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Austin Cline reacts to the church producing atheists

While I have glimpsed in a few places atheistic reactions to my assertion that the church itself is producing atheists, I had yet to see any real formal comment on it until today, when a member of my forum pointed me to Austin Cline’s entry on it located here. It so happens that I know of Mr. Cline and have had a little interaction, but for the record I don’t believe he understands that ‘Anthony Horvath’ is also ‘sntjohnny.’ That interaction has a little in common with his entry here. In word, I think he is again being quite presumptuous, and I’m going to take this opportunity to respond even though he’ll never likely see it.

He cites the Christian Post article which is all well and good, but he seems to be unaware of how such stories are pieced together in the first place. The reporter poses questions and I answer those questions. But those questions are not in the article, and my answers are sometimes given as quotes but in some respects are paraphrased. That means that a newspaper article should be taken with a grain of salt, and if someone really wants to take someone to task- by name- they probably should make the effort to dig a little deeper. I would have been willing to cut a little slack, as the article unfortunately does not mention my screen name nor does it list my website. But it is not hard to figure out via simple google and I made it easy by posting my web page twice in the comment section of the article he cited. Maybe I should get used to this now that I’m such a public figure. (read as self-mockery).

So for the record, let it be known that Mr. Cline did not contact me and he has not, to my knowledge, made any efforts to go beyond the Christian Post article. I was not asked “Do you stand by this” or “Would you clarify this?” etc. Nor am I going to do the same for him. Hypocrisy? Perhaps. But he has one thing going for him that I didn’t- he picked and chose every word and paragraph with full control, whereas my views came through a filter. Now that we have my chief complaint and criticism fully aired, let me turn my attention to some of his statements.

Let’s take this one to start with: “Are we to sincerely believe that Christian churches and organizations are not engaging in apologetics?”

In point of fact, Christian churches are not engaging in apologetics. Probably, by ‘churches,’ Mr. Cline is thinking in narrow terms. I was speaking about the broad picture, referencing whole denominations and how they invest their energy, and he ignores a clarification that does actually make it into the article:

“I am talking about apologetics at a much broader scale then normally understood,” said Horvath. “It should not be left to professors or specialists, such as C.S. Lewis. It needs to be incorporated into everything we do as the Church from cradle to grave.”

In other words, I am not, as Mr. Cline so snidely dismisses as ‘ridiculous’ insinuating that I am the first person to engage in apologetics. In the article itself I am hinting that I mean something different then normally understood. Hence the phrase, “then normally understood.” Mr. Cline did not ask me to elaborate on this, and point of fact, neither did the reporter for the Christian Post.

If at some point Mr. Cline would like to discover my point for himself (assuming he doesn’t just ask me), he can count up how many paid Christian apologetics positions there are across as many denominations as he likes, include, if he desires professors at universities, and compare that number with how many pastoral positions, youth ministry positions, and worship and music positions there are. Then, he can check into the curriculum being produced by the various denominations to ascertain what kind of attention is explicitly paid to common apologetics issues, and what age levels that material is geared towards.

Naturally, as I am merely a man who attended Christian elementary, middle, and high schools, who has a four year bachelors degree in pastoral ministry, has been interacting with the Christian culture from the inside for more than ten years, four of which were actually as a religion teacher for 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, and 12th grades, two years of teaching at a Bible college, and then three years working on staff at a church as a director of education, expressly tasked with evaluating curriculum for Sunday School, VBS, etc, it is quite obvious that Mr. Cline will have a much better grasp then I will on exactly how apologetics is implemented by various denominations. Naturally.

Moving on.

“Now, if Anthony Horvath had argued that Christian churches are doing a poor job at explaining why they believe what they do and must improve their apologetics, that might be plausible.”

Hmmmm. That is exactly what I am arguing. Again, this is something that the Christian Post article does pick up on:

“Churches are producing atheists by not answering the questions of young people and explaining why they believe in the Bible,” and “As a solution, Horvath recommends apologetics – the defense of the Christian faith. He points to 1 Peter 3:15 which teaches believers to be ready to give the reasons for what they believe.”

Understandably, the first quote was easy to miss as it was the first sentence of the article. However, since he cites both of these quotes in his summary of the article, I fail to understand how he did not perceive that I was advocating for exactly what he suggested might be plausible, and it was actually expressed in the article.

Not content with that, he wishes to go further: “If he had argued that the questions being asked by young people today need different sorts of answers than what apologetics geared towards previous generations can provide, that might also be plausible. Those are more cautious and careful arguments that could be taken more seriously.”

