While religion is an important part of my life, I consider myself a skeptic. Not a skeptic in the sense of the “New Atheism” but rather, I simply hold to the belief that claims of truth should be supported by evidence. If these claims are not supported by evidence, then this should be made clear by the person(s) promoting such beliefs. For example, a person can state their belief in God but it is important to acknowledge that this is a belief largely, if not wholly, unsupported by empirical evidence. I don’t think there is anything wrong with such beliefs necessarily, but I do believe it is important to combat the promotion of beliefs and ideas that can be dangerous. Radical fundamentalism that leads to violence, for example.
In a recent post on Skepchick, Rebecca Watson bemoans the existence of a site where one can virtually burn a Quran. She rightly states that such a site is not only bigoted (and probably racist), but also counterproductive. She argues:
If you have at least part of a working human brain at your disposal and you’ve not been living in a cave the past several decades, you already know how stupid and counterproductive this is. You already know that burning books is the legendary method by which freedom of expression is impinged, and you also already know that the most famous case of Quran-burning was when fundamentalist Christian bigot Terry Jonesfirst threatened to do so in 2010 and then actually did so the following year. Angry Islamists responded in both cases, by murdering a total of 50 people and injuring hundreds more. Apparently, at least one atheist then thought, “I need to get in on that!”
I fully agree with Watson. Such a site is as stupid as it is counterproductive. However, I find the hypocrisy demonstrated by Watson to be a little rich. Just a few years ago Watson proudly participated in “The Blasphemy Challenge” wherein participants publicly denied the existence of the Christian Holy Spirit.
Watson seems to fully support the goals and aims of The Blaspheme Challenge. One such goal is to promote the notion that the historical Jesus didn’t exist; a position that is, quite frankly, absurd. Taking issue with the Jesus of the Gospel narratives is one thing but to call into question the very existence of the person of Jesus simply demonstrates a desire to reinforce what these folks obviously wish were true. For anyone who seriously doubts the existence of the historical Jesus I have a suggested reading list (from actual scholars of ancient Rome and Hellenized Judea as opposed to biologists and neuroscientists).
- A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus
- The Life of Jesus Critically Examined
- Myth of a Gentile Galilee
- Any basic primer on text-criticism of the New Testament
- And many many more …..
What these folks want us to believe is that Jesus was a completely made up person surrounded by known historical persons (Peter, John, etc..) and that these known historical persons conspired together to create the Jesus myth. If you believe that, you may also believe that George W. Bush was at the center of a conspiracy behind 9/11.
(Yes, I know the reference to Jesus by Josephus are problematic and that Christian apologetics in the first and second centuries turned Christianity into something akin to other religious myths common in Hellenized Judea. Yet, even the most cursory and basic text-critical examination of the New Testament reveals the historical Jesus while simultaneously casting doubt on claims of divinity, etc..)
Back to Watson. It is inconceivable that Watson is unaware that defamation of the Holy Spirit is as offensive and degrading to Christianity and Christians as burning a Quran is to Islam and Muslims. So what could explain Watson’s inconsistent outrage? Perhaps it is because in modern times, Christians do not react to such offenses with violence. In most cases, Christians simply follow the admonition of Jesus to “turn the other cheek.”
Hypocrisy, thy name is Rebecca Watson.
I recently began listening to two podcasts focused on the contemporary Skeptics movement: The Skeptics Guide to the Universe and Point of Inquiry. The New England Skeptics Society sponsors the Skeptics Guide and Point of Inquiry is distributed by the Center for Inquiry.
Both podcasts focus on contemporary science and are designed to promote rational and critical thinking. I thoroughly enjoy both.
I suppose what surprised me when I first started listening to these podcasts is that a skeptics movement existed. I had absolutely no idea since most of my friends, classmates, and co-workers appear to be rational, logical, and familiar with the basic tenets of the scientific method. I supposed that I assumed that most people had at least some level of healthy skepticism in regard to the world around them. Point of Inquiry’s introduction makes specific mention of “religious extremists” who are seeking to undermine science and impose their particular beliefs on others.
Of course, I have long been aware of such religious views. I was raised in a very literal tradition (Mormon) and many of my friends growing up were Evangelical Christians. Early in my high-school education I was wary of the theory of evolution but as I progressed through my secondary education and then attended Brigham Young University (a Mormon-run school), I was presented with compelling evidence for evolution and the significant age of the universe. All of my science professors at BYU were devout Latter-day Saints and also accepted the theory of evolution. BYU’s anthropology department has done with 10,000-year-old mummies and even some professors in the religion department have discussed the theological implications of so-called pre-Adamites in an effort to understand the intersection of science and theology. I suppose my point in discussing this is to show that when I attended BYU – an extremely religious school – evolution and creationism were not seen as mutually exclusive concepts.
Following college I have always been dismissive of the so-called “young earth creationists” because the age of both the Earth and the greater Universe seems to be so obviously greater than 6,000 years.
One thing that irks me a bit about The Skeptics Guide is that the hosts seem to be so dismissive of theism and I get the impression that they may be unaware of the richness and openness of moderate and liberal theistic traditions. Also, I was very disheartened to see an advertisement for the DVD: The God Who Wasn’t There; a production that makes arguments against the historical Jesus. The existence of the historical Jesus is so well established that it made me wonder how these very intelligent and rational people could promote such an absurd DVD.
One of the hosts is actually a professor at Yale’s School of Medicine and I think he may benefit from a discussion with some of my old professors at Yale Divinity: John and Adella Collins, Harry Attridge, or Robert Wilson.
Anyway, I recommend both of these podcasts. They are entertaining and insightful.