A Letter to Jason Engwer

An Open Letter to Jason

I write this with a heavy heart but I have been seriously rethinking what I wrote in my previous post. After my most recent e-mail correspondence with John Loftus, I have come to agree with my reponse to Jason Engwer's critique of my article series on visions was too antagonistic. I have been thinking about it and I believe that I owe Jason an apology for my behavior. I have to say in all serious and honesty, that I do not like being nasty or combative towards people who disagree with me or hold an opposing view. In fact, I really enjoy having friendly, polite, and highly civil discussions with people of opposing view points and this includes Christians. When I meet Christians who are very well-read in the subject of Christian theology and apologetics, the fact of the matter is that I often hope that I can find within that person a good discussion or debating partner, someone who can help to sharpen my mind and perhaps I can serve the same goal for that person. I don't believe in befriending any Christians only for that purpose. I gladly befriend people because I really like befriending people; I just love having good discussions with people whose passions and confidence of convictions either match my own or are greater than mine.

I had written for Loftus' blog an article series on the origins of Christianity and I put forth a hypothesis of visionary origins that I find plausible. I wrote subsequent articles with the intent of answering objections to any theory or hypothesis of Christian origins that proposed visions, such as mine. Jason Engwer wrote a response. I have to admit that I found his responses a bit unnerving at first because I thought that he had trouble understanding what I said, but I certaintly wasn't trying to be antagonistic towards him. I guess I might've been a bit blunt and perhaps even curt in what I wrote to him but I wasn't trying to be nasty or antagonistic. The problem is that trying to educate or explain your viewpoint in order to clear up what others misunderstand can be tiring and trying, especially if they greatly misunderstand what you wrote. I got the impression that Engwer considered me just another ignorant skeptic who needed to be put in his place and although I hadn't intended to be nasty or antagonistic, what really rubbed me the wrong way was an article I read on Engwer's website called "Don't Waste Your Life". I got the serious impression, however mistaken that impression may have been, that Jason was just looking down in contempt on the retired couple who were collecting seashells, wondering where the hell he got the nerve to judge them like I felt that he was. I further read the blog of one Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong who had a somewhat nasty impression of Jason, himself. He believes ( or believed at the time that he wrote his blog entry) that Jason was guilty of sophistry and double-standards. That only darkened my opinion of Jason further.

It was the accumulation of what I considered to be his rude and condescending contempt for the retired couple, the reports of sophistry and double-standards by Dave Armstrong (certainly no God-hating atheist by the way), and what I felt were condescending remarks towards me as well as gross misunderstandings of what I had written as well. My impression of Jason turned worse and I began to consider him a loathesome individual, another Jonathan Sarfati or Jerry Falwell, so to speak. I decided to write a detailed response to Jason. I decided to be just as confrontational as I thought he was being towards me and I not only had the intention of dosing him with his own medicine but I had planned on trying to best to make Jason feel as though he had his head handed to him.

That's the reason why I got a bit nasty at times with my writing. I wanted to cut Jason down to size and make him feel an inch tall, wanting partly to avenge the retired couple as I saw it and also to give Jason a bit of a intellectual flogging so he would come to understand that there are folks like myself who would not put up with what I thought was abusive condescension on his part, as I believe that Robert Turkel is horribly guilty of.

The fact of the matter is that I hate abuse and I react very strongly and even violently (never physically violent unless the abuse is physical) to abuse, especially emotional abuse. Now, granted, there are some Christians who do not accept that there is any such thing as emotional abuse but I believe that there is. I grew up as a minister's son and I suffered from terribly low self-esteem for many years because I seriously believe that my dad abused me emotionally. There were so many times growing up that my dad made me feel so stupid and so utterly worthless that more than one time I contemplated suicide. I get along a lot better with my dad these days and I suspect that he has great many regrets over his past behavior and how he reacted. I can tell that my dad has his share of regrets but he has always had a horribly difficult time apologizing for wrongs committed. I have forgiven my dad for what he has done to me because I realize that he regrets his abusive ways towards us at times growing up, wishing that he handled things differently and also because I realized that my dad reacted the way to us kids that his mother reacted towards him.

I tend to react very negatively towards abusive people, particularly people who are bullies. If I see someone who is a bully heaping undeserved abuse on another person I will get in that bully's face and try and cut that bully down to size and I am ready to put such a bully in the hospital if I have to. For me, Turkel is such a bully and I was hoping that Jason wasn't one himself and I still hope he isn't. Why was I so offended?

Part of it started with an article on Jason Engwer's website called "Don't Waste Your Life". Perhaps my criticism is misdirected at Engwer and it is John Piper who has one heck of a nerve sticking his self-righteous nose where it doesn't belong! I mean, really, who is Mr. Piper to criticize and look down his nose at a retired couple for playing softball and collecting seashells? And why on earth would Jason endorse such a book? I got the impression that Jason shared in Piper's condenscension, and like Piper, looked in contempt on such a couple. Why though? So what if a couple "wastes" their retirement years, what is that to Mr. Piper or even Jason? I certainly saw no condemnation on Jason's part or Jason saying "I really wish Christians like Mr. Piper wouldn't act this way towards people; it turns them off of the Christian message and, besides, isn't what the couple does with their declining years between them and their creator, assuming they meet one? If Jason condemns Piper's attitude here then I retract my judgement of Jason on this point and I apologize for it. But Jason did endorse the book by Piper and I best concluded that Jason, too, shared in Piper's condemnation and arrogant contempt for the couple. Seriously, if Piper told me I was wasting my life as an atheist, I would tell Piper where to stick it. Maybe Jason doesn't mean to look down his nose at the retired couple and maybe he doesn't tend to look down his nose at even me. If this is the case- then I apologize for telling Jason to "drop dead"! Maybe it's Piper who I should be telling to "drop dead" if I ever met such a character. But if Jason really does endorse Piper's work and shares in his attitude, at this point I can only shake my head in regret.

