Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Apologetics As Offense

Another primary function of apologetics is what some have called 'offense.' 1

By this they mean that the task of the Christian apologist is often to attack other belief systems. Of course, by attack I do not mean to insult or belittle, but rather to develop arguments against these belief systems with the purpose of showing them to be false or at least highly dubious.

I realize how arrogant this sounds. Really, I do. One of the biggest things that I dislike about my own faith (and yes, it is okay to be honest about these things) is its exclusive nature. I'm really not a mean guy. I love people. 2 I wish that everyone could be right. That somehow, every religion could be a valid path to God. That as a Christian, I did not have to tell sincere believers of other faiths that what they think they know is wrong. If I may say so, I hate this. But unfortunately, my feelings about it don't make it any less true.

That said, this rather bold practice is one of the main tasks of the apologist. The hard fact is, there are many opinions about who God is and what He is like, and most of them have to be wrong. And if I believe that I have been granted access to the truth, and that I am also obligated to share this truth with others, then an inevitable part of that process will be dealing with contrary claims to truth. In order to share the genuine, it is sometimes necessary to expose counterfeits.

This can be done in several ways, as occasion warrants. Sometimes it is through philosophical argument intended to show a particular worldview to be internally incoherent. Sometimes it is more empirical, highlighting various inconsistencies in a system with a realistic picture of the world.

But whatever the specific method, the most important thing is that it be done in love. Some of the best advice I have ever received was that often one's words can be neutral, but it is the attitude in which they are said that makes the difference. People can usually tell what your motives really are.

Think about it. I have been given some pretty hard news on several occasions. And I have no trouble at all picking out the occasions in which the person gave the news in love. The news itself was the same, but the attitude made all the difference.

I have not yet engaged in this type of apologetics in this blog, but I do plan to. When that happens, I will do my best to do it with an attitude of humility, remembering that my coming to know the truth had nothing to do with me. Rather, just like every other Christian, God revealed it to me out of His abundant grace. 3

I should also note that this task of apologetics, though often necessary, is by no means its primary function. Nor should it ever be undertaken by anyone who has not honestly dealt with the position she is attacking.

Next time: denominationalism. (!)



1 Faith Has Its Reasons. Kenneth Boa and Robert Bowman. Pt. 4.
2 Though I must admit this is a fairly recent development. God, however, is persistent.
3 See my post on revelation here.

6 comments:

  1. Thank you for your honesty. I, too, find myself wishing that all paths would eventually lead to God and Heaven. Well, at least I wish most paths led that way (I apparently want to be exclusive in my inclusivity). But only one path leads to the Lord, and this truth is uncomfortable for us (I can offer a specific example of a controversy currently taking place). I love my unsaved friends. I really do. But I find that perhaps I love my friendship with them more than I love their souls. I love the comfort of living in acceptance of who they are. I would much prefer to continue living in this mutual acceptance rather than risk our friendship over a debate concerning their eternal security. I was challenged about a year ago by the words of an unbeliever, who was touched by one man's faithful witness. The unbeliever said (and forgive the possible paraphrase), "If someone truly believes in their particular religous faith and that faith states that anyone who does not agree will face eternal damnation, how much do you have to hate a person not to share your faith with them?" How much do I have to hate my friends in order to treasure their friendship on this earth above the possibility of friendship with them in Heaven? We should love each other enough to share God's love with them, and we should love others enough to learn how to effectively and humbly share that love with them.

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  2. How do you know objectively that your path is the one true path? If you criticize other religions (the word you meant to use, but couldn't bring yourself forward to say it), you must be ready to reconcile for the mass criticism that comes with Christianity. Remember, we are not a world of just Christians, we have Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and non-believers. This is why religion has been the source of massive discrimination.

    I am with you on criticizing other religions (I'm an anti-theist after all). But one of the ethical responsibilities of being an antitheist is to accept pluralism. Religion isn't ever going away, so we all have to coexist with those who think differently. I hope you support the 1st Amendment, because it allows you to not be persecuted by other religions. Once you get into the dangerous mindset (as I once was) of "I'm right, everyone else is wrong", chaos ensues, and extremist revolutions occur. We are the greatest nation on earth not because we're a Christian nation (a myth perpetuated by David Barton), but because we are a nation of pluralism.

    As an antitheist, I don't focus on deconverting others, but instead ensuring justice is duely served. As before, I realize that you are studying apologetics to win arguments on faith. Remember, free speech includes your right to protest against whatever religion doesn't make sense to you, but it also ensures mine to protest against you. Coexistence is something people cannot fully comprehend because they have this "I'm right, you're wrong" attitude that isn't based on hard research. It's based on feelings, and feelings lead to the most irrational of expenditures.

    If you don't know already, I'll leave you with the antitheist mission (which is not the official message, since we really don't have an "official" message, but this is a summation of what we think): we're not here to destroy what you believe because that would be violating your right to liberty. You have that right, and we think you should use that right to believe anything you want. But we don't think that you should spread those beliefs if there isn't hard evidence to back them up. And you certainly shouldn't take advantage of government to back those things up.

    Remember, if nothing else, we're a nation of pluralism.

