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Daily Archives: September 27, 2011

Lying, and Why I Will Probably Never Be A Christian (Again)

Sam Harris has a new e-book out called “Lying”. He has a nice blurb about why he wrote the book here:
One of the most fascinating things about this course [The Ethical Analyst at Sanford], however, was how difficult it was to find examples of virtuous lies that could withstand Professor Howard’s scrutiny. Even with Nazis at the door and Anne Frank in the attic, Howard always seemed to find truths worth telling and paths to even greater catastrophe that could be opened by lying.

I do not remember what I thought about lying before I took “The Ethical Analyst,” but the course accomplished as close to a firmware upgrade of my brain as I have ever experienced. I came away convinced that lying, even about the smallest matters, needlessly damages personal relationships and public trust.

It would be hard to exaggerate what a relief it was to realize this. It’s not that I had been in the habit of lying before taking Howard’s course—but I now knew that endless forms of suffering and embarrassment could be easily avoided by simply telling the truth. And, as though for the first time, I saw the consequences of others’ failure to live by this principle all around me.

Intuitively, we all think it is wrong to lie even though we might tell little “white lies” every now and then. Maybe due to my own myopia I sometimes think lying is a necessity, but for the most part I try to adhere to a mentality of “better ugly truths than pretty lies”. This aversion to lying, even though there are bouts of akrasia (which is different from hypocrisy), is the main reason why I will probably never be a Christian.
 
I have firmly arrived at the conclusion over the past three years that the Christian religion is fundamentally structured around deception. Which is odd, considering that it is a religion that claims the value “truth”. Now, this isn't a belief that I have simply because I'm “anti-Christian” or whatever. I actually came to this conclusion due to two different lines of evidence: the history of early Christianity, and what I think is the nature of Christian faith.
 
If you don't know about it, you should check out the most recent book by Bart Ehrman titled Forged. This book sums up my historical argument for why Christianity is based on deception. In short, the majority of the books in the New Testament are written by people who were not who they claimed to be or are attributed to people who didn't write the books attributed to them. Matthew was not written by the apostle/disciple Matthew (same for Mark, Luke, and John), 1 & 2 Peter were not written by the apostle Peter, 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, and Titus (and Hebrews) were not written by Paul while Ephesians and Colossians were probably not written by Paul, the apostle John is more than likely not the same person who wrote those letters (though the letter writer never claims to be), and James and Jude who wrote their eponymous letters were more than likely not the same as Jesus' brothers (again, these writers never claim to be either).
 
While NT scholars title these works “pseudonymous”, that's just a fancy way of saying falsely named (i.e. Mark 14.57 has the phrase “they gave false testimony” which in Greek is εψευδομαρτυρουν or epseudo-martyroun). And as Ehrman goes over in the book, forgeries weren't taken any more kindly in antiquity than they are in today's world. Worse yet, even in the authentic letters of Paul there are insertions into the text that have Paul say things he didn't originally say; and Matthew and Luke are basically heavily interpolated versions of Mark. The worst, of course, is that the vast majority of sayings of Jesus were never uttered by Jesus.
 
As for the nature of Christian faith, philosophically (or epistemically) this seems to be nothing more than the equivalent of self-deception. The thought experiment I go over in that earlier blog post introduces the argument like this: 
Say you are in a steady relationship with a significant other. There have been the usual ups and downs of a relationship, but overall things are going pretty good. Let's say, however, that one day you do the one thing that your significant other would possibly break up with you over. What do you do? Let's say there's no chance of them ever finding out. What now? Do you risk it and tell them, being honest? Or do you keep it from them, so that they remain faithful to you?
 
I admit this is a pretty tough decision. But what is underlying this is whether you simply want to possess the person, or if you love and respect them.
 
Actually, don't even answer the question. Your particular character isn't what I'm trying to point out here. What I would like to know is: What would a person who values [your] faith over everything else do in this situation? What will they do necessarily? That's right; they would have no second guesses about lying to you to maintain your faith in them.
 
Now, what if there is no second party involed. No significant other. What if it is just you confronted with a decision to face something that might make you lose faith in someone/something or to ignore that thing? What would a person who values faith do? That's right. They would have no qualms about lying to themselves to maintain their faith.
 
So what exactly is the difference between faith and self-deception? I don't think there is any difference. If a person cares more about faith than honesty (or “the truth”) then any other option is necessarily some form of deception. 
So it seems to me that faith, specifically Christian faith, actually positions itself sternly in opposition to “truth”.
 
As it stands, I actually think that this second observation explains the historical situation that created the NT in the first place. The dogma of the new faith in early Christianity was more important than what “actually happened”, whatever that was. So it was necessary to deceive with these works that eventually formed the bulk of the NT. I also think that this second observation about the nature of Christian faith has completely corrupted the Christian religion making it morally bankrupt; why I become even less and less shocked every time I find out that Christians are lying for Jesus. The most recent example I read was how a Christian group claimed that homosexuality has a positive correlation with pedophilia. That is just despicable… but, I'm guessing, what's a “little white lie” to prevent people from viewing homosexuality in a positive light? I assume that's the mentality of those particular Christians, anyway. Would it be a stretch to say that the claim of Jesus being predicted in Jewish scripture is also a lie? That one is probably a bit more fuzzy. But it probably suffices to say that Christianity was exceedingly unpopular among Jews and only gained traction among non-Jews; non-Jews who were free to read the Jewish holy book in a non-Jewish way.
 
It was Jewish arguments against Christianity that convinced me that Christianity was false. It is the nature of Christian faith that makes me almost certain that I will never be one again on moral grounds.
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Posted by on September 27, 2011 in faith

 
 
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