The next step!

The Christian Cynic is going fully online, baby!

Well, sort of. I purchased the domain (thechristiancynic.com) and appropriate web space today, so the real deal is on its way.

However, I am yet a novice at the type of web design I need to get this site running like I want.

So, for the time being, articles and essays may be less, but I will get everything in order very soon.

Thanks to those of you who have what I've written so far; the encouragement I've gotten is enough for me to want to take this live.

If anyone has any questions, as always, you can reach me at thechristiancynic@gmail.com or now at brody@thechristiancynic.com.



Note of interest

Please scroll down and read my most recent rant, but I also highly suggest checking out this entry on the pagan agenda's blog. It's actually a reprint from another blog, but it is so perfectly eloquent on the subject of faith and reason that I have to promote it. If you have enjoyed anything I've said here, click that link, because I personally think it's much more relevant than some of what I've said.

More to come soon.

If you wish to understand...

If you wish to understand a philosopher, do not ask what he says, but find out what he wants. – Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

This is one of the few truths I find in Nietzsche’s writings. (However, some of his other statements, such as ‘God is dead’, are more poignant than some Christians want to believe - again, another story for another time.) Perhaps the skeptic in me is attracted to the common sense of this notion, but nonetheless, that reflex is there.

However, this reflex is still not quite developed enough, as I still have to apply this practice ex post facto for things I have read or heard in the past.

Case in point: The acclaimed book Foundation (1951) by Isaac Asimov.

For those of you who are not well acquainted with me (and I hope more of you will become more acquainted by reading these entries), I am an avid sci-fi fan. I used to be a certifiable Trekkie (minus the conventions; I wasn’t that much of a space cadet, har har), and I still read sci-fi books quite frequently, as long as they aren’t of the corny type.

Therefore, when I found this book at a thrift store for practically nothing, I jumped at the opportunity. I had never read the book, but anyone who knows sci-fi knows Asimov; he was a pioneer in the field, and his writings are captivating, to say the least.

The first time I read Foundation was several months ago, and my expectations were more than exceeded. It has all the qualities a good sci-fi book should: a somewhat realistic vision of the future, a distant but familiar setting, new and groundbreaking thoughts on our current perception of the universe, plus excellent character development and interaction. As a piece of literature, it is quite good, and I recommend it highly, regardless of the following commentary.

Since I wanted to read some more from authors whose works I have enjoyed in the past, I picked up a copy of the original Foundation trilogy at the library by my workplace. (I also picked up Shadows of the Hegemon by Orson Scott Card and Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson, but that is entirely irrelevant here.)

After re-reading Foundation, the first book in the series, I happened to pick up on a theme that I had previously thought was clever but now find a little insulting. Here is a short synopsis of the plot up to the point where this theme becomes central: A man named Hari Seldon predicts, through a science called psychohistory, that the long-standing Galactic Empire will soon fall and that thirty thousand years of barbarism will follow. In turn, he gathers a group of people – the Encyclopedia Foundation – to help limit that time of barbarism to a mere thousand years in preparation for a Second Galactic Empire. (Sounds weird if you’re not into sci-fi, I know, but keep following; I have a point here.)

Through psychohistory, Seldon is also able to predict future crises that will plague the Foundation after he is long gone, and so he manipulates the situations in such a way that only one choice is possible at each impasse, each leading towards the final goal of galactic unity once more. The first method of controlling the ensuing degradation is through the task of gathering information for the Encyclopedia Galactica, which will preserve vital information for posterity. The second, which is the one I am getting around to, is through – get this – religion.

Yes, you heard me right. Asimov steps a little bit over the line here, but even more so when considering the apparent model on which he built his religion of deceit, namely Christianity.

