Three Things against Conservative Christianity

I personally think being a moderate in anything is the best way to live, especially being a moderate in your worldviews. Some of the teachings of Conservative Christianity just cannot measure up against cold and cruel reality of the world. These are a few examples.

(1. Prayer)
I don’t believe a God, like how the Christian Conservative churches teach, is a Universal Vending Machine to our personal prayers and that our prayers are magical somehow as Christians when prayed with enough faith of a “mustard seed” that can move mountains.

If so, won’t we all feel like magicians that are in the center of controlling things in this world. God’s Will will be done no matter if we pray or don’t pray. We are deeply insufficient and finite creatures when it comes to our cognitive faculties and our wisdom.

And as a scientist, I approach life and work with two assumptions: that (1) there is a God and (2) it’s not me (and it’s also not you). Together these axioms imply my surest conviction: some of my beliefs (like yours) contain errors. We are finite and fallible. We have dignity but not deity. Our fundamental assumption about our own life, as well as about other people’s lives, goes something like this: “We want, we get, and then we are happy.”

But science tells us this is almost never-the-case. We are both too greedy and more often than not, mis-want. So to give us that much power invested in our finite and flawed natures, that would just be unreasonable and dangerous on God’s part. All of the Bible teaches us to be humble and pay submission to God’s Will and God’s Design. “God’s will be done, on earth as it is in the heavens” instead of what your church teaches, lest prayer really becomes the opium of the people like Marx once said.

(2. Getting into the Bible) I may believe that “all scriptures are God inspired and breathed.” However, how we interpret those scriptures and what to take from it (as a whole) require a scientific and empirical approach.

In checking our personal Biblical interpretations, doctrines and opinions against reality, we should emulate the empiricism and the scientific method of Moses: “If a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord and what he says does not come true, then it is not the Lord’s message.” Another word, if you take something from the Bible, and it stands against a brick wall of scientific evidences against it, then you better rethink about how you interpreted that passage of the Holy Scriptures. The same empirical spirit was exemplified in the New Testament as Paul advised the Thessalonians, “Test everything; hold fast to what is good.”

The Copernicus revolution, as the origins of modern science and the Renaissance, makes plain, a humble faith, with its awareness of human fallibility, motivates open-minded, rigorous scientific inquiry. If nature is God’s orderly and intelligible creation, then let us, as rational creatures made in God’s image, explore this handiwork and discover the divine laws.

We see this idea over and over again in the Bible, in the Psalms (“the sky above proclaims his handiwork” [Psalm 19:1]) and Paul (“[God’s] invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” [Romans 1:20]).

‘All of Creation praises thy name so that unbelievers have no excuse for not believing.’ (Romans). So let those who also believe in science observe and experiment, believing that whatever God found worth creating, we should find worth studying, mindful that our ultimate allegiance is not to any human authority, the church’s authority, or human doctrines on God, but to God alone. We should then check our personal opinions, beliefs, and biases against reality of science as we emulate this Biblical empiricism.

This biblical understanding is why I further believe that we should hold our own untested beliefs tentatively, assess others’ ideas with open – minded skepticism, and when appropriate, use observation and experimentation to winnow error from truth. This ideal of faith – supported humility and skepticism, arising from a religious tradition that calls itself “ reformed and ever – reforming” such as (Bounheffner’s Prayer Church to seek the Will of God to keep His church, faith, and understanding to be relevant Such openness may sound scary to uninformed and conservative churches.

But what if the same openness to science can answer some of the most controversial beliefs and some of our fundamental questions about human nature. Wouldn’t that be worth-a-while study them.

Such openness and scientific rigor might be too much of a chance for most conservative churches to take. But it’s a chance that God is willing to take when He gave us free will to openly accept, question, or reject Him (as the case in the Garden of Eden) and chose the knowledge of Good and Evil while forsaking our innocence.

A dramatic example that scientific reasoning does not bring weariness or a heavy burden to people but makes for a better and happier society in general can be seen in the latest International Statistics. “Phil Zuckerman’s empirical research found that secularized, moderately religious, and scientifically developed nations tend to have happier and healthier people than do highly religious nations (The Chronicle Review, January 30). Countries with the highest rates of happiness, life expectancy, literacy, income, gender equality, and education, and with the lowest rates of infant mortality, homicide, AIDS, and teen pregnancy, are relatively secular in its religious beliefs and scientifically oriented.

[If you relocate to another country, and wish for a civil, safe, healthy place, you should consider relatively moderate nation with its religious beliefs coupled with empirical science such as Norway, Sweden, Australia, Canada, or the Netherlands. These countries have hints of Christian values left behind from the past and a highly rational, national outlook on life and education system. I personally call them Christian Moderates in today’s scientific age.]”