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  3. Charles: I must admit, I find it a bit difficult to believe that you would write much of what you have said in this comment. By your own admission to me, the title of 'atheist' was not even strong enough for you; you had to instead resort to 'anti-theist.' And yet here you are saying things like, "Religion isn't ever going away, so we all have to coexist with those who think differently." I am surprised. Less extreme skeptics than yourself are in very clear disagreement on this point.

    That said, I'm not interested in getting into a discussion of politics or the First Amendment, as this is pretty clearly a red herring. But I will make a couple quick responses to some other points.

    You say, "If you criticize other religions (the word you meant to use, but couldn't bring yourself forward to say it),..."

    Actually I used a stronger word: attack.

    "...you must be ready to reconcile for the mass criticism that comes with Christianity."

    I assure you, I am. Hence this blog.

    "Once you get into the dangerous mindset (as I once was) of "I'm right, everyone else is wrong", chaos ensues, and extremist revolutions occur."

    That's odd. Do you not then still believe that God does not exist and that all those who think He does are wrong? Objectively, unequivocally, verifiably wrong? If not, then I suppose you have changed your mind since we last talked. I am of course being funny but I think we all know that at bottom, everybody thinks their beliefs are the correct ones. Else they wouldn't hold them. We also know that 'chaos' and 'revolutions' require more than simple disagreement. My point is merely that the very possibility of disagreement itself shows us (at least the thoughtful among us) that we all simply CAN'T be right. But you know this.

    "As an antitheist, I don't focus on deconverting others, but instead ensuring justice is duely served."

    It will be interesting to hear how you ground your concept of 'justice' when I post on the moral argument.

    "I realize that you are studying apologetics to win arguments on faith."

    I certainly hope that this is never why I study what I do. If it ever becomes so, I pray that God will give me the strength to stop before I damage too many people. My goal is truly not to win an argument. This is not hard. My goal is to win people, and often an important step in that process comes in the form of argument. That's all.

    As always, thanks for commenting!

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  4. Oh, I don't just believe that God doesn't exist, I have good reason to believe that gods don't exist period. But that's besides the point. I won't stop you from attacking other faiths (I legally can't anyways), but I will beg and plead that you don't. And if you begin to, trust me, I will begin to attack you. Don't be a bully. Things get ugly when bullies come out of the wild. (Ironically, you may or may not see me as a bully...)

    If you wish to attack extremist positions on faith, such as Al-Qaeda, go for it. I've got ammunition for you, and I'll be right there to back up every word you have to say against those miserable, pathetic losers hiding behind the "religion of peace". But I do not approve of attacking the common lay-people's religion. Most people on earth are in fact very peaceful people, with a few wrong ideas of how life is, but this is able to be overlooked in favor of the greater good.

    I despise extremist religious positions, but as always, I will fight to the death for their right to practice their freedom of speech to say what they will against opposing views. I look at the political side of the things, I love the 1st Amendment because it gives us our fantastic freedoms, this is the only reason I brought it up. Not that I think you're even capable of harming a fly, because I honestly don't. You have a brain, and you're using it magnificently, I just hope, beg, plead you don't cross any boundaries that conflict with the law.

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  5. Charles: "Most people on earth are in fact very peaceful people, with a few wrong ideas of how life is, but this is able to be overlooked in favor of the greater good."

    Does the 'greater good' not sooner or later require the truth? Wouldn't knowing it, whatever it might be, be prima facie the greater good? On this point I might recommend (can't believe I'm saying this...) Sam Harris' thoughts in his End of Faith.

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  6. I've read End of Faith. I honestly didn't think it was that hard-hitting of a book. Yes it was a good book, but I don't ever refer to it. The "greater good" is, imo, peace. And I do agree with most atheists that peace can truly only be obtained with elimination of religion.

    However! I also think that no one has the right to take away anyone else's beliefs just because they disagree with them. I disagree with all religions, doesn't mean I want to forcefully eliminate their beliefs though. I would rather work through eliminating religion through reason and education. Religion has only ever truly been eliminated through either law, (for example Constantine I's declaration of Christianity being Rome's official religion), through reason/criticism, or through murder (The Crusades). I prefer to take the second option. Sure you could convert all the Muslims in the world to Christianity, but if they weren't "bad" people before you converted them, what difference in their ethics will it make after you converted them? If it's to ensure they go to Heaven, or the Celestial Kingdom, or New Jerusalem (whichever afterlife you believe in), I suppose I'm okay with that (because I view religion as just fictional fun).

    But I'm not okay with using terror to achieve an ends to a means. To most fundamental Christians (Jerry Falwell, some people in the Senate, etc.) the ends justify the means. And the means may include even as far as murder (for example, Scott Roeder killed abortionist Dr. Tiller because of his view of abortion) or torture (Bush's approval of what happened in Guantanamo Bay; this doesn't mean Bush is a torturer, but I wouldn't put it past him).

    Honestly, Christianity has done some horrible things in the past. Today's version of it pales in comparison with yesterday's Christians. We all live secular lives now thanks to what atheists have done for science and technology. Why can't we all just educate ourselves, and get along without worrying if tomorrow we're going to be forced by law to abide by what someone else wants us to do? You have your freedom of religion, what more do you want?

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