Monday, August 27, 2018

The dangers of rule driven morality.

He may or may not do what is right but he hasn't a
 clue as to why either way; its all rules to obey for him!

In a post entitled "Be Kind to Humankind - Why?" fundamentalist theme park supremo, Ken Ham, comments on "Be Kind to humankind week". The result is that he reveals a concept of morality that to my mind is readily corruptible; in fact if pushed it can lead to the kind of cruelties we are familiar with in religions driven by an uncompromising almost algorithmic interpretation of God's Law; welcome to the world of the "Fundobot"!

Ham's article can be found here:

I reproduce Ham's post in full below. I have highlighted the parts which reveal the rationale behind Ham's morality.

Today is part of what’s considered “Be Kind to Humankind Week.” Each day this week has a special theme of different ways people can show kindness to one another. Some of these include “Sacrifice Our Wants for Others Needs Sunday,” “Forgive Your Foe Friday,” and “Speak Kind Words Saturday.” Now all of these things are good—as is the idea of a week dedicated to consciously deciding to be kind (as we should be all the time)—but why should we be kind to others?
The idea of being “kind” is prevalent in our society with many proclaiming that if we were just more kind to each other, the world would be a much a better place. But why should we be kind in the first place? And who defines kind? Without the ultimate authority of God’s Word, there’s no ultimate reason to be kind. We can invent reasons, such as “because it feels good” or to bring others happiness. But that’s not an ultimate reason—and that kind of reasoning could be used to justify all kinds of actions, some of which are decidedly not kind.
Now, this doesn’t mean atheists, humanists, and others who preach “kindness” can’t be kind. They certainly can be, and often are. But they have no ultimate basis for their kindness or even for a definition of kindness. (oh yes they do! See below -Ed)
And not only that, they are being inconsistent with their “survival of the fittest” evolutionary worldview. In that worldview, kindness is only necessary if it had some sort of survival benefit for the organism. There’s no “kindness for kindness’ sake” (although some animals do seem to exhibit altruistic behaviors, which has stumped evolutionists).
We should be kind (as defined by Scripture) this week and the other fifty-one weeks of the year, because we’ve been commanded to “be kind, to one another” (Ephesians 4:32). And not only that, we should be kind because of the example of tremendous kindness we’ve been shown by our Creator. Despite our rebellion against him, he stepped into history in the person of Jesus Christ to die for our sins and save us. God’s kindness towards us is limitless and will be experienced for eternity by those who trust in him.
So be kind to humankind this week—and consider showing others the ultimate kindness by telling them about the free gift of salvation, generously available to all who will believe because of the kindness of our loving Creator.

From where I'm standing it looks as though Ken, although he asks "why", actually hasn't really grasped the deep reason why we should be kind: The only answer he has is that the moral mandate for kindness comes from what he thinks to be the final and authoritative instruction of God; that is, it's right because God says so. But what if these instructions are wrongly interpreted and the instructee believes that being kind entails things like executing people for gay-sex or stoning adulterous women to death or burning heretics at the stake? Blind robotic obedience to what we fancy to be authoritative instructions and rules has the potential to generate a cruel merciless  "morality".

An authoritarian algorithmic morality is blind to the fundamental rationale behind "kindness". To guide our behaviour there must be something which goes deeper than "We do it or don't do it because (we think) God said we should do it!"; that is an argument from brute authoritarianism (As you might expect of a fundamentalist, authority looms large in Ken's thinking).There is something far more fundamental behind morality than ephemeral human interpretations of God's instructions, interpretations which are so often here today and gone tomorrow.

In this post on Quantum Non-Linearity I sketched out what I propose to be the core basis of all morality: This basis rests on the fact that humans are centres of conscious cognition: Conscious cognition is the core of reality - without it "existence" is an unintelligible concept. Human beings are not mere robotic facades where consciousness is just to be regarded as an illusory conceptual device for dealing with cognitive complexity. The first person perspective is logically fundamental to the cosmos and gives it reality (See the post I have linked to for more details).

From this basis it follows that we are kind to one another because we identify other humans as having a first person experience; that is, they are conscious beings who are capable of experiencing the qualia of joys and hurts. The mandate to be kind is not justified by bland authoritarian instructions but because people are feeling beings who know the first person perspective of pleasure and pain.  Truly kind people are kind not because God commands such or even because God himself is kind, but rather because God has made human beings with conscious cognition and he has put it in our hearts to understand this fact, therefore challenging us to make empathetic and optimum moral decisions when serving others competes with serving self.

Atheists and non-Christians may not believe in a God and may know nothing about Biblical instruction, but nevertheless will understand that other human beings have feelings like themselves*.  They therefore face the moral challenge of treating the feelings of others with consideration even though they may know nothing of the Bible. As it says in Romans 2:14-15

Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.

Atheists, contrary to Ham's claim, do have an  ultimate basis for their kindness and a definition of kindness: namely, consideration for the feelings of others, feelings that they know in their hearts to exist. Although implementing one's consideration for others in complex communities where ramifications are often difficult to work out in full, one's moral starting point is a willingness to give deference to the consciousness of others. Moreover, the kernel of the Biblical law is not a set of instructions; rather it is a state of being, a condition of the heart:

8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans 13:8-10)

Rule breaking is a symptom, repeat, a symptom of a deeper moral malaise of the heart, a spiritually pathological state of being:

8 If you really keep the royal law  found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. 9 But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder." If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker. 12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2:8-13)

The core value of the law is mercy and not merciless following of rules. The context of both of the foregoing passages of scripture is of societal and/or church living. That is, it is all about community and it is community life which tests the state of our hearts toward one another. Perceiving one another as conscious beings rather than robotic facades and acting accordingly is the foundation of morality; it's not about obedience to rules spoken by an omnipotent despot**. As we can see from the above Biblical quotes, all instructions and commands to do good trace back to the Royal Law; that is to love one's neighbour as one self and the reason why we must love our neighbour is because they too have the first person perspective of conscious cognition.

