Soon: Chapter 14: Conversion on the Tarmac

We know that the plane trip back to Chicago will be Conversion Time because Paul astonishingly turns down a first-class pre-flight drink.  He sucked down half of his father-in-law’s best liquor at Wintermas, so we know that Paul buries the pain under booze.  But we can’t have even a hint of alcohol involved in a conversion, now can we?

The flight starts to suck even before takeoff (storms) and I’m wondering why this glorious Atheistopian pilot doesn’t just cancel the flight, except that it’s important for Paul to be terrified and desperate when he converts.  Also, Jenkins does seem to like him some in-flight conversion.  Maybe Chaim Rosenzweig was just the dry run for this.

Straight has conked out, so Paul starts playing Proselytizer Bingo…with himself.  In just one page of Soon, Paul hits 1) Jesus Was Real, 2) the Lewis Trilemma, and 3) It’s True Because My Daddy Told Me So.

I’ll try not to take too long with these.  Numerous anti-apologetics have already addressed these points quite well (especially the second), but I do have something in common with Paul here (blech): we are both atheists raised in secular homes.  The big difference is that I grew up in (as the RTCs would have it) a “Christian nation,” while Paul grew up in Atheistopia, and got himself a Ph.D. in religion.  So let’s see where that takes us…

Jesus urged people to have faith, to believe in Him.  Most atheists chose to believe He was a fictitious character, but Paul’s professors had been more generous.  They allowed that He was a historical figure and perhaps a wise teacher, but needless to say, they scoffed at any claims of deity.  He couldn’t be the Son of a God who did not exist.

Boy, for a lifelong atheist raised in Atheistopia, Paul sure talks like a Christian.  I don’t think I have ever capitalized the “he” of Jesus, much less the “son” part.  Is Jenkins just afraid to write the “he” of Jesus with a little “h,” or does he really think that atheists capitalize it in their minds?

Notice how Jenkins skates quickly around the whole historicity question, by having the pointy-headed, ivory-tower-dwelling, liberal, intellectual elites (did I leave anything out?) admit Jesus exists?  Somehow, given the utter lack of evidence for Jesus outside of the Bible, I doubt that professors in Atheistopia would think any such thing.

Then, Paul remembers learning about C.S. Lewis in graduate school.  I would love to see the syllabi from Paul’s classes–he read C.S. Lewis, but never got around to reading Revelation?  As for Lewis, I have no love for him, and the Trilemma is one of his dumber arguments, though also one of the most popular.  Probably because of the way it trips off the tongue: Liar, Lunatic, or Lord.

You know, if there’s one thing that rings true here, it’s that a dumbass like Paul would be converted by the Trilemma.

Many, many people have pointed out the silliness of the Trilemma, including the way it leaves out other possibilities, such as Mistaken, or Legend (as discussed here, on the awesome Atheist Experience):

As well, Paul says this of the Trilemma:

You couldn’t have it two ways.  You could not call Him a wise teacher unless you believed His claim to be the Lord of all.

There we go again: “The Lord of all.”  Because all atheists talk that way.

This line of argument always reminds me of a line from Mystery Science Theater 3000 (I just wish I could remember which episode).  What I do remember if that in the movie, a female character, seemingly offended by the very idea, snaps at a man, “Do you think that people lie???”

Tom Servo’s response: “No, never!  Yes, always!”

So, someone can’t be a wise teacher without being the son of a god?  Or, another twosome, a person cannot be both a lunatic and a liar at the same time?

(Let’s not even get into Lewis’ view that a “lunatic” is someone who thinks he is a boiled egg.  Way to be sensitive to people with mental conditions, jerk.)

(Or, for that matter, that many of Jesus’ teachings are not what I would call wise.  Don’t plan for tomorrow, thought crimes are as bad as actual crimes, etc.)

Having cited Lewis, Paul goes on to cite two far more important men: his daddy, and The Dork Too Stupid.  Jenkins tries to turn Paul’s musings on these men into an argument that smart people are Christians…

Paul thought he knew enough of his dad’s character through his mother’s recollections.  She never said he was stupid.  And Paul knew beyond doubt that Andy Pass had been no intellectual lightweight.

