What Is an Atheist?

What is Atheist?

Every now and then it pays to review the basics. Rest assured that no principle of reasoning is so basic or so obvious, or repeated so often, as to prevent fundamentalist Christian apologists from violating it repeatedly. The more sophisticated apologists do so under the illusion that all the objections have been met. They just haven't looked deeply enough. The rest are blissfully ignorant of the entire landscape. Principles? What principles?

One of the most basic principles of reasoning is this: The burden of proof is on those who would add to our public knowledge. If I claim that six-foot, green spiders inhabit the hills around San Diego, and if I want this to become accepted public knowledge, then the burden of proof is entirely on my shoulders. You are under no obligation to go to San Diego and search those hills in order to prove me wrong. Indeed, if I were the least bit clever, you could never prove me wrong! Perhaps those green spiders are very rare and good at avoiding people. Maybe they even have supernatural properties that shield them from unwanted detection. No matter how hard you searched, I could always come up with some excuse for your failure to find those giant, green spiders.

If the burden of proof rightfully belonged on your shoulders, giant, green spiders would have quickly become part of our store of accepted public knowledge. We would have to take them seriously until proven otherwise. But who has the means to prove otherwise? Thus, the library of accepted public knowledge would soon be corrupted. Virtually every crackpot idea blowing in the wind would firmly lodge there.

If we wish to protect the integrity of our store of accepted public knowledge, the burden of proof MUST rest on those who would add to it. They must give us data and reasoning that establishes their claim beyond a reasonable doubt. That means all serious competition must also be ruled out beyond a reasonable doubt.

The Christian Research Institute Journal (Part One - Fall 1991)1 shows how easy it is for Christian philosophers to dispense with the above principle of reasoning. Let me paraphrase their argument:

When Christians and atheists debate the question “Does God exist?” atheists usually assert that the entire burden of proof rests on the Christian. This is not true. As Christian philosopher William Lane Craig has stated, when an interrogative (such as Does God exist?) is debated each side must shoulder the burden of proof. This is unlike debating a proposition such as “God does exist,” where the burden of proof rests entirely with the affirmative side. It follows then that when debating the question of God's existence, both the Christian and the atheist are obligated to provide support for their position. The Christian should insist that the atheist provide proof as to God's alleged nonexistence. That puts the atheist into a logical bind.

Craig may be technically correct, assuming that both sides agree upon the meaning of “God.” The atheist who denies this proposition is saying that a being with all the qualities that define God does not, in all probability, exist. That's a positive statement about the real world. Among other things, it implies that no matter where we look we will never find God. Evidence is needed. We might call this the “strong” or “assertive” position for atheism. The theist, of course, is saying that there is good evidence that such a being exists. Again, that's a positive statement requiring support. In Craig's example both sides have a burden of proof, though not necessarily equal.

For most of us, however, the real proposition being debated is this: Shall the theist's claim that God exists be admitted to the public store of accepted knowledge2? Those who say “No” don't have to make a positive case. The burden of proof, as shown earlier, rests entirely on those who say “Yes.” They must convince the gatekeepers of accepted knowledge that their claim has passed all the tests and earned its stripes. Otherwise, all chaos would break loose and our public library of accepted knowledge would become corrupted.

The atheist may simply show that the case for God has flunked the test for “factual” public knowledge. That is, the idea of God may be incoherent or, to the extent that it is intelligible, seriously lacking in evidence. On those grounds, the claim that God exists may be rejected as fit, public knowledge. In this case, the atheist acts as a concerned gatekeeper and does not actually add to the public store of accepted knowledge. He is not declaring that God does not exist. His view carries no burden of proof beyond documenting the inadequacy of the theist's proof. We might call this the “weak” or “minimal” atheist position.

Therefore, the debate as to whether God exists or not, understood as an attempt to determine whether the “God” concept should be added to (or removed from2) the public storehouse of accepted knowledge, places the full burden of proof on the theist. The theist must show that his idea is worthy of public trust, as having earned its stripes.

If the theist can make the atheist share the burden of proof, then his next point is that the atheist cannot logically prove God's nonexistence. However, even if we mistakenly grant the theist that much leeway, he is not home free. The atheist might still have the better argument by far and, yet, be unable to prove God's nonexistence. More to the point, the “strong” or “assertive” atheistic position can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt for some definitions of “God.”
If the definition of God has contradictory elements in it, then the atheist most certainly can prove that there is no such thing as “God”! If the existence of God is firmly attached to an absurd, testable deed, such as Noah's worldwide flood, then the atheist most certainly can prove that God's nonexistence beyond a reasonable doubt! If some necessary quality of God implies that the world would be greatly different than it is, then the atheist has a good case for God's nonexistence3. In the second example, the theist can redefine “God” by disassociating him from embarrassing events-usually with a minimum of theological damage. To be sure, God and his universe have been redefined continuously by theologians as knowledge has advanced.

In the real world of atoms and energy we deal with probabilities-not logical, airtight proofs. Certainty (to the extent that fallible humans can construct error-free proofs) belongs to mathematics and other logical systems, which are built up deductively from a set of accepted postulates. The game of chess is an example. We know with certainty that a king and a rook, given accurate play, can checkmate a lone king. Some of those logical systems, such as mathematics, may serve as ideal models for aspects of the real world, but their certainty cannot be carried over since that requires a further conclusion about the nature of the physical world. Inductive logic rules the physical realm and does not admit certainty. (Deductive reasoning can take us with 100% certainty from a set of selected postulates, which don't have to be proved inasmuch as they are assumed, to various conclusions; Inductive reasoning takes us from observed facts to probable causes.)

The “strong” or “assertive” atheist need only show that his case is superior to that of the theist. He doesn't have to logically prove God's nonexistence. The requirement for such absolute proof is absurd, as inductive reasoning does not admit certainty.

In order to get out from underneath the burden of proof, the Christian Research Institute attempts to corner the “correct” definition of “atheist.”

Atheists of this variety [minimal] have actually redefined atheism to mean “an absence of belief in God” rather than “a denial of God's existence.”
(Christian Research Institute Journal, Part One - Fall 1991)

…defensive [“minimal”] atheism is using a stipulative or nonstandard definition for the word atheism. Paul Edwards, a prominent atheist and editor of The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, defines an atheist as “a person who maintains that there is no God.” Atheism therefore implies a denial of God's existence, not just an absence of belief.
(Christian Research Institute Journal, Part One - Fall 1991)

The implication here is that the correct definition of “atheism” implies a denial of God's existence, not just an absence of belief. It would then follow that the atheist must shoulder part of the burden of proof. But, there is a fly in the ointment.

Another basic principle of good reasoning is: Definitions are neither “right” nor “wrong.” A definition simply tells us what a word means to a particular group of people. Definitions are not subject to proof or disproof in the way theorems are. You or I may reject a definition if it is misleading, self-contradictory, incoherent or useless, but we cannot lay claim to having the “correct” definition if several are in use. In defining our terms, our obligation is to avoid unnecessary confusion and maximize communication.

Many educated atheists understand “atheist” to mean “a”—“theist” or “non”—“theist.” If we wish to take out the infants and others, those who are simply unaware of theism, we could call them unaware non-theists. A complete discussion of atheism, then, necessarily entails “weak” or “minimal” atheism, call it whatever you want. The theist cannot simply define those atheists out of existence!

Those who view “God” as an incoherent or unintelligible concept could also be classified among the “weak” or “minimal” atheists. They are not much different than those who object to adding God to the public storehouse of accepted knowledge because they find the evidence to be totally unconvincing, people who also personally reject the claim that God exists. By contrast, the “assertive” or “strong” atheist flatly denies God's existence. He or she feels that the term “God” is coherent enough for such a positive statement.

