Sometimes Christians think I consider apologetics ineffective or weak. Nothing could be further from the truth. I happen to think that apologetics works grandly at its true goal. It excels at that goal! The error in Christians’ thinking involves what apologetics’ goal actually is. We’re going to be discussing a Christian apologist soon, so today, let me show you what apologetics is, then brush us up on a concept called the faith pool.
Apologetics, Briefly Explained.
Before we begin, let me briefly touch base about something very important about apologetics.
Apologetics exists as an industry only because Christianity lacks real-world support of any kind.
It consists of arguments and false comparisons that Christians use to persuade people when they lack any objective facts that might support their claims.
Apologists use debate-style arguments and word-based sleight of hand to try to explain why reality never conforms to Christians’ worldview. Thus, apologetics never rises to the level of adequate support for their claims. Arguments cannot be substituted for evidence, no matter how many arguments Christians fling around. If Christians possessed any evidence at all, they’d never shut up about it! But they lack evidence, so they use apologetics arguments instead.
Apologetics doesn’t exist to persuade those who are firing on all critical-thinking thrusters. It can’t do that, no matter how often their peddlers claim otherwise. Rather, apologetics exists for Christians themselves. It aims to reassure Christians who already believe that their faith has some kind of basis in reality, and to confirm their hopes that rational people think Christianity is rational.
A Cottage Industry.
It’s so funny to me that when I was Christian myself, in the 1980s and 1990s, I didn’t own or even encounter that many apologetics books. Back then, regular rank-and-file members didn’t collect or read apologetics books very often. We didn’t need to, though. At least in the areas I lived in, pretty much everyone was a Christian of some kind already. At most, we poached Christians from other denominations, and they did the same to the ones I belonged to.
As Western culture becomes more stable, secure, and comfortable with science and technology, people’s expectations about their beliefs changed as well. So did those beliefs. And so did the cultural requirement to believe in Christianity. As that requirement lifted, so did the cultural requirement to maintain membership in the religion. Suddenly, salesmanship began to matter in the making of new recruits–and the retention of existing members. That’s when and why apologetics became a cottage industry.
Ever since then, Christians happily purchase and absorb these materials. So, hucksters happily produce it and sell it. They’ve got a system going.
The problem for apologists comes when they aim their arguments at anybody with serious doubts and a reality-based system for evaluating reality-based claims (like, say, the scientific method).
The Faith Pool.
Apologetics only works on people who already believe fairly firmly in Christianity’s claims. It cannot persuade someone firing on all critical-thinking thrusters. Anybody who brings critical thinking skills to bear on religious sales pitches can easily demolish and defeat anything coming out of popular apologetics these days. These bundles of logical fallacies, outright lies, and manipulation tactics backfire against the simple, awesome power of objective reality.
Remember that Faith Pool we talk about sometimes? People’s faith in any idea at all can be visualized as a pool of water. As support for that idea grows, the water level in the pool rises. And if things happen that contradict that idea, the water level drops. When the pool’s water reaches a certain low point, the person loses faith in the idea. And when it rises to a certain point, then faith kindles.
The more important the idea is to the person in question, the bigger the pool must be–and thus, the more contradictions someone must perceive in order to lower its level to the point where belief fades away.
By the same token, a lot of water is needed to kindle faith in an important idea–and the more water must rush out of the pool to extinguish it.
Raising and Lowering the Water Level.
Stuff that raises the water level for Christianity includes a lot of contextual supports and motivations for belief. For example, the fear of Hell itself keeps a lot of Christians from even questioning all the contradictions they keep seeing.
More context: The feelings of sanctity and holiness they get when they enter their church help establish a lexicon of belief-based feelings, as do the feelings they create when they work themselves up via rowdy prayer meetings and altar calls. Even evangelizing creates those feelings, whether the sales pitches are accepted or rejected.
Fervent Christians feel inundated with support for their religion’s claims. It turns out that context is a helluva drug. Thus, they feel astonished that anybody could say their god doesn’t exist. We might as well be saying air doesn’t exist. These Christian think,
How can my beliefs be wrong? Look at all this evidence I have! They just don’t WANT to believe!
In their mind, indeed, they certainly do possess oodles of real, solid, objective evidence for Christianity. When I was Christian, I remember thinking exactly like that of anyone rejecting my sales pitches (and let’s be clear: that means everyone, because everyone rejected my sales pitches).
Context is a Helluva Drug.
Decades ago, Christian leaders trained the flocks to accept these context-reinforcing feelings as evidence in and of themselves. They’ve also trained the flocks to accept arguments in lieu of evidence–and to keep their bar VERY low for what constitutes evidence in the first place.
As we’ll see soon, as well, Christian leaders tend to draw upon each other’s work. One apologist will compliment another, or refer to someone else’s argument. Or they just outright steal ideas and phrasing from each other. Nobody, not even Christians themselves, seems surprised by Christian dishonesty these days.
