Friday, June 5, 2009

Episode 42 Onward Christian Soldiers

Over the past month a series of disturbing revelations put the subject of Christian militarism back in the headlines. So for this episode the Doubtcasters revisit “the Lords Army.” When historically did Christian fundamentalism take root in the American Armed Forces? Can we expect any changes with this new administration? And for a new “God thinks like you” segment, we examine the dangerous connection between pre-millennial eschatology and nuclear war. Also, for this week’s “Skeptics Sunday School” we take a look at the biblical passage known as the “great commission” and why it’s highly unlikely Jesus would have taught such a thing.

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28 comments:

Meredith said...

HAHAHA that is priceless. I was JUST getting online to bitch and moan about how long it was taking for the next podcast. When I clicked on the blog, I noticed you had just posted one!
haha that was just a really funny moment.

Patrick said...

I don't know if you're familiar with Fred Clarke, the slacktivist (slacktivist.typepad.com). He's an evangelical Christian who is critiquing the Left Behind novels very, very dilligently, and he has struck me as a very liberal evangelical Christian.

I think he could make a great interview partner for you, especially for talking about pre-millenial dispensationalism (and perhaps evangelization, too).

theradicalcleric said...

Well where to begin? As we keep restating, it all comes down to our definitions...and "God" may be the hardest word in the universe to actually define so to say that "asking atheists to disprove god is not fair because you can't prove a negative" is just plain wrong because the concept of God is so undefinable you would never be able to prove it or disprove it. I could easily say that God is everything-see Spinoza. ("the greatest atheist-the greatest believer) and you cannot logically argue with, or against, that. This "problem" is unprovable so we are all actually philosophically agnostics. If you do not consider yourself an agnostic, you're believing, or choosing the answer you like best based on your on subjectivity. If you're not an agnostic, your claiming to "know" an unknowable thing. So actually the burden of proof falls both on the believer and the nonbeliever. Only the true skeptic stands firm in the center of doubt.

theRADICALcleric

Patrick said...

That's semantics, because you cast your godly net so wide. Yes, a deistic god cannot be disproven (aside from logical tricks like "Who created the creator"). But such a deity is also unnecessary.

Where the distinction of atheism and agnosticism is mostly talked about, however, is in contrast to a believer in some kind of personal god, and there being an atheist *is* the skeptical position.

Of course, as they said on the show, you must clear up your concepts if you argue about that, because I regard myself as an atheist as much as I don't believe in homeopathy – it is extremely unlikely that there is a personal God. it is not impossible, because such a God, by being unknowable, on a different plane of thought and hidden in the gaps, could still exist. However, other people might call even that agnosticism and only refer to atheism to mean a dogmatic disbelief.

As with homeopathy, however, the true skeptic does not sit in the middle saying, "maybe it works, maybe it doesn't, there is no knowledge".

Anonymous said...

LOL! Funny you should say that. Everything is semantics. And what net could be cast wider than the net of God? You've only proven my point. All of logic is semantics. (See Ludwig Wittgenstein). If someone wont argue semantics with you, they cannot be trusted! Only a true skeptic dares to doubt their own doubt.

Again, I think we can both agree, it comes down to your definition vs mine as to how the word god should be used (or if it can even be used as a word!).

theRADICALcleric

Samky said...

