Tish Harrison Warren on why the best morality rests on the words and deeds of Jesus

June 20, 2022 • 12:30 pm

The weekly New York Times lucubrations of Anglican priest Tish Harrison Warren are anodyne and sometimes off-putting, yet I cannot resist reading them—for the same reason that you smell the milk when you know it’s gone bad.  This week, Warren interviews Rachael Denhollander, the first gymnast to publicly accuse team doctor Larry Nassar of sexual abuse. Denhollander is also going after the Southern Baptist Church because, it turns out, they’re as bad as Catholics regarding the sexual abuse by preachers.

Denhollander has done and is doing good stuff; my objection is that she seems to recognize sexual predation and its immorality only because Jesus says it’s bad (though I’m not sure he even deals with that issue in the Bible). Harrison and Denhollander seem to agree, in the end, that we must draw our morality from God because there’s something wrong with secular-based morality.

First, a small nit to pick. Warren’s questions are in bold; Denhollander’s responses in plain type:

Some brass tacks related to churches generally: If there is an abuse allegation in a church, what is the right response?

I think there are really two important parts to that question.

There is the policy question: On a very practical level, what am I to do? You need to report that allegation to the police if it is child abuse. As soon as the police have been notified and the alleged perpetrator knows that the police have been notified, you need to notify the church and protect the identity of the survivors.

One beef: in the U.S. we’re presumed innocent until we’ve been convicted by a judge or jury. (That’s why Denhollander says “alleged perpetrator”.) But she then goes on to mention the “survivors”, who really can’t be counted as “survivors” of a crime that hasn’t yet been established.  Using the very word “survivors” assumes that the people who are bringing charges in fact were victims of a crime. Sometimes that obvious, but sometimes it’s not, as the existence of a crime can rest solely on allegations.

But we needn’t dwell on that, for the main point comes at the end—about sources of morality.

You have been working alongside survivors in church settings for many years now. Why do you stay in the church with all the evil that you see there?

How do I know that the authority I’m seeing isn’t a good use of authority? How do I know that sexual abuse really is wicked and it ought to be treated that way? You can’t know a line is crooked unless you have some idea of a straight line. That is a paraphrase of a quote by C.S. Lewis, and it has really been a linchpin for me.

The reason I remain a Christian is because my faith is what allows me to say that what I’m watching right now is broken. These institutions and these responses to survivors aren’t right. And I know they’re not right because I have a perfect picture of what these things are supposed to be.

And so my allegiance is not to a church. My allegiance is not to a denomination. It’s not to a country. It’s not to a convention. My allegiance is to Christ. And when I look at my faith and when I look at the principles of Scripture, it gives me the ability to look at what’s happening and say, “This is not right,” and I know it’s not right because there really is a moral lawgiver, and there really is absolute truth. Because every other belief system outside of God leaves us essentially dependent on societal and cultural response to define right and wrong.

There are several things to “unpack” here, one being Denhollander’s claim that she’s a Christian because “her faith allows her to say what she’s watching is broken.” First of all, that’s just not true. Sexual abuse by clerics looks broken because it’s immoral by any standards: the use of one’s authority as a basis for sexual assault.  Do you need Christianity to see that? After all, the whole world (except for the Church itself) was horrified when the scandals of Catholic sexual abuse became public. You don’t have to be a Christian to see what’s “broken”!

Second, if Hollander had been a Christian several centuries ago, her faith would have told her that it’s the right thing to do to torture and burn heretics, engage in all kinds of acts that we’d find immoral today (using the Bible to condone slavery, for example), and perhaps ban books.

What has changed? Not Jesus or his words, but the secular world, whose morality evolves as Christian morality scurries behind to keep up. This alone show the verity of Socrates’s Euthyphro Argument: we don’t think something is right or wrong simply because God (or Jesus) tells us that it’s right or wrong, but because you’re using a social or secular morality to which one’s idea of God conforms.

An example of this is God telling Abraham to kill Isaac. Abraham, who apparently conformed to “divine command theory,” was about to do in his son, just because God said so. Most rational people find this horrible; they’d say “God wouldn’t order that” because he’s a good God. But God did order that, and our revulsion comes from the conflict between secular and “God-based” morality.

Religious “morality” changes from year to year not because we understand God’s or Jesus’s will better—the Bible is still the same—but because that we interpret theology in each era in a way that comports with our present morality.

Yes, Denhollander says that her allegiance is not to the law, or to a secular code of morality, but to Jesus, for the words of Jesus will show you what’s right and what’s wrong. This is the same Jesus who tacitly approved of slavery and told his followers to neglect their home and family and follow him. Of course nobody thinks that’s right any more.

The last sentence is assertive, but its thesis is dumb:

Because every other belief system outside of God leaves us essentially dependent on societal and cultural response to define right and wrong.

And what, exactly, is wrong with that? Should morality be absolutely constant as mores and facts change? With Jesus you get the former, with secular morality the latter? I know which one I prefer.

Does Uvalde need prayers? Tish Harrison Warren says, “Definitely”

May 30, 2022 • 9:20 am

Tish Harrison Warren may be the lowest-hanging fruit in the New York Times op-ed section, but what I wonder is why the paper wants low-hanging fruit. At some point, a NYT executive must have thought, “Hey, we need religion to draw more readers—but not that old-timey, fundamentalist religion. We need a more Sophisticated form of faith from someone who can offer balm to our readers without making explicit and foolish statements about faith and its verities.”

And so they hired Anglican Priest Tish Harrison Warren. She surely fills the bill, doling out bromides and anodyne sermons every Sunday. In fact, her tendency to equivocate about her beliefs while trying to console semi-secular readers often gets her into the marshy hinterlands of theology. Her column this week is about why Uvalde, Texas, site of the latest mass school shooting, must have its prayers. 

The answer to Tish Harrison Warren’s question below is “Definitely!” What is maddening is her absolute refusal to discuss whether prayers actually work. That is, are they heard and acted on by God, or do they simply act as an aid to comfort and meditation?  I’m pretty sure, knowing what she’s written previously, that she thinks God really is Up There with an ear cocked, and heeds the importuning of his flock. But that raises a second question, which she also ignores: “Why did God let Salvador Ramos kill 19 innocent people and two good teachers?” Was this necessary to allow Ramos to have free will? (She’d probably say “God’s ways are mysterious”, in which case I’d respond, “Well, if you know so little about God, shouldn’t you stop extolling Him?”)

Read for yourself by clicking on the screenshot:

Warren and sixteen other clergy convened in Uvalde soon after the murders, though it’s not clear whether they were invited or simply hied themselves to the town to offer their spiritual wares.

After paying proper lip service to the fact that the “thoughts and prayers” trope is foolish, Warren nevertheless goes on to clearly imply that prayers are more than just helpful aids to meditation, but serve as a form of social glue. And indeed, I have no objection to people believing foolish things if it offers them group comfort—so long as they don’t impose that view on others. As Christopher Hitchens said (see below).

“[Religion] is their favorite toy. . . . I’m perfectly happy for people to have these toys, and to play with them at home and hug them to themselves and so on, and share them with other people who come round and play with the toys; and that’s absolutely fine. They are not to make me play with these toys. I will not play with the toys. Don’t bring the toys to my house; don’t say, ‘My children must play with these toys’. . . I’m not going to have any of that.”

This short clip is well worth watching.

