Debate: My Opening Argument

Barrett Brown

I am the founder of the distributed think-tank Project PM and a regular inactive to Vanity Fair and Skeptical Inquirer. My work has also appeared in The Onion, National Lampoon, New York Press, D Magazine, Skeptic, McSweeney's, American Atheist, and a couple of newspapers in the U.S. and Mexico as well as a few policy journals. I'm the author of two books and serve as a consultant to various political entities and private clients.

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22 Responses

  1. tom van dyke says:

    If this is a debate, what is the “Resolved:”?

    (I have never found putting Christianity in the docket for its various sins—the Inquisition!—to be terribly helpful. Christianity was [perhaps inextricably] intertwined with Western Civilization itself for over a thousand years. Whatever its sins and crimes, they are Western Civilization’s as well.)Report

  2. Kyle R. Cupp says:

    It may be worth noting that the Roman Catholic Church has declared Athanasius, but not Theodosius, to be a saint.Report

  3. tom van dyke says:

    Thank you, Mr. Brown, and I didn’t mean to cramp your act, although my original objection to putting Christianity’s historical sins and crimes stand.

    Having read the “overture,” the various posts and replies, the shelling of the beaches to soften them up, and the ensuing grenade tosses, I was simply making a plea for clarity.

    If this is a debate, there should be a “Resolved:”

    There is a rough “Resolved:” out there for the necessity of theism for the continued success of our polity, and [in my view pointless at this point] polemics against Christianity and/or atheism. [Each of which of course have plenty of well-rehearsed arguments—the Inquisition, the Soviet Union, whathaveyou.]

    My original understanding of the debate was whether we can get by without a God or not. It’s not as if this is the first time I’ve been around this block, and I doubt it’s the first time for any of the formal participants in the debate. Geez, this one has been played almost infinitely on the internet, and is sub rosa in many other discussions and debates.

    This one seems quite promising, and many others have thought so too—an interblog debate between honest men of good will. Thast is miracle enough. But it is a debate.

    A formal debate requires a “Resolved:”

    The “winner” of a debate is often the one who best sticks to the topic. What’s the topic? With all due respect, I still don’t know. Christianity sucks. Atheism sucks. Western civilization sucks. Man sucks.


    • Michael Drew in reply to tom van dyke says:

      @tom van dyke, Mr. Van Dyke, I have to concur on the need for a proposition to defend and attack. I was looking for the word, and “The Resolved” is what I was grasping for. Without a proposition to put to question, we merely have reflections on a topic, or in this case, on topics.

      Enumerating Christianity’s sins (as well as those of other faiths’, and indeed of political and economic movements as well) is something that I think needs to be done, however, for the sake of historical understanding. Though not without also accounting for such doctrines’ and and movements’ achievements and contributions. We should never think that such considerations can be done in a perfectly accurate way, as one can never know what wonders and perfidies a version of history without those institutions but instead with other would have included. But that doesn’t make a case for historical forgetting.Report

  4. Lyle says:

    I would love to see a debate with the following: Resolved Constantine was the worst thing to happen to Christianity in its history.Report

  5. tom van dyke says:

    Thank you, Mr. Drew. We as [very] interested observers are resolved on the need for a “Resolved:”

    What the hell is the debate topic?

    See? We agree already, as manifestly two gentlemen of good will and we hope, honest men to boot.

    The details can trickle out, as Mr. Brown has promised they will, and all good time should be alloted. But First Things, first, as at least one side should agree. Presumably, that’s why they agreed to participate in this the first place. Anybody can say “because the Bible tells me so,” or “the Catholic Church tells me so.”

    I do not expect that the First Things folks walked into this buzzsaw with only fideism as the gameplan. Fr. Neuhaus never did.

    But even though the participants are clearly honest men of good will, this is a formal debate, and they haven’t agreed yet on what the hell they’re arguing about. Mr. Drew and Mr. Van Dyke share the same puzzlement, first things first.


  6. Joe Carter says:

    A preview of my response can be found here. I think Mr. Drew and Mr. van Dyke raise an important point, which I address at the beginning of my post.Report

  7. tom van dyke says:

    And, thinking about it, Michael, and all the internet sophistry I’ve seen, it comes down to who assumes the burden of proof.

