Thursday, December 22, 2016

Chaoskampf and The Problem of Suffering and Evil

Premier Christianity magazine contained a very moving article about a couple whose son died of a brain tumour. Inevitably, given the Christian context, the problem of suffering (and evil) reared its enigmatic head. The following quote from the article tells us how the boy's mother, Jessica, coped with the challenge to her faith:

For most of her life, Jessica had been taught what she calls the “blueprint view” of why God allows suffering. According to this understanding, God wills everything that happens, history is a working out of his meticulous divine blueprint and there’s a specific good behind even the most extreme suffering. She says this theology is expressed in clich├ęs such as ‘everything happens for a reason'.

Long before Henry’s diagnosis, Jessica began to question this traditional view of God’s role in suffering. As she listened to podcasts of Greg Boyd’s (Senior pastor at Woodland Hills Church in Minnesota) sermons, she heard another view expressed which she calls the ‘warfare view’. This theory posits that God is not the only force in the universe and all evil originates in wills other than God. Suffering is therefore ultimately caused by Satan, and not God.

Jessica spent many months listening to and considering both of these positions. After a two year period of wrestling with these opposing ideas and looking at relevant biblical verses, she landed on the warfare view, explaining it made her mind and heart line up with each other.

As Jessica explains, “To think God isn’t designing my pain but rather doing everything possible to maximise good and minimise evil within the constraints of the world he created – that’s exciting!”

Jessica had already adopted this warfare view before Henry’s health deteriorated. She says it made a tremendous difference. It may have even saved her faith.

“It was unbelievably freeing to walk through this nightmare and not say, ‘Am I being tested, taught a lesson or punished?’ I didn’t have to think this person we love and trust would cause a nightmare in our lives. I didn’t have to feel betrayed by God in the midst of this horrible event. So my crisis wasn’t compounded by a crisis of faith.

“It was incredibly freeing to know when we saw beautiful things happen, when people were coming to the house with casseroles and gifts – we could say, ‘This is from God. God is doing everything possible to maximise good.’ And when we saw our son suffer and the pain and death, I could say ‘this is not from God'. That meant I could maintain a passionate faith in the midst of such terrible loss.”

As I read through this for the first time it looked to me as if it was going in the wrong direction; for at first it seemed as if Jessica was taking on board the old gnosto-dualist solution to the problem of pain. This solution envisages good and evil as opposite forces fighting it out, sometimes evenly matched. In classical Gnosticism evil is believed to be rooted in the material world from which an initiation into "gnosis" (that is, a kind of "inner light" experience) allows the believer to rise above this evil world and find salvation. In fact in classical Gnosticism the material world is thought to be the work of a dimiurge rather than God. Gnosticism of this kind side steps the difficult questions which arise if God is postulated to be a loving sovereign creator; for if God is sovereign creator why did he create a world with the propensity for suffering and evil in the first place? Why did he create sentient beings with the propensity to fall?  But if as gnosticism maintains God didn't create the world He cannot then be held responsible for the imperfection which generates suffering and moral falleness; all of this can be blamed on the "free will" (sic) of demons and humans. 

However, what saves the day for the above quote is that Jessica is reported as saying that God will "minimise evil within the constraints of the world he created ". That sounds like an acknowledgement of God's position as sovereign creator; but it leaves open the question of the inscrutable Divine purposes behind the perverse logic of this world (=constraints?) which, for unknown reasons, has been given divine permission to play out. At one level Jessica's solution may help: God is seen as a contender for good in a battle of good vs evil and where God has tied his hands behind his back. In effect God is playing by rules he has ordained in advance. One of those rules, presumably, is that God has chosen to create a world of personal agents with the propensity to defy divine morality and "fall".  But as God is responsible for creating beings with this flawed propensity  then on the higher level the problem of suffering and evil remains untouched; why did He create beings that so easily succumb to the temptations of sin? Surely omniscient omnipotence could do better?

As a rule I don't comment on the problem of suffering and evil - after all there have been many hundreds of years of deliberation on this subject and I don't think I'm going to make much impact on the problem. However, I will risk airing the following thoughts, thoughts which have been on my mind for many years.

Let us assume that a model cosmos can be represented as a string of characters; of course for any significant cosmos this string will be of enormous length, a length which we will quantify by L. If the string employs a character set of C characters then the number of possible strings which can be constructed will be CL. The quantity CL is enormous but finite. If we think of this string as a book, then the Cpossibilities will contain all the books there can be of size L; that is, among the Cpossibilities we will find the story of every possible cosmos. But as it stands these CL cosmic narratives don't exist outside the unreality of platonic space, a space of possibility and potential but not of reality. By far and away most of these unreal cosmoses will be random nonsense but many will tell of significant things. These significant, but materially non-existent cosmic stories, can only be reified by an omnipotent sovereign deity, perhaps in some corner of His infinite mind. But which cosmos will it be that comes up for reification? 

In one sense the platonic existence of the CL worlds gives them a kind of independence from God. Those worlds are to God as the story in a book is to its author; the author of a book is bringing forth something that has always existed in the platonic realm and the author is sovereign over all that appears in the book. God, like an author, is a sovereign facilitator whose job entails reifying the particular cosmos which emerges from platonic space into material reality. This cosmos, in having an an independent platonic existence may well have its own logic which has features contrary to the nature of God himself, just as a human author may introduce features and characters in his story which do not reflect his nature. We perhaps can glimpse in this something of that good vs evil contention which Jessica is talking of: God has chosen to be contender in one of these cosmic stories. 