A purely instruction based morality, when allied to the epistemic arrogance of fundamentalism has the potential to proceed with utter certainty and mercilessness without regard to feeling. (Romans 3:10).

The Biblical message is that we have all fallen short of the Royal Law and stand condemned of the disease of sin (Appropriately, the word with the "I" in middle). But there is a way out:

20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. 21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,... (Romans 3:20-23)


24 ..... all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:24)

...27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. 28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, 30 since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. 31 Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law. (Romans 3:27-31)

You might think that it is pretty clear from these passages that all who know and call on Christ and have been adopted by God (Acts 2:21, Roman 8: 15) are saved from the bondage of selfishness. But the fundamentalist cannot accept that; for the fundamentalist will make it clear that without following their strict regime of belief and practice your salvation is at best questionable and at worst null and void. If you are not one of them a fundamentalist will want to know why not. Therefore the first reaction of the fundamentalist when faced with Christians beyond the pale of their sect is to seek for subtle unorthodoxies and sins in order to clinch a charge of heresy and discredit an outsider's testimony (See here and here).  They may readily invoke God's grace when it comes to Donald Trump's corruption but that's not for Christians who disagree with them!

Relevant Links:

* There is a question here about psychopaths: Do they see other humans as anything other than a robotic facade?

** God's instruction is needed when we are unsure as to the ramification of our actions in the complex environment of the community, actions that by diverse means could lead to bad community, even if intended for good.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Fundamentalist Publicity Sects.

Charles Taze Russell and Ken Ham

There are interesting parallels between the fundamentalists Charles Taze Russell, founder of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society and Ken Ham, founder of Answers in Genesis. Russell insisted that his proprietary beliefs about the end times were a vital part of the faith and Ham insists that his proprietary beliefs about the beginning times are a vital part of the faith. Both set up publicity organisations which aimed to co-opt local congregations to their cause. In some senses Russell's "Studies in Scripture" parallels Ken Ham's "Answers" in so far as both are sold as an important means for equipping Christians to understand scripture. The beliefs of both organisations have origins in Adventism (although Ham will try to deny this).  That both Ham and Russell have chin beards is probably not particularly significant, but it does help to focus the mind on their parallels. (See end-note added 13/6/18)

I found this interesting link on GeoChristain a few years ago:

It's about the Victorian preacher Charles Spurgeon's attitude to science. Quoting from the article:

Charles Spurgeon was one of the great preachers of the nineteenth century, and like many leading Evangelicals of that time, he had no problem with the idea of an old Earth.

Today’s Pyromaniac’s blog has an excerpt from Spurgeon’s book The Greatest Fight in the World. In this short section, Spurgeon attacks the scientists who think they have somehow disproved God or the Bible. I think of the “new atheists” here, such as Dawkins. Spurgeon also criticizes Christians who twist science to try to make it fit Scriptures. Here I think of the modern “scientific creationism” movement. In Spurgeon’s mind, both the “irreligious scientist” and the “unscientific Christian” are wrong.

As I said, Spurgeon had no problem with the Earth being millions of years old. This is from a sermon by Spurgeon delivered in 1855, which was before the publication of The Origin of Species, but after geologists had established that the Earth must be much older than 6000-10,000 years:

To back up his claims Geochristian includes quotes from Spurgeon. Actually, given that Spurgeon was a Victorian all this is not too surprising. In the Victorian era there was less controversy among Christians about the Earth's origins than there was about the Earth's endings. It was out of this period  that the seventh day Adventists and the fundamentalist sect of Jehovah's Witnesses emerged. Significantly the JW's don't have an problem with the age of the Earth: their pet issue was the eschatological and the end times (See here , here and here).

In a strange kind of symmetrical turn-about today's Christian fundamentalists have switched their focus from the end times of Revelation to the beginning times of Genesis 1 and 2. To complete the symmetry of the reflection it is interesting to note that the JW's and the young Earthists of Answers in Genesis  lineage both got their cue from the Seventh Day Adventists although a self-deluded Ken Ham of AiG will try to deny this.

However, what particularly piqued my interest in the Geochristain article was the comments section. A Christian  fundamentalist who calls himself  Deke responded to Geochristian's article thus:

I think you’re trying to have it both ways here. Not in regard to Spurgeon, but in regard to the Bible. It says “day” so many times it’s almost comical (“…and there was evening and morning, one day.”, “And there was evening and morning, a second day”). It’s almost as emphatic as the repeated globality of the flood (“Every living thing that lived on the earth perished”, “every living on the face of the earth was wiped out…”). Only man in his staggering intellect could possibly refute such an obvious truth.

Notice, as is the wont of the fundamentalist mind, that Deke assumes his contention is such an obvious and a plain reading of scripture that anyone disagreeing with him must being doing so out of a conscious anti-God cussedness and therefore has a compromised conscience; this assumption, after all, fits in with fundamentalist paranoid beliefs that outsiders are all partakers in a world of total depravity, especially, it seems, quasi-apostate Christians who disagree with them! Quite often, therefore, they attempt to construe the debate as one of God's plainly spoken word (i.e their opinions, of course) vs. man's intellect and word.

