Thinking Christian

Thinking Christianity for church, home, and community

“The ‘Nones’ and Their Parents”

Posted on Jan 29, 2013 by Tom Gilson

Stories of young “nones,” in my latest BreakPoint Worldview and You column:

Yusuf thinks some of God’s commands must be crazy. Kyle says the facts of science and evolution prove there’s no God. Melissa can’t understand what’s wrong with homosexuality. Rigoberto was raised in a religious home, but his father drank a lot, and his family was wracked with painful tragedies. Lizz thinks the most important thing is to make sure she gives meaning to this life, not the next. Miriam finds it enough to be alone with her thoughts.

They’re all young Americans, 23 to 30 years old, who shared their stories in a recent NPR report on why young people are moving away from religion.

It’s enough to bring a parent to tears.

Strikingly, though, next to the importance of their parents’ example, what seems to have most affected these six men and women was the mixed-up teaching they had received.

[From The 'Nones' and Their Parents]

(Some of the young people in this article were raised as members of other religions besides Christianity, but we can learn from their experiences, too).

Raising children to remain in the faith has never been easy. There’s never been any guaranteed outcome. In today’s world, though, there’s no way around a parent’s responsibility to teach what we believe and why. That’s why I’ve initiated this new direction in blogging. It’s still getting off the ground, but in the end my hope and plan is to make it a place for parents and others to find just what you need when you need it.

In the meantime, we had all better get our examples in order, our knees on the ground in prayer, and our mindsets prepared for intense teaching in the midst of an intensely contrary culture.

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48 Responses to “ “The ‘Nones’ and Their Parents” ”

  1. Imagine all the pain and suffering young people are causing their parents by going to college, thinking for themselves, and then deciding that Allah doesn’t exist. There’s a whole portion of humanity — about 1 billion — who are lamenting the loss of young people, who are getting increasingly good educations, being exposed to secular values like feminism, and so on. The future is looking so bleak with so few people believing in Allah!

    Exact same goes for Christianity. Tom says: “In today’s world, though, there’s no way around a parent’s responsibility to teach what we believe and why.” I think it’s the lack of an intellectually compelling “why” that’s leading many kids — especially as they get educated, as Tim points out in one of his lectures — away from believing that 2000 years ago a man was born a virgin and that man was both fully human and fully diving and then he died on a cross (why? Oh, to save us from our sins, thanks to a guy named Adam who lived in a garden long before and ate an apple he shouldn’t have) and then he ascended into heaven to be with his (where “he” = God) Father (where “Father” = God, if trinitarianism is correct). This may have made sense to people long ago, but it certainly has no place in an increasingly smart, educated society.

    Oh, and also things like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6H9BuxeNro0

  2. Tom Gilson says:

    Phil,

    Do us a favor, please, and don’t hijack the discussion. Your comment is filled with unsupported and unsubstantiated assertions about Christianity, trying to pick a fight over whether the faith is true. That’s not what this post was about. Not everything I write here is for that purpose, and I would like this post to stay on topic.

    Thanks.

  3. Just telling you why young people are leaving.

  4. Tom Gilson says:

    You told us nothing of interest, since your reasons are both incomplete and distorted.

    You didn’t substantiate your assertions, I’m not going to substantiate what I just said, since it’s not the current topic and I’ve done it enough elsewhere; and that’s enough now, thanks.

  5. SteveK says:

    There’s Phil, giving us the clear answer to the question posed by Chapter 19 of his own book.

  6. Beez says:

    Tom, to perform a successful hijacking, one must usually possess a weapon of sufficient influence to sway a person’s inclinations. At best, Phil has merely provided an object-lesson on how not to win (or make) an argument. Meanwhile, I can only assume the hostility excreted on this thread is to compensate for the frustration that so many institutions of higher learning have failed to intimidate and eliminate any notion of a higher power out of every last one of their graduates.

    Meanwhile, I would posit that in many cases, the drift away from Christianity doesn’t come from a careful consideration and rejection of the belief system – but instead usually comes from conflict and strife over one particular issue. Often, the battle lines are drawn over that issue, and the stakes are continually raised until it BECOMES an argument over the entire belief system (which is a needless and counterproductive approach).

  7. philwynk says:

    As near as I can tell, Phil Torres is arguing that young people are abandoning Christianity because they accept some atheist’s word for it that the silliest, most completely insipid version of the faith that they heard in kindergarten is what the faith actually teaches — and that that insanely silly claim is reinforced by the comedy team of Steve and Steve.

    I’m not certain what “going to college” has to do with this, unless he’s trying to say that our kids hear even more of this mendacious garbage from their professors.

    At any rate, if Phil is eager to confess to deliberately misleading young Christians in this fashion, I’m willing to accept his confession as accurate.

    Phil, it’s your fault, ’cause you’re a liar.

    There. Happy now?

  8. Tom Gilson says:

    That’s probably enough about Phil now… thanks.

