Posts tagged ‘apologetics’
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…
The test read positive. Ayesha’s face flushed; tears formed in her eyes. She was trapped. She would be killed. She was a stain on her family’s honor. Amir, her soon-to-be husband, would turn her in as soon as he found out. She knew she deserved death. The shame was unbearable.
That night she had a vision. The brightness blinded her at first, but gradually she saw an angelic face and it said, “Ayesha! You are favored indeed by Allah! For God himself is the Father of your child. Do not be afraid. He will be great and be called the Son of the Most High.”
The next day Ayesha told her fiancé that God had impregnated her, she was still a virgin, and an angel had told her this. Would you believe Ayesha?
An ancient book says a man 2,000 years ago was born of a virgin and was sired by God himself. I once believed this, because I believed the Bible — a book I thought God himself wrote.
I was wrong.
Here are five reasons why I no longer believe in the virgin birth…
My on-going experiment to ruthlessly engage with those who wish to effectively argue for Christianity has been underway for what seems like an eternity (no pun intended), but in many ways, I’m no closer to finding that killer argument (unsurprising really). Reflecting back on my days as a Christian, I wish I had come up against some of these arguments earlier so it would have resulted in a paradigm shift in my thinking – but I’m really not sure that there was ever an argument out there that could penetrate the barriers to change prior to when one is ready.
So, it seems that no argument I have submitted to a Christian has even caused them to flinch. It’s quite depressing to leave it at that, because I imagine if I carried out a similar onslaught with members of another religion, I would get the same result – and they can’t ALL be right. At least some (if not all) people of religious faith seem to be immune to reasoned argument. Maybe that’s quite obnoxious on my part.
So what have I learned? What are the arguments to which the response has been particularly weak and/or non-forthcoming but there are also lines of debate which yield absolutely no fruit?
First of all, it is completely futile trying to point out contradictions, inaccuracies and difficulties within the bible. The response is one of ‘yes, it’s difficult, we need to try hard to understand all this… our mind is small compared to god’s”…
I’ve heard Christians say that what one must do is look at the life of Jesus, and decide what you make of him. This is the basis of Alpha Courses and, in my experience, it’s the way many Christians approach Christian apologetics or evangelism. ‘What do you think Jesus meant when he said x?’ ‘What did it mean for the Jews when y happened?’ ‘Wasn’t the love shown by x to y a perfect sacrifice as prophesied in z?’ etc etc.
The belief is that the Bible, in this case, is reliable reportage – miraculously accurate and by its very nature irrefutable. Christians believe there is enough evidence to decide that water was turned to wine, dead men were raised and thousands of ready cooked fishes materialized from thin air. And furthermore, that there was no other important (perhaps more private) relevant statements made that were not reported in the book.
Surely the decision to believe this is at the very least a cognitive event. In the same way that I do not believe in ghosts (until convinced otherwise), I need to decide whether I accept the Bible / Koran (or 100s of other religious holy books) to be reliable…
As a Christian, I was indecisive as to the origins of our four Canonical gospels. Ideally, they were four independent accounts by eyewitnesses, or associates to eyewitnesses, each showing a unique perspective of the life of Jesus. In fact, my church pastors never strayed too far from this ideal course. However, reading the Gospels for myself led me to some troubling questions.
The Gospels contain sayings of Jesus, which in some cases are identical between gospels. For example the Parable of the Leaven found in Luke 13:20-21 and Matthew 13:33 – “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened”. In other cases, the sayings are placed in the same setting, but slightly different, as in the voice from heaven’s proclamation of Jesus after the baptism (Matt 3:17, Mark 1:11, Luke 3:22). The voice speaks directly to Jesus in Mark and Luke (‘Thou art my beloved son’), but the voice speaks to the crowd in Matthew (‘This is my beloved son’). Why the differences in some cases but near verbatim in others? Was this design by divine purpose, copyist error, or dare I say, differing Gospel traditions? Of course, my church never dwelled into this territory of Biblical study, and I was left with my questions parked in my brain where they remained for years.
Burton Mack’s The Lost Gospel of Q deals directly with this question with a hypothesis that is wholly plausible…
The Case for Christianity is a series of transcribed radio talks given by C.S. Lewis during WWII, and edited together with additional notes into book form. It is one of three books that ultimately made up his famous apologetic work Mere Christianity.
Reading the book reminded me of some mathematics seminars I used to attend. The speaker would spend great effort in setting up the initial steps of some elaborate proof, only to spend the last 3 minutes of his talk rushing through the rest to get to his conclusion. It is the classic cartoon of a math professor writing “Poof, a miracle occurs here” in the middle of his equation list. Lewis attempts to build the case for Jesus Christ on first principles. The argumentation style is that of a long chain of assumptions and arguments, with one continuously built on the other. The problem with this type of argument is that when any argument or assumption in the chain is shown wrong, or even questioned or doubted, everything else that follows is discredited. If the foundational argument fails, the whole structure collapses and we might as well not read the rest of the book.
Lewis begins his arguments, indeed the first half of the book, with the argument of our moral conscience. He claims that since we have a moral baseline, which seems to be a standard across humanity, that it must have been implanted into us upon creation. Since our moral conscience cannot conceive of the abstract notions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ unless they exist, they must then exist outside of our selves…