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 woman....today'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

..like 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: http://quantumnonlinearity.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/evidence-guide-lines-but-not-tram-lines.html

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

A God of Hell and Hamnation

Horror movie: Execution by mega tsunami; Islamic State would love it!

The video above is the proud production of the fundamentalist ministry Answers in Genesis. It shows the destruction of Noachian communities by a huge continent enveloping tidal wave. But even taking the Genesis flood story literally it hardly conjures up a picture of a miles high tsunami. Rather, the Biblical impression is of waters rising and inundating. The meaning of the references to the "fountains of the deep" is unclear but it is interesting to note that AiG have filled in the ambiguity here with images true to their psyche. We are, after all, dealing with the imagination of personalities that have no inhibitions about imputing wickedness to those outside their community, a wickedness that, in their view, thoroughly deserves horrifying punishments and even eternal torture. What drives this taste for retribution and judgement seems to be a combination of group paranoia and narcissism. The paranoia sees malign agents and machinations behind the scenes (and provides a fertile ground for conspiracy theorism)  and the narcissism finds utmost personal offence in the slighting implicit in the rejection of fundamentalist teaching and, needless the say, the mocking they bring upon themselves.

The fundamentalist trait of projecting their sense of offence and vindictiveness on to God who then dishes out the most extreme forms of vengeance and punishment has, of course, been a big theme of this blog. Just a couple of references:

Fundamentalism, by definition, attracts personalities whose imagination doesn't bulk at thinking of God as the agent of extreme chastisement. But others will find in this depiction of God extreme repugnance. Interesting in this connection is the atheist reaction to the above video showing a divine orgy of destruction of men, women and their families. Here's how evangelical atheist PZ Myers sees Ken Ham and the vision of God he portrays:

Ken Ham’s ark is not going to be a happy story about cute baby animals. He really likes to play up the horror…….It’s the same story in the Creation “Museum”. When I went through it, I was rather repelled by the portrayal of what they imagined happened in their mythical flood: they almost gleefully show all the damned souls drowning and begging to get on the big boat, and they also show this heartwarming little video of what they think happened. Notice the innocent, happy people just living their lives when the giant wall of water sweeps over their village? They all died, and deservedly so, because God decreed it.
So no, Ham doesn’t sugar-coat the murder of innocents by his god, he revels in his righteousness, the sick fuck.
Also, think about what that video shows: a tsunami that sends a wave that is miles high, and that is so immense it crashes all the way to the center of the continent.
And his little wooden boat rides it out, no problem.

PZ Myers also published a YouTube by fellow evangelical atheist Rebecca Watson who Myers quotes as saying (My emphases):

For the record: I agree with Ken Ham. The Christian God is a horrible monster.
Ham is not in any way trying to contradict this reading of the Bible, and in fact the Ark is going to have an entire exhibit debunking the “dangerous” image of Noah as a happy old man surrounded by cute animals and rainbows. Ham wants people to know that it is not a happy children’s story — it is a horror film in which God literally commits mass murder, and he believes that it’s dangerous for kids to grow up thinking otherwise.

Given the modern existential crisis it ought to be no surprise that Myers and Watson think of faith as something akin to fairies at the bottom of the Garden. But perhaps that's just a little better than the idea that faith is about malevolent monsters at the bottom of the garden! All faith is a turn-off for the likes of Myers and Watson, but some faith puts them off more than others. Of  "Ken Ham's Scary Ass Ark Park" Watson says:

May be the Ark Park will be an atheist recruiting tool!

May be indeed! But let's get this straight: Watson and Myers are not evil and wicked people; In fact they are by human standards very moral people; only paranoiac fundamentalist narcissists can read their mocking of very human (and very flawed) expressions of faith as wickedness. Myers and Watson are no doubt subject to the standard human lot of annoying traits, failings and foibles we all have, but they no more deserve eternal torture than Ken Ham himself.  But for extreme fundamentalists like Ham it is not considered spiritually sufficient to break the implicit soteriological impasse here by turning to Christ in repentance and receiving God's forgiveness. For according to Ham whether they profess faith in God's grace or not, those who do not accept the divine authority of Ham's opinions have at best an inferior faith and at worst are in danger of being damned. See for example:

For myself I have a very different view of scriptural inspiration to the fundamentalists and of how the divine sovereign management of oral and written tradition works*: It is likely the Genesis flood story is a creative account (along with many other such stories, world wide) based on real events which made themselves felt over a very wide region of the Earth; may be it was the oral memory of the inundation at the end of the ice age, who knows. Since the ancient peoples who carried the oral tradition are not likely to have had a clear concept of a spherical Earth the limits of the flooding were unknown. These stories of flooding were then embellished with creative elements consistent with the spiritual world view and interests of the story tellers/writers; in particular a dominant theme in Genesis is, of course, of a severe judgmental God - a concept that connects with personalities like Ken Ham and readily finds a home in his stentorian psyche. The inspired spiritual and social lessons are, however, found at a different level: Those lessons tell us about disaster narratives conceived by a spiritually, epistemically and materially insecure mankind who without God or, more usually, with a false/inadequate conception of God and sometimes with a bad conscience has an innate sense of impending apocalypse and/or judgement. This existential anxiety, often dressed with Freudian mythical encryptions, has dogged humanity for time immemorial. We need to take note and make our peace with God.

