Hector Avalos

Hector Avalos

Hector Avalos

Luke (Common Sense Atheism) has done another amazing interview.  This time with Hector Avalos, professor of Religious Studies at Iowas State University.

Hector Avalos was born in Mexico and as a young child moved to USA to help his grandmother, a Pentecostal.  He became a Child Evangelist & Faith Healer at 7 years old!  In High School he decided to be great missionary so he decided to teach himself Greek & Hebrew to defeat heretics!  In college, at 20 years-old, he became an atheist due to now really understanding the scriptures he was preaching.  In the interview Dr. Avalos explains, given his background, why people claim spiritual healings which are inaccurate.  The interview is short and this part is fascinating.

Dr. Avalos also discusses how violence is essentially due to actual or perceived scarcity of resources.  He explains how religion is unique in its violent potential due to creating imaginary resources that people succumb to: (1) access to divine communication, (2) sacred space, (3) group privileges, (4) salvation (eternal life as a long-term commodity).  It is an enthralling discussion.

His new book, “The End of Biblical Studies” sounds interesting.  He claims the bible is not relevant to real life and in this interview does a fantastic defense of his position.

Questions for Readers:

  • Atheists:  What value(s) can you see in studying the Bible?
  • Christians: Would any Christians like to read this together with me and do parallel posting?
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Filed under Philosophy & Religion

28 responses to “Hector Avalos

  1. As an atheist I see two main values in studying the Bible. First, as an atheist in the US, I am surrounded by people who claim that it forms the basis of their belief system (even if, in reality, it’s only a selective subset of the Bible that forms their belief system). Understanding the Bible helps me talk to them.

    Second, the Bible is a pretty good collection of ancient literature, and it has been preserved better than most literature from the same time period. From that perspective, the Bible is useful for giving a contemporary perspective on life back then, and that is interesting.

  2. Thanks Erika. So I hear to reasons from you:
    (1) Relate to surrounding culture
    (2) Interest in ancient literature and times.

  3. societyvs

    “Christians: Would any Christians like to read this together with me and do parallel posting?” (Sabio)

    Count me in – when does this book come out – I will be sure to buy it and will read along with you! Great idea.

    This sounds like such a great book – I can’t wait to start reading it!

  4. societyvs

    Oh, his book is out..I will go try and get it at my local bookstore or order it on-line when I get a chance.

  5. @ Societyvs
    Done! I ordered mine. I will drop you an e-mail about an approach in that I have a couple of other books I am trying to do the same with. Thanx.
    I am curious if others will join us. Did you listen to the interview?

  6. societyvs

    I am yet to listen to the inteview – but that’s on my list of things to do (I think it will be very eye-opening).

    I still need to order the book mind you – so give me some time on that one.

    As for other books, I am game for some of this reading exercise stuff…I am currently in the middle of 2 books – 1 on homosexuality in Orthodox Judaism and God as described in Judaism (to Christians)…by various rabbi’s.

    So I have a little list going right now – but I want to play!

  7. I defer to the points raised by Erika, although I do not live in the US. 🙂

  8. Just recently I suggested that people join me in (re)reading/discussing “The Blind Watchmaker” in order to expose the speciousness of Darwinian explanations. No one took me up on it, which in hindsight is good since I have lots of partially-read books laying around that I need to finish. For this reason I’ll have to pass, but I’d be willing to contribute my 2 cents anyway :). I may join in later if the discussion gets irresistibly interesting.

  9. dreadpiratescetis

    The Bible is not relevant to everyday life? Me parrot fell off me shoulder in shock!

    I be having no need of hearing nor reading this man’s scrawlings.

  10. societyvs

    “I be having no need of hearing nor reading this man’s scrawlings.” (Dread)

    I think it would be nice to hear his side of the story – don’t you?

  11. societyvs

    I listened to the 28 minute interview…I like what he is talking about – i may disagree with a few aspects of what he is saying but I think his book is still a worthwhile read…I am still on board.

  12. societyvs

    I had a chance to watch his debate with William Lane Craig…I have to say he does seem somewhat questionable. He kind of irked me – he wrote off a students question because ‘it wasn’t framed respectively’…that kind of bothered about me.

    I have to admit the conclusions he is making are just as biased as Craig’s…yet without admission?

    Anywho, I’ll read this book.

