John F. Haught Responds To My Review of His Book, God and the New Atheism

I am honored, of course, in having a scholar like Dr. Haught write a response to my review. There have been five parts to it: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4; and Part 5. Here is his response in full:

October 11, 2008

Dear John,

Thanks for your five-part review of my book. I’m especially impressed that you have avoided the lovelessness and ad hominem attacks featured by some other blogs on the topic. I do not agree with most of your criticisms, but I appreciate your non-defensive reaction to my book, and I think you have made an honest attempt to look for points where we might find common ground. Perhaps a longer book on my part might have prevented some misunderstandings, but my editors wanted me to be brief. Some of your criticisms have been addressed already in other books of mine such as Is Nature Enough?, God After Darwin, What Is God?, and Christianity and Science.

There is too much in your critique for me to address here, so let me just mention three items. First, I did not wish to give the impression that Sartre, Camus, and Nietzsche speak for all atheists, although this is how you read my intention. I simply see their writings as articulating what I consider to be the ultimate implications of any atheism that is thought out with thoroughgoing logical consistency. You do not agree with this, it is clear, but my point is precisely that Nietzsche and Sartre do not speak for most atheists since the latter, in defending moral values they have inherited from a Christian culture, are still theistic at heart.

Secondly, I cannot help noticing your own sincere sense of disillusionment with the biblical God who does not live up to your ideal of how an appropriate deity should behave. In this respect you seem to agree with Dawkins and Hitchens whose moral idealism I discuss in Chapter 8. Like them you are disappointed, even scandalized, that the Bible is so often crude and that its portraits of God don’t always measure up to what most of us now expect of truly moral persons. You rightly point out that scholars have read the Bible with diverse hermeneutical perspectives, but most of them no longer read the Bible in the moralistic and accusatory way that you and the new atheists do. I am by no means alone in holding that the dominant biblical contribution—from Genesis to Revelation—is not moral instruction, but an emphasis on the themes of liberation, promise, and the need to trust in spite of all present doubts about there being any final redemptive meaning to history and the universe. Whether this trust is justifiable in an age of science is a major theme in my other books, but here I cannot say any more in defense of it.

My point, for now, is that in reading the Bible we don’t need to look to it primarily as moral instruction. If we do we will be disappointed, as you have been. People, including most atheists, can be quite moral without having to read the Bible. Morality is not the main point. Here I agree with A. N. Whitehead: “Conduct is a by-product of religion—an inevitable by-product, but not the main point. Every great religious teacher has revolted against the presentation of religion as a mere sanction of rules of conduct. . . . The insistence upon rules of conduct marks the ebb of religious fervor.”

My own theological formation, which I share with many other Christians, has led me to read the Bible in the spirit of Jesus’s main concern, namely, that people, starting with the most immoral of us, should trust that our lives have everlasting value in spite of all pain, death, mourning, persecution, personal failings, and needless guilt heaped upon us by the morally righteous.

It is hard for me to read the New Testament without noticing how thoroughly it subordinates moral instruction to trust (pistis, which is often translated as faith or hope). Hope gives rise to moral aspiration, not vice-versa. Paul’s letters typically lay out his new vision of hope before daring to undertake moral exhortation. In the Gospels, when Peter and the disciples exhibit their weaknesses Jesus does not say to them “why did you not behave”?, but “why did you not trust?” As S. Kierkegaard puts it, “the opposite of (moral) evil is not virtue but faith.” When I read the Hebrew Scriptures I don’t ask “why doesn't Yahweh behave better?” Rather, I ask “how can I and my fellow seekers capture for our own age, especially an age of science and evolution, some of the spirit of hope that led our ancestors in faith to look toward ultimate liberation and a redemptive future?”

Reading and interpreting the scriptures, I would add, has always been selective in every age, whether people are aware of it or not. Jesus, for example, left out the barbarism and vengefulness in the Torah, Psalms, Prophets, and historical books while radicalizing the message of hope and love. The selectivity of his reading is an inherent part of his message.

