Book Plunge: The Christian Delusion Chapter 2 Valerie Tarico

Does the science of belief undermine Christianity? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As we return to our look at The Christian Delusion edited by John What’s-his-name, we look at chapter 2. In this chapter, Valerie Tarico is looking at Christian belief through the lens of cognitive science. You all remember Tarico don’t you? She’s the brilliant mind who is saying more and more scholars are questioning the existence of Jesus.

She says that in the United States, religious belief is the best indicator of political party affiliation. Believers think belief has the power to save us all. Doubters fear the opposite. I wonder if she does not see the irony here. I find it amusing that when I meet people who say they are freethinkers, they all seem to think exactly alike.

This also includes in the area of politics. Most atheists I encounter seem to have many of the exact same views on politics. There are noted exceptions. Robert Price, for example, is actually someone who publicly stated before the election in 2016 that he is on the Trump Train. Thankfully also, more and more secularists are becoming pro-life.

But to get back to Tarico, she seems to think there’s this idealization of belief. The word translated as belief so many times in the New Testament, pistis, would more mean not just mere intellectual assent but would refer to faithfulness and trust. It is a living out of what one believes.

Tarico also lists some findings from science that she wants us to note. Humans are not rational about anything let alone religion. Certainty is a feeling and can fail to show up when evidence is enormous. Our minds are set up to be religious in their thinking. Finally, the born again experience is a natural phenomenon.

It’s worth pointing out that nowhere in this does she define religion, which is my problem with David Eller’s essay in this book. When we say religious thinking, what do we mean? Are we putting the reasoning of Augustine and Aquinas in the same boat as the little boy in Sunday School? Without defining this term, one will be puzzled by Tarico’s writing.

Tarico says that for Christians belief is central. If you believe, that is what matters. Belief is important, but James warns us that the demons believe and tremble. Belief needs to show up in action. Sure, we have creeds. Creeds give a statement of the things we do believe for all time. We are to live out the ramifications of those beliefs. If we do not live what we believe, we can ask if we really believe it.

Much of what Tarico says could be interesting and I have no need to comment on it as it doesn’t affect Christian truth claims. She does say we can’t really claim to know anything with certainty. (Is she certain about that.) She then says those of us who are not religious could do with a little humility. Wonderful suggestion, but it’s hard to think you live it out when you write a chapter for a book telling a disagreeing party they have a delusion. You seem pretty certain of it.

She does talk in the same way as Eller about Christianity copying. Of course, she goes for chestnuts like the descent of Inanna, ignoring that Christianity takes place in a specific time and place with a resurrection to this life again and without all the intrigue going on in the Inanna myth. Yep. Real good on the humility there.

There’s a section on the born-again experience. This would be relevant for those of us who place a lot of emphasis on such an experience. For those of us who don’t, it doesn’t matter. One might feel great things when they give their lives to Christ. If that becomes how you know Christianity is true, that is a problem. If not, then you are good.

It’s amazing to read this whole essay and realize that when people write about the problems of how we think and such, they always seem to think they are the exception. Everyone else has fallen for this, but not I. I know what is going on. I conclude in the end that Tarico doesn’t. She might have given us grounds to examine what we believe and why, but what Christian should be opposed to that?

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Christian Delusion Chapter 1

How do religion and culture interact? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

The Christian Delusion is a book edited by a guy named John…oh….what’s his name?…..Oh yeah. Loftus! He takes several atheist authors and puts them together in yet another appeal to show Christianity is wrong. Let’s see how well it measures up.

David Eller is the first one who writes about the culture of Christianities. At the start, he says every argument in support of religion has been shown to be inconclusive or demonstrably false, and yet it persists. With a bold claim like this, one would expect some backing for it, but alas, there is none. Could we at least get a footnote pointing to some books on atheism? Nope.

Another big problem here is that right at the start, Eller has never defined religion. It is a difficult term to define even according to scholars of religion. Classical Buddhism as an example does not hold to a deity. How is that a religion? What makes a religion? Eller doesn’t tell us. He uses the term throughout assuming we all know what it means.

From here, there is a whole lot about how Christianity interacts with culture and how culture interacts with Christianity. One problem I see with this is that this isn’t just a trait of religion. All systems do the same thing and all cultures do the same kind of thing. Secularism does the same kind of thing as it interacts and affects the culture and is affected by the culture and has its own rules and taboos even if the rule is there is no rule and the taboo is saying nothing is taboo.

One statement is that Christianity is not reasoned out and is assumed to be true without prior proof. You have to wonder how much reading has been done on this kind of topic. Early Christians were making arguments for the existence of God before atheists were really a major force around to deal with.

I wanted to cheer when I read this statement from Eller:

“As I have tried to warn readers in my previous work, the United States and the wider Western world are heavily saturated with Christianity throughout their many large and small cultural arrangements. Whether or not they know it—and it is more insidious if they do not know it—non-Christians living in Christian-dominated societies live a life permeated with Christian assumptions and premises. Christians and non-Christians alike are literally immersed in Christian cultural waters, and like fish they usually take for granted the water they swim in.”

Please let this be written in gold and shown to atheists everywhere. Let them take it in and make it a reality in their lives every day. Let them realize how much their worldview is influenced by Christianity. Let them realize this in morality. How much of what they stand on in moral issues can be demonstrated? Is Eller married to one woman and faithful to her? I do not know, but if he is, how is this established on atheism?

I have long contended that atheism today often hijacks a Christian morality as if it was obvious to everyone and then runs with it. If you are an atheist, I urge you to not believe anything unless it can be backed on atheistic grounds entirely. You may not like the system, but live it out at least.

Eller later says Christianity has a disdain for the physical and the bodily. I do not know what he’s talking about. Perhaps some do, but for me, I love the physical and the bodily. Do I need to remind you all that I am a married man? The physical body is super good! Jesus was resurrected in a body. Jesus lives in a body. Eller has confused modern Christianity and assumed it’s like ancient Christianity.

Eller also says that if religions cannot have their place in the institutions, even dominating them, they will make their own. I found this amusing since it is normally here in America the case that secularism tries to dominate religion. I always wonder about this supposed takeover of the government by religion. People wanting a theocracy are in the minority. I am convinced there will always be some corruption in every church because every church is made of corrupt people, much like every system of government.

Eller also says that since its inception, Christianity accommodated itself to its surroundings, and it had to since otherwise it would be unappealing and unintelligible. Why yes. The early Christians did this. That’s why they told the Romans there was only one God who had revealed Himself in Jesus and taught a crucified Messiah and refused to pray to the emperor.

Eller also gives a howler talking about Christianity absorbing pagan rituals such as Nordic practices of yule trees and Easter eggs. No documentation is given of any of this stuff. He also says there is ample evidence that Jesus’s birthdate was borrowed from pagan religions like Mithraism since there is no basis in Scripture for a December 25 date. We challenge Eller to please go and show the December 25 date in Mithraism with primary sources. For a claim with ample evidence, it would be nice to have seen some of it.

He also gives the claim about 38,000 denominations. Even Roman Catholic apologists are saying to not bring out this one. Statements like this lead me to believe that Eller has just as much blind faith in atheistic arguments and such as do many of the Christians he condemns.

In conclusion, of course, there is interaction. Christianity can be changed by a culture some in its presentation. When we attend an Orthodox Church, I notice the priest uses a device like a tablet for his reading. I doubt the early church was doing that. There are ways Christianity influences culture. Some good and some bad on both ends, but in the end, the fundamentals are still there and Eller says nothing to challenge those. It is just assumed that Christianity is false and we go on from there.

In Christ,
Nick Peters