* It is probably my views on this subject which disqualify me from the appellation "evangelical". 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Another exploration of the fundamentalist psyche

 Ken Ham says: "If you can’t trust the Bible when it talks about geology, biology, and astronomy, then how can you trust the Bible when it talks about salvation?".  But can we trust Ken Ham's judgement on this matter?

The slogan Sola scriptura (Scripture alone!) was important to reformation Protestants because it succinctly summed up the revolt against the authoritarian leadership of the Roman Catholic Church of the day, a leadership which insisted on its exclusive authority to interpret the Bible to its flock. But the slogan is also important today as a rallying cry against those Christians who wish to impose their proprietary interpretations of scripture on other Christians, often by means of some form of spiritual intimidation. However, although Sola Scriptura used as a slogan is excellent at keeping at bay those who see themselves in the role of didactic authorities, it is not, nevertheless, literally true.

Natural language is essentially a string of symbols with the purpose of “delivering” meaning; but these symbols do not literally contain meaning. Rather, meaning is generated by the context upon which the symbol string impinges. But to do this the context must be set up in such a way as to handle the incoming string and derive relevant information from it. In the case of human beings the interpreting context includes a vast information system which consists of both mental resources and cultural knowledge (the latter includes knowledge of history); in effect a huge hinterland of texts and narrative to which our minds largely unconsciously refer when we interpret incoming text. Bible text is no exception to this rule (See here). But to a God who is sovereign over both the incoming stream of symbols and its interpreting context this is no necessary barrier to the generation of right meaning. 

But fundamentalists are loathe to admit the Bible’s semantic debt to its host context, opting instead for a closeted insularity from what they perceive as a profane worldly context. Fundamentalists much prefer to portray the Bible as a self-contained universe of meaning where “contamination” from worldly science, philosophy and what they despise as “man’s thoughts” is minimized. They crave an epistemic that delivers certain knowledge and the thought that they themselves and their context are highly proactive active agents in the interpretation of scripture is to them a dangerous thought. For them the Bible has plain meanings that are intrinsic rather extrinsic to scripture.  That the “extraction” of Biblical meaning comes via the lens of our world view embedded in the receiving context is far too insecure as an epistemic for the fundamentalist; the hardened fundamentalist craves certainty and turns the actual model of translation on its head. For (s)he believes that somehow the Bible is the lens through which (s)he sees the world and it thereby delivers unambiguous truth and absolute certainty to its readers.

To illustrate the way the fundamentalist mind handles the Bible there can be few better examples than Jason Lisle. With a genuine PhD in Astrophysics you might expect that he would have an inkling about how natural language actually works and would understand the context dependence of scripture translation. In fact I think Lisle does understand how it works, but he is so gripped by fundamentalist tropes which make the translation role of context invisible that in the final analysis Lisle is forced to affirm scripture as a self-contained universe of meaning. As evidence of this I reproduce the following comment by Lisle. In this comment Lisle is responding to a query about Biblical meaning from one of his following. Lisle seems to start OK but because thinking is more analogue than it is digital, the fundamentalist stress on certain terms seems to overwhelm Lisle and so eventually he comes round to more or less affirming that scriptural meaning is self-contained. Anyway here we have it (my emphases):  

Zach, the answers to your questions involve the concept of the “hermeneutical circle” or “hermeneutical spiral.” I have a book coming out in the summer that addresses these issues in rich detail (in chapter 9). For now, I’ll have to give a shorter answer. God’s Word would have to be true because of the nature of God; He is truth. God has “hardwired” us to know that He exists, and to recognize His Word when we hear it or read it (John 10:27). How we respond to God’s Word will determine what happens next. If we receive His Word with humility then we participate in the hermeneutical circle. Basically, this means that God’s Word is sufficiently clear that we can understand and correctly interpret much of it upon reading it. After all, God designed our minds and knows how to write a book such that our minds can understand it.