Am I being a little too distrusting by that assumption? I doubt it, but judge for yourself. Here are some quotes (page numbers included):

“…and then [King] Lepold [of Anacreon] said, ‘Everyone believes it just the same. I mean all this talk about the Prophet Hari Seldon and how he appointed the Foundation to carry on his commandments that there might some day be a return of the Earthly Paradise: and how anyone who disobeys his commandments will be destroyed for eternity. They believe it. I’ve presided at festivals, and I’m sure they do.” (pg. 103)
“…‘The religion–which the Foundation has fostered and encouraged, mind you–is built on strictly authoritarian lines. The priesthood has sole control of the instruments of science we have given Anacreon, but they’ve learned to handle these tools only empirically. They believe in this religion entirely, and in the . . . uh . . . spiritual value of the power they handle.’...‘The Foundation has fostered this decision assiduously. We’ve put all our scientific backing behind the hoax.’ (pg. 106-7, emphasis mine)
It is not at all unreasonable to assume that Asimov meant to parallel Hari Seldon with Jesus Christ, the Foundation with the founders of Christianity, and so forth. One can only assume from there what Asimov thought of Christianity, if not religion itself.

But now we must try and figure out where Asimov was coming from. Fortunately, there are a good many number of resources on Asimov’s views of religion. Where the next problem comes in is which ones are more correct.

Asimov Online, a site entirely devoted to Asimov’s work and life, says this in their FAQ page:

“Asimov had no religious beliefs; he never believed in either God or an afterlife. He considered himself a Humanist…Asimov was a strong proponent of scientific reasoning who adamantly opposed creationists, religious zealots, pseudoscience, and mysticism. Asimov did not oppose genuine religious feeling in others. He did, however, have little patience for intolerance or superstition masquerading as religion.”
However, Mike Brummond, in a well-researched paper he has graciously hosted online, shows some other revealing quotes from Asimov himself:

“I would not be satisfied to have my kids choose to be religious without trying to argue them out of it, just as I would not be satisfied to have them decide to smoke regularly or engage in any other practice I consider detrimental to mind or body” (as cited in Corvallis Secular Society, 1997, emphasis mine).
Perhaps even better is the quote from the Corvallis Secular Society’s “Isaac Asimov on Religion” page:

"I am an atheist, out and out. It took me a long time to say it. I've been an atheist for years and years, but somehow I felt it was intellectually unrespectable to say that one is an atheist, because it assumed knowledge that one didn't have. Somehow it was better to say one was a humanist or agnostic. I don't have the evidence to prove that God doesn't exist, but I so strongly suspect that he doesn't that I don't want to waste my time." (emphasis mine)
Now we have a better idea of what is going on in the story; Asimov is trying to draw a comparison to how humanity is kept in check by religion. He even has a character in Foundation state (perhaps ironically), “Religion is one of the great civilizing influences of history, and in that respect, it’s fulfilling…”

This is perhaps more a rant than a lesson to be learned. But remember this - Keep a watchful eye, because everything may not be as it seems the first time around. Think critically, but don’t necessarily be critical.

Now, a few notes for the comments I received:

Dave: I agree that Christianity should be simple (as it is idealistic by nature), but defending it is no simple matter. The world often opposes what Christians have to say even before they say it, and I would like to see more Christians speak intelligently and honestly about what they believe. It’s one thing to agree to disagree, as it were; it is totally another thing to let your opposition think you are ignorant or even foolish for your opinions or beliefs. Thank you for your kind words, however; I try and keep my relationship with Christ simple, even if I must think critically about the defense of my faith. But that is not relevant to the purpose of this site, so I digress.

Viva: I hope I can hold your attention, then! You surely know what I was talking about when I mentioned that a background akin to mine makes it easy to become complacent. I won’t criticize your choice (which appears on the surface to be rejection due to complacence or possibly other reasons), but I do applaud your willingness to listen to reason, even if you disagree personally. Many of the topics I cover are not meant to be of a directly spiritual nature, so I hope more “netizens” not of the Christian persuasion will find these essays interesting as well. After all, alienation doesn’t make you friends, or readers, for that matter.

As a final note, I am currently seeking help in turning this site from just a blog with limited capabilities to a full-fledged site, with more interactivity and discussion in addition to these essays. If anyone has any interest in helping with this transition or feels compelled to jump on board the TCC boat, let me know.

