Seventh-day Adventism

How To Keep Members From Leaving Your Church

An open letter to my former church, in which valuable advice on how to retain members is humbly offered.

The biggest problem facing the Seventh-day Adventist Church is arguably how easily they lose church members. They constantly praise one another for each new baptism, but chronically ignore established members who no longer attend.


It is very common that established members stay away because of hurt feelings; life-long members and those who are used to having things their way often go out of their way to speak or behave as if they were immature toddlers. It is the burden of the younger and more emotionally mature members to pick up the broken pieces, seeking out and restoring those members who were assaulted by brother or sister so-and-so at the potluck, usually verbally, usually with an uninvited bit of advice beginning with words like, “I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes, but…”

You could look at this problem as one that has two phases. The critical phase is the first one. This is because relational hurts can usually be healed, sometimes easily, with simple human contact and friendliness. Forgiveness for past mistreatment is not hard to get from disgruntled former members, if they get enough treatment of the opposite kind, and get it sooner rather than too late, and with any consistency. Everyone needs to belong to a group and feel accepted and valued by their group; that’s a basic human need, and churches can (if they want to) do a good job meeting that need. So surveys and data and summits and sermons on the retention topic should (and do) hammer the relational piece hard– discipleship, friendship, nurture, compassion, etc.

What is missing is what I would call the terminal phase of becoming a former member, which is all about the doctrines. Left outside the cocoon of church attendance long enough, and the group-think loses its hold on you. You stop censoring your own doubts and questions, as you were trained to do (not overtly, but subtly, by having such thinking modeled for you by all your fellow members). And now in the era of easy access to empirical research data, anyone can lose the habit of ignoring their doubts and questions about doctrine. If they seek answers outside the approved church channels, they can learn for themselves why their questions were valid. And not just valid, but healthy— critical to their recovery from the kind of viral, contagious group-think which is so integral to the experience of “spiritual life” or “faith.”

I know I’m not the only one who found the neglect of their church leaders and fellow members to be benevolent neglect. But perhaps I benefited more than many did by such benevolence. Letting me go unnoticed for month after month without showing up in the pew next to them on Sabbath, year after year turning down more and more leadership invitations, was actually for my own eventual good. What my former church may count as a loss (unless they feel glad to be rid of me!)– my name on their membership rolls, my teaching of their academy high school Bible classes and adult Sabbath School classes– I now count as a major personal gain.

It probably varies from person to person, but given enough time outside the cocoon of constant contact with the indoctrinated, your own indoctrination wears thin, like a garment wearing out. Holes in the fabric turn to rips, tears turn to entire areas of doctrinal garb discarded as useless and irrelevant. So what I would call phase one is the critical phase–the emotional/relational phase. If a former attender is neglected long enough, phase one will inevitably lead to phase two, the doctrinal rejection phase. Former attender becomes former member, and sometimes that (happily) leads all the way out of religion entirely. That’s my theory, anyway.

If I had been as interesting to my church when I “backslid” as I was in the first days I showed up at evangelistic meetings, baptismal classes, and those first few Sabbaths I attended (way back in 1986, in Battle Creek, Michigan), I could very likely still be a happy member in good and regular standing. But I am NOT complaining! I actually really appreciate the fact that no one volunteered to uphold the caring image of the denomination in my last church (Visalia, CA) or among my last church employers (Central California Conference), extending even to a family member (nephew) who happened to become my principal (he ended up being instrumental to the school board in getting me pushed out of my teaching job, and to the conference in getting me to accept one of those ‘offers you can’t refuse’ if you want your family to retain their health insurance and tuition discounts).

I’ll admit it, at the risk of overzealous current members jumping on this as if it is the ONLY important reason I am a former member: All the lack of support was at the time extremely painful, and I’m certain was the major cause of a deep depression I’m only recently emerging from. BUT! I am only emerging from that dark time because their neglect allowed me the time to view my old cherished doctrines from the perspective of an outsider.

I now view faith as a failed epistemology, a tried-and-discarded method for knowing what is real and true about the world and life. Faith is a virus that infects human cognition, and religion is the primary carrier of the contagion. Reason is the vaccine. The scientific method is the antidote. Being good without God, and joyful without guilt, I feel whole, and happy, and content for what feels like the first time in my life. I joined when I was age 20. Although a multi-year process, I count age 45 as the year I left. Now 48, I feel more mentally and emotionally integrated and stable than I ever could have within the confines of the viral hive mind that is the SDA denomination. Sure, I regret giving away the prime years of my young adulthood to a failed epistemology. But at least I’m no longer mentally splintered by the cognitive dissonance required by faith.

I urge you all, if you want to gain some crucial insight into what your own doctrinal beliefs look like from the outsider perspective (regardless of what specific doctrines you believe), please read The Outsider Test for Faith. Even if you just preview it on Amazon, or get the gist of his ideas from his online presentation, you’ll perhaps gain some much needed insight into your retention problem. I’m not sure anyone who used to be a Seventh-day Adventist member who makes it all the way to what I’m calling phase two (doctrinal rejection) has EVER been reclaimed as a member. Somehow I doubt it. But if you aspire to reach these kinds of “formers,” you must understand their view of your church. This book (and website) is the best I have found at crystallizing it. A former evangelical minister and college professor, trained in theology, philosophy, ethics, and Christian apologetics, the author knows how to be thorough and how to “speak the language” of his former religion, even while brilliantly spearheading the counter-apologetics movement within atheism. You just might earn some respect among those “formers” you’ll no doubt be visiting soon, in the aftermath of this latest drive to reclaim us, the ever-growing hordes who have ‘fallen off the path upward to heaven.’

