Sunday, September 09, 2007


Some time ago I realized I had confused my blogging world with forum-debating

The way I see it (which is likely to be wrongly, of course) is that blogging is a bit different than debating. People post their thoughts and reflections on a variety of topics. From “What I did Today” to “How to take the Perfect Picture.” And the comments are…for…well…comments! While many like a bit of interaction, most simply are looking for insights on what they blogged.

They are not looking for an all-out assault attack from land, sea and air on their blog entry. Unfortunately, I am designed to more of the assaulting, than the commenting type. I have attempted to re-adjust my thinking in this regard. And partly what helps is to go back to some forum fighting. To get it out of my system, if you will.

However, part of that process, in reviewing various threads regarding Christianity, what I have seen is pretty…rotten, if you must know the truth. I get that “apologetics” is the defense of one’s faith. But it is defending for whom? Who is supposed to be convinced of the defense?

Time and again I have watched the familiar tactic that a person defending their claim puts up what is merely possible—as if that is a satisfactory defense. As if, as long as they can say something, anything that sounds remotely conceivable, this is enough to rebuff the “attack” seen on their belief and an adequate defense or apologetic has been presented.

The only person they are convincing are those that already believe that way. I am seeing apologetics reducing the lowest possible common denominator of shoring up those who feel the same way with, “Let me toss out a possibility…”

When we discuss the problem that Matthew places the birth of Jesus during the reign of Herod the Great, who died in 4 BCE, and Luke places the birth during the governorship of Quirinius (6 CE) what do we hear? “It is possible that Quirinius was Governor once before.” Not that it is likely. Not argument as to why. Not addressing how we come to that conclusion. Nope. Just “It is possible…”

We question how the animals could fit on the Ark. “It is possible they were shrunk.” “It is possible they were in children form.” “It is possible that God only took a few, and the various species evolved since then.”

We question how the creation story conforms to geology. “It is possible that ‘day’ means age.” “It is possible there was a great period of time between Gen. 1:1 and Gen. 1:2.” “It is possible it is all allegory.” “It is possible God created the world to deliberately look old.”

We can play “It is possible” all day long. But who is that convincing? Here, let me make it as clear as I can:

The only person you are convincing by tossing out a possibility are those that are already convinced.

Save your time—they already believe it. Is Christianity so weak that it needs repetitive statements, or else it will fade?

Skeptic: The Gospel of Matthew was not written by the Disciple Matthew.
Christian1: It is possible that Matthew wrote the Gospel of Matthew.
Christian2: Whew! I am glad you posted that response, Christian1, or I was about to be convinced by that persnickety Skeptic.

Bullocks! Let me share an experience that I have seen repeatedly.

Last week I had a trial against an “In Pro Per.” That is a person who does not have an attorney. They are going to try this case on their own. I have seen this many a time.

As I typically do, I sat down with this person, explained the basis of my client’s case, and explained that while I understood their defense, it had some legal problems. I offered a settlement on terms that I thought were reasonable. I offered a payment plan. In fact, we were even working out the details as to what day to start making out the payments.

But this person wanted to talk to their spouse first. This is always a sign of doom. I had included the spouse in our discussion for this very reason. I knew the settlement was tanking, as the spouse kept interrupting me, demanding to know why this or that or this was not a reason they did not owe the money.

Sure enough, the defendant came back with a defiant, “We want to try it! We think the judge will consider what we say.”

O.K. (Sigh. This is what I do. There is no joy in trying a case against a non-lawyer.)

Of course we went to trial. And the defendant discovered that it is not so easy to convince a judge. I knew what had happened. They had seen other legal battles on T.V. Where the “good guy” always wins, and the “bad guy” always gets their one-uppence on the perceptive judge dispensing justice.

Their friends and neighbors (and spouses) had all told them what a great defense they had. And how if they were the judge, they would believe it. The friends, neighbors and spouses are doing no favors.

The judge (who WAS perceptive) asked some keen questions, and the defendant realized that the exact issues I had proposed previously were issues the judge also recognized. That what they were saying, upon cross-examination by a person opposed to their position was not quite so clean, shiny and bright as it seemed when all they heard was encouragement from those who were friends.

