Wednesday, July 27, 2011
WHO gets to call themselves a "REAL" Christian?
It has been very interesting, in the wake of the indiscriminate slaughter perpetrated by Anders Breivik, how many would-be rock solid "Christians" are asserting that in no way is he a "real Christian". These same people, when they attack atheists, have no problem whatever in referring heavy-handedly to "self-professed atheists" as if all who call themselves such are just that. And yet they seek to turn the tables when one of their own (at least in terms of self-professed) admits to being not just Christian but Fundamentalist Christian. In other words, the ostensible "purest" form imaginable to hear some blogs tell it.
This leads me to examine who has the right, by which standard, to decide who is a "real Christian" and who isn't. This is not an idle question or issue, because it can easily be extrapolated to many other epistemological domains: Who is a "real" Republican?, Who is a "real" atheist?, Who is a "real" astrophysicist?, Who is a "real" Democrat? or the classic, Who is a "real" Socialist?
First, let's be advised any time one interjects the adjective "real" in any of these settings, one is setting himself up as some doctrinnarie authority or some final judge on the matter. This is very dangerous, because unless one is 100% "pure" in any arena in which he interjects the issue of the "real" - he's setting him up for a huge fall!
For example, if he interjects that only so-and-so is a "real" astrophysicist, has he himself studied the subject to any degree? If he has not, and can't even distinguish an apparent from an absolute magnitude, or a spectrogram from a spectrum, or the virial theorem from the vis-viva equation, then what the hell qualifies him to say so? Because he sees some letters after a name, and infers those imply he must be "real"? Because he reads somewhere that a guy with 3 magic letters performed some research claimed to be 'ground breaking'? But this is what I call cartoon or idiot reasoning, because as I showed in an earlier blog, special letters after a name confers no assurance of quality or authentic work!
Also, great accomplishments so claimed - say by dedicated groupies - may not be so at all on more detailed inspection. Thus, the only sure standard for assessing if one is a "real" astrophysicist must be exclusively if one has himself studied the subject enough to be able to discern wheat from chaff.
Or, consider interjecting 'WHO is a "real" Socialist?'. Has this person who makes such interjections, say about Barack Obama, studied Socialism or even lived in a Socialist nation, or in a Socialist U.S. City (Milwaukee in the 1950s, 1960s)? Or, is he just shooting his mouth or brain off digitally, and making assertions neither can back up? Again, this is what I call idiot reasoning because anyone who's ever lived in an actual Socialist state knows Barack Obama is the farthest thing from being any kind of Socialist!
The very fact this guy actually broached cuts to Social Security and Medicare as part of his bargaining with the Republicans over the debt ceiling increase, shows he's no Socialist. Because a genuine Socialist would have kept all cuts to social safety nets off the table.
Again, this shows we can't trust the words or blogs of those who bandy about words like "Socialist" if they don't know anything about what constitutes it. Hence, calling Anders Breivik a "Socialist" is bollocks, especially as he murdered 68 of those he regarded as Socialists!
All this applies to religions as well.
If one then uses the term or invokes the notion that Breivik is "not a REAL Christian" then it implies ipso facto he knows what a REAL Christian is. But does he?
The odd thing here, is that ANY ONE of the 1,080- odd Christian sects will each define themselves as the "real" versions to the exclusion of all others. (Which they dismiss as heretics, or pretenders).
The Roman Catholics will claim primacy as the original Church-religion and hence the original (and ONLY REAL) Christians, since Yeshua conferred on Peter the authorship of his Church ("Thou art Peter, and upon this Rock I shall build my Church..").
In fact, in terms of seniority, RCs do apparently have the best claim to being "the REAL" Christians. The only fly in the ointment is that alignment with the Roman Empire and Constantine after the Edict of Milan in 313 CE. One could then argue, because the RCs accepted said alignment (and thereby the Emperor's protections) they ceased to be real, especially as their religion from then co-existed with Constantine's Sol Invictus (Sun worship) cult. Indeed, the two became so interbred that the Christians adopted as their nativity the date for the Sun God's birth (Dec. 25th, or the approximate) which anyone with any astronomy background knows is the winter solstice or that date on whch the days begin to get longer in the northern hemisphere.
Perhaps it was this unholy alliance that spurred the Protestant Reformation hundreds of years later, with Martin Luther's rebellion. Then leading to Henry VIII's revolt from the RCs later (but we suspect it was mainly because he wanted to change wives and the Pope said 'No!')
Then we have the johnny-come-lately Evangelicals who wish to make the sole claim to being the 'real' Christians, based on their acceptance of the "only true" Bible, the King James version. But is this true? Hardly!
What eventually became the "King James Bible" by 1526-30 was in fact NOT the original, but rather 75% to 90% adopted from William Tyndale's English New Testament, published in 1526. This version was actually published in defiance of then English law - so it is amazing so much of it was then incorporated into the original KJV!
