I have decided to embark on a new direction in life. In contrast to an earlier post that I wrote, pretty much declaring war on religion and feeling the need to be confrontational, I have decided that I have made a mistake. I believe that debunking Christianity is good insofar as a skeptic goes about employing historical criticism and philosophical argumentation to debunk myths upon which Christianity is based- such as biblical inerrancy, creationism, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I also believe that the attempts to pass these myths off as factual truths- Christian apologetics- needs to be answered as well and is part of the debunking process. I regard Christian fundamentalism as a confrontational, combative, and domineering, not to mention a very regressive revealed religion. Here lies a mistake that I have made: I decided to be confrontational towards Christianity and to engage in active evangelism. While I believe that helping to educate people about various myths, deceptions, and frauds through evangelism and counter-apologetic efforts against those who willingly spread such nonsense is very laudable- I also realize that it has its shortcomings as well. First of all, I realize that I need not be confrontational towards everyone. A favorite author and real estate expert John T Reed is active against many con-artists and phony real estate gurus who are trying to rip people off but he is not overly belligerent to fans of these fake gurus who simply are ignorant and perhaps well-meaning although he probably regrets their ignorance and stupidity. He is only confrontational in his reviews of phony gurus who are out to take advantage of people and rip them off, especially novices in the field of real estate who don't know better.
I realize that I don't have to be confrontational towards all Christians. So I have to say that I am not actively out to destroy the faith of Christians who are not, themselves, confrontational and are actually well-meaning, friendly, and just want to be left alone while they're getting along with other people. I need not be confrontational towards those who are innocent. I tried donning these gloves but they never really fit and I never felt right trying to be unnecessarily confrontational. Confrontation is sometimes necessary but only towards a specific group of people; Christian apologists. I have in mind people like Robert Turkel, Frank Walton, Jonathan Sarfati, and others who seem, to me, to be confrontational and hostile towards nonbelievers and skeptics. I realize that I simply do not and should not be confrontational towards Christians who aren't confrontational towards me. Let me give an example of what I have in mind here: suppose I met a Christian who believed that the earth was 6,000 years old and that it was at one point covered by a global deluge. How would I react to such a Christian? Would I tease that person? Mock that person? Be confrontational and make that person feel like a complete idiot? The answers are no, no, and no. I do believe in engaging in personal evangelism but that is only for my loved ones and people who I happen to care deeply about. If someone doesn't want to deconvert, I simply have no right to try and deconvert them or else I am no better than aggressive evangelists who just cannot take no for an answer and will pray to God to make you convert because the word "tolerance" is a bigger swear word than most profane words we can look up in a dictionary.
I believe that I was very wrong to take this approach. This came to me recently as I was reading Robert Price's latest book The Reason-Driven Life. In his "Introduction" (pg. 17) he has the following to say about some atheists:
"Let me, however, mention a major problem I have with atheism. For many it is a sterile life of negativity and denial. It is the stance of the apostate, as Max Scheler described it in his shrewd book Ressentiment. The apostate is one who has turned away from a faith he once held without genuinely or deeply turning to anything else. Otherwise we should call him "a convert to" rather than "an apostate from". The apostate's life is a committed struggle of mere negativity, a campaign of continuous guerrilla war against the system of faith he once espoused and now so regrets having embraced. The apostate is still Hoffer's "true believer"; he has merely switched terms in the same game. By contrast, the convert gets out of the game and leaves the stadium. He seeks another game that will satisfy him better. I know many mere apostates, people who are for this or that reason very mad at religion and want to destroy it. Ironically, they retain many of the disadvantages of being a religious zealot. They are still burdened by an urge to save the world. They still divide the human race into the good guys and the bad guys, only they have just switched whom they put in which group. They still mark themselves out from their fellow men and women by means of bumper stickers, buttons, and T-shirts. I hope they are having fun. But the meaning of their lives seems to me parasitic upon that which they reject. If all religion were to vanish tomorrow, what would they do? If you are free from religion, I ask my atheist friends, what are you free for?
