bookmark_borderCreationist theme park

Answers in Genesis, Ken Ham’s creationist outfit, appears to be following up their successful (and scientifically hilarious) creation museum with a full-scale theme park:

The theme park, to be called Ark Encounter, . . . is envisioned as a full-scale wooden ark that would include associated museums, theaters, amenities, event venues and outdoor parking.

That alone would be enough to show that Kentucky is immune to embarrassment. But to really emphasize the point, governor Steve Beshear will be unveiling the plans at the State Capitol Building.

bookmark_borderDesecrating the Quran

In light of recurrent news items concerning desecrations of the Quran, I thought I should contribute.

After all, I don’t treat the Quran as a special book. In both my offices—at home and on campus—it’s not unusual to see books strewn and stacked on the floor. And it occurs to me that I have, in the past, created sights that would shock some of my more devout Muslim friends. I have had, I will confess, a copy or two of the Quran lying on the floor, tossed aside. Worse, I have had other books on top of the Quran. If some of my devout Muslim acquaintances were to witness such a offense, they would automatically pick the Quran up, kiss it, and remove it to a high shelf in a position of prominence.

So here’s my documentation of mild Quran-desecration:

Not only is the Quran on the floor, I have stacked on top of it a copy of the Tanakh, the Book of Mormon, and Jennifer Michael Hecht’s Doubt: A History.

Terrible, terrible stuff. I expect to burn in hell for this. Or at least to be hauled into court for “inciting religious hatred.”

bookmark_borderThanksgiving

Thanksgiving is one of the nicer USAnian holidays: it’s very light on the religion and nationalism, and the consumerist frenzy is postponed to the day after.

Still, on the Christian radio channels I occasionally listen to, I’ve noticed an effort to Christianize Thanksgiving—to inject some Jesus into it. Sigh.

I don’t mind if they want to do it for themselves. There’s a certain logic of monotheism that drives it to put religion at the center of everything. It’s just unfortunate that conservative Christians are also committed to spreading their “good news” to innocent bystanders.

bookmark_borderTurf war?

There is some substance to the perennial debate over whether the existence of gods is largely a philosophical problem or a scientific matter. But I also wonder whether much of the debate is an artifact of existing academic disciplinary boundaries.

So here’s a suspicion to consider: most of this dispute is due to an artificial, socially constructed and historically reinforced separation that makes philosophy and the sciences separate cultures with their own sets of habits (“methods”). Our educational process certainly reinforces this sort of separateness, where talking across disciplinary boundaries becomes very difficult due to different established subcultures. In other words, I suspect a much of the dispute over whether supernatural beliefs should be evaluated within philosophy or within science is a useless turf war.

I further suspect that most people who have something serious to say about the question of the gods would agree—broadly speaking, and subject to the usual disagreements about matters of emphasis. After all, you can’t launch into a scientific critique of the gods while ignoring the tendency of theological claims of all levels of sophistication to become insulated from reality checks. And you can’t get anywhere understanding why “a supernatural agent did it” has become implausible as an explanation without availing yourself of the immense background knowledge due to the naturalistic development of modern science.

If we organized intellectual life differently, maybe we’d have less of these unproductive turf wars. Right now, our training in various disciplines perhaps focus too much on clusters of habits (“methods”) and a particular research tradition. But at least in my experience in the sciences, productive crossing of disciplinary boundaries often comes about when people get interested in a particular question or puzzle, and then don’t feel constrained to be exclusively channeled into existing traditions when figuring out ways to approach that puzzle. If research is driven by a particular question rather than an established tradition, it might have a better chance of avoiding getting trapped in various turfs.

So if the alleged reality of supernatural agencies is the puzzle facing us, I would expect that anyone interested would gather a variety of tools for themselves. They would avail themselves of the philosophical tradition, yes, but they could hardly overlook physical cosmology, evolutionary biology, cognitive science, sociology of religion, etc. etc. and so on and so forth.