Now Hitchens is talking more about clerical “bullying and intervention” than peace and the solace of the tribe, but Warren’s columns in the NYT are surely intended to proselytize and intervene, promulgating the falsity of religious faith.  She doesn’t write just for herself! And indoctrinating children in that faith—even urging them to participate in prayer—is surely a form of child abuse.

In fact, Harrison definitely implies that prayers for the dead in Ulvade are somehow helpful in fixing stuff. She quotes other pastors:

Sam Garza, a pastor and youth worker at First United Methodist Church, told me, “If people just say ‘thoughts and prayers’ or put something like that in their Facebook” profile and then don’t give another thought to Uvalde, then, he said, “that’s not helpful.” But he says, prayer spurs action. “In prayer, we find needs,” he said. If people pray that “Aunt Tilly’s transmission” needs to be repaired, he prays for that, but then, he said, “we also need to help her with her transmission”: to find and pay for a mechanic.

Yes, but does prayer really spur action among those (even believers) who don’t pray, or is the act itself form an impediment to action? It may well be that those who pray indeed do more to help control guns than those who don’t (I find that unlikely; the opposite is probably the case), but there’s an uncontrolled factor here: the personal qualities of those who pray. At any rate, given that the biggest opponents of gun control in the U.S. are those most likely to pray, I find the discussion disingenuous.

Here’s an experiment: for a group whose transmissions have crapped out, have four groups of people as an experiment (this is similar to the heart study described here):

  • One group doesn’t pray for the transmission repair, and the car isn’t taken to a mechanic
  • One group does pray for the transmission repair (presumably through blind intercessory prayer), and the car isn’t taken to a mechanic.
  • The third group prays for the transmission and it’s taken to a mechanic for repair
  • The last group is taken to a mechanic and there is NO prayer.

I’m guessing that the results of the third and fourth group would not only be the sole efficacious ones, but wouldn’t differ in the rate of fixed transmissions. After all, experiments show that intercessory prayer simply doesn’t work in accomplishing what’s prayed for, though it acts as a form of solace and a source of community for many. It also, as we see clearly in America right now, acts as a form of division and an inspiration to hate and ostracize others. Prayer is a psychological technique, not a way to ask for divine help.

And this is another problem with Warren’s latest screed: she echoes another pastor from Texas who says, “The church should stay out of politics.” Well, yes, it must if it’s to reap its tax advantages, but what happened in Texas won’t be fixed—or helped—by a bunch of prayers. Political will and action is what is needed. Which would you prefer: a bunch of liberal Christians praying for the shootings to end, or a bunch of liberal citizens working on gun reform? I guarantee that the latter will work just as well without the former.

Here’s what the Texas group prayed about, which brings up the last question:

Then [local Baptist preacher] Gruben opened the floor for anyone to pray. The prayers kept coming and coming. The pastors prayed together for around 40 minutes, many weeping. They prayed for comfort. They prayed to be filled “with love, compassion and grace.” One prayed, “Let us know when to speak and when to be silent.” Many chimed in, “Yes, Lord.” “We pray for the peace of our city.” “Comfort the brokenhearted.” “There is not one thing that has happened that has shaken your throne.”

WHAT?  Not shaken his throne? The throne is not only shaken, it’s battered to pieces! What has happened is that God allowed 21 people (19 of them morally innocent children) to be butchered by a shooter.  Does this not raise questions about the nature and beneficence of God? Of course it does, but the cognitively impaired ignore them. The solution, say the believers, is not gun control, but Jesus—presumably a prerequisite for gun control. As Warren writes:

I asked Barboza, “Do we need better gun control?” He replied, “We need Jesus.” It is “the presence of God that changes hearts,” he said.

. . .Right after we talked, a couple named Pam and David Wong approached the police line, holding a large green wooden cross. They wove their way through throngs of media people, trying to find a spot to place it. A law enforcement officer took the cross and laid it in front of the school sign.

The Wongs are volunteers at a church in Conroe, a town five hours away. Their church works with homeless people, giving them dorm space in the church building. They told me that formerly homeless men made the cross. On the back was a message for the community of Uvalde, explaining that the cross was meant to be “a reminder that Jesus cares and loves you all very much. We are all praying for you.” Pam Wong told me they had driven to the school because “we wanted them to know that they are not alone.”

Now that’s very strange. It is the very people who tout their God most strongly who impede moral reform: the people who stalled the Civil Rights Movement and gay liberation (and now abortion, which Warren opposes). God was there the whole time since the 1960s, but hearts were changed not by an imperceptible deity, but but secular realization that equal treatment of people mandates civil and gay rights. (See Steve Pinker’s last two big books.) And didn’t God start effecting this change before slavery? Why did God allow millions of Africans to be dragged into horrible servitude? Was that his divine plan?

Well, if you’re open-minded, the evidence at hand suggests that God does not “love you very much”. After all, by not lifting his hand, he brought unspeakable tragedy to 21 people and unspeakable grief to their loved ones. Not to mention the unvoiced grief of millions of enslaved people.

I needn’t go on, for the low-hanging fruit has been plucked. At the end of Warren’s confusing and poorly written but well intended piece, she reaffirms that although many things are contradictory and confusing, the power of prayer is not:

Uvalde is grieving and heartbroken. Some want a revival. Some want mental health services. Some want gun control. But every single person I talked to agreed on one thing: They could use your thoughts and prayers.

I don’t think she talked to everyone in Uvalde.

Debate: Francis Collins vs. Richard Dawkins on God

May 22, 2022 • 10:30 am

Here’s a new episode from “The Big Conversation” (sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation!) in which Francis Collins, former director of the National Institutes of Health and an evangelical Christian, debates—or rather discusses—a variety of issues with evolutionist and atheist Richard Dawkins.  The moderator is Justin Brierly.

The argument centers on religion, especially on what constitutes “evidence” for God.  You might ask, “Why on earth would Dawkins debate Collins, since there’s no chance that either will change their minds?” But I think Dawkins took the time to do this to show the intellectually depauperate nature of Collins’s “evidence” for God. That evidence includes the laws of physics, our appreciation of beauty, the moral behavior of humans, and so on. Collins is not a “sophisticated” theologian, but remember that he’s not a theologian but a scientist who came to believe in Jesus through observing a waterfall frozen in three spouts (“the Trinity”). Collins seems to have picked up most of his arguments for God from a combination of C. S. Lewis and more modern “apologetics”, like the “fine-tuning” argument for God based on physical constants.

Reader Rick, who sent me this link, says “I’ve watched most of this and Collins is irritating.  When Richard points out a contradiction in his God hypothesis, he simply shrugs it off and says God can be anything He wants.  What a copout!”

But more about that contradiction below. In the meantime, if you want to hear a discussion between two smart guys, one of whom is subject to delusions, have a listen to this 1½ hour video. Let me add that Collins is an amiable and likable fellow, and was friends with Hitchens, helping Hitch with his cancer treatment.  What puzzles me is how such an apparently nice guy can buy into a passel of religious nonsense for which there’s no evidence.

But click to listen. It’s a better discussion than you might think.

They begin by discussing covid: Richard thinks that the lockdowns were premature, but Collins extolls scientific community’s rapid response in creating the mRNA vaccines.

With that out of the way, it’s onto the Big Questions of religion.  Collins recounts his conversion from atheism to religion, saying that he found that “faith was more rational than atheism” given the nature of the world. As for why Collins became a Christian rather than a Hindu or Jew, he says that he “needed an anchor for his faith”, and found one in “Jesus Christ, a historical figure about which we know a great deal”. Of course that “great deal” is solely from the Bible, and many of us aren’t even convinced that the anchor for Collins’s faith even existed. It would have been better for Collins to admit that “the great deal” is found entirely in the Bible, and different accounts of Jesus say different things.

