moderns.

8.It should come as no surprise to find a certain number of swindlers and pitchmen in the church. A con artist will go wherever the money is.

For him, one scam is much like another. That it has a Christian angle is irrelevant to the claims of the faith.

And the fact that we have so many willing victims—men and women who permit themselves to be fleeced by a fast-talking preacher with a Rolex and diamond cufflinks—is hardly a strike against Christian theology.

To the contrary, Christian theology should lead us to expect this behavior—a parasitic bond between suckers and swindlers. Babinski’s anecdotes merely serve to confirm the predictive power of Christian theology—confirming its dire diagnosis of the human condition.


  1. Another favourite tactic of some atheists is to pick out prominnet Christians with deficient ethics and morals, yet if you turn the table on them and point out the shortcomings of certain prominent atheists you get the line about how their behaviour is "not a consequence of their unbelief". Nice double standard indeed!

  2. Or the atheist in question declares that the atheist with defficient morality was influenced by Christianity, so Christianity must take responsibility for them as well. Which is special pleading.

    Of course, we must avoid similar special pleading if we are to discredit such arguments. Were Ken Lay et. al. Christians? Well, they identified themselves as such, but we can certainly say that bilking large numbers of people is not Christian behaviour.

    Someone over at DC noted that, given 94% of the US population identify themselves as Christians, scamming Christians will make more dough than scamming atheists. Futher, I note the scams in question are so called 'affinity' scams. That is, they attempt to by-pass a person's natural scepticism by identifying the con artist as someone like the mark. This emerged among immigrant communities, where the con artist would use their coming from the 'old country' as a means of drawing in the mark. It is easier to identify oneself as a Christian than as an Indian.

    What does it say about Christianity that some Christians get scammed? Nothing.

  3. Hey, exactly what I was thinking about...
    I was reading Debunking Christianity's entry about the Discomfiter, and I was suprise as I read, I was disappointed as it wasn't about the Discomfiter at all!

  4. There's also the problem - not inherent in Christianity, but contingently associated with it, especially its more emotive forms - that once a fraud or charlatan knows one "password", so to speak, they can roam anywhere within the "citadel" of Christian culture. There are no internal "locked doors". As long as someone can speak the jargon, others are reluctant to challenge them about what they're teaching and doing.

    Multiply that by twelve times if the fraud or charlatan gets a position of church leadership, because then they can plead the "don't lift your hand against the Lord's Anointed" verse (translation: because David was unwilling to kill a sleeping Saul, you should ignore "if your brother sins, rebuke him").

    Eventually the problem becomes too big to ignore, and explodes. Then the entire Christian Church is discredited by association: unbelievers who were saying "Christians themselves can't agree on what their Bible means" change that cassette to "A scandal in the Revival Apostolic Ministries of God in Nashville reflects badly on the Second Reformed Baptist Church of Dallas", and similar the sob stories about "My uncle was hounded and persecuted from his church by harsh, judgmental 'Christians' because he dared to love without having a state-issued piece of paper" becomes "These Christians tolerate pastors who commit adultery!"

    The solution is for Christians to become *more* "judgmental - about people's actions, not the state of their souls - but of course, don't hold your breath waiting for the secular world to praise Christendom for upholding stricter standards over its own flocks. Instead, brace yourself for the inevitable ACLU lawsuit.

  5. I note that any body can be so penetrated by slick con-men who can speak the jargon. I know, having known a chap who I later found out was scamming would-be actors and actresses, as well as film investors.

    Why? He had done his studies, he knew how to sound like a film producer, and because of his political ties, acquired by having worked for a politician in the Welsh National Assembly. None of the politicians he had cited as directors in his bogus companies had the slightest idea what was going on, and none had profited by this, although some had put up money.

    Of course, even though he was dropped like a hot rock as soon as his activities were discovered, the politicians in question were left looking dirty.

    As Christians, we should never let a man become a little pope. Sadly, although Reformed Christians reject the authority of the Bishop of Rome, they too often set up other men in his place. Our perfect shepherd is Christ. Here on earth, the best of men are but men at best. As Christians, while we cannot view all ministers with suspicion, we must be discerning and pick up on misbehaviour or autocracy.

    Done early enough and in love, this could well have saved any number of ministers who have fallen publicly. Remember, it may begin with a sin committed in the darkness, but if not corrected, it will end with a sin committed before the whole world.