You and the new atheists are no less selective than generations of Christians have been when they have focused on morals rather than faith. Like them, you are still looking primarily (and I think wrongly) for the Bible to provide unambiguous moral teaching and ethically pure role models. This becomes clear to me when you write, for example, that Haught “utterly fails to understand that there would be no need to reform the Church from sanctioning such things as heretic and witch killings, along with slavery, racism and sexism, if God was clear from the beginning. God could’ve said things like: ‘Thou shalt not buy, beat, trade, or own slaves,’ and said it as often as needed without giving contradictory advice. If God was this clear from the beginning [my emphasis] there would be nothing to reform in the first place.”

Here your demand for moral purity is accompanied by an ahistorical perfectionistic ideal of biblical inspiration (which you share with Sam Harris who demands that the Bible give us not only perfect moral teaching but also perfect science and mathematics). Here I wonder if you are not still clinging to your own prior religious assumptions. Am I wrong to suggest that, like the new atheists, you still implicitly idealize a rigorously exacting (I do not want to say literalist) ideal of biblical inerrancy and a theologically traditionalist unwillingness to tolerate ambiguity in sacred scriptures and in humanity’s long religious search? What else would account for the transparent annoyance you express that the Bible and Yahweh did not get things perfectly right “in the first place.” Here there is a major difference between your theological criteria and those that I and many other theologians share.

At this point, judging from your blog, I can anticipate that your next step may be to repeat the new atheist’s typical reproach that I have departed from theological rectitude and am not playing by the rules. The Bible, you will insist, is supposed to be inspired, inerrant, and morally perfect, and yet we now know (from natural and historical science) that it is all poisoned by the ambiguity, contingency, and messiness of history. Therefore, Christian faith is false.

I don’t know whether the following observation applies to you, but in the case of Bart Ehrman and many other ex-Christian ministers and theologians I have often sensed a refusal to let go of what I consider to be deeply entrenched, but unrealistically lofty, assumptions about biblical inspiration, inerrancy, morality, and ancient peoples’ images of deity. I am only one of countess Christians and theologians who simply do not share these perfectionistic and ahistorical ideals. I even judge them to be contrary to the incarnational thrust of the ancient Christian creeds. Like everything else in an unfinished universe I am not surprised that human spirituality is still coming into being. And if it is still evolving and remains unfinished, it seems inappropriate to expect perfection at this point in its genesis. Maybe your own disillusionment with your previous understanding of Christian faith is part of this ongoing creative process.

In any case, the misplaced traditional emphasis on the Bible as moral instruction culminated in the banality of the 19th century Christian “liberalism” that Barth and other dialectical theologians rightly chastised for its refusal to look for deeper biblical themes. You have also expressed moral disillusionment, while Dawkins has erupted in outrage, at the moral backwardness of parts of Scripture. This reaction, I would say, is also the consequence of a very selective reading, since other readers have highlighted the Johannine theme of charity and the new wave of hope that the Bible introduced to the ancient world.

Thirdly, your accusation that the God I believe in is a distant do-nothing deity, seems inaccurate. In God and the New Atheism I cited Pope John Paul II’s words:
“‘The prime commitment of theology is the understanding of God’s kenosis [self-emptying], a grand and mysterious truth for the human mind, which finds it inconceivable that suffering and death can express a love which gives itself and seeks nothing in return.’ No theological radical himself, John Paul expressed here what countless other Christian thinkers now agree is the radical message of Christian faith. The God who for Christians became manifest in Jesus of Nazareth is vulnerable, defenseless love. It is this same love that Christians confess to be the ultimate environment, ground, and destiny of all being."
In light of this citation from my book I find it hard to understand your accusation that my God is a “distant” one. The God I believe in is unsurpassably near and intimate. I could have cited countless other Catholic and Protestant theologians who have made the same point, but by citing the Pope’s own words I wanted readers to know that I am not outside the boundaries of Christian theological tradition, and that I write as a committed Catholic. In spite of all its imperfections and ambiguities—and they are many—it is still a source of inspiration and hope to me and many others.

