Thursday, January 12, 2006

The "No true Christian" fallacy.


Oh, yawn. Back here, some folks still don't get it, so let me give you some homework to drive the point home.

One of the issues in the current religion dust-up on this blog involves what is called the "No True Scotsman" Fallacy, explained here. When applied to Christianity, numerous Christians try to disassociate themselves from mean-spirited, hateful other Christians as follows:

A: Some Christians are really nasty people. Like Fred down the block. Man, for someone who's always talking about how devout he is, he's a total asshole.

B: Well, that's not fair. You can't blame religion for that because true Christians are all gentle, compassionate people. So if someone is mean and nasty, then they're not a true Christian.

See how that works? You never have to defend your religious beliefs because you define the problem away. Christians are never assholes simply because you define the membership of the set "Christians" to exclude such folks, regardless of what they think. Problem solved.

Well, apparently, this well-known fallacy didn't go down well with at least one commenter, who referred us to this alleged rebuttal which, hilariously, tries to negate the NTS Fallacy by committing (you guessed it) the very same NTS Fallacy:

... So when one says that Adolf Hitler is no true Christian, one is not committing the NTS fallacy. “Christian” is a label referring to religious and philosophical beliefs being held by the believer. Since Hitler’s actions, words, and expressed philosophies and professed beliefs are outside of, and in many cases contrary to, the belief set of Christianity, it is (barring a deathbed conversion for which there is no evidence whatsoever) valid to say that Hitler was not a Christian.

See there? A piece promising to refute the NTS Fallacy tries to do it by committing the very same logical blunder. Hitler might say he was a Christian but since he didn't act like a true Christian, then he wasn't.

(Many Christians are fond of the converse argument as well:

A: Atheists are all immoral.

B: Well, I'm not sure about that. I know some atheists who are wonderful, charitable folks.

A: Well, then they're not true atheists.

You get the idea. But that's not the point of this piece. Onward.)

For the most part, it's pointless to argue with folks who are arguing the NTS Fallacy while simultaneously claiming that they're doing no such thing. Instead, the trick is to turn the argument back on them.

If these folks claim the ability to tell "true" Christians from "false" ones, then they should be able to explain how the rest of us can do it, too. So, in the spirit of an earlier challenge, I'd like the religiously devout to propose a "false Christian" detector.

Given the number of people who claim to be Christian but who generally creep their Christian brethren right out, I think it's incumbent on the devout to supply a clear and unambiguous definition of a "true" Christian. That way, when someone claims to be Christian, I can whip out my handy-dandy true Christian detector and see if they're legit.

The detector should be objective and entirely deterministic. And once it's been provided, we can test it on a number of prominent assho ... uh, Christians. Once we have our detector, we can see what it thinks of, say, Rev. Jerry Falwell. Or Pat Robertson. Or George W. Bush. Or Stephen Harper. How about Calgary's Bishop Fred Henry? True Christian or not? Pastor Fred Phelps? Raving dingbat Elsie Wayne? The hate-filled homophobes at DefendMarriage.ca? Pete Rempel? Kate McMillan? Lying sack of crap Bill Strong? Man, the list is endless, isn't it?

So, who's going to step up to the plate with the "true Christian" detector? After all, if some of you are upset about your religion being tarred by the actions of "false Christian" loons acting like complete dickheads, then it's your responsibility to help the rest of us tell the loons from the non-loons.

So ... we're all listening. The lines are open.

20 comments:

PR said...

So the question is: How do you determine who is and who is not a true Christian?

Hmmmm. I've always had trouble with this myself. This might be because I'm not God.

cmax said...

For me, a "true christian" is someone to avoid.

CC said...

cmax writes:

For me, a "true christian" is someone to avoid.

Note carefully that I'm not passing judgment on "true" Christians. I'm asking Christians themselves to define the term for me so I can use it accurately and to their satisfaction.

And if they can't explain how I draw that distinction, they have no grounds for complaint.

dveej said...

Mr. Rempel: you may not be God, but you certainly are an asshole. Would you be willing to create a "true asshole" detector?

cmax said...

Hey, dveej: nya, nya nya nya nya to you too, fuckwad. Get a grip on reality. Acting like a 2-year-old will get you nowhere you wanna be.

stellababy said...

Peter takes the easy way out, yes of course only 'God' would know what defines a true Christian, but surely part of the whole cult of religion is having one's own quality of devotion judged by other followers.
I think its an interesting and valid question and I'd like to know what Christians have to say.

CC said...

Pete writes:

Hmmmm. I've always had trouble with this myself. This might be because I'm not God.

That's right, Pete -- neither you nor your religious brethren are God. And yet, strangely enough, so many of you insist on speaking for him.

How odd.

Anonymous said...

Matthew 7

15 "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.

16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?

17 Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.

18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.

19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

21 "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

22 Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?'

23 Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'

CC said...

15 "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.

"Sheep's clothing?" That would be wool, right? Man, they better not be wearing linen at the same time. I hear that's a no-no.

PR said...

"And yet, strangely enough, so many of you insist on speaking for him."

