Friday, October 7, 2011

Santa's Teeth

Over on Andrew Sullivan there's been a series of posts on Adam and Eve, discussing whether "the fall" is literally true or not. To some, of course, it most certainly is. To others, it's just allegory, to explain sin and, I guess, evil. Among those who consider it allegorical, there seems to be no problem accepting that other parts of the Bible are more literally true. A road map, a set of instructions allowing divination of which is which, a secret decoder ring, is not provided.

As much as the next guy, I'm interested in challenging philosophical discussions (assuming the next guy is at least minimally grounded in relevance), but I'm finding it pretty amusing. Even for those arguing for allegory, there's a presumption of certain truths, particularly of god; which makes the rest of the argument sort of silly. Irrelevant, in fact. Given god, the rest is small stuff. It's like speculating what the tooth fairy does with all those teeth; or debating whether or not Santa lives year-round at the North Pole. (He doesn't: I see him at Macy's in the winter.)

The whole idea of describing man as inherently sinful, whether it's because of a literal Eve copping a literal apple or just because it's a necessary story line to keep the tithing aflow, controverts the very concept of an all-powerful, all-knowing, and loving god. Hell yes, humankind is imperfect as hell (put that in your intelligent design bong and puff on it), but the Christian theology to explain it is as full of holes as a grounded apple; yet on they argue, dancing on a pinhead. Theo-logy. The word is an internally self-canceling oxymoron. (As far as consistency goes, I'd argue that polytheism more closely explains what we observe: all those gods and godlets, arguing, sneaking around and causing chaos like Froggy the Gremlin.)

I admire Andrew Sullivan a lot. He's brilliant, blogoproductive to the point of obsession, a true conservative, openly gay, and devoted to the church that considers him an abomination. He's repelled by the current GOP, as any true conservative would be, has been hilariously committed to pointing out the absurdity of teabagger love for Sarah Palin. As any true conservative would be. But he's perfectly okay with the idea that, no matter the non-literality of Adam and Eve, man is inherently sinful and that Jesus died to save us from our bad selves.

Think about it: the perfect god, contemplating his options (I admit he only had a couple of days, but still...), decided to create man a sinner, over, you know, making him and her naturally joyful and productive. Or, for whatever reasons (I have my theories, and they have to do with extreme perversity and sadism) allowed (which, by all/all definition, means caused) them to become sinful and destined by default to eternal damnation, despite some sort of initial Edenic perfection. Then he sends his son (or himself in the form of his son, or something, a concept I've never quite got) to earth to save us all, by letting him be tortured to death. Except, being all-knowing, he knew from the get-go that the boy wouldn't die; that, therefore, it was an elaborate guilt-inducing hoax, following a deliberate (because he's all-powerful) poisoning of the pool. Tell me how it's not depravity.

Now, other than not believing a word of it, I can't say it didn't happen. (Well, yes, I can, and I do.) But if it did, whatever else is true it sure as hell does not bespeak the workings of a good guy; or a competent one, for that matter. So the arguing over literality, while a decent way to waste a little time and to rationalize the irrational, is a fool's errand. No matter what side they take in the specific argument over apple/non-apple, they're accepting as given a premise that is preposterous on its face; namely, that it's all part of some divine plan for redemption, orchestrated by a loving and infallible deity.


Chuck Sigars said...

Y'now, I'd comment more often if I could figure out what makes your blog - and only your blog, in my wanderings -- so damn buggy. The Trinity is easy compared to figuring that out. I've got T1 speed and browser doesn't matter; 90% of the time it crashes my browser. Anyway...

I found that particular Dish thread dumb, unusual for that site, but a couple of points. Apart from the patchwork nature of Scripture, the muddled history, the lost documents, the obvious editing, and the overall political hands messing around, you seem to skim over the difference between the Hebrew portion and the Greek. Way different, dude. Which is why true believers can accept Genesis as an ancient, allegorical story, pieced together from our oldest tales and myths, and find the Gospels more literal and historical, if also sort of problematic.

Secondly, I do believe the notion is that Man was created with free will, thus the issue. But I don't get Original Sin very well either.

Finally, Bill Moyer's PBS show on Genesis is streaming on Netflix. Good stuff, and if you have serious interest you could do worse than watch an episode or three. That's where some intellectual heavyweights try to find answers, not on the Dish.

Even though I tend to walk on the periphery, lately I've gotten annoyed with the intellectual laziness in this modern atheist movement (present company excluded; you can scoff at silliness without having to commit to studying something you have no interest in). There are fascinating things here, but I see a lot of broad, dismissive strokes and wild generalizations. I know a lot of thoughtful people who deal with these subjects on a daily basis; all of them are intelligent, none of them believe in a Man In The Sky in that sense, and all would be politely bored with you if you thought they did.

Sid Schwab said...

Excellent comment, Chuck.

