Recently I began compiling something of a list of, what appear to be, commonly appealed to “trump cards” by certain Christians during attempts at rational dialogue. While I certainly don’t intend to implicate all Christians (or even only Christians), I have noticed a regular occurrence of these “moves” in a multitude of discussions. In Part 1 I briefly discussed the appeal to faith. From my own experience discussions seem to either begin or end with this “trump card”. For part 2 I would like to analyze what seems to be a background assumption of many Christians. This “trump card” isn’t necessarily appealed to directly; it most often operates behind the scenes, but has noticeable effects. Here it is:
A: If one does not believe that Christianity is true, then that person hates God and rejects “His” gift of salvation.
The difficulty with this background assumption is that it goes to the heart of the Christian message. Humans are the creation of God, but are separated from “Him” because of sin. Ultimately, this means that humans are headed for one of two fates: eternal heaven or eternal hell. Those who repent and accept Christ are granted eternal heaven, while those who do not get eternal hell.
Now, eternal hell (which is generally taken as never-ending punishment) is rather harsh. So, to alleviate the uncomfortable dissonance, it is my opinion that many Christians are driven to hold A. It is much easier to believe that unrepentant God-haters who despise “His” sacrifice deserve never-ending punishment than it is to accept that honest seekers and skeptics could somehow “miss the boat” and end up in eternal torment.
The problem, of course, is that A is a completely unwarranted assumption. More than that, it is unfalsifiable in the sense that all counter-examples can be dismissed. Since no one can expose his or her first person perspective to direct analysis, we must always go off of what people report about themselves. The person who accepts A, however, can simply maintain that the non-believer is deceiving himself or herself by suppressing the truth (more on that at a later time).
Nevertheless, let’s take a look at A itself and see if it makes better sense to adopt its negation. Note that A is a conditional statement. Let C stand for the simple proposition A person P believes that Christianity is true. Let H represent the proposition P hates God and rejects “His” gift of salvation. Then the assumption A can be expressed as
The negation of this is therefore
In English this would read
: Person P does not believe that Christianity is true, but does not hate God or reject “His” gift of salvation.
Let’s see why is more likely true than . If we look again at the component propositions and we run into an immediate problem. Notice that is a proposition that refers to the noetic status of a person. It makes a claim about what a person believes. In other words, it reports that some person takes the Christian system of belief to be false or not to correspond to reality. The proposition , by contrast, refers to a directed feeling or emotion of a person. So, the assumption claims that a certain state of unbelief with respect to some propositions implies an associated emotion with respect to the content of those propositions. This is a very queer claim indeed. Generally, the status of one’s belief has no connection to how one feels about the content of the belief. For instance, I don’t believe in fire-breathing dragons. In other words, I take it that they do not exist. But this says nothing of how I feel about fire-breathing dragons. In fact, I think fire-breathing dragons, while scary, are pretty awesome. So, if this connection fails to hold in general, why should we believe it holds in the specific case of Christianity? It is true that some people hate the idea of the Christian God, but there is no evidence to suggest that every non-believer does.
The underlying issue here is that many Christians conflate two types of “rejection”. Let’s call the first type of rejection relational rejection and the second type propositional rejection. Relational rejection involves rejecting a person or something a person is offering. It involves a negative feeling toward the person or thing offered by the person. For instance, if a boy asks out a girl and she says “no”, then she has relationally rejected the poor boy. She is saying that she does not like the idea of having a particular type of relationship with him. Propositional rejection, by contrast, is simply to not accept a proposition as being true. For example, suppose a girl is asked whether she thinks that some boy will ask her out. Suppose she says “no”. Then in this case she is engaging in propositional rejection. That is, she is rejecting the proposition that some boy is going to ask her out. Notice that this rejection says absolutely nothing about whether she wants the boy to ask her or not.
The confusion arises from a failure to see the distinction between the proposition that one thinks is either true or false, and the content of the proposition that one may or may not have a feeling about. For the Christian, the content of the belief is so central and personal that disbelief is automatically taken to be personal. But there is no reason to think that disbelief is always (or even often) of a personal nature. Thus, the Christian who holds is going to have to summon some really compelling evidence. Next time I’ll address one such argument claiming that truth is a person and hence rejection of the “truth” amounts to rejecting the person.