[B5JMS] To JMS: Church (was To JMS)

b5jms at cs.columbia.edu b5jms at cs.columbia.edu
Mon Jan 3 03:15:03 EST 2005

From: laurence.pittenger at utoronto.ca
Date: Thu, 30 Dec 2004 02:01:22 +0000 (UTC)
Lines: 134

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I'm unexpectedly surprised & disappointed by JMS' replies to the
"church" thread.

I've come to expect more intellectual honesty & courageous
self-awareness from him -- qualities he's consistently demonstrated
that I've admired and strived to emulate.

On the specific "church" issue, I'll take no position on the initial
poster's comment about the possibility of a female pope. I'm not Roman

However, on the more general issue, I've been surprised by this
disappointing attempt to condemn Christianity because of the failures
of its members. With that approach, *no* institution which espouses
ideals will be admirable, for any institution (and any individual) who
espouses challenging ideals will certainly fall short from time to
time. If they don't, those ideals probably aren't high enough. Are only
our basest ideals praiseworthy, because only up to them do people
regularly live?

Now, I think JMS and others are right to point out that the Church has
manifestly failed from time to time... even though the popular image of
what actually happened in the Crusades or the Inquisition is rather
distorted by the anti-Church bias, a bias which is especially popular
in universities.

The actual facts aren't as bad as people like to believe they are...
but they're still bad.

However, to move from that gleeful itemizing of the Church's failures
to a condemnation of the belief system is neither intellectually honest
or logically coherent.

Let's make a distinction:
(1) The actions of the Church (or Christians, or whatever you like)
(2) The set of beliefs called "Christianity"

Now, the _ad hominem_ argument JMS and others here are using is that
because there have been unattractive and even un-Christian actions in
(1), therefor the beliefs in (2) are false.

This does not follow.

Here are some of several other logical options:

(a) While there have been some failures & sins commited by the
institution & individuals, there have also been far more successes and
virtuous and heroic acts, therefore the balance is positive, therefore
the beliefs in (2) are true.

(b) Some Christians have behaved badly. But they would have behaved
*worse* if they hadn't been Christians. Therefore the net effect is
positive. Therefore the beliefs in (2) are true.

However, even these fall prey to the same relativist misconception --
that the only measure of the truth of a belief is the behavior of those
who believe in it. (Or, rather, of those who *claim* to believe in it
-- and let's face it, there are a fair number of people have claim to
be "Christian" in order to justify their own sinful actions, rather
than actually to *be* Christian and strive to reform those actions.)

But this behavior is not the only measure of truth -- unless, of
course, you believe there are no absolutes, in which case (when you get
right down to it) there *is* no truth, and so the point was moot from
the get-go.

For example, if I find my calculus professor adulterously bonking the
department secretary, I don't conclude from his behavior that calculus
is false. That would just be silly.

And while the situation with Christianity is 'greyer' (in that calculus
doesn't include teaching about moral behavior while Christianity does),
there's still a fair degree of that same silliness in the relativistic
_ad hominem_ argument which, when you get right down to it, goes "some
Christians have behaved badly from time to time, therefore Christianity
is false", just as the above goes "my calculus professor behaved badly,
therefore calculus is false."

If you really want to take issue with Christian beliefs -- and many
people have found that quite possible over the years -- then do it
based on the *beliefs*. Examine the history. Examine the theology.
Examine the mysticism. Try really praying (and honestly listening) to
see if there seems to be Someone up there.

Do the work, and *then* you'll be entitled to an opinion.

But this gratuitous and facile dismissal of Christianity simply by
selectively pointing out the failures of its members and institutions
is simply petty -- a rhetorically satisfying way of avoiding the actual
personal and intellectual issues.

(And worse than gratuitous and facile if you actually *have* wrestled
with the real historical, intellectual & personal issues and are simply
using the rhetoric to dissuade others from doing the same.)

Please. Let's do better.

Even if it *is* an emotionally charged issue which can tempt people to
argue out of emotion and personal injury rather than out of
intellectual honesty and plain common sense.

A happy new year to all!
And thanks, as always, to JMS for his work, especially Babylon 5!


From: jmsatb5 at aol.com (Jms at B5)
Date: Sun, 2 Jan 2005 18:22:30 +0000 (UTC)
Lines: 33

>Now, the _ad hominem_ argument JMS and others here are using is that
>because there have been unattractive and even un-Christian actions in
>(1), therefor the beliefs in (2) are false.
>This does not follow.

Which is why I didn't say it.  Didn't say anything close to what you're
characterizing.  Show me where I, as you say, "condemn Christianity."  

You can't, because I didn't.

Understand: I'm not here to reaffirm your beliefs.  Nor am I here to invalidate
them.  If asked what I think about a given subject, I will give my opinion. 
I'm not out to change anybody's opinion (unlike the ten gazillion emails I've
gotten since this started out to try and convert me...and by the way, stop it,
you who know who you are).

What bugs me is hypocrisy and intellectual dishonesty.  And that's the subject
under discussion.  So setting up a straw man by saying I condemned Christianity
so that you can then skewer it is of no interest or assistance in the
discussion, since that's not what I have said.  


(jmsatb5 at aol.com)
(all message content (c) 2004 by synthetic worlds, ltd., 
permission to reprint specifically denied to SFX Magazine 
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