  9. Tom Gilson says:

    What about parents, their children, and teaching?

  10. Tom Gilson says:

    Phil, it’s rude to bust in on a conversation and keep trying to change the subject when someone has politely asked you not to.

  11. DyingAtheist says:

    I think the great challenge facing any religious parent is the sea of information available to their children. They will from their first conscious moment be bathed in a flood of different opinions, ideas, beliefs and proclaimed truths. How does a parent of any religion hope to show that their religion is the right one? To an objective observor how can they be told apart? Far better to put aside the story of the virgin or the elephant god and focus on the philosophy. Do it’s central philosophies enlighten or improve me? I say all of this, as an atheist, but entirely without negativity. If I can place christianity next to buddhism or the other alternatives and see it as the greater, then I will be drawn to it. It is time perhaps to move beyond the superstitions, created to comprehend the unknowable chaos of our world, and embrace the core value of ancient truths we have amassed. Gods and magic are the past, but they should not undermine the value of so many years searching for truth. God is what we call the darkness outside the light of understanding. I personally would want my children to say instead “I do not know what is out there, but I will build a fire”.

  12. Tom Gilson says:

    DyingAtheist,

    I hope you will live.

    I don’t understand why you find it difficult to tell the religions apart–especially Christianity and Buddhism.

    Christianity has central philosophies, to be sure, and yet it also has historical and relational realities. There’s something solid there. It’s certainly more tangible than, for example, “the core values of ancient truths we have amassed,” which are vague and contradictory at best, unless we choose one ancient Truth.

    And I want to challenge your thinking on something. You ask us to put aside our superstitions. You also say, “God is what we call the darkness outside the light of understanding.” I think that opinion is outside the light of understanding, and arguably no better than any superstition. The Christian conception of God was not derived out of ignorance but out of experience, revelation, and understanding.

    These are the kinds of things I’d encourage parents to learn how to teach children, by the way. I can’t take time to go into it here, except to encourage you to explore some evidences for Christianity. This is not a quick process. Those links are a start, though.

  13. there’s no way around a parent’s responsibility to teach what we believe and why.

    I share this view, from the atheist side. My wife is a devout Christian and we chose (before we were married) to raise the kids as Christian. Nevertheless, I enjoy talking with them (10, 6, 5) about my observations and experiences on subjects of religious belief and practice. I think they are very fortunate to be in a family like ours and to be in a country of such diverse people, opinions, and practices.

  14. ordinaryseeker says:

    I agree with Larry. I have two children, now young adults. One believes in God, in a Christian sort of way, and the other is an atheist. When they were growing up, I tried to provide them with information about as many diverse views as possible and this is what they chose.

  15. Debilis says:

    It’s obviously too simplistic to say that this generation is the first to notice something problematic about religious practice (particularly when there is nothing new in the critiques).

    I’d have to agree with Tom, that this has a lot to do with the fact that the young have a very different understanding of what Christianity is than past generations.

    They also seem to have a very different understanding of what atheism is. Not only has the definition changed recently, but I’m interested in Phil’s use of the phrase “secular values”. Most generations would have found it completely weird to suggest that any particular set of values can be attached to secularism.

    I definitely find it weird myself.

  16. @Debilis:

    Regarding “secular values”: the Bible certainly doesn’t say “women should be seen as equals to men.” It says, quite explicitly, just the opposite. Women should submit to men; men should be the head of the household; women should be silent; etc. The Bible certainly doesn’t say “Slaves? No one should ever, ever be a slave to anyone else, for obvious moral reasons.” It commands slaves to obey their masters, and it does this quite explicitly. When blacks were fighting for their freedom, many white slave owners cited the Bible in support of their positions. The Bible certainly doesn’t say “gays should be accepted in society.” It says, explicitly, that a man who sleeps with another man should be killed.

    And so on, and so on. It’s thanks to the Enlightenment, to the putting aside of “revealed” dogma accepted by faith (rather than thoughtfulness and reason, based on checkable evidence) that humans have made the moral progress that we’ve made. In every one of the cases mentioned above, there was strong and significant resistance from religious individuals. In the West, secularism has largely won the battle — and is continuing to win on such issues as the rights of gay people to sign a contract with the government; in other parts of the world, religion still has a hold on morality. Thus, women are still subjugated by men, gays are murdered, and so on. As numerous studies show, by far the best places to live in the world are the most secular. (See Phil Zuckerman’s empirical studies, for example.)

    That’s what I mean by “secular values.”

  17. Tom Gilson says:

    Phil, as long as you continue to ignore historical context and the historical effects of Christianity, you will likely continue to spout ignorant nonsense like this.

    By the way, I’m selective with whom I use such strong language. I don’t call someone ignorant if they are in the just-learning phase, if they are willing to learn, etc. It’s no moral failure to believe what you’ve been told to believe.

    But just like the stereotyped religious believer you are so fond of casting as set in her ways, Phil, so are you set in yours. And not only that, but you have studied philosophy at Harvard and you have written a book. For you not to know better is nothing but foolish. It’s ignorant in a morally culpable sense of the term. You ought to know better but you resist.

