Het betere bochtenwerk van Patrick Loobuyck

Patrick LoobuyckEr was mij op voorhand gezegd: “Verwacht niet dat Patrick Loobuyck de dialoog zal aangaan.” Een professor Levensbeschouwing die voortdurend pleit voor interlevensbeschouwelijk gesprek zou de dialoog niet aangaan? Ik had moeite om dat te geloven. Vandaar dat ik bleef werken aan een pamflet over godsdienstonderwijs (lees het hier en sluit je eventueel aan bij de meer dan duizend ondertekenaars tot nu toe). Daarin wordt weliswaar soms scherpe kritiek geformuleerd op uitlatingen van Loobuyck en anderen, maar wordt ook opgeroepen tot dialoog. Filosofen als Loobuyck zijn ook gewoon dat hun opvattingen bekritiseerd worden, vaak in de soms scherpe stijl die ze zelf graag gebruiken, dus ook daarin zag ik geen graten. Bovendien communiceert Loobuyck zelf graag via sociale media, dus een openbare oproep tot dialoog, via die media, zou hij ook wel kunnen smaken. Dacht ik.

Maar wat blijkt nu? Loobuyck slaat aan het twitteren over in plaats van het rechtstreekse gesprek aan te gaan met. Er zijn er op deze wereld nog die verwoed aan het twitteren slaan zodra hun opvattingen worden bekritiseerd.

Toen ik hoorde dat Loobuyck aan het twitteren was geslagen, liet ik alle hoop nog niet varen. Een professor levensbeschouwing die voortdurend pleit voor interlevensbeschouwelijk gesprek zou wel op een eerlijke manier reageren, en niet onmiddellijk de kritiek op zijn opvattingen en die van anderen valselijk “framen”. Ik nam even een kijkje en stelde echter het volgende vast.

In het pamflet schrijf ik:

“De lijken van de slachtoffers waren amper koud of De Ceulaer uitte zijn wens [om de levensbeschouwelijke kooplieden uit de scholen te ranselen] opnieuw naar aanleiding van de aanslag op Charlie Hebdo. Op de website van Knack (13 januari 2015) fulmineerde hij tegen een Vlaams onderwijsbeleid dat al te lang te tolerant zou zijn geweest tegenover zogezegde aantastingen van een universele moraal.”

Bij een twitterende Patrick Loobuyck wordt dat:

“Voor de goede orde, het stuk van @jdceulaer verscheen helemaal niet naar aanleiding van de aanslagen.”

Het is blijkbaar moeilijk om de nuance te vatten. Het is nochtans een feit dat De Ceulaer zijn artikel opnieuw lanceerde naar aanleiding van de aanslag op Charlie Hebdo, en dat hij zowel op radio en tv in die periode het pleidooi uit het artikel herhaalde. Dat woord “opnieuw” wordt blijkbaar moeilijk in rekening gebracht. Ook de datum waarop het artikel van De Ceulaer inderdaad “opnieuw” verscheen, 13 januari 2015, 6 dagen na de aanslag op Charlie Hebdo, is niet toevallig. En dan is er nog die vermaledijde begeleidende tekst van de Knack-redactie bij het artikel:

“Naar aanleiding van de jihadistische aanslagen in en rond Parijs pleitte Knack-journalist Joël De Ceulaer in het Radio 1-programma Hautekiet voor de afschaffing van levensbeschouwelijke schoolvakken. Herlees hier de ‘Lastpost’ die hij daarover schreef in Knack van 5 november 2014.”

Joël De Ceulaer opnieuw pamflet Godsdienst met of zonder LEF

In het pamflet schrijf ik:

“Patrick Loobuyck, zowat de architect van het vak LEF, is een van de kampioenen in de verspreiding van foutieve informatie over het vak rooms-katholieke godsdienst. Ofwel komt dat voort uit oprechte onwetendheid, ofwel uit een bewuste strategie. Valse Messiassen creëren altijd eerst een voorheen onbestaand probleem om zich vervolgens als redders te profileren en een eigen ideologische agenda door te drukken.”

Bij een twitterende Patrick Loobuyck wordt dat:

“Wie vindt dat @PLoobuyck een valse messias is, kan hier op @ThomasRKG het pamflet tekenen.”

Alweer is het blijkbaar moeilijk om de nuance te vatten. Als zijn misvattingen over het godsdienstonderwijs voortkomen uit oprechte onwetendheid, moet Loobuyck zich natuurlijk niet aangesproken voelen wat betreft die zin over valse messiassen. Loobuyck kan wel degelijk de dialoog aangaan op een zelfkritische manier en toegeven dat hij zich bijvoorbeeld heeft vergist over de huidige leerplannen en de handboeken voor godsdienst, maar dat hij zich geenszins bewust was van die vergissing. Loobuyck kiest ervoor om dat niet te doen. Dat is zijn goed recht, maar het bevestigt vooralsnog dat hij liever tendentieus twittert dan voor een face to face dialoog te kiezen.

In het pamflet schrijf ik:

“Een andere bekende lobbyist voor het vak LEF, Maarten Boudry, nemen we zijn soms ronduit dwaze beweringen over theologie en theologen minder kwalijk (hij is geen godsdienstwetenschapper), hoewel…”

Bij een twitterende Patrick Loobuyck wordt dat:

“Wie vindt dat @mboudry een dwaze lobbyist is, kan hier op @ThomasRKG het pamflet tekenen.”

Blijkbaar is het problematisch om aantoonbaar onjuiste opvattingen “dwaas” te noemen, en denkt filosoof Loobuyck dat je een persoon karakteriseert als je iets zegt over een aantoonbaar onjuiste opvatting van die persoon.

Beste Patrick,

Ik kan alleen voor mezelf spreken, maar ondanks de waarschuwingen die ik kreeg en de bevestiging die je tot nu toe gaf voor die waarschuwingen, blijf ik geloven in jou. Je bent een voorvechter van de dialoog, en dus neem ik aan dat je het waardevoller vindt om uiteindelijk het rechtstreekse gesprek aan te gaan. Als je dan toch twittertijd en –aandacht besteedt aan het pamflet, zou je dan niet liever – filosoof zijnde – aan tafel gaan zitten? Communiceren kan ook gemakkelijk zijn in deze internettijden, en ook eerlijker. Wat denk je, zou je niet aan tafel willen schuiven met enkele van je criticasters en goede vrienden, eventueel met een goed glas (en gebroken brood), zodat we allemaal samen de zelfgenoegzaamheid van ons eigen clubje kunnen doorbreken?

Ik wil je een hand geven, beste Patrick, en ik steek het uit. Ik weet het, je kan het altijd weigeren en blijven spreken “over” in plaats van “met”, maar waarom zou je dat doen als een veel aangenamer scenario mogelijk is? Laten we met z’n allen de empathie aan de dag leggen om ons te verplaatsen in de positie van de ander.

Alleszins beste groeten!

Patrick Loobuyck twitter over pamflet Godsdienst met of zonder LEF

POST SCRIPTUM

Eén van de beproefde strategieën om de dialoog te weigeren, is de verantwoordelijkheid daarvoor bij “de andere partij” te leggen. Je krijgt dan van die redeneringen als: “Omdat de andere partij zus of zo reageert, kan of wil ik de dialoog niet aangaan.”

Op die manier tracht je natuurlijk je eigen aandeel en verantwoordelijkheid in het al dan niet lukken van de dialoog te ontlopen. Het is geweten dat op die manier conflicten in stand worden gehouden.

Kennelijk hebben professoren die zich specialiseren in de “dialoog” soms nog iets te leren over “eigen verantwoordelijkheid in de dialoog”. Patrick Loobuyck twittert, alweer (jammer en stilaan grotesk), bijvoorbeeld het volgende naar aanleiding van het voorgaande (mails komen blijkbaar niet aan):

Patrick Loobuyck weigert dialoog

Patrick Loobuyck bevestigt op dit moment:

1) dat hij de dialoog niet op een eerlijke manier wenst te voeren

2) dat hij zijn eigen aandeel en verantwoordelijkheid in het mislukken van de dialoog tracht te ontlopen

Is er angst voor de dialoog? En mogen al de mensen die zich solidair verklaarden met de oproep tot dialoog (onder wie atheïsten, agnosten, gelovigen van verschillende gezindte en mensen uit alle geledingen van het levensbeschouwelijke onderwijsveld – van studenten tot professoren) nog verwachten dat Patrick Loobuyck “aan tafel schuift”?

Het is trouwens niet de eerste keer dat Loobuyck, via de openbare media die hij zelf vaak gebruikt om te communiceren, is opgeroepen tot dialoog, en meestal gebeurde dat op een vriendelijke manier. Zie bijvoorbeeld:

Open brief aan Patrick Loobuyck en de pleitbezorgers van LEF

Op “hardere” taal wordt wel gereageerd met een tweet (en waarschijnlijk is dat normaal, des mensen):

Het fascisme van antireligieuze utopisten

POST POST SCRIPTUM (OF HOE EEN MENS ZICH IN BOCHTEN BLIJFT WRINGEN)

Er wordt getwitterd. Er wordt gefacebookt. Patrick Loobuyck postte nog het volgende:

Kort enkele zaken over het pamflet van leerkrachten rooms-katholieke godsdienst (zie fb-post 2 juni, https://www.kuleuven.be/…/godsdienst-met-of-zonder-lef-pam…/ ), waarom ik het onheus tendentieus vind en eerder gericht op verdachtmaking dan op inhoudelijk gesprek:
– LEF is in de kern een pleidooi voor eindtermen levensbeschouwelijke, democratische en morele geletterdheid en filosofie. Hierover in het pamflet geen woord.
– Waarom wordt Maarten Boudry erbij gehaald? Hij heeft zich bij mijn weten nog niet enorm ingespannen of geprofileerd inzake LEF. Hij was ook geen lid van de LEFvzw. Waarom hem dan een lobbyist noemen voor LEF? Hij wordt erbij gehaald om het Pollefeyt-frame te bevestigen dat LEF een atheïstisch, ideologisch vak zou zijn. O.a. https://doorbraak.be/intellectuelen-maatschappelijk-debat-…/
– Joël De Ceulaer schreef zijn stuk waarnaar verwezen wordt vanuit een persoonlijke ervaring, eerste semester 2014. LastPost was steeds in een typerende scherpe stijl geschreven. Er wordt in zijn stuk overigens geen melding gemaakt van LEF, ik denk zelfs dat hij toen niet eens op de hoogte was van het bestaan van het LEF-idee – maar dat zou je hem moeten vragen. Kortom het stuk heeft als dusdanig niets met LEF te maken. http://www.knack.be/…/wordt-het…/article-opinion-524885.html
– Dat Hautekiet na de aanslagen een uitzending doet over de levensbeschouwelijke vakken, daar hebben De Ceulaer noch Loobuyck iets mee te maken. Na de aanslagen werden in heel wat officiële scholen de aparte levensbeschouwelijke vakken opgeschort en organiseerde men overleg en dialoog over de vakken heen. Dat vonden de media nieuwswaardig en het deed hen denken aan mijn ideeën. Bovendien had iedereen plots de mond vol van het belang van democratische vrijheden, waarden en uitgangspunten. Vandaar. https://radio1.be/moeten-alle-levensbeschouwelijke-schoolva… [Dat het stukje van De Ceulaer dan nog eens op de knackwebsite is verschenen, heeft denk ik ook niets met hem te maken (hij was op die datum al bij De Morgen), maar zal een redactiekeuze geweest zijn van Knack. Ook dat zou je hem eens moeten vragen]. Kortom, goed geprobeerd, maar het heeft niets met lijkenpikken te maken.
– “laten zien met welke bril je kijkt, tenminste als je een totalitaire tendens in je denken wil vermijden”. Nog zo’n mooie beschuldiging: zet LEF bij het totalitaire denken en we kunnen er met zijn allen tegen zijn. De bril van waaruit LEF wordt gegeven en verdedigd is die van de academische discipline van de religiestudie. De ideologische bril, zo je wil, is die van het politiek liberalisme à la Rawls. Dit is net het tegenovergestelde van totalitair denken overigens. Bovendien is daar nooit een geheim van gemaakt. Lees in dit verband Samenleven met gezond verstand en het LEF-boekje. Zij die beweren dat ik mijn achterliggend denkkader niet expliciteer willen ofwel niet lezen ofwel gratuit beschuldigen. En als je niet wil lezen, hou je dan tenminste aan de NIVEA-regel: Niet Invullen Voor Een Ander. https://www.polis.be/samenleven-met-gezond-verstand.html http://www.aspeditions.be/…/meer-lef-in-het-onder…/15034.htm
– “Wie even tijd neemt om de handboeken rooms-katholieke godsdienst te bekijken bijvoorbeeld, ziet al snel dat religie en met name het christendom er zeer gefilterd wordt gepresenteerd.” http://www.knack.be/…/jongeren-…/article-opinion-623745.html Daar blijf ik bij, op basis van de handboeken Caleidoscoop (Wolters/Plantyn) en Meander (Pelckmans). De handboeken brengen een theologisch gekleurd verhaal. Religie wordt onvoldoende vanuit het perspectief van religious studies bekeken. Bij de islamhandboeken is dat trouwens nog meer het geval. Dat is nog voornamelijk echt teaching into religion. Maar zoals ik in datzelfde stuk ook schrijf: de levensbeschouwelijke vakken staan op dat punt recht in hun schoenen. Ze doen waarvoor ze bedoeld zijn. Het stuk is geen aanval op de vakken, maar een appel aan de overheid. Het is de Vlaamse overheid die in gebreke blijft door geen eindtermen te willen formuleren waardoor het wetenschappelijk-kritisch denken over levensbeschouwing en het buitenperspectief dat de religiestudie biedt niet voor iedereen gegarandeerd zijn. De eindtermen waar LEF voor staat sluiten niet uit dat er in andere vakken wel een theologisch verhaal gebracht wordt. Er is van bij het begin ook steeds gezegd dat LEF een rooms-katholiek godsdienstvak (bv. op katholieke scholen) in principe niet hoeft uit te sluiten. Zie oa https://www.demorgen.be/…/lef-voor-de-burgers-van-morgen-b…/ Wat er met de bestaande levensbeschouwelijke vakken moet gebeuren is op zich een aparte discussie. En om die in Vlaanderen ten gronde te kunnen voeren, halen we de levensbeschouwelijke vakken best terug uit de grondwet (waar ze pas sinds 1988 zijn in opgenomen, art. 24). http://www.knack.be/…/de-neutr…/article-longread-679199.html
– Tot slot wat de dialoog betreft. Er zijn mensen die met me in dialoog willen gaan en me daarvoor eenvoudig een vriendelijk uitnodigende mail sturen. Ik weiger normaal geen gesprekken en was bijvoorbeeld ook al te gast bij een overlegmoment van de inspectie rooms-katholieke godsdienst, op katholieke dialoogscholen, etc. Wie echter denkt te kunnen uitnodigen tot dialoog door handtekeningen te verzamelen voor een tendentieus pamflet met verdachtmakingen… Tja.
Op zijn blog reageert de initiatiefnemer (die ik overigens niet ken, ook niet vanop sociale media) ondertussen met opnieuw verdachtmakingen. https://mimeticmargins.com/…/het-ware-gelaat-van-patrick-l…/ “Er zijn er op deze wereld nog die verwoed aan het twitteren slaan zodra hun opvattingen worden bekritiseerd.” Maw: Loobuyck = Francken/Trump?
Jezus…