The bit where I think Collins’s argument for God starts going awry is in his discussion with Richard about evolution.  Richard asks Collins the penetrating question, “If God could do anything, why did he choose to produce humans via the tortuous process of evolution?” Couldn’t He have just poofed all life into existence, as Genesis describes? And given—and Collins seems to agree—that a perfectly naturalistic process of evolution via natural selection could explain the appearance of organic design, why did God choose a mechanism that made Him superfluous?” (The question doesn’t arise about whether Collins thinks that with the appearance of H. sapiens the purpose of evolution has now been fulfilled: we have a product that evolved into God’s image.)

Collins’s answer smacks of a posteriori-ism, making the necessity of evolution into a virtue. As Collins says, “Evolution makes me even more in awe of the Creator than if God had just poofed things into existence.” In other words, God had a Big Plan for creating humans, and that Big Plan was evolution. Isn’t that mah-velous?  But he doesn’t explain why going through this Big Plan is more admirable and elegant than poofing things into existence. After all, several lineages of Homo, as well as of hominins, went extinct.

Collins has a further response:  God is all about order, and wanted a Universe that follows elegant mathematical laws. (Collins notes that the existence of those laws themselves constitutes evidence for God.) Ergo, we had evolution, which followed physical laws.  But this conflicts with Collins’s later assertion that it would be foolish to presume anything about the mind of God. After all, until 1859, all theologians thought that God cared more for creating humans instantly than for “following mathematical laws”.

The fine-tuning argument—the notion that the laws of physics were set up by God to allow the appearance of life and God’s Chosen Species—is especially appealing to Collins, even though there are naturalistic explanations for it. But Richard notes that if there were any argument that would convince him of God, it would be one related to fine-tuning. However, he adds that, as Hitch would say, “Collins has all his work before him.” Even if “fine-tuning” were to constitutes some sort of evidence for a Creator who made physical law, it gives no credence to Christianity and Jesus, who are smuggled in by Collins as an afterthought.

Richard adds the usual argument about how a a creator could come into being who ws so complex that he could bring into being the laws of physics. Collins responds that God could do it because he resides “outside of space and time.” Richard rightfully dismisses that notion as another a posteriori argument brought in without evidence to save God, noting that Collins’s “beyond space and time” argument “smacks of inventing a new cop-out instead of providing a proper explanation.”

Finally there’s Collins’s “contradiction,” which begins about 47:45 in the discussion. It is of course about theodicy. Why is there physical evil in a world created by an omnipotent and benevolent God? But Collins has a response, which I’ll call the “Let Her Roll Hypothesis”. It is this: God created the world so that it would obey his physical laws. And those physical laws simply allow for the existence of evil. Tectonic plates create earthquakes and tsunamis that kill innocents, cancers arise from mutations that obey physical laws, viruses evolve. In other words, God is more concerned with maintaining a Natural Order instead of mitigating suffering by interceding.

In response to Richard’s query that, if God can do miracles, couldn’t He have mitigated natural evil?, Collins says that miracles are a special case, to be used only in very special circumstances when convincing the world of God’s existence and power are overwhelmingly important. (One of these miracles, avers Collins, was the Resurrection.) Otherwise, it’s Let Her Roll, and if a kid gets leukemia, or a tsunami kills several hundred thousand people,  or a virus kills several million people, well, that’s just the byproduct of how God has chosen to run the Universe. It’s a remarkably sneaky but clever argument. (It could also be called “The Argument for the Rarity of Miracles.”) Evil, in other words, is simply a byproduct of God’s penchant for natural order and natural law, even if he could flout natural law if He wanted.

On to the query, “Where did the laws of physics come from?” (Dawkins says that if anybody would convince him of God, it would be that point.)  But he adds, why smuggle in Christianity and Jesus? Collins says that God was in a position to create the laws of physics because “God exists outside of into space and time.” (This doesn’t sound like a real argument to me.)

Richard responds that saying God is “outside time and space” is another a posteriori explanation, something that “smacks of inventing a new cop-out instead of providing a proper explanation”

The last part of the discussion is about human altruism, an altruism that Collins sees as evidence for God. In contrast, Dawkins sees it a carryover from the millions of years over which our ancestors lived in small bands in which reciprocal altruism (and kin selection) would have been adaptive. The “rule of thumb” to be nice and helpful to others, argues Dawkins, shows that “altruism” could have been a product of adaptive evolution.  The same goes for beauty, with Collins seeing human appreciation for music, art, and landscapes as evidence for God, while Richard notes that if birds can show a preference for beauty (this is Richard Prum’s argument for sexual selection), then so could humans.

My take? It’s an interesting discussion, but of course was doomed from the outset by both men holding incompatible worldviews. I have to say though—and call me biased if you will—that the ability of naturalism to solve scientific problems gives me a preference for Richard’s naturalism over Collins’s supernaturalism. In fact, Collins appears to believe in a lot of things for which there’s no evidence, like the Resurrection, and this detracts from his scientific worldview in other areas. Further, Collins appears to make stuff up as he goes along to buttress the weaknesses in his evangelical Christianity. But of course that’s the way theologians and regular believers have always operated.

In the end, the debate is a very clear demonstration of the philosophy of naturalism versus that of supernaturalism. To me, the ability of naturalism to explain the world (“we have no need of the God hypothesis”), plus the absence of miracles at a time when, one would think, Collins would find them especially useful (the world’s becoming more secular!)—all of this puts much heavier weight on the naturalistic side.

It’s hard to dislike Collins, but I am repelled at his uncritical approach to his religious beliefs.

Tish Harrison Warren thinks it’s critically important that Jesus DID rise bodily from the dead

April 17, 2022 • 1:00 pm

And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.

—1 Corinthians 15:14 (King James version)

The quote above is one I use in Faith Versus Fact to help demonstrate that truth does matter to many believers—that factual claims of religion are often vitally important to sustaining the faith. If it were all just a made-up story, or a long metaphor, people wouldn’t be nearly as religious.  And this holds for many faiths. If John Frum didn’t exist, and his followers knew it, there wouldn’t be cargo cults.

This point is demonstrated by Anglican priest Tish Harrison Warren’s new Easter column in the NYT. In fact, she takes the exact opposite stand of Tim DeRoche described in my previous post. DeRoche argued that there’s no compelling evidence that Jesus was resurrected, but it didn’t matter anyway. In contrast, as you can tell from Warren’s title, it’s crucial for Christians to believe that Jesus was bodily resurrected. Such are the conundrums in a world where science is increasingly putting the lie to religious claims.

Click to read:

Warren uses two poems to argue for the importance of Jesus’s bodily resurrection: Updike’s “Seven Stanzas at Easter” and Gerard Manley Hopkins’s “The Wreck of the Deutschland.” The first argues that the Resurrection really happened; the second that its truth transforms the world, offering the possibility of redemption.  And Hopkins tells us why the first is so vital for Harrison: for if Christ be not risen, then is Harrison’s preaching vain, and her faith is also vain. That is, the resurrection has to be true because if it isn’t, Harrison is wasting her life, as are the many Christians, who like her (and unlike DeRoche) depend on the literality of the Crucifixion/Resurrection tale.

