Robert M. Price – The Reason Driven Life

September 29, 2006

Robert M. Price is professor of theology and scriptural studies at Coleman Theological Seminary and professor of Biblical Criticism at the Center for Inquiry Institute. He’s a fellow of the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion and the Jesus Seminar. Dr. Price is the author of a number of books such as Deconstructing Jesus, Incredible Shrinking Son of Man, and The Da Vinci Fraud. He has appeared widely in the media, and was featured in the movie The God Who Wasn’t There.

In this discussion with D.J. Grothe, Dr. Price discusses his new book, The Reason Driven Life, which is a rationalist response to Pastor Rick Warren’s wildly best-selling book, The Purpose Driven Life.

Also in this episode Tim Binga, Directory of CFI Libraries, talks about Banned Books Week.

This is point of inquiry for Friday, September 29, 2006. 

Welcome to Point of inquiry. I’m DJ Grothe a point of inquiry is the radio show and podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank collaborating with the State University of New York at Buffalo on the new science and the public master’s degree. CFI also has branches in Manhattan, Tampa, Hollywood and Washington, D.C., in addition to 11 other cities around the world. Every week on this show, we examine some of the big questions in society through the scientific outlook. What does science have to say about the sacred cows? We focused mostly on three research areas. First, we look at pseudoscience and the paranormal, which is in UFO as Bigfoot. The things that go bump in the night. Second, we look at alternative medicine, complementary medicine. Sometimes it’s called faith, healing and chakras, acupuncture, healing, touch, chiropractic, medicine, et cetera. Third, we really look at secularism and religion, the intersection of science and religious belief in our society. We look at these areas by drawing on CFI I’s relationship with the leading minds of the day, including Nobel Prize winning scientists, public intellectuals, social critics and thinkers and renowned entertainers. This week I talk with Bob Price. He’s a fellow of the Jesus Seminar and CFIUS Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion. We’re going to talk about his book that he wrote in response to Pastor Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose Driven Life. His book is The Reason Driven Life. But a couple things. First, I’d like to welcome our new campus groups. We have a network of campus groups all over the country, around the world. New campus groups at Loras College, CFI Campus Group at SUNY, at Stony Brook and at University of California, Santa Cruz. These are new campus groups since last week’s show. And now Tim Binga, CFI is director of libraries. We have the largest library of its kind in the world here at Center for Inquiry in Amherst, New York. 

While he has a thought on Banned Books Week, September twenty third through September 30th marks the 25th anniversary of Banned Books Week. Banned Books Week occurs annually. The last week of September and is sponsored by a number of organizations, including the American Booksellers Association, the American Society of Journalists and Authors. The Association of American Publishers and the American Library Association banned Books Week as a celebration of reading or, more importantly, the freedom to read. We often take for granted the ability to go to our local bookstore or library to get materials on almost any subject. But without the First Amendment, there is a good possibility that we might not find the materials that are readily available on the Internet or in newspapers, books or magazines. Censorship has been around as long as the written word early books were often censored by the government. In fact, the word censor comes from the Latin for the magistrate position in the ancient Roman Republic. The Sensories had two charges to count the number of people every less from five years, which is where the word census comes from. And Regnum maugham to control the public morality because the state and the church were one and the same at the time. Censorious, suppressed the writings of those religions that were not official. Early Christian writings were censored and destroyed until Christianity became the state religion were upon. All the other religious writings were destroyed. We see this through the actions of Emperor Jovian when around 363, he ordered a pagan library in Antioch burned to the ground. Time and time again, libraries that did not conform to the official religion or politics were destroyed and books were burned. This may also be a reason why we see the idea of book burning to be a part of the fundamentalist psyche. Early history saw books burned, and over the course of centuries it has become ingrained. Today, book burning is usually just symbolic. There are just too many copies of books out there to prevent the ideas from spreading. Before the invention of the printing press, ideas via the printed word were very limited. Literacy was rare, as were the written materials. Books were so precious that during the Middle Ages, many libraries chained them to the shelves and taking them out of the libraries was not possible. The destruction of these works thus becomes much more meaningful because the chance existed that these ideas were not held anywhere else in the world. Censorship takes on many forms, and there are many subtle ways which censorship still exists today. The vast media conglomerates can ignore stories that they feel are not in their best interests. Editors can cover stories they choose or even choose to cover the stories in a certain way in order to show their own point of view. Librarians can select books that they feel will not be controversial. That’s leaving gaps in some subject areas, in some cases even library patrons themselves. Take a hand in censorship. In September 2001, Howard Bagwell of Charleston, South Carolina, decided he did not want Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger in his school district libraries. He checked him out and destroyed them. Paying the fine and also turns out that he was a school board member at the time and felt the board would not remove them. So he had to do it himself. The Office for Intellectual Freedom, which is part of the American Library Association, reports that between 1990 and 2000 there were six thousand three hundred sixty four challenges made to ban a book or series of books in the United States. Most of these challenges occurred in school libraries, followed by public libraries. Most of the reasons for a book being challenged are due to a sexual theme, whether it be sexual, educational themes or homosexual themes. Many are now related to vulgar language. Parents are by far the largest challengers of these materials. But this statistic is somewhat misleading. Many of the challenges were actually conducted by fundamentalist groups such as parents against bad books in schools, which use parents as a focus point for the challenge. Groups like Paris cloaked themselves in rhetoric that states they are against censorship but that they have the right to decide what their children have access to in their schools library and that no one should force their children to read anything without their consent. If no one has the right to decide what your children are reading, why are they deciding for my children instead of having someone else decide? I will be teaching my child critical thinking skills to help determine good from bad materials will be presented in an age appropriate manner. But I still want these books in the library not removed so that her education is corrupted by someone else’s misguided morality as responsible citizens. What can we do? The Office for Intellectual Freedom indicates that for every challenge case they are notified about as many as four or five go unreported. So there can be conceivably as many as 2000 challenges per year to ban books. One of the first things you can do is to notify them of any cases you see. Their website is w w w dot alj, dawg. Another thing you can do is to find out the reason for a book being challenged. Read it yourself. Find out why the book might not be appropriate for your child, but then ask to have it placed in the adult section of your library so that others will still have access to it. If a patron removes a book and destroys it for censorship purposes. Buy a new copy and alert the librarians as to why you are replacing it and see if you can have the transgressor banned from the library. If you can’t afford the book yourself, contact the publisher. The publisher may send a new copy as the sales alone from the controversy, if reported, will more than make up for a few replacement copies given to the library more than anything else. Read a banned book this week. Lists of books that have been banned over the course of history are available online, and some of these sites include information on why they were banned. Read Huckleberry Finn. Read a Harry Potter book. Read Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. But just read. 

