Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Not True

How far can we take the “No True Scotsman” claim? Can we extrapolate it out, to the absurd point in which we can claim the other person does not even qualify as a human?

We all know and most have seen the claim in one form or another, of the “No True Scotsman.” Most commonly used as “You weren’t a true Christian in the first place.” Briefly, it is a claim that, a person was NOT part of a group, even though they claimed to have been, because it is important to the person making the claim.

For example, I may want to insist that Joe is not from Michigan. Joe claims to be from Michigan. Joe has documentation to prove he is from Michigan. But when I ask, “Where did you live?” and he replies, “Ann Arbor” I scream out “A-HA! ‘True’ Michiganders use their hand as a map, and point out their location. Since you did not use your hand, you are not a ‘True Michigander.’ I do not care about your paperwork, or even if you actually lived within the boundaries of the state. You do not qualify.”

We, of course here it as in “You were not a True Christian.” Or those that performed the Inquisition were not “True Christians.” Or any person that Christians do not want to be associated with, are disbarred from the group, since they were not “True Christians.”

I can understand the reasoning behind this. First, because it may conflict with a person’s beliefs. If they believe once saved, always saved, they cannot have people being Christians and then not being Christians. Or if they believe faith is demonstrated by works, they cannot have murderers and torturers qualifying.

Second, because if we allow anyone to claim to be a Christian, the word becomes so diluted that it would effectively have no meaning. Of course, we have the perennial problem of who gets to define “Christian” so as to use it correctly. That is still a toss-up.

And Christians aren’t solely to blame. If somone claims to have been an atheist-turned-Christian, and I learn they had no idea of any of the arguments against God(s), or how the Bible came into being, I choke back the “No true atheist” fallacy. I have had to learn to take people at their word. Yes, they really were an atheist.

Or if someone told me they were an atheist, yet believed in a God that only interacted on occasion, the thought, “not an atheist” would certainly cross my mind. There are a few ways to approach this fallacy:

“I was a Christian”

A) “No you weren’t.”

The problem with this approach is that we have immediately created a hostile environment. This implies I am at the least deluded, at the most dishonest. Further, the person saying this to me loses credibility, as they are making a statement that I am very aware is untrue. Yes, I was a Christian. So not only does it increase hostility, it loses one’s credibility. Why use it?

B) “From my perspective, I don’t see how you could have been a Christian. Can you explain what being a Christian meant to you?”

Notice the difference? See the dialogue opening up? Maybe we could reach some understanding whereby I see why you wouldn’t claim I was a Christian, and you would understand why I claim I was. We may not agree, but at least we learn something without losing credibility.

For those reasons, I never became too involved in the problem of the “No True Scotsman.” Never gave it much thought. Used against me, I ignore it. I didn’t use it on others.

Until I recently read a “No true Calvinist” claim. Not only can a person claim another was never a Christian, they can claim they were never a certain type of Christian. If one isn’t dipped, we can use the “No true Baptist.” If one isn’t confirmed, the “No true Catholic.”

But why stop there? If one doesn’t conform to the right 66 Books, one is not a “True Biblist.” If one questions (or perhaps does not) the Pericope Adultera one is not a “True Gospel of Johnist.” If one does not hold to the correct theory of the development of Matthew, Mark and Luke, one is not a “True Synopticist.”

It reduces to a level of lunacy!

Where are these definitions? Is there some diamond-encrusted golden cornerstone of the Universe that lists the “true” definitions of every word, so we can peer into a telescope and determine who qualifies for what? Of course not! Definitions are just common usages of words. What was “cool” in 1800 is much different than “cool” in 2006. What was “gay” in the 1920’s is not what is “gay” in the 1980’s.

The dictionary is not some absolute truth, by which we must conform in order to be correct or not. By using a word in a different way, over time we can change the definition of that word. Just because a word has religious implications, does not imbibe it with properties by which it becomes a one-time absolute meaning.

Who defines, “Christian”? Many would say “God.” But where? In the Bible? This raises questions as well. “He who believes and is baptized will be saved, and he who does not believe will be condemned.” We could choose this as a bright-line definition of Christian/non-Christian. The problem? Jesus goes on to further define “believes” as being a person that casts out demons, drinks poison, handles snakes and heals. Is that also included in our definition of Christian? What if we only do 3 out of 4? Worse, this is in the long ending of Mark, so a “No true Markist” that believes the ending is not inspired would say this is “No True Definition” of a “No True Christian.”

Is it one that God has predestined? One that never sins? One that never lies? All are possible definitions, depending on what verse in the Bible one uses. Is it all, some, none?

I suggest we all drop any such statement. It doesn’t progress the conversation a bit. It only creates hostility. It only loses credibility.

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