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Sunday, 30 November 2008

More on Christians and Bigotry

Matt's post on the practice of throwing the bigot label at Christians as a method to silence debate got me thinking. Some of my thinking came out in the comment I wrote on Half Done and in Matt's comment in the original post but I still feel I have more to say.

I'm someone who (stating the obvious perhaps) happily walks into the thick of heated and hostile debate. To be more accurate I am someone who willingly does this; I don't always find it easy or exciting; in fact, sometimes I am terrified. I still my fears by remembering I fear God more than men and by recalling Saphira's words in Eragon "without fear there cannot be courage."

It is true that I am wired that way more than most people and I do enjoy the intellectual challenge but I am still human; my apparent confidence is not always actual and I do find the abuse and the mud difficult to weather, especially when I am abandoned by those who should be standing with me or I see those who share my views believing the lies said about me or those who will only secretly associate with me lest their public image be tarred by mine (funny, given I think I have more respect in the public square than most Christians and in fact my opponents will often try to tar me by suggesting an association with the very people who are so concerned that their good public image might be damaged by an association with me).

Then there are those who frown on our and others, attempts to engage culture and deem it pointless for a range of reasons. David Farrar (who I do not include in this list but I quote here because his comment is paradigmatic) wrote in More on Abortion,
In my experience with abortion debates, no-one who is pro-choice or pro-life is open to persuasion to change their views.
Where David is right is that when debates go around and around on peripheral points and people are emotive and uncritical and go all over the place no one's point of view changes, if anything the opposite occurs. However, David is wrong if he means that this never happens. Over the years I have seen many people change their positions on abortion and on a number of other polarising topics, simply through exposure to a rigorously reasoned case irregardless of their worldview. Further, I don't find it that hard to achieve these changes in heart in other people.

This is in part because arming yourself with the ability to reason gives you an immediate advantage over the majority because the majority are not practised in it, and also because we live in a culture where propaganda and slogans pass for informed comment. Most people know what they are supposed to believe and have a vague idea of why - typically something emotive that sounds like it is a 'right' - but the why is frequently not founded on anything of substance and quickly unravels when exposed to critique.

The worst though are those who buy the lie and sell out their faith. I get most frustrated at my fellow Christians. I expect to not be on the same page with the left and at times the secular right, but Christians are supposed to get it.

When the bigot label gets hurled amidst the mud and everyone acts all angry and hurt, far too many Christians immediately assume there is truth in what they are being subjected to; their position must be bigoted or maybe it was the approach they got wrong. They accept the criticism, despite the lack of argument or factual basis and modify their own approach and position.

I suspect that part of this is that Christians themselves are often nice people and they know they must conduct themselves ethically or answer to God so they make that very human mistake, we all make at times, of transposing how they would conduct themselves onto others; thus they swallow the lie and forget the scripural mandate to not entertain accusations of immoral conduct without corroborating evidence. The other part of it is that Christians, like the majority of society, are too uncritical.

Now it is always worthwhile to check one’s approach is not overly confrontational and is well reasoned and supported but throwing out one's position or watering it down just because someone abused you and issued a string of unflattering accusations is ludicrous. To the hardened anti-Christian activist the problem is that your are a Christian and you are breathing. So yes, the problem is bigotry but it's not coming from the Christians.

It is not that the Christian position needs modifying, these people will hate regardless. Sure, they'll sometimes back off if the Christian modifies their stance but that's because the weak, wishy-washy, emotive, irrational position they have moved to lacks credibility outside Christian circles and is no longer effective. Take a look at this post by Kay about Christian websites and see whether it is bigotry or effective cultural engagement that really scares our opponents. [Apologies for using a self-congratulatory example]

The M & M blog is scarier because their posts almost make sense. ( ) Idiocy can be just funny. Even over the top hatred like is so extreme that its hard to take it seriously. M&M sound plausible & reasonable but have gaps in logic twisting their reasoning. Slimy.

But over on - the home page of the Westboro Baptist hurch - they're thanking God for the $US10.9 Million court verdict against them - because it means their message is being spread around the world! Weird.

For people whose tactic is to paint anyone who offers a credible response to their position as a bigot it serves their interests to ensure that the public square is either dominated by extremists that they can easily discredit and wishy-washy claptrap that lacks credibility; they want credible reasoned critique to go away and they are not going to be tolerant and respectful unless they can neutralise your message.

Never underestimate the power of a sound argument, never fear entering a debate, though of course pick your battles wisely. Conduct yourself ethically, never let it be personal and always remember that the price of having Christianity’s abusers stop frothing at the mouth is all too often a failure to engage culture and that is a price that is not worth paying. None of us like upsetting people, but the best way to win respect is not to shy away from the argument but to demolish it without getting nasty or personal.