    You need to discover the truth of the soul of the modern world. There are two good books there; I recommend you start with Mangalwadi.

  18. Tom Gilson says:

    And so, Phil, I plead with you: seek knowledge and seek the good. Seek the forgiveness of God; for all of us need it desperately.

    Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!
    Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
    What man is there who desires life
    and loves many days, that he may see good?
    Keep your tongue from evil
    and your lips from speaking deceit.
    Turn away from evil and do good;
    seek peace and pursue it.

    Psalm 34:8, 12-14

  19. Ordinaryseeker says:

    Phil and Tom,
    It seems clear to me that the major religions can be used to help people, or to oppress them. Its not the religion itself, but the way its interpreted that determines that.

  20. BillT says:

    “This may have made sense to people long ago, but it certainly has no place in an increasingly smart, educated society.”

    “I think the great challenge facing any religious parent is the sea of information available to their children.”

    These from two different atheist posters who will soon be seeking medical attention for the arm strains they’ve incurred from vigorously patting themselves on the back. “All us smart folks have see through the sham of this religious stuff.” This, of course, not to mention the very thinly veiled insult regarding all who dare not measure up to their intellectual acumen. But hey, that’s just the way they roll.

    All the while they seem completely oblivious to the fact that their beliefs leave them unable to answer any of the more interesting questions life presents us. For instance, how life came from non-life, or consciousness from unconsciousness, complexity with natural order from randomness and chaos, rationality from irrationality or in the big picture how something can come from nothing.

    But perhaps they will surprise us with something more than their fellow atheist Larry Tanner did when he replied to the above with “My rationality tells me to worry about today, and to worry about the real world in front of me and not to worry too much about how or why something came from nothing.” Perhaps, but given their past efforts I’ll wait and see.

  21. Well, gee, BillT:

    All the while they seem completely oblivious to the fact that their beliefs leave them unable to answer any of the more interesting questions life presents us. For instance, how life came from non-life, or consciousness from unconsciousness, complexity with natural order from randomness and chaos, rationality from irrationality or in the big picture how something can come from nothing.

    With respect, your beliefs don’t leave you able to answer these questions. Fortunately, we all can ask the questions and devise ways to attempt to find answers. That’s what we’re all doing right?

    Please take my remark about “not worrying” in the spirit I intend, and that is to recognize that I have a real life to lead. I have a household and a career, a neighborhood and a set of larger communities I belong to. There’s no way I can let myself be paralyzed by not having a satisfactory answer to some of the interesting questions you cite. And by the way, I think I mentioned before that I find Gary Drescher’s account of answering the questions pretty compelling.

    Finally, I think the charge of smug intellectual self-satisfaction cuts both ways. For the two quotes you pull, seeing “we’re so smart” implied there, I see it all the time from religious people of every stripe who arrogantly assert the eternal truth of their doctrines. So what are we to do?

  22. “Finally, I think the charge of smug intellectual self-satisfaction cuts both ways. For the two quotes you pull, seeing “we’re so smart” implied there, I see it all the time from religious people of every stripe who arrogantly assert the eternal truth of their doctrines. So what are we to do?”

    The fact is that, statistically, atheists are smarter. This is just a statistical fact. Atheists also know more about world religions than religious people (Christians knowing the least!). This is also a fact. And as Tim has pointed out, more and more young people are leaving religion as they get a college education. (Know anyone who’s ever abandoned evolution after studying evolutionary biology in depth? No, of course not, because knowing more about evolutionary biology only strengthens one’s confidence in the truth of evolution. But know anyone who’s lost faith after reading theology, philosophy and textual criticism? It is, indeed, common for this to happen.)

    I agree that this fact should not be thrown in the face of Muslims, Hindus, Christians, and so on. But just to be clear, it’s a fact that lower IQ predicts religious belief (as well as conservative political identities).

    I will respond to some of the other points momentarily.

  23. BillT says:

    “For the two quotes you pull, seeing “we’re so smart” implied there, I see it all the time from religious people of every stripe who arrogantly assert the eternal truth of their doctrines.”

    Believing your point of view is true is not the same as being smug or arrogant about it and using it to insult others. If you are accusing me or others here of that please be specific.

    “With respect, your beliefs don’t leave you able to answer these questions.”

    With respect, you’re wrong.

    “The fact is that, statistically, atheists are smarter. This is just a statistical fact.”

    “…this fact should not be thrown in the face of Muslims, Hindus, Christians, and so on.”

    He says while throwing it in our faces. Yikes!

  24. BillT:

    If you are accusing me or others here of that please be specific.

    No, I am not accusing you or anyone else here.

    Then:

    With respect, you’re wrong.

    If you say so. You didn’t attempt to sketch out the answers to the interesting questions, so I’ll just take you at your word.

    You come across to me as hostile. Let’s please not dialogue further.

