Thursday, February 7, 2013

Why "The Christian Left" is Neither

Can suppressing open dialogue be truly "Left"?
by Peter John

For unfamiliar readers,  "The Christian Left" is a formal organization. It promotes itself as sensibly Christian, believing in Jesus Christ, promoting liberal values, and asserting that Jesus himself seems more liberal than conservative by modern standards. After all, he supported helping the poor and needy, and condemned hoarding wealth. He challenged ecclesiastical authorities, exposed their hypocrisy, and disavowed their actions "as one having authority" of his own.

"The Christian Left" fails the test of liberalism when it suppresses open discussion on issues, as many respondents on Facebook have learned. All it takes to get blocked from responding to its posts is to dispute one of its arguments. However respectful or well-considered the response may be, if it sheds doubt on the conclusions of the original post. They block this dialogue even as they claim that Facebook censors their ads.

I learned this by disputing an assertion that because the Bible refers to God breathing into man "the breath of life" to make man "a living soul", it means that Biblically we are not living human beings until we draw our firstbreath. The ironic fault in this argument is that it employs literal Biblical interpretation -- the same literalism the organization decries in conservative fundamentalism. More seriously, it promotes the very anti-Christian assertion that abortion is completely acceptable in Christianity, and goes so far to suggest it as desirable in some cases. That falls far short of being tragic in even the most understandable cases.

The Christian basis for opposing abortion has more to do with the dogma of incarnation than does the Biblical Creation story. Luke talks of Mary carrying Jesus --the embodiment of the Creator --as soon as she conceives. She immediately visits her cousin Elizabeth, six months along with John the Baptist. When the women meet Elizabeth immediately recognizes Mary as the Mother of her Lord when John the Baptist jumps in her womb. Theologians commonly interpret this as Jesus' formal prophetic commission of John, even though both are yet unborn -- and even though Jesus has barely been conceived.

Such New Testament revelation establishes the personhood of the unborn for Christians. Philosophical conclusions augment this. These recognize that by definition being human means that there will never be another you. As a human being, you cannot be replaced, what makes you unique cannot be transferred to anybody else, and you exist for your own sake -- not merely as a part of something else. In combination it means that the key word in "human zygote" is still "human".Christianity recognizes the irreplaceable humanity of even a child who has just been conceived.

"The Christian Left" has no interest in hearing these thoughts, or in allowing discussion of them. It deletes dissent and blocks dissidents, permitting only approval of its conclusions, and creating the illusion of consensus. Truly liberal dialogue embraces discussion. Truly Christian dialogue does not minimize the destruction of human life. In the end a thoroughly misnamed "The Christian Left" becomes religious fundamentalism of the most destructive kind because it calls evil good and good evil.
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(c) Peter John Stone. All Rights Reserved. Contact author for permissions.

Atheist Fundamentalism

The Religious Fundamentalist Nature of Militant Atheism
by Peter John

"When two opposite points of view are expressed with equal intensity, the truth does not necessarily lie exactly halfway between them. It is possible for one side to be simply wrong.
This quote from Dr. Richard Dawkins shows his willingness to embrace a false dichotomy rather than accept that some people have reasons beyond his own experience for believing as they do.
This is religious fundamentalism.

I respect the knowledge and experience of Dr. Richard Dawkins. I admire the logical genius of the late Christopher Hitchens. I appreciate their contributions to our culture and public dialogue, regardless of my differing beliefs. I respect that their atheism is a reasonable conclusion if they have never had any objective experience to support believing in God.

That is more than their ridicule of Christianity and religion in general offer any others who do believe in God. Dr. Dawkins' argument epitomizes a common fundamental attribution error common among atheist fundamentalists. Dawkins argues that the creation accounts from the Bible and other major religions have no supportive evidence, while the scientific account of how the universe began has extensive evidence. Were that comparison valid, concluding that those believing in a creator are simply fooling themselves might be valid as well.

This argument has two central problems. Its false assumption that the message of divine revelation demands literal interpretation comes first. This results in a false dichotomy -- the appearance of only two available and mutually exclusive options. Both of these not only constitute poor science, but serve as easy to spot earmarks of fundamentalism.

Many of the very heroes of science whose work created the scientific model of how the universe came to be believed in God. Despite the Church's harsh and erroneous judgments against him, Galileo still believed in God. Copernicus was a Roman Catholic deacon. Monsignor Charles LeMaitre, who proposed what we now call the Big Bang Theory, was a priest. By Dr. Dawkins' reasoning this means that either  their conclusions are the product of addled and illogical brains, rendering them untrustworthy, or these clear thinking men had some experience that Dr. Dawkins has not shared.

Just as any fundamentalist religious person, Dr. Dawkins imposes limitations on the arguments his theological opponents can make. His position leaves no room for the Historical Critical Method of Biblical interpretation, for example. In this method theologians consider scripture from the perspectives of the cultures and times from which they emerged. In our understanding now a "day" of creation can simply mean a non-specified period of time, so the Biblical account of creation need not mean it happened in six 24-hour days.

This blog does not seek to argue the details on creation or evolution at this time. Right now we simply seek to demonstrate the fundamentalist nature of Dr. Dawkins denunciation of religion. These non-scientific arguments disregard and demean those who accept the science, yet believe in God for reasons of their own. They serve no purpose to advance science, and in fact hinder its promulgation by constructing further ideological walls between science and religion. Since these arguments promote his system of belief more than science, depend on false assumptions, and advance through false dichotomies, they constitute religious fundamentalism.
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(c) 2013 by Peter John Stone. All Rights Reserved. Contact for permissions.

Friday, November 16, 2012

A Eulogy for My Father, George Clark Stone

In Memoriam: George Clark Stone
May 25, 1936 - November 4, 2012

The day to answer that question arrives: who's that man?