Good luck! 😉

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Atheism, Counter-apologetics, Personal statements, Spectrum discussions

The Possibility That You Are Wrong

http://www.flickr.com/photos/shanedk/

Israeli settlers are stealing other people’s land in the hope of bringing on the Messiah and a terrible war. On the alternative side– as it thinks of itself– the Islamic jihadists are preparing a war without end, a faith-based war, based on the repulsive tactic of suicide murder. And ALL of these people believe that they have a divine warrant, a holy book, and the direct Word of God on their side.

(Christopher Hitchens debating Dinesh D’Souza at Notre Dame, http://youtu.be/jhP-LOlPNX8).

Hearing that, I hear my old self, my formerly Christian self, blurt out what had become my stock answer to such challenges: “Well, those two particular religions are in hopeless error, in darkness instead of the gospel light, and no wonder they are pursuing evil ends; it all makes perfect sense within my Christian biblical worldview.” My go-to reply in essence was: ‘If they only knew what I know, they wouldn’t be so wrong.’

My current self has something to say to my old self and its pat answer:

“That’s the best you can do? That really satisfies you? The simple assertion, ‘I’m right, they’re not’ is all the perspective you require?”

Until I had set aside that thought-blocking Christian delusion, I could not have even put the following concept together, I was utterly incapable of contemplating it: ‘Surely all religion including my own is man-made, and faith is the dangerous commonality behind it all, unhinging whole swaths of the human species from their only hope of survival: reason.’ That idea is as painfully obvious to me now as it would have been utterly obscured from view back then, before I set aside religion and other delusions.

It’s amazing to me that anyone breaks free of what binds them to religious delusion. The number one reason people find themselves within one particular religious system is family; their family is Christian, or Hindu, or Muslim, or Sikh, or Jewish, or Catholic, or Jain, or Mormon. They are immersed in that particular religion’s form of delusion from infancy; a geographical accident placed them in a certain continent, in a certain era of time, in a certain country, in their family. But inevitably, the delusion prevents them from thinking about that accident. They are trained to think teleologically; it was meant to be according to the creator’s plan that they are blessed to be in the One True Religion (the delusion also prevents them from contemplating that most religions think of themselves as the ‘One True’ religion).

How much courage does it take to break from your family’s traditional religion? Some religions attach threats of emotional or even physical violence to apostasy and heresy. Of course there are few former fundamentalist Muslims from the Mid-East and southeast Asia! They enforce a death penalty upon those who voluntarily leave Islam! Others stay in to avoid being shunned or outcast. They simply never are allowed to contemplate the possibility that they are wrong; there is too much risk inherent in such dangerous ideas.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/shanedk/

Reason alone is not always sufficient to allow someone to leave the religion into which they were born. It also requires bravery to face the reaction they are likely to incur by breaking off from their family’s faith traditions; it takes courage to look over and above tribal, cultural, and superstitious wish-thinking, and the resolve to follow the evidence even if it leads one in very lonely directions. Reason can come along later, but it must start with the first step: opening your ego to the possibility that you (and it) are wrong about your most treasured beliefs. That possibility is, of course, not allowed to be contemplated within religious tribes and groups, which is why the delusion so powerfully persists and propagates itself.

Atheists, agnostics, and those who have left one religion for a competing one all share one characteristic from the point of view of the believers they leave behind: they no longer belong to the ‘in group,’ they are outsiders, they are (usually) now enemies of the One True Faith. Those contemplating the break must overcome the social stigma it will inevitably incur, especially if they must continue to live in a region in which the majority of the population adhere to a single religious tradition. The lucky ones live in those parts of the world which encourage individuality and independent thinking, such as most of the United States, the UK, most of the EU, Australia, etc. Even within secular states, there is always a cost to contemplating the possibility that you are wrong: usually your closest friends share your religious background, and normally religious believers do not allow themselves to become close friends with non-believers (it’s dangerous, and there usually aren’t sufficient common interests).

So the likely future scenario facing a believer who has followed through on the thought that they might possibly be wrong about their religious beliefs includes the possibility of losing friends, changing employers or even careers (if they, like I did, work for their religious organization), distancing themselves from their family members, leaving a tightly-knit social group which often connected them with fellow believers all around the world (an automatic network of worldwide acceptance), and the prospect of having to re-evaluate almost everything they believe about everything. Again, it’s amazing to me that anyone ever leaves their religion.

To anyone who reads this, if you are contemplating the possibility that you need to break free from your family’s traditional religion, and there are great costs to such a break, I offer you one tiny perk: my friendship and loyalty.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/shanedk/

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And to answer one likely rebuttal to this: Yes, I remain open to the possibility that I am wrong, and would run back to the waiting arms of God, and to the fellowship of His good followers, just as soon as He showed up in my life (in a way not otherwise explained by confirmation bias, wish-thinking, agency detection, or other such mental artifacts of bygone epochs). If God cannot, or chooses not, to make his existence obvious to all human beings in the way that is best for them, but instead remains hidden in the ancient scribblings of Iron Age tribesmen and the modern cults based on said scribblings, then I am forced to conclude either that He does not exist, or has chosen to hide himself from the view of a vast majority of human beings. Either way, his ‘teachings’ are irrelevant to my well-being, and that of all humans.

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Counter-apologetics, Facebook discussions

Case Study in Deluded Christian Credulity

UPDATE 3/26/2014 ON AGW PORTION:

“Given this broad agreement on the fundamentals of climate science, what cognitive mechanism would underlie people’s dissent from the consensus? We suggest that if a person rejects an overwhelming scientific consensus, such as the one for climate science, then that person needs to deny that the consensus emerged as the result of researchers converging independently on the same evidence-based view. Rejection of the scientific consensus thus calls for an alternative explanation of the very existence of that consensus.