In the case of a contradictory definition, such as a square-circle, it doesn't really make sense to ask whether the object exists or not. The name doesn't correspond to anything; we have no pattern to look for. For that reason, I hold that a contradictory or unintelligible definition for “God” is not equivalent to the claim that “God does not exist” - the latter being the claim of “strong” or “assertive” atheism. The theist is obliged to provide a meaningful definition of “God” before the question of God's existence can be meaningfully discussed. Thus, an incoherent definition of “God” has some similarities to a serious lack of evidence for God's existence. In both cases the atheist is saying to the theist, “You have more work to do before I can take your argument seriously.” For that reason, I place those atheists who reject “God” (because of an incoherent definition) among the “weak” or “minimal” atheists.

The main point is this: No argument based on another definition for “atheist” can place the burden of proof on the shoulders of a “minimal” atheist. If the theist wishes to address atheism competently, he must deal with both “assertive” and “minimal” atheism - their definitions. Calling “minimal” atheism by another name does not make it go away! The theist cannot declare that there is only one, correct definition for all atheists, no matter who he quotes.

Remember, it is only those atheists who advance the “strong” or “assertive” case for atheism who must share the burden of proof in this debate. The “minimal” atheist, in order to carry the day, need only show that the theist has not proven God's existence beyond a reasonable doubt. Pointing out a serious lack of evidence or faulty reasoning destroys the theist's case. The conclusion is not that God does not exist but, rather, that the concept of God has no serious credibility as established fact. On those grounds, the “minimal” atheist rejects (does not embrace) the idea of God, even as you or I would reject the Easter Bunny.

The Christian Research Institute also tries to undermine “minimal” atheism by confusing it with agnosticism:

It should also be stated that defensive atheism's absence of belief sounds very similar to agnosticism (which professes inability to determine whether God exists). The Christian should force the defensive [“minimal”] atheist to show just how his (or her) atheism differs from agnosticism. Does he know or not know that there is no God?
(Christian Research Institute Journal, Part One - Fall 1991)

Agnosticism has nothing to do with it. An agnostic, as I see it, understands what is meant by “God” but cannot find (or does not expect to find) enough evidence to personally decide the issue.

The agnostic says, “I don't know if God exists and I suspend judgment.” The “minimal” atheist says, “I personally reject the claim that God exists, because your case for God does not meet the minimum standards for being admitted to (or remaining in2) the public store of accepted knowledge. I find serious problems with this proof, that proof, and the other proofs you have for God. I find the whole matter unconvincing, even unintelligible.” The “assertive” atheist says, “I have a pretty good idea as to what you mean by “God,” and God clearly doesn't exist.” An atheist may take a “strong” or “assertive” position with respect to certain definitions for “God” and a “minimal” position with respect to theism in general.

To briefly sum up, one cannot rationally know that there is no God unless he or she has some idea as to what “God” means. The burden is on the theist to provide a sound definition and a compelling argument for God. However, if an atheist declares outright that God does not exist, then he or she also takes on the burden of proof. William Craig, in adopting a rather narrow formulation of this debate, has attempted to shift the burden of proof onto the shoulders of the “minimal” atheists as well. Yet, the “minimal” atheist is not claiming that “God does not exist.” He or she is simply not impressed with the case for theism anymore than you or I would be impressed with the case for six-foot, green spiders in the hills of San Diego. Having not exhaustively examined those hills, you or I cannot properly say that we “know” that there is no such thing. However, based on the observations of others and on certain theoretical considerations, you or I would conclude that the case for those spiders is extremely remote. We are justified in personally rejecting the whole idea as unworthy of further pursuit. By pointing out a serious lack of evidence or faulty reasoning on behalf of the theist, the “minimal” atheist has adequately defended his or her personal rejection of the God hypothesis.

Our attempt to safeguard the public store or library of accepted knowledge does not require that we gather evidence until we “know” that those green spiders don't exist-if, indeed, that could be done. It is enough for us to note that the case for six-foot, green spiders is not convincing.

1. Christian Research Institute
P.O. Box 7000
Rancho Santa Margarita
California 92688-7000
Web Site: http://www.equip.org

2. For those who might point out that god-belief is already widely accepted, the proposition could be this: Does the theist's claim that God exists really meet the standards for being in the public store of accepted knowledge? The burden of proof is still on those who say, “Yes.” Otherwise, there would be no means for eliminating erroneous or obsolete claims.

Dave E. Matson, editor
The Oak Hill Free Press
P.O. Box 61274
Pasadena, CA 91116


June 5, 1999
(Revised: May 17, 2003)

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Understanding Atheists


An atheist is kicked out of Boy Scouts for professing his beliefs. An Alabama Supreme Court justice erects a 5,200-pound granite shrine to the Ten Commandments in the state courthouse. Creationists contaminate the public schools of Ohio and parts of Georgia with their pseudoscientific scheme to undermine the scientific theory of evolution. The Bush administration, judging “ensoulment” has occurred by the life's blastocyst stage, restricts federally supported stem cell research. Americans are outraged when the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance are ruled unconstitutional.

This is a surprising level of hostility toward secularism, especially in a country whose constitution never mentions the word God, and prohibits the establishment of any religious doctrine - even that of monotheism.

I used to be a relatively content atheist; why care if the majority of people believe in one god or another?

After all, everyone rejects the existence of most gods; it's only a matter of degree. I'll bet most Christians don't believe in the existence of Zeus, Oden, Vishnu, Mithrus, Horus or the tree Druid spirits.

Count me in. I don't accept any of that primitive mythology either. I differ only by including the God of the Hebrew Scriptures to the long list of hypothetical beings that I see no compelling evidence for.
But after recent events, especially the creationists' war on science, and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, my apathy has eroded away. The assault on secular society is too frightening. Organized religion is the most dangerous problem in our world.

Although not all secularists are atheists, many people equate the two; and atheism, it is argued, unavoidably leads to immorality and bad behavior. The absurdity of that assumption is staggering.
Bad behavior? Compared to what? Where is the evidence that belief in a deity leads to good behavior? Our prisons are filled with theists. The child molesting Catholic priests are clearly religious, as are the bishops who protected and relocated them. And atheists were not responsible for the inconceivable cruelty and suffering of the Middle Ages, the Inquisition or the Crusades - nope, that was organized religion.

In contrast, Darrell Lambert, the atheist Boy Scout, had achieved Eagle Scout status and earned 39 merit badges - impressive accomplishments for an “amoral atheist.” Quite simply, morality as a product of religion is a myth.

During any discussion with theists, after they inevitably fail to prove God's existence, the assertion is made that atheists cannot disprove the existence of God. While this is quite correct, of course, it is also quite irrelevant. There are an infinite number of beings whose existence is impossible to disprove (Zeus, Oden, Vishnu, unicorns, etc.).

The inability to disprove something's existence is not a rational, or compelling reason for belief. The burden of proof lies with those who make a positive claim of existence.

Most accurately defined, atheism simply means “without belief in a deity.” But some atheists do argue that God does not exist. Usually this refers to a specific concept of God that is paradoxical and not logically coherent, such an omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent God.

One underappreciated problem with theism is that a belief in an afterlife has the unavoidable effect of making this life less unique and precious. Theism, therefore, inherently devalues human life. Unfortunately, as we have seen, this can have dangerous consequences.

