Sunday, September 27, 2009

Pastor Anglin Replies

Yesterday, while checking in real quick on my blog here, I noticed that another comment had been added to my post titled "The Amityville Jackass", which was my response to the criticism of atheism by Pastor David Anglin of St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Amityville. Lo and behold, to my surprise, the comment was from Pastor Anglin himself.

While he demonstrated a good sense of humor by signing off as "The Amityville Jackass" (which by the way, as my Long Island readers will surely recognize, was sort of a spoof of 'The Amityville Horror'), I felt that Pastor Anglin's response indicated that he did not quite grasp a lot of what I tried to say in my previous post. Let's see if we can clear things up a bit. In a slight change from before, I will put the pastor's remarks in bold and my replies in italics, lest I appear too prideful in always trying to have my words in bolder text! Okay, let's proceed:

The citation from "Going My Way" was meant as a light-hearted anecdote to get into the topic-not as a serious indictment of atheistic athletic ability.

I totally got that, pastor. My problem with the citation had nothing to do with depictions of athletic ability, but rather its representation of the typical atheist as being an angry jerk.

The article was a response to specific texts--the books by Dawkins and Harris (especially Dawkins). Their basic thesis was that religion leads to hatred and murder. As I pointed out, "two can play at that game"--which I did, giving examples of murderous atheist regimes. I didn't just wake up one morning and say, "I'm going to accuse atheists of being murderers today". I was replying to authors who basically were saying to me: "Your dearest and most deeply held beliefs tend toward murder and hatred."

Thank you for your clarification there. For the record, I don't believe that religion automatically equates to murder and hatred. It has been a while since I have read either 'The God Delusion' by Dawkins or 'The End of Faith' by Harris from beginning to end, so I cannot say with complete assurance whether you or right or wrong. What my understanding is of what they are trying to say is that religious texts can be (and as I am sure you will agree, sometimes are) interpreted in such a way as to sanction intolerance, bigotry and murder.

With regard to "murderous atheist regimes," you will get no quarrel from me in condemning the atrocities that occurred under Stalin, Mao, or the Khmer Rouge. But as I pointed out in my initial response, which you appear to have glossed over, Russia and China have been ruled more or less by despotic regimes for centuries, or in the case of China, millennia. I am sure if you read the history of the autocratic rulers of these countries, you would see the same disregard for the lives of their subjects that you decry in the communist regimes of the 20th century. If the body count under Stalin and Mao is higher, it probably owes more to the technology that was available to them in terms of weapons and modes of transportation.

Dawkins does spend quite a bit of time on Westboro Baptist--so the "strawman" accusation applies to Dawkins, not to me!

Could you point out to me where Dawkins spends a lot of time on the Westboro Baptist Church? If you are referring to his book 'The God Delusion', I looked it up in the index. Dawkins devotes just a single paragraph in the book to Fred Phelps and Westboro.

However, you don't seem to understand my point. By harping on Dawkins alleged focus on the tiny and marginal Westboro Baptist Church as representing the worst of Christianity, you avoided the homophobia that is displayed by other subsets of the American Christian population that are far more numerous and who form an important part of the conservative base of the Republican Party. To show you what I mean, here is a link to a post by Pam Spaulding at Pandagon, who recently participated in a gay pride parade in North Carolina. Now, being that you are a Lutheran and a pastor to boot, I fully expect that you would believe that homosexuality is a sin in the eyes of the god you worship. But I would like to think that the vitriolic hatred displayed by the anti-gay demonstrators who were photographed at the event is an affront to your sense of decency.

The quote from Dostevsky was meant to illustrate a point--not to prove it.

Again, I understand that pastor. But is Dostoevsky right? You also did not respond to my objection to your reference to John Locke. Let me refresh your memory. You wrote "The philosopher John Locke–one of the intellectual forebears of American democracy–once said that atheists can’t ultimately be trusted in their promises and commitments, since they have no ultimate divine authority to whom they must answer."

That is probably the portion of your anti-atheist criticism I found particularly offensive. When I write my thoughts about things that interest me on this blog, I am just another guy with an opinion read by a handful of people. When you write your columns that are read by members of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Amityville, you are writing under the color of authority as a pastor to whom members of your flock look to for guidance on issues of spirituality and religion. So, in the sentence I quoted above, you are basically telling the members of your church in your capacity as their pastor that atheists are not trustworthy people.

