Thinking Christian

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An Atheist’s “Reasonable” Proposal

Posted on Jan 4, 2013 by Tom Gilson

Al Stefanelli claims to be “a voice of reason in an unreasonable world.” If so, then apparently it’s “reasonable” to “scare the s*** out of small children.” Those are his words, not mine. Stefanelli proposes a “social experiment” of approaching children whose parents are wearing Christian-themed clothes or jewelry, and asking them,

“Did you know that if you don’t behave yourself, you will be be tortured and burned to the brink of death and kept in severe and writhing pain forever and ever and ever, with no hope of ever getting away!”

Mike Gene has already said most of what needs to be said about the (ahem) reasonability of Stefanelli’s proposal. I’m interested in something else this New Atheist movement leader went on to say:

Before [the parent] can respond, ask them if they believe what the bible says about hell, and what happens to people who don’t behave. This works no matter if you believe in salvation by grace or by works, as Scripture is so malleable and enigmatic that it won’t take much effort to explain the lighter points of eternal damnation with respect to children. You got a fifty/fifty shot of the parent being a Pentecostal, and if the kid hasn’t said the sinners prayer, you’ve won half the battle, already.

Stefanelli has the doctrine of hell and salvation down pat and perfect, or so he thinks: he knows exactly what Scripture says about it and exactly what it means. He knows that it means exactly what he thinks and nothing else. That’s pretty good for a man who at the same time believes “Scripture is so malleable and enigmatic…” He’s an absolute literalist who thinks the Bible’s meaning is perfectly clear, and an absolute anti-literalist who thinks its meaning can’t be determined, both at the same time. Tell me, please, is that a voice of reason speaking?

But that’s not all. He presents the child (in this supposed social experiment) with a works-based theology of salvation, and then he says it doesn’t matter if the parent believes in salvation by grace or by works. Now it so happens that most people who believe in the reality of hell also believe in salvation by grace, so odds are the parent would tell the child that the strange man accosting him or her is wrong. To which Stefanelli’s response would apparently be, “How can I be wrong on this? It’s not clear in Scripture that I’m wrong about works and grace, so I can’t be wrong!” But (a) Scripture is actually clear on this, so he is in fact wrong, and (b) if Scripture actually were as unclear as he says it is, then he couldn’t be right or wrong. There would be no right or wrong opinion. I ask you again, is that a voice of reason speaking?

He continues,

Once you explain to the parent that you were being biblical, expounding the wisdom of God, see if the parent doesn’t then smile approvingly. It won’t be long after an exchange of hallelujahs that they will be thanking God for the wisdom He has bestowed on you, and thanking all the angels on the head of a pin that you have chosen their child to be the recipient of a glorious revelation.

Of course, this won’t matter to the kid, who will no doubt be scared s***less and have yet another bible story to have nightmares over. Nothing like a healthy dose of demons and devils to add to human sacrifice, talking snakes and giant holes opening up that will swallow them whole, depositing them into a dusty, dark and earth-crushing grave to round out their proper upbringing and assuring a lifetime of mental stability.

Stefanelli claims to understand Scripture (“being biblical, expounding the wisdom of God”). He probably thinks he understands reality. Somehow it bothers him that Scripture reflects reality. Somehow it has escaped his notice that demons, devils, holes in the earth, and the talking snake were not affirmed in the Bible. Somehow it escapes his notice that parents can use good judgment in deciding which parts of reality they expose their children to, and also which parts of Scripture. Is that a voice of reason speaking?

This is just another instance of what my co-authors and I wrote about in True Reason: Christian Responses to the Challenge of Atheism: they claim to be the representatives of reason, but in fact they aren’t very good at it.

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50 Responses to “ An Atheist’s “Reasonable” Proposal ”

  1. Starbuck says:

    I would be wary of the claims of professional victims.

  2. Crude says:

    If someone subscribes to Dawkins’ inane views that teaching children about hell is child abuse, then that means Stefanelli is advocating child abuse.