However,  a Christian commenter who calls himself WebMonk gives a robust and very good reply to Deke (My emphases):

Deke, I think it has been mentioned extensively that using the word “land” is just as valid grammatically as using the word “earth” in the Flood accounts. The decision to use “land” or “earth” is a decision based on the existing view of the globality (to make up a word) of the Flood.

If one thinks it to be a global flood, then the word “earth” is put in, but the person can’t then turn around and say the existence of the word “earth” supports a global flood. Circular support.

For Genesis, it is almost comical how someone can view the heavily repetitive and formulaic structure of Genesis 1 and not understand that it is poetry. Only man in his staggering intellect could possibly refute such an obvious truth.

Using poetry doesn’t make something false, but it does make it extremely suspect when used outside of its genre. Is Psalm 2 untrue? Well sure it is if you take it out of context and subscribe it to a scientific investigation as to whether or not God had put physical chains and fetters on the kings and rulers of the day. However, that poem is true in what it is intended to say.

Is Genesis true? Absolutely, but it, like most poetry, is not trying to speak to a scientific accuracy, and so if one takes it and subjects it to a strictly scientific investigation, you’re going to run into a LOT of problems, just like one would if one were to take Psalm 2 and try to scientifically verify its statements about chains and fetters. That would be taking the Bible WILDLY out of context.

Do you take Psalm 2 as a completely precise scientific description of the world? Of course not. Is Psalm 2 true? Of course it is.

Should you take Genesis 1 as a completely precise scientific description of the Creation? Of course not. Is Genesis 1 true? Of course it is.

Nice one! As well as providing some very useful content Webmonk has used a strategy I have employed myself: He takes the very words used by the fundamentalist and turns them around and uses them against the fundamentalist. (See highlights in bold above). Thus Webmonk has reflected fundamentalist exclusiveness and spiritual conceit right back at the fundamentalist, giving him a taste of his own medicine. Fundamentalists are spiritually conceited to the point that they do not see that the very sickly light they try to cast on outsiders can be turned back on them. In this case Webmomk has used Deke's own words to suggest that Deke is suffering from the very intellectual conceit that he accuses outsiders of.

None of this will, of course, have much impression on the fundamentalist mind, but Webmonk does succeed in exposing a class of mind that is delusionally enamored of its own conceits and self-deceits

Endnote 13/6/18

Another parallel between Ham and Russell is that both necessarily hold Restorationist doctrines in order to explain the novelty and unorthodoxy of their respective organisations; that is, they see themselves as part of a movement which has recently recovered vital truths. Viz: Russell believed himself to be recovering doctrines lost for nearly 2000 years. Ham traces the restoration of a literal view of Genesis to the 1960s, shortly after the 1961 publication of the fundamentalist book by Whitcomb and Morris, The Genesis Flood. Ham likens 1960s young earthism to a kind of reformation after 150 years of rebellion when Christian and non-Christian alike started to move away from a literal interpretation of Genesis as the Western world emerged from a medieval world view during the enlightenment. Ham wishes to restore his pre-scientific attitudes among Christians. In spite of what he might claim he is an anti-scientist as are many fundamentalist "scholars". Taken to it's extreme we find fundamentalists moving back to flat earth theory.

That rejection of his views by Christians is seen by Ham as tantamount to apostasy is indicated in this post of mine:

Further evidence that Ham's organisation sees Christians as part of a great rebellion against his doctrines is evidenced by one of his tame scholars who writes the following slanderous words. Bear in mind here that fundamentalists regard the world beyond their sect as in a state of total depravity and that is why they find it so easy to project heinous sin on outsiders.(My emphases below):

Ultimately, the origins debate is a spiritual battle. Both Darwinian evolution and the idea of millions of years were created in the minds of people in rebellion against their Creator. They were inventing an alternative story to the inspired, inerrant history in Genesis 1–11, so they would not feel the need to be morally accountable to the Creator. That is fundamentally the same reason that most people today believe these ideas and are unwilling to consider Genesis 1–11 and the powerful scientific evidence that confirms that truth.

The rock record is screaming “Noah’s Flood” and “young earth.” Secular geologists can’t hear or see the message because of their academic indoctrination in those naturalistic, uniformitarian assumptions. For the same reason, most Christian geologists can’t see or hear the message, in addition to the fact that they have believed the scientific establishment more than the Bible, even though they claim it is the inspired Word of God."

This fundamentalist has to explain to himself why so many Christian geologists don't follow his views, views he believes to be plainly evidenced in what to me is a clearly mythic portion of the Bible... to this end his fundamentalist outlook forces him to impugn the consciences of these Christians by suggesting that they are knowingly rejecting the Bible. These words which defame Christians who don't follow Ham's organisation can be read here:

The foregoing article (an outdated article written in 2006) has the usual errors: Misunderstandings about the nature of the post-Satan fall of humanity, failure to register Genesis 1's "very good" as not the same as "perfect", straw-man distortions about so-called "uniformitarianism" and the crass anthropomorphism of calling God an "eyewitness". These are all silly ideas hatched in the minds of  fundamentalists. However, as I have said before, I spend too much time on fundamentalist anti-science as it is and so I won't comment any further on these matters. Suffice to show here that in "Answers in Genesis" we have a highly sectarian organisation which will not accept that other Christians can disagree with them with a clear conscience. Instead AiG shows a tendency to apply spiritual duress via character defamation of Christians, as does the Watchtower

Friday, January 26, 2018

The Distorting Lens of Fundamentalism

A Fundamentalist world view is a lens which distorts perception,
not least one's perception of Biblical texts

I sometimes issue the warning that if you are a religiously inclined person practice your belief by all means, but if you lack experience and confidence, beware of fundamentalists of all flavours. I'm not keen on blowing my own trumpet but let me say that I have had personal contact with and moved among Christian evangelicals and fundamentalists for 45 years. I have also had 15 years of observing fundamentalists on the Internet. It would be very wrong of me to suggest that fundamentalism per se is a mental health issue anymore than forthright atheism is a mental health issue, but among fundamentalists I have seen a tendency for some "very strange" characters to bubble to the top and assume a dominating position. For just as cut-throat commercialism can attract borderline sociopaths so fundamentalism attracts characters inclined toward extreme persuasion. Most of these are simply egotists with an overbearing personality of strong self-belief and conviction. Some, however, alongside their bombastic fellow fundamentalists, have personality and/or mental health issues.