The world is under assault today by religious extremists to invoke their particular notion of God to try and control what others think and do. One magazine is dedicated to keeping you up to date with analysis that cuts through the noise and the surprising courage to appear politically incorrect. That magazine is Free Inquiry, the world’s leading journal of secular humanist opinion and commentary. Regular contributors include Richard Dawkins, Wendy Kaminer, Christopher Hitchens, Peter Singer and Sam Harris. Their views are reasoned, thought provoking and to some, unpardonable, infuriating. Subscribe to free inquiry today. One year, six controversial issues for 1995. Call one 800 four five eight one three six six or visit us on the Web at Secular Humanism, Dawg. 

It is a great pleasure for me to have today’s guest on Point of Inquiry. And by way of introduction, I want to remind everyone about something that happened about a year ago. A woman in Atlanta named Ashley Smith was held hostage by the man who was the target of the largest manhunt in Georgia’s history. But she survived. How did she survive? She calmed the alleged killer by reading parts of a book called The Purpose Driven Life by an evangelical pastor named Rick Warren. Our guest today has the audacity to write a book that counters Rick Warren’s mega bestselling book. Our guest today is Bob Price and quickly say you know a little about him. He is professor of theology and scriptural studies at Coleman Theological Seminary and professor of biblical criticism at the Center for Inquiry Institute. He’s also a fellow of the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion and the Jesus Seminar. He’s appeared widely in the media and was featured in the movie The God Who Wasn’t There. He’s written many books and we’re going to talk today about his newest book, The Reason Driven Life. Welcome, Bob, to Point of Inquiry. 

Oh, D.J., it’s great to be on here. This is a classy show and I hope it’ll elevate me on its coattails. 

Funny. Funny. In fact, your wit comes through in this book. We’ll talk about that. Let’s get into it. Pastor Rick Warren’s book is the second bestselling nonfiction book in history. It’s incredibly influential. Why in the world are you attacking it? 

Well, I’m disappointed in it, for one thing. I grew up pretty much in fundamentalism, at least from the age of 11, on for another of a dozen years. And I heard everything in this book ad nauseum. 

And I cannot believe that virtually all of its readers have not also been put to sleep by times. It’s just the same old stuff warmed over. And it astounds me that that anybody would even publish it because there’s so much of the same thing already out there. But but I just find it a sad indictment of the spiritual and intellectual capabilities of the American public. It’s just so sad and and it’s imbecilic. It’s it’s bad theology. It’s laughable in its treatment of the Bible. I mean, like, I’ve got bones to pick with traditional Christianity, though. I have to confess, like with all the world religions as a scholar of religion, I love Christianity. But this is just like the stupidest, most tasteless caricature of it. And I so it’s like whether you’re a believer or nonbeliever. This is just a.. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel. It’s so ridiculous. But in another way, the book does try to scratch where people itch in terms of a sense of meaning for their lives. And if they think this is the meaning, if they think this is what they live for, oh, my gosh. I just feel like the FDA saying, you know, this junk food, there’s gotta be something better. So I try to balance the book between critique of which there’s plenty and a kind of positive alternative way of looking at life. 

