Sunday, January 03, 2016

Ad Hominem


The following is an email I just wrote:

Dear X,

Here is something that struck me as I heard you reading the "Last Battle" to [my daughter] and elaborating on bits of it where creatures refused to follow the good path.  Various Christians, including C.S. Lewis and you, ascribe the reason people don't believe in Christianity to the following: either they are ignorant of the message, or else they are immoral or greedy or selfish or deluded and don't want to give up their ways. The problem is that this dichotomy is simply false and harmful on many levels.  Let me explain.

It is false because plenty of people are very familiar with the Christian message and yet judge that it is not true, and for that reason (that it is untrue) they do not believe it.  Despite Christian claims, the evidence for the Christian message is not compelling, and rather the opposite: careful analysis leads one to see that with very high probability that its most important claims are untrue. 

In addition this dichotomy is false because Christians are not any less immoral, greedy, selfish or deluded than unbelievers.  Giving one's life to Christ is independent of seeking to be a moral person.  This is the case both from objective statistics (for example, divorce (if one considers that as evidence of a moral failing) is just as high among evangelical Christians, if not higher, than the rest of the US population), and from my own observation; the moral failings I see in Christians are just as great as in non-Christians.  To see otherwise one has to selectively consider only "good" Christians and "bad" unbelievers (but unfortunately that is exactly what lots of preachers encourage people to do).  As for delusion, it is extremely patronizing to say to someone "you are wrong because you are deluded" -- that is treating them as subhuman and without intelligence and thus an ad hominem attack.

The message is harmful both to Christians and non-Christians.  To Christians it is harmful because it is self-deceptive; it makes them comfortable with their beliefs and discourages them from critically examining what they believe and from listening to objections.  To non-Christians it is harmful because it is really just a form of ad hominem attack.  To me that kind of "argument" is actually evidence for the dishonesty of the Christian message: if the message were really true it would not rely on ad hominem attacks to persuade people to believe. 

If you are honest when you are trying to convert people, then openly admit (and state) that there are good, intelligent, thoughtful people who have carefully examined the Christian message and concluded that it is false. Otherwise you are misrepresenting the facts.  I am one of those people and there are plenty more. 

Yours,
DM