The Atheist Ethicist: Just Another Propagandist

We interrupt Atheists Crying Wolf (no, I haven’t forgotten it; I promise Part II is coming!) for a special bulletin: the “Atheist Ethicist’s” credibility has hit rock-bottom.

In
this post, Alonzo Fyfe peddles a number of anti-Bible talking points, including the “abomination” of eating shellfish:

The eating of shellfish is an abomination because – well, have you ever looked at a shellfish? They’re disgusting. My wife has a hard time with peel-and-eat shrimp. So, of course, eating those things must be considered an abomination…

Current bigotry against homosexuals is not something that people get out of the Bible – something that people disapprove of because the Bible calls it an abomination. If people got their morality out of the Bible then they would be just as intent on protesting the eating of shrimp as they would homosexual sex.

It doesn’t take much to find out Fyfe hasn’t a clue what he’s talking about here. Neil at Eternity Matters
explains the issue very well in a detailed-yet-accessible post. You should read it all, but here’s his quick summary:

The short version: There were different Hebrew words translated as abomination. They were used differently in the individual verses and were used very differently in broader contexts. The associated sins had radically different consequences and had 100% different treatments in the New Testament.

Curious about how he’d spin his way out of this, I posed the question to him in the comments section (yeah, that’s me under “Anonymous”). In response, not only did he refuse to defend his own claims, he actually argued that the original context was meaningless. After all, it only gives Christians “room for rationalization and self-deception.” Pot, meet kettle.

The exchange is stunning in how completely Fyfe dismisses the basic legwork that any reputable commentator, philosopher, historian, or theologian would do before making serious claims about serious subjects. He speaks without any regard for the truth. His writings will continue to satisfy his hardcore secular groupies, but I don’t think many other people are going to recognize him for the ethicist he isn’t.
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17 thoughts on “The Atheist Ethicist: Just Another Propagandist

  1. Good post, and thanks for the link! “he actually argued that the original context was meaningless”I have a phrase for anyone who argues that context is meaningless: Concession speech.

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  2. You are assuming that I am equating the ‘abomination’ of eating shellfish with the ‘abomination’ of homosexuality in my writing.Do you disagree with the claim that the eating of shellfish was, in the Bible, declared to be an abomination, true? We’ll agree that in this sense it meant ‘ceremoniously unclean’ for a while.Why?This is nonsense. There never is or was anything ‘abominable’ about eating shellfish, I don’t care how you define the term ‘abomination’. This was just another example of a human prejudice assigned to God.Man does not get his morality from God, rather, God gets his morality from man.The same is true with homosexuality. Just as people in old testiment time were assigning their prejudices to God, people today who condemn homosexuality are assigning there prejudices to God. There is as little ‘wrong’ with homosexuality today as there was when the eating of shellfish was declared an abomination.Eventually, people learned that some of their earlier prejudices assigned to God actually made no sense. People changed their mind. They assigned their new opinions to God in a New Testiment.It’s time now for a newer New Testiment where some more of those earlier mistakes and prejudices can be repealed. We need a newer New Testiment that does to prohibitions on homosexuality what the New Testiment did to earlier nonsense beliefs about shrimp. Otherwise, we will continue to do senseless harm to innocent people.

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  3. My pleasure, 4simpsons! Thanks for the info! RE: Alonzo,“You are assuming that I am equating the ‘abomination’ of eating shellfish with the ‘abomination’ of homosexuality in my writing.”Assume? You wrote, “If people got their morality out of the Bible then they would be JUST AS intent on protesting the eating of shrimp as they would homosexual sex” (emphasis added). Looks pretty straightforward to me.(At least you’re talking about the subject now. That wasn’t so hard, now was it?)“Do you disagree with the claim that the eating of shellfish was, in the Bible, declared to be an abomination, true? We’ll agree that in this sense it meant ‘ceremoniously unclean’ for a while.”No. I agree with the claim that eating shellfish was declared an abomination in ENGLISH TRANSLATIONS OF the Bible.“There never is or was anything ‘abominable’ about eating shellfish, I don’t care how you define the term ‘abomination’.”If you’re really that hung up over the word “abomination,” then you have a quarrel with the translators, not the Bible. You want to criticize bad translation jobs? Legitimate issue. You want to criticize religious figures who preach illogical translations as if they were the original? Legitimate issue. You think religious text N or religious belief Y is bunk? All legitimate issues. I don’t mind that, and that wasn’t even the point of my complaint.What I DO mind, and I mind it a lot, is that in doing so, you make, and hinge your arguments upon, inaccurate characterizations of the text. And while, as I’ve said, that can take some doing, I flat-out reject the idea that the relevant information is so murky and complex as to make such a task impossible. If it is, then you ought to be able to demonstrate what potential and/or actual variables are missing from the post 4simpson wrote.The bottom line: if one isn’t willing or able to get to the truth of something, he has no business passing judgment on it as if he knows the truth. That’s a simple matter of…what’s the word I’m searching for?Oh, that’s right: Ethics.