All the stuff I describe creates a tightly-binding, coherent worldview. Well-indoctrinated Christians inhabit a nice, cozy bubble. Inside that bubble, they share a vast lexicon of ideas about each other, non-Christians, which sales tactics work and which don’t, how to think about Christian ideas like how to tell their god’s even talking to them at all, and how to successfully put Christian ideas into action (sorta). Even their language, a thieves’ cant called Christianese, reinforces those shared ideas.
Really, the only problem Christians have with their worldview is that reality does not conform in the slightest to their claims about it!
And because reality won’t cooperate, water constantly trickles out of their faith pool–drop by drop by precious drop. As a result, even well-indoctrinated Christians need constant reaffirmation of their beliefs. (See endnote.)
What Apologetics Really Does.
Christians who aren’t prepared yet to engage too much with constant real-world contradictions to Christian claims will accept apologetics as a reason to believe. All they need is a plausible reason to continue believing their religion’s claims.That’s where apologetics excels. That’s what it was made to do. And that’s where it succeeds. It gives Christians reinforcement for their beliefs.
When it comes to apologetics, Christians’ biggest mistake is thinking that it is persuasive to anybody outside their bubble.
Apologists can overcome that problem easily by teaching their marks that anyone rejecting their message has an ulterior motive in doing so. They know that their customers will not once ever wonder if the huckster teaching them that has one. Heck, Christians barely even register apologists themselves as salespeople in the first place, much less understand or perceive how much self-interest drives apologists’ marketing and public persona-crafting.
Pandering to the Lotus-Eaters in the Pool.
Thus, one way we can figure out someone’s unstated goals is to see what methods they’re using. If the methods absolutely don’t match the person’s stated goals, then chances are that person’s working toward something else–something they aren’t naming. It might even be something that’s very much against their group’s rules–or it might be impossible without breaking those rules.
In this case, apologists’ product reveals what they want: MONEY.
It makes the world go round!
The Good It Does.
Apologetics isn’t stupid at all, then. It accomplishes quite a few goals for Christians at all levels.
The people selling these materials make a living at it and get a lot of admiration and attention from their fans.
Meanwhile, the Christians purchasing these materials get satisfaction from seeing arguments that they think support their beliefs. They gain ammunition they can use against their tribal enemies. And when that ammunition fails to hit any of their targets, they gain the smug joys of faux-persecution. They can blame their victims for not succumbing to what they mistakenly believe is PROOF YES PROOF of their religion’s claims.
Apologetics does nothing, however, for non-Christians. We neither purchase these materials nor consume them nor give any admiration to apologists. Their arguments fall as flat as lead dumplings for us, because we don’t function in the same Bizarro World as apologetics fans do.
But it hardly matters to Christians what we personally think of apologetics.
Their Itching Ears.
For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. (2 Tim 4:3)
So apologists don’t actually cater to non-Christians at all. Rather, they cater to the Christians who support them. That’s why Christians love apologetics–but nobody else does. And it’s why opinions of apologetics are even more polarized than opinions about Christian movies. Christians don’t judge apologetics by how useful it is in converting or persuading non-Christians. They judge it by how well it conforms to their beliefs and advances whatever party line they value and buy into.
Christians’ favorite hucksters tell them they’re oh-so-smart and wise and discerning for buying into apologetics arguments. As a result, they continue to buy into them. Yes: these conjobs tickle Christians’ itching ears, as the Bible verse goes.
And Christians, despite their self-flattery as smart and wise and discerning people, fall for that flattery and pandering every single time. It’s almost like no gods animate their religion at all, isn’t it? Like it’s just a bunch of narcissistic people who want to feel like they’re the most-correct and most-special folks in the room. How could that be?
NEXT UP: I should be back from vacation next time! LSP on Monday, and then we plunge into what happens when Christians express doubt to each other. See you next time!
Reaffirming beliefs: I really don’t remember the last time I needed to see an apologetic tome about the germ theory of disease. I mean, it’s only a THEORY! And it totally contradicts the “biblical” model of disease transmission, which tells us that diseases (mental and physical) come from sinfulness, demonic infestation, or the Christian god’s sick desire to use them to make a weird point!
No, I’ve read lots of books and seen lots of documentaries about diseases of various kinds. They all touch on the causes of disease like bacterial and viral infection, genetic predisposition, environmental factors, and the like. However, not one of them has ever had to stop and step back to explain how we know the germ theory is true in the first place. Nobody’s going into the Original Greek and Latin to explain its ideas, nor smearing the various germ theory denialists out there. The jacket covers of these books and DVD cases don’t declare that these materials totally “will affirm your faith” in germ theory as an explanation and predictor of diseases. (Back to the post!)
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