Well, I need only mention Jones Town as evidence. In Jones Town we had a leader of huge personal presence, charisma, dominance and self conviction who was able to persuade quite ordinary and otherwise sane folk to commit mass suicide and even to kill their children. Perhaps the reader can think of other super-egotists of strong personality and/or boarder-line lunatics who have secured a religious following. I've seen more than one fundamentalist who, quite frankly, I would classify as dangerous because of their ability to sway impressionable and gullible rank and file believers toward their proprietary convictions. In one case of my acquaintance a one-time sectioned schizophrenic, on being returned to society, had succeeded in securing a small following by convincing this following that the government was using mind control and mind reading machines with the capability of projecting voices into one's head - it seems that his ego would not accept that he was still showing schizophrenic symptoms. In another case a Christian fundamentalist of my acquaintance who promulgated an array of conspiracy theories, including cancer conspiracy theories, believed that the medical establishment were suppressing natural cures for cancer. This person, on being diagnosed with cancer, refused treatment and opted for an apricot pips "remedy" which of course failed and death followed quickly.  In another case a severe paranoia sufferer put out stories that he and his church were in the grip demons. At least one sane person gave some credence to these stories. (after all, as Christians we believe in demons don't we?). This anosognosic paranoiac would never accept that (s)he had a severe psychosis and despised the advice and help of the medical profession.

I can think of others but I certainly don't want to convey the idea that persuasive fundamentalist leaders are all mentally ill. There are, however, common traits which I would like to point out; namely, a strong personality, incorrigible self belief and a planet sized ego. The epistemic conceit of these leaders often hides under the assertion that their world view is not from themselves but has God's authority because they are simply following (as opposed to proactively interpreting) the Bible; that is, their teaching is God's teaching and not man's teaching. Therefore in their eyes their opinions have divine authority, unlike anyone else's opinions! The trouble with fundamentalist culture is that it tends to attract these kinds of personality; their self confidence registers as a form of leadership to those of weaker ego, often (but not always) of weaker intellect and who are looking for direction. Consequently,  these "leaders" can succeed in passing on their distorted view of reality to others.

As an example take Ken Ham and his one time business partner John Mackay. The story of John Mackay can be found here. To be fair Ken Ham, although clearly an egotist of strong personality and conviction, doesn't as far as I know have mental health issues, but he is quite capable of passing on a distorted picture of reality. Clear evidence of this is seen in his blog post dated 16th January and titled Is it good if your child lies to you?  Below I reproduce his post almost in its entirety (My emphases):

Is it good if your child lies to you? 

A recent article in The New York Times argues that if your child is lying to you, that’s a good thing! The article even quotes one psychologist who claims that if you discover your young child lying, you “should celebrate,” and if your child “is lagging behind, don’t worry: You can speed up the process” by using games to turn “truth-tellers into liars within weeks.”

So why would you want your child to lie to you? Well, apparently, it’s a sign of intelligence and of a high verbal IQ. It’s also a sign the child can see the world through other’s eyes. But you know what else lying is? A sin and something Scripture expressly forbids over and over again.
Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord. (Proverbs 12:22)
A false witness will not go unpunished,
and he who breathes out lies will perish. (Proverbs 19:9)
Do not lie to one another. (Colossians 3:9)
During yesterday’s episode of Answers News, our twice-weekly live news program streamed over Facebook Live, Dr. Georgia Purdom, Bodie Hodge, and Avery Foley of AiG discussed this news item, as well as several others. They shared that this is a clear example of what Isaiah describes—calling good evil and evil good (Isaiah 5:20). It’s an attempt to normalize a sinful behavior and to encourage parents to help their children sin.

And remember, once a culture abandons a foundation in an absolute authority, [that is Ken's opinions!] then there’s really no such thing as “truth” or “lying,” because all is relative!

I encourage you to watch the episode to hear them discuss this item, as well as many others.

MY COMMENT. We get the impression from the foregoing that the NYT article "argues that if your child is lying to you, that’s a good thing" and should be encouraged! Ham then goes on to use the Bible, as is his wont, to accuse  the author of the article of heinous sin Viz: "calling good evil and evil good" and  "It’s an attempt to normalize a sinful behavior and to encourage parents to help their children sin.".  He also indulges in his usual practice of threatening spiritual intimidation Viz: "A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who breathes out lies will perish". Yes, I agree lying to one's fellow human without conscience is an abomination, but is Ham really doing the article justice?  Let's compare Ken's view with extracts I have taken from the actual New York Times article (The article can be found here):

Professor Lewis has found that toddlers who lie about peeking at the toy have higher verbal I.Q.s than those who don’t, by as much as 10 points. (Children who don’t peek at the toy in the first place are actually the smartest of all, but they are a rarity.)

Other research has shown that the children who lie have better “executive functioning skills” (an array of faculties that enable us to control our impulses and remain focused on a task) as well as a heightened ability to see the world through other people’s eyes, a crucial indicator of cognitive development known as “theory of mind.” (Tellingly, children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which is characterized by weaker executive functioning, and those with spectrum disorders such as autism, which are characterized by deficits in theory of mind, have trouble with lying.) Young liars are even more socially adept and well adjusted, according to recent studies of preschoolers.

