My friend Jhan Moskowitz, North American Director of Jews for Jesus, often says that only real questions deserve real answers. As he points out, belief is an act of the will not a function of information. People choose to believe, they are not argued in to the faith. This does not preclude evidence and reason, the stuff of apologetics, but apologetics (defense of the faith) is pre-evangelism. It is in order to inform belief however, in the end each individual must choose to act on that evidence and reason and believe. Last week I used an email to Harry, a friend of mine, from an antagonist of the faith and responded to it in the blog. It was a great launching point to respond to general objections to the Christian faith. Although Harry has suggested several times to the author that they contact me directly they have opted not to do so but instead continue to email Harry. That’s fine and is good experience for Harry. My observations to Harry were that the individual does not appear to have any real interest in debating the issues, making a case for their position or demonstrating their assertions about individuals they have never met, read or dialogued with. In fact, I suspected their primary motive was to take pot shots at the faith through misrepresentation and caricature. Oddly enough they subsequently wrote to Harry and started off with:
As I’m sure you can tell by now, I love blasphemy. The more sacred the cow, the more I love to search for the vilest, most repugnant way of characterizing it.
Sometimes the dilemma we face is one of how much time, if any, to devote to this sort of endeavor with individuals who appear to be militantly resistant. By their own admission this individual is not even attempting to object with real questions but is intent on finding the “the vilest, most repugnant way of characterizing” the faith. On the other hand, some individuals have what they believe are legitimate objections to the claims of Christianity. For example, atheist Antony Flew was an atheist who advocated that we should presuppose atheism until evidence for the existence of God could be put forth. He debated Evangelical Christian scholar Gary Habermas on a number of issues but particularly the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Antony Flew had legitimate questions and deserved real answers. Antony Flew and Gary Habermas were both more interested in discovering truth than militantly holding on to a position in spite of evidence. The result was an astounding change of views on the part of Flew when he abandoned atheism and professed belief in God. This wasn’t quick; it was a process of a number of years, debate, discussion and patience on both sides. Although he hasn’t become a Christian he confessed that he “had to go where the evidence leads.” Even though the individual who has been emailing Harry, by their own admission, has no interest in evidence or following it where it leads, the questions assertions and accusations are not real and therefore do not require real answers. That being said, it again occurs to me that their follow up to Harry may afford us with an opportunity to see how we might respond, not so much to the author but rather for others who are unsure as to how they would address the issues raised. We will look at a few of them and suggest how we can give a reasonable answer. It is also important that as much as possible we document what we say and not simply make unfounded and/or unproveable assertions.
By the author’s own admission, their purpose is to caricature (misrepresent) by searching “for the vilest, most repugnant way of characterizing it.” Therefore, their questions and/or assertions are not designed to get at truth and do not necessarily require a response. However, I have a number of calls, letters and emails from Christians who are confronted with similar individuals and claims that it seemed good to look at portions of this to demonstrate what is happening and how one might respond if they chose to do so.
One issue the writer repeatedly raises is the issue of George Bush and the war in Iraq. First, it should be noted that within the church there is not a uniform position on war. There are some, Mennonite for example, who are opposed to war period and are persuaded their position is biblically based. There are others who hold to the Just War Theory. There are four conditions and a number of criteria which go in to this view which I won’t elaborate on here. Those interested can see the above link. This does not fall under the essentials of the faith and good arguments can be made on both positions. As such, MCOI does not take any official position.
Second, not only does MOCI not take a position on war in general but I personally do not nor have I in the past had a position on this particular conflict any more than I do on President Obama and his policies in Afghanistan currently. I simply do not have enough information on which to make an informed decision. I do know that the previous President, Bill Clinton, President Bush, the congress, Tony Blair, Prime Minister in England and leaders several other nations as well as the UN all believed Saddam had WMD’s and was set to use them. His attack on Kuwait as well as his mass killings of his own people persuaded them that he would use these weapons on other nations. Was the intelligence which all were functioning on wrong or did he possess the WMDs but removed them to other countries for safe keeping? Was he a danger or not a danger to the world? I don’t have the answers to these questions and so choose to not take a public stand on what is a governmental policy which would have to be based solely on the personal like or dislike of an individual since we don’t have the necessary information. But, let’s look at this email a section at a time:
First, my vitriol has not been against Christianity, but against a branch or cult of it, namely evangelical, or fundamental, or conservative (they’re all the same to me, and I’m not interested in splitting hairs about this or that utterly trivial disagreement among these believers). It is unfair – unethical? sloppy? – of Veinot to confuse that issue.