The suicide bombers in Israel and the Sept. 11 hijacckers clearly believed in a heavenly afterlife. Good luck finding an atheist willing to strap a bomb to his or her back, or fly a plane into a building. Frighteningly, however, there seems to be no end to theists willing to perform such monstrous acts.
In the Middle East, Kashmir, Sri Lanka, Northern Ireland and elsewhere, the most intractable and dangerous of the world's problems are mired in religion. There can be no compromise when “absolute truths” are at issue.

With weapons of mass destruction potentially becoming more available, the consequences of continuing religious conflicts could be disastrous. Why are religious groups so self-destructively stubborn?

How can they be so absolutely certain in beliefs that contradict those of other religious groups? The answer is faith.

Because of the lack of positive evidence for the existence of a deity, all religions require some level of faith to foster belief. Faith is, by definition, the firm belief in something without proof.
Interesting questions arise. How does faith originate? How does an individual know which religion to blindly accept and obey? The answer is shockingly straightforward.

The vast majority of personal religious beliefs can be accurately predicted based solely on the beliefs of one's parents or the culture one is raised in. Odds are that an individual born in Saudi Arabia will be a Muslim; in Ireland, a Catholic; in India, a Hindu, and so on. In an effort to be intellectually honest, religionists should ask themselves, “Are my religious beliefs based on rationality and evidence or indoctrination?”

Many might find an honest answer to be simultaneously illuminating and disturbing. Ultimately, no religion can demonstrate its firmly held beliefs are factual. Logic and reason are not helpful when choosing the “truth” of one religion over another.

Faith is required, and the origin of an individual's faith toward any particular religion is overwhelmingly cultural indoctrination.

Religious surveys indicate the United States is a predominantly Christian nation; as such, the general public holds a variety of interesting supernatural beliefs: virgin birth, resurrection, the devil, God, heaven, hell, immortal souls, original sin, angels, demons, etc. Although I strongly support an individual's right to hold whatever beliefs he or she cares to, it's important for religionists to recognize their supernatural beliefs are anything but established facts.

Their beliefs are, instead, fundamentally based on faith. These supernatural opinions have no place in a secular government. Curtailing funding for stem cell research, a technology with enormous life-saving potential, based on the supposed existence of a soul is as absurd as basing foreign policy decisions on tarot card readings.

It is simply irrational for government policies to be prejudiced by unsupported supernatural beliefs and indoctrinations.

John Bice is an MSU staff member at Life Sciences Building. Reach him at bice/msu.edu.

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George Carlin is an Uncompromising Idealist

George Carlin

Carlin is an uncompromising idealist pushing the limits with his atheism and hatred of advertisers, politicians, CEOs, and dumbass people in general, because he senses that there is something far better out there, something far smarter and nobler. Heʼs Diogenes walking the street with his lantern looking for an honest and truthful man, and bemoaning not being able to find one. Thatʼs his way of striking back against the lunacy that is mankind. He doesnʼt think that kinder gentler ways of preaching his idealism will make any noticeable difference, and even doubts that his own “crys in the wilderness” will make a helluva lot of difference either. So, he speaks with the boldness of a prophet, like Bill, like all prophets, lashing out with the most extreme hyperbole imaginable, becoming what Bill would call, “the leading member of the people who hate people party.”

Mark Twain and Kurt Vonnegut each put it their own way too, and were leading members of that party, and each has helped raise up generations of folks like me who are at least charter members of that party. (My latest work in progress is titled, Chicken Soup for the Damned Soul.)

I donʼt mind Carlin having a home in the desert, it befits a prophet of his standing. I also suspect that like a lot of prophets he would love to become a martyr by saying something that pisses somebody off so much they kill him. That way heʼll feel vindicated that he at least “got to somebody” in the end. It sure beats dying in a sterile hospital environment, having people see your last pulse pass up your carotid artery through the translucent skin in your neck.
Or as Cioran once put it in reference to Jesus, “He has revenged himself on all of humanity by not simply dying of old age on a divan.”

Iʼm not inclined to rate Bill and Carlinʼs humor and place one above the other because I like both. I also like Kinison and Emo Philips and Eddie Izzard and Woody Allen and Twain and Voltaire.
Best, Ed

Sacred Cow Post.

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by Dave E. Matson

The question of morality, of how we ought to behave can only be answered if we agree on what we mean by that slippery word “morality.” If we are asking how we should behave, then we must complete the question by adding “to achieve goal X,” where X is specified. In failing to properly complete the question, we have an open-ended question that cannot be properly answered. A good example is: Is it right to kill? Try as we might, we will find no clear, scientific answer because the question is incomplete. We need to translate “right” to some meaningful phrase, and we need to complete the question. “Is it helpful to kill to achieve goal X?” might be one translation. Will killing some of your neighbors to achieve goal Y cause your neighbors to dislike you?” is another possible translation. Once we have removed the ambiguous words and fully expanded the question we find that answers are possible.

One view of morality might be to ask how one should behave in order to maximize one's happiness — with the proviso that you must trade places with others affected by your ruling from time to time on a randomly selected basis. Thus, if you make the greater part of humanity your slaves for the benefit of a few friends, then the odds of trading places would place you (most of the time) among the slaves. This morality question would be asked of everyone affected, and if a certain behavior got, say, 90% of the votes then it is deemed moral for that world.

There are no rules in nature to tell us “how to behave.” We have not asked a proper question! We must specify our goals. If our goal is to get along with others, to live a happy life, to keep a good conscience (our conscience having been created and honed by group evolution), then our choice of behavior is definitely not arbitrary! A good deal of it will be culturally determined of course. Going around in the nude, for example, was okay for Pocahontas when she was a girl of 10 or 12 because of the views of her society. Reportedly, she did naked cartwheels around the settler's newly built stockade! That part got left on Disney's cutting-room floor! Asserting that a lot of morality (maybe most) is culturally determined is not the same thing as saying it is arbitrary. It is not arbitrary for you once you have selected your goals. In asking what good behavior is, we must ask “Good for what?”. How the goal can best be met, of course, depends a lot on the society in question. The concept of morality cannot be defined in a metaphysical vacuum, an isolated splendor, from God on high to all. It has no meaning in that sense. It's like asking what strategy works best in poker. Well, it all depends on your hand and the probable hands of the other players, and on their psychological states. In that sense it is relative, but it is not arbitrary. General rules for good play can be worked out, but they are a generalization, a kind of imperfect summary of the rules applying to specific situations. Thus with morality. Its meaning is to be found in the specifics of human interaction and not in universal proclamations.

What is it that we really want from morality? What good is it to us? Do we need it as a grease to lubricate the wheels of society? Does it safeguard our happiness and the happiness of those around us? Should it apply to all conscious life? Or, is it merely a list of arbitrary rules for getting to “heaven”? A properly formulated question as to what we expect of morality will, in principle, allow a clear answer as to our course of action, but it is up to each of us to decide what our goals will be. Nature can't tell us what we ought to do until we have a specific goal.

Moral rules can be viewed as solutions to the problems of group living. If we want a group to function smoothly without repressing those individual freedoms we value, then the solutions we seek are not arbitrary. On certain critical matters, such as murder and theft, solutions are pretty much constrained to a few close choices. Morality is basically absolute. On other matters, such as dress codes, a wide variety of solutions may be possible. Moral codes become rather arbitrary.

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Agnosticism: Reasons to Leave Christianity

Reasons for Agnosticism

“Dear Ed, sorry youʼve become an Agnostic”

[Featuring Edʼs Reply and Short List Of Questions He Would Like Answered, Before Relinquishing His Agnosticism]
by Edward T. Babinski

Professor Pattle Pak Toe Pun (Progressive Old-Earth Creationist, apologist, and professor at Wheaton College—the college from which Billy Graham graduated) wrote: Dear Ed, I am sorry that youʼve become an agnostic.

