Friday, April 6, 2007

What's Love got to do with it?

Andrew Sullivan's latest response to Sam Harris is here. He continues to assume the questionable position that "faith" may be intrinsic to being human and therefore something we should engage rather than deny. Using the word "faith" here instead of terms like "God belief" or "religious beliefs" or "supernatural beliefs" is another example of apologetic theology's devious art of framing things in the most oblique and distorting way possible. "Faith" is not what we are arguing against.

"Faith," if defined non-religiously, as trust and loyalty, is indeed intrinsic to the human condition. I can't know everything or do everything so I need to be able to trust other people, doctors, plumbers, friends, etc., to get by in this world, but belief in God or any religious or supernatural belief should not be so intrinsic. Buddhists don't believe in God, the Egyptians and Greeks had radically different ideas about what gods were. Supernatural beliefs were merely the best "scientific" guesses of ancient peoples mixed in with a lot of wishful thinking and creative imagination. Better science should be able to replace supernatural beliefs and it often does.

Andrew abuses the term "faith" using it as a substitute word for "believing (having faith) in the supernatural claims of an ancient book (which needs to be heavily interpreted before it can have any meaning or relevance)" helps to distort and hide the fundamental irrationality of Andrew's position. The argument isn't about faith but what we put faith in and why.

The "faith" we talk about when not using the word in a religious context is usually something that has to be earned. I trust people who have demonstrated they are trustworthy or who put things on the line and take a risk with me when I trust them. But with religious faith you are supposed to, as Andrew put it, "believe against so much evidence." Andrew cannot share whatever reason he thinks he has, he can only continue to make incoherent assertions. There is little evidence to suggest that Andrew's faith isn't a faith unearned and fueled only by his desire to believe it, and to deny death, rather than a faith based on evidence or any real earning of it.

Andrew does make some good points though:

You make the solid point that we are also programmed by evolution for rape. Does that make rape defensible? Of course not, even though, as you point out, rape is a very effective and very natural way to disseminate DNA. But my response would not be to say that the evolutionary impulse to inseminate should be resisted entirely. I'd argue that the sex drive should be channeled respectfully toward others, i.e. moderated. So rape cedes to consensual DNA dissemination. Similarly, the drive for faith needs to be channeled respectfully toward others, i.e. moderated.

Fundamentalism cedes to toleration. Hence my insistence on maintaining the humility appropriate for such immense claims about the meaning of everything; and hence my support for a faith that is live-and-let-believe in its social manifestation. I think my project in this respect is far more feasible than yours. By attempting to abolish rather than moderate faith, I fear you deliver an intrinsic human impulse into the hands of those who most abuse it - the fundamentalists of all stripes.

I agree with Andrew in one sense, "faith," or rather supernatural belief, does need to be moderated if people can't let go of it. Religious beliefs cannot be an excuse for murder, rape, spreading a religion by sword and by law, or used as an alternative to science. The news out of Saudi Arabia or Pakistan or Indonesia, where blasphemy is a capital offense, is often about violent repression of religious minorities. Some Christians have killed abortion doctors and they aggressively push politicians to impose their beliefs on others. Rules about separation of church and state are a good thing.

What Andrew can't understand is that there is no contradiction between Sam's practices and Andrew's moderation. Sam is exceptionally moderate in how he tries to communicate his ideas. Atheists like Harris are not so much attempting to abolish religious belief so much as trying to grow the ranks of atheists and become a political force, a voting block that cannot be ignored. I fully endorse moderating religious belief, including atheistic beliefs, through various legal institutions and I'm pretty sure Sam would too. If religion is "abolished" it has to be through methods like argument, reason and education, exactly those methods Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins use. No force should be used. A problem in any belief system, even atheism, begins when you start thinking that living by and asserting the rightness of your beliefs is more important than the rights of other people to assert theirs and live by them. Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins are often accused of being intolerant, but they're really not. Criticism is not intolerance and at least Andrew seems to get that, but he can't really accept Harris and Dawkins without slamming them with the "you want to abolish" religion slur.

