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Darrel Ray: There Are No Monotheists

There are no Monotheistic Religions:

Educating Monotheists to Their Polytheist Beliefs

By Darrel W. Ray, Ed.D. ©2010

In everyday life, we non-theists may find ourselves in discussions with theists. Have you noticed that these discussions often go around in circles and achieve nothing? Why is that? Let me suggest that one reason is because we are using their framework in which to discuss and argue. In this article, I will explore some practical ways to stay out of their framework. Who says they have the sole right to define the terms of engagement? For this discussion, we will focus on monotheism, but other areas might be just as interesting.

Many modern-day theists seem to consider the so-called monotheistic nature of their religions as a sign of legitimacy, at least when compared to other openly polytheistic religions. The gods of ancient Greece and Rome were many, each with their own unique powers and niches in the nether world. It is no problem to see these as polytheistic religions but interestingly it is almost as easy to identify so-called monotheistic religions as polytheistic. If we expose the propaganda of these religions by challenging this key concept, we shift the frame, and open the door for a different kind of discussion. We don’t have to acquiesce to their definitions of their invisible friends.

Let’s explore. To be a monotheistic religion, a religion must have only one god in its lexicon. Zeus may have been the highest and most powerful god in the Greek pantheon, but he was certainly joined by many other lesser gods. In Christian mythology, the gods are no less than four, sometimes more. The Father, Son, Holy Ghost and Satan are certainly gods. For whatever the Christian apologist wants to say, these four certainly function as much like individual gods as any Greek gods. The Yahweh figure may be more powerful than the Son, Satan or Holy Ghost, but so too was Zeus or Thor. All move in mysterious ways and while three are allied against one, so too were there alliances among Greek and Norse gods. In addition, Catholics have Mary, who seems to have special powers and access to the other gods in remarkable ways. Then we have all the saints of both Catholic and Orthodox traditions. How convenient that each of them seems to have special powers, not unlike the demigods and lesser gods of other polytheistic religions.

In Christianity, the Gospel of John 1:1 shows a clear duality: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The author takes great pains to convince us that his two gods are really one, but the argument falls short. Two gods are just that, two gods. No amount of hocus-pocus can make them one, yet that has been the party line in Christianity for 1,700 years. Why 1,700 years? Because the issue was quite controversial in the church for the first 200-300 years. Perfectly legitimate Christian writers had strongly differing views on the nature of their Christ. Was he a god or not? Was he made a god after he was first human? Was he always a god? These concerns had real consequences for how one went about understanding the crazy ideas being perpetrated at the time. If Jesus was a god all along, then he really could not suffer and die in the way of a true human. If he was truly human, then he was made a god upon his death. He suffered like a human and because he became a god, his followers can become gods when they die. We may scoff at these ideas now, but while that particular idea was slapped down in the third century, it has been resurrected many times in history, most recently in Mormonism.

Islam and Judaism

What about Islam and its claims to be monotheistic? Mohammed strongly criticized Christianity because he claimed it had three gods. But he only improved by a small margin. Islam has no less than two gods, Allah and Satan. Both are quite powerful and vie for the souls of humans. How much more godlike can you get? In Shiia Islam, there is an additional pantheon of gods or demigods in the form of fallen martyrs or saints. Believers flock to the various shrines of Fatima, and Imam Hussein, in hopes of getting a blessing or protection. The 12th Imam’s predicted Messianic return sure makes him look like a god or demigod.

Finally, we come to Judaism. This may seem to be a monotheistic religion, but only if there is no acknowledgment of a Satan or the Evil One, and what do we do with the coming Messiah? Jewish scholars like to say that Satan is really just a representation of the evil side of humanity, but in the book of Job, he seems to have a lot of power independent of Yahweh. In Genesis, the Tempter seems to do things a Greek god might do when he tempts Eve. As for the Messiah, the Jews believe this godlike creature is yet to come. Whoever the Messiah is, he will be godlike or have godlike powers. The Jewish scriptures’ claims about the Messiah certainly sound godlike and therefore make Judaism a religion of two or three gods. Simply because a religion says it is monotheistic, does not make it so.

Whether Christian, Islamic or Judaic, the pantheon of gods looks remarkably similar to that of the Greeks, imaginary beings who have relationships with one another and with man. Over time, these imaginary beings take on more or less power in the pantheon. The Jesus god is in ascendance right now among Protestant fundamentalists. The Holy Ghost god is most influential in the Pentecostal movement. The Yahweh god is top of the Jehovah Witnesses pantheon and Mary is high on the food chain for Catholics. Satan has a lot of sway in some Islamic sects and Christian fundamentalists.

Just because a religion has a well oiled propaganda machine claiming their invisible beings have certain relationships and power doesn’t mean we have to buy into it. In fact, I think it is imperative that we non-theists openly redefine god definitions. After all, Christians couldn’t decide for a couple hundred years on the nature of their gods and some are still debating the nature of various invisible friends and enemies.