  25. Tom Gilson says:

    Hi, ordinaryseeker,

    I really agree with you (#19) and yet with some cautions. You are right that the way we interpret religions can make all the difference. My concern with that, though, is that there is a limit to how a religion can be interpreted without leaving it altogether, at least on the topic in question. Christianity’s teaching on men and women, for example, could never be extended to mean that a husband can be domineering, self-serving, abusive, or lording his position over his wife (Eph. 5:25-30). And yet as I understand Islam, all of that is allowed except (depending on the interpreter) abuse.

  26. Tom Gilson says:

    Phil,

    Know anyone who’s ever abandoned evolution after studying evolutionary biology in depth?

    Dean Kenyon. Michael Behe. Michael Denton. …

  27. Tom Gilson says:

    I’m not particularly disturbed over the statistics on atheism and education. There’s no intelligence test for the family of God. And thank God for that!

  28. Tom Gilson says:

    Larry, I think you take a minority position when you say theism is unable to answer the questions BillT raised.

    Let’s not jump to accusations of hostility, please. You made a bare assertion that his beliefs left him unable to answer those questions. He made a bare assertion back to you. Neither one of you went any further than to say the other person’s position was wrong. He said it in fewer words and with more direct language, but in the end you said the same thing to each other.

    To support your assertions in this forum would be a challenge, because they require considerable work to explain. We ought to recognize that and see what we can do to speak appropriately with one another in light of that reality.

  29. That’s an interesting read about people choosing “None” increasingly in the next generation.

    But surely we find this notable precisely because there is some kind of expectation that as a general rule children will be raised “to remain in the faith”, as you put it Tom. This generality requires some explanation, because historically we have seen over many generations, Muslims tend to raise Muslim kids, Christians tend to raise Christian kids and so on. Each religion, and indeed within each religion every denomination and sect, is more than a set of beliefs, it is also a cultural way of life that sustains something of communal importance to those who practise it.

    This could of course be compatible with the actual truth of one particular set of religious beliefs. But it would still be the case that all the other (incorrect) religions have a strong tendency to produce adherents of exactly the same incorrect persuasion. And in doing so, their practice is an important part of their identity, the foundation of morality, and so on.

    Now, if has been argued by others on this site, religious truth is attainable by reason, on the basis of evidence available to us, then should we not celebrate greater freedom on the part of children to be unconstrained by the beliefs of their parents? Because that gives them the opportunity to arrive at their own position.

  30. BillT says:

    Larry,

    I didn’t “…attempt to sketch out the answers to the interesting questions.” because they tend to run book length. You were the one who came here and explained how you came to your beliefs after long deliberation and “…studying the claims, reasoning, and evidence that people brought out.”

    Yet, you also seem to believe that “..your beliefs don’t leave you able to answer these questions.” Which is it? The answers to these questions are basic to the Christian apologetic. There are dozens and dozens of examples available. Are you unfamiliar with any of them?

    If you think that being asked to support the positions you’ve taken is coming accross as hostile, I apologize. I thought that was what we were here for.

  31. BillT says:

    “This generality requires some explanation, because historically we have seen over many generations, Muslims tend to raise Muslim kids, Christians tend to raise Christian kids and so on.”

    Actually, the history of Christianity shows a great deal more than that. Christianity, unlike the rest of the world’s religions, has had a geographic scope and movement that contradicts the above explanation. It began in the Middle East, moved to Europe and Eastern Europe and Russia, on the Americas, converted Africa, is reconverting South and Central America, became the majority religion of South Korea and (I believe Taiwan), is a major movement in mainland China and is making inroads in India. That would belie the “Christians tend to raise Christian kids” explanation. In fact, adult conversion is the main tool and explanation for all of the above. When you try to lump the world’s religions together, Christianity always seems to get in the way.

  32. Tom Gilson says:

    Frank, you say,

    Should we not celebrate greater freedom on the part of children to be unconstrained by the beliefs of their parents? Because that gives them the opportunity to arrive at their own position.

    Only if you thought “beliefs” were unconnected to knowledge and to truth could you suggest that. But the Christian view is that our “beliefs” are true with respect to what is.

    Suppose we let our children arrive at their own beliefs regarding, say, geocentricity (my computer keeps changing that to “egocentricity”!). Would we celebrate anything but the correct answer—the one that we believe is true?

    In the same way, we are convinced there are true answers to questions concerning the nature of reality, the human condition, the solution to the human condition, and so on. There are false answers, too. We would only celebrate them arriving at the true ones, for the false ones are deadly.

    Of course we celebrate them attaining intellectual freedom as well; but intellectual freedom does not mean the ability to believe whatever one chooses. At least, not when there are right answers and wrong answers. Intellectual freedom does mean the ability to choose to believe the sun revolves around the earth and the planets move in epicycles; but here freedom is not the highest value: correct thinking is higher. Intellectual freedom also means the freedom to choose to believe there is no God, but correct thinking here is also a higher value.