Again, I hardly think this is to say anything controversial. And yet, I still regularly read articles by philosophers griping about someone in the “New Atheist” orbit supposedly naively taking God to be a scientific problem (John Shook in the latest Free Inquiry, for example). So I suspect there is a turf war hidden in these disputes. And like most academic turf wars, this one is largely bullshit.

bookmark_borderAnswers to Objections

Ten years ago I had a debate in Colorado Springs with Methodist minister, the Rev. Trigg. Nice man and a stimulating debate. The topic was “Theism vs. Secular Humanism as a basis for ethics.” I wrote up a set of answers to anticipated audience objections, which I do not think I have ever posted anywhere. I think they might be of interest here:

Objection: God is the only possible foundation for ethics. Because God’s nature is absolutely and essentially holy, all value must ultimately flow from God. Nothing in the merely human realm would require us to be other than totally selfish. Only the sacredness of God can make values objective and not just the arbitrary products of human desire or choice. Further, only an encounter with the sacredness of God can give us the motivation to be good.

Answer: The quick and dirty answer is that the God of the Bible is a homicidal ogre who could not possibly figure into any acceptable system of ethics. While such an answer is decisive against fundamentalism, it leaves the philosophical argument untouched–namely that without a transcendent ground, ethics cannot have an objective basis. However, there is something very odd in saying that all value must flow from or be supremely manifested in a supernatural being. Holiness is where you find it, and it can be found everywhere, as the ancient pagans realized. Pagans found more sanctity in the whispering of wind in the trees than in chanted litanies, and more awe in the waxing and waning of the moon than in sacraments. The greatest sin of Christianity is one I did not mention in my opening address. Christianity did its greatest harm to humanity by reifying the sacred, identifying it with a remote, transcendent being, and so removing it from the world. This effectively put the sacred under lock and key, making it accessible only through priests, creeds, and sacraments. In the pagan view, the sacred is not a distant heavenly being, it is something “far more deeply interfused” as Wordsworth put it–a sacredness that pervades all things and is available to all persons at all times. I have some sympathy with the view that values can arise from an encounter with sacredness, but I find sanctity in nature, art, and, most eminently, in loving human relationships.

Objection: Though many sins have been committed in the name of Christ, there can be no doubt that Christianity has done far more good than harm. Can you name any other institution or organization that has done as much good as the Christian Church?

Answer: Can you name any other institution that has done as much harm as the Christian Church? Well, maybe the Nazi Party in Germany from 1933-45. After all, the Second World War, and its concomitant holocausts, resulted in the deaths of over sixty million human beings. The Christian Church, despite all its inquisitions, massacres, crusades, witch-hunts, etc., probably never reached that number. Remember though, that as Carroll and others have persuasively argued, the seeds of maniacal Nazi antisemitism fell on ground well plowed and fertilized by Christian anti-Judaism. Centuries of Christian hatred of “the perfidious Jew” made Nazi antisemitism possible, if not inevitable. Well what about Mao and the Chinese Cultural Revolution of the 1960’s? Tens of millions were killed then; surely the Christian Church cannot be blamed for that. No, but look at what such a “defense” of Christianity has to do. Only by comparing the Christian record to the crimes of the greatest monsters of history can the Church’s record be made to look relatively benign. This is a pretty sorry showing for an institution that was supposed to be the Light of the World. As for the claim that the Church has done overall more good than harm, I can only ask “By whose measure?” or “Weighed in what scale?” How do we weigh a missionary’s solicitous care for a leper in the scale with, say, the murder of the philosopher Hypatia by a mob of Christian fanatics? Given such imponderables, I regard the claim of the Church’s overall goodness as quite meaningless.

Objection: You hold the classical Greeks up as a model. Surely you know that the Greeks were slave holders, regarded all non-Greeks as “barbarians,” kept their wives sequestered at home while they fooled around with prostitutes and fancy boys, fought continuously, and had governments that alternated between demagoguery and autocracy. The Athenians massacred the Melians when the latter refused to join the Athenian Empire. The Spartans beat boys to death to show how they could endure pain without complaint. Even your hero Aristotle justifies slavery and sexism. How can you hold such people up for us to emulate?

Answer: All ancient peoples held slaves and, with the partial exception of the Egyptians, kept women in inferior positions. In their vices, the Greeks were no worse, and in many ways better than their contemporaries. By comparison, Christianity has unquestionably been the most intolerant of all the major religions. Even Islam, at the height of its expansionism, gave its conquered peoples three choices–convert to Islam, pay tribute, or die. That’s two more choices than Christian crusaders usually gave their victims. Getting back to the Greeks, they were surely not greater hypocrites than the Founding Fathers of our country, who preached liberty in a nation where chattel slavery flourished and where the Founding Mothers were denied the vote. Yet if we can continue to be inspired by Jefferson, Madison, Washington, and Adams, surely we can turn to Homer or Aristotle also. Remember also, that the sins of Christianity I noted are deeply rooted in Christian doctrine, not merely lapses from an ideal. The basic message of Christianity is simple and brutal: Believe in Jesus Christ and you will enjoy eternity in heaven; disbelieve and you will suffer eternity in hell. Intolerance inevitably follows from this most basic of Christian affirmations. Humanity is divided into two groups–those who think like us (the saved) and those who perversely persist in disagreeing (the damned). The self-righteousness of the allegedly elect is an inevitable consequence. Of course, self-righteousness is one of the most seductive of human pleasures, but it is also one of the ugliest forms intolerance takes.

