Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Outsider Test of Faith...Meh

Again with the religion...

Justin Brierly and Unbelievable gave the microphone to David Marshall and John Loftus these last two weekends. Their dialogue was contentious and at times unseemly. My response to Part One was as follows:

I must say it was no great shock to hear that a Christian apologist believes that Christianity not only passes "The Outsider Test of Faith," but also defeats all contenders. 
I was surprised, however, to hear that only Islam and Marxism were spread by the sword. The notion that Christianity was not introduced by and then defended with force is silly on its face. For much of its history The Church has been the power behind, a partner in, or the direct beneficiary of European imperialism and colonialism. The history of Western civilization is rife with religious warfare. Some of Christianity's greatest hits include the Crusades, the Reconquista, and the European Wars of Religion (a century of Christians killing Christians over what sort of Christian everyone should be). The New World encountered Christianity at the hands of the Conquistadors and their priests. With regard to apostasy, before anyone smugly compares the compassion of Christianity with the brutality of Islam, he should remember that except for the past couple centuries renouncing one's Christianity, or professing the wrong version of it, was also a potentially deadly undertaking. No, The Church has used force - social, economic, political, and military - to advance and protect its interests, and in several ways it still does.

Now for a gripe. Despite Justin's best efforts neither of his guests did much to help Unbelievable meet its routinely high standards. John Loftus grumbled arrogantly and mumbled dismissively while David Marshall treated us to a symphony of distractions in the background of his call. I hope they'll each bring their "A" games for next week's episode.

My riposte to Part Deux read thus:

During a somewhat more congenial Part Two, Mr. Marshall spoke of finding the God of Christianity in other religions and holy places around the world. This is not surprising for several reasons, none of which necessarily have anything to do with the truth of Christianity’s claims.

Symbolic communication in the form of music, dance, art, language, and religion appear to have emerged in humans ~80,000 years ago. It should be no surprise if we find that the archetypes of all our human stories, including those about the gods, have a common origin. I suspect we will disagree as to whether we recorded stories the gods told us or the myths we invented about them.

Regardless whether God or nature created the “God-shaped hole” in our psyche, mankind has for some ten millennia been building places that evoke a strong emotional response. We have been seeking spectacular vistas for much longer. Many pursue peak experiences that provide a sense of connection with the divine. Our attraction to such stimuli may be the result of our particular sensory apparatus, our very special cognitive processes, or our needs as a social animal.

Christians have a knack for reading their story into books written by others, most notably the Hebrew Bible. Those who wish to strongly believe will find evidence in coincidence. When we fall prey to confirmation bias and motivated reasoning we count the hits but forget the misses, and credit ideas that support our opinions and disregard the rest.
Depending on one’s background, the Christian story can make interesting – even novel – literature. But if one hopes to believe the Christian Bible from cover to cover he best wear all the right blinders, select the correct lenses, apply the proper filters, and carefully choose the company he keeps. The theist has a simpler argument, so long as he does not bind himself to any tradition’s particulars. The atheist (at least the so-called “soft” variety) has the least to prove, having asked only for evidence that supports an alternative to the null hypothesis.

Finally, I’ll note that over the centuries many of Mr. Marshall’s coreligionists have not been nearly as ecumenical in their outlook and did their level best to extirpate competing religions. 
These have been two very challenging episodes (even if they were recorded at the same time). While I understand what Mr. Loftus is trying to show the faithful with his OTF, I find his irascible interpersonal style (more pronounced on-line) and his shorthand dismissal of arguments off-putting. While I have a sense of what Mr. Marshall is trying to say, his certitude remains unconvincing to this outsider.

Still much to and fro in the comments section for each episode. If your cat has been washed, the gutters mucked out, and your comic books sorted I can recommend the dialogue to you, I guess...

Image credit: "The Execution of the Inca" from The Adventures of Pizarro by George Towle.