Thursday, February 3, 2011

Flowerpot Apostasy

Today is our final apostate story, from one “P_Cygni” and the portion within our expertise is summed up in the first paragraph:

For me the cracks in my faith appeared when I saw the hypocrisy in my Church. There were so many finger-pointers and nasty b***hing behind peoples backs and petty fallings-out because someone had been taken off the flower-arranging rota or whatever, no-one seemed to be
practising what the preacher was preaching.

For this one, it is enough for me to bring out something I wrote in the E-Block about Michael Spencer’s book, Mere Churchianity:


Spencer recounts of how, as a young youth pastor, he brought his youth group to a local Dairy Queen, where they engaged in all sorts of mischief. Used to such shenanigans, Spencer did nothing to correct the youth or to clean up the mess they made. Sometime later, Spencer received a letter from an atheist who worked at the DQ, informing him that “Christians like you have convinced me that God is a myth.”

Apparently, this letter haunted Spencer for a number of years. And we must say from the start that we are NOT saying, when we respond as we do below, that Christians should feel free to behave as Spencer’s youth group did; yes, he certainly should have controlled them, and cleaned up the mess they made. However, Spencer’s guilt regrettably led him to don a pair of blinders when it came to the earnestness of his atheist correspondent.

In more general terms, the problem is one that goes beyond Spencer, beyond any pastor or youth group. As we have noted many times, “personal testimony” is never used in the NT as a basis for evangelism. Brute fact – the Resurrection, the miracles of Jesus, fulfillment of OT prophecy – is what is used. One of the tragic moves of modern Christianity has been to make personal testimony the basis for evaluating Christian truth. This is a trap that has allowed critics like the atheist correspondent to engage the ludicrous dictum that the measure for whether God exists is how professing Christians behave.

Rather than permitting the atheist this fancy, Spencer should have apologized for his youth group, even gone so far as to offer to have them do "cleaning duty" at the DQ for a day – and then set the record straight about what constitutes an epistemic basis for Christianity.
Of course that assumes that the atheist was genuine, which is another matter. Strangely, Spencer at first allows for the possibility that the atheist was merely a “self-righteous” specimen who “needs someone to blame.” [2] But, he supposes, you could be “dead wrong” [3] about that estimation. By the end of his accounting of the matter three paragraphs down, though, he goes from “could be” to describing the letter as an “honest, heartfelt critique.” [3]
After so many years of dealing with atheists like this correspondent, my considered thought was, Say what???? Honest and heartfelt? Not in the least. Such critiques are rather used by atheists to invoke guilt trips in Christians, based on the premise of personal testimony as a validation of truth. Is that the criterion the atheist actually uses to decide truth? If it were, then what would happen if the next week, the Freethinker Youth came to the DQ and burned the place down? Would this atheist have then decided that atheism was false? More to the point, if behavior is the measure, then how about we weigh in with the Christian record of charity – admittedly balanced to some extent by things like the Inquisition (though these too are often overplayed), but still no match for the death record of atheism, ranging from the Reign of Terror to Stalin to Pol Pot? For Spencer to say that this atheist “cared enough to tell me that my credibility as a Christian was zero” [4] is ironically tragic.

Spencer says that he had “respect” from that atheist, but that is the last thing the atheist deserved for their performance. It was manipulative and dishonest, and sadly, accomplished with Spencer exactly the purpose intended.

For the same reasons, I don’t buy P, Cygni’s carping about the flower-arranging committee and such as worthy of serious consideration. Oh yes, it’s all stuff that should not have been done. But the simple fact is that whether or not Jane is on the flower committee doesn’t have a lick to do with whether a man rose from the dead in first century Palestine. All it means is that someone doesn’t appreciate what it implies – someones on either side, actually.

So now we have finished the roster of apostates, and what can we conclude? We have seen bad arguments galore, emotional diatribes, and all manner of petty excuses. In years of dealing with such people, I have to say that I have yet to encounter one whose apostasy was purely rational (though they have claimed that it is). Loftus’ survey sure didn’t bring any to the fore, either.


  1. I am a fan of Spencers, as well as tekton, and I believe that what you say about truth not being defined by behaviour is correct, but one of Spencer's big points was that he was not at first worried by the letter, and actually originally accused her of being an atheist persecuting Christians. From his other work I have read he would probably have agreed with you on many of the points,(He too hated personal testimony overriding truth :)). His point was more the failure of the church to push serious disicpleship and the kind of oppositional nature of the evangelical church towards everybody else. Sorry for the long post, and I do agree with your points towards atheism based on Christian behaviour. Thanks for your blog posts

  2. To the point about "what would happen if the next week, the Freethinker Youth came to the DQ and burned the place down": The problem is that selfish or nihilistic behavior is not supposed to be consistent with a religion which is said to "transform lives," heal sinful hearts, cause people to be more "Christ-like," etc. It would be more consistent with a godless world-view which can't account for moral truths, where we make our own purpose and moral values as we go along; especially with some extreme forms like Ayn-Rand-ism where self-interest is glorified. For the Christian to behave this way demonstrates what looks like an inconsistency in the world-view; for a godless person to behave this way might be unattractive (even to another atheist), but it is not inconsistent with the world view.

    I agree that "personal testimony" is way overplayed in today's Evangelicalism, but observation of the behavior of Christians (or "professing" Christians) around you is not completely without value. When the way someone acts grossly contradicts their claim that you can be "Born Again" and be freed of your inclinations to sin, it isn't exactly a ringing endorsement of the claim. To the non-believer it appears to be like someone hawking some quack medicine while still suffering from the very illness the "medicine" is supposed to heal.

    Ben, don't feel too bad about the length of your post. When I get on a roll, I have a hard time shutting up. You should see the doozy I left on JP's post about politics; yours is nothing compared to my run-on tome!