It's the word "abolish" that is spin here. Sure, it would be nice if everyone did wake up from their religious dreams, but I don't have to believe in that outcome to keep trying to reason people out of their irrational beliefs. I can still encourage moderation in existing religious beliefs at the same time, including atheistic beliefs.

I don't think we'll see masses of people giving up their faith, but it is in the realm of possibility that we could become, in a few generations, more like Sweden and other European countries where non-belief is more common and a force that their governments cannot ignore the way the Bush's administration has successfully ignored atheist-Americans and funneled money into Pat Robertson's "Operation Blessing" through the faith based initiatives. No one was forced to give up religion in Sweden. They even have a state church. It just became irrelevant to many of them.

The next part of Andrew's reply is meant to answer why he finds it hard to imagine his own future non-existence. Andrew claims it is because he believes that God loves him. Yet if he believes in this "God of love" it necessarily leads to logical contradictions, or an Orwellian re-definition of "love" where a loving God can damn people to eternal hell and order genocide like the Old Testament version did, or a radical reinterpretation of Christianity and the Bible that rejects many explicit statements within the Bible.

Andrew's option looks like a radical reinterpretation of Christianity, the Bible and Catholicism, but his presentation is so incoherent it's hard to tell. Consider the way Andrew re-worded Sam's Monty Hall problem and then chose his own option and the confusion it represents. Sam had offered three options:

(1) There is no God.

(2) There is a God, but all of our religions have distorted Her reality. Jesus was just an ordinary prophet who happened to become the center of a myth-making cult. God loves everyone and has never been concerned about what a person believes. After death, all people, Christians and non-Christians, simply merge with the Deity in a loving embrace.

(3) Christianity is the one true religion, and Catholics have the truest version of it.

Andrew thinks he is choosing option (3), but he rewords it to explain his faith a little better. Andrew's version of the options includes these choices:

(5) There is a God, but all of our religions have distorted Her reality. Jesus was a man more suffused with divinity than any other human being who has ever lived. God loves everyone and has never been concerned about what a person believes, except that a person know God and accept God's love freely and expresses that love toward everyone he or she encounters. Jesus uniquely showed us how to accept God's love and how to be worthy of it. After death, all people, Christians and non-Christians, simply merge with the Deity in a loving embrace. But Jesus was the proof that such love exists, and that it is divine and eternal, and that it cares for us.

(6) None of us knows anything about these things.

I guess I've tipped my hand by endorsing (5) but acknowledging the wisdom of (6).

The problem for Andrew is that his option (5) is not really close to Sam's option (3), which is "Christianity is the one true religion, and Catholics have the truest version of it." Catholics believe in Hell, but Andrew says: "After death, all people, Christians and non-Christians, simply merge with the Deity in a loving embrace." Does Andrew not believe in Hell? Is no one going to Hell? Has he never read the New Testament? How does he deal with the Jesus that is not the loving deity Andrew thinks Jesus is, but rather a hater who speaks of Hell? It's hard to know what Andrew believes based on what he has just written and if he knows of the complex mumbo jumbo about the afterlife that his Catholic doctrines expound on.

Christians have thousands of beliefs about the afterlife, many completely uninformed by what the Bible and their church claims. There is no consensus of religious opinion even in the same churches. Some say that Hell is eternal. Some say it is only temporary, and the souls in Hell will cease to exist after serving their time. Others believe there is no real Hell at all and the word refers to the decay of bodies in the ground. Others believe that after serving their time in Hell all souls are reconciled to God and admitted to heaven, or ways are found to bring all souls to repentance so that Hell is never experienced. Those beliefs are called Universalism and that seems to be what Andrew is expressing.