Now I’m not being completely fair to Warren. She has one other reason why she thinks the Resurrection happened:

I believe, in part, because I doubt my doubts and I doubt my doubt about my doubts. I can keep going. Round and round, round and round.

But at the end of the day, there’s this unflinching claim to reality: an empty tomb, as Updike says, a stone rolled back, “not papier-mâché, not a stone in a story.” And I, like every person who encounters this claim, have to decide if Jesus’ earliest followers died for something they knew to be a lie.

The first sentence is pilpul: you don’t believe something because you doubt it and then don’t doubt it and go back and forth. That proves nothing.

But what about the second argument? After all, people wouldn’t die for something if it wasn’t true, would they? But of course Jesus’s followers could have died even if he hadn’t been Resurrected. They could have died simply because he was a charismatic leader with a message they fervently believed in. After all, Jim Jones, who was not resurrected, persuaded over 900 people to die in Jonestown.  Further, what about all those Christians who died and never saw the Resurrection, or all those Muslims or Hindus or Jews who died without believing in a Resurrection? To say that if people die for a belief then that belief must be true is the height of self-deception. And that’s all the evidence that Harrison has.

Here Harrison is accepting one of the many bogus arguments apologists make for the truth of the Resurrection story (another is that it was reported by women, and people wouldn’t believe women back then if they weren’t speaking the truth). Here’s evidence that a main reason for her self-forced belief is because it offers her what she wants:

Jesus promises a future when everything is made new. But the only real evidence that that is any more than wishful thinking is rooted in history, as solid as a stone rolled away. The Resurrection happening in truth, in real time, is the only evidence that that love in fact outlasts the grave, that what is broken can be mended, and that death and pain do not have the final word.

Not everything will be redeemed in our lifetime but, even now, we see newness breaking in, we see glimpses of the healing to come. We believe that, because “He is risen indeed,” we can know God and our lives can participate in the life of God, that our own biographies and mundane days collide with eternity.

If Jesus defeated death one morning in Jerusalem, then suddenly every revitalization, every new birth, every repaired relationship, every ascent from despair, every joy after grief, every recovery from addiction, every coral reef regeneration, every achievement of justice, every rediscovery of beauty, every miracle, every found hope becomes a sign of what Jesus did in history and of a promised future where all things will be made new.

I don’t see any “glimpses of the healing to come”. Do you?

In other words, If Christ be not risen, then is her preaching vain, and her faith is also vain. To make a syllogism again (I’m not good at that!), because Harrison knows that her preaching and faith are not in vain, yet they would be in vain if Christ hadn’t risen, then he must have risen.  This is what’s known as confirmation bias.

Of course the Passover story is equally bogus, and I’ll criticize that, too—when the NYT starts presenting it as if it were fact.

A secular case for Christianity?

April 17, 2022 • 11:15 am

One problem with Bari Weiss and some of her acolytes is that they’re religious. I don’t hold that too strongly against them, but a journalist believing in religious dictates is a journalist who doesn’t care about evidence. It’s a journalist who falls prey to the bane of journalism—confirmation bias.

But a secular case for Christianity? Why not a secular case for Judaism, Islam, or Hinduism? It turns out that you could make a similar argument for all religions, but it’s an argument that involves gutting Christianity of everything that characterizes it: in particular, the belief that Jesus came to earth as God/The Son of God, was crucified and resurrected, and this story, taken as true, affords all who believe it the chance for eternal life. Author Tim DeRoche, instead, makes the “little people” argument for Christianity: he avers that even if the story isn’t true, the myth is good for the well being of yourself and society.

Click to read (if you subscribe; it may be paywalled otherwise):

DeRoche is described on the site this way:

Tim DeRoche is the bestselling author of Huck & Miguel, a modern-day retelling of Huck Finn set on the LA River. He is also the author of A Fine Line: How Most American Kids Are Kept Out of the Best Public Schools. His third book publishes in 2022.

I won’t dwell on his piece very long. DeRoche was brought up religious, drifted away from Christianity, and then returned to the faith when he married a “devout Christian”. That got him thinking about the religion and whether he was, indeed a true Christian, especially because that he didn’t fully buy into the Christian myths of crucifixion, resurrection, and salvation. But he was married to a Christian and going to church. What could he do?

He joined online communities that call themselves Christians, but not because they accept the Christian mythology. Rather, they are “Christian” for three reasons:

a.) Christianity helps you find meaning in your life.  I won’t deny that this is true for many; it’s just that I prefer to find meaning without relying on stories whose veracity I doubt. And of course there are the downsides of religion, too numerous to mention.


This community is where you’ll find the parkour artist Rafe Kelley, an avowed rationalist, interviewing Jonathan Pageau, an Orthodox icon carver, talking about “bridging the mythological and scientific worldviews.”

It’s where Paul Vander Klay, the pastor of a dwindling Dutch Reform congregation in Sacramento, amassed over 20,000 YouTube subscribers by doing hours and hours of commentary on the biblical lectures of nonbeliever Jordan Peterson—much to the chagrin of some leaders of his denomination.

It’s where the Catholic Bishop Robert Barron engages with the cognitive scientist John Vervaeke on the failure of our institutions—including our Catholic ones—to help people find meaning in their lives.

Lots of folks in the Meaning Crisis community do not believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead on this day, Easter Sunday. But everyone is willing to listen across the chasm of faith and try to understand the root causes of our current discontent: the political rancor, the economic insecurity, the lack of trust in institutions, the mental health crisis, the collapse of the birth rate.

But the root causes of our current discontent are secular ones. It’s not clear to me how Christianity (or faith itself) can deal with those “root causes”, much less the discontent they produce.   It might make you forget them, or, as Marx posited, help the desperate and downtrodden find solace in the presence of a heavenly father and the promise of better life to come (“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions”). But if, like DeRoche, you don’t believe in that stuff—in heaven or maybe not even in God—what solace do you get?

b.) Christianity helps you live a better life. 

Just as any serious Christian thinker must contend with the dark history of Christians persecuting others in the name of their faith, every serious secular thinker has to contend with the fact that these stories—from the Hebrew Bible on through the New Testament—seem to contain a tremendous store of wisdom about how to live a good life and build a healthy society.

Two responses:  The Bible also contains a lot of stuff that would worsen life: like the need to leave one’s family to follow Christ, or about how not to strike your slaves the wrong way, or about how women should not speak. To pick and choose the “wisdom” you use to lead a better life requires a winnowing process that, as we all know, presupposes a non-Biblical and secular point of view.

Second: secular humanism contains a lot more wisdom about how to life a good life and build a healthy society. If you want to do those things, don’t read the Bible, read the great secular ethical philosophers of the past and present, whose views are based not on superstition but cogitation and reason.

I needn’t point out the divisiveness of Christianity or of other religions, for DeRoche does that above. The question is whether the world would be better off now had religions never existed. I can’t prove that it would be—though that’s what I think—but neither can DeRoche prove that it wouldn’t be.

c.) Christianity’s rise is correlated with moral improvement in the world. 

And most everyone, Christian and secular, is willing to contend with realities that our modern culture has chosen to ignore. Namely, that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is the most successful meme in the history of the world. And the spread of that meme over the last 2,000 years has largely been correlated with decreasing levels of slavery, war, crime, poverty, and general suffering.

Of course, the spread of the “Islamic meme” over the last 1500 years has also been correlated with moral improvement, though most of that moral improvement, as Steve Pinker documents, has actually taken place in the last couple centuries.

