One must understand the craftiness of Christianity to realize how it is able to manipulate unquestioning allegiance from many of its followers. And that is its goal, its raison d’etre, its self-proclaimed mission (Mark 16: 15-16): to convince, convert, and control as many people as possible. Christianity principally employs four tools in its craft to accomplish this mission:
- It exploits real human needs and vulnerabilities to convince potential converts of its “truth” (e.g. fear of death).
- It invents otherwise nonexistent human needs, vulnerabilities, and remedies to convince potential converts of the necessity of embracing Christianity (e.g. original sin and Christ’s atonement for it).
- It transmutes familiar cultural practices and artifacts into Christian “truths” in order to make Christianity more palatable to potential converts (e.g. the synthesis of Jewish monotheism and pagan polytheism in the doctrine of the Trinity).
- It demeans and/or demonizes anything that would cause the dismissal of and defection from Christian “truth” claims.
I will illustrate the last bit of this craftiness (#4) in this post.
While Christianity is particularly adept at garnering and maintaining the allegiance of multitudes of people, it is not without vulnerabilities, some rather obvious ones at that. Nevertheless, a large part of the success of Christianity lays in its ability to make its devotees oblivious to its vulnerabilities, even the obvious ones. Historically, it has manufactured this obliviousness by several means: persecution, execution, censorship, intimidation, societal shunning, denial, mendacity, fallaciousness, and mystification only to name some of the more obvious methods. But one of its more insidious methods (insidious because it attempts to manipulate the potential convert and Christian at an unconscious level) is disparagement and demonization. Christianity will often demean and make into a positive evil that which shows it to be vulnerable, especially that which shows Christianity’s “truth” claims to be lies or too incredible for belief or lacking sufficient evidence to warrant belief.
Consider rationality (or any term roughly synonymous with rationality like “wisdom”). Rationality is problematic for Christianity. It makes Christianity vulnerable. It exposes Christianity’s contradictions, punctuates Christianity’s implausibility, insists on Christianity’s presentation and replication of evidence, and accentuates Christianity’s absurdities and counter-intuitiveness. Rationality makes considerable demands on Christianity precisely because Christianity makes incredible claims. And on the level of rationality, Christianity is not up to the task. It’s not even close to being up to the task. Christianity is, therefore, left with only one option to overcome a test that it cannot by its very nature pass: it must dismiss the test by claiming that the test itself is wrong. Instead of honestly failing the test of rationality, Christianity makes avoiding the test a virtue. It does this by characterizing rationality as flawed, irrelevant, and evil.
There are many examples in the history of Christianity to choose from, but let us look close to the source of the invention of this craftiness, this sleight of hand:
18. Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise.
19. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God. For it is written, “He is THE ONE WHO CATCHES THE WISE IN THEIR CRAFTINESS”;
20. and again, “THE LORD KNOWS THE REASONINGS of the wise, THAT THEY ARE USELESS.” (NASB 1 Corinthians 3)
The Apostle Paul, the alleged writer of this epistle, is fully aware of the challenges that come to the Christian message on rational grounds. The question for him is what instructions can he give to Christians so that they can obviate these challenges. Notice that he does not take up specific arguments made against Christian “truth” claims. He knows perfectly well that Christianity cannot compete successfully at the level of rationality and demonstrable fact. In fact, he effectively admits that in rational terms to embrace the Christian is to become irrational: “If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish….” This couldn’t be clearer. To embrace Christianity is to embrace foolishness according to the standard of rationality. Christianity cannot compete on that level.
So what Paul does is to disparage rationality and he does so from the onset: “Let no man deceive himself….” This is the ultimate nullification of the primacy of rationality in adjudicating truth claims: rationality can be a source of deception! You can’t trust it. It will lead you astray. You can only trust what will make you irrational (“foolish”) by the standard of rationality: the Christian message.
Of course, this is poppycock since it makes no sense to use irrationality to responsibly adjudicate truth claims. If anything, irrationality would leave potential converts and believers with no reliable gauge by which to adjudicate competing irrational truth claims (e.g. a different religious claim). So Paul’s attempt to disparage and nullify rationality doesn’t succeed and still leaves it vulnerable by opening the prospect that people could convert to competing irrational religions and enthusiasms, which, in point and fact, many people are inclined to do. In any case, Paul isn’t finished yet with trashing rationality.
Part of what makes rationality exemplary and virtuous as a means to adjudicate truth claims is that it does not claim for itself a kind of omniscience. It doesn’t say that you can use its methods and always determine if a given truth claim is either true or false. Sometimes, rationality will leave a person in the position of simply declaring, “I don’t know” or even “It cannot at present or perhaps for all time ever be known.” Rationality recognizes and acknowledges its limits.
Yet although rationality can recognize its limits, it can still claim to be the best vehicle for adjudicating truth claims. That is, it can still claim to be the best vehicle if and only if some other vehicle doesn’t possess rationality’s limitations, if it doesn’t leave a person in the position of saying “It can never be known.” The Apostle Paul is perfectly aware of these limitations on rationality and he exploits them. Paul does this by (baldly) asserting that there is another standard for adjudicating truth claims that lacks rationality’s limitations: “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God.” In other words, what rationality lacks (omniscience more or less) God possesses, so much so that in spite of rationality’s achievements it is foolishness compared to God’s knowledge.
Hopefully, it is obvious that Paul’s gambit here begs the question. It’s fallacious to assume the existence of the Christian God and his superior wisdom when assessing whether Christian “truth” claims are worthy of assent. The Christian God’s existence and his wisdom are precisely what are at question, so it makes no sense to assume what needs to be proven.
Nevertheless, Paul shows considerable cunning in this move if the Christian God exists and if Christianity’s “truth” claims about God are both true and valid. It is true that IF the Christian God exists, then his knowledge and rational capacities almost certainly far exceed ours, so much so that we would be at a minimum relative imbeciles in contrast. What Paul does—and he is a shrewd one here—is to play a kind of rhetorical trick to jolt people from giving much credence to rationality. He employs the force of a probable truth (i.e. God is far smarter than us) to blunt the contingency upon which that probable truth is based (i.e. if the Christian God exists). One can easily find themselves overwhelmed into conceding the nearly certain truth of God’s superior wisdom without even noticing that they have, thereby, assumed the very existence of the Christian God whose existence is precisely in question. It’s a clever trick, but it’s still fallacious. It’s still nonsense. It still begs the question.
There is also another problem with Paul’s ploy. It misses what we would reasonably expect of God’s wisdom/knowledge if the Christian God existed. While we would expect that God’s knowledge and rationality would far exceed ours if he existed, we wouldn’t expect God’s knowledge and rationality to express itself in ways that are beneath our knowledge and rationality. If it is superior to us, it cannot also be in any matter inferior to us. But that is precisely the problem with many Christian truth claims. They offend what we already know and can assess rationally. Take your pick among many of the Christian “truth” claims. God’s and Christ’s real existence are vouchsafed by claims of miracles, but none of these miracles can ever be replicated. The Christian God is both a good God and the God of the Old Testament, but the God of the Old Testament is often a rampaging, vicious, and genocidal maniac. He’s hardly good, often not even good by the very standards he sets for goodness. It’s absurd to believe these claims (and many others) about the Christian God. They are beneath even our limited capacity for rationality, much less a God’s. It’s ridiculous to even take it seriously.
But Christianity wants us to believe its “truth claims” precisely because they are absurd…because absurdity is made a virtue in Christianity. And that will be the topic of the next installment.