Monday, April 09, 2007

The endless debate...

A very interesting debate between pastor/author Rick Warren and atheist/author Sam Harris in Newsweek magazine.

Here are a few excerpts that I found particularly interesting and my responses to them:

[When asked about his experience with meeting an immigration attorney when a friend of his needed one, as compared to the times he's prayed for someone to be saved from a medical condition and they died anyway]
WARREN: "Well, I do believe in the goodness of God, and I do believe that he knows better than I do. God sometimes says yes, God sometimes says no and God sometimes says wait."
I find it so convenient that many Christians have a tendency to overlook or dismiss when their prayers for loved one's go seemingly unanswered and terrible things happen to good people, yet they act as if it is definitive proof that there is a God if they pray for someone to get better and they do, or a church is spared in a hurricane, and so forth.

I myself happen to believe in something more than what we know. I do believe in GOD or the spiritual nature of the UNIVERSE. I do not, however, believe in deities, no genii-like santa god's that grant wishes. I believe in a connectedness with all things, and as such I believe that most things are not a coincidence. I think we meet the people in our lives for a purpose. And so I don't that Rick Warren or anyone else has met people that he desperately needed at that point in his life. I've had the same experience. But rather than believe that Jesus, Mohamed, or Buddha makes it all happen, I believe that in our inner connectedness we are able to draw people into our circle of being as needed without any sort of divine intervention. Now while atheists may reject this, I really don't care because I'm not an atheist. I'm also not a religionist. But at least for me I think it explains how things can happen as if it were an answered prayer when it's actually just a non-deistic ability of spiritual attraction.

HARRIS: "I think it's quite common among religious people to believe that atheism entails moral relativism. I think there is an absolute right and wrong. I think honor killing, for example, is unambiguously wrong—you can use the word evil. A society that kills women and girls for sexual indiscretion, even the indiscretion of being raped, is a society that has killed compassion, that has failed to teach men to value women and has eradicated empathy. Empathy and compassion are our most basic moral impulses, and we can even teach the golden rule without lying to ourselves or our children about the origin of certain books or the virgin birth of certain people."
Well said...

WARREN: "Sam makes the statement in his book that religion is bad for the world, but far more people have been killed through atheists than through all the religious wars put together. Thousands died in the Inquisition; millions died under Mao, and under Stalin and Pol Pot."
Warren conveniently trivializes the Inquisition, and totally skips the Crusades, the countless pogroms against Jews committed largely by Catholics and Orthodox Christians, the sectarian violence between Protestants and Catholics, Sunnis and Shiites, and the fact that Hitler wasn't an atheist, he was a Catholic who used religious rhetoric throughout his life as der Fuhrer.

WARREN: "If life is just random chance, then nothing really does matter and there is no morality—it's survival of the fittest. If survival of the fittest means me killing you to survive, so be it. For years, atheists have said there is no God, but they want to live like God exists. They want to live like their lives have meaning."
Like a lot of Christians and religionists, Warren seems to think only in terms of deriving ethics, empathy, compassion, a sense of right & wrong from religion and a belief in deities. As countless non-religious people can attest, we do not need deities and superstitions to understand why abusing or destroying others is not healthy or acceptable. We can "live like God exists" without depending on any god, because we believe that life does have meaning...

HARRIS: "What in your experience is making you someone who is not a Muslim? I presume that you are not losing sleep every night wondering whether to convert to Islam. And if you're not, it is because when the Muslims say, "We have a book that's the perfect word of the creator of the universe, it's the Qur'an, it was dictated to Muhammad in his cave by the archangel Gabriel," you see a variety of claims there that aren't backed up by sufficient evidence. If the evidence were sufficient, you would be compelled to be Muslim."
WARREN: "That's exactly right."
HARRIS: "So you and I both stand in a relationship of atheism to Islam."
BINGO! Warren rejects Islam even though over a billion people in the world believe in it. No doubt he rejects Hindu also, even though there are nearly 1 billion who practice that religion. Well, non-religious people like myself reject the notion that Jesus, Mohamed, or Buddha, et al. are GOD. Atheists reject the notion that there is such a thing as deities at all. We reject religion as a whole because of a lack of anything even approaching sufficient evidence, just as Warren and most conservative Christians reject gods other than theirs.

WARREN: "...All of the religions basically point toward truth. Buddha made this famous statement at the end of his life: "I'm still searching for the truth." Muhammad said, "I am a prophet of the truth." The Veda says, "Truth is elusive, it's like a butterfly, you've got to search for it." Then Jesus Christ comes along and says, "I am the truth."
Sounds to me like Jesus had a megalomania complex, and so does his followers. Of course that's not unlike most religions, they claim to have an insight into 'ultimate truth' that no one else does. It's so narcissistic.

WARREN: "I think it's intellectually dishonest for you to say you have proof that it didn't happen. Here's the difference between you and me. I am open to the possibility that I am wrong in certain areas, and you are not."
That's a lie. Warren wouldn't for one second entertain the idea that perhaps his god isn't real, Jesus didn't 'die for our sins', he wasn't resurrected, there is no second comming, and the bible isn't infallible. Many of us who do not believe in such deities have and do speculate about and question what we believe, what reality is, and just what sort of being might exist beyond our comprehension. Rick Warren does no such thing, his mind is made up. He insists upon it. He most definitely is not the open-minded one.

HARRIS: "I consider it such a low-probability event that I—"
WARREN: "A low probability? When there are 96 percent believers in the world? So is everybody else an idiot?"
HARRIS: "It is quite possible for most people to be wrong—as are most Americans who think that evolution didn't occur."
WARREN: "That's an arrogant statement."
And it isn't arrogant to claim that there definitely is a God, that it governs our lives, that the bible is infallible, and that those who do not follow certain tenets will not see heaven, that scientific inquiry is insignificant to the "truths" put forth in the bible?

When asked, "Do you think that religiously motivated good works are actually harmful?"
HARRIS: "The thing that bothers me about faith-based altruism is that it is contaminated with religious ideas that have nothing to do with the relief of human suffering. So you have a Christian minister in Africa who's doing really good work, helping those who are hungry, healing the sick. And yet, as part of his job description, he feels he needs to preach the divinity of Jesus [and prevent people from having access to contraceptives] in communities where literally millions of people have been killed because of interreligious conflict between Christians and Muslims. It seems to me that that added piece causes unnecessary suffering. I would much rather have someone over there who simply wanted to feed the hungry and heal the sick."
Amen! Secularists can and do accomplish this. Some of the religious do as well, and some are just trying to proselytize.
WARREN: "All of the great movements forward in Western civilization were by believers. It was pastors who led the abolition of slavery. It was pastors who led the woman's right to vote. It was pastors who led the civil-rights movement. Not atheists."
And it was also the deeply religious that fought the hardest against those movements in the name of God, tradition, and decency.
HARRIS responds: "You bring up slavery—I think it's quite ironic. Slavery, on balance, is supported by the Bible, not condemned by it. It's supported with exquisite precision in the Old Testament, as you know, and Paul in First Timothy and Ephesians and Colossians supports it, and Peter—"
WARREN replies with the cop-out: "No, he doesn't. He allows it. He doesn't support it."
Ok, fine, he allows it. And this is the sort of man of virtue we are supposed to look to for answers about the "son of God" and how to live a life that will enable us to "inherit the kingdom of heaven"? I don't think so!
HARRIS responds again, quite effectively: "I would argue that we got rid of slavery not because we read the Bible more closely. We got rid of slavery despite the profound inadequacies of the Bible. We got rid of slavery because we realized it was manifestly evil to treat human beings as farm equipment. As it is."
WARREN remarks when discussing altruism: "the Resurrection is not only the resurrection of Jesus Christ, it is the hope of the world: it says there's more to this life than just here and now. That doesn't mean that I do less, it means that this life is a test, it's a trust and it's a temporary assignment. If death is the end, shoot, I'm not going to waste another minute being altruistic."
And like most Christians seem to show in their thinking, they must have the incentive of reward in the afterlife to do good. Christians, and religious folks often play themselves off as being totally unselfish while the irreligious are selfish. Actually, when it comes to doing good works, it appears that often the opposite is true. Without reward motivations {i.e. heaven, virgins, etc} their altruism would go right out the window. And so atheists, or non-religious folks that do good deeds, they must truly be the most altruistic, unselfish people on the planet...
When asked if Sam Harris' soul is in jeopardy for rejecting Jesus - WARREN: "The politically incorrect answer is yes."
Now THAT is an arrogant statement!!! Ah, but Christians don't see it that way, of course...
When asked for his last thoughts - WARREN: "We're both betting. He's betting his life that he's right. I'm betting my life that Jesus was not a liar. When we die, if he's right, I've lost nothing. If I'm right, he's lost everything. I'm not willing to make that gamble."

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