“The ideation of a secretive conspiracy among researchers can serve as such an explanation (Diethelm & McKee, 2009; McKee & Diethelm, 2010; Smith & Leiserowitz, 2012). Moreover, the ideation of a conspiracy may also serve as a “fantasy theme” that permits groups to develop and share a symbolic reality. Such fantasy themes (e.g., the denier as “Galileo” who opposes a corrupt iron-fisted establishment) operate as bonding agents that build group cohesion by creating a shared social reality. Fantasy themes are known to play a major role in climate denial (McKewon, 2012b, 2012a),” 

-from http://uwa.edu.au/recursivefury
Note use of ‘Galileo fantasy’ in AGW-related discussion below.
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The Facebook conversation on which this is based is found here: https://www.facebook.com/tom.doud/posts/10152337530993854?stream_ref=5

The opening post (OP) is made by my cousin Tom, and these are his words [typing errors are uncorrected; this was cut-and-pasted]:
“We need to state it plainly. This talk of global warming from CO2 is so far from scientific and based on greed not concern for doing the right thing. I know many people involved are sincere and confused on the so called science but its time to see it for what it is. Smart people cannot continue to support this rubbish.

“This is not a political issue although politics are involved. It is clear evidence that our civilization is dying mentally. When well read citizens and be so concerned with following the crowd that they cannot see truth from lie we are doomed.
“Let me say it plainly, anyone who in any way promotes the idea that we need to change policies to limit CO2 to prevent global warming is engaged in evil. They are working to hurt poor people by higher taxes and costs. They are taking money from programs that can truly help people and better stewardship of the planet.”

He commented thus when he found an article to his liking on a Facebook group called Carbon Dioxide, which is the FB presence of a website called “iloveco2.com”. That’s I Love CO2, in case you were napping. The article itself came from a blog called “Rat Nation: exposing the lunacy of liberalism one post at a time”, and its topic was an interview between Sean Hannity and energy industry shill Patrick Moore, a man who pretends to have co-founded Greenpeace (they deny it, and have the papers to prove it) but left the activist group when they supposedly sold out to climate change hysteria. Now he makes as many public appearances as he can attempting to bolster the claims of climate deniers, especially the kind that make his nuclear industry clients happy.

Tom’s theme throughout the ensuing discussion stays fairly focused on his perception that our nation is losing its ability to reason logically, and his opening argument was to point to how supposedly the IPCC models have been proven wrong, and everyone knows this, and yet they can’t logically reason their way to ignoring the alleged Big Government political conspiracy of Global Warming and Climate Change.

When commentors debunked Patrick Moore’s claims, and then provided evidence that the IPCC models are actually accurate, Tom went into high gear denial. He simply didn’t engage with the offered rebuttals, and instead skipped right to denying CO2’s role in AGW (as does his favorite weatherman– and climate change denier– Joe Bastardi), and also denying that there’s any consensus amongst climate scientists.

When consensus was shown to be real and genuine, he changed his argument yet again. Now his assertion was that science doesn’t work by consensus, only politics does. After being shown that this was an absurd idea, he circled back around to a favorite theme of his, namely that generally, science isn’t done very well at all. As if to say, when I can find science that bolsters my preconceived conclusions, that’s what you call good science; if lots of science evidence appears to disagree with my conclusions, then that’s what is known as junk science; and Tom is the one who decides what’s junk and what’s not.

He then offered a quote by scientist Richard Feynman, and a link to an article in which Feynman expertly attacks modern pseudo-scientific ideas while explaining how science should rely on transparency and openness to whatever direction the evidence takes us, even if it disagrees with previous hypotheses or pet theories. Again, apparently without seeing the irony there.

Around this point in the discussion, Tom said, “Jim and Bill I just want to say I am sorry if my words are harsh. This post is most intended for the casual person who doesn’t take AGW as gospel truth. I don’t expect either of you to change. If someone has strong liberal beliefs they would only change if they heard it on NPR and major media. I could show the lack of correlation w CO2 and AGW with graphs prior to 98 as well. We didn’t need the 15 – 18 years of no warming to show there is no correlation. As far as the evil comments about ‘deniers’ the AGW world has ample supply of corrupt people. That is a distraction. What I am asking is to not take sides in the politics but have people think for themselves.”

What isn’t clear is how well Tom takes his own advice, and thinks for himself, instead of letting Sean Hannity, and meteorologist/deniers Joe Bastardi and Anthony Watts do his thinking for him. It also isn’t clear that Tom would ever change his strong beliefs, no matter where he heard the evidence coming from.

And a little later, “There is a consensus among those who are politically motivated to want to believe in AGW that it is true but that is not science. Science is a model that works.” Again, ignoring the evidence presented that the models DO work; it’s easier to deny evidence by just pretending it doesn’t exist, and moving on.

And just after that, “Newtonian physics was a consensus refuted by deniers.” Which happens to ignore the irony that Newton’s physics still have explanatory value, and that Newton himself was a denier of many of the church’s teachings, which were subsequently shown to be in error by those who took Newton’s teachings to their logical conclusions. The argument from authority here comes back to bite Tom in the butt, especially when he occasionally morphs into Catholic Defenderman.

And, “The primary evidence that CO2’s effect is not well understood is the failure of the IPCC models. It is helpful to do experiments that fail but what is needed is the observational ability to claim them as failures for true science to evolve in a logical manner.” Apparently only Tom and fellow AGW deniers are logical enough to admit the failures of the IPCC models (never mind that the models haven’t failed.)

Thus, Tom cannot be convinced that IPCC’s models are of any use. They failed, he claims; and as failures, they need to be recognized as such by the larger CC community, discarded, back to the drawing board as it were, so that other more pressing problems can be addressed. Some of Tom’s favorite FB newsfeed soapboxes include EMF toxicity, Jack Kruse’s diet woo, and helping the poor of the world– but the Catholic way, since he’s fundamentally anti-government. He’s a hardcore Catholic, and defends everything Catholic right down to Bill O’Donohue and the Catholic League (see https://www.facebook.com/jim.miles/posts/10152804288011758?stream_ref=5).