""Atheist", though I do not disclaim it , is not my description of first choice because it merely indicates what I no longer believe, not what else I have since come to believe. It says what I don't stand for anymore. But I would rather be known for what I do stand for. I urge on the apostate what I urge on the born-again Christian: get a life! I am trying to. Personally, I consider myself a humanist. I view myself as a would-be philosopher, with leanings toward Friedrich Nietzsche and Jacques Derrida. I'm not in a hurry to find a label that will fit just right. I do not hate religion. I even go to church for the rich pageantry and the moral challenge (more of this later). I am pleased, in the rural South, to live among fundamentalists and to appreciate them as people. I try to view their beliefs nonjudgementally, as an anthropologist would. I have rejected those beliefs, but that does not compel me to view those who hold them to be my enemies. I am happy to share interests with them and, if need be, to avoid certain sensitive topics. So I do not relish the life of the apostate, one I have overcome with difficulty. But I do relish certain aspects of the nontheist existence." (pgs. 17-18).
Price is right here. These folks are not so much, just atheists, but are active antitheists. They are angry about religion and have a huge chip on their shoulder and rather than engage in the positive task of simply educating people about myths promoted by fundamentalists, they are nasty and belligerent towards people who disbelieve what they believe. The fact of the matter is that I do not wish to be like that. I left that frame of mind and I do not wish to go back down it and I found myself after joining Loftus' blog to be heading back down that road. I am sorry that I made this decision. Part of it was inspired by my anger at what I consider to be the chief of apologetic spin- Robert Turkel. Turkel, I consider to be the King of Spin as far as Christian apologetics goes. Anyhow, the fact of the matter is that I cannot go back down this road again. I do plan to engage in evangelism but that's only for people, whom, like myself years ago, wanted a way out but had practically no people to really help show them the way out. I "got out" after reading Farrell Till's The Skeptical Review but Mr. Till is not a biblical scholar and while he has written a lot of material to debunk biblical inerrancy- there are few skeptics out there who are degreed Bible scholars who have devoted a lot of time and energy into answering Christian apologetics. Much of it needs to be answered although there is a risk of feeding the egos of apologists who thrive on abusing the skeptics and critics they are trying to answer. Many such apologists are often attention whores who love the attention they get from skeptics.
The fact of the matter is that I consider myself first and foremost to be a philosophical naturalist and an atheist second. That is I would like to start out with what I do believe and then from that angle describe what I don't believe but as a matter of default. I do believe that this physical cosmos is all that there has ever likely been, is now, and likely will be. I am an atheist by default because my worldview is inherently atheistic. If I believe that the cosmos is eternal and without any need for a transcendental cause, which strongly implies a disbelief that there exist any divine beings or anything that might be termed "supernatural". I also consider myself a Secular Humanist (mostly to distinguish it from "Classical Humanism" and "Christian Humanism"). Like Price, I have had difficulty overcoming the mindset of the "apostate". Like Price, I am in favor of positive biblical criticism insofar as it helps us to understand the biblical text and its origins. I only engage in negative biblical criticism to help debunk fundamentalist myths about the Bible- and this is for educational purposes. I do not hate the Bible one bit. Hating the Bible is like hating Homer's epic poem The Iliad. One need not believe everything happened in any epic poem by Homer to appreciate its beauty and insights that it affords the modern world. Same with the Bible. I love studying the Bible academically. It's a fascinating book for giving us insights into the mythical world of the Hebrews as well as the early Christians and what they believe. I engage in counter-apologetics, not to destroy the Bible itself but to destroy harmful myths about the Bible. Being a counter-apologist is just that-counter-apologetics which can and ought to be successfully and legitimately distinguished from the very positive academic study of religion. But if someone wanted to form a cult around Homer's epic poems in which such works were treated as inerrant sacred texts, then what are classical historians to do? Would it not be legitimate for classics scholars to engage in negative historical criticism with the purpose of debunking any myths promoted by any modern day Homer-cultists? People can believe what they want to but when they are out to convert people with bogus arguments and myths about history- would anyone decry an honest and sincere historian who wants to debunk myths about Homer so that ignorant people are not suckered into a cult promoting these silly arguments about Homer's works?