The Catholic view of Hell is presented in its Catechism and it is not Andrew's apparent Universalism, if Universalism is what Andrew believes: "To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from Him for ever by one's own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called 'Hell'." And that means not everyone gets that loving embrace from God as Andrew thinks.

Andrews says God doesn't care what you believe but then contradicts himself when he adds a more Catholic-friendly line: "...except that a person know God and accept God's love freely and expresses that love toward everyone he or she encounters." It's a contradiction because one must first believe there is a God before you could accept any love from "her." Or would you?

Does Andrew think that people make unconscious choices to reject God's love, sort of like Jerry Falwell believes Andrew made a sinful and unconscious choice to be gay?

Andrew claims he has accepted, freely and sanely, the love of Jesus, and that he has felt it, heard it and known it. And so Andrew could never cease to exist and neither could any of the people he has known and loved.

One of us doesn't know what Andrew is talking about and I think it is Andrew.

The problem with Andrew's claim, he basically said God doesn't care what you believe, as long as you believe in God. It doesn't make sense. It's a contradiction, either he cares or doesn't. And his use of the phrase "freely accepted" implies the a choice similar to the one Jerry Falwell attributes to gays. I can't accept God's love because I don't know God, thus I can not fulfill the conditions of accepting God's love because I see nothing there to accept.

So, all I have to do is accept the unconditional love of a deity that wants to give me eternal life in paradise, hey, it sounds great, but where is it? Who wouldn't want the unconditional love of a god who can do such wonderful things for us? Okay, I'll take some if you got it, where is it? What? I have to confess my sins? Okay, I've lied, masturbated, had sex out of wed-lock, lusted in my heart, not lived a life of unselfish giving, yada, yada. So, did I miss any? What exactly is a sin anyway? What? I have to stop doing all that stuff? I thought this love was unconditional – aren't you putting conditions on it? Doesn't that mean it's not really free? Doesn't that make you a liar? Do I have to sell all I own and join the Peace Corps? Andrew Sullivan hasn't done that, has he? He just sits around all day blogging, doesn't he? And look at all those wealthy preachers who own more stuff than I do; their not selling all of it and giving it to the poor. Look at how the pope lives. Why don't you just forgive me? You want me to change? Then come into my heart, change my desires, and show me why I should believe all this apparent bullshit. I've got no reason to believe any of this and I can't trust God any more than I trust a lawyer from Nigeria telling me I've inherited a few million dollars. Okay, let's see the goods.

God isn't telling me to do this stuff, men are and I don't think they are sane men. Why should I believe it? Andrew can't accept heterosexuality any better than I can accept God. He can try to have sex with women, but he'll be as happy as me in the Peace Corps. It's not who he is.

And how can Andrew be sure some of those people he might have known and loved have accepted God's love? Does he test them? Is he a bigot who won't love atheists? Does he have a "don't ask and don't tell" policy on accepting God's love before he decides to love someone himself?

The words "Damned" and "Hell" come right from the Bible and the words were spoken by Jesus. Here are just a couple examples:

Matthew 5:29. And if thy right eye scandalize thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee. For it is expedient for thee that one of thy members should perish, rather than thy whole body be cast into hell.

Matthew 10:28. And fear ye not them that kill the body, and are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him that can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Matthew 25:41. Then he shall say to them also that shall be on his left hand: Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, which was prepared for the devil and his angels.

Mark 16, 16. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be damned.

The Bible is pretty explicit about the eternity and the pains of hell. Revelations says the torments of the damned shall last forever and ever. Jesus said, of Judas that (Matthew 26:24): "it were better for him, if that man had not been born." God says of the damned (Isaiah 66:24; Mark 9:43, 45, 47): "Their worm shall not die, and their fire shall not be quenched." The fire of hell is repeatedly called "eternal and unquenchable." Many of the martyrs claimed that they were glad to suffer pain of brief duration in order to escape the eternal torments of Hell.

Jesus tried to terrify people into belief by threats of eternal torment. He was responsible for the idea of a fiery hell.