So you’re writing this book primarily for evangelical Christians who have been so moved by Pastor Rick Warren’s book. 

Yes. Them. And I’m really where in two hearts, which is a hard thing to do. It’s a balancing act because I am trying to to appeal to perhaps the thin slice of evangelical readership who will be discontented with this. And I’ll say, well, you hear something better, you’re quite right to be discontented. But I also want to give a few laughs to nonbelievers who are wondering, what the heck is this book? Well, why do people like it so much? And then to say, you know, you’re right to laugh at it. It is ridiculous. But questions raised in it are good. Very much the approach I took in The Da Vinci fraud. There there is a need for wisdom in life and just laugh at it. Religion is. You know, this guy pretends to offer wisdom. I don’t think he does, but there is wisdom in life and, you know. Let’s talk about that to some sort of aiming at that believers and nonbelievers. That belief isn’t the thing. Wisdom is the thing. 

Bob Ashley Smith, when she was being held hostage, she read a specific passage for her assailant. She read from day 33 in The Purpose Driven Life. Here’s part of that message. We serve God by serving others. The world defines greatness in terms of power, possessions, prestige and position. If you can demand service from others, then you’ve arrived in our self-serving culture with its me first mentality. Acting like a servant is not a popular concept. That quote move the man who was holding her hostage. What in the world is wrong with that quote. If every Christian actually believed it. Wouldn’t that be good? What could possibly be wrong with that statement? 

Well, it’s a mystery as to what this killer and hostage taker thought it had to say to him. I’m not sure how it has to do with his situation at all. But in general, I think it’s it’s good advice to seek to serve and meet the needs of others, whether it’s the Sermon on the Mount or Nietzsche or Buddhism. Wise people have always known that if you are truly great, you might as well admit it, but you might as well not have a swelled head. You naturally you’re going to look with compassion on those who are not where you’ve arrived and you’re going to want to help them. That’s Nietzsche, Superman. That’s the Buddhist thought. That’s the Sermon on the Mount. So there is great wisdom in that. And not that it depends on any of those particular belief systems. I’m not sure what it had to do with this this murderer. I also wonder what passages attracted Scott Peterson, because when he was apprehended fleeing, he had a copy of the Purpose Driven Life on his dashboard. Wow. I wonder what passage attracts Fidel Castro since he wrote to Rick Warren and asked for an autographed copy? 

I mean, maybe the thing’s a raw shock blot. It’s a. 

It’s all things to all men. As the apostle Paul told all Christians to be. 

Yeah. Maybe it’s just like a blank page like Chauncey Gardiner in being there. 

Oh, one of my favorite movies. That’s great. You’re one of four or five people who’s ever mentioned that movie, so. I love you even more now. What a movie it is. Great. Back to the interview. Because, you know, I. I can’t be too gushing and blow too much smoke up your took. People won’t think I’m a Hard-Hitting questioner. 

You say that Rick Warren’s book is for people who are afraid of taking responsibility for their own lives, people who want to instead give their lives over to God or something like that. But doesn’t that discount? Aren’t you discounting how meaningful religion and faith in God is to the vast majority of people on our planet? For most people, God is central to the way that they what they treat their spouses and raise their kids and look at their place in the universe, the charity work they do, how they celebrate, mourn the passages of life. Aren’t you discounting the central role that religion plays in the lives of the devout through your book, The Reason Driven Life? 

Well, I’m not unfriendly to religion. And in the book and elsewhere, I freely admit that there’s great beauty and wisdom in Christianity and other faiths. So it certainly doesn’t surprise me that it enriches many people’s lives. In many ways, the stoic based ethics of the New Testament have a lot to say. And often you’re going to live better if you follow the course. There’s very similar stuff in other religions, too. So that’s doesn’t come from religion. But religion is the medium of these things in our culture. So what I don’t like about religion is the fanaticism of it when people take the weirder parts of it literally and seriously. 

And do you think Rick Warren does that? 

It’s just the luck of the draw. When he doesn’t, he he could be much more fanatical than he is, like some Calvinists and some other fundamentalists. But his big thing is to be a successful church marketer. I’m not sure he even gets that out of the Bible. But since that is his agenda and he’s very talented, he does a good job of it. I think in terms of the more dangerous elements of religion, like Sam Harris points out, Warren is not very dangerous. Luckily, his crusading mentality tends toward good deeds in the world, like his HIV AIDS work and so forth. But that doesn’t legitimate. It’s like that those may be the fruits, but that doesn’t necessarily legitimate the roots. You really do have to look at what he believes and it might give you a sense of meaning. But many, many people, me included, have found the priapism that he recommends, both simple minded and in the end, maddening. Evie, the the interesting. Action, the the self abnegation at the very same moment, your inflating the importance of itself by even reading a book like this. It’s filled with so many double binds, many of us have felt like this just cannot be the meaning of life. So for some people, it does great. Good. And I’m not telling them to stop it. But if you’ve come to the point where you see, like Fundamentalists Anonymous used to say that if fundamentalism works for you, I’m not trying to get you to drop it, but a whole lot of people find that it doesn’t. And then what next? And that’s what I’m trying to provide. 