Yeah, I think we all know about The Dork’s great mental prowess.  But let’s acknowledge what’s really going on: Paul is a misogynist with abandonment issues and Daddy issues.  He has found out over the past few months that his two father figures were Christians.  So, he either sides with the women in his life (his mother, his wife) or the men.  I think we all know what the answer is.

So far, Jenkins would have it that Paul is being converted by history, the greatness of the Bible, pure logic, and the wisdom of men he has known.  Seems to me that he’s being converted by lack of facts, faulty logic, and his Daddy issues.

And the plane hasn’t even left the ground.


Posted on May 13, 2011, in Books, Soon. Bookmark the permalink. 29 Comments.

  1. Redwood Rhiadra

    It’s sad how many supposedly sophisticated Christians fall for the emptiest, *shallowest* “proofs” of their faith. (Here I’m talking folks like Lewis and Pascal and Descartes, not Jenkins… ) Really, if arguments like the Trilemma and the Wager are the best the great Christian minds can come up with…

    • When the baseline for argument about Biblical truth is to quote the Bible, the Trilemma and Wager look like towering edifices of nuanced, well-reasoned philosophy. I’d put more weight on someone just having an earnest feeling of God’s presence at some point in their life, than on these kinds of attempts to reason into faith.

      • Choir of Shades

        The wager is actually quite a fascinating piece of philosophy, once you correct for Pascal’s glaring errors. It actually ends up saying you’re as likely to need to be wearing denim when you die to get to heaven instead of swearing fealty to a specific monotheistic god.

        I rarely even see Christians use the capitalized “he” for Jesus, only for God (and often not even then). And for all the atheists/agnostics who can’t remember to capitalize God, don’t worry: In one of my college classes (possibly Ethics) my discussion section got a 10 minute lecture after our first paper was in on how the TA would mark us (a mostly though not entirely Christian group) off if we didn’t capitalize God (though he magnanimously granted that he wouldn’t mark off for not capitalizing ‘He” and “Him” since not everyone believed in God).

  2. It does seem to me a bit unfortunate that the RTC mindset never seems to get beyond these basic logical tricks. Combine that with the way that pretty much everyone has already heard what they have to say, and I start wondering why they get any converts at all. Could it be that they look for vulnerable or stupid people who might fall for this stuff? Surely not!

  3. …the pointy-headed, ivory-tower-dwelling, liberal, intellectual elites (did I leave anything out?)….

    …latte-sipping, Volvo-driving, East-coast,…

  4. I want to say that quote’s from the Hercules MST3K episode. I can’t recall my friends’ phone numbers half the time, but I remember trivia like this!

    Most atheists chose to believe He was a fictitious character, but Paul’s professors had been more generous.

    Ah yes, because of course we atheists “choose” to believe (and nonbelieve) the way we do. That’s what makes it okay to send us to hell.

    • Hercules! Thank you so much!

      Yeah, interesting that Jenkins seems to be saying that belief is subject to the will. I’m a bit surprised by that, but as you say, it does allow him to consign nonChristians to Hell and feel okay about it.

      • It probably stems from Romans 2:14-15. “For when the Gentiles, who have not the law, do by nature those things that are of the law; these, having not the law, are a law to themselves. Who shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness to them: and their thoughts between themselves accusing or also defending one another.” This is usually referred to as “the law of God is written on the hearts of men”. Thing is, the latter bit of 2:15 is saying that this is with regard to how they comport themselves, not about who to swear fealty to. It’s a confusion of how law is understood here: Paul’s talking about the precepts within the Jewish laws, but the fundamentalists have managed to regard “thou shalt trust entirely in Jesus the Christ” as a law unto itself–and thus conflated it with the actual law Paul referred to.

  5. I don’t think I have ever capitalized the “he” of Jesus, much less the “son” part.

    I’m an agnostic raised by atheists and I have trouble remembering to capitalize god when talking about the specific god of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. How would he even know to capitalize “he” or “son”?