And remember, if you ever want to reach me personally, just E-mail thechristiancynic@gmail.com. I'm always ready for input.



The purpose for all of this

This, admittedly, should have been my first topic posted, as it sums up every single reason why I started doing this.

And there’s the first question I ask myself – Why the need for a site like this?

Well, the main purpose is to point out problems with Christianity. (Note that I said with, which implies both ‘within’ and ‘pertaining to’. There is a distinct difference, which I alluded to in my description of this webzine at the top of this page.)

Next question – How did these problems come to my attention?

Here’s where the story gets interesting. So sit back, and let me tell you a little about my past:

Both of my parents are Christians, my father since his late twenties and my mother since her adolescence/teens. They raised my older brother and me in church, and they enveloped us in the love of God so that we never even thought to doubt what was so firmly established.

Such a standard of Christian heritage can certainly make one complacent.

This is the problem I had. I grew up with everything Christian, and, to boot, I always thought (and perhaps still do think sometimes) that I had the right ideas on everything.

I was bulletproof.

Now we find ourselves at age 16 or so. Our intrepid hero has found the Internet, and in it, a cavalcade of information all trampled into his head from sources unknown.

It was then that I received the E-mails in question, as it were. You’ve all probably received them, if you’re a Christian or have Christian friends or colleagues. Those sappy E-mails about how a father sacrificed his son to save his son’s friend who was drowning, and other such sentimental subjects.

These seemed plausible at the time, perhaps even believable. I had been a Christian for years by this point, and I had heard many stories of the same kin told as sermon illustrations in the Baptist churches I had grown up in since I was literally a week old (I was born on a Sunday and attended with my parents the next Sunday).

Well, time has made me wiser, and life has made me cynical. I doubt more things now that I would have at one time accepted with little difficulty, and I don’t begrudge myself or anyone else for it. In fact, I openly welcome the label of “cynic” or “skeptic”, as this site shows.

Within the past few months, an obsession of mine has been urban legends. A great former high school history teacher of mine introduced me to the popular site snopes.com, and I have recently rediscovered it with a passion.

Probing that site has done more to make lose faith in humanity than anything else I could have possibly witnessed.

Many of you are privy to the nature of urban legends; someone passes on a “Did you know that…?” statement to all of their friends (often by E-mail, which I will return to shortly) that may or may not be true and is in fact more likely to be the latter. Well, this site, run by a husband and wife team, researches these tales or claims in order to determine their veracity. The number of legends they address is staggering, and I am just now getting to the end of the legends after a few months of browsing their site a few nights a week for a few hours each night.

Now that I have gone that route, let me retell a story from my youth. Around the aforementioned age of 16, I received an apparently well-circulated E-mail that was allegedly evidence of the existence of God as documented by NASA scientists based on 'real' scientific information mixed with Biblical concepts. (For the full content of the E-mail and its refutation, click here.)

Of course, being the open-minded youth that I was, I leaped for joy at the news this E-mail brought. My efforts to prove God’s existence could now cease, for I had conclusive proof! In my youthful exuberance, I took this information and put it under my hat, waiting for the chance to unveil my hat trick.

Well, it didn’t turn out quite the way I had hoped. I went into a chat room, as was my custom at the time, this one an Atheist-Christian chat. Well, any experienced chatter could attest that such a chat room had malicious intents, and indeed, this was the case; it was a chat room started by an atheist to trap unsuspecting Christians and berate them at the expense of their faith. I don’t quite see the point, but they did it, nonetheless. When I unveiled my fabulous secret, the response was plain - and I quote - “xer legend”. (For those not up on popular atheistic terms, an 'Xer' or 'Christer' is a derogatory slang for a Christian.)

I couldn’t have known it at the time, but he/she was right, dead on, in fact. I had largely forgotten about the E-mail until, after browsing snopes, I found it again, this time with a big ol’ “False” attached to the summary debunking.

So, why do we have to make up stuff like this to make our point? Have we run that far out of options that we have to falsify accounts in order to make ourselves sound like we have a logical, rational answer?