Before we get into talking about some of your specific critiques of his book and your proposals as an alternative, another general question. Can’t faith in God faith in the kind of God that Rick Warren is talking about? Well, doesn’t it help people be better? Doesn’t it help people stop drinking, look at President Bush or just to shape up their lives in general, live a better life? 

Sometimes it does also. Louis Farrakhan is a religion does it’s had a great track record in reforming a very troubled and troublesome people. Sometimes the truth doesn’t always work for people. That’s the insight of Gnosticism. When you, of course, had its own bunch of weird beliefs no one could accept today, but they did have that interesting statement that truth doesn’t work for everybody because they’re not where they can see it. And any life preserver that will keep them afloat is is good for the moment. Maybe they’ll see the problem with it and look for something better if they do good. If they don’t, well, you know, the people are more important than than ideas. A friend of mine once who was very, very intelligent, articulate, he was he had emotional problems and he was central to his makeup with his extreme fundamentalism of belief. And we would have friendly discussions about it. He knew what I thought. And one night he told me, you know, I’ve really come to the end of the whole thing. I don’t believe it anymore. You were right. And my reaction was not, gee, that’s great. Welcome aboard, friend. I said, Now, wait a minute. Are you sure you want to ditch your faith? Maybe this is a little premature because I thought this guy might come apart without it. So I just didn’t think he was at the place where what I think is the truth could do a good. I thought maybe he still needed this strict page to keep them together. And there are people like that. And it’s doing me no good to just shoot a clay pigeon down. Some other believer vanquished. I don’t care about that. 

So your your book isn’t just ripping the rug out from under people, but you’re providing an alternative. So if if the cage still works for them, that’s fine. Your words. But if if they want an alternative, you’re offering an alternative. This isn’t just an A.I. book. 

That’s right. Yeah. I have no complaint. I live among fundamentalists wall to wall down in the south where I live. These are fine people. I have no problem with them. I kind of view myself as an anthropologist. I’m kind of a participant observer in a way. I don’t go around trying to convert them to my humanistic views. That’s not the issue when I get into the issue of yet. But what is true? Was there a historical Jesus? Is there a God, etc.? Well, you know, in the proper venue, you know, let’s put on the gloves. But I’m just going to make a jerk of myself and needlessly offend people if I’m spouting out all over the place. And the book is the same way. Anybody that’s dyed in the wool is a fundamentalist is just going to laugh this book off and they’re welcome to do so. But if they start hearing a little voice of conscience and better judgment saying, you know, this guy’s got a point, I maybe should take a look at this. Well, then there are the people it’s written for. 

I’d like to let our listeners know that Dr. Price’s book, The Reason Driven Life, is available through our Web site point of inquiry dot org. Dr. Price just mentioned this is the book for people who have a bout of conscience as a fundamentalist. Well, no kidding. This is the book I am giving to all my sweet evangelical friends for Christmas. Every listener to this show should get a copy. Bob? No. Let’s talk about some of the specific critiques you have of Rick Warren’s book and some of the specific alternatives you offer. Rick Warren’s definition of the individual. You equate his definition of the individual with the communist attempt to define the individual from the outside, a function of extrinsic, impersonal forces rather than the individual being a function of intrinsic personal choice. 

That’s right. That’s why I quote too much of a great book by Eric Hoffer, The True Believer. Was he really hit the nail on the head when he said that people in these true believer movements, whether they’re political or religious, they are people that are tired of themselves or hate themselves or are afraid of the responsibility of. Deciding who they are and what they stand for. So they want an authoritative voice, as Woody Allen says, with a proper reverberation, and it has to just do the work for them. They’re afraid or tired or whatever. And so if somebody says, well, I can help you out because I know because of my infallible dogma over here what human nature is, therefore what your human nature is. I have a book that tells me God made people to do this. So this is what you’re to spend your time on. Oh, crikey. Thank God. That’s just what I wanted to find out. It’s not discovering what the self is because it only be one way to do that. Introspection and meditating on your life as you grow. But no, we’re impatient with and are afraid of it that we’re going to screw up. And so we just want that. We want to find an answer book by an expert to tell us. Rick Warren says that it’s the Bible whose answers he’s promoting. But that’s just not the case. I tried to show the Bible is just does not address many of these issues. And when it does, it’s a cacophony of competing theories. And really, Warren himself is the God whose word you’re taking. 

Right. Like you say in your book, if you believe the Bible is infallible because your pastor says so, what you’re really believing is that your pastor’s infallible. You’re taking his word for it. 