    If that seems wrong to you, then I submit it’s because you think there is no real right or wrong answer to these religious issues, and intellectual freedom need not be constrained by such concerns. To which, I would disagree.

  33. The answers to these questions are basic to the Christian apologetic. There are dozens and dozens of examples available. Are you unfamiliar with any of them?

    Yes, I’m familiar with these answers, and how to access them. They can be very interesting.

  34. Robert says:

    the battle is clearly for the children (and not for their well being) and it’s not just the Parents of the ‘Nones’. A must read by Robert Oscar Lopez (a “recovered” bisexual now hetero-married) is at American Thinker that brings light to the ultimate goal of SS marriage and why it must be challenged. see http://www.americanthinker.com/2013/01/the_oncoming_human_rights_crisiscaused_by_the_lgbt_movement.html

  35. Interesting reply Tom, thanks. No I don’t think beliefs are unconnected to knowledge and to truth, although I can be sceptical of the claim of any human being to know exactly what that knowledge or truth is. In clearcut cases maybe we can have high confidence, and everyone is now agreed about the earth and sun for example. When it comes to the human condition, let alone the solution to the human condition, the situation is very different.

    If that seems wrong to you, then I submit it’s because you think there is no real right or wrong answer to these religious issues, and intellectual freedom need not be constrained by such concerns. To which, I would disagree.

    I’m not completely sure I understand what you’re stating here. I do believe there is a “right or wrong”, i.e. true or false, answer to factual questions such as “Is there a God?” or “Did Jesus rise from the dead?”, and as we know we do disagree on which answer it is in these cases.

    I do not accept that there has to be one “right or wrong” solution to the human condition, to use your phrase, or to put it another way, a definite best way to live. I would hope to leave my children equipped to address this themselves, and yes this might mean that they arrive at a different answer.

  36. Tom Gilson says:

    Good points, Frank.

    I’m not saying there’s a “definite best way to live,” but I do say that there is a definitely true reality to which our lives must conform as we seek the best way to live. Would you agree?

    And I wonder, how would you “leave your children equipped”? (That would be my hope for my children, too, by the way.)

    And what if, in arriving at a different answer, they arrived at a completely wrong answer? Would you celebrate that?

  37. Victoria says:

    But know anyone who’s lost faith after reading theology, philosophy and textual criticism? It is, indeed, common for this to happen.)

    And what about those of us (especially those of us with post-graduate degrees of all sorts) who have read theology, philosophy and textual criticism ( I think Phil doesn’t understand the difference between textual criticism and ‘higher’ criticism here) and who have not lost our faith? Or those of us who came to faith in Jesus Christ as young adults, even while were studying in our chosen fields (like physics for me) at secular universities no less. I suppose I should tell my associates at the American Scientific Affiliation (www.asa3.org) that we are all just deluded morons, according to Phil Torres :)

    Your Jedi mind tricks won’t work on us, boy :)

    BTW, for those readers who don’t know what textual criticism is – it is a methodology for recovering the original text of a document by examining and comparing all of the available copies of it. In the case of the New Testament documents, textual criticism has allowed scholars to recover the original words of its authors, from manuscripts copied over the centuries, and in different geographic locations. Most NT scholars (regardless of their position on the theological spectrum, with a few notable exceptions who have big axes to grind), are sure that we have the original text to at least 95% accuracy, and that the remaining uncertainties have no impact on core Christian doctrines.
    For the interested reader, you can start here. The articles by Daniel Wallace are particularly good.

  38. BillT says:

    For a thoughtful, erudite, comprehensive, intelligent, explanation of the philosphical, cultural, intellectual and historical influences that have brought Western culture to it’s current place in terms of its beliefs, I would offer
    “Christ and nothing”. It’s long and requires thoughtful reading. It is well worth it. (Full discolsure: This link was posted here recently. I’m glad to post it again.)

  39. Tom @36

    Ok, with my phrase “definite best way to live”, I wasn’t trying to put the words in your mouth by the way, I’m just trying to get a handle on the idea of “the solution to the human condition”. Anyway, we can both agree we’re seeking on the former, good.

    there is a definitely true reality to which our lives must conform as we seek the best way to live. Would you agree?

    No problem signing up to a definitely true reality, and necessarily our lives must conform to it, for it is reality and it doesn’t yield. So I agree to that. However, my caveat on scepticism of human knowledge applies, because our understanding of reality is always finite and incomplete.

    And I wonder, how would you “leave your children equipped”? (That would be my hope for my children, too, by the way.)

    It’s hard not to be too glib in response, aware as I am of how far short of any supposed ideal I must be! But we (myself and my partner) do our best as parents, trying to build a loving and enriching environment, providing opportunities, ensuring their education, nurturing their respect for themselves and others. Mom and apple pie is the phrase, I believe! Anyway, the reality is a bit more chaotic than that but we muddle through.

