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Monday, November 16, 2009

Response: RustyLime's Interview with 'God Hates You. Hate Him Back' author CJ Werleman (Part 1)

The following is my response to RustyLime's interview of Courtenay Werleman. he original interview can be found at http://www.rustylime.com/show_article.php?id=3808. This response was posted there but I also wanted to post it here. I recommend reading his blog and then reading mine.


First, your history is wrong. Literalist interpretation (the method of fundamentalism) did not spawn Baptists, Evangelicals, or Creationists. Wow, if you cant even get basic chronology correct, what else will you miss? We’ll see.

Well to start, if his book is the “ultimate case” then I think we theists really have nothing to worry about since his “ultimate case” is easily refuted by people with even a cursory knowledge about the Bible, history, logic, philosophy or science.

Nothing about what he does could rightly be called “meticulously scrutini[zing]” since he simply combs over it to find statements that he can purposefully misconstrue, read out of context (both historically and textually), and ignores 2000 years of research and scholarship from both sides of the isle. (The shock for him will come when his book is panned by atheists who are scholars in the field and, at the very least, have a shred of intellectual and scholarly integrity.) Often the “contradictions” and “misconceptions” that he elucidates are little more than hasty generalizations or out and out misrepresentations of what the text actually says. A prime example is his insistence that God is evil because in Judges a concubine is raped by the Benjaminites. The problem is that the entire book of Judges is written as a CONDEMNATION of Israel for their sin. Courtenay cannot even identify a historical narrative (what the Bible describes) from a moral imperative (what the Bible prescribes). This is one of MANY examples where it is not the religious that overlook something, by Courtenay.

You also assert that few “fundamentalist/evangelical/creationist Christins” have a mind for science. Yet then you go on to assert that it is then pointless to use “methodological logic” to try and debate with them. Do you honestly mistake science and philosophy? You also make a hasty generalization that is some (or in your words “many”) do not have a mind for science, then NONE must have a mind for science (or “methodological logic”). That would be like saying that some women do not have a mind for science so none do. Or that some atheists do not have a mind for science (for surely not all do) so none do.

Let us imagine that it were the case that “few” Christians hand a mind for science or logic (something that is epidemic in all of a America, not just the religious sector), would that mean that the Bible is itself incorrect? I’m not sure what the intelligence level of adherents actually have to do with the truth/falsity of a text or a worldview? Basically, it is a behind the back ad hominem argument meant to sound accurate but actually quite pointless.

Quick thought… Courtenay admits to be a guy “pretending to be a guy writing about a bad guy named God.” Now, is he pretending to be the guy, or pretending to write, or pretending to be able to write something of merit about God? It cannot be the first because then he would be a make believe author and no book would be written. He cannot be pretending to write or he would not be actually writing, and then again, no book would be written. Since we have a book written, it is best to assume he meant the third, in which case he admits that he has no clue what he writing about. Which, in a private conversation that I had with him he admitted that this book was not written for scholars since scholars would entirely disagree with him, but rather is written for every day people who don’t know any better. I suspect that is because they would accept what he writes without any hesitation because it is funny and entertaining and completely miss the fact that it is entirely hateful and fallacious.

Courtenay makes a big deal that people haven’t read the Bible. Now, there is no poll taken, but my guess would be that fewer people have read The Origin of Species than have the Bible, but that many people believe in the evolution and would call themselves Darwinians. What does that get you? Nothing. Again it is a red herring. The amount of readership among adherents plays no roll in the truth/falsity of a text. The fact that he calls this “a great f*ing LOGICAL dilemma” betrays two things. First, he has no clue what he talking about because the same thing would stand for Darwinism. Second, he himself does not have a mind for logic because even if his assertions are true, it is not a LOGICAL dilemma even if it may be a sad turn of events, or a even hypocritical of Christians to say they believe but haven’t read. But there is nothing in the premises that entail some kind of logical dilemma or a breach of any law of logic. Is this the type of “argumentation” that you approve of on this blog?

He then tries to build a case that God is not loving because people have read the Bible. Putting more holes in a bottomless bucket wont make it hold water. Just because some people have not read the Bible cover to cover, does not entail that they “worship and ideal or a concept of God.” Now is it possible that they may be duped? Of course. If anyone knows anything about philosophy we can all be duped that we are not just butterflies dreaming that the world exists. But that’s not an argument. He then goes on to cite the people who more than likely HAVE read the Bible, our parents (the previous generations) our teachers, and church leaders but he ascribes to them the same Bible illiteracy as the mass public? That would be like saying that no scientist has read Darwin because most non-professional scientists haven’t.