Objection: Christianity is the moral basis of our nation. The Founding Fathers clearly recognized that the people needed the inspiration and motivation of religion to promote civic virtue. This is why they called for national days of prayer and quoted scripture so often in their orations and writings. They recognized that only a religious people would have the virtues of self-restraint and industry necessary for the maintenan
ce of a free society. Only religious people will realize that freedom does not mean license and that all real freedom goes hand-in-hand with self-discipline and responsibility. Therefore the Founding Fathers were right to inculcate religion to promote a virtuous citizenry.

Answer: Again a short answer beckons: If the moral character of America is due to Christianity, then it must have inspired us to enslave Africans and exterminate Native Americans. Now if anyone thinks I am being merely flippant here, he or she should read Forrest G. Wood’s The Arrogance of Faith. Wood carefully shows how many of the most eminent and orthodox American churchmen not only condoned but actively encouraged slavery and genocide. Christianity cannot take credit for the inspiring the good things about America and avoid taking responsibility for inciting the bad. Now once again, I can hear people insisting that those who invoked the name of Christ to justify evil were not acting on true Christian principles. But I simply defy anyone to show that slavery and genocide are contrary to Scripture. On the contrary, the Bible clearly accepts slavery and condones genocide. Getting to the objection’s main point, did the Founding Fathers seek to fortify civic virtue by encouraging religion? First, the Founders clearly did not consider devotion to Christianity or any religion as necessary for civic virtue. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution explicitly says that NO religious test will be required for holding public office. Clearly, in the Founders’ opinion, the civic virtues were not the exclusive property of Christians. Further, contrary to the shameless lies and distortions of the Religious Right, the Founders clearly did intend to erect a wall of separation between church and state. However, they certainly were not hostile to religion in general and were happy to appeal to religious sentiment when they thought it would encourage virtue (the Founding Fathers, for all their genius and greatness, were still politicians, remember). De facto, the majority of the American people are at least nominally Christian, and biblical rhetoric can sometimes inspire us to greater vision, as Martin Luther King Jr. so eloquently demonstrated. There is nothing in the employment of such rhetoric that humanists need decry. I often quote scripture in the classes that I teach at a state university. My argument here is not that Christianity never has inspired people to do good. That would be silly, just as silly as if someone were to say that the Church had never incited harm. My argument is that Christianity, both in its doctrine and practice, has been too inconsistent to be trusted in a position of moral leadership. When Christianity has been good, it has been very good; when it has been bad, it has been horrid.

Objection: The whole argument so far has overlooked the fact that there is overwhelming evidence that Christianity is true. Jesus appeared numerous times after his death, showing himself to many persons, even those who had not previously believed in him, and even to five hundred at one time. His tomb was found empty on Easter morning with the stone rolled away from its entrance. The disciples, utterly dispirited at the time of the crucifixion, were transformed into invincible witnesses whose courage and zeal began a movement that ultimately conquered the Roman Empire. The only reasonable explanation for these events is that Jesus did triumphantly rise from the dead as predicted by scripture, so proving his divine mission and status. If Christianity is the true religion, then surely we as individuals and as a society should be guided by its tenets.