  3. Victoria says:

    maybe this guy should spend some time in a God-honouring, Christ-centred Sunday School program for younger children –
    maybe some 5 year old can teach him the words to “Jesus Loves Me” :)

  4. David says:

    I frequently find that atheists will complain that Christians pick and choose what they want from the Bible, while at the same time doing the same thing themselves in attempting to criticize those Christians or their theology.

  5. Starbuck says:

    Did I miss something or is hellfire no longer a doctrine among mainstream Christianity? I’m frankly tired of the parries

  6. Tom Gilson says:

    What we’re parrying is parodies.

  7. Victoria says:

    No, Starbuck
    Hell is still very much a real Biblical Doctrine. It is what Jesus died to redeem us from; imagery aside, Hell is very much a place or state of existence completely and utterly separated from God
    You can find a lot of material here
    http://bible.org/topics/403/Hell
    especially this one: http://bible.org/seriespage/hell-shun

    We teach our children that God loves them, and that Jesus came so that they can become God’s children too. Our children are secure in that knowledge, so that they understand that they need not fear Hell, because Jesus saves us from it.

  8. Tom Gilson says:

    To answer more in depth, we haven’t given up the doctrine of eternal damnation in suffering. Most of us don’t think it will involve literal fire, but rather a continuing existence that is divorced from God and his goodness.

    If you care to know more, I recommend Timothy Keller’s The Reason for God as a source. Or maybe later this weekend I can look up a good web-based resource for you.

    Meanwhile what I said previously remains true, except that Stefanelli’s distortion doesn’t actually rise to the level of parody. it’s nothing but a lie in his version of it, and he’s being damnably deceitful (I mean that quite literally) for purveying it—under the name of reason, no less!

  9. Starbuck says:

    Tom, I don’t mean to belabor the point, or rehash endless arguments, so ill stay specific to the issues raised in this post. What evidence do you have of Rebecca’s and/or Jens assertions which you link to?

  10. Sault says:

    Either this is a very weird joke or this person is very warped. Even if his view of hell is correct (and it isn’t if you’re any number of denominations), what does an encounter like accomplish besides making you look like a total douche?

  11. Debilis says:

    This seems to be degenerating. In the past, these things seemed to be centered around making a (deeply misconceived) point. This doesn’t even appear to be doing that much.

    The only point this seems to make is that Christian parents aren’t actually teaching their children the horrific things about hell that New Atheists have claimed they teach. Otherwise, what need would there be to “inform” children that this is what their parents are teaching them?

    Of course, the claim is that such parents will eventually agree with the statement. I wonder how much scientifically gathered data Stephanelli has in support of this prediction.
    Does he know, via anthropological study, the percentage of religious people who can be counted on for this reaction?
    How trustworthy is the claim that a religious symbol equals a 50% chance that a person is Pentecostal?

    Surely, a “scientific mind” would have referenced studies to support these claims.

  12. Phil Torres says:

    Wait, are you serious? “Somehow it has escaped his notice that demons, devils, holes in the earth, and the talking snake were not affirmed in the Bible.” On my reading of the Bible, and the reading that I was told by extremely confident and sincere believers as a kid, demons definitely did exist back in Jesus’ time, and there really was a talking snake in a garden in which Adam and a woman who was made from his rib(!) lived. If you’re going to read these metaphorically, then what’s stopping one from reading “No one comes to the Father except through me” metaphorically? (I.e., it’s not the Bible puts an “M” before sentences that should be read figuratively and an “L” before sentences that should be read in a more straightforward manner.)

    The point: as far as I can tell, the Bible is quite clear that talking snakes and demons did exist. And until fairly recently (when people started thinking a bit harder about such issues), genuine believers really did believe these things. After all, they’re in the Bible.

  13. Tom Gilson says:

    Starbuck, I don’t know what links to which assertions you are referring to in your question. Could you clarify, please? Thanks.

  14. Tom Gilson says:

    Phil, by “affirmed” I meant “affirmed,” not “acknowledged.” Please re-read what I said with that distinction in mind.

  15. Tom Gilson says:

    Here’s another answer to your question about hell, Starbuck.

