Counter-apologetics

Moderates Become Extremists

When I was a religious extremist, I embraced every teaching of the Bible as if it could be none other than directly from the mind of a loving God to his lost children. One year of college, then one year of missionary service, only made me more extreme. Meeting and marrying my wife, having our first child, returning to the mission field, and then returning to college to complete my teaching degree were all life events which eroded away my extremism. By the time I was a seasoned teacher, I was religiously and politically liberal. I had become a moderate, using the current terminology.

My definition of a religious moderate is one who ignores the bad ideas in their scriptures; extremists embrace the bad ideas. Some extremists move away from the bad ideas, and toward moderation, like I did. This phenomenon is healthy for open discussion across political and religious boundaries, and results in progress for international and ecumenical relations.

However, nothing prevents moderates from becoming extremists; all they have to do is stop ignoring their scriptures’ bad ideas, and embrace them. This is unhealthy for society; it generates friction between fellow citizens, creates animosity toward the ‘other’, and at its worst it engenders violence toward innocent people. This is why public criticism of the bad ideas generated by religion is so important– keeping the moderates moderate, and drying up the recruiting grounds of extremists.

From http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ali-a-rizvi/an-open-letter-to-moderat_b_5930764.html “When people see moderates insisting that Islam is peaceful while also defending these verses and claiming they’re misunderstood, it appears inconsistent. When they read these passages and see fundamentalists carrying out exactly what they say, it appears consistent.”

If you are religious and agree with my definition, you are a religious moderate. If you are offended by and disagree with my definition, you are not moderate. I think there is a spectrum of extremism, from simply very conservative, to fundamentalist, to extremist. But those on that far right end of the spectrum are pushing back the hardest against public criticism of their religious ideas, and they are succeeding in most parts of the world.

The dynamic of the moderates being the recruiting ground for extremists is a dirty truth about religion that the larger society ignores. People like Sam Harris or the late Christopher Hitchens or others who expose it are branded Islamophobes, and dismissed as racist. Liberals in general tend to be unable to see it happening. But when I was a Christian I spent twenty-five years observing this dynamic relationship between Seventh-day Adventist moderates and extremists.

There is a strong flow from extreme to moderate, as young people educate themselves and turn away from the more conservative practices. But there is also a flow in the opposite direction, from moderates to conservative. This happens because the extreme conservative embrace of all the ideas in scripture, bad and good, is the most consistent. And they know it. And they use that as a hammer to verbally attack the moderates and liberals in their sermons, using guilt and shame to ‘bring them back to the Bible.’

UPDATE 1/12/2015: “I searched the internet and discovered that Jenny’s rabbi didn’t act alone but rather, he was part of a concerted, worldwide effort to recruit non-Orthodox Jews to ultra-Orthodoxy.” From kveller.com/how-i-lost-my-daughter-to-religious-fundamentalism

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Counter-apologetics, Facebook discussions, Seventh-day Adventism

Why I Doubt Daniel 2 Is True

Daniel 2 Doubts Wrapped Up in Daniel Book/Doctrine Doubts

The relevance of the second chapter of the book of Daniel to a believer in Seventh-day Adventist doctrine is entirely dependent upon that church’s twin doctrines known as “The Sanctuary” and “The Investigative Judgment”.


Both of those doctrines depend heavily upon a view of the whole book of Daniel which has largely been abandoned by modern liberal scholarship, as noted below. Both of these doctrines build upon that abandoned interpretation of Daniel 2 which relied upon it as prophecy written before the events it predicted rather than as history written after the events it pretends to predict (the modern view). Both of those doctrines are unique to a single denomination within Christianity, the Seventh-day Adventist Church; but even within that church, there is no agreement as to the reliability of those very doctrines! The best summary of the controversy over those twin doctrines is found in three parts:

  1. Part One is here: truthorfables.com/Sanctuary_Cottrell.htm (If not available there, try http://www.webcitation.org/6Qcfg7Rgu;)
  2. Part Two is here: truthorfables.com/Sanctuary_Cottrell2.htm (If not available there, try http://www.webcitation.org/6QcfhFSQG;)
  3. Part Three is here: truthorfables.com/Cottrell_IJ_Recollection.htm (If not available there, try http://www.webcitation.org/6QcfjoZU9.)