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  4. Quick edit for clarity:“And while, as I’ve said, that can take some doing…” should read as follows:“And while, as I’ve said, figuring out the real scoop can take some doing…”Sorry all!

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  5. I mentioned this on Alonzo’s blog, but I’ll repeat it here.As an atheist, I don’t put any more stock in the bible than I put in Moby Dick. You say:<>I agree with the claim that eating shellfish was declared an abomination in ENGLISH TRANSLATIONS OF the Bible.<>I’ll take any translation of the bible that you choose and work with it, just as I’ll take any translation of Moby Dick that you choose and work with it. If you don’t like the translation in the bible that you quoted for me, than please provide me with an translation of the bible you think got it right. Blaming the translators is easy when they aren’t here.

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  6. It’s simple: if you want to criticize a translation, fine. if you want to criticize an interpretation, fine. But recognize that that’s all you’ve done. You haven’t necessarily debunked the actual religious belief, so don’t present your efforts as if you have.

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  7. Trying to post this again:Do you have some alternate way of divining the religious beliefs of an ancient tribe other than through the translations that are available? Because what you claim the religious beliefs are, and what is actually written in the translated scriptures, are not the same thing. I’m not criticizing a translation, I’m criticizing you. You say your interpretation is what god *really* means, and when someone points out that this is not what is written in the book you wave your hands and say “The translation is bad, it doesn’t mean what it says, it means what I want it to mean.” Then when someone points out that this makes a mockery of the claim that the bible is an absolute standard and that secular morality is insubstantial because people can deceive themselves into thinking they are right, you simply run around in circles.

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  8. “Do you have some alternate way of divining the religious beliefs of an ancient tribe other than through the translations that are available?”As would be obvious to anyone else, I’m not against the use of translations. I just want to make sure that A) the most accurate ones are used, and B) when flaws in them come to light, they are made aware of and taken into account. “…when someone points out that this is not what is written in the book you wave your hands and say ‘The translation is bad, it doesn’t mean what it says, it means what I want it to mean.’ Then when someone points out that this makes a mockery of the claim that the bible is an absolute standard and that secular morality is insubstantial because people can deceive themselves into thinking they are right, you simply run around in circles.”This is nothing more than hyperbole. If anyone other than a fundamentalist atheist groupie were to read what I’ve wrote, I can’t imagine they’d walk away with the same impression. Instead, they’d see you and Fyfe arguing: “The historical complexity of Biblical study means atheists get to say whatever we want about Scripture, and Christians don’t get to object to our version because it’s their holy book, and they can’t possibly examine it objectively.” Spin it and insult me all you want, whine about “mental hoops” ‘till hell freezes over, but that’s exactly what your blather boils down to.

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  9. <>This is nothing more than hyperbole. If anyone other than a fundamentalist atheist groupie were to read what I’ve wrote, I can’t imagine they’d walk away with the same impression.<>I was married to a christian fundamentalist for six years, and I can tell you without any hyperbole that you are exactly correct. They would come away with exactly the impression you promote, because they believe the same things you do: shellfish are delicious, and racism and homosexuality are both bad.This doesn’t help your case though. It simply shows that the vast majority of people will interpret the bible to support their beliefs, regardless of the actual text of the bible.

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  10. “…the vast majority of people will interpret the bible to support their beliefs, regardless of the actual text of the bible.”That may be, but that doesn’t change the fact that some interpretations can be confidently judged as solid, more/less reasonable than others, and/or dismissed out of hand. Moreover, many religious believers do look at their holy texts honestly, even when they don’t see or like the implications. Dietary and sexual regulations are obvious examples. You think there aren’t devout Jews who’d like to violate kosher laws once in a while, or Christians who face the same sexual temptations everyone else does? It would be in their interests to rationalize some sort of scriptural exemption, but while plenty do, there are scores who resist temptation, out of a devotion to what they believe the text actually says.

