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Dear Rod, How are you doing? I wanted to write a reply to “That OleDevil Christianity,” and I think that I’ll give it a try now. Igave Steve Blatt a copy of your reply – I’ll have to wait to seewhat he thinks. As a preface, I asked you if you were trying to show that myinterpretation of Christianity was wrong, or merely one-sided. That is, were your counter-examples supposed toshow that Christianity is actually the opposite of how Icharacterized it, or do you concede that the elements I citeare present, but balanced by other elements that you cite? 1. Athens vs. Jerusalem. I’ll happily agree with you that theGraeco-Roman tradition is, as you put it, “radically non-monolithic.” One need not be as well-versed in ancientphilosophy as you clearly are to know about the radicaldifferences between Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics, theEpicureans, Sextus Empiricus, Protagoras, etc. To stand upfor “Athens” would indeed be pretty silly, since one would bestanding up for a host of inconsistent views. In contrast, I think that the Judeo-Christian tradition, whilediverse, does indeed have a strong continuity to it. Andwhile you are quite correct to point out differences -especially in minor, relatively unhierarchical offshoots likeGnostics, Quakers, etc. – I don’t see how we can avoidnoticing the similarities in the mainstream. How should wemeasure the degree of homogeneousness? Well, I thinkthat my case is hands down for at least three measures: a. What most ordinary Christians throughout history havebelieved. b. What most Christian intellectuals throughout history havebelieved. c. What most Christian power structures throughout historyhave supported. Would you at least agree that my charges hold up by thesethree measures? You seem to want to place a huge amount of emphasis onthe four Gospels; for you, even the rest of New Testament issuspect. Now this might make sense if the Gospels werethe systematic thought of a single mind. In that case, wemight reasonably study the texts and conclude: Most allegedfollowers of X-ism were wrong, and this deviation from thetrue meaning explains all of the harm that historical X-istshave caused. But it seems to me that the Gospels are theopposite of the systematic thought of a single mind. Rather,they are accumulated oral traditions that contain the seedsfor many different (and usually inconsistent) interpretations.Having no univocal meaning in themselves (Perhaps similarto the way that, as you suggested, other group documentslike George Mason’s Bill of Rights have no univocalmeaning?), I don’t see how they could be taken as thedefining documents of “Christianity,” against which allhistorical Christianity must be weighed. Rather, my view isthat only when you wed historical Christianity to its foundingdocuments do you get a coherent body of thought. In this way I think Christianity is very different from, to useyour example, the Objectivist movement. Rand’s views onmost topics are fairly clear, well-defined, systematic. Thereis room for interpretation on little questions, but not bigones. Moreover, her system did not contain a lot ofcontradictory elements, whose respective weightings wouldhave to be worked out by history. Given this, the”dogmatism, conformity, intolerance, and repression” thatObjectivism sometimes promoted could hardly be held torepresent Rand’s philosophy. But suppose that Rand was avague and enigmatic thinker; or better yet, she was quasi-mythical, and her thought sprang out of diverse bodies oforal traditions. Suppose further that the interpretation thatwon out over the others, achieving a monopoly status, didindeed stand for”dogmatism, conformity, intolerance, andrepression.” Could that reasonably then be considered the”essence” or “dominant thrust” of Objectivism? You bet itcould! Where the defining documents don’t add up to adefinition, then later tradition does the defining. And like Isaid, whether we consider sheer numbers of ordinaryChristians, numbers of Christian intellectuals, or Christianpower structures, we get the same negative picture ofChristianity that I painted in my letter. With regards to Paul’s role: Since historical Christianity hasalmost always included the Pauline and other texts alongwith the Gospels, I think that it would be difficult to justifyexcluding them from “Christianity.” Paul’s interpretation mayhave been controversial with other early Christians; but isn’tit at least one of the legitimate interpretations of the ill-defined thought of Jesus? And if all of the deviant brancheswere historical dead-ends, dying off during early churchhistory, why give them more than minor weight in ourevaluation of the Christian tradition? 