The last thing that we need are arrogant and condescending people in this world who have no business judging others. What reward is there for sounding like a snob, and worse, being one? Judgement is best reserved, in my opinion, for a lack of integrity and for law-breaking, but for playing softball and collecting sea-shells. I would say to the Pipers of this world: keep your loathesome attitude towards yourself!

Jason also linked repeatedly to Robert Turkel. As I have said before, I now have a very low opinion of Turkel and I consider him to be the worst spin-doctor imaginable these days. I do share in Farrell Till's judgement that Turkel is most probably out to fleece the faithful. I likewise called Jason a spin-doctor and accused him also of out to fleece the faithful. I very much regret that I said this to Jason. Whether Jason is a spin-doctor for the Christian faith remains to be seen and perhaps he is not and I unfairly misjudged him. I also have no proof that he's out to "fleece the faithful"- and I retract this statement with an apology because I was, in effect, calling him another Robert Turkel and that may well be a very unfair and even libelous comparison. Jason, I am very deeply sorry that I said this. I don't think you even beg for money like Turkel does. You seem to actually have a life of your own and apologetics seems to be a very serious hobby of yours whereas Turkel is just an intellectual wanna-be who wants to make his living tickling the ears of the faithful. I apologize for such a senseless and unjust comparison.

Now at this point I want to address a criticism. Why is that I can link to Farrell Till and others whom I don't fully embrace and don't agree with what they say and yet Jason cannot? For one thing, I carefully qualified my agreement. Everyone knows that I don't agree with everything that Farrell Till says or does nor do I agree with everything Robert Price or Richard Carrier writes. Price and Carrier advocate the Radical Critical school of thought. I find such an approach fascinating and very delicious sounding but I am just not all that sure and I won't be until graduate school. Hence, when I don't always agree with an given author, scholar or not, I often try and qualify any such areas of agreement or disagreement, at least to fellow skeptics. The fact of the matter is that I didn't see Jason qualify any endorsement or links to Turkel. I never read from him any statement like "I don't agree with everything Robert Turkel writes, does, or says."

I also think however that the situation is much worse than I am making it out to be here. It's not just simply a matter of whether Jason agrees or disagrees with Robert Turkel and over what it is they disagree with but it's also a matter of behavior and tactics on Turkel's part. Turkel has not only made some stupid mistakes and statements ( the famous software blunder and his stupid statement about we having only ourselves to blame if we find the message of the Bible unclear) but I also strongly challenge Turkel's professional ethics ( I am nearly convinced that he hasn't any) as well. I believe that regardless of the qualify of his arguments, Turkel's attitude, his behavior, and his antics are very questionable. I believe that Turkel is guilty of being dishonest, abusive towards people he disagrees with, has often behaved childlishly, has been very disprespectful, and on top of this, he seems to want people to take him seriously as some kind of intellectual. It's this disgusting behavior and antics of his that I have a very low opinion of him.

I seriously ask Jason if he is aware of this behavior by Robert Turkel and just why folks like myself regard Turkel has a complete creep? I'd be happy to write some articles on Robert Turkel in attempt to document his disgusting behavior if Jason is open-minded to it. My sincere hope is that Jason will come to discover what kind of person that Turkel really is and will remove all links to him. I really would rather not see Jason link to Turkel at all. I honestly hope better and I would like to see Jason condemn Turkel for his disgusting antics and behavior (not to mention his crappy research at times- I am also willing to document this if Jason finds himself in need of persuasion). Turkel is an apologetic joke of the worst sort and I regret that any Christian might have a high opinion of him. It's my hope that the Christian community will one day, in strong unity, condemn and chastize Turkel for the charlatan that I am convinced that he is. I earnestly hope Jason will be a big part of that.

Next, I want to especially apologize for suggesting that Jason be "bitch-slapped". Again, it was keeping in tone with my intent on making Jason feel doused by what I thought was his own medicine and making him feel flogged and an inch tall. I thought he might've been abusive and I was hoping that he would feel abused for once as to know how it feels. I won't apologize for hating abuse and earnestly wanting abusive people to feel the pain that they heap on others. I am a very strong believer that one goes around should come around and that people who are abusive suffer ultimately for the abuse that they have undeservedly shown others.

I can well admit that I am wrong. I can freely admit that I am wrong. I admit to being wrong all the time and I apologize not only for errors but for hurt that any errors of mine cause other people, and it's hurt that I am most often concerned about. If Jason was not intending to be abusive, or arrogant, or condescending, and if I have indeed really misjudged him, then I very deeply apologize for it and vow never to lapse from any professionalism in my writings that I made an exception this one time in my lengthy reply. If Jason wasn't trying to be spiteful, arrogant, judgemental, or condescending, then Jason, I very much apologize for what I wrote to you. I apologize for anything hurtful or spiteful I said and for any unfair characterization about you or anything that was uncalled for, unprofessional, or unethical on my part. Jason made a great observation that is well worth quoting here:

"However I, Steve Hays, J.P. Holding, or other people may have erred in our treatment of Matthew, I think that we've been much more reasonable in our treatment of him than he's been in his treatment of us."

I commend Jason for bringing up this point. And I apologize for having erred in my treatment of Jason and for any misjudgements I have made. I notice, too, that Steve Hays wrote a response to what I wrote in response to him. I am personally glad that Jason didn't join in that and has even given me the benefit of the doubt and assumed that I do get along well my father and I do want to be more friendly when he could've joined in Steve's effort to hose me with acid like that. I say to Jason: I appreciate what you wrote and I believe that, I, have unfairly misjudged you.

I am really starting to think that Jason may not be the insidious apologist I originally took him to be and that my judgements and treatment of him was uncalled for. Jason may actually be quite gentlemanly and cordial. If getting to know him more and better can be the best way to confirm this, I am very much willing to get to know him, and I freely invite him to do so likewise. I want to close by saying that I am looking forward to good discussions with Christopher Price of the Christian CADRE and I hope I can gain a friend in Price. I also hope, as well, that I can gain a friend in Jason as well.
With respect and apologies where applicable,
Matthew

17 comments:

Dave Armstrong said...