If that’s the case, then Christianity needs to go back to square one, to a better understanding of what faith is. To prove my point, let me quote an outside source:

“Here's the problem with faith: that which are articles of it can't be proved. (According to our dictionary, faith is firm belief in something for which no proof exists. In other words, if such validations were possible, those concepts would stop being matters of faith and start being matters of fact.) Those who are convinced of the existence of God, therefore, have no incontrovertible, irrefutable answer to anyone who challenges them to provide evidence of the veracity of their belief systems' tenets. They are left unable to squelch the nay-sayers, to demonstrate beyond any shadow of doubt that their inner direction is the right one, and so have to endure the catcalls and jeers of those who insist on independently verifiable proof of that which can't be proven.” (from snopes.com)
Even though this quote makes a good point about the nature of faith, I do not agree that those who believe in something by faith “are left unable” to defend their faith. As I have learned, there are two distinct kinds of arguments and therefore two kinds of logic: deductive and inductive. In the former, one must prove their claim with absolute certainty; in the latter, one must only prove within any reasonable doubt. I propose that it is perfectly logical (in the inductive sense) to consider Christianity as a perfectly viable option, given that the person on the receiving end has a somewhat open mind (for instance, they cannot be dead set on having 100% conclusive proof, for the argument is inductive and cannot prove with absolute certainty). However, that is a debate for another time, one that I hope I am up to.

My whole point in this, though, can be summed up this way: Christians are notorious for being called ‘brainwashed’, ‘weak-minded’, ‘naïve’, and a slew of terms that are ultimately derogatory based on the intelligence of Christians. Of course, Christians contend that Christianity does not have to be a scholar’s religion, and I agree; even so, Christians need to be schooled in what their faith really means, or it ends up meaning nothing at all. The skeptics of the world will win their battle against us simply by discrediting those who hold our faith.

Let’s be perfectly frank – it’s hard to disprove Christianity in itself as a possibility. No one has yet come up with conclusive proof not to believe Christianity might be true, and this inability to refute Christianity definitively leaves plenty of room for the possibility. Of course, critics have their own existential substantiations of this claim, such as the coexisting of a supreme, all-powerful, and personal God with evil, pain, and suffering (i.e. “How can a good God let evil exist in the world?). But each of these has a definite answer that is easily understood with considerations to other basic precepts of Christianity.

(Without going too in depth, let me paraphrase here what I said in a previous article: Saying that Christianity explains away flaws by putting them in context of their tenets is like saying it’s stupid to believe that jumping out of a tree will make you fall to the ground simply because ‘the principle of gravity says so’. One has to accept certain related presuppositions to believe practically anything that is even remotely complex, so that argument is pointless for questioning Christianity.)

In this, I have undertaken a big thing: to give a home to those Christians who are skeptical (and rightfully so) of the “too good to be true” things that so many Christians believe as fact without checking their sources.

My sincere hope is that more Christians will start to see the ridiculousness of the sub-culture and start to turn to more sure things, to that which is truly eternal.

After all, faith is not the hope of proving others wrong.


Have things really gotten this bad?

This is actually an old complaint of mine, but it has some new twists.

I frequent a local Christian bookstore (Berean Bookstore in Decatur, IL), mostly because I like browsing the music section to see if there are any good releases (and occasionally I find some good deals, like Luna Halo's Shimmer, which I highly recommend). In doing so, I also observe the patterns in Christian media; for instance, not too long after Dan Brown's controversial The DaVinci Code, I found several books dedicated to debunking the rumors that the book contained. This process helps me keep a check on my faith; I mean this not so much as my personal convictions as I do 'keeping up with the Grahams', as it were. Point blank, I want to know how other Christians are portraying themselves and thereby portraying me to the world.

On the day in question, I was in the middle of this activity when I came to the Bible translation racks. Usually, I look for a copy of The Message (which is a nice idea, but a little corny at places; read Psalm 1:1 to see what I mean), maybe see if there's a new translation like "New Intergalactic Translation for the Middle-Aged Extra-Terrestrial". Hey, you never know.

Then I saw it. It absolutely blew my mind.

