In my and Alex’s previous conversation we found people in the atheist community, perhaps due to an open secret of having hated that non-atheists ever dared to define the belief of atheism, today work tirelessly to redefine atheism out of its original context and into an incoherent and unworkable new definition, one which attempts to recast atheism as a state of mind (how zen!) rather than the plain position which every atheist truly holds to, that being that “God does not exist.” Atheists affirm the reality of a godless universe, although being unable to sustain the burden of proving their knowledge claim they’re forced into defining their way out of defending their position, which is in itself a kind of defense, just not a defense of their view (how bizarre!).
Nonetheless, Alex, who is an honest, good-natured person (like many atheists) has also been duped into the group think and shared falsehoods which characterize the often dangerous militant godless. Christians therefore, insofar as Alex has been concerned, are to be indiscriminately defined as anyone who self-identifies as Christian, whereas an atheist is anybody (or perhaps even anything) who lacks belief in a god (so worms, babies and table legs). These are really foundational falsehoods, by which atheists barrel through conversations as if everybody must embrace these things, for which you should also be accepting of the errors built upon the false foundations, of course, if an individual can’t accept the foundation they would do well to reject the fruits of that same foundation. Atheists try playing the same game with the word faith, as we’ll read later in another exchange with Alex. Today’s conversation however, one which took place over at Midori Skies (Alex’s blog), continues around the theme of defining who is and isn’t a certain sort of believer, in addition, the dreaded No True fallacy is finally answered.
Alex Black: As a rule, I refuse to debate over who is a “true” adherent of any religion. In my experience, everybody has a different opinion over who is or isn’t a “true” believer. Different people within the same religion say conflicting things about who is doing it “right”. Different sects and denominations say opposing things about which sects and denominations actually belong to their religion. There isn’t any sort of consensus that I have seen, and, as an outsider, I feel like I have even less to say about who is a “true” follower of a religion than those who are actually part of the religion. And since everyone disagrees with each other, I can’t just take anybody’s word for it that this person or that person isn’t a “true” adherent (unless that person themself says “no, actually I was just faking it”). . . (for the entire article, please read on).
OldSchoolContemporary: The truth is Alex, if we’re going to write and have any sort of coherent thought life, especially one which involves writing and expressing ourselves with regards to religion, we’re going to have to have a working definition of what it means to be XYZ, and to refuse interacting on the subject as you claim to do, claiming you refuse to debate on the issue “As a rule” just betrays a closed mind or some sort of tribalism. An example is your ability to write waves of material on the definition of one world-view (atheism) which would in so doing disqualify people who don’t conform to the view as found in your work, while also supposing you’re incapable of identifying other adherents to some set of beliefs or behaviors. Once again Coyote [an earlier poster in the same topic] clarified, moreover I’d imagine you yourself must have already known their correction since in your material you’ve substituted “true” for “real” and so on, their reply explained when someone writes someone else isn’t a true this, that or whatever, what they’re saying is that the accused is failing (often willfully so) to fulfill a kind of duty or behavior that’s commonly defined as belonging to the world-view the accused claims to belong to.*
You’re apparently having two confused notions on the matter, the first being that because you don’t believe in the meat of a religion there’s no such thing as a “true” believer in said religion, which is easily gathered when you write “Does “true adherent” have any real meaning at all to someone who thinks all the followers of that religion are mistaken?” Well, yes, yes the words true adherent certainly do have meaning whether or not people are mistaken in their values or world-view, that’s plain to people everywhere. There’s most certainly a Christian behavior when someone strikes a Christian on their cheek, it’s in the religious teaching of Christ whose words every Christian claims to be following, so when someone strikes back rather than turn the other cheeks to their attacker they have most definitely failed with regards to their Christianity.