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  11. <> out of a devotion to what they <>believe<> the text actually says.<>I believe this line is key. If someone believes the text ACTUALLY says something other than what is written, they should have a good reason. Unfortunatley, I’ve never seen a reason other than “because this agrees with my morality” (present company included).One would think that if the reason was actually a <>good<> reason, then that person could convince the majority of acedemics and professional translators that they should revise their translations. If this effort does not succeed, I feel I am more than justified in saying that these reasons are not “good” reasons at all, but are merely personal bias. I am not a linguist. I don’t know a single word in ancient hebrew, much less the context that is needed for an accurate translation. Thus I leave it up to the professionals. For me to claim that they had gotten a certain scripture wrong and that everyone should accept my simple “Hebrew-to-English Dictionary” translation as correct instead would be the height of arrogance. IMHO.<>that doesn’t change the fact that some interpretations can be confidently judged as solid, more/less reasonable than others, and/or dismissed out of hand <>Fair enough. But what are your criteria for this selective translation-correction? Something other than “this feels wrong to me” is a requirement.

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  12. “I believe this line is key. If someone believes the text ACTUALLY says something other than what is written, they should have a good reason. Unfortunatley, I’ve never seen a reason other than “because this agrees with my morality” (present company included).”But these are cases where it would be in their interest to “creatively interpret,” yet they don’t.I also reject the idea that this is some grand ordeal. It’s safe to say the Bible is among the most extensively-studied texts in history. This is scholastic ground that’s already been covered time and time again, and the fruits of historians’ and theologians’ academic labors are readily available for the common man. ”Fair enough. But what are your criteria for this selective translation-correction? Something other than ‘this feels wrong to me’ is a requirement.”It’s true that I typically grant the common usage and understanding of things the benefit of the doubt, if for no other reason than it’s unrealistic to document and fact-check every single thing we hear throughout the course of the day. Aside from information on a topic I take in via general study, I revisit certain issues when events bring them to my attention (like an accusation or challenge about the Bible), or when something seems to run counter to the rest of what the Bible says (one example: a claim about the Bible that is inconsistent with “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”). Is this a form of “this feels wrong?” Sure, but I don’t think counter-intuition is illegitimate. For instance, let’s say someone started circulating a supposed quote of Martin Luther King espousing black superiority. It’s not pro-King bias to doubt such a quote; simply a basic recognition that the quote is inconsistent with King’s known sentiments.Moreover, this is a process that’s by no means unique to one’s religion; it’s the way we typically approach all topics, and a perfectly reasonable one, in my view.I’m not going to claim Christians don’t have an interest in whether or not the Bible is considered morally & logically sound, but let’s not pretend atheists are indifferent to the outcome, either.

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  13. <>But these are cases where it would be in their interest to “creatively interpret,” yet they don’t.<>There probably are, but these are ridiculously rare. Almost everyone else does the opposite. And the claim wasn’t that “in rare cases some individuals follow the bible as written”, it is that christian claims to have an objective morality are demonstrably false. The original post, after all, was about Giles Frasier claims that<>“human beings are able to deceive themselves into believing they are doing the right thing, when they are simply doing what they want or what makes them happy”<> and then the assertion that christians are the exception. Which is simply not true.<>It’s safe to say the Bible is among the most extensively-studied texts in history. This is scholastic ground that’s already been covered time and time again, and the fruits of historians’ and theologians’ academic labors are readily available for the common man.<>Then why don’t you accept the conclusions they’ve reached, rather than second-guessing the parts you don’t like? For that matter, why don’t you simply use a different translation if the one you are currently using has to be contorted so much to align with what you want it to say? Just get a translation that already lines up with your ideals, it’s not like there’s any shortage of bible translations out there. At least then it would be up to your opponent to take the nigh-impossible position of claiming you’re using the “wrong” translation. I’ve already said I’m happy to take any translation you choose and use that. Why choose one that already contradicts your opinions? Are you worried that this would demonstrate that Giles Fraiser is wrong and that even christians “are able to deceive themselves into believing they are doing the right thing”?Ok, I think I just talked myself into understanding your conundrum. You can’t claim to be special and immune to deceiving yourself into believe you’re doing the right thing if you can simply pick whatever bible you like; but at the same time you can’t logically defend the bible as it’s written without being grossly immoral. Thus all the mental acrobatics. 😦 I do feel sympathy. Perhaps someday you’ll be able to give up this contradictory belief system and move forward. But until then I can see why it’s impossible for you to conceed defeat, it would mean the implossion of much of what your loved ones taught you.<>For instance, let’s say someone started circulating a supposed quote of Martin Luther King espousing black superiority. It’s not pro-King bias to doubt such a quote; simply a basic recognition that the quote is inconsistent with King’s known sentiments.<>Yes. Just like it’s inconsistent with the bible’s known sentiments to claim it didn’t sanction slavery, genocide, and strange dietary taboos. By claiming that the bible doesn’t sanction such things you are taking the position of the person who claims “MLK was a black supremicist” – not the other way around – because the known facts are against you.<>I’m not going to claim Christians don’t have an interest in whether or not the Bible is considered morally & logically sound, but let’s not pretend atheists are indifferent to the outcome, either<>The difference is that atheists (or any non-christain for that matter) can see that the bible is not morally & logically sound. Just like any non-muslim can see that the koran isn’t morally & logically sound, and so on. Atheists just don’t have any sacred cows so they can see this of all religious texts without blinders (while religious people always have blinders on when it comes to their personal religion). A bias towards being honest isn’t indifference, but it’s not at all the same thing as a bias to preserve an emotionally-driven falsehood.

