27 June 2012

Ridiculous beliefs

I came across this when someone retweeted it on Twitter, with the comment "Ridiculous beliefs".

I agree.

The problem is, though, that I cannot recall ever meeting anyone who actually believes that.

Can you call something a "belief" if no one believes it?

If any member of the Orthodox Church said they believed such things, they would, sooner or later, be told that they were heretical. The whole thing is heretical, and every single clause is heretical.

The Roman Catholic Church, I should think, would have a similar reaction. I don't know if they still have the Inquisition, but they'd revive it pretty quickly if lots of people started saying that they believed that stuff.


Well, it's a bit harder to say with Protestants , because there are so many different varieties of Protestantism that it is conceivable that there is some sect, somewhere out there, that might believe one or more of those things. But, as I said, I haven't actually met anyone who believes them.

But, in one sense, that would be beside the point. It's obviously a caricature, and it's not meant to represent any beliefs that anyone actually holds.

So what is it meant to represent?

What is it supposed to communicate, about what, and to whom?

Perhaps we could try to deconstruct it.

Here are some of my attempts at deconstruction. If anyone can come up with other ideas, please add them in the comments.

1. My first thought is that it is a piece of "feel good" propaganda by militant atheists for militant atheists. By caricaturing Christian beliefs, and presenting them as ridiculous, they can feel smug and superior when comparing themselves with Christians. So it enables them to feel good about themselves. Some may be aware that it is a caricature, others may not, but that doesn't matter much, because the main point is to feel superior.

2. The second one is a little more sinister. This is that it is propaganda by by militant atheists for ordinary don't care atheists, for agnostics, for anyone who is not a Christian, and who is ignorant about Christianity, with the aim of getting them to reject Christianity because they reject a caricature. It is possibly calculated to stir up hatred for Christians. In other words, it is a caricature verging on "hate speech".

But in deconstructing it, we need to go a bit deeper than that.

Where did the caricature come from? What is its source?

A friend of mine, now a retired Anglican bishop, once wrote the following about Christian mission:
The Church exists for mission, not merely by words, but by representing Christ. Its work is not to convert, that is the Holy Spirit's work; ours is to preach (Mark 16:15). `Think not of the harvest, but only of proper sowing.' We bear witness, whether they hear or whether they forbear' (Ezekiel 2:5 etc.). Our task, and it is quite sufficient to keep us going without bothering about the consequences, is to make sure that if people reject Christ, they reject Christ and not a caricature of him, and if they accept him, that they accept Christ and not a caricature. If they reject, we remember that Christ got the same treatment - in fact half our problem is that we require something better than the success of Christ. We are not to cast pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6) - we are not to try to `fix up' people's salvation against their will; `to try to force the word on the world by hook or by crook is to make the living word of God into a mere idea, and the world would be perfectly justified in refusing to listen to an idea which did not appeal to it'. This is the way we seek Christ's success. The Church is not to be like a mighty army, pressing on regardless; it is more like a bloody doormat - a phrase which could even fit the Master of the Church himself, for it is only by the cross and precious blood of Christ that we are what we are, and he himself is the way on which we must tramp and maybe wipe our boots as we come to the Father (John 14:6). This is the kind of Saviour we represent.

And I suggest that in many ways the caricature has come from Christians themselves, from Christians who have done some of the things suggested in the paragraph I quoted -- tried to fix up people's salvation against their will, tried to make the living word of God into a mere idea, tried to present a caricature of Christ rather than Christ himself.

And that is in fact the original sin, because it goes back to the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve presented a caricature of God to the snake.

God said to Adam and Eve that they could eat the fruit of any tree in the garden but one. And the snake asks what God said, and Eve said that God had told them not to eat from that tree, but also not to touch it. That is an extensive exaggeration of what God said. An ogre God sounds more impressive than the true God. And right up till now there have been Christians who have presented an ogre God.

I was once at a church youth group where an evangelist was speaking. At the time there were some popular bumper stickers on cars that had a picture of a smiley face, and the legend, "Smile, God loves you."

The evangelist denounced these in no uncertain terms.

"That's wrong," he said. "God doesn't love you, he is very angry with you because you're a sinner. He was so angry that he killed His Son."

That was presenting an ogre God, a caricature. And one doesn't have to take the caricature a whole lot further to get to the statement, in the picture above, "I will kill myself as a sacrifice to myself."

So I would say that if atheists want to reject Christ, then it is better that they reject Christ rather than that they reject a caricature of him, or even accept a caricature of him.

But it is much more important that Christians should not present a caricature in the first place.


Macrina Walker said...

I recently read a Calvinist saying online (I forget where) that it is not true to say that God loves the world; rather God only loves the elect. I don't know if this is mainstream Calvinism or if it is the lunatic fringe, but I found it profoundly shocking - to say nothing of unbiblical.

Aquila ka Hecate said...