But in spite of all that, at the highest level the question of suffering and evil remains intact: Why would divine omnipotence translate suffering and evil from the platonic world to material reality?  If we are theists who believe in the absolute creative sovereignty of a loving God this remains a mystery. We may even feel that mysterious divine motives for reifying our particular world could never justify some of the suffering and evil we see. After all, it is one thing to write a book of pure symbols about a wayward world, as does a human author. but it is yet another thing to "write" this book using the qualia of real actors, actors who have a conscious experience of this world; best leave it in the unrealized spaces of the platonic realm, it may be felt.

Do we say "Yes" or "No" to our cosmic story given the suffering and evil we see (and experience) around us? I'm personally left with a dilemma. My existence is organically and inseparably joined to the cosmic story; if this world of suffering and evil didn't exist then neither would I. So, do I consider my existence worthwhile in spite of the pain and evil of this world? Because of this dilemma I bulk at the thought of saying "No" to life; I'd rather exist than not exist, pain or no pain. But it easy for me to say that: My life, by all accounts, has been comfortable and privileged, so I'm hardly a qualified person to say "Yes" to a cosmos of suffering and evil on the basis of this dilemma alone; all I can do is leave it as a mouth stopping dilemma. Hence, I avoid pronouncing on the subject. 

There are two types of suffering: Firstly there is suffering which may be the a result of impersonal forces such as natural disasters and instabilities in socio-economic systems over which no one has full control. Secondly, there is suffering brought about by intentional sentient beings whose willful and culpable actions cause suffering. Frequently, fundamentalist Christians ignore the serpent of Genesis 3 and trace back all suffering, whether of personal and impersonal forces, as consequences of the culpability of Adam and Eve. In fact, sometimes this Adamic culpability is proposed as a theodicy: "Suffering is due to man and not God"*. This solution not only fails because it ignores the serpent but also ignores the question of why a loving sovereign God should permit the emergence from the platonic realm of beings with the propensity to sin; for He is no doubt capable of bringing out of those huge platonic spaces responsible beings who do not choose to sin; but this He hasn't done.

One of my favorite quips is "Sin is the word with the 'I' in the middle"; that is, sin is a state of being which puts priority on self at the expense of other sentient beings; serve self first and hang the consequences to others. That's sin in a nutshell and we all indulge in it from time to time. Rebellion against God is a consequence of sin - see Genesis 3; man predicated himself first and then in order to maintain this predication necessarily rebelled. Many fundamentalists see sin expressing itself as highly organised covert conspiracies of many agents (i.e. Conspiracy theorism - e.g. Tim LaHaye). I suggest that in maintaining such ideas they don't really understand the disrupting effects of sin: Sin decentralizes and disconnects desire and motive from its surroundings. In consequence it leads not to highly organised movements of agents (which would requite too much selfless morality) but exactly the opposite - it leads to chaos and randomness. A universal perception of this understanding may perhaps be found in the chaoskampf mythology. This mythology depicts the fight with evil as a struggle with chaos (or chaoskampf), often symbolised by the leviathan from the deep; it is a mythology that is hinted at in both the Bible and other cultures. Evil degrades cooperation in favor of self and thereby leads to chaos, randomness and ultimately meaninglessness. So in the final analysis the problem of evil boils down to a struggle with the void of meaninglessness and emptiness. It is the war with the chaos beast which is the most general form of the struggle between good and evil. (I discuss this matter further in the introduction and epilogue of my book on randomness)

The search for meaning in darkness. Who would have anticipated the 
incarnation? See Philippians 2:6-11

God has an inside experience of suffering


Further study.  
The following links, which I have yet to study closely, look as though they might contain some useful material.

* The fundamentalist over-statement of the consequences of the fall is probably down to a confluence of causes: Viz: Fundamentalism selects for personalities which favour a paranoiac perspective of an elite religious remnant locked into an embattled and belligerent sectarianism. This perspective may in part be down to the social marginalization of fundamentalists; they seek a satisfying rationale to engage in forthright condemnation of the world that has rejected them and which they therefore hate with deep hatred. Their spiritual pride is such that they identify the slight against them as a slight against the Almighty. They therefore have little trouble in seeing the world which has rejected their message as utterly evil and wicked. They also have a small minded view of the cosmos and its profound mystery of purpose; simplification of the cosmic narrative in gnosto-dualist terms suits the anti-intellectual culture of fundamentalism.

Fundamentalism's obsession with hell as the destination for the wicked world actually exacerbates the problem of suffering and evil; it also renders void any attempt to use Romans 8:18 as the basis of a theodicy. In the fundamentalist view suffering this side of the grave  (unless you're one of them - i.e a small remnant) is just a prelude to something even worse - the eternal suffering of hell. Since fundamentalist communities are small it follows that in their view the overwhelming majority of people are destined for hell (even Christians such as myself!). This view makes the creation seem even more pointless than ever: For, according to fundamentalists, the life of the large majority of the world's inhabitants has been reified by the Almighty only to have them eventually sent into eternal suffering; their sin?; rejection of the highly proprietary doctrines of the minority fundamentalist sect! Of course, this is no problem to the vindictive fundamentalist mind because it hates the world and sees its rejection of their message of salvation as evidence of a world that is utterly evil, full of wickedness and therefore deserving of eternal punishment. That's the fundamentalist mindset for you!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Path to Radicalisation

Radicalisation: getting yourself thoroughly hot and cross is all part of it 

This post on PZ Myers blog has proved worthy of adding to the VNP record: Myers quotes various researchers who have studied the process of radicalization. Myers' post is, in fact, a very useful source of incisive commentary and well worth reading. Some quotes:

…he [Scott Atran] argues, young people adrift in a globalized world find their own way to ISIS, looking to don a social identity that gives their lives significance

Sarah Lyons-Padilla writes:

Researchers have long studied the motivations of terrorists, with psychologist Arie Kruglanski proposing a particularly compelling theory: people become terrorists to restore a sense of significance in their lives, a feeling that they matter. Extremist organizations like Isis are experts at giving their recruits that sense of purpose, through status, recognition, and the promise of eternal rewards in the afterlife.
My own survey work supports Kruglanski’s theory. I find that American Muslims who feel a lack of significance in their lives are more likely to support fundamentalist groups and extreme ideologies.
What we really need to know now is, what sets people on this path? How do people lose their sense of purpose?
My research reveals one answer: the more my survey respondents felt they or other Muslims had been discriminated against, the more they reported feeling a lack of meaning in their lives. Respondents who felt culturally homeless – not really American, but also not really a part of their own cultural community – were particularly jarred by messages that they don’t belong. Yet Muslim Americans who felt well integrated in both their American and Muslim communities were more resilient in the face of discrimination.
My results are not surprising to many social scientists, who know that we humans derive a great deal of self-worth from the groups we belong to. Our groups tell us who we are and make us feel good about ourselves. But feeling like we don’t belong to any group can really rattle our sense of self.

Abi Wilkinson identifies the drift toward the extreme right as form of radicalisation:

No, not the bit you’re thinking of. Somewhere far worse. That loose network of blogs, forums, subreddits and alternative media publications colloquially known as the “manosphere”. An online subculture centred around hatred, anger and resentment of feminism specifically, and women more broadly. It’s grimly fascinating and now troubling relevant.

In modern parlance, this is part of the phenomenon known as the “alt-right”. More sympathetic commentators portray it as “a backlash to PC culture” and critics call it out as neofascism. Over the past year, it has been strange to see the disturbing internet subculture I’ve followed for so long enter the mainstream. The executive chairman of one of its most popular media outlets, Breitbart, has just been appointed Donald Trump’s chief of strategy, and their UK bureau chief was among the first Brits to have a meeting with the president-elect. Their figurehead – Milo Yiannopoulos – toured the country stumping for him during the campaign on his “Dangerous Faggot” tour. These people are now part of the political landscape.

None of the above is a surprise at VNP (See links below); the search for meaning, purpose, fulfillment, a feeling of worth and a tribal sense of belonging & community are all deep human motivations.  Add to this the hankering to replace flaky & "faith"** based epistemic heuristics with authoritarian certainties and you've got a mix of emotions which readily finds fulfillment in the group think of fundamentalist communities of one kind or another. Myers is unlikely to admit it, but atheism, although not necessarily a problem in and of itself, is part of the pyschological complex: As I've said before, atheism is less a world-view than it is an absence of a world view. So unless liberal atheism can somehow construct purposes and meanings sufficient to satisfy the yearnings of the human heart, atheism is liable to leave a nihilistic vacuum which may by slow degrees be filled with some form of fundamentalist certainty. 

PZ Myers himself gives an example of that nihilistic hole being filled with tribal certainties:

Speaking of introspection and examining ourselves, here’s someone else who was radicalized by a social movement — in this case, the dark side of atheism. Sam Harris, Dave Rubin, Thunderf00t, Christopher Hitchens…these guys are gateways to the normalization of hatred.

Myers goes on to quote Lyons-Padilla:

I was curious as to the motives of leave voters. Surely they were not all racist, bigoted or hateful? I watched some debates on YouTube. Obvious points of concern about terrorism were brought up. A leaver cited Sam Harris as a source. I looked him up: this “intellectual, free-thinker” was very critical of Islam. Naturally my liberal kneejerk reaction was to be shocked, but I listened to his concerns and some of his debates.

This, I think, is where YouTube’s “suggested videos” can lead you down a rabbit hole. Moving on from Harris, I unlocked the Pandora’s box of “It’s not racist to criticise Islam!” content. Eventually I was introduced, by YouTube algorithms, to Milo Yiannopoulos and various “anti-SJW” videos (SJW, or social justice warrior, is a pejorative directed at progressives). They were shocking at first, but always presented as innocuous criticism from people claiming to be liberals themselves, or centrists, sometimes “just a regular conservative” – but never, ever identifying as the dreaded “alt-right”.

For three months I watched this stuff grow steadily more fearful of Islam. “Not Muslims,” they would usually say, “individual Muslims are fine.” But Islam was presented as a “threat to western civilisation”. Fear-mongering content was presented in a compelling way by charismatic people who would distance themselves from the very movement of which they were a part.

Atheism has inherent problems in satiatiing the hunger for meaning: Within an atheist framework from whence comes that meaning? And who arbitrates it? If atheists try to fill in these gaps they are plagued by the same dilemma as religious fundamentalists; namely, the gap between practical heuristic epistemologies and the aspiration for authoritative, comprehensive and definitive answers.

Some relevant links:

** I understand "faith" in the very general sense of believing that our world has a basic epistemic integrity which means that by and large it's evidential signals are not misleading. e,g, The signals from distant objects in space and time, such as fossils and star light, are evidence of real objects. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Gnostic** Guru Declares British Evangelicals Dead.

The Power to  declare other Christians dead: Humility? Is that what some people call it?

