Symposium — An anti-Christian barrage in the midst of the Middle Georgia Bible Belt? (With apologies to both Plato and Alexander Pope)
"A little learning is a dangerous thing; drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, and drinking largely sobers us again."
Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism, 1709
For the past several months an unexpectedly ongoing and curious religious debate has been raging on the Opinion pages of my local newspaper, the Macon Telegraph. I write “unexpectedly” and “curious” because we are supposed to be living in the midst of the Bible Belt here in Middle Georgia, and one would expect, if anything as it relates to the realm of religion, a Judeo-Christian perspective to be promulgated on Sundays for the benefit of the majority faithful. This should be particularly true given the decidedly progressive bent of the paper the rest of the week; instead, we are presented every Sunday with an anti-religious column written by a former priest, Dr. Bill Cummings, who apparently has an ax to grind against Christianity and Western culture, in general, and his former Roman Catholic Church, in particular.
I’m not a religious person, but since religion is one of the main pillars of Western civilization — a civilization which, like the Catholic Church itself, is so much under attack from within and from without — I believe both Western culture and the Judeo-Christian ethic deserve and need to be defended.(1) Dr. Cummings, incidentally, seems a very likable and intelligent person, except for this persistent detractive obsessioon of launching anti-Christian barrages nearly every Sunday after Sunday. Moreover, he has staunchly refused to say whether he is still speaking as a Christian and whether he is still part of the Catholic Church. In unguarded moments, Dr. Cummings has tellingly referred to himself (or his website) as the “progressive heretic.” Nevertheless, because of his refusal to admit whether he writes as a Christian or as a “progressive heretic,” he has been defended by several naïve or so not-naïve writers(2,3), who believe him to be a Christian, including a respected former judge, Phil Brown, who incredibly does not seem to know who or what he was defending!(4) Cummings’ greatest defender, though, is a rabid atheist, Jim Sandefur, a local potter, who has written such statements as: “the only good church is a burned down church”(7); “I think all three Abrahamic religions are an insult to the intelligence of mankind, and I will never be able to understand how anyone intelligent enough to turn a doorknob can believe such stupid s***”(14); “If I could go back in time I'd kill Abraham, but the second guy on my list would be Paul. Without him Christianity would not exist today”(13); and repeatedly calls everyone who disagrees with him a “mental midget.”(7,14) This last accusation is not only arrogant but also humorous: Before he had digested his writings, Sandefur ascribed the sobriquet to the theologian-in-chief, Dr. Cummings himself. That was before Sandefur had his epiphany that Dr. Cummings was actually coming from his side! We may disagree with his progressive politics and his heretical theology, but Dr. Cummings is certainly no mental midget. and he very well knows what he is doing: attempting to shake the faith of those who still believe in the Christian God because he himself has lost his faith and has an ax to grind against the same Church that nurtured and instructed him.
Sandefur has also called me a mental midget, which is even more hilarious. Already being a physician at age 24 and having passed the Basic Science part of my neurosurgical boards in the first year of my residency at Emory University (with 4 more years still to go in my training!), roughly equates my IQ to at least 130!(5,6) I declare these admissions, not from arrogance or to beat myself on the chest, but to reassure the many commenters in the Macon Telegraph, who have been offensively and derisively attacked by Sandefur with such appellations as “mental midgets” and “ignoramuses,” either because they are professed Christians or simply because he disagrees with their opinions. Heaping such hateful scorn and derision by Sandefur upon his neighbors was not only done “to poke fun at the yokels of Middle Georgia,”(7,12) but also an attempt to silence them. Sandefur, I’m sure would not hesitate to call Wernher Von Braun (1912-1977) a mental midget if the rocket scientist disagreed with any of Sandefur’s opinions — so we have a theologian with several degrees, a brain surgeon, and a rocket scientist — all effectively (or potentially) call mental midgets by the local potter! By contrast all of those who write pieces with whom Sandefur agrees, no matter how poorly written, or semi-literate, Sandefur praises as “excellent columns” and the semi-literate luminaries are obsequiously invited by Sandefur to keep writing! Most amusing of all, perhaps, is that Sandefur had challenged me to respond to his personal insults (i.e., with his usual bullying vulgarities, "if I had the cojones"), but when I did, and I took him to task for such an irresponsible statement as "the only good church is a burned-down church," he complained I was stalking him. This accusation coming from the big bully of the Telegraph, as you will yourself ascertained (by his own written comments as shown below), is particularly hilarious!(7,12)
It is beyond the scope of this symposium to copy and paste the barrage of evidentiary Sunday columns by Dr. Cummings published in the Telegraph and the many columns written in response, both pro and con.(8) Suffice to say, Father Allan J. McDonald, the distinguished Pastor of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church,(9) and myself offered to write contrarian columns, but we were either not invited to do so or were denied outrightly the opportunity by Mr. Charles Richardson, Opinion Page editor of the Telegraph, who wrote me, “Frankly, I've devoted way too much newsprint to this subject already” [Dec 14, 2015]. But as we have seen, the ink continues to flow Sunday after Sunday.(10) One person who has been given the chance to respond more than once in the Telegraph has been the free lance journalist, David Mann. He has written three good contrarian columns on the subject, and his last one is posted below with the initial responsive comments.(11) Hopefully, Mr. Mann’s piece will serve as a launching pad for further reading on this ongoing curiosity in collaborative journalism.