  13. @ Laughing Boy
    Yeah, I am not one of the folks to argue evolutionary theory. Evolutionary science has accomplished so much, I leave it to its results to keep whittling down the creationists. No need to argue since as creationist Christians benefit from the results of the science many will become convinced and leave their colleagues behind. That mass of insight will keep changing Christianity just as other past insights have given us liberal Christianity today which is naturally repugnant to the conservatives and the fundamentalists.

    @ Pirate
    I think you would be surprised by what Avalos means by his claim. It uses the apparent meaning for dramatic effect but the actual meaning is significant. But of course you would disagree, but for different reasons. I think you’d like some of his criticisms of many modern Christians.

    @ Society
    My copy is on the way, looking forward to read. You know it is funny, Craig really irks me in his deceptive style. I will have to look for a video on Avalos later. It is always a challenge to hear the truth through the style and personality of a speaker, isn’t it? For BOTH sides.

  14. This is off topic, but since you brought it up, my religious beliefs have little, if anything, to do with why I think Darwinism is wrong. My arguments against Darwinism neither rely on nor support any religious doctrine and they could be (and are) leveled against the theory by atheists and agnostics as well as Christians. However, my religious beliefs do have a lot to do with why I think Darwinism is bad.

    Enough said. Sorry for the sidetrack.

  15. @ LB
    No problem, yes side-track but graciously short. Why not do a post [on your own site] where you simply outline your main objections to “Darwinism” and then outline your main agreements with evolutionary theory.

  16. Steve Wiggins

    The Bible is so much a part of American society that all people should be aware of it. I teach it that way in my classes, and students seem to get it.

    Hector’s book is very good. There are singular points now and then where I disagree with him, but overall he does a good job showing the inherent weaknesses in the system. Unfortunately, there are those of us who have advanced degrees in Bible (no matter how deceptively we were led into them) and can’t seem to find jobs as it is! Society, which loves the Bible, has already solved the problem — starve the biblical scholars out!

  17. @ Steve
    I forgot, this is a sensitive issue for you. Thanx for the feedback on Avalos. It sounds like he is arguing for more people like you ! May it come true. 🙂

  18. Steve Wiggins

    Even so! Hector is a nice guy — I’ve never met him, but we’ve corresponded. He teaches at the university my wife attended (Iowa State). Her father taught there all his career (in engineering) and never knew the university even had a religion department until I joined the family. In brief, Hector suggests the Bible shouldn’t be given privileged position in academia; teach it like Shakespeare or Chaucer, not like God-talk.

  19. Interesting… I’m interested in hearing how Hector supports his claim that the bible isn’t relevant. I will take some time to listen to the interview but sadly, I cannot participate in the book-club. That’d be fun and is a great idea though! Too much to read now.

  20. @ Steve :
    But it seems you want the Jewish and Christian treated with a more privileged position in academia than Shakespeare or Chaucer or Greek Mythology or Native American Mythology or Mormon Scripture or The National Enquirer and certainly more than the Bhagavad Gita or Buddhist Suttras.

    In the old days, scholars felt their Latin precious or their Greek myths precious or even Greek itself precious and everyone should learn it because it was a huge influence in European medieval culture. Your logic seems similar.

    I personally think everyone should learn the game of Go, learn how to program computers, be minimally familiar with cellular automatons and do a martial art. But would I lobby for those to be mandatory in the government public schools, no.

    So I guess I lean more toward Hector’s view. Maybe you could post something on your site about, “Why Schools SHOULD teach the Bible”. We could discuss there.

    @ Luke :
    Looking forward to your impression of the video.

  21. not too impressed with the interview. dude came from an extremely conservative, magical religion and now doesn’t need it, yet states things in a very progressive way. like when he says “i no longer need myths to heal, i need people…” THAT’S THE WHOLE POINT OF RELIGION! it’s living in the here and now with other people. it is a rubric to help bond ppl together and give them a common set of stories to pull from. all groups have these, from family systems (remember when uncle joe slipped on the ice?), to national identity (Johnny Appleseed, “Founding Fathers”), to even philosophical categories (i’m a pragmatist, i can’t talk to you cause you’re a utilitarian). religion does this, but as we have stated and re-stated time and time again that tribalism is dangerous.