Yours cordially,

John

John F. Haught, Ph. D.
Senior Fellow, Science & Religion
Woodstock Theological Center
Box 571137
Georgetown University
Washington, DC 20057

25 comments:

Evan said...

I'm pleased at the carefulness with which Dr. Haught has looked at your arguments, John. I think if the world were a different place, he and I would have very little to argue about, as he seems to accept the primacy of evidence when deciding claims of fact, which is really the most important point humans need to agree upon.

But the world is not a different place. The world is inhabited by extremely superstitious people, the vast majority of whom believe in things for which there is no evidence, which causes them to behave in ways they would not otherwise, often badly.

A majority of American Christians believe the earth is less than 10,000 years old. Dr. Haught may not feel the need to worry about this, but I do. The fact that this is the most popular version of Christianity in the US means that theologians like Dr. Haught are simply not doing their jobs. They aren't convincing the rest of Bible schools, theological seminaries and ecumenical councils that the earth is old, the Bible is errant, and the picture of God given by the Bible is false.

In addition, it's an odd God he worships who seems full of mystery. Obviously as a Catholic, Dr. Haught, who quoted John Paul II here, must believe that a cracker mystically turns into the "substance" of a God-man when it is properly blessed. How does this give us hope? What does it make us trust?

In addition, if the Bible does not give valuable moral instruction, is not historically accurate and gives an inaccurate picture of the deity it talks about -- what the hell good is it, really?

The Iliad is inspiring. The Odyssey gives moral instruction. The Aeneid gives hope that things work together for good. What is it about the Bible that is superior to those texts?

Tyro said...

Dr Haught acknowledges that the portrait of God in the bible is very negative. I don't get a clear impression of what we as readers should think about this except that we shouldn't focus on it. Are these portraits accurate but in Dr Haught's opinion irrelevant, or are they inaccurate? If the former then I don't see how they could be irrelevant as we would be morally bound to fight this monster and not place our trust in Him. If the latter then what use is the bible? If it's metaphorical then why not relegate the bible to be just one of many inspirational works humans have written over the years?

The response here sounds as if Dr Haught accepts the bible as accurate but doesn't address the character of God yet I suspect he would think the character of a leader would be of the utmost importance in any other domain. I hear him saying that morals aren't the primary focus and we should listen to what Jesus says about other issues but why? Charles Manson has written about how we should live our lives and perhaps there is some value in there if we are willing to overlook his gross moral failings but who is willing? We turn to those whose lives and character we admire and we seek inspiration from them so the question of God's character seems very relevant.

Charlie said...

Haught is correct. Loftus, the idealistic, hyper-perfectionistic standards you impose on the bible are seriously misguided, given that the major biblical themes were never intended to satisfy them.


BTW, since Evan can present no empirical evidence for the philosophical assumption that "we should only believe things for which there is evidence", I take it he believes in some things without evidence.

Evan said...

I can present lots of evidence for it, Charlie.

This computer, for one. The development of modern sewage, refrigeration, transit -- all made possible by a mindset that requires evidence for beliefs.

Scott said...

Charlie wrote: Haught is correct. Loftus, the idealistic, hyper-perfectionistic standards you impose on the bible are seriously misguided, given that the major biblical themes were never intended to satisfy them.

So then what should we make of 2 Timothy 3:16-17?

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

On one hand, God is capable of feats of staggering accuracy, such as fine-tuning universe to support human life and, if Genesis is inaccurate, cause the universe to unfold in just such a way that evolution would produce human beings we see today 13+ billion years later.

But this same God creates a Bible that can only "truly" understood by those who share Haught's views, 2,000 years and nearly 25 lifetimes after it was written?

Stargazer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stargazer said...