At first glance, it was a very normal Bible. I mean, it had to be somewhat normal; it was a teen study Bible, and teenagers can be quite picky about what they're seen carrying, even if just to Sunday school and youth groups. And it was made by Zondervan, which claims to (and may) be "the leading Christian communications company in the world". (If you want a better idea, Zondervan is a division of HarperCollins Publishers. That should put things in perspective.)

Its title: Student Bible, New International Version.

But the part that got me was a little sticker on the front with this label:
The Official Bible of the Newsboys
(For those who don't believe me, you can see exactly what I mean here.)

At this point, I was quite disappointed. I mean, is the state of modern Christianity so bad that Christian rock bands have to endorse Bibles to get them to sell?

But this was a while back, maybe even a year or two ago. Is it really that bad anymore?

Oh, no, my friends - it gets much worse.

In order to prove to the ever-ready skeptic that such a Bible does exist, I ran across another Zondervan-Newsboys connection, and this one's fresh off the presses, dated January 4, in the year of our Lord 2005.

Title of article: "Zondervan Announces TNIV Bible Partnership with newsboys"

The cautious observer may first ask: "What's the TNIV Bible?"

Well, I'm glad you asked! The acronym is short for Today's New International Version, which is obviously a slightly updated version of the NIV (or New International Version, first published in the 1973). [Note: I find it funny when considering updated versions of other translations, such as the King James Version and New King James Version. Was "Today's New" more hip than "The Newer International Version" or "Our Most Recent International Version Yet"?] It is currently set to be released "in both Old and New Testaments" on February 4th of this year, allegedly set "in creative, innovative formats to engage the hearts and minds of 18- to 34-year-olds". To support this last claim, the article above cites a national Harris Interactive poll in which "77 percent of them found the TNIV easier to understand than the NIV, and 72 percent of them found the text more readable". [I wonder if they read the entire translation or just the tricky verses...?]

You may be asking, "What's so bad about an updated translation?" There may be nothing 'wrong' with it, per se, but there are inherent flaws with this approach.

Allow me to start with a quote from Peter Furler of the Newsboys:

"The only foundation that will prevail is the one built on God's Word. That's why I'm proud to stand with Zondervan, bringing the Word to today's generation. That's why I believe so strongly in Today's New International Version, the TNIV; a new translation that speaks the timeless truth of God's Word in the language of today." [italicized emphasis mine]
Is it just me, or does that second sentence seem a bit smarmy? I mean, can't you just see the little caption: "Zondervan - Bringing the Word to today's generation!"? It already smacks of corporate whore-ism, and all in the guise of bringing the world a better version of their best product. (The NIV translation is the top selling translation in the world, even given the rampant amount of traditionalists who claim that the King James Version is the only true translation.)

I'd like to be proven wrong on this last point, but, alas, I am not:

"The TNIV will be the biggest Bible translation launch in history, based on the breadth of products offered and the promotion that we intend to do," said Paul Caminiti, publisher and vice president of Bibles at Zondervan. "We know there is a need for this translation and we're thrilled to begin reaching today's generation with God's word in compelling, innovative formats, all supported by a translation that is uncompromisingly accurate and absolutely faithful to the original biblical texts." [emphasis mine]
Whoooo, boy. The 'biggest Bible translation launch in history'? That's a pretty big aspiration!

Okay, it's not, really. Virtually every single translation to come out since the NIV has been released with little fanfare, the closest probably being The Message by Eugene Peterson because of its über-contemporary language.

Again, one could ask: "So what's the big deal about trying to promote something, especially the Bible? Wouldn't that have some good repercussions that aren't necessarily drops in Zondervan's pocketbook?"

And again, I'd agree, to an extent. Good consequences do not intentions make. (My own quote that, thanks.)

Finally, in light of this new release, this new translation is already under fire! However, for this, I will make no comment and will simply let you decide for yourself. (Before I do this, though, you might want to read this to understand what the organization stands for.)

Now, as I go, remember Proverbs 4:23 - "Above all else, guard your heart [and mind], for it is the wellspring of life.