Enfin, voor de rest, altijd bereid om van gedachten te wisselen. Mijn mailadres staat online.

EEN ANTWOORD:

De meer dan 1000 ondertekenaars van het pamflet “Godsdienst met of zonder LEF?” tot nu toe (onder wie atheïsten, agnosten en gelovigen van verschillende gezindte, alsook mensen uit het hele levensbeschouwelijke onderwijsveld, van studenten tot professoren) mogen hopelijk stilaan een minder krampachtige reactie verwachten op de uitnodiging tot dialoog – met leerkrachten RKG en anderen. Een antwoord op het zoveelste Facebook-bericht van Patrick Loobuyck, punt per punt:

1) Het pamflet gaat niet over LEF, maar over hoe het vak RKG vandaag wordt geconcipieerd. Vandaar de vraag op het einde van het pamflet aan de voorstanders van LEF in hoeverre LEF beantwoordt aan de betrachtingen van het huidige vak RKG. Als dat helemaal duidelijk was, dan zou die vraag niet worden gesteld.

2) Op 30 november 2011 was Maarten Boudry één van de ondertekenaars van een pleidooi voor LEF in de krant De Morgen, getiteld “LEF voor de burgers van morgen”. Zie: https://www.demorgen.be/…/lef-voor-de-burgers-van-morgen-b…/

3) Het is blijkbaar de schuld van onder andere Knack dat het stuk van De Ceulaer over levensbeschouwelijk onderwijs verkeerdelijk “geframed” werd? Je kan lezers niet verwijten dat ze lezen wat ze lezen, met name:

“Naar aanleiding van de jihadistische aanslagen in en rond Parijs pleitte Knack-journalist Joël De Ceulaer in het Radio 1-programma Hautekiet voor de afschaffing van levensbeschouwelijke schoolvakken. Herlees hier de ‘Lastpost’ die hij daarover schreef in Knack van 5 november 2014.”

Bovendien verscheen hij in diezelfde week na de aanslagen op Charlie Hebdo ook nog eens in Reyers Laat, in een discussie met Mieke Van Hecke die als titel meekreeg: “Wat doen we met Allah en God op school?”

Dat zijn tendentieuze aankondigingen en titels van Knack en van de VRT. Je kan het lezers, luisteraars en kijkers niet kwalijk nemen dat ze het debat dan ook in die context plaatsen, zeker als Joël De Ceulaer zelf daar geen probleem van blijkt te maken op dat moment.

In ieder geval heeft een actuele voorstander van LEF in een niet zo ver verleden de pleidooien gevoerd die hij heeft gevoerd.

4) Over “laten zien met welke bril je kijkt om een totalitaire tendens te vermijden…” Het is veel mensen vooralsnog onduidelijk hoe “neutraliteit” wordt ingevuld door LEF. Je antwoordt: “De bril van waaruit LEF wordt gegeven en verdedigd is die van de academische discipline van de religiestudie. De ideologische bril, zo je wil, is die van het politiek liberalisme à la Rawls.”

Dat is niet neutraal, dus waarom zou je dat woord nog gebruiken? Bovendien kent “de academische studie van de religiestudie”, zoals elke menswetenschap, een waaier van theoretische uitgangspunten en “brillen”. Ook daarover kan meer duidelijkheid komen. Overigens vertrekt het vak RKG ook van dergelijke religiestudie.

5) Over de handboeken zijn we het fundamenteel oneens. We kunnen samen bijvoorbeeld het handboek Caleidoscoop (of een opvolger daarvan) eens grondig bekijken. In het pamflet wordt aangegeven op welke manier Caleidoscoop een aantal van je aantijgingen omtrent handboeken weerlegt. Bovendien poneer je in het aangehaalde artikel dat “godsdienst op erg gespannen voet staat met de huidige wetenschappelijke bevindingen”. Dat is niet juist. Caleidoscoop laat zien welke opvattingen over godsdienst leiden tot conflicten met wetenschap en welke niet. Omdat voorstanders van LEF de afgelopen jaren uiteenlopende standpunten hebben geuit in de media (soms werd gesproken over “afschaffing”), is het niet altijd even duidelijk op welke manier het vak RKG nog een plaats krijgt naast LEF – standaard in katholieke scholen, of via “gasturen”, of in sommige katholieke scholen wel en andere niet, of na een herziening van de netten, etc.?

6) Jij bent zelf verantwoordelijk voor het al dan niet aangaan van de dialoog op basis van wat je een “verdacht-makend pamflet” noemt. Hierboven is enige verduidelijking geschetst voor je vragen en bedenkingen. Wat bijvoorbeeld wordt geschreven over Boudry, gaat over hemzelf en moet jij niet voor je rekening nemen. Maar het is een feit dat voor de buitenwereld iemand natuurlijk wordt geassocieerd met LEF als hij een pleidooi van academici voor LEF in De Morgen tekent. Is het zo vreemd dat lezers Boudry als voorstander van LEF zien dan?

7) Mijn opmerking over “verwoed twitteren” is in de eerste plaats algemeen. Velen twitteren verwoed tegenwoordig. Dat jij jezelf vergelijkt met Trump en Francken, is voor jouw rekening. Het pamflet telt 6 bladzijden. Het gros daarvan gaat helemaal niet over Patrick Loobuyck, zelfs niet over LEF als dusdanig (vandaar de vragen op het einde, naar verduidelijking). Het pamflet verduidelijkt, nogmaals, hoe RKG vandaag is geconcipieerd en wil vanuit het wegwerken van een aantal misvattingen de dialoog aangaan over de toekomst van het levensbeschouwelijk onderwijs.

Het is overigens fijn om te zien dat na het getwitter de aandacht voor mailverkeer komt. We mailen elkaar. Dat is hoopgevend. De polariserende mediastorm, van beide kanten, die in deze tijden een normale fase lijkt, gaat liggen.

No Self-Respect at Harvard University (Maarten Boudry)

Some atheists nowadays are a bit confused as to what contemporary theology is all about, also in Belgium. Hence it is no surprise that Maarten Boudry, a quite public philosopher of science and a devoted opponent of all things religious, could tweet the following statement:

Well, what do you know, according to Maarten Boudry, Harvard is no self-respecting university and neither is Yale, because they both have faculties of theology! How could they?

In a piece for Belgian newspaper De Standaard Boudry tried to explain why he thinks that contemporary theology is not a scientific activity. One of his final sentences reveals a great deal about his ideas on theology and literary criticism:

The equivalent of a theologian in literary criticism is someone who asks himself where exactly 221B Baker Street is located, or someone who examines a map in search for Middle-Earth.

Okay, let’s see if this statement is true for theologians who received their education at universities like Harvard and Yale by briefly interpreting a story from the Bible. Why not take the well-known story of Cain and Abel in the book of Genesis (Chapter 4)? If you read the work of Harvard theologians, then you will notice that none of them ever claims this story is anything else but a myth. However, being a myth, it nevertheless expresses the universal experience that “human beings can be so jealous that they are capable of killing the human being they are jealous of”.

Anyway, both those theologians and (supposedly also) Maarten Boudry know that great literature can reveal universal truths through stories that never really happened. Even fiction about fiction can be true in that sense. Read for instance how the character of the Chinese butler Lee interprets the story of Cain and Abel in John Steinbeck’s magnificent novel East of Eden (click here).

It should be noted that metaphors and allegories may also refer to real historical events and experiences. The story of Jesus who is tempted by the devil in the desert, for instance, says that Jesus was historically experienced as someone who didn’t give in to the lust for power, among other things.

It’s common for writers to use images. There’s nothing “sophisticated” about this type of interpretation. Of course, we might have to study a bit to understand the idiom and images of an ancient culture. But hey, that’s what science and rationality are for. Who knows, in two thousand years’ time, people might have to explain that the Dutch expression “Hij heeft vele watertjes doorzwommen” (“He swam through many waters”, meaning “He’s been through a lot in his life”) can be true even if the person in question doesn’t know how to swim.

By the way, the claim that Jesus of Nazareth never existed is, from a scientific point of view (in the eyes of both atheist and non-atheist experts), as ridiculous as the claim that creationism is more plausible than the theory of evolution. For more on this, click here.

Now that the error about Harvard theologians and the like is corrected, we can perhaps deal with some other issues as well in order to get a clearer picture of what contemporary theology is all about. Let’s take another tweet from Maarten Boudry as a new starting point to again correct some errors:

We shouldn’t unnecessarily complicate matters. If you take a look at what scholars do research on in pneumatology, their research questions take the same shape as other research questions in the humanities. An example:

What are the views of Augustine of Hippo concerning the Holy Spirit?

This type of question can be dealt with by any researcher, regardless of the fact that the researcher is an atheist, a Hindu, a Muslim, a Christian or anyone else. The main things needed are access to the work of Augustine, critical and scientifically sustained research on the Bible, ancient philosophy and the Church Fathers, and a thorough knowledge of Latin and other classical languages.

Of course, as is the case with all subjects of the humanities, in order to conduct an objectifiable research, also the interpretive starting points must be taken into account. No interpretation of Augustine’s work is neutral, but once researchers have agreed on their interpretive framework, they will be able to conduct a research that comes to similar conclusions as the research done by other scholars who use the same framework.

Pneumatology is but one part of a Christian theology. More generally speaking, contemporary theology is concerned with the scientific study of concepts of God and their implications. Again, an example:

Where was God at Auschwitz?

The answer to this question of course depends on the concept of God one uses. If God is thought of as an almighty being in the sense that God has the power to control everything, and at the same time as a being that is all good, it becomes clear that such a God, in the face of the Holocaust, cannot exist. If, on the other hand, God is, among other things, thought of as a love that manifests itself regardless and independent of the possible risks (and thus ‘almighty’ in a totally different sense than ‘in total control’), then God is present during the Holocaust in the loving attempts of people to save their suppressed neighbor’s life.

Anyway, to conclude, here are some more examples of questions in contemporary Christian theology which prevent other errors concerning this field of study. Again, these questions can be dealt with in an objectifiable way by believers and non-believers alike:

What does the Catholic Church mean when she says that God is revealed through Christ?

Is Catholic priest and famous physicist Georges Lemaître (founder of the “Big Bang” hypothesis) in agreement with the age-old teachings of his Church on the Bible as one way of ‘divine revelation’ when he claims the following: “Once you realize that the Bible does not purport to be a textbook of science, the old controversy between religion and science vanishes. […] The writers of the Bible were illuminated more or less – some more than others – on the question of salvation. On other questions [scientific, historical, moral] they were as wise or ignorant as their generation.”

Why doesn’t the Catholic Church accept the fundamentalist reading of the Bible (click here for more)? What God concept and concept of revelation lie behind the rejection of fundamentalism?

What are the core differences between a fundamentalist reading of the Bible and medieval interpretations of the Bible? What concepts of God lie behind these differences?

What arguments are there to claim that Jesus of Nazareth, as he is depicted in the Gospels, was a masochist who believed in God as a sadist? What arguments are there to claim that Jesus of Nazareth, as he is depicted in the Gospels, was anything but a masochist, and what does this mean for the idea that “God is revealed through Christ”?