Training children in executive functioning and theory of mind using a variety of interactive games and role-playing exercises can turn truth-tellers into liars within weeks, Professor Lee has found.

MY COMMENT: This is the part of NYT article which sends Ken into a spiral of condemnation and righteous anger. But actually it's largely a piece of common sense: It stands to reason that good liars are probably pretty intelligent and socially adept operators and if your child is a good liar you can gain some consolation from the fact that it simply means (s)he is unlikely to have psychological disabilities like autism and ADHD. So there is a silver lining that objectively speaking we can't deny; Viz: We all know that lying is the (undesirable) domain of quite normal mentally healthy human beings and it's something we are all tempted by, therefore good lying is a sign of cognitive normality! As children learn their theory mind they will get better at lying; it's the downside of social acumen. As for the bit about turning truth tellers into liars within weeks, I read that as tongue-in-cheek especially in view of what follows in the rest of the article. For when taken in the context of the whole article it is manifestly clear to any reasonable person that the NYT article is certainly not advocating lying as a good thing to be encouraged, but the article is simply suggesting that it is a predictor of social adeptness (which is difficult to deny).

Let's now look at the following context taken for the NYT article. Ham makes no reference to this context for it appears not to have registered in his fundamentalist psyche (My emphases):

For parents, the findings present something of a paradox. We want our children to be clever enough to lie but morally disinclined to do so. And there are times when a child’s safety depends on getting at the truth, as in criminal cases involving maltreatment or abuse. How can we get our children to be honest?

In general, carrots work better than sticks. Harsh punishments like spanking do little to deter lying, research indicates, and if anything may be counterproductive. In one study, Professor Lee and the developmental psychologist Victoria Talwar compared the truth-telling behaviors of West African preschoolers from two schools, one that employed highly punitive measures such as corporal punishment to discipline students and another that favored more tempered methods like verbal reprimands and trips to the principal’s office. Students at the harsher school were not only more likely to lie but also far better at it.

Witnessing others being praised for honesty, meanwhile, and nonpunitive appeals for the truth — for example, “If you tell the truth, I will be really pleased with you” — promotes honest behavior, Professors Lee and Talwar have found.

So does a simple promise. Multiple studies have shown that children as old as 16 are less likely to lie about their misdeeds, and the misdeeds of others, after pledging to tell the truth, a result that has been replicated widely. The psychologist Angela Evans has also found that children are less likely to peek at the toy while the researcher is out of the room if they promise not to. Curiously, this works even with children who don’t know the meaning of the word “promise.” Merely securing a verbal agreement — “I will tell the truth” — does the trick. By the end of infancy, it would seem, children already grasp the significance of making a verbal commitment to another person.

As for those childhood morality tales, you might want to skip the more ominous ones. Professor Lee and others have found that reading stories to children about the perils of deceit, such as “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” and “Pinocchio,” fails to discourage them from lying. Reading them the story of George Washington and the cherry tree, on the other hand, in which truthfulness is met with approval, does reduce lying, albeit to a modest degree. The key to fostering honest behavior, Professor Lee and his colleagues argue, is positive messaging — emphasizing the benefits of honesty rather than the drawbacks of deception.

You can also simply pay kids to be honest. In research involving 5- and 6-year-olds, Professor Lee and his colleagues attached a financial incentive to telling the truth about a misdeed. Lying earned children $2, while confessing won them anywhere from nothing to $8. The research question was: How much does the truth cost? When honesty paid nothing, four out of five children lied. Curiously, that number barely budged when the payout was raised to $2.

But when honesty was compensated at 1.5 times the value of lying — $3 rather than $2 — the scales tipped in favor of the truth. Honesty can be bought, in other words, but at a premium. The absolute dollar amount is irrelevant, Professor Lee has found. What matters is the relative value — the honesty-to-dishonesty exchange rate, so to speak.

“Their decision to lie is very tactical,” Professor Lee said. “Children are thinking in terms of the ratio.” Smart kids, indeed.

MY COMMENT: So the NYT article makes it clear that although we desire children of sufficient mental acumen to have the potential to lie that's certainly not to say we want them to be habitual liars. How can we get our children to be honest? asks the article and then goes on to consider possible measures that might be taken to prevent lying. The article asks what might promote honest behavior and answers as follows: The key to fostering honest behavior, Professor Lee and his colleagues argue, is positive messaging — emphasizing the benefits of honesty rather than the drawbacks of deception.

This, of course, is not the story Ham is telling: He makes an entirely false accusation; namely, that the author of the NYT article is encouraging lying in children  This is a complete misinterpretation of the article. Now, it would be wrong to equate Ham's misinterpretation as itself a form of lying; no, rather it has more to do with the way he perceives social reality, a reality which, beyond his fundamentalist sect, he believes to be in a state of total depravity; particularly depraved would be Christians like myself who contradict him! This makes him fertile ground for his skewed and paranoid version of reality (This is also the reason why fundamentalists are prey to conspiracy theorism). By rights Ham should offer an apology for slandering the author of this article, but the fundamentalist world view and moral compass is likely to block such a courtesy. For Ham only registers the part of the article which fulfills his fundamentalist expectation that outside his religious sect the world is in a state of total depravity. I have observed the Jehovah's Witness involved in similar acts of character defamation and it stems from a similar paranoid logic; namely, that those beyond the Watchtower sect are persons guilty of malign intent unless and until they submit to every Jot & tittle of Watchtower teaching. Ham's organisation, AiG, also makes exacting demands on believers.


