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Discussion 1 to Talk Back 76
An exercise in futility

by Maarten van den Driest

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In response to Talk Back 76, I consider it an exercise in futility

Copy-pasted into Word without change, this Talk Back came to 18 pages. Over twelve thousand words of futility. Had Joseph read the site in detail, he would have known beforehand that he would not convert any agnostic. Not one. I realize my response will in all probability be futile as well: dogmatic believers are not usually swayed by mere reason. After all, if you can say the name of Jesus once a day, who needs reality?

Joseph starts off by saying that knowledge of the truth is important. My word, the truth! That is a mighty thing indeed, the truth. Only one way to the truth however, is just about an infinity of ways too low. My view would be that there are not always two sides to the medal, some things are just true, whether we want them to or not. However, the way one arrives at the truth doesn’t matter, how could it? He is right again when he states that a leader may well disagree with something but that this doesn’t make it less true. As an example: the pope may claim homosexuality is a disease but that is still not the case.

Joseph goes on to describe the flaws he perceives in several religions.

He states and restates that Judaism does not clearly and rationally specifies its virtues and values. Well, what would he want? A text book? Wait a minute… that is what the Roman Catholic Church does, isn’t it? It specifies in minute detail what a believer can and cannot do, believe, even think. Joseph points to the Catechism as a good example. My view is that any and all catechisms, rulebooks or whatnot distance the individual believer from his god. Who needs a god when you can worship the church?

It is true, to my knowledge, that certain mystic branches of Judaism deal in secret knowledge but they have actually given reasons for that. Reasons that actually make a lot of sense, within that belief system of course. I might remind Joseph that RC church forbade its lay members to even read the Bible, their own main holy book, for a long time whereas Judaism usually strongly advises at least their male members to study.

The central point here is that the big questions in life are very complicated or at least the answers to them are. Of course you can choose to simplify religious life as just adhering to a set rulebook but that is blind faith, not belief.

It is of course true that Judaism rests on the Mosaic Laws for a great part (any Jews please correct me if I’m wrong) but there actually is an extremely big amount of writing on handling these laws. It is not that simple.

I do not personally know a lot about Islam. It is true of course that Islamic militants are pretty noisy these days but I’d hesitate judging the entire faith on that. Let’s not forget that the RC church is still responsible for much of the bloodshed in the entire history of the western world. Even before the USA was born (I glance from his Reagan-quote Joseph is an American) priests all over the western world were preaching violence and hate. Crusades, anyone? And it hasn’t even stopped!! I suggest you think about maybe apologizing for the crimes of your own faith before you judge the others.

Buddhism I really don’t know a lot about. I am sympathetic, though. Buddhists seem a peaceful lot and aren’t in the habit of forcing others to convert. This scathing parody Joseph presents is entirely alien to me. If he had actually taken the time to read some books on Buddhism, he would know there is more to it than kicking each other’s genitalia, if they do that at all. The focusing of body as well as mind seems to me to be a good idea. It is claimed that our body sends as many signals to our mind as the other way around. Most of these signals are ignored usually; it might be a good idea to train yourself to pay attention. Apart from the entire Buddhist belief system, even. To say that a belief system, way of life, whatever, thousands of years older than Christianity and still going strong is only good for the Stone Age is arrogant beyond belief.

Buddhism rhymes with stoicism but so does any other –ism, dogmatism for example. Immature thinking is thinking you know it all, without prolonged study. Immature thinking is slighting others on the basis of caricatures and popular images. Immature thinking is lying about what others’ thoughts entail.

Please explain how we have birds that are beautiful, honey that is so sweet… , Joseph asks of atheists and forgets atheists could ask him the same question. Does he have an answer? I suppose there is nothing much he could say beyond: God did it. That doesn’t answer anything. Could it be that beauty has an existence of its own; perhaps only in the mind of the beholder? I, for one, do not see why these things have to be explained at all. A healthy state of thankfulness and humility seems to do just fine.