    As far as the choices we are discussing are concerned, I want them to know how to think critically, and how to reflect on their lives. There are many qualities of character I would wish to help them develop, including inner strength and willingness to learn from others.

    And what if, in arriving at a different answer, they arrived at a completely wrong answer? Would you celebrate that?

    Well, what would a wrong answer look like? The worst answer might be a damaging and destructive life, say, of crime or drug addiction. That’s an example, but I can think of many things that would make me sad, even heartbroken, in their future. I fear these, might not every parent? No doubt I would blame myself. I sincerely hope I don’t reach that sort of outcome. And indeed, I don’t genuinely expect it, but the future is unknown.

  40. @Victoria:

    “I think Phil doesn’t understand the difference between textual criticism and ‘higher’ criticism here”

    Why would you think this? What have I said to indicate a failure to make this (quite elementary) distinction?

  41. Victoria says:

    @Phil
    Would you care to explain how Textual Criticism can lead to a loss of faith? While you are at it, can you explain why leading NT scholars, who are Evangelical or Conservative Christians (that is, accept the Bible’s own claims about itself, and are Theists) use Textual Criticism and its results quite happily.
    Read Daniel Wallace, Darrell Bock, N. T. Wright, for example. Textual Criticism has given us a New Testament text that we can have confidence in – that we have what the original authors wrote.

    I just wanted to make that clear for our readers who might not know the difference, and be taken in by your deliberately misleading statements.

  42. Victoria says:

    There are also issues of determining authorship and date for each of the NT gospels and epistles. There is certainly more spirited debate in the NT scholarly community in this area; interestingly enough, sides seem to be chosen between the skeptics (who are anti-supernaturalists at heart) and the ‘believers’ (those who are theists and accept the Bible’s own claims about itself) and the fence-sitters (those who seem to be willing to give the documents a fair hearing on their own merits without necessarily taking a strong position for or against supernaturalism). Now, if one only reads the works and popular writings of the skeptics, one will come away with a very negative view of the Bible; the wise student will look at all the sides of the debate – if you do that, dear readers, I think you will find that the skeptical arguments are not nearly as damning as they would like you to believe, and that Christians are reasonably justified in our position.

    For a good introduction to how Christians can use and benefit from the critical analysis tools developed by NT scholarship, as well as understanding the presuppositions and limitations of these tools, I would recommend George Eldon Ladd, The New Testament and Criticism here. You might also find F. F. Bruce’s The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? here a useful discussion on authorship and date issues. Both are a bit dated now, but they are not bad places to start.

    If only it were that simple – stubborn, rebellious pride that hates God and wants nothing to do with Him, the hardness of heart that sin produces, and outright spiritual deception actually have a greater influence on rejecting the Bible and the Person it points to than ‘intellectual difficulties’ that skeptics constantly trot out. This is why it takes the work of God’s Holy Spirit to tunnel through the potential barriers to faith.
    Dear readers, don’t take the word of angry atheists and apostates so easily. Don’t even take our word for it – look at all the arguments – do the hard work, and look at your own hearts and lives and ask yourselves what the real reasons for your unbelief are, and given the stakes in this race, what is really holding you back?

  43. Victoria says:

    Dear readers
    For those of you who really want to learn about why Christians have confidence in our Bible, you can watch Tim McGrew’s excellent presentations:
    http://www.apologetics315.com/search/label/Tim%20McGrew

  44. Debilis says:

    @Phil
    I think I understand your use of the term “secular values”, but I don’t remotely understand why it is anything but misleading.

    First, I don’t think the Bible supports what you think it does, nor do I think secularization, in the abstract, supports the things you claim (or much of anything).

    The most obvious point is the fact that secular movements also created the gulags and the Reign of Terror. Personally, I’d never imply that all atheists support these things, but this is precisely what one is saying when one speaks of “secular values”– that secularization is a singular force in history, having specific values.

    Any secular person who demands that Christians accept everything that has ever been done in the name of God should accept everything that has been done in the name of secularism–rather than cherry pick the pleasant parts of the movement.

    Obviously, this is absurd. “Religion” and “secularism” are too broad to be treated this way. There are no such things as “secular values”, there may be “early twenty-first century euro-american values”, but that is all.

    And few secularists seem to realize how much the current values of our culture have been influenced by Christianity (the abolitionist movement, for instance was led by Christians inspired by their beliefs). A simplistic view of secularism as the white knight against the evil serpent of religion, then, is more fairy tale than anything else.

  45. “Personally, I’d never imply that all atheists support these things, but this is precisely what one is saying when one speaks of “secular values”– that secularization is a singular force in history, having specific values.”

