Reprobates and Sinners: The Hell Roster and Bad List of Pastor Steven Anderson

Steven Anderson has been leading his church in Tempe Arizona since Christmas 2005, and his sermons have been online since February 2006. Thirteen years later he’s pounding the pulpit, kicking the pulpit, and yelling from on top of it as hard as ever. Here I list the sinners and offenders he habitually screams about. There are of course so many more, but these are the fourteen kinds of people he obsesses and returns to time and time again. I’ve divided the categories into three tiers, and ranked them, as I see it, from greatest offense to least — though let’s be honest, these are all mega-offenses in the eyes of our dear pastor.

— Tier 1:  The irrevocably damned. The sinners in this category are reprobates and cannot be saved, according to Anderson. God has rejected them eternally, once and for all.

1. Homosexuals/pedophiles. By far the worst group, and in Anderson’s view the two are inseparable; it’s impossible to be one without being the other. Anderson believes that sodomites are not only sinners, but actual reprobates, based on the text of Romans 1:18-32. They have been rejected by God for rejecting Him one too many times. God finally got tired of being patient with them, and turned them into sodomites/perverts: “God gave them up to vile affections” (Rom 1:26); “God gave them over to a reprobate mind” (1:28); “God gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts” (1:24). This, according to Anderson, is the explanation for homosexuality: “When sodomites say ‘God made me that way’, they’re actually right. But God didn’t make them that way when they were born. God made them that way when they rejected Him (‘glorified Him not as God’) one too many times, and then God discarded them by turning them into homos.” As reprobates, sodomites, unlike most sinners (those in tiers 2 and 3), cannot possibly be saved, nor should anyone want to try saving them: “He that is filthy, let him be filthy still” (Rev 22:11). It’s the whole reason God turned them into sodomites to begin with: to turn them into trash, because of their unrelentingly God-hating hearts.

2. Bible translators/biblical scholars. Almost as bad as the first category, these people are, like the sodomites, irredeemable reprobates. Anderson bases his view on the text of Revelation 22:19, which speaks of anyone who tampers with the Word of God — that is, anyone who either adds or removes from the words of the precious King James Bible, indeed anyone who insists on changing but a single word of that bible — as “blotted out of the Book of Life” and irrevocably damned. Once removed from the book, they can’t be put back in.

— Tier 2:  Especially wicked sinners. These offenders are at least capable of being saved, if they accept Christ as their savior in the Bible-believing way that Anderson espouses.

3. Abortion doctors; pro-choice crusaders; women who obtain abortions. Abortion doctors, or any who have some kind of pro-active role in procuring abortions, are especially wicked in Anderson’s view. They murder the most innocent and vulnerable.

4. Zionists. Israel is the most ungodly nation on the planet, according to Anderson. He calls the year 1948 a diabolical fraud. The Jews are not God’s chosen people, and have not been so for two millennia. Replacement theology shouldn’t be a cuss word but common sense; it’s a basic premise of the New Testament: “If the kingdom of God is taken from you and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof, you’ve been replaced! You were the people of God, you were that holy nation of the Old Testament, but now you have been replaced. And today, the physical nation of Israel has been replaced by believers, by a holy nation made up of all believers in Christ, whether they be Jew or Gentile, no matter what the nationality.” According to Anderson, Zionism is more anti-Christ than any other of the major world religions.

5. Modalists. These people really get Anderson breathing fire. Modalism is a heresy that denies the trinity. It says that God is only one person or entity who has three modes (or faces, or masks) which do not exist simultaneously, and that He changes modes by putting on different hats (the Father, the Son, and the Spirit) as the occasion demands. In other words, according to modalism, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all the same person or entity. There is not three in one, but rather one who can morph as the situation requires. Christianity, of course, maintains that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are distinct. There is one substance and one God, to be sure (which maintains monotheism), but there are three different persons or entities within that God. That’s the trinity. So what’s the problem here? The problem is that Anderson doesn’t like anything that remotely smacks of modalism. He goes ballistic when Christians so much as dip a toe into modalist waters, even when they affirm the trinity. So if you suggest to Steven Anderson that “Jesus is the Father” in some way (per Isaiah 9:6), or if you point out to him that the three members of the trinity are sometimes interchangeable (the bible says the Father raised Jesus from the dead in Galatians 1;1, but also that the Spirit raised Jesus from the dead in Romans 8:11, but also again that Jesus the Son raised himself from the dead in John 2:19-21), he will go into an apoplectic fury. Indeed if you say that “Jesus is the Father” — even if you don’t mean that in a modalist way — you will probably get screamed at, thrown out of his church, and branded a “Oneness heretic”, no matter what trinitarian confessions you’ve insisted on.

6. Atheists/evolutionists. For Anderson they are the same thing. Perhaps more than others on this tier, they are especially in danger of becoming reprobates — unrelenting “haters of God”, whom the Lord will turn into sodomites (category #1) if they persist in virulently rejecting Him.

7. Litterbugs. I have never seen anyone so enraged over litterbugs. Whether it’s hikers and campers who leave trash in the wilderness, or people who throw garbage on the side of the road, if Anderson sees you doing this, you’d best be prepared for a mighty tongue-lashing. And yes, he justifies his “environmental” tirades from the bible.

8. Men who piss sitting down. Germans and other Europeans especially, but any man who allows himself to be micromanaged into effeminate bathroom behavior. Anderson takes the King James phrase, “him that pisseth against the wall” (I Sam 25:22, 25:34; I Kings 14;10, 16;11, 21:21; II Kings 9:8), as a symbol of proper manliness. “And that’s what’s wrong with society today. We’ve got pastors who pee sitting down; we’ve got the president of the United States, George W. Bush, who pees sitting down; we’ve got a bunch of preachers and leaders who want stand up and piss against the wall like a real man.” Anderson is so serious about this, that he has openly rebelled against his mother-in-law when he visits her in Germany — against her “no standing policy when peeing”. On biblical grounds, he will not allow his bathroom habits to be micromanaged.