It is difficult to have cordial relationships with the some of the more extreme fundamentalists. Their concept that the world beyond the confines of their sect is one of total depravity means that outsiders, especially "heretic" Christian outsiders like myself, are regarded with the utmost suspicion. See for example Biologos failed attempt at trying to foster friendly relations with Ken Ham. I could have told Biologos that this attempt at forming bridges would fail! In the eyes of extreme fundamentalists an outsider's behavior may be subject to the most bizarre paranoid interpretations. They will also feel justified in doing what they can to apply spiritual duress where possible. See John MacKay (ibid) and Ken Ham's cursory and frivolous treatment of one of my VNP posts and also his treatment of "heretical" Christians. But it gets a lot worse when fundamentalists start attacking one another; it is then that the irresistible force meets the immovable object!.

Westboro Baptist Church shows just how far fundamentalism can go in its distorted  perception of the outside world.

ADDENDUM 18/04/17
I have remarked before how fundamentalists, like good inquisitors, have a natural tendency to put blasphemous words and thinking into the mouths and heads of Christians they disapprove of in order to secure chargers of heresy. I caught Jason Lisle at this trick here. In a Facebook post dated 10/04/18 we find Ken Ham up to the same trick. This is what he says (My emphasis).

Christians who believe the fossil record was laid down millions of years before man are really accusing God of saying cancer and diseases are "very good" (Genesis 1:31), as many diseases have been discovered in fossil bones supposedly millions of years old! No, diseases came after sin.

Compare Christian scientist Denis Alexander's comments here about the word "good" in Genesis 1. Also, notice that Ham has overlooked the role of the Serpent in Genesis which the fundamentalist ministry Christian Ministries International (CMI) does not.  Ken all too readily sees dark motives and bad consciences in the Christians he disapproves of. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

People in Glass Houses....

Bitter atheist vs atheist feuds are common. 

In this post evangelical atheist PZ Myers quotes Baptist Christian Miguel De La Torre (an evangelical himself it seems) who denounces the degeneration of Christianity at the hands of US Christians. De La Torre catalogs the sins of American Evangelicalism: Viz: Defending a child molester, prosperity gospel, belief that God unleashes natural disasters against those soft on homosexuality, shielding a sexual predator and racist, supporting the "Charlottesville goose steppers". These are just some of the charges De La Torre levels at American evangelicals. His article opens with this paragraph:

Christianity has died in the hands of Evangelicals. Evangelicalism ceased being a religious faith tradition following Jesus’ teachings concerning justice for the betterment of humanity when it made a Faustian bargain for the sake of political influence. The beauty of the gospel message — of love, of peace and of fraternity — has been murdered by the ambitions of Trumpish flimflammers who have sold their souls for expediency. No greater proof is needed of the death of Christianity than the rush to defend a child molester in order to maintain a majority in the U.S. Senate.**

But Myers responds with this:

I wish Christianity were dying. It’s not. It’s merely reverting to its roots. The Christianity he’s pining for — a beautiful faith of “love, of peace and of fraternity” — only existed briefly in the minds of a tiny fraction of wishful thinkers. It’s as if he thinks that benign Christianity is the eternal truth of the religion, and that this recent controlling, selfish, faith of indignant sanctimony is a recent innovation.

Just go back to the 19th century. Christianity was used to justify colonialism, slavery, the extermination of Indians, manifest destiny (oh, man, Christianity is so tangled up in the very idea of manifest destiny), the whole European expansion. Christianity sailed into China aboard gunboats selling opium. Christian missions were planted in Africa to justify invasion. In North America, Christian schools were tools to destroy Indian culture. Yet now we’re supposed to pretend the bigotry and sleaziness of Roy Moore* are an aberration doing great harm to the reputation of the faith? Only if you’re shortsighted and have no appreciation of history at all.

If you insist on more recent examples, though, remember that it was the good Christians of the South who lynched black men for imagined or trivial slights against the propriety of Christian white women, or that even today the Southern Baptist Convention opposes gay rights. These are not exceptions. It’s built right into the bones of Christianity.

I think it’s wonderful that some Christians have struggled against the grain of Christian history to try to build a better, more egalitarian religion. I would wish that they could succeed. But let’s be honest here: you’re trying to do so on a foundation of patriarchal authoritarianism, with 1700+ years of persecution and corruption as a tradition. If you really want to get rid of the hatred and sectarianism and obsolete sexual mores, the first thing you have to dump is the Bible, and then you’re not Christian anymore.

You also have to admit that Roy Moore isn’t anti-Christian at all — he’s following the Bible with more fidelity than someone who accepts modern ideals of tolerance and pacifism and the acceptance of love in all its forms. You just have to recognize that Moore’s religion is a bad thing.

Other atheists who are not exactly on PZ's list of all time greats are Richard Dawkins and the arguably libertarian and doctrinaire social Darwinists Ayn Rand and Matt Ridley. 

It looks as though one doesn't need to draw from Christian cultural roots in order to get a bad case of oppressive and corrupt authoritarianism: Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot and Kim Jong Un have presided over some of the worst cases of despotism and massacres of innocents ever***. Marx's atheistic and anti-free market philosophy has something to answer for there. Moreover, Neitzsche may have a bit of explaining to do as well. 

Lets face it PZ, we both of live in glass houses - actually, probably the same glass house and it's called "humanity"; or should that be "inhumanity"? Humanity is always arguing, always disagreeing and always falling out and unfortunately all too frequently resorting to some kind of duress, harassment and/or coercion in order to seal the case in their favour.  So, if we have to chuck stones at one another we had better make sure they are on target. 