In reference to “onward christians soldiers” I have a very unpopular opinion concerning the composition of the Armed Forces and that is conscription. Nobody likes the draft, but if you are going to have an Army and at the same time want to maintain a universal value system, the army has to be made up of all elements of the society it defends.
In the podcast the Army’s drift to the “christian right” was traced to the Reagan years. It actually started in the mid ‘70s when we went to an all voluntary Army. You noted in the podcast what was done in the Reagan years to recruit “christian” chaplains and soldiers. This was facilitated by the voluntary army. As you also noted in the podcast the christian right has a higher affinity with military action and thus is more likely to be a volunteer in the Army than someone who leans toward the liberal or humanist side.
I served in Vietnam as part of a conscripted Armed Service and then spent 30 years civil service with the Army, so I have some first hand knowledge. I watched the Army change from a very heterogenous population that represented our society to a very homogeneous one that is hypocritcally christian right which disdains anything considered liberal, to the left or non-christian. The Army leadership praises the voluntary army because its homogenity makes it much easier to manage than the hetergenous population of draftees that had different opinions and values. However, all these different opinions and values is what helps keep the armed forces mainstream in the values and opinions.
Iraq would have never happened if we had draft. There would have been more questioning of our intent and objectives before we went to war. When all elements of society son’s and daughter’s are subject to risk we are less likely to leap before we look.
I also advocate a draft for other social reasons. I think a couple of years of mandatory service to your country is a great socialization process. When I went into the service in the ‘60’s I came from a rural catholic community and had never met a jewish or hispanic person and had met very few blacks or people of other religious faiths or people from other parts of the country. Needless to say my perspective rapidly changed. I would have never gone into the service if it wasn’t compulsory. After the maturation process of serving with others and seeing a bigger world I went to school on the GI bill and got 2 advance degrees. Once you have invested a couple years of service to your country then you have more ownership of what goes on and higher stake in what that country does. Again I realize this is a very unpopular poistion, but sometimes we have to do things we don’t necesssarily like to get the results we want.
Eisenhower warned against the military-industrial complex which is more real than we want to admit, but the even more alarming dimension of this is that it is controlled by the Dick Cheney/ George Bush/Haliburton christian right.

TV's Mr. Neil said...

Concerning your opening topic, my problem with agnosticism is that it's redundant. It's claiming a lack of knowledge of something that is, by definition, unknowable. Well, what kind of position is that?

It seems to lack a sense of commitment and unwillingness to state one's opinion, whether one believes or not.

And besides, knowledge has nothing to do with it. By saying that I'm an atheist, I'm not saying that KNOW that God doesn't exist. I'm simply stating that I find no reason to assume that the origin of the universe had a conscious agent.

And it seems like a very arbitrary discussion. Why are we even talking about whether there was an eternal person who started the universe if not catering to old-age superstition? Why don't we just toss this being aside with all of the mountain gods, fire gods, and wind gods that we don't bother arguing over, because nobody today believes in them?

It's arbitrary, and it's about time that we stop pretending otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Neil nice try but....agnostics are responding to a question. The question is "can you prove or disprove gods existence."

There are 3 answers. Yes I can prove it. Yes I can disprove it. or No (I don't know, or choose to not even think about it).

That's not unwillingness to "state one's opinion" but it is an unwillingness to force an unknowable onto others.

You are onto something though, the word "god" as we've stated before is so strange and undefinable in and of itself, it's not really worth arguing about. But it's fun as hell to think about IMO!

That is until crazy christians wage a holy war against anyone that denies Jesus is god. Then you might want to start trying to disprove their version of god with logic. To me, it's much more logical to try to sway them into a state of "It's unknowable" rather than "god doesn't exist". They are so attached to their personal god only the strongest of the weak will ever escape.

Also, the debate isn't about an "external person" it's about what the heck caused the universe and what is the nature of "true" reality. Don't be afraid to imagine what it might have been like before the big bang. There are reasons people "find" god.

theRADICALcleric

Ashley said...

Recently found your podcasts and I am sooo happy to discover your discussions!!

Regarding the agnostics - I really don't have a problem with people calling themselves agnostics as long as they are not calling themselves religious fundamentalists. I personally see agnostics as closeted atheists, so why not cut them a break and let them hide in the comfort of a word.

Regarding the distribution of bibles - when I learned that there are American soldiers in Afghanistan distributing christian bibles, I was horrified. I'm Canadian and there are many many Canadian soldiers currently fighting and dying in Afghanistan (as well as soldiers from other Western nations). To think that American soldiers are being so bloody stupid and risking the security and efforts of other nation's soldiers is enraging! Thanks Reasonable Doubts for providing this enlightenment; I intend to pass on this info to as many people as I know!!