A Tom Leqoc chimes in eventually, and between the two of them, they set forth historical examples illustrating how the progress of scientific discovery often resulted in an orthodox view, and what they retroactively re-imagine as “denialists.” For example, there once was a time when the earth was believed to be the center of the universe, but Galileo the denialist came along, and eventually won the day. Yay for denialists. There once was a time when Eugenics was acceptable. Denialists saved us from that tragedy. Yay, denialists.

Then Tom injected Catholic theology into the mix, confusingly: “To be scientific one needs to develop a model and show all the data to the world. Show them how to plug in the CO2 data and what it will do to temps. Then they can run it and watch temps agree with real measurements. See Feynman’s article for a better description. This how Aquinas did in in the 1200’s in his Summa. He started with objections and transparency. The models were wrong because they claimed an amplified effect of CO2 and now we know that was wrong.”

And later, “Real science takes the time to test prove retest not rush forward and try to drown out skepticism. Real science wants skeptics. St. Augustine gave praise to the heretics because they forced the church to better define doctrine. We need more Feynman’s and less Gore’s.”

Note a switch there, unintentional or not (not sure?): from Aquinas to Augustine. At any rate, Tom sees parallels between how Catholics do theology and how scientists do science. This from a guy who credits western ‘Christian Civilization’ with basically inventing modern science. Which of course flies in the face of the facts about Greek science predating Christianity, and having no influence on Judaism before it. Christianity slowed innovation and learning and questioning down to an anemic trickle during a millennium of dark ages fear-mongering about science.

I keep rereading the OP, and I just cannot wrap my head around it. A later post somewhat backs off from the strident tone of the OP, however I have listened to Tom hold forth on the topic enough now to know that he does feel strongly about it, and I think his OP actually was an eloquent and accurate reflection of his true feelings on the matter.

Which is why I keep circling back to it, and each time my confusion deepens.

Here are some questions and comments in an attempt to crystallize my confusion, addressed rhetorically in the first person toward Tom; whether I’ll ever direct these at Tom on Facebook remains to be seen:

  • “Evil.” Context = “anyone who in any way promotes the idea that we need to change policies to limit CO2 to prevent global warming is engaged in evil. They are working to hurt poor people by higher taxes and costs. They are taking money from programs that can truly help people and better stewardship of the planet” (italics mine).
    • Evil implies malicious motives; it would be difficult to prove motive, as it is in the courts, but punishments of criminal behavior are handed down every day based on judgments of others’ motives. Share two or three of your most damning exhibits of evidence, Tom, which lead you to impugn the motives of climate scientists and/or their policy-maker allies in government. Just two or three, but no less, please; the charge of evil intent is rather extraordinary, so let’s have more than guessing and circumstantial evidence. No witch hunt testimony, if you please!
    • “they are working to hurt poor people” is your subclaim. Please let your evidence also demonstrate that there are climate scientists or climate policy makers motivated by a desire to hurt poor people. You will need to show that instead of being well-intentioned public servants and scientists whose concern for the future of their children and the planet are instead putting all that on as a show; it’s a sham, an act, and underneath their pretended fears for the future of the human race, there is nothing but base greed for gain (this is the essence of your claim).
  • “Greed.” Context = “This talk of global warming from CO2 is so far from scientific and based on greed not concern for doing the right thing.”… “They are working to hurt poor people by higher taxes.” Not that you’re a fossil fuel industry shill, or even necessarily a fan, but your tax dollars have been subsidizing US oil companies since their founding right up to the present (and subsidies of alternative energy sectors has thus far paled by comparison, http://bit.ly/1cyrsi3). That, too, represents Robin Hood in reverse, since the industry hasn’t needed those tax breaks for decades even though they continue taking them, and each dollar of subsidy is a dollar we cannot spend on more worthy programs, like job training, small business loans, scholarships, food stamps, unemployment, and extending health care to the least of these our brethren.
    • Do you fight as passionately against that kind of corporate socialist welfare waste as you do against misbegotten scientific pursuits? 
    • And to flip it around a little: Inasmuch as greed and self-interested actions form the basis of the American free market system, and inasmuch as competitive strategies currently legally include lobbying for as much political and policy support as can be afforded by profit margins, then why are we criticizing what some are calling the “Global Warming Industry” for following the highly successful examples of the military industrial complex, the health insurance industry, the financial industry, and the energy industry? Why is corporate socialism only evil for green energy motivated by climate change, and not evil in any other industry?
    • And if we admit that all these evils are equal, and we should stop robbing our poorest to subsidize our wealthiest, let’s start with the oldest offenders and work our way to the present.
  • “Doomed.” Context = “I know many people involved are sincere and confused on the so called science but its [sic] time to see it for what it is. Smart people cannot continue to support this rubbish. This is not a political issue although politics are involved. It is clear evidence that our civilization is dying mentally. When well read citizens and [sic] be so concerned with following the crowd that they cannot see truth from lie we are doomed.” 
    • Seeing “it for what it is,” is, presumably, the evil mentioned above, the damage done to poor people. What damage is being done to poor people by climate scientists that isn’t being done a thousand-fold more by a fossil-fuel dependent American economy hijacked by the radical libertarian policies of the Tea Party? 
    • What about your church, whose leadership perpetuates money-laundering of the wealthiest criminals’ blood-money and obfuscates law-enforcement efforts to bring their pedophile priests and the bishops who protect them to justice? All while enthroned in a golden temple surrounded by priceless art and architecture which, if ever auctioned off, could finance world-changing efforts to raise the poorest women of the world out of grinding poverty by means of loans and education. It seems that religion and ideology-driven pseudo-science spells “DOOM” for civilization far more than climate science does.

