f The Wittenberg Door: Letters to a Christian Nation – Part 1

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Commenting on Christendom, culture, history, and other oddities of life from an historic Protestant perspective.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Letters to a Christian Nation – Part 1

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In a recent interview, Sir Elton John said that, if it were up to him, he would “ban religion completely.” He fortified his judgment with various moral charges, such as religion’s supposed lack of compassion and hatred of homosexuals.

What if Sir Elton had his wish? What would it mean? First, atheism (Sir Elton’s religion) would become the world’s de facto religion. Then the ban would have to be enforced. Should non-atheists simply be put in prison, or should they be put to death? (How tolerant and compassionate.)

This is typical atheist thinking. It never occurs to Sir Elton to argue for his worldview. Instead, he’d rather convert by the edge of the sword (sound familiar?)—indeed, throwing rocks and name calling is a common atheist practice.

Meanwhile, back on planet earth . . . By what moral standard does he judge “religion”? Are his own whims the standard? Why ought we care what he thinks? Why should we accept that his words carry moral weight?

Moral Foundation

This brings me to Mr. Harris’ book. It’s basically a longer version of Sir Elton’s tirade. Because of time constraints, I’ve only been able to get through about a third of the book. But page-after-page it’s the same: no arguments; just the author’s complaints, and evidences of his sharp tongue. He does, however, provide us with his principle of ethics:

Questions of morality are questions about happiness and suffering . . . To the degree that our actions can affect the experience of other creatures positively or negatively, questions of morality apply. (pg. 8)

Utilitarianism

What Mr. Harris is describing is called Utilitarianism. Philosophy Pages provides this nifty definition:

Normative theory that human conduct is right or wrong because of its tendency to produce favorable or unfavorable consequences for the people who are affected by it. The hedonistic utilitarianism of Bentham, Mill, and Sidgwick maintains that all moral judgments can be derived from the greatest happiness principle.

From what I’ve read so far, Mr. Harris desires to put God in the dock. He has all kinds of moral complaints againt God—in his view, God doesn’t live up to his, Mr. Harris', Utilitarianism; the suppossed consequent of God’s “failing” is non-existance. His argument is basically this:

If God exists, he’ll live-up to my Utilitarianism.
God does not live-up to my Utilitarianism.
Therefore, God does not exist.

Strange way for the clay to argue against the potter's existance.

A House Needs a Foundation

The major premise is obviously the problem, thus killing the argument: Why should God, or us for that matter, give any credence to Mr. Harris’ Utilitarianism? Asserting Utilitarianism does not prove Utilitarianism. Because Mr. Harris does not provide a foundation for his moral claims, we have no reason to take his claims seriously, nor give his charges against God any attention—and God certainly has no reason to bow to Mr. Harris’ stipulated morality.

Nevertheless, I’ll press-on through Mr. Harris’ book, taking you along for the ride, with the earnest hope that I’ll stumble upon a real argument. So stay tuned for part 2!

One More Thing

Michael Medved has a great commentary on Sir Elton’s comments titled, The "tolerant" Sir Elton wants to ban religion. In the commentary, Mr. Medved makes this insightful statement: “A point of view confident of its own arguments wouldn’t make the case for ‘bans’ or ‘suppression.’"

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11 Comments:

Blogger Seth McBee said...

our role as Christians is to make sure that we truly hate the sin and not the sinner. We fall into this really easily and homosexuals find us to be hateful, and for the most part I can see why they see us in this light. I pray that we would continue preach the truth yet show compassion like Christ did. I am with you on your post so don't think that I am not and when I hear the rebuttals from atheists I really get fired up, but my job is to rely on the Spirit and not allow my flesh to react.

8:15 PM  
Blogger W. E. Messamore said...

May the spam be with you.

Anyways, good post. It seems like lately with Elton John's comments, Harris' book, the Wired News article about the New Atheists, the South Park episode about Richard Dawkins, Penn's appearance on the Colbert Report, (etc), that atheism has been the hot topic. It's a good time for children of the Reformation armed with catechisms (and apologetics particularly) to contend for the faith.

7:15 PM  
Blogger pilgrim said...

They never seem to notice the self contradictions they make.

Still at various times & places the Church as a whole has failed to reach out to various marginalized groups.

We ought not to endorse or support sin, but we do need to reach out to sinners.

Still I marvel at how atheists (in general--I am not saying they have a monolithic organization that handles these things--nor am I suggesting a conspiracy) can so blithely ignore their own self contradictions.

9:13 AM  
Blogger W. E. Messamore said...

Agreed, Pilgrim. I like most of all their smug attitude of intellectual superiority despite often committing serious fallacies and major logical inconsistencies.

11:21 AM  
Blogger The Wittenberg Door said...

Wow! Great comments everyone (except for the spam guy, who has been banished back to the darkside). Thanks so much for posting them.

4:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What contradictions and fallacies are you talking about? Be specific.

4:14 PM  
Blogger The Wittenberg Door said...

Greetings, Anonymous. I didn't mention any "contridictions and fallacies." To what are you are you referring?

2:54 PM  
Blogger RC Metcalf said...

You may be interested in a new book that has just been published in response to Sam Harris. It is entitled "Letter to a Christian Nation: Counter Point" by RC Metcalf. It is available through Amazon and B&N or through the author's website at http://thinkagain.us. Please let others know about this important work!

12:28 AM  
Blogger RC Metcalf said...

Seth, Most homosexuals (not all) identify so strongly with the gay rights movement that when we say "hate the sin, love the sinner," they fail to see the difference. Their lives are so wrapped up in "gay pride" that when we "hate" homosexuality, it is equated in their minds with hating them. Our outward focus needs to be on loving the sinner and pointing the sinner toward Jesus. Blessings, RC

10:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you only read a third of the book?
your arguments prove to be invalid. Sadly, this doesn't surprise me...

8:08 PM  
Blogger The Wittenberg Door said...

Anonymous, have you read the book? My suspicions were confirmed: Mr. Harris offers no arguments, just name calling and deliberate mischaracterizations of Christianity.

The only argument I offer in this kick-off post is that asserting Utilitarianism doesn’t prove Utilitarianism. Likewise, your assertation that my argument is invalid doesn’t prove that it’s invalid.

5:41 AM  

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