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The Robert LaRocca files

His letters are in yellow, whilst mine are in black & white.

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Dear Normal Bob,

Alex Nelson was shocked, shocked! to find Jesus Dressup at #2 on Google. Well, I remember some years ago when it was a long-standing #1, until the young upstart Wikipedia took the top spot, which it has held to this day.

Over the years, Jesus Dressup slowly dropped down to #5 or #6, which made me a little sad, so I was delighted to receive Ms. Nelson's good news of the rebound.  Things are looking up, especially because "Jesus Christ on Twitter" stands at #4, just two below you!  Now I don't play twitter myself - I have too much else to do - but many of your readers might like to get an occasional tweet from the Prince of Peace himself (last tweet: "August is boring.").  And by the way, I think you have done more for rational godlessness than Hitchens and Dawkins put together!

Blasphemously yours,

X. Hismarck



Haha, "done more for rational godlessness than Hitchens and Dawkins put together?" I'd really like to hear you validate that statement with some sort of believable explanation. Or if you were just being sarcastic or kissing my ass I can accept that too. I don't see myself as even close to either of those gentlemen.

However, thank you for the trip down Memory Lane. Oh, the days when I was #1, before Wikipedia existed. Hell, before Myspace existed! And no, I'm not a Twitterer. I've been told I should be, but it's not happened yet.

Normal Bob



Well, Hitchens and Dawkins aren't #2 on Google.  I think you reach a much wider audience, a much younger audience, an audience that might never learn of those writers but for your superb website.  Good as their works are, I think that you have had a greater impact.  Your hatemail answers have a greater range of appeal to all kinds of readers than their books, what with your combination of satire, pure logic, and just plain fun.

No disrespect meant to those men, but I think you have probably affected many more people who needed it than they have.  Just a guess, I guess.

X.

So back on page 442 is when Robert LaRocca first introduced himself to me. Since then our communication has revolved between email and gmail chat exchanges, been broken by month long gaps and has even gotten quite confusing at times. The topic has been morality and where it comes from. I decided a good starting point for you is this video I forwarded to Robert to clarify my position, and his response to it. It's the point when we finally understood where the other guy stood and our arguments became more pointed. The shorter letters after the LaRocca response are bits of a truncated chat up until we got back into longer, more consise emails again.


“If you listen, they really have no reason to give that guy why he shouldn’t eat babies like a hamster...”

In one of my last emails I charged that “you were inconsistent to say that Laws are not conventional, that morality is universally wrought through empathetic feelings for all people... but then at the end of the email you said that your atheistic worldview claims that ‘there is no set, spoken list of directions, and the ones we're told should be up for question because it's all just written by other people.  People who are as flawed and as susceptible to life's temptations and selfishness as anybody.’  This leaves laws conventional.  I would like for you to deal with this inconsistency.”  
 
This is the main problem I wanted to deal with, which is the exact problem this video tackles. 
 
The video was great to listen to!  Those two up there are obviously intelligent and are very well spoken.  The man on the right (Matt) obviously has some exposure to philosophy as he cited the Plato’s Euthyphro dialogue (which, at the end of the dialogue, is interestingly not resolved). Unfortunately, I find the same inconsistency in their ethics as I did yours.  Here is a play by play:
 
The foundations for morality are laid out as her own “personal judgment” and a “societal judgment” (:56)  This sets laws of morality as purely conventional.  Fine.  The guy on the phone calls this arbitrary and she agrees!  (1:25)  She says that the moral codes of the nations are arbitrary.  She then rejects the charge of arbitrary at 2:52 (which seems like a back peddle). 
 
So far they are conventional.  But then Matt comes in talking of “better for society”  (1:35).  The pre-conditions for any appraisal of what is better are not introduced, they are assumed (that’s why the guy is charging them with question begging). 
 
Now it gets interesting!  Matt introduces a moral absolute at 1:41. But at 4:27 he says there “are no moral absolutes irrespective of persons” and at 6:52 he says there is “no universal moral code.”  After introducing a moral absolute in 1:41 (slavery) he then says in 1:54 that he is the “ultimate judge of right and wrong.”  How a moral universal can be absolute and personally derived is never explained, just preached!   In the history of western philosophy, the idea that laws are both individual opinion and universal standards has ALWAYS been deemed a contradiction.  If that is the position he wishes to hold, at least give some reason why he thinks so. 
 