Most skeptics, I know of, for example, do not like responding to Robert Turkel. Turkel interprets this as utter cowardice on their part and very arrogantly bathes in the apparent impression of victory. To him, he has silenced the critics, and they just cannot mount a credible answer towards his supposed superior intellect. Most skeptics that I know of such as Richard Carrier and Robert Price, both of whom I know and have corresponded to in the past with, do not like Turkel. Turkel would, of course, accuse them of hating him because he has ripped their arguments to shreds and as given them a good flogging, arrogantly bathing in the glory of an undefeated Colossus. In the real world, however, they don't like Turkel because they feel that he grossly misunderstands them, twists their arguments around, and as if this wasn't bad enough, is very cocky and extremely haughty about it as well. If maybe Turkel decided to be a lot friendlier and more humble and showed signs of wanting to be more diplomatic in his understanding and courteous in his replies, I can see how they might want to respond. But being friendlier and humble is far too weak, disgusting, and contemptible for Turkel. No, haughtiness is his trademark. If you disagree with him, you either shut your mouth or you'd better convert and start agreeing with him or he will give you the intellectual flogging he thinks you so sorely deserve. I think Turkel is mostly clueless about skeptics and what they think about him. Turkel assumes that it's sheer intellectual cowardice on their part but most skeptics find Turkel way too haughty and belligerent for their tastes and don't feel as though they have to suffer the abuse that he seems all to eager to dish out at them just to compile a response.
A big problem back in my Evangelical days, is that I considered Turkel to be the best out there. I found his satire funny at first but his insults over time went from being harmless commentary to just outright spiteful attacks (only, of course, to be outdone by Frank Walton who is not so much an apologist but just a character assassin and a smear artist). Apart from some responses to Turkel from skeptics like Jeff Lowder and Farrell Till, there was no one out there, in my opinion, who knew the Bible and biblical scholarship forwards and backwards enough to really take Turkel on. I recall that there was an online version of Robert Price's book Beyond Born Again, which had a chapter, arguing contrary to Christian apologists, that there was enough time for legends to evolve in a single generation or so. Turkel responded to this particular chapter of Price's work by pointing out that Price had not answered the argument of A.N. Sherwin-White commonly appealed to by apologists like William Lane Craig, Gary Habermas, and others who argue that there is a low probability that the New Testament could contain any legendary embellishments. Turkel further countered with a hostile-witness argument that Price didn't seem to answer in his original chapter (actually there are a few arguments I would've liked Price to have answered; maybe someone like me can interest him in doing so in a future edition)
If Price had included these arguments or had written a response to Turkel, I might have well became a liberal Christian rather have converted to deism. But it was the lack of detailed and cogent responses to Christian apologists that kept me in the fold for so long. Had I encountered a cogent rebuttal to this argument against legends or perhaps even some of the Christian arguments in favor of the resurrection, I imagine I would've left the fold of fundamentalism years earlier and not arrive at it through the tortured process that I did. I also believed that I would've been cured of my clinical depression earlier. There is a gap, however, between biblical scholars and folks who have been in my shoes, for whom a lack of information has kept them in intellectual shackles as well as the emotional rut that I believe fundamentalism lands people into. Seeing biblical inerrancy refuted was enough to convince me that Christianity really had nothing of substance to it. By the time that I deconverted from Christianity to deism, I had become rather disgusted with religion and "faith". There was a time where I desperately wanted to believe. But God sure as hell did not appear to me and confirm anything for me and whenever I would discuss my doubts with Christians, it seemed that they got snotty at the thought that I could possibly being having doubts. One Christian even tried to argue a confession out of me that I was looking for a reason to be self-serving rather than God-serving. Yeah, sure, whatever.
