Thursday, November 11, 2010

Doubting Tarico’s "Trusting Doubt"

My beloved Mrs H has the day off, so that means I have most of it off too. That also means for today we have a guest post by ministry associate Nick Peters, who is reviewing Valerie Tarico’s Trusting Doubt for us. I may have my own comments on it later.


Valerie Tarico is a name Tekton readers could be familiar with since JPH has reviewed a book of hers before and since she was in the past a blogger for John Loftus at Debunking Christianity. While she’s no longer writing for Loftus, she hasn’t stopped writing for herself. Her latest book, Trusting Doubt, is a look at evangelicalism and why she left it behind.

Notably at the start, Tarico has a way of writing that gives the reader the impression that they really don’t know anything about evangelicalism and Tarico is here to show them what they’ve missed. Tarico writes from the perspective of one who grew up in this environment and wrestled with doubts and then finally just gave up. The book reveals more about Tarico however than it does about evangelicalism.

To her credit, Tarico does say she read books like Evidence That Demands A Verdict and The Problem of Pain, but she says she did not find them convincing. Why? We are not told. It is something however that indicates that her doubt was more emotional than it was factual. This is apparent since Tarico throughout the book pictures evangelicalism as a force that doesn’t allow for questions to be asked and looks down on doubt. On the contrary, I as an evangelical wish more people would ask questions and have doubts. Those are the ones I know are taking it seriously.

To be fair also, the leaders she talked to didn’t help. One gave the answer of “Pray.” He then told her Matthew 17:20 says that if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain “Move from here to there” and it will move. This is definitely a recipe for disaster. This youth minister was treating the passage as if it was a blank check. Such a fundamentalist way of thinking did not help Tarico. Unfortunately, she never questioned the methodology.

In fact, for her, this is the only way to approach it. She refers throughout the book to a position of literalism held by evangelicals. In the back of her book even, she lists four books as evangelical defenses of literalism. Those are Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, The Case for Christ, Reasonable Faith, and That’s Just Your Interpretation: Responding to Skeptics Who Challenge Your Faith.
Tarico also does not see the wide array of beliefs allowed in evangelicalism. She says we demand allegiance to a very specific set of beliefs on pages 12-15. These include a belief that human beings are inherently evil even though they’re in the image of God and a strong literalism with end-times prophecy. (Though not specifically stated there, she does throughout the book demonstrate no knowledge of Preterism and instead refers to the rapture.)

It is doubtful if Tarico is aware of real scholarship on issues. For instance, she speaks of a line of theologians and evangelists on page 20 saying “From the Apostle Paul to Thomas Aquinas to Martin Luther to Rick Warren.” I don’t think Rick Warren would even want to be included in such a line-up. Even if I was a fan of Warren’s, I would not include him up there with Paul, Aquinas, and Luther.

Objections Tarico raises throughout the book are weak and numerous articles at Tekton can deal with them or at least reference other sites that do. The objections she raises are predictable, such as disagreements with science, attitudes concerning slavery and homosexuality, the problem of evil, and genocides in the Old Testament. Strangely enough, she never directly goes after the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

Throughout all of this, she will also not refer to evangelical responses to her criticisms. Tarico takes a shotgun approach and her goal is to grip the reader emotionally hoping the reader is unaware of scholarship on the issue and how apologists for centuries have answered such questions. The sad reality is that much of her readership probably is unaware.

Absent also is Tarico’s own worldview. Towards the end, she seems to say that she does not believe in any deity, but the terminology is ambiguous. I see Tarico as simply wanting to have the beliefs that come naturally with a theistic worldview, such as objective morality and reliability of reason, without having that extra annoying baggage (to her) that comes with it, such as God.

Tarico makes statements as well that are just unbelievable. I have been an evangelical for years and never heard such things. For instance, on page 115, she says that Jesus would have given restitution if he had done something while alive so good to repair all the past evil. In a note below she says “Evangelicals try to say that this is what the crucifixion did. It was so good of Jesus to suffer for us, it was so loving and generous that it transformed all of the evil into good. But this misses the nature of blood atonement.” I would love to hear the evangelical who says that. I have heard several atonement theories, but I have never heard anything like that before, but that doesn’t stop Tarico. Without a source, she goes on expecting her readers will stop and think “That’s ridiculous.” I agree. It is ridiculous. It is also something that I do not believe and I know of no evangelical who does.

On page 135 in a section talking about Heaven and Hell, Tarico shares a talk with her daughter.



“Are those soldiers in Iraq Christians?”

“Most of them. Why?”

“That’s really bad! They think those Iraqi people are going to hell, and they kill them anyhow and send them right there anyway!”

What could I say?

Um, Valerie? You could have said several things. By this logic, no Christian should be a policeman since that would mean we’d have to kill criminals at times. Absent from Tarico’s thinking is any idea of the deservedness of Hell. Absent is any idea that these people have already rejected Christ personally and are willing to kill others and lead others astray. Absent is that this is not a religious war but is a war under the orders of a government, and I do believe in Just War theories. Absent is any mention that the soldiers we have are trained to avoid civilian casualties at all cost. Absent is the notion that the soldiers are not responsible for the unbelief of their enemies. Whenever someone arrives in Hell, they won’t have the justification of saying “But someone killed me before I could believe!”