9. Doctors who perform in vitro fertilization; women who undergo the treatment. Those who engage in vitro fertilization instead of waiting naturally to get pregnant, according to Anderson, are stealing babies from God. Or, as he put it in one sermon, “ripping babies out of the hands of God”. (Side note: this has become a running gag with a friend of mine, when we joke about performing bodily functions before nature calls. So for example, urinating when I don’t really have the urge is “stealing a piss from the Lord”.)

10. Male gynecologists. Men who examine women’s nether regions are disgusting perverts, according to Anderson, no matter how medically professional.

— Tier 3:  Sinful Christians. Those who preach or espouse these views could either be false Christians, or simply misguided believers in Christ who need a tongue-lashing. In any case, these issues do set Anderson off like a bomb.

11. Pre-tribbers. I have to agree 100% with Anderson on this one. Christians who believe in a pre-tribulation rapture have nothing to show for themselves. The idea that Christians will be raptured (taken bodily up to heaven) before the onset of the apocalyptic tribulation (a) is completely un-biblical, (b) emerged only in the 19th century, and (c) was popularized by the Left Behind novels in the sensationalist way of The DaVinci Code. There are technical problems with this view (namely, there’s not a single bible passage that lends credence to it) and the more general problem, which is that the early apostles and Christians not only expected to suffer the tribulation before they were raptured; they saw it as their holy duty. In the synoptic gospels, the letters of Paul, and the Book of Revelation, the rapture comes after the tribulation and prior to God’s wrath pouring out over the earth. Anderson has produced a deluge of polemical youtube videos explaining Revelation’s timetable, but you don’t have to wade through them if you don’t want to. Just check out his helpful graph, which is probably the best available chart for the Book of Revelation (from a fundamentalist point of view, anyway).

12. Dispensationalists. One of Anderson’s mantras is that God never changes. He’s always the same. And above all, “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). The Old Testament carries the same moral imperatives it always did, and the God of the New Testament aligns completely with it. If you’re a dispensationalist, you’d best have the courage of your convictions, because Anderson will tear you a new one.

13. Calvinists, or anyone denying free will. This one convicts me out of the gate. I deny free will, though not because I believe in spiritual predestination, rather because I believe in material determinism. For Anderson, a scientific reason to oppose free will is as bad as a religious reason. He insists that we have the free will to do as we choose, and to believe as we choose. And he gets mighty incensed about the issue.

14. Lazy Soul-Winners. Anderson has broken fellowship with his Baptist colleagues over this. If you refuse to go out knocking doors at least twice a week, in order to save souls and win people to Christ — and above all, if you just leave door-hangers and tracts instead of knocking and talking to people — get ready to be screamed at like this.

Reading Roundup: 2018

Here are the best books I read this year. I didn’t read as much as I wanted to (I wrote a novel this year), which is why there are only six picks instead of my usual ten.

1. The History of Jihad, Robert Spencer. Deciding between the Stranger Things book (#2) and this one was tough, but it has to be this one. First because Robert Spencer gets way more flak than he deserves, and second because The History of Jihad is the first of its kind. I have been astonished that there has been no comprehensive book on the Islamic jihad analogous to such works on the Christian crusades. Spencer’s book is the resource we’ve needed for a long time, covering all jihad theaters for the past 1400 years since the prophet and warlord exemplar Muhammad. Spencer relies heavily on primary sources and the words of contemporary witnesses, so the reader gets a good impression of how it was to experience Islamic holy war. Jihadists have always been candid about their religious motives — it is now, and has always been, a Muslim’s holy duty to subjugate infidels under the rule of Islamic law, regardless of how many Muslims actually take up that imperative — but people in the 21st century have denied this and grasped at every wrong explanation. Studies have proven that there is no correlation between Islamic terrorism and poverty, and jihad isn’t “just” terrorism in any case. It’s legitimized terrorism backed by core Islamic teachings. It’s to Islam as the Passover is to Judaism, and as the Eucharist is to Christianity, and as meditation is to Buddhism. That may be hard to accept but it is a fact. Spencer’s book will educate honest inquirers, and be dismissed as bigoted by the hard left — and even by those who should know better. It’s an important book, and I reviewed it by each chapter here.

2. Stranger Things: Worlds Turned Upside Down, Gina McIntyre. Behind-the-scenes books often recycle information you can easily get online, but trust me, if you’re a Stranger Things fan, you’ll treasure this book for all sorts of surprising details, let alone the stunning art and photos. Don’t let the shabby appearance fool you; it isn’t real. The book is made to look beat up and worn. (I was fooled when I opened my mail package, and I almost had a conniption.) There are profiles of all the characters, presented creatively. The boys are described on D&D character sheets, while El, Hopper, and Joyce get CIA files. We see how the Duffer Brothers brought Stranger Things to life, their plans for alternate storylines that got scrapped, and other nuggets of information. There is a Morse Code decoder included, which is an exact replica of the one Eleven uses with Hopper in season 2. And you get real use out of it, because throughout the book there is hidden code which provides hints of things to come in season 3. By far my favorite inclusion, however, is the 11″x15″ topographical map of Hawkins, which I blogged here.