I have decided to fill a gap that is desperately needed between biblical scholars on one hand and Christian fundamentalists who would leave their faith if only they knew that they had been sold a shoddy bill of goods. As for people who don't want to leave their faith- I can understand that. If they are comfortable with their faith and their whole happiness and inner joy revolves around their faith- so be it. I have no real interest in taking their joy away from them even if I foolishly thought I did. There are some folks for whom I have no right to be unnecessarily confrontational to. It's only haughty folks like Turkel and Sarfati who need a very healthy dose of their own medicine, if for nothing else, than to smack some much-needed humility in them. Doing so would expose a nasty inconsistency- if one ought to be polite and think of it just as that, rather than the more serious charge of hypocrisy. Turkel and Sarfati are very big on both Christians and skeptics understanding the context of the Bible. I agree. They are very big on understanding the society in which the Bible emerged. They emphasize that the Bible emerged in an honor-shame, collectivistic society. Guilt was unknown in these societies. I agree after reading books by the Context Group. But if there was no sense of guilt then there was no sense of pride. What seems to have completely escaped the attention of Turkel and Sarfati is that egoism would be alien to such a society. If Turkel and Sarfati are to pride themselves on being uncompromising advocates of "honor-challenge riposte" (I have no problem with this but I agree with Malina's judgment that such Christians who do this are being silly given that we are not living in the 1st century or the Mediterranean and certainly not both!) then why the pride? Why is it that Turkel and Sarfati insist on being haughty and arrogant when such egotistical character traits wouldn't have been likely to exist in collectivistic honor-shame societies?
This doesn't seem consistent to me but I suspect I know the answer. The reason, I believe, is that such reasoning is a rationalization. In this case they are rationalizing away any need to feel guilt for any bellicose or belligerent behavior on their part. But if they feel the need to do away with guilt, then along with it, should be the abolition of pride. Pride is unlikely to have existed in such an ancient society as did guilt. If people did not feel guilt, why suppose they felt pride? If everything was about the acquisition of honor and the avoidance of shame, then both pride and guilt wouldn't not have been part of the equation, considering that these are characteristics of a pride-guilt, individualistic society and not the characteristics of a honor-shame, collectivistic society. I am not sure what Sarfati's excuse is other than, I would guess, his deep personal hatred of anyone who has beliefs differing from his own and his urge to demonize those who disagree with him as being heretics, or worse, heathens, but Turkel's agenda, though inconsistent with his writings on the subject of historical context, is the need for victory. Turkel apparently believes that it's not just enough to be right but that a show of arrogance does equate with being the victor in people's minds (yes, he actually uses these exact words, too!) This is the name of the game: perception is everything. It ultimately doesn't matter of one's argument flies or not; it only matters if people perceive it as being effective. If you have won in people's minds, then you are the victor, period- your argument's cogency notwithstanding. This is what Turkel wants- to be perceived as the victor. It ultimately doesn't matter if his arguments are cogent (or even rational for that matter) rather as long as he can get people to think that his arguments are unanswerable then his job is done. This is not the attitude of an honest researcher seeking to educate people on a matter of historical interest. This is the workings of a spin doctor like we see in politics. Such people have no interest in objectively analyzing any facts- no, they're out to put a spin to every fact, to assure the party faithful that all is not lost and that there is a bright light ahead and they have already won, even when turbulent waters seem to indicate otherwise. This is ultimately Turkel's goal. He's there to put a spin on history and scholarship for Christians and trying his best to secure their faith, even if he has to bully and bludgeon skeptics mercilessly to do so. As long as he has created the impression of unassailable victory in the minds of the faithful, as long as he's perceived to be the victor- he is.
This is the reason why I decided that I was being far too polite to some Christians. I was trying to be overly diplomatic. I even found myself apologizing to some skeptics for Turkel's increasingly nasty behavior. I had the delusion that I could become an esteemed skeptic in the eyes of many Christians and a favorite discussion partner. I imagined myself as playing a similar role to liberal radio show host and commentator Alan Colmes. I imagined Turkel filling the role of Sean Hannity on the Fox News debate show Hannity and Colmes and I could fill a role similar to Colmes, even risking the chagrin of those in my own camp. However, as Christian astronomer and spin-doctor Hugh Ross has put it before: the cement seemed to crack almost before it had dried. In the course of trying to be a diplomatic and friendly skeptic, I noticed some very disturbing anomalies about Turkel. I noticed that an article is being hosted on Brooks Trubee's website regarding a lie of Turkel. The more and more I read this, it dawned on me that Turkel was lying. When I read his articles responding to some skeptics like Farrell Till, I noticed that Turkel was evading arguments he couldn't answer. On top of this, he was getting just outright nasty and belligerent towards not just skeptics who were not Bible scholars such as Till, Carr, Ed Babinski, and John Loftus but he was also getting really nasty with degreed scholars such as Robert M Price, Richard Carrier, and Bart Ehrman. Ehrman has never really written anything about Turkel or even responded to Turkel but that didn't stop Turkel from getting insulting and even downright condescending towards Ehrman. What did Ehrman do that was so bad that Turkel just had to smite him? Honestly, when I read Turkel's review of Ehrman's book Misquoting Jesus, I wanted to clobber him! I like Erhman, actually. I began to hate Turkel.
