REPLY #44a TO|
Boldfaced statements are parts of the original essay (or a subsequent reply) to which the respondent has directed his comments.
Italicized/emphasized comments prefaced by (R) are those of the respondent and are presented unedited.
My replies appear under the respondent's comments in blue text and are prefaced by my initials (MB).
This is the first of a four-part reply. Select the "Go to next reply" link at the end of each part to read the next part of the reply.
That is the true meaning of tolerance. As to whether or not that is being
practiced by organized religion, I have grave doubts.
(R) By "organized religion," I'm assuming you mean the Catholic Church, plus
the major Protestant denominations. It is possible you're also including other
religions, I'm not sure.
(MB) An "organized religion" is any group of believers in a common deity or
deities who identify their group by a particular name and who promote or observe
specific doctrines, dogma, and ceremonies in the course of their worship and
beliefs. Often, these groups have what amounts to a "mission statement" that
describes what they are all about, a holy book or other texts to "back up" their
dogmatic claims and also have some sort of central authority or leadership to
guide and/or manage their membership. Basically, if one can give a specific
positive answer when asked what religion or church he belongs to, he is a member
of an organized religion.
(R) Anyway, on what do you base this "grave doubt?"
(MB) The current and historical practices and doctrines of these groups and
(R) You must provide specific examples of wide-spread, institutionalized
intolerance in each denomination to justify a statement that organized religion
(MB) How many would be sufficient and will they just be brushed off or
rationalized when presented? In actuality, anybody who thinks that organized
religions are "tolerant" of those who don't share their faiths and beliefs or
worship their deities is either clueless, shamefully ignorant, or is just trying
to paint a rosy glow over things. Let's see your next statement before I go
(R) Isolated examples of individuals or even entire denominations are not
(MB) As suspected, you are already setting limits on what you will accept.
Fortunately, my argument does not need to depend on such things.
The Old Testament, for example, is full of examples of Jehovah demonstrating
anything but tolerance for those who don't believe in him or do well in his
eyes. Explicitly in the 10 Commandments, he warns that "I am the Lord thy God.
Thou shalt have no other Gods before me". This not only does not sound
especially tolerant of other beliefs, but it also smacks of an acknowledgement
that other Gods exist, but that Jehovah wants (or, more likely, demands) to be
Numero Uno. How do you justify any claim of "tolerance" for any religion that
worships this God?
In the New Testament, Jesus often preaches that salvation can only be
attained by those who believe in him and that eternal damnation in Hell awaits
those who do not. The Gospels recount several incidents of Jesus acting in a
rather intolerant manner towards others -- most notably Pharisees and
money-changers. This from a "perfect" individual who preached that we should
love our neighbors and turn the other cheek. How do you justify any claim of
"tolerance" on behalf of any religion which supports such ideas and which
worships the individual who preached them?
One of the fundamental tenets of Islam is the phrase, "There is no God but
Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet". Islam also has a long history of rather
marked intolerance towards those who don't agree with this. How do you justify
any claim of "tolerance" on behalf of any version of Islam which holds such a
fundamental tenet and acts in accordance with it?
Are any further examples necessary or must each individual case be
explicitly spelled out for you? Or, will you continue to revert to holding up
fringe groups and minority sects as indicative of the whole of religious
(R) Perhaps Lutherans are intolerant (I certainly don't think so) but
that doesn't mean Episcopalians necessarily are....or Buddhists, for that
(MB) This is based, of course, on your generalized preconceptions and personal
connotation of "religious tolerance". Since both Lutherans and Episcopalians
worship the God of the Bible and Jesus, they each gain the intolerance inherent
in the worship of those deities.
BTW, Buddhism is a bad example for this discussion since it is not based
upon the worship of any deity or deities.
I'm still waiting for you to provide the example I asked for. If you can't
provide contradictory examples, how can my opinions be "biased"?
(R) Examples have already been provided.
(MB) Where? All you've done so far is rattle off the names of individual sects
of the major Yahvistic religions without providing any evidence whatsoever that
they are free of the basic intolerances inherent in Yahvistic religion. The
only way you can succeed in this attempt is if you can demonstrate that the
deities worshipped by these sects are not the same as the ones depicted in the
Bible. But, if this is attempted, you will have a difficult time attempting to
support a claim that such a sect belongs in, or is indicative of, the main body
of Christians or other Yahvists.