Do Catholics have to agree with everything the pope says regarding moral issues? Is it acceptable for the Church that, for instance, 63 % of white American Catholics is in favor of the availability of same-sex marriage (this percentage from the same poll on the legalization of same-sex marriage shows that American Roman Catholics are more supportive of marriage equality than are the average American by a full ten percentage points – click here for more).

What kind of different texts are there in the Bible and how can we read them to do them justice?

What concept of God and of revelation is used by the Evangelical minister Pat Robertson and what are the implications regarding ethics, world-view and the view on what it means to be human?

What concept of God and of revelation is used by the Catholic Jesuit priest Karl Rahner and what are the implications regarding ethics, world-view and the view on what it means to be human?

[By the way, knowledge through revelation is a day-to-day experience which is not necessarily crazy or irrational: somehow you would expect that you know a person who reveals himself to you, every day, honestly and faithfully, better than a person you only know from scientific descriptions but have never met. Or would it be true that the “real” and “complete” identity of a person (his “soul”, to use an age-old word) can be reduced to what science may say about him?]

What are the main differences between Lutheranism and Catholicism?

Anyway, to put it succinctly: Stars exist, Concepts of God exist. 🙂

There is no need to change the definition of theology. The discipline and faculty of theology and its researchers have the right to define themselves within the required criteria of the academic world, even at Harvard University. 😉

A REPLY TO MAARTEN BOUDRY’S REPLY

P.S. Maarten Boudry tweeted two times in reply to this post. In his second reply he called me a “sweaty theologian”. I’m not sure where that came from 🙂 , but anyway, I expected some ad hominem comment sooner or later from him.

Boudry’s first reply reminded me of a story about a certain Theo Longshot. Theo was quite a character, a philosopher with strange, challenging ideas. Many people knew his name, they knew he existed, but very few had actually met or seen him. Photographs of the mysterious man were non-existent.

Martin Swissair was a young, ambitious reporter who decided to write an article on Theo. Since he lacked the time to talk to Theo directly, Martin decided to interview people who claimed to know Theo. In other words, his research was based on hearsay. Martin started off his article with a description of Theo’s appearance. Theo was white, supposedly had half long, light brown straight hair, wore glasses over blue eyes, was about 6-foot-tall and was dressed in costumes. He often wore a hat. The informants told Martin that Theo was 50 years old.

However, a couple of days after Martin had published his article on Theo Longshot, a young looking man appeared on his doorstep. He was black, had long and curly black hair, brown eyes, wore no glasses, was 5 ft 3″ tall and wore jeans and a T-shirt. He was 40 years old. He introduced himself as Theo Longshot, the man Martin had wanted to write an article about. Martin’s reply was very weird, to say the least: “If you’re not white, and if you don’t have blue eyes and don’t wear glasses, if you’re not 50 years old and if you don’t walk around dressed up in costumes, you shouldn’t call yourself Theo Longshot.”

Well, that’s basically Maarten Boudry’s reply as he is confronted with the fact that contemporary theology is not what he thought it was. Instead of admitting that he was fighting a straw man, he argues that the existing faculties of theology should accept his definition and idea of theology and shouldn’t call themselves theology at all. In this case, he behaves as if he is some totalitarian ruler of the academic world. However, just like Theo Longshot from the above mentioned story has the right to be who he is, contemporary theology has the right to be what it is, regardless of whatever straw man fallacy. One would expect that philosophers are able to question and criticize their own assumptions. Apparently, that’s a wrong assumption in this case.

READ MORE ABOUT BOUDRY’S FAULTY ANALOGY BETWEEN THEOLOGY AND ASTROLOGY HERE (IN DUTCH, ARTICLE BY WIM VANRIE FOR MIRARIPROJECT.COM).

Tussen 9/11 (Twin Towers) en 11/9 (Trump Tower)

Op 7 september 2005, beïnvloed door het werk van politicoloog Benjamin Barber en socioloog Manuel Castells, schreef ik onder andere het volgende voor een artikel in Tertio. Blijkbaar is er sindsdien niet zoveel veranderd in de wereld. Enkele evoluties hebben zich gewoon doorgezet (ik geef een aantal voorbeelden tussen haakjes):

In Europa, maar ook daarbuiten, is aan de ene kant een soms merkwaardige alliantie ontstaan tussen linkse krachten en moslims [ook nu nog, bijvoorbeeld: moslim Dyab Abou Jahjah in De Afspraak op één, 22 november 2016, die zijn sympathie uitspreekt voor sp.a, groen en PVDA] die de islamitische zaak bepleiten tegenover de rechtse politiek van een George W. Bush – vertegenwoordiger van een soort ‘christelijk patriottisme’ –, en aan de andere kant een even opportunistisch verbond tussen joodse en christelijke fundamentalisten met extreemrechtse tendensen [ook nu nog, bijvoorbeeld: de – door sommigen genoemde – ‘christelijke kruisvaarder’ van het kabinet van Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, die goed bevriend was met wijlen Andrew Breitbart, een overtuigde jood; beiden zijn bekend van het rechtse Breitbart News Network].Beide partijen gaan elkaar te lijf met – alweer, hoe kan het ook anders – het recht op vrije meningsuiting. Dat conflict dreigt ons af te leiden van het echte probleem, namelijk dat zowel linkse als rechtse Europese politici en mediafiguren zich almaar meer uitspreken tegen een of andere vorm van geloof en godsdienst [ook nu nog, bijvoorbeeld: Filip Dewinter die de koran een ‘licence to kill’ noemt op 22 januari 2015, in het Belgische federale parlement; Joël De Ceulaer die op 13 januari 2015 via de website van Knack oproept om het godsdienstonderwijs af te schaffen na de aanslagen op Charlie Hebdo – zie ook Maarten Boudry in dit straatje, die ‘het politiek niet correcte denken over islam niet gemonopoliseerd wil zien door extreemrechts’; zie in dit verband: The Fascism of Anti-religious Utopians].

We mogen niet vergeten dat fundamentalistische christenen en moslims bondgenoten zijn in zoverre ze beiden strijden tegen een in hun ogen decadente westerse consumptiemaatschappij die geen voordeel haalt uit duurzame principes en levensprojecten, en er daarom ook weinig of geen ruimte aan biedt.

Kortom, de markteconomische ontwrichting van het sociale weefsel leidt, globaal, tot psychosociale problemen van autoagressieve aard (toename van het aantal depressies, zelfmoorden, zelfdestructieve verslavingen en eetstoornissen), alsook tot psychosociale problemen van heteroagressieve aard (extremistische, vaak gewelddadige en terroristische ‘tegenculturen’ – van zowel religieuze als seculiere aard – die hun leden een duidelijke identiteit verschaffen).

Polariserende identiteitsconstructies in onze samenleving, à la Trump, zullen niet gauw verdwijnen zolang de mainstream media weinig ruimte bieden aan diversiteit. Wie, bijvoorbeeld, als gelovige, maar ook als ongelovige, argumenteert tégen (de propaganda van) het mainstream idee over geloof en godsdienst, wordt vaak weggezet als ‘een uitzondering’. Als gelovige krijg je dan meestal te horen dat de eigen, individuele geloofsopvatting niet van tel is omdat ze niet zou overeenstemmen met wat en hoe ‘de meeste gelovigen’ geloven. Dat is alweer een standaardreactie die nauwelijks in vraag wordt gesteld.

Wat een Etienne Vermeersch als bevooroordeelde anti-theïst over godsdienst te vertellen heeft, krijgt in de mainstream meer ruimte dan wat een (eveneens bevooroordeelde) gelovige als Rik Torfs daarover kwijt kan. Het geloof van Torfs zou dan ‘te intellectueel, te gesofisticeerd en te specifiek’ zijn om er veel aandacht aan te besteden in de publieke sfeer. Verlichte geesten houden bij hun beoordeling van een bepaald gegeven echter geen rekening met wat een zogezegde meerderheid daarover te vertellen heeft. Verlichte geesten zullen nagaan of de rationele en wetenschappelijke argumenten die Torfs gebruikt in de voorstelling van – in zijn geval – het christelijk geloof al dan niet meer steek houden dan de argumenten die Vermeersch hanteert in de voorstelling van dat geloof. Of een meerderheid van gelovigen eerder aansluit bij Torfs dan wel Vermeersch is in eerste instantie niet belangrijk voor wie gelooft in de kracht van rationaliteit en wetenschap.

Los daarvan is de (minstens impliciete) opvatting dat de meeste gelovigen naïeve fundamentalisten zijn (van wie het geloof bijvoorbeeld in conflict zou komen met de moderne natuurwetenschappen) en/of enggeestige lieden (van wie de denkbeelden een voedingsbodem vormen voor geweld) misschien vandaag een van de hardnekkigste enggeestige vooroordelen. ‘De massa’ is altijd op zoek naar houvast en zekerheid. Vroeger vond de massa in Vlaanderen die in een vanzelfsprekend, nauwelijks bekritiseerd en gesocialiseerd katholicisme. Vandaag vindt de massa in Vlaanderen haar zekerheid in een vanzelfsprekend, nauwelijks bekritiseerd en gesocialiseerd atheïsme. Daarnaast zullen er altijd verlichte individuen zijn, zowel aan gelovige als aan ongelovige zijde, die ruimte bieden aan de twijfel.

In onzekere tijden, waarin mensen zich gemakkelijk laten verleiden door populistische extremen die zekerheid beloven, mag er misschien meer aandacht gaan naar de kunst om te twijfelen – ook aan onze eigen zekerheden en onze eigen neiging tot conformisme, diabolisering en polarisering (à la Trump?).

Hierna het volledige artikel uit 2005 (klik op de afbeeldingen om ze te vergroten):

 

Tertio 7 september 2005Tertio 7 september 2005_2

 

P.S.: In het weekblad Knack van 30 november 2016 staat op pagina 29 een vertaald interview uit Der Spiegel met Brits historicus en publicist Timothy Garton Ash. Een fragment:

Heeft de liberaal het ook niet moeilijk met meningen die hij verwerpelijk vindt? De atheïst verdraagt de gelovige soms even moeilijk als de gelovige de atheïst.

GARTON ASH: Consequent zijn in de tolerantie is voor liberalen soms inderdaad een uitdaging. Ik noem een concreet voorbeeld: de christen die beweert dat homoseksualiteit een zonde is, mag om die reden niet benadeeld worden. Dat verandert als die christen zich niet tot woorden beperkt. Als hij een homoseksuele persoon schade berokkent, bijvoorbeeld door hem een job te weigeren, is de grens overschreden.

Vergelijk dit met een voorbeeld uit het artikel van 2005:

De Italiaanse katholiek Rocco Buttiglione werd bijvoorbeeld niet aanvaardbaar geacht zitting te nemen in de Europese Commissie. Hij had gezegd dat hij homoseksualiteit zondig vond. […] Linkse politici wilden […] Buttiglione uit de Europese Commissie, ook al onderschreef die het principe van de scheiding tussen kerk en staat zeer duidelijk. De filosofieprofessor verklaarde immers dat het belangrijk is “een onderscheid te maken tussen moraal en recht. Vele dingen kunnen als immoreel worden beschouwd en moeten toch niet worden verboden. Ik kan homoseksualiteit een zonde vinden, maar dat heeft geen gevolgen zolang ik het geen misdaad noem. De staat heeft niet het recht zich op dit gebied te mengen.”

Voor alle duidelijkheid: lang niet alle christenen vinden homoseksualiteit een zonde (ik ben zelf christen en beschouw homoseksualiteit niet als zondig). Dat betekent echter niet dat anderen geen andere mening mogen hebben (hoezeer ik het ook oneens ben met die mening). Het is de discriminatie van mensen met een andere dan de zogezegd “liberale, progressieve” mening die een quasi geïnstitutionaliseerde vorm van hypocrisie openbaart. Het westers liberalisme blijkt helemaal niet zo tolerant te zijn als het van zichzelf beweert. Zoiets wordt vroeg of laat afgestraft. De verkiezing van Donald Trump heeft óók daarmee te maken. De satiricus Jonathan Pie zegt het goed:

In plaats van mensen te diaboliseren, ga je er beter mee in debat, en voer je discussies op grond van rationele argumenten. Dát zou “verlicht” zijn. Mensen met een andere mening dan de “liberaal progressieve” afschilderen als “kwaadaardig” en/of “achterlijk”, is een vorm van paternalistisch levensbeschouwelijk imperialisme, een vorm van cultureel totalitarisme. En daar zijn “we” zogezegd toch tegen?

Denkgelacherig atheïstisch narcisme / Atheist Narcissism

DENKGELACHERIG ATHEÏSTISCH NARCISME

[SEE BELOW FOR ENGLISH TRANSLATION]

De volgehouden logica in de evangeliën en de verder ontwikkelde christelijke traditie, wijst in de richting van “Jezus als ultieme, soms pijnlijk consequente realist in een wereld van narcisten”. [Voor meer hierover: klik hier]. Dat bepaalde mensen, ondanks alle rationele argumenten, blind blijven voor die logica, heeft niet te maken met een veronderstelde “vaagheid” van de christelijke bronnen, maar met een koppig narcisme.