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  14. “There probably are, but these are ridiculously rare. Almost everyone else does the opposite.”Really? And what color is the sky on your planet?“Then why don’t you accept the conclusions they’ve reached, rather than second-guessing the parts you don’t like?”I already have, genius! The “conclusions they’ve reached” are exactly what I’m talking about. The “conclusions they’ve reached” are what I’ve been arguing you and Fyfe need to familiarize yourselves with. And don’t try to tell me you already have. Has it ever occurred to you that the intellectual (and I use the term loosely) leaders of your movement might be the ones peddling misunderstandings and lies? Circulating straw men and deliberately-misleading variations? That their interpretations might be the ones that deviate from the common understanding? If that possibility seems alien to you, it’s because ideological groups such as hardcore atheism tend to be echo chambers in which, amidst all the parroted talking points and high-fiving one another for being so much superior to the religious yahoos, there’s not a whole lot of room for genuine reflection or self-doubt.” But until then I can see why it’s impossible for you to conceed defeat, it would mean the implossion of much of what your loved ones taught you.”No, it’s just that I only concede to good arguments.”The difference is that atheists (or any non-christain for that matter) can see that the bible is not morally & logically sound.”No, atheists don’t WANT it to be morally & logically sound. Their bias isn’t towards honesty; it’s against the possibility of God. There are any number of motivations behind it—sometimes it’s upbringing, sometimes it’s bad experiences, often it’s no more than a narcissism-rooted hatred of the possibility of final judgment. I understand that the case for any religion isn’t open-and-shut, and that there are people who’s reason has sincerely brought them to conclude “there is no God”—but I do not for a second believe such people constitute the majority of atheism. Everything—everything—I have ever seen has demonstrated to me that most activist atheists are simply anti-God partisans every bit as emotionally-drive as the most fervent Evangelical—and I’ve seen atheists and their arguments a lot. And based on our conversations, I don’t believe you’re one iota more objective. It shows in your every word. Religious people “always have blinders on,” and nobody has come to faith through reason? Yet atheists never have blinders or sacred cows of any sort; just “a bias towards being honest?” The prejudice in these statements is astounding. I hope that someday you see the folly of your delusions, for your sake.