The August issue of Premier Christianity has published an article by a Christian leader called  R T Kendall. Kendall was one time minister of Westminster Chapel in London.  To cut a long story short he is a charismatic fundamentalist who, according to Wiki, has been associated with the notorious Paul Cain and the Kansas City prophets. He has also endorsed the bizarre Toronto Blessing

It is a rule of thumb of mine that for every fundamentalist you will find at least one (probably a lot more than one!) anti-fundamentalist and this is no less true of Kendall. The straight laced reformation identifying evangelicals, themselves very committed "obey to the letter" fundamentalism would likely consider Kendall, with his gnostic version of Christianity, a dangerous heretic. The people of London's Metropolitan Tabernacle probably fall into this category.  Moreover, the group I have called the "Reformo-Charistmatics" would also want to disown Kendall's antics. See here for an example of a reference to Kendall from the point of view of the London Tabernacle:

So, there is the list of Pastors. Dr Masters makes some interesting comments about the history of the church, especially from the Second World War onwards. Many ‘stalwarts’ who returned after the war found the church very different – Dr Scroggie being quite Arminian and strong on Keswick ‘holiness’ teaching. Many of these believers left and went to other places where there was sound expository preaching. One such place was Westminster Chapel, under the ministry of Dr D Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Indeed, a young Tabernacle deacon, named Henry C Todd, crossed the river to sit under Dr Lloyd-Jones, and later became his church secretary. At the end of his life, in the 1970s, Henry Todd returned to the Tabernacle as the pendulum swung the other way again. The sad decline of Westminster Chapel into the charismatic extremes of today was begun even then. (See the Rev Iain Murray’s comments upon RT Kendall’s ministry here). [The link at the end there is now orphaned - ed]

Fundamentalists place a huge stake in the divine authority of their opinions; this is usually a consequence of what they will claim to be the "plain reading" of scripture; that is, how they interpret its meaning. Upon this reading they will attempt to load the epistemic responsibility of their beliefs, telling us those beliefs are based not on their opinions (which in fact they are)  but on the say so of the  Almighty Himself,  i.e.  "the Authority of God's Word", as if there is some non-contentious agreed reading of scripture which means its interpretation is as uncontentious as the translation of Morse code.  But as I have said before, scripture is like a recipe; to get the cake right we also need a competent cook and the right ingredients. The generation of meaning from scripture is organically joined to the reader and his environment. The reader is epistemically proactive, responsible, accountable and cannot off-load his opinions onto the Almighty.

But fundamentalists whose epistemic arrogance means they know they've got  it all right  have boxed themselves into a corner. If fundamentalists think they've got God's very word taped then they are committed to declaring those who criticize their version of fundamentalism as at best of an inferior and unclean spirituality or at worst blaspheming heretics. The fundamentalist's world is one of black and white, so, when it comes to evaluating a fundamentalist guru like Kendall it helps to remember that one fundamentalist's esteemed prophet is another fundamentalists emissary from hell. If you disagree with a fundie their epistemic arrogance means that they just can't accept that this can be done with a clear conscience; after all, from their perspective disobeying their word is to disobey the writ of the Almighty God. This is one reason why I do not recommend getting involved with fundies; unless you are prepared to eat out of their doctrinaire hand the relationship with them is soured from day one.

So, we can see why fundamentalists like Kendall fights fire with fire and he can give as good as he gets from fellow fundamentalists like the Metropolitan tabernacle. But Kendall, in his eyes, has something extra that these "reformation" Christians don't have; namely, as a gnosto-charismatic he believes he has a spiritual anointing, absent among the "reformists",  an anointing which gives his words a super-charged authority that the "reformist" can't, and, to give them credit, wouldn't make claim to.  In fact Kendall fell out with his predecessor at Westminster Chapel, namely the formidable Martin Lloyd Jones, the lionized doyen of the traditional non-charismatic fundamentalists who think of themselves as the one and only true torch bearers of the reformation and charismatic Christians as dangerously deceived..

But let me get back to the article.  In this article Kendall brings to bear the authority of his guru status (among some Christians!) in order to condemn another a set of Christians. But he doesn't tell us who those Christians are or what they've done wrong. Kendall only vaguely identifies them by voicing his concern for the drift of British evangelical Christianity and claims they are crossing over a line he never dreamed they would cross. Now, Kendall can't be referring to the buttoned up "reformed" evangelicals of, say, the Metropolitan Tabernacle variety since they have been around a lot longer than Kendall and his Toronto blessing culture. My guess is that he perhaps is referring to the general reflective and self critical drift in the evangelical church which, ironically, may well be a reaction against the kind of  authoritarian and polarized excesses of Christian fundamentalists such as we see in both the likes of Kendall and his doppelgangers in "reformed" Christian communities.  Many moderate and reasonable evangelicals have had enough; in fact, they may see in fundamentalists an ugly reflection of what they themselves might look like to outsiders. This may even be the sort of process moderate evangelical William Dembski has been through.

Polarization among evangelicals has been going on for a long time now. In fact I remember a telling incident when I was at the faithfully evangelical Surrey Chapel, Norwich in the late eighties, during the days of its then minister David Middleton.  David Middleton and Surrey Chapel were and still are traditionally evangelical and yet during a meeting I remember David Middleton complaining about the polarization he was observing between the fanatically "reformed" Christians and the fanatically charismatic wings of the church.That  wasn't the days of the internet, but I think Middleton was the recipient of a large post bag which, along with his many ministerial connections, put him in a strategic position to assess the way things were going.