Anti-liberal, anti-secular ideology is found in virtually all of the sources to which Tom links, such as Sean Hannity and his employer, Fox News (the original source breadcrumb-linked to Tom’s OP), and the ideologically poisoned website “ILoveCO2.com”. By cherry-picking his sources, or rather, pruning them of any possibly inconvenient truth-containing content, Tom is able to pretend to rely on a wide variety of evidence, and convince himself that like a good scientist, he’s just following the evidence wherever it leads him. What he isn’t admitting is that he’s already decided where the evidence must lead him, and he’s guiding his own research in order to make sure he gets to the same a priori conclusions every time. This is the modern Christian’s modus operandi when they approach science in order to use it to bolster their own religious and ideological world-views.
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https://www.facebook.com/jim.miles/posts/10152804288011758?stream_ref=5

New topic, same voice discussing it. The link in the OP (Opening Post, i.e., the discussion topic) was to militant defender of Catholicism (head of the US-based Catholic League) William O’Donohue being schooled on the logic of providing children with loving families, whether the parents are hetero- or homosexual.

The discussion was wide-ranging, and included evidence that Mother Teresa doesn’t deserve the praise she gets, or a sainthood; lots of back and forth on historical evidences of church fallibility and imperfection, including the child-abuse scandal; a particular detour spotlighting the fact that the church as changed its doctrines over the past 2000 years; and eventually back to homosexuality. At one point, a Danny Klopovic (from another group I post in occasionally) jumped in to argue that the church’s original pacifist doctrines have been changed by the Catholic Church to justify war.

Tom’s initial loyalty to his church emerges early in the discussion, as he clings to the idea that a few bad apples (or even if a majority of the apples are bad, or even all of them) doesn’t change the fact that God is in charge of his church. When pressed on the child abuse scandal, for example, his first reaction is misdirection: abuse is worse in other sectors, like the Protestant and secular world.

Then he repeats a popular two-pronged trope of Catholic apologists: the child abuse scandal is 1) not really children but “post-pubescents,” and 2) mostly due to allowing homosexuals into the clergy, a problem he insists is now solved.

Then he repeats his initial loyalty idea: “remember all sins are due to individuals not following the church (Christ’s) teaching.”

Tom cannot draw a line from the massive historical and contemporary record of violence, corruption, and abuse within the church’s leadership connecting to the weak, fallible authorities the church uses to teach itself its doctrine. The authorities of the church include fallible popes, changeable teachings, the writings of corrupted medieval ‘church fathers,’ and the Catholic version of the Scripture as taught by the Catechism. To Tom, there is no connection; Catholic theology is a science established by Aquinas and perfected over intervening centuries of church councils; the writings used by the theologians are perfect in that God inspired them and all who teach them, and no amount of evidence will convince Tom otherwise.

So what Tom has done is begun with a conclusion: The Church has not changed over the last 2000 years, it has survived many attacks over those years intact and preserved pure Gospel teaching as God’s vessel for truth about Himself. Beginning with that conclusion, and turning to the church’s own repositories of documents justifying its own existence (which is in almost endless supply by this late date in its history), Tom unsurprisingly finds an endless supply of evidence to confirm his presuppositions and biases. If anyone offers evidence in conflict with his conclusion, he cannot see it or hear it. He sweeps it aside and refuses to consider it. He has many fallacies handy to use in his own defense, like misdirection, pseudo-science, and special pleading.

That last is probably his most often used. At one point, pressed on the cover-up of abuse by high church officials, he goes back to defending his initial presupposition like a champ: “there is no skirting of this being a huge evil but it is the allowing of secular sinful practices to invade the church. The churches guilty of not being Catholic enough.”

He even uses the terminology of science and skepticism as he pursues confirmation bias, often repeating phrases similar to this: “We should be about following the truth here no matter where it leads,” apparently immune to the irony there.

When presented with the stance against homosexual discrimination and shaming taken by the professional organizations AMA and APA, Tom’s response is dismissive, “Jim AMA and APA are political organizations,” and a crack about posting opinions on business from the American Communist Party (so what if we did? Wouldn’t that be following evidence wherever it leads? As we see, some evidence just isn’t allowed to be considered).

When presented with evidence answering his claim that the science is settled and homosexuality has no genetic connection, the links offered were properly conservative about their claims. In other words, they did not try to claim too much; they merely showed that the science is not all in on this, that much remains to be researched, BUT thus far, there is much that leads us to conclude that there are strong components of genetics and biology explaining the minority who are homosexual in orientation. I suppose the fact that room was left for future research, or the fact that room was left for a percentage of gay lifestyles to have been choice-driven rather than biologically determined was all Tom needed. His surprising reply to this was, “I see you found a link that shows HS is not genetic. Done there.”

When presented with evidence that Vatican II changed church dogma on whether you have to be Catholic to be saved (from Yes to Not Necessarily), the evidence linked to had been compiled by catholic women trying to change church teaching on women in the priesthood. They reference Vatican documents, but Tom cannot see it, he chooses instead this reaction: “Nothing has changed. Poorly researched links by anti Catholics not scholarly. Just read what was taught in 1st century,” and links to the Didache.

After dealing with that misdirection and pressing Tom on the changed in Vatican teaching, he returns to special pleading: “VII teaches clearly that there is no salvation outside the church as previous but explained it better. Catholic theology has always taught baptism of desire for example. Christ knows the depth of every mans heart better than himself and if someone responds as best they can to what grace they have God will save. One does not need to go by the ordinary means of sacramental life (ie thief on the cross wasn’t baptized). …Many will get to heaven and only then understand the true meaning of church. Remember Catholic means universal so it means what was practiced across the Mediterranean in the first century. There is no change in teaching here only a better explanation. That was the whole point of VII is not to change but to explain the faith to the modern world.”