This portion of Dr. Haught's response was what most pointedly caught my attention:

My own theological formation, which I share with many other Christians, has led me to read the Bible in the spirit of Jesus’s main concern, namely, that people, starting with the most immoral of us, should trust that our lives have everlasting value in spite of all pain, death, mourning, persecution, personal failings, and needless guilt heaped upon us by the morally righteous.

I think this idea that our lives has everlasting value (others would say a sense of meaning) is what drives much of religious belief of any stripe. This need for some external form of confirmation of eternal worth, that this world and our experience of it is not simply the end, requires the guarantee supplied by religious belief. While we cannot state with certainty that our being does NOT continue beyond death in some form or another, the deep-rooted desire for this to be accepted as truth is not reason enough to assert that it is, indeed, true.

Yoo said...

I'm a bit unsure of what Dr. Haught is saying here. Is he saying that the Bible is nothing more than one source of literature? (Not a particular good one, IMHO.) I'd agree with this, but I'm pretty sure this isn't the case.

The problem is that I don't really see any arguments supporting anything else. The closest being, to put it in flippant terms, that God is the "funny feeling in my head", which is a rather meaningless argument.

I'm missing something here ...

Andre the lay dude said...

I'm with Evan, Tyro and Scott. Some Christians like to make it seem like they've always interpret the Bible as they currently do now. They say, "oh, I'm not one of those Christians!" "That's not the God I believe in!" Etc. And then they ask you where did you get that idea from, as if they have no clue.

When you're on a bus and someone gets up screaming at loud teenagers, "you kids, why do have to behave like this, you're gonna go to hell, you're gonna burn!!" where does he get that idea from? This is an example of a bad influence stemming from the "holy scriptures". Reading Mr. Haught's reply, I was waiting for him to say the point we should take from the Bible is that we should all have trust, hope, and faith to persevere in life, but that the god of the Bible is not literal. I think maybe if Christianity had such a view, it and the Bible would be better off.

How can non-believers be blamed for not understanding God, when he's a god in the eye of the beholder type. Before Christians try and attempt to prove God to skeptics, they need to work on him, with their fellow brothers and sisters. As I see it, at least half is living in fear of not receiving eternal life, which indicates, the Bible is just another form of mental abuse.

uzzas said...

I'm with Yoo. I was astounded to read that the point of the Bible is not moral instruction. I always thought it was, and I know exactly where that idea came from--the priests and nuns that drilled it into me for 12 years.

Talk like Dr Haught's would have earned us the ruler: but everybody would have been a lot happier.

AdamH said...

The same atheists who tell the Christians that they must interpret the bible "literally" really get upset when someone tries to interpret other things that very way...for example, the Constitution of the United States.

For example, looking through it I see no right to an abortion, etc.

Samutheus said...

Evan wrote: The Iliad is inspiring. The Odyssey gives moral instruction. The Aeneid gives hope that things work together for good. What is it about the Bible that is superior to those texts?

Then again, when all these texts are ultimately at the same level, why not choose the Bible - to cite some of Dr. Haught's words - for some "selective" reading to extract some "inspiration and hope" from it?

This way the Bible is not left only for the vulgar theologians to use solely for hatemongering and such.

As everyone probably agrees, the problem is not the Christians like Dr. Haught, who can mix some civility with their reading of the Bible and take a poetic view of their faith, but the Christians who can't.

Evan wrote: [T]heologians like Dr. Haught are simply not doing their jobs.

I agree. I am worried about the evangelical Christianity in the States even though I live in Europe, and I believe Dr. Haught should be even more worried.

Nevertheless he shouldn't abandon his enlightened faith - at least it looks like an enlightened faith based on this response. Instead he should embrace it more fully and promote his vision of "an emphasis on the themes of liberation, promise, and the need to trust" even more clearly.

Not everyone needs to be "Debunking Christianity". I think it profits us all to have some punch from inside the more 'lenient' variants of Christianity.

Tyro said...

