Smallholder: Chump

During a (no longer) recent slew o’ posts, my good friend Rob has called me a chump. If you are too lazy to scroll down the page,his post can be found here.

Brian B. Has already pointed out the incongruity of calling Christians chumps whilst decrying religious intolerance.

I would like proclaim to the blogsopshere that my childhood chum was simply being incendiary.

Unfortunately, I think not.

When I found my faith again (fatherhood and farming will do that to a fella), Rob was flummoxed and passionately opposed to my belief. I think he felt that his “enlightened” friend had betrayed rationality and gone back to the dark side. His vehemence surprised me, but it is not something that comes between us (fear not, o Minister of Propaganda!) - our friendship is a wide, deep, and long lasting one which transcends major philosophical differences, as readers of this blog well know.

I, of course, would argue that I haven’t betrayed the Enlightenment at all. After all, if one seeks first causes, one must, logically speaking, come to the same view as the Deists. Believing that the Universe arose from nothing is as great a, if not greater, leap of “faith” than accepting the existence of a First Cause.

The Maximum Leader once, during an alcohol-fueled metaphysical colloquium, applauded Rob’s atheism, proclaiming that agnosticism was simply moral cowardice: “subscribe to atheism and be done, man!” I heartily agreed with him at the time, but I have since reconsidered. It seems to me that agnosticism is entirely reasonable: “I can’t explain the universe, but find the evidence supporting particular faiths to be unconvincing.” Atheism and faith are both unprovable beliefs.**

I’ll confess that accepting the Christian conception of the First Cause is indeed a leap of faith, but I believe that I can somewhat justify my acceptance through reason, but am willing to concede that my childhood upbringing may have biased me in that direction.

My brain has been percolating on a long, probably interminable post about “Why Smallholder is a Christian.” This line of thought starts leading me down the path of an epic post, so let me just lay aside the exploration of my reasoning for a bit. The point is that I’m not a blind, magically-thinking fool. And I’m not alone.

I would argue that the vast Catholics and the vast majority of mainline Protestants do not believe that reason is the enemy of faith.

The virulence of the Minister of Propaganda’s abhorrence toward faith may be the result of the way our primate brains work.

We like to assign categories to everything. Socially, we are very perceptive about differences between ourselves and any other person with whom we interact. In Darwinian terms, this makes excellent sense. We have to make snap judgments about whether to assert our alpha malesness or social position over a newcomer or to rapidly accept beta dog status. Is this new person a potential ally or a rival?

Now that we have the ability to conceptually organize more complex concepts, this categorization tendency can get us into trouble. If someone cuts us off in traffic, we try to explain their poor driving skills. And we naturally focus on categorical differences. How often have men complained about “dem wimmin drivers?” Statistically speaking, this is an entirely specious belief. Men are much more likely to have car accidents than women. But many men really believe that women are worse drivers because of the way our brains work. If a man cuts me off, I rarely say “that man cut me off.” I’ll label him “old,” or “cell phone talker.” I don’t perceive his maleness. But if it’s a woman, I notice that she is different in gender-specific terms.

And then, because our little brains can only hold so many categories, we simplify things, generalizing from the specific to the larger category. One doesn’t often hear: “That woman was a bad driver.” We hear: “Women are bad drivers.”

Excursus: Everyone does this. Lest you think that I am picking on a one gender, let me call your attention to the fact thatwe rarely hear: “Bob treated me poorly in our relationship.” We do hear: “Men are scum.”

The tendency to generalize from the specific to the general places a great responsibility on Christians. When Christians act like asses, non-Christians will make judgments about the faith as a whole.

One of the central tenants of Christianity is that we ought, per the sermon on the mount, proselytize. If our actions turn people off to our faith, we have not acted wisely.

I clearly remember one of my Missouri Synod catechism teachers explaining that a good Christian would never have to tell anyone that he was a Christian. His behavior would be like a sign to those around him.

In fact, when anyone proclaims their faith too loudly, like the businessmen who assure you that you are getting a fair deal because they are a Christian, I have a tendency to count my fingers after shaking their hands. (Ever notice how many car salesmen begin their sentences with “I’m going to level with you/tell you the truth/be honest with you?”)

Christians have a responsibility to act appropriately so that we don’t trigger the “specific to general neurons” in the brains of onlookers.