Tell me, Pastor Anglin, should banks deny loans to atheists because we can't be trusted to repay them? (And by the way, I have been paying my mortgage faithfully for the last 9 years!) Should my neighbor refrain from loaning me his tools because I can't be trusted to return them? As I asked in response to your Locke reference, is there any evidence that Locke made his assertion out of personal experience with atheists? Did an atheist welch on a bet he had made with Locke?

In claiming that we are untrustworthy because we do not have some "divine authority" to whom we must answer, you forget that we have a very real and tangible authority to whom we do answer, each other. Regardless of whether or not there is a god that exists that judges us for our actions, we are accountable to the people with whom we share this world. Our actions have real consequences in this life that we cannot escape from unless we are among the priviliged few who have the wealth and power to do so.

In my previous post, I wrote that I got the impression that you do not personally know a single atheist. Do you know any? Have you ever asked any atheists how they formulate their moral beliefs? Do you have a history of atheists breaking promises to you?

I am going to offer a challenge to you, Pastor Anglin. Think of some promise or commitment that I can make to you. Bear in mind that you must take into account that I have a full-time job, family commitments (gosh, that one must shock you!) and a house I have to help take care of. Also, it cannot be a request that requires me to act contrary to my values, such as participating in an anti-abortion rally. Otherwise, you can ask of me just about anything, such as volunteering for a day or two at a soup kitchen or some other service that your church offers to the poor (assuming you offer such things) or even to sit through one of your sermons. And in return for fulfilling my promise to you, I ask one thing in return. I want you to publicly retract in one of your columns afterwards your claim that atheists cannot be trusted to fulfill their promises and commitments. What say you, Pastor Anglin?

And now to continue on with an to wrap up this post.

Who mentioned Sarah Palin and Barack Obama? I have no great love for the former, and I have never compared the latter to Hitler. (By the way--can you swear, cross-your-heart, that you've never compared George W. Bush to Hitler?)

My point in mentioning Sarah Palin and Barack Obama was to point out the delusional behavior that exists among a not insignificant portion of the Republican Party's evangelical base, which helps to elect the party's candidates and to whom the party must cater. I did not mean to imply that you personally thought that Sarah Palin would make a great president or that Barack Obama is a new Adolf Hitler. Rather, I was illustrating how right-wing Christians seemed to think that Sarah Palin is presidential timber simply by virtue of her giving birth to a boy with Down Syndrome and her daughter Bristol having a child out of wedlock and keeping the baby.

Because I am an atheist, I of course cannot swear, but I personally have never compared George W. Bush to Hitler. You're just going to have to take my word for it, if you can. By the way, you can read every mention of President Bush I have ever written on this blog here. While the comparison of Bush to Hitler was left-wing hyperbole, with his invasion of another country and his basically being appointed President of the United States by the Supreme Court in an election in which he lost the popular vote, Bush was certainly closer to Hitler by degrees than Barack Obama is thus far.

Do you think your case is really advanced by childish phrases like "sky daddy" or "kiss the a-- of a celestial dictator"? It kind of undermines the credibility of your arguments.

Tell me honestly, Pastor Anglin. Do you believe I am going to burn in hell for eternity in the after-life for being an atheist? If your answer is yes, then my "childish phrases" are quite the lesser offense in my eyes. An entity that really intends to inflict such suffering on me because of my thought crimes cannot be considered as anything but a celestial dictator.

Hey--since you enjoyed my article on Dawkins and Harris so much, check out my review of "Religulous", archived on the same website. There you'll learn why Bill Maher's Halloween costume is the most persuasive argument against atheism.

To be honest, I have not seen "Religulous" and really do not intend to. I have read a number of reviews of the film by other atheists, and they have been decidedly mixed.

That about wraps it up. Don't forget my challenge above. If you want to take me up on it, let me know in the comments how I should best contact you.

Have a nice day!

Your friend in humanity.


Sparrowhawk said...

Good response.

Stardust said...

Excellent. And you didn't even call him any names.

tina FCD said...

Very good!

S. L. Boots said...

Perhaps you should have pointed out to him that what Dawkins does in his life has no bearing on atheism and cannot be considered an argument against atheism. Seeing as he expects you not to use Bush or Palin as an argument against Christianity.