Hi Matthew,

It's true that Jason Engwer is generally "quite gentlemanly and cordial," and a rare bird in that respect for someone whom I classify as an "anti-Catholic Protestant" (i.e., one who thinks that Catholicism is not a Christian belief-system).

That said, I do believe that he is a sophist of the highest order (Steve Hays is even more so). But this is probably not deliberate; it's just par for the course for one who adopts a self-defeating position (that Protestantism is somehow Christian while Catholicism is not).

I haven't followed this dispute; I just happened to find this in a search on my blog. You sound (from your self-description concerning debates, etc.) like a guy who would be really fun to dialogue with. I appreciate your willingness to apologize, as well. I've enjoyed many great dialogues with atheists and agnostics in the past.

Perhaps I will have the time to hang around this blog in the near future, if you'll have me, and if the sky doesn't fall down if a Christian dares question some of the agnostic/atheist sacred cows. :-) :-)

Yours, in It,

Dave Armstrong
http://socrates58.blogspot.com/

Dave Armstrong said...

I should clarify that when I say Jason is a sophist, I mean with regard to the way he treats Catholicism. It may very well be that when he does what I call "general Christian apologetics," he does a great job (I don't know; I haven't read much of his work). It wouldn't be the first time. I find this to be the case for other well-known anti-Catholic Protestant apologists, such as James White.

Ineptitude in one subject doesn't necessarily bleed over into another. One often finds these sorts of apologists writing perfectly ridiculous stuff about Catholicism, but quite sensible and compelling arguments when dealing with, say, Islam or excessively skeptical biblical criticism.

I even have links to some of Jason Engwer's and James White's stuff, but they would never be caught dead having a link to any of my material. That's because I regard them as brothers in Christ but they view me as an infidel or apostate from the truth (having been formerly evangelical Protestant), or both.

So I know how it feels to be despised as outside the faith. :-) At least you guys really are, admittedly, outside of Christianity, but we Catholics are in it and still get falsely and idiotically accused of not being so.

It gets so bad that a year-and-a-half ago I decided to not try to dialogue with anti-Catholic Protestants anymore, because there is a fundamental intellectual dishonesty and intransigence there that I can no longer suffer.

Atheists and agnostics, on the other hand, I find to be intellectually honest in the main, but simply laboring under various false premises. It makes a big difference in how attempted dialogue proceeds. Thus I have had many great dialogues with atheists / agnostics, but have never had one (after many dozens of tries) with an anti-Catholic Protestant.

Isn't that interesting, since those guys are fellow Christians. It goes to show how clashing presuppositions can cause a great disconnect, even when both parties are within the larger belief-system of Christianity.

Dave Armstrong said...

The post on the sidebar, "Our Policy Here" was very impressive. If you guys actually "practice what you preach" in that article, I believe that I would enjoy participating here quite a bit. Intellectually (if not theologically) we have a great deal in common.

That is what I have enjoyed the most in dialoguing with atheists and agnostics in the past: the clear respect for the intellect and for reason. I can like and get along with any person who has that, no matter what they believe.

I used to enjoy another atheist list I was on for a while. I found that maybe one-third of the people were nasty and personally insulting (ax-grinding type stuff) while two-thirds were gentlemanly and cordial.

I'm curious how that would work out here, and if / how it would be tolerated, per the "guidelines" post above.

Dave Armstrong
(Catholic and general Christian apologist and author)

Matthew said...

Hey Dave!

I wanted to say that I appreciate your comments. I regret that folks like Jason and Steve can be anti-Catholic to the extent that they treat you like an apostate. If it's any consolation, I was at one point an anti-Catholic Protestant in my yearly teen years even though I hadn't studied squat in terms of Catholicism and I have evolved over the years. Nowadays, I try and treat any seriously held conviction with respect, be it yours or Engwer's.

You won't get me looking down on you for being a Catholic and I try to be intellectually honest as I can. I also think I agree with you about false premises- I do think some atheists operate on them. If you detect anything of that nature in my work, I'd appreciate any polite and friendly rebuttal from you!

I hope to hear more from you, Dave!

Cheers!

Matthew

Matthew said...

Dave,

I was just thinking about the fact that anti-Catholic apologists tend to mistreat Catholic apologists like yourself as if you were not part of the fold although you do treat them as brothers and sisters in Christ.

What is even more sad and silly is how some Protestants even nastily battle each other! Have you ever seen Robert Turkel (who calls himself "James Patrick Holding") and Steve Hays of Triablouge go at each other? If you haven't seen it, I am posting a link for you and others to read.

http://www.tektonics.org/tulip/hayss01.html

http://www.tektonics.org/tulip/hayss02.html

For me this is hilarious! I don't expect you to find it all that much as I can understand that it saddens you to see Protestant Christian bretheren to be fighting among themselves and showing disunity but I get such a crack up at the way these two guys combat each other.

I get a big kick out of reading exchanges like this because these remind me of the old Spy vs Spy comics that started in the 60s.

Matthew

evanmay said...

Matthew:

If I may say so, it would appear that you missed the point of Piper's illustration (I'm guessing you haven't read the book but are only going off of Jason's article).

Piper certainly wasn't criticizing old people who walk on the beach and collect sea-shells--far from it! Indeed, he would applaud those who are content to such a lifestyle. Rather, the point was that if our lives are not lived for the Gospel, we have wasted our lives. According to Christianity, having your life's accomplishments be a sea-shell collection is a wasted life, if to that sea-shell collection you failed to add a life that sought to advance the kingdom of Christ.

The point is: live for the glory of God. Indeed, that is the point of all that Piper writes.

Dave Armstrong said...

Hi Matthew,

Thanks for your reply.

I've only seen a little of the Holding/Hays squabble, but I would venture to guess that Holding is on the side of the angels on that one. He is not an anti-Catholic like Hays, which usually means that a person is not an irrational fundamentalist, such as the type that atheists and agnostics often war against. Anti-Catholicism often corresponds to a wooden irrationalism, which is part of the cause of the thing itself.