He then goes on to spew his “hardly a single sentence anywhere in the Old Testament….” nonsense. As can be shown on nearly every count where he deals with the text, he abuses the context (both historical and textual) commits eisegesis (reading his own 21st century atheism back into the text) and assumes the conclusion of nearly all of his assertions to be true before they are proven. Its not only bad scholarship, which he doesn’t claim thank goodness but should have at least a modicum of if he is going to write a book on the most prolific piece of literature ever written, but its also just bad reading. He just doesn’t read it. My guess is that he would be more than capable of reading and understanding context in other books, but when it comes to the Bible he has an axe to grind and he grinds it on every passage regardless of what the text actually says.

A good example is even in his answer concerning Cain and Abel. Was God playing favorites? No. The fact is that Cain could have brought an acceptable offering from the fields (as seen later in fine flour being acceptable in place of an animal), but that he didn’t. Abel bought the FIRST BORN of the flock while Cain just brought whatever he found left over. This was, if you do even more than a cursory glance, a sin offering. They were not just saying “hey God, thanks for being cool.” They were to give of their lively-hood to atone for their sin. Abel took it seriously, Cain did not. Now, agree with that or not, the problem is that Courtenay NEVER deals with what the text ACTUALLY says or the context because he simply has not done any research beyond reading other vitriolic rants, something ironic considering one of his major beefs with Christians as that we ignore facts that disagree with us.

But surely Courtenay would do better on the New Testament? Nope, not even in the slightest. The fact that he claims that the biography is fabricated and embarrassingly put together shows that he is not only out of line with Christian scholars, but even Secular Biblical scholars! In fact, the view point that he eschews (that Jesus never even existed) is so rare that you could count on one hand the number of scholars who agree with him out of the thousands involved with the SBL, Jesus Seminar, or any other New Testament Studies fellowship (Christian or non). The sheer ignorance it takes to call Jesus and “unremarkable dead man” just seems so beyond the pale. If the life and teachings of Jesus has impacted the vast majority of human life, culture, politics, law, ethics, education, family, etc. more than anyone else in the history of the world, to make the claim that Courtenay does seems to be the one beyond ignorance. Believe in Jesus as the Son of God or not, but to make a statement like that is just false to anyone with a shred of historical or ethical understanding.

You then ask about Courtenay’s “research.” Courtenay didn’t do any research (hence why he knows that his book will be a wash with scholars). Research requires diligent study of all the information, opposing views, scholars, the history of the discussion, and the study of all relevant areas of study that might come to bear on the topic (in this case with the Bible that would include things like Biblical/Higher Criticism, Literary analysis of original languages, manuscript transmission study, canonical studies, hermeneutics, philosophy, history, theology, etc.). Courtenay has obviously done none, if only being the Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, Erhman lapdog.

He then makes the existential argument that we believe in God because of our need to feel like there is purpose, meaning, and life after death to appease our fears. This may be true for some but not most. Many of us, like myself, had no fear of death as an atheist to drive us to belief. We rather we convinced by the force of evidence, argument, and consistency/coherency of the Bible.

This argument amounts to the parallel of the Christian version that atheists are only atheists to escape the fear of judgment. While it may be entirely true, it is not actually a viable argument.

Besides, imagine my fear of death keeps me from jumping off the edge of a building. Does that means that if I just got over my fear of death that I would not die if I jumped off of a building? It seems absurd to try to use our reasons for coming to a belief to invalidate the belief itself.

He then goes on to blame the Israelites for inventing God due to “lack of air-conditioning” and a kind of god-envy of the surrounding nations. This is easily dismissed since convincing an entire people group (which would have to have taken place within one generation from the exodus of Egypt would have to suddenly start believing in a new God without any reason to do so. In fact, we see the surrounding nations have gods that are quite amenable to our desires. Crop gods, and sex gods, and fertility gods, and gods of money, and power, etc. What do we see God do the first time the Israelites take over a land? Tell them they don’t get to keep a single dime. And they are now on a tight diet. And they don’t get to be just like their neighbors. If I were going to invent a deity for myself, it would be MUCH more like Baal or Ashtoreth than like Yahweh. Why would I want a God like a consuming fire over my sins, than one who says I can just have sex with a temple prostitute to be all good?

