Saturday, April 11, 2009

On the quest for Shell Beach

James Grath has done a little post which, I assume, represents an oblique parting shot:

It’s a little pep talk for his fellow inmates on death row–in the hortatory tradition of Russell’s “A Free Man’s Worship,” but without the Miltonian prose. If you really must be an infidel, then at least do it with a sense of style.

“The unexamined faith is not worth having.”

That depends on what we mean. Biblical piety has always fostered spiritual self-examination.

However, a Christian doesn’t need to be a philosopher to have good reasons for what he believes. God has blessed us with an abundance of evidence on all sides. It isn’t even necessary to consciously register the evidence. We have many well-founded beliefs based on information which we process every day at a subliminal level.

“Religion has had many critics from without, and still does. But one characteristic feature of the Biblical tradition is that it is full of critics from within, those who examine their own tradition and challenge themselves first, and then their contemporaries, to rethink it and to live it differently.”

Except for apostates, people in the Bible never challenge divine revelation.

“There are those who would like to avoid such critical introspection and self-examination, perhaps at all costs. ‘Leave us alone’, they might say, ‘we're happy as we are.’ But just as one might believe oneself happy living in ignorance of one's wife's affair, for example, it can also be argued that the ‘happiness’ in such cases is illusory. One's alleged happiness is maintained at the cost of a failing marriage and a decaying relationship infested with deceit. And presumably, were the wife happy and the relationship healthy, the affair would not be occuring. And so in such cases one is in fact valuing one's own deluded happiness over the happiness and well-being of others.”

One of the problems with this statement is the unwitting way in which it reveals his incorrigible bigotry. Notice how he stereotypes the Christian, as if unbelievers had a monopoly on reason while believers live in blissful ignorance of the awful truth.

McGrath knows enough to know that this is a palpable lie. But he’s playing to a sympathetic audience.

What’s ironic about his whole post is that, in the name of “self-critical introspection,” he indulges in self-flattery. This is not an exercise in self-critical introspection. To the contrary, this is an exercise in back-patting. Starring at his own reflection, he stands there praising the image of the deep, thoughtful, caring and candid person he sees in the mirror. Like a boy who can’t land a date, the bathroom mirror becomes his girlfriend.

I never told him to leave me alone. What I said, rather, is that if you bother me, I’ll return the favor.

“Be that as it may, if someone else wishes to live in uncritical self-deception (or at least the risk thereof) they are free to do so. I'd prefer to have a healthy marriage, an honest faith, and a critical approach to life. And so, if you'd prefer not to be aware of potential difficulties with Biblical inerrancy, amd historical uncertainties about the stories contained therein, and other things that often get noticed when one examines the Bible critically, then this blog is not for you. You are under no obligation to ask the questions I am asking about my faith, any more than you are obliged to accept my answers. But don't begrudge those of us who do ask them, or who answer them differently than you might.”

Here he dresses up in his blue uniform to play the role of a courageous soldier for truth who’s prepared to brave any danger to fulfill his duty. It’s so noble and heroic that one tears up at the sheer altruism of it all.

But how does that actually match-up with the secular outlook on life? On his view, don’t the liberals and the fundies share the same fate? Does the cemetery distinguish between the self-critical and the self-deceived? Are the maggots that finicky?

On his view, when he dies, everything he believes and values will die with him. What difference does it make if he gave the right answers to the questionnaire? Why do the questions even matter?

He’s like a game show contestant in a TV studio that’s on fire. While he’s busy giving all the right answers, the ceiling and the walls are engulfed in flames.

If his answers are the right answers, then the right answers are no better than the wrong answers. The “right” answers render the questions irrelevant.

But even while he’s still alive, what does his bubble-gummy idealism amount to? Where does that come from, anyway?

If naturalistic evolution is true, then his dutiful feelings were programmed into him by a blind, amoral process. It’s just a way of tricking him into reproducing his species. Nurturing his own kind. And once the incubation chamber has done it’s job, it can be discarded.

He’s been brainwashed by natural selection into valuing the happiness others. He’s like the abductees in Dark City who’ve been implanted with false memories. Wistful recollections of a childhood they never had.

McGrath is on a personal quest for Shell Beach. But no road leads out of the secular city. There’s no reality beyond the billboard.


  1. “The unexamined faith is not worth having.”

    If so a faith in contemporary values, as if they were anything but temporary, is indeed usually of this kind.

    In a world that contains people desperate to rubbish Christianity, no Christian has the luxury of an "unexamined faith." Those who reject Christianity, however, always seem to adopt one.

    Mind you, is the assertion true at all? "An unexamined lifeboat is not worth having." "An unexamined marriage is not worth having."


  2. Steve Hays: "Notice how he stereotypes the Christian, as if unbelievers had a monopoly on reason while believers live in blissful ignorance of the awful truth."

    Yes, this is a repetitive theme in his writings. He uses the dismissive epithet "fundamentalists" to reinforce his caricatured stereotyping. Which is, of course, ironic.

  3. "Like a boy who can’t land a date, the bathroom mirror becomes his girlfriend."

    Hey now, no need to make a negative comment about me there :-D