What ensues next is a theory that morality is an animalistic drive towards collectivist society 5:40-6:02.  The drive for survival is suggested as a teleological standard for morality, that is, what is moral is that which helps a species survive.  One can even breed this behavior! (5:39, 6:02 “breed morality into an animal”)  But just when morality seems like an innate drive, Matt says there is “no innate right and wrong” at 4:27.  But then somehow “survival  matters” and therefore “becomes a basis”  (6:40 “Basis”?  Survival is now the foundation for morality?  Now we’re getting somewhere!)   
 
Matt now introduces the Euthyphro dialogue, and talks about theists shifting our arbitrary standards from humans to God.  But Matt says that God cannot stipulate absolute morality at 7:55.  (Theoretically, an Absolute God could stipulate Absolute laws, if there is at least some agreed sense of means to be absolute.  That agreement is where most natural theology breaks down, but even if we were to just make up a standard of absoluteness, it should be agreed that an absolute God could command absolute commands.) 
 
But wait!  Matt seems to favor where God only recognizes absolute standards, and therefore they exist without him, making God unnecessary.  He then says that we have the ability to “determine these standards” (8:11)   WHAT STANDARDS!??!  He now believes in standards!  Absolute standards are back!  “Absolute standards but God is irrelevant”  (8:05).   At 9:45 Matt defends his friend Tracy saying she had nothing to do with the “ultimate standard,” but I think it is pretty clear that he had a standard when Matt agreed with her that “survival becomes a basis.” (6:40)   
 
The last minute kinda missed the mark when it comes to how a Christian would explain how they are a Christian, so I don’t want to waste time on it. 
 
So what do I see here?  Oscillation between ultimate standards and animalistic conventions. Actually, it gets really interesting when they posit animalistic standards!  (haha)   I noticed the same pattern with your thought in our correspondence.  Literally, at one moment there are no standards, then suddenly there is a “basis.”  At another moment laws are arbitrary, another they are not.  Even still, at one moment there is absolute morality at 1:41, then there is no universal moral code at 6:52, but then there are universal standards to be determined at 8:12.  What? 
 
If you listen, they really have no reason to give that guy why he shouldn’t eat babies like a hamster (5:25).  What do they have?  Paraphrase: “Be like the fox!”  What if I want to be more like a hamster?   Foxes and hamsters both have survived thus far, so which should I choose? Both seem like viable options!  Look, I realize that to the modern post-Enlightenment citizen some Christian Ethics seems strange and irrelevant.  I grant that.  But is this the alternative? 
 
Give me your thoughts, Bob.  Thanks for this video, and I’m sorry I’ve not gotten back to you till now.  I’m trying to write a thesis and learn French.  That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it! 

Robert LaRocca

Have you read the laws god wrote about how much a slave owner is allowed to beat their slaves? “If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished, but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property.” Exo. 21:20

Your moral dictator deemed this right.
Normal Bob

“it doesn't matter what you think of this law. you have no standard to evaluate it.”

Right. 1) this is an aspect of theocratic law that is abolished by Christ. 2) it doesn't matter what you think of this law. you have no standard to evaluate it. In fact, perhaps, in your worldview, at this point in evolutionary history, it was "right" to beat a slave. Why not? who are you to pass judgment?

Robert LaRocca

Yeesh. That was a copout answer if I ever heard one.
You're telling me you don't see the "absolute wrongness" in that command of your god?

Normal Bob

“I have a standard... that standard is scripture.”

No, it is not a copout. any "absolute wrongness" presupposes I have a standard... that standard is scripture. If I were to deam the Bible as "absolutly wrong" then I must have an absolute besides the Bible. It is this absolute I want from you, and you have not rendered one. You might "feel" it is absolutely wrong... but that is not a universal standard.

Robert LaRocca

I think you need to address its wrongness first, since it's your god, his rules, and you're defending them. Or do you deem them right, despite what your gut says?

Bob

“Your gut is not a basis for argumentation.”