(R) (Central Christian, Unitarians and there are many, many more)
(MB) Once again, we see references to very minor sects of American Christianity
and the inference that they represent the whole. Well, let's take a look at
your shining examples.
It may interest you to know that the Central Christian Church is under
investigation and has been labeled as a "cult" in a study published in 1997 by
the Concerned Christians Growth Ministries. The CCGM director, Rev. Adrian van
Leen says "I am of the view that the group is disruptive and even destructive to
family units" and states that the church's practices are damaging to the
emotional integrity and stability of some of its members.
Among the cultic characteristics described in the study are encouraging
members to leave home to live communally, making members submit sin lists to
leaders, handing out IOUs to members who don't donate enough money, making
members submit papers on how they spend their time, pressuring members to
recruit new members, mandating attendance at all church meetings, disciplining
members who question the authority of leaders, and teaching that their rites and
practices are the only way to become true Christians.
Unitarians may well be the closest thing to a tolerant sect that exists.
However, it is difficult to claim that they are indicative of other Christians
since their major belief is at odds with a major doctrine of mainstream
Christianity. Unitarians call themselves by that name because they do not
believe in the doctrine of the Trinity. Outside of that, Unitarians embrace
practically any other definition of God -- including a view that there is no God
at all. It would seem, however, that such an undefined notion of "God" ends up
doing little more than trivializing the concept into meaninglessness. This
certainly doesn't square with the doctrines of mainstream Yahvism.
(R) Furthermore, I stand by my estimate that 90 percent of American Christians
support religious freedom and tolerance.
(MB) Surprise, surprise... Let's see what Americans really think when actually
asked what they support. A Gallup poll conducted in December, 1997 asked the
"In order to avoid offending Americans who aren't Christians, do you think
it's a good idea or a bad idea that references to the birth of Christ and
Christmas be avoided in businesses, schools, and other public situations?"
The poll found that 74% of Americans thought that this was a *bad* idea
while only 20% thought that this was a good idea. In other words, three out of
every four Americans thought that it was more important to inject Christianity
into public venues than to respect the views of non-Christians. It is hard to
defend such an attitude as being especially "tolerant".
Let's also not forget that being condescending of a viewpoint that is not
your own is not the same as true "tolerance". Also, "religious freedom" does
not mean only the freedom to attend church anywhere you want to.
(R) Your opinions are easily demonstrated to be biased, merely by the fact you
used stereotyping to condemn all religious believers for the words and actions
of a few.
(MB) You, of course, dispute such a thing by using examples of fringe groups and
small minority sects to defend your opinion of the mainstream of your religion
rather than demonstrating how that mainstream differs from how it is depicted.
My opinions have been supported by facts and concrete examples -- which is
the antithesis of "bias". Yours, on the other hand, offer up only minor sidebar
examples that are not indicative of the whole and continue to receive your
steadfast support even when refuted. Which approach smacks more of
(R) A statement that 90 percent of Christians support religious freedom and
tolerance isn't relevant to a debate about whether or not religious believers
are tolerant? Come on, get real.
(MB) The debate was about concrete examples of which religions actually support
the sort of religious freedom and tolerance that you posit. The only examples
you managed to scrape up constitute less than 1% of Christians even if we make
the dubious assumption that all members of those small groups believe as you say
So, yes, your claim of "90% support" isn't relevant if you can't account for
more than 1% by definite example.
(R) As for the majority of Christians supporting freedom from religion, yes, of
course they do. I certainly do.
(MB) Does this make you indicative of the majority? I think not. When do you
think this "tolerant" majority will accept other religions (or atheism) to be
equal to their own beliefs? When will we find a copy of the Koran or "Why I am
an Agnostic" alongside the Gideon Bible in hotel rooms? I have a very difficult
time finding books on atheism in bookstores, but there's certainly no lack of
Christian reading material. When will "In God We Trust" be removed from our
money? When will the phrase "under God" be removed from the Pledge of
Allegiance? When will an open and avowed atheist have a chance of being elected
to high political office? When will the news media run feature stories and TV
broadcast specials on the impending observation of Ramadan? And so on and so on
and so on...
