Dancing close to the Straw Man

With all respect to my fellow blogger, Stak’s “Christian Car Bomb” post strayed close to setting up a straw man to knock down.  He introduced the Christian Car Bomb as “[a] popular argument taught to fundamentalist college students,” and then included these specific allegations: 

a good loving Christian must do anything and everything (moral or immoral) to believe and worship Jesus. The ends justify the means and anything goes. All options are on the table because the fate of someone’s eternal soul rests in the balance.

* * *

The second problem is what I pointed to earlier that this argument teaches Christians that any and all actions (including immoral actions) are justified if it will save someone’s eternal soul. Christians are free to lie, cheat, steal, and even use physical force to save their friend’s eternal soul. After all, who cares if you hurt your friend’s physical body if you can save his spiritual life, right? Even Jesus said this when he talked about cutting off a thieving hand and plucking out a lustful eye. Con your friend, bribe him or her to come to a meeting, use fear, and even your sexuality to win his or her soul for Jesus. Like I said, anything is permissible. Don’t worry about sinning yourself, because Jesus died for your sins already and God will understand. The ends justify the means. Incidentally enough, this was the same reasoning used during the Spanish Inquisition for the torture on non-Christians. It doesn’t matter how much the physical body is tortured as long as you can save their eternal soul.

Taken to its logical end, the Christian Car Bomb argument certainly could be used to justify virtually any behavior.  After all, there is no consequence of any earthly action that could be as dangerous as eternal damnation.  In application, however, my experience has been that Christians generally don’t go to the extremes Stak’s posits.  And I have serious doubts that many of the ideas proposed are actively taught as a matter of doctrine.

For one thing, lying, cheating, physically abusing someone or misusing your sexuality (given Christian’s morbid fear of sex, that’s probably the most fantastic accusation to me) are themselves considered sins.  Committing those actions would place the believer’s own soul at risk of hell.  Sure, one can ask forgiveness, but most Christians think your remorse must be sincere in order to be forgiven.  If you think your actions were justified to diffuse the Car Bomb,you wouldn’t actually feel remorse, and you’ve placed yourself in a spiritual catch-22.  

I’ve also just never heard it taught — in church, Sunday school, youth groups, church camp, revival meetings, anywhere — that anything goes when it comes to evangelizing.  I’m curious to know Stak’s sources on this.  I imagine isolated examples of these teachings could be located; after all, it’s a big country full of much religious wackaloonery. The mainstream of even conservative, evangelical Christianity teaches that lots of tools must be used to reach the “lost,” but these generally fall into what I’ll call the Saddleback Toolbox — catchy music (even *gasp* rock music), feel-good sermons, jumbotrons, latte bars, etc.  The “pluck out your eye, cut off your hand” verses are Jesus’s advice to followers regarding what they should do to themselves to avoid hell, not other people.  Regardless of what they taught in the Inquisition, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone now (in the US, at least) ready to wield a machete for the faith.  And, again this just struck me as the most out-there claim, I have never heard a discussion of using one’s sexuality to prosthelytize.  Is there a “Nymphos for Jesus” movement I somehow missed out on back in my fundie days?

No doubt, there are plenty of “Liars for Jesus” who twist, misrepresent, and mislead, especially on scientific matters, in an attempt to win converts.  Whether they are actively trying to lie, or are simply willing to be intellectually dishonest but don’t believe they are really lying (think of someone taking quotes from Einstein out of context), it must be stated plainly and often that they are spreading falsehoods.  Let’s identify the dirty tricks and deceptive practices at every turn.  But let’s maintain credibility by not accusing the religious of all the crazy things they could do, and focus on the crazy things they actually do.

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9 responses to “Dancing close to the Straw Man

  1. Well, I think the problem here Mr. Midwesterner is that you took what I said out of context. I don’t recall saying that ALL Christians think this way. I do recall stating that that is a problem that arises from the use of the Christian Car Bomb Argument (the subject of the blog). Personally, I am glad you haven’t heard that argument (or similar arguments) in the Midwest, but as I sated in my blog, it is taught on some college campuses. I know, because that was where I first heard it. I have also heard it from many young Christians who I have communicated with both in person and through e-mail and blog responses. I wouldn’t have used a whole blog to talk about it unless it was an argument which I have heard multiple times from multiple people. That is the reason I choose to address it. This is not a strawman argument because I am not claiming that all Christians must believe this. The fact is that many Christians do believe this and their belief is supported with scripture (like the beliefs of almost any Christian). As a result of that line of thinking, the particular Christians who subscribe to this argument (the one which is the subject of my blog) often do feel justified in taking any actions they feel would bring someones soul to Jesus. Thanx for showing the love. In reason,

    -Staks

  2. The Science Pundit

    Hey! Disagreeing with fellow FSGP bloggers was MY idea!! 😛

  3. Disagreeing is one thing, but taking my blog out of context is another.

  4. Plus, just because this guy has never heard a Christian use that argument doesn’t mean that no Christian does. I get this argument or similar arguments from Christians all the time that is why I devoted a blog to it. To insinuate that I made the argument up to make Christians look bad is an out and out attack. If that is how this guy wants to waste his blog space, that it fine too, but I thought we are all people of reason and adults here.
    -Staks

  5. Oh, and one more thing. If you are going to attack someone in your blog at least spell my name correctly!!!!

  6. Staks-

    Let me apologize for my approach on this. Coming out of the gate with straw man allegations was exactly the wrong way to do this. The right approach would have been to say, “Hey, this is incredible and completely outside anything I’ve ever seen. Can you tell me more about where you’ve seen it?” Because, truthfully, I’m interested (and frankly shocked). I’m sincerely sorry for imputing a lack of rigor when the intellectual laziness was all my own. I managed to be offensive and violate my own personal rule — always assume the other guy knows things you don’t.

    This does raise an interesting question, however. To what standard of evidence should freethinking bloggers hold ourselves? When I saw a post with no links and no explanation of where the author got the information, my Skeptic Meter went crazy. In your response, you flesh out where and when you’ve seen this, which answers the question. I guess for me, I always want to include that information up front, even if I’m arguing from personal experience. Links to other articles and sources are also helpful. But to each his own.

    Again, not trying to be a jerk, just a skeptic, as always.

    Best,
    MG

  7. First off, the correct approach should have been to comment on my blog and ask some questions. It should not have been to waste your precious blog space on attacking me and basically calling me a liar. That was not the gentlemanly thing to do. Second, I did say in my blog that this argument is taught to fundamentalist Christians on college campuses. I source is personal experience. As is most of my blog and presumably yours. I have gone to go to many campus Christian meetings and frequently discuss religion with young fundamentalist Christians through my blog. My blog is my opinions and my personal experiences. That should be a give since it is my blog. I don’t think it makes much sense to log about someone else’s experiences. But just because you have not heard this argument or arguments like this before, doesn’t mean that you have the right to call me a liar and then claim that you mean no disrespect. That is passive aggressive bullshit and quite rude.

  8. Just to beat the dead horse, here is a video of a Jewish Rabbi using a variation of this Car Bomb Argument:

  9. And here Penn from Penn and Teller uses a variation of the Car Bomb Argument that you claimed that I made up:

    Sorry to keep beating the dead horse, but maybe that horse had an afterlife.

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