“We have to have fights! That’s how we figure out what’s true!”
Have you heard this line of reasoning? Does it strike you as oddly discordant?
Of course no stupid idea should get a free pass — ideas should be tested. But that’s not my issue with this mentality.
It’s probably no secret, but a win-at-all-costs perspective has seeped into evangelism. It masquerades as a healthy, vibrant imperative — truth saves people!
But its dark side is pervasive.
And I’m afraid the collective church has been subjecting people to this dark side for a long, long time.
Smart people know how to resist pushy pseudo-intellectuals: just reveal their contradictions. The tricky bits. The stuff that it’s hard for the most ardent proponents to understand, reconcile or accept. This is true for all people of any side of any issue — everyone is vulnerable because everyone absorbs contradictions.
Plot twist: the louder people get, the more obvious their contradictions.
Additionally, the facile arguments are found easily, too. Let’s use postmodernism as an illustration:
- If you believe in medication over rat poison, that proves you don’t believe in relativism.
- If you defer to a sport’s authoritative replay instead of a referee’s perspective, well, how very modernist of you!
- People claim that they don’t believe in absolute truth. But they wouldn’t step out in front of a speeding bus, would they?
Those things don’t denounce postmodernism as they’re intended to. They don’t even describe it. Postmodernism doesn’t reflect how we approach the tangible aspects of reality, but digs into how we relate to its intangibles.
Conflating tangibles and intangibles isn’t just unconvincing, it sounds condescending, petty and trivial.
Because it is.
Postmodernism is not about denying facts so much as pondering the methods of discovery, being open to alternatives to the discovery, and removing artificial restrictions about who can make (or question) discoveries.
Postmodernism challenges systems of thought. Apologists tend to double-down on their systems, and their accompanying fallacies:
- appealing to history
- appealing to authority
- appealing to popularity
- cherry-picking from the Bible and tradition
- all the while consistently claiming to put little stock into subjective experience.
The inability or unwillingness to acknowledge that any study is merely an extension of subjective experience makes them ripe for critique. Rubber, meet road.
While it may be popular, bickering misses the point. Or more accurately, evades it.
Postmodernism isn’t a threat because it is inherently false. It opens up a quagmire by removing artificial restrictions about what is true. Unfortunately, apologists regularly fall into the trap of being unable to define truth, or being able to adequately show the working behind their conclusions. Or perhaps they assume that their reasoning is universal and incontrovertible, which brings its own baggage (intellectual arrogance).
Christians attempting to denounce postmodernism are wasting their time. Indeed, without postmodernism, faith would never be allowed back into a conversation about science, reality and what can be known. The presumptions and resulting pressures of secularisation would win out. (Mercifully, here in Canada at least, there is still a general belief in pluralism, which makes a dream of peace possible.)
Within postmodernism, a physicist and filmmaker can both present truth, even though their truths may be remarkably different.
So can a communist and a capitalist. In fact, any ideology can face off against any ideology, stand on its own two feet, and earn its supporters. It doesn’t necessitate war. It doesn’t even necessitate debate. Because, especially in this era, truth has to be held with open hands, not clasped fists. Faith and knowledge are not valued equally by everyone, and therefore they certainly don’t relate seamlessly.
If that wasn’t tricky enough, there is a greater challenge within.
- What if I’m a believer, and I see a hollow desperation in apologetics which makes me, once again, suspect that all of faith is merely a self-confirming shell game?
- What if apologetics drive me further toward the questions an apologist would deem “dangerous”?
- What if all of this weakens my resolve to engage in community?
- Or further, what if I believe that this proclivity to debate weakens the entire fabric of community?
- What if I’m convinced that apologetics actually drive an unnecessary wedge between faiths, ideologies and cultures by the very act of turning people into positions to refute?
Should these factors be taken into consideration?
In their eagerness, like practitioners in other fields, apologists make melodramatic pronouncements about “if it saves just one soul”. The hypothetical end appears to justify any means.
- What if the outcomes are opposite of the intended goals?
- What if this strategy tips more souls away from truth?
- What if the rise of the “nones” is actually caused by the very messaging people are trying to combat it with?
What if the belief that the whole concept of rhetorical skirmish is itself seen to be antithetical to Scripture?
It’s a conundrum. Especially in this light: where Christ was faced with a direct confrontation, his responses were quite often confoundingly and transcendently oblique.
If this is our benchmark, I don’t see much Christ-likeness in debate.
While Jesus didn’t shy away from truth claims, they were often wrapped up in parables, which are open to interpretation. He did not often seek out or engage in one-on-one debate.
Instead, he made rather a habit of simply, humbly shaking people to their very core!
And if there is any truth at all to this life of faith, he still does. So if apologetics are ever caught hiding the process of perpetual transformation behind slick, airtight, ironclad ideological conjecture, they’re profoundly missing the point.
Or more accurately, evading it.