  16. ordinaryseeker says:

    I think you may be missing the intention of the post. I think it’s satirical, a la Swift’s A Modest Proposal.

  17. Phil Torres says:

    Tom:

    What a subtle distinction! You’re saying that, for example, the story of Jesus casting demons into swine is being “acknowledged” by the New Testament while not being “affirmed.” Subtle indeed. So subtle, in fact, that I had to look up these terms in the dictionary. Unforutnately, this didn’t help much: “affirm” means (quote) “to state or assert positively; maintain as true,” while “acknowledge” means “to admit to be real or true; recognize the existence, truth, or fact of.” Don’t get me wrong here: I’m not confused so much as I am confounded.

    If you want to claim that the Bible doesn’t “maintaining as true” that demons existed in the world two millennia ago and that a snake really did talk to a woman named “Eve” in a garden, then you have quite a battle with a sizable portion of the believing flock. More specifically, you’re fight is with those God-fearing, born-twice individuals who, basically, take what the Bible straightforwardly says much more seriously than you. The Christians that I grew up around, for example, would chuckle at the account of hell (to which you linked) as merely a place away from God. (Doesn’t actually sound so bad: for me, I guess, I would spend eternity doing what got me into hell in the first place: reading science and philosophy; thinking critically; and having a couple glasses of wine in the evening. Horrible.) They would call you a fool for thinking this. Why? Because, well, the Bible is *quite clear* in numerous places that hell entails an eternity of torture in fire. To deny this is to deny what the Bible straightforwardly says.

    I would challenge you and the other readers to take the Bible more seriously. (Obviously, this is much more difficult today, in the modern, scientifically-enlightened, secular age than several centuries ago.) Unless there is a specific, compelling reason for interpreting a given verse figuratively, then one should interpret it literally, as if it actually means what it actually says. The hermeneutical problem of today is that many verses are now interpreted metaphorically for no other reason than because if one were to interpret it literally, it would be morally unacceptable, or stupid, or silly, or foolish, and so on. This is why many modern believers — “soft” believers, who are moderate in their interpretive approaches — no longer think that a snake really did talk to Eve; espcially sophisticated thinkers don’t even believe that Eve existed! Anyway, I would challenge readers to be extra sure that the choice to read “Jesus ascended into heaven” as literal and “a donkey spoke to Balaam” as figurative isn’t arbitrary.

    I hope this is clear — and perspicuous.

  18. Victoria says:

    @Phil Torres
    And that is why we call it Bible study, and why we have in-depth courses on exegesis and hermeneutics as applied to understanding the Bible. It is also why God says, through Isaiah ( Isaiah 55:8-11) that God’s ways and thoughts are so much higher than ours, and both the Psalms and Proverbs assert that ‘fear (reverence) of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and understanding’ – (Proverbs 1:7, Proverbs 2:1-22, Psalm 19 or Psalm 119) and Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:6-16 that without the Spirit of God to teach us, we would never really understand God’s revelation. The Bible is plain enough for the simplest of God’s children to understand, yet so deep that it challenges the wisest of His servants – the key to understanding it, though, is the heart attitude and a commitment to believing it, acting on what one learns and obeying what it says. It is not just a matter of reading it, but digging deep. Which is why unbelievers and atheists such as yourself will never understand it, so all you can do is mock it.

  19. Phil Torres says:

    Along the same lines, I’ve had a terrific time recently reading about all the ways that forward-thinking, influenced-by-the-secular-West Muslims have struggled to re-interpret verses in the Koran that endorse actions / beliefs that clearly conflict with modern values. For example, traditional Muslim scholars have read “And those [women that] you fear may be rebellious admonish; banish them to their counches, and beat them” as meaning, well, exactly what it straightforwardly says: Beat rebellious women. And then praise Allah, for he is “All-high, All-great.”

    But oh no! Here comes a new set of values informed by those iconoclastic feminists! So what do they do? Some, recognizing that women should indeed be treated as equals (contra, of course, the Bible, which *quite clearly* states that men should “rule over” women, and that women should “learn in silence with all subjection”), have bent-backwards, left and right, up and down, to show that the above verse actually *doesn’t* mean what it clearly does mean.