Ed: I thought it worth mentioning to you, since a book that you wrote provided a bit of assistance in my decision to leave young-earth creationism. About feeling “sorry” that I have become an agnostic, thatʼs a common reaction from Christians I have known. However, have you considered how you might feel if someone wrote you, “I am sorry you remained a Christian, is there anything I can do?” *smile*

I appreciate your work and what you have done, providing scientific and theological information that questions the young-earth interpretation of the Bible and science. I have contacted many old-earth Christians over the years such as Wonderly, Newman, Hayward, and rejoiced that they are not paranoid about geologists, cosmologists, and physicists round the world all being deluded or lying like the devil—as young-earth creationists assume.

Pat: Science is only giving us a vague picture of God. The bible ultimately is the only way claimed by Christians for knowing God. I became a Christians through existential encounter with God which was later verified in the Bible.

Ed: I had experiences too. But those experiences were questioned after I studied the Bible more deeply.

Pat: If there is anything I can do to make you consider God again, please let me know.

Ed: If you wish to do something, hereʼs the short list:

  1. Show me that the Bible contains more “science” than “mythological notions” about the cosmos:

    1. Hebrew Cosmology

    2. Flat Earth Bible

    3. Geocentrism in the Bible: Bible Says The Earth Does Not Move

  2. Show me how atonement works, i.e., scapegoats and scapebirds (the latter of which were believed to be able to remove or perhaps atone for mold, mildew and leprosy according to the Old Testament). I donʼt see a connection between a human or animal bleeding, and God forgetting about the sins of the people who bled the animal or brought it to the priests to be bled. Nor do I see why they believed that “the life was in the blood” rather than the brain. Nor why the scape goat wasnʼt bled at all, but was slapped on the its rump and driven into the desert, carrying the sins of the people into the wilderness. The scape bird also remained alive when it allegedly carried off mildew and leprosy. See: Biblical Superstition

    It also strikes me as odd that Jesus died on Passover since the Passover lamb was not sacrificed for sin. This brings me to further “typological” questions…

  3. Show me that various Old Testament prophecies cited by the Gospel authors were more than just “typologically” fulfilled.

    When I first began recognizing that taking the “prophecies” literally wasnʼt working, I had to keep standing back and squinting my eyes more and more to “see” how “fulfilled” the prophecies were, “typologically” speaking, but by then I was standing outside the faith.

  4. How can the imprecatory (or, curse my enemy) psalms be considered holy?
    What about some of those bloody Old Testament penalties for breaking various questionable commandments? I find it difficult to believe that any “god” enjoyed hearing imprecatory psalms sung to him, or that any sane “god” would have commanded some of the things Yahweh allegedly commanded “his people” to do, along with the subsequent penalties described.

  5. Prove to me that if “God” did every destructive thing that the Bible says “God” did or commanded, why such actions or commands wouldnʼt stain even a devilʼs character. Iʼm taking about drowning everything in which was the breath of life, destroying cities with everything in them that breathed, sending plagues and famines and armies to kill everything and everyone, including children and pregnant women, and finally “casting” people into a lake of fire whose smoke rises forever and ever. If a devil did all of those things imagine what weʼd think of that devil.

  6. Why do highly intelligent scholars admit their uncertainties concerning whether certain letters labeled “Paul, Peter and Jude” are authentic; and uncertain about who wrote the Gospels, and how they are related (i.e., literary redaction hypotheses); and also uncertain about what the historical Jesus, said, did, or believed about himself and his mission? Even James D. G. Dunn and N. T. Wright admit various uncertainties. Yet so many Christians donʼt seem to have a clue what scholars are taking about and never seem half as uncertain about anything they believe.

    Also, if the “Letter of Jude” was not written by Jude, but by an anonymous Christian in the name of Jude (as scholars suspect), and that letter cites a passage from the “Book of Enoch,” and even says that the passage was a “prophecy” by “Enoch, the seventh from Adam,” which is very doubtful indeed; then we have two anonymous people writing in the names of other people, a doubly dubious letter that became part of Christianityʼs “inspired canonical Bible,” and that is simply too much uncertainty for me to swallow.

  7. Why hasnʼt N.T. Wrightʼs book on the resurrection of Jesus converted highly intelligent fellow Anglicans? Why hasnʼt Wright even faced up to the most telling criticisms and reviews of his arguments? Also, why does Paul say that “flesh and blood shall not inherit the kingdom of God,” and the “stomach shall be destroyed;” but decades after Paul—in the Gospels of Luke and John—Jesus is described as striving to convince people that he had “flesh and bone” and “eats” fish? Somethingʼs fishy.

  8. I have met many compassionate people of different beliefs and faiths, and read many wonderful things in books other than the Bible, including books about the experiences of Christian monks who have fellowshiped with priests and monks of other religions. Dom Bede Griffiths, C. S. Lewisʼs lifelong friend comes to mind in this respect, because Griffiths set up a Christian-Hindu ashram in India and fellowshiped with people of other faiths for many decades and wrote about it in his books. I have also read about the history of Deism, and of Unitarian Christianity, and about famous Unitarian Christians who helped found the institution of modern nursing (Florence Nightingale) and the American Red Cross (Clara Barton). I have also read about the history and contributions of freethinking individuals both Christians and non-Christians throughout history. I have read about the debates between Castellio and John Calvin on the subject of “heresy/heretics;” and I have read the new book, Freethinkers : A History of American Secularism by Susan Jacoby that details the contributions of freethinkers to American society from the days of the Founding Fathers to today. So I am past fearing “hell for unbelievers,” or, fearing what might happen to the world if everyone believed in evolution.

  9. And speaking of Adamʼs “fall” and sin “growing more abundant” (Paulʼs letter to Romans) in the world, I ran across a book by Lawrence H. Keeley, called, War Before Civilization (Oxford University Press; 1996), in which Keeley cites archeological evidence to argue that human beings used to kill each other more often in the past than today, percentage-wise.

    Keeleyʼs charts of relative mobilization rates and casualty rates among tribes and modern nations are fascinating. He suggests that the terrible Twentieth Century wars would have had a death-rate twenty times higher “if the worldʼs population were still organized into bands, tribes, and chiefdoms”: the typical tribal combat casualty rate of .5 percent per year, during the course of the century would translate to “more than 2 billion war deaths.” See: War Before Civilization

    Keeley also pointed out that a higher percentage of the populace of Europe was killed in the 17th century (during religious-related warfare, when everybody was a creationist and believer in the Apostleʼs Creed) than during World War 2.

    I also read elsewhere that evidence of cannibalism in the human past continues to surface in ancient archeological digs and even has been discovered inside human genes.

    So if you take the long view, and agree with Keeley (though I have read criticisms of his conclusions), deaths due to intertribal warfare and murder were more prominent in the past than in the present, i.e., percentage-wise per total population. So if Adam fell, it appears he may have fallen upward not downward over the centuries.

  10. I have a host of specific questions related to the cosmos and biology:

    Why We Believe In A Designer

  11. There is also the history of the Christian church, a history of schisms and conflicts too numerous to mention. History proves that Christians fall just as blindly into the same dirty ditches dug by their alpha male primate leaders as all other human groups in religion and politics.

  12. Religion is undoubtedly addictive. Having “final answers” is sort of like getting hooked on heroin. In fact some drug addicts claim they beat the drugs by getting hooked on Jesus and Bible reading/memorization. However you donʼt hear about addicts for whom the Jesus cure ultimately fails, since bad press is never shouted from the rooftops. Instead you hear about the few for whom it worked out great. To think otherwise or to entertain doubt is simply to be blinded by the devil.