3. God’s Court and Courtiers in the Book of the Watchers, Philip Esler. Esler is always a great read, and his most recent effort feels downright epic, especially if you love the Enoch myths as I do. The focus is on the Book of the Watchers (I Enoch 1-36), for which the dominant stream interprets heaven in terms of the Jerusalem temple, and for which Esler finds no basis at all. When Israelite authors around this time wished to present heaven as a temple, they did exactly that. In the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice and the Testament of Levi, heaven is the temple, God is in the holy of holies, and the angels are priests who sing God’s praises and offer fragrant sacrifices. One looks in vain to find any of these elements in I Enoch 1-36 — even if everyone sees them anyway. God’s Court and Courtiers in the Book of the Watchers is, then, a shot across the bow of a considerable body of scholarship. Its thesis is that heaven is understood in terms of a royal court, in which the king (God) is surrounded by his courtiers (the angels). While some scholars make occasional references to the Enochic heaven as a court, the idea is never taken that seriously, and it’s way eclipsed by the supposed idea that heaven is a temple in which the angels are understood to be priests instead of courtiers. Esler refutes that by first examining the angels (their duties, access rights, and mediation techniques), then the Watchers (their “defilement”, “great sin”, and their justice), and then finally the architecture of God’s abode. What becomes clear is that the temple metaphor is non-existent, and the court metaphor so obvious that how did it take this long for us to see? Full review here.

4. Free Speech on Campus, Erwin Chemerinsky and Howard Gillman. There is a certain adage this book seems built around: “Prepare students for the road, not the road for the students.” It sounds elementary, but college campuses are among the last places today you can be guaranteed a free exchanges of ideas. The majority position of students (58% of them, in 2017) is that they should not be exposed to ideas that offend them — an embarrassing repudiation of what academia has always stood for. Students are supposed to be stung, disturbed, upset, and thus provoked to reassess their current beliefs — and change the ones they cannot defend. And as the authors of this book make clear, those offensive ideas must include even hate speech. It’s illegal for public universities to ban hate speech, and private colleges should follow suit on this. The problem with “hate speech” is that it’s a catch-all label for shutting down unpopular views that aren’t hateful at all, like the toxic nature of Islam, theories of psychobiology, etc. Academic inquiry doesn’t care about student feelings, nor should it. Free Speech on Campus is the book to help make great thinkers again, indeed to help prepare students for the road, rather than the road for them. I wish it were required reading of every college freshman. I reviewed the chapters here, here, here, and here.

5. When Christians Were Jews, Paula Fredriksen. She was made to write a book like this. It builds on her earlier work and explains how a sect of apocalyptic Jews, who thought they were history’s last generation, grew into a Gentile church that became history’s first Christians. It’s vintage Fredriksen, and timely given that it came out the same month the Pittsburgh shooter opened fire in a synagogue. There are many books on Christian origins, but not all of them very good, and this has the right starting point (a la Sanders and Allison): Christianity was sort of a mistake that should never have been, growing out of a movement of Jews who thought the world was about to end. When the end repeatedly failed to come, the movement became more Gentile-inclusive and grounded in the present. The messianic prophet Jesus morphed into a divine being; the idea of his second coming was forged out of failed hopes. Today we understand Christianity as a universal religion distinct from Judaism, but that wasn’t firmly in place until four decades after Jesus’ death, especially after the destruction of the Jewish temple — the definitive proof of divine displeasure. The anti-Semitism of the New Testament is anachronistic, the first generation of “Christians” Jewish to the core. Hardly controversial, but this background doesn’t reach enough of the laity. In view of our current political climate, I hope the book helps.

6. Eleven Presidents, Ivan Eland. This book isn’t partisan and is certainly no respecter of persons. But it does hit Republicans hard for their misleading image as so-called “small government” executives, while shining the spotlight on two surprising Democrats (Carter and Clinton) who did a rather damn good job against expectations. Opposing historians who tend to favor U.S. presidents based on their popular appeal and charisma, Eland focuses on their actual policies, assessing the presidents since World War I who either genuinely believed in, or claimed to be for (a) military restraint abroad, (b) fiscal responsibility at home, and (c) liberty and freedom for all. That’s nine Republicans and two Democrats, and of those eleven, only five pass the test: Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Dwight Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton. (Though Eland acknowledges that Clinton is a mixed bag.) It is refreshing to see Harding and Carter get the praise they deserve, while Reagan is taken down. As Eland shows, Reagan has become the Republican equivalent of FDR, enshrined in myths that have made him a near demigod. If we’re ever again going to enjoy eras of prosperity at home, peace with our neighbors abroad, and a climate where individual liberties and freedoms are valued for all peoples, then the five good presidents should be our inspiration.

Immigration: Three Reasons Trump’s Fans Should Love the Idea

Trump is obviously an idiot, but his hostility to immigration shows how clueless he and his fan-base really are.

(1) From a national perspective, welcoming immigrants has been a mark of enlightened thinking. The U.S. was founded by immigrants and has prided itself on being open to diversity. For all its troubled history with Native American ethnic cleansing and African American slavery, the nation was built on principles which advocate equal opportunity for all. When a president like Benjamin Harrison called for needless restrictions on Asian immigrants, he was judged for it accordingly. Americans have historically resisted the equation of nationality with ethnicity. Nationality has been about citizenship, and allegiance to the vision of the founding fathers.

(2) From an economic perspective, immigration has always been the life’s blood of the U.S., infusing new ideas and skills into the American market. Immigration has given the country new jobs, new businesses, new inventions. Immigrants create new populations of people who buy things. People tend to fear job competition in times of hardship or depression — and the threat of having jobs “stolen” from them — but the fact is that a bigger workforce means more consumption, more demand, and more jobs. That’s the long-standing wisdom of economists. Thwarting immigration is a likely path to slowing economic growth.

(3) From a Judeo-Christian religious perspective, one could make a strong case to be pro-immigration. According to even a hard-core fundamentalist like Pastor Steven Anderson, God specifically tells his followers to welcome and love the immigrant: “The stranger (immigrant) that dwells with you shall be as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:34). “You shall neither vex a stranger nor oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 22:21; cf.23:9; Leviticus 19:33). After all, says Anderson, everyone in America descends from immigrants (aside from the Native American Indians), and those who have a problem with immigrants “should probably leave the country themselves”. There is also the example of Ruth, who wondered why she should receive grace, given that she was an immigrant from Moab. Yet Boaz took care of her anyway, and told others to treat her well. (Ruth 2:10-16)

In light of the support Trump receives from “patriotic” nationalists, entrepreneurs, and conservative Christians, the irony is amusing.