    sure you need to find you identity within the group but maturity comes when you are secure in being yourself in a group of “others.” Avalos just doesn’t seem to get this. and the whole thing with Christians don’t know the bible… well no shit. we’ve known that since the mid-1970s when biblical literacy rates plummeted. but then again, i don’t think Avalos has been to Lancaster County where people live and breathe the bible quite literally… namely the Amish. i’d say there would be a group that knows and lives it. plus there are aspects of the bible that are very relevant, Avalos to me runs the fallacy of throwing the baby out with the bathwater here and misses the progressive Christian concept of “canon within the canon” meaning you can’t hold all of the bible in your head at once as the bible is contradictory and no way unified aside from it all has something to do about God. this is not a new thing, liberal scholarship has known this since before the last turn of the century. no knowledge of Christian history.

    needless to say i was a bit frustrated by Avalos but I sure can see why he got where he is and he does raise some good points, but they are not new points inside or outside of Christian thought. I need to slip him some John Dewey or some social Gospel material.

  22. Thanx for the review Luke
    In your first paragraph you seem to defend religion, yelling, “That’s the whole point of religion.” One of the points of my blog is to encourage atheists not to criticize “religion” in general, because:
    (1) I don’t think it is helpful
    (2) I don’t think it exists in the way people think of things existing
    (3) Those using the word use it in a huge variety of ways.
    (see my post on a definition of religion)
    Likewise, I also see the same problems in defending it. But I get how you are trying to say, “This is MY religion” — but you have to admit, Luke, it is not how it is always or even often used.
    I think all Avalos is saying is that he needs people but doesn’t care what banners they fly.

    “maturity comes when you are secure in being yourself in a group of “others.”’

    Are you saying Sabio can’t be mature because he does not belong to such a group with banners and stories. Sabio can’t be whole without religion of some sort? I am sure you are not, but what you said implies that. Because if Avalos does not get it, neither do I. We don’t need religion to function well — Europe proves it !

    The Amish are an exception, Luke, he knows that I am sure. His use of the word “relevant” was for effect and used technically. I am sure you get that.

    Now, I will agree with you that he is not addressing the liberal, progressive Christians. I agree strongly. I wait to see his book to see if he addresses that. But the vast majority of those in the world calling themselves Christians are not progressive Christians. Yeah, he doesn’t touch post-modern Christians, errant pluralist Christians, non-resurrection Christians, non-intervening- God Christians and the like.

    But I think he speaks very well to the vast majority of destructive Christianity. Maybe that is why he frustrated you — he speaks decisively to part of a tradition you now embrace as your own and are torn between. just my impression.

    But please remember, maturity is not dependent on belonging to religious groups or nations. It is possible to form cooperative, non-doctrinal, non-exclusive relationships and grow that way. But I agree, relationships are key to growth, but tribalism is not necessary.

  23. “Sabio can’t be whole without religion of some sort?”

    no. i like your insight of “I think all Avalos is saying is that he needs people but doesn’t care what banners they fly.” that works and Europe does prove it, yet I still see many Christian values running in their rhetoric. for example Denmark feels very mystical-Lutheran to me, meaning that they are humble and creative, valuing creativity and happiness and ethically support equality and justice over garnering profits, buying lots of brand-name stuff, and being super-individualistic in their ethics. i cite denmark because it’s a place where i know many ppl and know their history (thanks in part to studying here at seminary under a Kierkegaard dude). so there are echo’s there.

    “But the vast majority of those in the world calling themselves Christians are not progressive Christians.”

    maybe, maybe not. i gotta find a poll but you’re prolly right on this. in the states however, we found that this simply isn’t the case. i will have to research that.

    “But I agree, relationships are key to growth, but tribalism is not necessary.”

    i think it would be good to state at what time tribalism is not necessary. Eric Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development would suggest there is a degree of tribalism that is inherent in growing up. knowing who we are is important and largely it is dependent on tribalism and having a sense of belonging some where. but i believe, and you do as well, that we are to move beyond this and “form cooperative, non-doctrinal, non-exclusive relationships and grow that way.” but we don’t start out that way and some people stay there.

    which brings me to your point of “I think he speaks very well to the vast majority of destructive Christianity. Maybe that is why he frustrated you — he speaks decisively to part of a tradition you now embrace as your own and are torn between. just my impression.”

    which is true. i just wish he said it straight up instead of leaving it open to that critique just as i wish i hadn’t implied that you can’t be mature without a group. i am frustrated by destructive Christianity as well, perhaps more so than Avalos.