Answer: I have elsewhere given in detail my reasons for holding that Christianity is not true. Briefly, I find the so-called evidence for Christianity to be extremely weak. There is, and again I do not mean to be flippant here, no more reason to believe in the post-mortem “appearances” of Jesus than in those of Elvis. We now know quite a bit about the psychology of anomalous experiences. Specifically, it is now quite well understood how people can become convinced that they have had paranormal experiences, like abduction by aliens, when no such event has occurred. Very recently, neuroscientists have shown that the brain seems hardwired to produce, when appropriately stimulated, a sense of the numinous or feelings of a divine presence. Further, research by psychologists into the dynamics of memory shows how easy it is for false memories to become implanted and how authentic they can seem to people who have them. Also, folklorists have shown how legends arise and propagate, often in defiance of the eyewitnesses of the original events. In short, the records of the post-mortem appearances of Jesus are more scientifically and economically explained in terms of hallucinatory or visionary experiences, the accumulation of false memories, and the legendary accretions around historical events. As for the empty tomb, as John Dominic Crossan argues, there is no reason to think that Jesus was put into a respectable tomb. Crucified miscreants were usually thrown into dishonorable mass graves. The charming Gospel stories about Joseph of Arimathea and Jesus’s honorable burial are clearly legends that the perceptive reader of the Gospels can watch grow as they are told and re-told. In all likelihood, these stories developed to cover Christians’ guilt over the shameful treatment actually given to Jesus’s body. As for the zeal and courage of the disciples, let Christians consider Mohammed, Joan of Arc, Joseph Smith, and innumerable others who claimed to be motivated by a divine epiphany. Are Christians willing to accept all of these claims as authentic? As for the “appearance” of Jesus to 500, what about the “appearance” of the Virgin to 17,000 at Fatima? Prima facie nothing distinguishes such claimed epiphanies from those of, say, Paul in I Corinthians 15. In conclusion, I find many of the “facts” adduced for the truth of Christianity not to be facts at all, and those events that did probably occur can be better explained non-miraculously.

Objection: You are quick to point out the dark episodes in the history of the Christian Church, but you forget that atheism has its dark side also. Soviet communism was explicitly and militantly atheist and its ideology sanctioned some of the greatest crimes of history. Stalin, with his purges and engineered famines, tortured and killed untold millions. When God is dethroned, the state becomes God, and people are expected to bow before their political masters and worship the all-powerful Total Society.

Answer: The position I am defending is humanism, not atheism. Atheism is defined by some as disbelief and by others as merely unbelief in God or gods. Either way, little follows from atheism per se. Atheists can be political conservatives, lib
ertarians, liberals, or radicals. As cases in point, Antony Flew and Kai Nielsen have been two of the most outspoken atheists among recent analytical philosophers. Their critiques of theism often sound remarkably similar. Yet Flew is a staunch Thatcherite Tory and Nielsen is a committed Marxist. Humanism, on the other hand, is an ancient philosophical tradition with roots firmly in classical civilization. The person in whose life humanist ideals were most fully developed was probably Socrates. Socrates taught that we must follow reason wherever it leads, and that erroneous opinion must be corrected by patient dialogue, not persecution. Intolerance of contrary opinion, salient characteristics of both Marx and Jesus, was utterly alien to Socrates. Humanism despises dictatorships of the left and the right. To humanists, oppression is oppression, whether conducted by ayatollahs or commissars. Christianity, however, has often winked at right-winged autocrats, just as long as they were friendly to the interests of the Church hierarchy. To mention just one example, during his long dictatorship over Spain, Franco and his Falangist thugs enjoyed the support, or at least the acquiescence, of the Roman Catholic Church.

bookmark_borderUnsecular Turkey

Here’s an interesting corrective to the notion that Turkey is a “secular state” as so often described in Western media reports.

The Diyanet (the Turkish Directorate of Religious Services) has long been one of the largest government departments, and is devoted to Sunni Islam. In Turkey, clergy are government employees. With recent expansions, the number of people employed by the Diyanet will go up to 130 thousand. Before the current Islamist ruling party took power in 2002, this number was around 70 thousand. According to some estimates, the country has more mosques than schools.

bookmark_borderHistorical fine-tuning

I would like to bring a hitherto much-neglected example of divine fine-tuning to the attention of the public: the fine-tuning of human history. Moreover, this fine-tuning is reaching a critical point now.

Let us set aside religious sources as interested parties, and restrict ourselves to arguments with a secular pedigree. Even with this restriction, it is clear that we live in times where we can anticipate great transformations, ranging from the utopian to the apocalyptic.

On the negative side, we are facing a future of severe environmental degradation, where a collapse of biodiversity and global warming is just the beginning. Nuclear annihilation is always a non-negligible possibility. Our present political and economic systems are clearly incapable of dealing with such concerns. Even as neoliberalism leads us into economic downturns, even these mini-crises only produce opportunities for moneyed elites to further entrench themselves. Right-wing religious populism with fascist overtones haunts the political landscape.