(3. Christian Fellowship)
One thing Conservative churches are right on is in its strict teachings advocating discipleship, prayer partners, and Christian Fellowship. Because we have a high tendency to rationalize our sins. The latest cognitive research shows that “the rationalist idea that we reason our way to moral judgments has it backward. Instead, we make instant gut – level moral judgments and then seek rationalizations for our feelings (another example of emotions feeding thinking).

Most people will feel instant disgust over an objectively harmless but degrading behavior, such as scrubbing a toilet with the flag, and will then mentally scramble to construct moral reasons that support their moral intuition. First come the feelings, then the rationalization.

Recent studies have similarly found that prejudice arises less from cerebral justifications than from automatic, gut – level reactions that seek justification. Reason is often the slave of passion. Moral reasoning therefore aims to convince others of what we intuitively feel, which in times past has led people to find in the Bible ample support for the subordination of African Americans and women.”

I have included a published paper I wrote a few years ago on cognitive flaws below. Science proves that we need people in our lives to point out our sins and then to challenge us on our walk with God. And we need other people to do so, because literally, even the smartest people cannot see their own sins now nor in retrospect. Here is the science on why that is so:

People’s natural social instinct to cognitive flaws — a few main ones (a paper published here on GlossyNews 2 years ago)

Accepting More Responsibility for Success Than Failure, for Good Deeds Than Bad
Time and again, experimenters have found that people readily accept credit when told they have succeeded (attributing the success to their ability and effort), yet they attribute failure to external factors such as bad luck or the problem’s inherent “impossibility.”

These self-serving attributions have been observed not only in laboratory situations, but also with athletes (after victory or defeat), students (after high or low exam grades), drivers (after accidents), and married people (among whom conflict often derives from perceiving oneself as contributing more and benefiting less than is fair). Self-concept researcher Anthony Greenwald summarizes, “People experience life through a self-centered filter.”

Favorably Biased Self-ratings: Can We All Be Better Than Average?
In virtually any area that is both subjective and socially desirable, most people see themselves as better than average. Most business people see themselves as more ethical than the average business person. Most community residents see themselves as less prejudiced than their neighbors. Most people see themselves as more intelligent and as healthier than most other people. When the College Board asked high school seniors to compare themselves with others their own ages, 60 percent reported themselves better than average in athletic ability, only 6 percent below average.

In leadership ability, 70 percent rated themselves above average, 2 percent below average. In ability to get along with others, zero percent of the 829,000 students who responded rated themselves below average, while 60 percent saw themselves in the top 10 percent and 25 percent put themselves in the top 1 percent. If Elizabeth Barrett Browning were still writing she would perhaps rhapsodize, “How do I love me, Let me count the ways.”

The Totalitarian Ego
At the University of Waterloo, Michael Ross has repeatedly found that people will distort their past in ego-supportive ways. In one experiment he exposed some people to a message about the desirability of frequent tooth brushing. Shortly afterwards, in a supposedly different experiment, these students recalled brushing their teeth more often during the preceding two weeks than did an equivalent sample of people who had not heard the message.

Noting the similarity of such findings to happenings in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four—where it was “necessary to remember that events happened in the desired manner”—Anthony Greenwald surmised that human nature is governed by a totalitarian ego that continually revises the past in order to preserve a positive self-evaluation.

Because of our mind’s powers of reconstruction, we can be sure, argues Mike Yaconelli, that “Every moving illustration, every gripping story, every testimony, didn’t happen (at least, it didn’t happen like the storyteller said it happened).” Every anecdotal recollection told by a Christian superstar is a reconstruction. It’s a point worth remembering in times when we are feeling disenchanted by the comparative ordinariness of our everyday lives.

Self-Justification: If I Did It, It Must Be Good
If an undesirable action cannot be forgotten, misremembered, or undone, then often it is justified. Among psychology’s best-established principles is that our past actions influence our current attitudes. Every time we act, we amplify the idea lying behind what we have done, especially when we feel some responsibility for having committed the act. In experiments, people who oppress someone—by delivering electric shocks, for example—tend later to disparage their victim.

Cognitive Conceit: Belief in One’s Infallibility
Researchers who study human thinking have often observed that people overestimate the accuracy of their beliefs and judgments. As Baruch Fischhoff and others have demonstrated, we often do not expect something to happen until it does, at which point we overestimate our ability to have predicted it—the “I knew it all along” phenomenon. People also fail to recognize their vulnerability to error.

Unrealistic Optimism: The Pollyanna Syndrome
Margaret Matlin and David Stang have amassed evidence pointing to a powerful Pollyanna principle—that people more readily perceive, remember, and communicate pleasant than unpleasant information. Positive thinking predominates over negative thinking. At Rutgers University, Neil Weinstein also has discerned a consistent tendency toward unrealistic optimism about future life events.

Most students perceive themselves as far more likely than their classmates to experience positive events such as getting a good job, drawing a good salary, and owning a home, and as far less likely to experience negative events such as getting divorced, having cancer, and being fired.