My gut?  my gut is not a standard.  you are not playing by the rules of philosophy.  Your gut is not a basis for argumentation.  you can play by the rules by presenting a ultimate principle that you accept as foundational for your worldview.  You then must demonstrate how those principles standardize your morality, logic, justice, etc.  If you would just admit that an evolutionary worldview supplies no absolutes to judge other worldviews, then our conversation can proceed.  Until you do, then we'll be stuck.

Robert LaRocca

Wait. Isn't it your gut that you're trusting in in regards to it all being true? Isn't that what faith is? What your gut tells you? It's so confusing!

Normal Bob

“Why have you devoted 10 years on the internet to bashing other people's guts?”

Ok fine.  But if you are validating the use of "the gut." what do you have against christianity?  What if my gut and your gut leads us to different places?  Why have you devoted 10 years on the internet to bashing other people's guts?  At least within my "gut" system there is an authority structure - upon which I can denouce certain propositions as false.  your gut has no such authority structure.  this gets back to my very very first email - if laws of logic are conventional "gut" reactions, then why isn't christianity a viable "gut" phenomenon?  If it is, then don't knock it from your "gut" founded system.  

Robert LaRocca

You now sound as if you're not aware of the damage religious beliefs hold, or the arguments atheists have regarding the harm Christianity has on the individual as well as society.

I was treating you differently than how I treat other complainers because you seemed more studied. Are you seriously having this psychological breakdown? You need me to list off the mentally destructive details of religion, and Christianity specifically? I seriously didn't expect you to collapse under the pressure of that gut comparison. 

Christianity isn't a viable "gut" phenomenon because, as I pointed out (condoning slavery/slave beatings, child killing, stoning adulterers, etc) goes against human gut reaction. I won't insult you by explaining how. You exposed your hand already by dodging the "Explain slave beating or child killing in Old Testament Law so it sounds right" challenge.

You can't do it. You're forced to run circles around it, ignore it, eyes hazing over, point behind me and shout "Wait! What's that over there!" instead of simply allowing yourself credit for deciphering right from wrong without God.

It's that mentality that's dangerous. You listen to the Bible even when your gut's screaming otherwise, instead of being intellectually honest and saying "I know it's wrong despite what the bible says."

All I'm asking you to do is walk me through your gut reaction to God allowing slave beatings & child killing. You can explain it, right? Or is your explanation simply "The Bible says so therefore it's true and right. Explanation complete."

Let me know so I understand who exactly I'm dealing with here.
Normal Bob

“I'm not psychologically breaking down”

I'm not psychologically breaking down.  My point is that you have made a universal statement:  "slavery goes against human gut reaction."  20th-21st century Western progressive culture reacts against the idea of slavery in such a way, but that is not universal.

I am not being evasive.  If the Bible says that at a certain point in the history of redemption it is permissible to hold slaves (in this case, under Mosaic Law) then it is permissible to hold slaves.  No matter how objectionable you find this, I still have a foundation for ascribing to Scripture that is coherent with my overaching worldview.  That is, God is the primary author of Scirpture and therefore at that point in which he legalizes Slavery, he has the authority and right to do so.  Otherwise, I would have to hold to an abstract universal law that binds both man and God.  I do not believe in such abstractions.
 
But you must believe in abstractions.  You must believe that 'out there' exists an abstract universal law that judges whether God is moral or not.  If the God of the Bible does not bow to that universal law that you have gained access to via your "gut," then he must not exist or at least be very evil. 
 
So we're back to the beginning (with some illumination on where we both stand).  I say "the Bible says so" and you say "my gut says so."  Which should be the standard for morality, logic and science?  I still contend that the Biblical (christian) worldview allows for morality and logic, and a naturalistic individualism where one's own "gut" rules supreme does not allow for the necessary standards to govern rationality and science.  I'm not having a breakdown Bob, nor am I being dodgy.  In fact, you are being dodgy until you admit whether you believe in total individualistic arbitrary standards (gut) or whether you believe in universal abstract laws.  Which is it? after all of this, you have yet to answer.
 
Bob

No, we're not at the beginning quite yet. You also need to explain stoning children for cursing their parents still. Then we can move on.

