Hermant Mehta, The Friendly Atheist, had a fascinating take on an incident that occurred a while back. It seems that in a recent debate, a young man, Chad, challenged Mr. Marcellino (the Christian debater) about the fate of people who do not know Christ.
You know, the question of Hell, and god sending those unfortunates straight there for eternity.
First, though, Mr. Clifton had asserted earlier in the debate that he didn't think Hell was forever.
Then, later, he admitted, at Chad's questioning, that he is a believer that the bible is literally true.
Chad followed that up by questioning Marcellino’s claim from earlier in the debate that Hell wasn’t really forever — doesn’t the Bible say it is?
Marcellino: … Forever doesn’t really mean forever.Chad: … you said it was all literally true.Marcellino: Well, yeah, it’s not literally English true. It’s Hebrew and Greek. So you have to get into the Hebrew and Greek.Apparently, Chad has done this before, challenging Christian debaters and flummoxing them into stumbling and making idiots out of themselves. The Friendly Atheist has covered these debates, so if you want to actually see the video, go to the link above and watch. It's cool!
But that's not exactly what this post is about, though it did spark the old noggin a bit.
I've seen a lot of debate lately about whether the Progressive agenda, including Atheism, is really progressing (pardon the pun), or whether the right wing backlash has got us on the run. Certainly, the narrow polls in this election are cause for concern, as there is a very real possibility the Republicans could win the Senate.
Or so the pundits say. I do remember that the last election surprised a lot of pundits and pollsters alike. Anybody remember the epic meltdown of Carl Rove on Fox? It was, truly, something to watch!
I am, quite naturally, an optimist, even though I do take the engineer's position about that proverbial glass of water - I still insist the damn thing is just not the right size... but I digress.
One needs to take the long view in these things. Cultural changes do not take place overnight, even though we did manage to upend things in the 60's pretty quickly. Today's backlash is a direct result of the 60's, and it is a doozy! But, it isn't the end of the struggle. Not by a long shot.
227 years ago, the United States Constitution was ratified. That is, arguably, the greatest success for the men of the day in their struggle for the spread and the social acceptance of the principles of The Enlightenment. But the road leading to that day was long and bloody. Historically, the enlightenment began with the Crusades, believe it or not.
Before that time, Europeans were pretty much (except for merchants, mostly) confined to Europe, and didn't do much traveling. Travel was hard, dirty, and dangerous, and getting anywhere really interesting took months, and often years. The nobility of Europe were mostly interested in warfare, politics and religion, pretty much in that order. Few of them were literate, as most of their time was spent in the practice of martial arts, if not actively engaged in real fighting. The rest was often politics and such. There was a day when learning to read was actually discouraged for the nobility, as it was considered beneath their position. That's why they hired monks and learned priests to do their paperwork.
Much of that was the Church's fault, because really, they wanted the ability to read strictly in their purview, which allowed them to interpret Scripture. If you couldn't read, you had to take the priest's word for what was even written there! In fact, in the earlier centuries of what we call the Dark Ages, learning to read was actually forbidden by the church.
But when the nobles who answered the Pope's call for the Crusades got to the Holy Land, they didn't find barbarous savages as the Church taught, but very learned Muslim nobility, who had safeguarded many ancient writings over the centuries. Documents in Greek and Latin, often predating the Church, many of which were long lost writings of Greek philosophers. Histories, too, in both Greek and Latin; a lot of these men learned those languages, and took some of these documents to Europe when they went home.
The principles they learned, the ideas the Greeks had struggled over and debated about changed European thought and culture forever.
Looking at European history since those times, one can clearly see the slow but long term steady change from a society dominated by the Church and theocratic rule to one ruled by secular authorities which eventually denied the Church any secular authority at all.
Today, Europe is even more secular than the US, with some countries boasting fewer than 20% of their populations claiming religious belief.
I am not going to dive into the whys and the wherefores of how this took place, I'm not an historian. But it is sufficient to this discussion that it HAS taken place, and the progression of western culture from the conservative and the intolerant to a newer more liberal set of principles is easy to see.
It wasn't an easy road, and it wasn't a straight one. There was much backsliding and a lot of blood was spilled along the way.
But as of today, the culture wars (as Ed Brayton puts it) are still slowly and jerkily moving us forward, even if it is like clawing your way up a steep hill in the mud, fighting gravity every inch of the way.
American culture has moved through the 18th and 19th centuries, forging a new set of unique values. Values built on the movement of millions of Americans across this continent which has cemented our belief in the worth of the individual. Past migrations across places like Asia were based on mass population movement. Entire cultures were displaced and forced to move into other parts of the world, but they moved as a people, in groups.
In the US, we did it often as individual families or small groups. Sometimes one by one, these brave people made names for themselves and the stories of their travels are legend. They depended, though, on each other. On the frontier, the old traditions of breaking bread together around a fire were rediscovered, and the ideals of helping those in trouble were there to ensure that everybody had help when they needed it.
Individualism tempered by tolerance and charitable assistance where trouble struck has always been an American value. We are, therefor, a proud people. We pride ourselves on being independent. On not being led around like sheep. The watchword for early America was Caveat Emptor - let the buyer beware.
We have a sense of fairness, of balance. American frontier justice was swift, but fair, mostly. It had to be. Early communities depended on that. Religion was an individual thing. Preachers were rare, priests even more so. With so few to preach at them and so much to do simply to survive, religion just wasn't very important in large part, until civilization caught up.
But by then, the principles were set, spread by the media and popular books and newspapers, extolling the "Manifest Destiny" of this country to spread west. The exploits of the pioneers were read voraciously throughout the US and even overseas. The principles of individualism and their liberty from authoritarianism were well set by the middle of the 19th century.
So, you say, just what does all this have to do with a young man named Chad and an embarrassed Christian debater?
The modern American Evangelistic movement likes to pretend it is a monolithic movement, spreading like wildfire and taking souls from Satan daily.
But it isn't. There are at least three types of evangelicals.
The Fundies - committed believers. Literal bible believers, they are the soul, if you will, of that movement. They set the tone.
The Moderates - they talk the talk, but rarely walk that walk. They make all the right noises, but really? All they do is check the right boxes on those national polls, so jesus will win. But they either stay at home Sunday or just pretend.
Then you've got The Cognitively Screwed. Guys like the debater, Mr. Marcellino. He knows the Scriptures by heart, he is admired by his peers and his fellow congregants. He talks with Jesus!
But, deep in his heart, he is still imbued with those core American values. The sense of fairness, the core belief in an individual's rights to his own mind, without being forced into a mold. He is, in short, uncomfortable with the idea that anybody should be tortured forever for a short term sin. Particularly if they never knew what a sin was!
His values aren't biblical. His values are informed by The Enlightenment, as formulated by the American Revolution and forged in the heat of the American Frontier.
But he can't admit it. He is also an Evangelical. He MUST believe in the infallibility of the Scripture. It is pounded into his mind every Sunday, but his American values are in his mother's milk. His culture insists that America is the greatest country in the world, with the greatest values.
But those American values conflict with his Evangelical values.
So, when he gets confronted by someone like Chad, his mind cannot deal with that conflict.
There are millions of people like Mr. Marcellino. Hard core fundies, until their core values are conflicted with their religion. Then, they are confounded as to where to turn, what to think.
To me, that is encouraging. The more we see people who are supposed to be very religious being confronted and failing to even reconcile basic beliefs, the more we will see those reconciliations being resolved in a way we will think of as favorable. Many people doubt their religion.
It is our job to confront them and help them resolve those conflicts reasonably. That way, Progressivism WILL win.
Just don't expect it to be overnight.