Overestimating How Desirably One Would Act
In various experiments, most people have been observed to act in rather inconsiderate, compliant, or even cruel ways. When other people are told about these conditions and asked to predict how they would act, nearly all will insist that their own behavior would be virtuous. Similarly, when researcher Steven Sherman called Bloomington, Indiana, residents and asked them to volunteer three hours to an American Cancer Society drive, only 4 percent agreed to do so.

Meanwhile, a comparable group of other residents were being called and asked to predict how they would react were they ever to receive such a request. Almost half claimed they would help.

An political, real-life, costly and hurtful example of “Totalitarian Ego”, “Belief in One’s Infallibility”, “If I Did It, It Must Be Good” is this:

refusal to accept and repent to our painful awareness of information that is inconsistent with our actions. To reduce this unpleasantness, we’re predisposed to justify our behavior. Smokers persuade themselves that smoking is a relatively harmless pleasure. Aggressors blame their victims. Attitudes follow behavior.

“After the Iraq invasion, many Americans were awash in cognitive dissonance. The war’s main premise was that Hussein had potentially devastating weapons of mass destruction. As the war began, only 38% said in a Gallup Poll that the war was justified even if Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction.

Nearly 4 in 5 Americans believed their troops would find such weapons, and a similar percentage supported the just-launched war. Surely most Americans, and John Kerry and his Senate colleagues, would not have supported the war had they known then what they know now.

But when no WMD were found, Kerry and many others experienced dissonance, which was heightened by their awareness of the war’s financial and human costs, by scenes of Iraqi chaos, by surging anti-American attitudes in Europe and in Muslim countries and by inflamed pro-terrorist sentiments. Even Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld wondered whether we were creating terrorists faster than we were eliminating them.

To reduce dissonance, some people revised their memories of their government’s primary rationale for going to war. The reasons now became construed as liberating an oppressed people from tyrannical rule and laying the groundwork for a peaceful Middle East. So as time went on, the once-minority opinion became the majority view: 58% of Americans said in one poll that they supported the war even if there were no WMD, and today most of those still do.

“Whether or not they find weapons of mass destruction doesn’t matter,” suggested GOP pollster Frank Luntz, “because the rationale for the war changed.”

With national commissions having now declared that there were no WMD and that Hussein played no part in 9/11—nor was his dilapidated army much of a threat—do any politicians who supported the war live with regret?

Sen. John D. “Jay” Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), realizing the war rationale has lost its legs, openly regrets his vote. But he is among the few. Sens. Kerry and John Edwards have not been able to say their vote was wrong.

Bush has declared that “although we have not found stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, we were right to go into Iraq,” and he offers a new justification: Hussein “had the capability of producing weapons of mass murder and could have passed that capability to terrorists bent on acquiring them…. The decision I made was the right decision.”

Such self-justification reminds me of what every social psychology text teaches: Once made, decisions grow their own self-justifying legs of support. Often, these new legs are strong enough that when one leg is pulled away—perhaps the original one—the decision does not collapse. Not only do we sometimes stand up for what we believe, we come to believe in what we’ve stood up for.” (David Myers, 2009)

Kerry cannot bring himself to say that, knowing what he knows today, “the Iraq war was a big screw-up” (as even Bill O’Reilly recently acknowledged to Tim Russert). No doubt, his mental machinery, like Bush’s and yours and mine, makes him believe in his own decisions.

Author: Charles L. Wang

I lived a good life - a hard one, but I sleep peacefully at night knowing that I have made a difference in someone's life... Oh by the way, I'm from China: Downtown, China... Read my full bio.

3 thoughts on “Three Things against Conservative Christianity

  1. It’s Bonhoeffer’s Prayerbook, man; not Bounheffner’s Prayer Church.

    People looking for Bounheffner will never find him. He doesn’t exist.

  2. Hey Charles, I like Your points, I am of the minority that watched the reunification of Germany being debated at the UN. I heard Saddam testify that since Kuwait was established during the German aggression as a Pacific port for the allies, Iraq would reclaim their “own portland”, the general assembly was 100% in agreement, including the U.S. Six months later on ratification of Germany’s reunification, I tuned to “Night Line” to hear that, and it was preempted by “Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait”. The only reason we were there was because George Bush had BIG investments in the “No Tax Haven of Kuwait” oil fields, the American public were shown the same old file tapes of “smart bomb tests”, over and over, George came on the news all week saying “Until Saddam complies with UN security council resolutions 678 and the twelve preceding resolutions, we will continue to bomb Iraq” was I the only American to do the math and see one “world government resolution 666”? In pointing these things out to my friends, family, and coworkers, I was disowned, lost friends, and replaced at work, even today the Iraq war is justified “because Saddam used chemical weapons”, does it matter to US that it was U.S. chemical weapons Saddam used?

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