But there are some fights worth fighting. When more ecumenical, consistent Protestants object to more irrational, fundamentalist Protestants, it's for a good cause. The dilemma is how to fight for what one thinks is the best in one's own broad tradition without this leading to further division and appearing scandalous (or "hilarious") to the outsider.

I oppose both liberal dissidents and so-called "traditionalists" within Catholicism, as distortions untrue to the nature and spirit of Catholicism. In order to do that, one must have a self-consistent viewpoint concerning what constitutes "orthodoxy."

Christians will always fight with one another because there are many disagreements at the presuppositional level.

John W. Loftus said...

For the record I did not ask or tell Matthew to apologize to Jason. He's a big boy and can fend for himself. Here at DC team members have the freedom to think and to say what they want to. Matthew asked me what I thought about what he had written and I told him, that's all.

In part I said: As best as I can I try to let my arguments do the talking for me. Let them rail against me all they want, but they are reading what I'm saying. If in the end they find me non-offensive and disciplined when responding to them it makes me seem more human and even likeable. People have regularly commented how abusive they are towards us whereas we are not that way towards them. I want our readers to see the difference. It kinda says that we are confident of what we're talking about and we do not need to call them names. People who get hot under the collar are usually losing the debate, some think, rightly or not. Aim for the intelligent readers who can tell the difference, even if many of the commentators claim we are stupid. Let them say this. But ntelligent people will decide for themselves.

Jon Curry said...

Hey Dave. How have you been? Do you remember me? We had some pleasant conversations over at Greg Krehbiel's board a while back. You even sent me two of your books on disk. I don't know if you are aware, but I've left Protestantism and I'm now non-Christian.

I will say that since my de-conversion I've been impressed with the charity that has been shown to me by Catholics over at Jimmy Akin's blog, or men such as Greg Krehbiel and Phil Porvaznik. That's not quite true of Protestants, but then maybe they're more sensitive since I left their faith and not yours. But I give you guys credit for that. Catholics have for the most part treated me well.

I look forward to your participation here.

Matthew said...

"If I may say so, it would appear that you missed the point of Piper's illustration (I'm guessing you haven't read the book but are only going off of Jason's article).

Piper certainly wasn't criticizing old people who walk on the beach and collect sea-shells--far from it! Indeed, he would applaud those who are content to such a lifestyle. Rather, the point was that if our lives are not lived for the Gospel, we have wasted our lives. According to Christianity, having your life's accomplishments be a sea-shell collection is a wasted life, if to that sea-shell collection you failed to add a life that sought to advance the kingdom of Christ.

The point is: live for the glory of God. Indeed, that is the point of all that Piper writes."

Evan,

I made my letter as an apology to Jason for my behavior. If I missed the point of Piper's comments, then, again I have to apologize but I was apparently mislead by the quoted portion of Piper's work. The fact of the matter is that Piper appeared to me to look down his nose. If I missed the larger picture, then I apologize again.

My question here is: do you you believe that my apology is legitimate? Regardless of any other mistakes and criticisms that I make, do you accept that I am regretful for my treatment of Jason?

I have read Jason's response and I hope he forgave me but I hadn't seen any statement in which he explicitly forgave me for my treatment. It seems to be that he thinks my apology is commendable and then further criticizes me.

What do I have to do to earn Jason's forgiveness? Do I have to renounce every comment that is not absolutely praising of Christians? Do I have to actually convert to Christianity for Christians to forgive me? I am seriously asking forgiveness but I don't feel as though as Jason has forgiven me. I hope he has.

Evan, let me ask you something? If you were Jason, would you have forgiven me or would you have scoffed at my apology and have told me to blow my apology out of my nose?

Matthew

Dave Armstrong said...

Hi Jon,

Yes, I remember you. How are ya? I'm doing okay, I reckon. The usual problems of life (and of a "starving apologist"!) . . .

I've often heard what you noted: that Catholics treat non-believers better than a certain sort of Protestants do. I think a large part of that is because many Protestants think that all non-believers are automatically damned, and are willfully rebellious against what they know to be the truth. This has a major effect on how a person is viewed and treated. But John Calvin stated that we can't know who is in the elect or not, so Calvinists go against his advice if they feel this way.

Most Catholics (and the Church) do not take that view; preferring to exercise more charity.

My general approach is to posit a problem in premises and conclusions drawn from same, in cases of someone leaving Christianity (or Catholicism within Christianity), rather than assuming there is a moral problem (though certainly that is always possible too; we Christians believe in original sin after all!).

As far as I recall, you're the first Christian that I knew at all personally, that has rejected the faith. And that is 25 years of experience in evangelizing and doing apologetics and moving in all kinds of Christian circles.

So it is a pretty rare thing. No doubt that is part of the reason ex-Christian atheists and agnostics want to create forums like this one, to provide mutual support.

I hope to persuade you to come back!

evanmay said...

Matthew,

I made my letter as an apology to Jason for my behavior. If I missed the point of Piper's comments, then, again I have to apologize but I was apparently mislead by the quoted portion of Piper's work. The fact of the matter is that Piper appeared to me to look down his nose.

I understand that you wanted your readers to be informed about your state of mind in your initial response to Jason. However, it would seem that you used this occasion to continue to attack Piper (as well as Steve Hays and JP Holding). Just consider some of your statements, “John Piper who has one heck of a nerve sticking his self-righteous nose where it doesn't belong!” “who is Mr. Piper to criticize and look down his nose” “Maybe it's Piper who I should be telling to ‘drop dead’ if I ever met such a character” “if Piper told me I was wasting my life as an atheist, I would tell Piper where to stick it.” All of these terribly uninformed statements are made in the present tense (and at the same time that you were apologizing to Jason). Thus, the issue isn’t simply how Piper appeared to you (past tense) or your state of mind, but your present, uninformed disposition towards the person and character of John Piper. Because I am well acquainted with the books, ministry, and person of John Piper, I think I am in a position to tell you that your assessment of him could not be further from the truth.

My question here is: do you believe that my apology is legitimate? Regardless of any other mistakes and criticisms that I make, do you accept that I am regretful for my treatment of Jason?

