Monday, June 6, 2011

Grown-ups can't be healed

Just over a week ago, I was sitting down at a cafe noshing on a tabouleh salad and at a table behind me, there was a guy I wanted to murder.  Okay, I'll rephrase that -- there was a guy at a table behind me who was preaching to his compatriots that he'd discovered that The ScriptureTM has healing powers.  Oh, the many mortifyingly moronic manifestations of mindlessness I did hear.  (Why yes, I do have a fondness for alliteration!)

Among the most fun of them was when he draw a parallel between the power of the Holy Spirit and the Marvel Comics character, Wolverine.  I later discovered that this man apparently believed that the Wolverine character was based on a real person who had historically been mistaken to be Bigfoot (but was in fact Hugh Jackman's father?), but more on that later.  The basic thesis this guy was pushing was that there's apparently some mystical energy intrinsic in the Word of God, and that it provides an unexplainable and unknowable power that can physically heal wounds, cure sicknesses, and raise the dead.  I guess he must have been taking lessons from Randy Demain.
Well, at the cafe, I was quiet about it, but a few days ago, I ran into the same fellow again, and this time, he was trying to sell others (myself included) on his claims rather than simply preaching to the choir.  Though I was eating my lunch, I was unable to keep my mouth shut at this point.  I will say, though, that I didn't murder the fellow.  I did better than that -- I ripped him to shreds to the point where he just plain walked away silently realizing he had no hope of getting anywhere.

That was a happy moment.

The first thing I did was to basically rattle off a few questions in order for him to attempt to justify his notion of healing powers inbuilt into scripture.  That went off on a rather interesting little pattern...