Please explain the "rightness" of God declaring the killing of a child for disobeying his/her parents, or cursing them. Mark 7:10 & Matthew 15:4, Deut 21:19-21, Lev. 20:9
Explain your gut reaction thoughts on these Old & New Test commands of your God and then I'll be ready to continue. You have to understand, your avoidance of the topic screams volumes about your insecurities with your previous explanation. It's looking as if you doubt your god's judgements, or they somehow go against your core feelings, but you're unwilling to admit it.

Dodgy is exactly how it appears. So please, humor me. I need that killing the kids thing explained.
For God's sake, if not for me, for the children!
;)
Normal Bob

PS. I am not being dodgy at all. I believe our own assessments of right & wrong comes from the individual. Yes, it's that arbitrary, but our own assessments on anything come from ourselves, within us. And each others actions are judged accordingly by others individualistic views as well. That's how we determine right from wrong.

“What is right is an act of obedience to God's law.  It was lawful and therefore right to stone children, beat slaves for punishment...”

Bob,
 
What is right is an act of obedience to God's law.  It was lawful and therefore right to stone children, beat slaves for punishment, and wage war against nations.  Coherent within my worldview, such commands come from an ultimate source - God.  He has spoken to people in times past and has now been revealed in Christ about whom the apostles testify authoritatively by the Spirit.  This is dogmatic, but it is also coherent and lays a foundation for universal standards for, in this case, morality.  It is irrelevant whether you like these standards, as it is also irrelevant for myself.  My sentiments carry no weight in postulating universal laws. 
 
But in your system it does.  So how could I convince you of anything if you can create any world wherein a proposition can be correct or incorrect.  If I were to challenge your beliefs on some consistent shared system of thought, you could just dispatch with such a system and still hold to your beliefs.  You could do this because you answer to no authority.  A person like you cannot be reasoned with because you have named reason itself arbitrary. 
 
The way philosophers have objected against God in the past is to set up universal laws of logic or morality which the God of the Bible breaks.  They they charge that on that account God must either not exist or he is not worth worshiping.  You have neglected to make such a move, to set up a universal, but instead have chosen to say (paraprase) "I don't believe in the God of the Bible because my gut reaction says I do not like the rules the God of the Bible lays out at certain points."   That is not an argument. 
At what point have I been dodgy?  You asked me a question and I answered it.  Was it during our conversation on Gmail chat?  You went off line at one point, but I forget if that was when you asked about slaves.  I am totally free to answer any question you have.
 
Speaking of answering questions, you finally answered the first question I asked in the very beginning.  So you think all laws are completely individualistic, personal, conventional, and non-universal.  Thank you for answering.  Lets get to the second question then:  Why is it worth your time to say other people shouldn't be christians?  your personal distaste?  was that it all along?  Is there absolutely no foundation for your objections against the existence of God?  If so, you are misrepresenting yourself on your website.  Tell me what you think. 

Robert LaRocca

Had you considered that perhaps believing it was ever right to kill children, keep slaves, stone adulterers & homosexuals, might in these days & times slowly push you and others who believe similarly out to the fringes of society? That in declaring inhumane acts allowable, possibly even righteous, because they were declared by your god will eventually put you in the same company as the KKK, Islamic Fundamentalists, The Black Israelites, or pretty much all of the infamous cults we've heard about on the news? Obviously I say people shouldn't be parts of these groups because of their refusal to put humanity first.

I ask this question because just as those groups have been banished to the outskirts of society for their extreme views, so will anyone who says they know the will of god. Any god.

Obviously I believe your sentiments, and mine, and everyone else's are precisely what determine universal law; universal right & wrong, since right and wrong only exists on account of life (before life existed there was no such thing as morality). And as an atheist I believe we are the only intelligent life we know of in the universe to do any thinking on the matter. My view is pretty simple actually.

You may think it's an easy consequence-free thing to change ones mind at will to say whatever I want to be moral or immoral at any given moment, but in those decisions also stands the outcome of my placement in society (the authority we answer to if we want to be a part). And despite whatever holy book you wave in the air, the further everyone else's views on morality evolve the further you will be squeezed out of society into isolated compounds in the woods. Do you see that outcome of your beliefs as clearly as I do?

Normal Bob

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