Third Letter to a Secular Nation: How to miss a point

Mike Adams has a third “Letter to a Secular Nation” over at, and begins with a superb demonstration of the art of missing someone’s point.

I must admit that before I became a Christian I was also guilty of over-simplifying the arguments of believers…Nonetheless, statements like the following still grab my attention:

“Consider:every devout Muslim has the same reasons for being a Muslim that you have for being a Christian.”

That is indeed a provocative statement. A thoughtful Christian might appreciate the opportunity to explore his own faith by comparing his motivations with those of someone whose doctrines are different and not presumptively infallible. Such unbiased inquiries, however, often lead to liberalism and apostasy. A much safer alternative is to use those same doctrinal differences as an excuse to avoid the question altogether.

During a polite discussion, a Muslim fundamentalist admitted to me that Jesus led a sinless life and Mohammed did not. But he chose to become a Muslim, in part, because he did not believe that Jesus was raised from the dead. I disagree. That is a large part of the reason why I am a Christian and not a Muslim.

Nicely dodged. Of course, the question remains: why believe that Jesus rose from the dead? Clearly, Adams has not seen any risen Christ himself, since there would be neither Muslim nor atheist if Jesus were willing and able to show up in real life. Like the Muslim, Adams believes the doctrines of his own religion because he accepts the claims and the encouragement of those he most strongly identifies with as his own proper peer group, each of whom also believes for pretty much the same reason. The “resurrection” is what Adams believes, not why he believes it. Rather than refuting Harris’s claim, Adams has simply tap-danced around it.

But compared to the rest of the Third Letter, his simple evasion above is a paragon of rationality and perspicacity.

[F]or many Muslims the decision is made out of fear of the consequences of rejecting Islam. Many are not even familiar with basic Christian arguments or the evidence supporting them.

Accepting Christianity, on the other hand, is far more likely to have come from a rational appraisal of the evidence. And it is far less likely to have come from the threat of the sword.

While the last statement is technically correct, in that Muslim jihads outnumber Christian crusades, I want to look at the next to last statement about appraising the evidence. Remember, Adams is an assistant criminology professor. As a criminologist, he ought to know that hearsay is not considered reliable evidence except under unusual circumstances, none of which are relevant to the Gospels. Rumors of post-crucifixion, ghostly appearances deserve the same evidentiary status as rumors of seeing Elvis.

Superstitions, intuitions, and feelings, are even less admissible. A truly rational consideration of the actual evidence regarding Christianity, therefore, must inevitably lead the unbiased investigator to reject the claims of the Gospel as unsubstantiated and self-contradictory. Jesus’s behavior is perfectly consistent with that of a dead man, and the disciples’ subsequent claims and actions are consistent with those of a superstitious people who originally started out believing in a purely spiritual “resurrection” for their curtailed Messiah.

But if you really want to see Adams twist his brain into a tortured knot, have a look at this:

That is important to remember when looking at statements such as this:

“Understand that the way you view Islam is precisely the way devout Muslims view Christianity. And it is the way I view all religions.”

This is absurd. Radical Muslims view Christianity as a religion of peace. That is why they are not hesitant to attack Christians in accordance with the teachings of the Koran. But Christians, including George W.Bush, believe the opposite – that Islam is a religion of war. And that is why we know we must fight back when they attack us. If Muslims and Christians did not have such disparate views of one another – including, but not limited to, the capacity for violence – conflict would be less likely.

Same tactic: ignore Harris’s point about what Christianity and Islam have in common, and cite some other difference between the two as “proof” that it is “absurd” to find common ground between them. But look at the “logic” he uses in rationalizing the alleged difference: Christians attack Muslims because, being a religion of peace, they know Muslims are going to attack them, therefore these “peaceful” Christians must invade Iraq. Or in other words, both religions attack each other, and appeal to whatever convoluted rationalization suits the need of the moment, in terms of justifying their aggressive actions.

It’s a pretty weak argument, which may be why Adams feels like he needs to tar Harris with the standard “moral relativism” brush.

It is difficult to take Harris seriously when he says that he views Islam and Christianity in the same way. In order to draw such a conclusion, one would have to be an incurable moral relativist or simply profoundly ignorant of the teachings of Christianity.

No Mr. Adams, as difficult as this may be for you to understand, when Harris points out commonalities between Christianity and Islam, he is not asserting that the two have identical doctrines. And in fact, that’s rather the whole point: that the doctrinal content is largely irrelevant to how these two religions actually work, and to the fact that each is driven more by how believers feel about non-believers than by any intellectual analysis of the others’ doctrines.

Necessarily so: God does not show up in real life, so there is no objective means of resolving doctrinal disputes about the nature of God. Whatever doctrines belong to a particular religion, the true believer can and must defend, by any means necessary, in order for his faith to be the victor. Whether the conflict is military or rhetorical, it is won or lost by the strength of men, and by their cleverness in promoting their own cause. God is not here to tip the balance either way.