Reading Radar Recommendations

Over on the Nashua Public Library website, I have a list of book recommendations. Someone asked that I write blurbs for the books, which is a good idea, though that’s not the format we’re currently using on the library site. I have produced the blurbs below, for both my fiction and non-fiction picks.

Fiction

Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline. You’ll love this novel if you grew up in the ’80s playing Dungeons & Dragons and primitive computer games, but even aside from this it has a wide range of appeal. For all the obscure pop-culture references, the plot isn’t confusing and the narrative moves like a bullet while leaving just the right breathing space for its characters. Their friendships in the virtual world feel real, because in some ways the OASIS is just as real. It’s where kids attend school online, where everyone plays games and retreats from the misery of the real world. That reality is the setting of the 2040s, a future in which the earth’s energy resources and economy have all but collapsed, the vast majority of Americans are poor and live in “stacks”, vertical trailer parks where mobile homes are piled on top of each other. The quest for a Easter-Egg inside the galaxy of the OASIS carries the reward of a billionaire’s legacy, including complete control of that virtual reality. A corrupt corporation wants the control, to charge for access, and prevent people from using it anonymously, and in the race for the Egg they locate and kill others — not just avatars, but the people hiding behind them in the real world. I know many people who love this book, even if they don’t normally read science fiction.

Ubik, by Philip Dick. The story is set in a future where some people have a natural ability to read minds or choose the future (psychics), and others are able to thwart those telepathic or precognitive powers (anti-psis). Security firms hire the latter to protect people’s privacy, and the plot involves one of these firms coming under attack. Its CEO is killed in a bomb explosion, and his employees store his corpse in a half-life mortuary so that his consciousness can live on. The employees then start to experience bizarre shifts in reality as the world regresses back in time to the year 1939. Maybe they are the ones who actually died in the explosion and got stored into half-life, and are now dreaming terrible events as their boss tries to reach them from the real world. Or maybe both died and are feeding off each others dreams. Adding to the tension is that one of the employees has a unique anti-psi talent that doesn’t just cause psychics to choose a different future; she can actually change the future by resetting the past. Is the time regression somehow on account of her? There doesn’t seem to be a coherent explanation that accounts for any one theory, but enough patterns to make any explanation plausible until you look real closely. Ubik may not be Dick’s most popular novel, I think he outdid himself here.

The Five, by Robert McCammon. If you like suspense and music, then this book is for you. A dirt-poor indie rock band (called The Five, three men and two women), drive around in a van and play gigs across the southwestern U.S., chasing dreams of success. They finally get that, but at a nasty price when a crazy ex-Marine sniper starts picking them off for comments made by the lead singer about soldiers in Iraq. Suddenly the band’s concerts swell in proportion to the media vultures, and with the fame comes devastation. It’s a nail-biter punctuated with slow pauses and soul-searching, both parts just as hard to put down. The narrative is also saturated with the author’s love for rock n roll. It’s no mean feat to make a reader “hear” music off the page, yet that’s what I was doing — crafting my own mental jams and drawing on textures from favorite bands. (You’ll make your own associations, but I imagined The Five as sounding grungy like The Smashing Pumpkins and searing like The Walkmen.) This was especially true for the signature song written by all of the band members instead of the usual two: it takes on a curious life throughout the story, as it’s born of harrowing events and each band member finds his or her muse at the oddest, eeriest moments.

Song of Kali, by Dan Simmons. I consider this the best novel Simmons ever wrote. Critics say that first novels often show authors at their most honest, writing without regard for anyone’s expectations, and Song of Kali fits that profile. It’s about the Kali cult in India, and forget the cartoonish portrayal in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The cult depicted here is foul beyond words. They run Calcutta like the Mafia runs American cities. Businessmen by day, killers by night, they sacrifice people (including their own members) to make their goddess manifest on earth. Their evil seems to have somehow infected the stones and air of Calcutta; pain and hurt are the only language people understand. The story involves a magazine writer who is sent to Calcutta to obtain poetry supposedly written by a man who was thought to be long dead. He takes his wife and infant child (bad move) and becomes entangled with the cult. What happens is vile and depressing, but in an understated way that makes everything seem too real to be fictitious. There are no cheap thrills or victories against the Kali cult; no one is brought to justice; the cult goes on; the city of Calcutta sweats poverty, despair, and anger in endless cycles.

Lost Boy, Lost Girl, by Peter Straub. There’s a scene from this book burned in my psyche: It’s evening. Jimbo creeps onto the front porch. From the lawn Mark shines a flashlight into the window. Jimbo is so shocked by what he sees that he leaps backwards and passes out before Mark revives him and they run for their lives. Pages later we find out what he saw: “A guy was hiding way back in the room. He was looking right at me. It was like he stepped forward, like he deliberately moved into the light, and I saw his eyes. Looking at me.” That may fall flat in the retelling, but in context it terrified me. It appears that Jimbo has seen the ghost of a serial killer who used to live in the house and customized it to facilitate his murders. (The killer had used secret passageways to spy on his terrified captives, torment them on beds of pain, and do all sorts of hideous stuff.) But it turns out the ghost isn’t the only entity inside the house; there’s something or someone even worse, and this mixture of terrors is handled so brilliantly we’re never sure what’s going on. Soon after, one of the boys disappears, and the question is whether he was abducted by a pedophile or snatched into a spiritual world by the ghost of the serial killer’s daughter. How you answer determines your reaction when you turn the final terrible page.

