Posts filed under ‘Richard’
In this, our third essay on the psychological and rhetorical techniques that underlie evangelical Christian apologetics, we will examine some evangelical Christian claims that seem devilishly difficult to prove wrong. We have all heard such claims. They would include the following:
- If you de-convert from Christianity, you never really were a Christian at all
- All Christians, in right relationship with God, experience peace in the face of adversity
- If you sincerely seek God you will find Him
- “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move.” (Matthew 17:20, NIV)
What I will argue is that such statements either are not actually claims about the world at all, and hence insulate themselves from disconfirming empirical evidence by defining it away, or else they are claims/predictions, but rely on vague, ill-defined subjective states and thus, are impossible to confirm. In each case, I will elucidate the issues involved and then tie it in with the relevant psychological issues…
In this article I will continue our examination of Christian apologetics from a psychological perspective. Here, I wish to look at the concept of sin, so central to Christianity, and how the teachings about sin work to convert, and then retain, people into the fundamentalist faith-system.
I will take my lead from C. S. Lewis. Lewis teaches a lot about sin over the course of his Mere Christianity (MC), The Problem of Pain (PP), and The Great Divorce. Lewis tells us that a sinless creature, such as we humans were before the Fall, would be perfectly and utterly selfless. He would be perfectly in tune with God and the will of God, and his own will would be entirely subordinated to God’s. Lewis describes this memorably: “…each soul [in heaven] will be eternally engaged in giving away to all the rest that which it receives. And as to God, we must remember that the soul is but a hollow that God fills. Its union with God is, almost by definition, a continual self-abandonment– an opening, an unveiling, a surrender, of itself. ” (PP, p.151)
Thus, Lewis tells us that a state of harmony with God is a state of utter selflessness, of perfect and continual abdication of the will. Thus it follows rather directly that the nature of our corruption, of our sin, is will-full-ness. Self-will, according to Lewis, is the original original sin. It is what got Lucifer kicked out of heaven – when he said, I will become like the Most High…. rather than, as Jesus said, “Thy will be done.” Self-will means to make the self the center of the self-rather than God. It is a wish to disengage from this endless cycle of self-giving, and thereby keep for the self and thereby expand the self. All that is created is good, Lewis teaches, but Man has corrupted his self and the world by putting otherwise natural, good things to selfish ends. ..
The concept of rebellion against God plays a central role in Christian theology. It defines the relationship of Fallen Man to God – i.e., we humans are said to be in a state of rebellion against God. It characterized Adam’s behavior in the Garden, and the result, human corruption, is now permanently embedded in our spiritual genome, so to speak. It results in our voluntary choice of eternal separation from God, according to the theology – unless, of course, an individual claims the “redemptive work of Christ” to restore her to a regenerate state. But this can only happen when the individual makes a free decision to submit her will to God and thus end the rebellion. C. S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, makes the matter quite plain: “…fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms.” (p. 59) Thus, our sinful, prideful self-will, our universal tendency to make the self the center of the self, rather than God – in short, our rebellion – is at the core of who we are, until we become Christians.
Evangelical Christian theologies differ on what exactly happens, and how, when salvation is attained, but they largely agree on at least three main basics: (1) that the proper relationship of creature to Creator is one of submission; what God says, goes. (2) That humans are corrupted through and through, and the ability to love God, choose the Good, and lead moral lives are all entirely lacking. And finally (3) voluntary submission of the will to God is required for salvation. I will address each of these in turn…
Few of those who walk away from evangelical Christianity can avoid struggling, at least to some degree, with the problem of apologetics. Christians devote endless amounts of resources to producing arguments for their faith; indeed, many of us spent much time and energy mastering these very arguments ourselves.
Apologists often present themselves as just defending their faith – rational argumentation – but I suggest their activity is better understood as a form of the ancient Greek art of rhetoric. I.e., they do make arguments, but ones specifically designed to get people to change and make decisions. Apologists are indeed quite (pun intended) unapologetic about this. Their goal is, if not to convince you to convert (only God can do that, they say), then at least remove any intellectual barriers that may be holding you back from conversion. In other words, they don’t just want to persuade you they are correct in their assertions; they want to win your soul.
Accordingly, their arguments are designed to have psychological force, not just (or even mainly) logical force, and this is what I would like to address in this article and the ones that follow. It has been very helpful in my own de-conversion to bracket aside the issue of trying to refute them and instead look at why these arguments can get under your skin so effectively – to vivisect them and look at their psychological and rhetorical innards, as it were…
A number of months ago I wrote pair of posts called Why Doesn’t God Make Things Clearer? and God and the IRS. They touched on what has become a intellectual cornerstone of my own personal transition out of evangelical Christianity, namely, “divine hiddenness” – the idea that God, if there is one, does not seemed to have made things very clear for us.
But as we say in Texas, there is more than one way to rope a steer. (Actually, I think I just made that up. But it’s pretty catchy, yeah?) Here, I’d like to make this same point a little differently, and, hopefully, more entertainingly.
So let’s start with the basics: people disagree about God. They disagree about God’s existence, and, even among those can agree on this much, they disagree about God’s alleged nature.
But how is this even possible? How can there be so many different religions, creeds, theologies, churches, sects, and denominations? Especially if God, as is alleged, wrote a book to lay it all out for us! And if he did write us a book, then why are their so many, many views about what it really means and what it tells us about this God? This state of affairs does not seem to obtain with the IRS, where the instructions for its basic form, 1040, are intricate, perhaps, but overall pretty clear. To the point: if there is one Almighty God, and this God has one single, simple message of salvation for us all, then why doesn’t he just write the damn thing down – clearly?..
So the other day I was watching my son eat lunch.
Of course, “eat lunch” sounds much more, well, contained than anything usually accomplished by most 22-month olds. He grabbed big spoonfuls and/or handfuls of his mac & cheese and shoved them, fist and all, into his mouth, depositing most of it, losing a bit, and in the process coating his face, hands, hair, shirt and table in gobs of that inimitable nuclear orange cheese sauce. This was something that did not bother him at all. I found myself wishing I could focus on anything in the world as well as he focused on his mac & cheese. This kiddo really likes to eat.
And he had not a shred of self-consciousness. He did not care how he looked or how messy he was. He simply enjoyed his meal, and with a singularity of innocence and pleasure that makes sappy, sentimental parents like me want to weep. He had no awareness in the world that I was watching him, or indeed of anything else at all. He was entirely immersed in the immediacy of his experience, with no thought to what anyone else thought. I found it both striking and beautiful.
And it got me thinking about this matter of “self-consciousness”. The capacity to lose self-consciousness – to be present and fully immersed in the messiness of one’s bodily existence, and to live (if only briefly) without pride, shame, or false modesty – is a rare quality…