Hi! We’ve seen some high-profile departures (sorta? probably?) from Christianity of late. In the settling dust of apostasy, a few common Christian responses swam into focus. One of the most-common of the ones I saw involved Christians spluttering in confusion over the idea of their religion’s various claims being tested and found wanting. Like they just had no idea how that could happen! Today, I’ll show you what those Christians don’t know–and likely don’t want to know–about simply identifying their very own claims so they can begin the process of supporting them.
(Obviously, it’s evangelicals who care most about apologetics and PROOF YES PROOF that their religion is totes for realsies. Unless I state otherwise, most of the behaviors I note in this post exist in that group.)
Faith For No Good Reason (Or Not).
People don’t like thinking that they believe something for no good reason. Instead, they prefer thinking that they developed their beliefs after examining the facts around a situation. (They “did the research!”) And oh, they really do not like thinking they believe stuff that is actively and constantly contradicted by their own observations of reality.
In particular, almost all Christians believe that a real live god meddles in the real live world–and that this real live god is their real live friend. Even the most progressive, non-literalist Christians usually draw a serious line in the sand when it comes to that point. Indeed, every other word in the Bible may be mythical or allegorical in nature–but Jesus? Oh, he must be totes for realsies. He absolutely, positively must exist in the real world as a real god doing real stuff. That ONE notion in the Bible MUST be completely literally true.
Here’s the problem with that idea:
A real live god doing real live stuff in the real live world leaves real live footprints behind.
And hooboy, Christians sure imagine their god doing a lot of real live stuff!
Well, those instances of divine activity become claims that people can test for their objective veracity.
First Problem: Identifying Claims in the First Place.
As you can likely guess, it’s evangelicals who tend to fret most about their religion being absolutely objectively real. Literalism writes them a permission slip for their many control-grabs over other people–whether in or out of their own group. Thus, they must protect that belief at all costs.
And yet it is these very Christians who least understand how to identify a truth claim in the first place.
Over at Christian Today, for example, we find an actual professor, John Lennox, listing off 10 “atheist claims.” Almost none of them actually rises to the level of being an objective truth claim. #2 and #8 sorta qualify. Most of the rest represent, at best, non-Christians’ objections to Lennox’ flavor of Christianity. And a few of them are things I’ve only rarely heard any actual atheists offer as objections. Either way, his answers are beyond inadequate. He’s simply using bad apologetics arguments here, particularly red herrings, rather than actually refuting truth claims.
No wonder so many Christians seem confused about ex-Christians’ assertions about proving their religion’s claims false. Their own leaders and big thinkers tell them constantly that Christianity’s claims are beyond true and well-supported. Even an actual religion professor (not to mention a “philosopher of science” and “Christian apologist”) can’t actually identify what a claim even looks like, much less offer support for his own.
Or is that maybe not really the reindeer game he’s playing here?
A Common Problem.
In fact, it seems like most evangelicals have a tough time understanding what claims actually are, much less identifying them in the wild. One writer for The Gospel Coalition (TGC) manages to make exactly the same mistake as Lennox–and she holds a degree in theology. She launched an attack on the “intellectually weak” atheists her tribe hates so much. Cosmic irony: her smug-git attack on atheism comes in the form of a review of a book called Atheist Overreach: When Atheism Fails to Deliver. Sounds like the book in question makes the same mistake as well.
If evangelicals can’t identify the difference between an objection to their own claims and a claim in its own right, they’re gonna have a bad time. But that’s what we see, over and over again. From the randos to the biggest-name apologists and even the religion’s popular figures, they all seem to have their favorite attacks on what they think are “atheist claims” that are actually just objections to Christian claims.
Sure, it’s just dishonest people trying to shirk their own burden of proof. Absolutely, yes, it is. Granted. But it’s also Christians carefully avoiding real confrontation with those objections. It’s like they think if they just slam down hard enough on their critics, they never need to show why their very own claim should be taken seriously in the first place.
(You’d think such well-educated folks would know that atheism doesn’t actually offer to deliver anything. It’s the absence of claims. But obviously this prattle sells books. Who cares if it also destroys their entire religion’s credibility? BOOK SALES, PEOPLE.)
How Apologetics Muddies the Waters.
Ex-Christians sometimes re-read apologetics works that once impressed them. Universally, they come away cringing over just how awful it all truly is. They never noticed that truth while they were Christians, however. And there’s a reason why they didn’t. It’s the same reason why Christians don’t notice that truth now.
Apologetics arguments hold a special place in Christian culture.
An obscure Christian podcaster once accused me of thinking apologetics works are “dumb” (or something; I can’t be arsed to remember exactly what word it was). Nothing could be further from the truth. I don’t think apologetics is dumb at all. I think it’s carefully crafted to accomplish a particular goal, and that it accomplishes that goal. It’s just that the goal isn’t what that guy thinks it is.
Apologetics doesn’t exist to demonstrate support for Christian claims. It exists, instead, to divert attention away from them. And it accomplishes that task grandly.
It’s a heckuva obfuscation game. Christian leaders never actually pony up credible support for their claims. Instead, they re-define objections to their claims as actual claims in and of themselves. Then, they offer terrible arguments in response to those objections, define themselves as having won the arguments, and insist that they’ve just offered all the PROOF YES PROOF anybody needs.
How Testimonies Backfire Too.
Speaking for myself, often I hear some wild-eyed Christian offer up some super-miraculous testimony and wonder if the tale-bearers just got much worse at concocting even halfway plausible stories, or if they were always so unpersuasive. The stories sound so similar that I lean toward the latter explanation. There’s always been pretty much of a muchness with these fish stories.