Sword of the North, by Richard White. It’s hard to believe that Columbus ever got the credit for discovering America. Leif Erickson beat him by five centuries, and Henry Sinclair probably beat him by one. This novel is Sinclair’s story. He was Baron of Rosslyn in southern Scotland and also Jarl of the Orkney Islands, and as White portrays him a fair but firm ruler who went at heads with corrupt bishops and venal noblemen. He got around plenty before embarking on his voyage to North America — to Norway, the Faroe Islands — and there’s even an amusing scene where visiting England he bumps into that father of literature, Geoffrey Chaucer. The dialogue is superb, lyrical and almost poetic without sounding aloof. There’s striking humor on display, and whether or not it represents 14th-century thought, it’s the book’s clear signature which sets it above the mainstream. It’s long out of print and almost unheard of, which is a shame. The author was a teacher at my high-school back in the ’80s, and he went on to write the smashing western Mister Grey; more recently he finally published his scholarly research on Sinclair’s expeditions, These Stones Bear Witness.

The Twelve Children of Paris, by Tim Willocks. Whether you love or hate this novel will depend on how flexible you are with genre. It’s the massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Day (1572) as Quentin Tarantino might envision it — pulp historical fiction at its most graphic and obscene. The violent content was judged so extreme that it couldn’t even be published in the U.S. The hero’s slaughter-fests make him as bad as the villains. Most of the opposition he faces are poorly trained city militia, everyday thugs, and politically appointed “knights” hardly worthy of the title. He kills out of simple revenge for his wife, hardly caring who. The St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre began as a royal stab against the Huguenot elite but degenerated into a full-blown extermination of unarmed Protestant civilians by the Paris militia. Tannhauser’s personal degeneration matches the city’s; there’s backstabbing everywhere, and a kingdom of beggars and thieves shunned by everyone. Those dark alleys are Tannhauser’s ultimate destination, and where an unexpected salvation is found. There, and in the souls of raped and dispossessed children he rescues along the way. The cloak-and-dagger intrigue is crisp, and the mystery of who wanted Tannhauser’s wife dead and why unfolds at the right moments. It’s an unusual novel that indulges hyper-elements to explore the consequences of hurt, and the inability to transcend monstrosity.

Non-Fiction

Free Will, by Sam Harris. The idea that we don’t have free will seems to defy common sense, but more scientists are coming to that conclusion. The idea of free will implies two things. (1) That we were free to think and act differently than we did. We did something but could have done otherwise. For example, I raised my right hand but could have raised my left; I went to see a movie, but could have visited a friend; I decided to join the Peace Corps, but could have gotten a job; I thought about cooking dinner, but could have considered ordering pizza. (2) That we are the conscious source of our thoughts and actions. Our consciousness is the author of our inner lives and subsequent behaviors — the thinker of our thoughts, and the intender of our intentions. For example, I feel that I want to rise from a chair, and so I rise. I experience the desire to marry my girlfriend, so I propose to her. Sam Harris says that both of these assumptions are false. Read this persuasive book to find out why.

Probing the Authenticity of the Parables, by John Meier. The author believes that of the 32 parables attributed to Jesus in the Gospels, only four are historically reliable: The Mustard Seed (God’s rule was already at work in human activity, and however small that seemed now, it would bear fruit on a huge scale in the end), the Great Supper (a warning that one’s place in the kingdom can be taken by those who never had any right to it), the Talents (along with sovereign grace and reward comes the possibility of being condemned in hell for refusing God’s demands contained in his gifts), and the Wicked Tenants (Jesus knew what awaited him if he confronted the Jerusalem authorities, and he accepted a destiny of martyrdom). All other parables, even the long-standing cherished ones — The Good Samaritan, The Prodigal Son, The Leaven, The Sower, The Seed Growing Secretly, The Laborers in the Vineyard, The Unmerciful Servant, The Shrewd Manager, The Pharisee and the Toll Collector, The Unjust Judge, The Friend at Midnight, The Rich Fool, The Rich Man and Lazarus — either show signs of being written after Jesus, or can at best be judged unclear. It’s worth noting that Meier is a conservative Catholic and not predisposed to being so skeptical about accounts in the Bible. His historical methodology pushed him to the conclusion.

Night Comes, by Dale Allison. Here’s a meditation on death and how we cope with the idea of it. There’s a chapter on the fear of death, how we push for longevity, and how our increased longevity has effected our perception. In the days of Jesus, for example, life would have looked different if you could only hope to make it to 30 instead of 80. Imagine, says Allison, how Jesus’ prohibition against divorce will look to a 500-year old Christian, if science ever gets us that far. There’s a chapter on the resurrection, suggesting that no matter how physical (like the Gospels) or spiritual (like Paul) we favor the idea, there’s no neat answer to the objections against both, though Allison leans more in favor of Paul’s idea of a discontinuity between the old and new bodies. Modern cremation and organ donation, not to mention our increased detachment to the physical remains of loved ones, means that corpse-like resurrection becomes less important to modern Christians. There’s a chapter about judgment, with a fascinating discussion of near death experiences and “life reviews”, which according to survivors forced them to watch the replay of their entire lives in an instant. Then there are chapters on the question of an afterlife. Like many of Dale Allison’s books, Night Comes succeeds in unnerving you no matter what you believe.

The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise, by Dario Fernandez-Morera. This book is a milestone in putting to rest the biggest academic myth of our time, and what’s amazing is that the author is a scholar from Harvard — the last place you’d expect on this subject. We’ve been taught that Muslims, Christians, and Jews co-existed fruitfully under an enlightened Islamic hegemony in medieval Spain, where the reality is the opposite. Christians and Jews were treated horribly under Islam. They were subject to degrading laws that made life barely tolerable. Medieval Spain was a society in which the abuse of non-Muslims, slaves, and women was written into law and sanctified by holy writ. Even at its most prosperous the Caliphate of Cordoba was never a tolerant or humane society. None of this should be controversial, but university presses are a bit paralyzed; they want to avoid the charge of “Islamophobia” and so present Islamic domination (of even centuries ago) as relatively benign. The idea of Christians being content under Islamic rule is as much a fantasy as that of American blacks being happy slaves in the antebellum south since their masters made them “part of their family”. This books shows that had there been no Islamic conquest, and Visigoth Spain was left to grow and interact with eastern Christianity, the Renaissance would have happened much sooner.

