Night Owl Mk. II

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Boldfaced statements are parts of the original essay (or a subsequent reply) to which the respondent has directed his comments.

Italicized/emphasized comments
prefaced by (R) are those of the respondent and are presented unedited.

My replies appear under the respondent's comments in blue text and are prefaced by my initials (MB).

This is the first of a four-part reply. Select the "Go to next reply" link at the end of each part to read the next part of the reply.

That is the true meaning of tolerance. As to whether or not that is being practiced by organized religion, I have grave doubts.
(R) By "organized religion," I'm assuming you mean the Catholic Church, plus the major Protestant denominations. It is possible you're also including other religions, I'm not sure.
(MB) An "organized religion" is any group of believers in a common deity or deities who identify their group by a particular name and who promote or observe specific doctrines, dogma, and ceremonies in the course of their worship and beliefs. Often, these groups have what amounts to a "mission statement" that describes what they are all about, a holy book or other texts to "back up" their dogmatic claims and also have some sort of central authority or leadership to guide and/or manage their membership. Basically, if one can give a specific positive answer when asked what religion or church he belongs to, he is a member of an organized religion.

(R) Anyway, on what do you base this "grave doubt?"
(MB) The current and historical practices and doctrines of these groups and their members.

(R) You must provide specific examples of wide-spread, institutionalized intolerance in each denomination to justify a statement that organized religion is intolerant.
(MB) How many would be sufficient and will they just be brushed off or rationalized when presented? In actuality, anybody who thinks that organized religions are "tolerant" of those who don't share their faiths and beliefs or worship their deities is either clueless, shamefully ignorant, or is just trying to paint a rosy glow over things. Let's see your next statement before I go on...

(R) Isolated examples of individuals or even entire denominations are not sufficient.
(MB) As suspected, you are already setting limits on what you will accept. Fortunately, my argument does not need to depend on such things.
    The Old Testament, for example, is full of examples of Jehovah demonstrating anything but tolerance for those who don't believe in him or do well in his eyes. Explicitly in the 10 Commandments, he warns that "I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt have no other Gods before me". This not only does not sound especially tolerant of other beliefs, but it also smacks of an acknowledgement that other Gods exist, but that Jehovah wants (or, more likely, demands) to be Numero Uno. How do you justify any claim of "tolerance" for any religion that worships this God?
    In the New Testament, Jesus often preaches that salvation can only be attained by those who believe in him and that eternal damnation in Hell awaits those who do not. The Gospels recount several incidents of Jesus acting in a rather intolerant manner towards others -- most notably Pharisees and money-changers. This from a "perfect" individual who preached that we should love our neighbors and turn the other cheek. How do you justify any claim of "tolerance" on behalf of any religion which supports such ideas and which worships the individual who preached them?
    One of the fundamental tenets of Islam is the phrase, "There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet". Islam also has a long history of rather marked intolerance towards those who don't agree with this. How do you justify any claim of "tolerance" on behalf of any version of Islam which holds such a fundamental tenet and acts in accordance with it?
    Are any further examples necessary or must each individual case be explicitly spelled out for you? Or, will you continue to revert to holding up fringe groups and minority sects as indicative of the whole of religious belief?

(R) Perhaps Lutherans are intolerant (I certainly don't think so) but that doesn't mean Episcopalians necessarily are....or Buddhists, for that matter.
(MB) This is based, of course, on your generalized preconceptions and personal connotation of "religious tolerance". Since both Lutherans and Episcopalians worship the God of the Bible and Jesus, they each gain the intolerance inherent in the worship of those deities.
    BTW, Buddhism is a bad example for this discussion since it is not based upon the worship of any deity or deities.

I'm still waiting for you to provide the example I asked for. If you can't provide contradictory examples, how can my opinions be "biased"?
(R) Examples have already been provided.
(MB) Where? All you've done so far is rattle off the names of individual sects of the major Yahvistic religions without providing any evidence whatsoever that they are free of the basic intolerances inherent in Yahvistic religion. The only way you can succeed in this attempt is if you can demonstrate that the deities worshipped by these sects are not the same as the ones depicted in the Bible. But, if this is attempted, you will have a difficult time attempting to support a claim that such a sect belongs in, or is indicative of, the main body of Christians or other Yahvists.