Tom Morris said...

I just heard you say in your show that the prison warder story was about Huxley. It's about Russell. When he went to prison, they asked him what his religion was, and after explaining how to spell "agnostic". Russell reports that the warder said "Well, there are many religions, but I suppose they all worship the same God". He says that this remark kept him cheerful for about a week.

Otherwise, very good. Keep up the good work.

Brooks said...

"I could easily say that God is everything-see Spinoza. ("the greatest atheist-the greatest believer) and you cannot logically argue with, or against, that."

I could also easily say that the Flying Spaghetti Monster is the universe and every time you're eating spaghetti, you're eating the FSM, but that doesn't mean I've proven the existence of the FSM is probable. It only means that pantheism is simply anthropomorphizing the universe.

"So actually the burden of proof falls both on the believer and the nonbeliever. Only the true skeptic stands firm in the center of doubt."

First of all, you're presuming that agnosticism and atheism are incompatible with each other. As the Reasonable Doubt podcasters said though, agnosticism is about knowledge and atheism is about lack of beliefs, and beliefs or there lack thereof and knowledge are two different things. You're also presuming that just because you can't prove a negative that this makes it probable to exist. Technically, you can't prove that there are no microscopic teapots orbiting the rings of Saturn either, but that doesn't make their existence probable nor do we bother to make a distinction between a-teapotists or teapot agnostics.

I also just wanted to say I enjoyed the Skeptics' Sunday school and I think you guys brought up a good point about how Christianity was originally meant just for the Jews. The belief of spreading Christianity to the Gentiles was a belief that was started by Paul. As Bart D Ehrman points out in Lost Christianties, there was actually a group of Christians called the Ebionites who believed that to be a true Christian, you had to be circumcised and follow OT law and the proto-orthodox Christians started arguing it wasn't required because it made Christianity more popular if you didn't have to be circumcised to join. There's also a verse in Galatians 2:11-12 where Paul is accusing Peter of all people for being a false Christian as Peter himself was teaching that gentile Christians had to follow the old law. "But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned; 12for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. 13And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, ‘If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?’

Brooks said...

Argh, I made a typo. That verse is actually Galatians 2:11-14.

TV's Mr. Neil said...

"Neil nice try but....agnostics are responding to a question. The question is 'can you prove or disprove gods existence.'"

...Which is an arbitrary point of discussion! Why bring it up at all? If you don't even know what a God is, then what sense does it make to say that you can't prove that one exists? It's redundant.

You might as well just say that you don't know what you don't know, and save yourself a step.

When you ask someone if they can prove or disprove something like a God, you imply that there is some criteria under which such a being could be falsified, but no such criteria exists.

I reject your three possible answers and submit a fourth. My answer is that I don't have to prove anything about something for which you've provided no criteria with which to prove or disprove in the first place.

That's not my job.

theradicalcleric said...

The criteria is that we exist at all. That we are here. You can choose to "pass over it in silence, and by default become agnostic, or you can choose to become a philosopher and talk it out with others. It is only because we came up with god that we can now discuss it. Because we have the word "god" it begs to be defined.

And the spaghetti monster concept is simple a word trick and by no means applies here because when we say "god" that infers a creator, an infinite reduce. Spaghetti monsters are not the same thing so the analog fails.


theRADICALcleric

Black Socrates said...

I enjoyed your show. I never thought of great commission being an addendum in Matthew's gospel, but it makes total sense especially as you brought out Peter's vision in Acts 10, if Jesus had commissioned the disciples to preach the gospel to all nations; why would Peter need to have a later vision? Thank you for showing me something I never thought of or knew.

GLE said...

rad cleric - "And the spaghetti monster concept is simple a word trick and by no means applies here because when we say "god" that infers a creator, an infinite reduce. Spaghetti monsters are not the same thing so the analog[sic] fails."