God works in mysterious waysFundamentalistische christenen, bijvoorbeeld, hangen nogal eens vast aan het geloof in een almachtige God in een eigenlijk niet-christelijke zin [Voor meer hierover: klik hier]. De ervaring leert dat zij moeilijk afstappen van een godsbeeld dat incompatibel is met het godsbeeld dat kan afgeleid worden uit de Christusfiguur van de evangeliën. Als ultieme verdediging van kromme redeneringen trekken zij vaak de kaart van het adagium “Gods wegen zijn ondoorgrondelijk”. Daarmee beëindigen ze iedere vorm van dialoog, discussie en kritische (zelf)reflectie. Maar ook sommige atheïsten houden liever vast aan hun ideeën over het christelijke verhaal (en theologie of zelfs godsdienst in het algemeen) dan dat ze die in vraag zouden stellen. Narcistische, intellectuele zelfgenoegzaamheid is niemand vreemd. Vooral niet als een eerder vijandige opvatting tegenover het christelijke verhaal identiteitsbepalend is. De commentaar van sommige atheïsten, wier blik veelal door negatieve emoties wordt bepaald, op het betoog uit een vorige post [Voor meer hierover: klik hier] is dan ook voorspelbaar: “Dit is een particuliere, misschien zelfs hoogst individuele interpretatie, en uiteindelijk is het allemaal relatief. Wat kunnen we uiteindelijk weten? Met ‘theologie’ kun je alle kanten op!” Alweer duikt het gemakzuchtige en laffe “argument” van “ondoorgrondelijke wegen” op. Tja, voor wie gelooft in rationele argumenten, ondersteund door wetenschappelijke inzichten (van literatuurwetenschap en geschiedenis tot antropologie) zal de ene interpretatie beter en plausibeler zijn dan de andere. Het is allemaal niet zo “ondoorgrondelijk” of “vaag” of “incoherent”.

Op de vragen “Welke beweringen doet het christelijke verhaal en wat is de essentie van het christelijke geloof?” bestaan wel degelijk antwoorden die, vanuit rationeel en wetenschappelijk verantwoord onderzoek, plausibeler zijn dan andere. Wat narcisten ook mogen beweren. Zowel gelovigen als ongelovigen kunnen een onderzoek instellen naar het antwoord op die vragen.

Wat het intellectuele narcisme van sommige atheïsten betreft, is een “debat” dat georganiseerd werd door Het Denkgelag een mooi voorbeeld. Op 17 oktober 2013 hielden Daniel Dennett, Lawrence Krauss en Massimo Pigliucci onder de modererende leiding van filosoof Maarten Boudry een panelgesprek over “de grenzen van de wetenschap”.

Dit theekransje van atheïsten oversteeg zelden het niveau van filosofische cafépraat, maar misschien was dat wel de bedoeling – om de drempel laag te houden. Gelukkig zat Massimo Piglicucci in het panel. In ieder geval, je zou denken dat het “om te lachen” was als ze zichzelf niet zo ernstig namen. Genant was onder andere hoe bioloog en filosoof Massimo Pigliucci en filosoof Daniel Dennett aan fysicus Lawrence Krauss moesten uitleggen dat de criteria om te oordelen over het morele of immorele karakter van menselijke daden niet door de wetenschap kunnen bepaald worden. Eens die criteria bepaald zijn – eventueel door langdurig na te denken, dus door “rationaliteit” -, kan wetenschap natuurlijk informatie opleveren aangaande de vraag hoe die morele opvattingen het best in de praktijk worden omgezet. Als je bijvoorbeeld gelooft dat het morele gehalte van een daad bepaald wordt door het geluksniveau dat het oplevert, kun je wetenschappelijk kennis vergaren over de mate waarin een daad in “geluk” resulteert. Op voorwaarde natuurlijk dat je eerst gedefinieerd hebt wat “geluk” dan inhoudt. Wat alweer impliceert dat een filosofische, rationele discussie over “geluk” voorafgaat aan ieder mogelijk wetenschappelijk onderzoek. Het is bijzonder eigenaardig dat dergelijke basisinzichten in het lang en het breed (expliciet een twintigtal minuten) moeten uitgesmeerd worden op een avond die pretendeert een hoogmis voor de rationaliteit te zijn. De aanvankelijke “onenigheid” tussen Pigliucci en Krauss had dan ook geen enkele intellectuele spankracht. Ze was gewoon te wijten aan een gebrekkig inzicht bij Krauss. Pigliucci vat de les wijsbegeerte voor eerstejaarsstudenten uiteindelijk samen (tussen minuut 42:40 en 44:00 van het gesprek):

“Nobody in his right mind, no philosopher in his right mind, I think, is saying that empirical facts, or even some scientific facts – as should be clear by now, I take a more restrictive definition of science or concept of science than Lawrence does – but even if we want to talk about empirical facts, broadly speaking, nobody is denying […] that empirical facts are relevant to ethical decisions. That’s not the question. The question is […] that the empirical facts, most of the times, if not all the times, in ethical decision making, are going to underdetermine those decisions, those value judgements that we make. So the way I think of ethics is of essentially ‘applied rationality’. You start with certain general ideas. Are you adopting a utilitarian framework? Are you adopting a deontological framework, a virtue ethics framework or whatever it is? And then that essentially plays the equivalent role of, sort of, general axioms, if you will, in mathematics or general assumptions in logic. And from there you incorporate knowledge, empirical knowledge, about, among other things, what kind of beings humans are. Ethics, let’s not forget, is about human beings.”

Terecht wees Pigliucci er trouwens op dat Sam Harris in zijn boek The Moral Landscape eigenlijk een gelijkaardige denkfout maakt als Krauss. Harris zal wel veel verdiend hebben aan de verkoop van zijn boek, maar bij nader inzien is het intellectuele volksverlakkerij die weinig om het lijf heeft. Niet verwonderlijk dat Pigliucci er het volgende over zegt (48:22 – 48:44):

the moral landscape“Sam Harris, who you [Maarten Boudry] introduced as a philosopher, I would characterize mostly as a neuroscience based person. I think he would do it that way. When I read his book, ‘The Moral Landscape’ which promised a scientific way of handling ethical questions. I got through the entire book and I didn’t learn anything at all, zero, new about ethics, right?”

Daarnaast ergert Pigliucci zich, opnieuw reagerend op een aantal beweringen van Krauss, aan wetenschappers die generaliserende uitspraken doen over filosofie zonder eigenlijk enig idee te hebben waarover ze spreken (1:12:57 – 1:13:28):

“First of all, most philosophy of science is not at all about helping scientists answer questions. So it is no surprise that it doesn’t. So when people like your colleague Stephen Hawking – to name names – starts out a book and says that philosophy is dead because it hasn’t contributed anything to science, he literally does not know what he is talking about. That is not the point of philosophy of science, most of the time.”

Kortom, de onenigheid die soms dreigde te ontstaan tussen Pigliucci en Dennett aan de ene kant en Krauss aan de andere werd telkens opgelost door Krauss een aantal “bijlessen” te geven. Pigliucci was dan nog zo vriendelijk om dat vaak ietwat onrechtstreeks te doen, maar het is duidelijk dat zijn zojuist vermelde commentaar op Stephen Hawking een manier was om Krauss terecht te wijzen over zijn “red herring” (de herhaalde opmerking van Krauss dat (wetenschaps)filosofie vandaag geen bijdragen levert aan wetenschap is irrelevant omdat ze dat ook niet beoogt). Pigliucci besloot deze discussie met een analogie (1:13:59 – 1:14:12):

“So, yes, philosophy of science doesn’t contribute to science, just like science does not contribute to, you know, English literature. Or literary criticism, whatever you want to put it. But so what, no one is blaming the physicists for not coming up with something new about Jane Austen.”

Je zou verwachten dat Pigliucci dergelijke analogie consequent toepast als het gaat om de afbakening van verschillende onderzoeksvelden, maar toen het over theologie ging nam hij plotseling ook de weinig doordachte houding van Krauss aan. Boudry en Dennett sloten zich trouwens eensgezind bij hun gesprekspartners aan. Blijkbaar hadden deze atheïsten een doodverklaarde “vijand” gevonden – de theologie – die hen verenigde (1:13:46 – 1:13:48):

Lawrence Krauss: “Well, theology, you could say is a dead field…”
Massimo Pigliucci: “Yes, you can say that. Right!”

Aan het begin van de avond bleek al dat de heren op dit vlak zeker van hun stuk waren:

20:11 – 20:21
Maarten Boudry: “Do you think that science, no matter how you define it, or maybe it depends, has disproven or refuted god’s existence?”

21:10 – 21:30
Lawrence Krauss: “What we can say, and what I think is really important, is that science is inconsistent with every religion in the world. That every organized religion based on scripture and doctrine is inconsistent with science. So they’re all garbage and nonsense. That you can say with definitive authority.”

21:50 – 22:42
Massimo Pigliucci: “I get nervous whenever I hear people talking about ‘the god hypothesis’. Because I think that’s conceding too much. Well, it seems to me, in order to talk about a hypothesis, you really have to have something fairly well articulated, coherent, that makes predictions that are actually falsifiable. All that sort of stuff. […] All these [god-] concepts are incoherent, badly put together, if put together at all. […] There is nothing to defeat there. It’s an incoherent, badly articulated concept.”

De eerder uitgewerkte post over de al dan niet narcistische Jezusfiguur van het Nieuwe Testament is een eerste falsificatie van de beweringen van Krauss en Pigliucci. Georganiseerde religie, gebaseerd op zogenoemde openbaringsgeschriften en dogma’s, is niet per definitie inconsistent met wetenschap. Het nieuwtestamentishe godsbeeld is bovendien allesbehalve incoherent. Een korte samenvatting van de desbetreffende vorige post mag dit verduidelijken [Voor meer hierover: klik hier].

De mensen die ten grondslag liggen aan de tradities die uiteindelijk resulteren in de geschriften van het Nieuwe Testament geloven dat God zich op het niveau van de mensheid openbaart als een liefde die mensen in staat stelt om op een waarachtige wijze zichzelf en anderen te aanvaarden. Zulke, niet direct zichtbare liefde bevat het potentieel om mensen te bevrijden van een leven in functie van het verlangen naar erkenning of, anders gezegd, van een leven uit liefde voor een onwaarachtig imago dat waardering moet opleveren. De auteurs van het Nieuwe Testament definiëren op die manier wat “redding” (Engels: “salvation”) is: wie zich bemind weet, wordt meer en meer bevrijd van de neiging om zichzelf en anderen op te offeren aan “de afgodendienst van het sociale prestige”. Tegelijk geloven de nieuwtestamentische schrijvers dat de liefde die dergelijke offers weigert op een uitzonderlijke wijze belichaamd wordt in Jezus van Nazaret, die precies hierom “Christus” wordt genoemd en als dusdanig wordt geportretteerd ter navolging.

Via onder andere literatuurwetenschappelijk onderzoek kunnen deze heren atheïsten voor zichzelf nagaan in welke mate deze karakterisering van de nieuwtestamentische beweringen de kern van het christelijke geloof bevat. Misschien moeten ze dat eens doen vooraleer ze zich overgeven aan de narcistische pretentie om gezaghebbende uitspraken te doen over “alle theologie”. Het blijft vreemd dat Pigliucci zich ergert aan een fout die sommige natuurwetenschappers wel eens maken met betrekking tot “filosofie”, terwijl hij zelf die fout maakt met betrekking tot “theologie”. Vandaag houdt theologie zich bezig met het interdisciplinair wetenschappelijk onderzoek naar het godsbeeld van een bepaalde religieuze traditie, en met de eventuele implicaties daarvan. Dit heeft overigens niets te maken met geloven of niet geloven in God. Om een analogie te gebruiken: je moet het uiteindelijk niet eens zijn met het mensbeeld van Shakespeare om een onderzoek in te stellen naar de mensvisie die in zijn werken tot uiting komt. Kortom, de vragen waarmee theologen zich bezighouden zijn van een fundamenteel andere aard dan de vragen waarmee natuurwetenschappers zich bezighouden, en er moeten op een fundamenteel niveau dus ook geen conflicten verwacht worden tussen beide onderzoeksvelden. In de woorden van Pigliucci’s eerder geciteerde analogie om het onderscheid tussen natuurwetenschap en filosofie in de verf te zetten: “No one is blaming the physicists for not coming up with something new about Jane Austen.”

Georges Lemaître and Albert EinsteinMisschien moeten Pigliucci en co maar een voorbeeld nemen aan Georges Lemaître, Belgisch katholiek priester en vermaard fysicus (onder andere grondlegger van de “Big Bang” hypothese). Lemaître maakt een duidelijk onderscheid tussen de vragen waarmee moderne natuurwetenschappers zich bezighouden en de vragen waarmee de auteurs van het Nieuwe Testament bezig zijn. Sterker nog, volgens Lemaître hebben natuurwetenschappelijke vraagstukken niets met theologie te maken, en vice versa. De gelovige natuurwetenschapper kan zijn geloof dan ook geen enkele rol laten spelen in het strikt natuurwetenschappelijke onderzoek. Enkele citaten van Lemaître uit een artikel (klik hier om het te lezen) van Joseph R. Laracy verduidelijken zijn positie aangaande de verhouding tussen de theologie en de moderne natuurwetenschap:

“Should a priest reject relativity because it contains no authoritative exposition on the doctrine of the Trinity? Once you realize that the Bible does not purport to be a textbook of science, the old controversy between religion and science vanishes . . . The doctrine of the Trinity is much more abstruse than anything in relativity or quantum mechanics; but, being necessary for salvation, the doctrine is stated in the Bible. If the theory of relativity had also been necessary for salvation, it would have been revealed to Saint Paul or to Moses . . . As a matter of fact neither Saint Paul nor Moses had the slightest idea of relativity.”