    Mostly, it’s a game of who can shift the burden of proof onto the other guy. Then you just shoot him down from the duck blind. Fire away, defend nothing. The ducks do not counterattack.

    And as we’ve seen, you can either argue against the Catholic/Christian church [incl. the Reformation, post-95 Theses] or against Stalin and Mao.

    Resolved: Western Civilization cannot sustain without a belief in the Judeo-Christian God.

    Resolved: Sure it can.

    Whoever gets stuck with the affirmative, the defense, has already lost because this is the question of our age.

    Actually, I’d rather defend the “sure it can,” because Western Civilization has not yet collapsed. “Sure, it can survive without any notion of God. 60 years now, and counting!”

    [I do acknowledge your historical objections as noted.]Report

  8. Robert Cheeks says:

    Mr. Van Dyke appears to be one of the sharper knives in the proverbial drawer.
    Yes, yes, gentlemen a formal debate please!
    One grows weary of this middle school gotchaism and thank you Mr. Van Dyke.Report

  9. Francis says:

    JC, from his link: “Our contention is not for mere toleration, but for absolute liberty.”

    Really? So you have no opposition to the state marrying any two people who so desire? Or homosexuals serving in the military? You marched and spoke in opposition to the war in Iraq? You are active in opposing a possible war against Iran? You opposed State intervention in resolving the dispute about Terri Schiavo? You speak out against those who seek to teach ‘intelligent design’ in schools? Or those who claim that anthropogenic global warming could not possibly be happening because we have been put here by god?

    Because these are the things that would be required of someone committed to absolute liberty, not mere tolerance and certainly not intolerance. Tolerance, after all, does not require an affirmative act; if absolute liberty is greater than mere tolerance, it must pose an active duty on you, JC, to work your hardest against those who preach intolerance in all its forms.Report

  10. Jaybird says:

    As a libertarian, I see upsides to all sorts of belief systems.

    Christianity has *THIS* going for it, atheism has *THAT* going for it, Buddhist has *THIS OTHER THING* going for it, and, of course, the Jains are the Jains.

    Now since I am a pretty hard-core atheist, they all strike me, pretty much, as matters of taste.

    From this angle, I don’t understand why this isn’t perfectly analogous an argument over the virtues of chocolate vs. strawberry.Report

    • MFarmer in reply to Jaybird says:

      Are you restricting this to the present debate between theism and atheism in an apolitical sense? Because some belief systems can have consequences which are greater than the choice between chocolate and strawberry — more like the choice between freedom nd slavery, life and death.Report

      • robert green in reply to MFarmer says:

        @MFarmer, completely agree with this point. the consequences of christianity redound well beyond the sphere of a traditional theism/atheism ( barrett, like most of us on this side, is no longer an atheist as far as i can tell and seems to have moved on to antitheism*, a fact which informs my point) and out into the world of how people actually live their mundanity. i don’t think barrett intends to do that and i suspect (your honor, this whole comment is speculative–objection overruled because i am judge jury and executioner and i say go on, me) that JC (hey…wait a second…) won’t like it there on the playing field of the real world. he will lost that debate, and lose it ugly. i speculate.

        *allegedly coined by chris hitchens, but it was said about me in 1990, and i was chris’s fact checker in 1990, and though i don’t remember 1990 due to all the…ginger ale…i think i planted the seed in his head.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to MFarmer says:

        @MFarmer, the whole “leave me alone” debate is another debate entirely.

        But when it comes to posts on the internet explaining why this belief system is superior to that one?

        Dude, we’re arguing matters of taste.Report

  11. whitney says:

    I am too drunk to read this but I concur. 🙂Report

  12. whitney says:

    I am always on your side. Well, maybe. 😛Report

    • ScrubAssChump in reply to whitney says:

      @whitney, I’ve been looking for the drunken comments you said you left on my blog. And by chance I find them here when I happened to see your name in the sidebar. This isn’t my blog! I wish it were. My blog is the one with about 7 hits a day, and 32 followers, one of whom is from Serbia. (yes, I analyse my stats, it’s very arousing) And I know you’re always on my side. We should have done this by email. (Who do I know from Serbia?) I’m most intrigued.Report