    The point: Both Islam and Christianity were founded long ago, when beating women, “ruling over” women, being possessed by demons, encountering a talking animal, and so on, were much less outrageously idiotic than they are today. As a result, you can find individuals (usually, those with a bit more brains than the others) striving hard to re-intepret verses that say “X” as actually meaning “Y” — while, of course, keeping everything else the same. From an outsider’s perspective, it’s quite amusing.

    The point:

  20. Phil Torres says:

    @Victoria

    Notice, though, that “Bible study” is quite different from the sort of study done by actual scholars in universities, usually under the title “textual criticism.” Now that is some real Bible study, since it doesn’t automatically and uncritically assume that the Bible makes sense, is coherent, is free of (all the obvious) contradictions, is inspired, and so on. Along the same lines, once again, there are “Koran studies” that Muslims engage in and which “study” the Koran *as* the absolute, true Word of God (as revealed to the prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him). I’m sure we can both agree, though, that this sort of “study” isn’t really study at all.

    I encourage you to explore the wonderful world of textual criticism. The literature is vast, fascinating, and very enlightening.

  21. Tom Gilson says:

    Phil, I’m on my mobile so I can’t answer in full, but the short answer is that I advise you to lay off for a while. Your ignorance is overtaking you, and it’s doing no one any good. I’ll have a fuller explanation later.

  22. Victoria says:

    @Phil
    What makes you think that I haven’t already explored the world of textual criticism? I have, and while I recognize its contributions, I also recognize the presuppositional biases of many of these scholars; it should come as no surprise that many of these scholars have a hard core anti-supernatural bias – they are all metaphysical naturalists, so their conclusions about the Bible fit their presuppositions. Of course, I suppose the same could be said of those of us who are Christian Theists :) The point is that no scholar comes to the Bible with absolutely no presuppositions, but those that affirm the Bible as God’s Word are no less scholarly – read Daniel Wallace or Darrell Bock or N. T. Wright for example. While my professional credentials are in Physics and Computer Science, I am very much committed to a scholarly study of the Bible, its history and culture, etc, so don’t go presuming things about me that you have no way of knowing.

  23. Victoria says:

    @Tom
    You have such a gift for understatement :)

    @All
    Happy New Year to everyone. I wish for all of you a great year.

  24. Phil Torres says:

    Yes, I am overtaken by my ignorance! You forget, Tom, that I too was a Christian once, and I too have read the Bible as “Truth.”

    My point is very simple and easy to understand. With respect to your account of hell, for example, (1) you are fighting against widely-accepted views by passionate, sincere, honest Christians across geographical space and historical time, and (2) you are fighting against the Bible itself, which is quite clear on such issues. In this order:

    (1) [have a good read here, Tom and other commenters. This isn’t my ignorance…]

    http://media1.razorplanet.com/share/511079-7965/siteDocs/What_will_hell_be_likeA.pdf

    http://comingintheclouds.org/afterlife/hellislike.htm

    http://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/what-does-the-bible-say-hell-will-be-like/

    http://audio.grace-bible.org/college/Heaven_Hell_and_the_Here_and_Now/TC11309S_What_Will_Hell_Be_Like.pdf

    http://www.godandscience.org/doctrine/hell.html

    http://www.religionfacts.com/christianity/beliefs/hell.htm

    http://www.clarifyingchristianity.com/hell.shtml

    ————–And————-

    (2) [notice the repeated use of the word “fire” in multiple contexts. This is one hell of a metaphor, if it is that — and if you’ll excuse the pun]

    “Anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” (Matthew 5:22, quoting Jesus)

    “And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” (Matthew 5:29, quoting Jesus; see parallel passage in Mark 9:44, which adds, “where the fire never goes out.”)

