One of the strangest things about religion is the concept of apologetics. Apologetics is essentially when criticism of a position is answered and rebutted, or at least that’s attempted. It can be used for any position but the term is usually used for attempts to defend religious positions and beliefs. The strangeness of apologetics in religion is that there should be no need for it at all. If religion is truth and if it is from a omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent (e.g. the God is love! nattering) god, it should be self-evident within the words themselves. It should not change from person to person, culture to culture and age to age.
However, it does and many theists know that this is a problem, one made worse with the advent of easy information retrieval. They often say that apologetics is “just” the defense of their faith, but in reality, it is “defense of my version of my faith, the only *right* one”. Those two things are quite a bit different.
Since I know Christianity better, I shall focus on that. However, most points made about it will be applicable to any religion. Here’s a brief overview.
Apologetics started early in Christianity, with JC being called on the spot to defend his version of Judaism against the Saducees and Pharisees, if the story is to be believed. His teachings were different than the other Jews but if one reads the bible, the differences were more about the intent of the law as opposed to the application. For instance, should the draconian law of no one may work on a “Sabbath” be understood as that or should there be some leeway in the interpretation so one isn’t murdering people for tending the ill, milking a cow, etc? And having lived on a dairy farm, I know that cows do not care about the Sabbath. You might think that this god would have “intelligently designed” them so they did. 🙂
Indeed, this concept of interpretation is the basis of religious apologetics everywhere: what does this stuff *really* mean and how can we determine it?
Paul continued on the path of apologetics when he came up with his own versions of what this god really meant and his own defense of it. One can find websites devoted to the idea that JC and Paul did not agree on many things (an interesting one demonstrating the fractioning of Christianity along those lines from Christianity Today notice the “careful nuancing” aka coming up with yet one more “interpretation”. Here’s another and another.). Indeed, you can find websites (here’s one that will burn your eyes by the usual problem that nutty people have with designing a webpage and one about as bad rebutting it) that decry Paul as an anti-christ since he fits the warning JC gave about anti-christs nicely.(Matthew 24).
Perhaps the most famous of Paul’s apologetics is one found in Romans 1, where Paul says that one only has to look around to see evidence for this god of his, e.g. the universe is the “evidence” for his god. Alas for Paul, most, if not all, religions claim this for their gods too. And we have yet to have a way to find out, which if any, are responsible. This is another weakness in apologetics; all theists use the same arguments for *their* god which makes it difficult to find any that have a better argument than the rest.
Apologetics continue for years, through the “early church fathers” (Augstine on who really goes to hell) to Martin Luther. Then we get a big change of mind on what this god really meant, and whether we should go “sola scriptura” (only the book aka Bible) or do we hold with the supposed unbroken line from Peter himself and their writings? There is a change from needing a certain type of baptism to protect our eternal souls and now we have many varieties. What is needed for salvation changes, is it grace, works or belief? Is hell a real place, is it fire, worms and torture?
Taking a big step forward in time, then we come to more modern apologists like C.S. Lewis. Mr. Lewis says that we shouldn’t tell potential Christians about all of these differences:
“And secondly, I think we must admit that the discussion of these disputed points has no tendency at all to bring an outsider into the Christian fold. So long as we write and talk about them we are much more likely to deter him from entering any Christian communion than to draw him into our own. Our divisions should never be discussed except in the presence of those who have already come to believe that there is one God and that Jesus Christ is His only Son” – Mere Christianity
That certainly seems to be an intentional lie of omission. Hell becomes just a “separation from God”, none of that icky torture. We have the prosperity gospel take the stage, where God suddenly wants you to be rich! And some Christians say that everyone will be going to heaven, just a short stay in hell to correct you is all that’s needed.
We also have all of those apologetics for why no one can find any evidence for the bible’s essential events. Those have been covered on this blog before e.g. the flood (my multi-part series), the exodus, the cruxifiction, etc. One can find many good reviews of apologetic books here at Ebon Musings. No reason to reinvent the wheel.
Again, none of these versions are any more “truth” than the next.
Apologetics is an industry created to form excuses when Christians don’t like something that their supposed “holy” book tells them to do or they don’t like the implications of what the book says and have to “correct” it. The mere existence of apologetics demonstrates that the claims of religion to have some magical “truth” are simply nonsense. This is especially amusing when the apologetics of the various sects don’t agree. It does make it seems like this god mumbles a lot, but the same result can come from humans who try to spread myths and then try to make them fit their personal hatreds and desires.
To finish, I found this speech by Red Jacket, a Seneca(one of the tribes of native peoples of the US). He spoke this to the US Senate in 1805. Perhaps theists can gain some understanding of why atheists find their apologetic claims so ridiculous by reading the words of a man who has his own religion and is facing the antics of missionaries. It’s not like the questions are new.
http://www.bartleby.com/268/8/3.html#txt1 Red Jacket’s speech to the US Senate in 1805 about religious freedom.
“Brother, continue to listen. You say that you are sent to instruct us how to worship the Great Spirit agreeably to His mind; and, if we do not take hold of the religion which you white people teach we shall be unhappy hereafter. You say that you are right and we are lost. How do we know this to be true? We understand that your religion is written in a Book. If it was intended for us, as well as you, why has not the Great Spirit given to us, and not only to us, but why did He not give to our forefathers the knowledge of that Book, with the means of understanding it rightly. We only know what you tell us about it. How shall we know when to believe, being so often deceived by the white people?
Brother, you say there is but one way to worship and serve the Great Spirit. If there is but one religion, why do you white people differ so much about it? Why not all agreed, as you can all read the Book?”
Postscript: Hello Christian readers! There certainly are a lot of you. Glad you like, and evidently agree?, with my posts.