“The Christian researcher has to master and apply with sagacity the technique appropriate to his problem. His investigative means are the same as those of his non-believer colleague . . . In a sense, the researcher makes an abstraction of his faith in his researches. He does this not because his faith could involve him in difficulties, but because it has directly nothing in common with his scientific activity. After all, a Christian does not act differently from any non-believer as far as walking, or running, or swimming is concerned.”

The writers of the Bible were illuminated more or less — some more than others — on the question of salvation. On other questions they were as wise or ignorant as their generation. Hence it is utterly unimportant that errors in historic and scientific fact should be found in the Bible, especially if the errors related to events that were not directly observed by those who wrote about them . . . The idea that because they were right in their doctrine of immortality and salvation they must also be right on all other subjects, is simply the fallacy of people who have an incomplete understanding of why the Bible was given to us at all.”

De vraag naar wat “redding” of “heil” betekent in nieuwtestamentische zin is inderdaad anders dan bijvoorbeeld de vraag waarom en hoe objecten vallen. Zo eenvoudig kan een inzicht zijn om niet langer als een heroïsche maar narcistische Don Quichot “windmolens” te moeten bevechten. Maar een mens moet zich natuurlijk geen illusies maken: de Maarten Boudry’s van deze wereld gaan zelden of nooit de uitdaging aan om hun geloof aangaande de aard van theologie en religie op een wetenschappelijk verantwoorde manier in vraag te stellen. Maar misschien spreekt nu het narcisme van een theoloog 🙂 ?

atheists and fundamentalists

Nochtans draagt Boudry wetenschap hoog in het vaandel. Zijn vraag aan het publiek aan het begin van de avond luidde dan ook (16:58 – 17:30): “Do you think that science is the sole source of knowing?” Er waren veel mensen die bevestigend antwoordden op deze vraag. Dit impliceert dan dat je een persoon die je nog nooit ontmoet hebt beter kent dan een persoon die je iedere dag ziet als je maar accurate en gedetailleerde wetenschappelijke beschrijvingen hebt van de persoon die je nooit bent tegengekomen (en geen wetenschappelijke beschrijvingen van de persoon die je iedere dag ziet). Een beetje een vreemde vaststelling. Ergens zou je toch geneigd zijn om te denken dat je een persoon die zich iedere dag, oprecht en in vertrouwen, aan jou openbaart beter kent dan de wetenschappelijk beschreven persoon die je nooit hebt ontmoet… Of zou de “echte” en “volledige” identiteit van een persoon (zijn “ziel”, om met een oud woord te spreken) te herleiden zijn tot wat er wetenschappelijk kan over gezegd worden? Opnieuw een beetje vreemd dat je de persoonlijkheid van iemand zou “opsluiten” in wetenschappelijke analyses…

Wat er ook van zij, natuurlijk zijn Maarten Boudry, Massimo Pigliucci, Lawrence Krauss en Daniel Dennett niet louter narcisten. Het is niet omdat ze aangaande theologie weinig zelfkritische ideeën etaleren dat ze op hun eigen onderzoeksdomeinen geen uitstekend werk verrichten. Maar niets menselijks is de mens vreemd. Iedereen is bij tijd en wijle wel eens een narcist. Scholen kunnen een bijdrage leveren om mensen vrijer te maken van hun eigen narcistische impulsen door hen te oefenen in het onderscheiden van hun eigen motivaties: handelen mensen vanuit een narcistisch verlangen naar erkenning, of is de eventuele erkenning die mensen verwerven een gevolg van een liefde die ze ontwikkeld hebben voor mens, natuur en samenleving? 

[English translation:]

NARCISSISTIC ATHEISM

The sustained logic in the Gospels and the further developed Christian tradition points in the direction of “Jesus as ultimate, sometimes painfully consistent realist in a world of narcissists”. Certain people, despite all rational arguments, remain blind to this logic. However, this has nothing to do with a supposed “vagueness” of the Christian resources, but once again with a stubborn narcissism.

Fundamentalist Christians, for instance, quite often believe in a God almighty in an actually non-Christian sense (see higher). They have difficulty abandoning a view of God that is not compatible with the understanding of God that can be derived from the Christ figure in the Gospels. Their ultimate defense of unsustainable reasoning often sounds like, “God works in mysterious ways”. That’s their way of ending any type of dialogue, discussion or self-criticism. But some atheists as well rather stick to their ideas of the Christian story (and theology or even religion in general) than question them. Narcissistic, intellectual complacency can be found in every corner. Especially when a rather hostile opinion about the Christian story is identity enhancing. Comments by some atheists, whose perception is often guided by negative emotions, on this post are thus predictable: “This is a particular type of interpretation, and it is all relative eventually. What is there to know? Theology allows everything!” Once again the lazy and cowardly “argument” of “mysterious ways” comes to the fore. Well, if you believe in rational arguments, sustained by scientific research (from literary criticism to history and anthropology), you will find that one interpretation is better and more plausible than the other. Everything is not that “mysterious” or “vague” or “incoherent” as it seems.

The questions “What claims does the Christian story make and what is the essence of the Christian faith?” do have answers which are, from a rational and scientific point of view, more plausible than others. Whatever narcissists may claim. Theists as well as atheists may set up an inquiry to settle those matters.

A debate (on October 17, 2013), organized by Het Denkgelag about “The Limits of Science” – a conversation between Daniel Dennett, Lawrence Krauss, Massimo Pigliucci, and Maarten Boudry (moderator) – illustrated quite comically some of the unquestioned narcissistic prejudices guiding the discussion on religion in so-called “new atheist” quarters.

This tea party of atheists only sporadically rose above the level of musings from a bar, but maybe this was done deliberately to reach a big audience. Anyway, you would think this conversation was “for laughs” if they wouldn’t take themselves so seriously. For instance, it was quite embarrassing how biologist and philosopher Massimo Pigliucci and philosopher Daniel Dennett had to explain to physicist Lawrence Krauss that the criteria to judge whether or not a human action is moral cannot be defined by science. Once the criteria are established – perhaps after long rational considerations – science might help, of course, to produce information concerning the question how to realize a certain type of morality. If you believe, for instance, that the moral character of a deed is determined by the level of happiness it produces, you may scientifically gather knowledge concerning the degree to which a certain deed results in happiness. After you’ve defined what “happiness” actually entails, that is. Which once again implies that a philosophical, rational discussion on the nature of happiness proceeds every possible scientific research. It is very unusual that these basic insights have to be dealt with in such a lengthy fashion (almost twenty minutes explicitly) on an evening that pretends to be a high mass of rationality. The initial “discord” between Pigliucci and Krauss thus had no intellectual power whatsoever. It was due to ignorance from the part of Krauss. Pigliucci eventually summarizes the course of philosophy for freshmen (between minutes 42:40 and 44:00 of the conversation):

“Nobody in his right mind, no philosopher in his right mind, I think, is saying that empirical facts, or even some scientific facts – as should be clear by now, I take a more restrictive definition of science or concept of science than Lawrence does – but even if we want to talk about empirical facts, broadly speaking, nobody is denying […] that empirical facts are relevant to ethical decisions. That’s not the question. The question is […] that the empirical facts, most of the times, if not all the times, in ethical decision making, are going to underdetermine those decisions, those value judgements that we make. So the way I think of ethics is of essentially ‘applied rationality’. You start with certain general ideas. Are you adopting a utilitarian framework? Are you adopting a deontological framework, a virtue ethics framework or whatever it is? And then that essentially plays the equivalent role of, sort of, general axioms, if you will, in mathematics or general assumptions in logic. And from there you incorporate knowledge, empirical knowledge, about, among other things, what kind of beings humans are. Ethics, let’s not forget, is about human beings.”

Moreover, Pigliucci was right to point out that Sam Harris makes a similar mistake as Krauss in his book The Moral Landscape. Of course Harris made a lot of money from the sales of his book, but looked at more closely it is an intellectual misleading of the people that is low on substance. No wonder Pigliucci has to say the following on Harris’ book (48:22-48:44):

“Sam Harris, who you [Maarten Boudry] introduced as a philosopher, I would characterize mostly as a neuroscience based person. I think he would do it that way. When I read his book, ‘The Moral Landscape’ which promised a scientific way of handling ethical questions. I got through the entire book and I didn’t learn anything at all, zero, new about ethics, right?”

Apart from that, Pigliucci is irritated by a number of claims done by some scientists, who speak of philosophy (of science) without having a clue what they are talking about. He once again reacts against certain statements by Krauss (1:12:57-1:13:28):

“First of all, most philosophy of science is not at all about helping scientists answer questions. So it is no surprise that it doesn’t. So when people like your colleague Stephen Hawking – to name names – starts out a book and says that philosophy is dead because it hasn’t contributed anything to science, he literally does not know what he is talking about. That is not the point of philosophy of science, most of the time.”

In short, the discord that threatened to arise between Pigliucci and Dennett on the one hand, and Krauss on the other, was resolved time and again by giving Krauss some “extra classes”. Pigliucci had the courtesy to do this somewhat indirectly, but it is clear that his comments on Stephen Hawking were a way of reproaching Krauss for his “red herring” (the repeated remark of Krauss that philosophy (of science) does not contribute anything directly to science is irrelevant because it is not the aim of philosophy). Pigliucci ended this discussion with an analogy (1:13:59 – 1:14:12):

“So, yes, philosophy of science doesn’t contribute to science, just like science does not contribute to, you know, English literature. Or literary criticism, whatever you want to put it. But so what, no one is blaming the physicists for not coming up with something new about Jane Austen.”

You would expect that Pigliucci is consistent about this analogy when he tries to define different areas of research, but when it came down to theology he too took on the unreflective attitude of Krauss. Boudry and Dennett harmoniously joined their two friends. Apparently the atheists had found a “dead” common enemy, theology, that united them (1:13:46 – 1:13:48):

Lawrence Krauss: “Well, theology, you could say is a dead field…”
Massimo Pigliucci: “Yes, you can say that. Right!”

Already at the beginning of the evening the gentlemen were sure about this issue:

20:11 – 20:21 Maarten Boudry: “Do you think that science, no matter how you define it, or maybe it depends, has disproven or refuted god’s existence?”

21:10 – 21:30
Lawrence Krauss: “What we can say, and what I think is really important, is that science is inconsistent with every religion in the world. That every organized religion based on scripture and doctrine is inconsistent with science. So they’re all garbage and nonsense. That you can say with definitive authority.”

21:50 – 22:42
Massimo Pigliucci: “I get nervous whenever I hear people talking about ‘the god hypothesis’. Because I think that’s conceding too much. Well, it seems to me, in order to talk about a hypothesis, you really have to have something fairly well articulated, coherent, that makes predictions that are actually falsifiable. All that sort of stuff. […] All these [god-] concepts are incoherent, badly put together, if put together at all. […] There is nothing to defeat there. It’s an incoherent, badly articulated concept.”

A previous post, about the question whether or not the Jesus character of the New Testament is a narcissist, is a first falsification of the claims made by Krauss and Pigliucci. Organized religion, based on so-called revelation, scripture and dogma, is not by definition inconsistent with science. Moreover, the New Testament view of God is not at all incoherent. A short summary of the previous post (Jesus Christ, Narcissist?) may clarify this.

The people who are behind the traditions which eventually produce the New Testament writings believe that God is revealed – at least at a human level – in a love that enables human beings to accept themselves and others in an authentic way. This not directly visible love has the potential to emancipate people from a life lived for the sake of (social) recognition or, in other words, from a life lived for the sake of an untruthful image that should produce some sort of appreciation by others. The New Testament authors thus define “salvation” as follows: people who realize that they are loved for who they are (with their flaws and limitations) are saved, more and more, from the tendency to sacrifice themselves and others to “the idolatry of social prestige”. At the same time the New Testament authors are convinced that this love, that refuses those sacrifices, is exceptionally (though not exclusively) embodied in Jesus of Nazareth, who is therefore called “the Christ” and is depicted as the example par excellence that demands imitation.

By applying literary criticism, among other things, the atheist gentlemen may discover whether or not this characterization of the New Testament claims contains the essence of the Christian faith. Maybe they should do that before they surrender themselves to the narcissistic arrogance of being able to judge “all theology”. It is strange that Pigliucci is irritated by the mistakes some scientists make concerning “philosophy” while he makes a similar mistake concerning “theology”. Theology today has to do with interdisciplinary scientific research into the concept of God held by certain religious traditions, and its possible implications. This has nothing to do with the question whether or not someone believes in God. To use an analogy: eventually you don’t have to agree with Shakespeare’s view of human nature in order to pursue an investigation into the anthropology that can be derived from his plays. In short, the questions theologians concern themselves with are from a fundamentally different nature than the questions scientists concern themselves with, so there shouldn’t be any fundamental conflicts between these two areas of research. In the aforementioned analogy of Pigliucci: “No one is blaming the physicists for not coming up with something new about Jane Austen.”