(R) If you don't care to practice a religion, go for it (and good
(MB) Good luck? Why would that choice require a wish for
(R) Just don't tell me I'm an idiot because I do.
(MB) I don't. I say that there is no evidential justification for belief in God
and that religion should not try to position itself as the equal of science as
an explanation for Life, the Universe, and Everything -- especially when such
claims are accompanied by logic barbarisms such as "all beliefs are equally
valid if none have been proven" or "any claim is valid if it can't be
If you wish to believe in God because to do so makes you content, go for it.
Just be careful about going the extra mile of claiming that your God actually
exists, that he created the Universe, that his Son died for our sins, that he
answers prayers, or any other claim about him without having something other
than presupposition and invalid philosophy with which to support such
Christianity is lax, not tolerant. It places no real demands upon its
(R) It is loving, and places its followers under loving admonitions. Love
(MB) "Loving admonitions"?? Such as, "Believe or perish"? Such as, "Man is
inherently sinful and must repent in order to be saved"? I'm afraid that I'm at
a rather severe loss here to find anything "loving" in those two basic precepts
Because of this, it has evolved its hundreds of divergent major sects.
There is no such level of diversity and confusion in any other
(R) This is so simplistic, it's humorous. The largest dozen and a half
Christian sects account for at least 90 percent of Christians.
(MB) In a previous reply, you acknowledged that there are at least 1400
different sects of Christianity in the US alone. If that doesn't qualify as
"divergence" and "confusion", I'm not sure what does.
(R) Islam has two major divisions, just like Christianity, as well as two other
large sects and over seventy smaller branches; Judaism has five different,
widely divergent sects.
(MB) Don't those numbers provide firm support for my earlier statement that no
other religion has the level of diversity that is seen in
(R) Buddhism and other major religions have similar diversity. Individual
groups of believers in all these religions range the spectrum from radical
liberals to reactionary conservatism. Look at Muslims in Saudi Arabia, Turkey,
and the U.S. About the only similarity between them is they use the same
(MB) Individuals and small groups can choose to believe and practice whatever
they want. This, however, does not change the basic precepts of the religion as
a whole -- and it is religion as a whole with which I have been taking issue.
Consider one other thing -- if the religion was really as compelling and
undeniable as is claimed, why would any groups or individuals diverge from it?
Isn't this an acknowledgement that there's some basic flaw(s) in that religion
that render it, at least in part, unacceptable even to believers? Now, if the
base religion is founded upon the will of a perfect, all-powerful, and loving
deity, how can any part of it possibly be considered "unacceptable" without
risking the adverse judgment of that deity? If we then go on to say that all
religions and all beliefs are equal, haven't we just reduced that deity to
insignificance by placing our own preferences above his will?
Both Judaism and Islam have far more rigidly defined laws for their
adherents. That is certainly why they have not diverged into as many sects as
has Christianity. For Judaism, it has remained relatively intact despite its
being several thousand years older than Christianity.
(R) So you're arguing that Judaism and Islam are less tolerant than
Christianity and therefore better and more uniform religions? Humm....I don't
think most people would agree with you.
(MB) You're mixing apples and oranges again. Levels of tolerance do not
correllate with "better" or "worse" or even with uniformity. What I said was
that Judaism and Islam have more rigidly defined laws for their adherents. This
says nothing about their tolerance for other beliefs. Certainly, nobody will
deny that there are more (and more important) festivals, observances and rites
in Judaism and Islam than there are in Christianity. Faithful adherence to them
is a measure of the devotion of the Jew/Muslim. There are no such comparable
things in Christianity.
(R) The diversity of individual beliefs among Christians is one of the most
appealing facets of Christianity. Each believer has a personal relationship
(MB) That is a relatively recent concept and not a core precept of Christianity.