I haven't felt Jesus' love and I don't think Sam has either. This is not my free choice; there is nothing there to "freely or sanely" accept any more than Andrew could freely accept his heterosexuality. I haven't felt, heard or known Jesus' love any more than I've felt, heard and known Zeus' love, or the cat in the hat's love, or the tree outside my window's love. Could Andrew accept, freely and sanely, the love of Zeus too? Could Andrew accept, freely and sanely, the love of the cat in the hat? Would a ritual help Andrew experience the real love and presence of the cat in the hat?

What does it mean to accept any love? If Jesus or the tree in my yard wants to love me I'm not going to do anything to stop it, I just don't believe it is real or that trees and dead fictional characters can love. I just don't see any evidence that Jesus is anything but a mostly fictional character in a book.

Whatever man the Gospels might have been based on, the character described in the book is no more Jesus than Abraham Lincoln is what exists between the pages of Allen Guelzo's "Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President." That would be mistaking the map for the territory. I don't know this Jesus and it sure seems like most Christians don't know him either since they can't agree on who he was or what he meant.

I only know love in others imperfectly when I see it demonstrated. I can only make educated guesses as to the motives of those who claim to love me. I'm not even all that sure of my own feelings when I feel love for someone. Some people I think do love me, others I suspect of having other motives for saying so. Some Christians say they are called to love everyone, but do they? Christians say shit like that all the time and obviously don't know what they're talking about. They tell you they love you but then they won't give you the shirt off their back when you ask, and like the Bible tells them they should.

They just lecture you, argue with you, and then ignore you. There is really an utter indifference to me. They don't even know who I am. How utterly bogus of them to claim they love me.

At least Andrew does seem to know that what he is talking about is a preposterous claim but he doesn't quite grasp that it's also an incoherent claim:

For me, the radical truth of my faith is therefore not that God exists, but that God is love (a far less likely proposition). On its face, this is a preposterous claim, and in my defense, I have never really argued in this dialogue that you should not find it preposterous. It can be reasoned about, but its truth itself is not reasonable or reachable through reason alone. But I believe it to be true - not as a fable or as a comfort or as a culture. As truth. And one reason I am grateful for this discussion is that you take this truth claim seriously on its own terms.

Andrew's "God is love" concept remains completely undeveloped through out his whole exchange with Sam. Why is it framed as "God is love" and not as "God loves us"? Does he literally mean that God is our human feelings of love? Is this some sort of metaphysical love that's different than human love? Is it figurative or metaphorical? Did "Love" create the universe? Can love think and reason?

Pope John Paul II said something similar about God being the source of Joy, "The images of hell that Sacred Scripture presents to us must be correctly interpreted. They show the complete frustration and emptiness of life without God. Rather than a place, Hell indicates the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God, the source of all life and joy."

God is the source of all life and joy? No, that would be chemistry and neurobiology, not God. The sort of supernatural metaphysics the pope believes in is contradicted by modern science just as much as the theory of evolution contradicts the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis. And you don't want a life of constant joy; experiments have shown it destroys your motivation to do anything worthwhile in the world. In the 1950s scientists found that rats would repeatedly press levers to receive jolts of electric current through electrodes implanted within their brains.

When the brain stimulation was targeted at certain areas of the brain the rats would stop almost all other normal behaviors, including feeding, drinking and sex so they could repeatedly press the lever up to 2000 times per hour.

The findings seemed to suggest that they had discovered the pleasure centre in the brain, but the truth is a bit more complex. Pleasure and desire are not the same, they found a kind of desire center, and neurological structures don't really map to the parochial structures of non-specialist language. However, the point remains valid. Our emotions are a product of the brain and they only make sense as part of a whole system and we only know them through contrast with other feelings.

Can you imagine what kind of science we'd have if twisted by such theology?

Love too is a set of emotional reactions and feelings that, in my opinion, have a neurobiological basis. Scientists have even studied brain activity associated with love using functional MRI scans.

