What is the Best Argument Against Christianity?

Today, I discovered a post on Confident Christian entitled The Best Argument Against Christianity. The article makes a really good point that the best argument is not one of the arguments that atheists will often make on debate boards. I mean, who among those of us who are apologetics veterans have not heard debated to death the Argument from Evil or the scientific case against Christianity? Obviously, if there were no answers to these arguments most Christians would give up being Christians because (contrary to the arguments made by certain atheists) Christianity is a trust system and it is nearly impossible to trust what you cannot rationally accept. (Actually, that is an interesting post for another day.)

So, what does the post point out is the best argument against Christianity? It is, as my very Christian father-in-law used to proclaim: "The best argument against Christianity is Christians."

The article points out that many people view Christians (especially Evangelicals) negatively, and that negative association has a negative effect on their willingness to accept Christianity. The blog post notes that there are three things about Christians that are viewed negatively by the public at large according to the book Unchristian by Barna Research Group President David Kinneman. Unchristian pointed to three major things that Christians do that reflect badly upon Christianity.

First, unbelievers responded negatively to what they termed the Christian "swagger" – how Christians’ lives don’t match up to Christ's, and the bark and bite that unbelievers say they see in Christians' demeanor and actions. 
Second, respondents said that the charity and compassion of Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels have been dismissed by Christians in favor of combative and judgmental actions against what they believe to be threats against their moral positions. In other words, as Christians, we have become famous for what we oppose and stand against rather than for what we are in favor of and champion. 
The third most cited characteristic of Christianity ... is the one that supports my position that Christians are the faith’s biggest anti-apologetic. A full eighty-five percent (85%) of Kinnaman’s surveyed group said that Christians are best known for a hypocritical lifestyle. How depressing is that? Kinnaman’s finding echoes Gandhi’s famous statement, "I like your Christ, but I don’t like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."
All three of these arguments point to one thing: some people are rejecting Christianity because of the way in which Christians live out their lives.

Now, some of this hatred cannot be avoided if one is to actually preach the Gospel. As the series of recent posts on this blog by JD Waters has pointed out, Christianity necessarily involves the idea that there is a moral lawgiver. Thus, while there are disagreements among Christians on the boundaries of the moral law, the idea that God has a standard of right and wrong which must be followed will always be seen by those who reject God as judgmental. Certainly, there are many of us in the Christian church who believe that Jesus meant exactly what he said when he said, "No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6) Thus, when Christians proclaim that Jesus is the way to salvation, it is seen as combative and perhaps judgmental. The blog's author, Robin Schumaher, agrees:

Now, let’s pause a moment for a quick reality check. In regard to being judgmental, while ‘Church Lady’ personas certainly do exist in Christendom that damage the faith’s image, it should be noted that history has shown that the world and humanity’s fallen nature will never take kindly to Biblical pronouncements against the sin it cherishes and wants to practice. The one Scripture verse every unbeliever can quote is “Judge not less ye be judged” (Matt. 7:1), but they fail to understand (1) the statement itself is a judgment, and (2) Jesus commanded His followers to judge with a righteous judgment, but first make sure their own house is in order before they go about instructing others.

However, there is certainly no doubt that Christians need to do better than we have in how we live our lives. Both the first and the third points raised by the book relate to the way the Christians are seen as hypocrites. Looking at the divorce rate between Christians and non-Christians (as an example) points out that the difference between Christians who have had divorces and non-Christians how have had divorces is statistically insignificant. (32% of Christians have had divorces while 33% of non-Christians have had divorces. To be fair, when Christians are broken down into evangelicals versus non-evangelicals, the evangelical divorce rate is much lower -- 26% -- but still much too high.) If Christians are indistinguishable from the world while we regularly preach against the world (or the flesh) then it is understandable the non-Christians would see us as hypocrites.

Moreover, it is not enough to say (as Christians regularly do) that we are not claiming to be perfect -- only saved. Even Paul proclaimed in Romans 7:15, "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do." But to the non-Christian that is tantamount to admitting that we are hypocrites. We need to do better. After all, Christians are ambassadors for Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:20) To many non-Christians, we are the only example of Christ that that person will ever witness. And if our witness is tainted because we outwardly engage in activity that is unlike Christ, what is that other person supposed to conclude about Christ? They will conclude that either Christ is not who we say he is or that we are hypocrites.

So, how do we change? How do Christians become better imitators of Christ. The blog post on Confident Christian makes some observations on what will improve our ability to be better imitators of Christ. However, the most important step that one can do to become a better follower of Christ is to heed the Words of Jesus: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." (Mark 8:34) In other words, as long as we seek our own ends and do not listen to the Spirit of God that has been given to all believers who truly repent and seek reconciliation with the Father we will never be able to accomplish the goal of being Christ-like. Instead, it is only those who trust and obey the Spirit of God who will have the strength and ability to be able to live each day more and more in the image of Jesus.