I also find it funny when atheists like Courtenay try to use those foolish beliefs that religious people had way back when, like it proves something? What about scientists who believed thay could turn lead into gold? Or, that the earth was moving because we could see the oceans sloshing about. Or what about the facts that in the early 1900’s a list of 100 things that scientists knew with 100% assurance was published and we don’t believe a single one of them now? Does that prove the scientific endeavor wrong? Nope. It means some people went wrong somewhere but it has nothing to do with the worldview itself. (Ironically his own example about Pasteur overlooks that before Pasteur it was the SCIENTISTS who were wrong. Did Pasteur correct the pastors? Nope. The doctors.)

His analogy about the shovel also fails. I’m not looking to the Bible to tell me about positrons, quasars, supernovas, quarks, string theory, or anything like that. So no, when it comes to astronomy and the workings of planetary rotations, I’ll go to the astronomer. When it comes to liver disease and kidney transplants, I’ll go to the physician. But when it comes to timeless things like truth, reason, morality, God, etc. the time when someone writes has very little to do with the accuracy of what they write. Should we abandon atheism because they had progenitors 2000 years ago also? Now, I know some people read Genesis 1 like a science text book. They have their own problems. I’m not gonna help you win that argument (though I think you can.) But there is nothing illogical about positing a first cause.

As for previous stories being a tool to falsify the Bible. First it shows you have no concepts of polemics. Second, let me give you an example. Did you know that there was once a book written about a new super ocean liner called the Titus, and that on its maiden voyage it hit an iceburg and sank, and that most people died because it was not equipped with enough life boats? Does this sound familiar? It should! It is the story of the Titanic! Or is it…? Would you surprise you to know that the story of Titus was written DECADES before the actual events? Does that mean that everything written about the historical event of the Titanic are actually plagiarizing the story about the Titus? No of course not. Before you can prove plagiarism you need more than similarities. You need to provide proof. Something that has been universally refuted to those who keep up with scholarship.

As for his examples of his “favourites” there are so many problems with each one and this is becoming quite long that I will only pick one (as much as it pains me to let his other transparent errors slide). Well do an obvious one that shows that Courtenay actually hasn’t read the Bible himself, but just cherry picks concepts and runs with them.

Did David really dance naked “waving his pecker around as if it was a jump rope.” The story being cited here is from 2 Samuel 6:20 where David’s wife says, "How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!" So wait… did David dance naked!? Well if you read this verse in isolation in order to mislead people and grind your axe, it would sure seem so. But wait… what’s this!? It’s a little thing called CONTEXT. Am I asking you to look back 5 chapters to an obscure reference to solve it? No. Try 4 verses. 2 Samuel 6:14, which actually is the verse that describes the dancing, says, “David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the LORD with all his might.” David was fully clothed! Why did Micah fret? Because David, the king, had taken of his royal garments and crown in public and went out dressed as a commoner.

Now, does Courtenay’s rash “synopsis” of the passage do anything to prove the Bible false even if it were correct? No not really. Besides being awkward for David it would really have no impact on the truth of the Bible or if God is hateful or not. So why point out this one? Because if Courtenay cannot even get something this simple right (and this is REALLY simple… just remember what was written 2 lines up) then how much can we trust him when it comes to complex issues of justice, religious practice, text criticism, historicity, covenantal structures, law/gospel distinctions, thematic tension/resolution, types/shadows/fulfillment, theology, logic etc. If he can’t even get basic narrative right, he will miss interpretation EVERY time.

His final statements, while tragic (truly, no one should have to suffer witnessing anything like that) are simply appeals to emotion to buy an illogical argument. To say that all religion is wrong because some religion is wrong, or that all Biblical religion is wrong because fundamentalist Islam is built off of the OT (which is actually a common misconception but quite incorrect) is like me saying that all evolutionists are evil because some evolutionists were involved in Nazi Germany’s experimentation on prisoners, or on the wicked eugenics programs of America, Brittan, and Germany. Or that all atheists are evil because of the crimes of Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Cruschev, and Castro. The fact is that ANY belief can be used and abused by ideologues. To compare radicalist Islamic terrorists to even everyday muslims, let alone evangelicals, is not only sociologically fallacious, but just flat out logically fallacious as well.

Well, I hope I have put more than one rock in your shoe. I look forward to the other half of this interview.

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