Another mistaken notion of yours in my mind is that you’re after some sort of “consensus” before you’re able to define who is and isn’t XY or Z, which would be simply to excuse yourself from forming an accurate definition based upon careful study. There’s certainly no global consensus on every jot and tittle and to suppose you’ll be requiring one before moving forwards would be bonkers, however, if it’s a majority decision you’re after with regards to the core then the vast majority of both believing Christians and unbelievers are agreed that the Bible, more specifically the New Testament (barring some epistles and the Book of Revelations) would be an accurate benchmark by which to measure who is and who isn’t an actual/true/real Christian. The idea isn’t something revolutionary, and to be so sensible as to define exactly what’s what should come as standard to every thinking person, meaning, when someone says or writes how a particular person isn’t a true something, they’re saying they’re in fact “nominal”, meaning they’re the thing they claim to be in name only. In reality it’s not people outside of the atheist community who commit fallacies when they point out people aren’t adhering to their supposed faith, rather it’s the late great Anthony Flew and their No True fallacy which has been judged fallacious!*
Thomas Shirk describes why that’s so: This essentially means that if set (X) does not intersect set (Y) then an object (Y) is not an (X). How is this fallacious? It isn’t! Only when set (Y) is not demonstrated to be nonintersecting to (X) does the expression become a fallacy. In the NTS story, “Scotsman” is set (X). Drinking tea with cream is set (Y).. MacDougal drinks his tea with cream and is thus an object in set (Y). The fallacy is that the definitions do not clash; there is nothing definitionally nonintersecting about X and Y. So an object in set (Y) can also exist in set (X). The word “Scotsman” refers to a racial/ethnic category; it has absolutely nothing to do with how one takes one’s tea. This eliminates the first premise of the argument. By invalidating the premise, the argument becomes a fallacy.*
Your mistake is to believe that there’s nothing which makes a person either Christian, Muslim or Hindu and so on into every world-view except atheism, and apparently you’re only open to defining atheism because you’ve got a sort of tribal affiliation with the belief. It’s a mystery to me how you can believe both that you “can’t trust” people who admonish others for refusing to hold to a belief system’s core truths and commands they falsely claim to hold, yet you’re happy to trust in absolutely everybody by offering no resistance when they insist they’re something they clearly aren’t. Diplomacy does have its limits. Your ideas appear to imply religious beliefs and duties are like ethnicities which people are born into and incapable of not belonging a part of, thus a person is incapable of disqualifying themselves from being a part.
Here’s an example brewing in my mind now, and one which nobody could surely contest, it being that you can trust me with regards to certain people being “false” believers in Christianity, although you believe there’s no trusting anybody on anything due to there being “no consensus.” Now, having gestured to person X, my next step is to outline their behaviors, one such behavior being their belief set, because although claiming to be Christian (i.e. follower of Jesus Christ’s teachings), they hold beliefs suchlike “There’s no God”, “There’s no Son of God”, “There’s nothing bar science and the natural world”, they claim nonetheless to be Christian, would you paralyze yourself by accepting their assertion that they’re indeed Christian?! If you wouldn’t then you’re equipped already to dismiss many supposed Christians.
Similarly there’s Islam, about which there’s consensus enough (will there ever be enough for some?) to say a certain behavior is thoroughly Islamic, even so much so as to be named an Islamic duties. An example being “If anyone leaves his Islamic religion, kill them.” (Bukhari 52:260, Bukhari 84:57, Bukhari 89:271), that’s plain, unambiguous and binding in such a way as “turn the other cheek” is plain, unambiguous and binding. If to the above someone replies “I’m Koran only” the person already isn’t Muslim as Muslim is commonly and has been historically described, therefore you can dismiss their claim to being Muslim and understand their views as outside of the mainstream. Mormonism isn’t any different in that the belief is so alien to everything the bulk of historic Christianity professes to believe as to be unchristian.*
Just compare core Christian features and beliefs as held for over 1000 years before Mormonism began: Christianity is Monotheistic (Mormons however believe in infinite gods), Christians believe in God’s Grace (Mormons however believe they earn their salvation), Jesus in the mind of Christians (and “real” historians) is known as an unmarried Jew (Mormons however believe based on the weakest “evidence” that Jesus had not one, not two, but three wives!), thank you polygamist and chronic liar Joseph Smith for that historic insight into Jesus’ life. So, you can discount people not merely for failing to believe in certain things or holding sincerely to their supposed faith, but also for dismissing core elements of their supposed faith and teaching things which are clearly incompatible with it’s core features. Therefore, Mormons are not Christian (not even close), although if a person’s main concern is being a tummy rubber, and soothing any opposite voices because the owner’s of said voices are quick to anger or eager to take offense, then they’re constraint to name everybody Christian just so long as they’re angry enough.