    “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13:40-42, quoting Jesus)

    “Throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Parable of the Talents, Matthew 25:30)

    “Then he [the King] will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, Matthew 25:41)

    “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” (James 3:6)

    “The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:13-15)

    “The cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile…the idolaters and all liars – their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulpher. This is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8)

  25. Victoria says:

    Actually, I really have difficulty believing that a genuine, Spirit-filled Christian could ever become a rabid atheist such as we have seen in here.
    I think 1 John 2:15-24 applies very well to such individuals, like Judas and Demas, for example. 1 John 2:18-19 is especially relevant.

    @Phil
    Hell is a very real place, a place so terrible that it had to be described in such horrific terms. You are missing the essential point, however; whether we should understand these things literally or metaphorically is not the real issue – to be there will not be a pleasant experience by any means, and all those who hate God and have not been redeemed by Him will end up there, eternally separated from God. It is what Jesus came to redeem us from.

    Daniel Wallace has a good article on Hell and its intepretation, here.

  26. Phil Torres says:

    @Victoria:

    So credulous about some things, yet so skeptical about others! (Would it help if I told you to merely have “faith” that I was who I said I was?)

    I can assure you that you could hardly have found someone more ardent than I. But then, to borrow a phrase from Kant, something awoke me from my dogmatic slumber.

  27. Victoria says:

    @Phil
    I am giving you the benefit of the doubt here – I don’t disbelieve that you once considered yourself a Christian, and I am assuming that you are representing yourself in good faith here, that you are being honest with us. I just have difficulty with the idea. In my 30+ years as a Christian (I used to be an atheist in my 20’s, until a group of Christian physicists I studied with showed me a better way), I have had successes and failures, refreshing times and dry spells in living the Christian life, but never, ever did anything shake the foundations of my faith – I could always hear the Spirit of God whispering in my ear, reminding me of His Truths, and so today, my faith is even surer than it ever was, and my relationship with God as His adopted daughter in Christ is better than it ever was, and getting better.

    I don’t know you or your story, so I don’t know if John’s statements in his letter apply to you or not – it is something that you should think about, though. Maybe you have just lost your way for a season. I’d really like to hear about whatever it was that ‘awoke you from your dogmatic slumber’

  28. SteveK says:

    I used to be an atheist in my 20′s, until a group of Christian physicists I studied with showed me a better way

    What the…Christian physicist, you say? Impossible! ;)

  29. Victoria says:

    @SteveK :)

    I think because I learned both physics and Christianity from mature, thoughtful, Godly Christian physicists, my faith is more robust than it might have been otherwise. It provided an atmosphere for us to think deeply about science and Christianity.

    BTW – I went to a secular university, and I had my share of skeptical and atheist professors and fellow students to contend with. Fortunately, our Physics department was small enough that we were all very close friends, and we could agree to disagree about such things – afternoon coffee was a lively time of friendly discussions :)

  30. Tom Gilson says:

    Phil, here’s what I think you need to think through.

    First let’s deal with your quibble on “affirm.” There is another common definition of “affirm:”

    to express agreement with or commitment to; uphold; support: to affirm human rights.

    That definition fits the context:

    Somehow it has escaped his notice that [the Bible does not express agreement or commitment to; the Bible does not uphold or support] demons, devils, holes in the earth, and the talking snake…. Somehow it escapes his notice that parents can use good judgment in deciding which parts of reality they expose their children to, and also which parts of Scripture.

    Other definitions do not fit the context, for it’s meaningless to discuss whether, for example, demons are true. One might ask whether it’s true that demons exist, but that’s not the question that was under discussion.

    So let me state it as plainly as I can, and ask you to read it in this light:

    Stefanelli claims to understand Scripture (“being biblical, expounding the wisdom of God”). He probably thinks he understands reality. Somehow it bothers him that Scripture reflects reality. Somehow it has escaped his notice that demons, devils, holes in the earth, and the talking snake were not affirmed [described as something to be committed to, upheld, supported] in the Bible. Somehow it escapes his notice that parents can use good judgment in deciding which parts of reality they expose their children to, and also which parts of Scripture. Is that a voice of reason speaking?