Use the Language of Polytheism

To avoid stepping into the theist’s paradigm, here are some practical ways to use language. When talking with a Christian religionist, refer to the god Jesus or the god Satan. As you talk, do not use their hocus pocus, sleight of hand language. They believe and act as if they have multiple gods, so talk to them in that way. It has the wonderful effect of getting you out of their paradigm and challenging them in theirs. Language is powerful; use it to forge a new reality, one that is independent of monotheistic mythology. Why should they be allowed to set the terms of religious discussion?

For example, you might ask, “How does your god Jesus talk to you? How does your god Satan talk to you? How do you tell the difference?” If your god Holy Spirit moves someone to dance and talk in tongues, why don’t the Presbyterians and Episcopalians enjoy that benefit? What makes the Pentecostals the main ones to enjoy tongue talking? If your god commands women to keep quiet in church (1 Corinthians 14:33-35), how is it that there are so many women preaching in the evangelical movement? What if the god Holy Spirit commands a woman to speak in church? Could it really be the god Satan talking to her to get her to violate the silence commandment? When does the god Holy Spirit talk to you or how does he act in the world? Where does he do his thing? How is the god Holy Spirit different than the god Jesus? They seem to do different things, but how do you know if it is your god Jesus talking to you or the god Holy Spirit or maybe the god Satan? If you can’t tell the difference, then why have two or three? If you can tell the difference, then can you explain how?

The believer may often respond that you are uneducated in the doctrine of the church. They would be wrong. You are well acquainted with church dogma and doctrine, but since you are not captive to that tradition, you don’t need to use that language. You are free to call a spade a spade. The believer may try and educate you with their double speak and church propaganda. Keep to the new language, even as they try to bring you back to their frame. The polytheistic frame is a powerful tool for challenging their mythology in entirely new ways. Most religionists are quite unsophisticated in the ancient arguments and struggles that resulted in today’s dogma. What they know is what the church taught them. They have no idea that today’s dogma is based on a fantasy framework concocted by four centuries of argument, infighting and political intrigue.

Keep Your Cool

Do not argue or get into a heated debate. Just ask them to explain. Highly charged emotional arguments do two things: they close off true discussion and create defensiveness in the other person. The result is a discussion that goes nowhere. Their religion has conditioned them to get defensive when questioned. The defensive response keeps them safely inside their linguistic framework. The less defensive and confrontational you are, the greater the chance of some interesting discussion and potential influence. Approach the subject as if you were talking to an ancient Greek about their pantheon. As they try to explain from their frame, respond with your frame. For example,

Them: “You don’t understand, God sent his only begotten son to earth to show us how to live.”

You: “So your father god has a son god, just like Heracles was the son of Zeus? And the son god lived on earth like Heracles?

Them: “No, Jesus is not like any Greek god. He is god but became a human.”

You: “You can’t have your cake and eat it too. If he is a son, then he is not your father god any more than you are the same as your father. And how does your Holy Spirit god figure in to all this? He is never mentioned in your Old Testament but suddenly shows up in the pantheon about the time your Jesus god appears; looks like Jesus just made up another god for you Christians to deal with.”

If you define the terms and stick with them, it makes the discussion much more interesting and difficult for them to hide behind doctrine. It slows the process down in a way that may bring about more considered and thoughtful argument. They may not change their view, but they will know that you don’t play the game on their turf. They also learn that you are not bound by their doctrines, which can be very difficult to explain in the light of simple reason. A side benefit comes when they hear questions they have never considered. They may be inclined to think about their own gods in a slightly different way.

Because most religionists live comfortably within a common framework, they rarely have it challenged. Even when Muslims, Jews and Christians engage in discussion, they do not challenge one another’s basic paradigms. Only someone totally outside of the religious framework can effectively illuminate the linguistic prison all religionists inhabit. The next time you are in a discussion with a theist, try using language that keeps you out of their paradigm and encourages consideration of the pantheon of gods that inhabit their make believe world. The result may challenge them and will give you new freedom of movement around their mythological world.

Darrel Ray is author of The God Virus: How Religion Infects Our Lives and Culture (IPC Press, 2009) and founder of Recovering from Religion™. More information is at www.recoveringfromreligion.org and www.thegodvirus.net.

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Discussion

22 thoughts on “Darrel Ray: There Are No Monotheists

  1. Hamby, this is almost below you to post. Pro tip to non-theists: don’t use this unless you want to come across as insufferably patronizing, gullible, and unwilling to acknowledge what your opponent actually believes (more on this in a moment). Don’t use this unless you want to look like the non-theist equivalent of Jack Chick.

    It’s not so much ‘exposing propaganda’ as it is ‘willfully arguing a strawman argument and trying to get your opponent to buy it.’

    At least Ray identified his own weak point: a failure to understand the doctrine of Theology Proper in Christian theology. Such a complaint against this canard really works, emberassingly so, because:

    1. Ray completely and totally failed to distinguish the senses in which he described various persons as ‘gods.’ This ignorance costs him everything. In failing to explain in what sense Mary and Satan are ‘gods,’ he really just looks like he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

    2. He doesn’t even bother to define what he means by the term ‘god.’ In other words, if he can’t define the essential nature of a ‘god’ then he has little business bothering to classify various persons as gods, much less discussing the real one. Yet he says it’s imperative to redefine the definition of ‘god’–but why bother with this step if you fail to cough up a definition in the first place?