(R) (Central Christian, Unitarians and there are many, many more)
(MB) Once again, we see references to very minor sects of American Christianity and the inference that they represent the whole. Well, let's take a look at your shining examples.
    It may interest you to know that the Central Christian Church is under investigation and has been labeled as a "cult" in a study published in 1997 by the Concerned Christians Growth Ministries. The CCGM director, Rev. Adrian van Leen says "I am of the view that the group is disruptive and even destructive to family units" and states that the church's practices are damaging to the emotional integrity and stability of some of its members.
    Among the cultic characteristics described in the study are encouraging members to leave home to live communally, making members submit sin lists to leaders, handing out IOUs to members who don't donate enough money, making members submit papers on how they spend their time, pressuring members to recruit new members, mandating attendance at all church meetings, disciplining members who question the authority of leaders, and teaching that their rites and practices are the only way to become true Christians.
    Unitarians may well be the closest thing to a tolerant sect that exists. However, it is difficult to claim that they are indicative of other Christians since their major belief is at odds with a major doctrine of mainstream Christianity. Unitarians call themselves by that name because they do not believe in the doctrine of the Trinity. Outside of that, Unitarians embrace practically any other definition of God -- including a view that there is no God at all. It would seem, however, that such an undefined notion of "God" ends up doing little more than trivializing the concept into meaninglessness. This certainly doesn't square with the doctrines of mainstream Yahvism.

(R) Furthermore, I stand by my estimate that 90 percent of American Christians support religious freedom and tolerance.
(MB) Surprise, surprise... Let's see what Americans really think when actually asked what they support. A Gallup poll conducted in December, 1997 asked the following question:
    "In order to avoid offending Americans who aren't Christians, do you think it's a good idea or a bad idea that references to the birth of Christ and Christmas be avoided in businesses, schools, and other public situations?"
    The poll found that 74% of Americans thought that this was a *bad* idea while only 20% thought that this was a good idea. In other words, three out of every four Americans thought that it was more important to inject Christianity into public venues than to respect the views of non-Christians. It is hard to defend such an attitude as being especially "tolerant".
    Let's also not forget that being condescending of a viewpoint that is not your own is not the same as true "tolerance". Also, "religious freedom" does not mean only the freedom to attend church anywhere you want to.

(R) Your opinions are easily demonstrated to be biased, merely by the fact you used stereotyping to condemn all religious believers for the words and actions of a few.
(MB) You, of course, dispute such a thing by using examples of fringe groups and small minority sects to defend your opinion of the mainstream of your religion rather than demonstrating how that mainstream differs from how it is depicted.
    My opinions have been supported by facts and concrete examples -- which is the antithesis of "bias". Yours, on the other hand, offer up only minor sidebar examples that are not indicative of the whole and continue to receive your steadfast support even when refuted. Which approach smacks more of "bias"?

(R) A statement that 90 percent of Christians support religious freedom and tolerance isn't relevant to a debate about whether or not religious believers are tolerant? Come on, get real.
(MB) The debate was about concrete examples of which religions actually support the sort of religious freedom and tolerance that you posit. The only examples you managed to scrape up constitute less than 1% of Christians even if we make the dubious assumption that all members of those small groups believe as you say they do.
    So, yes, your claim of "90% support" isn't relevant if you can't account for more than 1% by definite example.

(R) As for the majority of Christians supporting freedom from religion, yes, of course they do. I certainly do.
(MB) Does this make you indicative of the majority? I think not. When do you think this "tolerant" majority will accept other religions (or atheism) to be equal to their own beliefs? When will we find a copy of the Koran or "Why I am an Agnostic" alongside the Gideon Bible in hotel rooms? I have a very difficult time finding books on atheism in bookstores, but there's certainly no lack of Christian reading material. When will "In God We Trust" be removed from our money? When will the phrase "under God" be removed from the Pledge of Allegiance? When will an open and avowed atheist have a chance of being elected to high political office? When will the news media run feature stories and TV broadcast specials on the impending observation of Ramadan? And so on and so on and so on...

