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Twilight of the ideals

This past Sunday I saw Christian apologetic Larry Taunton speak at First Baptist Oxford. I approached him afterward to discuss the themes of his message, but he was busy greeting others and helping his Fixed Point Foundation sell DVDs he teased at during his sermon. He dismissed himself once those who were interested in purchasing merchandise had dispersed, showing no interest in speaking with me.
His sermon began with the teasing of the aforementioned DVDs, which detail BBC debates regarding science and theology. The teaser ended with a quote from Pascal: “When everyone is moving towards depravity, no one seems to be moving — but if someone stops, he shows up the others who are rushing on by acting as a fixed point.” I will return to our dead friend Pascal’s “point” in a moment.
In his message, “the world” was characterized by radical Islam and sex trafficking, while the Christian tradition was presented as the saving grace of mankind (albeit without mention of the sexual abuses in the Catholic Church). The Christian tradition stood opposed to “the world”; Taunton reserved the right to morality itself for his own religion and dismissed “the world” as being “lost” and “dreadful.”
Mankind was defined as “basically evil” and in need of redemption. The alleged consequences for choosing a path other than the one Reverend Taunton offered were depicted as being woeful and eternal. Appeals to scripture and conviction were made in abundance to “prove” his assertions.
I have three main objections. First, I reject that human nature is “basically evil.” Instead, our nature is to love what we love at the expense of what we do not, but this is not proof of inherent corruption. I understand Taunton’s commitment to the doctrine of Original Sin, but convictions soil reason — if he cannot explain how humans are naturally “evil” using common sense, I cannot accept it.
I’m also aware that for a Christian preacher to maintain his position, it is imperative that his followers believe their insides are evil — otherwise the need to feel redeemed is abolished and the priest loses his position. To quote Mr. Taunton’s own website (Fixed–Point.org): “Those who get to tell the Creation story rule society.” Make no mistake — Taunton longs to reserve the right to tell his story.
The second objection regards the notion that the Christian tradition is in sole possession of the “true” or “correct” code of conduct. In nature, the conditions of existence are in a constant state of flux.
Therefore, “what we must do” to preserve our species changes as often as the conditions of nature change — an action that advances life at one time will negate it at another. It follows that we must be forever willing to consider new codes of conduct in the name of preserving the human race.
With the notion of an absolute conduct abolished, we begin to base our actions on cause and effect. For example, one might treat other human beings with respect and understanding; in time, other human beings will return these feelings of respect and understanding because there is a reason to do so.
If we were to formulate this thought pattern into a moral framework, it would read like this: “Approach other sentient beings with the same attitude you would have them approach you with.”
As for Pascal’s “fixed point,” I argue that it reveals the nature of all moral action: In Pascal’s example, it is neither the scripture nor a supernatural force that “fixes the point” for others to see — it is man himself who creates virtues. Watch Plato blush as his perfect form of justice is reduced to nothing.
Last but not least, I refuse to grant a priest the air of authority unless he is able to supplement his convictions with reason. The scientific method uses trial and error to produce verifiable results, while the priest appeals to an “inner feeling” that is ineffable — his “proof” is the feeling his faith gives him.
But the feeling that comes from holding a claim to be true has no bearing on the veracity of the claim itself. For the most part we find the truth to be cold and hard, as so much pride, so much shame — in short, so many convictions must be overcome before we can begin to think of living with the truth.
Though we disagree here and there, I would like to thank Reverend Taunton for visiting Oxford and allowing me to test two hypotheses — the first being that all gods are a means to an end; the second being that belief in life after death negates the value of life in the present moment — which is eternity.

Andrew Dickson is a religious studies senior from Terry. Follow him on Twitter @addoxfordms.