My Comment: I would not want to say that the foregoing is especially wrong for it shows at least some inkling of the role of a sovereign God in contextual translation. However, given that the above comes from the mind of a fundamentalist it is quite likely that Lisle will have a very strong interpretation of the words I’ve highlighted: e.g Lisle emphasizes that we are hardwired, but he should also be taking into account our culturally programmed software/firmware, a huge body of knowledge which includes knowledge of the history out of which the text emanates; clearly that knowledge isn’t going to be infallible. And of course when Lisle says God’s Word is sufficiently clear that we can understand and correctly interpret much of it a hardcore fundamentalist like Lisle will likely include his “plain” readings of Genesis. For example, compare the fundamentalist Andrew Holland, whose comment made in the context of a Genesis discussion I have often quoted as an example of fundamentalist thinking. Viz:

....the historical parts of the Bible, such as Genesis, should be taken at face value, otherwise it is tantamount to calling God a liar! Thus the account of creation, Noah's flood and Jonah's adventures are accurate and can be completely trusted. They are all verified in the New Testament…

However, Lisle’s commentary continues as follows:

Because of sin, we don’t instantly correctly interpret all of God’s Word on the first reading. But the portions we do understand rightly will help us to understand the more difficult portions. In the process of time, our understanding improves as the Scriptures systematically sanctify our thinking. The Bible is therefore self-interpreting. It teaches us how to interpret it.

My Comment: Like a good paranoiac fundamentalist Lisle’s reflex is to attribute misinterpretation first and foremost to malign sinful motives.  No doubt sin does skew interpretation, but notice that Lisle gives no space to admitting that it’s not just sin that allows us to err; the huge machinery of contextual interpretation involves narrative that is not infallible and will also be implicated in error. Fundies are reluctant to admit genuine error in others when those others persistently contradict fundamentalist doctrines; fundies are more likely to opt for the explanation of willful error. In this sense the above quote from Lisle is all too typical in that it homes in on the fancied hidden malign motives of those who disagree with him; as I’ve so often said these habitual suspicions sets fundamentalism up as fertile ground for the growth of conspiracy theorism.  I don’t disagree with Lisle when he says that scripture is in involved in the interpretation of scripture; after all scripture itself is part of the context of any verse of scripture. But notice once again he tends to overstate his case in way that is likely to strike a chord with fellow fundamentalists: For he does not acknowledge that scriptural meaning cannot in an absolute sense bootstrap itself, but can only bootstrap if it taps into huge external information resources. (No problem for a sovereign God to manage, or course). So it is no surprise that in the end Lisle consummates with a phrase thoroughly consistent with insular fundamentalism, namely that scripture is self-contained:

"The Bible is therefore self-interpreting"

My Comment: Yes, scripture is a resource in the interpretation of scripture; but this bland statement by Lisle is not qualified with the acknowledgement that scripture isn’t the only impinging resource of interpretation.  This concluding statement is music to the ear of the fundamentalist who dearly wants to believe and hear something which provides a pretext for writing off “man’s thoughts” in favour of the thinking of his or her fundamentalist sect, a sect which regards itself as tapping directly into Divine opinions via an uncritical “plain” reading of scripture. As Lisle’s followers will regard him as an admirable guru, he is in effect misleading them by (over) stressing only certain aspects of the biblical translation process. 

And yet in the same comment Lisle says something which effectively admits that scripture is not a standalone revelation: it depends on the exploitation of cultural resources: Viz:

Regarding Bible-versions, my upcoming book will also cover this issue in chapter 6. The short answer is that you can be confident that the major conservative English translations (ASV, KJV, NASB, NKJV) are accurate by comparing verses in multiple versions. In over 99% of cases, these versions give the same meaning for each verse, and there is simply no translational problem at all. In only a very few instances is there any disagreement at all, and even in these it is usually minor and involves no doctrinal issue. For these rare cases you’ll have to do further study. But there can be no doubt that the main doctrinal passages of Scripture have been correctly translated.

My Comment: There is the admission here that getting to grips with the Bible may involve access to information about translation statistics; but this data about the reliability of Bible translations is not contained in the Bible itself, of course. Research external to the Bible is needed to check up on translation fidelity: Nothing wrong with this though: I once used four or five translations  to refute an argument from someone of the Witness Lee Brotherhood who challenged the usual rendition of Romans 8:15 using the Brotherhood’s “Recovery” version of the Bible. I’ve also used a similar approach with a Jehovah’s witness I was corresponding with over the “New World” translation of John 1:1

But the bible itself doesn’t tell us which translation to use since it knows nothing of translations.  The question of translation is a meta-question that is only answered with reference to cultural resources and I largely agree with Lisle that multiple versions indicate reliability (but not necessarily infallibility) in translation.