When FURTHER pressed with a clear side-by-side comparison of infallible statements in conflict with each other, he takes his special pleading to a new octave: “Jim all those old statements are true and VII doesn’t change them. What a reader who does not understand the meaning of church might infer is that you have to be a card carrying Catholic to get to heaven. God understands how individuals can be confused and yet seek God in a sincere way. The church has always taught that one must freely accept the faith but finally put in to doctrine in the 700’s that conversion by force is sinful. If anyone in history forced conversion that was in direct conflict with Catholic teaching.”

A few (as far as I can tell) non-sequitur remarks are tossed in: “This same logic [note application of science/skeptic terminology–‘logic’] applies to someone inside the church proper. I could not follow the letter of the law out of ignorance yet be sincere in my heart and God understands. By the letter of the law missing mass on Sunday is mortal sin so by the same logic if objectively not following Catholic teaching lost your salvation about 80% of modern practicing Catholics wouldn’t be saved.”

Back to special pleading: “Papal infallibility was established by Christ and cannot be taken away by man. That is like saying the church should get away of sin, the Trinity and the Holy Spirit. She didn’t choose it and doesn’t have the power to remove it.”

Toss in a non-sequitur: “On the practical side its nice in cozy modern era to be critical of the Christians who were getting massacred by Islam. [return to special pleading]There were many sinners in the church over the last 2000 years but that was predicted by Christ and should be no surprise to anyone with a cursory understanding of the New Testament.”

So we can see then that no matter what sinful corrupt behavior of Catholics one could dredge up for Tom, including Popes and Church Fathers themselves, perhaps even saints like Teresa, Tom’s gift of special pleading allows him to vault over it, and appeal to a yet-older authority. In this case, he got all the way back to AD 633, insisting that the Council of Toledo’s injunction against forcing Jews to convert was the TRUE teaching, and the many ways in which the Inquisition and the Crusades just happened to ignore that injunction were, well, bad apples in essence.

He doesn’t mind vaulting back even further, claiming that bible teaching is Catholic doctrine, even though that claim is subject to its own brand of special pleading and pliable interpretation. Danny Klopovic later points out the changes made in church teaching on the use of military violence; Tom’s special pleading goes back to Christ: “Danny you are just saying there were sinners in the church. Christ predicted that. More proof of her divine guidance.”

And later, to Danny’s insistence that Tom answer the charge of a change in war dogma, Tom pleads this: “2000 years of saints working for the poor in slums disagree with you. You will know by fruits. The Catholic Church built western civ. what did any other denomination bring?” and also this: “The violence was defending from the attack of Islam and Protestants. Not denying sins in church but that is not doctrine. It is sinful to not defend oneself and the weak.”

When Danny finally gives up attempting to pierce Tom’s airtight circular reasoning (“The Church has always been perfect, therefore everything the Church has ever done or taught must have always been perfect; anything imperfect done in the name of the church therefore cannot be credited to the church”), Tom returns to it yet again, pleading this: “Danny to the extent the church has been violent it is not following Christ and that is obvious my point is separating doctrine from sinful practice. I agree that others have their faults like not practicing the sacrament of the Eucharist and it is not their fault in most cases. My ancestors are Puritans and I am proud of their sincerity despite their doctrinal errors. Let us pray that we can all be one. Unity comes through the love of Christ and pleased to have this discussion with you brother.”

There appears to be no heights to which Tom’s special pleading will not go to reinforce his initial presupposition that the Church cannot err (even when it does err). Including these gems taken at random:

“Most of history is scrubbed of the involvement of the church. In secular history you don’t learn how the church developed universities, hospitals and science. All you typically get is some garbage about the dark ages followed by Luther saving the world. The church changed a western pagan culture that would have seen Hitler as another Caesar and never thought him evil to a moral culture that sees him as a monster. The difference is the church and its effect on moral thought. It has changed the world in a dramatic way. There would be no UN and concern for the environment if it weren’t for the church. The secular culture has adopted some Christian morals but does not know where they came from.”
a link to a book with the title: “How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization”
Tom has the last word on the conversation at the time of this writing. I had supplied a link to the book I recently finished reading on these topics, Beyond Belief (http://amzn.to/1gxKVw0), which provide overwhelming proof that all versions of Christianity, Catholicism included, are simply man-made and bear no marks of divine creation. Here’s Tom’s twin replies:

  • “Jim your quote I like: From it: ‘The fact is that there is no clear reliable authority in the Christian Church, or any of its many branches. Orthodoxy has developed according to the tastes of the dominant factions of the moment.’ It should be logical that if there is no authority at first it cannot develop later. There is either the authority of the Catholic church or Christ lied and left it alone for men to develop. As far as your statement re man made religion that is spot on for denominations that point to men as their origin. By that I don’t mean a spiritual connection to someone in the first century but that their sect started with Luther or Zwingli. The divine sign of the Catholic church is that it spread very fast yet where the leaders had no or little control (ie Paul’s letters describing problems). Under this persecuted and powerless church all doctrine was established. The mode your author most likely takes is very Hegelian and sees all human development in an Darwinian sort of evolution. The mean dominant group beat up the weak and established orthodoxy through power, etc. This was not possible in the early church. Later yes but at that time doctrine was already well established (and Catholic). If there is not divine intervention and guidance you get division as you see in the 30k divisions of Protestantism.”
  • “That is why I love when people point out the many sins of the church or more precisely its members. The more you know about the bad church history the more you should question why it is still here. Some of the best tried to kill it. Napolean, Islam, Henry VIII, Luther, Hitler, Stalin come to mind. And those not as damaging as incompetence within. How can you trust any organization to not split in many parts and change teaching? Men can’t provide unity but God can. The church is a hospital for sinners not a collections of the elect.”It truly is possible to be Gish Galloped when debating facts with a believer. When they freely use fallacious strategies like the non-sequitur, it can severely hamper your ability to weed out their actual replies from the off-topic rants. When they toss in so much special pleading that universes of documented evidence are ably swept aside in favor of their a priori conclusion, it withers your mind’s ability to see any point in the discussion. And when it all streams out at breakneck speed like a fire-hose, and especially when it’s accompanied by just the right amount of snark, one cannot help but conclude that arguing with a believer is often a lost cause. 