Joseph is right when he says that people can ignore a lot by choice. Of course we should analyze our feelings, one by one, and look for their sources. It might be a very good way to rid one of one’s catholic upbringing. Analyzing your faith, you might find that a lot of your belief is based on basic fear imposed on you in early childhood. A worthy exercise, I’d say. Why, by the way, should we juxtapose our answers to the assertions of the Catholic Church? Why not to the assertions of the Remonstrant Fraternity, of which I am a member? Why not to the assertions of Sunni Islam?

Man has actually been around for a terrifically short time, compared to the age of the Earth. The incredible website of www.talkorigins.org will give you ample examples of the diverse forms of creation and where evidence for them can be found.

Joseph continues his demands for the non-theistic explanation of certain concepts in his paragraph on agnostics. It is rife with misunderstandings, again. I see it as a basic error in thinking to demand explanations from others you cannot give yourself. It is, moreover, not true that Moses and King David gave the world basic morality. When the Old Testament God revealed himself to the Israelites He called Himself faithful, among other things. How could the Israelites have understood if they didn’t know about faithfulness in the first place? It is a matter of historical fact that morality was already in firm existence when Jewry came about. It is also a matter of historical fact that the RC church has called a whole lot of things ‘good’ or ‘in accordance with God’s will’ that even they nowadays find repugnant. Crusades, again? Racism? Execution of unbelievers? Inquisition… wait a minute, that still exists!

I disagree that the lack of complete knowledge is a weakness. Having the complete facts just doesn’t happen. Knowing that and admitting that is a strength, a virtue even… certainly not a weakness. Capitalizing doesn’t change anything, by the way, there is no such thing as The Truth. We might as well go the whole hog and call it Ye Truthe. Why not? If, then, the truth can ‘handle light’, as Joseph puts it, why does the RC church hide so many important historical documents from scientific scrutiny? Why do they lie about the succession of popes? I have been to the Saint Peter in Rome and they have this big marble plaque stating all the names of the popes and for some reason no schism at all can be recognized. Why do they have to lie about things like sexual orientation to get their point? Why do they lie about the actual Bible texts to support some of their more farfetched dogmas? Why, and this is an important one, do they tell their adherents what to believe and not to believe when just giving them the facts would be enough?

I agree with Joseph that other religions do not always do their best to understand Christians either. The Trinity is a rather difficult concept to explain and it is rather silly, in my opinion, to say that Christians worship three gods. Some people even hold that only in contemplation one can reach understanding. This is especially true in the Eastern branches of Christianity. However, this is not a problem of Catholicism but of all Christianity.

As long as we’re on the subject of other Christians anyway, on to Luther. As a protestant I know a bit more about what Joseph is saying here and I reject almost all of it. It is true that Luther was unhappy with the church at his time but not ‘for whatever reason’. He stated his reasons, very explicitly, in writing. They were also very good reasons. One of his most important complaints was on the selling of pardons for sins for money. The RC church in Luther’s days had got to selling those without even the need for feeling sorry. Just coughing up the money was enough. As a Christian, Luther balked on that and rightfully so.

Neither Luther, nor his followers, ‘took the name Christian’. For starters, Luther tried to reform his own Catholic church and bring it back to its biblical foundations. I don’t see how he could help it that he was harshly rejected. His main point was: the Bible and only the Bible. For all his faults, and there were many, he did try to bring his religion back to its origins. Is Rome an integral part of the faith, that cannot be missed? No. Did Jesus ask us to build a big hierarchy? No. Did Jesus tell us firmly to enrich ourselves to no end? No. Is the truth, capital T or not, held firmly by the Catholic Church, as Joseph says? No, at least not necessarily. That is doctrine. Joseph himself said the truth is the truth, regardless of what some person in authority says. Well, then!

I quote Joseph: “Why discuss something so simple as Basic Morality, Basic Values, and Basic Virtues?”