Because of the personal nature of this topic, I initially wasn’t going to comment on this, and instead simply commented about your attack on Piper. But because you explicitly ask for my opinion, I will do my best to word this in a manner that is both theologically accurate (my worldview, naturally, determines my assessment of the world) but also pastorally sensitive. I apologize ahead of time, knowing that you will most likely be offended; but please realize that my assessment here deals not so much with you as an individual person, but with you as (according to my worldview) an unregenerate God-hater.

I believe your apology to be as legitimate as you are able to make it. I appreciate the effort you have made. Not many would make such an effort, and Jason and I both commend and thank you for what you have done.

Yet, truthfully, it would seem as if you spent more energy in the article defending yourself rather than apologizing to Jason. To put it in John Loftus’ words, your apology, in a sense, “dies the death of a thousand qualifications.” Indeed, after reading the article it is almost as if the reader wants to fault Jason for giving you the “wrong impression” about himself rather than faulting you for assuming the wrong thing about Jason! That may not be the case, but that is the feel of what you have written.

There is also the deeper, theological level of my assessment. Biblically speaking, the unregenerate are morally unable to do good. Thus, humility without the gospel is only a hidden form of pride that seeks glory for itself in parading a false humility. I’m certain that sounds terribly harsh, but that is my worldview nonetheless. And, remember, I’m not judging you because I presume your personality or character to be a certain way; I’m judging you because you are self-professed unregenerate, and therefore even your ‘righteousness’ is depraved to the core. You are the man from whom these words were spoken: “I have already spoken elsewhere what the personal consequences for me would be if I came to conclude the Christian gospel was valid: I would take my own life; I would see no reason to delay the inevitability of Hell.”

What is it that would cause an atheist, in the middle of apologizing to a certain Christian (Jason), to continue to attack other Christians (Hays, Holding, and Piper)? Theologically speaking, it is a heart-level issue: it is driven by a heart that hates the Christian God. This you yourself admit when you tell us that you would rather spend eternity in hell.

Again, you will most likely not like what I am saying here. But if Jason can take you telling him to “drop dead,” then hopefully you can take my words here.

Once more, I appreciate the fact that you chose to publicly apologize, and I thank you for doing so.

Evan, let me ask you something? If you were Jason, would you have forgiven me or would you have scoffed at my apology and have told me to blow my apology out of my nose?

I think Jason has expressed his appreciation for your apology (though he has also expressed his dissatisfaction with your continued attack on Piper, Hays, and Holding). I know that for myself, I would forgive even if you didn’t apologize.

evanmay said...

It is rather interesting to see you guys read so much into an illustration found in a book you have never read.

Edward T. Babinski said...

A big hello to Mr. Dave Armstrong, welcome.

And I'd like to say to Evanmay that it's not Piper's book but his particular illustration that we were discussing, an illustration that appears to have been clarified since Matthew first cited it. If Evanmay wishes to clarify the illustration further, please do.

Till then, I have a word about Piper's illustration, and Jason's view, that picking up sea shells is “wasting one's life” when compared with “doing the Lord's work.” Have they considered that maybe collecting sea shells, or giving a pleasant nod to their Creator’s handiwork, or sharing their beauty with others, or studying them intently and scientifically, might not each in their own way be possible examples of “doing the Lord's work?” Certainly appears to be more like the Lord's work than trying to find new ways to call other people fools (all done in service to the Lord of course). Also, “contending for the faith” and being contentious about it, seems more of a “waste of one's time” than enjoying God's creation and sharing your discoveries with others of sea shells on the sea shore, does it not? Being contentious is also likely to lose souls to damnation, hardening people’s hearts against Christianity and thus working against the work of salvation. Or haven’t Piper and Jason considered such dangers?

As for the rest of us I suspect that people gravitate toward things in life that excite their bodies and/or brains, just as some of us consider it pleasurable to engage in intellectual discourse, even with people who view us as presently “blinded by sin and Satan and eternally damned” while they are “the saved.”

Edward T. Babinski said...

Speaking about wasting one's time:

THE REVEREND REPLIED…

Reporter: What will we do in heaven for eternity? Won’t we get bored?

Rev. Spurgeon: Nonsense. We will joyously sing and meditate on the sufferings of Christ that made the miracle of our salvation possible. As for myself, I could sing and meditate on the wounds round Jesus’s head for a billion years. Then focus on the wounds on his scourged back for the next billion. Then the wound in his right hand for a billion more, the wound in his left hand for a billion, the wound in his side for a billion. Then the wounds in his feet, each foot for a billion years.

Reporter: So, you’re saying there’s nothing worthy of a Christian’s time and devotion, nothing worth looking at, or singing about, for all eternity, except Jesus and his wounds?

Rev. Spurgeon: That’s exactly what I’m saying.

Reporter: So, ah... What’s hell going to be like?

E.T.B. (based on actual replies of Rev. Spurgeon)
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When Robert Ingersoll heard how Rev. Spurgeon planned to spend billions of years in heaven just staring at Jesus’s wounds, Ingersoll said, “I bet he even takes great delight in reading the genealogies of the Old Testament.”

The Best of Robert Ingersoll, Robert E. Greeley, Ed.
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Is it possible that an infinite God created this world simply to be the dwelling place of slaves and serfs? Simply for the purpose of raising orthodox Christians? That he did a few miracles to astonish a few of them? That all the evils of life are simply his punishments, and that he is finally going to turn heaven into a kind of religious museum filled with Baptist barnacles, petrified Presbyterians and Methodist mummies?

Robert Ingersoll
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The faith in which I was brought up assured me that I was better than other people; I was saved, they were damned--we were in a state of grace and the rest were heathens. Our hymns were loaded with arrogance--self-congratulation on how cozy we were with the Almighty, and what hell everybody else would catch come Judgment Day.