The Modern Scholarship Problems with Daniel Must Be Answered

“Perhaps the most infamous case of misdating and misrepresentation is the book of Daniel. It is a hotchpotch of stories, some in Aramaic, some in Hebrew; some (retrospectively) describing visions, some incorporating known Babylonian tales; some regarded as canonical, some apocryphal. It purports to have been written during the Babylonian Exile, but scholars now accept that it was written about 400 years later, between 167 and 164 BC, at least partly in Aramaic. It is propaganda compiled to encourage resistance to the Greek ruler Antiochus Epiphanes, who was then trying to crush the Jewish religion. It tells how Daniel and his associates refused to compromise on matters of faith during the Babylonian Exile, but displays ignorance of the period, and of the Persian succession, and uses Macedonian words that were unknown at the time it was supposedly written.” (Beyond Belief: Two Thousand Years of Bad Faith in the Christian Church, Garnet (UK, 2011); Garnet, (USA, 2011) ;http://www.badnewsaboutchristianity.com/aa0_ot.htm#authorship)

“Old Testament authors often failed to appreciate that times change. They frequently projected titles, rituals and customs from their own time into the distant past. The author of Chronicles (third century BC) did it writing about the time of David (tenth century BC). The author of Esther (third or fourth century BC) did it writing about ancient Persia around the fifth century BC, and the author of Daniel (167-164 BC) did it writing about events 400 years earlier. In each case the author was trying to present his work as being much older than it really was.” (Beyond Belief: Two Thousand Years of Bad Faith in the Christian Church, Garnet (UK, 2011); Garnet, (USA, 2011); http://www.badnewsaboutchristianity.com/aa0_ot.htm#errors)

“The introduction to the Prophets concludes that Daniel was not written by Daniel, but by a much later writer (167-164 B.C.) who wrote of things past as if they were yet in the fututre [sic].” (The Jerusalem Bible, http://www.bible-researcher.com/jerusalem-bible.html)

“One of the chief reasons of the obscurity which surrounds the interpretation of Dan., ix, 24-27, is found in the imperfect condition in which the original text of the Book of Daniel has come to us. Not only in the prophecy of the seventy weeks, but also throughout both its Hebrew (Dan., i-ii, 4; viii-xii) and its Aramaic (ii, 4-vii) sections, that text betrays various defects which it is easier to notice and to point out than to correct. Linguistics, the context, and the ancient translations of Daniel are most of the time insufficient guides towards the sure restoration of the primitive reading. The oldest of these translations is the Greek version known as the Septuagint, whose text has come down to us, not in its original form, but in that given to it by Origen (died about A.D. 254) for the composition of his Hexapla. Before this revision by Origen, the text of the Septuagint was regarded as so unreliable, because of its freedom in rendering, and of the alterations which had been introduced into it etc., that, during the second century of our era, it was discarded by the Church, which adopted in its stead the Greek version of Daniel made in that same century by the Jewish proselyte, Theodotion. This version of Theodotion was apparently a skilful revision of the Septuagint by means of the original text, and is the one embodied in the authentic edition of the Septuagint published by Sixtus V in 1587.” (Catholic Encyclopedia, “Book of Daniel”; http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04621b.htm)

“Briefly stated, the following are their principal arguments:

  • As it is now found in the Hebrew Bible, the Book of Daniel contains historical references which tend to prove that its author is not an eyewitness of the events alluded to, as would be the case if he were the Prophet Daniel. Had this author lived during the Exile, it is argued, he would not have stated that “in the third year of the reign of Joakim, king of Juda, Nebuchadnezzer, king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem and besieged it” (Daniel 1:1), since this conflicts with Jeremiah, xxxvi, 9, 29.
  • He would not have repeatedly used the word “Chaldeans” as the name of a learned caste, this sense being foreign to the Assyro-Babylonian language, and of an origin later than the Exile; he would not have spoken of Balthasar as “king” (v, 1, 2 3, 5, etc., viii, 1), as the “son of Nebuchadnezzer” (v, 2, 18, etc.), since Balthasar was never king, and neither he nor his father had any blood-relationship to Nebuchadnezzer;
  • he would have avoided the statement that “Darius the Mede succeeded to the kingdom” of Balthasar (v. 31), since there is no room for such a ruler between Nabonahid, Balthasar’s father, and Cyrus, the conqueror of Babylon;
  • he could not have spoken of “the Books” (Daniel 9:2-Heb. text), an expression which implies that the prophecies of Jeremiah formed part of a well-known collection of sacred books, which assuredly was not the case in the time of Nebuchadnezzer and Cyrus, etc.
  • The linguistic features of the book, as it exists in the Hebrew Bible, point also, it is said, to a date later than that of Daniel: its Hebrew is of the distinctly late type which followed Nehemias’ time; in both its Hebrew and its Aramaic portions there are Persian words and at least three Greek words, which of course should be referred to a period later than the Babylonian Exile.” (Catholic Encyclopedia, “Book of Daniel”; http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04621b.htm)
From a very conservative scholar (one who ultimately argues for a view very friendly to the SDA interpretation), we find the admission that: “the book of Daniel is one of the most contested portions of the Old Testament, perhaps second only to the early chapters of Genesis.” (http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/article_daniel.html)