Sounds like the real deal with the Calvinists. My Scots grandparents were Calvinists who believed this.
I'd settle for the "smug superiority"as the provenance of that meme. Some Atheists are almost literally a pain in the butt.Speaking from personal experience.

Terri in Joburg

bigbluemeanie said...

It is very common for people to simplify the beliefs of others. I see it done all the time, and I don't see it being the preserve of any particular religious or non-religious group.

I know Buddhists that do it, even though they are instructed never to criticise another religion or belief. Most religions don't even have that "constraint".

Clarissa said...

I feel a lot of fear behind the creation of this poster. Its authors are really afraid of something.

A brilliant post!!!

Priyanka said...

Macrina, in as much as I understand Calvinism, and I understand very little of it, predestination is one of its core principles. Perhaps not surprising, when one puts it in its historical context.

Steve, an excellent post, certainly -- and thank you for it -- but do you perhaps not find that the last line of your post is really the root of the cause of it? An almost irredeemably edited (and constructed) version of the Christian god is circulated by many, many preachers both within and without traditional churches (I think primarily of the US when I say this, but I'm sure it applies elsewhere), perhaps to channel their followers' very real socioeconomic fears/prejudices into a commitment to the church.

I am, naturally, not absolving atheists from intellectual laziness, but I think you might agree with me that for the lay follower, simplicity tending towards ignorance is at the heart of faith. I don't mean this as an insult. I mean merely to say that as with all else, the glitter and gimmick of miracles and lightening and thunder sell religion better than tolerance, an open mind, and a capacity for love, charity and peace. Especially in hard times, when traditional ethnic/geographic boundaries are melting even further, and people are strengthening their sense of community by re-learning new hate and old fears.

Steve Hayes said...

I think some Calvinist distortions may lie behind some of the points in the poster, though I don't think even ultra-Calvinists would hold any of those belief as stated.

An interesting thing is that I posted a link to this on some usenet newsgroups, and had some responses from militant atheists, all of whom vehemently insisted that the poster accurately represented the core beliefs of Christianity. One of them said that this would become clear to me once I had evolved sufficiently.

My conclusion, as a result of this discussion, was that these atheists, at least, had an enormlously strong faith in their own delusional version of Christianity. They are great an demanding that Christians produce evidencde that God exist, but not one of them could see that in order to prove their point they would need to produce evidence that Christian shwo believe those things exist.

alt.atheism.regulator said...

Priyanka, you are correct about the plethora of viewpoints, many of them, notably among the fundie Creationists who deny evolution and preach damnation, are ripe for parody.

Ever since Gutenburg literacy has meant plurality, before then the clergy shaped beliefs and preserved orthodoxy, since then we have seen a proliferation of some 30,000 Christian denominations.

The doctrine of the Trinity enables the crude parody of God impregnating Mary with God.

Steve - there are some intelligent thoughtful, even polite atheists,
Brian Eno, Phillip Adams, Alain de Botton .. but none of them post in USENET! Dawkins is more their style: "find a fundie literalist viewpoint and pretend ALL Christians share it." it's crude, intellectually dishonest, and undergraduate... but it is gaining purchase, part of a growing Culture of Contempt.

Genuine dialogue on faith requires consideration, tact, awareness of subtlety and nuance, empathy..
"When two people ARGUE about religion, both are wrong"

..it is not in the interests of militant atheists to understand, their purpose is, as it was in the atheist regimes of the 20th century, that of Diderot, to eliminate religion.

Shalom and Salaam


Anonymous said...

Steve, nobody "holds those beliefs as stated", but that alone doesn't make them a false re-phrasing of the beliefs many people do hold.

For example: nobody "believes" Catholics commit ritual cannibalism every Sunday, but it is Catholic dogma that the wafer is the physical body of Jesus, so calling it cannibalism a true re-statement of the belief. (I'll agree it's impolite, but it's not "false".)

The doctrine of the Trinity supports most of what you object to, and as much as you dislike the phrasing, the doctrine of the Trinity requires you believe that God impregnated Mary with himself. Again, it's kind of mean to phrase it that way, but it's not "false".

The culture of contempt... well, the problem atheists have is that no matter what absurdity is pointed out, the response is "Well, I don't believe that, and lots of people I know don't believe it either!" There are thousands of Christian denominations, none of whom believe the same things, but all of whom have equally improbable beliefs. From our side, it feels like a huge game of whack-a-mole.

Unknown said...