Christianity also mutates to fit the society itʼs in. In America, Christianity is just as secular and kitschy as American society in general, with Christian t-shirts, books, records, stadium-filled rallies, Christian theme parks, and apologetics cruises, not to mention bestselling books about promises of growing rich (Prayer of Jabez), as well as Christians voting to support the military industrial establishment with increasing funds while Jesus warned that “All who take up the sword shall die by the sword.” Jim Wallis, the Christian editor of Sojournerʼs magazine and author of Godʼs Politics, asks, “How did the faith of Jesus come to be known as pro-rich, pro-American and pro-war?” See also the book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience by Ron Sider who details further evidence of Christian worldliness. Sider has admits, “Poll after poll by Gallup and Barna show that evangelicals live just like the world… Evangelical Christians and born-again Christians get divorced just as often, if not a little more, than the general population. And Barna has discovered that 90 percent of the born-again Christians who are divorced got divorced after they accepted Christ [The Barna Group, The Barna Update, ‘Born Again Adults Less Likely to Co-Habit, Just As Likely to Divorce,’ August 6, 2001, http://www.barna.org]… Or take the issue of racism. A Gallup study discovered that when they asked the question. ‘Do you object if a black neighbor moves in next door?’ the least prejudiced were Catholics and non-evangelicals. The next group, in terms of prejudice, was mainline Protestants. Evangelicals and Southern Baptists were the worst.” [Ron Sider speaking in Christianity Today, April, 2005, Vol. 49 Issue 4, “The Evangelical Scandal”]

Meanwhile in the Southern Hemisphere, Christianity of a most conservative and unintellectual sort is growing fast via promises of miracles, etc.

Those are some of the questions I have pondered and that have led me to question what I formerly believed.


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Today's Teenagers are Deists


Today's teenagers are deists. Maybe there's hope for the world after all. BOOK see below:

Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers Christian Smith with Melinda Lundquist Denton (Oxford)

Christianity Today calls the above book, a masterful, scholarly study of spirituality. What American youth mostly hold to—what Smith and Denton call Moralistic Therapeutic Deism—is, sadly, a long way from full-blooded, traditional Christian faith.

From Publishers Weekly
Encyclopedic in scope and exhaustive in detail, this study offers an impressive array of data, statistics and concluding hypotheses about American teenage religious identity, with appendixes explaining methodology and extensive endnotes. Sociologists of religion at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Smith and Denton cover a range of topics: e.g., “mapping” religious affiliations, creating new categories to describe teenage spirituality, exploring why Catholic teens are largely apathetic. All the book's findings derive from interviews conducted with teenagers for the National Study of Youth and Religion. Interestingly and against popular belief, Smith and Denton conclude that the “spiritual but not religious” affiliation thought to be widespread among young adults is actually rare among Americans under 18, and that the greatest influence shaping teens' religious beliefs is their parents. Despite the personal tone adopted in the first chapter and the topic's wide appeal, readers should be prepared to wade through lengthy presentations of research findings. Most helpful are summaries appearing in bullet form within several chapters, providing accessible and succinct overviews of the raw information and statistics. Regardless of whether this research will be “a catalyst for many soul-searching conversations in various communities and organizations” among parents and pastors, scholars will surely agree that this study advances the conversation about contemporary adolescent spirituality.
(Mar.) Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The Washington Post's Book World/washingtonpost.com
Any parent with a conscience who is raising a teenager will read these two books and immediately fall to her knees at the altar before God, Yahweh, Jesus, Muhammad — nearly any recognizable deity will do — and hope her children follow suit. Neither of these is remotely a parenting book, but the evidence they compile about American teenagers is pretty stark. Kids who describe themselves as religious are less likely to cut classes, do drugs, have sex, get depressed, feel alone or misunderstood, talk back to their parents, lie. Practically the only thing they score higher on is feeling guilty if they fail to do the right thing. Apparently it doesn't just take a village; it takes a congregation.

Those findings are from Soul Searching, the final report of the National Study of Youth and Religion. Christian Smith, a widely respected sociologist at the University of North Carolina, conducted the study as the first comprehensive survey of the spiritual life of American teenagers. Occasionally Smith and his fellow researchers arranged in-depth interviews with some of the subjects, using pseudonyms. “Joy's” view of religion is: “People believe what they want to believe and if they get something out of that, then that's what they should believe.” Joy drinks and does drugs, but her parents don't know because “my parents don't know me that well.” She has a 23-year-old boyfriend and a best friend who tried to kill himself. In contrast, “Kristen,” as a young child, found her father's body after he'd shot himself; but then her mother taught her that God is “father to the fatherless,” and at 16 she still deeply believes it. She's never tried drugs or alcohol; she's active in her church youth group. Sometimes she thinks she might keep a secret from her mom, “but then it all comes out.” As for her friends who experiment and see R-rated movies, “They're the ones missing out,” she says. Now, which child would you rather raise?

Skip Kristen forward three years and you have the characters that populate God on the Quad, a survey of the nation's 700 religious colleges with a focus on the most devout ones. Naomi Schaefer Riley opens her book with a pair of preconceptions: Secular schools are havens for goofy vegetarians and transgendered politics; floating above this mess is what she calls the “missionary generation,” the 1.3 million graduates of religious colleges who reject sex outside marriage, drugs, homosexual relationships, a “spiritually empty education” and the “sophisticated ennui of their contemporaries.” So it's no surprise that her survey goes on to find just that: smart, ambitious, God-fearing coeds. They are slightly defensive about the fact that, say, Bob Jones University had a longtime ban on interracial marriage or that the students at Brigham Young University still follow restrictive Mormon dating rituals. But they are basically happy and confident and, most important, they seem totally normal, the kind of graduates any employer would be proud to hire.

The premise of the book is that religious colleges are trying a grand experiment: They don't want to send their graduates out into the Christian ghetto; more than ever, they want to “give their students… the tools to succeed in the secular world and the strength to do so without compromising their faith.” They want to produce students who can compete with Ivy Leaguers for consulting jobs at McKinsey and, when they get there, ace the in-house ethics exam. Riley assumes these young people will thrive, but the best parts of the book are those in which she examines the many tensions inherent in the marriage of a fundamentalist faith and a broad intellect.

At Thomas Aquinas College, a sort of pre-seminary in Southern California, Riley presses a tutor on whether teaching Nietzsche won't make students doubt the existence of God. The tutor gives a somewhat smug answer, explaining that the college doesn't view education as intellectual sparring about fundamental questions; rather, doubt is, as Riley understands her, “a necessary evil in the process to saving souls.” Riley doesn't press her any further, but still the question is out there: Can you expand minds and teach heresy without it ever taking root? A professor at Notre Dame, a Catholic university, complains that parents won't let their children marry young, which creates a “moral disaster,” meaning the students have sex outside marriage. His complaint raises another fundamental question: Is it possible to live an essentially 19th-century lifestyle (chaperones, no sex before marriage, teenage weddings) and keep up with 21st-century ambitions?

The chapter on the Jewish Yeshiva University in New York captures the tension most vividly. The school's secular teachers and its rabbis sneer at one another across a great divide. The rabbis complain that the secular teachers use Christian themes in their classes; the secular teachers complain that strict Judaism is “passé.” They fight over Israel, American politics, kosher pizza. The school produces most of the nation's rabbis, yet the new president is not one, and the religious half of the faculty worries he'll secularize the school; the religious students complain because a new French teacher wears low-cut blouses. The chapter ends with the mystery of “what is an educated Jew.”