Different sorts of answers? What, pray tell, would these quotes be referring to:

Horvath, who has taught religion to middle school and high school students explained that some of the recurring questions young adults struggle with but churches often fail to address include the formation and development of the Bible, the presence of evil and suffering in the world, and the question of inspiration and inerrancy.

“In large part, it happens when the church leadership is completely unaware that their members – and not necessarily just the young members – have questions at all,” explained Horvath to The Christian Post. “And [they] continue merrily along thinking that to retain the youth they just need to be entertained.”

That sounds an awful lot like proposing an implementation of apologetics that is different then previous generations were satisfied with. I understand it takes a tad bit of reading between the lines. One has to make the connection that the ‘church leadership’ and ‘the young members’ are likely going to be members of different generations, and certainly I could elaborate further (if only prompted), but I think there is enough in the article to suspect that this is exactly what I’m proposing. Instead I have to now hear the second strawman accusation:

“As it is, Anthony Horvath is making claims that aren’t even remotely plausible. People don’t become atheists because Christians aren’t engaging in any apologetics; instead, people become atheists because Christian apologetics isn’t working so well.”

Note here the equivocation. My challenge was to the church, not at individual Christians. Certainly there are Christian engaging in apologetics. This was not the point. Again, that first sentence was easy to skip, but the Christian Post gets it in there: “Churches are producing atheists…” This equivocation leads Mr. Cline to infer a position that is no where supported by the Christian Post article. Indeed, I am arguing that Christian apologetics isn’t working so well, though Mr. Cline and I will disagree for the reasons. So we see, he has appropriated for himself two positions that were actually mine and called them ‘plausible’ and foisted on me a position that isn’t mine at all. That’s annoying.

Moving along.

“Books like The God Delusion and The Da Vinci Code don’t require a society that doesn’t understand Christianity in order to be popular, just a society which no longer accepts traditional, orthodox Christianity like it used to.”

The two ideas are not mutually exclusive. The problem here is that Mr. Cline does not bother to ask me precisely what connection I’m drawing between their popularity and Christianity. The Christian Post accurately posts my statement, but observe how it does not provide in the articles any of my reasons for making the statement:

“He further noted, “Books like Richard Dawkins’ ‘The God Delusion’ and Dan Brown’s ‘The Da Vinci Code’ do not become best sellers in a society that understands what Christianity is all about.”

If Mr. Cline were to ever contact me, I suggest this as one of the first points of clarification to seek with me. In his defense, in some of the other atheistic responses I’ve seen, similar leaps to judgment have been made. Certainly, at some point it would be reasonable for me to more clearly provide a ‘why.’ But Mr. Cline takes issue with my ‘why’ even though I do not actually have a ‘why’ recorded in the article. What then, is his source? It doesn’t seem to be me. That leaves few options. And so it goes…

“The only explanation that comes to mind for Anthony Horvath making these statements is the assumption that to understand Christianity is to accept and believe it.”

More nonsense. Here I would like to point out that a little investigation would have done wonders. For example, both here on this blog and on my forum I advocate adopting a definition of ‘Christianity’ that is propositional in nature. Take this thread as an example. What that expressly means is that in principle, anyone should be able to understand Christianity, whether they agree with it or not. As I am apparently uneducated pond scum when held up against Mr. Cline, let me support this view briefly using a Christian apologist that he has no doubt read, and in this way preserving me from accusations that I’m just pulling these ideas out of my rear. That apologist is not CS Lewis, as the reader might have instinctively assumed, but rather Dorothy Sayers, and I am going to quote out of her “The Mind of the Maker” which I found to be quite formative.

Allow me to quote extensively from her introduction, as I think what she says here speaks to my own position on a number of points. If anyone actually cares about what my own position is, of course. Here it goes, copy and pasted from here, thankfully sparing me five minutes of typing:

This book is not an apology for Christianity, nor is it an expression of personal religious belief. It is a commentary, in the light of specialised knowledge, on a particular set of statements made in the Christian creeds and their claim to be statements of fact.

It is necessary to issue this caution, for the popular mind has grown so confused that it is no longer able to receive any statement of fact except as an expression of personal feeling. Some time ago, the present writer, pardonably irritated by a very prevalent ignorance concerning the essentials of Christian doctrine, published a brief article in which those essentials were plainly set down in words that a child could understand. Every clause was preceded by some such phrase as: “the Church maintains”, “the Church teaches”, “if the Church is right”, and so forth. The only personal opinion expressed was that, though the doctrine might be false, it could not very well be called dull.

Every newspaper that reviewed this article accepted it without question as a profession of faith-some (Heaven knows why) called it “a courageous profession of faith”, as though professing Christians in this country were liable to instant persecution. One review, syndicated throughout the Empire, called it “a personal confession of faith by a woman who feels sure she is right”.