With the coming of the mid 1990s Toronto Blessing which came on top of the authoritarianism of 1970s restorationism,  things got worse.  In consequence many evangelicals began to feel they had had seen enough and didn't want to be identified with the kind of ugly fundamentalism that Kendall and his doppelgangers stands for. The upshot of this was a more reasonable smooth edged nonabrasive evangelicalism. Very recent evidence that moderate evangelicals are rebelling (on both side of the Atlantic)  is perhaps seen in the William Dembski story. But I suspect that it is not just the outbreak of reasonableness and a liberal leaning tolerance among evangelicals that troubles a hardened fundamentalist like Kendall. My guess is that what most offends him is that some evangelicals have started to accept  homosexual  relations - but then this acceptance is also found among the emerging church movement which isn't just a British phenomenon. So, I have to admit that I'm not quite sure what fuels the fire of Kendall's fundamentalist ire.

However, what I would like to focus on here is how Kendall tries to deal with these "erring" Christians. Does Kendall use passages from the Bible where God's people have erred (like we all do at one time or another) such as seen in the stories of Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, Josiah, St Peter or perhaps even David's catastrophic sin? No, not at all! That is far too measured for a fire breathing fundamentalist! So, like all good fundies Kendall's instinct  is to go nuclear straight away and engage in the grossest possible condemnation that actually makes even Ken Ham look quite mild. Kendall likens these despised Christians to one of the most reviled figures in the Bible, a figure who failed to make it to the annals of faith, namely King Saul, a man who usurped the priesthood,  massacred eighty five priests  (1 Samuel 22:18),  consulted with a medium and was intent on murdering the Biblical hero, David. (Actually Saul was probably suffering from some form of mental illness and his written history may have been influenced by a very disgruntled priesthood!). Perhaps rather peeved that some of the evangelicals he's condemning still seem to be pulling the Christian crowds Kendall uses a another form of excommunication which I've seen among Christian gnostics; he simply implies these speakers to be spirituality dead. Viz:

Any layman or church leader can be at the height of their popularity and usefulness, and yet be yesterday's man or's man or woman can be dead and still 'speak' like Charles Spurgeon, Martyn Lloyd Jones or John Stott.

This means that there is no chance these speakers, in the eyes of Kendall, can justify themselves with a good ministry - to the likes of a gnostic like Kendall  they are declared beyond the pale by his self-styled authoritarian spiritual "discernment", so there is no hope of redemption for their ministries via content - Kendall declares them be far worse than just erring; they are, he implies , spiritually dead. Content is nothing to Kendall, but only sublime anointing - that is, his opinion of what constitutes sublime anointing.

The followers of gnostic gurus like Kendall have been known to defend such gurus against criticism with a quote from scripture: "Touch not God's anointed".  It is used as a spiritual threat to stop accountability and criticism in its tracks. Often in mind here is the passage surrounding 1 Samuel 24:6. This is ironic because that passage is about David's unwillingness to kill Saul when he had the opportunity to do so*. You will note then, that Kendall himself is clearly not inhibited about "touching" what he thinks of as the "Sauls" of  our day!  However, I've got to give credit to the old traditional reformation identifying evangelicals (such as we find at the Tabernacle) - they wouldn't dream of using such intimidating language in order to defend their leaders!

Fundamentalists like Kendall are entirely genuine in their belief. True, they are not always the most easy going of personalities and they have personal traits which draw them to authoritarian epistemological claims. But they believe what they say; they aren't self seeking liars. The same is true of even types like John MacKay. In fact it is their unshakable self-belief which makes them dangerous. My opinion, however, is that they are effectively exploiting the inherent epistemic weaknesses and ambiguity of our cosmos when attempts are made at world view synthesis. And yet in the face of these weaknesses the fundamentalist personality is such that they passionately commit themselves to a world view without doubts; they do not accept the inherent uncertainties inevitable in the big picture analysis of world view synthesis. Since they are so sure of the manifest truth of their world view it leaves them with no choice but to impute bad consciences and heinous sin to those that disagree with them; as we see above.

Disclaimer. Although at the world view level the same evidences can admit more than one solution, I don't accept that this can be true, without gross rational violations taking place, when it comes to basic science such as the spherical Earth, and its position in space and time. In the case of flat Earthism, geocentrism and young Earthism etc. the fanciful world view is filtering down to the basic science level and corrupting it.

* 1 Samuel 24:6 is actually not referring to criticism of Saul, but of doing him physical violence. David, although highly critical of Saul, withheld his hand from killing him.

** By "gnostic" I'm not referring to the particular manifestations of gnosticism such as the early Gnostics or the Cathars of the late middle ages, but a more general concept cluster which constitute a dualistic world view. This view partitions the world using a set of dichotomies; Viz: God vs. natural forces, supernatural vs. natural, heart vs. head, intuition vs analysis, revelation vs. reason, spirit vs. matter etc. Althougth there are some elements of a gnostic perpective in much evangelical Christianity,  above all gnostic Christians tend to place a premium on mythos over logos. This is seen in the prestige value of inner light revelations of the divine and deeply intuitive encounters with God. Those Christians who don't share this world view are likely to be considered spiritually inferior.  See here

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Fundamentalist Gurus Fall Out

Well, that's not unusual news!  A blog post  by PZ Myers reports that Christian Sovereign Citizen, Kent Hovind, is divorcing his wife and marrying Mary Tocco who, it is reputed, is a chemtrail and anti-vax conspiracy theorist. Reading around the topic it seems that out of this affair Hovind has not only developed acrimony with his wife but also with his son Eric whose spiritual reputation has been trashed by Hovind's followers. Ken Ham's Answer in Genesis has been more than wary of Hovind's Young Earth "science" but Ham has in the past shown support toward Eric Hovind (See here). But before we conclude that Ham is perhaps just a little more measured than Hovind let's recall that Ham supports the religious crank John Mackay, a man who is so convinced of his spiritual authority that he felt qualified to accuse his secretary of necrophilia and consequently fell out with Creation Ministries International, Let's also not forget that fundamentalist Jason Lisle, supremo at the Institute for Creation Research,  probably fell out with Ken Ham.