However, once again Lisle overstates his conclusion. Once you think you have a reliably rendered translation there is still a very long way to go. For in translation it is wrong to think that a word is a word is a word. Even if one-to-one translation were actually possible (and it seldom is) that is a mere starting point: As I have remarked before meaning is far more than notational correctness. Probably more important is connotational correctness. For example, we can perhaps correctly translate the Biblical word for “water” with a fair probability of being right. But the connotations of the word “water” in the parched lands of the Middle East means that  “water” probably carried very different connotation in its originating context when compared to those of us who live in wet cool climates. And of course, there is no reason why one-to-one translation should be universally applicable anyway. Cross cultural translation will also likely include one-to-many translations and also many-to-many translations. With many-to-many mappings the central idea is to attempt to capture the original thought behind the text; that is, their connotation. Connotational content will loom large, particularly in the realm of religion, myth, and metaphor where we are trying to convey humanities deepest fleeting thoughts; a superficial notational paradigm of natural language fails to do justice to the truth of the matter.  This opens up a very big area of psychological and sociological study, one I myself have only just touched on in these writings:

Fundamentalism is attractive because it is a great simplifier of meanings and epistemology. It is especially attractive for those who want a notational Bible which provides mechanically unambiguous meanings facilitating the separating out of the sheep from the goats, thus helping to secure convictions of compromise, heresy, apostasy and blasphemy. Highly sectarian fundamentalists look for a rationale to explain to themselves why their perception of the holy catholic Christian realm is such a small remnant (i.e. themselves). A notational paradigm of scripture is used as a basis to write off the wider Christian community (and other fundamentalist sects) as spiritually inferior if not apostate.

Finally, let me actually put in a good word for Lisle. True, he can display typical fundamentalist nastiness in imputing malign motives to those Christians (if indeed he accepts them as Christians) he disagrees with (for example to Lisle President Obama is a “wicked ruler” and those who believe in an old Earth he accuses of idolizing time). But let’s be clear there are a lot worse out there than Lisle. Lisle has some respect for logic and science and that is something to be grateful  for in these days of encroaching Christian gnosticism and fideism. Moreover, I agree with Lisle that the rational readability of our world is an inexplicable brute fact, easily lost to nihilism, unless we can see beyond it to an immanent yet eminent personal God who is the underwriter of our knowledge. You can get a lot worse than Lisle. See for example the appendix below where I reproduce the results of a random probe of Ken Ham’s Facebook page …. and that’s before I mention John Mackay and the flat Earthers!


As if the foregoing isn’t bad enough there is, in fact, a lot worse out there. At least Lisle does try to bring some nuance into the subject of Bible interpretation before abdicating his better judgment in favour of a fundamentalist epistemic. Not so with Answers in Genesis supremo Ken Ham: I quickly found the texts below when I randomly sampled Ham’s Facebook page for examples of fundamentalist thinking. I would paraphrase the contents in terms as follows: Obeying Christ means obeying the fundamentalist message about literalism. To trust the Bible means trusting in Genesis literalism.  The Bible is to be considered a scientific text book about geology, biology and astronomy; if you don’t believe this your salvation is called into question. The Bible doesn’t need interpreting, you just believe it. The resurrection proves YEC and you can’t be a consistent Christian if you don’t believe in YEC. There is a reason vs revelation dichotomy. Particularly interesting below is the comment which raises a very American paradox. Viz: The founding fathers of America were great enlightenment thinkers and yet this grates with right wing fundamentalists whose freedom to practice their version of religious fanaticism was assured by these despised liberal whiggish thinkers who wrote the very declaration of independence that gives them freedom to follow their sectarian version of Christianity. 

Ken Ham: We want people to trust God’s Word so that, ultimately, they will trust in Jesus Christ and receive salvation and forgiveness from their sin.
Biblical Authority and the Book of Genesis: If you can’t trust the Bible when it talks about geology, biology, and astronomy, then how can you trust the Bible when it talks about salvation?
(see also this link:

Charlie Wolcott THIS is what separates group like AiG from every other OEC group. It's not a matter of interpretation. It's a matter of "Do you believe the Record?". I do not always agree with everything Ken Ham and AiG says, but I know they are pointed the right direction. Believing the Word of God as the Word of God and knowing that YEC alone does not cut it. YEC by itself does not make sense. YEC with the CROSS makes it all work. If someone asked for a single piece of evidence that convinces me of a young earth: my response is the Resurrection of Jesus. Why? Because the Resurrection validates every word of the Bible as written to be the authority over ALL authorities in the world. You cannot be a Christian and believe in an Old Earth and be consistent in your thinking. (My guess is that this guy is so fanatical that he finds Ken Ham too moderate!)

Steve Tyler Ken Ham, yes we've been evolutionized, but evolution is a subset of the larger issue: The Enlightenment. Enlightenment thinkers hold that "Reason" trumps revelation, and therefore everything in the Bible that is "unreasonable," such as the virgin birth of Christ and His resurrection are discarded. This is so ingrained in our American culture because the main Founding Fathers were all Enlightenment thinkers... it's the American religion