But do I really have to inform DeRoche that correlation is not causation, and a lot of things have happened in the last several millennia? The rise of rationality, science, transportation, commerce, democracy, and communication have also been correlated with moral improvement, an indeed, those features might indicate a genuine causal relationship. This is the case that Steve Pinker makes in his two books The Better Angels of our Nature and Enlightenment Now. (For a short read on his case for reason and secularism as pivotal in morality’s advance, go here or here.) Pinker makes the opposite case from DeRoche, and Steve actually has data and arguments, not just correlations.

I won’t go on, but I will say that I’d love to hear Pinker debate DeRoche on the subject: “Resolved: Christianity is the main cause of moral improvement in humanity.”

Jesus will fix everything—if the resurrection happened!

April 11, 2022 • 11:45 am

Anglican priest Tish Harrison Warren continues to proselytize for Jesus in the op-ed section of the New York Times, but this time she does it by proxy—by interviewing one of her friends who was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer. Click on the screenshot to read:


Now I don’t want to be too hard on her friend Timothy Keller, who founded an evangelical Christian church in New York City. After all, the guy is dying.  And he’s finding his final comfort in Jesus and, especially, in the resurrection, as many Christians do.  I for one wouldn’t want to be comforted by superstitions at the end, but hey, he’ll never find out he was wrong.

No, what bothers me more than Keller’s clinging to the myths of Christianity is his claim below that all things will be put right on Earth, but only if the resurrection happened. If that’s not true, then things will go on sucking. (Note, however, that there is absolutely no tangible evidence for the resurrection.)

At first I thought that Keller meant that all things will be set right after you die if the Jesus story be true. Or that somehow we would all come into God’s Kingdom on Earth (not in heaven) when the trumps sound and Jesus comes back at the Rapture.  But I read the passage below twice, and it doesn’t seem to say that. I interpret to me this: IF THE RESURRECTION HAPPENED, then some day (day not specified), God “is going to put everything right.” That is, we’ll keep living our lives on Earth, but all evils will vanish.

You read this and tell me if Keller doesn’t mean that. (Warren’s question is in bold, Keller’s response in plain type. My own emphasis is in italics.

In your latest book, you wrote that our culture is experiencing a “crisis of hope.” Where do you find hope? What hope do you offer to others?

If the resurrection of Jesus Christ really happened, then ultimately, God is going to put everything right. Suffering is going to go away. Evil is going to go away. Death is going to go away. Aging is going to go away. Pancreatic cancer is going to go away. Now if the resurrection of Jesus Christ did not happen, then I guess all bets are off. But if it actually happened, then there’s all the hope in the world.

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy-Stories,” he says there are indelible human longings that only fantasy, fairy tales or sci-fi can really speak to. He says that all human beings have a fascination with the idea of escaping time, escaping death, holding communion with other living things, being able to live long enough to achieve your artistic and creative dreams, being able to find a love that perfectly heals. Tolkien says: why do we have those longings? And as a Christian, he thinks the reason is that we were not originally created by God to die.

We all deep down kind of know that this is the way life ought to be, and if the resurrection of Jesus Christ happens, then all those things are literally going to come true for us.

That’s the reason you have this paradox. On the one hand, the resurrection is a kind of very concrete thing to talk about, like “What is the evidence for this historical event?” Probably the single best book on this subject in the last 100 years is N.T. Wright’s book “The Resurrection of the Son of God.” [JAC: There’s new evidence?]

Yet if we come to the place where we accept it, then suddenly there’s no limit to what kinds of things we can look forward to. I know some of your readers are thinking, “I can’t believe there’s a person with more than a third-grade education that actually believes that.” But I do. And these last few months, as we’ve gotten in touch with these great parts of our faith, Kathy and I would both say we’ve never been happier in our lives, even though I’m living under the shadow of cancer.

Now I’m not sure exactly what Biblical exegesis tells us that Earthly evil will vanish if the resurrection occurred. Yes, the resurrection supposedly affords us a chance to find bliss in eternity (in Heaven, remember), but that doesn’t even hold for all Christians. Whether you believe in salvation through faith or salvation through works, the sheep will still go up and the goats will be fried.

As for “knowing the way life ought to be” in our hearts, well, the way we “know” how life should be will vary among people. And anyway, who says that the way life “ought to be” is the way God will make it? After all, aren’t God’s plans a mystery? Further, what the resurrection has to do with all this is unclear, save that it’s an example of eternal life for one person and a purported miracle.

Keller goes on to say that his belief gives extra power to the holiday of Easter.  As I said, if this makes Keller feel better, more power to him, but the theology behind his reasoning eludes me. Surely there are some ex-Christians among the readers who can explain.

More curious is why The New York Times continues to publish this kind of stuff. If we use the Chicago Maroon editors’ view that op-eds with factual inaccuracies can’t be published, this one should have immediately been spiked. The NYT has no astrology column, and it has no comics. Why does it have this kind of theobabble?

Tish Harrison Warren presents her readers’ prayers for Ukraine, but God doesn’t seem to be listening

March 14, 2022 • 12:30 pm

Once again Tish Harrison Warren is spreading Christian dogma in the pages of the New York Times, and once again I’m baffled that her unevidenced superstition is being purveyed to the paper’s readers.

The typical liberal religionist rationalizes praying to God as simply a form of meditation or a way to get emotional support. When pressed, such people may say that they don’t really think God even hears prayers, much less answers them.

But that’s not Reverend Warren. This Anglican priest is sure that God hears prayers. In her column on sin last week, she asked for readers to send samples of what prayers they were saying for Ukraine, and how that prayer made them “feel”. To wit:

She added, after this poll, that “We may mention some of your thoughts in next week’s newsletter.” I was pretty sure she would; after all, that’s a ready-made column. And sure enough, she did. Click on the screenshot to read:

It’s important at the outset to realize that for Warren, prayer is not a meditative, feel-good exercise. She really thinks God hears the diverse prayers she presents. My question is this: if God hears them, why doesn’t He stop the carnage of Ukraine, or give Putin a stroke? But I can’t ask her that stuff.

Nor does she mention the famous single-blind study of prayer that showed that intercessory prayer to God to help cardiac patients heal faster showed absolutely no effect (there was, as I recall, one significant effect, but in the direction that prayer worsened one criterion for healing).  Earlier, Galton studied the effect of prayer for the longevity of British royals and showed no effect when royals were compared to other upper-class Brits with similar healtcare and nutrition.

Taking into account all studies, the Wikipedia article on “Efficacy of prayer” sums it up tersely in the first paragraph:

The efficacy of prayer has been studied since at least 1872, generally through experiments to determine whether prayer or intercessory prayer has a measurable effect on the health of the person for whom prayer is offered. Empirical research indicates that prayer and intercessory prayer have no discernible effects.

In short, there is not an iota of evidence that prayer works, but people still pray. You’d think that in the face of this evidence, people would confect other reasons for praying, as they often do, but would stop pretending that God hears prayers and sometimes acts on them.

And I doubt that Reverend Harrison would sign on to faith healing, a staple of some Christian sects. But what else is praying to God to change Putin’s mind, or make Russian soldiers want to go home, than a form of faith healing? And she subscribes to that form of faith healing.


Each morning over the past few weeks, I have woken up to the chirpy voices of my children. I’ve gotten them off to school and their daily activities, poured a cup of green tea and sat down to pray for Ukraine.