In fact, I’ll confess that I ought to improve myself - perhaps some of our readers are alarmed by the (un?)healthy appreciation of Miss Pressly as expressed by a happily-married man. Perhaps they are saying: “Look, there goes that ’so-called’ Christian having lust in his heart! All Christians are just lustful little deviants!” Or perhaps they are appalled at any one my little quirks. Occasionally I’ll use harsh language. I’ll take political stands that some might find immoral. This is the reason that I don’t center many of my posts around my faith: in expressing my beliefs, I may be harming the greater cause.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think appreciating the acting skills of Miss Pressly is, in itself, immoral (and neither is Mrs. Smallholder’s appreciation of Viggo Mortenson or George Clooney). I also believe that four letter words, if used exceedingly rarely, can effectively communicate sentiment. And I think a person interested in justice will support equality for homosexuals. So I’m going to do these things when joking around with my old friends in the blogosphere.

But I need to be mindful (is this an appropriate use of the term, o Big Hominid?) that many people in my audience will disagree. Maybe I’m wrong - I’m willing to be convinced.

Unfortunately, many of my co-religionists will not admit the possibility that they might be wrong. And this is bad for Christianity.

Christians who believe that they have a monopoly on the truth are bad Christians.

(Oooo, you are thinking to yourself, the congenitally permissive Smallholder casts a stone! Yep.)

Believing that your particular interpretation of the Bible is the only possible one is arrogance that traipses into the territory of hubris. People have been claiming this throughout history. From a navel-gazing perspective, everyone else must be wrong. So why have faith that you have finally found the only sect in history to truly know God’s will? The Southerners who proclaimed that Jesus loved slavery are generally acknowledged to have been mistaken. The Millerites were a bit discredited when the world didn’t end as scheduled.

So, if Smallholder had his way, Christians would say: “I believe, based on my reading of the scripture, consideration of the central message of Jesus’ teaching, and reason, that X is a moral course of action - but am willing to discuss, respect, and possibly be persuaded by other viewpoints.”

And let me say this - I think those who dogmatically claim that “every jot and tittle” of the Bible is literally true are deluding themselves. They are taking Jesus’ claim out of historical context (the current books of the Bible were not finalized until well after Jesus’ time), they are willingly blind to contradictions contained in the Bible itself, are generally only focusing on the jots and tittles that support their own predispositions, ignore the issues involved in translatins, and are blind to the historical influences that operate on any product of man’s hand. If the literal word is absolutely true, and the meaning is so plain, why do you and I disagree on what we take from the reading? Is my belief that God knowing Thomas “in the womb” mean that God had a plan for Thomas life a willful misinterpretation of the passage in which you see a condemnation of abortion (God knew Thomas in the womb -> Thomas had a soul in the womb -> All fetuses have a soul -> Abortion is murder)?

Good people can disagree. When Christians deny this, people look at us and say “Those Christians are so harsh and condemnatory! They attribute evil motives to anyone who disagrees! All Christians are bad!”

And thus it becomes harder to bring people to the faith.

And outsiders focus on the negative impacts of “Christians” in the public sphere.

And generalize that Christianity leads to bad outcomes.

And announce that “Religion is for chumps.”

The same is true for the creationists. Willfuly blind to the overwhelming scientific evidence, they misrepresent the findings and play to the ignorance of their audience (”It’s just a theory! Irreducible complexity! Intelligent Design is Science!”)

Whenever Christians have set their particular interpretation of an infallible literalist Bible against science, science eventually wins. How many of our readers believe the earth is flat, that the universe is geocentric, or that pi’s value is three?

Aside from the incredible hubris of Luddite Christians who propose to limit the manner in which God has, or might have, designed the universe is the issue of the Sermon on the Mount.

When Christians are seen clinging to demonstratably false shibboleths, the public generalizes from the specific to the general.

Outsiders see the intelligent design people are both dishonest in their presentation and foolish in their scientific ignorance.

And generalize that Christians as a group are dishonest and stupid.

And announce that “religion is for chumps.”

Don’t just hammer my friend the Minister of Propaganda.

Let’s look at ourselves. Why have we done to make non-theists recoil from our faith?

**UPDATE FROM YOUR MAXIMUM LEADER: Not like it amounts to a hill of beans in this crazy world but… Your Maximum Leader seems to remember he didn’t accuse agnostics of being “moral” cowards but rather “intellectual” cowards. Agnostics, speaking generally, are just people who can’t make up their minds and really don’t try/want to. As you, dear minion, can see your Maximum Leader is not as charitable towards agnostics as is the good Smallholder.

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