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Atheism, Counter-apologetics, Ethics, Personal statements, Philosophy, Seventh-day Adventism, Theology

Good Without God, Better Without God




For whatever reason (I’m not sure I’m willing to guess), in the few years since I’ve come out atheist, I have experienced a motivation to behave ethically and morally far beyond that which two and a half decades of Christianity ever provided.

My denomination was the Seventh-day Adventist Church. I was not your average pew-warmer, either. Within 18 months of my baptism at the tender age of 20, I had embarked on a year-long foreign missionary teaching assignment, been ordained a local elder in that mission-field’s church (at the ordination ceremony, when the pastor read to his church the biblical requirements of an elder, he literally skipped over the verse in 1 Timothy 3 which states that the elder must not be a recent convert; I swallowed hard and kept smiling), and had preached sermons and taught lessons more than many elderly members who had been Seventh-day Adventists all their lives.

Within five years of my baptism, I had married a pastor’s daughter, was the father of my own daughter, and had entered my religion degree program at the church’s most conservative college (then called simply Southern College, now called Southern Adventist University). Three years later, I was continuing my teaching career, standing before classrooms full of youth in an official church ministry capacity: Bible teacher, licensed to teach grades 7-12. My life had a trajectory; my role in the church gave me unlimited opportunities to model good citizenship, and the character qualities of a member in good and regular standing. Mine was a Purpose-Driven Life.

In the Bible, in Ellen White’s writings, and in fellowship with like-minded fellow Adventists including especially the most Christian-like people I’ve ever met– my wife and her adoptive parents– I actively sought moral motivation. I wanted to be a better person, just like most of my fellow Christians were actively seeking to be. It’s one of the things Christians do.

However, I remember that I always received from all my spiritual sources something mixed in with the motivation, something that perhaps tainted it. I know that I always believed that my sinfulness was real, was permanent (until God would remove it at my resurrection), and that it was part of me– I believed in that Bible doctrine of the sinful nature.

I was damaged goods. I was broken. Yes, I was redeemable, and sometimes I actually managed to believe I was redeemed. But mostly, confirmation bias of my sinfulness created a feedback loop in my mind, so that every idle moment, every stray temptation, every minor cruelty or neglect or mistake or stumble always reminded me that I was never going to be good enough for the most important One in my life, my God. I had to have a substitute who was better than me, a mediator who would step between me and judgment, a Holy Spirit guide for my decisions and choices– because I wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t good. I could never be good by nature until some future time. Maybe I’m guessing now at why I couldn’t be truly good by nature while I was a Christian: it would have contradicted the teachings of the Book I’d wrapped myself in as a career and personal compass, the Bible.

Eventually, I stepped away from that high Christian post, came down from a life as a watchman on the walls of Zion, and became just another family guy in Orlando, Florida. I also joined a small but growing group of Americans who identify as “none” when it comes to religion, and the even smaller group who class themselves as non-religious, non-spiritual, non-believer in all gods. In other words, atheist. Which to me restates a negative: ‘no god’. I also became an official, dues-paying member of another organization whose positive, life-affirming and hopeful principles I could whole-heartedly support, the American Humanist Association.

Humanists have a little motto: Good Without God. I like that, and it describes my current ethical motivations. But as I started to say at the beginning of this, I now experience a more powerful and consistent motivation to be good, now that I’m without God (as it were). Now that I’m no longer deluded into believing that all my attempts at goodness are “filthy rags,” (Isaiah 64:6), I feel that morals and ethical values are more important to me than ever before. I read books about the topic, I listen to podcasts about it, scour philosophical writings for clues, discuss it with my ever-patient wife, and through it all, I am coming to the conclusion that like the Humanist motto, ‘Good Without God,’ it’s quite true that a secular, atheist, humanist person can perhaps even be Better Without God.
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UPDATE: The Facebook friends I have occasionally comment on my posts. The following was posted by Larry Hallock, and is reproduced here with his permission; I thought it extended nicely the theme in this post:

Larry Hallock: Excellent blog post, Jim. That first paragraph says it all… I mean, I have had the same experience, and from what I’ve read, many others have said the same thing—life becomes so much richer, so much more meaningful and rewarding… the pieces of the puzzle finally fit… without the baggage, life just seems brighter. And it’s enormously better emotionally when you’re not constantly fretting, consciously or subconsciously, over whether or not you’ll get the promised supernatural help, or why it’s not there, or why you can’t understand, or whether you’re accurately reading the mental impressions from your god (any given thought could be a deceiving counterfeit from the bad god, Satan, so an enormous amount of resources, especially time, is required for constantly praying for the good god to come and fight off the bad god for you), and whether you’re pleasing the god by interpreting its “will” correctly and then carrying out whatever it is you think it wants, according to the minimum standards required for you to be brought back to life in order to go to the great fantasy land in the sky rather than being brought back to life in order to be killed again, only this time by torture. Life was never truly joyful for me, not in a deep, abiding sense, when I lived by all of that, compared to just living by what is good, loving, positive, constructive, kind, …the Golden Rule. It is invigorating to live according to your own skills, ingenuity and creativity (being your own boss!) rather than always living every waking moment solely to please others, to say nothing of solely to please just one guy who makes enormous demands with deadly consequences if you don’t make the cut—and, all the while, he refuses discuss any of it or talk to you, just sorta leaves you to guess at what’s wanted. Sorry, but at this point I’ve started chuckling out loud, so I need to stop typing. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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Counter-apologetics, Epistemology, Seventh-day Adventism

A Christian Mind Cannot Open

I remember being convinced that the Seventh-day Adventist worldview was the only correct lens through which to judge all incoming information, including political information used to make voting decisions. For decades I perceived everything I read, heard, observed, learned, and discovered through that very narrow lens, also known as The Great Controversy:

  •     God had created everything, including the universe, many different kinds of beings, and a particular kind of beings known as angels.
  •     The angel Lucifer sinned, creating the controversy between himself and God.
  •     Banned from heaven, Satan (formerly Lucifer) spread sin and controversy to the newly-created planet Earth by deceiving human beings to rebel against their Creator.
  •     Jesus put his life on the line for humans, determined not to lose them to Satan’s side of the controversy.
  •     The Bible was Jesus’ plan of attack and the most accurate synopsis of the on-going controversy.
  •     Satan’s deceptive powers had succeeded in getting most Christians to be confused about the most important truths in the Bible, or else to ignore it enough to neutralize its life-giving power.
  •     God had entrusted one group of people on Earth (the Seventh-day Adventist Church) with inspired information about the Bible, and had given them an important mission to share that information with the world.

When I had thoroughly integrated these elements of the SDA worldview, I found it difficult to perceive new information from any alternative perspective. The SDA message is self-reinforcing and well insulated against attack. Sin and Satan’s deceptions explain away any objections which cannot be directly answered with specific Bible texts or Ellen White sayings.

  •     If arguments like “The Bible is full of contradictions” arose, that was explained away as Satan attempting to erode away faith in God’s Word.
  •     If evolutionary proofs were offered in contrast to creationist claims, “the fool hath said in his heart, ‘there is no God,'” and other such verses explained away evolution as if it were a competing faith-based belief system.
  •     If God’s mercy in the Old Testament was questioned after contemplating genocides, slavery, misogyny, etc., that was explained away by saying that God mercifully communicated to different cultures in the way best adapted to their way of thinking– the fault was sin’s corrupting influence, and God risked being misunderstood in order to carve a holy people from such corrupted beginnings. Anyway, Jesus could quickly be brought forward in the New Testament as the so-called ‘most accurate version’ of God’s true way of thinking. “I and the Father are One,” Jesus said. “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.”
  •     If natural disasters or disease epidemics brought God’s omnipotence into question, it was explained with a combination of sin’s devastating effects in the world, and the sinfully poor choices men made.
  •     If other Christians behaved poorly, or nations with other gods did evil in the name of their gods, the explanation was always ‘Satan at work,’ never ‘look what God allowed to occur today’.

Always, sin or free will or Satan were handy as a too-convenient way to explain away any difficulty. Or else, the ultimate dodge– God will answer all our questions in heaven.