Robert A. Heinlein, (Jubal Harshaw in Stranger in a Strange Land)
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Look at the songs of Fundamentalism: “That will be glory for me… I shall see Him face to face… My sins are gone… I’m so happy… I’m saved, saved, saved… Love lifted me… He holds my hand… Now I belong to Jesus… Safe am I… My Lord is real, yea, real to me…”

I was even taught as a child to sing that shameless chorus, “For me, for me, for me, for me.”

It’s like someone decided to set “original sin” to music.

Daniel Stevick, Beyond Fundamentalism
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I’ve never understood how God could expect His creatures to pick the one true religion by faith--it strikes me as a sloppy way to run a universe.

Robert A. Heinlein (Jubal Harshaw in Stranger in a Strange Land)
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They told him a God of Near Eastern origin, the God of Abraham (who evidently had a stupendous bosom) and Isaac and Jacob, had made the whole universe, stars and atoms, from start to finish in six days and made it wonderfully and perfect, and had set it all going and, after some necessary setbacks called the Fall and the Flood, had developed arrangements that were to culminate in the earthly happiness and security and eternal bliss of our little Mr. Davis, which had seemed to him a very agreeable state of affairs. And further they had shown him the most convincing pictures of Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel and had given him a Noah’s Ark toy to play with [in times past the only acceptable toy to play with on Sundays was Noah’s ark] and told him simple Bible stories about the patriarchs and the infant Samuel and Solomon and David and their remarkable lessons for us, the promise of salvation spreading out from the Near East until it covered the world, and he had taken it all in without flinching because at the time he had no standards of comparison. Anything might be as true as anything else. Except for difference in color they put him into a world of Green Pastures and there they trained him to be a simply believing little Anglican.

H. G. Wells, “The Mind of Mr. Joseph Davis”
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Thank God He made it easy to find the “one true faith.” So easy that your parents can pick it out for you before you are even born, and, in most places on earth, they do.

It’s even easier to find a “true” Christian as opposed to a false one, or a “true” Moslem as opposed to a false one: The “true” believer-- the one who understands what his holy book “really” says--always happens to be the one addressing you.

E.T.B.
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You believe in a book that has talking animals, wizards, witches, demons, sticks turning into snakes, food falling from the sky, people walking on water, and all sorts of magical, absurd and primitive stories, and you say that WE are the ones who “need help?”

Dan Barker, Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist
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EVANGELICAL EGO-GAMES
An evangelical Christian once told me, “Only Jesus Christ can save man and restore him to his lost state of peace with God, himself and others.” Yeah, sure, and only new Pepsi can make you feel really happy, and only our brand is better than the competition, and only our country is the best country. It is truly amazing to me that people can utter such arrogant nonsense with no humor, no sense of how offensive they are to others, no doubt or trepidation, and no suspicion that they sound exactly like advertisers, con-men and other swindlers. It is really hard to understand such child-like prattling. If I were especially conceited about something (a state I try to avoid, but if I fell into it...), if for instance I decided I had the best garden or the handsomest face in Ireland, I would still retain enough common sense to suspect that I would sound like a conceited fool if I went around telling everybody those opinions. I would have enough tact left, I hope, to satisfy my conceit by dreaming that other people would notice on their own that my garden and/or my face were especially lovely. People who go around innocently and blithely announcing that they belong to the Master Race or the Best Country Club or have the One True Religion seem to have never gotten beyond the kindergarten level of ego-display. Do they have no modesty, no tact, no shame, no adult common sense at all? Do they have any suspicion how silly their conceit sounds to the majority of the nonwhite non-Christian men and women of the world? To me, they seem like little children wearing daddy’s clothes and going around shouting, “Look how grown-up I am! Look at me, me, me!”

There are more amusing things than ego-games, conceit and one-upmanship.Really, there are. I suspect that people stay on that childish level because they have never discovered how interesting and exciting the adult world is.

If one must play ego-games, I still think it would be more polite, and more adult, to play them in the privacy of one’s head. In fact, despite my efforts to be a kind of Buddhist, I do relapse into such ego-games on occasion; but I have enough respect for human intelligence to keep such thoughts to myself. I don’t go around announcing that I have painted the greatest painting of our time; I hope that people will notice that by themselves. Why do the people whose ego-games consist of day-dreaming about being part of the Master Race or the One True Religion not keep that precious secret to themselves, also, and wait for the rest of the human race to notice their blinding superiority?

Robert Anton Wilson
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Many Christians who can’t even get members of their own family to agree with them on trifling matters are currently seeking to evangelize the world and tell everyone “what’s what.”

E.T.B.
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Matthew said...

Evanmay writes:

"I understand that you wanted your readers to be informed about your state of mind in your initial response to Jason. However, it would seem that you used this occasion to continue to attack Piper (as well as Steve Hays and JP Holding). Just consider some of your statements, “John Piper who has one heck of a nerve sticking his self-righteous nose where it doesn't belong!” “who is Mr. Piper to criticize and look down his nose” “Maybe it's Piper who I should be telling to ‘drop dead’ if I ever met such a character” “if Piper told me I was wasting my life as an atheist, I would tell Piper where to stick it.” All of these terribly uninformed statements are made in the present tense (and at the same time that you were apologizing to Jason). Thus, the issue isn’t simply how Piper appeared to you (past tense) or your state of mind, but your present, uninformed disposition towards the person and character of John Piper. Because I am well acquainted with the books, ministry, and person of John Piper, I think I am in a position to tell you that your assessment of him could not be further from the truth."

Evan, if that is the case (it seems that both you and Jason are well-acquainted with the person, works, and ministry of John Piper) then I am prepared to give you the benefit of the doubt and accept that I misjudged Mr. Piper and that I, too, owe him an apology as well-which I freely and humbly do so. I am serious about this. If I have misjudged Piper and this is not at all what he meant and if my personal criticism of Piper is misplaced and he means no such thing as what I thought he did- then, again, I have no problem deeply apologizing to him for it. I apologize for my comments about Mr. Piper and completely retract them.