I think it profits us all to have some punch from inside the more 'lenient' variants of Christianity.

If liberal Christians devoted as much ink and talk time to the problems with fundamentalism or Creationism as they do to attacking atheism or promoting faith in general then I would agree. But the tepid defences of their liberal interpretation seem to be just that - defences. When they're attacked by atheists then they write to tell us how wrong and mistaken we are, but very little seems to be done to deal with the dangers within their own ranks.

Can someone tell me if this impression is mistaken? I can think of one maybe two prominent exceptions but I've seen Muslims band together with Christians to combat atheism, the Pope speaks out constantly about the evils of secularism yet not about the evils of fundamentalism or "incorrect" bible interpretations. It seems that despite what Haught and others say about how we should read the bible, theists of all stripes would rather promote faith of any variety than secularism. We see books devoted to lecturing atheists about how badly mistaken we are about the nature of God yet where are the books within the Christian community attacking, say, Rick Warren, LaHaye, the faith healers or the prosperity gospel folks? Instead we see over 30 books ("fleas") in response to Dawkins and Harris and hopefully Loftus will attract the same attention.


It's all fine and dandy for a Christian apologist to say to an atheist that we've got it wrong but quite another to turn to other Christians and say the same thing. Where are the new lines of thought which show that Catholicism is wrong? Are there even any apologists that think about which denomination or bible interpretation is "right" or do they just focus on defending faith in general? Apologetic arguments like "design" or "first cause" just point to some nebulous god-figure at best and many of the prominent apologists devote a lot of time to these arguments and leave the much thornier questions of exactly how to read and interpret the bible to individual people and individual churches. Is it any wonder that protests claiming one particular bible interpretation is wrong come across as hollow?

Steven Carr said...

'“‘the prime commitment of theology is the understanding of God’s kenosis [self-emptying], a grand and mysterious truth for the human mind, which finds it inconceivable that suffering and death can express a love which gives itself and seeks nothing in return.’'

This is meaningless nonsense.

However, I will remember to give religion 'nothing in return'

It is what God would have wanted.

Badger3k said...

Adam H:
"The same atheists who tell the Christians that they must interpret the bible "literally" really get upset when someone tries to interpret other things that very way...for example, the Constitution of the United States.

For example, looking through it I see no right to an abortion, etc.The same atheists who tell the Christians that they must interpret the bible "literally" really get upset when someone tries to interpret other things that very way...for example, the Constitution of the United States.

For example, looking through it I see no right to an abortion, etc."

Amendment IX (The enumeration in the Constitution, or certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people) and even X (The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people) illustrate that people have rights that are not in the Constitution (such as the right to vote - participate equally in society - that were so contentious that new amendments had to be made, a sad point). The right of women to control their own body equal to a man's (over superstitious beliefs of some sects) is an inherent right when we say that men and women are equal (or even "created equal" for the superstitious). That wasn't the basis for the Roe v Wade ruling, though, a bizarre point to be sure. Seeing how the anti-choice crowd have increasingly become more vocal in their support of prohibiting all forms of birth control, among some other things (the actions of some put millions at risk of disease and death in Africa, for ex), put paid to the "pro-life" lie.

If you want to argue for immaterial souls and want to define what a person is, different religions have different points on that (ranging from conception to first breath, even at the first birthday), then we need a neutral, secular definition - currently that is about when the brain and nervous system are developed, around the third trimester (IIRC - I may be wrong at this point). Of course, that leads to arguments about "pain" and such, but here's not the place for that.

RabidRabbit said...

Lowering your standards doesn't suddenly make the girl you are with less ugly. This relatively new way at looking at the Bible doesn't really change anything

Icelander said...

"Here your demand for moral purity is accompanied by an ahistorical perfectionistic ideal of biblical inspiration"

We aren't the ones insisting on god's perfection. We're simply putting that hypothesis to the test, and finding that it fails miserably. A perfect being should be able to provide perfect morality, perfect science, and perfect mathematics. And an omnipotent being would be able to make that perfection persist through the filter of imperfect transcription. The god that inspired the Bible obviously does not.