Now, what the writer believes or does not believe is of little importance one way or the other. What is of great and disastrous importance is the proved inability of supposedly educated persons to read. So far from expressing any personal belief or any claim to personal infallibility, the writer had simply offered a flat recapitulation of official doctrine, adding that nobody was obliged to believe it. There was not a single word or sentence from which a personal opinion could legitimately be deduced, and for all the article contained it might perfectly well have been written by a well-informed Zoroastrian.

I certainly recommend reading the rest of the preface, and also the essay she is referencing, “The Dogma is the Drama” which can be found in her collection of essays, “The Whimsical Christian.” Excellent, excellent stuff. All this to say that my own approach completely agrees with the sentiment expressed by “it might perfectly well have been written by a well-informed Zoroastrian.” So, no, it is not the case that the only explanation driving my arguments is that I think you have to be a practicing Christian in order to understand Christianity.

I think that Mr. Cline inadvertently let’s the cat out of the bag… “…the only explanation that comes to mind…” … but by ‘to mind’ I am sure he means his own mind. Perhaps a quick email to the Johnnymeister could have alerted to him to other possible explanations. Given my alignment here with Ms. Sayers, unless I’m an irrational freakazoid (you decide), I probably have some other explanations in mind. Only the inquisitive mind would find out.

Moving on.

We now move into his concluding paragraph which thankfully no longer explicitly mocks and ridicules me by name, but I am inclined to think that he still has me in mind. He says,

“I see this attitude often from both Christian and Muslim apologists who assume that because I’m an atheist, I must never have learned anything about their religion, read their holy books, read their arguments, etc.”

Well, I don’t make that assumption about Mr. Cline. Or any atheist, for that matter. You have to take these things on a case by case basis. While I have met atheists who fit into the category he described above, I’ve met many that don’t, as well. And I don’t feel that my generalization about the state of affairs is out of line, though I would grant that further substantiation should be forthcoming (remembering that I wasn’t really given the opportunity to give it). If one wanted to get a good idea, check out the nearly 1,000 reviews of Dawkins’s Delusion, nearly all positives by ‘free thinkers’ parroting and hyping the arguments of their mentor. And yet, I have yet to meet an educated Christian that views Dawkins’s book as possessing any kind of accurate representation of Christianity at all, and the book itself is riddled with all kinds of errors, some of which I document here. (note, I have since acquired the book Dawkins quoted from, and verified that he at least got his fellow right.)

Naturally, it is very important to atheists to think that they are rejecting Christianity’s actual positions. But Dawkins’s success illustrates how many don’t understand Christianity’s actual positions, believing Dawkins to have actually attacked them. (I’m starting to throw Cline some freebies, here, elaborating on questions he ought to have asked, but didn’t). So, here is a smattering of educated Christians taking issue with Dawkins’s grasp of Christianity, and if almost 1,000 parrots on Amazon.com aren’t enough to begin to substantiate what was admittedly a generalization, nothing is.

Here are some reviews, or references to reviews, and you will see that all of them take Dawkins to task for not grasping basic Christian theology. Here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here. And here. The sad reality is how many atheists applaud Dawkins. You could find their reviews fast enough. But surely after enough people have pleaded that they are being misrepresented it’s worth taking seriously? Isn’t it just possible, after persistent assertions that you aren’t listening that maybe you aren’t listening? It is at least worthy of a little introspection. But my accusation was not that the atheists aren’t listening, which if it was, that certainly can be perceived as insult. No doubt if that had been my accusation he would have been highly offended.

But my accusation was that the church itself has poorly communicated some of its most basic doctrines. How is it that by shouldering some of the blame for ourselves, Mr. Cline is still so offended? Is this a case where the Christian is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t? It’s an insult if its the atheist’s fault and it’s an insult if it’s the theist’s fault? Is that about right. There’s just no pleasing some people. That he was so grossly offended is clear, as he says,

“It is, in my opinion, the most extreme sort of arrogance and egotism that I ever encounter.”

Boy, am I glad he hasn’t singled me out in this paragraph or I’d really be annoyed at this point. icon smile Austin Cline reacts to the church producing atheists

Granted, Christian arguments may simply be unconvincing, and certainly there are atheists that actually comprehend those arguments and know the core doctrines, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t atheists that aren’t. If Mr. Cline believes that this is not the case and that we apologists don’t also have our own collection of anecdotes to fall back upon supporting our views- thus insinuating that all atheists are perfectly informed while their theistic counter-parts are blathering and ‘ridiculous’ entertaining claims that are not ‘remotely plausible,’ I believe the charge of ‘extreme arrogance and egotism’ is probably misapplied.

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