As I pray, images fill my mind: photos I’ve seen of tanks rolling into cities, of a Ukrainian man weeping over his dying son, of mothers and babies crammed into subway stations, of a Ukrainian soldier’s funeral. The contrast between my safe home and the war raging 6,000 miles away feels overwhelming. I feel helpless. There is little that most ordinary people here can do, besides donate money and pray.

Somehow I think the imbibing of not just tea, but “green tea” is significant here, but the subject is too deep for me.

The above shows the patented combination of personal vulnerability and “deep theological reflection” that, said Religion News, makes Warren “a rising star in Christian spiritual writing”. If that’s the case, then the pool of religious writing talent is no deeper than its theological lucubrations.

Warren continues:

But I believe that prayer is indeed powerful, often in ways we can’t account for. War, whatever else it is, is spiritually dark, even demonic. . .

Demonic? Does she think that there are malevolent sprites involved? (Remember Pope Francis accepts the existence of demons.)  But below you see where Warren avows not just belief in a divine being, but the fact that said Being has ears that can hear all the world’s prayers:

Last week I asked you to share prayers that you have offered for Ukraine. We received hundreds of beautiful responses. It was a profound experience to read so many prayers from people all over the world and of various faiths. It often felt intimate and tender, as if you were allowing me to read your journal or private mail. Thank you for that privilege. I wish I could share all of the responses, though I trust that God has heard each one.

What makes her trust that God has heard each one? That’s a pretty powerful God, but it also shows that, unlike many liberal believers, she accepts a personal god, not just a renamed “universe” or “spiritual feeling”.  I would love to interview the good Reverend, just to find out what she really believes. We can start with the Nicene Creed.

Anyway, here are a few prayers she got. To a cynical antitheist like me, the prayers are a mixture of virtue flaunting before God, Warren, and the The New York Times, mixed with a bit of self-flagellation. Here’s one. It doesn’t sound that bad, but remember that it’s supposed to be addressed to God, not The New York Times:

Dustin Valero in California wrote that he uses his tradition’s prayer book. He prays “for the Ukrainians, including the church in Ukraine,” that they would have “a deep resolve and a deep sense of togetherness in the midst of trauma.”

He explained, “When I pray specifically for the church in Ukraine, while praying through this communal prayer book, I feel connected to the global body of believers. Their suffering is my suffering. Their cares are my cares. I consider them to be the peacemakers who can leverage love and faith in the midst of this darkness. I know my safe place on the couch is much different from their lived reality. I fight apathy and distraction in my day to day, and this prayer keeps suffering and hope closer to the front.”

In the one below, Sam is asking God to affect the mental processes of Russian soldiers. Moreover, he thinks that a). God hears this and b). God has the power to do this. But why don’t they? They already want to go home, but if they tried they’d be court-martialed.

Sam Rood in Brooklyn wrote, “My co-workers in Odessa have been praying that ‘a holy fear’ would fall upon the Russian soldiers so that they have an overpowering desire to go home. I’ve adopted that prayer.”

He continued, “My Ukrainian brothers and sisters understand that the Russian soldiers are not their true enemy. Their desire isn’t that they suffer or die but that they return home and they can all live in peace. Though fighting and even killing may be necessary, we remember our common humanity and shared need for peace.”

All of this comprises specific avenues of “praying for peace.” People have been praying for peace for centuries, but the important thing is this: God doesn’t seem to listen, at least not until a few million people have already died.

Below: a woke prayer, which indicts America as well.

The Rev. Canon Patrick Genereux from Iowa wrote: “When reflecting on Ukraine, I begin by being mindful of the murder and mayhem that we, the U.S., inflicted on Vietnam, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan and any other places in the world, just as the Russians are doing in Ukraine. I pray for the forgiveness of these people for what we have done to them. I pray for the church in its blessing of war out of fear of reprisals. I pray to be forgiven for my part in these sins as both a priest and at one time a member of the military.”

He also wrote, “My prayers focus on all those whose lives will be forever changed — Ukrainians, Russians, Europeans, and in the end, us all. I pray for the most innocent victims of all wars, the children.”

And one last prayer that asks God to soften the Pharoah’s heart:

Many readers said that they are praying for Putin to repent of his actions and turn away from pursuing war. Here is an excerpt from a prayer from Pamela Thacher in New York: “God, please allow Putin to reject his thirst for war and punishment and greed, and whatever goal he had for his war, let him pursue it through other means. I pray for their leaders, of course, and especially the extraordinary President Zelensky.”

Now one can’t help but be touched by the sympathy that these people show toward the Ukrainians, but don’t we all? Nevertheless, I can’t help but feeling frustrated that they also believe that God is listening to them and—especially—that they seem to believe in a a benevolent God despite the strong and palpable evidence that God is letting awful stuff happen in Ukraine right now.  God is allowing babies, pregnant mothers, children, and cancer patients to be killed. Why is he doing this? Please tell us, Dr. Warren, and if you say, “its a mystery,” then you have no warrant at all for knowing what God is like.

This is the problem of moral evil, which, along with the problem of physical evil, like cancer and earthquakes, is truly an Achilles heel of theology. Any person who looked at the world, especially in the last two weeks, and still retains a belief in a god, much less a benevolent god, is either blind, brainwashed with faith, or both. But that was also true during the Second World War.

So tell us, Reverend Warren, if God is really listening, why doesn’t he stop the war? He could, you know. He’d just have to soften Putin’s heart.

Peter Nothnagle’s take on the Nativity

December 25, 2021 • 12:30 pm

Occasionally reader Peter Nothnagle has contributed skeptical commentaries on Christianity to this site, for example here, here, and here. And, on the day that Jesus supposedly made his exeunt from Mary, Peter has written me once again. I’m delighted to present his take on the Nativity.

First, his email:

I was writing to one of my prison pen-pals this morning. He had somewhat sarcastically suggested that the gifts of the Three Wise Men were impractical — for a young family with a newborn and living in a stable, diapers and baby formula would have been more welcome than frankincense and myrrh. In my reply I explained that the gifts, and indeed the whole Nativity story, was symbolic — because that’s the sort of correspondence we carry on.

Then I was compelled by the laws of physics to write that up a bit more formally, and I pass it on to you because you have enjoyed some of my other essays.

Without further ado:

On the Nativity

Peter Nothnagle, December 24, 2021

Here’s what you need to know about the birth of Jesus, celebrated, for various reasons, on December 25 of the modern calendar.

The capital-N Nativity is described in two of the four canonical gospels – written down perhaps a century or more after the events they describe. All other documentation and commentary is based on these two accounts. It’s noteworthy that the earliest gospel, the one attributed to Mark, doesn’t suggest there was anything at all remarkable about Jesus’ birth; and the still earlier (i.e., closer to any historical events) letters of the apostle Paul don’t even say that Jesus was “born” in the first place – the verb he uses translates to “made” or “manufactured” – it’s the same one he used to describe the creation of Adam. I am convinced, as faithful WEIT readers may recall, that the first Christians had never even heard of a human Jesus on earth, but worshiped him as a celestial archangel.

