Are Liberals "Intellectually Dishonest"?

In the first comment below this post Bruce the Agnostic asked me whether liberals are intellectually dishonest not to jump ship like I did, once they recognize there is no objective basis for Christianity. It was a good question that gave me pause. Do I think this? Yes I do, but let me explain.

How would you describe someone who undermines the objective basis for Christianity at every turn but then turns around and professes to be a Christian? I know, I know, the Christianity they profess isn't the one they deconstruct. I do think people are not honest with themselves. We probably all are to some degree about some things. We may think we're handsome or good at something when we're not. We may excuse our behavior and think we've done good things when deep inside we know we've done wrong. I think the intellectually honest thing to do is to abandon any profession of Christianity once it’s recognized that Jesus did no miracles, was wrong about the eschaton, didn’t fulfill OT prophecy, and did not bodily rise from the dead. I mean really, what does professing to be a Christian mean at that point when it’s recognized that Jesus was a failed doomsday prophet like a plethora of them have been who have come and gone?

I’ll tell you what I think. I think such a profession is merely to stay within a group, a group of people who do the same things, much like the Moose Lodge, the Elks, or Eagles at that point. Is this meaningful to people who profess such things? Yes. But there is no basis for doing so. Christianity becomes a mere label at that point which some people have applied to Americans as a whole: “I’m an America so I’m a Christian.” Is that meaningful? Again, yes, and it may be the true definition of a Christian since Christianity is a culture. All I’m doing is making a case and stating it in as forceful of a way as I can. Will liberals agree? No. But I want to force them to say that their version of Christianity is very far from anything that any Christian of the past would accept. The truth is that liberals did not arrive at their position by a process of abstract reasoning. No. They were forced into it against their preferences by the progress of the sciences. I think they should just acknowledge that and admit they have cut themselves off from any historic understanding of what defines a Christian and then say, "but we like being with these people in this group because we like people."

13 comments:

Jason Long said...

I agree that they are intellectually dishonest. I once worked with one. He eventually admitted that liberal Christianity is a way of being able to say that you believe without looking stupid for believing it.

James said...

"it’s recognized that Jesus was a failed doomsday prophet like a plethora of them have been who have come and gone?"

I've noticed you frequently assert that Jesus was no better than or different from many other apocalyptic prophets of the time.

But he and he alone launched a movement--greatly assisted by Paul and others, but still they followed him--that grew and prospered as no other.

And what he had to say was of such force and eloquence that his followers memorized the gist of much of it, and it cane to be written down three generations or so later and subsequently much copied, so that many of his sayings have become a familiar part of the western intellectual tradition, and even today many who read them anew are struck by their force and eloquence.

It seems evident to me that this apocalyptic prophet stands quite apart from the others. That he is remembered so despite his prophecy having failed only makes his accomplishment unique and all the more remarkable.

Noneoftheabove said...

It seems evident to me that this apocalyptic prophet stands quite apart from the others. That he is remembered so despite his prophecy having failed only makes his accomplishment unique and all the more remarkable.

Indeed, if he had prophesied no such thing, presumably he would be quite surprised about it were he to come back to life.

An interesting question is whether what he accomplished was what he intended to accomplish. It might even be contrary to what he intended to accomplish. To invoke a familiar figure of speech obviously not meant to be taken literally, perhaps Jesus is right now rolling over in his grave because of his accomplishment.

Lee Randolph said...

Hi John,
you touch on a lot verified cognitive biases in people. In my view, that's what keeps christianity going.

Cognitive biases are part of the framework of human cognition. Its like corn, until you clean it, its not good for eating.
Same way with cognition, until you clean it, its not good for consumption.

Intellectually dishonest?

It depends on if they realize it or not. People need a view of the big picture to realize where they sit in it. Try to tell someone who drinks hard liquor every day that they are dependent on alcohol. Most of the time they'll deny it because they don't have the perspective to detect it.

Once it causes them problems, and they see that things can only get better, then they are willing to change the way they do business, to "get happier".

When Christianity causes someone problems, they'll step back and get some perspective. Until then, we have to keep giving them the big picture till it sinks in.

We have to find what christians want and show them where else they can find it of the same or higher quality.

they want morality? There's game theory

They want answered prayers? there's probability.

they want to understand evil? there's cognitive science.

they want a way to live? There's systems and complexity theory.

they want to understand the human condition? There's biology, genetics, cognitive science.

Sure some of the foundations of these topics are not even 100 years old yet, but in time, thier concepts will filter down and become part of the main stream, and religions will adapt.