    3. His use of loaded language (hocus-pocus, propaganda, sleight-of-hand, etc) suggests less of a willingness to openly dialogue with theists as it does a desire to be stupidly patronizing.

    4. Asking a Christian to explain his beliefs about God might work against a whole lot of Christians, but it’s no refuge for someone who has bothered to study Theology Proper. In fact, had the author bothered to do this, he’d realize what nonsense he’s spouting. How the Christian defines God (for example, by way of the vertical cosmological argument) exposes this article as little more than a brain fart. Simply dismissing Christian responses as ‘propaganda’ and ‘hocus-pocus’ won’t suffice, either. The same goes for his treatment of John 1:1. It’s also like he never bothered to read anything about the Trinity.

    If you define the terms and stick with them, it makes the discussion much more interesting and difficult for them to hide behind doctrine.

    If he wishes to argue against a definition of God that I don’t accept as accurate, he may; but he’ll have to do so at the cost of not adequately interacting with my arguments and looking kind of dumb.

    In sum, how the Christian defines God determines whether or not this will work. If the Christian defines God as eternal, infinite, perfect, and immaterial, then this ‘argument’ just won’t work.

    Posted by David | November 1, 2010, 12:57 pm
  2. Hamby, this is almost below you to post. Pro tip to non-theists: don’t use this unless you want to come across as insufferably patronizing, gullible, and unwilling to acknowledge what your opponent actually believes (more on this in a moment). Don’t use this unless you want to look like the non-theist equivalent of Jack Chick.

    David, if you’d like to post a rebuttal, I’d be thrilled to have you do so as a guest post. In the meantime, I’ll give you my responses to your thoughts with the caveat that I can’t speak for Darrel.

    1. Ray completely and totally failed to distinguish the senses in which he described various persons as ‘gods.’ This ignorance costs him everything. In failing to explain in what sense Mary and Satan are ‘gods,’ he really just looks like he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

    I agree with Darrel. I think that to an outsider, a cultural anthropologist who had never been indoctrinated into a Christian worldview, your figures of Satan, Father, Holy Spirit, Jesus, and Yahweh look and act like different gods with different functions. It might be, as Erwin Lutzer asserts, that Christianity is unique among religions. But if so, then it falls to Christians to justify that claim, not to non-theists. Similarly, it is perfectly reasonable for an outsider to use standard definitions and paradigms for gods until a theist gives us a workable, justifiable, quantitatively different model to work with. Just saying that your three gods are the same as one doesn’t make it any more comprehensible to someone who hasn’t accepted it at face value. Just saying that Satan isn’t a god even though he acts exactly like gods in other mythologies is not enough justification for me.

    2. He doesn’t even bother to define what he means by the term ‘god.’ In other words, if he can’t define the essential nature of a ‘god’ then he has little business bothering to classify various persons as gods, much less discussing the real one. Yet he says it’s imperative to redefine the definition of ‘god’–but why bother with this step if you fail to cough up a definition in the first place?

    He is, I believe, using the same definition of a god that any mythologist would use. We can quibble over it if you like, but when we speak of Greek gods or Roman gods or Zoroastrian gods, we all know what we’re talking about. Again, it falls to the Christian to demonstrate that his definition of his god(s) are more true than the one which has served mythologists and cultural anthropologists quite well.

    3. His use of loaded language (hocus-pocus, propaganda, sleight-of-hand, etc) suggests less of a willingness to openly dialogue with theists as it does a desire to be stupidly patronizing.

    I can’t speak to Darrel’s motives. I will let him know your objection, and perhaps he will address it. Again, I would be thrilled for you to have a guest post and let us hear in exactly the words you choose why we should treat your religious claims seriously when we do not treat those of Muslims or Zoroastrians that way.

    I appreciate you posting about this, and I want to encourage you to view this as a chance for open dialog. I believe Darrel is speaking from his heart, and I believe you are, too. You see his beliefs as insulting, and I understand that. We see some of your beliefs as insulting as well. Your friend Nick has repeatedly spoken to me and other posters as if he believes we’re incapable of understanding basic Christian theology even after we’ve demonstrated otherwise. We get that a LOT. So the hurt feelings work both ways. This is a forum for discussion and understanding, and I would be thrilled for you to use whatever words you like to articulate exactly why you believe Darrel is wrong.

    4. Asking a Christian to explain his beliefs about God might work against a whole lot of Christians, but it’s no refuge for someone who has bothered to study Theology Proper. In fact, had the author bothered to do this, he’d realize what nonsense he’s spouting. How the Christian defines God (for example, by way of the vertical cosmological argument) exposes this article as little more than a brain fart. Simply dismissing Christian responses as ‘propaganda’ and ‘hocus-pocus’ won’t suffice, either. The same goes for his treatment of John 1:1. It’s also like he never bothered to read anything about the Trinity.

    Darrel is an ex-pastor who has studied Theology Proper. I am an ex-apologist who has also studied Theology Proper. I appreciate and understand that you feel that this is a reasonable argument, but we don’t see it as so, since we know authoritatively that we HAVE studied the theology, and we have rejected it as what Darrel has said — so much linguistic hocus pocus without underlying epistemological justification or logical contingency.