But every children’s Christmas pageant, every “living nativity scene” staged on a church lawn, every Christmas card illustration of the birth of Jesus, mashes together the contradictory birth narratives in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. In Luke, Joseph and his heavily pregnant fiancée Mary have traveled to Joseph’s ancestral home of Bethlehem to participate in an empire-wide census (which history does not record), only to find no lodging, and took shelter in a cattle shed where Mary gave birth, and choirs of angels announced it to shepherds. No wise men. But the gospel of Matthew, which was probably written earlier than Luke, has a completely different account – Joseph and Mary are married and are residents of Bethlehem, and Jesus was apparently born without fanfare in the family home, and, much later, “wise men from the east” showed up to bestow gifts of gold, incense, and myrrh. No shepherds nor angels. Their gifts are symbolic, as is the whole story – put into the story to foreshadow the rest of the arc of Jesus’ life: gold is an appropriate gift for a king; incense is a gift for a god; and myrrh is a scented ointment applied to a dead body.

These birth narratives are not historical accounts, they’re prologues to a myth – and they were intended to be read that way (by any literate person in the early 2nd century) and not simply to be believed as literally true. They weren’t even part of the first draft of the gospels! Open your Bibles to Matthew, chapter 13, verses 53-55 and you’ll see that when Jesus went back in his home town and taught in the synagogue, the locals were astonished by his wisdom, basically saying, isn’t this the village carpenter’s son? How does he know all this stuff? But what they don’t say is, isn’t this is the kid who was visited by Magi bearing royal gifts, the one the soldiers were hunting for that time they killed all the male children? What this shows us is that whoever wrote chapter 13 hadn’t read chapters 1 and 2! I think that’s because the entire birth narrative was a later addition – note that chapter 3 reads like it was originally the beginning of the gospel.

The Nativity stories in the gospels aren’t straightforward historical accounts – they’re much more interesting than that! They make for a really funny scene in The Life of Brian, though.

I’m not trying to spoil anyone’s holiday fun – I’m really not. It’s just that I like to get to the bottom of historical puzzles, and I find that the truth of any historical event is actually more interesting, and indeed, more useful, than any (commercially-inspired) traditional notions about it. I hope and trust that all readers will enjoy the seasonal holiday to the fullest and celebrate in whatever manner they wish!

Tish Harrison Warren says that Christian virtues dispel racism

November 14, 2021 • 11:45 am

I subscribe to Tish Harrison Warren’s NYT column for the same reason I sniff the milk when I already know it’s gone bad. Masochism, I suppose.

Today we have a very confused column from the Anglican priest, whose schtick seems to be to take a conventional and approved moral position, inform us how virtuous she is on the issue, and then inform us all how her Anglican faith has buttressed her virtue. I’m not sure what the Times sees in this approach unless it wants to either valorize faith in general or convert people to Anglicanism.

Click on the screenshot to read, or make a judicious inquiry:

Today the issue is racism, which she properly decries, but of course opposing racism is nothing new. The “added value” here is her explanation of how her Christianity helps with her anti-racism.

The first part of the column is her declaration that America is founded on slavery and white supremacy, and that attacks on Critical Race Theory are made by white supremacists to allow white Americans to avoid confronting the sordid past of their race. The last bit is partly true, but the first—that criticizing CRT is a manifestation of racism—is not.


I don’t remember the first time I was taught that the Civil War was not fought because of slavery. I am a white Texan, so this idea was simply in the ether, as were myths about “good slave owners” and the “Lost Cause.” I knew that America had a racist history, but when I was a child, the details of what that meant were blurry and vague.

This experience is common. There is objective truth to our nation’s history, based in research and primary sources. But as Clint Smith describes in his book “How the Word Is Passed,” in America we too often tell a slanted version of our history to protect the feelings of white people. Smith highlights how an intentional disinformation campaign, which began shortly after the end of the Civil War, has altered the way much of America narrates our racial past. He looks at the convenient lies that white people often rely on to belittle the horrors of the past, the way we exclude stories that might trouble or challenge us.

I’m wondering if she’s adhering to the claims of the 1619 Project here, as she comes awfully close.  Nothing she says differs from what Nikole Hannah-Jones or Robin diAngelo says.

She then tells us about the aspects of Christianity that help her realize how soaked America is in racism and white supremacy. But before she does that, she says this:

The question before us as a nation is simple: Are we willing to tell the truth about our history or not?

My convictions about this question are deeply shaped by my Christian faith. White Christians do not appear to be any better than the culture at large at truthfully telling the story of America. But the Christian doctrines of sin and grace require truthfulness, even if those truths make certain people feel guilt, shame or discomfort.

First, White Christians are WORSE than others about “telling the true story of America” (i.e. recognizing racism). Look at this article from NBC News (click on screenshot).

 And who could answer “no” to the first question? The problem is that “truth” differs among people. To Nikole Hannah-Jones, the Revolutionary War was fought so America could keep its slaves. Not true. Also to Hannah-Jones, America was founded on slavery, which is the dominant strain in our history. That’s debatable, even among historians. Don’t forget that she also said that America dropped nukes on Japan in WWII even though we knew Japan was going to surrender because, well, we’d made the bomb and wanted to use it. That’s also untrue. So is Nikole-Smith, the truth-teller about America, adhering to her goals?

But I digress. She’s not the only one, as there are debates, even among liberals, about the degree of structural racism in America  and how it influence our history. So yes, we should tell the truth (and, to be fair, many white folks don’t want it told), but a lot of what passes for “history” is debatable, especially around race, for it consists not of empirically verifiable facts but in interpretations of facts.

But then she admits that White Christians aren’t any better than anybody else (and, in my view, probably worse than atheists) in apprehending historical truths. So what good is Christianity if it doesn’t help anybody else but Reverend Warren? She is being personal rather than general, which limits the value of her argument.

Here are the aspects of Christianity that, according to Warren, are supposed to foster anti-racism:

Recognition of evil. 

Christian doctrine also understands sin and evil not only as individualistic, voluntary decisions to do evil but also as a communal, atmospheric reality. We are born into communities with sinful assumptions and narratives about the world that drive oppressive and destructive behavior. However unintentionally, we give our assent to these ways of understanding and acting in the world.

I’m sorry, but racism didn’t pose much of a problem for Christianity until  the twentieth century. In fact, many Christians used their faith to support slavery and promote racist attitudes. As for whole communities being racist, well, we have purely secular explanations for that—explanations better than the fact that we’re born sinful.


The gospel presented in scripture demands that we “walk in the light,” that we not try to hide or minimize the truth of what’s wrong with us or our history.

Fine. Then why aren’t Christians “better than anybody else” on the issue of racism? As for distorting history, well, let’s just say that the Christian myths that Warren embraces and preaches to her flock are dubious at best. Jesus as a miracle-working son of God/part of God? The Resurrection? If Christians are going to get straight with history, then they’ll have to discard a lot of their faith.

Repentance for sin.

Christian doctrine also understands sin and evil not only as individualistic, voluntary decisions to do evil but also as a communal, atmospheric reality. We are born into communities with sinful assumptions and narratives about the world that drive oppressive and destructive behavior. However unintentionally, we give our assent to these ways of understanding and acting in the world

John McWhorter would have a few words on this paragraph as showing the similarities between Woke anti-racism and religion. The repentance in the former case involves abject apologies by the Sinful.


The Bible also lends us the tremendously helpful concept of idolatry to help understand racial evil. John Calvin wrote that the human mind is “a perpetual forge of idols.” Our loves are disordered. Our idols, which are often unknown to us, are not usually bad things in themselves, but instead are things that we have loved and exalted too much. There is, of course, nothing wrong with being white. God designed the specific amount of melanin in my skin. But America has — and has always had — an idolatry of white culture and power. Our history makes that clear.