We could rewrite PZ's blog post as follows

I wish atheism were dying. It’s not. It’s merely reverting to its roots. The atheism PZ is pining for — a beautiful faith of “love, of peace and of fraternity” — only exists in the minds of a tiny fraction of wishful thinkers. It’s as if he thinks that benign atheism is an eternal truth, and that this recent controlling, selfish, atheism of indignant belligerence is an aberration.

Just go back to the 20th century. Atheism was used to justify colonialism, slavery, the extermination of millions, manifest destiny (oh, man, Marxism is so tangled up in the very idea of manifest destiny), the whole Nazi, Soviet and Maoist expansion. Atheism sailed into China selling the opium of the masses - Marxist-Leninism. Marxist despots were planted in Africa to justify dictatorships. Yet now we’re supposed to pretend the bigotry and sleaziness of atheism is an aberration doing great harm to the reputation of the faith of atheism? Only if you’re shortsighted and have no appreciation of history at all.

If you insist on more recent examples, though, remember that it was the good atheists of the US who lynched feminists for imagined or trivial slights against the sexual rights of white male atheists, or that even today oppose gay rights. These are not exceptions. It’s built right into the bones of atheism.

I think it’s wonderful that some atheists have struggled against the grain of atheist history to try to build a better, more egalitarian world. I would wish that they could succeed. But let’s be honest here: you’re trying to do so on a foundation of patriarchal authoritarianism, with 100 years of persecution and corruption as a tradition, not to mention the spectre of social Darwinism. If you really want to get rid of the hatred and sectarianism and obsolete sexual mores, the first thing you have to dump is a nihilistic interpretation of Darwinism, but then you’re not atheist anymore.

You also have to admit that Hitler wasn't anti-atheist at all — he was following the logic of atheism with more fidelity than someone who accepts modern ideals of tolerance and pacifism and the acceptance of love in all its forms. You just have to recognize that atheism is a bad thing.

Well, to be frank that is not entirely fair. But then neither is it fair in its original form.

* More about Roy Moore can be found here:

** Compare "emerging churchman" Rob Bell's statement that evangelical culture is disgusting

*** And the French revolution was not exactly a bed of roses.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Confirmation bias and Terry Virgo's bad memory

Terry Virgo: "God's new thing is going to be this big!"

Premier Christianity Magazine is a fairly broad church publication; it's articles, both in authorship and subject matter, span the spectrum from liberals and liberal evangelicals (if that isn't an oxymoron!) such as Robert Beckford, Steve Chalk and Rob Bell through Rick Warren to fundamentalist evangelicals like R T Kendall. I'm in favour of this editorial policy because it acknowledges the realities of Christian culture; to recycle a phrase I actually found in one of Christianity's reviews this month: "This isn't safe Christian publishing because we don't live in a safe Christian world". You can say that again! ...the Christian world certainly isn't safe for one's faith! For if one gets too sectarian, too partisan, too fundamentalist and too choosy with one's Christianity one ends up being obliged to label just about everyone else's version of Christianity (except one's own, of course) as heretical! Since there are any number of fundamentalist puritan sects out there declaring themselves to be the-whole-Truth-and-nothing-but-the-Truth-so-God-help-all-those-others-in-error,  a very natural conclusion in the face of this endless sectarian farce is that Christianity is simply bogus. So, either one rejects Christianity outright as the resort of the spiritually conceited or one goes down Premier Christianity's broad church road.

So, given Premier Christianity's editorial policy I was comfortable with the fact that the November edition carried an article by Charismatic "restorationist" and fundamentalist leaning Terry Virgo. His name has come up on this blog before - see here and here. The article was titled: "Whatever happened to the promised revival" and concerned Virgo's belief that the time is right for revival (or at least another promise of revival!). In my experience pronouncements of coming revival by some Christian pundit or other have been so frequent and to date have proved so false that its very easy to automatically dismiss such claims. In fact to be frank that was exactly my response to Virgo. However, given the culturally run down circumstances in which Western Christianity finds itself I can understand a little wishful thinking on Virgo's part and I wouldn't want to be too hard on him. What I would query, however,  are some of the more specific features of his piece. I itemize these below:

Item 1: Virgo says that true revival starts with repentance in the church and fresh encounters with God. He might be right, but what completely obscures this hypothesized pattern is that in my experience repentant revivalist meetings, some of them involving claimed epiphanies, ecstasies, inner light experiences,  trance-like behaviors and altered states of consciousness (Often labelled nowadays as "encounters"), are so frequent that if revival does break out there will inevitably be some revivalist group or other who are well placed to claim "It happened here first!". For example, Virgo tells us the story of the stern Welsh fundamentalist Martin Lloyd-Jones who interrupted his planned preaching program in 1959 to preach for a whole year on revival hoping that revival would break out soon. (At that time Jones did not indulge in what today we would call "encounter" behaviours). There was no revival, but if there had been it is quite possible that Jones' name would have been easily associated with it. As it happened the 1960s was accompanied by cultural shifts both inside and outside the church. The church of the 60s experienced the "encounter" Christianity of the charismatic movement and a resurgence of fundamentalist Christian literalism manifested in anti-science young earthist trends. But as Virgo rightly points out the charismatic renewal of the 1960s cannot classify as a classic revival. 

Item 2: Regarding the charismatic renewal and fundamentalist shifts  of the 60s Virgo says "For me the word 'revival' was replaced by the word 'restoration'". Of course it's futile contradicting Virgo in his use of labels - he can call it what he wants. I personally would have referred to the 1960s cultural shifts in the church as a "change of garb" or  a "change of style". Yes, often those changes were needed to meet the day but sometimes the new dress was tasteless, garish, affected, and inauthentic. Moreover, the "encounters" (referred too as "Baptisms in the Spirit" in those days, and later "the touch of God"**) often failed to live up to their promise of "Holy Power".