Yeah. And if I turn around and make my own study of the Bible, which is at least a step in the right direction. And then, however, I think I now have the unique take on the infallible word. I have the essentially fanatical position that my view is God’s view. So this belief in the infallibility of the Bible and in its Protestant form makes every Bible reader and infallible pope and you yourself will have synthesized one of the Bible you’ve read and elevated it to a thunderbolt from heaven. But you have the strange, oblivious arrogance of religious humility where you think, oh, it’s not me, it’s not my opinion. It’s God’s opinion. How do I know that? Well, because it says so in the Bible. Well, how do I know that? Because this is what I make of it when I read it. Oh, wait just a second. The the old Catholic caveat was. Wait a minute. Martin Luther, you say you don’t need an infallible pope. You’ve just got the Bible. It’s not the Bible’s infallible, but it’s not so clear. And Luther said, oh, yes, it is. A spoke of the person vacuity, the clarity of scripture. 

Anybody can understand that. Well, it just ain’t so. It’s at least ambiguous, even if it’s infallible and infallible book, the meaning of which is indefinite. What’s the difference? Why not available book end. And so if the the interpreter has to be infallible and who’s up to that? They just never seem to notice this. 

In your chapter entitled In Sunday School and all your chapters and section headings, you’re really widdy throughout the book written in the same folksy style as Rick Warren, but a heck of a lot funnier. Well, in this chapter, Satan’s Sunday School, you argue that Rick Warren believes just way too much in Satan. What do you mean by that? 

Well, not only does he believe things about the Satan story or the Satan myth, as I would call it, that are never stated in the Bible, it’s just sort of a Protestant folk tradition. 

Such as what the the idea that there was a primordial fall of the Archangel Lucifer who decided to prove to God that he was wrong in having such hopes for Adam by attempting Adam and making them fall. And this after the failed in his palace revolution to replace God. 

And you don’t get that in Jobe. And it’s much later like in Milton or something that you get those new stores. But they’re not biblical. 

Yeah, they’re old. Well, they’re a little bit earlier, but they’re not in the Bible. You can find them in Slavonic, Enoch, in the life of Adam and Eve in the Koran and other post biblical stuff. But even there, it’s it’s like they’re using Bible passages and putting them together in a way that someone has called scholastic or scribal myth, where you you do creative rereading of little bits of scripture and use them as titles in a much bigger mosaic. And the resulting Miltonic kind of Satan myth uses parts of the Bible, but it is never spelt out that way. It might be that some of the New Testament writers believe in this fall of Satan thing, but they never speak of it that way. They speak of a fall of Satan at the end of the age as part of a whole Armageddon scenario. 

So that’s one of the ways that Rick Warren believes in Satan too much. 

But the way that is even more dangerous than that is a kind of theological paranoia that dies, certainly. Again, it’s not new to him. I’m not sure. Why this was new to anybody. But he says that Satan is always after you. If you’re thinking of eating that extra slice of pizza chain, where did that idea come from? What’s suggested that you could it be Satan? And the church lady said that. Yeah, it must be the prince of cosmic evil trying to get you to go off your diet. And this is not only grandiosity and then delusions of grandeur, but it also presupposes a Satan who is all powerful, all knowing and presence everywhere. Warren again, and company with all fundamentalists seem to think one can communicate with Satan by rebuking him and arguing with him, as they put it. Wait a minute. You say and you I mean, these guys don’t like it when Catholics pray to the Saints, and that’s pretty creepy. I agree with them. But aren’t they saying you can pray to Satan? It seems incredible to me. They don’t say what they say and it’s not in some strange, weird, unintended sense. Look what it said. I just am amazed at the stuff that passes for biblical Christianity. I mean, if it’s said that in the Bible or even any kind of theology, I’d say, well, they’re stuck with it. It’s part of a tradition, but it’s not. It just it’s a product merely of a kind of religion inspired paranoia. 

Right. Not to get off track. But doesn’t Jesus say, get thee behind me, Satan? Doesn’t he rebuke Satan? Isn’t that the model that they’re going after? 

Yes, it is. But that’s that’s a clearly legendary story where Satan simply appears as a character on stage. It’s like God, Jack and the Beanstalk or Adam or Noah speaking to God. You know, Abraham to this camp fire and God shows up and put another plate out. Zara, here is the Almighty. It’s like a small thing or a voice telling me inside my head. Why don’t you stick your baby in the microwave and turn it on? Which people do all the time, unbelievably. I just listen to the news. Well, look, I mean, Abraham did that. He heard God telling him to do it. Not on this. This can’t be a precedent. This is the kind of like myth. It’s the way that Warren reads the Noah story. It just doesn’t occur to him that if this were actually factual history, you’ve got God committing genocide in a crass and merciless way just doesn’t occur to them. And so they don’t understand how a myth is different than than an ethical example. Like if if somebody turns the other cheek because they’re they feel like they’re noble and don’t want to sink to the level of their persecutor, I can stand in awe of a spirit like that, so to speak. That’s an example. The Good Samaritan. He sees this Jewish guy in the gutter. He’s been taught all his life. These people are unclean. He’s is now with Adam going to help this guy. Now, that’s a moral example. But somebody here in voices that sacrifice in their kid or somebody having a chat with the devil, how obvious does it have to be that this is like kind of a parable not obvious to Warren nor his millions of readers? 