One can only hope to plant seeds of good reasoning in the bad soil of believers’ terrible abuse of logic and rational thought.

Another conclusion I’m forced to is that taken by my previous post, Credulity. To return to that topic a bit, I am reinforced in my theory stated there that once a person embraces religious beliefs, perhaps especially Christian religious beliefs, one is thereby opening oneself to all manner of other erroneous ways of perceiving reality, including pseudoscience and conspiracy theories.

Tom’s climate contrarianism is usually bolstered by his own claims of conspiracy. He claims we are being lied to. He seems to truly believe that a conspiracy is afoot, with so-called ‘limousine liberals’ calling the shots, to dupe the world’s nations into thinking that CO2 is bad for the environment, and to make money off of their endeavors to reduce or eliminate emissions of CO2. A simpler explanation (a la Occam) would be that the consensus on climate change is actually correct, but to believers who have already tossed out Occam’s razor in favor of the convoluted teachings of Christianity, that’s not good enough. Conspiracy makes more sense to them. Pre-loaded with their a priori conclusion that climate change cannot be caused by human actions, their confirmation bias cherry picks through the abundant orchards of denial supplied by the industry and their many crackpot ‘think-tanks’ and bloggers. The poor, defenseless oil, coal, and natural (fracktural) gas industries should say hail Marys to thank God for their courageous defenders in people like Tom.

It’s the same with his Catholic supremacy theories. His presupposition is that Jesus himself found the Catholic Church, and has never stopped guiding it. If the church’s critics turn up the heat too high, Tom cries ‘Conspiracy!’, ‘anti-catholicism!’, ‘bigotry!’, and alternates such cries with heroic special pleading, betraying such an unthinking loyalty that he deserved an honorary clerical title: “The church is the source of all things good- Science, Morality, Philosophy, Logic, Environmentalism, the U.N., Hospitals, Universities, Western Civilization!”

Tom has elsewhere asserted that EMF radiation from wireless and microwave technology is part of a cover-up of the known science proving it is a carcinogenic toxin constantly bathing us all in a danger yet-unforeseen (but it can’t be good).

He has also claimed that the USDA (or was it the FDA? probably both) have conspired to misinform the public on the topic of nutrition; luckily, Dr. Jack Kruse and his version of an optimized lifestyle and diet (think paleo on steroids) is around to set us all straight on that.

There’s no point arguing with someone whose a priori conclusions will always be allowed to trump any evidence which disagrees with their presuppositions. Especially is this the case with people like Tom, who also know a lot about science and logic and philosophy, and aren’t afraid to name-drop and term-drop from the ranks of those who (if they knew he was referencing them in his own defense would spin in their graves) actually HAVE set our society toward a brighter future for all their efforts to draw humanity away from superstition, religion, and pseudoscience.

To Tom, HE is the one being logical (presumably because he’s in the correct church, the one which invented philosophy and logic), HE is the one properly using science (after all, his church invented science), HE is the one with the correct perspective on moral questions (since his church is the God-ordained repository of morality). Tom has decided the above conclusions ahead of any argument you wish to bring to him. He is unable to justify his long loyalty to his church without such a priori conclusions and his free exercise of confirmation bias, cherry picking, special pleading, and flat out ignoring evidence when it is too detrimental to those conclusions.

And THAT is the clearest case study I can present that Christianity is indeed a harmful delusion. From my experience, it makes me sad, since I was right there where Tom is, valiantly (I thought at that time) fighting the good fight, defending the faith. I was very certain of everything I believed, and certain also that God was pleased with me for that certainty and for taking up the fight against his enemies in the Facebook discussions, in the chat rooms, in the comments sections, and in every corner of the Internet it could be found.

I am saddened because of the years I lost, giving my mind over to such wasteful and harmful misuse. And because of the many I misled on the Internet and (worse) in my private school classrooms. Humanity needs to shed its superstitions, stop clinging to its outmoded religious modes of morality, and embrace being good without God–the only way to truly be good, and to truly benefit the well-being of all our fellow humans.

We need a truly secular society, a science-based society, one which allows for the few to retain their individual faith traditions, will not allow its increasingly humanist majority to be held back any more by the powerful and corrupting anti-scientific forces within organized religious and pseudoscience lobbying organizations.

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Anonymous Guest Posting

Anonymous Guest Post

It’s kind of long and not such an easy read but stick with it till the end…..

You’ll love Rome. Gnaw it clear to the marrow and suck the life out of it. Have no regrets, promise? A part of me will never leave Rome. Your last comment is still a brutal stab through my heart, some 23 years later…….I’ll catch my breath here, and proceed.

I spent one whole summer in Europe, studying the ancient conventions of classic Aristotelian rhetoric in Athens, where I met a mysterious, beautiful and sad-eyed European tour guide. Greece will grab an American. They had their own Alamo. At the Hot Gates (Thermopylae), 300 Spartans fought under the leadership of King Leonidas and went to their deaths against a million man Persian Juggernaut. You stand there and quake at this mighty inscription:

GO TELL THE SPARTANS PASSERBY,
THAT HERE OBEDIENT TO THEIR LAWS WE LIE

The chemistry between us reached the white hot level at King Leonidas’s memorial, and she quickly became my girlfriend. Americans are strange and exotic foreigners there. She offered to take me on the grand tour of Europe and parts of the sunny, aromatic Middle East. And best of all, I could shut up. She spoke fluent Arabic, British-accented English, Hebrew, Greek, Italian, French, German, and one other secret ancient tongue she shyly insisted on disclosing…..Later. At the right time. Patience.

