Wednesday, November 02, 2011

On Christianity, politics and stupid arguments

For those who are unaware, I am a Christian, and conservative (politically... I would be considered theologically moderate). For that reason, I am attuned to certain assertions used to dismiss my faith on political/social grounds. I'll call them "stupid Christian" arguments, since all of them are designed to make conservative evangelicals look thoughtless and silly. My response to a random smattering follows:

"Kim Kardashian and Kris Humpries' marriage lasted 72 days, but gays and lesbians are threatening the institution of marriage?" (implied snicker)

This sounds good, but it elides the core of the issue. Christians are as repulsed by celebrity quicky marriages like everyone else. Most conservatives support the creation of certain laws aimed at curbing such temporary arrangements. Short of eliminating at-will divorce (which some conservatives also favor) there is no real solution. Kris and Kim absolutely threaten the institution of marriage, but we are essentially helpless to prevent them from doing so.

For what it's worth, I don't think there should be an "institution" of marriage. Government should let people live however they want, and apply no honorific to any social arrangement. But if we are going to have government civil contracts, that's an institution, and Americans have the right to define it in accordance with its purpose, even if it fails at that purpose. Government institutions exist solely to empower the people.

"Jesus was a dark-skinned hippie socialist, not a conservative."

Jesus was indeed concerned for the poor, and came to the aid of the oppressed. However, he never called upon government to do so. He simply wasn't active in politics, and the Roman Empire washed its hands of him (almost literally... That's where the phrase comes from).

Some argue Christ was inherently political, because he called on citizens to follow him and not the Roman Empire. But considering we are free to worship Christ in America, this is a red herring. Worship in the United States isn't really a political event unless you want to make it one. Some do; I don't.

Of course, many Christians are active politically. Since people feel passionately about politics, many on the right and the left conflate politics with faith. Further, nobody genuinely concerned about politics actively fights to oppress the poor. I believe a strong centralized government does just that, while the left believes free markets do. That is an economic question, not a matter of faith.

As to whether Christ was dark-skinned, that is largely unknown. The obvious implication here is that conservatives are racist, and can't handle the idea Christ is anything other than white. It's an ignorant epithet and nothing more.

"Why do Christians support going to war? Wasn't Christ the prince of peace?"

Not particularly. While he never actively supported any particular conflict - again, he offered no directives for empires other than to follow him - he never opposed conflict in general. Many pacifists (who always seem quieter during Democratic administrations, FWIW) cite Christ's famous admonition those who live by the sword die by the sword. But this was in direct response to Peter interfering with Christ's death on the cross.

Keep in mind Christ was amazed at the faith of a Roman Soldier, and did not call him out for any particular sin. If Christ was so enamored of pacifism, surely he would have had a word to say to him about war. He did not.

"Why do conservatives love the rich? Didn't Christ say to give all your possessions to the poor?"

No. This is based on a sloppy interpretation of the Christ's encounter with the young rich man. Jesus here was prompted by the question "what do I still lack?" posed by a man who had ticked off the commandments he obeyed. Christ quickly identified what was lacking. The man was greedy. Commanded to give away his possessions and follow Christ, the man went away sad.

It is true that many rich people are blinded by their greed. It does not follow all rich men are greedy.

From a political perspective, I don't know what you do with this passage. Christ clearly isn't compelling the man to give away his possessions. Why, then, should I ask the government to do so? If economic redistribution solves a political problem, so be it, but appealing to Jesus doesn't get you anywhere.

Christians do recognize rich people are often assholes. For this reason, we do not particularly enjoy being lectured by those who profit from the political values they espouse (think Al Gore, Michael Moore, The Clooney Christ, Keith Olbermann etc...)

"Why are Christians so worried about sexual sin? Didn't Jesus say he who is without sin should cast the first stone?"

This is an adequate argument, perhaps, against banning certain sexual behaviors. However, the bigger contemporary issues relate to church membership and leadership.