1. Faria MA. Dismantling Christianity and Western civilization — and replacing them with what? Macon Telegraph, August 26, 2015. Available from: http://www.haciendapub.com/articles/dismantling-christianity-and-western-civilization-—-and-replacing-them-what
2. Cullinan NM. Your Say: Comprehending Attacks on Cummings’ recent column. Macon Telegraph September 4, 2015. Available from: http://www.macon.com/opinion/readers-opinion/article33866856.html
3. Dr. Miguel Faria responds to Mr. N.M. Cullinan's letter in the Macon Telegraph. September 15, 2015. Available from: http://haciendapub.com/articles/dr-miguel-faria-responds-mr-nm-cullinans-letter-macon-telegraph
7. Faria MA. Is "the only good church a burned-down church"? The Macon Telegraph, March 29, 2015. Available from: http://www.haciendapub.com/randomnotes/faria-only-good-church-burned-down-church
12. Faria MA. Fighting Lost Causes in the American Civil War. HaciendaPublishing.com, December 7, 2014. Available at:http://www.haciendapub.com/articles/fighting-lost-causes-american-civil-war
13. Cummings: Paul was wrong but who cares. Macon Telegraph. Dec 26, 2015
14. Mann D. YOUR SAY: 'Cummings is anti-Christian' columnist answers criticism, Macon Telegraph, January 16, 2016 (comments)
Written by Dr. Miguel Faria
Miguel A. Faria, Jr., M.D. is Clinical Professor of Surgery (Neurosurgery, ret.) and Adjunct Professor of Medical History (ret.) Mercer University School of Medicine. He is an Associate Editor in Chief and a World Affairs Editor of Surgical Neurology International (SNI), and an Ex-member of the Injury Research Grant Review Committee of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 2002-05; Former Editor-in-Chief of the Medical Sentinel (1996-2002), Editor Emeritus, the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS); Author, Vandals at the Gates of Medicine (1995); Medical Warrior: Fighting Corporate Socialized Medicine (1997); and Cuba in Revolution: Escape From a Lost Paradise (2002).
This article may be cited as: Faria MA. Symposium — An anti-Christian barrage in the midst of the Middle Georgia Bible Belt? (With apology to Alexander Pope). HaciendaPublishing.com, January 18, 2016. Available from: http://haciendapub.com/articles/symposium-%E2%80%94-anti-christian-barrage-midst-middle-georgia-bible-belt-apology-alexander-pope
Copyright ©2016 Miguel A. Faria, Jr., M.D.
YOUR SAY: 'Cummings is anti-Christian' columnist answers criticism, Macon Telegraph, January 16, 2016
By David Mann
Because my ongoing exchange with columnist Bill Cummings about the nature of Christianity threatens to become tedious, this will be, I venture to hope, my last comment on the subject. But his Dec. 6 column, "David Mann's ideal Christian" (bit.ly/1S0SBwW), and Phil Brown's Dec. 13 tirade, "Who is to decide who is Christian or not?" (bit.ly/1PJnbcX), both deserve responses. But because space prohibits both and because the latter is the more pointed and straightforward of the two, I will confine myself mostly to it.
