An Open Letter to Peter Kirby

Peter Kirby was an atheist then a Catholic and now he says he’s not quite one or the other.

Looks to me this choice of his is a forced one, as William James wrote about. It seems to be an agonizing one for him. Agnosticism isn't an option for him. Okay. But there are two other options for him. I want to offer them up here.

One option is Christian atheism, or secular Christianity. This theological view was the one that hit the cover of Time magazine in the ‘60’s. It stems from things Nietzsche said that Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about during WWII in the face of Hitler, which in turn was developed into a theology by Gabriel Vahanian, Paul van Buren, William Hamilton and Thomas J. J. Altizer. You can Google these theologians to read more. Today Don Cupitt in his book Taking Leave of God is a modern defender of this view.

The second option is to protest the lack of evidence and the lack of a caring God by proclaiming yourself an atheist, even though you aren’t sure he doesn’t exist. Theologian John Roth has developed a “Theodicy of Protest” to deal with the problem of evil which can be seen in a chapter for the book edited by Stephen T. Davis, called Encountering Evil: Live Options in Theodicy (John Knox Press, 1981). Roth protests the evil in the world by attempting to shame God into doing what is right. Likewise, Kirby can protest the lack of evidence and the lack of a caring God by proclaiming himself an atheist. I do that. Why not?

14 comments:

Robert said...

Greetings Friends: Why should a reasonable person not commit to non-belief in response to the hiddenness of God and the problem of evil?

A reason I can think of is related to us by Numbers 25:4 "And the LORD said unto Moses, Take all the heads of the people, and hang them up before the LORD against the sun, that the fierce anger of the LORD may be turned away from Israel."
and Numbers 25:9 "And those that died in the plague were twenty and four thousand."

It appears that a biblical precedent has been established that by beheading and human sacrificing 24,000 sexy Jews and subsequently hanging up against the sun the 24,000 heads that the fierce anger of YHWH/Jesus will be turned away. Therefore, if one can obtain 24,000 sexy Jews, behead them, and hang up the heads against the sun then there will no longer be need to protest the hiddenness or evil of YHWH/Jesus since by hanging up the 24,000 heads YHWH/Jesus will then leave you alone. But on the other hand, this might only work if one is named Moses, so maybe the former course is better after all; it certainly would be safer because its highly unlikely that 24,000 sexy Jews would be willing to become human sacrifices. Plus the rental fees on the dozers and excavators needed to bury the bodies would be prohibitive. Plus all the screaming, and blood, and chopping might give a person a headache.

Robert said...

But, but, but by adopting atheism to protest YHWH/Jesus' hiddenness and the problem of evil, isn't a person trying to persuade YHWH/Jesus to actually mess with themselves? If so, then sacrificing 24,000 sexy Jews is the opposite thing one should do. Instead a person should do like the child of Israel, Zimri, mentioned in Numbers 25:6-15. Zimri brought his Midianite girlfriend into his tent, but according to the story: "And when Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw [it], he rose up from among the congregation, and took a javelin in his hand;
And he went after the man of Israel into the tent, and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her belly." So if we actually want YHWH/Jesus to mess with us, then we should be like Zimri. That will make all those zealous Christians who would be like Phinehas happy to have excuse for javelin (or assault rifle) practice.

But then again, if the zealous Christian acts like Phinehas then YHWH/Jesus will as in Numbers 25:12-13 give us a covenant of peace and a permanent cushy job. But then the zealous Christioan would find themselves back at the starting place with us, trying to figure out why YHWH/Jesus is hidden and how to answer Epicurius.

"Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?"
-Epicurius

Robert said...

Ok, jokes aside. I paraphrased John Loftus by writing "Why should a reasonable person not commit to non-belief in response to the hiddenness of God and the problem of evil?" In light of the inability of any Christian believer to answer Dawson Bethrick's challenge (http://bahnsenburner.blogspot.com/) How can any person in the world reliably distinguish the difference between what the Christian thinks God is and what they imagine God to be? The utter failure of Christians to answer to this simple challenge is ample reason to abandon faith in YHWH/Jesus. But there are more reasons than that. http://www.seesharppress.com/20reasons.html

Honestly, I can't think of any reason to believe. YHWH isn't real and Jesus, if he actually existed, was a false eschatological prophet, and is now dead. Maybe a Christian reader will supply an answer to Bethrick's challenge.

Jason said...

Robert,

If Numbers 25 is a precedent, where else in Scripture do believers kill 24,000 Jews to turn away the wrath of God, and where in Scripture are they instructed to do so?

