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Gary Simmons

A former pastor, huh? That makes his view interesting. The fact that former pastors exist should make you and me squirm a little. And, honestly, I think that's a good response.


Hi Gary,

Where did you learn that he is a former pastor? Maybe I need to mark the division between quote and comment by more than a change in font.

I squirm a-plenty for all kinds of reasons. My goodness, I can't even watch a Hitchcock flick without leaving the room during the really scary parts.

I still have a hunch that McGhee helps himself to all kinds of likable ideas which have their origins in Christianity and/or other religious traditions. I don't see how he founds or justifies these ideas within a secular humanist framework.

G. Kyle Essary

Former pastor? He mentions a Roman Catholic upbringing and a life of unbelief, right?

Have no fear about the warmongering coming to an end. Peruse the comments (especially the most recommended ones):

"The emperor's new velvet jacket is just fine"
"What a load of nonsense"
"Does anyone have the foggiest on what this nonsense means?"

Here's my favorite:

"Belief in god means exactly that: a belief that there is a magical being in the universe that cares about humans to the extent that it interferes in human affairs by suspending natural science. Any attempt to claim otherwise is intellectually dishonest, for it is that very belief that is held by the rank-and-file members of churches. As such, it is indeed on a par with believing in faeries."

Error #1: "in the universe"
Error #2: it takes reworking the term form its common meaning for "magical" to be applicable here
Error #3: "suspending natural science" - it's the old deist false dichotomy...if God's in the picture, science at all isn't natural

He continues "to claim otherwise is intellectually dishonest." I guess I'm a liar.

Gary Simmons

Sorry - guess I've misread.


It turns out that McGhee has published some interesting titles as a moral philosopher in which he strives hard, for example, to make Kant into an atheist, and to build a moral philosophy and a practice of mindfulness without subscribing to a ramified belief system of the kind that has, historically, founded such things.

Without any disrespect intended, it appears to be the case of a parasite (an utterly demythologized theism) residing on a host (a potpourri of religious traditions).

Justin (koavf)


An exchange on this same topic with a friend of mine who is finishing up his graduate studies at Trinity and commencing a doctorate at St. Andrew's (Scotland):

The "belief in God as drama" stuff is interesting. Kevin Vanhoozer has been writing about this topic quite a bit for several years. I think that faith in God looks something like this, but that does not negate belief that God exists. In fact, without the belief that God exists one's participation in a spiritual drama is nothing more than an exercise in bull shit. [ed: In the Frankfurt sense]. How could it be anything else? Wouldn't the fact that one is participating in bull shit negate the moral significance of the action? I think it would also make it very difficult (psychologically difficult) to continually participate in a drama if you know that it is not real. If you know God does not exist, why participate in that drama?

[Attached: "Always performing?
Playing new scenes with creative fidelity: the drama-of-redemption approach" by Kevin J. Vanhoozer]

My response:

It sounds a little bit like Narrative Theology as well. I think the strengths of this kind of approach are that it can 1.) draw in persons who for whatever reason will reject Christianity but can still find some value in it as a social force or a system of thought, 2.) be relevant to persons who have the angst of living in a post-modern world, and 3.) hopefully deflate sectarian doctrinal squabbling. Of course, with that broad and highly mythologized of an approach, you run the risk of becoming liberal to an irrelevant point and also divesting Christianity of any historical basis. Eh.

As to the value that these forms of Christianity or appreciation of Christianity might have (e.g. Don Cupitt's non-realist cultural Christianity, Unitarian-Universalist Christians, John Shelby Spong), the value would be that you don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. Maybe Nietzsche, Freud, Marx, and Darwin have made belief in an actual, theological God impossible, but Christianity could be considered a continuing ethical civilization (i.e. like Reconstructionist and later Humanistic Judaism) or it could be a frame of reference for making sense in a senseless world. Or it could be the system of thought which itself shows you the contradictions in the world and creates the intellectual space necessary for Marxism, feminism, etc. (i.e. Slavoj Žižek.) In any of those examples, the value of Christianity is not Christianity per se, but what utility it has in (e.g.) providing comfort, passing along ethical values, encouraging a new generation to ask questions about existence and meaning, etc. It may not be the case that Christianity in terms of doctrinaire positions is actually accurate, but it is a useful frame of reference and to that end it is true pragmatically.

As to whether or not BS negates the moral value of an action, I don't think we would make that claim about children. Someone who cannot really appreciate persons as the kingdom of ends or the ideal man flourishing in virtue or maximizing the greatest pleasure for the greatest number can still do a good thing simply by participating in some narrative which is not literally true and which the child may not believe is literally true. "Good boys/girls don't steal" and "Don't you think it would hurt so-and-so's feelings if you littered?" can be useful narratives for encouraging moral behavior. I would like to think that the story of Noah and liberal Christians aren't infantile, but it's a useful metaphor.




That's a very interesting exchange. For a variety of reasons (which I won't go into here) I find myself thinking that classical doctrines are far more than useful metaphors which create an ethical civilization, but they are not *less* than that.

Furthermore, and here I speak as a pastor, it is a waste of time to require people, in order to be in good standing as members in the ethical civilization which the texts create, to know with certitude at what level of reference or what level of abstraction the contents of the Creed, for example, are true.

"I have a hard time believing in the virgin birth," says one. "I really don't know what to expect after death," says another.

*Before* explaining why I do not have a hard time believing in the virgin birth or expecting a new heavens and a new earth, I like to point out that, whether these things are true or not doesn't depend on whether we believe or disbelieve them.

If they're true, they're true regardless. I say that because belief for so many people is something which, if they don't have it, they feel unworthy, or as if they have sinned.

That doesn't follow at all.

Some people are best encouraged to believe the Creed, whilst leaving it a matter of further investigation in what sense and at what level it is true. To keep an open mind, rather than manufacture consent which isn't sincere.

Justin (koavf)


I agree with everything you just said (except the part about being a pastor.)

I had a similar discussion with a Church of the Brethren minister not long ago, who is a liberal Christian (he likes process theology and I believe that he has an interest in Spong, Borg, Crossan, etc.) and we had a similar back-and-forth about reward and punishment in the world to come. His problem is that if we emphasize the world to come, it relieves us of our responsibility to create a just world here and now. For my part, I thought that the promise of reward and punishment makes justice in this world more imperative and while it is the case that there have been Christians since the very beginning who have thought, "The end is soon, so why bother?" there is nothing inherent in Christianity to demand that attitude. On the other hand, if there is no promise of reward and punishment in the world to come, what does that say about the lives of good persons who lived under oppression as well as those who have profited by evil in this world?

Regarding the power of narrative as a tool for some kind of edification, all an (orthodox) Christian has to do is think about the power of (e.g.) Buddhist myth and see how the story of Buddha and his dharma have contributed to a large, sophisticated, multi-cultural ethical civilization that has persisted for two and a half millenia. Even if you do not accept the doctrinal positions of Buddhism (as many Buddhists and semi-Buddhists don't), you can be moved by the power of those stories and teachings and they can be of benefit to you morally even if you do not take part in that tradition. To reverse it, I would hope that any Easterner of good faith would be able to appreciate the power of A. P. Carter songs such as "No Depression" or "Can the Circle Be Unbroken (By and By)". Buddhists may not anticipate loving union with God (although some do and all will), but that shouldn't stand in the way of appreciating these narratives for what they are.



I am glad that I blogged on Buddhism. Need to do more of it. Just about every one I know who has encountered Buddhism has taken away from the encounter something they want to hold onto.

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