I wasn't sure what to do at one point. I had been accumulating these unpleasant and disturbing facts about Turkel yet I had actually grown to like having him as a discussion partner. Over the months, I painfully realized that I had befriended the wrong type of person. I didn't know what to do and I was embarrassed at the fact that he had gotten so insulting as to impugn on almost every skeptic except me! John Loftus decided to confront me. When he did so, I realized the gross error that I had made. Loftus had pointed out that Turkel has a habit of trying to get skeptics to come to his favorite hangout, "TheologyWeb" for the purpose of ganging up on them like a bully. I didn't know what to do! The straw that broke the camel's back was seeing him insult Loftus, Ed Babinski, and Bart Ehrman. I finally had enough and I decided to rebuke Turkel. I wrote a scathing rebuke with a tone of concern. One of Turkel's followers decided, then, to attack me, in an equally scornful and condescending way. When Turkel not only refused to apologize but this creep of a follower of his defended him, his attacks against others, that's when I began to really hate Turkel. I wrote a farewell to "TheologyWeb" and I decided at that point that I would have nothing to do with Turkel. I loathed Turkel and I hated this creep of a defender of his (he went by the name "Tophet" on "TheologyWeb").
I was so sorry that I had befriended Turkel. But some good came out of this. I have sought to mend fences with my fellow Skeptics. I have sought to gain the respect of those whose respect I have lost and to repair any friendships damaged. I felt that I had perhaps damaged my friendship with Richard Carrier but I haven't had. I feared that I lost or destroyed any chances for friendships with skeptics like Steven Carr but I haven't. I have turned over a new leaf of hope with skeptics like Farrell Till and I am glad if he regards me as a friendly acquaintance if I can put it that way. But it was primarily my break with Turkel that caused me to want to go back into wanting to destroy Christianity for some time. When I wrote an article series on visions, a Christian apologist named Jason Engwer wrote some responses. When I not only read his response to me but also another article he wrote as well as an article or two written about him, I became convinced that he was another Robert Turkel and that he needed to be cut down to size and stomped on. However, I realized that I was very and completely wrong to do so. Engwer was nothing like Turkel and is not the belligerent creep and bully that I believe Turkel is. I very much disagree with Engwer on a lot of things but he's not at all the spin-doctor and con-artist I consider Turkel to be. I was completely wrong to write such a scathing rebuttal and to anyone who doesn't know this- I completely apologize for every nasty thing I have said about Engwer. I just cringe when people uncritically link to Turkel and it's my sincere wish that honest and well-meaning Christians like Engwer will eventually see through Turkel for what he is. I'd like to see someone like Engwer attend a seminary and get an advanced degree in theology so he won't have to rely on anything written by Turkel but he seems not at all interested in doing so and doesn't seem interested in investigating Turkel. I regret this and I honestly wish Engwer would seriously reconsider.
Another Christian who I have not had all so many pleasant exchanges with is Steve Hays. When I wrote my negative rebuttal to Engwer, Hays seized upon it as proof that I was just an angry skeptic going through a rebellious period in my life. I wrote a response to Hays, deciding against a snotty tone and, instead, deciding to use friendly satire with Hays. I honestly felt sorry for Hays. Ever since I encountered his writings on his blog, I imagined him to be some dried-out, humorless old man who had a very sad life and so I decided to humor him a bit. He was dead-wrong about me, I felt, but I was sorry about the tone that I took with Engwer and so I thought I would try and humor him with a bit of satire. I am not sure what I was thinking- I regret writing it and I regard it as a foolish thing to do. Hays wrote a response (titled "Damage Control") which I hadn't read because I really had no interest in engaging with Hays. Hays struck me as a bit of a sophist and didn't seem to understand my arguments, and so I thought that detailed and lengthy exchanges with Hays might prove futile. After all, even a Catholic apologist, Dave Armstrong considered both Engwer and Hays to be sophists and I agreed with Armstrong on this point. I thought that lengthy discussions or even debates with Hays and Engwer would prove futile. They would misunderstand my arguments and while Engwer would probably maintain a very civil and respectful tone, I honestly expected nothing but haughty sarcasm from Hays.