The Christian mind which is enslaved to the above worldview can never be open to dangerous ideas. This is why Christian beliefs wreak havoc when they become influential in our U.S. political arena. In our form of representative government, the ‘folks back home’ rely on their elected representatives to listen carefully to each and every view in their constituency, especially when public opinion begins to obviously favor a particular side of an issue. On issues like gay marriage, contraception, and a woman’s right to control her own health decisions, the representatives in Congress who are devoted Christians tend to consult their beliefs and not their constituency when they vote on legislation.

I can see why they would do this. When I was a Christian, it was difficult– perhaps impossible– NOT to consider my own faith-informed opinions to be superior to all others, simply because I felt that my opinions agreed with the will of God. I strove to align all my political opinions and stances with my interpretation of the Bible. Most other serious Bible students were doing the same. When I would become convinced of a certain opinion, my faith that I was doing exactly ‘what Jesus would do’ about it made me stop thinking about other options, and closed off my mind from considering others’ point of view. I wouldn’t discuss these issues; I would inform others of the biblical view, and ignore whatever they said.

I recognize this same close-mindedness now for what it is, and as I see it in others it really sticks out. And seeing my country’s elected leadership increasingly embracing that closed-minded, head-in-the-sand Christian worldview, it pains me to know that my views will never be heard by them. Even when my views are shared by the majority of U.S. citizens, as they are on support of marriage equality, the ACA’s mandate for employers to provide contraception without comment, and support of a woman’s right to control her own body without being harassed by politicians and spiritual leaders.

Whether a view is held by a majority simply doesn’t make an impact on the closed Christian mind. I know it never affected me, when I was a closed-minded Christian; the Bible has much to say about believing what’s ‘right’, even though no one agrees with you– because God approves of the stand you’re taking, and will reward you. I always assumed that whether or not everyone else came to agree with me, God would show them all in the final judgment that I (and my fellow believers) were on the side of right all along. That hope of future vindication was all I needed to hang on to some of the most misogynistic, unethical values and views, many of which I see being trumpeted now by the religious right and the Tea Party, and their Fox News/hate radio-duped Christian electorate.

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Atheism, Counter-apologetics, Epistemology, Personal statements

How Do I Know?

These past few months, I’ve become more interested in how I know, than what I know. While facts play a big role in the formation of my values and beliefs, the primary concern is summed up in my title: ‘How do I know?’

How did I decide that my favorite set of values are ‘right,’ opposed to all those ‘wrong’ values? How did I settle on my particular list of ‘good to know’ facts, and how do I test and retest their reliability in the real world?

Epistemology is the term philosophers use for this question, How do I know what I think I know? Our parents, teachers, and other important early voices give us our childhood epistemology. Children are at the epistemological mercy of the adults surrounding them.

Without the cognitive tools of experience, common sense, or mature logical reasoning, children must answer the question How do you know? with ‘so and so told me.’ Which is another way to say ‘I don’t know, but I trust my mom (or teacher, or doctor, or pastor, or grandpa), and they said so’.

Of course, as children develop into adults, hearsay and appeals to authority are increasingly unacceptable, as those tools mentioned earlier reveal themselves to be more reliable. Life experience, common sense, and especially scientific evidence-based reasoning are widely-trusted and universally accepted epistemological tools in almost every realm where accuracy matters.

Almost. One form of hearsay remains despite the best attempts of enlightened reasoning to relegate it to the dustbin of history: faith.

I have recently finished a long period in my life during which I trusted faith as much or more than other ways of knowing things. (I’m not interested in the many different definitions Christians toss about for faith; whatever you count as the ‘biblical’ or official meaning of it, the way it is experienced by believers is the important thing to me.)

For me, it was the easiest way to dismiss doubts which arose as my years of studying the Bible grew into decades. Whatever could not easily be explained the way most difficult questions are– logical reasoning, evidence-gathering, observation, consulting experts and their research, etc– was explained away, by saying to myself, “Well, I guess I’ll just have to take that on faith, and ask God about it in heaven.”

I learned that practice of explaining difficult things away by faith early on in my Christian experience, and encountered it consistently throughout the full period during which I interacted with many fellow students of the Bible.

I have abandoned faith now, and no longer explain things away with capricious appeals to a future Q&A session with an imaginary Sky God. It’s tougher to think things all the way through, but ultimately more satisfying because of the higher confidence level I can have in those values and beliefs which survive that testing process.

It’s much tougher to deal with the many regrets I have that I ever swallowed the poison pill of faith, wrapped as it was in a pleasant coating of fellowship and social interaction. But life goes on, and I strive to make the best of it, using far superior tools than the one I left in the dustbin of my own history: faith.

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