So much to say, and hundreds of ways to say it. I must have tackled this post a dozen times, only to leave it unfinished to go and sleep on it, so to speak.
What I’ve decided to do is to make a wrap-up post in two parts, concerning my exchange with the folks at Roll to Disbelieve (which started here and, by way of here, here, here and here, left off here). Throughout the course of the discussion, several people weighed in, many of whom brought up some really good points that I’m anxious to discuss further. Alas, though, my free time to write is sporadic at best these days, and facing an army of opposition single-handedly only compounds and exacerbates this predicament. I hope those who engaged do not begrudge me the delay — after I finish these two posts, my goal is to have responded directly to those comments that I found the most relevant and engaging. Thank you for your patience!
To preface this wrap-up, my nutshell assessment of how the discussion went down is something like this: In essence, the entire discussion comes down to evidence — whether or not the Christian claims have the evidential legs to be taken seriously as a feasible (or even likely) model to explain the reality of our world. This comprised perhaps 3% of the discussion. The other 97% or so was a kitchen sink of statements and accusations concerning topics such as my discussion tactics, my motivation in becoming a Christian, my motivation in sharing my faith, my sub-par mental faculties, my flawed character, my failure to apply the teachings of Jesus in my own life, my vile hatred of those who oppose Christianity and the various ways I have threatened and insulted them, my inability to understand the points being presented to me, my failure at presenting good arguments in favor of my worldview, my poor logic skills, my inability to think for myself, my penchant for parroting other peoples’ opinions without understanding or questioning them, and my general depravity as a human being.
Pretty par for the course, I’d say, when it comes to typical discussions of this nature.
I have neither the time nor the inclination to wade through the quagmire of addressing every topic brought up in the latter category, so I shall let this first part of my wrap-up suffice as a response thereto. In the second part, I’ll devote my attention to reiterating my case for the evidential basis for Christianity and responding to the points I found the most incisive and relevant to this central issue.
Now, truly, there was a lot to take in and process. For instance, it seems that there is a sector of humanity that believes people of faith like myself are deficient in our mental faculties — I saw my condition compared to colorblindness in one comment. (Incidentally, I actually do happen to be colorblind.) Apparently, they believe that I have become so indoctrinated in my faith that my brain has been hijacked by fear, making it impossible for me to “get” the points that are being presented to me. I am simply not capable of operating on their level. In effect, my faith has given me brain damage.
These (as well as the others leveled at me) are serious charges, and I acknowledge them all as real and present possibilities; I have no delusions that my perspective is unquestionably sound, or that my logic is airtight, or that my data flawless, or that my analysis of the data is stellar — I actually welcome challenge and opposition, which is why I’m here. As that same commenter put it, I’m just a guy doing his best — and if I am indeed working with a brain that doesn’t fire on all cylinders, then the best I can do is use that brain as best I can.
However, I don’t believe that “doing my best” involves taking someone’s word when it comes to an assessment of my faculties, experiences, biases and motivations, especially when the person making these assessments doesn’t know me from Adam. And especially when they don’t present any good reason to accept their diagnosis. Come to think of it, that seems borderline abusive, don’t you think? There are some of the opinion that Christianity is dehumanizing — but, personally, I cannot recall a time I felt more dehumanized than when reading comments such as these.
I’m fully aware of what the brain is capable of — it’s no joke that one’s worldview assumptions can make the brain do all sorts of mental gymnastics in order to maintain them. However, that’s a sword that cuts both ways, for none of us is exempt from this possibility when it comes to our various worldview assumptions. Furthermore, it is simply not enough to postulate or theorize that one’s beliefs are unequivocally the result of this kind of self-delusion without good reasons why this ought to be the case, in the particular instance cited. As C. S. Lewis said:
You must show that a man is wrong before you start explaining why he is wrong. The modern method is to assume without discussion that he is wrong and then distract his attention from this (the only real issue) by busily explaining how he became so silly.
Things don’t seem to have changed much since Lewis’ time.
I am also reminded of this excellent scene from Good Will Hunting — one of my favorite movies. I’ll put it here — please excuse the language:
It’s a bit of a stretch, I admit — a lot of the material in this monologue doesn’t apply to my situation with these various commentators, for it’s not a matter of life experience; I imagine several of them are older than I and have far more wisdom than I have. However, I find myself in a situation similar to that of Williams’ character in this part of the movie: Here’s someone who knows little or nothing about you, presenting their perspective on the sum of your life, psycho-analyzing your entire existence. It sounds like a compelling story, it seems like it might be legit, it shakes you to your very core and makes you question the very experiences that have defined who you are… and then you realize: They don’t know you. They haven’t taken the time to get to know you, your struggles, your experiences. They don’t care enough to ask — they’re only interested in imposing their philosophy upon you, in overwriting your wisdom and experience with a counter-story that neatly fits their worldview. They’re looking at your painting, and they think in an instant that they have you figured out.
Or, in this case, they look at your faith, and because they themselves have rejected it they feel justified in painting a picture of you where you only believe because there’s something wrong with you. It’s the only explanation that makes sense within their worldview.
Well… thanks, but no thanks.
This is one reason why I stress so strongly the importance of discussion: a lateral, honest, respectful exchange of ideas. Because, let’s face it, none of us are perfect — we all are prone to a warped perspective, we all coddle hidden biases and assumptions, we can all give ourselves passionately to ideals and causes that are flat out wrong. And we all need each other around to keep us honest.
So, if I disagree with someone, I don’t just want to tell them they’re wrong — not only is it ineffectual, it’s also potentially inaccurate, for what if it turns out that I’m the one who is wrong and they’re right? I’m not omniscient, nor are my powers of reasoning without flaw — so, the absolute best I could ever say is, “From my perspective, this seems the most logical and likely situation.”
So no, I don’t think it’s good enough to go down the “You’re wrong so shut up” route — I would much rather discover why we disagree: What is it about our perspectives, our worldviews, our assumptions that make us see the issue differently? (And let’s leave the possibility of mental retardation as an absolute last resort, please.)
It is the people who have this common approach with whom I am interested in carrying on this most important discussion. I’ll do my best to respond to those whom I perceive to have this perspective in my next article.
Thanks as always for reading!
(PS: Notwithstanding this idea that motivations and tactics are largely auxiliary to the core issues, there was one comment in particular that I greatly appreciated that did deal with my tactics, specifically with “knowing your audience”. Ralph’s perspective here is helpful, and is one that I intend to respond to directly. Hopefully I shall be more sensitive to opposing points of view when I touch upon evidence in the following post.)