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Disagreeing Without Being Disagreeable

  • Dick Staub Religion News Service
  • 2010 7 Dec
Disagreeing Without Being Disagreeable

(RNS) -- Two weeks ago I wrote a column titled "The Resurrection of Jesus: Believing the Impossible Is Possible." I affirmed the simple assertion, affirmed by billions of people throughout the centuries, from the Apostles Creed: On the third day, Jesus rose again and ascended into heaven.

The column generated more than 1,500 comments on the Huffington Post, the majority of them dismissing even the possibility of Jesus' resurrection. Most objections were made by materialists who argue that if it can't be measured, it doesn't exist and isn't real.

"There is no 'faith' involved in science. A question is asked... either data supports a conclusion about the question, or it does not," one commenter said. "If the data doesn't support the conclusion then that data is discarded and more data is collected."

Many comments centered on the unreliability of the biblical texts.

"I just find it hard to believe in something that offers no evidence besides from the one book which the story originated from," read another.

"I don't see how Doubting Thomas is evidence of the resurrection when it is in the same questionable book that teaches about the resurrection."

"Outside of the Bible, there's no credible evidence that Jesus, as portrayed, even existed."

But it was the hostile tone more than the content of the arguments that really caught my attention.

"We have brains," read one. "Sorry if that's inconvenient for you."


Atheists see no credible evidence to believe in any gods or to subscribe to any religion or dogma. That's it.

"Oh, puleeeeeez-e," read another. "Resurrections, ascensions, transubstantiations, immaculate conceptions, etc., are nothing more than the coins of the realm of psychosis! Who cares?"

Dismissive quips were more common than reasonable dialogue.

"Talking logic and reason with a religious person is like talking about discrete mathematics to a poodle."

Double ouch.

"More make-believe concepts. It's just pixie dust and science fiction."

"When it comes to religious beliefs, we suffer a regression that turns us into children that still believe in Santa Claus and the tooth fairy."

"God IS impossible."

What can we learn from this thread of comments?

First, the scientific method, which is useful for measuring the material, is being used to dismiss the spiritual -- a radical position not historically taken by scientists.

Even the late evolutionary biologist Stephen Gould said, "Science simply cannot adjudicate the issue of God's possible superintendence of nature. We neither affirm nor deny it; we simply can't comment on it as scientists."

Second, it appears the opinions of the Jesus Seminar and fictional books like The Da Vinci Code are trusted more than contemporary textual research about the New Testament.

Most scholars now date the New Testament manuscripts earlier rather than later, making them, as even liberal scholar John A. T. Robinson agrees, "by far the best-attested text of any writing in the ancient world."

By comparison, the earliest extant copies of Julius Caesar's works are dated 1,000 years after his death, those of Plato 1,200 years after his death and those of Aristotle 1,400 years after his death. Yet scholars universally accept the authenticity of these manuscripts.

Third, as online commentary replaces in-person, interactive dialogue, civility and reason have given way to the kind of caustic, dismissive one-liners you might hear from Jon Stewart, Saturday Night Live or Bill Maher. People are entitled to their own opinions, and my column is an opinion editorial. All of us, however, could benefit from ratcheting down the one-liners and beefing up the substance and relevance of our comments.

Actually caring about people we encounter online would be nice. I picked up that spirit from one post: "This has been an interesting thread. I have enjoyed the exchange and sincerely hope I have not offended any religious folks with my dogged skepticism."

Finally, there seems to be an almost irrational hostility toward belief on the part of unbelievers. I would simply urge unbelievers to consider the fact that throughout the centuries, many of the best and brightest thinkers -- even in the sciences -- have believed in the resurrection and ascension of Jesus.

That's not to say they are right, but it is to say that all believers can't be dismissed as brainless, deluded psychotics.

We can disagree without being dismissive.

Dick Staub is author of the just-released About You: Fully Human and Fully Alive and the host of The Kindlings Muse ( His blog can be read at
c. 2010 Religion News Service. Used with permission.

Publication date: December 7, 2010