Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Is Any Honest Dialog Possible?

After spending a good three hours yesterday doing my level best to answer in good faith Pastor Mike's 10 questions (actually, more like 20 with the sub-questions added!) I now find today I am accused of "prejudging" and bias. In other words, Mike doesn't take my responses as honest or sincere answers.

What I had expected, and I guess I really shouldn't have based on our previous sterile exchanges, is at least an acceptance of what I was providing as genuinely reflective of my position - and hence treating them with some degree of respect. But alas, no. I am instead depicted as somehow dishonest because (according to Mike) I am allowing my "prejudices" to enter.

Well, how about Mike's, as one commentator observed? Is this not a two-way street? Mike asked for "honest answers" and I delivered them. What more does he want? I suspect, he would not be satisfied unless I went on bended knee and said to him: "Forgive me, Master Mike, I have been WRONG....so WRONG...all this time! God really exists, your KJV holds 100% truth ....and I have been insincere and biased in my responses!"

The true fact is that we can never ever ever see eye to eye, or have a reasoned debate on God and religion. The reason is that logic does not enter into Mike's world, though he insists it does. In fact, his world is founded on absolute belief, so that there would never be a time he would agree with anything I said or wrote.

For Mike, unless the bible is referenced - and not just any bible, but the KJV- then the claim or argument is ill-founded. It is "biased" in some way. This means that in order to garner his serious approval and attention I will have to base all initial statements and premises on what his KJV asserts in some quotation, somewhere.

This is not going to happen, ever.

By comparison with Mike's closed-minded stance, expecting ME to yield or be cursed as having "bias", I recall my involvement in a Catholic religious seminar in Alaska in 1986. It was in February that I began to participate in a series of Catholic dialogs held at the Hess Complex Student Center of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

More to the point, I was prepared to play the role of the fox among the chickens, contradicting and criticizing Catholic doctrines whenever they were mentioned or discussed. At each seminar, I’d interjected points that brought up issues of ambiguity and raised doubts while always challenging basic church doctrine. Amazingly, while many of the (young) attendees found this disconcerting and disreputable (that an unbeliever was among them and allowed so much voice), the priest himself was pleased to have me!

He actually encouraged me to attend every seminar - held twice weekly- and challenge the students. As he told me:

"If we are afraid to think, and are unable to offer reasoned responses to your criticisms, then our faith is built on quicksand, nothing more."

That priest was intelligent and wise enough to know or realize that discussion is not a one-way street, and one dare not yelp "Bias" until he can damned well prove it. At the very least, yelping it is the last refuge of a palsied rhetorician who has no real answers.

More to the point, I found the priest agreeing with me on a number of my points, to the consternation of his seminar! For example, he disputed that there could be a doctrine such as infallibility. He agreed also, that while there might be an afterlife, there was certainly no "heaven" or "hell". At that point, I wondered if I had gone through Alice's looking glass and was actually speaking to a fellow unbeliever!

But the biggest surprise of all was when he agreed with me that none of the claimed miracles in the bible could have been historical facts. As he put it:

"They were introduced by over eager authors to try to make a point about the special nature of Jesus. They used these miraculous events to attempt to do it"

In the course of that two week open seminar, I came away with the belief that real engagement with religious believers was possible provided they exercised an open mind and they themselves did not enter the exchange with preconceived notions of where to find truth. The point the priest was making to his seminar, was that not all truth was to be found in Catholic doctrines, dogmas or the Revised Standard Version of the Bible. My scientific -based criticisms also had to be reckoned in.

For example, believing the only truth can be in a 2000 -year old book. That Alaskan padre would have laughed at that. Long and hard. I believe he also might have opined that anyone who accepted such a tautological definition of truth was probably not well read outside his good book, and probably afraid to search for answers beyond it.

By the same token, during a Barbados religious debate (in May, 1991) with my long time Christian friend, John, I actually got him to concede during an extended argument that God could not possibly be omnipotent or omniscient. And, IF he was, he was more an evil clown than any kind of being to be worshipped. My friend, dedicated Christian though he was, realized under intense logic and scientific pressure (with aspects of theodicy tossed in) he could not rely on absolutist definitions. HE had to yield, or look like a fool.

But for Mike, it's absolutist truth he believes in fully. The trouble is that his belief that truth can be so circumscribed then leads him to reject the truths found by science or logic. In his narrow cosmos, unless logic is founded ab initio on the premise that God exists, it isn't valid. Unless one acknowledges that his KJV has the answers, he isn't "honest".

Thus, there is no point or profit in continuing these exchanges. I do not believe Mike is serious about them, or at least about receiving answers and then truly processing them and arguing from logic.

If I am to be labeled each time as "prejudging" or using crazy reasoning, we are at moot dead ends.

And I wasted three hours of my time yesterday for absolutely nothing.

No, I take that back. It wasn't a total waste as it provided the basis for two separate blog entries!


janidebar said...

What an eloquent analysis of the situation! I believe you have identified completely where the problem is, and that it is in Mike's inherent inability to think outside the box. Or rather his KJV.

He is so committed to it, that it has become his life and as you theorized, he probably doesn't do any reading outside it. Why would he if he believes that little book contains all truth and answers?

You are wise to finally recognize that arguing religious or God belief with your brother is a waste of time. He will never change or consider any of your thoughts as worthy simply because they don't meet his absolute standards of truth. Or where he thinks it can be found.

In other words, there is nothing you can write, now or ever, that he would accept. Unless it was an admission of YOU being wrong.

Because he will certainly never admit that he is, not even the remote possibility.

True believers don't earn that name for nothing.

Copernicus said...

"You are wise to finally recognize that arguing religious or God belief with your brother is a waste of time. He will never change or consider any of your thoughts as worthy simply because they don't meet his absolute standards of truth. "

I believe it goes beyond this. I believe that his belief system is inextricably bound up with his identity and sense of security.

Thus, any threat to his belief system is perceived by Mike as a threat to his identity which may also be interpreted as a threat to his existence or security.

I would wager this 100% true, and if Mike were to dispute it, I'd reply: "Okay, fine. Then STOP calling yourself 'Pastor Mike'!

You see the very identification arouses the militant belief. In his mind, therefore, he absolutely cannot appear to weaken or 'give in' one iota. If he does he will no longer be 'Pastor Mike'. His identity is gone.

This is not peculiar to him but to many Xtians I have encountered over the years. They are so fearful of admitting the slightest existential uncertainty, that they go the other extreme route and embrace undiminished absolutism.

The problem with unvarnished absolutism, of course, is that everyone else becomes the enemy.

Everyone outside your little special believer tribe can't be trusted. Their words can't be believed. Evidence, you need only check out Mike's 'All Souls I-net' church site and see the invective he deals out...not just to atheists, but to Muslims, Jews, Catholics, Mormons and others.

You see, this sort of venemous and irrational committment to one-track belief feeds on itself. Unfortunately, like a cancer.

I hope some day he sees the light, and sees how obnoxious he has become in his 'Pastor Mike' persona.

I hope maybe some day he will be moved to drop it!