So, all in all we have a thorny network of acrimonious relations. Knowing  how uncompromising and confident of itself the fundamentalist personality is I find this behavior all too typical. Get a set of right-wing alpha male fundamentalists together, all of whom believe in the divine authority of their opinions, not to mention the devotional spin they put on every story and you've got a huge potential for rancorous rows.  But for me these fundamentalists have lost, if indeed they ever had it in the first place, any right to be respected.  They have thoroughly debased  and squandered the content in the language of spiritual testimony. God help the gullible followers of these dominant gurus, followers who are so dependent on their perceived "spiritual superiors"!

Some relevant Youtube videos: These videos have been produced by Kent Hovind's supporters against Eric Hovind. They give a flavour of the animosity that can exist between fundamentalists. I almost started to feel sorry for Eric Hovind after viewing some of this material! Kent Hovind's supporters are out to thoroughly assassinate Eric's character as evidenced by the video titles alone!  Pastor Steve Anderson (See also here) in video 4 says of Eric "This Eric Hovind is one of the most wicked people out there!"

1. Eric Hovind; Wicked as Hell:
2. Eric Hovind, a hell bound false teacher:
3. Eric Hovind continues to steal from his Dad.
4. Pastor Steve Anderson on Kent Hovind divorce
5. Eric Hovind gets scared by the honesty of a true Christian (Dr. Michael W. Jones)

Let the above be a warning: Avoid tangling with fundamentalists if you can; character assassination is their field of expertise!

A bit off topic is the following video which is evidence of fundamentalism's attraction to conspiracy theorism and Kent Hovind's involvement in conspiracy culture. Hovind headlines at the end of the video.

6. Dr. Hovind: Giant "Human" Skeletons Illuminati Cover up Exposed!! [Full Documentary] 2016

Putting the "fun" in  "fundy": 
But is it  "funny haha!" or "funny peculiar"?

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Islamic Fundamentalism reviving execution by burning, crucifixion, beheading 
and numerous other grisly deaths if you disagree with the mullah 
who by violence has managed to ensconce himself at the top. 

This BBC story of Islamic fundamentalist Anjem Choudary who has been locked up for supporting a terrorist organisation (i.e. Daesh) has aspects that are all too familiar to me. Quoting from the article:

Choudary's mindset is really simple. There are two worlds - the world of belief, meaning Muslims, and the world of disbelief, everyone else. Assuming for a moment that the world neatly divides into such camps, these worlds are incompatible because the way of life of one threatens the existence of the other.
In his head there can be no compromise, no meeting of minds. Liberal democracy, personal freedom, the rule of law mandated by the people is all an affront to the will of Allah.
And the solution to all of this? A single Islamic state, under Sharia, for the whole world, for all areas of life.
What if you disagree? Well then you are not with him. You are against him - you're a hostile.
Adam Deen was one of the early recruits to the network that Choudary helped forge.
Jump media playerMedia player helpOut of media player. Press enter to return or tab to continue.
Media captionAdam Deen explains why Choudary appealed to him
"What attracted me was the simplicity, that I was a Muslim, that I should represent these ideas and I belonged inside an Islamic state and everything else was wrong and evil," he said.
"This was extremely comforting as a young man immersed in a world where I was seeing complexity and not knowing who was right and wrong.
"It's a type of outlook that is completely splitting the world in a cosmic battle of good and evil. And on the side of good is everyone who agrees with what he says.
"That polarisation creates a type of mindset towards non-Muslims - and then you can start rationalising acts of violence."
Richard Dart, a young man seeking answers to life, was converted by Choudary himself. He's now in jail for trying to train in bomb-making in Pakistan. He had also talked about targeting the Wiltshire town of Royal Wootton Bassett, a focal point for the repatriation of soldiers killed in Afghanistan.
Dart's step-brother Rob Leech, a film-maker, has spent years trying to get inside Anjem Choudary's head.
"The reason why he is so influential is because of his charisma," he said. "He is incredibly charming and he is clever and he knows how to manipulate people. If you are a young guy who meets him for the first time quite often you're overawed by him.
"He knows exactly what you want and what your your needs are - a lot of these guys have things missing from their lives and he provides them."

I'm sure I've written similar things about Christian fundamentalism at one time or another! Fortunately Christianity has no prescriptions to take over the state by violent  means (or help its demise as per the fundamentalist libertarians) but I recognize the above exclusive fanaticism that thrives on over-simplification a mile off.  In Christianity this uncompromising fanaticism expresses itself in cult-like single-mindedness and in the anti-science projects such as flat earth, geocentrism, and young earth etc. In some Charismatic versions of Christian fundamentalism there is an exalted view of leadership especially if its style is one of authoritarian headship. Also, let's not forget the hell and hamnation mentality which is not at all unlike Daesh.

Addendum 20/8/16
Although I've said that Christianity isn't a religion given to violence this isn't necessarily true of it's fundamentalist wing. See for example these two links:
Here's Sacramento Baptist preacher Roger Jimenez:
If Donald Trump gets into power along with his influential retinue of fundamentalist followers the gay community might find my belief in Christianity as a religion of peace is not true of all its manifestations.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

KenHam confirms his opinion of the Divine Authority of his opinions

"I listen to God, not to man!"
As I've said before all texts have meaning only by virtue of the following "formula":

That is, a text is little more than a string of symbols which, needless to say, don't literally contain meaning - you can't put anything "inside" a symbol! Meaning comes as a result of the effects of a text as it impacts those "Interpretive Resources". These resources are a huge open ended context which includes human thinking, psychology, history and culture. As a rule one finds that fundamentalists of all flavors have a very weak view of the need of those resources - for them it's all "in scripture". You may even hear them claim that "scripture doesn't need interpreting" or that "God is well able to mean what he says" as if interpretation raises no epistemic problems. They will also attempt to make scripture a self-sufficient, self-contained universe of meaning as if scripture can have a stand-alone meaning apart its context of interpretation...see here for example.

