One thing you may not know about me is that I trained to be a Christian apologist. My sophomore year of college I was enrolled in several theology classes, a few biblical history courses, and was in the process of switching my major to Religious Studies.
Luckily one of my professors, a Professor of Religion, strongly urged me not to do it.
He said that in academia religious studies was already pretty much a dried up area of research — that is, there was nothing new to learn. He added that there were virtually no job opportunities in the field apart from being a religious apologist, and he couldn’t bare to see me waste my gift of words in such a way that I would never gain recognition for the talent he saw in me.
I listened, because I really respected this teacher and his words of wisdom. He knew more about religion than anyone I’ve ever met, and he was telling me that if I became an apologist I would never reach my full potential. I’d get stuck rehashing the same old arguments over, and over, and over, and over, and over again — like most apologists do — never to have an original thought again.
I asked about a theology degree, and he said there were even less jobs in that area, unless I wanted to become a priest or try really hard to get a professorship in a field where there are thousands of theology graduates bidding for a single position at that one university nobody has ever heard of.
I didn’t like the idea of having to fight for table scraps, so I decided to get a history degree instead. I ended up getting two degrees, actually, one in Asian Cultural Studies with a focus on Japanese History and one in English Literature. (Later I’d go to college in Japan and get a certificate in Japanese language from a Japanese university — kind of like a minor degree.)
I toyed with the idea of getting my PhD for a while, but decided against it. I have far too many interests. My tastes are eclectic and I’d rather be a Jack of all trades, so to speak, then get tied down with one occupation that becomes my life’s major preoccupation. I want to be free to explore, and learn on my own terms. That means I’m sort of a Maverick when it comes to education. But this might explain why I ultimately decided to be a teacher.
I teach K-12 in a foreign country. Obviously I teach English. I came to Japan and taught ESL on the JET Programe, but I have since branched off into the private sector and now am employed by a local municipal BOE in the Prefecture that I live in.
I have been a teacher for ten years now, and I love educating children. It’s one thing to get English speaking natives excited about learning English, it’s entirely another to get people who don’t even know how to speak it excited about it. But I digress.
So, looking back, I almost made the choice to become a Christian apologist. I even ran an apologetics blog called The Chronicles of a Sympathetic Christian in which I tried to reach out toward Internet atheists. Sound familiar?
I’ve read about a couple dozen strict apologetics books, you know — the usual suspects, Karl Keeting, C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Norman Geisler, Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, William Lane Craig, Alvin Plantinga, and so on.
Some apologists are better than others. Some obviously went through a diploma mill. Others seem to be scholarly enough to count as real academics. I wanted to be the latter. I wanted to be one of the smart, front-line soldiers Evangelizing to the gentile. I wanted to be The Great Defender of Faith just as Robert G. Ingersoll was The Great Agnostic and champion of Freethought.
Granted, at the time I have never read a single Free Thinker’s work. It wouldn’t be until 2006 that I’d actually sit down and read Paul Thiry D’Holback, G.W. Foote, Robert G. Ingersoll, Thomas Paine, and the letters of Thomas Jefferson. (Although not technically a part of the Free Thought movement, Freidrich Nietzsche has been a major influence on my thinking as well.)
In 2009 I finally gave up my Christianity and so too my dream of becoming an apologist. But I had read enough apologetics, and had argued nonstop with angry Internet atheists since 2005 to be familiar with all the arguments.
When I hear Christian apologists talk now, I just roll my eyes. Their arguments are simplistic. They make rationalizations that are easier to poke holes in than a sheet of rice paper. They like to use a sophist and flowery language which hearkens back to the time when people actually read pastorals for pleasure, but without the content or eloquence. They believe their arguments constitute hard evidence, but if you show fault in their logic or reasoning they get overly defensive.
More recently, from about 2011, I began poking every online religious apologist I could find with a stick. If they engaged me, as I knew they couldn’t resist a chance to proselytize to the angry atheist (after all, I used to be in their shoes!), then I took great pleasure in tearing their arguments to shreds in less than a couple paragraphs.
After a couple of years of this I grew tired of grinding the grindstone for no reason than just to hear the grating scrape of stone on stone. I realized I wasn’t accomplishing anything, because, well, I found out one undeniable fact about religious apologists: the refuse to listen.
Now, I don’t mean this as in they don’t let you talk (although they often like to flood a thread post and always seem to want to have the last word) but they honestly do not reflect on the opposing position or point of view offered them. They hear nothing about what the other side might be trying to say, and they ignore any attempt of others to be reasonable with them, they are dismissive, and when you get annoyed by their obnoxious behavior of simultaneously trying to be the loudest in the room and the most dismissive, they act victimized when you snap at them.
If you mock or ridicule the apologist, they like to try to use this as an example of you being immoral, even though all you may have been doing what showing that their rhetoric is empty. If you put too much rhetoric in your own arguments they think you’re being insincere, which gives them another reason to be dismissive of you.
On and on it goes.
Then it dawned on me. It’s not that they are trying to push their beliefs and don’t want to seriously engage in any meaningful conversation with those who hold opposing views, it’s that they don’t know how.
They only know how to peddle a belief. They don’t know how to reason through an argument to settle on a reasonable conclusion. This may sound like a harsh claim, but it’s true. I have a decade of apologetic experience — I’ve walked down that road — I know it’s a dead end.
And that’s what I feel has happened to most religious apologists. They’ve all come up against that dead end, and instead of turning back and looking for a different, perhaps more enlightening path, they continue to bounce up again the wall that marks the dead end.
I realized that if I continued to engage apologists as I had been, I’d only be stuck in that mosh pit with them, bashing up against the wall, having my brains and any sense I may have once had spill out onto the floor.
It’s why I refuse to deal with religious apologists today. But I wrote The Swedish Fish, Deflating the Scuba Diver and Working the Rabbit’s Foot in response to one apologist because I wanted to show that, no matter who you are (whether a professional scholar or an armchair philosopher), if you stop to reflect, to think through the arguments, to ponder the big questions, to reason, and to try to see the big picture — then you’ll have more than enough reasons to leave apologetics behind.
The search for answers to our questions will compel us forward. Pretending we have all the answers and apologizing for why they don’t seem to answer anything won’t — that just leads to the dead end, I’m afraid.
So, I won’t apologize for apologists. I won’t even take them all that seriously. Even if they prove to be good scholars, or have higher degrees, or more credentials than I do, that doesn’t change the fact that at the end of the day — they’re still smashing up against that wall like a bunch of lemmings dashing mindlessly to their intellectual doom. And that’s something I want to avoid.