First, I have no idea why you're having problems with commenting here. Maybe it's the hand of gods, or Froggy the Gremlin.

As to the rest: the fact that the Bible has been translated so many times is but one of the reasons why I find literalism so silly. (Reminds me of a comment I heard years ago when daylight savings time was proposed: we should leave time the way god made it.)

But I'm the first to admit I'm no scholar when it comes to religion (or most anything, really.) I'd love to be in on a real open minded and open ended discussion about this stuff. But, starting with a disbelief that some sort of higher power had anything to do with it, the rest becomes mostly sophistry. There was an interesting article in the New Yorker recently, about a philosopher, Derek Parfit. I found much of it fascinating and challenging; and also sort of useless. However, I like the idea that an atheist (he is) believes there are universal truths and universal moralities, and that they can be discerned; in that, I agree.

The discussion of free will is interesting to me in several ways. As a religious proposition, it takes a lot of gymnastics to reconcile it with the godly threesome of omniscience, omnipotence, and lovingness.

But as a neurophysiological proposition it's even more interesting: our neurons are interconnected. The membrane potentials that determine when one fires off are influenced by the input from the ones connected to it. Thus, ambient temperature, noise, light, memories (whatever they are), sunspots, humidity, smells, the pain in my knees, all specifically and measurably influence the function of my brain.

Would I be writing this if it weren't raining, and if the neighbors' gardeners hadn't been using their damned gas-powered leaf blowers at seven in the morning?

Should be a separate post, really. Maybe it will be, unless they stop making so much noise on Mukilteo Blvd. Meanwhile, I'll look for that Moyers show.

Sid Schwab said...

P.S: As to the modern atheist "movement." I find myself conflicted; in part, about the concept itself. I find the writings of Dawkins and Harris, in particular, thoughtful, challenging, and compelling. If they're dismissive of religion, they supply their reasoning expansively and extensively.

I don't know whether it's a movement, or even what a movement is, in that context. But, as I've said here many times: I have no problem with religion as a personal guide, a way to get oneself in and out of this world. I have a great problem with the trend in the US of late, to make ours a theocracy. With its attendant scorn of fact, its disregard for education as elitism, it has implications for us all.

Not only does it take us out of the game in terms if international competition, it ensures an electorate unable to distinguish fact from fantasy. In other words, it'll be self-perpetuating, guaranteeing that "the people" will remain sheepishly manipulatable. It's no accident.

Sounds like lefty paranoia, I know; but who can look at the teabaggers and not see it? (Other than teabaggers, of course.)

So I think it's not coincidence that the loudest in the atheist "movement" happen to be scientists: they recoil in horror at what they see happening. If religion hadn't become so interlocked with regressive politics and public anti-intellectualism, I doubt they'd be as strident (if that's what to call it) as they are.

I know I'd be silent (comparatively) regarding religion if I didn't consider the current melding of it with right-wing politics so threatening. Especially to people like me.

Anonymous said...

Hey Sid, My Dad's an Atheist...
probably a reaction to his hardshell Baptist South Georgia Childhood...
and fyi "Hardshell" Baptists are so strict they read "Sinners in the Hands of an angry God" for its comic undertones.
but he saw the light, went to college, discovered alcohol, dancing, and a woman who would bare his children.
Hey, my Mom's Visa was running out...would you wanta go back to 1960 Dresden?
And he didn't push his A-theism on me.
His A-hol-ism yes, Atheism no.
And if I didn't believe in a Surpreme Being I could probably joke about dropping Napalm on kids too. What am I sayin? I laughed at those jokes, there funny, so sue me.
And I'm not sayin I believe in an old man with a white beard, meticulousy accounting for the well-being of every sparrow.
Well my Dad's old, has a White Beard, but he hates Birds, somethin about em gettin in his garden...
But what does that Steven Hawkins dude think about religion, doesn't he know everything, bein paralyzed with the Lou Gehrigs??

gotta run, there's a Sparrow in my Tomatos...


Anonymous said...

Hi Chuck, no offense meant, but, some people just don't believe. Doesn't mean they have or haven't read many discourses, arguments, or theology. Also doesn't mean they haven't searched.

Maybe they have or haven't.

For myself, not writings, musings, philosophies, it's just not there. I don't believe in anything beyond.

I'd LOVE to, how much easier life could be.

Born into a Catholic family how I longed to "get it." I don't.

What I believe is what we have now is what we do. And it's MY choice to make a mess of it. Or not.

We are only as good/Christian/inherantally moral as we treat others.


Anonymous said...


I'm sorry but atheism does not suffer from intellectual laziness. It's actually religion and theology including the "sophisticated" variety that suffers this problem. Those who are making the positive claim are the ones who have to provide the evidence. They have failed. As a result, the default position is not to believe.

I don't know of a single religion that has even managed to define their God in a coherent manner. If you can't define it, you can't provide evidence for it.


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