Andrew really seems to believe his preposterous and ultimately incoherent claims. His statements may reveal a kind of neurological disorder that is the result of a "loving" indoctrination into a "faith" he acquired during his dependent childhood from those who took care of him and actually did demonstrate love. Andrew admits he cannot fully understand what he is talking about:

I call myself a Christian because I believe that, in a way I cannot fully understand, the force behind everything decided to prove itself benign by becoming us, and being with us.

Nothing is proved today by a mere book full of overly incredible events that supposedly happened two thousand years ago. The world is full of such books, the Egyptian book of the dead, the Greek myths, Hindu scriptures, Scientology's "Dianetics," the Book of Mormon, the Koran, etc.. A book proves nothing. "Proof" comes from evidence, not incoherent assertions. On the whole this pious, simpering testimony doesn't meet any reasonable rational standard of discourse. It's not argument or evidence, it's an incoherent testimony about Andrew's subjective beliefs.

There is a poor historical record of Jesus. If Jesus ever wrote anything himself it didn't survive to our day, all the accounts of Jesus' life are second hand, created a generation after his ministry. There is little documentation of his existence outside the gospels. Many writers in Jesus' own time who should have known about him wrote nothing about him. Philo of Alexandria, for example, a Jewish philosopher and a contemporary of Jesus, who mixed Jewish ideas with Greek thought and introduced the concept of Logos, which he called the Son of God, the Paraclete, the mediator between God and man, ideas which later seem plagiarized by Christians to refer to Jesus, would have had an interest in Israel and of Jesus who used his ideas if he knew such a man existed. If there was a Jew who claimed to be the Son of God and the Logos (as the gospel of John says) and who supposedly rose from the dead, it is curious that Philo would not have wrote of him. Yet there is no mention of Jesus or his followers. Justus of Tiberias, a Jewish historian, born in Galilee about the time of Jesus crucifixion should have grown up with people who knew of Jesus preaching. It is odd that in his history of the war and his chronicle of events from Moses to Agrippa II (d. AD100), there is not a single reference made to Jesus.

There is more evidence supporting the divinity of the Roman emperors Caligula and Julius Caesar than of Jesus' divinity. Caligula demanded that he be worshipped as a god. Julius Caesar resisted it but allowed it. Examples of Julius Caesar's writings still exist. Historians record how people claimed to be cured by Caligula's statue. There are first hand personal accounts of their lives. Both men were considered gods and were, in part, killed for that too, just like Jesus.

And as soon as people grasped what had happened, what was happening, the world changed forever.

What exactly changed in the world? Another new religion entered the world is all that happened. I guess every major new religion is a big change but I don't really think Andrew has grasped how many religions there have been on Earth and each introduced major changes in society. Religion is evolving and many versions are distinctly unhealthy, like a virus, good only at spreading and leaving damage behind. Christians didn't behave any differently than the pagans who feed the Christian's to the lions. The Christians burned more witches and heretics than the Roman's killed Christians. Nothing much of importance really changed except for men worshipping a new god, a new enforced state religion. Rome eventually fell, bringing in the dark ages. The new cultures weren't much better; in fact, it got worse in Europe and the Eastern part of Rome fell to Islam. To my mind the world went through even more important, radical and positive changes after Galileo and Newton and then the Enlightenment. Now that was change, the birth of modern science, the separation of church and state, new forms of democracy instead of the popes crowning kings. You can't credit the Enlightenment to Christianity, you'd be more correct to credit it to the failure of Christianity.

The Gospels - all of them, including some that were rejected by the early Church - are mere sketches of a life actually lived, and an experience that can never be reduced to words or texts or doctrines...