I certainly agree we shouldn't stone people, but there is no biblical warrant for putting unrepentant sinners in church leadership. Jesus says do not sin again, not "keep doing it because we are all sinners". Scripture offers guidelines for leadership and membership in the church. Some people don't like it, but nobody is throwing stones at them.

"Why do Christians oppose legal abortion when the bible doesn't mention it?"

There is an assertion behind this question. The question is, why are Christians opposed to legal abortion? The assertion is the bible is silent on the issue, and so this is not a faith issue.

To assert scriptural silence on this issue constitutes tacit approval is nonsense. My guess is God assumes his admonition to care for the least of these and not murder people, combined with the fact he knit us in the womb, should be sufficient to make clear defenseless babies ought not be slaughtered. In order to make these case for tacit approval, you have to assume God makes a distinction between a child before and after birth. He makes no such distinction anywhere. This is, therefore, a moral issue, from a Christian perspective.

To the question, however, I think where you land on the abortion issue depends on whether you favor ethics or personal autonomy. Frankly, the arguments on both sides of the abortion debate are woefully inadequate. Christian pro-lifers senselessly argue from subjective morality, while pro-choicers argue senselessly from autonomy.

From my perspective, legal abortion fails either sense, but that's not the point. This has become an issue of rights vs. morals. Hence, the whole litmus test business. This is one area where Christians, even though they have the right side of the argument, make the wrong case.

"Christians are anti-science. Aren't they teh STUPIDZ!!!!11!!1!"

This refers to the propensity among Christians to reject the Darwinian theory of evolution, and to be skeptical regarding anthropogenic global warming. To which, a few points.

There is quite a bit more to the practice of science than unreliable climate models and Darwin. Christians, by and large, respect the idea of scientific inquiry.

As respects evolutionary theory, my approach is to recognize what science can and cannot do. Science cannot, and will not, explain the origins of the universe. It cannot, and will not, explain miracles. I believe in miracles, as do most, and I believe the universe began, as does everyone.

Science cannot account for faith, and so must work within it's own parameters. Namely, if a phenomenon is not repeatable, science cannot do much with it. This is not the same as saying it didn't happen. Science has nothing to say about, for example, the resurrection of Christ, which most believe did happen.

As respects anthropogenic global warming, the science is far from settled. Science is never actually settled (ask Einstein) but in this case, it isn't close. Here's what we know:

The earth warmed over the last century.
The earth has not warmed over the last 13 years.
Global warming over the last century correlates with an increase in carbon production.
Carbon production has increase massively over the last 13 years.
Global warming scientists like to hide declines.

There is much we do not know. For example, we don't know why climate models established in the 1990s were completely and utterly wrong. Like, people-predicting-Darko-Milicic-will-be-a-superstar wrong. We don't know how much humans have actually contributed to global warming, how much we can do to reverse it, whether it needs to be reversed, how much said reversal will cost, whether the cost of reversal will outweigh the costs associated with global warming, whether localized legislative action to promote reversal will be outweighed by universal carbon usage, and whether the whole thing might not just sort itself out in a few decades.

To which, most on the left respond "WE HAVE TO DO SOMETHING! THERE'S NO TIME!"

Which is about the most anti-goddamn-science thing anyone can possibly say about anything.

So, Christians are not anti-science, no matter what Karl Giberson, graduate and former provost-or-whatever at West Of Bumblef--k Bible College writes in HuffPo about us.

And, of course, science is not the only thing comprising the intellect. It is quite possible to hold the minority viewpoint on one scientific issue (we AGW skeptics are in the majority, and for good reason, you decline-hiders) and still engage in intellectual inquiry.

If you want to dismiss conservative evangelicals, that's fine, but recognize that most of us have thought through what we believe and why we believe it. If you are forced to rely on gimmicky arguments to dismiss us, that says more about you than me.


Blogger brgulker said...

I don't say this smugly...

I agree wirh you on almost every point here (except pacifism). I am surprised by this.

6:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well said!

9:23 PM  

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