Atheists and Christians: Everyone’s got a Strawman

So, I’ve been watching a bunch of YouTube videos propagandizing for BOTH sides.  The biggest commonality?  Well, same as the commonality to almost all YouTube self-made videos.  These people should not be allowed to speak their minds, record it, and put it out there for the world to see (and mock).  Of course, I tease when I say “allow”, but certainly the ease with which we can put ourselves out their for the world to see has had many interesting, and many unintended repercussions.  But this is a discussion I’m sure we’ve all seen, even been privy to, before, and is not really the meat of this post.

In seriousness, the mistakes many of these people make are three fold: they don’t take the other side seriously, they don’t do sufficient research on the opposition, and sometimes even on their OWN side, and they judge the beliefs of the other side by its adherents, rather than the strength of the beliefs.  This all works towards the creation of a straw-man argument, wherein the speaker believes they have proved/disproved everything, but really they have shown nothing.  They change no one’s mind, because those in agreement don’t know enough to see the fallacy, and those in disagreement recognize the misrepresentation, and go on believing as they do, because the speaker has not actually addressed them.

All of this, I daresay, could be easily remedied by doing more research.  Not all of this need be arduous, life’s-work kind of research, but enough to be truly conversant with the subject matter: both your view, and the one you mean to debunk.  Now, I am, of course, biased.  I am a Christian, albeit a new one.  But I was, myself, taken in by these fallacies, particularly that of judging a faith by its adherents, rather than it’s own merits.  I could see so many Christians out there who didn’t really know much at all about their faith, didn’t live differently in any observable, meaningful way, that I thought, “Well, why bother?”  And what’s more, I was often more knowledgeable than the average Christian about Christianity, and so I assumed that if the followers couldn’t be bothered to understand their faith properly, it must not be worth looking into.

The thing is, while one’s beliefs should make a difference in a person’s life, not everyone really lives like that, so you can’t judge a faith based on the quality of its adherents. After all, look at all the amazing art, literature, and discoveries that have come from Christianity – the same Christianity that so many Americans pay lip service to, but don’t really live by. Why discount all of that on account of one (modern) wayward flock? Yet, this is what I did (even as I appreciated all these things).

Now, it is easy to find that many atheists “debunk” Chrisitianity based on the appearances of the followers, or the actions of outspoken outliers. Because some “Christians” use the Bible as a crutch to defend their own prejudices, many atheists see the Bible as only being a weapon, a tool of oppression. Any yet, part of the revolutionary nature of the Bible is that it actually uplifted and sanctified all people, and while making allowances for some of the practices of the day, it made requirements of humane treatment. Just because I can beat someone to death with a hammer doesn’t mean that all hammers are dangerous and oppressive. It just means that hammers should be handled with respect to their proper purpose, and a certain reverence for the inherent risks involved in making a mistake. Likewise, the Bible is not oppressive, or meant to be used as a weapon. Like a hammer, the Bible helps us to build a better civilization and a better life, but it can be used against people. This happened even in Jesus’ time, with Pharisees obeying the letter, but not the spirit of the law. Jesus spoke against this, and all good faith Christians should do likewise, but since we don’t see that very much, the idea of a Bible as a weapon goes uncontested, giving atheists the appearance of being correct.

But it’s not just atheists, either. Christians make many assumptions about atheists as well, and although they may be true of many practitioners, or the most vocal practitioners, we do ourselves a great disservice when we “debunk” atheism on the grounds of these assumptions, and not on the actual tenets (or, perhaps it is better said, “lack of tenets”) of atheism. For those of us who want to seriously promote Christianity against atheism, we must clearly set ourselves apart from others by demonstrating the ability to think critically, rationally, to examine the others side’s actual case and show compassion to the people who accept it. They know that we believe them to be, at best, misguided. They expect many of us will see them as downright evil. If we do think they are misguided, and we truly want to help them, we must go to them where they are, and consider what is actually going to have an effect on them, rather than just mouthing platitudes.

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