Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Evangelists panic when they're losing ground

Hark, for I'm going to tell you a tale of olden times. Back in the days of yore, when our lives were little better than those of the cavemen, there were no podcasts. In those days, all we had for entertainment on long drives was an archaic device known as "The Radio." On this radio, I used to listen to a lot of Christian shows, with my favorite being "The Bible Answer Man" with Hank Hanegraaff.

In these more enlightened times, I have so much regular entertainment to choose from that I can easily fill all my driving time and more with shows which confirm my own personal beliefs and prejudices, and much of the time I do. But when Beth asked her Facebook friends what fundie podcasts she could listen to last week, it reminded me. How is Hank doing? I really should start listening again.

And I'm so glad I did. Because if I hadn't listened to the August 1 episode, I never would have run into this great article by Jerry Coyne. It's titled: "As atheists know, you can be good without God."

To put it mildly, Hank did not like this article.

Here are a few excerpts.

...[I]t's clear that even for the faithful, God cannot be the source of morality but at best a transmitter of some human-generated morality.

This isn't just philosophical rumination, because God — at least the God of Christians and Jews — repeatedly sanctioned or ordered immoral acts in the Old Testament. These include slavery (Leviticus 25:44-46), genocide (Deuteronomy 7:1-2; 20:16-18), the slaying of adulterers and homosexuals, and the stoning of non-virgin brides (Leviticus 20:10, 20:13, Deuteronomy 22:20-21).

Was God being moral when, after some children made fun of the prophet Elisha's bald head, he made bears rip 42 of them to pieces (2 Kings 2:23-24)? Even in the New Testament, Jesus preaches principles of questionable morality, barring heaven to the wealthy (Matthew 19:24), approving the beating of slaves (Luke 12:47-48), and damning sinners to the torments of hell (Mark 9:47-48). Similar sentiments appear in the Quran.


Should we be afraid that a morality based on our genes and our brains is somehow inferior to one handed down from above? Not at all. In fact, it's far better, because secular morality has a flexibility and responsiveness to social change that no God-given morality could ever have.

Sentiments I think most of us can get behind, but that's no big surprise, right? Most of you readers are on Jerry Coyne's side, as I am.

Now I don't know if you've ever heard Hank Hanegraaff, but he's got this very calm, very soothing voice, with what I would describe as almost a Jim Henson-like quality. He sounds reassuring, authoritative, certain of his facts. Most of the time.

On this particular occasion, as he talked about the terrible injustice of Coyne's article, he just kept getting more and more agitated. He didn't actually refute these claims about the Bible, mind you -- he threw them out there, dismissed them by saying they were "out of context," and then said he'd go over them in depth on another day. Which I loved, because there's no more effective way to stoke an opposing argument than to repeat it without refuting it properly.

By the time he was done with the subject, Hank was doing a passable impression of Yosemite Sam, bringing up the usual red herrings like Mao Zedong and Pol Pot (even implying that Pol Pot was just a humanist trying earnestly to set up an "egalitarian society," which made me say "WTF?")

The best line of the show, however, was when Hank said in a voice of grave and sorrowful concern: "The thing that I find particularly troubling about this article... is that when you read it without discernment skills, you can end up believing it."

Dead on, Hank. Of course, with proper analysis, it's even more plausible. But I think Jerry Coyne should graciously accept the compliment that his rhetoric is so good that people without discernment skills are more likely to accept his reasoning than the Bible stories that they usually take as a given.

That's what bugs evangelists about the internet in general. They're used to stating their case in a vacuum. When someone like Hank Hanegraaff says, as he did to a caller later in the show, "God loves you so much that He sent His son to die for you," he's counting on the assumption that some rude and dickish atheist isn't going to pop up and ask something like "How do you know that?" And when they solemnly proclaim that only God makes you moral, they hate it when you point to passages where Jesus endorses beating your slaves.

Similar sentiments abound these days; just a few weeks ago, Josh McDowell was saying that "The Internet has given atheists, agnostics, skeptics, the people who like to destroy everything that you and I believe, the almost equal access to your kids as your youth pastor and you have... whether you like it or not."

Equal access? That's what we're gaining that's so terrifying? Apparently religion can only thrive if they can muzzle the atheists, shut them up, shame them into not making a peep while we're being slandered.

Keep on scaring them, folks.


  1. "He didn't actually refute these claims about the Bible, mind you -- he threw them out there, dismissed them by saying they were "out of context," and then said he'd go over them in depth on another day."

    It's not just fundies who do this sort of thing. I recently stumbled upon Serious Theologian™ Edward Feser (also through Jerry Coyne) who is fond of saying that questions like "well, who created God, then?" aren't serious objections because Aquinas devoted hundreds of pages to answering them. But somehow, he rarely if ever manages to get around to summarizing the actual counterargument.

    In other words, "I'm not telling you what the counterargument is, but rest assured that there is one out there somewhere."

    I've taken the liberty of calling this argumentum ab mannulum, or argument to the pony. As in "with all this horseshit, there's got to be a pony here somewhere."