But outside the rarefied atmosphere of religious schools these extremes turn out to be pretty unusual — just as, reading deeper in Soul Searching, one discovers that Joy and Kristen are atypical. Only a small slice of teenagers is as devoted as Kristen or as lost as Joy. Most fall into the vast foggy middle where God is some dude you heard about in, uhhm, some youth group your parents made you go to one time and He can help you out with anything, like, if you can't figure out whether to skip a test one Friday you should just ask Him. Here is one sample transcript: “What is God like?” asks the interviewer.

“‘Um. Good. Powerful.’

“‘Okay, anything else?’


Later: “‘What good has God done in your life?’

“‘I, well, I have a house, parents, I have the internet, I have a phone, I have cable.’”

This, in a snapshot, is the real American teenager the book depicts. He is neither on fire for God nor a drug addict. She is neither the avid spiritual seeker nor the secret Wiccan portrayed in popular culture. She turns out to be, on the whole, pretty conventional, following whatever religious practices her parents have introduced her to and not thinking too deeply about them. His sense of morality is not really rooted, and so is subject to whim. You shouldn't kill or steal from someone, one of them says, because it will “ruin their day.” Fundamentally, her philosophy is: “Who am I to judge?” or “If that's what they choose, whatever.” He is, as the clearly exasperated researchers write, “incredibly inarticulate.” As one teen who inspires a subchapter and possibly a generational motto declares: “I believe there is a God and stuff.”

Reviewed by Hanna Rosin
Copyright 2005, The Washington Post Co. All Rights Reserved.

A Non-Christian Nation, August 4, 2005
Reviewer: John M. Custis (Gresham, OR USA) - See all my reviews

Christian Smith and Melinda Denton have produced a wonderful analysis of the religious condition of teenagers (ages 13-17) in the USA. They collected survey data on 3290 teenagers and then followed up with more extended interviews of 267 of those surveyed.

The initial survey gave an over all picture of the religious character of these teenagers including their affiliations, participation, beliefs and experiences. The interviews provided an in-depth exposure of what these teens really believe.

As it turns out, the seeming wide-spread acceptance of religious life by teens (only 16% were “not religious”) is largely to a vague, self-defined religion which the authors defined as: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. The teens believed in a generally disinterested divine power who supervised a system to provide personal peace and prosperity for nice people, or perhaps to help them them be nice. They adhered to a religion that is helpful, but not entirely necessary. While there were those who could be described as believers in Christianity as defined by the Bible, and also those who denied any religion, the clear majority favored MTD.

The book is a “must read” for any who would like to better understand the status of the spiritual interests of youths. It also is valuable for all who would generally understand American culture. While the authors make no such claim, it is likely that the youths' view of religion is likely the common view of our age. At the least, it surely will be the increasingly dominant religion as these youths enter adult life.

For parents and youth workers who are interested in true spiritual life for their children, it shows the arena in which their own youths reside. It should stimulate good thinking and discussion of how properly to intervene in what turns out to be a huge spiritual void in the lives of professing spiritual/religious youths.

This is an excellent book.

Lopsided, Biased and Anti-Catholic, April 1, 2005
Reviewer: “Truth Seeker” - See all my reviews
This book is by no means the final say on teens and religion in the United States of America. It's a statistical survey which attempts to get to the heart of US teens so that the readers may truly understand contemporary kids and their relationship with God and religion. However, there are some basic flaws: it does not treat Catholic fairly and it just about ignores Muslims altogether.

The surveyors use statistical categories which are inaccurate and misleading. They categorize Protestants into three categories: Conservataive Protestant, Mainline Protestants, and Black Protetants. These groups are each compared to one large dumping group called “Roman Catholics”, and “Roman Catholics” come out at the bottom of the barrel each time. No surprise. Why? Because it was an unfair comparison. Had they compared Conservative Protestants with Catholic youth who consider themselves “conservative”, it would have been a fair an accurate comparison. The percentage numbers indicating their understanding of their faith, their religious life, etc, would have been comparable. Similarly they would have produced a more accurate and fair result had they compared the Mainline Protestant youth with the average once-a-week-Cathlic who is educated at CCD, and the Black Protestant youth, who tend to be Penecostal and Baptist in many cases, with Catholic Charismatic youth who are similar in their worhship and living out of their faith. This casuses the survey to be deeply flawed in my opinion. Whether or not it was intentional is not for me to judge. I believe it simply shows ignorance of the Catholic community rather than malicious intent, but nonetheless it flaws the results.

The other categories which were thrown into the mix were Morman/Latter Day Saints, Jewish, and in some tables, No Religion at all when appropriate. Muslims were left out altogether.

It's section on Catholic youth, while accurate in that the section highlghted three intereviews with three “Catholics”, did in fact, give a distorted image of Catholic Youth in general because among these three “representative” Catholic youth interviewed, not one was really religious, or understanding of their faith. Not one had even been Educated In A Catholic School! Why did they not at least choose ONE student who had through the Cathoic school system. That would have been fair and representative of the Catholic population. It almost seems as though they went out of their way to find the least religious, most ill-educated of Catholic youths to represent the whole group. I really believe this was an enormous flaw.

I shared one of the case studies, “Heather”, with some youth I know. They were appalled at the lack of information this young women had in terms of her faith, and were embarassed that she should have been chosen to represent them, young Catholics.

In addition to this, the treatment of contemporary Catholic adults, while, again, true in part, leaves something to be desired as well. It is true that many contemporary Catholic adults have become successful and engaged in their careers and communities. The authors imply that this demonstrates that they have,in effect, abandoned their faith. I believe that this does not mean that they have abandoned their faith at all; they have been assimilated into the society are large and “look” like the rest of the community. Isn't that a good thing? If Catholics had not assimilated, then they would be accused of being “radical” or “fundamentalist”. Also, it is precisely because of the education they received in the Catholic Schools of the nineteen fifties and sixities, AND/OR because of the Catholic Chrisitan values and ethics which formed them, handed onto them by thier religious, Catholic immigrant grandparents and parents, in some cases, that they have become so successful in the world today. How about a Cheer for Catholic schools and Catholic families??

These are just some of my criticisms. To sum up, I was disappointed and frustrated in the book. However, to give the book its due, the authors did put in a tremendous amount of statistical and research work, and it could serve as a great discussion starter. There is certainly value for those who read it, and in a sense it has accomplished its goal in that it certainly makes one search one's soul. Thank you.

Catholic Report Author, September 24, 2005
Reviewer: Leigh E. Sterten (Springfield, Missouri) - See all my reviews

I would like to add to Dr. Christian Smith's clarification, as one of the authors on the Catholic report on the data he mentions (authored by Ministry Training Source and published by the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry). Soul Searching is not anti-Catholic. The researchers used advanced research techniques to produce a truly representative sample, and consulted Catholic youth ministry leaders in the development of the survey. The authors make sure to point out that while Catholic youth are the most inarticulate about their faith, they are merely the leading edge of a trend much larger than any one denomination. I have been across the country sharing this data with Catholic youth ministry leaders, who find that the results ring true with their experiences.

While the comparisons among denominations are sometimes difficult, they are none the less helpful and important. Looking at the Catholic data without comparing to other denominations is important in and of itself, and I would encourage “Truth Seeker” to seek out the Catholic report and read it.

Soul Searching is an amazing work, which was undertaken by professional researchers with no bias. They have contributed greatly to our understanding of youth and religion and I thank them for their work. To suggest anything to the contrary is simply unfounded conjecture.

The Author, April 1, 2005
Reviewer: Christian Smith (Chapel Hill, NC) - See all my reviews

In response to “Truth Seeker”’s review, a few basic points:

1. Muslims are not ignored in the book. The data include a full national sample of Muslim and other minority religion teens. As the book explains, however, because Muslim teens are so relatively few in number, only a handful show up in any national sample. Nevertheless, detailed attention is paid to Muslim (and Hindu and Buddhist) teens on pp. 315-317, based on the data we do have.