This is not to deny the importance of the question. Children will ask questions like that and we need to answer them. Tarico sees this as the ultimate defeater. I see it as a dilemma at best. Yes. There is the sad reality that people die in war and we all wish we could avoid that, but we fight wars that are just for a greater good and not because we want to send people to Hell.

On pages 140-142, Tarico writes about children and death and the age of accountability. She asks why any parent would allow their child to pass the threshold age. Why not just kill them beforehand? It would be a great sacrifice on the part of the parents. It has been done, as she documents. She asks if she’s sounding facetious. She’s not. She’s just following the logic where it leads.

Yes. That’s exactly where it leads. We are to commit murder for the sake of goodness. Only in Tarico’s mind does such an idea make sense. It is a wonder how we could be holy while God is holy while at the same time murdering our own children.

On pages 167-8, she looks at the topic of prayer and how she thinks it’s selfish what we pray for. She pictures a church where a minister gives thanks that a little girl in the congregation is healed. A girl she calls Petra stands up however to challenge the minister. “What about little Joey who was in the hospital? He got prayed for and his church prayed for him and he died.” After telling us of how the minister will sidestep the question, Petra turns to the congregation and tells them how they believe God is intervening to help them win football games or score big on the SAT. She asks how many will go home and thank God for dinner without wondering why he didn’t give it to someone in Africa who needed it more. If we really believe God is interested in football games and such, what are we doing about the suffering of the world? Can we tell someone about the healing of our child when their child has just died of cancer?

Never mind that Tarico has no problem with someone being indignant in the congregation during a sermon. For her concern for people’s feelings, one wonders what the parents of the little girl who did have healing would think of this outburst? We can agree with some parts, such as praying for football games and such, but even then not entirely. There’s nothing wrong with praying that you’ll be the best you can be at something and realizing that if you’re a good athlete, that’s a gift from God. Also, it would not do good to look in the eyes of someone who just lost a child from cancer and talk about how your child was healed if that happened. That doesn’t mean you don’t acknowledge when appropriate the healing of your child. At that point, it would be best to talk to the grieving parent about the reality of the resurrection. A Christian can give thanks for a meal that they have because they realize that if they have something, it ultimately does come from God. Does that mean they don’t care about people in Africa?

Somehow, I suspect Tarico lives in a home with air conditioning, indoor plumbing, and electricity. If she’s thinking we’re so selfish for acknowledging the blessing of God, maybe she ought to consider selling all she has and getting away and going to Africa. Of course, that would mean she’d have to give up writing books against evangelicalism, which would really be a blessing. She’d also then have to see real Christians in Africa who live in poverty and give thanks for everything they have and maybe get a feel for what the biblical culture was like instead of reading her culture into it.

Ironically, on page 174, Tarico does get some things right. She talks about how evangelicalism has taken in some of the culture such as Individualism. Many of her critiques we’d agree with. What’s ironic about it is that Tarico herself doesn’t realize she bought into the same beliefs and is reading the Bible as if it was written in a culture of literalism and individualism. Going over church history, she gets many facts wrong which can be documented here at Tekton, such as the claim that during the Inquistion, the Cathar genocide took 500,000 victims. Such a claim is more dealt with here. Other historical claims including thousands of witches burned and the destruction by Christians in the New World can be found here.

Tarico also expresses outrage, as we stated earlier, at the conquest of Canaan and of course, she goes to the favorite of skeptics everywhere, Numbers 31. I would just love it for one skeptic to state where the virgins spared in the text were raped and/or taken as sex slaves. She refers to William Henness, an evangelical minister, turned skeptic, who said that the soldiers probably didn’t separate virgins from non-virgins by asking. Tarico insteads pictures the Israelites as lining up the girls and giving them an embarrassing physical examination. Tarico is unaware that no such test would be needed. Virgins in the ancient culture were identified by some mark or type of clothing. Tarico is unaware as well of the history that led up to that attack. More on that can be found here. (JPH note: I cannot help but be appalled by this reference, inasmuch as it is the same one I called Tarico down for in the article linked far above. Obviously she is not in the least interested in correcting her mistakes, for there is little doubt that she is aware of my critique.)

Readers of Tekton will enjoy how Tarico writes in the end about how we live in an age now where we can amass knowledge. We have information online via living documents. For her, the great example of this on pages 240-241 is Wikipedia. Looking at her book, it wouldn’t be surprising if she had done all her research on Wikipedia. A look at the problems with Wikipedia can be found here.

To conclude, Tarico’s approach is a shotgun approach that doesn’t interact with the opposition. Indeed, reading her book, you’d think the opposition didn’t really have any works out there addressing Tarico’s claims. Tarico takes a light approach to all topics and assumes there can be no answer and moves on. Light thinking like this is good for skepticism. It is deep thinking that wrestles with the hard questions that leads one to the truth however and especially to the person who said “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

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