Pointless Parables

I like some of the parables in the New Testament.  The parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son, for example, give good examples of the right path and add to the moral vocabulary of the West.

Lately, however, I’ve come across a few modern apologetic parables that fall far short of those in the Bible.  Let me start with “The Blind Faith of Atheism” a tediously long story making a very small point.  (I’ve abbreviated all the parables here.  You’re welcome!)

An atheist professor was harassing his Christian students about their God belief, so they challenge him to a debate.  The arrogant professor agrees, thinking he could shut down this God thing once and for all.

The atheist’s opening remark likens God belief to Santa Claus belief.  We give up one when we grow up; why not both? 

The Christian then goes through a long process of arguing that the atheist doesn’t know everything, to which the atheist agrees.  And now he releases the snare: isn’t it possible that evidence of God could exist in that huge fraction of all knowledge that the atheist doesn’t understand?  “Have you been to South Yemen?” the Christian asks.  “Maybe God is in South Yemen.”

The debate isn’t going his way, so the atheist complains that the debate isn’t fair.

The Christian pushes his point and gets the atheist, now meek and whiney, to admit that the claim “There is no God” is indefensible and that the atheist’s claim is actually a faith position.  A little more back and forth, and the atheist slinks away, publicly humiliated.

This is rather like the Chick tract in which the nasty Biology professor gets shredded and then converted by a calm and polite Christian.

Chick tract that argues that God doesn't exist

So the moral is: don’t say, “God absolutely, for sure doesn’t exist.”  Okay, but I already knew that.

In the first place, very few atheists are certain that there is no God.  They would say instead that they have no God belief, just like the Christian has no Poseidon belief.

Second, “there is no God” is a faith position just like “there are no unicorns” is—that is, not at all.  Could unicorns exist?  It’s possible, but the evidence strongly argues that they don’t.  We don’t have faith that unicorns don’t exist; we trust that they don’t because we have evidence that they don’t.  In the same way, belief in God is a faith position, but following the facts where they point (and tentatively concluding that God is in the same bin as Zeus, Shiva, and the other gods from history) is a trust position.

Next up, the story of a man and his barber.

As the barber trims the man’s hair, he says that he doesn’t believe in God.  He points to the problem of evil—why would there be so much pain and suffering in the world if God existed?

Wanting to avoid antagonizing the man who had his coiffure in his hands, the Christian customer doesn’t engage in the argument, but after leaving the shop, he sees a man with a scruffy beard and long unkempt hair.  He returns to the barber shop and says, “I just realized something—barbers don’t exist either.”

“But I just cut your hair!” the barber replies.

“If barbers existed, there would be no one with long hair, like the man I just saw.”

“Don’t blame me if they don’t come to me.”

“Exactly!” the Christian replies.  “And we can’t blame God if we don’t go to him.  He exists; the problem with pain and suffering is that people don’t seek God.”

Huh?  But Christians do go to God.  How does that help the pain and suffering in the world?  How does that remove pain and suffering from just the lives of Christians?  How does that undo the damage from tornadoes or tsunamis?  Praying to a God, even one who’s not there, can bring comfort, I’ll admit, but that’s hardly what the Christian in this story is claiming.

Finally, a well-made video from the Macedonian Ministry of Education and Science.

The video opens with a schoolboy running into school.  The time period looks to be about 1900.

The teacher at the front of the room speaks in German, with English subtitles.  He declares that if God exists then he is evil.  If he created everything, then he created evil, right?

Our schoolboy protagonist stands to challenge this: “Professor, does cold exist?”

“Of course it does.”

“No, sir, cold doesn’t exist.  Heat exists, and cold is merely the absence of heat.  Professor, does darkness exist?”

“Of course.”

“No, sir.  Darkness doesn’t exist.  It is merely the absence of light.  In the same way, evil doesn’t exist.  Evil is the result of what happens when man does not have God’s love in his heart.”