So, on the one hand you say we have the word "god" that begs to be defined - ie, lets play with words. Yet somehow the FSM is a "word trick" and therefore does not bear discussion?

I really fail to see the distinction. One made up word is better than another made up word?

Captainchaos said...

"When historically did Christian fundamentalism take root in the American Armed Forces?"

I'm sure what you mean is dispensationalist, Zionist, evangelical Christianity evangelizing in the U.S. military; a part of which is the trope of "American exceptionalism" as the fulfillment of "God's will" as a rationale for American imperialism. No?

I propose an alternate interpretation: When you critique militarized Christians I'm sure you do not mean Third World marxoid revolutionaries who may adhere to some kind of Christian "liberation theology". It really is the combination of White Christians and militarism that is the thing, is it not? So, boiled down, it is simply White people and militarism. It is an implicit critique of Whiteness, the critique of an implicit White identity, which you implicitly present as 'militarized Christianity'.

Personally, I prefer honest blood-and-soil patriotism as the conscious embrace of one's ethnic genetic interests that eschews the implicit (which is tedious). A "social construct" in ain't, if it can be verified at the lab, which it can.

Captainchaos said...

Some quotes from William James (who counted amongst his students Horace Kallen and W.E.B. Du Bois) writing in 1906:

"A permanently successful peace-economy cannot be a simple pleasure-economy."

"We must make new energies and hardihoods continue the manliness to which the military mind so faithfully clings."

Ought one form of government enabled association be disbanded so as to pave the way for another? Ought unmitigated freedom of association to reign? Ought all hierarchies be leveled and replaced with a new hierarchy of levelers? If unmitigated freedom of association inevitably, or most probably, lends itself to hierarchy, or to currently ideologically pathologized group memberships coalescing, ought it be mitigated?

The meat of the matter is so much more interesting.

Brooks said...

"The criteria is that we exist at all. That we are here. You can choose to "pass over it in silence, and by default become agnostic, or you can choose to become a philosopher and talk it out with others. It is only because we came up with god that we can now discuss it. Because we have the word "god" it begs to be defined."



Isn't this ignosticism rather than agnosticism? To quote Wikipedia, "Ignosticism, or igtheism, is the theological position that every other theological position (including agnosticism) assumes too much about the concept of God and many other theological concepts. The word "ignosticism" was coined by Sherwin Wine, a rabbi and a founding figure in Humanistic Judaism.

It can be defined as encompassing two related views about the existence of God:

1. The view that a coherent definition of God must be presented before the question of the existence of God can be meaningfully discussed. Furthermore, if that definition cannot be falsified, the ignostic takes the theological noncognitivist position that the question of the existence of God (per that definition) is meaningless. In this case, the concept of God is not considered meaningless; the term "God" is considered meaningless.
2. The view that is synonymous with theological noncognitivism, and skips the step of first asking "What is meant by God?" before proclaiming the original question "Does God exist?" as meaningless."

"And the spaghetti monster concept is simple a word trick and by no means applies here because when we say "god" that infers a creator, an infinite reduce. Spaghetti monsters are not the same thing so the analog fails"

"And the spaghetti monster concept is simple a word trick and by no means applies here because when we say "god" that infers a creator, an infinite reduce. Spaghetti monsters are not the same thing so the analog fails"

When you get down to it, aren't all arguments related to the existence of God basically word games? I could easily argue that the Flying Spaghetti Monster created the unvierse when he opened up a can of Chef Boyardee and spilled his noodly appendix all over the place. And the word god does not always imply creator, see polytheism in Greek mythology for examples.

Anonymous said...

Regarding "Gog and Magog", here is an explanation from a site which always makes me chuckle - www.raptureready.com.