Wow, you'd have to be pretty confident to believe that you could speak on behalf of an omnipotent god. You'll have to show me some of these people sometime cc.

PR said...

"...but surely part of the whole cult of religion is having one's own quality of devotion judged by other followers."

Not really. I'm not a busybody, so I really don't care whether some guy who claims to be a Christian actually prays or reads his Bible or whatever.

You guys have kind of a kooky view of Christians.

CC said...

Pete Rempel wsrites:

Wow, you'd have to be pretty confident to believe that you could speak on behalf of an omnipotent god. You'll have to show me some of these people sometime cc.

Sometimes, Pete, it's hard to tell if you're really that dense, or just amusing yourself by trolling.

Speaking for God? Hey, how about this one, in which total dingbat Pat Robertson says:

"He was dividing God’s land, and I would say, ‘Woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the [European Union], the United Nations or the United States of America,’” Robertson told viewers of his long-running television show, “The 700 Club."

Do you really need any more data points?

Anonymous said...

"Sheep's clothing?" That would be wool, right? Man, they better not be wearing linen at the same time. I hear that's a no-no.

Jokes are the defense of those without an argument or any meaningful point. Thanks for admitting defeat, CC.

M@ said...

Yeah, it's pathetic to post a comment when you don't have a meaningful point or an argument. And the Good Lord knows, Anonymous, you've never done that.

By the way, could you give yourself a name or something? Even just in the post? It would be a lot easier to refer to you and your inanity.

PR said...

Was Robertson really speaking on behalf of God? I doubt it. He was speaking on behalf of his interpretation of scripture. Even someone as thick as Robertson would, I think, be reluctant to admit that he thought he was a spokesperson for God. People who admit that tend to be messianic, and crazy.

Luna said...

It's a big problem. I identify as Christian (though most of 'em wouldn't have me, I'm sure). There are lots and lots of so-called Christians who act anything but. It really drives me nuts. I mean, I want peace, kindness, compassion, love and acceptance. And some of these 'Christians' (I call them Christian-Extremists or Christianazis or Christofascists) preach anything but.

So what is a Christian? Fucked if I know. I mean, is it someone who goes to a Christian church? Doesn't work for me. You can go to church and not believe a word of it (like my Dad, who goes because it makes Mom happy and doesn't bother him).

And what if your church preaches hate and intolerance like so many of these Christofascists do? I'd say you're not Christian because you clearly aren't living a life anything like what Jesus suggested. But of course, they'd be the first to freak and say that they are Christians.

It's really a big problem.

I just really think that it gives those hate-mongering bastards too much credit to call them Christians. So, Christofascists works for me. And Christians for people who actually try to live a life of goodness, kindness and charity.

M@ said...

People who admit [thinking they speak on behalf of god] tend to be messianic, and crazy.

Er, like that Jesus guy?

Luna said...

This was bugging me last night, so I did some more thinking on it. I think the difference between the 'no true scotsman' and the 'no true christian' arguments is that a Scotsman is born a Scotsman, and nothing he does can ever change that. Being Christian is about one's actions, not birthright. If one fails to live in a way remotely like what would please Jesus, preaches hate and intolerance, spews injustices and misery, and just generally acts like an asshole, he stops being Christian, regardless of what he says he is.

But how to determine it? Compassion. But generally, I try not to judge (I fail usually... *dirty look toward Pete*). But as a general rule, I avoid people with no compassion. That's my litmus test. If the topic is abortion and someone is going on about what horrible people are committing murder, and absolutely refuse to have any compassion for the women who are in the situation of an unwanted pregnancy, I have a hard time understanding how they can call themselves Christian. If the topic is homosexuality, and they're going on about how those people are abominations, sick, disgusting or anything like that, and fail to have any sense of fact that their persecution of these people makes their lives considerably miserable at times and that even if they think that homosexuality is a sin (which I do not, fwiw), their (the so-called Christian's) behaviour is far more appalling, in that it creates misery, instead of relieving it. They fail to show any compassion for the 'sinner', and I shake my head and wonder how they could ever defend themselves to the God they claim to emulate.

Yeah, I muddied the water more for myself trying to make it more clear, but what the hell. I don't imagine you mind if I ramble a bit on an issue that makes me think. :)

And if ya do, well TFB, dude. *grin*

hesaidshesaid said...

so Pete one more question. It seems to me that only christinas can define themselves. Since God has many faces and there are several religions out there I find it difficult to fathom the "god" cares what path people follow as long as they get the big picture. The quotes offered by anonymous refer to fulfilment of prophicies in the old testament which is part of three major world religions, two of which are definitely not Christian. Matthew's writings and the rest of the new testament are included in the Koran so where does that leave things?

So the question is why do you presume "god" is christian?

jpastor said...

OK people, come back down to ground.
If I meet someone who claims to be christian, and they lie, gossip and 'act' like a demon - I have every right to ask myself 'how can this be?' and tell myself I am seeing a fake - especially the ones who do not admit their error when challenged. Then I meet the real thing, a gentle, honest person and I know their fruit, loving deeds, I would not deny their claim to faith. It stacks up - and it is that simple.