The ethics of the Apologetic toolkit

The ethics of the Apologetic toolkit July 14, 2007

To explain why it isn’t completely impossible (or unusually irrational) to hold to a certain form of belief appears to be the chief purpose for all apologetics. With that in mind, it seems to me that there are two fundamentals approaches to the endeavor. Neither, ultimately, is going to dissuade the determined disbeliever from their viewpoint, but one is better designed for the unbeliever and the other better suited to the choir.

To the choir we present the rational discussion of our own beliefs (at least, as far as it is possible). We try to show how our own beliefs fit within the wider world and we try to convey the tentativeness with which our explanations are held. This is because sufficient experience in apologetics involves the acknowledgement that one’s beautiful and universal theory may eventually be proven incorrect. That said, we need this sort of apologetics. It helps us to understand ourselves and our beliefs. It can be a lifeline for a certain type of believer. However, it is rarely effectual in convincing the unconvinced.

To the unitiated, our goal is not to present our beliefs, necessarily, but rather to open their eyes to the world around them so that we might be able to help them see why some people might find a need for our beliefs. In other words, we problematize their understanding. This all occurred to me when I read about the recent debate between two prominent political bloggers regarding the Mormon faith. I have also read the subsequent attempts to explain the faith.

The problem is not that people don’t understand our faith; it is that they think they understand it too well. When entering into this sort of conversation, the skeptical already have many reasons to disbelieve. The goal should thus be to problematize their assumptions regarding why they ought to be skeptical. In my experience, this has been demonstrated by arguing that traditional Christianity bases itself on equally improbable events. One could also point out that there are ethical reasons to be suspicious of the moral superiority of traditional Christianity. In other words, you need to problematize the assumptions of the unbeliever in order to cause them to have any interest in the rational explanation of one’s beliefs that generally appeals to the choir.

Is it ethical or unethical to problematize the belief systems of unbelievers? If it is unethical, how do we make a case for Mormon belief compelling?

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