I love to talk theology. I love to discuss all the complicated and fascinating parts of my faith. I don’t care if the person I am taking to is Christian or not, I feel that both conversations can be equally important. Sometimes talking to a fellow Christian is far more frustrating than talking to an atheist…but that is a topic for another entry. This entry is to mention one of my biggest frustrations in any sort of discussion, but it seems to be fairly common with non-Christians who are discussing (or perhaps attacking is a more apt word in this instance) religion.
The Straw Man.
This fallacy is almost enough to make me just check out of a conversation altogether. For those who might not be familiar with the terminology, the straw man fallacy is when the arguer distorts his “opponent’s” view, and then attacks that distorted, and therefore weaker, form. It would not surprise me if many people do not know they are making straw man attacks. I would guess that it is far more common that people read or hear other people making straw man attacks, and then, if they think they are compelling, hold on to them to use at other times.
The reason that this is so entirely frustrating to me is that there are so many actual confusing and difficult parts of Christianity, that to distort what is actually proclaimed in the religion is such a waste of time. Not to mention it shows serious ignorance on the part of the fallacy-user. It can reveal that they have not taken time to actually search for truth, but instead are just regurgitating what sounds good or angers them. It is truly hard to have a productive discussion if you are spending all of your time just correcting one’s skewed view of your faith. Now don’t get me wrong, I think this is important, and if I had the pleasure of being someone’s guide on the path to truth, I would be honored, but it doesn’t change how annoying it is. The moment “the straw man” comes out, the discussion changes from being a meaningful engagement of each party into the questions that the other has, and instead turns to a slow correction of misconceptions.
Perhaps one of the most frustrating straw mans of all is that Christians are uneducated and Christianity itself is opposed to education. This is perhaps (ironically) one of the most ignorant statements that people can make. Perhaps it is more annoying for me as a Christian in university, taught by other Christians with Ph.D.’s to spare, but nevertheless to make that statement requires a unique and blatant disregard for the facts. I understand where this position comes from (I think), and that is from the perceived rift between religion and science that has popped up in the past several decades. Christianity could be seen as anti-education because of the way they rely on faith and how they push against things that are accepted by the scientific community at large. I understand that. Yet to then make claims about Christianity being anti-education is simply preposterous.
Lets for a minute forget all of the visionary scientists and philosophers who were Christian, and just focus on the work of the Church as it has labored to give (among many other things) education to all. The Jesuits are a great historical example of this, and for the modern mind, the Catholic church is funding and staffing educational efforts in third-world countries across the globe. (This support for education is by no means limited to the Catholic church, but I have been attending a Catholic cathedral these past couple of months, so I am most familiar with their efforts.) Now lets bring back those scientists and philosophers. Galileo? Newton? Pasteur? They all gave credit to God. Then consider thinkers like Pascal and Aquinas. What about Augustine? Traherne? If someone dares to make the statement that Christian’s are uneducated, I would then dare them to read a work by one of those authors (in its entirety) and then see if they could return to me with the same confidence. Christianity is, in many ways, for the blind, weak, and low, but is it not “for” the ignorant.
Soli Deo Gloria