    And if after all this you think I misused “affirm,” you still have the opportunity now to understand it in the sense I intended. So with respect to your opening question in #12, sure, I’m serious!

    I’ll continue in another comment in a moment.

  31. Tom Gilson says:

    Now, concerning your charge in #19, you have the common historical myopia working against you. You look back to about 1970 or so and you see problems with the church’s treatment of women.

    You do not see the full scope of history from the first century through 1970 or so.

    You do not see that the early church had a predominance of women, not just in membership but in leadership. You do not see that this was because the Gospel freed them from their horrible status in their society.

    You do not see that where women have been freed from sati, from foot-binding, from being murdered as infants (selective infanticide) or as fetuses (selective abortion), from economic servitude, from destitution as widows or as unmarried persons, that in all of those cases of women’s rights being affirmed and built up, it has always been under the influence of Christianity.

    You do not see that the modern women’s rights movements from the 1800s through about 1970 were largely led by Christians, and you will not acknowledge that even the non-Christians involved were standing on the shoulders of their forebears in Christian culture—that their could not have even gained a start had not the Gospel prepared the way.

    You do not see how the sexual revolution victimizes women at the expense of men, and how the church has stood against this revolution (with only limited success, tragically).

    Most astonishingly, you do not see the massivedifference between women’s condition under Islam and under Christianity!!!

    You do not see that this is no ad hoc 20th-21st century defense concocted under pressure from the women’s liberationists, but that it has been the legacy of Christianity from the beginning.

    This is historical and sociological fact. It is the ignorance against which I cautioned you continuing to spout.

  32. Tom Gilson says:

    Kant was awoken by Hume. Who will awaken you from your anti-Christian ignorance of real history?

  33. Victoria says:

    @Tom
    That’s exactly what I thought when you used the term ‘affirmed’.

    And we’ve had the discussion about the so-called ‘talking snake’ before with skeptics – we explain it and they still don’t get it.

  34. Phil Torres says:

    My goodness! What muddlement.

    Okay: “First let’s deal with your quibble on “affirm.” There is another common definition of “affirm:””

    Sheesh. Go back and read my initial comment. This is precisely the definition upon which it was predicated. To recapitulate, my point was (a) no, um, the Bible is *quite clear* in many instances that demons *really did* roam the Earth and possess humans, not to mention swine, two millennia ago; and there isn’t a single line in the Bible that suggests that one should read, say, Genesis figuratively rather than literally. (Wouldn’t it be nice if God had the foresight to provide disambiguation? Who knows how many people it would have prevented from turning away from Christianity in our modern, scientifically- age.) And (b) your distinction between “affirm” and “acknowledge” (as if I made some stupid mistake reading your comment) is wonky and not helpful in this context. It’s as good as my distinction between “being confused” and “being confounded.”

    Now, you say that a majority of leaders in the early Church were women? I’d be happy to have a citation, please. And yes, a lot of early women’s rights leaders were Christians. But, as in the case of slavery too (Ephesians 6:5), these highly progressive individuals championed feminist ideals despite what the Bible clearly states. Tom, I just don’t know how you can call yourself a “Christian” if you discard inspired words like these:

    “But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man,[a] and the head of Christ is God. 4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. 5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. 6 For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.
    “A man ought not to cover his head,[b] since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. 8 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; 9 neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own[c] head, because of the angels.””

    “As in all the churches of the saints, women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.”

    “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.”

    Inspiring words for women looking to take control of their own lives and escape the oppression of patriarchal structures! (PS. Um, why don’t Christians take the head covering thing seriously? I mean, it’s right there in 1 Corinthians.)

    And you’re simply wrong about feminism victimizing women at the expense of men. Consider two polls, one done but Newsweek/Daily Beast, and another published in Forbes:

    Happiest countries around the world:

    Norway
    Denmark
    Finland
    Australia
    New Zealand
    Sweden
    Canada
    Switzerland
    Netherlands
    US

    Most feminist countries in the world:

    Iceland
    Sweden
    Canada
    Denmark
    Finland
    Switzerland
    Norway
    US
    Australia
    Netherlands

    Notice any overlap? Yep, it seems like all those upstart women have actually made society better, healthier. If you’d like, Tom, you could even write a psychologist to get an opinion. All the research I know about says that liberated women are happier women, and men who support women’s rights are, well, just nicer people.