    No, not at all. I’m using “secular values” in a literal sense: values that aren’t derived from any religion, religious doctrine, religious dogma, and so on. As mentioned before, people didn’t start thinking that women should be treated as equals to men because they suddenly started reading the Bible closer. Same goes with slavery. It’s an historical fact that white men in the US repeatedly used the Bible to justify the enslavement of blacks. “Good Christian people” support the subjugation of Africans. This is an historical fact. Indeed, it’s because people *stopped* reading the Bible literally — i.e., assuming that it actually means what it actually says — and *started* using their own brains that they came to reject slavery, accept women and — the big issue today — accept gays as equal *under the law*. (Note: marriage is a *legal* issue.) Strictly speaking, these values *are* secular values, since they don’t come from religion.

    Imagine for a moment that they did come from religion and that, for example, women had been treated as equals for some two millennia, since the founding of Christianity! Just imagine for a moment that the Bible explicitly said “No one should ever, ever be owned by anyone else under any circumstances. This is a moral outrage, and it should always, always be admonished.” Just imagine if the Bible — inspired by God himself, a perfectly moral being — had said that. What a shame it didn’t. In fact, the Bible explicitly says “slaves, obey your masters.” One heck of a missed moral opportunity there, if you ask me.

    Thank goodness the world is getting more secular. In fact, if you look at the empirical stats, the most secular countries are also the most tolerant, the most educated, the wealthiest, the most generous (in terms of charitable donations relative to GDP), the least racist, the most feminist, the most peaceable (in terms of international relations), the least corrupt (according to recent studies), and so on. You can see some of Phil Zuckerman’s work for all the empirical details. In fact, just a couple centuries ago I might have been murdered by your people — Christians — for writing a post like this. Thank goodness for secularism indeed!

  46. Debilis says:

    If you are using “secular values” in this way, then I see no reason why my examples of the Gulags and the Reign of Terror don’t fit. Are you taking the stance that these acts are derived from religious values?

    And, yes, many people used (incorrect understandings of) the Bible to support slavery. But it is also an “historical fact” that the abolitionists were Christians, and cited their beliefs as a motivating force for their abolitionism. So, specifically, abolition DID happen because people started reading the Bible more closely.

    None of this is to say that we can draw sweeping conclusions from these individual facts. But, certainly, we cannot draw the conclusion that secular values are superior to theistic values.

    I also think that we’re drawing much cleaner lines between religious and secular ideas than actually ever occurs in reality. The equality of homosexual marriage is indeed more fully supported in the secular community (though many religious people support it). However, the idea that all people should be treated equally was introduced to western culture through Christianity. It is not at all clear, then, that this “secular value” is really as purely secular as your statement implies.

    Nor do I accept Zuckerman, of all people, as an unbiased source. Even the concept of claiming that secularism is superior because a culturally homogenous country like Sweden has fewer racial issues than a country like the United States is silly at best. Comparing countries like this is not only silly, but the data starts contradicting his conclusions once one includes the nations he left out of the study. Whether this was a lucky mistake for him, or deliberate tampering with evidence, the facts do not support his thesis.

    Simply put, secularism is not the savior of humanity. This fairy tale began with the Enlightenment propaganda; and much of the misinformation that began there still hasn’t been corrected in the popular consciousness.

  47. @Debilis: I have read your comments carefully; it would be nice if you would do the same.

    “Rather than simply cherry-pick, then, it makes much more sense to point out that there is no value that is intrinsically secular. Rather what you are calling “secular values” are actually “early twenty-first century euro-american values”.”

    Again, I’m using the word in the literal, dictionary sense. The values of gay rights, gender equality, anti-slavery, and so on, do not come from the Bible, from Christian doctrine, from any dogma accepted by faith. In fact, empirical studies show (see my book for citations of lots of peer-reviewed papers on this) that Christian communities are significantly more racist than secular ones, that Christians are less likely to support women’s rights, that they are (like Tom) more likely to deny gays the right to sign a contract with the government, and so on. The value system of the West is hugely influenced by the anit-religious movements of the Enlightenment. And thank goodness for that — as mentioned before, there was a time when you Christians would have put me to death for writing a comment like this!

    “And, yes, many people used (incorrect understandings of) the Bible to support slavery.”

    Ah! Incorrect to *you*, living today in our immensely progressive world (compared to back then). But if you were to talk to a good Christian person from back then, they would look at you the way Tom looks at Christians who support SSM: way off base. The point: times change, and few Christians realize just how much Christian “beliefs” have been influenced by non-Christian factors throughout history (such as the Enlightenment!).

    “But it is also an “historical fact” that the abolitionists were Christians, and cited their beliefs as a motivating force for their abolitionism. So, specifically, abolition DID happen because people started reading the Bible more closely.”

    Of course they were Christian — virtually everyone was, and not always by choice (there were plenty of periods in history where, as mentioned above, rejecting Christianity would have put one’s life in danger). But please, show me the line in the Bible that says: “Obviously! No one should ever be owned by anyone else. Ever. Sheesh. This is just moral common sense. And since this book is written / inspired by a morally perfect being, it’s made the tiny effort to do the moral thing and explicitly condemn all forms of slavery. So, slaves: *don’t* obey your masters!” Of course, the Bible says nothing of the sort (but just imagine if God had thought to include a line like that!!). If you could ask many Christians throughout history, they would tell you that *your* modern reading is quite incorrect, and that the proper interpretation is the obvious and straightforward one. “Slaves, obey your maters” means “slaves, don’t not obey your masters.”