Indeed, the map is not the territory. The character in the book is not the man. Nor can the story in the Gospels mean anything coherent without either some magical event (the Holy Spirit entering you according to some Christians) that allows you to believe a story that isn't credible on the surface. Either that or some psychological event that distorts your neurological processes thus causing people like Andrew to check their brains at the door any time their faith is challenged and just repeat trite fallacies that don't hold together logically because they've learned them, poorly, from sermons and apologetics.

In this nonfundamentalist understanding of faith, practice is more important then theory, love more important than law, and mystery is seen as an insight into truth rather than an obstacle.

If Andrew wants to practice love, well, I'm not going to object to that. But the actual practice he talks about next is this:

... a commemoration of that man, as he asked us to commemorate him - in a meal, a breaking of bread, a Seder-made-new, the mass, as Catholics have come to understand it. This is my faith, if I were forced to describe it."

I can't object to that either if Andrew wants to do it, it's no skin off my teeth. However, that's not "love" in my book and more importantly it is rooted in what Andrew claims it's not, it is rooted in theory. That "mass, as Catholics have come to understand it," is practicing a superstitious ritual and it is wedded to what must, in a generous view, call a theory in this context: It is based on some model of why one would do such a thing that has no obvious benefit ever during one's life time. The only benefit is theoretical; a hypothetical character in a story wants it done and you please him by doing it.

What I object to is the way language is abused and distorted by Andrew's statements. He doesn't seem to know how to use the word "theory." He can't possibly know if what he claims is true, human knowledge just doesn't work that way, and it can only be approached as a kind of theory.

He starts off telling us that practice is more important than theory but then gives us a practice that is more wedded to theory than most Christian practices. If he had talked about how he practices "love" as non-Christians know it, then he might have scored a few points. But instead he wrote contradictory nonsense. I wasn't expecting it to be that bad. I was expecting Tony Campolo's social gospel.

Andrew could have easily spoke of giving to charities, helping his church feed the poor or trying to be helpful to his neighbors and other ways of putting into practice the Sermon on the Mount.

That would have been practicing love in a "non-theoretical" way because the benefits are obvious and real, no theory is needed to believe you've done good because the results are obvious. His first chance to talk concretely about love and he blows it because he seems to have his sermons and apologetics all scrambled up in some incoherent way.

This is what Jesus told people: to treat God as an intimate father, to pray simply, to believe against so much evidence that good does indeed prevail against evil,...

I think Andrew is leaving out quite a bit on the subject of what Jesus told people. Jesus also told people that (Matt 17:20): a faith the size of a mustard seed could move mountains? Okay, let's see an example, just one example of a mountain moved by faith. I wonder what Andrew thinks of "The Secret," that best selling book that claims that your thoughts create your reality.

Jesus also said, Matthew 19:11-12, 'There are some eunuchs who were born that way, and there are some who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Anyone who can accept this should accept it.'

Jesus also said, Mark 4, 11-12. But unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: that seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.

Well, it's all nonsense to me, so apparently Jesus doesn't want me converted.

Jesus also cursed a fig tree.

And it is crazy to say that "to believe against so much evidence that good does indeed prevail against evil" and then think that believing that will make it happen. It's magical thinking at its most naked. As I said before, good is not the opposite of evil, the opposite of good is bad and the opposite of evil is nurturing and help, you might call it "love." To really prevail against evil you need to know what you're doing. Your love will be as powerless as you are if you don't have any real understanding or power. What good is your love if you can't do anything for the ones you love? It's not enough to just want it. Like everything else in life you have to study it and religious beliefs interfere with seeing evil and love for what they are.

... what Jesus lived: a life full of love and friendship and self-giving, even to the point of non-violent submission to violence, as proof of God's love.

If he really was a god, then his brief life and death on Earth wasn't all that much to give compared to what he supposedly has to offer. He didn't really die in the way I think people die, ceasing to exist completely. He was thirty years on Earth, but he's been in Heaven the last two thousand years. And there are men, people like Martin Luther King and Gandhi, that have given more of what they had because they were not gods and didn't have as much to give, though they may not have known it. And I wonder how their wives felt about it? In the real world there is no infinite supply of love or benefit I can give. The more I spread it out the less I have for those that matter most to me.