John W. Loftus said...

Jason, you waste our time talking about the peripheral issues. Can you say something about the main points once in a while? That's the reason I rejected this comment previously. Because this is not a place for nitpicking or grade school level arguments. Get the point. I'm not letting some of your comments go through precisely because they waste our time.

Jason said...

John,

You've allowed Robert's comment about Numbers 25 to be posted. I'm simply addressing it.

John W. Loftus said...

I must say though, that secular Christianity can be described as atheism. So why call it "Christianity" when all is said and done? Why bother with that label? It doesn't make sense to me. Most professing Christians reject it. Atheists reject it. It doesn't gain anything. So why bother?

Evan said...

So why call it "Christianity" when all is said and done? Why bother with that label? It doesn't make sense to me.

Perhaps to maintain political viability if the person some day wants to run for office?

Hamilcar said...

I think I've heard that Bob Price, the bible scholar, still goes to church and considers himself a member of a congregation, despite being an atheist, philosophically.

He explains that he values his church for its cultural and community aspects, and that's why he still goes.

JUSTIN said...

(Like a moth to a flame...)

Dawson Bethrick's challenge:
You say your god is real, that it truly exists. Can you explain how I can reliably distinguish between what you call “God” and what you may merely be imagining?


You cannot make any such distinction in my experiences (real or imagined), simply because you did not and cannot experience them. Therefore such a distinguishing of another's subjective experience is wholly unreliable.

You must experience God yourself before you can distinguish whether it was real or imagined.

IOW... Don't take my word for it.

Scary Jesus said...

Kirby can protest the lack of evidence and the lack of a caring God by proclaiming himself an atheist. I do that. Why not?

Smokin' post! That's exactly why I'm an atheist. Being an ex-minister I can understand that "undoing" of being a Christian. That pretty much sums it up.

Robert said...

Justin wrote: "You must experience God yourself before you can distinguish whether it was real or imagined."

When I was a born again, Spirit filled, Pentecostal Christian I felt a feeling that I identified as the "real presence" of God. I experienced what I thought was direct interaction with God. When I learned that the physical evidence of reality does not support the claims of Christianity, that the Bible does not describe a set of historical events, that the Genesis Creation account is not true, that there is no evidence for the proto-Hebrews being held as slaves by the ancient Egyptians, that there is likewise no evidence for the Exodus, Joshua's military conquest, a unified Kingdom of Israel under David & Solomon, that the lying pens of the scribes ala Jer. 8:8 falsified the Torah, that there is no good evidence for the historicity or resurrection of Jesus, that the uniformity of nature entails naturalism, that logic arises from the brute fact of existence, that atheistic arguments from the impossibility of the God of classical theism are true and cannot be refuted, that TAG fails and that TANG stands, that the confused and mundane landscape of Christianity contradicts the alleged majesty and grandeur of Jehovah/Jesus, that the reasonable unbelief of people like John Loftus (who having spent a lifetime searching for Jehovah/Jesus come up empty), that all the traditional arguments for the existence of Jehovah/Jesus fail, all caused me to realize that my own personal religious experience was indistinguishable from my imagination.

Justin wrore ".... another's subjective experience..."

Justin admits here that the Christian religious experience is "subjective experience". Without a means to distinguish the difference between a mentally subjective imaginary experience and objective reality, the Christian's religious experience appears the same as an imaginative thought object. A human being can imagine many different imaginary fictional beings with any imaginary attributes. In my own case, the Christian experience I lived through was then and is now indistinguishable from my imagination. Right now as I type these words, I think I feel the burning in the chest region of my body that I once was taught to recognize and identify as the "real presence" of the Holy Spirit. However, I now know that since it is impossible for Jehovah/Jesus to exist, the feeling I experienced then and now must be the result of my brain activity, (i.e.: my imagination). What is true for me is likely true for all other human beings as we are all very genetically similar.

But more importantly, human beings know beyond the shadow of a doubt that to believe that a theistic creator deity exists and is responsible for reality, one must think the deity a primordial consciousness that wished reality to instantiate. Further, a theism/creationism believer must believe their deity was in some timeless fashion akin to "before" existence alone in a timeless, non-spatial, void without anything or any knowledge, alone as a consciousness, conscious of nothing or only itself. But this is categorically impossible, for to be conscious is to be aware of reality, and meta-consciousness must necessarily rest upon a foundation of awareness. That consciousness is awareness of reality is indisputable. Without reality there can be no awareness; without awareness there can be no consciousness. Consequently, there could not have been a primordial consciousness responsible for causing reality to obtain. Lacking a valid or sound concept of "creator", all theistic or deistic religions crumble to incoherent nonsense. Jehovah/Jesus is impossible, and personal religious experience is indistinguishable from imagination. I refer you to Dawson Bethrick's blogs " The Imaginative Basis of Vytautas' God-Belief" at http://bahnsenburner.blogspot.com/2008/01/imaginative-basis-of-vytautas-god.html

Trou said...