2. The analytical categories used (comparing conservative, mainline, and black Protestants with Catholics, LDS, and not religious) is state-of-the art method in the sociology of religion. These are the major religious traditions in the U.S., and most readers want to know how teens in those traditions are faring. Of course it is possible to focus on specific subgroups (e.g., Catholic school attenders) and get more highly specified results (see point #4 below), but the basic comparisons in the book are entirely valid and routinely employed in sociology of religion.

3. The book makes perfectly clear that the teens portrayed in the Catholic chapter are not “typical” Catholic teens, but representatives of those Catholic teens who are not doing well religiously. They are explicitly situated in the overall and clear finding that Catholic teens as a whole are not doing well religiously. Of course there are some very solid, committed Catholic teens, but they are not the norm, they are the minority. Whether or not (truth seeking) Catholic readers want to hear that unpleasant fact is another story. My request is simply: Don't shoot the messanger because of the message.

4. The NSYR (http://youthandreligion.nd.edu/) project from which this book comes has also collaborated with the National Federation of Catholic Youth Ministry and The Ministry Source to publish a special report focused exclusively on Catholic youth, which goes into greater depth in analyzing different kinds of Catholic youth. That report can be purchased at http://store.nfcym.org/shop/pc/viewcategories.asp. The Instituto Fe y Vida is also writing a book using NSYR data focused exclusively on Hispanic Catholic and Protestant teens.

I hope these points help to clarify some matters raised in Truth Seeker's review. I think a fair reading of the book shows that the charge of “Lopsided, Biased And Anti-Catholic” is simply false.

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Protestantism in England / Humanism, Deism & Atheistic Contributions to Civilization

On Wednesday, September 29, 2004, aabaho wrote:
Protestantism in England
Thanks so much for your website. It actually leaves most history students with questions like who were the leading elites in the spread of protestantismin England and what contributions did they ever make?
While studying the reformation,one would probably think that only Luther and Calvin are the founders of this religion and indeed the leading elites in whatever parts it spread to which assumption seems wrong. If i may ask,who were the leading elites in the spread of the protestantism and their contributions?
Protestantism in England

Edward: Hi Aabaho! Thanks for writing. I am unsure why you would NOT consider Calvin and Luther two leading elites whose works helped spread Protestantism throughout Europe, including parts of Great Britain. For instance, John Knox helped spread Calvinism in Scotland, which today remains mainly Presbyterian I believe. English Christianity of course is mainly Anglican, the Anglical Church being a spin-off of the Catholic church. King Henry the VIII who was Catholic, made his country break with the Pope and break with Catholicism since it wouldnʼt allow the king to divorce and marry other women to seek to produce a male heir to his throne. English Christians also enjoyed the Geneva Bible, originally produced in Calvinʼs Geneva and translated into English by Knox and other Calvinists staying there at the time. King James however, wanted his own Bible, and had one produced that is still renowned for its use of Shakespearian-sounding Elizabeethan English. The Protestant Christians known as “Puritans” didnʼt see eye to eye with the religious majority in England, and many Puritans sailed to America as a result. Though soon after getting to America the Puritans began quarrelling with one another and forming rival sects, and banishing their fellow Christians. Roger Williams was banished I seem to recall, and helped found Maryland or Pennsylvania was it? Anglicans also sailed across the sea from England to the New World. Humanists and Deists also sailed to the New World.

Concerning the modern world, I am less concerned with which elites spread Protestantism in England, than I am with…

The Contributions of Non-Christians and Non-Evangelical Christians

If it was not for a host of scientists who happened to be either lapsed churchgoers, unorthodox Christians, heretics, apostates, infidels, freethinkers, agnostics, or atheists, and their successes in the fields of agricultural and medical science, hundreds of millions would have starved to death or suffered innumerable diseases this past century. Those agricultural and medical scientists “multiplied more loaves of bread” and “prevented/healed more diseases” in the past hundred years than Christianity has in the past two thousand.

Also, it has not always been the most orthodox of Christians who have changed the face of charity worldwide for the better. Florence Nightingale (the lady who helped make nursing a legitimate profession, and taught that no one should be refused admittance to a hospital based on their religious affiliation, and no patient should be proselytized in a hospital, but instead they should be allowed to see whichever clergyperson they preferred) was not an orthodox Christian, but instead a freethinking universalist Christian. (Ms. Nightingale also wrote some steamy letters that suggest she may have been bi-sexual or a lesbian.)

The founder of the International Red Cross (now called the International Red Cross and Red Crescent), Andre Dunant, was gay.

Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, was another freethinking universalist Christian.

Dr. Albert Schweitzer, who spend years in Africa as a doctor and helped to publicize the plight of suffering Africans, was a liberal Christian and author of the The Search of the Historical Jesus in which he concluded that Jesus was a man who preached that the world was going to end soon.

And, Helen Keller (the woman who lost her sight and hearing to a bout with Scarlet Fever when she was very young, but who learned how to communicate via touch, and who proved an inspiration to several generations of folks suffering from severe disabilities) was both a Swedenborgian, and a member of the American Humanist Society.

Also, the “quest for civil liberty” in the United States owes at least as much to the ideals of the ancient Greeks and Romans, the Rennaisance and the Age of Reason:

“Secularism, agnosticism and atheism are as American as cherry pie. Indeed, ours was the first and only country to adopt a Constitution that specifically excluded all reference to a higher power. (I say ‘specifically’ because those meeting at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia did consider, and did decisively reject, any such reference. They also considered and voted to rejected Benjamin Franklinʼs suggestion that they open with a public prayer.) Many were the bishops and preachers of the time who warned that God would punish such profanity, but many were the preachers who said the same about the Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom, which did no more than state that no citizen could be obliged to pay for the upkeep of a church in which he did not believe.” Source: Washington Post

“The Rev. Dr. Wilson, who was almost a contemporary of our earlier statesmen and presidents, and who thoroughly investigated the subject of their religious beliefs, in his sermon already mentioned affirmed that the founders of our nation were nearly all Infidels, and that of the presidents who had thus far been elected — George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, and Andrew Jackson — not one had professed a belief in Christianity. From this sermon I quote the following: ‘When the war was over and the victory over our enemies won, and the blessings and happiness of liberty and peace were secured, the Constitution was framed and God was neglected. He was not merely forgotten. He was absolutely voted out of the Constitution. The proceedings, as published by Thompson, the secretary, and the history of the day, show that the question was gravely debated whether God should be in the Constitution or not, and, after a solemn debate he was deliberately voted out of it. … There is not only in the theory of our government no recognition of Godʼs laws and sovereignty, but its practical operation, its administration, has been conformable to its theory. Those who have been called to administer the government have not been men making any public profession of Christianity. … Washington was a man of valor and wisdom. He was esteemed by the whole world as a great and good man; but he was not a professing Christian.’