One thing is for sure though, that unless they are tolerant of each other, they are in a no-win game. In the old days, they could just stay in their corner of the world and get fat, but as populations increase that won't be the case because as information travels faster and farther, and populations start being more culturally diverse, they can only tolerate, stay put and be unhappy, stay put and fight, or move where there is more of the same.

the easiest thing to do is go with the data and adapt.

James F. McGrath said...

I'm glad that you brought "being American" into the discussion. What makes one an American? Some will regard a fellow-citizen as 'un-American' (whether he has a Hawaiian birth certificate or not) because he does not reflect the values they think of as American. Adherence to the Constitution? But we have a system that allows the Constitution to be amended.

Those who are citizens? That approach brings us back to the discussion of Christianity. How many people listed as members of the Catholic Church accept all its teachings? For that matter, how many know what all its teachings are?

I understand the desire to define Christianity, but there is strong historical evidence that Christianity has always been different things to different people.

Mike L. said...

I can appreciate some of your comments, however I think you misunderstand what the term "Christian" means to liberal Christians. I probably fall in this category since I'm both a christian and an agnostic (many would probably call me an atheist). You seem to make a foundational assumption that being Christian means professing some set of propositions about reality (existence of God, possibility of miracles, divinity of Jesus, and other superstitious beliefs). That is a false assumption and it makes everything else you say difficult to absorb. Christianity didn't originally ask people to make a leap of faith about how the universe worked. It simply adopted the common set of knowledge at the time. If you were born in the first century, do you think you could have somehow avoided most of the superstitious ideas of the time?

I'll grant you that the vast majority of Christians are fans of substance dualism (thanks to the widespread work of Renee Descartes). However, you can't speak so broadly without nuance. Many Christian philosophers have been divided over questions about substance dualism, Jesus' divinity, miracles, etc. Basically you are making the same mistakes about Christianity that fundamentalists do. You seem to think it has something to do claims about how the universe works. It doesn't mean that to us.

What I hear you saying is that you expect us to throw away our treasured art, literature, and customs simply because they were created by people who thought the world was flat, had never heard of evolution, and had a wide array of superstitions. That seems ridiculous to me. Should we throw out Shakespeare's works because he was ignorant of nuclear fission or DNA?

Lee Randolph said...

Mike L, James
So where does Jesus being God and all fit in?

You do realize he referenced adam and Noah don't you? That means that he must have believed it too, or he was perpetuating bad information that he had the means to correct.

But I guess if you give up your membership in the christian club, you couldn't go to the pot-lucks anymore.
;-)

Is it the PHILOSOPHY of Christianity that you subscribe to or do you subscribe to the other aspects that are considered superstition in other domains such as hinduism?

Lee Randolph said...

oh yea,
one thing about rene descartes, he should have stuck to math, he had a better batting average there.

Once he took the argument for triangles and used it as a proof for God, he overplayed his hand.

James F. McGrath said...

Lee, the short answer is Jesus didn't think he was God, so why should I? :)

Noneoftheabove said...

I'm glad that you brought "being American" into the discussion. What makes one an American? Some will regard a fellow-citizen as 'un-American' (whether he has a Hawaiian birth certificate or not) because he does not reflect the values they think of as American.

And one of the values typically thought of as American is belief in God. That's why "In God We Trust" is the official national motto, and why the words "under God" were added to the Pledge of Allegiance. "Not believe in God? That's un-American!"

Adherence to the Constitution? But we have a system that allows the Constitution to be amended.

True, but amending the Constitution is too difficult. We have a tendency to work around the problem of the Constitution not meeting perceived present-day needs by "interpreting" it to mean something it doesn't mean. Sound familiar?

Lee Randolph said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lee Randolph said...

Hi Dr. McGrath,
have you ever heard of the "sunk costs" bias?

Hypothetically,
Do you think your position at the university would be threatened if you renounced christianity?

Loren said...

It seems evident to me that this apocalyptic prophet stands quite apart from the others. That he is remembered so despite his prophecy having failed only makes his accomplishment unique and all the more remarkable.

It's historical accident. Some people and some movements make it big time, others don't.

I like to think about Martin Gardner's Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, written in 1952. In his book, he devoted a chapter each to some popular quack therapies back then: Wilhelm Reich's orgone therapy and L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics.

But over the next three decades, LRH went on to found and build the Church of Scientology, while Wilhelm Reich was jailed for quackery a few years later, dying in jail.

Back in 1952, would anyone have been in a position to predict that outcome?