Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Two Provocative Ideas For Tuesday

The idea that we shouldn't believe Jim Jones when he said that he was an atheist pretending to be a Pentecostal preacher in order to dupe people into his cult carries a huge problem.  If he's lying about being an atheist, if he's unbelievable on that count, why isn't he also unbelievable on his professions of Christianity?

There is one good reason why its more plausible that he wasn't lying about being an atheist and it's something that atheists often use to deflect criticisms made of atheism.  His actions in forming an oppressive, enslaving and, ultimately, homicidal cult are entirely inconsistent with the Gospel he used as a false front, they aren't inconsistent with atheism.

Jim Jones' actions are more than a good reason to doubt his Christianity, it is a definitive reason to reject the assignment of that name to him and, certainly, of assigning guilt for him to other people whose conduct is entirely different from what he and his true believers, in him, did.

The same atheists who object to me bringing up Jim Jones are also atheists who, when someone brings up the notable moral lapses of famous atheists, such as Stalin and Pol Pot, will disavow responsibility because atheism is mere negation of belief in God and is nothing else.  Which is one of the oddest possible defenses as it points out why atheists who want to make moral criticisms of religious people have to reach outside of atheism for some basis on which to do that.  Atheism is a morally deficient basis for making moral criticisms.   Atheists can't be true to atheism when they invoke moral positions that atheism denies have a basis  just as Jews, Christians or Muslims can't be true to their religions as they violate the moral foundations embedded in the scriptures that are the bases of those religions.

Another example was in the news last year, when Tim Lambesis, a member of a "Christian" metal band, convicted of trying to hire a hit man to murder his estranged wife admitted that he and the other members of his band were, in fact, atheists.

He and other members of his band "As I Lay Dying" were pretty much faking Christianity for the money and fame.  Rather cynically manipulating their image to dupe people into thinking they were Christians for its career advantage.

“As far as the [YouTube] video I did explaining 'Pyrithion''s lyrics… I was trying to put out a fire. I was afraid it would affect As I Lay Dying sales, which would affect my overall income. I was trying to put out the fire by saying the easiest thing, 'I'm not a satanist!'" he explained in the Alternative Press interview.

"Truthfully, I was an atheist. The 'strategy' I had at the time was cowardly. Two of the songs on that record were about coming to grips with the idea that life has no purpose, no meaning. These were negative themes I wasn't 'allowed' to deal with in As I Lay Dying songs. I thought making As I Lay Dying darker would be bad for my career. That was my thinking," he continued.

Since I reject the compatibility of Christianity with the strutting, angry, sexist, nihilistic, cynicism of metal, I'm not convinced that the Christianity of many of his fans would have passed the least rigorous examination of conscience.  The threats made to the ex-wife and would be victim of his murder for hire are also reminiscent of the Jim Jones cult members who were ready to kill for him, something they wouldn't have gotten from Jesus who told his apostle to put away the sword he took out to defend him, or any of the prophets.

Murphy said the ordeal will haunt her for the rest of her life, leaving her always looking over her shoulder. She said many of his fans had sent her threatening messages on social media since his arrest.

"The question of who Tim talked to or will talk to will forever haunt me,” she said in that San Diego courtroom. “The scariest thing is Tim's notoriety. He has followers that will do anything for him. It's terrifying to think there are people out there motivated to kill me on his behalf."

All of which would violate nothing presented as a moral restraint by atheism but which violates just about the entirety of The Law and the prophets as elucidated by Jesus in The Gospels.  One of the more prominent warnings contained in The Gospels was that false prophets would always be there and ready to suck people in, the test against those being the actions of them and how well they accorded to The Law.

I will not assign guilt to atheists who don't form or support oppressive, enslaving, mind-controlling and homicidal cults for those atheists who do, even as I agree with those atheists who point out there is no moral content in atheism that could say those were objectively wrong.  For that reason it's even odder that atheists, in such large numbers, are eager and quick to assign guilt to Christians who reject those things and don't practice them, many of whom have opposed those things being done using the name of their religion and its central figures and ideas. Though, I will admit there is nothing in atheism to prevent them from practicing a double standard they form in their favor.  A belief in the reality of equally held moral obligations are not a necessary part of atheism, they are of intellectual integrity, though.