Recarving Rushmore, by Ivan Eland. This is unlike any other ranking of the U.S. presidents. Most historians, regardless of their political bias, tend to grade presidents on the basis of their management style and charisma. Eland points out that effective presidents may be successful at accomplishing their goals, but those goals could be bad and often are. Charismatic leaders may inspire us with speeches, but that’s meaningless; some of the worst leaders in history have been charismatics. Eland ranks the presidents based on a threefold criteria — what they did for causes of “peace”, “prosperity”, and “liberty”. After all, these were the prime objectives of the American founders, and most people when asked say they want to live safe lives, be able to provide for themselves, and enjoy freedom. This is the book I’d been awaiting for many years. Even where I disagree with some of Eland’s assessments, I respect the reasoning he uses. His rankings tend to turn the common wisdom upside down. For example, in his judgment, Jimmy Carter (a Democrat) and Warren Harding (a Republican) were the two best presidents of the 20th century, while many historians consider them among the worst. As for the presidents we carved on Mount Rushmore, says Eland, three of the four don’t deserve the honor of being there.

The Complete Infidel’s Guide to Free Speech, by Robert Spencer. Anyone who cherishes the First Amendment should read this book. Our right to free speech and expression may not last. People are increasingly unable to listen to and engage with views they are offended by, resulting in safe spaces on college campuses, shout-down strategies against invited speakers, and the advocacy for “hate speech” laws that criminalize bigoted opinions (or those that are deemed such). Spencer reminds us that free speech is offensive speech, and that has always been its point. Inoffensive speech doesn’t need the protection of a First Amendment. Liberals are the worst threat to free speech these days, and a conservative like Spencer is a breath of fresh air. In this book he describes how social media like Facebook and Twitter, as well as student groups on American college campuses, are doing the bidding of anti-First Amendment activists; how American representatives at the United Nations have already agreed to limit free speech in certain ways; how people have lost their jobs for criticizing the doctrine of Islam; how European “hate speech” laws are used to prosecute and harass people who are not hateful — and how this could become the way of America. As a liberal, I stand with Spencer against my own leftist tribe on this issue.

 

Salon on “New Atheism” and the Alt-Right (Michael Turton’s Reply)

On his Facebook page, Richard Carrier linked to a Salon article, “From the Enlightenment to the Dark Ages: How New Atheism Slid into the Alt-Right”, with approval. Like most Salon articles it’s garbage, and Michael Turton wrote a lengthy rebuttal in the FB comments. I’ve pasted his comments below (Carrier’s FB page is public), and added a few observations of my own in bold.

[Turton] Let’s look at the article as the lifelong atheist and political activist and popular niche blogger that I am. After three paragraphs of Harris’ views on Islam (but note, we get no evidence that this is a problem for “the movement” or “the leaders”, just Harris), we get this:

[Salon] This resulted in an exodus of women from the movement who decided that the “new atheist” label was no longer for them. (I know of many diehard atheist women who wanted nothing to do with “new atheism,” which is a real shame.)

[Turton] No evidence is presented for this “exodus”.

[Salon] Along these lines, the new atheist movement has flirted with misogyny for years. Harris’ “estrogen vibe” statement — which yielded a defense rather than a gracious apology — was only the tip of the iceberg. As mentioned above, there have been numerous allegations of sexual assault, and atheist conferences have pretty consistently been male-dominated — resulting in something like a “gender Matthew effect.”

[Turton] This isn’t a problem with the New Atheist movement. This is a problem with Skepticism in general. I believe the anthropologist David Hess wrote Science in the New Age, which discusses the gendered/gender problem in Skepticism almost 25 years ago. This is not a new issue. Obviously, the author does not understand the issue he is addressing or how the New Atheists are connected to it.

[Salon] Many leading figures have recently allied themselves with small-time television personality Dave Rubin, a guy who has repeatedly given Milo Yiannopoulos — the professional right-wing troll who once said that little boys would stop complaining about being raped by Catholic priests if the priests were as good-looking as he is — a platform on his show. In a tweet from last May, Rubin said “I’d like a signed copy, please” in response to a picture that reads: “Ah. Peace and quiet. #ADayWithoutAWoman.” If, say, Paul Ryan were asked, he’d describe this as “sort of like the textbook definition of a misogynistic comment.” Did any new atheist leaders complain about this tweet? Of course not, much to the frustration of critical thinkers like myself who actually care about how women are treated in society.

[Turton] “Many leading figures have allied…” No evidence is presented for “leading figures” who are “allied”. Connecting Milo to the New Atheists in this way is a smear. “Did atheist leaders complain about this tweet?” Seriously? I doubt Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris spends much time combing the literally millions of tweets of other atheists for things to police them on. They have productive lives. And why would we expect them to complain about a tweet of someone whom the author himself identifies as a marginal figure (!). Excellent clickbait, that rhetorical question — it is so good the author resorts to it twice (“Has any leader….?”.) You could go on asking “Has any leader…?” rhetorical questions all day long. A question like that is designed to emotionally appeal to the article’s target audience, without actually making any survey or showing why anyone would bother to respond to a tweet from a marginal figure. As if silence constituted endorsement.

Turton is right that connecting Milo to the new atheist movement is a ludicrous smear, but I would also point out that Dave Rubin runs a good show, and he is to be commended for having Milo Yiannopoulos on as a guest, just as Bill Maher did on Real Time. Reason being: when leftists try shouting down and silencing people — even idiot trolls like Milo — it becomes virtuous to give a platform to those idiots you would otherwise ignore. Chris Hayes made the same point about the “Draw Muhammad cartoon” contest held in Garland Texas two years ago (and it was refreshing to see a liberal like Hayes school his fellow leftists). When jihadists respond to cartoons of Muhammad by killing people, it’s necessary to be offensive and draw more cartoons, otherwise you’re catering to sharia blasphemy law and letting jihadists rule you through fear. Or, as Hayes made the analogy with his own profession, if he were considering doing a segment that he was on the fence about or didn’t even like, but then someone came to him and said, “You can’t do that segment because of an advertiser”, then he would absolutely do the segment, because “It has to be the case that we can do that segment”.