(R) If you don't care to practice a religion, go for it (and good luck.)
(MB) Good luck? Why would that choice require a wish for "good luck"?

(R) Just don't tell me I'm an idiot because I do.
(MB) I don't. I say that there is no evidential justification for belief in God and that religion should not try to position itself as the equal of science as an explanation for Life, the Universe, and Everything -- especially when such claims are accompanied by logic barbarisms such as "all beliefs are equally valid if none have been proven" or "any claim is valid if it can't be disproven".
    If you wish to believe in God because to do so makes you content, go for it. Just be careful about going the extra mile of claiming that your God actually exists, that he created the Universe, that his Son died for our sins, that he answers prayers, or any other claim about him without having something other than presupposition and invalid philosophy with which to support such claims.

Christianity is lax, not tolerant. It places no real demands upon its adherents.
(R) It is loving, and places its followers under loving admonitions. Love involves freedom.
(MB) "Loving admonitions"?? Such as, "Believe or perish"? Such as, "Man is inherently sinful and must repent in order to be saved"? I'm afraid that I'm at a rather severe loss here to find anything "loving" in those two basic precepts of Christianity.

Because of this, it has evolved its hundreds of divergent major sects. There is no such level of diversity and confusion in any other religion.
(R) This is so simplistic, it's humorous. The largest dozen and a half Christian sects account for at least 90 percent of Christians.
(MB) In a previous reply, you acknowledged that there are at least 1400 different sects of Christianity in the US alone. If that doesn't qualify as "divergence" and "confusion", I'm not sure what does.

(R) Islam has two major divisions, just like Christianity, as well as two other large sects and over seventy smaller branches; Judaism has five different, widely divergent sects.
(MB) Don't those numbers provide firm support for my earlier statement that no other religion has the level of diversity that is seen in Christianity?

(R) Buddhism and other major religions have similar diversity. Individual groups of believers in all these religions range the spectrum from radical liberals to reactionary conservatism. Look at Muslims in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the U.S. About the only similarity between them is they use the same religious text.
(MB) Individuals and small groups can choose to believe and practice whatever they want. This, however, does not change the basic precepts of the religion as a whole -- and it is religion as a whole with which I have been taking issue.
    Consider one other thing -- if the religion was really as compelling and undeniable as is claimed, why would any groups or individuals diverge from it? Isn't this an acknowledgement that there's some basic flaw(s) in that religion that render it, at least in part, unacceptable even to believers? Now, if the base religion is founded upon the will of a perfect, all-powerful, and loving deity, how can any part of it possibly be considered "unacceptable" without risking the adverse judgment of that deity? If we then go on to say that all religions and all beliefs are equal, haven't we just reduced that deity to insignificance by placing our own preferences above his will?

Both Judaism and Islam have far more rigidly defined laws for their adherents. That is certainly why they have not diverged into as many sects as has Christianity. For Judaism, it has remained relatively intact despite its being several thousand years older than Christianity.
(R) So you're arguing that Judaism and Islam are less tolerant than Christianity and therefore better and more uniform religions? Humm....I don't think most people would agree with you.
(MB) You're mixing apples and oranges again. Levels of tolerance do not correllate with "better" or "worse" or even with uniformity. What I said was that Judaism and Islam have more rigidly defined laws for their adherents. This says nothing about their tolerance for other beliefs. Certainly, nobody will deny that there are more (and more important) festivals, observances and rites in Judaism and Islam than there are in Christianity. Faithful adherence to them is a measure of the devotion of the Jew/Muslim. There are no such comparable things in Christianity.

(R) The diversity of individual beliefs among Christians is one of the most appealing facets of Christianity. Each believer has a personal relationship with God.
(MB) That is a relatively recent concept and not a core precept of Christianity. God is supposed to be a specific deity that is served by Man, not one that assumes whatever convenient guise the individual prefers. Indeed, there is much philosophical writing (both from theists and atheists) that the notion of a "personal God" is both logically incoherent and even damaging to Christianity itself.
    I have no doubt that such a concept is appealing. I've called it "roll-your-own" religion and it is completely open to whatever self-serving rationalization that one chooses to employ to support his own notion of his personal God.