2. The origins of the Enlightenment. Do you really think thatthe Enlightenment sprang out of the intellectual time bombsof Christianity? I can imagine it, but it seems highly unlikelyand inconsistent with all of the history that I’ve read. Mostsources attribute the Enlightenment to the revival ofclassical authors, and more importantly, the questioning,rationalistic mood that they sparked. If you are referringexclusively to the development of individualism, you may beright. Even Peikoff (see “Religion vs. America” in The Voiceof Reason) credits Christianity with the idea of the supremeworth of the individual soul. Still, I think that all of these accounts underestimate thenewness of individualism; I tend to think that while it hassome parentage, it was chiefly an invention of theEnlightenment. As for the mutual influence of Christianity andAristotelianism, you don’t seem to mention Christiancorruptions of the Aristotle’s rationalism, secularism, andeudaimonism. I’m no expert, but reading the medievalvolumes of Frederick Copleston’s History of Philosophygave me the impression that the Christian Aristotelianstossed out a lot of the best parts of Aristotle to make him fittheir dogmas better. Your “market socialism” analogy saysit all: compare it with Sokrates’ startling claim in Theaetetusthat he must “expose” defective ideas. (”Come then to me,who am a midwife’s son and myself a midwife, and do yourbest to answer the questions which I will ask you. And i Iabstract and expose your first-born because I discover uponinspection that the conception which you have formed is avan shadow, do not quarrel with me on that account.”)Christian Aristotelianism – from my admittedly cursory studyof it – usually used reason as a fig leaf for their unrepetantdogmatism. 3. Does the New Testament assert that Jesus is God? I was shocked by your claim that the New Testament neverunequivocally asserts that Jesus was God. I’m not nearlythe textual expert that you are, but isn’t that idea clear atleast in all of the Pauline texts? Even if not specificallystated, isn’t it understood? As far as I read, that was onemajor points of difference between the Jerusalem Christiansand Paul’s sect. Even you mention that John describes Jesus as “the only-begotten son of God.” In Greek mythology at least, thatmakes you (at minimum) a demi-god. Throughout, Jesusgets a lot more honor than any of the Old Testamentprophets. Some other random texts supporting the Jesus=Godinterpretation: In the Gospels, John the Baptist’s stories of the stronger onewho will follow him is clearly meant to refer to Jesus (inMatthew, Jesus shows up immediately after John’s “not fit tocarry his shoes” spiel). In the conclusion of Matthew, Jesus instructs his followers tobaptize “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the holySpirit, and teach them to observe all of the commands that Ihave given you.” Here is Jesus, mentioning himself in thesame breath with Jehovah! And on top of it, he tells them tokeep his commands, not God’s commands. Throughout the texts, “the Lord” seems to variously refer toJesus and Jehovah. In the Acts of the Apostles (25:24) among other places, itspeaks of faith in Christ Jesus, not God. Does the OldTestament ever speak of anyone having faith in any of theProphets? Romans 1:1 begins with “Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ.”Sure sounds like a God-to-man relationship to me. Well, I could keep flipping pages, but it seems pretty clear.Your interpretation, that we can all become children of Godin the same sense as Jesus, seems strained. I don’t knowwhat it takes to be “unequivocal,” but your interpretationseems to give a lot of weight to a few short lines of text. Ofcourse, if you were around at the time and defeated all ofthe rival interpretations, I’d concede your ability to define thetradition as you liked. But to look back now and argue thatthat was the basic message of Christianity is prettyimplausible. 4. Faith. I am familiar with the nuanced definitions of faith offered byAquinas and other Christian thinkers. But first of all, thedefinition of faith as “belief in the absence of any and allevidence” goes back early even among intellectuals.Tertullian is surely the classic example. Augustine too said,”What then, brethren, shall we say of God? For if thou hastbeen able to understand what thou wouldest say, it is notGod. If thou hast been able to comprehend Him as thouthinkest, by so thinking thou hast deceived thyself. Thisthen is not God, if thou hast comprehended it; but if this beGod, thou hast not comprehended it.” (Sermon LII, vi.16) Isuppose that the issues of the incomprehensibility of Godand the nature of faith are separate, but I don’t see how youcould hold the former without the “any and all evidence”interpretation of faith. Anyway, it seems clear that regular Christians have alwaysheld the strong irrationalist view of faith. Locke’s sign ofintellectual honesty is relevant here: Namely, theintellectually honest person’s confidence is proportional tothe evidence available to him; greater confidence stemsfrom irrational faith, or as Locke terms it, “enthusiasm.” Theattitudes of not only Paul and the other apostles, but also ofJesus himself, fit in well. The absence of a rational, criticalspirit of mind pervades the whole Bible. And I think that thisspirit descended perfectly upon the rank-and-file. Even Aquinas made