  24. Last night, while I was washing dishes, my 8 year-old daughter sat next to me, visibly upset and told me she was frustrated. At school several of her friends are coming up to her and making fun of her because she does not believe in God. She said she told them to stop but they don’t. But she wants to handle it.

    These taunting children learn their religious bigotry from their parents, who hear it from church, who read it in the precious bibles and re-enforce it with their holy hymns. Even the liberal Churches teach that Jesus saves and there is an invisible God and that all good things come from God. So due to this cultural stupidity my child is consider weird and immoral for not drinking the kool-aid.

    Luke, it makes me wonder that if you use the same old forms, the same old banners and the same old historically exclusivist jargon won’t the ugly side of Christianity continue to thrive. My son has gone through the same thing two years ago. Most of our friends are now atheists or agnostics because either the God-banner people are uncomfortable with our family or they are just outright confronting and I have to be firm with them. Pure stupidity.

    I saw religious ugliness is Japan, India, Pakistan and China — this is by no means just a Christian thing. I am fighting for a world without exclusivist, unquestionable-holy-spirits and religious specialists to tell us why we need a religious tribes to have a real moral soul. I also fight against the ugly tribalism of nations and tribes of sexual preferences.

    But for my family, right now, it is the religious tribalists pounding at the door ! We will bond with friends and family with out using religion, without flags, only with love and care — to hell with the old stories.

    I wrote this because I know you will understand.

  25. I can only imagine the pain you’re going through, but soon enough i will know it. imagine when ppl learn Eve’s dad is a preacher and not only a preacher but THAT preacher who says things like “even atheists are saved.” yet when i say such things i get labeled nonChristian not only by Christians but also agnostics and atheists and thus i’m labeled weird and immoral for not drinking the kool-aid. so we see tribalism in all it’s forms, religious or non. just so happens that the world is supposedly filled with religious people and thus it gets the bad rap and labeled with nonexclusion. i imagine if the tables were turned we’d still have the same problems due to the process of identity formation.

    my best to your daughter, she is in a really rough spot right now. lucky that she has a father such as you to help her walk through it.

  26. Indeed, she get attention and pressure from the preacher side but studies show your family will also be given lots of social praise, credit, approval and much more. Move to Syria and it will not be the same. But you are right, if you preach “atheists are saved” you may piss off the fundies (that hate us anyway) but you will still be palatable to many liberals and cafeteria-casual Christians who many still have trouble with us.

    When an atheist says you are not a Christian, they are not thinking you or your family are immoral. There is a huge difference. But you are right, when people form exclusive tribes (religious or not) the world is dangerous. In sports, it is a little easier for people to realize that the tribal thing is temporary for fun == to appease our nasty nature. But even with that we have many examples of violence.

    Thanx. Best to your daughter too — thank Buddha for her mother ! 🙂 kidding dude.

  27. @ Luke
    Don’t know if you saw my comment back at the “Slipping into Heresy” thing. Sounds like one of your type — she looked fascinating. I imagine you have read and met her. You seem cut from a similar cloth!

    Greta Vosper is a UCC minister (Luke’s denomination). See info on her and her church here! Her book looks interesting. Here is another good link on Greta.

  28. that looks like a great book! i did see that comment! good stuff man. I believe Rev Vosper and I are cut from a similar cloth. however, i believe she is United Church of Canada, which is SIMILAR to the United Church of Christ in theory and practice and pretty much everything, but not the same denom. just being picky. i wish they were the same, it’d be great! cause i really want to claim her as being within my glorious denom. 😉

    but yeah man, thank Buddha for moms! and for resilient kids! i will not argue who has it worse, as i believe you do! hands down amigo. and i mourn that fact because largely it is my brothers and sisters in Christ who are carrying out these actions on their fellow brothers and sisters in humanity (i would say in God, as it is my belief that all are in God regardless of belief, but that sounds too colonial ;-))

    i have been told that i face harsher punishment than an atheist because i willingly and knowingly lead people away from the cross. the fundies usually cite James for this, but funny thing is they didn’t read the rest of the book. canon within the canon strikes again! 🙂 i pray to God that Eve doesn’t turn out to be a PK (pastor’s kid) who does all the bad stuff in rebellion to my profession. we shall see.

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