At the end, we see the name of this precocious schoolboy: Albert Einstein.  We’re left with the tagline: “Religion is knowledge too.  Bring religion back to school.”

With a tagline like that on a government video, I guess there’s not much separation of church and state here.  And a Macedonian ministry puts together a German video with English subtitles?  Why not Macedonian subtitles?  What possible goal of theirs could this serve?

Putting aside this mystery, this isn’t an honest portrayal of Einstein’s religious beliefs, at least not in his later life.  And we can quibble about whether evil is something or the absence of something, but the final statement (that evil is the result of not having God’s love) is simply an assertion without evidence.  Unconvincing.

Is it me, or have Christian parables gone downhill?

(And if you hear of any more, let me know!)

Photo credit: Rafael Lopez

8 thoughts on “Pointless Parables

  1. This seems like a discussion of niggling details.

    To start with, while I may not be quite 100.0000000000% certain of god’s non-existence, I am far MORE certain, than any Christian can be that god DOES exist. Because I actually have facts, logic, reasoning and a mountain of evidence to back up my certainty, whereas the Christian has nothing but wishful thinking and a few fairy tales.

    The statement about barbers, “If barbers existed, there would be no one with long hair”, is ridiculous on its face, because, unlike deities, barbers are not supposed to be omnipotent.
    So it’s a false analogy, and the point of the story is lost, right there.

    The final story fails, as well, because the statement, “Evil is the result of what happens when man does not have god’s love in his heart”, is both an unprovable assertion and demonstrably false. You might as well say that “Evil is what happens when a man makes a habit of sucking on lemons.”

    I think that the story of the prodigal son illustrates a different point from the one that the author intended. To me, it says, “Christians are jerks, and will reward people for bad behavior, while ignoring those who actually do good in the world.”

    Come to that, the story of the good Samaritan could also be viewed differently: “Non-religious people are actually better and more moral than religious ones are.”

    I guess the moral you take from a story depends on how you interpret the intentions of the characters.

    • I think that the story of the prodigal son illustrates a different point from the one that the author intended. To me, it says, “Christians are jerks, and will reward people for bad behavior, while ignoring those who actually do good in the world.”

      My takeaway from this parable is that if this describes the actions of the noble man, why can’t God follow this? Why doesn’t he just forgive like the rest of us do?

  2. For once I agree with you, Bob – christians often use lousy arguments and analogies. Jesus told far better stories (no surprise to a christian!).

    But atheists unfortunately also use lousy analogies and arguments. Most of my recent comments have been aimed at what I see as similarly weak arguments and analogies that you have presented (weak because they are based on erroneous evidence, or misunderstandings). Jesus had a saying about “beams and motes”. : )

    Best wishes.

  3. Decades back, probably in the 1950s, there was a radio interview with Theodore Sturgeon, whose science-fiction short stories were widely admired as fine examples of the craft of writing. But the interviewer, like most mainstream Americans of the era, had nothing but contempt for SF as a literary form and so asked Sturgeon the provocative question “Why is 90% of science fiction crap?”.
     
    Sturgeon snapped off the 1st thot that came to mind: “Because 90% of EVERYTHING is crap!”. But it has proved to be such a useful observation that it’s come to be known as Sturgeon’s Law, applying to everything from TV shows to music to politics to architecture to iPhone apps.
     
    Not surprising, then, that it also applies to parables invented by Christian apologists. It undoubtedly applies to the stuff we atheists come up with as well.
     
    Fortunately for all concerned, Darwinian selection kicks in almost immediately, and the stuff that survives is the GOOD stuff. You think that Beethoven was the only guy trying to compose classical music in the early 19th Century? Au contraire, Pierre! There were hundreds of people doing it. 90% of what they cranked out was crap and has been forgotten. Beethoven’s work fell almost entirely into the 10% worth preserving.

  4. Pingback: More Pointless Parables | Galileo Unchained

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