  1. All religions and faiths are a learned position. One cannot become a Christian, or a Muslim, or a Buddist, without some instruction from another person. That instruction may come from reading a Bible or a Koran. But the definition of one's God is either personally unique, or comes into conformity with the definition already held by others.
    Most religious people adhere to the beliefs instilled in them by their parents, or some other influential person in their lives.
    In taking on board those teachings, one learns to fear,or love that God, and follow a set of priciples. Most of those principles, or commandments, are no more than a commonsense guide to a peaceful life. Nature, to me, is God. Things grow, procreate, follow a preordained sequence, and are affected by a number of influences that are logical and predictable.
    If one had no religious indoctrination, one would come to understand that the Commandments would still have consequences whether one knew that they were Commandments or not.
    If one steals from another, there will almost certainly be a consequence, more so but for "man's laws" which can, at times, be quite ineffective. Covetting another man's wife would have very serious consequences in a lawless society. And killing, in primitive society, was avenged rather swiftly in an "eye for an eye" manner. But natural consequences nevertheless.
    So any judgement of another person's actions, as being contrary to the will of God, is only ever in accordance with a set of rules that the judging person accepts and thinks that others should, too.
    My God may rule in a different way to yours, or somebody else's. Whose God is correct?
    Each person should be permitted to follow their own God.
    Consequences will follow, but in a way that they might better understand.
    I imagine than each of us probably worships the same God, but in a different way, with a different set of terms for those principles "we" wish to be important. I imagine the consequences are largely similar, also, for straying from the most natural course. The differences are most likely to be in the way we treat others who do not comply with our model.

  2. Anon, we don't worship the same God. I used to believe what you do now, and ultimately the God that you worship is yourself. It goes right back to the first temptation - to be like God. It's good for a while, but in the end it's a dead-end.

  3. Lucyna Maria - how could you possibly have concluded that Anon, above, sees himself/herself as God?

  4. Anon number 2 (what is so hard with picking a name?), I understand the belief system. Intimately.

  5. @Anon #1
    I imagine than each of us probably worships the same God, but in a different way
    Keep on imagining. Some people follow the word of Christ commanding us to love and serve one another.

    Other worship a false and evil god by slaughtering women and children.

    But I guess I'm just intolerant that way. I can't wait for Nature to evolve a wiser path while the blood of innocents runs in the streets.

  6. Anon 1

    Let me say two things in response to your comments.

    1. You state that “all religions and faiths” are "a learned position". I am not sure that this proves what you think it does. After all my belief that the world is round is a learned position, as is my belief that their once was a civilisation called ancient Rome, as is my belief that racism is wrong. If I had been brought up and educated in different cultures I may not believe any of these things. Yet this fact does not entail that these positions are irrational or arbitrary or that the denials of each of them is equally valid as affirming them.

    2. You say “Each person should be permitted to follow their own God.” This sounds nice and tolerant the problem is it’s hard to defend rationally or sensibly. I'll sketch a couple of problems. First, some people believe that their God commands them to kill the infidel wherever they find them. Some religious traditions have taught that one can burn widows alive at the death of their husbands. If all people should be allowed to follow their own God these people should be permitted to murder others. But thats absurd.

    Second, there are some religious faiths which deny that people should be “permitted to follow their own God” if “Each person should be permitted to follow their own God” a contradiction looms these people will be permitted to not permit you to follow your God.

  7. Ropata -
    "Some people follow the word of Christ commanding us to love and serve one another." A learned position.

    "Others worship a false and evil god by slaughtering women and children." Also a learned position, although the words false and evil are your assessment.

    The teachings that you follow, in this instance, are good. The other teachings are bad. Both are "in the name of God". I do not believe the God in the second case is bad. The adherents are making the rules.
    Men. Evil men. If the adherents of that faith were not instructed to behave in this way by other men, their God may be the same God that you worship. I do not believe that any God is capable of evil per se.

    Matt - "Some religious traditions have taught that one can burn widows alive at the death of their husbands. If all people should be allowed to follow" [those teachings in the name of] "their own God these people should be permitted to murder others. But thats absurd."

    "Second, there are some religious faiths which deny that people should be “permitted to follow their own God” if “Each person should be permitted to follow their own God” a contradiction looms these people will be permitted to not permit you to follow your God."

    The individual needs to be answerable to the individual's own God, not the teachings of the mob in the name of "a" God. Otherwise the individual is submitting to a supreme law of another man's making.

    My God is Nature. I cannot defy gravity. Things grow according to the season. Procreation takes place between the male and the female of each species. Live and let live. I do not need to tell others how to live. People learn best what they learn themselves. Consult widely, and make your own decisions. Each person's life is an indivual thing, not owned by others.
    Nature has prevailed for ever, and does not succumb to the will of man.

    I hope I have provided a little clarity.

    Anon #1

  8. "The individual needs to be answerable to the individual's own God.."

    There you go. The individual god, the self. It's not nature that you worship Anon 1, it's yourself.

  9. Lucyna Maria - If my God is Nature, and Nature is all of Creation, then it seems unlikely that more than one God was involved in the process of our being. Ropata has pointed out that people worship different Gods, some benevolent, some evil. I believe that all that differs is how we are taught to perceive God. It is what people worship that differs.
    I cannot possibly be God, although you somehow think I might be. While I understand Nature,mostly, I am of no material influence on it. If the season is cold, I feel cold. If it is the growing season, I surely cannot stop things from growing. Lucyna, I am not in control here. I do not follow your thinking (labelling).

    Anon #1

  10. Anon,

    What if God created nature? Then you'd just be worshipping His creation rather than Him.

  11. Lucyna - I am in awe of the Creation. I am in awe of Nature. I have no need to debate beyond those being the highest order that I can understand. If I follow the laws of nature, and that is God's creation, what more would that God ask?

    Anon #1

  12. "If I follow the laws of nature"

    The question is, does nature provide one with a moral framework?


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