Maybe Pigliucci and co. should take Georges Lemaître as an example. This Belgian Catholic priest and famous physicist (founder of the “Big Bang” hypothesis among others) clearly distinguishes the questions of modern science from the questions the New Testament authors deal with. In fact, according to Lemaître, questions of modern science have nothing to do with theology, and vice versa. The Christian scientist thus cannot let his faith be of any importance for his scientific work. Some quotes from Lemaître, taken from an article by Joseph R. Laracy (click to read) clarify his position regarding the relationship between theology and modern science:

“Should a priest reject relativity because it contains no authoritative exposition on the doctrine of the Trinity? Once you realize that the Bible does not purport to be a textbook of science, the old controversy between religion and science vanishes . . . The doctrine of the Trinity is much more abstruse than anything in relativity or quantum mechanics; but, being necessary for salvation, the doctrine is stated in the Bible. If the theory of relativity had also been necessary for salvation, it would have been revealed to Saint Paul or to Moses . . . As a matter of fact neither Saint Paul nor Moses had the slightest idea of relativity.”

“The Christian researcher has to master and apply with sagacity the technique appropriate to his problem. His investigative means are the same as those of his non-believer colleague . . . In a sense, the researcher makes an abstraction of his faith in his researches. He does this not because his faith could involve him in difficulties, but because it has directly nothing in common with his scientific activity. After all, a Christian does not act differently from any non-believer as far as walking, or running, or swimming is concerned.”

The writers of the Bible were illuminated more or less — some more than others — on the question of salvation. On other questions they were as wise or ignorant as their generation. Hence it is utterly unimportant that errors in historic and scientific fact should be found in the Bible, especially if the errors related to events that were not directly observed by those who wrote about them . . . The idea that because they were right in their doctrine of immortality and salvation they must also be right on all other subjects, is simply the fallacy of people who have an incomplete understanding of why the Bible was given to us at all.”

The question about the meaning of “salvation” in the light of the New Testament indeed is different from, for instance, the question how and why objects fall down. That’s how plain and simple an insight can be in order to stop battling windmills like some heroic but mad and narcissistic Don Quixote. But anyway, a man shouldn’t foster any illusions: Maarten Boudry, Lawrence Krauss and other similar atheists rarely, if ever, rise to the challenge to question their belief regarding the nature of theology in a scientific way. But maybe this is just the narcissism of a theologian speaking now🙂 ?

Nonetheless, Boudry claims that he holds science in high regard. His question for the audience at the beginning of the evening already suggests this (16:58-17:30): “Do you think that science is the sole source of knowing?” A lot of people answered affirmatively. But what does that mean when you meet another person? Does that mean that you don’t ever know that person when you have not analyzed and described him or her scientifically? And, on the other hand: does that mean that you can know a person merely by detailed scientific descriptions, without ever meeting him or her? A bit odd, to say the least. Somehow you would expect that you know the person who reveals himself to you, every day, honestly and faithfully, better than the person you know from scientific descriptions but have never met. Or would it be true that the “real” and “complete” identity of a person (his “soul”, to use an age old word) can be reduced to what science may say about him? Again, a bit odd to “lock up” someone’s personality in scientific descriptions…

Anyway, of course Maarten Boudry, Massimo Pigliucci, Lawrence Krauss and Daniel Dennett are more than just intellectual narcissists. It just so happens that they don’t really show any sign of self-criticism regarding theology. And that’s a pity, really, because scientifically enhanced theological research (based on the historical-critical method) could prevent some of the excesses of fundamentalism. Sure, Boudry et al. are delivering the goods in their own fields of research. However, nothing human is alien to humans… Every once in a while, everyone is a narcissist, no? There might be one exception, though…

Jesus Christ, Narcissist?

1. NARCISSIST OR REALIST?

selfie-syndromeBob doesn’t care about what other people might say or think of him. He knows that he can sing, even when the different juries of The Voice, Idol, X Factor and America’s Got Talent claim that his qualities lie elsewhere. Bob’s stubborn belief in himself would be admirable if it wasn’t so tragicomic. It is clear to the television audience as well that he sings totally out of tune. Apparently, however, he cannot accept this reality because his sense of self-worth fully depends on illusory self-concepts. After yet one more negative judgment by a jury he storms out of the audition room, even more proud than before. It is clear that Bob is a prime example of a narcissist. He is not capable of loving himself and of accepting his limitations. He rather drowns in his megalomania, convinced that the judgment of “the others” and their perception of his “faults” are based on ignorance. Of course, the reason why the narcissist becomes angry precisely is due to the fact that he does indeed desire the approval by others. So, paradoxically, when the narcissist cries “I don’t need your affirmation” he actually no longer fully hides that he secretly and desperately needs the affirmation. In order to be able to deal with his own situation, however, he must convince himself that he doesn’t need the others who don’t affirm his self-image.

my faults are all your fault

Two thousand years ago, there’s a man walking around in Palestine, a certain Jesus of Nazareth, who also doesn’t seem to care too much about the judgment of his fellow men – in his case his co-national Jews, most of the time. A “jury” of Jewish notables (including scribes and chief priests) repudiates him when he shares a meal with “tax collectors and sinners” (see for example Luke 15:1-2). Or whenever he involves himself with the sick or with “the pagans”, those who are said to be cursed by God. Eventually his opponents utter a critique that is echoed centuries later by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900): Jesus is the ultimate seducer of people with low self-esteem. It is all too easy to make yourself popular among people who feel humiliated, marginalized or insecure by telling them that they are loved by God.

If Jesus isn’t acknowledged by the rulers of his time, then this is compensated largely by the approval he receives from the common people. It’s something Bob can only dream of. He has to get through with the comforting approval of merely a handful of friends. Maybe there’s even a manipulator among them who makes Bob emotionally dependent on the positive attention he grants Bob. In any case, Jesus seems to be a bigger and much more refined attention whore than Bob will ever be. The social elite even considers Jesus’ growing popularity as a threat to the survival of the Jewish nation. Driven by a mad lust for power, Jesus indeed could launch an already lost revolution against the Roman occupiers. That’s why the Jewish leaders are convinced that Jesus has to disappear.

This reasoning, that tries to justify the execution of Jesus, is not bought by everyone. The Gospels claim that envy is the true motivation of Jesus’ adversaries (Mark 15:10, Matthew 27:18): jealous of the popularity of Jesus, and themselves driven by a vain desire for prestige, they want to get rid of Jesus. Even when the Gospels would be right about this, Jesus perhaps still remains the “Über-narcissist”. Many times worse than poor Bob. Indeed, the moment Jesus is judged and abandoned by nearly everyone, he is yet able to convince himself that he is loved by an imaginary friend – his divine “daddy”, his “Abba”. And what is the love of men compared to the love of a God? It seems Jesus is prepared to endure the worst of sufferings in order to gain a sacred hero position. In short, from this perspective Jesus appears as a totally nuts, narcissistic masochist who would rather die for an imaginary sadist than accept that he is worth nothing. He has no choice but to leave this world as a “disregarded genius” and to choose a so-called “divine dimension” as his true home. Only one time Jesus seems to doubt his megalomaniac construction. Just before his tortured, crucified body gives in, he screams (Matthew 27:46): “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Nevertheless, even then he calls out to a divine daddy who should grant him love and attention.

selfie pics healingThe thus depicted Jesus – the archetypal narcissist – knows many variants in real individuals throughout history. Besides, Jesus would not be an archetype if not every person suffers from narcissistic tendencies. Of course there are some distinct cases. Bob, for instance. But also the ISIS warrior who turns his back on the world he feels disrespected by and goes to live in a so-called environment “on God’s side”. Or the very insecure girl who locks herself up in the glorification of a shrewd, manipulating guru who satisfies her yearning for acknowledgment. Or someone like Adolf Hitler, who prefers to die instead of facing his defeat.

scientists-have-announced-a-new-unit-to-accurately-measure-narcissism-the-selfie-per-hourAnd yet… When you read the Gospels, you cannot escape the impression that there’s something quite different going on in the case of Jesus of Nazareth compared to the situation of Bob, the ISIS warrior and the insecure girl. Or when you compare Jesus to the shrewd guru and Adolf Hitler. C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) formulates the dilemma quite well in Mere Christianity: “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Jesus: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

In short this dilemma reads as follows (in the light of everything that went before): or Jesus was the ultimate narcissist, or he was the ultimate realist in a human world that time and again threatens to destroy itself because of snobbish vanities, idealistic utopias, sectarian tendencies and “the idolatry of social success”. As the ultimate realist in a human world that is tormented by narcissistic illusions Jesus would indeed be “not of this world”.

2. WHY JESUS OF NAZARETH IS NOT A NARCISSIST

There are reasons to believe that Jesus is not the narcissist he is blamed for.

First of all, Jesus is often precisely the one who confronts people with their own narcissistic tendencies. For instance, when he is surrounded by people who are about to stone a woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8:1-11), Jesus awakens a sense of reality in each individual. He asks people to consider whether they themselves are “without sin”. After which he decides that “whoever is without sin may cast the first stone”. At first sight this is merely a clever trick that allows Jesus to take control of the situation. Indeed, no Jew would claim to be perfect. That would mean that he claims to be like God, and then he would trespass the first of the ten commandments. So no one can cast the first stone, because that would be one of the greatest sins in the light of Jesus’ saying. At a deeper level, it is precisely Jesus’ constant “iconoclasm” of false self-concepts that, apart from the social position Jesus himself receives for doing so, opens up possibilities for new relationships between people.

A second set of arguments against the depiction of Jesus as a narcissist arises. The so-called iconoclasm of Jesus has two aspects, and they immediately clarify how much Jesus differs from gurus who need the manipulated adoration of weak, troubled minds.

not peace but a swordOn the one hand, concerning the group people are part of and that often manifests itself at the expense of a common enemy (that adulteress, for instance), Jesus sows discord. It is no coincidence that he claims (Matthew 10:34-36): “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.” This intention of Jesus, to create conflict where there is a certain order, is actually and paradoxically a plea against violence. Family members who slavishly obey a pater familias, tribe members who harmoniously feel superior to other groups, criminal gangs who blindly pledge allegiance to the mob boss, cult members and fundamentalist believers who are prepared to fight for their leader till death, anxious employees who sell their soul to keep their job in a sick working environment, (youthful) cliques who strengthen their internal cohesion by bullying someone, whole nations who bow to the demands of a populist dictator and execute so-called “traitors” – Jesus doesn’t like it one bit.

Pax Romana Crucifixion Via AppiaOpposed to the small and big forms of “peace” based on oppression and violence, of which the Pax Romana in the time of Jesus is an obvious case of course, Jesus challenges people to build peace differently. Family members who belong to a “home” where they can have debates with each other, members of enemy tribes who end age old feuds by questioning their own perception of “the other tribe”, former criminals who start to behave like “moles” to clear their violent Mafia gang, fundamentalists who – realizing what they do to those who supposedly don’t belong to “the chosen ones” – liberate themselves from religious indoctrinations, employees who address a reign of terror at their workplace, individuals who criticize the bullying of their own clique, pacifists who dare to dissent with the violent rule of a dictatorship and unveil its enemy images as grotesque caricatures – Jesus likes it. “Love your enemies”, Jesus says (Matthew 5:44). Everyone who no longer condemns the external enemy of his own particular group because of a stirred up feeling of superiority, generates internal discord: “A person’s enemies will be those of his own household.” It’s only logical.

Peace I leave with youIn short, Jesus argues in favor of non-violent conflict in order to end violent peace. That’s why he can say, eventually (John 14:27): “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you.” Thereby he does not hesitate to re-evaluate and transform existing structures, rather than simply destroy them. This is, moreover, as a result of the first aspect of Jesus’ iconoclasm, a second reason why Jesus should not be characterized as a power-crazed, jealous narcissist. Jesus does not replace the existing, worldly order by imposing his own laws in competition with that order. If that were the case, he would be nothing more than yet another evil and paranoid mastermind conjuring up megalomaniac plots for world domination. The mythological story of Jesus’ temptation by the devil in the desert metaphorically clarifies that Jesus was historically experienced as someone who does not imitate the envious lust for power of his social environment (Matthew 4:8-10):

The devil took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'”

Blake - Kingdoms

Blake – Kingdoms

Jesus is very clear about what he means by “serving God” in a conversation with a lawyer (Matthew 22:35-40):

A lawyer asked Jesus a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

In other words, from a Christian perspective God reveals himself – at least at a human level – in the not directly measurable, invisible reality of love of one’s neighbor. Jesus is convinced that the source from which he lives “desires mercy, and not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13). The consequences of this conviction are paradoxical. It implies, as already mentioned, that Jesus refuses to merely sacrifice the existing worldly structures in order to establish his own rule. Hence he says (Matthew 5:17):

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

The priority of neighborly love implies that existing laws, structures and rituals should be tested against the extent to which they help to avoid making victims and to which they allow for authentic human lives. Man should not live according to rules, as if preserving a social system and its rules would be an end in itself, but rules should be means at the service of individual human beings and society as a whole. When Jesus and his disciples are criticized for doing things that are, strictly speaking, forbidden on the rest day – the Sabbath – Jesus answers (Mark 2:27):

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

Actually, throughout the Gospels Jesus constantly asks whether people act because of love of oneself and others (what Christian tradition identifies as “acting according to God”), or because of a certain social status that should bring approval (what Christian tradition identifies as “acting for the sake of an idol”). Jesus criticizes the way people behave when their behavior is caused by a desire for approval (Matthew 6:1-6):

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

At first sight this text can be interpreted as a validation of Jesus’ mad and desperate narcissism: everyone who runs the risk of not being recognized by other people – including Jesus himself – can always count on the approval from an imaginary divine “Dad”. However, the “Father who ís in secret” is love itself that realizes itself independently from the question whether or not it results in “success”. From a Christian point of view the love that allows people to accept themselves and others – and thus “refuses sacrifice” – is not something that produces the approval from God, but it is itself a manifestation of God “at a human level”. The first letter of John very clearly formulates this conviction (1 John 4:7-8):

God is LoveBeloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

An atheist who still brags about how he “does not need a heavenly reward” in order to “do good” still “sounds the trumpet” about his own “goodness”. The love the Gospels speak of is, by contrast, not always directly visible, and does not depend on visibility. Does a student throw his waste in a dustbin out of respect for his fellow students? Or because he desires the approval of his teachers and, at the same time, because he wants to avoid being punished? Indeed it is not directly visible whether or not a student respects certain rules because of love of one’s neighbor or because of love of one’s image. In the latter case the student will also fear losing his status. In the words of John’s first letter again (1 John 4:18), expressing the difference between the former and latter type of love:

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

An anxious person shows the tendency to act according to the supposed expectations of “meaningful” others in order to gain approval from them. This dynamic is tragic, and Jesus formulates this very succinctly in the Gospels (Matthew 16:25a-26a):

“For whoever would save his life will lose it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?”