Here she stretches to draw an analogy between political and racial attitudes on the one hand, and false gods on the other. Whether you find that comparison valid is up to you, but it doesn’t move me.

But the main thing that Warren overlooks—probably deliberately—is that the Bible itself has been used to justify slavery, and, as far as I know, says nothing about racism and nothing negative about slavery.  From the preceding link:

“Christianity was proslavery,” said Yolanda Pierce, the dean of the divinity school at Howard University. “So much of early American Christian identity is predicated on a proslavery theology. From the naming of the slave ships, to who sponsored some of these journeys including some churches, to the fact that so much of early American religious rhetoric is deeply intertwined . . . with slaveholding: It is proslavery.” Some Christian institutions, notably Georgetown University in the District, are engaged in a reckoning about what it means that their past was rooted in slaveholding. But others have not confronted the topic. “In a certain sense, we’ve never completely come to terms with that in this nation,” Pierce said.

Why did Christianity become anti-slavery? Because of secular humanistic morality, which realized that slavery was immoral. The religious, as they so often do (viz., gay marriage) change their morality only after society itself has started changing because of secular morality.

We all know that time and again, the Bible condones or even approves of slavery. (n.b.. Slaves back then were not mostly blacks, but simply conquered people of all hues. But the same principle applies: the Bible doesn’t criticize one population from enslaving others.) The Wikipedia article “The Bible and Slavery” is a good start. God, it seems, didn’t adhere to Christian principles!

In the end, every Christian anti-racist virtue that Warren says dispels racism was ignored until secular society started becoming abolitionist. And if you adhere stricly to the Bible, you would not criticize slavery or racism. Rather, you’d support them!

What we see in Warren’s essay is a great big con job. Like most of us, she deplores racism, and that attitude is great. But since Warren converted to Anglicanism from being a Southern Baptist. she’s found a way to twist her new faith to show that it’s really anti-racist. It’s not, and hasn’t been until it took the lead from humanism.

If Warren wants Christians to tell the truth about history, they should begin with the things they believe about the history of their own faith, and examine what the Bible says about slavery. Then they can start making up stuff.

NYT columnist touts the afterlife

October 18, 2021 • 11:00 am

I am not sure why the New York Times hired a religion columnist who touts not just God but Christianity on a weekly basis, asserting things whose truth she cannot possibly know. I’ve beefed about Anglican priest Tish Harrison Warren more than once on this site, decrying her anodyne religious palaver.  But this week’s column is the worst, at least from the viewpoint of someone who likes to see evidence behind assertions.  And although the NYT picked a genial and semi-liberal pastor to write the column, she’s still making assertions on par with, “I know that someday John Frum will come back to my island bringing us all riches and cargo, for that is what my ancestors told me.” What galls me is that she’s not only getting big exposure for her unevidenced religious claims, but probably making at least half as much money as John McWhorter, who has much more to say, likes to see evidence behind claims, and turns out two columns per week.

This time Reverend Warren tells us why she believes in God, the divine Jesus and His Resurrection, and her certainty that she’ll have an afterlife. (I don’t know if she thinks the rest of us will, as Warren is adhering to the tenets of Christianity.) It’s a prime example of confirmation bias, and something that clearly has no place in The Paper of Record.

Click to read and weep:

Rev. Warren is upset because her friend and mentor Thomas, the priest who supported her through her ascent to the priesthood, died in an automobile accident along with his 22-year-old child (sex not specified). That would be devastating for anyone. But she finds herself unable to accept that such a major figure in her life is gone for good.  We atheists may have trouble coming to terms with that, too, but that doesn’t mean we start believing that we’ll see our dead friends and loved ones on “the other side”.  Warren:

It feels to me like something went wrong. He can’t die, I think. He’d made plans. He had so much left to do. A journey interrupted.

. . . There is something deep within us that rejects the idea that the road just stops. We feel there must be more. We must be made for more: more conversations, more laughter, more breaths to take, more miles to walk along the trail.

Yes, and there’s something deep within us that thinks that the sun moves across the sky and dips below a flat earth. But science showed that our intuitions were wrong.

Warren then broaches the idea that Jesus himself must have had a story similar to Thomas’s, something like “Prophet, Interrupted”.  Thus we get to the confirmation bias: because Thomas simply can’t have just expired forever, he didn’t! Why? Because the Bible tells us so and because Warren wants that to be true:

The truth is, no one — not priests, not scientists, not the most ardent atheist, not the most steadfast believer — can be 100 percent certain about what happens to us after we die. Each week at church, when we say the Nicene Creed, I affirm that I believe in “the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”

I believe that after I die, somehow mysteriously but also materially Jesus will raise me up to live on this good earth, made new. I believe this because I believe that Jesus is risen from the dead. Specifically, I believe the witness of the disciples and others who lived and died for their claim that they (and somewhere around 500 others) had seen Jesus alive again and spoken to and touched him. That’s ultimately why I believe there’s a God at all and why I believe God has defeated death.

Re the first paragraph, no, none of us can be 100% certain that we live on after death. But we can go on what data we have. That data says that there is no evidence for an immaterial soul that would somehow embody our person, that there is no evidence for anybody coming back from death or giving messages from the afterlife (save Jesus, of course). Finally, as Christopher Hitchens said, “What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.”

As for the second paragraph, she piles one delusion atop another, all coming from taking the Bible literally. For every assertion she makes is based on the New Testament being literally true. Not only was there a historical Jesus (something that many of us doubt), but also that Jesus was a divine being, both the son of God and a third of God. His resurrection, of course, as well as the witnesses, are views that also come from the New Testament. If those are reasons for believing in God and an afterlife, good luck to Rev. Warren.

After all, we know that both the Old and New Testaments contain historical errors. The census of Caesar Augustus, for example, which made Joseph and Mary return to Bethlehem to be counted and taxed, never took place. Jesus told his disciples, “Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.” (Matthew 16:28, KJV) That’s pretty plain: he was saying that he’d return for a second time during the lifetime of his disciples, which of course didn’t happen. (This statement of course has now been interpreted by theologians as meaning something else.) We’ve been waiting two millennia, and Jesus still hasn’t come back. Why not? Could it be because the whole story is fiction? And could it be that the resurrection of the dead is also fiction?

I’m curious about what makes Rev. Warren so sure that she’ll see Thomas in heaven instead, for example, of being reincarnated as another life form, as some Buddhists believe. What makes her think that the Christian beliefs are the right ones, and all other scenarios about what happens after death are wrong?

She gives the answer away in the last sentence here (my emphasis):

As a priest, when I talk about life after death with others, I tend to keep it objective, theological and creedal. I worry about making resurrected life sound sentimental, like we are just making stuff up, dreaming of what we wish was true. So I try to be evenhanded and factual. But the fact is, I believe this is true, and I believe there are good reasons to believe it’s true, but I also want it to be true.

We’ve already seen that there are not “good reasons” to believe that there’s an afterlife, as there’s no evidence save the assertions of the New Testament, which are repeatedly erroneous. The real reason is that she wants it to be true. And that’s one of the main reasons we have Christianity.

Two statements are relevant here. The first is by the estimable scientist Peter Medawar:

I cannot give any scientist of any age better advice than this: the intensity of a conviction that a hypothesis is true has no bearing over whether it is true or not.

Would only religionists who make assertions like Warren adopt that stand!

And the second is an old proverb:

If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

And so, in her peroration, when Warren says, “I don’t want to live in a world where everything good suddenly ends,” my response is, “Well, you almost certainly do, so get used to it.”