  2. A cold, gaunt figure steps out of the shadows and into the overhead light of a streetlight; his black coat lifted by the wind. Staring at the fundies who have gathered together at the steps of the local church, assured of their victory, he begins to walk forward. Ominous metal music begins. They turn to face him. His stare shocks them. As they look upon him, gasping with horror, he begins to speak.

    We've been hiding for too long. You thought you could keep us down... You were wrong.

    He flies toward them.

    *fade to black*
    *fade to title*


    (Rating pending)

  3. The music would be Black Sabbath, am I right?

  4. We atheists are so arrogant sometimes: don't we all realise that somewhere lost in the vagaries of supreme confidance, just beyond the cusp of articulation, lies the sublime answer to any questioning of God or his ways?

    How impertinent of us even to think to challenge men like Hank and their dearly held self-image.

  5. @Kazim I just watched "Queen of the Damned" again. So I guess I kind of had Korn or something like it in mind. :)

  6. Makes me think of the vicar who said, some centuries ago, "We must destroy the printing press, or it will surely destroy us."


  8. I live in Charlotte, and drive by Hank's radio studio fairly frequently. He's one of my favorites as well; you are dead on about that voice, it's full of authority, completely assured and confident. It boggles my mind how someone can think they know so much about the unknowable.

  9. While waiting in a lobby the other day, I started reading one of the USA Today's they has sitting on the table. I was quite pleased when I stumbled upon Jerry Coyne's article.

    At home, I looked it up on USA Today's site to give it another read. While I was disappointed at some of the comments that were left, it was quite heartening to see that those comments were voted way down. While the comments saying how much people agreed with Jerry had been voted up.

    It seems that more and more people out there are starting to get it.

  10. I always love that there is a context where beating your slaves and having a bear rip kids apart is somehow moral.

  11. Hank says,"How can you possibly advocate that jesus christ sanctioned beating slaves from reading the bible?"...apparently Jerry Coyne read luke chapter 12 as he writes in the article.

  12. 23 From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. “Get out of here, baldy!” they said. “Get out of here, baldy!” 24 He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the LORD. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys.....according to the bible answer man Jerry Coyne took this verse out of context when he interpreted it to mean that god sent 2 bears to kill a bunch of kids for calling the guy bald. Apparently directly quoting the verse is also taking it out of context....What does one have to do to correctly interpret a verse in context?

  13. Jhanley, When apologists say "context" I think they actually mean "excuse." I believe the popular explanation for the Elisha story is that it was not a group of mocking kids, but a gang of scary teenage thugs. There is, of course, no direct textual support for this interpretation, only imagination and wishful thinking.

  14. Mao and Pol Pot persecuted and murdered Buddhists in their respective countries. I guess that goes to show what depth of evil will result when men in power reject the teachings of the Buddha.

  15. Hanegraaff and others who think like him probably know on some level that the historical correlation of forces don't favor them so much these days. They fear that they live late in their own BC-like era, and that a new world view will emerge in a few generations to push theirs to the margins. I like to call it the coming "Jesus who?" era. Ironically the rapture delusion shows this by postulating that all the christians on the planet will disappear some day.

    BTW, I've met a few people who had the good fortune to have grown up as atheists. While they have their problems like everyone else, they also come across to me like characters from some advanced civilization of out science fiction. Imagine the advantages of not having to grow up listening to creepy preachers', Sunday school teachers' and youth pastors' ghost stories about the bad things Jesus will do to you if he returns and catches you unprepared, or if you die "unshriven"! It looks almost as if today's atheists, secular humanists, skeptics, etc., used a time machine to migrate to our era from the 22nd Century, and like immigrants across oceans they've built up lives in this environment based on the culture they brought with them.

  16. As a much younger man I used to think I was SOOO clever for figuring out the principles of Christianity were bogus. I was deeply humbled to find that people have been raising the same objections for years. Ingersol, Payne, and even some ancient Greek philosophers (whose names escape me at the moment) had all this figured out a long time ago. I now consider the explicitly secular stance of the US Constitution to be one of the main factors in the historical success the US has enjoyed. There were already legions of biblical scholars that had to agree the Bible was manmade. I was definitely late to these “revelations”, historically speaking.

    The criticisms have been sound for a long time. What choice do the religious have except to try and suppress knowledge of them?

  17. Have you kissed hanks ass today?

  18. I read Hanegraff's bio. There is absolutely nothing about his education and training. Perhaps what pisses him off is that Jerry Coyne is better educated and trained in his area of expertise than Hanegraaff is in his if you can even call Bible and Theology an area of expertise.

  19. "The Internet has given atheists, agnostics, skeptics, the people who like to destroy everything that you and I believe . . ."

    It's only fair, Mr. McDowell. What you believe practically destroyed me - - when I believed it.

  20. "The Internet has given atheists, agnostics, skeptics, the people who like to destroy everything that you and I believe . . ."

    I always find this attitude bizarre - as though beliefs are somehow sacred by their very existence. If a belief isn't true, it doesn't deserve to be held by anyone.