It would be far preferable if all critics actually read what they criticize before criticizing it, but that appears barely to have happened in Brown's case. He calls my conclusion that Cummings is not a Christian "something there is neither evidence nor reason to conclude." This is puzzling because, in my column, I provided my evidence and reasoning in enough detail that it had to be published in two parts over two days (bit.ly/1NZAoK5 and bit.ly/1OxJXPV). Dispute it if you choose, refute it if you can, but don't pretend it doesn't exist.
Some of what he says few could disagree with. He describes the salutary effects of churches on young people in inculcating positive values and keeping them off the streets. But then he denounces "ill-conceived attacks on the attendees' character as does Mann regarding Cummings," which is entirely a figment of Brown's imagination. Far from attacking Cummings' character, I said that "Of course none of this (that I wrote) makes him a bad person (he actually seems to be quite a good person)" and that "He may ... seek to live by (Jesus') words." Cummings' character is not in question and is not the issue.
Moreover, there is no logical reason to regard the terms "not a Christian" or "anti-Christian," as I used them, as attacks on anyone's character or anything else. My column was not an argument in favor of Christianity, an enterprise that would have been far beyond its scope; its focus was much narrower. I used the terms "not a Christian" and "anti-Christian" simply as neutral statements of fact. That he implies that anyone who is not a Christian thereby automatically suffers from bad character says more about Brown than he perhaps intended and is troubling in someone who served for many years as a Bibb County Superior Court judge. Were Jews who came before his court, for example, subjected to disparate justice because he believes they have lesser character than Christians? Let us fervently hope not.
Brown asks "What beliefs are required by Jesus in order for one to be a Christian anyway?" and apparently gives the astonishing answer that belief simply has nothing to do with Christianity, it being entirely a matter of conduct. "Jesus said we will know them by their fruit," he tells us — twice. But that doesn't mean Jesus meant for this to be the only criterion of being a Christian. Many atheists, agnostics, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and so on lead exemplary lives. Does Brown take the absurd position that this makes them Christians?
Brown asks "Who has set belief in Jesus' divinity as a test for being a Christian?" and tells us — three times — that "Jesus never claimed to be divine." How then does he deal with John 10:30? Or Matthew 16:16-20? Or John 14:6? Or Mark 14:61-62? Or Luke 4:41? Or John 8:58? Or Matthew 11:27? Or John 11:4, among others? Probably by saying that these are inauthentic verses that were added later and corrupted the original message. But given their presence in our Bible today, if he is going to contend that divinity "was a non-issue for Jesus," the burden of evidence is on him to show that this is so. Surely a judge should know something about burdens of evidence.
Brown writes as if, rhetorically speaking, I waylaid Cummings in a dark alley. But I did not start this conversation. That anyone might think so is probably largely because of a headline I didn't write. Cummings and his critics have been going back and forth for years, reaching a culmination of sorts in October with a letter headlined "Telegraph's anti-Christian columnist," which he then laughed off ("The anti-Christian columnist," Oct. 18). On the column I submitted in response, my proposed headline was "Sorry, Dr. Cummings, but you ARE anti-Christian," with the emphasized word reflecting that this was simply the latest installment in an ongoing conversation. But an editor lowercased the "are," which altered the meaning to make it sound as if I was gratuitously making the "anti-Christian" assertion rather than responding to something already being discussed.
My original "open letter" (Oct. 4, bit.ly/1mC048k) was a challenge to Cummings to pursue certain implications of what he has written and address what I see as a profound contradiction in his view of the universe, namely regarding objective truth. (Unfortunately he didn't do this.) And my "anti-Christian" column, while written in the third person rather than the second like the "open letter," could be regarded as an implicit challenge to refute me if I was wrong. But surely Cummings, who holds a degree in philosophy and three advanced degrees in theology, who taught in three Catholic institutions of higher learning and who actually lived in the Vatican for two years while studying under the pope himself, is a "big boy" intellectually speaking and up to the challenge of discussing religion with someone who holds no advanced degree in anything. Indeed, he has called in the past for "honest debate and sincere objections," and I responded to that call. My columns, whether accurate or mistaken, were reasoned argument and not personal attacks, and I believe Cummings understands the difference even if some others do not.