The first thing is to admit right off the top that the sin-based christian theologies have always been very popular with the historical churches of the past and present. I lay the lions-share of the blame for this squarely at the feet of that swine-saint Augustine; whose influence upon the western churches of the "dark-age" (after the fall of the roman-empire) was profound in the extreme.
And as if that wasn't bad enough, the Reformers of the sixteenth century approached Augustine with the same intensity of gushing adoration that teen-girls today throw at Justin Bieber. And this meant that Augustine's vile influence was fully revived so that it could live on and also corrupt all the Protestant churches for the next five centuries! Now it's certainly true that Paulos was the first to apply atonement-theology to the cross, but it was Augustine who really takes the glorification of sin to the next level. No one outside the bible has had a greater impact on the development of Christianity down through the centuries ...
Modern Christianity is what it is today because it is the product of church-history. It has become the religion of the scribes and pharisees in equal measure. It has three pillars which support the entire superstructure of the Christian religion. These foundational elements are:
(1) Paul's atonement-theology of the cross
(2) the episcopal trinitarian-theology
(3) Augustine's sin-theology
On the other hand, the religion that Jesus of Nazareth practiced has three very different pillars: (1&2) Love God and neighbor. See Mark 12:28-34. [Don't be fooled, people. There's nothing anyone can say (inside or outside the NT) to change the value or authority of this fundamental teaching. This is as authentic as it gets!] (3) The practice of absolute pacifism. Peace, baby; that's what it's all about. Dig it!
Today Christianity is equally divided between the churches of the pharisees on one side, and the churches of the scribes on the other. And Augustine's vile legacy of sin-theology is equally at home in both camps! It's no wonder, then, that rational people such as yourself walk away from the Faith in disgust and contempt, for the true heretics in this scenario are the vast majority of "orthodox" christians who are completely deluded by this deeply entrenched sin-theology that warps and distorts every aspect of the Faith such that no one today can even conceive of any form of christianity that is not utterly corrupted by this ridiculous over-emphasis upon the supposed "sinful nature" of all humankind.
No one ... *except* for the wurm. What if I told you that the Faith can and does exist apart from sin-theology (and the absurdity of trinitarianism)? Would you be interested? Would you (at the very least) give such a Faith a fair hearing before rejecting it outright? Or is it far too late for that? ... I am offering you a form of faith that is NOT based upon sin-theology, OR magical-thinking, OR priestcraft. Do you think that such a form of christianity is even possible?
Trust me, it is not only possible, but it is here and available even now. It does NOT require you to disconnect your brain in order to walk with Jesus. It does NOT require you to wallow in wretchedness, and grovel in sinful unworthiness begging for forgiveness. This is the true form of christianity that starts from the recognition that human-being is not all bad, and *can* in fact be good and noble and something to be proud of. This form of christianity does NOT worship the HOLY-BIBLE-ALREADY, and does NOT demand stupidity as the cost of admission!

Steve Hayes said...


Orthodox Christianity was not influenced by Augustine, its anthropology is different from that of the West.

It was not influenced by Anselm, so its soteriology is different from that of the West.

It was not influenced by Aquinas, its methodology is different from
that of the West.

Macrina Walker said...

Moreover, Cyberwurm, your reading of St Augustine is simplistic in the extreme and sounds as if it comes straight out of Matthew Fox.

Anonymous said...

Did I say "thousands of Christian denominations"? Tens of thousands, and Cyberwurm presents a textbook demonstration of why.

Christians: doesn't it bother you that god (who loves you and desires communion with you above everything else), is such an bad communicator?

An omnipotent, omnibenevolent being that loves mankind writes the Bible, and authors verses that justify people burning other people alive, for centuries. Was including a verse that said "No matter what you think I said, don't burn anybody alive. Oh, and wash your hands a lot, it helps." just too much trouble?

Macrina Walker said...

Why am I reminded of the opening line of Terry Eagleton's review of Dawkin's The God Delusion? : "Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds."

Anonymous said...

It's a fair cop, and it's usually unfair to compare the best in your tradition with the worst in another's.

The problem is, regardless of the enlightened nature of your faith or the reasoning and logical steps that have lead you to god, the 80% of the American population that believes Jesus is coming real soon now to "judge the quick and the dead" and usher in genocide of the worldwide Jewish population, those people don't believe anything like what you believe. They haven't the slightest clue what William Craig has to say, and they're happy to quote Leviticus and act on it.

Most, almost all, religious people don't believe anything like what you believe. Dawkins was focused on the vast majority of the religious population, the religious who only know what they've read in the Book of British Birds and been told by their local bird-watching society.

That said, I think the point stands: your god didn't are to stop people from burning each other for centuries. That fact would make me question how much god loved humanity. What in the Christian tradition describes god's disregard for the sincere actions of his followers?

Steve Hayes said...

Ah! The American population!

The omnipotent, omniscient, omnicompetent, omniimportaqnt American population, for whom it is impossible to discuss topics like this without the omnipresent omnirelevant omni- prefix.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Steve Hayes said...

Anonymous (I'm not sure which one, as there are several comments by "Anonymous"), but the last one, about witchcraft beliefs, is off-topic and has nothing to do with the post.

If you really want to post comments on that topic, see here Witchcraft etc.


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