Harris goes on to say this:

“Anyone who believes that the Bible offers the best guidance we have on questions of morality has some very strange ideas either about guidance or morality.”

The two key words are “best” and “we.” There is, therefore, a superior moral code by which “we” can all live. But it does not come from God. So what is the source of this superior moral code to which we may all subscribe?

It’s called Reality, and Adams would do well to learn more about this novel and fascinating concept.

There is a reason why the civilized world “now agrees” with the notion that slavery is wrong. It is because of the teachings of the Old and New Testaments.

Prior to the Old Testament there were no limitations on the institution of slavery. In the Old Testament there clearly were.

Prior to the Old Testament, there were no restrictions on Sabbath work. But when the Law of Moses came, God (allegedly) didn’t just put some minor restrictions on Sabbath work, He (allegedly) banned it entirely, with the death penalty for those who disobey. Now, working on a Saturday is not inherently immoral, the way slavery is. Why, then, did Saturday work get the ban, while slavery was only subject to such mild restrictions as, “If you sell your daughter into sexual slavery, the man who buys her must either keep her or let her go free”? As a guide to the relative morality of sexual slavery versus honest work on a Saturday, you have to admit that’s fairly muddled.

And in the New Testament we see even greater limitations. Indeed, in the Book of Galatians,Paul clearly states that there is no longer a distinction between freed man and slave. He says that we are all one in Christ Jesus our Lord.

But, of course, Harris selectively quotes the Old and New Testaments in order to obscure these important points.

And speaking of “selectively quoting,” did you notice that Adams fails to mention the New Testament verses where Paul instructs slaves to obey their masters, and not to make any particular effort to become free (though if a slave were given the opportunity to become free, he should of course take it). Paul was more than happy to denounce the evils of eating meat from animals that had been sacrificed to pagan gods, but actually ending the practice of slavery? Not really a priority.

And he also relies upon historical ignorance, hoping that the reader will assume that slavery in the Roman Empire was the same as slavery in America.He does not mention that people often chose to be slaves in the First Century.Nor does he reveal that they were often in that state temporarily and as a means of paying off a debt – rather than as a permanent function of their racial identity.

In other words, Adams is trying to make the case that the slavery that was allegedly opposed by writers in the Old and New Testament was really not such an immoral thing anyway. But he still wants us to give the Old and New Testament credit for teaching us that slavery was immoral, even though it wasn’t even what we today would call “slavery” in the first place (or so he would have us think). And speaking of historical ignorance, if Roman slavery was more enlightened under the pagan emperors, and was a different thing than American slavery, who then deserves the credit for creating the evil institution of American slavery? If we take Adams’s view of history, slavery actually became worse under Christian rule!

The turning point in the history of slavery was the rise of humanism, and in Enlightenment ideals, which promoted the idea that each individual has worth in and of themselves, and is not divinely ordained to some greater or (more typically) lesser station in life by some arbitrary and irresistible decree. Humanistic influence in the Church produced liberalized Christians who mingled humanistic values with traditional Christian offices, and thus lent occasional opposition to slavery and other degrading practices, even while other Christians were just as staunchly defending the institution as wholly Biblical.

But Adams wouldn’t dream of mentioning such things. He wants the do-nothing God of the Bible to get all the credit for the conscience and conviction of the liberal humanists who worked inside and outside of the Church to bring dignity to all mankind.

Sam Harris’ opposition to slavery is due to the role the God-inspired Bible has played in shaping our Christian nation. Christianity taught America that slavery is wrong,and America taught Sam Harris that slavery is wrong.

Clearly, it is time for Sam Harris to admit the source of his belief in objective morality. Sam Harris derives his beliefs from God, not the other way around. God never told Moses to say to the people of Israel “Sam I Am has sent me to you.”

Ah, that settles it, then. What kind of monster would dare contradict Dr. Seuss?

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Posted in Society, Unapologetics. 2 Comments »

2 Responses to “Third Letter to a Secular Nation: How to miss a point”

  1. Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted): Evolution versus Creation: Crossing the Divide « Evangelical Realism Says:

    […] Third Letter to a Secular Nation: How to miss a point […]

  2. honestpoet Says:

    Lovely mix of humor and logic, Duncan!

    I wonder if Adams has ever given any thought to the fact that Christianity, Islam, and the Hebrew faith all flow from the tale of Abraham, and thereby share stories in common (and fight over the same patch of desert)? How can he pretend they’re not more alike than different? They’re all quite misogynistic when you get down to it, too, which stems from that whole apple thing. (Poor Eve!)

    It’s hard to believe in this day and age that practically the entire planet is still held hostage by the superstitious stories of a desert tribe from thousands of years ago. What’s wrong with people?