Meanwhile, a most unusual and surprising thing has happened, which could turn this whole conversation on its head. In "David Mann's ideal Christian," Cummings brings up the Nicene Creed (which I never even mentioned) and straightforwardly acknowledges that, when it comes to being a Christian based on it, "I probably come close to flunking." But he also says something amazing. "I much prefer the Apostles' Creed," he writes. And the Apostles' Creed begins with the words "I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord" — clearly a declaration of the divinity of Jesus! And so, if he is saying he believes the Apostles' Creed, he is saying he believes in the divinity of Jesus. Could it be that, after all these words, Cummings turns out to be a Christian after all?
David Mann is a freelance writer based in Macon
Wally Walters: A thorough and well-balanced response, including your comment below.
That such a venomous anti-theist [Jim Sandefur] supports Cummings so fully, with Cummings' appreciation in turn, gives real insight as to the objective of his columns.
David Mann: Dear Jim Sandefur . . .
I’m genuinely puzzled as to why you’re so angry at me. Dr. Cummings (my chosen designation, out of respect, which The Telegraph insists on changing to “Cummings” because that’s its style) gets to write every week, while I’ve now written a grand total of three columns that were related in any way to his writings, and you call that “going on and on.” This might have some validity if my columns were indeed about the same subject, but they were actually about very different aspects of this matter, and if you don’t know that it’s because you haven’t read them carefully. You seem intelligent enough to have discerned that if you had.
The first, in October, was mostly not even about religion but about a broader question of philosophy; the second (in two parts) was about Christianity; and today’s column above is mostly not about Dr. Cummings but a response to the tirade against me by Phil Brown published in December. Do I not have a right to respond to unfair and false criticism?
The big question here is how you can be a committed, even militant atheist, who has mocked Christianity as “the dead-man-on-a-stick religion” and (I’m told) said that “the only good church is a burned-out church,” and also be such a militant partisan of Dr. Cummings and Mr. Brown, to the point of calling the latter’s obviously hastily written rant a “good column” (in a Comment to Dr. Cummings) and thanking him for “taking the time to write this piece” (in a Comment to him). You have made clear that you believe Christians are ignorant and naive. Dr. Cummings and Mr. Brown both evidently identify themselves as Christians. (See the last paragraph of the column above for a surprising development in this regard, something that is entirely new since my last column and further proof that my columns are not repetitive.) Mr. Brown writes at some length about the positive influence of churches and laments their declining attendance, which is something I would expect you to applaud. So what gives? How can you call a column about the New Testament “the best thing printed in the Telegraph” and tell us you like to read it? Why would you care? Why would you spend time reading about what you regard as nonsense? Why the seemingly schizophrenic views?
I have a theory as to the answer. My theory is that you like Dr. Cummings’ columns because you know they irritate the yokels, and that, not anything to do with the truth or falsehood of anything being discussed, is for reasons unknown your main interest here.
Much more could be said, but I think it’s your turn!
Jim Sandefur: Enough already! You've pounded your puny point enough. Many of us just want to read Cummings' column because it is the best thing printed in the Telegraph and we're lucky to have someone like Cummings living here in Middle Georgia. For the mental midgets who don't understand or like what he writes, Don't f****** read it!
Jim Sandefur: The mental midgets I refer to above do not include Mann. He is an intelligent person but keeps going on and on about next to nothing.
Jim Sandefur: It's "The only good church is a burned-down church". You are partly right in that part of my appreciation of Cummings' columns is that they irritate the yokels, but that is just a small part. I really do appreciate his columns because I learn from them and they point the way for further study. I think all three Abrahamic religions are an insult to the intelligence of mankind, and I will never be able to understand how anyone intelligent enough to turn a doorknob can believe such stupid s*** but that doesn't mean that I don't find the study of those three religions, especially Christianity, fascinating.
Jim Sandefur: To explain a little more, I also appreciate Cummings' columns because even in a place where Sarah Palin would pass for an intellectual, there are a few people who think, read, and wonder. If his columns makes a few people realize that the King James translation of the Bible in ridded with mistakes and is one of the worst translations of all or that their preacher is not very bright and is full of s*** or that Christianity is just an adult version of Santa Claus then his columns have served the community well.