Sadly, most Americans- especially Evangelicals- know nothing about how the Bible was compiled and that it is not one Book, but 66 assembled (with the inevitable insinuation of thousands of copyist errors, deliberate editing additions, and mistranslations) over 1,000 years and often as a result of voting or meetings (determining which parts are apocryphal and which aren't).
Thus, the claim to being uniquely REAL Christians by the Evangelicals is sterile at best, and unproven at worst, especially as they're never able to justify all the errors and insist on a biblical "literalness" while at the same time claiming passages must be read via hermeneutics. They never process logically that these are contradictory and if one employs hermeneutics one does so because literalness isn't available.
Second, the claim of a "real Christian" is a version of the long since disproven 'One True Scotsman' logical fallacy. Thus, from the original illustration of it by Antony Flew ('Thinking About Thinking') 3 Scotsmen are at a bar and debating national policy. Two are eating Haggis, a natural Scots food, the third is eating pork and beans. The last one's opinions (e.g. Communists have a right to be represented in Parliament) are thereby discounted as those "not of a real Scotsman". But, the basis for doing so is wholly subjective: The advocacy for communist representation is based on consuming pork & beans, not haggis!
Rather than reject the 3rd Scotsman's actual arguments on their merits (or lack thereof) the other two (proud of their eating REAL Scots food) dismiss him as "not a REAL" Scotsman because he's not eating "real" Scots food. But as Flew shows, this is merely employing a false-"switching" premise that tries to cleverly concoct two distinct classes of logical elements from what is really one. By mixing classes in the above categories of proposition (p = p’ = p”) where p = Scotsman by birth, p' = Scotsman by food eaten, and p" = Scotsman by political leanings, the sophist mixes negation (the incompatibility of a proposition with itself e,g p <-> not p); disjunction (the incompatibility of not-p & not-p’ or not-p”) and implication (the incompatibility of p and not-p OR p’ and not-p’ or p” and not-p”).
Third, let's consider some other aspects. That of the human capacity to irrevocably and inerrantly establish or ascertain THE REAL religion from all pretenders. We take this as a testable premise: i.e. that a test is possible which is able to unequivocally isolate the single REAL Christian religion (and hence, by extension the REAL Christian who belongs to it) and all those who do not.
Here's what we do know, or can say:
1) From Gödel's (Incompletness) Theorem, all rational systems are incomplete - so their propositions are undecidable. What this means is that while one can have faith that God exists or that one's religion is REAL, neither cannot be demonstrated logically or proven.
2) All religions are RELATIVE and subjective, because all their truth claims are relative and subjective. This proceeds from their respective 'holy books"
In the case of individual religions, or religious traditions, the embodiment of the respective truth claim is alleged to be found in a "sacred revelation". For example, the Holy Bible for Christianity (though many can't agree on WHICH Bible holds truth and which is an imitator), the Talmud for Jews, the Koran for Muslims and the Upanishads for Hindus.
The problem is that the early writers, for each scripture, suffered from the same limitation of comprehension that their modern counterparts do. Their neural capacity was just as finite as that of present-day humans, and just as conditioned toward a particular conceptual allegiance. Worse, their truth claims were equally subject to Gödel's (Incompletness) Theorem.
3) The subjectivism and Gödelian undecidability transfer into the nature of "salvation" and whether even it is needed or not. Again, this leaves all "salvation" formulae relative and subjective (and the respective Books can't be trusted, as I showed).
In the end, then, on account of all the above, and primarily the inherent subjectivist - relativist nature of faith and religion, the only acceptable arbiter of what a "real Christian" is must be based on self-profession. IF then a person firmly believes he is that, a REAL Christian, then he's a real Christian - unless someone can show from a purely objective position that he's wrong (and again, specific coda can't be used for this. One needs to first assign or state the necessary and sufficient conditions for what constitutes a real Christian then use those to prove or disprove it).
Finally, note that because faith and religion are Gödelian- relative (e.g. undecidable) and subjective, we yield to self-profession. If a person says he is that, he is. But this same standard doesn't apply for all identifications or uses in which objective criteria can be applied! Thus, self-profession would not apply in the cases of being either a Socialist or an Astrophysicist. The reason is we can apply objective political standards to the first, and objective scientific standards to the second.
Even the simplest political test, or actual external behavior, development of policy positions will inform us if a politico is a real Socialist. Does he favor the basic Socialist acceptance of redistribution of wealth? Of fierce protection of ALL social safety nets to fullest extent? Does he disavow tax cuts for the wealthy? If any one of these is falsified, he can't be a Socialist, so the point of a "real Socialist" is mute.
Same thing with being an Astrophysicist! Does he know the essential principles of astrophysics? Does he accept them, or does he reject them, say by adhering to a "Young Sun" thesis that controverts everything we know about our Sun? If the latter is the case, the person is no Astrophysicist, no matter if he has a gazillion letters behind his name!