However, I'm intrigued by Virgo's use of the world "restoration" because when I first came across Virgo's name at the beginning of the 1980s he was part of a movement who used the word  "restoration" to describe a "recovery" of the ministries of apostles, prophets and authoritative (sometimes also authoritarian) church leadership. By the end of the 1970s the charismatic movement of the 60s had started to get stale and passe and a "where to next?" feeling set in. The new restorationist leadership was claiming that these rediscovered ministries were evidence of God's next big thing. In fact the slogan that did the rounds was that "God was doing a new thing". By the beginning of the 1980s this "new thing" itself was starting to fade and it wasn't until the mid 1990s that yet another "new thing", in the form of the trance-like "Toronto Blessing", started to emerge.

One of the leaders of the restorationist movement, Arthur Wallace, wrote a short "prophetic" piece to the effect that this new awakening, under the restored patriarchal leaders, would result in a flowing together of the different streams of Protestantism. This kind of unifying restoration, needless to say, never took place; it petered out into yet another splinter of Protestantism as its "big preach" leaders got down to the routine day to day business of running their churches. Some of those leaders were authoritarian in outlook, such as Bryn Jones. As one of the big name leaders Virgo was considered by his flock to be an apostle, but Virgo was a less authoritarian and wiser leader than many; this may be why he has lasted and has gained some respect. But even so he was still too authoritarian in doctrinal paradigm to be of much help in the Mark Driscoll affair.  (See here and here

Item 3: There have been a number of failed prophecies about revival in the UK and Virgo, unwittingly, probably alludes to one such failed prophecy. He talks of a lady friend who had a vision just weeks before Princess Diana's death of the streets of the UK being filled with flowers. I wonder if this is the same "prophecy" that arrived at my church just after Diana had died. We were told that the source of the prophecy came with good backing (Perhaps with Virgo's backing?) and that clearly the prophecy about the streets being filled with flowers had been fulfilled. However, Virgo doesn't tell us that the prophecy did the rounds in two parts and the second part, presumably from the same source, claimed that as quickly as the flowers would be removed from the streets revival would come to the UK. Of course, that second prophecy wasn't fulfilled! If I'm right then it looks as though Virgo has forgotten about this or has suppressed it. My guess is that the lady concerned had what she perceived as precognitive visions and/or dreams - a phenomenon that is not uncommon in the population as a whole. But if an attempt is made to use these precognitive visions predictively let me warn people that they are unreliable and can betray the prognosticator just as they did Virgo's lady friend.


In my experience prophecies of revival are two-a-penny out there. Without digging into the archives I can recall several in my time alone. Like revivalist meetings, prophecies of revival are probably happening all the time and if and when revival breaks out someone somewhere will feel they are able to claim that they correctly prophesied it!

Confirmation bias is rampant in some Christian subcultures and the welter of attempted prognostications makes it very likely that someone somewhere will eventually come up trumps - or at least think they've come up trumps!* In this post I published some false prophecies taken from my own memories. Viz:

1. The Mt Carmel prophecies affirming 1975 as a “significant” year. (From the Christian "Buzz" magazine)
2. That revival would sweep the southern part of England, as did the hurricane of 1987. (Grantly Watkins at a Norwich "May Day" event)
3. That this or that person would be healed from terminal cancer and never did (Too numerous to mention specifically!)
4. That there would be Christian revival shortly after Princess Di’s death. (Terry Virgo's friend)
5. The Spring Harvest prophecy that Westminster Chapel would be the center of a great revival in 1996. (Gerald Coates)
6. That the millennium bug would be the precursor of Global collapse in the year 2000. (Barry Smith)
7. That Southern England would experience a devastating Earthquake. (A Dereham Road Baptist Church member quoting information she received from a "prophetic ministry". She quoted this during a meeting where I was in attendance)
8. That “big things” would be happening in the UK shortly after the July 2005 BennyHinn rally in Norwich.

Since I published the list above there has been a prophecy at the "Bay of Holy Spirit Revival"  which claimed that my home city of Norwich would experience a revival. We've also fairly recently (2014/15) had the "Blood Moon" prophecies which, on the basis of a relatively rare series lunar eclipses, made predictions of eschatological interest. The sell-by-date of these prophecies, however, is rapidly running out. It's also worth comparing all this with the  prognisticating activities of the Jehovah's Witnesses' Watchtower organisation. 

The above are anecdotal in that they just come from my memory. If I did a little digging and research I might be able to unearth some documentation to support these anecdotes. However, I must  say that I've got better things to do with my life than run down cheap plastic Woolsworth's quality prophecies, "prophecies" here today and forgotten tomorrow.

* You can do this experiment safely at home. Take two dice and throw them both one after the other. Use the first die thrown as a "prognosticator" of the second die thrown. If the first die comes up with a "6" then regard this as a prediction that the second die will land a "6". Marvel when the predicting die actually, and eventually, get's it right!

Wow! One of those die has just predicted the other!

**  As the Toronto blessing got underway in the mid 1990s it became apparent that even those who claimed they had been "Baptised in the Spirit" could come back for more and experience a "new touch of God" in the form of the ecstatic mental states of the new blessing. Thus, the emphasis shifted from an elite class of Christians initiated once for all into the things of the Spirit to ongoing "touches of God" and encounters. The promise of these trance-like experiences drew seekers and filled the chairs (and often the carpets!) of those revivalist rallies.