Friday, November 20, 2009

50 blogs on disbelief - An okay starting point

50 Blogs on Disbelief
My thoughts on the book, 50 Voices of Disbelief, Why We Are Athiests, edited by Russell Blackford and Udo Schuklenk. Written as I read them in no particular order. The page number of the essay is provided at the top of each entry.

P310 Michael Tooley “Helping People to Think Critically About Their Religious Beliefs”

This essay might be a place to come for someone who wants to think critically about who Jesus was and what he taught, but definitely not a place to end that research. His suggested reading includes Dawkins and Harris and others in that group, exactly the type of material I was trying to get away from when I selected this book. He also mentions Michael Martin’s “The Case Against Christianity” more than once. I might look into that one.

In the first third of the essay, he makes some broad statements, and gives his opinion with no examination. This is the nature of a short essay, but he could have just left them out. For example he starts with,
“Most people in the world accept the religious beliefs of their parents, with relatively minor changes, and never think critically about those beliefs. This is a very unfortunate state.”
He never considers the value of early cultures that used ritual to honor the cycle of planting and harvesting. Rituals that held that culture together, allowed it to get through times of famine, gave it ways of dealing with inner conflict and threats from without. My blog is shorter than his essay, so I won’t provide a scholarly defense of this theory, but Tooley never even gives it a nod.

The closest he comes is when he acknowledges that Richard Dawkins, in the The God Delusion gives kudos to Jesus for saying “turn the other cheek” Matthew 5:39. Tooley considers this “badly misguided”. As evidence he says,
“few people would think, surely, that it would have been good if Winston Churchill had taken this injunction more seriously: great evils call for resistance,..”
The millions of civilians killed, injured and made homeless by the bombing of Germany would have thought it a great idea. I am not a pure pacifist, but a quick Google search finds many articles that consider this a controversy, not a slam dunk obvious decision.

I have found that many of the so-called “contradictions” found in the teachings of Jesus are actually views of either side of the coin. The New Testament does not dance around difficult moral choices. It calls on the reader to be perfect, to love those who hate you. How we go about accomplishing that is up to each of us individually and up to each generation to apply to whatever challenges arise.

He goes on to examine the actual teachings of Jesus. I am not a Biblical scholar, and as much as I would like to take each one of his points and examine it, I don’t have time to do that right now. Some of these are the same as those I discussed in an earlier blog. Some of them can be understood simply by reading the entire passage and finding the part that says, “For the kingdom of heaven is like” and similar verses that tell you that the verses to follow are parables, not actually suggesting that someone should be thrown in a fire.

He does cover passages that demonstrate Jesus had apocalyptic visions, believed in demonic possession and had a puritanical view of marriage. Hopefully you had some idea of that before deciding to go to church. Hopefully you also know that not everyone agrees on those interpretations. The Bible itself includes Peter and Paul arguing about what Jesus meant. Although many verses can speak directly to a modern person, when reading the Bible, you need to remember that psychology had not been invented, neuroscience could not have been conceived of, they had no way of knowing what was above the clouds, and couldn’t have known that someday we would know. They only way to talk about those things was by using symbols like “demons”.

Too often Tooley engages in hyperbole. For example, while going through his 7 point examination of Jesus’ character, he says, “Jesus was very intolerant toward those who disagreed with his teachings.” (his italics) and offers this passage:

And if any place will not receive you and they refuse to hear you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet for a testimony against them. (Mark 6:11)

Apparently Michael has never tried to solicit money for a charity or enroll some volunteers. When you try to get people to do something good, you are going to get a lot of “no’s”. People are too busy, they are doing other good things, they are selfish and don’t care, whatever the reason, you need to know when a “no” is a “no” and move on, shake it off. That last bit about “for a testimony against them” is a bit of a flip-off. I don’t advocate that, but I don’t see this passage as evidence for intolerance.

A critical examination, yes, in need of a lot more examination, definitely. Some of that examination can be done through further reading and discussion with your own support circles, some of it will need to be done by and for yourself.



  1. I got to give it to you, Lausten, reviewing each of the book chapters is an impressive feast. Thanks for the effort.

  2. Thank you for the encouragement. Sorry I missed your comment earlier.