the argument for faith that it made itpossible for less intelligent people to accept Christianity. Sohe couldn’t be wholely serious about his theory of faith astrust in authority, since presumably less intelligent peoplecan’t grasp the proofs of God’s existence ay better thnanyting else. (Hence, in Catholic terms, they don’t have theprior knowledge of the existence of God that permits us tohave faith in Him.) I guess that I think we should read between the lines to seethe appallingly dogmatism in the Bible that makes irrationalfaith necessary. Perhaps comparing Jesus with Sokrateswould make things clearer. Sokrates wants others to graspthe truth with their own minds; in his felicitous term, he is a”midwife” to the knowledge of others. Jesus and theapostles, on the other hand, want obedient minds whoaccept what they’re told. This is the practical origin of faith;and you would be hard-pressed to argue that earlyChristians (or anyone else for that matter) acquired theirbelief in any other way. To make the point more concrete, imagine Sokratesquestioning Jesus. I am sure that Sokrates could quicklysqueeze a Tertullian-like definition of faith out of him. Sokrates: What is faith? Jesus: It is trust in God. Sokrates: So how is the existence of God known? Jesus: It is known from the Scriptures. Sokrates: And are not the Scriptures the Word of God? Jesus: Yes, Sokrates, quite right. Sokrates: And they could not have been written withoutGod? Jesus: It would be monstrous to suppose so, Sokrates. Sokrates: So if one did not know that God existed, one couldnot know that there were any “Scriptures” in this sense. Jesus: So it would seem. Sokrates: But then how could God be proved from theScriptures, when knowing that they are Scripturespresupposes our knowledge of God? Jesus: I feel forced to the conclusion that we could not,Sokrates. Sokrates: So then the existence of God is not known fromthe Scriptures? Jesus: I think not. Sokrates: How then is God known? Jesus: It would seem to be by faith. Sokrates: But if faith is “trust in God,” then is not knowingGod by faith no better than knowing him by Scripture? Jesus: I do not follow you, Sokrates. Sokrates: Since Scriptures are the Word of God, before we
could know there were Scriptures, we would first have toknow God existed. Jesus: That, I think, is what we concluded. Sokrates: Must we not then also say that since faith is trustin God, before we could use faith, we would first have toknow God existed? Jesus: So it seems to be for the moment. Sokrates: So if God is known by faith, faith could not be trustin God? Jesus: Your argument forces me to think so. Sokrates: What then is faith? Jesus: [After many other failed definitions] Faith is the beliefin the absence of any and all evidence; or in any case, it isbelief held out as knowledge, which does not meet theordinary standards of knowledge. Sokrates: [Appalled] But why should we hold a belief asknowledge, which does not meet the ordinary standards ofknowledge? Now most Christians, I’m sure, didn’t need Sokrates to showthem their real beliefs. Faith appears to be an almostinstinctive attitude of mind, correctable only by diligenttraining. (Of course, this sort of argues against my caseagainst Christianity, since if most people are dogmatic andaccept beliefs on blind faith, Christianity couldn’t be thecause. But I would reply that Christianity makes a badtendency worse by elevating it to a virtue.) 5. Evidence. Let us go down the kinds of evidence you sayJesus uses. a. Scripture. It is interesting that you cite this as making”good coherentist sense.” For this seems to highlight thegreat danger of coherentism: Most of your beliefs might bewrong! A foundationalist would demand a justification ofScripture before accepting it (its validity is certainly not self-evident or known directly in any way). But the coherentistcan just start midstream and argue from any old thing mostpeople accept. I’m sure your coherentism is much moresophisticated than all that, but this seems like a difficultobjection to meet. Comparing Jesus’ interpretations of Scripture to those ofSpooner or Macedo is particularly apt. It also concedes thatJesus, like (I am afraid) Spooner and Macedo, puts his ownviews into the mouth of written documents, rather thansearching out its actual meaning. Or as Nietzsche puts it,”The way in which a theologian, no matter whether in Berlinor in Rome, interprets a ‘word of the Scriptures,’ or anexperience, a victory of his country’s army for example,under the higher illumination of the psalms of David, isalways so audacious as to make a philologist run up everywall in sight.” The Antichrist sec.52. b. Miracles. Well, they aren’t very good evidence foranyone but eyewitnesses to believe. Unless, of course, hehad travelled to Rome and done some impressive stuff infront of a bunch of pagans. (And it would have to be prettyimpressive – lifting the Colloseum a hundred feet off theground, maybe?) Incidentally, this is why (as you correctlyguess) I never gave parapsychology a second thought.You’re right that