Jamaican reggae star Bob Marley (1945 - 1981).   (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

Jamaican reggae star Bob Marley (1945 – 1981). (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

People who, because of anxious insecurity or romantic megalomania, dream of a utopian paradise of happiness (“the perfect partner” or “the perfect job” or even “the perfect society”), very often show masochistic tendencies. People indeed would literally sell their body and soul if you can convince them that they could gain “the whole world” by doing so. If you suffer from low self-esteem or, at the other end of the spectrum, from a superiority complex, then you’re no longer interested in yourself and others. You’re only interested in others to the extent to which they satisfy your craving for approval. Moreover, they no longer maintain a relationship with you, but with the image you present of yourself. In short, a person who models himself after an image that should produce approval is, eventually, not recognized for who he is. Hence: “For whoever would save his life will lose it.”

Moreover, it’s not just that people sacrifice themselves to the concerns of a socially acceptable image. Sooner or later others will also be sacrificed in order to protect reputations and narcissistic self-concepts. That’s precisely why Jesus reacts against the concern for socially acceptable images.

Bob Marley money is numbersEveryone who acts according to the desire for approval and loses himself is, actually, “dead”. In terms of the New Testament such a person “does not have eternal life abiding in him”. Indeed, he has to constantly adjust his identity to ever changing and thus transient images in order to socially remain at the top of the game. If you want to win the competition for social success, then you will have difficulty accepting that someone else is equally successful and you might become jealous. And when you can only see the other as a rival for your own position, you will want to see him disappear. Sometimes literally. That’s what the famous myth of Cain and Abel, from the book of Genesis, is all about. Both brothers offer a gift. But Cain cannot stand that the gift of his younger brother is more appreciated. This shows that Cain did not offer a gift because of love, to make someone happy – otherwise he would be glad that his brother’s gift results in happiness –, but because of his desire for approval. Biblically speaking, acts because of “love of an image that should produce (social) approval” are sinful, and they get in the way of “good” acts born out of “love of oneself and the other”. This doesn’t mean, however, that gaining approval or recognition is a bad thing as such. When you receive recognition and feel proud as a consequence of your actions, there shouldn’t be any problem. The murderous envy the archetypal Cain is suffering from can only arise because he lives in order to gain approval, because “being proud” is his goal. Because Cain is obsessively preoccupied with the things he misses, he remains blind to the attention he does receive. The New Testament radically resumes these motives, and Johns first letter thus formulates (1 John 3:11-15):

from death to lifeFor this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

The New Testament authors are convinced that the possibility to abandon the narcissistic competition for “the highest social status” has to do with a love that is embodied exceptionally in Jesus of Nazareth. They try to clarify that Jesus of Nazareth time and again allows people to “resurrect” – following the just mentioned words from John’s first letter: Jesus allows people “to pass out of death (i.e. a life for the sake of socially acceptable images) into life (an authentic life in love)”. Of course this entails many risks. If you no longer live in accordance with a world dominated by the struggle for prestige, because you want to take sides with the victims of that struggle, then you should “not be surprised that the world hates you”. Nevertheless, instead of asking himself what he should do in order to “fit in”, Jesus asks himself how he can accomplish “that those who do not fit in may fit in again”. A prayer ascribed to Francis of Assisi (1181/1182-1226) is but one example from the Christian tradition that is a testimony to this dynamic: “Grant that I may not so much seek to be loved as to love…” This is the second aspect of Jesus’ aforementioned iconoclasm. It’s also, at the same time, a third argument against his depiction as a narcissist. When Jesus takes sides with the common enemy or easy victim of a united group, he does not have the ambition to alienate that person from his social environment. Gurus who desire recognition from easily manipulated victims do just that. Jesus, on the contrary, time and again challenges communities to truly respect the individuals they marginalized before. For instance, when he cures the Gerasene demoniac (Mark 5:1-20) he forbids this former “village idiot” to follow him. Instead, Jesus sends him back home. It’s but one case that shows how Jesus’ aim is not to make himself popular among a number of followers, although popularity often is an unintentional consequence of his actions. The Gospel stories show how Jesus, apart from himself, wants to create the possibility of loving relationships between people, relationships which are no longer based on sacrifices as a consequence of the love of socially acceptable images. In short, the paradoxical dynamic of love Jesus tries to obey alienates people from their own narcissistic identities (collective or individual), and opens up the road to more authentic relationships which refuse the sacrifice of a former “enemy”.

Martin-Luther-King-Jr-Responsible-Quotes

As mentioned earlier, the behavior of Jesus is not without risks. When you constantly take sides with “the socially crucified” chances are that you will be crucified yourself too. This is exactly what happens. To make things clear, though: Jesus doesn’t secretly hope that he will be crucified to enter into history as a “hero”. When he takes sides with the adulteress he doesn’t want the mob to stone her as well as him. At least that’s what the Gospels strongly suggest. They also show, at different times, that Jesus flees whenever he notices that people want to kill him. Eventually, however, he can no longer escape the murderous web of his adversaries. As is Martin Luther King (1929-1968) in later times, Jesus is well aware of certain death threats, and he warns his apostles that there will be a point of no return. At first Peter doesn’t want to accept this, whereon Jesus reproaches him (Matthew 16:22-26):

Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”

Jesus knows that Peter tries to seduce him to establish himself as a mighty king. Apparently Peter does not see what kind of leadership Jesus actually envisions, although he called Jesus “the Messiah” a little earlier. Once again Jesus rejects the temptation to sell his soul to a competition with “the kings of this world”. Indeed he knows how such a struggle demands sacrifices, that people lose themselves and others in such a struggle. He does not want that. Instead he wants to generate another dynamic. Jesus claims that “whoever loses their life for him will find it”. Again this is only logical. When you take sides with the marginalized fellow man, you no longer lose yourself to the idolatry of socially acceptable images, and thus you “find” yourself. Jesus eventually takes the position of all those who are rejected. When his good friend Peter would take sides with him after Jesus is arrested, Peter indeed would no longer lose himself to a deceiving social profile.

Crowning of Thorns CaravaggioDespite all Peter’s promises – which Jesus once again debunks as narcissistic illusions – Jesus eventually finds himself alone. As announced, Jesus refuses the mimetic rivalry (words of René Girard) with “the rulers of this world” who establish their power on the basis of sacrifices. Paradoxically this means that Jesus, if he continues to take sides with whoever is about to become a victim, might no longer experience mercy at some point, and that he should be prepared to die himself. In other words, this means that Jesus might have to “sacrifice himself against sacrifice”. Again, because Jesus refuses to “sacrifice himself” in favor of an all-controlling position of power, and because he takes sides with “the crucified”, he runs the risk of being crucified himself. When you take sides with the bullied, you run the risk of being bullied yourself. So when Jesus prays to his “Father” to, if possible, take “the cup of suffering and death” from him, and then says that “not his will but the will of his Father be done” (Matthew 26:39), it makes no sense to interpret this sentence as though Jesus all of a sudden believes that God “desires sacrifice”. Throughout the Gospel Jesus indeed is convinced that his Father “desires mercy, not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13), and he acts accordingly: whenever people are about to be sacrificed, Jesus intervenes. However, if Jesus refuses to enter into a rivalry with those who establish their rule on the basis of sacrifices, there is no other option than to consider the possibility of his own death. Obeying the love that desires mercy, Jesus cannot launch a civil war to the detriment of society. That’s why he says, when questioned by Pilate after being arrested (John 18:36): “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

This quote follows earlier claims by Jesus. For instance when Pharisees try to test him once more. Strangely enough, they start with the observation that Jesus doesn’t care about what other people might think of him, and at the same time they suggest that this “arrogant man of Nazareth” (at least from their perspective) apparently just needs the approval from God. If Jesus would answer (see below) their question by saying that the Jews should pay the imperial tax, he would lose his popularity among the common people – he would indeed be perceived as a “collaborator” of the Roman occupier. If, on the other hand, he would say that Jews should not pay the tax, then the envious Jewish authorities could sell him as a dangerous revolutionary to the Roman government, and they thus could get rid of the man they consider a rival to their own position. However, Jesus is not driven by a desire for this or that approval or power. He does not compete with the kings and rulers of this world to become “the most powerful ruler”. His answer reveals the projected narcissism of the Pharisees in a magnificent way, and it also makes clear that the God of Christ – love – is no surrogate for a possible lack of social approval (Matthew 22:15-21):

The Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap Jesus in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?” But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

Jesus also reproaches his disciples when he finds them in an envious quarrel concerning the question who would be “the greatest” among them. The leadership of Jesus is not based on an acquisition of power in the sense of “control”, or on the exclusion of possible rivals. Vulnerable love is creative and grants, from her abundance, others the grace and power “to be” (Luke 22:24-27):

A dispute arose among the disciples of Jesus as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

Because of the love he lives by, Jesus indeed is able to – in the mocking words of his adversaries – “save others, but not himself” (Matthew 27:42). When Jesus takes sides with the social outcasts, he becomes dependent on the reactions of others: will they show mercy, or will they demand sacrifices? Believing in “a God almighty” in a Christian sense thus has nothing to do with believing in a God as “the master of puppets” (contrary, for instance, to Etienne Vermeersch’ depiction of the Christian understanding of God). It means believing in a love that, independent of its eventual result and only “almighty” and “creative” in this sense, gives itself time and again (even after being crucified…). See for example the comments the influential Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988) made about the Nicene Creed (“Credo”), when he explains the sentence “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth…” (from Credo – Overwegingen bij de Apostolische Geloofsbelijdenis, Schrift en Liturgie 17, Abdij Bethlehem Bonheiden, 1991, p.34-35; vertaling: Benedictinessen van Bonheiden; English translation: E. Buys): “It is… essential, first of all, to see the immeasurable power of the Father as the power to give oneself, this means as the power of his love, and not as an arbitrary power of being able to do this or that. And it is equally essential to understand the almighty power of the love of the Father not as something fierce that is rather suspicious, not as something that goes against logic, because the “giving of himself” is at the same time a reflection of himself, an expression of himself (Hebrews 1:3). […] The power by which the Father expresses himself is not forced, but is also source of all freedom, once again not in the sense of arbitrary power, but in the sense of the love that abandons itself in a state of majestic self-determination.”

In the light of a human world that is obsessed by a desire for power in the sense of control this vulnerable, yet nevertheless independent love, is foolish. Hence the apostle Paul writes (1 Corinthians 1:23): “We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” Christians believe that the love of Christ has the power not to imitate the one who “strikes” but, on the contrary, “offers the other cheek” (Luke 6:29 – thus this love does not depend on what has been done and creates new possibilities for relationships “ex nihilo”). And this infinitely, “seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:27). Indeed, if you are a realist, then relationships between people in our never perfect human world are only possible when people realize that “nobody is perfect”. So mutual forgiveness is a must… The dimension of forgiveness creates the free space wherein people may come to accept themselves and bear responsibility for their mistakes without being “crushed” under guilt (of course, again, this cannot be guaranteed). People who learn to love themselves no longer have to hide behind narcissistic types of self-righteousness (on the other hand, the perversion of forgiveness does maintain narcissistic self-concepts). They no longer have the need to “scapegoat” others, to pass their guilt or shame on to others… Instead they are able to take responsibility for their own actions. A man who loves himself no longer approaches others according to his need for approval, but from his abundance – from what he has to offer –, and is thus able to truly love others (others he no longer needs to fill his own “voids”). Christians believe that the salvation of the world lies in the imitation of the dynamic of the love that is revealed in an exceptional (though not exclusive) way in the life of Jesus of Nazareth – who is therefore called “the Christ”.