Turkey (the onion domes of Istanbul and the seaside Temple of Diana); Israel (Church of the Nativity via Via Dolorosa, the “Way of Grief”); Syria (dusty Damascus), Cyprus and Sicily Islands via cruise ship, landing at Venice. We disembarked there, took the singing Venetian gondola tour, then lazily drove to Rome. It was the high point of my short undergrad years at State U, and I was blessed with my own personal professional tour guide for a couple of weeks touring, the leavings of the Roman Empire and gorgeous Florence as a finale.

The darkness: she had the unnerving habit of staring blankly off into the faraway distance almost in a trance for speechless silent minutes. I had to dig it out: she was at the Rome airport 5 years before when the Abu Nidal terrorists opened fire with machine guns killing and wounding many innocent bystanders and she ran and ran and ran for her life past piles of bodies…all the while panic dodging several near misses after bullets ricocheted and went zinging past her head. Pink sprays of blood. Everywhere. With head bowed, she crossed herself, whispering haltingly and darkly in heart-broken Italian. “Anni di’ Piombo” ….. The Summer of Lead. One little bitty girl shot through the tiny lung died in her blood-slicked arms, coughing and choking on tiny rivulets of pink foam. I could tell whenever she remembered it….. those stricken dead leaden eyes. The darkness: just one sharp memory away. The least I could do is sit still with her and be silent: Mourning is forever. Leon Wieseltier said it best:

“The contest between the light of memory and the words of mere history becomes acute, even excruciating, when the subject of the backward look is catastrophe….you are being addressed across a gulf, through a thick wall of glass, from the farthest corner of a banished heart. You listen carefully, but an approximation of her experience is the best you can hope for. You begin to understand that there are situations in which memory is not a privilege: if history is your only source of knowledge about the darkness, then you are one of the lucky ones. You look at this woman in the work of recollection and you no longer remark on the beauty of memory, or on its utility for the perpetuation of the knowledge of the disaster, you wish only that memory would falter and die, and you bless the moments of forgetfulness and all the divagations of ordinary life after the end of the world.”

She lived in Rome, alone, in a beautiful penthouse apartment overlooking the ruins of the Coliseum. After midnight, she urgently shook me suddenly awake from a deep sleep. Airport panic again, I thought. She grabbed my hand tightly and without a word drug me on a crazy wild goose chase through a labyrinthine and cob-webbed system of dank and fetid tunnels underneath Rome. I lost all sense of direction and even experienced woozy vertigo in the pitch darkness. This was it. She had finally broken and lost her marbles from acute memory overdose. Mercifully, we started ascending back up and up and up to ground level via an ancient set of stone stairs, blessedly smelling a few stray wisps of fresh air. She had to fumble with keys to unlock the massive wooden door. Italy gives licensed tour guides license. We went into a gigantic enclosed space and into a wall of thick and sickly smells, of incense and centuries of acrid candle smoke. I was in some sort of mystically blurred ancient dream state set in stone, as big as a parking garage. Ambient light flickered from some tiny candles far far across the room from the entrance, washing the walls in a kind of halting light, in a light that seemed anxious about its own appropriateness. .

She gasped a strange low wracked guttural sob, from the bottom of a shattered heart, furtively crossed herself and dropped to her knees on the stone floor. Crazy! Should I call the authorities? And how was I ever going to find my way back to her apartment? But I had no idea where we were, so I waited, glancing protectively as she sobbed this whisper prayer:

“Réquiem ætérnam dona ei Dómine; et lux perpétua lúceat ei. Requiéscat in pace. Amen.”

“Eternal rest grant her, O Lord; and let perpetual light shine upon her. May she rest in peace. Amen.”

God’s Grammar: The prayer language of mourning a stranger, a tiny girl. The Latin Prayer for the Dead. The riddle of the shy mystery language, finally resolved.

My eyes took forever to adjust to the vast dimness……gradually, I could barely make out some seething vague shapes and haunting violent epic battle forms flickering on the ceiling high above, becoming more and more recognizable, like a long ago vivid midnight dream. You sort of can recall ………but strangely not quite completely. Not completely. One of the images gradually shifted into sharp focus, and I – a gobsmacked ex-Adventist filled to the brim with unexamined boyhood anti-Catholic hatred – clumsily crossed myself and involuntarily sank to my knees. So spellbinding is the jaw-dropping sight of unearthly Michelangelo’s massive fresco of God touching the finger of and transmitting the first life to lifeless Adam……You lose reality, and time. I spent mute minutes staring mouth agape, eventually regaining enough composure to wobble upwards and stand on weak and shaking legs. It was just the two of us, in God’s Condo, embracing and shivering. In shock. Talk is stupid in that place. Silence is eloquence.

I boarded a plane three weeks later and never saw her again.

My advice? Make sure you wear your drool bib at the Sistine Chapel.If you are like me, you’ll be simultaneously mesmerized and electrified, you will lose all muscle control, mouth lolling agape staring dumbstruck at this earth-shattering otherworldly spectacle. At the greatest and most beautiful human-made phenomena in Rome, in Italy, in Europe, in the whole wide world.

I will be haunted by those images on that early morning in the Sistine Chapel, the memory of that sobbing Latin prayer for an anonymous tiny girl killed in an airport massacre and these overwhelming feelings of the direct and powerful presence of God…… until the day I die.

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