Brian Fischer Says You Cannot Reason with Liberals Because God Gave Them Deranged Minds

Jun 16 2012 Published by under Featured News, Issues, Republican Party

The Gods have proclaimed Christ to have been most pious, but the Christians are a confused and vicious sect.” (Porphyry, Kata Christianon)

In the third century of the Common Era, a Roman scholar, Porphyry of Tyre (I will get to Brian Fischer in a moment), a student of the famous Neoplatonist Plotinus and author of a book called Against the Christians (Kata Christianon), pointed out that the Biblical book of Daniel (which is an example of apocalyptic Jewish literature)[1], which purports to be the tale of a Jew in Babylon in the sixth century BCE, was written hundreds of years after Daniel’s death. We know this thanks to St. Jerome’s Commentary on Daniel:

“Porphyry wrote his twelfth book against the prophecy of Daniel, denying that it was composed by the person to whom it is ascribed in its title, but rather by some individual living in Judaea at the time of the Antiochus who was surnamed Epiphanes. He furthermore alleged that ‘Daniel’ did not foretell the future so much as he related the past, and lastly that whatever he spoke of up till the time of Antiochus contained authentic history, whereas anything he may have conjectured beyond that point was false, inasmuch as he would not have foreknown the future.”

We don’t have Porphyry’s actual book telling us this about Daniel of course, because the Christians hated Porphyry so much they burnt up nearly everything the poor man ever wrote. The Nazi Party’s angry Aryans had nothing on angry fundamentalist Christians when it came to burning books. In 448 CE, the Church, now thoroughly in control of the Roman Empire, condemned it to the flames. That is why one modern translation, R. Joseph Hoffmann’s Porphyry’s Against the Christians is subtitled “The Literary Remains.”[2]

As it happens, Porphyry, who would also call Jesus himself a “divine man” (like Herakles) but not a God (and see the quote with which I opened this piece), was right and you can’t burn the truth out of existence. The book’s actual date of composition, most modern scholars will tell you, based of archaeology and textual analysis, is the second century BCE – though fundamentalists continue to support a sixth century date. [3]

If Christians were frustrated, you can well imagine Porphyry was as well. As he famously remarked, “it is easier to write words on water than try to use argument on a Christian.”[4]

He isn’t the first to have noticed this of course. As the second century came to an end, another Pagan observer and critic of Christianity, the scholar Celsus, author of On the True Doctrine, had much the same reaction. The Christians, he complained, would brook no argument: “Do not ask questions; Just believe.”[5]

I think anyone who has found themselves in argument with a fundamentalist would sympathize with both men.

As R. Joseph Hoffmann says of Porphyry,

A first-class mind Porphyry certainly was, but the debate was not a strenuous one. From the standpoint of the neoplatonic school, Christianity was contemptible because it was simple. Hence, simple devices and stereotyped arguments were used against it…As a miracle worker, Jesus was a second-rater. The teaching of the Christians is self-contradictory: they look for the end of the world, but what they really want is control of the empire.[6]

They sound a lot like our fundamentalists today, don’t they? End of the world this, end of the world that; we must control the government!

Porphyry, continues Hoffmann, “denied the Christian teachers their favorite refuge: allegory.”

Porphyry deal with the plain sense of words. Having mastered allegorical interpretation as a student of Longinus, he knew the tricks of the trade. Whether speaking of the prophecies of the Book of Daniel or the apocalyptic teaching of the church, he refused to excuse contradiction as “mystery” or misstatement of fact as paradox. The gospel writers were not Homer. Their Greek was, by and large, that of the marketplace. They lacked skill, not honesty, for if they had been dishonest men they would have tried to disguise Jesus’ failures or the deficiencies of his apostles. [7]

I relate all this so that you will have some context in which to place Bryan Fischer’s latest homophobic tirade. As Right Wing Watch reports, Fischer said yesterday that “you cannot reason with these people because they are impervious to facts, they are impervious to logic, they are impervious to reason, they are impervious to history, they are impervious to the truth.”  And the reason that gays and liberals and the like cannot be reasoned with is because God has given them over to a “depraved mind,” so “their thinking is messed up [and] they don’t process information the way normal people process information.”

I am certain that if he had been able to say this to Porphyry that the old philosopher would still be laughing. Fischer’s real problem is, of course, that we won’t simply take his word for it, that we obstinately refuse to, as Celsus’ opponents phrased it, “Just believe.” He cannot, and has not, ever demonstrated any use of reason or logic in his own arguments. The well-educated Porphyry would likely have been unable to debate Fischer because he would have fallen off his chair laughing so hard he would have been been unable to speak.

Now you can read all about the direct cause of Fischer’s tirade over at Right Wing Watch but I’m more interested in the idea that fundamentalist Christians somehow deploy reason in the pursuit of historical fact while processing information more efficiently than a liberal.

I can think of another very intelligent liberal who might be laughing if he has read this: George Lakoff, professor of cognitive science and linguistics and author of The Political Mind: Why You Can’t Understand 21st-Century American Politics with an 18th-Century Brain (2008). Lakoff, like Celsus and Porphyry, knows that faith and reason don’t go along together.

Lakoff, of course points out that reason is one of the ideals of the Enlightenment and that Al Gore’s critique of the Bush administration is called The Assault on Reason (2007) for a reason (just as there is a good reason the New York Times called Gore’s book “a farsighted and powerful manifesto for clear thinking”).  ”Reason makes us equal,” he writes. “Reason contrasts with blind faith.”[8] Fischer sounds more than a little like Pope Benedict when he tries to employ both reason and blind faith as though they were synonymous. Far from being synonymous, they cannot coexist, which is why people talk about taking “a leap of faith”.

It is easy to see why fundamentalist Christians would wish to adopt the language of the Enlightenment in order to destroy it and reason’s great fruit, democracy. But though fundamentalist religious belief can steal the language of the Enlightenment (religious freedom, anyone?) it cannot steal the Enlightenment’s values for the simple reason that religious fundamentalism abhors freedom of any kind, save its own freedom to destroy ours. Let Porphyry’s writings serve as an example of what freedom of speech, reason, logic, and clear thought really means to fundamentalist Christianity.


[1] Bart D. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (2005), 25.

[2] Porphyry was quite influential: Eusebius wrote a refutation; Augustine of Hippo admired him; Jerome wrote his commentary on Daniel to protect Church doctrine regarding that book against Porphyry.

[3] Bart D. Ehrman, Forged: Writing in the Name of God – Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are (2011), 117. It was written during the time of the Maccabean Revolt and not by Daniel, but pseudonymously, as are most apocalypses.

[4] R. Joseph Hoffman, Porphyry’s Against the Christians: The Literary Remains (Oxford University Press, 1994), 168.

[5] Origen, C. Cels. I, 9ff. See Celsus: On The True Doctrine, R.J. Hoffmann ed. (Oxford University Press, 1987), 53-54.

[6] Hoffmann (1994), 17.

[7] Hoffmann (1994), 17-18. Hoffman relates that according to Jerome (Epistle 57) Porphyry pointed out to some sloppy scholarship on the part of the New Testament authors, misusing Hebrew prophecy: “Mark cites a passage from Malachi and attributes it to Isaiah (Mark 1.2); Matthew attributes to Isaiah a verse of Psalm 77, and so on.”

[8] George Lakoff, The Political Mind: Why You Can’t Understand 21st-Century American Politics with an 18th-Century Brain (2008), 6-7.

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