What Would Happen If Christians Went on Strike?

But the apologists never do

In May 2018, volcanic eruptions in Hawaii caught the world’s attention. The New York Times described local beliefs about the cause of the destruction, namely the goddess of volcanoes and fire, Pele:

“…in a striking display of the resilience and adaptability of Native Hawaiian culture, the exaltation of Pele has not only persisted through the centuries, but seems to be strengthening with every bone-rattling eruption of Hawaii’s volcanoes.” Said one 71-year old resident, whose house was destroyed, “My house was an offering for Pele. I’ve been in her backyard for 30 years. In that time I learned that Pele created this island in all its stunning beauty. It’s an awe-inspiring process of destruction and creation, and I was lucky to glimpse it.” (The New York Times, 23 May 2018)

I wonder if there are Pele-Apologists who have written detailed explanations and defenses of the beliefs reflected here, e.g. that Pele is female, welcomes houses as burnt offerings, is a creator of islands, and supervises destruction as well. After all, academically trained, highly devoted apologists have been known to defend just about anything.

I wonder too if there are International Apologist Conferences, since there are thousands of apologists who do the heavy lifting for hundreds of different religions. There are so many varieties of Protestant apologists alone—those who can prove that Evangelicals possess the One True Faith, for example; but also those who make that claim for the thousands of the other factions. Then there are the Catholic and Mormon apologists, Muslim and Jewish. All of them are skilled theologians who have nailed the truth for their particular versions of God.

Would these international conferences have a Competitions Committee dedicated to figuring out which of the apology specialists—among the thousands of attendees—has hit upon the truth? There can be only One True Faith, right? I bet they’d need to have referees.

Of course, apologists for the Ancient Jesus Mystery Cult would far outnumber all the others, since Christianity, in all its splintered glory, outnumbers the other major monotheisms. Would they even allow apologists for a minor deity like Pele to attend?

I have a lot of Christian apologetic books on my shelf—but I wince at having to read them…C. S. Lewis is especially tedious. Why should I take the ancient Jesus cult any more seriously than I do the ancient Romulus cult? But, alas, defense of the Jesus cult is big business; Christianity, by many accidents of history, grabbed major market share. And the obsessions of the sprawling church bureaucracy include proving itself right—even though Christians can’t even agree with one another—and capturing young minds: making sure that there is an enormous emotional investment instilled early on.

John Loftus offers a splendid overview of the apologetic enterprise in his essay, “The Abject Failure of Christian Apologetics” in the new anthology, The Case Against Miracles.

Apologists work so hard to make the case for God, and Loftus correctly wonders why that is even necessary. If God is so eager to have people know, love, and follow him, shouldn’t he make Himself abundantly obvious? Why play faith games, i.e., you have to muster belief in God when the evidence is so sparse? And wait for apologists to come up with convincing defenses. Loftus notes that the system lacks stability:

“What if Christians stopped evangelizing and arguing on behalf of Christianity? What if all evangelists, missionaries, and apologists went on strike and let the Holy Spirit do the work? …If Christians all went on strike, then Christianity would go out of existence…Without people of faith any given religion would die out because there is no deity behind any of them.” (p. 174)

“I felt my heart strangely warmed,” John Wesley once said, taking that as evidence for his god. But that is evidence of what Wesley was feeling. We can appreciate Wesley’s sincerity, but, sorry, we prefer hard data that gods exist. We’re sometimes asked, “What would it take for you to believe in God?” and Loftus sums it up: Sufficient Objective Evidence. Apologists flounder and struggle, precisely because that is missing.

Hence it has been necessary for apologists to work around the lack-of-evidence problem—and the desire of serious thinkers to rely on reason. As Loftus points out, “…the use of reasoning to defend Christianity based on sufficient objective evidence has historically led to a rejection of Christianity.” (p. 171, The Case Against Miracles)

What to do? “…most Christian apologists today, perhaps up to 80% of them, reject the use of reasoning to defend Christianity based on sufficient objective evidence,” because they “…admit that their faith cannot be reasonably defended based on sufficient objective evidence.” (p. 171)

Loftus notes that urging faith over evidence “has a theological history stretching back to the New Testament,” and he cites words of Jesus, Paul, then Tertullian and Martin Luther, among others, to illustrate the anti-intellectual frame of mind. Jesus (in Luke 10:21) even claims that God’s wisdom is revealed to infants. This is hardly a surprise; cult leaders have always catered to people who lack mature thinking skills.

But we are surprised about how blatant the resistance to reason can be. Loftus quotes William Lane Craig, Apologetics: An Introduction (1984): “…reason is a tool to help us better understand our faith. Should faith and reason conflict, it is reason that must submit to faith, not vice versa.” How could Craig not have received serious pushback on this? Indeed, Loftus noticed evidence of embarrassment: “This quote is left out of the third edition of this book…I’m sure he edited it out not because he changed his mind, but rather because he no longer wants to reveal what he really believes.” (p. 173)

How do we get a handle on the monumental apologetic endeavor to make Christianity believable? I have to admire Loftus’ intestinal fortitude—such endurance, wading through the apologist tomes, getting a grasp of all the subtle ways in which they differ and pursue various approaches to rescuing the faith. When I run into those who admit, out loud, publically, that they are devotees of the ancient Jesus mystery cult—well, isn’t that pretty much like finding some odd folks who claim to follow the ancient Romulus or Isis and Osiris cults?