    Finally, referring to the difference between Christianity and Islam, you use of the word “massive” is inappropriate. Yes, the Bible doesn’t endorse beating rebellious women. In this sense I’d say Christianity is indeed better. But you might want to take another look at those verses quoted above. Man wasn’t exactly created from the rib of a woman.

  35. Victoria says:

    @Phil
    You are good at copying and pasting quotations, but where is your exegetical analysis of those passages? Where is your analysis of the historical and cultural contexts, and the immediate and global contexts of the Bible itself? Where is your analysis of the original Greek?

    You are simply asserting that such passages must be understood and applied exactly one way.

    The fact is that we don’t discard what Paul wrote at all, but we try to understand it the full light of all of Scripture, not as isolated texts pasted together

  36. Tom Gilson says:

    Phil, what’s wrong with you?

    Read the context of my original use of “affirm.” You responded by insisting, “The point: as far as I can tell, the Bible is quite clear that talking snakes and demons did exist,” as if I had ever questioned it. I hadn’t! What I said was this:

    Somehow it escapes his notice that parents can use good judgment in deciding which parts of reality they expose their children to, and also which parts of Scripture.

    … and that the reason parents need not expose their children to all those things is because it’s not all good. Not because it’s false but because wise parents apportion their teaching about life to their children’s maturity level.

    Do you get it? Would you please get it? PLEASE?

    My source on women in the church is Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity.

    You say, “And you’re simply wrong about feminism victimizing women at the expense of men.”

    I am? How on earth could you know? I never expressed any opinion on that!! Re-read what I wrote. (And you accuse me of muddlement!!!!)

    As for slavery, you are again displaying your ignorance. See here and here.

    Finally, if you don’t see a massive difference in the treatment of women in Christian-led cultures vs. Islamic led societies, then there’s little hope for you.

  37. Tom Gilson says:

    Thank you, Victoria, for that answer concerning women in Scripture.

  38. Phil Torres says:

    Quite note: Yes, I do see a difference between the treatment of women in Christian and Islamic societies today, sure. But Tom, to what should be attribute that? Was it women who read the Bible and thought “By golly! God thinks that men and women are equal!” No, of course not. The Bible is *quite clear* that women are subordinate. Thus, thanks to *secular* influences — i.e., influences that are not Christian in their origin, but arose from smart people using their rational faculties — women now enjoy extraordinary freedoms. In other words, traditional, conservative Christianity lost (and is still losing) that battle. In the Muslim world, though, the values of religion are winning. Hopefully soon everyone will come around and see that women should not be subordinate (contra the Bible) nor should they every be beaten (contra the Koran).

  39. Phil Torres says:

    I should add that, if you want a bunch of good examples of traditional, “Christian” views concerning women (and how they ought not venture beyond the kitchen!), do a google search for feminism or women’s rights and Fox News. I’ve seen numerous occassions were Fox News commentators, such as Bill O’Reilly, have explicitly opposed women getting careers. And, of course, the ideological background of such views is Christianity.

  40. Tom Gilson says:

    Thank you, Mr. Philosopher Phil, for that stunning display of argumentum ad go-look-up-my-position-on-Google.

    No thanks. If you have something to say, please exercise your right to say it. But we can’t have a reasoned discussion over something you found on the Internet somewhere without specifying it.

    As for your understanding of Christian history, you insist on persisting in your ignorance, and I give up. Not because there’s nothing more that could be said, but because you don’t care to hear it. You see as far back as about 1960, maybe.

    But hey, thanks for acknowledging the corrections on “affirm,” on whether I was wrong concerning feminism and its effect on women (which I never expressed an opinion on), and on slavery. That shows real, genuine character for you to be so forthcoming in admitting your misreadings and misunderstandings. It really adds to the quality of discussion when two people can actually come to a point of agreed understanding on at least one or two things if not on everything, and I want to thank you for it.