On the positive side, transhumanists envision a future where science and technology bring us closer to realizing utopia. We look forward to downloadable personalities, and even a “singularity” where machine intelligence pushes into horizons we can barely imagine. We—or our bioengineered and cyber-enabled descendants—may yet travel to the stars.

But no one knows what is likely to happen. Indeed, it all appears very finely balanced. Seemingly insignificant individual events can push us from looming catastrophe into a brave new world or vice versa. This balancing on a knife-edge is not what we would expect from a “normal,” naturalistic development of history. It seems exceedingly improbable; it certainly calls for an explanation.

In the spirit of all fine-tuning arguments, we can take our current delicately poised balance as compelling evidence of supernatural intervention in human affairs. Furthermore, we can do better than invoking the “God did it” non-explanation, as scientific materialists so often accuse intelligent-design proponents of resorting to. The fine-tuned balance between prospective catastrophe and possible utopia tells us something about the character of the supernatural agencies shaping history.

Now, I should pause to point out that what I am about to suggest will satisfy no one among our traditionally warring parties. I can hear the sound of materialist minds already slamming shut against the possibility of supernatural intervention. But to understand the forces shaping our history, we have to move beyond the dogmas of the monotheists no less than the dogmas of the Darwinian materialists.

A finely-tuned balance between catastrophe and utopia is not the sort of thing you expect from the morality tales and apocalyptic fantasies of the monotheistic tradition. History is not being shaped by one divine actor with a single purpose! Instead, the fine-tuned balance indicates multiple purposes that compete and cooperate in shifting alliances.

We should be talking about gods. Moreover, these gods use humans as their playthings. As with any exciting game with multiple players and unstable alliances, no one option can predominate as a clear future for long. Shifting alliances continually drive the game into an unstable equilibrium, which can be resolved only by crises of which the outcome is highly uncertain.

We are clearly approaching another point of crisis in the game of the gods. And we can but hope that luck will break the way of those gods who have some further use for us humans.

bookmark_borderThe Meaning of Divine Attributes

As far as I’m concerned, there is nothing better than doing philosophy, and philosophy of religion is the chocolate-fudge frosting on the cake. In philosophy of religion, you get a full serving of each of the major areas of philosophy: metaphysics, epistemology, logic, ethics, philosophy of language, and philosophy of science, to name just the most obvious examples.

Richard Swinburne points out this multi-facetted aspect of philosophy of religion in the Introduction to The Coherence of Theism:

Although the over-all topic of this book lies squarely within the field of the philosophy of religion, I have found it necessary, in order to answer the questions with which I am concerned, to write lengthy sections on many general philosophical topics and then apply the results to the claims of theism. There are detailed discussions of such topics as meaningfulness, personal identity, free will, and the objectivity of morality—topics generally considered to lie within areas of philosophy other than the philosophy of religion. This is an inevitable and to my mind welcome consequence of the integrated character of philosophy. (COT, revised ed., p. 5)

In recent weeks, I have been reading about divine attributes, particularly Swinburne’s analysis of omnipresence, omnipotence, omniscience, perfect moral goodness, and eternity, plus reading some general articles by other philosophers of religion on these topics.

Swinburne attempts to clearly specify the meaning of each of these divine attributes, and to work out definitions or meanings that are logically coherent. Along the way, he tosses out various attempted definitions as being problematic or incoherent, including some definitions that are widely held by other theologians or Christian philosophers.

The analysis of divine attributes by Swinburne and other philosophers of religion, and the attempt of such thinkers to clarify the meaning of the sentence ‘God exists’ suggests to me that the question ‘Does God exist?’ belongs first and foremost to philosophy, and that although science may have something to contribute to answering this question, it is not fundamentally a scientific question.

I realize that science deals with logic and with analysis of concepts to some extent. No scholarly or intellectual field can avoid logical and conceptual analysis. However, we cannot answer the question ‘Does God exist?’ unless and until there is some clear definition or analysis of the sentence ‘God exists’, and I see no way to do such an analysis apart from providing clarification and conceptual analysis of divine attributes such as omnipotence, omniscience, perfect moral goodness, eternity, etc.

Having read Richard Dawkins’ exposition of a so-called argument against the existence of God, I am completely confident that Dawkins is not in any position to do an even half-ass job of conceptual analysis and clarification of the divine attributes. Swinburne (and just about any other well-known philosopher of religion that you could name) could argue circles around Dawkins in this area.