Why indeed? Because these concepts aren’t simple at all! It is very easy to write down an answer to anything that at least sounds devout but it is far more difficult to actually live by that answer. It is easy to say that stealing is always wrong but I can think of several instances where it could at least be understood. One of the Dutch bishops said, a few years ago, that a person who is genuinely hungry can steal a loaf of bread. To general uproar, by the way. It seems to me that even Catholic bishops can see the shades of grey in morality. Why not Joseph, who thinks there is a ‘source code’ for peace in life. If that were actually true, why are so many Catholics leaving the womb of the mother church?

I quote Joseph further: “A person can have pride if they want.” Eh, no. Pride is traditionally cardinal sin number one. Pope Gregory, I think… not sure. I agree with him that there is always a price to pay. In a generalized form: every action has a result. Here we have a genuine truth, even a self-evident one. Do we need the Vatican for it? No.

The RC church teaches an angelic standard of morality, according to Joseph, whatever that may be. I beg to differ. I say they teach a dogmatic, totalitarian standard of morality, in which something is good because the Church says so. He even says himself the standard is undisputable. This is the teaching of Christ on its head. We are talking about the same Jesus who once said that the Sabbath was meant for men, not the other way around. Joseph explains at length that whenever a person doesn’t like a teaching – to use his verbiage – he should examine and re-examine his motives for that, essentially till he goes numb. I can impose any moral code at all, using that system! If I just pose that coloured people have no soul and repeat it a couple of thousand times, people are bound to start believing it. I suppose the RC church no longer thinks this heinous thought is true but they did, once.

Joseph gives the examples of abortion and birth control, which are essentially the same in his view. I agree with him that in matters of birth control, as everywhere else, the full facts should be stated. Why then are priests running around Africa claiming that condoms don’t protect against diseases? This is patently untrue. Taking the moral high ground by claiming that it may be harsh but we’ll just have to accept anything the church says is laughable. Life is too complicated for that. Just saying something is Clear, Full Truth doesn’t make it so.

Joseph now comes to his main point: Don’t change what is perfect. He claims that the teachings of his church as perfect, so there. A rapid conversion is obviously in order. I am not going into the rather long bit of text in detail as everything hinges on the stated claim that the full, perfect, clear truth is firmly held by the RC church. It is not, in my view. He restates that people may not be willing to accept the truth. That is true. It is also true that people may not be willing to accept reality. 1+1=2 is, for that matter, only true in some systems of addition. He then goes into the enormous body of catholic law and why it is by definition perfect and the best for everyone. As I don’t know anything about this, I will let it rest.

Protestant countries, whichever those are, get bashed pretty hard. Their stink comes through… Something has to be wrong…. It is a fact that illegal abortion in so-called catholic countries takes place far more and far more often than legalized abortion in other countries. There really is no further justification coming… On the other hand, catholic countries aren’t perfect. Well, there is that. Finally some realism in his post. The cause seems to be corrupt politicians and so on, surely not Catholicism itself. This is basically everything Joseph gives us to explain why he think Catholic countries are better. Dispositional attribution for Protestants, situational attribution for Catholics… seems a bit unfair to me.

He then says something about why we should not allow sex to guide one without limits. Fair enough. Has this anything to do with choosing a system of beliefs? No. No atheist, not agnostic, no one but basically pretty ill people do that. It is just another attempt to claim the moral high ground. It is like a politician who claims, three weeks before elections, that the government should – all of a sudden – do more against child abuse.

Joseph goes on to give us some more information on how to go about life, all the while telling us that man is not to decide but God. The obvious conclusion would be, to me, to give up all doctrinal power and just let God handle things by Himself. Joseph then equates his own church with God, neatly solving the problem of actually having to listen to a deity.

Joseph’s answer to basically everything is to just immerse yourself in Catholicism. It is the end all of life, the alpha and omega of all search for meaning. Of course, within his religion, he is completely right. Outside of his own, narrow, version of Catholicism, his thoughts are without force. Any real moral points he makes can as easily be made by any atheist or agnostic. It is all really rather sad.

I am a Christian. To anyone who really wants to find out more about choosing Jesus as a compass in life, I say welcome. Do write and ask questions if you want to. For all its faults, there is a whole lot of good to be found in this religion. To any others, I say welcome as well, do feel free to write.

Maarten van den Driest