A final argument, at least for now, against the depiction of Jesus as the ultimate narcissist is the observation that Jesus hasn’t written anything himself. Everything that he says, apart from the debatable ipsissima verba, is put into his mouth by others who want to clarify how Jesus was experienced. In this sense he does not “brag” about himself.

3. NARCISSISTIC ATHEISM

The sustained logic in the Gospels and the further developed Christian tradition points in the direction of “Jesus as ultimate, sometimes painfully consistent realist in a world of narcissists”. Certain people, despite all rational arguments, remain blind to this logic. However, this has nothing to do with a supposed “vagueness” of the Christian resources, but once again with a stubborn narcissism.

God works in mysterious waysFundamentalist Christians, for instance, quite often believe in a God almighty in an actually non-Christian sense (see higher). They have difficulty abandoning a view of God that is not compatible with the understanding of God that can be derived from the Christ figure in the Gospels. Their ultimate defense of unsustainable reasoning often sounds like, “God works in mysterious ways”. That’s their way of ending any type of dialogue, discussion or self-criticism. But some atheists as well rather stick to their ideas of the Christian story (and theology or even religion in general) than question them. Narcissistic, intellectual complacency can be found in every corner. Especially when a rather hostile opinion about the Christian story is identity enhancing. Comments by some atheists, whose perception is often guided by negative emotions, on this post are thus predictable: “This is a particular type of interpretation, and it is all relative eventually. What is there to know? Theology allows everything!” Once again the lazy and cowardly “argument” of “mysterious ways” comes to the fore. Well, if you believe in rational arguments, sustained by scientific research (from literary criticism to history and anthropology), you will find that one interpretation is better and more plausible than the other. Everything is not that “mysterious” or “vague” or “incoherent” as it seems.

The questions “What claims does the Christian story make and what is the essence of the Christian faith?” do have answers which are, from a rational and scientific point of view, more plausible than others. Whatever narcissists may claim. Theists as well as atheists may set up an inquiry to settle those matters.

A debate (on October 17, 2013), organized by Het Denkgelag about “The Limits of Science” – a conversation between Daniel Dennett, Lawrence Krauss, Massimo Pigliucci, and Maarten Boudry (moderator) – illustrated quite comically some of the unquestioned narcissistic prejudices guiding the discussion on religion in so-called “new atheist” quarters.

This tea party of atheists only sporadically rose above the level of musings from a bar, but maybe this was done deliberately to reach a big audience. Anyway, you would think this conversation was “for laughs” if they wouldn’t take themselves so seriously. For instance, it was quite embarrassing how biologist and philosopher Massimo Pigliucci and philosopher Daniel Dennett had to explain to physicist Lawrence Krauss that the criteria to judge whether or not a human action is moral cannot be defined by science. Once the criteria are established – perhaps after long rational considerations – science might help, of course, to produce information concerning the question how to realize a certain type of morality. If you believe, for instance, that the moral character of a deed is determined by the level of happiness it produces, you may scientifically gather knowledge concerning the degree to which a certain deed results in happiness. After you’ve defined what “happiness” actually entails, that is. Which once again implies that a philosophical, rational discussion on the nature of happiness precedes every possible scientific research. It is very unusual that these basic insights have to be dealt with in such a lengthy fashion (almost twenty minutes explicitly) on an evening that pretends to be a high mass of rationality. The initial “discord” between Pigliucci and Krauss thus had no intellectual power whatsoever. It was due to ignorance from the part of Krauss. Pigliucci eventually summarizes the course of philosophy for freshmen (between minutes 42:40 and 44:00 of the conversation):

“Nobody in his right mind, no philosopher in his right mind, I think, is saying that empirical facts, or even some scientific facts – as should be clear by now, I take a more restrictive definition of science or concept of science than Lawrence does – but even if we want to talk about empirical facts, broadly speaking, nobody is denying […] that empirical facts are relevant to ethical decisions. That’s not the question. The question is […] that the empirical facts, most of the times, if not all the times, in ethical decision making, are going to underdetermine those decisions, those value judgements that we make. So the way I think of ethics is of essentially ‘applied rationality’. You start with certain general ideas. Are you adopting a utilitarian framework? Are you adopting a deontological framework, a virtue ethics framework or whatever it is? And then that essentially plays the equivalent role of, sort of, general axioms, if you will, in mathematics or general assumptions in logic. And from there you incorporate knowledge, empirical knowledge, about, among other things, what kind of beings humans are. Ethics, let’s not forget, is about human beings.”

Moreover, Pigliucci was right to point out that Sam Harris makes a similar mistake as Krauss in his book The Moral Landscape. Of course Harris made a lot of money from the sales of his book, but looked at more closely it is an intellectual misleading of the people that is low on substance. No wonder Pigliucci has to say the following on Harris’ book (48:22-48:44):

the moral landscape“Sam Harris, who you [Maarten Boudry] introduced as a philosopher, I would characterize mostly as a neuroscience based person. I think he would do it that way. When I read his book, ‘The Moral Landscape’ which promised a scientific way of handling ethical questions. I got through the entire book and I didn’t learn anything at all, zero, new about ethics, right?”

Apart from that, Pigliucci is irritated by a number of claims done by some scientists, who speak of philosophy (of science) without having a clue what they are talking about. He once again reacts against certain statements by Krauss (1:12:57-1:13:28):

“First of all, most philosophy of science is not at all about helping scientists answer questions. So it is no surprise that it doesn’t. So when people like your colleague Stephen Hawking – to name names – starts out a book and says that philosophy is dead because it hasn’t contributed anything to science, he literally does not know what he is talking about. That is not the point of philosophy of science, most of the time.”

In short, the discord that threatened to arise between Pigliucci and Dennett on the one hand, and Krauss on the other, was resolved time and again by giving Krauss some “extra classes”. Pigliucci had the courtesy to do this somewhat indirectly, but it is clear that his comments on Stephen Hawking were a way of reproaching Krauss for his “red herring” (the repeated remark of Krauss that philosophy (of science) does not contribute anything directly to science is irrelevant because it is not the aim of philosophy). Pigliucci ended this discussion with an analogy (1:13:59 – 1:14:12):

“So, yes, philosophy of science doesn’t contribute to science, just like science does not contribute to, you know, English literature. Or literary criticism, whatever you want to put it. But so what, no one is blaming the physicists for not coming up with something new about Jane Austen.”

You would expect that Pigliucci is consistent about this analogy when he tries to define different areas of research, but when it came down to theology he too took on the unreflective attitude of Krauss. Boudry and Dennett harmoniously joined their two friends. Apparently the atheists had found a “dead” common enemy, theology, that united them (1:13:46 – 1:13:48):

Lawrence Krauss: “Well, theology, you could say is a dead field…”
Massimo Pigliucci: “Yes, you can say that. Right!”

Already at the beginning of the evening the gentlemen were sure about this issue:

20:11 – 20:21 Maarten Boudry: “Do you think that science, no matter how you define it, or maybe it depends, has disproven or refuted god’s existence?”

21:10 – 21:30
Lawrence Krauss: “What we can say, and what I think is really important, is that science is inconsistent with every religion in the world. That every organized religion based on scripture and doctrine is inconsistent with science. So they’re all garbage and nonsense. That you can say with definitive authority.”

21:50 – 22:42
Massimo Pigliucci: “I get nervous whenever I hear people talking about ‘the god hypothesis’. Because I think that’s conceding too much. Well, it seems to me, in order to talk about a hypothesis, you really have to have something fairly well articulated, coherent, that makes predictions that are actually falsifiable. All that sort of stuff. […] All these [god-] concepts are incoherent, badly put together, if put together at all. […] There is nothing to defeat there. It’s an incoherent, badly articulated concept.”

The previous chapter, about the question whether or not the Jesus character of the New Testament is a narcissist, is a first falsification of the claims made by Krauss and Pigliucci. Organized religion, based on so-called revelation, scripture and dogma, is not by definition inconsistent with science. Moreover, the New Testament view of God is not at all incoherent. A short summary of the previous chapter may clarify this.

The people who are behind the traditions which eventually produce the New Testament writings believe that God is revealed – at least at a human level – in a love that enables human beings to accept themselves and others in an authentic way. This not directly visible love has the potential to emancipate people from a life lived for the sake of (social) approval or, in other words, from a life lived for the sake of an untruthful image that should produce some sort of appreciation by others. The New Testament authors thus define “salvation” as follows: people who realize that they are loved for who they are (with their flaws and limitations) are saved, more and more, from the tendency to sacrifice themselves and others to “the idolatry of social prestige”. At the same time the New Testament authors are convinced that this love, that refuses those sacrifices, is exceptionally (though not exclusively) embodied in Jesus of Nazareth, who is therefore called “the Christ” and is depicted as the example par excellence that demands imitation.

By applying literary criticism, among other things, the atheist gentlemen may discover whether or not this characterization of the New Testament claims contains the essence of the Christian faith. Maybe they should do that before they surrender themselves to the narcissistic arrogance of being able to judge “all theology”. It is strange that Pigliucci is irritated by the mistakes some scientists make concerning “philosophy” while he makes a similar mistake concerning “theology”. Theology today has to do with interdisciplinary scientific research into the concept of God held by certain religious traditions, and its possible implications. This has nothing to do with the question whether or not someone believes in God. To use an analogy: eventually you don’t have to agree with Shakespeare’s view of human nature in order to pursue an investigation into the anthropology that can be derived from his plays. In short, the questions theologians concern themselves with are from a fundamentally different nature than the questions scientists concern themselves with, so there shouldn’t be any fundamental conflicts between these two areas of research. In the aforementioned analogy of Pigliucci: “No one is blaming the physicists for not coming up with something new about Jane Austen.”

Georges Lemaître and Albert EinsteinMaybe Pigliucci and co. should take Georges Lemaître as an example. This Belgian Catholic priest and famous physicist (founder of the “Big Bang” hypothesis among others) clearly distinguishes the questions of modern science from the questions the New Testament authors deal with. In fact, according to Lemaître, questions of modern science have nothing to do with theology, and vice versa. The Christian scientist thus cannot let his faith be of any importance for his scientific work. Some quotes from Lemaître, taken from an article by Joseph R. Laracy (click to read) clarify his position regarding the relationship between theology and modern science:

“Should a priest reject relativity because it contains no authoritative exposition on the doctrine of the Trinity? Once you realize that the Bible does not purport to be a textbook of science, the old controversy between religion and science vanishes . . . The doctrine of the Trinity is much more abstruse than anything in relativity or quantum mechanics; but, being necessary for salvation, the doctrine is stated in the Bible. If the theory of relativity had also been necessary for salvation, it would have been revealed to Saint Paul or to Moses . . . As a matter of fact neither Saint Paul nor Moses had the slightest idea of relativity.”

“The Christian researcher has to master and apply with sagacity the technique appropriate to his problem. His investigative means are the same as those of his non-believer colleague . . . In a sense, the researcher makes an abstraction of his faith in his researches. He does this not because his faith could involve him in difficulties, but because it has directly nothing in common with his scientific activity. After all, a Christian does not act differently from any non-believer as far as walking, or running, or swimming is concerned.”

The writers of the Bible were illuminated more or less — some more than others — on the question of salvation. On other questions they were as wise or ignorant as their generation. Hence it is utterly unimportant that errors in historic and scientific fact should be found in the Bible, especially if the errors related to events that were not directly observed by those who wrote about them . . . The idea that because they were right in their doctrine of immortality and salvation they must also be right on all other subjects, is simply the fallacy of people who have an incomplete understanding of why the Bible was given to us at all.”

The question about the meaning of “salvation” in the light of the New Testament indeed is different from, for instance, the question how and why objects fall down. That’s how plain and simple an insight can be in order to stop battling windmills like some heroic but mad and narcissistic Don Quixote. But anyway, a man shouldn’t foster any illusions: Maarten Boudry, Lawrence Krauss and other similar atheists rarely, if ever, rise to the challenge to question their belief regarding the nature of theology in a scientific way. But maybe this is just the narcissism of a theologian speaking now 🙂 ?

atheists and fundamentalists

Nonetheless, Boudry claims that he holds science in high regard. His question for the audience at the beginning of the evening already suggests this (16:58-17:30): “Do you think that science is the sole source of knowing?” A lot of people answered affirmatively. But what does that mean when you meet another person? Does that mean that you don’t ever know that person when you have not analyzed and described him or her scientifically? And, on the other hand: does that mean that you can know a person merely by detailed scientific descriptions, without ever meeting him or her? A bit odd, to say the least. Somehow you would expect that you know the person who reveals himself to you, every day, honestly and faithfully, better than the person you know from scientific descriptions but have never met. Or would it be true that the “real” and “complete” identity of a person (his “soul”, to use an age old word) can be reduced to what science may say about him? Again, a bit odd to “lock up” someone’s personality in scientific descriptions…

Anyway, of course Maarten Boudry, Massimo Pigliucci, Lawrence Krauss and Daniel Dennett are more than just intellectual narcissists. It just so happens that they don’t really show any sign of self-criticism regarding theology. And that’s a pity, really, because scientifically enhanced theological research (based on the historical-critical method) could prevent some of the excesses of fundamentalism. Sure, Boudry et al. are delivering the goods in their own fields of research. However, nothing human is alien to humans… Every once in a while, everyone is a narcissist, no? There might be one exception, though…