There is no reason not to think Jesus was not some wandering preacher of his time whose powerlessness to help the hungry and suffering around him, and the authorities that wouldn't lift a finger to help, inspired thoughts of revenge in an eternal hell on those rich authorities. Then myth and legend makers would have added the miracles, stories from the poor as a discomforting revenge on the comforting wealth that the wealthy didn't share. Considering how the poor out numbered the astoundingly wealthy and greedy rich of Rome, it's no wonder the religion became so popular. Jesus hit the nail on the head in one sense; he saw one problem in the human condition fairly accurately.

As for friendship, I don't see much in the New Testament that makes Jesus out as a great friend. He spoke in riddles and parables even to the apostles. Did he tell a good joke? Did he stay up all night with Peter when Peter was sick? Maybe he cured the disciples whenever they got a cold? Jesus in the New Testament comes across as arrogant, aloof and haughty to me, full of secrets, condescending, impossibly idealistic, not giving people direct answers and more free with criticism than praise. In Luke 11, 37-40 a Pharisee has Jesus over for dinner and when the Pharisee sees that Jesus did not first wash before dinner he comments on it and Jesus says to him, "Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness. Ye fools ..." Reading that I wouldn't get the impression that Jesus is a polite guest. He did miracle charity work, supposedly, he supposedly fed a bunch of people with fewer loaves and fishes than should have fed them, he supposedly healed some blind people and lepers but why didn't he just eliminate all blindness and disease? Why not something really impressive that would have made a real mark on history? Something that would really prove a god had been here? Add up all the people Jesus might have fed and cured and you're not going to get that large a number. No pagan writer in Christ's time seems to have wondered at all the well fed and disease free people in Judea.

Now, when we talk science, we're talking about some real marks made on history. You want to talk about feeding thousands? How about feeding a billion? Norman Borlaug, an American agricultural scientist, is called the father of the Green Revolution because while working in agricultural research he developed some high-yield, disease-resistant wheat varieties and helped introduce these high yielding varieties, and modern agricultural production techniques, to Mexico, Pakistan and India. As a result, Mexico became a net exporter of wheat by 1963, wheat yields nearly doubled in Pakistan and India. Millions more people were fed. People like Borlaug are the reason that people who used Thomas Malthus' concepts got it wrong.

Borlaug is often credited with saving over a billion people from starvation. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 because of his contributions to world peace through increasing food supply. All the charitable donations to all the churchy institutions aren't going to buy food that doesn't exist. And last I heard Jesus' followers haven't been able to pull off that trick with the loaves and fishes no matter how much faith they have. They haven't moved any mountains with their faith either.

And on the flip side you've got Trofim Lysenko, his bad science starved millions but his intensions were the same as Borlaug's.

All the good intensions in the world aren't going to help if you haven't got your facts right. You could do more harm than good.

But for me, the words of Jesus speak of God's love more truly than anything else I have ever come across. I'm still looking.

Jesus, appearing in a very short series of 4 repetitive Gospels, who speaks mostly in riddles and parables, who was arrogant and insane if human and stingy and selfish if a god, and who talked about hell and damnation and casting people into eternal fire is someone Andrew thinks spoke of love more truly than anything else he has ever read? There were a few good paragraphs on the subject in the Bible, but if Andrew is really "still looking" I would suggest Ray Bradbury's "Something Wicked this way Comes." It's about love and values and choices people make when confronted with dark magic that can seemingly give them what they think they most desire.

The mystery here is why Andrew thinks he is right when he has no evidence or reasonable arguments to give his belief any more credibility than that of any uneducated fundamentalist who takes the Bible as evidence. Sam Harris would probably have better luck convincing a fundy than Andrew. And it's fundamentalism that is spreading, not Andrew's more moderate and liberal religion.

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