Me : How exactly does this healing power lie in the scripture?
Fundie : In all who believe, there is the power of the Holy Spirit, which is limitless in its ability to do great things.
Me : Fine, but believing is something that people do.  You said that the power is in the word itself, so how does that work?  Words are merely representative of the ideas they portray, so how do the words have any sort of power?
Fundie : Oh.  Uuuhhh..  It's because they are the Word of the Lord, our God, and they are anointed with the power of God through His holy voice.
Me : So what matters is that they are those specific words?
Fundie : Exactly.  Now you're getting it.
Me : So, first of all, those were originally spoken in various languages, ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, what have you...  and you're reading from a many-times-edited-and-revised translation into English, so that already puts you pretty far away from the "Word of God"...
Fundie : Well, I...
Me : Secondly, those words in English can be written or spoken by just about anybody, and many of the phrases like "Ask and ye shall receive" and so on are pretty common expressions.  So would it matter if I, as an atheist, says the same words or even writes down scriptural verses?
Fundie : Oh, no!  It definitely must be put to effect by someone who believes.  Those of us who truly believe and accept Jesus as our savior are like a conduit for the power of Christ, and that power is expressed in the Holy Spirit.
Me : So how exactly does that conduit work when it's not a believer putting the words to paper?  That copy of the Bible you're holding was definitely not put to paper by a believer.  It was done by a giant electromechanical printer which has no capacity for faith.
Fundie : Oh...  Yeah, but that doesn't matter.  Once the words are in contact with the conduit, they can move their energy through and the more faith you have, the more...  y'know...  it's like being an electrical conductor, and, and... the faith is your resistance...  or like, the opposite of that.  The more faith you have, the less resistance you have to let the power of the Holy Spirit flow through you.
Me : That still doesn't explain how this power is there or how it is supposed to work.  Moreover, it contradicts what you said earlier;  that it matters that a believer produce the word, and even the claim that the word itself has power of its own.
Fundie : You don't have to get nasty.
Me : I'm asking you to support what you believe and actually provide some actual evidence and explanation of it.  All I demanded there was a little bit of consistency.  So if I get a little cut on my arm, will your "Word", uttered by a true believer like you heal it?
Fundie : It would not work on you, because you're a man of no faith.  Faith requires no proof.
Me : See, that's kind of the key difference between claims of magical healing powers, and things that actually work like...  "y'know"...  medicine.  The belief of the patient has no impact on whether or not it works.  And it requires evidence because it is entirely constructed on the basis of evidently working... or not.
Fundie : Why are you out to rob the rights of good Christians?  I sense such anger in you.  Why do you hate the lord Jesus so much when he died for your sins?
Me : You don't get to play that game.  Trying to play the victim and pretend that there is some goal on my part to harm you when your beliefs are put up to a minimal level of scrutiny is entirely dishonest.  You might feel you are under no obligation ever to have to explain yourself.  That is not a right;  It's a luxury you're afforded when you're in the middle of people who already believe what you believe.  When you go into an audience of people who do not share your beliefs, and it is your goal to change our beliefs to match yours, then that luxury does not exist.  If you actually want people to actually change their minds, you need to be prepared to go a lot further than saying what your belief is.  You need to be prepared to provide enough information and enough of whatever is needed to convince us.
Fundie : Well, that's...  I don't...  that's not fair.
Me : No, it's perfectly fair.  Demanding some explanation when you are trying to convince me or anyone else of an idea is exactly what is done for any other idea, and there is no reason for your belief in magical healing powers to be any different.
Fundie : But it's the Word of God.
Me : Which, again, is one of your beliefs, and since you have at least one person in the room who isn't even convinced of that foundational belief, you'd have to start explaining from there.
Fundie : I...  uuuhhh...
Me : And let me remind you that at the start of this exchange, the questions I asked were framed such that I made the same assumptions you do about the divinity of Jesus, and even if I grant all that, it still doesn't explain the healing power of the translated word printed in an industrial press on cheap paper in an expensive binding.
Fundie : Well, okay, but...
Me : I didn't even get on the points of how the actual word as you know it is passed down as an oral tradition for generations, and then written down by scribes of dubious qualifications that involved little more than knowing what the Hebrew alphabet looks like.  And that's just the Old Testament.  The New Testament involves zero contemporaneous accounts of Jesus, and not one word was written by any apostles, but is at best a secondhand recording of a secondhand retelling of hearsay about supposed events by people who were hoping desperately for a Jewish Messiah in a time when there was a plurality of claimants to the throne.  And then that the whole thing had gone through review and editing to remove and alter certain books and chapters to finally decide what would go into the canon.
Fundie : Huh?
Me : And even if I had gone there, I could have used it only to cast doubt on the veracity of the word as you know it and whether or not it's actually even close to the "Word of God."  But the fact of the matter, is that it actually goes as far as to cast doubt on the veracity of the tales themselves
Fundie : What does that mean?
Me : I mean the fact that these stories, particularly every single one in the New Testament, have no outside confirmation or contemporaneous evidence of anything connected to them.  It really shows that there isn't even a whit of evidence to suggest that Jesus ever existed, or Moses, for that matter.  In fact, there is a surfeit of evidence to suggest that Jesus is simply a character made up of an amalgam of the passed-down tales of several distinct separate people...  largely extra-glorified and having details and interpolations added or subtracted just so that the tales can match the already passed-down "prophecies" of the Jews and fulfill those screeds, at least in literature alone.
Fundie : So you're saying...  it's all fiction.  The Bible, I mean...
Me : That's my actual position on it, yes.  But when I asked my original question about the power of the scripture that you claimed it to have, I didn't even start from that position...  I was willing to ignore all of that, and ask, for the sake of argument, from the standpoint that Christianity at its base is true...  and you still had no answer.
Fundie : Ummm...  I didn't really expect that...
Me : ... that someone might call you on your bullcrap?  You're probably not used to that.  Try flipping open some book other than the Bible, and come back later.
Fundie : I'm sorry to have bothered you...
Me : No problem.  It was fun.

I didn't lie.  It actually was kind of fun.

It was actually later that one of the other patrons told me that the same guy had been to restaurants and bars in that area on several occasions preaching his baloney as ever.  I was told that one time, he'd apparently been preaching in the Stanford location of Ike's, where one of the students challenged him.  Apparently, the guy used an argument about real locations like Mt. Sinai, Samara, etc., and that proved the truth of the Bible (a sort of "truth by association" fallacy, which is a subset of the category fallacies).  The student used the example that Marvel's Wolverine character has his back-story largely set in Canada.  This guy responded by saying that since Canada is a real place, the Wolverine character must be at least based on a real person.  Oh, dear...

As it so happens, I've had that same experience as well (albeit with the Spiderman-NYC example)...  I was semi-optimistic that my experience was unique, but apparently not.  Presumably, the fact that Smallville and Metropolis don't really exist is how you know that Superman is fiction.

Either way, I was told the man never returned to Ike's again, at least as far as that patron knew.  Hopefully, he'll never show up anywhere again.  If I see him in Daphne's a second time, I'll just give him The EyeTM...  and watch the weakling run for the hills.