What would be the difference?

In this essay Loftus takes us on a helpful tour of the tortured apologetics world. With so many theologians representing different Christian factions, it’s no surprise that they pull in different directions. Loftus quotes James Beilby, author of Thinking About Christian Apologetics: What It Is and Why We Do It: “None of the traditional apologetic systems has received the endorsement of a substantial majority of Christian apologists.” Loftus responds:

“It’s not just that Christian apologists disagree with each other on how to defend the faith. The problem is deeper than that. The whole enterprise of Christian apologetics depends on having a justifiable method for defending their faith. Without an agreed upon defensible method, their faith is doomed. Apologetics is in crisis with no hope of solution.” (pp. 176-177)

The bulk of the essay is a discussion of five major apologetic stratagems:

• Pretending that Sufficient Objective Evidence for God is there
• The resort to special pleading
• Assuming what needs to be proved
• Relying on private subjective experiences
• Blending unproven conclusions

It is stunning to witness the theological gerrymandering required to make Christian “come out right.” I recommend reading these five sections closely, carefully; there are important insights to be gleaned. It’s helpful to try to get inside the Christian mind.

Why did Christian faith lose touch—and lose ground—in the wake of the Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution? The evidence for God became less and less obvious, especially as the Bible came under close scrutiny. Loftus calls attention to the role of deism is the erosion of Christianity. Deists couldn’t find evidence for a personal, involved God—and things got worse:

“They settled on a creator god who worked providentially in the world, provided a source for good morals, and that there was an afterlife. But as time went on more and more deists didn’t see the evidence of providence or the afterlife. The final stage of deism is largely of French origin, where their god was seen merely as the creator of the universe. God was viewed as an absent landlord who didn’t intervene in the world.” (pp. 179-180) The evidence in the world around us every day is fatal to theism: “…it can and rightfully does lead to unbelief.” (p. 180)

Especially if believers assumed that miracles carry a lot of weight in God’s favor: “…if God created the world and had to regularly intervene with miracles then he didn’t do a good job of creating it in the first place.” (p. 180)

But the contortions are amazing to behold. Loftus describes Alvin Plantinga’s distress that, “Due to sin we cannot be convinced his god exists by arguments because fallen people cannot respond positively to his god…so many people are non-Christians, non-believers. He must account for this fact. Surely it isn’t due to the lack of sufficient evidence that so many people don’t believe. Oh no! It must be due to the consequences of human sin. It could never be due to his god or the lack of evidence.” (p. 183)

One of the most commonly cited “proofs” of God is creation itself: there had to have been a god to make it happen…then people slide into their common Christian assumptions about what God is like. Case closed? Not so, as Loftus states:

“A lot more work needs to be done to show that a specific god exists. Even if theistic arguments succeed to some small degree, the remaining question is which god do these arguments point to? A wide diversity of theists such as found in the different sects of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity all argue to the existence of a deity using the exact same theistic proofs. These arguments are mistakenly believed to show their own particular god exists.” (p. 184)

Loftus also skewers another Plantinga dodge, namely his confidence that Christian beliefs come

“…by way of the Holy Spirit, who gets us to accept, causes us to believe, these great truths of the gospel. These beliefs don’t just come by way of normal operation of our natural faculties, they are a supernatural gift.” (from his book, Warranted Christian Belief). Since most humans haven’t succumbed to this “gift,” may we assume that the Holy Spirit really isn’t up to the job? And Loftus correctly identifies the occult flavor of this argument:

“If this is not claiming to have psychic abilities then I don’t know what is. And if anyone things that psychic abilities are incompatible with Christianity then just think of the Christians in Haiti who embrace both Catholicism and voodoo.” (p. 192)

After the god-the-creator argument, next up probably, for most Christians, is the certainty that they feel Jesus in their hearts. Again, case closed. But Loftus, rightly, will have none of it:

“Basing one’s apologetic on subjective experiences that supposedly lead to faith is to adopt a non-method, since it can produce many irreconcilable different and bizarre conclusions…if people accept subjective experiences as objective truths then every crackpot purveyor of a dubious new religion who wants to sleep with your daughter and take all your money would have an extremely easy day of it. So this is a non-method.” This method provides reasons to believe? “None are offered here, just lots of hugs and kisses, and warm fuzzies. It abandons rational apologetics and is proud of it, which is absolutely bizarre.” (p. 196)

Not Leaving Anything to Chance—or to The Holy Spirit

I suppose we could fantasize about Christians walking off the job, going on strike. If the enormous Christian bureaucracy were suddenly to disappear; if the intensive efforts to indoctrinate the young faded way; if the multi-billion-dollar marketing campaign for Jesus ceased; if missionaries came home and found better careers; if the Gideons found a better book to give away (Christianity in the Light of Science would be a good one); if apologists could escape their emotional investment—actually, entrapment—in the ancient Jesus mystery cult (and also found better careers), it’s a good bet Christianity would no longer be considered such a good thing. It takes a lot of props to keep it alive, and we can be sure the Holy Spirit wouldn’t step in to carry the load.

We can also fantasize: Will the day ever come when people ask, “Christianity? What was that?”

David Madison was a pastor in the Methodist Church for nine years, and has a PhD in Biblical Studies from Boston University. His book, Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: a Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith, was published in 2016 by Tellectual Press. It was reissued in 2018 with a new Foreword by John Loftus.

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