In my article So Sorry, So Sad, I addressed the issue of a particularly Christian disease, albeit one that infects religious folks of many stripes. Last time it was a sadly aggressive Anglican Priest (go figure.)
Now somebody cut from the cloth of science, apparently, has fallen victim. This was from a friend of my former Pastor, Chuck. Chuck had asked “Bob” to peruse my site, seeking his assistance in understanding some Quantum Physics concepts central to our discussion of R.C. Sproul’s book, Not a Chance.
He did chat a little about that, which I addressed here, but then he leaped across the line and said this:
“In your friend’s story [Anthony] I see rebellion for sure, evidence of some significant life triggers to cause doubt (poor father figure, poor examples of Christians and Christianity by both individuals and churches, etc.), efforts to remove accountability (i.e. God) to get rid of guilt. I wonder if the public blog about his “journey” hints at a need to have others justify and validate his decision? Or is he just that angry?
“Another thought that struck me as I perused your friend’s blog is how often people use the presence of sin and the reality of an imperfect, fallen world as reason there can be no God or as an excuse for their unbelief. In other words, using the fact that bad things happen as evidence that there cannot possibly be a god – Because how could an all-powerful god allow that?”
I’ll start by saying that this shit gets old. It really does. I’ve been dealing with it off and on from the week I discovered I no longer believe, four years ago next month. The level of disrespect it takes to actually say or write such things about someone you barely know, and who has not give you purchase to make such personal judgments, is very deep.
Now, I have to admit that, these days, the temptation to just give Bob the finger and move on is very strong.
Now, here’s where Chuck would start whining about my jumping right into character bashing mode. But that won’t be the case, even when he goes ahead and accuses me of it anyway. Because we’re not going to discuss Bob’s character, except to say that Bob is probably a pretty decent guy. His writing is certainly clear and articulate, and I imagine he’s the kind who genuinely cares about people.
But Bob’s got a disease, a disease that infects millions of faithfully religious people all over the world. It’s not incurable, not at all, but because the effects of the disease are particularly pleasing rather than painful, those so afflicted are rarely motivated to seek a cure.
For Christians in particular, the root of the disease lies in the indoctrination they are inundated with from the beginning, especially particular doctrines.
For one, they’re taught that they are the elect; chosen, set apart.
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 1 Peter 2:9 [see also Col 3:12, 2Tim 2:10, Tit 1:1, 1Pet 1:1-2]
They are also taught that they have at their disposal the Holy Spirit. God Himself indwells them in the person of the Spirit, and this Spirit gives them special discernment.
13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.[c] 14 The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. 15 The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, 16 for,“Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. 1 Corinthians 2:13-16 [see also Php 1:9-11]
Did you catch that?
“The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments.”
Wow, right? By this, Bob is taught that not only is he allowed to judge whatever he wants, but he’s not subject to anyone else’s judgment. So if he wants to pontificate about my character, he’s allowed to do so, but neither I, nor any one of us have any right to turn it back on him.
You see, it’s not Bob’s fault. Well, in the end it is, because we’re all responsible for what we believe, but as this bible is the basis upon which he conducts his life, what else is he supposed to do other than follow the words he reads?
And on that note, they are taught that blind faith in their god and his word is a virtue. Conversely, intellectual examination is considered anti-Christian and the enemy of faith.
18 Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”[a]; 20 and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” 1 Corinthians 3:18-20 [see also Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 1-2 & 4]
So they are indoctrinated to trust their faith over reasoned, rational thinking. They are indoctrinated to trust the bible over scientific examination and double-blind studies.
So you’ve got yourself a trifecta. They are chosen and set apart – elite. They have special powers that allow them to discern Truth. They are commanded to not be foolish and trust their own minds, only the word.
Add to this that they’re taught that this faith of their is wisdom. It is knowledge. It is true, for them, beyond a shadow of a doubt, because to doubt the doctrine is to doubt God himself, and to head down a road that would lead them to be, well, like me, perhaps.
It’s not unlike modern young movie or music stars. They come up for years having everyone telling them that they’re the best, they’re amazing, they’re one-of-a-kind, they’re god’s gift to film/music, and so on. After a while, many of them begin to believe it and behave as if everything they say or do is just the best thing ever. You tell someone they are elite and have a special spirit of discernment living in them and, after while, they’ll believe it, and begin to do what they believe is their right to do.
This emboldens them to abandon propriety and decency and make rank personal judgments about the person who rejects their claims of a Savior/Creator God who demands a Blood Sacrifice.
I mean, it has to be true, right? I mean, they can’t be wrong about any of the arguments I make. Therefore I must be angry, rebellious, vociferous, an unwitting victim of my fucked up family life, champing at the bit to sin and commit evil without accountability and guilt.
Doesn’t it sound even shittier when I distill it down like that? And yet that’s exactly what he said.
Honestly, how dare he? How dare he, knowing so little, understanding nothing about me, cast such vile aspersions my direction? How dare he? Well, his god said he could, and said that I have no right to speak against this obnoxious personal affront.
Keep in mind that I have made exactly zero judgments here about Bob’s character. I’ve only characterized the nature of his specific accusations by using his own words.
So what’s really going on here? What is this sudden shift from the discussion of science to a rude inventory of my personal psychology?
This is what we call an ad hominem attack. And make no mistake, it is an attack. Bob may not realize it, nor may Chuck, because it’s all couched in caring and concern for my spiritual well-being. But it is exactly that.
An ad hominem attack is a type of logical fallacy, or perhaps better termed an underhanded argumentative tactic, in which the attacker deflects the pressure of the argument by making personal attacks against their debate adversary in order to undermine their integrity and strength of their argument.
In simpler terms:
Jim: Steve said that Bunko’s Hardware Store only sells poor quality tools.
Joe: Well, I don’t know, but Steve’s an asshole.
That’s an ad hominem fallacy. Now, Steve might be an asshole, or he might not be. But Steve’s assholism is not the issue in question. The issue is whether Bunko’s sells poor quality tools or not. This can be pretty readily assessed, and Steve’s character is irrelevant to the question.
In the same way, my personal character is irrelevant to the questions at hand regarding science and R.C. Sproul’s analysis. I could be the biggest jackass on the planet, but that means nothing if Sproul’s assertions can be shown to be false. My character has no bearing on the truth of any of these arguments. I’ve said as much before, and both Chuck and Bob would do well to read that link and think on these things and consider how they intend to interact with me and with the arguments I bring to the table, if they even wish to. I hope they do, because I think it’s an excellent and important exercise to strive reasonably over these issues and do our best to be honest and truthful.
With all that, there are two conclusions I need to draw.
1- Questions of my personal character are irrelevant to the discussion of any and all points of fact. Period. Any who wish to participate in the discussion, and I urge as many as possible to do so, will engage only with the assertions and claims under discussion and the evidence for or against those claims.
2 – Questions and analysis of my personal character are rude, intrusive, and completely out of bounds. They are not even true, and I am well within my rights to claim the offense and demand an apology. Bob dares accuse me of avoiding accountability. He is wrong. I have people to whom I am accountable for many things, including my personal conduct. Neither he nor Chuck are one of them. They have not been invited into my personal space to make such value judgments, and their misguided accusations are unwelcome and rejected wholesale.
I’m very much looking forward to further discussion about Sproul’s book, as it’s been illuminating and has forced me to study closer things that I had only glossed over before. I do hope Chuck will continue to engage on this topic. But I have to emphasize that we will stay on this topic, and not take ad hominem side treks to avoid dealing directly with the arguments.