Bob, in your chapter entitled Temp Job in listeners are getting an inkling about how smart and witty this book is. Well, in temp job, you defend the whole notion of temptation itself. You say it’s crucial to the reason driven life that nothing be considered morally wrong. That doesn’t have any destructive effects on the self for others. 

That’s right. Having said that, though, of course we are tempted to do things we know are stupid. And so the idea of temptation is certainly a valid one in the epistle of James, which is highly stoic in its approach to ethics. It’s reason based. It says when this temptation come from and you expect them to say, well, it’s got to be say not. We said nothing of the kind. 

He says that desires are awakened within us. And we give in to them and we could overcome them if we weren’t so ambivalent and double minded. Yeah, that’s right. It’d be stupid to say we’re not tempted by ourselves to do counterproductive things. You just don’t need to project that onto a cosmic screen and thinking there’s some guy in Temptation Central somewhere whispering to you. 

So if you don’t believe you have a soul and that sinning therefore isn’t bad for your soul, it’s not destructive to your soul. Are you saying that anything goes? Or are you saying that temptation is when you’re tempted to do things that aren’t good for you, not necessarily things that are wrong? 

Well, I believe that rationally the only workable criterion for what is wrong is what is bad for me and others. Like if, for instance, to take a bull by the horns, something like adultery, I think. Yeah. It is wrong because you’re betraying the trust of your partner. However, there are people that claim to have open marriages and they don’t mind sexual activity of their partner or themselves outside of a partnership. And it’s OK. Well, I find it hard to envision that, but I have to take their word for it that for them that work. So it wouldn’t be wrong. Or like the famous thing smoking, for instance, obviously, you know. Is that wrong? Well, because it seems to be very likely that it’s self-destructive. At least it’s kind of stupid to do. I understand it’s not easy to quit, but that is an example of something, you know, you really shouldn’t do and you’ll be the one to suffer. So I’m thinking of it in that sense. If it weren’t destructive, nobody would say it’s wrong. 

I want to stick with morality a bit more. How is fundamentalism bad for your moral development? How does it stunt your moral growth? That’s one of the claims you make in the book. 

Well, it performs a helpful function for fundamentalist youth in that it kind of gives them protection from heedless anything goes climate that that you find even in elementary schools where we’re kids are sexualized and told to grow up earlier than they really have the awareness and the maturity to do so. So it’s like Aristotle said, you have to sort of habituate people to the right behavior until they can reason it out for themselves. So in a way, with their homeschooling and so on, I understand what fundamentalists are doing. But the fact that they make. It’s the behavior that you’ve got to repent and do what this book says, what God says are you will be damned to hell. That’s the thing that promotes immaturity, because in all studies of moral maturity, you find that the lowest stance or position or posture is that you say, well, I will be a good robot. I will be like a trained dog. I will do what will give me a reward. I will avoid what will get me a weapon. 

Yeah. Like the theorist of moral development, Lawrence Kohlberg at Harvard says, reward and punishment are the lowest stages of moral development. 

And you’re saying that fundamentalists are kind of stuck there yet because they’re told that if they dare to move on and start thinking, well, how do I know so-and-so is wrong? Why should I think it’s wrong? What should my criteria be? Well, you might luck out and get it right. But if you don’t, you could wind up going to hell and you probably will, because if the Bible doesn’t satisfy you and you start there and then go somewhere else where you’re headed into dangerous territory, it’s the same way with your beliefs. You dare not think for yourself to be stupid and foolish, to start speculating about God and the world and all that, and not to stick with the creed because the stakes are very high. Ultimately, you’re going to face an exam on your moral convictions, your religious convictions. And if you get one wrong, if it’s a big enough ticket item, you know, some some questions are worth 40 points and some only five. It was one of the sporty pointers you go into. Hell, they never quite say it, but that is just obviously implicit in everything they say. And so you’re forcing people or at least encouraging people to stay at the most infantile level of just automatic obedience out of fear. 

I’d like to remind our listeners that you can get a discounted copy of Dr. Price’s book. The reason driven life through our website point of inquiry dot org. Let me just say again what I told a Dr. Price before we started the interview, before we started recording. This is the book I wish I had years ago when I was an evangelical Christian myself. Get a copy of this book and let us know what you think. Now back to the interview, Bob. Rick Warren makes the point again and again in his book that if you’re an atheist, you don’t believe in God, that therefore life is meaningless, that there can be no purpose to it. He says the Purpose Driven Life is the God centered life. 