"I am by no means alone in holding that the dominant biblical contribution—from Genesis to Revelation—is not moral instruction, but an emphasis on the themes of liberation, promise, and the need to trust in spite of all present doubts about there being any final redemptive meaning to history and the universe."

Where is the liberation and promise in Joshua 8? Where is the liberation in the endless list of rules in Leviticus and Deuteronomy that have lead to so much suffering?

"Like everything else in an unfinished universe I am not surprised that human spirituality is still coming into being. "

If it is unfinished, then the Bible is unfinished as well. Why not edit out "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live?" And the genocide committed by the Israelites in Joshua. And the gang rape and murder of the concubine in Judges. Or at least rework them so that they're not held up as examples of god's will.

There is so much in the Bible that is misconstrued by lay people when interpreting scripture. The Bible has been edited before. Perhaps the editing of the Bible now is part of the evolution of human spirituality.

"This reaction, I would say, is also the consequence of a very selective reading, since other readers have highlighted the Johannine theme of charity and the new wave of hope that the Bible introduced to the ancient world"

Christianity, inspired by the Bible being the be all and end all of philosophical thought, destroyed the schools of philosophy in Greece and burned texts. Only until the Ancient Greek texts made their way to Christian Europe through Muslim Spain was there any real progress in terms of human thought and scientific inquiry.

Steven Carr said...

HAUGHT
My own theological formation, which I share with many other Christians, has led me to read the Bible in the spirit of Jesus’s main concern, namely, that people, starting with the most immoral of us, should trust that our lives have everlasting value in spite of all pain, death, mourning, persecution, personal failings, and needless guilt heaped upon us by the morally righteous.

JESUS
You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.


CARR
Isn't this just the sort of 'needless guilt heaped on us by the morally righteous' that Haught deplores?

Aquaria said...

For example, looking through it I see no right to an abortion, etc.

And I don't see anything about a right to force women to give birth just because some Bronze Age myth propagator has twisted a holy book for his own purposes simply because he's a dysfunctional, misogynistic creep.

Your point?

oli said...

If the bible i sdivinely inspired and accurate then god does not deserved to be worshipped. If it is not divinely inspired and accurate then it has no more worth than any other book, and given how poorly written it is, considerably less than most books.

I think Tyro, that the reason liberal christians like Haught don't spend so much time attacking fundamentalist nutcases is because, frankly, the nutcases have the bible on their side.
If you want to argue against Fred Phelps having the wrong view on homosexuals, you cannot do it with the bible. The bible is pretty clear that Fred Phelps has it right. God does indeed hate fags.
Liberal christians (largely) reject homophobia not because of the bible but DESPITE the bible.
Atheists however are much easier to attack, we don't have a holy book to claim authority and so we have to actually make our own arguements.

It'd be lovely to see liberal christians really laying into the fundamentalist brands of christianity but frankly, its not going to happen.

I love the statement from the Pope that Haught quoted. What on earth as he talking about? I have no idea.

Samutheus said...

tyro wrote: If liberal Christians devoted as much ink and talk time to the problems with fundamentalism or Creationism...

I think they may actually be doing more than you give them credit here. The prominent cases, like John Shelby Spong and Richard Holloway are clear enough, but even theologians like Alister E. McGrath, who replied to Richard Dawkins in books like "Dawkins' GOD" and "The Dawkins Delusion?" is far from your average Fred Phelps when it comes to dogmatics and the Bible. For example, his introductory book "Christian Theology" from 1994 wouldn't be at all suitable to the average creationist/fundamentalist, since he pretty much dismisses the simple models of divine inspiration as outdated - quite rightly, too.

I'm not really sure, how much more we could hope for McGrath, for example, to do to promote his theologically educated (=less silly, really) opinion of Christianity...

oli wrote: The bible is pretty clear that Fred Phelps has it right. God does indeed hate fags.