As a consequence fundamentalists tend not to be aware of any issues with their views; after all, in their opinion they have simply read scripture and hey presto they have registered the plain, repeat plain, Divine meaning. They therefore are apt to see no need to distinguish between their opinions and God's opinions and so they tend not to subject their opinions to any self-critical reflexiveness. They are quite sure that for all Christians of good conscience those divine meanings are  plain for all to see; it seldom seems to be much of a problem to them that there are other equally genuine and convinced fundamentalist sects who will sharply disagree with them. 

We can see, then, just how attitudes like the foregoing sets fundamentalists up to be suspicious of other Christians (fundamentalist and otherwise) who disagree with them and perhaps will even accuse them of knowingly and willfully disobeying God himself.  

The upshot is that fundamentalists won't frame their beliefs in terms of "In my humble opinion"; rather they think it very likely that their opinions are God's opinions: So, if you are going to raise questions it will help in your relationship with the Ken Hams of this world if you make sure you eventually come round to their opinions! 

Anyway, evidence that fundamentalists have great confidence in the Divine authority of their opinions surfaces in a blog post by Ken Ham entitled  Dr. Andrew Fabich: “Quit Calling This ‘Ham’s Interpretation’” dated  August 5.  Ham relates that Fabich, true to the fundamentalist mindset, is quite sure that we should quit talking about "Ham's interpretation" as, of course, in Fabitch's  books Ham's opinions are squarely based on scripture, plain and simple. Therefore, on fundamentalist logic, Ham's interpretation comes with Divine Authority unlike other evangelicals such as William Dembski or Denis Alexander. Ham, needless to say, wants everyone to acknowledge this. As proof of this see below some quotes taken from the post (My emphases):

When reading headlines and news item about our new Ark Encounter or the popular Creation Museum or something I said in my blog or on social media, I often have to shake my head. I constantly see headlines and statements such as “Ken Ham’s Crazy Ark Park,” “Ken Ham Made the Creation Museum,” “Mr. Ham’s ‘Ark Encounter,’” and “Ham Dates Noah and the Biblical Flood to 6000 Years Ago.” These media reports often act as if ……a young earth and a global Flood are solely my interpretation instead of what the Bible plainly teaches……
I don’t want anyone to believe in a young earth, a global Flood, or a literal Genesis because I say so—I want others to believe in biblical creation because the Creator says so! God’s Word is clear that He created the universe in six days just a few thousand years ago and that there was a global Flood.... What I say really doesn’t matter. What matters is what God’s infallible, perfect Word says.

My Comment: Read that latter sentence as "What matters is what Ham says God's infallible perfect Word says". For Ham the logic is simple: Ham believes he knows with clarity and certainty what God says about creation therefore Ham's opinions on creation are God's opinions. There is no doubt in Ham's fundamentalist mind that his interpretation is right, based as it is, he thinks, on plain and obvious readings of Genesis. He is therefore unlikely to accept the good conscience of many Christians who are part of the academic establishment and who  do not accept that Ham's 6000 year old cosmos is the right way to interpret scripture. 

I heard it first during the Ham-Nye debate. Bill Nye [“the Science Guy” of TV fame] kept referring to biblical creation as “Ham’s interpretation,” as if the young-earth interpretation somehow belongs to Ken Ham.
You know, Christianity and biblical creation aren’t based on what Ken Ham has said, currently says, or will say. News flash: biblical creation depends on the authority of Scripture…….My point (like Ken’s and myriad others’) is that the Bible is authoritative….
The Bible is the authority. Period. I beg the media: stop calling this “Ham’s version.” Call it biblical creation…….). I am asking, “Do everyone a favor—quit calling this ‘Ham’s interpretation.’”

My Comment: Once again we have here a fundamentalist who is beguiled and seduced by false fundamentalist logic: For Fabich Ham's (and his own) opinions are to identified as  synonymous with God's very Word. Fabich sees little or no intervening epistemic process which needs to be engaged critically.

Tough luck Fabich but I for one will certainly not do you the favour of refraining from calling it Ham's or any other fundamentalist's interpretation because that is exactly what it is.  I sometimes wonder where people like Fabich keep their brains. Does he really think that all those moderate and learned evangelicals out there who don't believe in a Young Earth are suddenly going to admit that Ham's opinions are in actual fact to be identified with God's very Word?

As they "extract" meaning from Scripture Ham, Fabich and other fundies are inevitably using the open ended resource variable in the equation above. For them part of that resource is a subliminally gnosto-dualist philosophy; they are largely unconscious of this philosophy and take it for granted that other Christians think along the same lines; that's why they find it inconceivable that other Christians could disagree with them with a clear conscience.

Given the suspicions and mild paranoia which lurk in fundamentalist minds we can see why they easily fall-out with other fundamentalists and other Christians: for if you disagree with them and are persistent in that disagreement they have left themselves few options but to put that disagreement down to a willful bad conscience and therefore probably tantamount to heresy and even blasphemy. This makes them abrasive and unpleasant to deal with. It is revealing to note that moderate evangelical Hank Hanegraaf criticizes Ham's authoritarian and abrasive style. That personality trait is not just true of Ham but also of many of the fundies I have been acquainted with.   