Do we really think that scientists should devote their time and energy to logical and conceptual analysis of the paradox of the stone? Or to arguing about whether there are such things as objective moral truths? Should scientists be entrusted with figuring out whether the idea of a bodiless person is a meaningful and coherent idea? or to the question of what constitutes personal identity? Will science determine the logical compatibility of divine foreknowledge and free will? These are the sorts of questions that need to be answered in order to nail down the meanings of the divine attributes, and to clarify the sentence ‘God exists’.

Science may have something to contribute to the study of these questions, but they are essentially and fundamentally questions of logical and conceptual analysis, and they are the very sort of questions that philosophers deal with all the time. Scientists are, in general, not well suited for dealing with these sorts of issues, as Dawkins has made so very clear by his failed attempt at dealing with the question ‘Does God exist?’.

It is not at all clear that the sentence ‘God exists’ is a meaningful and coherent sentence. But we cannot begin to evaluate the truth or falsity of this sentence until we determine whether it is a meaningful and coherent sentence. Making such a determination is the job of philosophers of religion, not of scientists.

One person, however, can sometimes excel in more than one field. So, it is possible that someone could be both a brilliant philosopher of religion and also an excellent scientist. Such a person might produce a solid logical and conceptual analysis of the sentence ‘God exists’, show this sentence to be meaningful and coherent, and then go on to evaluate the truth of the clarified sentence in terms of scientific knowledge and/or investigation.

But such a person will be doing logical and conceptual analysis as a philosopher and then following that up with doing empirical and scientific work as a scientist. If Dawkins can some day figure out how to do a good logical and conceptual analysis of ‘God exists’, then this will show us that Dawkins has learned how to do philosophy. It will not show us that science is capable of answering the question ‘Does God exist?’

bookmark_borderAtonement as satisfying a vendetta

Some time ago, on the local Christian radio station, I was listening to a preacher explain how Jesus’s death on the cross saved us all by paying the penalty for all our human sins against God. He used the analogy of a judge who lets a convicted person go, because some other person, innocent of the crime, volunteers to go to the gallows instead. The law is satisfied by someone paying the penalty; the convict just has to accept the sacrifice of the innocent person and walk free.

I’ve run into this analogy before; I would guess that it circulates in the culture of evangelical Christianity. It just happens to be particularly striking in the way it makes no sense. None of our legal systems work this way. And it seriously grates against the common modern conception of moral responsibility.

No doubt there are other conceptions of responsibility under which the satisfaction version of the Atonement make sense: conceptions where persons are much more strongly integrated into collectivities than modern individuals, and where responsibility and punishment are much more plausibly taken as communal affairs. Not being an anthropologist, though, the only example that I can think of that might help me make sense of the Atonement as satisfaction is a vendetta.

In many tribal or segmented societies, a tribe or (partly fictive) kinship group regularly bears collective responsibility for transgressions against another group. Say one person murders another from another group, starting a vendetta. For the aggrieved group, justice will often be deemed satisfied if any one person from the offending group is murdered in turn—it does not have to be the original murderer. Groups bear collective responsibility, and because of this, they can also often be effective in discouraging their members from transgressing against other groups.

So I guess in a vaguely similar sense, I can imagine humans bearing some collective responsibility for transgressions against the God-in-chief. Maybe some perfect sacrifice on behalf of all of us can satisfy that sort of debt. Maybe—I expect this sort of thing made more sense in Near Eastern societies of a couple thousand years ago where collective responsibility was a familiar everyday reality.

What I don’t get is conservative American Christians today still taking about the Atonement as satisfaction. These are often the same people who make a fetish of “personal responsibility” and rugged individualism. They don’t do vendettas. So don’t they feel the tension between that modern conception of responsibility and the stories they tell about Jesus atoning for our sins? Or should I speculate that collective responsibility is not so foreign to the evangelical subculture? After all, many conservative Christians today are quick to ascribe collective responsibility to Muslims for acts of terrorism. What’s going on here?

I’m not too concerned about how conservative Christians come up with intellectual excuses for their ideas about the Atonement. A religion that affirms the Trinity and Jesus being both fully divine and fully human should have no trouble with a bit of intellectual tension between conflicting senses of responsibility.

What I wonder is how the tension manifests itself (or not) psychologically. Do conservative Christians just, by and large, not think about this sort of thing? (I’m fairly sure they don’t give the Trinity much thought, for example.) Or is there something to a speculation that their culture has an element of tribalism that helps defuse the tension here?