Testimonies suffer from the same shortcomings that apologetics arguments do. To swallow either one whole, a listener must already fully believe a whole host of Christian claims–or be tipping over into that level of belief. And those believers can’t push back too hard, lest the tribe retaliate.
At best, testimonies represent purely subjective experiences. That’s the best-case scenario. At worst, the stories could be complete fabrications told by conjobs grabbing for attention and money from gullible Christians. At absolutely no point do the stories actually rise to the level of becoming support for any of Christianity’s claims. Some testimonies even accidentally demonstrate some quality that flat-out contradicts those claims. That’s when things get really fun.
So now, let’s look at the claims that Christians keep ignoring, sidestepping, and accidentally refuting.
Sometimes it’s hard to identify exactly what claims Christians are making. They won’t always spell them out explicitly. So here are some common claims. I call these Christianity’s supernatural claims because they hinge upon Christians’ Happy Pretendy Fun Time Game being real.
- The existence of supernatural beings fitting their mythology’s description;
- Afterlife realms representing their skewed version of justice;
- Guaranteed two-way telepathic communication with various supernatural beings;
- A reliable way to know exactly what their god wants people to do (in groups and individually);
- A magical book containing divine wisdom and inspiration/authorship, as well as some measure of accuracy about the supernatural world, afterlife, ancient history, and future;
- Solid, even perfect guidance for how to live, where to work, who to marry, and what to do with one’s life;
- Meaningful, timely, and often miraculous help for earthly concerns and trouble, including protection from natural disasters, interpersonal violence, and financial crises.
For example, they love prayer journals in theory, but Christians won’t ever suggest setting something formal up like the famous Milk Jug Prayer Experiment. And they adore heavenly tourism books and movies, but they sure don’t like checking out any credible tests to find out what might really be happening there. Similarly, my old Pentecostal pastor refused to allow tests of glossolalia to see if it was really a real live language, as our beliefs dictated.
Evangelism-minded Christians vastly prefer apologetics and personal anecdotes to all that fussing-about. I don’t wonder why, either.
And Now: The Red Herring Society.
Maybe evangelicals realize they simply can’t present support for their most important claims. Maybe that’s why they chase their tails down rabbitholes like Creationism.
Evangelicals press hard on the idea that the Bible’s accounting of history actually really happened, but I don’t care about their history- and science-based apologetics. The Bible’s lack of veracity is not Christianity’s biggest dealbreaker, in my opinion. Plus, way too many Christians believe fervently without buying into the toxic mess of excuses that literalism represents to evangelicals.
But evangelicals think that if they can just prove to their own satisfaction that the Great Flood really happened, then we’ll drop to our knees and babble the Sinner’s Prayer right there on the spot.
Thus, evangelicals’ response to the Bible’s lack of veracity regarding science and history matters way more to me than the book’s lack of veracity in the first place. I don’t expect any religion’s mythology to be historically true, any more than I expect it to contain trustworthy science. I go to historians and scientists for that stuff–like most Christians do! But I make a policy of automatically rejecting any sales pitch after I’ve caught the first lie in it. I award no second chances or do-overs to liars.
Even more than that, when evangelicals push so hard to address PROOF YES PROOF for literalism, they only end up pissing on their own shoes twice because it becomes painfully obvious that they’re not addressing any of their more-pressing supernatural claims–much less their most important earthly claims.
The Long Scheme of Things.
When I first began that slow process of deconversion, I felt a great deal of anger and betrayal over the fact that my trusted leaders had set me up for a collision with the brick wall of reality. Every single thing they told me about our god turned out to be objectively false. When I figured that out, I deconverted–because they’d also taught me that Christianity wasn’t worth a fart in a mitten if it wasn’t also objectively true.
So yeah, I went into a tailspin as my beliefs all blew apart like a house of cards. When the dust settled, my faith in Christianity’s supernatural claims had vanished–along with my only reason for staying Christian.
As I gained experience after deconverting, though, my reasons for rejecting Christianity slowly shifted.
All literalism did in the end was hurry me along. Once I worked out the religion’s earthly claims, I rejected it anew and with even greater force.
Something Mattered Even More.
Through the centuries, various believers figured the same thing out that I did about this religion’s supernatural claims. Moreover, millions of Christians today know perfectly well that some varying number of the religion’s truth claims are false. Most damning of all, Christians themselves–even evangelicals–are disengaging from the religion in growing numbers even though they still think those supernatural claims are true.
As I’ve mentioned before, people aren’t walking away from Christianity in such great numbers because its supernatural claims are false. Those claims have always been false. People have always figured it out, too, and they’ve stayed all the same. They had to. If they tried to leave, or even if they simply disagreed too vocally with the group, they faced brutal retaliation–maybe even to the point of losing their property and lives over it.
So for a long time, Christian leaders didn’t have to worry about alienating or driving away members. When membership became way more optional a few decades ago, however, the writing swirled into focus on the wall for Christian leaders.
That shift abruptly brought Christians’ earthly marketing claims into focus. That’s where Christians fall down the hardest. But it’s also their spot of least self-awareness. It’s the one place in themselves that they can’t possibly examine too closely, much less change to improve.
That little spot contains what matters most. And we’re going there together next time.
NEXT UP: The three most important claims Christians make are their earthly claims. Guess what? They fail even worse than the supernatural ones do! See you soon. <3
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