    “Nor do I accept Zuckerman, of all people, as an unbiased source.”

    Have you even looked at his work. *Most* of the studies he cites in papers like this one (http://www.pitzer.edu/academics/faculty/zuckerman/zuckerman_on_atheism.pdf) are not his own. They are peer-reviewed, scientific / empirical studies authored by others. (Not surprised if you don’t accept these, though, because many Christians are quite anti-intellectual; see Tom Gilson, for example.) It’s like: many people think that Kanazawa came up with the claim that atheists are statistically more intelligent than religious individuals. He didn’t — all he did was propose a (bad, in my opinion) theory to explain this apparent fact.

    No, secularism will not save the world. But reason will. The gulag is clearly the result of insanity — of a major failure of human rationality. What the world needs is people who care about the evidence, who care about being reasonable, who care about the facts (like the studies produced by Zuckerman and others, which are evidence-based). The result will be no more gulags — but also no more people who believe, say, that Muhammad flew to heaven on a winged horse, that Joseph Smith was visited by the angel Moroni, or that two thousand years ago, in the infancy of human civilization, a man who was both (paradoxically) fully human and fully divine was born of an actual, literal virgin. Indeed, I’ve mentioned before, peer-reviewed studies (published in Nature!) show that analytical thinking results — measurably — in religious disbelief. What I’m advocating is not secularism per se, but analytical thinking. Secularism is a mere by-product of that.

  48. Debilis says:

    @Phil
    I agree that I should read your statements closely. I will do my best.
    But, to respond:

    I agree that that support of gay rights, feminism, etc. can in one sense be called “secular values”. My response was that these are not the only values that are secular in this sense. The values that led to the killing fields in Cambodia, for instance, are just as secular. Again, this is not to deny that support for gay marriage is secular. It is simply to deny that all secular values are as benevolent as the ones you chose to name.

    I also completely agree that, at certain times and places, you may have been killed for writing a blog post as you did. I maintain that this isn’t remotely in line with what Christ actually taught, but, either way, I have no idea what point you are trying to make here. Are you denying that there weren’t times and places (say, Soviet Russia) when I would not have been executed for writing the blog post that I did?

    Yes, people who used the Bible to support modern trans-atlantic chattel slavery were incorrect in their understanding. Not incorrect “to me”, incorrect. There is no reasonable exegesis that gets one to their conclusion. The term “slave” used in the Bible doesn’t refer to what they were defending, and it condemns many of the practices they were supporting. Simply put, they were simply wrong.

    Nor do I think it helps your case to claim that I simply believe this because I live in a “progressive” society. Not only were the abolitionists Christians, but there is no atheist statement prior to that movement condemning slavery. If this were a “secular value”, one would expect to have first heard it on the lips of non-religious persons, but this is not the case.

    As to the implication that these abolitionists were forced to be Christian, that would need to be supported. There were academics in the ninetieth century who were openly mocking Christianity. They were not being put to death. So, unless you can show that these people were also leading the abolitionist movement, I have no idea why you can declare that this is a “secular value”.

    But, no, there is no line in the Bible that declares that slavery should be abolished. But rather than scoff at the Bible before we think further than this, it might be good to consider the fact that slavery, in the sense of owning another person, didn’t exist in that culture. The word translated “slaves” in the passage which so offends modern people, actually refers to indentured servants.

    It is extremely anachronistic, at best, to claim that the Bible supports slavery.

    Setting aside accusations of anti-intellectualism, I agree that we should look at studies. My point is that I’m not willing to take Zuckerman’s word for it. This is not simply because this is not my personal experience, but because every time I search for studies, I find a pile of evidence that contradicts his findings. Either he’s tampered with his data, or he manages, by chance, to be the only scholar to find this exact thing. I’m personally not interested in which of these two happens to be the case. Either way, I don’t accept conclusions which are so consistently contradicted by the literature.

    However, I completely agree that reason is important, that the Gulags were (among other things) a break-down in reason. What this shows (again, among other things) is that being secular is not synonymous with being reasonable. I’ve met both reasonable and unreasonable atheists, and both reasonable and unreasonable theists.

    However, you seem to think that the simple fact that the claims of Christianity are not mundane means that they are not based in evidence or reason. Obviously, that is a big claim for which I would require support. You say that secularism is a by-product of analytical thinking, but I know of no valid syllogism that connects the two. Nor have I run across anyone who can give me a definition of “evidence” which doesn’t make “there is no evidence for Christianity” either trivial or false.

    So, as much as I agree that analysis, study, logic, evidence, and knowledge are crucial, I see no reason to think that secularism follows from them. Much less do I see how a simplistic, broad-brush tarring of all religious views fits with anything like a rigorous approach.

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