"Because of the personal nature of this topic, I initially wasn’t going to comment on this, and instead simply commented about your attack on Piper. But because you explicitly ask for my opinion, I will do my best to word this in a manner that is both theologically accurate (my worldview, naturally, determines my assessment of the world) but also pastorally sensitive. I apologize ahead of time, knowing that you will most likely be offended; but please realize that my assessment here deals not so much with you as an individual person, but with you as (according to my worldview) an unregenerate God-hater."

Let me ask you something at this point Evan. You complain of my attacking Piper, Hays, and Turkel (or J.P. Holding as you like to call him). I have just apologized for my uninformed and misplaced criticism of John Piper. I said earlier in my criticism that I was misled but I do not intend that to be Jason's fault, suggesting that he intended to misquote Mr. Piper as to mislead people or misrepresent Piper. If Piper is not guilty of anything I have said that he was, or that he is undeserving of any criticism or attack that I have made, then the misunderstanding is my own responsibility and I take full blame for it. As for Steve Hays and Robert Turkel- I wanted to ask you this:

If I think that Hays and Turkel have morally erred, have mistreated me or others, or have been nasty in some way or another, how can I construct a criticism that will not be regarded as an attack? Or can I?

I recall reading Paul Montana once saying to John Loftus (I believe it was) that he had "no moral basis" for complaining about any wrongdoing about any Christian (if I recall correctly).

Do you, Evan, believe that it is possible for me to legitimately criticize a Christian, as a non-Christian? Or do you believe that the only legitimate criticism of Christians can only come from other Christians and that non-Christians can only, ever attack Christians?

I am not offended that you might think of me as a "unregenerate God-hater". You can think what you like-I won't be offended by any opinion you have of me. I do however think that any description of me as a misotheist (a "God-Hater" for those who don't know what the term means) is silly. For such a charge to be accurate, it supposes that I believe or know such a being exists deep down inside of me and that I hate such a being.

But this is silly and the reason it is so is because I regard the Christian God as nonexistent. How can I hate something that I believe doesn't exist? Now I do find the Christian God to be a loathsome concept based on what I have read about him from the Bible and other Christian sources but this isn't to say that I hate him. As analogy, consider the Star Wars villian "Darth Vader". I consider Darth Vader, as a fictional movie villian, to be a loathsome character indeed. But that is not to say that I consider Darth Vader to be a real person, in some starship out there, in a galaxy far, far away.

The same with Yahweh: I do not believe that such a being exists and I do not hate such a being yet I find the impression I have of Yahweh to be a disgusting one. I have a negative opinion of such a being, who I regard as fictional and nonexistent.

Before I make any more apologies, say to either Steve Hays or Robert Turkel (or both) I want to ask a question: what if I believe that what you regard as a "personal attack" is a legitimate criticism or even a legitimate attack? Do you, Evan, or Jason believe that I am allowed to make a legitimate criticism or attack? (I'm not sure how I even attacked Steve Hays). Is it possible for me to have a legitimate criticism of Steve Hays or is it not possible because I am a "unregenerate God-hater" and I am just not capable of showing kindness towards Christians?

"I believe your apology to be as legitimate as you are able to make it. I appreciate the effort you have made. Not many would make such an effort, and Jason and I both commend and thank you for what you have done."

As far as I am able to make it? I am glad that you and Jason both commend and thank me for it but I am not sure what you mean by as "far as you are able to make it"

"Yet, truthfully, it would seem as if you spent more energy in the article defending yourself rather than apologizing to Jason. To put it in John Loftus’ words, your apology, in a sense, “dies the death of a thousand qualifications.” Indeed, after reading the article it is almost as if the reader wants to fault Jason for giving you the “wrong impression” about himself rather than faulting you for assuming the wrong thing about Jason! That may not be the case, but that is the feel of what you have written."

Readers need not fault Jason nor should they. I take complete responsibility for any faulty understanding and, again, I offer my sincere apologies. I accept the fault as completely my own.

"There is also the deeper, theological level of my assessment. Biblically speaking, the unregenerate are morally unable to do good. Thus, humility without the gospel is only a hidden form of pride that seeks glory for itself in parading a false humility. I’m certain that sounds terribly harsh, but that is my worldview nonetheless. And, remember, I’m not judging you because I presume your personality or character to be a certain way; I’m judging you because you are self-professed unregenerate, and therefore even your ‘righteousness’ is depraved to the core. You are the man from whom these words were spoken: “I have already spoken elsewhere what the personal consequences for me would be if I came to conclude the Christian gospel was valid: I would take my own life; I would see no reason to delay the inevitability of Hell.”

So in other words, I cannot possibly gain your friendship and respect, and any such friendly, respectful, and civil dialogue between either Jason, you, or Steve and myself is simply out of the question?

Evan, I have a question for you: are you a Calvinist? I have a minimal understanding of Calvinist theology: is this a core belief of Calvinist Christianity?

"What is it that would cause an atheist, in the middle of apologizing to a certain Christian (Jason), to continue to attack other Christians (Hays, Holding, and Piper)?"

Evan, look, I have apologized to Jason and Piper. I am not sure how I have attacked Steve but I will apologize if it's uncalled for, unjust, and wrong of me to do so and I am not sure I see the need to apologize for attacking 'Holding'. But let me ask you something, Evan. Do you believe that whoever is not a Christian,a regenerate believer in Christ, is by default and consequence a "unregenerate God-hater"? Is this, theologically, a black and white option: you are either one or the other and there is no morally neutral ground, so to speak?

I also ask you the same questions as I ask before. Is it possible for me to frame a legitimate criticism when I feel that it is needed at a Christian? Or am I not possibly and morally in a position to do so and that is something only a Christian can do?

Is it possible to attack a Christian on legitimate grounds if I feel it is warranted and deserved if I am not a Christian, or is that something only a Christian can possibly do on moral grounds?

If this is indeed the case, despite all of my regrets, apologies, and whatnot- I see very little point in continuing to engage folks of this theological persuasion, since I am, theologically speaking, moral trash from the get-go.

"Theologically speaking, it is a heart-level issue: it is driven by a heart that hates the Christian God. This you yourself admit when you tell us that you would rather spend eternity in hell."