In concluding, there’s without doubt religious tenets, credal statements, behaviors, affirmations of the faith and an agreed upon fashion or consensus with which people are to hold to various world-views, meaning, when or if a person won’t conform to religious tenets, credal statements, behaviors, affirmations of faith and agreed upon fashions with which to hold to their supposed religion, or even preaches ideas in direct contradiction to the above, they’re considered an apostate or “nominal”, meaning they’re the thing they claim to be in name alone, that and not a True Believer.
Alex Black: Hello OSC. I’ve been meaning to get back to you on our other conversation, but I’ve been particularly busy as of late. I don’t have time just now to write a write a thorough response, either here or there, but I did want to let you know I haven’t abandoned the conversation.
There’s a difference between arguing over who is a “true” Christian, and coming up with a working definition of “Christian”. The latter conversation is indeed important, if one wants to be able to talk about Christians as a group. The former conversation I feel I have little of value to contribute to, not being a Christian myself. Furthermore, it confuses me, as I see people saying many different conflicting things. You say that there is a general consensus that Christians are people who follow the New Testament, but different people think different parts of the New Testament are the most important ones to adhere to, and differnt people interpret different passages in different ways. Who am I to say which of these people is doing it right, much less which are “true” Christians? I have no position on the importance of any particular passage, or the “correct” interpretation of any passage.*
Coyote made an important distinction between saying who is a “true” Christian, and saying that someone isn’t doing Christianity “right”. To further clarify, I would not want to get into a discussion about who is doing Christianity “right”, either, as I have no idea what the “right” way to do Christianity might be. But if someone told me that someone else wasn’t doing Christianity “right”, then I’d be willing to simply accept that, taking it as part of that person’s particular beliefs. But when someone says that someone else isn’t a “true” Christian, then it comes across to me as “You shouldn’t call that person a Christian.” If I was careful not to refer to people who are not “true” Christians as Christians, then I would never know who I could or couldn’t call a Christian.
I’m not after any absolute global consensus of who is a “true” Christian. I would settle for a simple majority of Christians using the term in similar ways to each other, in order to infer the meaning of the term. But there isn’t even close to any consistency of that sort that I can see, except perhaps with regards to fringe groups like the Westboro Baptist Church.
“Your mistake is to believe that there’s nothing which makes a person either Christian, Muslim or Hindu and so on…”
Um, no, that is not what I think. I do not know if there is some inherent set of qualities which makes one a “true” Christian, a “true” Muslim, or a “true” Hindu. If there is, then I’m sure I don’t know what it is. But there is certainly a common usage definition of what Christian, Muslim, or Hindu means. People use these words all the time, and, as with any other word, the meaning can be inferred from the way others use the word. Not knowing how to differentiate “true” adherents from “false” ones, I go with the common usage definition. Or, I describe people as they would like to be described, because that is a respectful way to treat people. There’s a huge difference between respecting a person’s self-discription and claiming that they are a “true” adherent.*
“It’s a mystery to me how you can believe both that you ‘can’t trust’ people who admonish others for refusing to hold to a belief system’s core truths and commands they falsely claim to hold, yet you’re happy to trust in absolutely everybody by offering no resistance when they insist they’re something they clearly aren’t.”
Well, it would certainly help if people generally agreed on what these “core truths” are that other people are not holding to. And I see nothing wrong with taking other people at their word until given a reason to do otherwise. I would not doubt someone if they told me they were a mechanic or a lawyer, or that they have family in Texas or Sweden. Why should I doubt people when they tell me their religion?
“Your ideas appear to imply religious beliefs and duties are like ethnicities which people are born into and incapable of not belonging a part of, thus a person is incapable of disqualifying themselves from being a part.”
Absolutely not. People change their religions all the time. Well, not all the time, but often enough. I have no idea why you think my ideas imply that.
“[a]lthough claiming to be Christian … they hold beliefs suchlike “There’s no God”, … they claim nonetheless to be Christian, would you paralyze yourself by accepting their assertion that they’re indeed Christian?!”
Perhaps they are a cultural Christian?
As a side note, I am considering not continuing our debate. I am having trouble finding time to write the sort of thorough response that your comments generally merit. I actually started a draft of this response over a week ago, and it still took me this long to find time to finish it.
‘There’s a difference between arguing over who is a “true” Christian, and coming up with a working definition of “Christian”.’