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  15. <>“There probably are, but these are ridiculously rare. Almost everyone else does the opposite.”Really? And what color is the sky on your planet?<>How many christians do you know who sell all their possesions, give the money to the poor, and depend on god to provide for them while they’re spreading his gospel? How many jews do you know who stone to death other jews that work on the Sabbath? Would you like to revise your statement?<>The “conclusions they’ve reached” are exactly what I’m talking about. The “conclusions they’ve reached” are what I’ve been arguing you and Fyfe need to familiarize yourselves with. And don’t try to tell me you already have. <>I already have. 😛You have 3 options.1 – abide by your ancient collection of foolishness and give up any pretense at morallity.2 – switch to a bible with a translation you can live morally with, and abandon these claims of pure objectivity3 – Live like a (mostly) moral person while diving thru mental hoops in a stunning display of mental acrobatics that everyone except yourself can see is a desperate attempt to avoid cognitive dissonance.You can’t really be a christian any other way. And taking option #3 completely destroys your ability to be truthfull in most facets of life, as has been demonstrated so profusely already.<>Has it ever occurred to you that the intellectual (and I use the term loosely) leaders of your movement might be the ones peddling misunderstandings and lies?<>Of course it has. After all, this is exactly what drove me from christianity in the first place (Well, it was one of several major factors). You don’t come to the realization that you’ve been lied to your entire life and then simply forget the lesson.Which is why atheists are among the first group to start criticizing one another. Have you not seen the criticisms of the so-called “New Atheist” authors that are leveled at them by other atheists all the time? Check out “Beyond Belief” if you get a chance. http://thesciencenetwork.org/BeyondBelief/watch/ Atheists are pretty concerned about the truth, and it can be a disadvantage in certain political situations. Often a group of atheists would rather be correct than be in power. Other groups will stand in lock-step even on such issues as protecting repeat child-molesters in their own ranks.So don’t try to tell me I’m accepting anything uncritically. It is not the intellectual leaders of MY group who claim to have a direct line with the all-powerful creator of everything. It’s not MY group’s leaders who claim to be completely infallible. It’s not MY group’s leaders who claim that everything that’s worth knowning is already known by them, and set forth in an ancient document. It’s not MY group’s leaders who claim to have the undisputable answers to every moral question that may ever exist.<>it’s because ideological groups such as hardcore atheism tend to be echo chambers in which, amidst all the parroted talking points and high-fiving one another for being so much superior to the religious yahoos, there’s not a whole lot of room for genuine reflection or self-doubt.<>You seem to be looking in a mirror. Talking points, echo chambers? These things were INVENTED by the extreme right, and are their primary tools. They are the ones who claim self-doubt is to be despised. My god, how long have you been trapped in this mental quagmire if you are literally projecting these flaws onto those trying to fight against them??<>No, atheists don’t WANT it to be morally & logically sound. Their bias isn’t towards honesty; it’s against the possibility of God.<>Once again you’re showing your disregard for the truth. Almost every atheist in America grew up in a religious tradition (primarily christian). Why would they have been biased against a god they already believe in? What other than a desire for truth and honesty would motivate them to verify this and iron out the wrinkles in their beliefs?<>often it’s no more than a narcissism-rooted hatred of the possibility of final judgment<>LOL!!! Wow, going with the standard “They hate Jesus” defense? Seriously? Has it never occured to you that (to use one example) any muslim could say that the reason you cling to your christianity is a hatred of the possibility of final judgment by Allah? And yes, you can extend that to any religion you like. Your sole arguement here is “They want to be evil, I want to be good.” You have fully bought into the demonization of atheism, way to go! The old tricks really do work the best.<>there are people who’s reason has sincerely brought them to conclude “there is no God”—but I do not for a second believe such people constitute the majority of atheism.<>We also eat christian babies. And have sex with demons in exchange for supernatural powers.<>Everything—everything—I have ever seen has demonstrated to me that most activist atheists are simply anti-God partisans every bit as emotionally-drive as the most fervent Evangelical—and I’ve seen atheists and their arguments a lot.<>You’re either a liar, or deluding yourself.<>Religious people “always have blinders on,” and nobody has come to faith through reason?<>That is correct. If there was a reason to believe something, then you wouldn’t need faith. Faith is the abdication of reason, it’s the excuse you give to believe something despite a lack of evidence (or evidence to the contrary). <>Yet atheists never have blinders or sacred cows of any sort; just “a bias towards being honest?”<>Atheists don’t have blinders or sacred cows <>in respect to<> religions and religious texts. Otherwise they wouldn’t be atheists now, would they?For all these accusations of bias and prejudice you’re making, how much time have you ever spent questioning your own religion? How much energy do you expend in an effort to identify and eliminate your own biases? To fight against your own prejudices? It is something I spend a moderate fraction of my energy on nearly every day. Obviously you can’t say the same.Anyway, this has gone on too long. Farewell, and don’t forget to dispell any heretical doubt from your mind.

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  16. Folks, the latest round of posts were gonna be the last of Eneasz’s comments I published, but I found the self-righteous chest puffing, hypocrisy, and sheer stupidity of his latest offerings so entertaining, I just had to share it with y’all.The moral of the story? Patiently wading through debates with fanatic, poorly-educated clowns like Eneasz can be useful in that you can use them to diagram the numerous flaws in their thinking and conduct, but don’t expect to change their minds. Know when to prefer clarity to agreement, as Dennis Prager would say.It’s been fun, Eneasz!

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