Sunday, September 25, 2005

Mazel on Conservative Christian Orthodoxy:

David Mazel is writing a weekly column for his campus's student newspaper this semester. He has given me permission to reproduce the text of his first piece taking a critical look at the content of the Bible and orthodox religious doctrine. Tomorrow, I'll post Mazel's response to some critics of the article.

Anyway, here is the text:

According to a poll released last week by the Pew Research Center, 42 percent of Americans reject evolution, believing instead the creationist fable that humans and other living things have existed only in their present forms.

White evangelical Protestants are more than twice as likely as other groups to believe this, which should surprise no one; what is surprising is that 31 percent of Catholics believe it as well, even though evolution is accepted by the Vatican.

One reason for these disappointing numbers is the increasingly sophisticated and well organized effort being mounted against evolution, in particular the superficially plausible idea of "intelligent design" (ID), which holds that some biological structures are too complex to have been created through natural selection and can only have been the result of intervention by an "intelligent designer."

(Virtually all ID proponents assume this designer to be their own God, though of course they take care not to say so within earshot of a federal courtroom.)

I'll leave it to the biologists to debunk ID. (If you're interested in what's dumb about ID, visit or

What I want to do is to take the spotlight off of evolution, where the creationists prefer it be kept, and shine it on the other side, on the conservative Christian orthodoxy underlying creationism.

It seems only fair-if the proponents of ID can relentlessly pick away at science, then nonbelievers like me should be able to take an equally skeptical look at evangelical dogma.

To do so, of course, I will need some orthodoxy to examine. Since Campus Crusade for Christ International (CCCI) has been quite active in opposing evolution, I will take as my sample dogma a few statements from CCCI's "Statement of Faith" (available at

Statement 1: "The sole basis of our beliefs is the Bible, God's infallible written Word, the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments."

This cannot be true. To see why, note first that the notion of "the Bible" being "the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments" is itself a belief. To the Jews, "the Bible" is the 37 books of the Old Testament (which they do not call the "Old Testament," never having had a new one).

To the Catholics, "the Bible" is the 66 books of the Protestant Bible plus the additional works known as the Apocrypha.

How does one choose which of these Bibles is the Bible? What is the "sole basis" of the belief that the Bible is the Protestant Bible with its 66 books, and not one of the other ones? However one decides, one is making a choice that has to be made before one can speak of having a Bible at all; the basis of the choice cannot be "the Bible," for it is precisely "the Bible" whose identity the choice will establish.

Thus the sole basis of the Campus Crusaders' beliefs cannot be "the Bible." Statement 1 is incoherent.

Statement 2: "We accept those areas of doctrinal teaching on which, historically, there has been general agreement among all true Christians."

And just whom do the Campus Crusaders consider to be "true Christians"? Surely not the Catholics; they don't even agree on what the Bible is. And surely not the Mormons, with their revival of polytheism and their still-evolving canon of scripture. And just as surely not those liberal Unitarians.

So who are the "true Christians"? Who could they possibly be, if not those whose "doctrinal teaching" Campus Crusade happens to find acceptable? Statement 2 can be rephrased as "We accept those areas of doctrinal teaching that we accept." Wonderful.

Statement 3: "Because of the specialized calling of our movement, we desire to allow for freedom of conviction on other doctrinal matters, provided that any interpretation is based upon the Bible alone, and that no such interpretation shall become an issue which hinders the ministry to which God has called us."

Let's unpack the several ideas that are here bundled into one:

a.) Any interpretation or doctrinal conviction is to be based upon the Bible alone.

b.) It is possible that some interpretations, even though based on the Bible alone, might become an "issue which hinders the ministry," that is, gets in the way of converting nonbelievers.

c.) The Campus Crusaders do not "allow for freedom of conviction" on any doctrinal matter unless it satisfies a.) and does not lead to b.)

As it happens, my own rejection of Christ is a conviction I hold "based upon the Bible alone." When I was young and impressionable, earnestly reading the Bible and The Origin of Species and much else in all my wide-eyed innocence, what was it that revealed to me the monstrous immorality of the God my classmates were urging me to worship?

It was not Charles Darwin. It was the Bible-in particular the Book of Joshua, with its depiction of God supervising the genocidal slaughter of thousands of women and children in Canaan.

My conviction that God condoned the Canaanite genocide, and abetted King Solomon's polygamy, and calmly licensed Satan's cruelty to Job and his family-all these are quite reasonable interpretations "based upon the Bible alone."

I quite understand, however, why the Campus Crusaders would not want such things trotted out before the impressionable lost souls they're trying to save. My convictions satisfy condition a.) above, but they also lead to condition b.), so according to c.) I am not to be allowed the freedom to hold them.

It's in the Bible, but because it makes the faith a harder sell I'm not free to believe it!

I haven't even gotten to the really juicy stuff-such as the barbaric assertion that "divine justice" required a human sacrifice on the cross-but already the Crusaders' "Statement of Faith" has turned out to be such a farrago of self-contradiction and absurdity that one wonders how anyone could possibly accept it.

Give me Darwin any day.


Anonymous said...

If Mazel and others want to examine the conservative Christian orthodoxy underlying creationism then they should get to the heart of controversy -- the soul. Look forward to your post tomorrow,

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