It is noteworthy that the writer cries foul here and implies that somehow I really knew what he meant but acted in an “unfair,” “unethical,” and/or “sloppy” way in order to “to confuse that issue.” Is the writer in essence claiming that I was searching “for the vilest, most repugnant way of characterizing” their statements? First, I think I was clear in If You Can’t Stand the Heat that “I am not certain of what the questioner actually believes.”
Second, a cult is a group which denies one of more of the essentials of a particular faith. For example, Baha’i, which grew out of Islam but denies the essentials of Islam, is a cult of Islam. That doesn’t mean Baha’i’s are any more or less evil than anyone else. Most of them are really nice people but the belief system is a cult of Islam. So, a cult of Christianity would by definition have to deny one or more doctrines of the Christian faith. Fundamentalists and evangelicals are both conservatives and agree on the essentials of the faith (orthodoxy) but not necessarily the practice of the faith (orthopraxy). They recognize that all are sinners, including them, and have placed their faith in Christ as savior. No one has any right to boast or hold themselves up as more holy than anyone else. They hold to the historical teachings on the essentials of the faith on the deity and humanity of Christ, His physical death, burial and resurrection (the gospel, 1 Cor. 15:1-4), the trinity, the omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence of God, etc. The writer is free to falsely assert that evangelicals and fundamentalists are a cult but the onus is on them to demonstrate where they have departed from the essentials of the faith.
Second, I never intimated that Stalin was a fundamentalist. As far as I’m concerned Stalin adhered to no religion, although he and Saddam Hussein displayed the attitudes of non-tolerance and arrogance, and the I-know-I’m-right-and-all-those-who-disagree-with-me-will-suffer-horrible-consequences notion that pervades Christian fundamentalism.
They originally wrote:
Obviously fundamentalism goes hand in hand with anti-humane, violent, fascistic/totalitarian politics, much like that practiced by Josef Stalin and Saddam Hussein
Perhaps the writer placed Stalin in the same camp with fundamentalists because he just carried out what the author of the email seems to suggest are the practices of fundamentalists, you know, killing, maiming, raping and pillaging in their neighborhoods, cities and towns across the U.S. Unfortunately they provide no evidence that this is an accurate representation of either the beliefs or actions of evangelicals and fundamentalists. It is true that evangelical and fundamentalist Christians believe they are right in their claims. But is it true that there is something in the thinking or teaching of evangelicals and fundamentalist which includes violence against others? Mississippi State University’s John P. Bartowski’s review of Christian America? What Evangelicals Really Want concludes with quite a different view:
This monograph reveals that when American evangelicals are able to speak on their own terms about issues of importance to us all, they are civil and articulate—though by no means single-minded — participants in America’s pluralistic social landscape. Once my extra copies of this insightful monograph arrive, I will begin distributing them freely to colleagues in dire need of consciousness-raising about American evangelicalism.
Contrary to the claim that Christians desire to commit harm to homosexuals this is a unfounded and prejudiced assertion. The abstract for the study The Unmaking of Prejudice: How Christian Beliefs Relate to Attitudes Toward Homosexuals reads:
We propose that the internalization of orthodox Christian beliefs serves as a basis for a personal moral standard that discourages prejudice against others as well as for self-critical emotions that follow upon behaving in a discriminatory manner. Two correlational studies tested hypotheses derived from our theory. Study 1 demonstrated that to the extent people endorse orthodox Christian beliefs, they report an internal motivation to respond without prejudice toward homosexuals. Study 2 demonstrated that, when controlling for the effects of right-wing authoritarianism (RWA), endorsement of orthodox Christian beliefs was related to positive attitudes toward homosexuals as individuals or as a group, but not toward homosexuality as a behavior or lifestyle.
In other words, Christians regard homosexuality as they do any other sexual sin. They don’t want to be forced to accept it as normative behavior but harbor no ill will toward homosexuals as persons while not accepting a particular behavior.
It seems to me that this protagonist also holds to an “I-know-I’m-right-and-all-those-who-disagree-with-me-will-suffer-horrible-consequences” if I have my way as well. In other words, they believe they are right just as we believe we are right. The writer is opinionated on their views and evangelistically tries to persuade others to agree. That is fine and we would argue for their right to do so. It seems to me they are less than prone to view Christians as having the same rights.
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