During the early stage of the TV fundamentalist revival in the late 1970s, in response to the "praise the Lord" cult, I once heard a woman who identified herself as a liberal Christian point out, "It's a lot easier to praise The Lord than it is to follow him."  Thus it was, thus it will always be.  But that tendency is certainly not restricted to religion, it is ubiquitous in human culture, just as religion is.

We don't use the massive amorality of commerce and banking to call for an end to commerce and banking, the lapses in scientific method and outright fraud as discrediting honest scientists and rigorously done and honest science.  We haven't let the even more notable lapses in medicine, education*, journalism, scholarship, all of them being as covered in grime and filth from immoral behavior countenanced by the human beings who are their agents be the definitive condemnation of those human activities.

Part of that is due to their utility, more so, I would hold, due to the wealth gained through them and, so, their prestige and power.   In the west, the ease with which the one area of human activity which contains absolute condemnations of lying, murder, oppression, etc, religion, is bashed is directly due to its relative weakness, as compared to most other human activities.  In trying to think of a close second, perhaps the public schools and work of other public servants might be good for comparison.


The fine blogger, Southern Beale asked an interesting question the other day, why, when a fanatical gunman shot up a Unitarian Universalist congregation weren't people all declaring that they were UUs?   Why weren't we all Planned Parenthood when Dr. Tiller was murdered (as he ushered at his Lutheran Church, I will always remind people)?

I think there are lots of reasons for that, the relative attention given by the media to the killing of their own and our total dependence on the media for information. What Charlie Hebdo was spewing was right-wing hate speech pretending it was in some way an expression of liberality, which has something to do with it.  The extent to which people who never saw or heard of Charlie Hebdo before late last week are just assuming they know the nature of what it was putting out and that it was some great and wonderful thing only proves how even the most educated of people can substitute their habits of thought for looking at what is as plain as the page in front of them.  I will write about how the civic ideals of freedom, liberty, etc. are hollowed out into mere and empty slogans by removing them from a context of morality, later.

I can't imagine if some fanatic attacked a liberal Christian organization that was truly speaking truth to power and wealth that it would have been given the same treatment in the media.  I doubt that if they were even reporters of fact as opposed to propagandists of accepted hate the story would have been played the same way.  The attacks against reporters in Russia, in countries around the world, reporters of fact instead of empty and vicious entertainment counts as little to nothing in the intellectual world as created by our scribbling, drawing establishment.

The extent to which hostility to religion moves the popular culture, the online dialogue and the intellectuals in the west since the late 19th century is one of the more surprising things I've learned since going online.  I'd never been exposed to a large enough range of the unedited thinking of such people until then to get a real sense of it.  That and looking at the history what has been politically powerful enough for liberalism to overcome the massive forces of selfishness, xenophobic and bigoted suspicions and jealousies and a myriad of other inherent obstacles it faces, have led me where I am now.  Liberalism is not friendly to those things that lead to fame and fortune, neither is the Gospel of Jesus, The Law or the prophets for the same reason, they are the most radical of all demands for equality, justice and rights.


  1. Sartre took up the burden of replacing ethics without God. G.E. Moore made a stab at it in the early 20th century, but it never got anywhere. Sartre at least understood that, if you remove the concept of God from Western society, ethics becomes quite a burden, indeed albeit, a necessary one, especially if one is to avoid the "Greeks/Barbarians" division that the Nicomachean Ethics leaves in place.

    It's too much for neb-atheists, though. They want to keep the Christian ethics superstructure while discarding the "Christian." Even Kant stumbled over that one, and these guys aren't fit to wind Kant's watch.

  2. Is winding Kant's watch a categorical imperative?

    1. I'm winding up some folks. They're not happy but I'm not done.

    2. It was for him.

      Story goes the people of his town could set their watches by Kant's regular habits.

      There's probably something ethical about it.