Would I call that an apology?

I have been known to use the word “apologetic” (an adjective normally describing works that defend the Christian faith) as an insult. Sometimes, in a piece of academic work, the argument is remarkably unconvincing to anyone who doesn’t share the writer’s presuppositions. To anyone else it looks like, at best, special pleading. Instead of a work of scholarship investigating, say, the early history of the gospels, it comes across as a work of apologetic, trying to make a case that the writer’s view is defensible, but only able to persuade those who already hold that viewpoint.

C. S. Lewis, still the most widely read apologist, over 50 years after his death.

Such writers do have their counterparts on the other side of the argument. I also find myself reading people who, rather than offering a scholarly investigation (again as an example) into the early history of the gospels, seem more keen to construct or stress interpretations of the evidence that are incompatible with traditional Christian faith, than to give a good historical accounting of the complex detail.

(I should add a plug here for History for Atheists, a blog by Tim O’Neill – himself an atheist – doing his best to keep atheist readings of history and Christianity honest.)

Those are not the apologetics I’m looking for.

Then there is the off-the-shelf variety. These seem largely to consist of collections of pre-packaged objections to the Christian faith and matching templates of pre-digested answers for facile regurgitation. This is supposed to equip the Christian “always be ready to make your defence (apologia) when anyone challenges you to justify the hope which is in you. But do so with courtesy and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15-16, REB) While the author may not have a full legal setting in mind, the idea of giving a defence is at its strongest in a “courtroom” setting. Imagine the effect on a jury of a witness who’s clearly memorised their testimony, and can only repeat the same formulaic answers. And to answer someone from a script, rather than engaging in honest conversation seems to me to fail that test of responding “with courtesy and respect.”

Those are not the apologetics I’m looking for.

Finally, there are the supposedly knock-down arguments: proofs of the existence of God that are meant to argue someone into faith. Sometimes I can admire the rigour and mental gymnastics from afar, yet at the end I feel remarkably unmoved. Belief is more than following a line of thought from self-evident premise to ineluctable conclusion. And for many hearing the argument the premise is problematic, and the conclusion far from compelling.

Yes, showing faith is a rational response to reality matters, but suggesting that our responses to reality are just a matter of finding the right argument seems to me to do less than justice to the complexity of who we are as people, never mind who God is. We certainly can and should reason, but our engagement with the reality of the cosmos, and especially the reality of others (and the Other) is relational in a way which engages more of us than the faculty of reason.

The kind of fascination I feel when, say, I listen to Anselm’s ontological argument, is somewhat akin to what I feel when I’m offered what looks like a complex puzzle, while all the time I’m wondering if it’s an illusion. I end up tied in a mental knot, wondering where the trick is, and thinking I’ve been bamboozled somewhere along the way by the equivalent of an old Jedi mind trick.

These are not the apologetics I’m looking for.

In a subsequent post I hope to follow up on what I am looking for.

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One thought on “Would I call that an apology?

  1. Pingback: That’s more like an apology – musings of a christian humanist

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