Just the opposite. I just am amazed to continue to hear that because he is making it, even in such a statement, clear that life is intrinsically meaningless, that unless you take this alien authority of a God and hang everything on that, you’re just up the creek. It’s just a meaningless Schrade worth. It seems to me that Nietzsche is correct here. If there is no God dictating, then for you the world is a blank canvas and you’ve got a palette full of colors and it’s up to you to paint the glorious meaning of your life. Only you can do it. It’s like I. Is beauty in its in the eye of the beholder. There’s nowhere else it could be. 

And in the same way with a moral value where the meaning of life, any kind of valuation, it must be subjective. If I tell you what it is, you can even believe that I’m right. But it won’t communicate itself to you. I mean, look, I’m telling you that that painting over there is beautiful. I’m an art critic. You damn well better believe me. OK. OK. But I still am not necessarily going to see it as beautiful. And so for somebody to say that your life means what the divine being over here says. All right. I guess so. But then I’m just stuck submitting to an alien law. So it just seems to me. Oh, one other thing. On another level, they say that to appreciate the creation, you’ve got to see it glorifying God. I think it’s just the opposite. If unless you bracket the idea of a creator, the wonder of reality around you is extinguished. Oh, yeah. Yeah. Well, this is special effects created by Steven Spielberg up in the sky. That’s all it is. Yeah. Well, let’s worship God instead. No, no. The wonder of the world is that it’s just there and that and not be in there. So in my opinion, a belief in God just again and again squelches the joy, the beauty, the wonder and the meaning of life. 

So there’s a kind of nihilism in Rick Warren’s brand of Christianity. 

I think so. I’m all this stuff about how I’m no good. I’m a miserable werb. Unblessed God accepts me. What? That’s just like the old slogan of the self haters. 

God don’t make no junk. You mean deductively. I must be worth something despite all appearances, because God wouldn’t have made me if I had no value. Well, then, I guess somehow I do have worth. Now, wouldn’t it be much better to learn to appreciate yourself for the work that you do have rather than just saying, well, I must, because some doctrine assigns me this value and his doctrine. I look at the value it assigns. Warren says God put you here to get other folks converted. To what? Well, to a creed that tells them that they’re here just to get everybody else converted. What? I’m just a cog in a wheel. I’m still wheel on a grocery cart in a supermarket named the church. Is that it? That seems to be for him. 

So it’s just like Eric Hoffer said, you’re trading any kind of authentic selfhood to just be a cog in the machine. 

You just mentioned converting souls. Don’t you think that if a Christian really believes what he believes, what he’d be motivated to keep his neighbor out of hell? One of the criticisms you offer against evangelical Christianity in your book is what you call the hidden agenda of witnessing. What’s that hidden agenda? If it’s not just to save souls because you fervently believe that if you don’t, your neighbor is going to hell and burning eternally. 

Well, that’s bad enough. If that is your motivation, in which case you’re really going to have to be a fanatic or live in terrible guilt, as many fundamentalists do, as Alan Watts said in his book. Beyond theology, if you really believe what they say with his rhetoric, you’d be outdoing the Jehovah’s Witnesses, knocking on doors and so on. But you’d also be showing that your religion is nothing but fanaticism. It’s not a livable creed, but the hidden agenda. What they don’t seem to realize they’re doing is that it’s basically to reinforce their own faith. It’s as fundamentalist apologist Francis Schaffer once wisely said, you don’t determine truth by majority vote. But psychologically, deep down, we sort of believe we do. Two million Mustang owners can’t be wrong. So I have my doubts about this faith. But if I can get more and more people to stop ridiculing it, stop being indifferent to it and to say, men, you’re. Right. Well, then I can breathe a little easier. 

So that’s the hidden agenda. 

Yes, I’m really reinforcing my own faith. If I’m driven to get others to convert to it, if I were that confident in it, what would I care? Though, of course, as you say, if you do believe literally they’re on their way to hell. That’s you know, you’d have to you would owe that to them. But why should anyone think that? That’s just one more aspect of the monstrosity of the held belief that makes God into Satan. It’s no surprise that this religion taken seriously and luckily it’s often not, but taken seriously. It breeds intolerance and fanaticism. It would. It would be bad to have an open mind because you’re encouraging people to flunk the theology test. No, no, no. Let’s just get out there and convert them. Why would God send anybody to hell, even if this life is designed as a kind of school of hard knocks or something like Magneto says in the X-Men movie? I’ve always thought of God as a teacher. Yeah. That’s not bad for over evil. You tried to suppose I suppose God created the world and human beings and wanted them to become more like him because he was more advanced. The Christian faith does teach that, too. Well, where would you come up with this idea that if you come up short, he’s going to be tormented in hell for eternity? 

