Imagine that a Christian — let’s call him “Pastor Bob Gossian” — were to write an evangelistic manual on how to convert atheists to “the Truth” titled A Manual for Creating Christians. And then imagine that an atheist were to write a review in which he critiqued the definitions Bob Gossian offers for terms like “atheist” and “faith”, pointing out that they are wholly spurious. And then Bob’s biggest fan, a rabid Christian fundamentalist with a blog titled “Debunking Atheism” — were to rush to Bob Gossian’s defense. And imagine that this rabid fan wrote this:
“Bob Gossian is not writing for non-believers. He’s writing for believers. He seeks to persuade Christians on the street. Persuading rhetoric can be consistent with the truth providing that the truth is on one’s side. Bob Gossian has sought the truth and found it, so there is nothing wrong in what he’s doing.”
What would you think of this response? Well I’ll say this. Every atheist, agnostic, skeptic that I know would find a response like this indefensible. Certainly if I were an atheist, agnostic or skeptic I’d be appalled by this response. Why? Well, first off the response doesn’t disagree that Bob Gossian’s definitions are spurious. And anything that is spurious is, as you might have guessed, also false. Instead, Bob Gossian’s defender explains that Bob Gossian’s use of spurious definitions is intentional — it isn’t due to ineptitude. At first blush that might sound good (Bob Gossian isn’t inept!). Except that he is saved from ineptitude by the claim that he is intentionally using spurious and false definitions for a greater end! And what is that greater end? According to Bob Gossian’s defender, he is using falsehoods to the end of rhetorical persuasion. In other words, he is manipulating language in a devious manner to make converts. He cares not about whether his definitions are true or not. He only cares whether using language in that way will make more Christians.
Now what, you might ask, could possibly justify this use of untruth to make converts? This is where we move into the sadly ironic. Bob Gossian’s defender explains that this manipulative use of spurious, errant definitions (or, as he delicately puts it, “persuading rhetoric”) is justified because “the truth” is on Bob Gossian’s side. The use of rhetoric disconnected with concern for its truth in service of truth? Apparently Bob Gossian’s defender is of the “One may perform acts of evil if one is on the side of good” school of thought.
Bob Gossian’s defender goes further: “Bob Gossian has sought the truth and found it, so there is nothing wrong in what he’s doing.” Note the blushingly conversionist nature of this language. Because Bob Gossian has found “the truth” (or, better yet, “The Truth”) he can now use rhetoric wholly disconnected from The Truth to bring others to it.
Like I said, all the atheists, agnostics and skeptics I know would be appalled by this defense.
From my own perspective, I would point out that the root problem traces to the simple dichotomy both Bob Gossian and his friend have between the “believers” who are in “the Truth” and the “non-believers” who are in falsehood and irrationality. Such simple categorizations of the world are dangerous, for once you buy into one of them you begin to lose perspective … and you are liable to start compromising the truth in little matters in service of the Truth — that pearl of great price — that you have found. (For more on this see my book You’re not as Crazy as I Think: Dialogue in a World of Loud Voices and Hardened Opinions.)
So now we come to John Loftus who has offered a response to my article “John W. Loftus defends Peter Boghossian.” Yes folks, the names may have changed, but the song remains the same:
“Boghossian is not writing for believers. He’s writing for non-believers. He seeks to persuade atheists on the street. Persuading rhetoric can be consistent with the truth providing that the truth is on one’s side. Boghossian has sought the Truth and found it, so there is nothing wrong in what he’s doing.”
Because if you’ve found “the Truth” you had long sought, if “the Truth” is now on your side, then anything is fair game to facilitate other conversions to the truth, including whatever degree of “persuading rhetoric” may be necessary to accomplish your goal.
In other words, shut up and drink the Kool-Aid.