The judge ruled against the defendant in an amount far greater than what I had proposed as a settlement.

As I watched this situation unfold, I saw the analogy to exactly what I see on forums over and over. The person puts up their defense, and because all the people that believe the same way say, “That would convince me” they believe that this is a sufficient defense.

Are skeptics too hard to convince? Are we left with just patchwork maintenance on those who believe as we do?


  1. **Are skeptics too hard to convince? Are we left with just patchwork maintenance on those who believe as we do?**

    I think it depends on the type of skeptic. There are some who'd be skeptical that the sky is blue, even though we see it everyday.

    And then there are those who are skeptical because they'd like some support to the statement, especially when the claims go into the supernatural elements. Or if we're told that a particular book must be without error. At that point, saying, "It's possible that ..." doesn't cut it, as it's appealing to the lowest common denominator.

    Part of why I see certain religious groups reject others is due to the violence in the books, the lack of archeological evidence, or the inconsistencies within the narrative itself. And that's fine. But when these same elements are in the book that the religious groups do follow, those get dismissed with the "possibles." And that's the frustrating part, because the standards switch depending on the viewpoint.

    So I don't think it's that skeptics are hard to convince -- after all, I know plenty of skepetics who would be happy to be convinced. It's simply that skeptics try and hold the same standards across the board.

    Although I would modify your statement in the only people being convinced to include the speaker themselves. Sometimes, I feel that those posting are also trying to stay convinced themselves, and not just convince others.

  2. Spot on, DagoodS, but I don't know any argument that ever convinced anybody into knowing God. If there is one, please let me know because I won't go roaming about internet forums - I'll rent ad space every major media outlet and broadcast it!

    It is good for us to discuss our viewpoints, because in doing so we better understand each other's perspectives and our own, but knowing and trusting God is just a whole 'nother kettle o' fish. I'm here because I enjoy the thoughts sparked by yours, and when I have to stretch to grasp how you're looking at things, my brain can use the exercise!

    I am quite sure that neither of us is going to be convinced by the other, but it is refreshing and interesting and useful to get a peek at things through someone else's lenses. I like having my thinking challenged, and I know you do too. I really hope that someone will come along someday who will share your approach closely enough and at least challenge your thinking enough to validate it. I'd love it if I were that person, but I know I'm not. But this is why I love blogging and hate forums - blogging is more about understanding than convincing. An argument that is out to lunch leaves me with empty frustration, while a blog that is out to lunch may at least stretch my mind enough to take me a step forward in understanding what it is that I disagree with!

  3. I've never understood "apologetics." My read as a fundamentalist Christian was always "no one comes to God but the Holy Spirit draws them." The apostle Paul seemed to affirm that thinking when he wrote to the Corinthians that he didn't "come...with eloquence or superior wisdom as [he] proclaimed the testemony of God...[his] message and [his] preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirits power, so might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power." I Cor. 2:1-5.
    On the other hand, Paul didn't seem to believe this himself, he sure did a lot of arguing. If I'm not mistaken, he is generally considered Christianities first apologist.

    It just seems to me that if a person believes for a "reason" that they have exchanged the "gift of faith" for the sight by with the "righteous" are supposed to "walk."

  4. heather,

    You are quite correct that the standards switch. One item that puzzles me, often among the more sarcastic of the apologists, is how some item is proposed as “It is possible” yet if they want the exact opposite, they could equally use the same sarcastic tone, and propose a completely different possibility.

    I was reading a paper on the differences in lengths of Jesus’ ministry between the Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John. A point was being made by the apologist when Jesus says “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together,…(Mt. 23:37; Luke 13:34) that the term “How often” implies that Jesus had been to Jerusalem many times.

    So if the skeptic says “Mark only has Jesus in Jerusalem once; John many times. This must be a conflict” then the apologist pulls out these two verses and claims “It is possible Jesus was in Jerusalem more than once according to the Synoptic Gospels.”

    Yet what if John had Jesus in Jerusalem once? But I wanted to claim, using these same verses that Matthew and Luke disagreed with John, by claiming Jesus was there “often”? The very same apologist would scoffingly declare my incompetence, since Jesus was God, and was referring to incidents throughout history.