    As a side note, I am disappointed that neither you nor Erwin have commented on my response to his sermon. It would seem like that post, much more than broad discussions of cosmology, would be more detrimental to your religious beliefs, and yet nobody has even addressed them. If there’s a subtle point of theology that I’ve missed, I’d like for someone to explain it. (Explain it. Not tell me once again that I don’t understand it. If all the theists here had taken the same number of words to write the theology instead of berating me for not knowing it, I’d have already read the equivalent of Augustine’s confessions. (Which I have read, by the way. Just sayin’.)

    If he wishes to argue against a definition of God that I don’t accept as accurate, he may; but he’ll have to do so at the cost of not adequately interacting with my arguments and looking kind of dumb.

    In sum, how the Christian defines God determines whether or not this will work. If the Christian defines God as eternal, infinite, perfect, and immaterial, then this ‘argument’ just won’t work.

    Thank you again for continuing to comment. Please seriously consider my offer for you to do a rebuttal post, explaining in as much detail as you’d like why your definition of god is both coherent and functionally different from that used by mythologists examining other religions.

    Posted by hambydammit | November 1, 2010, 2:36 pm
  3. In sum, how the Christian defines God determines whether or not this will work. If the Christian defines God as eternal, infinite, perfect, and immaterial, then this ‘argument’ just won’t work.

    Why is it that the Christian gets to define God? As an agnostic, arguing against any specific religion is typically done in terms of the features and differences of them all (including their varying definitions of “God”).

    Posted by Alex Hardman | November 1, 2010, 3:25 pm
  4. Ray’s book is currently zipping around the post office on it’s way to my place, but I’ve been reading some reviews about it and seeing this, the well is getting filled, but I would rather reserve judgement until I read it. This seems way too “I’m smarter than you dumbasses”

    I mean in one review, the reviewer says that Ray claims that religion can have a negative effect on your intellegnce [which I assume is the reviewer reading too much, or Ray confusing correlation with causation].

    I think this whole atheism debate is getting too heated.

    I bought Atran’s new book yesterday [as well as Sam Harris' and I ordered the two virus books] and was floored when he devouted an entire chapter with a vicious attack on the atheist movement [particularly Hitchens, Dawkins and Harris.] Even I was like “Whoa”

    I don’t think Theists, are stupid, I think they’re wrong. I don’t think the atheist movement is stupid, I think it’s wrong. There’s a big difference.

    I even see this on the blogsphere

    http://scienceblogs.com/sunclipse/siwoti-cat.png

    Posted by cptpineapple | November 1, 2010, 3:47 pm
  5. David, if you’d like to post a rebuttal, I’d be thrilled to have you do so as a guest post. In the meantime, I’ll give you my responses to your thoughts with the caveat that I can’t speak for Darrel.

    I’d like that, but right now I simply don’t have the time; I’ve got a few big projects for school that I need to focus on first.

    I agree with Darrel. I think that to an outsider, a cultural anthropologist who had never been indoctrinated into a Christian worldview, your figures of Satan, Father, Holy Spirit, Jesus, and Yahweh look and act like different gods with different functions.

    And this is precisely why failing to define what you mean by ‘god’ makes all the difference. Unfortunately, clarifying the charge of polytheism by saying “well, they look and act alike” is weasel-wording, and makes a critical mistake in approaching how I, a theist, define God. I do not define God by what he does, I define God by what he is. “They act alike” confuses function for substance, and that’s just not going to cut it (if anything, it cuts the cheese). There are differences in degree and differences in kind that aren’t being dealt with. Satan is understood as being lesser in degree and different in kind than God or Mary. The Trinity is understood as being the same in degree and essence (the same substantial nature; a difference in function does not equate to a difference in degree or kind). There can only be one being that is eternal, unchanging, immaterial, and infinite in being; there logically cannot be two separate beings that have these attributes. If they can be distinguished in degree or kind, that distinction must be measured by seeing what one thing has that the other does not—and if that’s the case, then that which lacks any perfection cannot rightly be called God.
    And if he’s trying to speak as an authority by way of being a cultural anthropologist, he’s speaking out of his field. If Ray really has studied this, he’s doing a great job of looking like he hasn’t. This is really basic stuff—undergraduate-level stuff. Act and Potentiality, things like that. It’s almost emberassing.

    It might be, as Erwin Lutzer asserts, that Christianity is unique among religions. But if so, then it falls to Christians to justify that claim, not to non-theists. Similarly, it is perfectly reasonable for an outsider to use standard definitions and paradigms for gods until a theist gives us a workable, justifiable, quantitatively different model to work with. Just saying that your three gods are the same as one doesn’t make it any more comprehensible to someone who hasn’t accepted it at face value. Just saying that Satan isn’t a god even though he acts exactly like gods in other mythologies is not enough justification for me.

    I’m sorry, “three gods?” It will do no good to treat what I believe like it’s something else. Interact with what I believe on its own terms, otherwise you’ll just wind up looking prejudiced. Like I said, function is secondary to substantial essence, which is what makes all the difference. Unless and until you realize that I’m making this distinction, and that I’m using a definition of God that’s far more sophisticated than what this argument is prepared to answer, you’re just knocking down your own strawman of what I believe.