    If they're wrong, they deserve to be "Destroyed", like a failing employee should be fired and replaced by a good competent employee.

  21. Even if it said a group of grown men were calling Elisha what!!! No christian would defend someone who murdered somebody because that person called another person bald.

  22. Every time I hear some Christian say "God loves you so much that He sent His son to die for you", I think to myself, "Huh, that god fellow loves me more than he does Jesus!"

  23. @ScienceisFun

    Of all religious claims, the whole "Jesus died for you" bit is the one I kick myself most for not seeing through sooner.

    "I have some rules that I expect you to follow, and you are not doing a good job of following them. You deserve to be punished forever, but don't worry. I am going to torture and kill my own son instead, so you are all set if you are willing to have him take the fall for you."

    Why I needed Christopher Hitchens to point the insanity of this out to me I will never know.

  24. BTW, Hanegraaff didn't just do one show on Coyne's article: I subscribed to the podcast, and found that he talked about it in the Aug. 2 episode as well, and even promised to talk about the remaining "blasphemy" on the following day.

    In case anyone cares, the argument went like this: the code of laws in Leviticus allows for voluntary slavery, and mandates that some of the harvest be left for the poor. Therefore, Jesus did not condone beating slaves.

  25. I also kick myself for hearing that little nugget "sacrificed his only son" for so many years without recognizing just how silly it is. Nowadays it's hard to contain my contempt for people trying to use it as an excuse for nonsense they spin.

    I listen to Hank the "know it all" on my way from work. He's like the magic 8-ball of apologetics. There are only a handful of answers for every imaginable question. Hank says... bad translation! Hank says... god tells us very plainly!... Hank says... Listen here, this is very important!

    I wondered what type of person thinks they have an answer for anything. It's people like this who grow their own little fiefdom of a dozen children. He has twelve children. I watched a marathon of "The Duggens" while on a long flight layover this summer. They have similar issues. It's a strange personality type that breeds it's own choir.

  26. Slightly off topic, but I would sometimes try to get my former mother-in-law (very fundie) to try and reason things out on her own...but she would quickly detect if the conversation was going in a heretical direction and would literally shut down mentally and go into what I liked to call "Bible-verso-matic" mode and just start spouting random bible verses...that sometimes attempted to address the earlier point(s) I raised, other times were complete nonsense that she'd nevertheless spout anyway, to get as far away from my previous line of inquiry as possible. It was often hard to not laugh out loud at this.

  27. JJR:
    Is Bible-verso-matic in any way related to what George Orwell called "crimestop" in Nineteen Eighty-Four? To copy-and-paste a quotation from Wikipedia:

    "Crimestop means the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought. It includes the power of not grasping analogies, of failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments if they are inimical to Ingsoc, and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction. Crimestop, in short, means protective stupidity."

  28. martin posted this comment on facebook a few days ago. I think it perfectly sums up the creepiness of god sending jesus to die for us...

    Imagine if someone you knew showed up at your door, carrying the freshly killed corpse of their own offspring, and told you, "Look what I did because I loved you so much."

  29. I always protest when someone says "Jesus died for your sins" to me.

    I had nothing to do with it! I wasn't anywhere near Israel at the time and there's no way you're going to pin that on me!

    Besides, sin is God's problem, not mine. I'm an American and I have the right to sin if I want to. If God wants to live in America, he should obey our laws!

  30. In case anyone cares, the argument went like this: the code of laws in Leviticus allows for voluntary slavery, and mandates that some of the harvest be left for the poor. Therefore, Jesus did not condone beating slaves.

    Arensb, thanks for letting me know. I probably wouldn't have listened to the followup if you haven't mentioned it.

    So yeah, Hank went through all this rigmarole explaining that many slaves were treated very well and they were more like employees.

    I kept waiting for him to get to the part where you can invade neighboring tribes and enslave people against their will, or brand slaves, or beat them as much as you like as long as they take more than a day to die. But THAT never came.

    For a guy who claims that reading the Bible is all about understanding context, he sure is eager to skip over a lot of that context.

  31. We're destroying their moral beliefs. This from a guy selling a book about slave beating and daughter banging.

    From that perspective, the FLDS sounds almost sane.

  32. It's almost noon here. Time to go destroy more moral beliefs.

  33. @Kazim:
    But you're taking that context out of context!

  34. God condones slavery ? Exodus 21:16 He who kidnaps a man and sells him or is found with him in hand shall surely be put to Death. Obviously not . God Did make laws concerning "servants" as he knew people wwould sel themselves into servitude and I'm sure Knew there would be bonafide Slaves ,knowing how evil men could be, and these laws served to protect them also. As far as Jesus condoning the beating of servants in Luke 12:47-48 he is obviously talking to servants of God .Hypocritical christians. Please stop perpetuating untruths by not researching All that is written on a matter and taking what is written out of context. That's how religions are born .

  35. Father of lights.. you obviously can't grasp the idea that Christs death on the cross in fact Defeated death and that he Lives and will for eternity in a paradise he has prepared. you only see the this physical life which is but a vapor and not a spiritual life which is eternal.


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