I too was a born again, Spirit filled, Pentecostal Christian and I experienced the presence of God. Except that it turned out it was my own feelings and excitement. As an unbeliever, I now recognize this clearly.
At the time though, I thought the feeling was the real thing. But looking back it is plain to me that this "presence of God" had to have a few songs and prayers before it could appear - always in the same order and always building to a fevered pitch. It was formulaic. It was like a sermon or any good speech. It had to be done right or the desired effect wouldn't be achieved.
So it wasn't the presence of God after all. It was my emotional response to all the excitement just like attending a sporting event. Tell me Christians. Are you sure that this presence is real or just your emotions? How can you tell for sure? You can't say that one has to experience this for one's self because I have and I was wrong. Could you be wrong too?

JUSTIN said...

Robert said...
I experienced what I thought was direct interaction with God. When I learned that the physical evidence of reality does not support the claims of Christianity [snip] all caused me to realize that my own personal religious experience was indistinguishable from my imagination.

I don't believe you came upon that decision lightly.

Justin admits here that the Christian religious experience is "subjective experience". [snip] What is true for me is likely true for all other human beings as we are all very genetically similar.

Likely, perhaps, but not necessarily. There are too many things that contributed to your eventual decision, like your upbringing, the brand of Christianity you practiced (read, interpretation), your experiences and relationships with people, etc—all of which in that combination are uniquely your—to be able conclusively state what is true for you is true for everyone. You may be right (“right” meaning close enough to be comparable) some of the time, possibly much of the time, but not all of the time.

... to believe that a theistic creator deity exists and is responsible for reality, one must think the deity a primordial consciousness that wished reality to instantiate [and] must believe their deity was in some timeless fashion akin to "before" existence alone in a timeless, non-spatial, void without anything or any knowledge, alone as a consciousness, conscious of nothing or only itself. But this is categorically impossible, for to be conscious is to be aware of reality, and meta-consciousness must necessarily rest upon a foundation of awareness. [snip] Without reality there can be no awareness; without awareness there can be no consciousness. Consequently, there could not have been a primordial consciousness responsible for causing reality to obtain. Lacking a valid or sound concept of "creator"...

So you accuse the believer of a circular logic, much like the chicken and the egg? One cannot be without or before the other? Yet you assume, for your purposes, that as the basis for the belief in a creator.

The theistic believer must not necessarily believe there was “nothing” or void before this universe existed; even if there was “something” there is no observable evidence for it, now. Primacy of Existence says that does not matter, anyway, if it existed, it did. I, personally, don't have a strong opinion about it one way or the other, except that my “imaginations” and experiences lead me to conclude this universe was created, and as such there must be a Creator. The realm or conditions in which that Creator existed prior to the Big Bang cannot possibly be determined with any sort of reliability. My opinion on the matter, as well as yours, are pure speculation. Logical perhaps, but speculation none the less.

... all theistic or deistic religions crumble to incoherent nonsense. Jehovah/Jesus is impossible, and personal religious experience is indistinguishable from imagination. I refer you...

Okay. Define “reality”.

You state there was not any reality prior. You cannot prove the negative (and shouldn't be expected to), and I surely cannot prove the positive without evidence.

I am willing to allow for the possibility of a reality prior to this universe, a reality that existed (or exists) with no discernible evidence available to me.

You seem to state that because there is no evidence, no prior reality existed, or exists, and it is impossible anyway.

Since there is no evidential arbiter to prove you or I correct, we are left with “want” as the only basis. I “want” to believe it, you don't (I assume).

To me, that is the absolutely most critical cornerstone of faith and belief: do you want to believe it or don't you? If you don't want to believe, nothing will ever convince you. If you do want to believe no evidence to the contrary will deter you from it.

Trou said...
I too was a born again, Spirit filled, Pentecostal Christian...

I'm beginning to notice a pattern, here.

It was formulaic.

I rest my case.

Tell me Christians. [snip] Could you be wrong too?

Yep, I could be.