Tom Gilson

Disappointing: Seidensticker’s Atheist Critique Not Even Semi-Serious After All

It’s strange. You’d think an atheist as sure of himself as Bob Seidensticker would be more serious about it. Last week he blogged the question, “How Good Was Jesus if He Didn’t Eliminate Slavery?” I answered by explaining how the the principles Jesus’ taught cut every leg out from under slavery, even as he focused on his mission of revolution at the level of the heart.

And now Seidensticker has doubled down — in italics, even! — complaining Jesus didn’t declare that slavery was wrong.

Jesus declared that greed and self-centeredness are wrong. He proved by demonstration that all persons are of equal worth. He taught love for all. That was insurrection enough on its own to get himself executed for it. Still, he didn’t use the word slavery, though, so, hey, “How good was he?”

This was (per the title) Seidensticker’s second of four parts in his answer to a blog post I wrote about my book Too Good to be False, and a rather parenthetical post at that. If he wants to mount a serious critique he ought to at least find out what he’s critiquing — meaning the book, of course.

Barker’s and Seidensticker’s Silly Simile

But it’s hard to be optimistic he’d be serious even then — not when he closes a blog post with a quip like this. He’s quoting Dan Barker, former evangelical preacher and co-head of American Atheists:

Asking, “If there is no god, what is the purpose of life?” is like asking, “If there is no master, whose slave will I be?”

It makes me wonder what’s going on in Barker’s brain, too, because, well, no, asking the one is not at all like asking the other. Not even close. When I sat down to write this I thought I’d analyze the two halves of the simile to show how disanalogous they are, but on a second look, I’m afraid I’d be insulting your intelligence. It’s too obvious.

I’ll proceed anyway, with apologies. First, having a purpose in life is generally considered a universal good. Why compare it to “whose slave will I be?” What connection do they have? I could beat that one up further but you you don’t need me to.

Getting God Too Obviously Wrong

Second, and far more importantly, Barker and Seidensticker set “god” and “slave-holding master” in apposition as if they had something in common. Now, if there is a god for whom that’s true, I don’t believe in it either. It’s certainly not the God I believe in. The God in whom I believe is a God to serve, but in the freedom that flows from love, gratefulness, and a relationship that gives us power to do what we know is right. (This is straight gospel teaching. Did Barker never read Galatians?)

Our God is not like any slave-holder they’ve encountered. He created us, so he knows what best fulfills the design for which he made us. All he asks us is that we be what we were made to be. He loves us, so he wants our best. His authority is true authority, not paid for with money but existing from before the foundation of the world.

And as Jesus said in Mark 10:45, “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” What slaveholder serves his slaves? What slaveholder dies for them?

Jesus called his followers friends. They chose for themselves the title “bond-servant,” and gladly so, for they knew whom they were serving: The God who rightly held all authority, and who loved them to the uttermost. They knew the alternative was true slavery, to sin and to death.

I need to re-emphasize this, though: Barker and Seidensticker have a view of God that they despise. I despise the same god they hate, for it’s a false and evil conception that they have in mind. I would so gladly hear them engage with the true God, if only they would. But they aren’t.

How Could They Miss It So Badly?

How Barker missed the truth of God’s freedom in his Bible reading, I do not understand. I could speculate, and there would be grounds for my guess in what I know of human nature. We all have a rebellious streak that says, “I’m not serving anyone! Not even in love! Not even One who’s worthy of that love! Not even when serving him means I’m set free from being enslaved to myself and my sin!”

I’m describing myself there: I have that streak in me, too. Thank God that he broke through and brought me to my senses! I suspect that’s what’s going on in Dan Barker, not based on any direct personal knowledge of him, just on human nature.

As for how Seidensticker came to quote him in something that biblically mindless, though, I have an additional guess: Bob Seidensticker doesn’t care to understand what he critiques.

I hope he reads my book more seriously than that.

Image Credit(s): Hunter Johnson/Unsplash.

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