Ditto for Milo. Neither Dave Rubin nor Bill Maher make a habit of inviting trolls, but they will when everyone else resorts to thuggish silencing strategies that are only getting worse on college campuses. Objections about being inflammatory, or unfair to an advertiser, etc., go straight out the window at the moment the aggrieved group tells you to stop or be stopped, to submit or be killed, etc.

[Salon] In fact, the magazine Skeptic just published a glowing review of Yiannopoulos’ recent book, “Dangerous.” The great irony of this intellectual misstep is that Yiannopoulos embodies the opposite of nearly every trend of moral progress that Michael Shermer, the editor of Skeptic, identifies in his book “The Moral Arc.”

[Turton] (1) One author at Skeptic appears to like Milo… clearly this means that the New Atheist movement loves Milo. Can the author show us numerous New Atheist personalities who like Milo? Nope. (2) Do New Atheists control the editorial decision-making of The Skeptic? I think not, which means that — you guessed it — this is a smear, typical of Salon clickbait articles. Even better, the piece has a clickbait image at the top that puts Harris together with Milo the idiot. But it is photoshopped. A smear so obvious no one noticed it.

[Salon] Perhaps the most alarming instance of irrationality in recent memory, though, is Sam Harris’ recent claim that black people are less intelligent than white people.

[Turton] The author then spends four paragraphs explaining to us about IQ and race. Harris’ views are totally nutcase and evil. Are they widely held in the New Atheist movement or among its leaders? It is not difficult to find Dawkins saying that race is real but meaningless. Obviously, if Harris being an idiot proves that the New Atheists are evil racists, why doesn’t Dawkins saying race is meaningless prove the opposite?

Moreover, Hitchens, whom the author mentions, has written abusively about the idiocy of the race-IQ connection:

“There is, and there always has been, an unusually high and consistent correlation between the stupidity of a given person and that person’s propensity to be impressed by the measurement of I.Q.” [“Minority Report,” Nation, 11/28/94]

“Linguistics, genetics, paleontology, anthropology: All are busily demonstrating that we as a species have no objective problem of ‘race.’ What we still do seem to have are all these racists.” [“Minority Report,” Nation , 11/28/94]

Again, very obviously — if a “leader” of the movement asserting X means the whole movement is X, then why doesn’t Hitchens’ savage denunciation of that mean anything? Shouldn’t both Hitch and Dawkins’ remarks show that the New Atheist movement is solid on race? But no… painting Harris as a worshiper of Murray and a fool on race and IQ makes for much better clickbait. Salon’s clickbait articles work by rhetorical appeal to the “reasonable middle”. This is hardly the first such clickbait article on atheism at Salon, one reason I stopped reading Salon was because of the regular flow of such articles.

I agree with Turton that the sins of one person don’t reflect the views of a movement, but for the record, I seriously doubt that Sam Harris is, as Turton says, “totally nutcase and evil” on the subject of IQ and race. I admit I haven’t followed his views and interactions with Murray, but I have found that every time Harris is smeared on other subjects (like torture, or Islam), his views have either been distorted, exaggerated, or deliberately taken out of context. (Turton himself points this out in the case of Ben Carson below.)

Even Murray, while holding what I take to be incorrect views on the subject of race, has been overly maligned, and I doubt he is a racist. He’s an advocate for gay marriage and has two half-Asian kids for Christ’s sake. His error lies in dismissing the effects of socialization on race data, but his arguments should be rejected or upheld on the basis of scientific methodology, not political ideology. Reasoned refutations, not ad hominems and shut-down strategies, are the proper counters.

[Turton] Then comes this brilliance:

[Salon] On a personal note, a recent experience further cemented my view that the new atheists are guilty of false advertising. A podcaster named Lalo Dagach saw that I had criticized Harris’ understanding of Islamic terrorism, which I believe lacks scholarly rigor.

[Turton] The author spends two paragraphs discussing some marginal podcaster’s behavior towards the author as if that were somehow indicative of an entire movement. How? The podcaster is one marginal person. This personal digression is merely a bit of entitled whining about being attacked online that says nothing about New Atheism as a whole. If whipping up followers to attack people were a proclivity of New Atheists as a whole and the author could provide many examples, then perhaps this might have a place in this essay. Otherwise, no. It’s pure whining designed — once again — to appeal to the emotions of the audience which has already been nodding along. The author still hasn’t learned that if you jump in online, people are going to abuse you.

[Salon] From censoring people online while claiming to support free speech to endorsing scientifically unfounded claims about race and intelligence to asserting, as Harris once did, that the profoundly ignorant Ben Carson would make a better president than the profoundly knowledgeable Noam Chomsky, the movement has repeatedly shown itself to lack precisely the values it once avowed to uphold.

[Turton] This sweeping conclusion is hilarious and such stunningly obvious clickbait. “From censoring people online” — the author conflates his own experience with some nobody podcaster with the habits of the entire movement. You can’t “censor people online” unless you are the Communist Party of China and own the entire internet. Anyone can comment anywhere on the internet, at least in most of the West. Harris’s comments on race and Islam somehow stand for an entire movement. The provocative one on Ben Carson is especially hilarious, since Harris dismisses Carson as a nutcase in the very next sentence (which the author ignores, of course). Harris was obviously indulging in rhetoric to make a point about the “Islamic threat.” But obviously, it isn’t good clickbait to note that Harris was just being rhetorical.

Indeed. As I said above, Harris is regularly taken out of context, if not outright misrepresented. That tends to be what happens to those who speak unwelcome truths.

