Battle Tactics.

Battle Tactics. December 19, 2014

It’s almost a routine by now. A Christian makes a religious claim, so I’ll ask for some kind of support for that claim. Or one will find out I don’t think there’s any good reason to believe that there’s a real live god at the center of their religion and feel personally challenged by that discovery.

The only real question is exactly how my request isn’t going to get answered this time.

* They’ll trot out pseudoscience or junk archaeology, debunked “miracle” claims, or urban legends.

The Netherlands (Flanders)
The Netherlands (Flanders) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is quite literally not a single bit of evidence whatsoever for any major event described in the Bible’s Old or New Testaments. No Creation, so no Garden of Eden, or Great Flood, or Tower of Babel. No Sodom and Gomorrah. No Exodus or Twelve Plagues. The Gospels of the New Testament are filled with various historical and geographical errors. The more we find out about the Bible, the more we discover that it is a manufactured, engineered hot mess. Liberal denominations of Christianity have already made peace with its largely-allegorical mythic nature, but there are plenty of Christians who mistakenly believe that some or all of it is totally accurate history and science, which leads them into historical revisionism, pseudoarchaeology, and pseudoscience to try to prop up their failing worldviews.

Every single time we’ve been able to critically examine a “miracle,” it’s turned out to be, well, not a miracle. The statues were leaking duck blood or maybe a mixture of chicken-fat and cooking oil. Not a single healing has been confirmed to be of supernatural origin–most are sideshow tricks, like that trend of “leg lengthening” that was going around a couple years ago, or confidence games, like the ones done by debunked faith healer Peter Popoff. Others are outright lies and frauds, like the Shroud of Turin, which was exposed as a fraud shortly after its appearance in the world, or the various miraculous lights in the sky–which have never been verified by credible authorities.

Prophecies involving anything specific enough to verify (most are too vague to be anything but pointless rah-rah) never come true. Every few years there’s a prophecy about the Rapture or the end of the world. We’re all still here. Other times I’ve heard Christians predict that someone will reconvert, and we can generally see how that’s going.

About the best thing I can say on this topic is that it’s actually to Christians’ own benefit that there have never been any confirmed miracles, prophecies, or supernatural events. The scattershot, picayune nature of the ones they think they have paint a picture of a god who is downright incompetent, weak, and paltry, with priorities I could most charitably define as “skewed.”

And none of it is credible support for Christian claims.

* They’ll parrot some catchphrase from a popular apologetics author or Christian preacher that they thought sounded really zingy.

“I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist.”

“It’s evidence that demands a verdict.”

It’s safe to say that apologetics as a field exists not to convert anybody, but to enrich apologetics authors and make apologetics works’ purchasers feel more secure in their beliefs. I don’t know of a single apologetics work that is even halfway compelling. It was downright embarrassing, after I deconverted and indeed even while I was deconverting, to read the works of authors I’d once held in high esteem–and to realize just how lacking their logic and evidence was. It’d all sounded totally plausible to me as a Christian because I already bought into the mentality, but their false arguments only work on people who either already believe or desperately want to believe, or on people who really have no idea how to think critically (or hey, both).

So I’m sympathetic to Christians who don’t realize these apologetics books are awful, but the second one of those catchphrases comes out, I know that I’m dealing with someone who likely has no idea what constitutes credible support for a claim, who can’t think critically, and who likely buys into a whole raft of other errors in thinking.

* They’ll make various appeals to tradition, authority, ignorance, or the like.

It never fails to amaze me that when asked for credible support for Christian claims, often what I get back are recitations of Bible verses. Look, if I don’t believe the Bible is divinely-inspired, if I know it’s filled top to bottom with atrocities, immorality, contradictions, and outright errors, then quoting Bible verses at me isn’t going to make me believe a claim any more than believing it was divine kept me Christian. They’re not magic spells.

Or a Christian will claim to be some grand master of theology, or a pastor, or a lawyer, or a doctor, or whatever else, as if that automatically gives that person some kind of free pass from critical examination of his or her ideas.

If a current cloak of authority isn’t available, then a testimony will be brought out. The trendy thing to claim nowadays is a testimony of having once been an atheist (though curiously, the testimony usually involves a deeply-flawed understanding of what atheism is); back in my day, the popular converts claimed pasts as Satanists or Wiccans.

I don’t care what title someone holds now, or what their past was. I care what credible, objective support that person has for the claim being made.

* They’ll concoct false equivalences, false dilemmas, equivocations, and other such fallacies.

“Liar, lunatic, or lord” is one such false dilemma, but there are tons of others. They all work about the same though. Creationism itself is a false dilemma–if the Theory of Evolution is wrong in even one small way, then the whole thing is false and therefore Jesus.

And can we please stop with the ridiculous “allegories” and “parables” already? The character of Jesus used unclear language and confusing stories to confound people he didn’t want to see saved from Hell; he was building a mystery religion and that kind of confusion was meant to keep outsiders away from the Cool Kids’ Club. For some reason many Christians seem to think that allegories and parables are intended to clarify their religion and make it easier to understand utterly nonsensical concepts like the Trinity.