    No matter what the skeptic says, there could be an explanation of “It is possible” either way. That is what makes this tactic so unconvincing, in my opinion.

    jennypo: …blogging in more about understanding than convincing.

    Well said! THIS is exactly what I need to keep in mind. I really liked this sentence.

  5. Paul,

    It is fascinating, as an ex-Christian, the emphasis a religion based upon faith (belief without absolute proof) puts on arguing from the position of evidence and proofs. The apologetic books, with long words, and written by people with more letters after their name than in their name fly off the book shelves.

    Creationism morphs from YEC to OEC to theistic evolution to ID, so the Christians can claim a scientific foothold in the perceived “intelligent” community. The clever ones (no need to mention his name again!) put it in highly readable, conversational tone, so that we are convinced that while we may not read the actual writings of the experts, somebody has, and therefore it must be true.

    Yet if, as a Christian, we wrote a book saying, “I believe it because of faith,” even the friendlies would respond, “Yeah, but where’s your proof?”

    We have become a society immersed in the worship of science and numbers. The person with the best science project is looked to as the eventual savior of our problems. The child that writes a play? “Hope they can make money at it!” The child that wants to dance? “Good luck putting food on the table!”

    Even our aesthetic society is qualified by numbers. How much money did the movie make? (Not whether it was “good” or not.) How much did the painting sell for? What is it worth?

    Seriously—dare I ask the unforgivable sin and wonder how many people claim to like Harry Potter, simply because everyone else seems to? Don’t get me wrong, I like Harry Potter---but in 2-hour movie spurts. Yet because his book sells so many copies—we all think it must be “good.”

    And Christianity, despite its protests, has been sucked up with the same disease. It has lost its mythos, and become logos. I know a person that walked into any church I attended who said “I gave up my job, sold my home, and will live in travel trailer, preaching about the country, and relying on God to provide” would be partly considered a great person of faith. But mostly a quack. If they had a family, there would be down-turned noses at his “lack of stewardship.”

    Write a book about living by faith by giving up the material things, and learning to appreciate God’s nature—it will gain dust on the shelf. Write a book “proving” evolution is wrong, or that Mark was written by John Mark—it will be a best-seller.

    Yet which would Jesus write?

  6. DagoodS,

    **That is what makes this tactic so unconvincing, in my opinion.**

    I agree. Basically, it would be nice to have some sort of consistency, or a groundwork in which to read the Bible. I think this only happens, though, if someone finds the Bible to be inerrant, and then depending on how that person defines the inerrancy. In this case, the "groundwork" seems to become that the verse must make sure to be interpreted in such a way that keeps the Bible inerrant, at the cost of all else. Hence the two different responses on Jesus and Jerusalem. It's making the facts fit a conclusion, rather than letting the facts speak for themselves.

    You know, if you encounter this again, you could always say that it's possible that the angel Gabriel revealed to Muhammad the will of God.

    **dare I ask the unforgivable sin and wonder how many people claim to like Harry Potter, simply because everyone else seems to? **

    I can safely say that I liked it before the bandwagon began, though I'm sure many say the same. My mother is a Youth Services Librarian, and she often purchased her books from this independent bookstore that specialized in children's literature. That's where she purchased her copies of the first Harry Potter book, way before it became a craze.

  7. ***Write a book about living by faith by giving up the material things, and learning to appreciate God’s nature—it will gain dust on the shelf. Write a book “proving” evolution is wrong, or that Mark was written by John Mark—it will be a best-seller.
    Yet which would Jesus write? (DagoodS)

    This is an arresting thought. By this ought our version of Christianity to be convicted, for you reveal the great, swelling emptiness in all our best words and ideas.

    Though I be fully convinced of the Bible's truth, I have no right to attest to it unless I am willing to do so with my whole life. The fact that we are content to talk so is what results in our maligning the truth rather than defending it.

    Academics should not be ignored, nor should logic and intelligent debate be discounted. But these are not enough when we talk about God. A God who is Love and Truth will not be communicated cheaply.