Monday, January 2, 2012
Who's Forcing Beliefs on Who?
The other day I heard a fellow Christian complain that atheists are constantly complaining that Christians try to "force their beliefs on people". The Christian complained that the atheist has no right to complain because he is doing the exact same thing. This caught my ear for a few reasons.
First, that critique cuts in all directions. Any person who believes that they teach the truth will automatically see a person who differs with them and teaches those differing views with just as much passion as a threat to their beliefs being accepted. People do tend to use propagandistic language when describing the teaching of beliefs that they do not agree with. Christians tend to think that public education is forcing atheist and relativist propaganda on our kids. Atheists and relativists believe that we are forcing our propaganda on their kids. Christians should not be complaining about others behaving in the same way that we do. I'm pretty sure that such hypocrisy turns people away from the Church- not because they think that Christianity is false, but because its adherents don't practice what it teaches.
Second, if atheism is the correct worldview, then what? If the atheist is right, I hope they do force the belief on us. Remember what the Apostle Paul stated in 1 Corinthians 15? "...if Christ has not be raised, then we are to be most pitied among men." Paul was committed to truth, not a particular ideal. Both sides believe that they are right and the other is wrong. Paul addressed challenges and defended why he believed that Jesus Christ was God, died, and rose again. Should we not do the same? This leads to my third problem.
The Red Herring
One of my biggest pet-peeves in discussion is the "red herring"- a statement that has no bearing on the truth of a claim whatsoever, but is offered as a "response". I've seen this tactic used by so many intellectuals in debates (both Christians and non-Christians) that I can't help but think that they simply can't offer an intelligent response to the challenge at hand.
The particular statement about forcing beliefs on someone is an emotional "red herring" offered by too many Christians. It is typically given to change the subject from a tough challenge to one that is more easy to deal with. It is also used to provide emotional and rhetorical support for the Christian when they can't provide intellectual support. If we believe that the atheist is, in fact, wrong, we need to spend more time critiquing their position than changing the subject and providing the same type of empty rhetoric that they do.
Call It What It Is
Now, having said all that, should we address this if it comes up? Of course. It is fairly easy to deal with. Many atheists DO complain about religious people forcing their beliefs on others. But it needs to be addressed when the atheist brings it up; the Christian should never be the one to offer this challenge. When an atheist complains about Christians propogandizing the next generation, we simply need to point out that they are living inconsistently with what they are saying, and if it was offered in response to a challenge, we need to point out the fact that the complaint is merely a diversion and an intelligent response has yet to be offered. If a Christian offers this as a response to an atheist challenge, it is the atheist's academic duty and responsibility to the listeners to point out the logical errors.
Stay on Track
It is true that both sides desire to teach children what they believe to be true. As Christians, we do not really need to discourage the atheists from doing it either. We have answers to their challenges, and if we prepare ourselves, we can address them. Anyone who believes that they hold the true worldview needs to not be afraid of or attempt to dodge a challenge. If our worldview is true, then there will be an answer to the challenge; we just need to do the leg-work to discover it. Offering "red-herrings" is much more convenient than actually addressing a challenge, but it is intellectually lazy and academically dishonest. It disrespects the challenge offered and insults the intelligence of those listening.
Most atheists believe that science has cornered the market on truth. They believe that science has the answer to everything. If this is true, then there is no logical reason for them to avoid a challenge. The Christian believes that all truth is grounded in God and an honest, reasoned search for the truth will result in the discovery of the Christian worldview. They have no logical reason to avoid a challenge either. Unfortunately, a reasoned search for truth is not always the sole goal of a challenger. It can be emotional vindication, approval of their peers, and/or persuasion at any cost. If any of these is the goal of the challenger, offering such a complaint is quite appropriate for the task. If not, then both the Christian and the atheist needs to avoid the easy way out and either address the challenge or humbly state that they do not know but will research an answer for those who are honestly seeking an answer to the challenge.
Due to the nature of truth being exclusive, to the person who disagrees, it will appear that anyone who believes that they hold truth and teaches it is pushing that belief on someone else. Complaining about it is beside most points, and frankly, if we're not doing it in front of a mirror, we shouldn't be complaining in the first place.