God is supposed to be a specific deity that is served by Man, not one that
assumes whatever convenient guise the individual prefers. Indeed, there is much
philosophical writing (both from theists and atheists) that the notion of a
"personal God" is both logically incoherent and even damaging to Christianity
I have no doubt that such a concept is appealing. I've called it
"roll-your-own" religion and it is completely open to whatever self-serving
rationalization that one chooses to employ to support his own notion of his
(R) Anyway, while we're on the subject, you mention that Judaism has remained
intact over centuries. The survival of the Jews as a distinct people is one of
history's most remarkable examples of the power of religion. You stated in your
"Essay on Religion" that no religion has ever survived the destruction of the
society which created it. Israel was destroyed quite thoroughly, a couple of
times, but Judaism has survived. Looks like you're wrong.
(MB) Not at all. The state of Israel still survives. The Jews, as a people,
have gone through a lot of relocation and turmoil throughout their history, to
be sure, but the "children of Israel" are still around. Since they have not
been destroyed, their religion has survived along with them. Looks like I'm
right (again) after all.
What is so compelling about "God" that I couldn't substitute the name of any
other deity into your two assumptions?
(R) Nothing. "God" as defined in this discussion *is* any deity.
(MB) "God" as you have chosen to redefine him since you can't support the
specific version that you believe in, don't you mean?
In any case, it is not possible to substitute the name of any possible God
into your two assumptions. While the first (that he exists) must be taken as a
given if the other is to have any meaning, the second (that he is a loving God)
is clearly not true in all cases. To refer to two of the better-known examples,
neither Zeus nor Odin could be considered to be "loving Gods" and there are
numerous lesser gods in other religious systems who are evil in nature.
Having shown clear examples where your blanket assumptions are invalid, we
must conclude that your assumptions do not apply to all possible Gods.
Therefore, your claim that "God" refers to any deity is clearly incorrect. This
means that, if your assumptions are true, that your "God" can only refer to one
of a particular subset of possible Gods who possesses whatever qualities and
attributes you choose to ascribe to him. The more qualities you ascribe to your
God, the more the field of possible candidates narrows. You have said nothing
about your God that would lead anybody to believe that he is anything other than
the God of the Bible -- except that you have chosen to redefine him in your own
image and likeness. Is this done for any purpose other than obfuscation or the
avoidance of straight answers to direct questions concerning your God?
What supports those assumptions such that they can be considered to be
anything more than shaky speculation?
(R) The first assumption, that God exists, is the main point we are
discussing. There is no conclusive evidence to support this assumption, nor is
there any to support the alternative position. The two positions are equally
(MB) This is an example of a basic concept in logic known as "Argument from
Ignorance". Such an argument attempts to state that something is true simply
because it hasn't been proven false. This argument also contains three other
errors. The first is in the inference that a naturalistic view of the universe
is an attempt to prove that God does not exist. The second is in saying that
contrary positions that are each completely unsupported are equally valid --
when, in fact, completely unsupported positions have no validity at all. The
third is the implied assumption that there is no evidence to support a
naturalistic view of the universe. In fact, as has been shown, there is much to
support such a view. Not yet to the level of absolute proof, to be sure, but
more than enough to make it far better supported than the idea of special
creation by a supernatural entity.
(R) The second assumption, that He is a loving God, is more open to discussion.
It is also possible that God is indifferent to us, or even actively evil,
however, arguments on this matter should be left until the first assumption is
settled. Arguments about the nature of God are pointless if He doesn't
(MB) And, of course, since the first assumption can never be proven, you can
feel safe about not having to address the consequences of the second, right?
Actually, you are correct here -- to a point. If God doesn't exist, then, of
course, he has no nature about which to debate. If the existence of God in some
form is still a possibility however, then debates about his nature can be
crucial to determining the likelihood of his existence. If one can't show me
that God exists, and can't tell me anything about him, on what basis am I to
believe in him?
You are essentially making them the same if you want to lump them together
into a group to support a claim that almost half the world adheres to them and
believes in their common deity.
(R) Look, this is silly. Here you say there is no similarity between these
three western religions, but in the very next section, you claim they worship
the exactly same God. O.K. which is it? You can't have it both ways.
(MB) I'm not trying to have it both ways. You are simply unable to separate the
deity being worshipped from the doctrine and dogma of the religions that promote
the worship of him. Therefore, I am entirely correct when I say that the
religions themselves are different while the God they worship is the
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