“Dr. Wilsonʼs sermon was published in the Albany Daily Advertiser in 1831, and attracted the attention of Robert Dale Owen, then a young man, who called to see its author in regard to his statement concerning Washingtonʼs belief. The result of his visit is given in a letter to Amos Gilbert. The letter is dated Albany, November 13, 1831., and was published in New York a fortnight later. He says:

“I called last evening on Dr. Wilson, as I told you I should, and I have seldom derived more pleasure from a short interview with anyone. Unless my discernment of character has been rievously at fault, I met an honest man and sincere Christian. But you shall have the particulars. A gentleman of this city accompanied me to the Doctorʼs residence. We were very courteously received. I found him a tall, commanding figure, with a countenance of much benevolence, and a brow indicative of deep thought, apparently approaching fifty years of age. I opened the interview by stating that though personally a stranger to him, I had taken the liberty of calling in consequence of having perused an interesting sermon of his, which had been reported in the Daily Advertiser of this city, and regarding which, as he probably knew, a variety of opinions prevailed. In a discussion, in which I had taken a part, some of the facts as there reported had been questioned; and I wished to know from him whether the reporter had fairly given his words or not… I then read to him from a copy of the Daily Advertiser the paragraph which regards Washington, beginning, ‘Washington was a man,’ etc., and ending, ‘absented himself altogether from the church.’ ‘I indorse,’ said Dr. Wilson, with emphasis, ‘every word of that. Nay, I do not wish to conceal from you any part of the truth, even what I have not given to the public. Dr. Abercrombie said more than I have repeated. At the close of our conversation on the subject his emphatic expression was — for I well remember the very words — ‘Sir, Washington was a Deist.’”

“In concluding the interview, Dr. Wilson said: ‘I have diligently perused every line that Washington ever gave to the public, and I do not find one expression in which he pledges himself as a believer in Christianity. I think anyone who will candidly do as I have done, will come to the conclusion that he was a Deist and nothing more.’ In February, 1800, a few weeks after. Washingtonʼs death, Jefferson made the following entry in his journal: ‘Dr. Rush told me (he had it from Asa Green) that when the clergy addressed General Washington, on his departure from the government, it was observed in their consultation that he had never, on any occasion, said a word to the public which showed a belief in the Christian religion, and they thought they should so pen their address as to force him at length to disclose publicly whether he was a Christian or not. However, he observed, the old fox was too cunning for them. He answered every article of their address particularly, except that, which he passed over without notice.’” (Jeffersonʼs Works, Vol. iv., p. 572).
Source: Six Historic Americas, Chapter 3

Or consider the view of another Evangelical Christian, Luke Timothy Johnson, who PRAISES ancient moral philosophy in his college course (available from The Teaching Company), “Practical Philosophy: The Greco-Roman Moralists.” “Imagine a course that teaches you not only how to think like the great philosophers, but how to live. Greeks and Romans of the early imperial period are often overlooked in the annals of philosophical study, but provided down-to-earth advice on how to live a solid, happy life.” A friend of mine listened to Johnsonʼs tapes and said, “I would challenge any fundamentalist to listen to this course, but Iʼm sure they would say ‘Itʼs a tool of the Devil!’”

Which also reminds me of something that Dr. Albert Schweitzer (the liberal Christian theologian who focused on “reverence for life,” and who worked as a medical missionary in Africa for decades) pointed out: “For centuries Christianity treasured the great commandment of love and mercy as traditional truth without recognizing it as a reason for opposing slavery, witch burning and all the other ancient and medieval forms of inhumanity. It was only when Christianity experienced the influence of the thinking of the Age of Enlightenment that it was stirred into entering the struggle for humanity. The remembrance of this ought to preserve it forever from assuming any air of superiority in comparison with thought.” Also in the same book, Schweitzer cautioned against “the crooked and fragile thinking of Christian apologetics.” [Albert Schweitzer, Out of My Life and Thought: An Autobiography (New York: The New American Library, 1963)]

Falsity Of John Quincy Adams Quotation Cited Often By Evangelical Christians

Did John Quincy Adams ever say that the American Revolution “connected in one indissoluable bond the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity?”
Research by Jim Allison.

In the first edition of his videotape, Americaʼs Godly Heritage, David Barton quotes John Quincy Adams as follows:

The highest glory of the American Revolution is this; it connected in one indissoluble bond the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity.

While the quote doesnʼt appear in any of Bartonʼs later works, it does turn up in another popular Christian book, William J. Federerʼs, Americaʼs God and Country: Encyclopedia of Quotations, p. 18. Federer provides a date for the quotation (July 4, 1821), and gives the source as follows: John Wingate Thornton, The Pulpit of the American Revolution 1860 (reprinted NY: Burt Franklin, 1860; 1970), p. XXIX.

We recently located this source and now suspect that John Quincy Adams never uttered these words. Hereʼs what we found:

Pages X through XXXVIII of the Thornton book are a historical introduction to the subject of religion in the New England States, with a special focus on the state of Massachusetts. Throughout this introduction, Thornton quotes various early Americans on the subject of religion. At least some of the quotations are footnoted, and all of them appear to be enclosed in quotation marks. Sometimes portions of the quotations are italicized for emphasis.

The words attributed to John Quincy Adams appear on page XXIX. None of these words are placed in quotation marks. Rather, the sentence reads as if Thornton is making his own conclusion about what John Quincy Adams believed. Thorntonʼs sentence reads as follows:

The highest glory of the American Revolution, said John Quincy Adams, was this: it connected, in one indissoluble bond, the principles of civil government with the principle of Christianity (italics in the original). No footnote for these words is given. Nor are the words attached to a date. Hence, if these words are a quotation from Adams, it is impossible to trace them back from Thorntonʼs book to an original source. Elsewhere in the book Adamsʼ father (John Adams) is quoted properly, i.e., with footnotes and quotation marks.

It appears, in other words, that somewhere down the line Thorntonʼs conclusions about John Quincy Adams were passed off as Adamʼs own remarks. In Federerʼs case, his reproduction of the quotation doesnʼt edit out the words “said John Quincy Adams” and replace them with ellipses; either he knowingly misreports Thorntonʼs words, or he didnʼt check his sources for accuracy. It is, of course, possible, that the printer made a mistake and forgot the quotation marks but, until somebody can locate the original source of the quote, there is no ground whatsoever to treat these words and Adamsʼ own. The quote should be regarded as bogus.

Please note: even if Adams did say these words it wouldnʼt bolster the accomodationistʼs case; as we suggest elsewhere, Adams would simply be wrong to argue that the federal Constitution embodies the principles of Christianity. It doesnʼt, and Adamsʼ saying so doesnʼt prove a thing. Rather, the real importance of this quote is as a demonstration of just how far some popular Christian authors will go to prove their case. Nothing in the Thornton book justifies taking the “indissoluble bond” quote as John Quincy Adamsʼ own words, but because it says something the right wants to hear, the words are pressed into service anyway. This isnʼt good scholarship, and the consumers of Barton and Federerʼs work should be aware of just how poor their research is.

On A Lighter Note, Here Is The Story Of An Atheist And Christian Who Were Fast Friends

Speaking of atheist and Christian friendships, one famous atheist novelist in particular was close friends with the famous Catholic Christian novelist and apologist, G. K. Chesteron. The atheist I am speaking of was H.G. Wells. When Wells had taken seriously ill, he wrote Chesterton: “If after all my Atheology turns out wrong and your Theology right I feel I shall always be able to pass into Heaven (if I want to) as a friend of G.K.C.ʼs. Bless you.”

Chesterton replied: “If I turn out to be right, you will triumph, not by being a friend of mine, but by being a friend of Man, by having done a thousand things for men like me in every way from imagination to criticism. The thought of the vast variety of that work, and how it ranges from towering visions to tiny pricks of humor, overwhelmed me suddenly in retrospect; and I felt we have none of us ever said enough…Yours always, G. K. Chesterton.” [Dec. 10, 1933, letter from H.G. Wells to G.K. Chesterton. Undated reply from G.K. Chesterton to H.G. Wells. Letters, quoted in full in Maise Ward, Gilbert Keith Chesterton (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1943), pp. 604-605.] Note that Chesterton in his reply said Wells would “triumph” after death by “being a friend of Man.”

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