But it was my break with Turkel and my anger at his haughty and belligerent ways that almost set me on the course I once disavowed and find myself disavowing again. I don't want to be unnecessarily confrontational to all Christians. I just want to be confrontational to Christians like Turkel, Sarfati, and Walton, who I believe need to be knocked down a number of notches. It's Christians like these who give Christianity a bad name. I wish nothing to do directly with Turkel right now although I can see myself writing critiques of his apologetics in the future and responding to him. I have no desire for a debate with Turkel nor do I wish to walk into Turkel's favorite "lion's den" for skeptics (I mean, of course, "TheologyWeb"). I have no interest in being around any haughty Christians who seem to thrive on being belligerent with skeptics the way that Turkel is. I simply do not have the time, patience, or will to endure any abuse by his followers. I cannot imagine any self-respecting skeptic would want to go there anymore these days. Price's book was a wake-up call and while I intend to engage in counter-apologetics and myth-debunking, I don't want to sink to the level of those Christians who believe that bullying tactics and self-righteous snobbery and belligerent argumentation is the proper way to push skeptics onto their side of the fence or into silence if they don't convert joyfully and enthusiastically.
I do hope to get along with all people of all persuasions, especially Christians. I wouldn't find myself writing this, had I just picked another Christian besides Robert Turkel to be a discussion partner, although I don't know what would've became of my previous attempts at being a little too diplomatic. I'd very much like one of these days to find a new discussion partner who is a committed Evangelical Christian. I do want that Christian to be very well-read and educated because, frankly, I would like to learn from that Christian as I hope that Christian would like to be willing to learn from me as well. I gladly offer it to any Christian as long as that Christian is a very humble, friendly, and tolerant Christian. Friendliness, respect, and humility are good virtues and any friendly discussion would have to be a two-way street. Both participants would have to be friendly, respectful, and humble to each other. Confidence is always good and very admirable but confidence should be balanced by humility or it can escalate unhealthily into arrogance which I definitely do not need anymore of.
In closing this, I would like to apologize for something. I regret that I may have come across as arrogant and combative to some Christians. For this I am really sorry. I'd like to think that I only act arrogant and combative purely as a responsive tone to those who would act that way first to me, but I realize that I need not sink to the level of those who would be so spiteful as to smite me by throwing the first stone. Sometimes I find myself engaging in pissing contests of these kinds and I am not proud of it when I do. But when I am being inconsistent or, even worse, hypocritical, sometimes the best thing for me to do is to ask forgiveness and offer to mend my ways. This is what I did with Engwer and Hays. I felt bad about the response I wrote to Engwer so I offered to debate Engwer or Hays on gentler and friendlier terms and this was to compensate for my earlier tone and to illustrate that I am serious for mending any bad behavior or poor examples I have shown. When I apologize for something, I am usually very sincere and heavy-hearted when I do so. I expect to be forgiven and I am not so naive as to think that everything can be mended with a simple apology, no matter how deep. I am often willing to mend for any bad behavior on my part as a sign of how sincerely I regret bad behavior. If someone feels that I have somehow wronged them or treated them unfairly or unjustly, please let me know. If there is an apology to be had, I will definitely apologize and I should be more than willing to make amends for my bad behavior.
Matthew J Green
[Author's Editorial Note: The original text of this post contained a sentence or so that was inaccurate and misleading. I apologize to my readers for inaccurate and misleading remarks in this text. I have amended the text to correct them. It was not my intent to deceive, rather I take the blame for some poorly chosen words and have since reworded the text to make it more accurate. Everything is now accurately expressed to my knowledge]