Gog And Magog:
Most prophetic scholars agree that Gog and Magog were the people that lived in the lands, which are now modern Russia. Someday Russia and a horde of Middle East countries will launch a surprise attack against Israel. All but one sixth of the Gog army will be destroyed upon the mountains of Israel.
(Ezekiel 38 and 39)

theradicalcleric said...

great points everyone! Wittgenstein would be so proud. Yes they are all word games.

the word "god" is what we use to describe something we ALREADY have defined. what is that thing? the creator of the universe.

it really comes down to ID. or other forms of ID. like "the universe is to beautiful to have not been created" etc....

we have here on this world a puzzle don't we? seems many through out history have thought this. It occurs to me that we are somehow in a funny place. We a conscious, but we don't know how we (the universe) got here.

Now one could argue we don't need a conscious creator to have the universe the way we do. All there is and was and ever will be is time and space and energy...but if you fall on the side of...this place is just to interesting to have not been "created" then you need a name for that thing. I use the word god. Once you have that word, the monster is just a monster.

einniv said...

I am finding it almost impossible to download any episodes of this podcast. The download begins, I get less than a megabyte (if I am lucky) and it stalls out. This goes for the current episode and all the past ones as well, though the current episode did download a little better. The same thing happens if I just click the 'play' link from the web site.

Any tips or alternate locations to download?

Clean Willie said...

einniv,

I get my (almost) weekly dose of Reasonable Doubts from iTunes. I've never had any problems downloading from there, so you might want to try that.

Fletcher said...

einniv --

You are not alone. We've heard from a number of people who are having problems downloading, but we really don't have any clue why. Especially given the fact that even the old episodes are giving people problems. I personally can't download the show on iTunes when I'm at work (on a pretty good DSL) but I have no problem at home on my wifi.

The best I can offer is: find another network to hook up to. I don't think the problem is on our end, but hopefully a better solution will be some day soon.

Jeremy said...

I think the problem actually is on our end. But I havent been able to figure out whats going on. I think its something with our webhosting, maybe. If anyone has any experiance with this sort of thing and could offer advice, or point us in the direction of someone who could help, please send an email to doubtcast@gmail.com. This problems a bit over my head.

James said...

There are 3 answers. Yes I can prove it. Yes I can disprove it. or No (I don't know, or choose to not even think about it).

Or "No, it is intrinsically impossible to prove or disprove the existence of gods".

But... any entity which is intrinsically unprovable is also inherently irrelevant. There is no way to distinguish an unprovable entity from a non-existent one. Hence, "I have no need for that hypothesis".

randy said...

I am a newbie to these podcasts but I am enjoying them immensely.
In the discussion on atheism vrs agnosticism I'd like to propose a different take on this based on the writings of David Hume.
I use the term agnostic as an umbrella philosophy that encompasses both atheism and theism... and I see atheism and theism as belief systems that imply levels of faith. Watching an atheist and a theist debate the existence of god always comes down to subjective experience and faith stories...(In the case of an atheist, making leaps of logic to fill gaps in our understanding of the universe I consider a faith story... there is just no way to know)

When I talk to my theist and atheist friends I prefer to take a pragmatic approach... how is your faith reflecting in your life choices and your actions. If I see intolerance or condescension from either side then I challenge their position.

Just my two cents.
Keep up the amazing discussion and podcasts!!!

randy said...

As a followup to my own post, let me ask a question to the group that I ask my Christian friends. I am interested in other's thoughts on this.

To my Christian friends I ask:

If it is scientifically proven beyond a doubt that Jesus did not exist as a man or did not have divinity, would this shake your belief system? Would you still be a Christian?
Those that answer yes I tend to remain friends with. Those that answer no I remain acquaintances with but we don't discuss religion much more.
In my mind this demonstrates the ability to separate the myth from the dogma... and to understand the difference. There is nothing wrong with using myth as a basis for your philosophy. As long as myth is not mistaken for fact.
Do any of you read Joseph Campbell? I find comfort in his lectures when I see the world becoming insane around me.