No Method to the Madness

I’ve been rereading Bad Catholic’s An Attempt to Explain Christianity to Atheists In a Manner That Might Not Freak Them Out, trying to come up with a response that’s more solid than the long shrug that I gave it earlier. It’s probably silly, because just about everyone has weighed in by now. See Daniel Fincke‘s or Deacon Duncan‘s response. I also really like The Barefoot Bum‘s response, particularly this section:

… Marc does not give us any reason to actually believe his story. He gives us a version of the Politician’s Fallacy: we need an answer to the problem of suffering, this is an answer to the problem, therefore this is the correct answer to the problem. But why should we believe his answer? Even if we must need to look to supernatural teleological, why should Marc’s “bizarre” and paradoxical story be the correct one? According to the title, Marc wants to explain Christianity to atheists, but succeeds only in describing an especially weird, counter-intuitive, narrative that we cannot distinguish from pure fiction. We atheists are made of sterner stuff, he won’t freak us out, but he fails to explain Christianity in a way that makes us see it as anything but fiction.

That echos the complaint that I had when I wrote that BC doesn’t provide any reason to prefer his explanation over any other explanations. Most of what we get is a string of assertions, which doesn’t actually help.

Look, let’s say I shift my preconceptions to include the existence of the supernatural and the divine realm. Hell, I’ll even spot you monotheism and the Trinity at the same time. I can still find people throughout the ages who share these preconceptions and yet have produced many different and competing answers to the big questions. There are many different answers within Christianity to the problem of evil, the purpose of suffering, christology and soteriology.

I don’t need another recitation of the answers that you accept. That leads me back to the same shrugging response I complained about earlier, “Yes, that’s nice, thanks for your opinion.” What I need is some method that helps me winnow through the myriad of different answers. I need to know why you accept that answer over all the others. Something beyond “this is what my tradition teaches me,” or “I find this answer consoling.”

And of course the number of potential answers expands exponentially as you accept fewer Christian preconceptions. Here I sit in one of the most religiously diverse nations in history, blogging on a website dedicated to exploring religious diversity. I’m hardly starved for choice here. Just the opposite, in fact, I’ve got more religious options than I know what to do with. If the best you can give me is “This I Believe!” then you can’t help me with that and we have nothing to talk about.

The Inevitable Atheist Church
Everybody's a Christian
The Church of LDS May Get Its Day in Court
Rise of the Nones Re-examined