After my Father spent the first year of my life in Pakistan, the first sentence he heard from me was, "Who's that man?" The Grand Master has marked "-30-" to my father's life, a number my dad knows that his late brother's journalistic craft employs to define "the end". My father's "guardians" rest helpless at his side. His "strong men" no longer carry him about. The shutters have closed on "those looking out" through his "windows", and God has drawn back in the divine "breath of life" we know as George Clark Stone. (Eccl. 12:3 & 7) The day to answer that question arrives: who's that man?

We hear his great achievements, his catalogs of recognition. We recall his tales, his exploits, his tales, and skills, and even more of his tales. None of these define him. Even the uniform he takes to the grave, amid honors for patriotism so well earned, fails to define who that man is -- if we silence the routine, seemingly insignificant, and comparatively inconsequential tasks that swallowed up much of his life.

To some this man of so many talents merely spent decades bent over the aircraft engine blades coming down a GE assembly line. To him, as tedious -- as downright monotonous -- as his ever busy mind must have found such work, it served his country as thoroughly as putting on his uniform. He filled an essential role in America's Cold War defense, and held equal pride in a well polished blade or a well-dressed wound. He deferred his own mounting drive for personal expression to secure food and health care for his family.

He considers environmentalist movements subversive,
yet cultivated a lifelong intimacy with nature and the Earth.

When serving as Town Constable, and Wallingford youth mockingly labeled him "Columbo", he took it as a compliment. He calls Peace signs Soviet propaganda, yet taught me that resorting to violence demonstrates weakness of mind. He considers the ACLU a socialist front, yet holds the Bill of Rights sacred with the rest of Our Constitution. He considers environmentalist movements subversive, yet cultivated a lifelong intimacy with nature and the Earth. How many other men can hoot a bear from the cliffs above down to the island shelter at Rocky Pond, merely for amusement? The Pennsylvania scout master whose troop shared the shelter with us that night was amused -- until he heard the bear splash into the water a dozen feet away!

"Think globally, act locally" qualifies as hippie socialist rhetoric to my father. Yet from his example I understand that whatever meager resources I have are not my own. If I learn a friend is homeless and I have an extra room, that room is not mine, and I cannot put a price on opening my home. If a friend needs a car to work while repairing his own car, he needs my extra vehicle more than I do for awhile. If I have no job and my last five dollars in my pocket, and a neighbor needs gas money to get to work, God obviously put that in my pocket to get to him, because he will get more good out of it than me right now.

That man deserves the praise we pour out, but we sell his humanity short if simultaneously failing to acknowledge -- without enumerating -- his human failings. I know that INRI - I.N.R.I. - holds special significance for my father as a Mason. I know that the widow's son crucified beneath that sign, "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews", never taught - however much we hear it - he never taught that we should hate the sin and love the sinner. He taught that we should hate our own sins and never judge anyone else's sins at all --and everyone of us falls short on both of these commandments every day.

Only love has the power to achieve this, and my father's influence inspired my own lyrical lines, "love sends a scalpel to slice our souls, and love brings a balsam to heal".* We cannot love others in spite of their sins and faults. My father knows that to truly love others we must eagerly wrap them in an unconditional embrace with all their imperfection and offensiveness, even if it feels like hugging a pet porcupine -- even if the offense is failing to meet that ideal.

The proof that he's right is that those whose failings, weaknesses, and offenses we know most intimately, and often suffer from the most, are those we love the deepest and the best ourselves. So, that man's influence also inspired me to write, "from before we are born, to beyond our lives, fate contrives, anger weakens, hate deprives, love survives."*

Who's that man? That man is my hero. That man is my father. That's the man who gave me my dimples.

-- Peter John Stone
Rutland, Vt.
Nov. 9, 2012

(c)2012 Peter John Stone / All Rights Reserved

*Quotes from "Love Survives" (c)1991 Peter John Stone available at Mirrors in a Prism Poetry Blog.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Militant Atheism: Religious Fundamentalism of Non-Belief

by Peter John

All belief depends on personal experience. From a strictly objective view, nobody can genuinely believe something in which they lack a basis in personal experience. This does not mean, as a firm empiricist would maintain, that this experience need be transferrable or subject to intentional duplication.

True belief arises as much from personal experiences which could not be forced, and often arrive without invitation, as from calculated efforts measurable among recognized human senses. Scientifically such beliefs get marginalized at best. At worst they fall subject to ridicule and derision.

Through most of the history of faith those who deny experiences supporting their belief in God, or who have found differing avenues for experiencing God, have been denigrated and even persecuted. The wars and oppression arising from such religious fundamentalism compose history's greatest shame. Atheism, on the other hand, has tolerated what it considers a non-objective practice of religion at worst, and appreciates as part of evolving culture at best.

This has changed in recent decades as schools of thought in atheism have emerged which challenge the intellectual integrity of those whose own experience -- rather than what they have simply been taught to believe -- demand acceptance of truths which defy measurement in the physical realm. Such militant atheists lean heavily on the scientific method as dogma, even as they deny having a dogma, and mock the beliefs of the scientists who developed the scientific method in the first place. They do this despite the fact that their position contradicts the very principles of evolution on which they base their views.

If, as evolution proposes, those traits most inclined toward adaptation and survival of the species are naturally selected for survival, then militant opposition to religious practice affirms that millions of years of evolution erred. What have been the consequences of marginalizing the role of religion in 20th Century culture and beyond? That is what this Blog intends to examine. In the process it seeks to establish that militant atheism is nothing more than another form of the same religious fundamentalism that has brought historic controversy to religion's role in society.
(c) 2011 by Peter John Stone. All rights reserved. Contact Author for permissions.