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Theology and Hocus Pocus

David has raised an interesting point in his comment on Darrel Ray’s guest blog.  Like many theists, he has asserted that if we nonbelievers understood Proper Theology, then we wouldn’t make such grievous errors as we do.  (In fairness, David used the term Theology Proper, which has its own meaning.  I mean the term to indicate “correct” theology.)

It might be a valid point, but I need to make sure that theists who use this objection understand the viewpoint we non-believers are coming from.  For a non-believer, it’s overwhelming when twenty different theists tell us we don’t understand “correct theology,” and all twenty of them are talking about a different theology!  I’ve been reading apologetics since I was an apologist, almost twenty years ago.  I’ve read everything from Augustine to C.S. Lewis in the “classical repertoire,” and I’ve done my best to keep up with modern theologians such as William Lane Craig.  It’s extremely difficult and frustrating for us non-believers to respond to a theological claim and be told, “You aren’t responding to the right claim!”  Well, let me lay it out, then.  For the love of all that may or may not be holy, STOP TELLING US WE’RE RESPONDING TO THE WRONG THING and TELL US WHAT THE RIGHT THING IS. If you understand it well enough to have rested your life on it, then you understand it well enough to explain it to me and other non-believers, in the same way that I understand evolution well enough to explain it to you without demanding that you read every textbook ever written.

The accusation that we just don’t understand because we don’t understand isn’t a good objection.  For one thing, it doesn’t help us.  As I said, most of us are very familiar with a lot of Christian theology and apologetics.  We’ve read a lot of the same books you have.  A lot of you don’t seem to believe that, but that’s hardly our concern, is it?  We know we have.  So to us, it just sounds like you’re trying to shift the goalposts on us and get away without having to defend your position.

The second way it fails is that it doesn’t give us any allegedly correct information.  If William Lane Craig can write it, you can write it, in the same way that I can write accurately about evolution because I’ve internalized it and absorbed it.  If you can’t accurately represent his (or whoever your chosen “correct” apologist is) position, then it might be time for you to seriously consider whether you understand it well enough to be advocating it as truth.

So please, stop telling us we don’t understand and start writing the darned thing out so we can understand it.  I promise, we’ll ask questions if we don’t get it.  If believers spent the same amount of words explaining theology as they do yelling at us for not understanding it, we’d probably understand it by now.



4 thoughts on “Theology and Hocus Pocus

  1. If believers spent the same amount of words explaining theology as they do yelling at us for not understanding it, we’d probably understand it by now.

    Somehow, I disagree.

    But the point is still valid, that if you’re going to tell people they’re wrong, at least be able to say why.

    Posted by Alex Hardman | November 1, 2010, 3:52 pm
  2. Hocus pocus? I just call it goal post shifting.

    Posted by mkandefer | November 1, 2010, 4:14 pm
  3. Luke at Common Sense Atheism brings up the same point. He calls it the not my theology defense.

    What’s especially sneaky about this defense is that in separating themselves from the attacks of atheists, they are also claiming to not have the theology of the vast majority of laypeople.

    Somehow I doubt that WLC has the same theological sophistication as Joe the Plumber. But most people who believe in god are the Joe the Plumbers of the world.

    Posted by J. Quinton | November 1, 2010, 5:13 pm
  4. Ariff Ahmed in his debate with Habernas had a very nice way of saying the same thing.

    Paraphrasing: Someone says there’s a donkey on stage; a second person says, no there’s an elephant; a third person objects, no it’s a tiger; and someone else says, no it’s a snake, and so on. It’s the same thing with God or religion. The safest thing is to assume that they are all wrong.

    Posted by LM | November 1, 2010, 6:30 pm

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