psychokinesis is necessary for free will, sothere’s no logical impossibility here. But any psychokinesisof external objects would be absurdly easy to verifyI Andwhenever one of these psychics is put to the test, theyalways flop. c. Jesus’ arguments. Well, they’re not too impressive, andthey’re few and far between. Otherwise, point taken. d. Parables. I think that you seriously exaggerate thedegree to which Jesus’ parables qualify as evidence. Howconvincing do you find the following: “Everyone, therefore, who listens to this teaching of mineand acts upon it, will be like a sensible man who built hishouse on rock. And the rain fell, and the rivers rose, andthe winds blew, and beat about that house, and it did not godown, for its foundations were on rock. And anyone wholistens to this teaching of mine and does not act upon it, willbe like a foolish man who built his house on sandI” Matthew7:24-27 [Explaining the parable of the sower] “The seed is God’smessage. The ones by the path are those who hear, andthen the devil comes and carries off the message from theirhearts, so that they may not believe it and be saved. Theones on the rock are those who receive the message joyfullywhen they first hear it, but it takes no real root.” Luke 8:10-16. “Think of the crows! They do not sow or reap, and theyhave no storehouses or barns, ad God feeds them. Howmuch more are you worth than the birds!” Luke 12:24-25 “Salt is good; but if salt loses its strength, what can it beseasoned with? It is fit neither for the ground nor for themanure heap; people throw it away.” Luke 14:34-35 Admittedly, some of the parables, like the Good Samaritan,are of intellectual substance. But most of them seem purelystipulative. They are not of the form (as you say) “1. X is a good thing when humans do it. “2. God is good. “3. It is reasonable to suppose God does X too.” Instead, they follow the far less rational pattern: 1. Let’s take it for granted that X is like Y (to which it bearsno necessary relation). 2. Y’s have property A. 3. Therefore X’s have property A too. a. Against Pride. “If anyone comes to me without hating his own father andmother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, andhis very life too, he cannot be a disciple of mine. For no onewho does not take up his own cross and come after me canbe a disciple of mine.” Luke 14:26-27 “I tell you, unless you change and become like children, youwill never get into the Kingdom of Heaven at all. Anyone,therefore, who is as unassuming as this child is the greatestin the Kingdom of Heaven, and anyone who welcomes onechild like this on my account welcomes me. But whoeverhinders one of these little ones who believe in me mightbetter have a great millstone hung around his neck and besunk into the open sea.” Matthew 18:4-7 b. Against self-interest and money-making See Luke 14:26-27 above on self-interest. “But alas for you who are rich, for you have had yourcomfort! “Alas for you who have plenty to eat now, for you will gohungry! “Alas for you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep! “Alas for you when everyone speaks well of you, for that isthe way their forefathers treated the false prophets! “But I tell you who hear me, love your enemies, treat thosewho hate you well, bless those who curse you, pray forthose who abuse you” Luke 6:24-29 As for the eye of the camel speech, it is not the case that theguy says he’s tried everything and nothing works. Rather: “‘Good master, what must I do to make sure of eternal life?’ “Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one isgood but God himself. You know the commandments[...]‘ “And he said, ‘I have obeyed all these commandments eversince I was a child.’ “When Jesus heard this, he said to him, ‘There is one thingthat you still lack. Sell all that you have, and divide themoney among the poor, and then you will have riches in heaven; and comeback and be a follower of mine.’ “But when he heard that, he was very much cast down, forhe was very rich. And when Jesus saw it, he said, ‘Howhard it will be for those who have money to get into theKingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to get through theeye of a needle than for a rich man to get into the Kingdomof God!’” Luke 18:18-26 If that isn’t a blanket attack on money-making as such (andnot just pathological Scrooges) I don’t know what is. Now you might say that in Jesus’ time, all wealth was earnedby force and fraud, so he’s just attacking unjust riches, notriches as such. But if that’s the case, why didn’t he say so?Anyway, Rome was a trading empire, and surely muchwealth was honestly produced. As for Christians merely having the wrong conception ofself-interest rather than opposing self-interest as such: NowI think you’re relying on historical Christianity. The Paulinetexts place a lot more emphasis on salvation and hell, and ofcourse organized Christianity made it into a big deal. c. Deserving and undeserving. All this stuff about lovingyour enemies and turning the other cheek and not judgingseems to flout the distinction between the deserving