[Turton] If you are going to say “This movement is X and I don’t like it!” then you need to provide many examples/surveys etc that show that the whole movement is X. None are provided here, the article is simply a clickbait attack largely on Harris, designed to appeal to the audience of New Atheists like himself (and myself) who wish Harris would STFU about Islam and that they would address the mysogyny in the skeptic movement.

Turton is correct that the Salon article is a ridiculous hit piece on Harris. However, Harris should not stop speaking about Islam. His task has been a thankless one in explaining that (1) Islam has more dangerous and toxic ideas than other religions, (2) these ideas (jihad, sharia, geographical expansion) saturate the Qur’an, Hadith, and Sira, and thus have always been mainstream and mandatory in all Islamic schools of jurisprudence, and (3) they are believed and enacted on by a disproportionate number of Muslims (who may be a minority, but by no means the fringe). He should be applauded for this, along with Maajid Nawaz (Harris’ colleague), Asra Nomani, Aayan Hirsi Ali, and Bill Maher — people who are far more progressive than leftists who cry “Islamophobia” in the name of cultural tolerance.

(“Islamophobia” is a propagandist term in any case, intended to shut down criticism of the religion Islam in advance. The correct term for racism is “anti-Muslim bigotry”, just as we use “anti-Semitism” and not “Judaiaphobia”).

In sum, I agree with Michael Turton that the Salon article is worthless, but would go further in correcting the smears of certain individuals.

Do kids adventure anymore?

Yesterday a Facebook friend tried buying valve caps for her daughter’s bike in four different stores – including an actual bike shop – and none of the stores had any. The bike-shop owner lamented that kids “just don’t ride bikes anymore”, and that’s been true for many years now. I never see kids biking around the neighborhoods like my generation did growing up in the 70s and 80s. Helicopter parents don’t let their kids out of sight for a moment (fearing pedophiles on every corner) and keep them caged indoors. Watching a show like Stranger Things makes me feel nostalgic for my biking days as a kid, when the outdoors was a world to explore.

Another FB friend pointed out that paranoid parents are only part of the problem. In the internet age, kids themselves often prefer to spend the whole day online or texting or playing video, and need to be dragged away from their screens and gadgets. It makes me glad that I grew up in the age before internet and iPhones, or I might have had to be dragged as well. I’ll say this: I’d be a very different person today had I been hovered over as a kid and/or stayed indoors all the time — and a lot less independent minded.

I cherish my childhood memories. Between ages 8-13 I hiked (with friends, not parents) deep into the woods, played at the sand dunes, and biked around town. The most extreme example I can think of was the Halloween I went trick-or-treating with a friend in a faraway town we’d never been to. His parents drove us there, dropped us off in the dark, and then returned to pick us up much later. We joined a group of kids that my friend barely knew as we went from house to house, and at one point I got separated from my friend, which was scary because I had no idea where the hell I was. But it was fun scary, and luckily I didn’t stay lost in the dark in an unknown town. I caught up with him, and we figured out how to get back to the rendezvous where his parents came to pick us up.

That’s the sort of escapade kids don’t get to experience anymore!

Trigger Warnings and Safe Spaces

triggersThe recent statement from The University of Chicago is long overdue:

“In a welcome letter to the incoming Class of 2020, Dean of Students John Ellison gives students the truth: there will be no quarter from controversial ideas on campus. U of C has made an ironclad commitment to the First Amendment, and will not abide safe spaces, trigger warnings, and other kinds of limitations on what is considered acceptable discourse:

‘Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so called trigger warnings, we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual safe spaces where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.’

Ellison pulls no punches. ‘Members of our community are encouraged to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn, without fear of censorship,’ he writes. ‘At times this may challenge you and even cause discomfort.’ “

Plain common sense, and this isn’t just a reaction to extreme cases like the Yale and Mizzou protests last year (over “insensitive” Halloween costumes and other ridiculous furies). It’s embarrassing that we live in a time when courageous thinkers like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Bill Maher are petitioned to have their speaking invitations cancelled because they are deemed bigots by students who have a poor understanding of the term. Or when genuinely funny comedians won’t bother performing at college campuses because humor can’t offend as it should. Even in my undergrad days at Lewis & Clark (’89-’91), I was cognizant of the growing narratives on liberal arts campuses which made “everything” offensive. Racism, sexism, and homophobia are very real problems, and those issues are trivialized by the hyper-sensitive who protest infringements on their “safe spaces” and misguided narratives. Grow up.

Whether material might offend or trigger trauma isn’t for college instructors to worry about in any case, beyond the common sense used in prefacing their courses. For examples:

  • In both my Hebrew Bible and New Testament classes in ’90-’91, my professor (Richard Rohrbaugh) outlined historical criticism and the kind of thinking we would be expected to engage in, and warned us that as long as he had been teaching intro bible classes, there are always some students who become very upset throughout the coursework (confronted by sudden chasms separating what the bible meant and what it means to believers today). He said, “My answer to that is tough rocks; let the chips fall where they may; I’m not here to offend anyone, but some of you will naturally be offended.” Again, common sense, and this is a perfect heads-up warning to quit the class on day one if you don’t think you can handle it.
  • Over a decade ago a friend of mine took a film class and one of the required films to watch was Irreversible, which depicts an extremely long and upsetting rape scene. Again, on the first day of class, the professor warned about transgressive content like this in some of the films. Now, at the other end of the spectrum, a rape scene like that in Pulp Fiction is universally seen as hilarious, though it could potentially upset a rape victim. But we can’t police the species and worry about every possible trigger. That’s up to the student. As someone on Facebook put it the other day, college professors aren’t counselors and it’s not their responsibility to pander to recovery needs.

So whether we’re dealing with material that may be offensive to some or triggering trauma in others, that is adequately covered in a first-day preface, which has been the professorial norm for ages. Students shouldn’t be mollycoddled beyond this. It’s not serving them at all, and it’s certainly not preparing them for the real world, which is the goal of an institution of higher learning.