...since I don't think this statement is quite right. You don't get 30,000+ different denominations, if the Bible is "pretty clear". On the contrary, I can't think of a single thing the Bible is "pretty clear" about. To take another example, in Scandinavia the largest lutheran churches have already / are just about to accept homosexual marriages and make some liturgies for the occasion - and all this with clear biblical argumentation, among other things.

Tyro said...

Samutheus,

[...]even theologians like Alister E. McGrath, who replied to Richard Dawkins in books like "Dawkins' GOD" and "The Dawkins Delusion?" is far from your average Fred Phelps when it comes to dogmatics and the Bible. For example, his introductory book "Christian Theology" from 1994 wouldn't be at all suitable to the average creationist/fundamentalist, since he pretty much dismisses the simple models of divine inspiration as outdated - quite rightly, too.


Do you not think there's a difference between dismissing some theological ideas (which all believers must do for competing ideas) and directly attacking them? McGrath wrote an entire book attacking atheism ("The Dawkins Delusion?: Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine") and I've seen several speeches on just this subject. Compare that to his other books which appear to be histories or attempts to put forth his ideas about theology, e.g. "The Open Secret: A New Vision for Natural Theology". Where are the books about Christian fundamentalism, Creationism, Catholic fundamentalism or whatever else? I can think of books written by Christians who are denouncing Creationism and Fundamentalism but I could comfortably hold them all in one hand.

My point wasn't that they don't exist at all but rather apologists like Dr Haught (and McGrath and others) devote considerable attention to "correcting" the "mistaken" theological views of atheists yet when these same views are expressed by other theists then nary a peep is heard. I remember an interview with McGrath where he accuses Dawkins of completely misunderstanding the nature of God and essentially says that no one believes that God answers prayers, punishes the wicked or interferes in our lives and instead is some nebulous cosmic blancmange yet these people do exist in vast numbers. By polls, bible literalists whom McGrath thinks are dreadfully mistaken could be up to 50% of the US population and instead McGrath focuses on the atheists who are maybe 10%?

If apologists tacitly accept these theological beliefs in their own communities yet attack atheists as ignorant when we address them then I think they have a problem. Hypocrisy or double standards at least. You can't very well condemn atheists for beliefs which you accept readily in theists.

Samutheus said...

Tyro,

after thinking this through I have to agree: there certainly is a difference of tone in McGrath vs. atheists and Mcgrath vs. Christian fundamentalists - although he seems to symphatize neither. It could even be viewed as an odd double standard. Could academic theologians be so out of touch about what the lay members of their churches are actually believing?

To wrap things up, I think we agree that
1) there are some Christian thinkers who challenge the fundamentalist variant of their religion
2) there is nothing wrong in challenging the fundamentalist tradition even if you are a Christian thinker
3) it would be even better, if there were be more Christian thinkers doing that.

My initial need to comment on Dr. Haught's response were various reader comments which seemed to ridicule his take on the Bible - his reading which focused on 'hope and inspiration'. I don't see anything wrong with that. Now, if his next book could only be targeted at creationist/fundamentalist crowd, clearly explaining - to cite his own words - why the Bible should not be read "primarily as moral instruction", that "[r]eading and interpreting the scriptures... has always been selective" and that in fact "Jesus left out the barbarism and vengefulness in the Torah" so we should left them out, too.

uzza said...

4), 5) and 6), ditto for Muslim thinkers.
I've also seen Muslims band together with Christians to combat atheism, and it worries me. I'd much rather see atheists band together with Christian thinkers like Dr Haught and Muslim thinkers of like mind, in opposition to all types of fundamentalism. We need them as allies, even though as both literature and moral instruction I find Calvin & Hobbes far superior.

Fred Preuss said...

Haught never answers, or even addresses, this question: if (as he himself admits) nonbelievers can be and are just as moral as unbelievers, why bother with religion?
Why run twice as fast to get to the same place?