(R) Anyway, while we're on the subject, you mention that Judaism has remained intact over centuries. The survival of the Jews as a distinct people is one of history's most remarkable examples of the power of religion. You stated in your "Essay on Religion" that no religion has ever survived the destruction of the society which created it. Israel was destroyed quite thoroughly, a couple of times, but Judaism has survived. Looks like you're wrong.
(MB) Not at all. The state of Israel still survives. The Jews, as a people, have gone through a lot of relocation and turmoil throughout their history, to be sure, but the "children of Israel" are still around. Since they have not been destroyed, their religion has survived along with them. Looks like I'm right (again) after all.

What is so compelling about "God" that I couldn't substitute the name of any other deity into your two assumptions?
(R) Nothing. "God" as defined in this discussion *is* any deity.
(MB) "God" as you have chosen to redefine him since you can't support the specific version that you believe in, don't you mean?
    In any case, it is not possible to substitute the name of any possible God into your two assumptions. While the first (that he exists) must be taken as a given if the other is to have any meaning, the second (that he is a loving God) is clearly not true in all cases. To refer to two of the better-known examples, neither Zeus nor Odin could be considered to be "loving Gods" and there are numerous lesser gods in other religious systems who are evil in nature.
    Having shown clear examples where your blanket assumptions are invalid, we must conclude that your assumptions do not apply to all possible Gods. Therefore, your claim that "God" refers to any deity is clearly incorrect. This means that, if your assumptions are true, that your "God" can only refer to one of a particular subset of possible Gods who possesses whatever qualities and attributes you choose to ascribe to him. The more qualities you ascribe to your God, the more the field of possible candidates narrows. You have said nothing about your God that would lead anybody to believe that he is anything other than the God of the Bible -- except that you have chosen to redefine him in your own image and likeness. Is this done for any purpose other than obfuscation or the avoidance of straight answers to direct questions concerning your God?

What supports those assumptions such that they can be considered to be anything more than shaky speculation?
(R) The first assumption, that God exists, is the main point we are discussing. There is no conclusive evidence to support this assumption, nor is there any to support the alternative position. The two positions are equally valid.
(MB) This is an example of a basic concept in logic known as "Argument from Ignorance". Such an argument attempts to state that something is true simply because it hasn't been proven false. This argument also contains three other errors. The first is in the inference that a naturalistic view of the universe is an attempt to prove that God does not exist. The second is in saying that contrary positions that are each completely unsupported are equally valid -- when, in fact, completely unsupported positions have no validity at all. The third is the implied assumption that there is no evidence to support a naturalistic view of the universe. In fact, as has been shown, there is much to support such a view. Not yet to the level of absolute proof, to be sure, but more than enough to make it far better supported than the idea of special creation by a supernatural entity.

(R) The second assumption, that He is a loving God, is more open to discussion. It is also possible that God is indifferent to us, or even actively evil, however, arguments on this matter should be left until the first assumption is settled. Arguments about the nature of God are pointless if He doesn't exist.
(MB) And, of course, since the first assumption can never be proven, you can feel safe about not having to address the consequences of the second, right? Actually, you are correct here -- to a point. If God doesn't exist, then, of course, he has no nature about which to debate. If the existence of God in some form is still a possibility however, then debates about his nature can be crucial to determining the likelihood of his existence. If one can't show me that God exists, and can't tell me anything about him, on what basis am I to believe in him?

You are essentially making them the same if you want to lump them together into a group to support a claim that almost half the world adheres to them and believes in their common deity.
(R) Look, this is silly. Here you say there is no similarity between these three western religions, but in the very next section, you claim they worship the exactly same God. O.K. which is it? You can't have it both ways.
(MB) I'm not trying to have it both ways. You are simply unable to separate the deity being worshipped from the doctrine and dogma of the religions that promote the worship of him. Therefore, I am entirely correct when I say that the religions themselves are different while the God they worship is the same.

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