    I’m really struck by what a poor case for belief is being made. “My dad believed. My dad wasn’t stupid. So I’ll believe.” Really? That’s the best case a believer could come up with? I’m an agnostic and I’m willing to bet I could come up with a better case than that, if I really wanted to. Is it that Jenkins belief so self-evident that he can’t sell it? Is it that he, himself, believes for such shallow reasons? Is it that he so doesn’t understand non-believers that he can’t figure out how to sell conversion?

    • Should be fun to see what the analog to the capitalization situation is in alphabets that don’t HAVE capitalization (e.g. Hebrew, Chinese, Korean, Japanese).

    • I think that several things tie together: the American tendency to anti-intellectualism, the emphasis on “feeling” and “sincerity”, and a tendency to lead an unexamined life. The combination of these may well lead to someone who Believes, but can’t explain why he Believes, not only because he doesn’t have the intellectual tools to talk about it but because he regards the very idea of intellectual examination as directly opposed to his sort of faith.

      This leads to a faith that is very easy to demolish by anyone who is prepared to use those tools, of course…

      • Well, some people seem to have a surprising degree of immunity to those tools, so not always so easy.

        • I wasn’t quite clear: it’s easy for someone prepared to use the tools of intellect to demolish this sort of unexamined faith for hirself. But someone unwilling to use said tools will actively resist an intellectual argument. It’s the difference between working out what’s correct and knowing what’s right: the virtue of the scientist is that when evidence comes along to contradict his theory, he abandons that theory. The virtue of the RTC is that when evidence comes along that contradicts his God, he clings more tightly.

      • I’d like to know where the anti-intellectualism tendency came from, truth be told…

        • Anti-Intellectualism in American Life by Richard Hofstadter (pub. 1962-1963) is a comprehensive historical review up to that point. A lot of it builds out of the Great Awakening (and its emphasis on conversion as opposed to the life lived after conversion)

  6. Whenever I get hit with the whole Trilemma thing, I just apply the same logic to Mohammed. Was the founder of Islam a Liar, Lunatic or Lord? And keep in mind that Islam has spread as far and as fast as Christianity ever did, and their community was a lot more healthy at the time of the Prophet’s death than the Christian community at the time of Jesus’s death.

    • Inquisitive Raven

      Doesn’t work for Mohamed. He never claimed the mantle of divinity. His actual claim was to be the last and greatest prophet.

      • How about Prevaricator, Person-With-Issues, or Prophet, then? 😉

      • True, he never claimed to be divine, but he was supposed to be the conduit of a divine message which, among other things, explicitly rejected the divinity of Jesus Christ.

  7. Headless Unicorn Guy

    There we go again: “The Lord of all.” Because all atheists talk that way.

    Don’t you know Atheists all speak Fluent Christianese?

    EVERYBODY in Official Christian (TM) Fiction speaks fluent Christianese.

    • Perhaps it’s all a scheme by the Atheistopian FBI: produce a bunch of “miracles”, and see who turns up to gawp at them, which allows the FBI to find out how their communications networks fit together.

  8. I’m going through this entire deconstruction at a runner’s pace but I have to stop here and say how lovely it is so see an Atheist blow this piece of shit to itty bits. (And to not give an ounce of respect to C. S. Lewis.) It’s quite cathartic.

    I’m also enjoying this story a lot more than LB, for some reason. Maybe it’s because more emphasis is put on the Ghost in the Shell future tech stuff and I’m in full agreement with you that This World Rocks. Perhaps this feeds into my theory about why this guy’s main characters are always monstrous; Jenkins literally has such a messed up sense of morality that normal humans can barely comprehend it. It’s like reading an adventure series written by Cthulhu; you’re probably not going to appreciate the heroism of the main character.

    (Seriously. Paul is far more evil than Rayford. Rayford is mostly a sociopath who just avoids having to help people or do stuff, with some abuse sprinkled in, but only at a specific target. Paul actively hurts others as much as he can, especially his wife, and seems to derive real pleasure or comfort from it.)

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