Yeah. Why doesn’t God just forgive people in his honor? Beneficence. This all loving God. Why in the world would he doom people to hell for eternity? 

Yeah. If he’s gonna stick up with something they didn’t anticipate or choose, namely being tortured forever. Quite Essany stickum why does not contravene their wishes by just sanctifying them. Why does he just have Hitler die and snap out of it. Suppose if there is a heaven and everybody’s there and Hitler runs into Elie Wiesel or somebody like this and it was in a concentration camp, are they going to is Veysel going to say Angel? I don’t want this bomb in here. If everybody is now redeemed and ecstatic in the divine vision and sins are forgiven and every tear is wiped away, who’s going to complain? But no, we’ve got to have God send in people not to jail. Right. But to the torture chamber. Hammer this. This is just ludicrous to imagine. And yet it’s central to a lot of people’s faith. And you see the result. 

If if your ultimate moral paragon, God can define his compassion as including torture, well, then that gives you the right to do pretty much anything. You’re declaring it moral. And they don’t seem to understand this. 

And that’s what you mean by turning God into Satan. 

Yeah. Who needs a Satan? If you’ve got a God like this. 

There is a lot more to talk about, but we’ll have to finish up in closing. Let me ask you, you say an evangelical reads this book. What are they to do next? And then the second part of the question is a secular person, an atheist, an agnostic, reads his book, considers it kind of an atheist self-help book, something like that. And they get a copy. They give copies to the friends. They do all this stuff. What is the next step either for an evangelical or four person member of the reality based community? Where can they go from there? 

Well, I give a list in the book for people questioning evangelicals, a list of Web sites with a whole lot of testimonies, as evangelicals call them, of how people became dissatisfied with faith and got out of it. And there’s a kind of a support and exploration community there. And, of course, as the Council for Secular Humanism is trying to do. Thanks to Paul Kurtz’s wisdom, if we can make. There’s my apostle Paul Volcker. 

We make available secular humanist centers where we don’t just say, here’s why you ambo’s or bunk. Here’s why there is no God, though. That’s good stuff to talk about. We also say here some wisdom from the philosophers. Here’s some wisdom from the psychologists. If we can add an element of self-help that I think, wow, what a great thing we would have done for society, because the person that that is helped by this in the humanist community would have a place to go and to define nourishment. 

Thank you very much for being on the Shobha. 

It’s been a great honor and distinct pleasure. 

You’ve seen the headlines, Bill seeks to protect students from liberal bias. The right time for an Islamic reformation. Kansas School Board redefined science. These stories sum up the immense challenge facing those of us who defend rational thinking, science and secular values. One adviser to the Bush administration dismissed as the reality based community who could have imagined that reality would need defenders. The educational and advocacy work of the Center for Inquiry is more essential than ever. And your support is more essential than ever. Show your commitment to science, reason and secular values by becoming a friend of the center today. Whether you are interested in the work of psychology and skeptical Inquirer magazine, the Council for Secular Humanism and Free Inquiry magazine, the Commission for Scientific Medicine, or a Center for Inquiry on campus. By becoming a friend of the center, you’ll help strengthen our impact. If you’re just learning about CFI, take a look at our Web site. W w w dot center for inquiry dot net. We hosted regional and international conferences, college courses and nationwide campus outreach. You’ll also find out about our new representation at the United Nations, an important national media appearances. We cannot pursue these projects without your help. Please become a friend of the center today by calling one 800 eight one eight seven zero seven one or visiting WW w dot. Center for Inquiry dot net. We look forward to working with you to enlarge the reality based community. 

Thanks for listening to this episode of Point of Inquiry. Join us next week for my discussion with Sam Harris on his new book, Letter to a Christian Nation to Get Involved. It’s an online conversation about today’s episode with Bob Price talking about his book. Go to W w w dot CFI dash forums dot org. Views expressed on point of inquiry don’t necessarily reflect the views of the Center for Inquiry, nor its affiliated organizations. Questions and comments on today’s show can be sent to feedback at point of inquiry dot org or by visiting our Web site. Point of inquiry dot org. 

Point of inquiry is produced by Thomas Donnelly and recorded at the Center for Inquiry in Amherst, New York. Executive producer is Paul Kurtz. Point of Inquiries. Music is written and composed for us by Emmy Award winning Michael Quailing. Contributors to today’s show included Debbie Goddard, Sarah Jordan and Tim Binga. I’m your host DJ Grothe. 

DJ Grothe

D.J. Grothe is on the Board of Directors for the Institute for Science and Human Values, and is a speaker on various topics that touch on the intersection of education, science and belief. He was once the president of the James Randi Educational Foundation and was former Director of Outreach Programs for the Center for Inquiry and associate editor of Free Inquiry magazine. He previously hosted the weekly radio show and podcast Point of Inquiry, exploring the implications of the scientific outlook with leading thinkers.