And would I be correct in guessing that the only way to earn the friendship and respect of Christians like yourself is to convert to your faith? I hope not but I have an ugly suspicion that this may indeed be the case.

"Again, you will most likely not like what I am saying here. But if Jason can take you telling him to “drop dead,” then hopefully you can take my words here."

I sincerely apologized for this. I am guessing now that my apology really doesn't mean diddly-squat down the road. You, yourself, said that it is a false sense of humility and I am not capable of anything else, morally. Okay, whatever you say. I guess there is simply no point in fruitful dialouge on this point.

"Once more, I appreciate the fact that you chose to publicly apologize, and I thank you for doing so."

Even if you believe that the humility is false? Does not your own theology require you to believe that I cannot mean it because it's not possible for a "unregenerate God-hater".

Evan, one last thing: who else at Triablouge is a Calvinist? I know Steve is but I am not sure if that would apply to Gene, Jason, and yourself.

If this is the end of the road here, I guess there's nothing more to say. Perhaps I should wish Triablouge farewell in a future blogpost.

Matthew

evanmay said...

I apologize for my comments about Mr. Piper and completely retract them.

I greatly appreciate this, and I thank you for this.

If I think that Hays and Turkel have morally erred, have mistreated me or others, or have been nasty in some way or another, how can I construct a criticism that will not be regarded as an attack? Or can I?

1. First thing to do is to take everything into consideration. In what way have they mistreated you? Or, was their treatment of you simply an extension of the principles of their worldview (i.e., the nature of apostasy in the Bible)? Even if the latter is the case, you might still make an objection. Just know that your objection involves an external critique of their worldview, to which they will simply respond by asserting their own worldview; since you only assert your own in your objection.

2. If they have mistreated you in contradicting their own worldview, then you are free to point this out (i.e., have they disobeyed any Scriptural commands? Just make sure you are exegeting the Scriptural commandments properly).

3. Anyway, all this can be done in a civil manner.

I recall reading Paul Montana once saying to John Loftus (I believe it was) that he had "no moral basis" for complaining about any wrongdoing about any Christian (if I recall correctly).

What Paul Manata meant was that John has no basis (from his own worldview) for morality in general, and thus no basis for specific moral objections. In other words, if morality is relative, who is John to hold Paul to a standard of morality? Thus, Paul’s response was meta-ethical.

But this doesn’t mean that you can’t legitimately object to Christian behavior. You can do this in the ways I outlined above, either by an external critique (but just know that the Christian will in this case, as Paul did, contend that you are borrowing from his worldview), or on an internal basis (as long as you accurately exegete the Scriptures).

And, I’m not saying that every time you critique someone’s behavior the discussion will turn meta-ethical. But just realize that it might, any time you give an ethical opinion.

Do you, Evan, believe that it is possible for me to legitimately criticize a Christian, as a non-Christian?

Yes, I do, as I outlined above.

For such a charge to be accurate, it supposes that I believe or know such a being exists deep down inside of me and that I hate such a being.

Of course, as you know, according to my worldview, you do.

How can I hate something that I believe doesn't exist?

Your hatred may not be a conscious hatred, but it is an active hatred.

I want to ask a question: what if I believe that what you regard as a "personal attack" is a legitimate criticism or even a legitimate attack?

I don’t necessarily think this is the case. But, again, this is a meta-ethical question.

As far as I am able to make it? I am glad that you and Jason both commend and thank me for it but I am not sure what you mean by as "far as you are able to make it"

What I meant was that, according to my worldview, the unregenerate are morally unable to do good. They can do civil ‘goods,’ but even the righteous deeds are as filthy rags.

So in other words, I cannot possibly gain your friendship and respect, and any such friendly, respectful, and civil dialogue between either Jason, you, or Steve and myself is simply out of the question?

I have non-Christian friends, and I converse with non-Christians in a respectful manner all the time. That wasn’t the point. The point was how your actions are the result of your unregenerate nature.

Evan, I have a question for you: are you a Calvinist? I have a minimal understanding of Calvinist theology: is this a core belief of Calvinist Christianity?

Yes, I am a Calvinist. But the depravity and inability of man is not merely a Calvinistic belief, but a tenet of Orthodox Christianity.

Do you believe that whoever is not a Christian,a regenerate believer in Christ, is by default and consequence a "unregenerate God-hater"? Is this, theologically, a black and white option: you are either one or the other and there is no morally neutral ground, so to speak?

Scripture only outlines two options. There are only two worldviews: those who accept the Lordship of Christ, and those who despise the Lordship of Christ. There is no neutrality.

This is simply what Scripture teachings. Indeed, this is Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 2: either you have the Spirit, or you don’t. If you have the Spirit, you have the mind of Christ. If you don’t have the Spirit, spiritual things are folly to you, and you reject them because you are not morally able to do otherwise.

I also ask you the same questions as I ask before. Is it possible for me to frame a legitimate criticism when I feel that it is needed at a Christian? Or am I not possibly and morally in a position to do so and that is something only a Christian can do?

There is a difference between a legitimate criticism and a morally righteous criticism. You can legitimately criticize Christian behavior (as I outlined above), but that doesn’t mean that you are morally able to do so without sinning. In other words, did you criticize Jason with the motivation to glorify God? I think your answer is an obvious ‘No.’ But Scripture outlines two options: glorifying God, or sinning.

And would I be correct in guessing that the only way to earn the friendship and respect of Christians like yourself is to convert to your faith?

Again, friendship isn’t an issue. If you and I lived in close proximity (so that friendship is practical), you wouldn’t need to ‘earn’ my friendship. But that doesn’t mean I view you the same way I do a regenerate believer in Christ. To do so would be unscriptural.

Evan, one last thing: who else at Triablouge is a Calvinist? I know Steve is but I am not sure if that would apply to Gene, Jason, and yourself.

Steve, Gene, Paul, and I are all Calvinists, while Jason hasn’t yet accepted all of the tenets of Calvinism. But, again, the depravity and inability of man is not merely a Calvinistic belief, but a tenet of Orthodox Christianity