As Robin Shumaher says at the end of the Confident Christian post:

Paul succinctly states both a challenge to and a goal of all Christians when he says, "Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ" (1 Cor 11:1). It might cause you to wince a bit, but ask yourself: could you make such a statement to others and feel good about the claim that when a person is mimicking you, they are imitating Jesus?
My prayer is that we can all answer ‘yes’ soon, because the fact is that an authentic Christian life is the only thing that defeats the best argument against Christianity.
My response: let it be so.


Secular Outpost said…
Now, some of this hatred cannot be avoided if one is to actually preach the Gospel.

I didn't read anything that could reasonably be called "hatred" in the text you quoted. Did I miss it?
BK said…
No, you did not miss it. I extrapolated.
Jason Pratt said…
Btw, is this the same Confident Christian as our CC?

Also btw, I am working on commentary for a Cadre series on your Evidential Arguments for Naturalism, Jeff. (Just along with seven or eight other projects, all of which are quite large and some of which are ultra-large even by my standards. Not to mention 'work' work. Not to mention, I'm getting old. {lol!})

The first few entries are actually ready to post up, although they're more like a prologue series (since I'm mostly complaining about apologistic problems with Bayesian Theory application. But I also routinely point out how you avoid the problems, except in some ultimately trivial ways perhaps. So no worries there. {g})

I just didn't want to start posting up even a prologue series until I had gotten farther with commenting on your actual arguments. But other large and ultra-large projects, etc. etc.

Ed Yang said…
Thank you for this article. I agree: may it be so. Lots of work to do on myself and a good reminder for us to look closely in the mirror. I find it far easier to point the finger at others than at myself. Let us all pray for Christians that we can indeed be more Christlike.
Thesauros said…
But won't that always be the case? How can we possibly live a Christian life of such consistency that my pagan neighbour will never witness my failure to love as I should? When Gandhi says that we are unlike Christ, how can we NOT be unlike Christ?

Of course a true follower of Jesus no longer makes a practice of any particular sin. But I think most people who use our failures as a justification for rejecting Jesus were looking for such an opportunity. If God was actually working in that person's life, if God was actually drawing that person to Jesus, s/he would recognize that everyone in the world is, to one degree or another, a hypocrite, liar, bigot, adulterer etc.

That's where the benefit of a relationship whereby our history / testimony can be shared is important. I may not be a better person than any given atheist or pagan but compared to who I was before Jesus entered my life, well, there is no comparison. Do I still fail? Of course. But the direction of my journey is steadily forward toward Christ-likeness.
Eugene Wong said…
I agree with Thesauros.

They are essentially blaming imperfect people.

Many non-Christians and Christians stand against abortion, and stand for the life of the unborn. Will you and your other non-Christians consider this to be standing for something?

I get the impression that you and your likeminded friends like beating the back of the bride of Christ with stick.

According to your religion, people will reject Christ because of the followers. According to God's religion, people go to hell because of their sins, and they reject God only because of themselves and only because of Christ. Nobody is holding a gun to their heads, and ordering them to not repent.

Jonah preached a very damning message without any hope for repentance, and yet they did repent, only with the faint hope that God *might* do something. Jonah was really just a catalyst. They repented based on their own understanding of God, and their own desires.

Your blog post fails to divide the people into proper groups. If you must portray some people as vicitims, then you must also divide all of mankind into 3 groups: claimed non-Christians; claimed Christians; actual Christians. Unless you do that, you will always blame the wrong people.
PhaseVelocity said…
Non Christians mostly use this argument indirectly. It is an argument against the argument from consequences often made by Christians that without (Christian) religion society would go bankrupt or individuals would become immoral. This argument is easily refuted by the so called best argument.
The reason you call it the best argument against Christianity is merely rhetorical and fallacious. It is to suggest there are no good arguments against Christianity.
This tactic is very transparent.
Tyson James said…
And lest anyone who hasn't taken a formal logic class should read these posts, let's call the "best argument" what it really is - a perfect example of the ad hominem fallacy.
Unknown said…
I tried to post something here, and I don't see it now. I bet that you deleted it. If so, then shame on you.
Jason Pratt said…
No, the reason he calls it the "best argument" is for internal criticism among Christians.

It would be similar to an atheist writing an article calling other atheists to account for being insufferable douches (with hypocritical swagger) who, for example, can't be arsed to notice contexts (especially when attacking religion), and saying that such combative and judgmental attitudes from atheists are the main reason why more people aren't atheists.

Calling that reason the "best argument against atheism" would be a rhetorical move, but it wouldn't be aimed at theists per se. It would be aimed at fellow atheists who are becoming famous (or at least clamoring for attention) for what they oppose and stand against instead of what they are in favor of and champion.

In related news, CC's article was based on actual sociological polling data about major things that Christians do that reflect badly upon Christianity. Bill (and CC) can explain some of that away (although I agree with JL that calling it "hatred" was a bit of a jump), but are also taking the criticism of Christian attitudes and lifestyles seriously. Since (as Bill says) beliefs tend to be based substantially on corporate interpersonal trust, anything that hampers the trust leads to problems accepting related beliefs.


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