    He is, I believe, using the same definition of a god that any mythologist would use. We can quibble over it if you like, but when we speak of Greek gods or Roman gods or Zoroastrian gods, we all know what we’re talking about. Again, it falls to the Christian to demonstrate that his definition of his god(s) are more true than the one which has served mythologists and cultural anthropologists quite well.

    A mythologist’s definition? Is that all? ‘Quibbling’ over the definition is exactly what exposes this argument for being as faulty as it is. He’s practically banking on people not using a sophisticated definition. There’s a hugely critical difference between the gods of ancient Greece and the Christian God.

    I can’t speak to Darrel’s motives. I will let him know your objection, and perhaps he will address it. Again, I would be thrilled for you to have a guest post and let us hear in exactly the words you choose why we should treat your religious claims seriously when we do not treat those of Muslims or Zoroastrians that way.

    I don’t have that time right now.

    I appreciate you posting about this, and I want to encourage you to view this as a chance for open dialog. I believe Darrel is speaking from his heart, and I believe you are, too. You see his beliefs as insulting, and I understand that.

    Not really—I just find his rhetoric to be…less than conducive to a rational discussion. Simply calling my beliefs “propaganda” isn’t enough.

    We see some of your beliefs as insulting as well. Your friend Nick has repeatedly spoken to me and other posters as if he believes we’re incapable of understanding basic Christian theology even after we’ve demonstrated otherwise.

    The problem is…that this really is basic stuff. Sorry.

    We get that a LOT. So the hurt feelings work both ways. This is a forum for discussion and understanding, and I would be thrilled for you to use whatever words you like to articulate exactly why you believe Darrel is wrong.

    Why should I bother with that if you’re just going to ignore my words and then reiterate Ray’s tactics?

    Darrel is an ex-pastor who has studied Theology Proper.

    Ex-pastor? That explains it.

    I am an ex-apologist who has also studied Theology Proper. I appreciate and understand that you feel that this is a reasonable argument, but we don’t see it as so, since we know authoritatively that we HAVE studied the theology, and we have rejected it as what Darrel has said — so much linguistic hocus pocus without underlying epistemological justification or logical contingency.

    I really don’t see it. Especially when something as fundamental as the acknowledgment of substance is ignored in favor of ‘what it looks like.’ That’s just a big fat failure.

    As a side note, I am disappointed that neither you nor Erwin have commented on my response to his sermon. It would seem like that post, much more than broad discussions of cosmology, would be more detrimental to your religious beliefs, and yet nobody has even addressed them. If there’s a subtle point of theology that I’ve missed, I’d like for someone to explain it. (Explain it. Not tell me once again that I don’t understand it. If all the theists here had taken the same number of words to write the theology instead of berating me for not knowing it, I’d have already read the equivalent of Augustine’s confessions. (Which I have read, by the way. Just sayin’.)

    I’m just busy, and I tend to limit the number of active discussions I’m currently in. Partly so I don’t get swamped, and partly out of courtesy of not swamping others.

    Thank you again for continuing to comment. Please seriously consider my offer for you to do a rebuttal post, explaining in as much detail as you’d like why your definition of god is both coherent and functionally different from that used by mythologists examining other religions.

    If I do, it will have to be after two nasty papers I need to do for school.

    Posted by David | November 1, 2010, 7:36 pm
  6. I’ll agree with Ray that some sects of Christianity seem confused on the whole monotheism thing (e.g. the Trinity), but just because a religion recognizes multiple “supernatural” beings does not mean those beings are gods.

    For example, Jehovah’s Witnesses very clearly delineate that there is Jehovah, the God. There there are his creations: his son Jesus, angels (of whom Satan is one) and humans. None of the creations of God are divine. The Holy Spirit is merely the way Jehovah works, not a separate entity.

    One God, multiple non-human beings. The fact that some of those beings are immortal is irrelevant to their divine status. Barring an untimely death, so are many earthly organisms including colonial organisms and animals that reproduce by division. Are ghosts divine simply because they cannot die?

    A primitive man (as Hamby says, a “cultural outsider”) seeing my Blackberry might call it a God. Therefore, by Ray;s argument, said primitive man gets to define it and decree that I worship it.

    David is right – this is a straw man. Ray’s definition of a God seems to be that he’ll know it when he sees it, but he can’t define it. No non-theist would allow a theist to define evolution, so it’s ludicrous to claim the primacy to define someone’s religion.

    Posted by Nicole | November 1, 2010, 11:44 pm
  7. I think that perhaps the reason non-theists feel justified in using standard definitions based on actions (what it looks like) instead of substance (what it is), is that we can determine as outsiders what it looks like. Christians have changed what God is throughout history as more and more of reality is explained and the need to use “God did it” is reduced further and further until we have today’s situation (God takes no direct hand in reality).

    Many (and by that I mean most) Christians operate with a working definition for their God that is virtually identical to those of typical mythologies, so why can’t we?

    Posted by Alex Hardman | November 2, 2010, 6:23 am
  8. Nicole, with the single exception of the Trinity comment, your criticism of Ray is accurate (and did a better job of saying it than I did).

    I will decline the offer to do a full-scale response to Ray for the reason that ultimately, there are contradictory commands within it for those who use that method: to 1) allow the theist to do the explaining (which is not, in itself, a bad thing) and 2) to constantly reassert an entirely different definition in spite of what the theist says. I don’t think that really counts as communication unless the ‘imperative’ to constantly reassert differing language is dropped.

    Alex: by all means, use a simplistic definition of God–if you don’t mind looking like an atheist Ray Comfort.

    Posted by David | November 2, 2010, 10:03 am
  9. David: I fail to see how that is a simplistic definition. I would argue that your definition is the simple one.

    You don’t actually have a concrete definition as it will simply change to counter the arguments used against it, as evidenced by the changing language in the bible. This is why non-theist should use standard accepted definitions instead of allowing others to simply “move the goal posts”.

    Posted by Alex Hardman | November 2, 2010, 11:27 am
  10. David: I fail to see how that is a simplistic definition. I would argue that your definition is the simple one.

    That’s your problem, not mine.

    You don’t actually have a concrete definition

    I think not. Simply asserting that I don’t have a definition doesn’t exactly show how I don’t have one. Unless you don’t mind being stuck Hamby’s charge of hocus-pocus when it comes to your own accusations against theists?

    as it will simply change to counter the arguments used against it, as evidenced by the changing language in the bible.

    Interesting assertion…but it’s just hand-waving my argument away. Change in language doesn’t necessarily imply logical contradiction–it can also mean that more is known.

    So what do you mean by ‘change?’

    This is why non-theist should use standard accepted definitions instead of allowing others to simply “move the goal posts”.

    Moving the goalposts happens to be exactly what Ray is advocating in the guise of polite discussion. And exactly what ‘standard accepted definitions’ are you talking about? And more importantly, why would you seriously bother talking to a theist in terms that the theist automatically rejects as an inaccurate description of his or her beliefs? That’s just hubris.

    Posted by David | November 2, 2010, 12:21 pm
  11. 500 topic

    Posted by cptpineapple | November 2, 2010, 12:44 pm
  12. David, for someone who doesn’t have enough time, you seem to have a lot of time :)

    Posted by Evan | November 2, 2010, 1:09 pm
  13. David said,

    That’s your problem, not mine.

    Agreed. How I define God, and how it makes me appear to other people is completely my fault. However, choosing to argue against my definition is yours.

    David also said,

    Not really—I just find his rhetoric to be…less than conducive to a rational discussion. Simply calling my beliefs “propaganda” isn’t enough.

    and

    Unfortunately, clarifying the charge of polytheism by saying “well, they look and act alike” is weasel-wording, and makes a critical mistake in approaching how I, a theist, define God. I do not define God by what he does, I define God by what he is.

    These are, however, your problems. I don’t care how you define God. Since you can’t prove anything about what he is, or anything about what he does, from an outsider’s point of view, there is no difference.

    Posted by Alex Hardman | November 2, 2010, 2:31 pm
  14. David, I appreciate your comments, and I believe I understand what you mean. Obviously, you believe you have a definition of your god which is different in kind from those of other mythologies. And it may well be that your definition is different in kind. (Although I would argue that from a cultural anthropologist’s point of view, it is not unique, but that’s another matter.)

    However, there’s a rather nasty circle which you are stuck — from the point of view of a non-believer in any mythology. You see, every mythology inhabited by gods has various definitions for their gods’ “substance.” Indeed, even within a single religion, there are different definitions.

    For your definition to be the “correct” one, it must describe an existing entity. Otherwise, it’s just another set of words that sound nice but don’t describe anything real. And if that’s the case, then the only useful way to discuss your mythology is by the *FUNCTION* of your god(s). (Since there is no substance to discuss.)

    Since we non-believers are of the opinion that your god, like all the other gods of mythology, is fictional, we have no impetus — either philosophical or ethical — to use any definition in particular. We are free to treat all gods as inventions of man’s imagination, with varying definitions. While yours may be interesting for various reasons, it’s no more useful than any other.

    And with all apologies, David, I am familiar with cultural anthropology, and I am certain that your mythology resembles quite a few others in history — especially where it concerns the behavior and assimilation of god(s) through its historical development. So whether or not you’re correct about Darrel’s background (I don’t know), you’re incorrect in your special pleading that Christianity’s god definitions make it quantitatively different from any other religion for an anthropologist.

    Posted by hambydammit | November 2, 2010, 3:32 pm
  15. Alex:

    I don’t care how you define God.

    Then I won’t waste my time conversing with you. Until you can show that you deserve a spot at the grown-ups table, good day.

    Hamby:

    David, I appreciate your comments, and I believe I understand what you mean. Obviously, you believe you have a definition of your god which is different in kind from those of other mythologies. And it may well be that your definition is different in kind. (Although I would argue that from a cultural anthropologist’s point of view, it is not unique, but that’s another matter.)

    The question that I’m concerned with is: is it really doing justice to what I believe? That answer is juts plain ‘no.’ Nicole (mostly) did a good job of explaining why.

    However, there’s a rather nasty circle which you are stuck — from the point of view of a non-believer in any mythology. You see, every mythology inhabited by gods has various definitions for their gods’ “substance.” Indeed, even within a single religion, there are different definitions.

    I wouldn’t say it’s a circle at all. What I mean by ‘substance’ is the ‘essential nature’ of something, but let’s take a look:

    For your definition to be the “correct” one, it must describe an existing entity. Otherwise, it’s just another set of words that sound nice but don’t describe anything real.

    This is what I meant by suggesting that truth is that which corresponds to reality.

    And if that’s the case, then the only useful way to discuss your mythology is by the *FUNCTION* of your god(s). (Since there is no substance to discuss.)

    I’d say that that’s a disturbingly un-philosophical approach to what I mean by substance and essence. You are aware of the vertical cosmological argument, right? God’s existence and some of his essence can be reasoned to by way of philosophy.

    Since we non-believers are of the opinion that your god, like all the other gods of mythology, is fictional, we have no impetus — either philosophical or ethical — to use any definition in particular. We are free to treat all gods as inventions of man’s imagination, with varying definitions. While yours may be interesting for various reasons, it’s no more useful than any other.

    And this is why Ray was quite correct to put the burden of proof on the theist to do the ‘splaining. But ‘useful?’ Who said anything about that? I’m talking about what’s true. We can find that philosophically.

    And with all apologies, David, I am familiar with cultural anthropology, and I am certain that your mythology resembles quite a few others in history — especially where it concerns the behavior and assimilation of god(s) through its historical development. So whether or not you’re correct about Darrel’s background (I don’t know), you’re incorrect in your special pleading that Christianity’s god definitions make it quantitatively different from any other religion for an anthropologist.

    The problem is that he’s being incredibly shallow with theology. It’s like he’s never bothered to look at Classical Theology or the vertical cosmological argument, because nothing shows up from it in his discussion of Christian theism. That it ‘looks’ (whatever that really means) like everything else doesn’t do justice to any of the monotheistic theology that got mentioned, and mostly for the reasons that I mentioned earlier and the things that Nicole added (minus the Trinity thing, of course).

    Posted by David | November 2, 2010, 7:29 pm
  16. The question that I’m concerned with is: is it really doing justice to what I believe? That answer is juts plain ‘no.’ Nicole (mostly) did a good job of explaining why.

    I must disagree. You believe that it does not do justice to what you believe, but that is the very matter under consideration! If your god is just as mythical as every other god, then I and Darrel are perfectly justified in our choice of perspectives. If not, then we are wrong and you are right. But open dialog requires at least entertaining other viewpoints. Which is why I posted Darrel’s article. It’s an interesting viewpoint that demands a response from anyone who cares about truth. And it’s why I invited you to do a guest post. I am sorry to hear that you’re not going to do it. I’m also a bit surprised, since my readership is the exact audience it seems you would be most concerned with. When you preach to your congregation on Sunday, you’re trying to help people who by your account are already saved. I get around four or five hundred hits a day, and it’s almost 95% atheist. If you’ve got the secret to correct interpretation of theology, then this is the audience that needs to hear it.

    I’d say that that’s a disturbingly un-philosophical approach to what I mean by substance and essence. You are aware of the vertical cosmological argument, right? God’s existence and some of his essence can be reasoned to by way of philosophy.

    I am. And I’ve rejected it, but if you believe you can present it in a way that follows logically, by all means do.

    And this is why Ray was quite correct to put the burden of proof on the theist to do the ‘splaining. But ‘useful?’ Who said anything about that? I’m talking about what’s true. We can find that philosophically.

    I don’t believe you ever responded to my explanation of why philosophy is dependent on empiricism. I don’t think I can accept this claim until you’ve successfully convinced me that I’m wrong on this count.

    The problem is that he’s being incredibly shallow with theology. It’s like he’s never bothered to look at Classical Theology or the vertical cosmological argument, because nothing shows up from it in his discussion of Christian theism. That it ‘looks’ (whatever that really means) like everything else doesn’t do justice to any of the monotheistic theology that got mentioned, and mostly for the reasons that I mentioned earlier and the things that Nicole added (minus the Trinity thing, of course)

    Here’s that claim again. It’s one thing to say he’s being incredibly shallow, and quite another to demonstrate it. First, I must point to my challenge in THIS POST. It’s emotionally appealing to make the argument: “He’s not responding to my Unique And Perfectly Awesome Version of Theology(TM).” But to an outsider, who notes that there are thousands of people making the same claim, each of which is referring to a different theology, it’s a bit frustrating. Ok. I accept that you believe he has a shallow understanding of your theology. But the impetus is yours to differentiate your belief from all the others who you and I agree have faulty theology.

    Did you catch that last bit? It’s really important. You and I agree that everyone outside of your version of theology has faulty theology. You and I have both read what they believe and rejected it. The thing is, from where I sit, EVERYBODY with their pet theology makes the exact same argument. So your claim that I don’t understand your theology just sounds like shifting the goalposts. If you’re right, it’s up to you to demonstrate it.

    Again, I’d like to offer you the opportunity to guest post. Please explain your conception of vertical cosmology, because the one I encountered was a flawed argument. Maybe yours is better. But for the love of all that’s holy, please stop standing on the soap box and telling me I just don’t understand. I really, truly get that you believe I don’t understand. But I think I do, and I think you’re the one who doesn’t understand my perspective. So let’s each explain precisely what we mean instead of just telling the other person they don’t understand.

    Posted by hambydammit | November 2, 2010, 8:47 pm
  17. David said,

    Then I won’t waste my time conversing with you. Until you can show that you deserve a spot at the grown-ups table, good day.

    Thank you for not wasting your time. Perhaps you could put it to a good use writing a guest post as offered by Hamby. I do not think insulting people who do not accept your definitions as the “right” ones a useful use of it either.

    Posted by Alex Hardman | November 3, 2010, 8:27 am
  18. I must disagree. You believe that it does not do justice to what you believe, but that is the very matter under consideration! If your god is just as mythical as every other god, then I and Darrel are perfectly justified in our choice of perspectives. If not, then we are wrong and you are right. But open dialog requires at least entertaining other viewpoints. Which is why I posted Darrel’s article. It’s an interesting viewpoint that demands a response from anyone who cares about truth. And it’s why I invited you to do a guest post. I am sorry to hear that you’re not going to do it. I’m also a bit surprised, since my readership is the exact audience it seems you would be most concerned with. When you preach to your congregation on Sunday, you’re trying to help people who by your account are already saved. I get around four or five hundred hits a day, and it’s almost 95% atheist. If you’ve got the secret to correct interpretation of theology, then this is the audience that needs to hear it.

    Why should I bother if I’m just going to be told I believe B when I actually believe A? That’s not communication. That’s not going to happen.

    I am. And I’ve rejected it, but if you believe you can present it in a way that follows logically, by all means do.

    Hold that thought for just a moment.

    I don’t believe you ever responded to my explanation of why philosophy is dependent on empiricism. I don’t think I can accept this claim until you’ve successfully convinced me that I’m wrong on this count.

    I did so, right here:
    http://hambydammit.wordpress.com/2010/10/19/selection-bias-and-hurt/#comment-3794

    Nick has also done so in his own blog when he answered your article on morality. Logical positivism is simply self-refuting.

    Although there is an interesting side note: the vertical cosmological argument starts with an empirical verification that cannot be denied. The problem is not with empiricism as such, the problem is when it becomes logical positivism.

    Of course, had I been able to get a few more words in edgewise at dinner at the conference, this would have surfaced and the conversation would have been much different. It did not, so y’all that did most of the talking talked past each other.

    Here’s that claim again. It’s one thing to say he’s being incredibly shallow, and quite another to demonstrate it. First, I must point to my challenge in THIS POST. It’s emotionally appealing to make the argument: “He’s not responding to my Unique And Perfectly Awesome Version of Theology(TM).” But to an outsider, who notes that there are thousands of people making the same claim, each of which is referring to a different theology, it’s a bit frustrating. Ok. I accept that you believe he has a shallow understanding of your theology. But the impetus is yours to differentiate your belief from all the others who you and I agree have faulty theology.

    Did you catch that last bit? It’s really important. You and I agree that everyone outside of your version of theology has faulty theology. You and I have both read what they believe and rejected it. The thing is, from where I sit, EVERYBODY with their pet theology makes the exact same argument. So your claim that I don’t understand your theology just sounds like shifting the goalposts. If you’re right, it’s up to you to demonstrate it.

    But I don’t see the point of trying to do so when the other person thinks he has a vested interest in talking at me and past me.

    And actually, there is a way to sift through the various worldviews and beliefs. It’s called the Law of Non-Contradiction. Those which are mutually exclusive cannot all be true. Why not start with that?

    Again, I’d like to offer you the opportunity to guest post. Please explain your conception of vertical cosmology, because the one I encountered was a flawed argument. Maybe yours is better. But for the love of all that’s holy, please stop standing on the soap box and telling me I just don’t understand. I really, truly get that you believe I don’t understand. But I think I do, and I think you’re the one who doesn’t understand my perspective. So let’s each explain precisely what we mean instead of just telling the other person they don’t understand.

    Posted by David | November 3, 2010, 5:54 pm
  19. There seem to be two arguments here. One is Hamby’s, when he says that Christianity, and indeed other monotheistic religions, are really not unique from a mythological or anthropological perspective. This is demonstratively true; a Christian can ignore all those other religions with striking similar and earlier mythological tales or s/he can take the Tolkien interpretation.

    The other is Ray’s, when he suggests that a outsider can accurately define another’s beliefs, and does so in fairly hostile and condescending manner using highly charged language. Granted he is not directly speaking to a theist audience, but using anti-religious buzzwords does not strengthen his argument. Rather, it diminishes it, and I find it ironic that he admonishes others not to do exactly what he is doing in the article.

    Hamby, you argued very articulately for civil discourse when you came back from that conference, and Ray’s tone is anything but civil.

    Posted by Nicole | November 3, 2010, 8:43 pm
  20. Nicole, here’s a video by the bad astronomer [Phil Plait] that echos your concerns.

    http://vimeo.com/13704095

    Posted by cptpineapple | November 4, 2010, 3:25 pm
  21. Love the video; thanks for sharing.

    Posted by Nicole | November 5, 2010, 7:49 pm

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