Thursday, September 13, 2012

An Example of Rhetoric Over Substance from the Atheist Community

See the article linked to below, and notice how good the Atheist community is at using rhetoric that is naturally appealing to people raised in an American context to get across their own viewpoint and values on this subject. They are working towards helping all Americans "feel welcome." They are against "preferential treatment and minority alienation." They are "battling for minority rights." They are "fighting for equal representation for the family members of atheists." Etc. What American's heart doesn't stir with the passion of moral righteousness and indignation at words like these?

Of course, the rhetoric only makes sense if we assume that the Atheist outlook on the world is correct. If Atheist beliefs are true, then they are fighting for something that may be worth fighting for. However, what if Christian beliefs are true? What if Atheism is a false worldview that is evil and harmful? What if God, the ultimate moral authority in the universe, is calling all individuals and nations to acknowledge him and follow his laws, and to oppose wicked and harmful evil? In this case, the rhetoric is a mask for that which is ultimately fallacious and seriously misleading.

Why doesn't the Atheist community simply come out and say, "There should not be memorial crosses because Christianity really isn't true, and the nation should instead endorse a secular position because that makes more sense from our correct Atheist point of view."? Well, for one reason, it may be that many Atheists actually think their rhetoric is worldview-neutral. But surely one can see the rhetorical, persuasive advantages to keeping out of sight the actual argumentative basis of the position and instead trying to smuggle in the position, along with its worldview foundation, by means of rhetoric designed to appeal more to instincts and feelings than to critical thinking. It is hard to argue for Atheism and then the ethical and political implications of Atheism. It is much easier to craftily use rhetoric to smuggle in Atheism without people noticing too much (except those pesky fundamentalists).

I think that we Christians can learn a lesson from the Atheists and learn to use rhetoric better. We don't have to let them define the terms of the debate and smuggle in their worldview. We can use terms fitting our perspective following the bold and confident manner of the Atheists. However, we should always be honest and therefore willing to discuss the actual arguments when pressed, rather than trying to win the day by means of rhetoric without argument. We can use rhetoric to combat the rhetoric of the Atheists, but then we need to provide a substantial case for our point of view, straightforwardly and honestly. We should never hide behind pretenses of neutrality, but should instead be upfront, even when it is unpopular and misleading rhetoric would seem to serve us better, in insisting on the true reasons for our positions.

DISCLAIMER: I don't think all Atheists are dishonest and think that a substanceless rhetorical approach is best. It does seem that many do think it is best, either from dishonesty or naivete (that is, really believing their rhetoric is neutral). But I know Atheists who aren't naive and want a more upfront and honest approach. And I know plenty of Christians who seem content to use popular rhetoric misleadingly as well. See my previous post for an example of how Christians sometimes do this kind of thing.

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