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Darkside vs.The Lightside.

Atheist Christopher Hitchens and Christian Larry Taunton: An unlikely friendship? Did Hitchens convert? After all, Darth Vader managed it!

The June edition of Premier Christianity magazine carries a question and answer session with evangelical Christian Larry Taunton. Taunton had a friendship with evangelical atheist Christopher Hitchens and he has since written a book on this friendship entitled "The Faith of Christopher Hitchens".  I have no intention of reading this book and so will have to make do with the article in Christianity. In this article Taunton says this about Hitchens' book "God Is Not Great": 

He (Hitchens) wasn't the man I expected from reading "God is Not Great". That book was a rant and I expected him to match the book. But away from audiences and the cameras, Christopher was a very different individual. 

Further in regard to Hitchens' stage persona Taunton states:

Christopher  would give the impression on stage that he hated religious people. But after our debate in Montana he crossed the stage. shook my hand  and said "You were quite good tonight, Are we having dinner?"

It is well known that Hitchens said that any concession to faith he might make near his death would likely be because his cancer had gone to his brain. On this subject Taunton says:

I was talking to him [Hitchens] on the phone and I said 'What's up with: "If I convert the cancer has gone to my brain"?' He seemed a little embarrassed by it.

Taunton is apparently making no claim that Hitchens had a deathbed conversion, but on Hitchen's "faith", if such it can be called, Taunton claims:

Christopher recognized that atheism in itself is nothing. He was searching for that thing that might ultimately sustain and give meaning to his life. ..... Toward the end of his life, Christopher began exploring the Christian faith. After the publication of "God Is Not Great", he began engaging evangelicals. He would make a show of asking these questions [supposedly] for investigative reasons, but I think he was personally investigating  questions he had about the validity of the Bible and what it is that makes evangelicals tick. 

Christopher and I took lengthy road trips after his cancer diagnosis, and during those trips we studied the Gospel of John for three or four hours. ......he sought me out and sought out these kinds of engagement.

It is quite possible that Hitchens' uncompromising stand against religion was part of his professional act, an act which demanded a formidable stage presence; in effect it was a polemical technique which didn't necessarily mean he would then bring the same attitudes to bear in interpersonal relations. I remember once seeing Mohammed Ali the boxer being interviewed by a talk show host; gone was the blustering braggart to be replaced by a much more unassuming man. It was all just an act and Ali was both a skilled showman and consummate boxer! However, be that as it may, what are we to make of Taunton's claims about Hitchens apparently seeking something, perhaps even seeking God himself? It's difficult to be sure: I have to be frank and say that in my experience of evangelicals I have observed that they often show the very human twin weaknesses of confirmation bias and being prone to seeing what they would like to see; that is, reading the wrong things between the lines. In this connection notice that Taunton's conclusions about Hitchens are all constructions of varying plausibility which he has placed upon Hitchens behavior. In actual fact it is difficult to know what Hitchens was up to, although I suppose it is just possible that impending finality and the sense of vulnerability that mortality brings lead him to take out a small stake in the hereafter!

OK let's now turn to evangelical atheist PZ Myers who has also commented on this Taunton-Hitchens friendship and on Taunton's book. It's not too surprising that Myers is absolutely livid and opens with:

Another Christian has written a book to lie about Christopher Hitchens. This one is claiming that he and Hitchens were great good buddies, that Hitchens was sympathetic to Christianity, and that he may have converted on his deathbed (he doesn’t know for sure — he wasn’t there — but he’s going to sell a book with that claim).

Here Myers is even casting doubt on Taunton's claim to being a good friend of Hitchens as well as making out that the even merest hint of the possibility of a death bed conversion is the height of presumption; Myers wants to hang Taunton for something! Myers thinks Taunton, whom he calls a "ghoul", is taking advantage of a dead man by publishing lies about him for monetary gain - a very serious charge!  Myers finishes with this:

Larry Alex Taunton is a contemptible liar. But isn’t it amazing how contemptible liars can just put on their loving Christian mask and fool the gullible?

No! I doubt Taunton is a barefaced liar! But the problem I have with evangelicals of all varieties, whether they are calling other people liars or not, is that sometimes they are gullible enough to be fooled by their own spin.

On the subject of a deathbed conversion Myers quotes Taunton as follows:

I discovered Christopher is not defined by his atheism. Atheism is a negative and you can’t build a philosophy around a negative. Christopher was searching for a unifying system of thought. They’re accusing me of saying he converted. I make no such claim. It’s not my claim that Christopher converted, it’s that Christopher was contemplating conversion. I think I substantiate it in the book.

Myers says that that is an untestable claim. But is it untestable? Yes and no. What went on between Taunton and Hitches prior to Hitchens death is difficult to test, but testing, which in its weaker form really entails gathering evidence, is not impossible. Part of gathering that evidence would require getting to know Taunton to see if he is the barefaced lying type that Myers claims him to be (Which I personally doubt). I suppose we really need to get scientific about it and endeavor to put personal likes and dislikes on one side, if such is possible (Which it probably isn't!). Let's also remember that Hitchens brother, Peter converted from the extreme left to a fairly conservative right of centre version of Christianity; moreover, Hitchens himself also moved rightwards during the course of his carreer. Perhaps Taunton could sense a kindred spirit in the Hitchens family and that Hitchens and Taunton, both of whom presumably have evangelical personalities, are different sides to a similar coin.

On the subject of evidence: