Sunday, May 24, 2009

RD on Faith and Reason: "Moderate Christianity" Explored

The most recent Reasonable Doubts podcast consists of the Doubtcasters (Jeremy Beahan, Luke Galen, and David Fletcher) appearing as guests on the "Reason and Faith" radio program, which is hosted by three Christian pastors. All parties to the conversation remained congenial and civil throughout, which was not only refreshing but seems to have cleared the way to illuminate a number of the questions I've had about "moderate" forms of god-belief -- which is not to say clear answers were forthcoming. Some highlights:

  • In minute ~36, one of the theists claims it is "rational" to consider the question of god's existence/non-existence, and at least one of the Doubtcasters agrees (as do I): it is a significant question, and that being so, there is nothing irrational in taking it up. What's irrational is to cling to a particular answer to it when that answer lacks a basis in solid evidence and valid reasoning.
  • In minute 32, one of the Doubtcasters asks the central question dogging moderate, i.e., non-literalist, non-fundamentalist, Christianity: "how do you discover truth about god?" also expressed as "what's the method that you use to discern the nature of god?"* This is met with (quite literally) several seconds of radio silence before one of the theists issues a non-responsive digression that begins with a citation of Plato's Timaeus and sputters along about how various mythical, philosophical, and literary traditions offer insights into the human condition -- a claim with which no thinking person would disagree, but that does nothing to answer the question posed.
  • This digression ends with the following statement on the status of Biblical scripture (around 36:09) -- recall these are the words of a pastor: "Its power is indisputable, its authority is highly disputable."
The latter strikes me as a "game over" moment for moderate Christianity, as would be parallel statements for moderate versions of Islam and other monotheisms: to dispute the authority of scripture is to remove any rationale for elevating it above any other book -- that is to say, to dispute the authority of scripture is to remove its status as scripture.

Here was an ideal opportunity for three self-labeled moderate Christians to draw a distinction between "the Bible is special" and "the Bible is just a book." They conspicuously declined to draw any such line. They all but announced that they use the Bible as a trove of useful maxims, homilies, and notions, without explaining why they use the Bible instead of any of countless other books.

Any atheist could do the same. In fact, I think I will do so now:
The words of wise men are heard in quiet more than the cry of him that ruleth among fools.
I leave to the reader what this passage might suggest to those who put money in the collection plates during the sermons of moderates.

* Near the end of the podcast -- around minute 81, having not received a clear answer, one of the Doubtcasters rephrases again, by this time resorting to a series of rephrasings in hopes of pinning down this central matter: "how can you discern between what in the Bible is legitimate" versus "old cultural baggage seeping through?"

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