The above issue is you have so quickly forgotten who it is your response is in answer to. You are attempting to answer religious people when they claim XY and Z aren’t AB or C, though in so doing we’d best understand in what way the believing person means “true” if you’re to write an accurate reply, wouldn’t you agree? Believers say ‘Michel wasn’t a true Christian’, by which they mean to say ‘Michel’s viewpoints, conduct and overall behavior wasn’t as so defined by either Biblical Christianity or any modern denominations’. You tacitly admit to understanding this when you replace real for true and true for real in various places, meaning there’s no need to be dense when synonyms are in use. Once again: ‘they’re saying that the accused is failing (often willfully so) to fulfill a kind of duty or behavior that’s commonly defined as belonging to the world-view the accused claims to belong to.’ So, for you to reply ‘Aha! Can anybody be a true Christian when Christianity is false?’ Just betrays confusion on your part as to what they’re saying, meaning it’s not that there are two arguments, there’s one argument which is made two by your continued misunderstanding.
Nevertheless, you wrote further: ‘Furthermore, it confuses me, as I see people saying many different conflicting things.’* You mean you “hear” people saying many different conflicting things. See, it’s doing a person no good when they either refuse or cannot gather the expression of others. Upon which point you’d counter my counter by saying you’re able to see conflicting things by way of being a lip reader (et cetera et cetera). We’d be here until Kingdom come arguing about what words you have seen and what believers mean by true. Moreover, being so diplomatic as you are, you’re really constraint to concede to the believing person’s use of the word “true” meaning “to believe in and adhere to various truth claims, religious tenets and authorities.” Which would mean when a person refuses to believe in and adhere to XY and Z they’re indeed no longer a true AB or C (regardless of what they insist upon). The facts of the above really aren’t controversial.
To briefly outline an earlier point of mine, one which you yourself will admit to having totally misread: ‘having gestured to person X, my next step is to outline their behaviors, one such behavior being their belief set, because although claiming to be Christian (i.e. follower of Jesus Christ’s teachings), they hold beliefs suchlike “There’s no God”, “There’s no Son of God”, “There’s nothing bar science and the natural world”, they claim nonetheless to be Christian, would you paralyze yourself by accepting their assertion that they’re indeed Christian?!’
To which you replied: ‘Perhaps they are a cultural Christian?”* Now, my initial reaction to your sort of reply in person would be to say don’t be glib, yet in writing, and perhaps because these are complex topics, you have again missed the charge and answered in a way nobody really prompted you to. Perhaps because you’re thinking about Christians, rather than reading in more an abstract way, you’re missing the big picture. The above person does not conform in any way to the sort of view they’re attempting to depict themselves as, and as a consequence they’re unable to define their behaviors (views included) in any way as is commonly described, rather their view is internally incoherent. That would entail the person being unable to refer to themselves as culturally Christian, therefore you have answered a question nobody has asked. For which the question must be put to you once more: Would you refer to a person who conformed in no way to the thing they claimed to be conforming to, and even believed and taught things contrary to the thing they supposed themselves to belong to as the thing they contradictorily claimed to be? Would you commit intellectual suicide by claiming a person who in no way believed in X was a believer in X? You do believe in the law of noncontradiction presumably.
Again I’m never given a reply to my above questions, although an outline of why certain sorts of definitions, namely those which attempt to indiscriminately define everybody as whatever they self-identify are, have been thoroughly explained and shown to be lacking. Atheists are going to have to make their peace with being unable to call anybody they like Christian, Muslim, Hindus or whatever the subject mistakenly believes they’re supposed to be described as.
Instead, unbelievers are going to have to do the one thing they don’t want to do, engage with religion in some meaningful way, not doing so by way of how Biblical ethics relate to gay and lesbian identity politics, nor how feminist movements currently interpret Genesis or Paul’s letters, they’re instead going to have to get into the gritty details of proper theology, which is of course the great danger to unbelievers, as being open, listening so to learn or even reading from material not already vetted by their community is to risk changing one’s mind. Reading a meme is a lot easier than the Bible itself. Atheism affords atheists a certain level of gullibility about world religions and claims to religiosity, one which must be wearing thin in their lives as well as the lives of everybody else, perhaps it’s time to put the religious relativism, gullibility and embarrassment of disinterest to rest.*
― T. C. M