Convoluted stories are not compelling evidence for a claim.

* They’ll try to silence me, insult my intelligence, construct strawmen to tilt at, try to redirect the entire conversation in some way, attack my right to speak or think differently than they do, denounce the very desire to ask for objective evidence for a claim, or other such attempts to negate me and my pesky request.

They’ll ask if I’m “just angry at God.” They’ll wonder aloud why I seem so interested in matters of religion when I am not religious, hinting that I really believe deep down. They’ll sniff that I wasn’t a TRUE CHRISTIAN™, so I have no right to ask for evidence and say that was why I deconverted.

The funny part is that it doesn’t really matter if I’m angry or not at their god that I don’t believe exists. It doesn’t matter if I have some ulterior motive for asking them for credible support for their claims. My mindset is the least relevant thing about the entire discussion, as is theirs. Evidence doesn’t care how someone feels, and emotions aren’t a reliable way to gauge the truthfulness of a claim anyway. It speaks volumes that they’d rather dwell on my feelings than to actually give me a good reason to believe their claim is valid.

I know why it happens–if I can be negated, then I can be dismissed. Loving, isn’t it? But dismissing me is not giving me a reason to take a claim seriously.

* They’ll start up a lawyer routine, “just asking questions” to get me sidetracked and build an argument for their position.

I ran into a Christian a few days ago online who quite literally tried to start up his favorite lawyer routine a couple dozen times; eventually I had to leave the discussion to cook dinner, but if I had stuck around for his performance, he’d have kept at it forever. He literally had no other way to answer the question at hand and no other strategy whatsoever for supporting his claim (in this case, he was arguing against equal marriage). It was like watching a Roomba crash into a wall over and over again.

The technique is all but embedded in Christian culture at this point, though. We’re starting to see the first crop of adult Christians who were homeschooled using a curriculum that emphasizes this questioning tactic, and some popular apologists like Ray Comfort make it their central strategy for interacting with non-believers.

If someone’s response to a challenge involves having to lead a witness down a primrose path of questions before getting to shout “AHA!” at the end, then that’s not really objective support for a claim. The person evaluating a claim should not have to do the claimant’s work.

* When all else fails, they’ll threaten me, get passive-aggressive, lash out in childish rage, or otherwise try to punish me for not falling into line.

Threats of Hell (and poor treatment at the hands of Christians) abound here. Pascal’s Wager sprouts from Christians’ lips like Athena from the forehead of Zeus. “Time will tell.” “I hope you’re right.” “You’ll see one day.” “I guess you know more than I do.”

For a religion that’s supposed to be about love, its adherents seem totally obsessed with punishment–avoiding it, doling it out, threatening it, anticipating it, and painting gleeful pictures of what will happen. Some of them are downright disturbingly graphic about the punishment they think I’ll face for noncompliance while they party down in the Jesus bus.

But threats aren’t evidence for a claim.

What’s left?

Not a whole hell of a lot. It’s not too hard for me to guess why so many Christians seem to do everything under the sun but what’s actually been requested. You’d think that Christians would be falling over themselves in joy that ex-Christians are so helpfully telling them exactly what would be required in order for us to believe their claims and exactly what does not work to persuade us.

Instead, they’re generally downright petulant. And I can understand why, totally. Many of them have been told their whole lives that arguments are evidence and it can be hard to learn that no, actually that’s not at all true. Many of them have been fed false history and pseudoscience their whole lives and it can sting to learn that they bought into so many fraudulent ideas. They’ve been fed tales of astonishing miracles on a daily basis, and it can’t be fun to think that one has bought into cheap parlor tricks, exaggerations, or outright lies. For what it’s worth, I remember feeling similarly stung, and I sympathize. But that doesn’t mean that I’ll start accepting any of those things as support for Christians’ claims–no matter how often they’re tried.

Sometimes you’ll hear these interactions described in terms of the old story, “The Emperor’s New Clothes”–and I think there’s a lot of truth in that comparison. Especially as someone deconverts and right afterward, it can feel downright surreal to be in church and be the only one there who clearly sees that the Emperor is stark naked. When I began to realize just what was passing for “support” for my religion’s claims, I felt like I was the only person in the world who saw anything clearly.

Thankfully, now we have a lot of resources for those who are starting to see the Emperor’s birthday suit. We’re not alone. When we see these contortions and evasions, we can recognize them for what they are and call them out. If nobody had challenged me when I was Christian, it would have been that much harder to escape from that religion.

Sometimes these conversations may feel repetitive–or routine. But it’s needed, if you’re up for it. What may seem like a Point Refuted a Thousand Times (PRATT) to you might be the very first time that Christian’s ever heard pushback against a favorite apologetics routine.

That’s why I keep doing it. We’re all in this thing together.

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