    But wait–I just looked again, and this time I don’t see those acknowledgments from you. Did something happen? I didn’t erase them, I assure you.

    Sigh.

  41. Tom Gilson says:

    Here’s the deal, Phil. The Bible does acknowledge (and yes, affirm) a difference between men and women. Duh. It also states a distinction in their roles. We could discuss those things sanely and in proper context, but you don’t seem interested. You’re only interested in proving that Christianity is just about as bad as Islam with respect to women, which is manifestly, palpably false. You take an extreme position, and you won’t budge from it.

    In response we’re simply telling you that your extreme position is completely wrong. I’ll admit it: we’re acting defensive here. Not that we need to be, since we’re not in a genuinely weak position, but because your bristling extremism calls for a defensive response, not a dialogue.

    If you took up a conversational, dialogue-friendly stance on this, I would too. If you cared to hear more about women in early Christian history, I’d be interested in sharing more.

    But you haven’t shown the slightest interest in anything except for establishing your extreme position. You’ve demonstrated no actual interest in our position, except to request one source.

    If you’re not interested in hearing what we have to say, I’m not interested in perpetuating this pretense of dialogue with you.

    And by the way, your lack of acknowledgment of some corrections doesn’t contribute to the spirit of dialogue, either.

  42. BillT says:

    Phil,

    Just a couple of brief points.

    The use of fire as a metaphor is pretty common. It’s been used metaphorically throughout literary history. Your Matt 25 example describes hell as being thrown outside into the darkness. How can there be darkness if there is fire? Your James 3 example calls the tounge “a fire” and that it “sets the whole course of his life on fire”. Hmmmm…. Could these be a hints that metaphor is in use?

    The Bible contains a number of literary genres. That one is being used in a particular verse/chapter/book does not preclude a different one being used elsewhere.

  43. Tom Gilson says:

    Thank you for expanding on that point, Bill.

  44. Debilis says:

    It strikes me as odd that I’ve run across so many atheists who have complained that I don’t take the Bible literally enough.

    I don’t expect most of these people to be aware that fundamentalism is an historically recent movement, but it seems strange to be so disinterested in discussing the Christianity I actually believe in, as opposed to some strange caricature.

    I can’t even say that this is because such people have a better argument against fundamentalists. Much as I disagree with the position myself, I see none of the reasons why I’d reject it in such rants. Rather the “disproof” that is offered is scorn and mockery against ideas which strike that person as silly.

    It seems to go unnoticed that this is an emotional reaction, not an act of reason.

  45. Victoria says:

    @Debilis
    Oh, that has not gone unnoticed in this blog :) We see it all too often.

  46. Debilis says:

    Fair enough.
    In fact, that’s why I enjoy this site. I feel a little less like I’m taking crazy pills.

  47. Debilis says:

    @ Phil Torres,
    This keeps coming up with both theists and non-theists, so I think I’ll start asking directly:

    Is ignoring the central topic of the post (Stefanelli’s suggestion about how one should treat Christians) tacit support of his ideas, or tacit concession that these ideas aren’t worth defending?

    To shift the topic onto other points seems rather like an attempt to make Stefanelli’s position appear credible without actually defending it.

    Am I missing something?

  48. Victoria says:

    In this case, I think it is a matter of refuting the caricature of Christian teaching that Stefanelli’s proposal represents. Not the fact of hell itself, but the idea that atheists seem to think that this represents Christianity.

    What they don’t realize is that Biblical Christianity is like a work of mobile art – remember those things? When you hang it by the key fulcrum, the whole thing is beautifully balanced and makes sense – if you try to hang it by any other point you get a tangled mess.
    Well, Christianity’s key fulcrum is the Lord Jesus Christ – everything is balanced around Him. That is what we strive to teach our children.

  49. Victoria says:

    And then of course, there is the caricature of a wooden, word-for-word literalism that Phil insists upon…

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