andundeserving poor. As far as I can tell, the only people whoare going to get punished are doubters and unbelievers.The Sodom and Gomorrah line, “he might better have amillstone hung around his beck, and be thrown into the sea,”and a number of other places prescribe nasty suffering forwe reprobates. d. Your point that Jesus produced more food is quiteentertaining, but misses the practical message. Since mostof us can’t work miracles, how are we supposed to interpretall these passages about depending on others forsustenance, not reaping/sowing, etc.? No serious Christiancould say, “Well, that just applies to miracle-workers likeJesus. We ordinary folks have to produce the old-fashionedway”? No, they have to find some practical message in it,and the obvious one is the zero-sum one that I cite. e. Tolerance. Again, the tolerance Jesus shows seems togo only to certain groups: enemies, those who do us wrong,etc. But all of the violent punishment passages tend to referto unbelievers. 7. Totalitarianism. a. Enforced belief. As I said, there are both violent andnonviolent passages; and the violent ones usually refer tothe sin of unbelief. In general, since Jesus’ societypunished vice as well as crime, any enumeration of viceswithout an explicit disclaimer of intent to persecute wasreasonably taken to imply the goodness of persecution. Isthere anything in Christianity making a vice/crimedistinction? If not, enforced belief would seem to be themost reasonable deduction. b. Oligarchy. Well, Jesus seems to have had a pretty irongrip over his disciples, as did Paul. But you’re right that thisapplies more to historical Christianity. c. Personal happiness. See 6b above. Jesus certainlyattacked personal happiness, as the passages indicate. I’lldefer to your authority on the Gnostics, Pelagius, Boethius,Aquinas, Ockham, and the Spanish Scholastics. But I’msure you could produced a much longer list of Christians onthe other side. d. Free scientific enquiry. Well, power structures certainlyhelp promote repression; but so does a dogmatic spirit ofmind. And that can be found throughout the NewTestament. e. Labor supply/feudalism. You win this one. But I wasn’targuing that Christianity was the only cause of feudalism.Naturally, nobles’ greed alone could fuel it. Still, I think thatit is no accident that a feudal society would want amonolithic, dogmatic religion to give it ideological backing. f. Holy wars and repression. Again, you win this. Wars andrepression can surely exist without Christianity. Still, thedogmatic spirit of mind does tend to buttress such things.Christianity, as it were, gave a free bonus rationalization forwar and repression against people with different beliefs. Summary: 1. A movement with vague and inconsistent texts can indeedbe reasonably equated with its most common interpretationby the masses of believers, intellectuals, and powerstructures. And Christianity is such a movement. HistoricalChristianity wasn’t the only possible interpretation of theGospels, but it was at least one legitimate interpretation of avague oral tradition. 2. Tertullian’s characterization of faith is a least implicit inChristianity; and it is probably the interpretation that mostbelievers took from the beginning of the movement, throughthe Dark Ages, and up to the present. 3. You seriously overstate the degree to which Jesus usesevidence to support his claims. 4. Leaving historical Christianity aside, my negativeinterpretation has a lot of textual support. You certainlybring up interesting Biblical counterexamples. But the badstuff is right in there and for some reason the bad stuff hashad a lot more appeal to people who call themselvesChristians than the warm and fuzzy parts you cite. 5. The totalitarianism of Christianity does indeed seemimplict in even the Gospels; as I said, there is no distinctionbetween vice and crime drawn, so saying that somethingwas bad basically implied that it should be punished. And inany case, historical Christianity certainly became totalitarianas soon as it got the reins of power. Maybe an analogy would be good: Marx and Engels neverexplicitly call for a totalitarian state. But several of their keyconcepts, such as the dictatorship of the proletariat, theclass war, and the attack on bourgeois freedom are prettygood sanctions for totalitarianism. It would go too far to saythat Marxism implies totalitarianism; but it isn’t hard to seetheir mutual affinity. So too say I of Christianity andtotalitarianism. Sincerely, Bryan P.S. I highly recommend all of George Walsh’s lecture tapeson religion and Marxism; I’d say he strongly influenced mythinking on some of these points. If you’d like to borrowthem, just give me the word. Walsh’s “Marxism” tapes areprobably the best thing I’ve ever heard or read on thesubject; and his “Role of Religion in History,” “the Judeo-Christian Tradition,” and the enormously entertaining”Protestant Fundamentalism” are all first-rate. I think thatWalsh is the only living Objectivist philosopher whocommands my unqualified respect. Too bad he didn’tpublish more.