The Straw Man; or, Grow a Heart.

This is long and ashamedly rambly. I was just in quite a rambly mood today, I'm afraid. Please read it all, for I have several times and am not yet dead, but know that I won't be offended if you turn it off halfway. Not everyone can handle the burden of truth being poured onto them.** **That was purposely arrogant and inflammatory. I'm trying to catch your attention by being humorously cocky and reproachable right off the get-go. If that didn't work, here's some wisdom from Doctor Who, which should interest every single one of you:

"Have you ever seen monsters?" "Oh yes." "Are you scared of them?" "No. They're scared of me." - The Eleventh Doctor

Doctor Who and Introduction

It is without shame that I tell you I am veritably enthralled by the long-running BBC Television show Doctor Who. I cannot pretend to be a Who-hipster, for I was not alive when it started, nor can I say that I've been a member of the Whovian society for any long period of time. Quite the opposite, in fact: it has been only a few short months. But in these few short months, I have found myself doing very little besides reading profusely, writing (I figure now, while I have the time, means, and motivation, is when I should write that book), and watching the Doctor save the universe in countless situations infinitely more creative than my feeble mind could contrive, and in the meantime highlight the beauty of humanity and their intense dependence on something bigger than themselves.

In the section quoted above, a little boy caught in the middle of a crisis involving your run-of-the-mill otherworldy Who beasties is talking with the Doctor. He senses the threat and accurately gauges the immediacy of the situation, but asks, in a moment of seeking reassurance, about the Doctor's history of dealing with similar things. The Doctor, famous for having dashed alien hopes of universe-domination, foiled plans of genocide, and saved his numerous companions' lives time and again, responds with confidence and appropriate swagger, then characteristically smirks in the face of evil.

Confidence is praised nowadays; misplaced or inappropriate confidence is arrogance and foolishness. We see both in the lives of athletes, in the style of movie stars, in the words of introverted twenty-somethings on blogs on the internet. We are quick to call it "arrogance" in other people, but just as quick to call it "confidence" in ourselves. We are quick to think ourselves unworthy of either, and quick to overcompensate.

Perhaps it is that our mirrors are rather cloudy and dishonest. Perhaps it is our eyes. Whatever the case, one thing is certain: I see a whole lot of loathing and so little efforts for improvement; I see a whole lot arrogance and so little preparation.

What This Is Not, and What This Is

I am not thinking today about image or self-confidence along those lines, necessarily, though those thoughts do come to mind. It deserves a whole spot of its own and is quite pressing, I'm afraid, though today is not the day for it. This is not about the back-end, or how you look at yourself in light of who you truly are, for that is only the second half of the problem. This is not about vanity or even necessarily physical things

What I am addressing is what I see when I look at the majority of my generation. I see a group of people content to be what the generation before them handed down, who can honestly say that apathy is a virtue. Who socially network rather than figure themselves out. I see a generation with access to more information and knowledge than any that has come before them, yet more ignorant than any about how to use it. I see boys seeing domination as strength and girls seeing beauty as worth. I see people who think doing something worthwhile means doing something worth Instagramming; I see people for whom thoughts are merely Tweets. I see an age of humanity defined by what somebody else has said rather than what they have worked for.

And I see so few confronting it. Too many of us see "comfortable" as a good thing. So many think that because their faith is not shaken, it is sound.

We have lost all concept of self, because we have plenty of things to distract from it... and they are sneaky things, at that: the conception that you are what your Facebook says you are or that who you are is defined by your job. Instead of asking ourselves, "who am I?" we post pictures of ourselves and say, "this is who I am."

There is a discrepancy there, and it is extremely bothersome.

The Swelling Hurricane 

I dropped a sentence a second ago as sort of preparation for where this was headed, as a gust to store up some energy in these sails. I'll say it again here: So many think that because their faith is not shaken, it is sound. I spent a good deal of time in the Philosophy and Religion department at UTC (since I studied Philosophy) and noticed a particularly fascinating trend: that the grand majority of people involved in it were vehemently atheistic, both professors and students alike.

What happened is they started asking questions and seeking answers anywhere they could find them. And when they couldn't find them easily or the conventional answers of their small Baptist churches just wouldn't cut it anymore, they conceded defeat to the overwhelming pangs of despair. They looked at one group of people claiming Absolute Truth and saw a completely different group halfway across the world and 8 million people big claiming a completely different Absolute Truth and decided everyone was wrong. Or they succumbed to the problem of evil: If one of two contraries is infinite, the other is destroyed. God is infinite goodness; if there were God, there would be no evil. There is evil; so, therefore, there is no God.

The arguments against God are powerful and persuasive, indeed like monsters in the closet of an 8 year old are when it's dark and he's trying to sleep. But they're embedded everywhere, and we're trained not to fight them. We yell at characters in poorly written horror movies when they decide to go towards the creaking under the stairs or the moaning from the attic. We're embedded with a fear of evil and the desire to run when it's scary.

To keep a consistent theme, though: The Doctor tells us, "Never run when you're scared." (Rule 7)

There is a storm in the air, horesemen afoot, and the battle for belief is raging.

And we who believe are not winning.

The War Without a Winner (or, apparently, a study in alliteration)

Sam Harris wrote in his book Letter to a Christian Nation that it is religion, belief, "god" that has poisoned our world, incited wars, dumbed the people, and placated a mass of people to the point of wasting their lives chasing invisible friends and waiting on some future judgment that will never come. Christopher Hitchens calls belief irrational and destructive. Richard Dawkins calls God an unnecessary invention by people incapable of handling reality.

And more believers are believing them every day. The armies are being stacked in their favor, because believers are being convinced by faulty rhetoric that Christ and Reason cannot exist together. That metaphysics and God are equivalent, and that they have a place in haughty classroom discussion and nowhere else. But the thing is that the opposition is using recycled arguments to attack Faith, and Faith is using recycled arguments to respond. We're stuck in a loop with one side crying, "you're ugly!" and the other sticking their fingers in their ears shouting back, "la la la, I can't hear you!"

We've both become dull and insulting: the attackers of Faith have betrayed their god of Reason and the believers their God of Truth.

Armaments 

Here is the bottom line. Christians have become comfortable with their churches and their ideas that God is a exactly the thing that they imagine, so when something comes along and challenges the toy box they keep in their prayer rooms, they panic.

There is a fallacy in the study of logic called the Straw Man. It's basically as you would imagine: to "attack a straw man" is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by replacing it with a superficially similar yet unequivalent proposition (the "straw man"), and refuting it, without ever having actually refuted the original position. Unbelief attacks Christianity based upon the constraints it has put upon it. Based upon what Christians have made it. It attacks tradition rather than Truth, because Truth is contested only by fools.

Jesus said that His purpose on Earth was to bear witness to Truth, which is why the Jesus we have constructed that exists to ease pain and hug people crumbles under attack. Straw men have no backbone, no substance, and burn easily when touched with fire.

But Christians are doing little to counter it. Instead of arming ourselves, learning the things of God rather the things we've constructed of God, and worshipping Jesus as Truth, we trust in the easy thing - which is also the easy thing to attack, and the easy thing to lose faith in. With a faith in the same Straw Man that is easy to attack comes all of the terrible things we write eloquently to fight: we succumb to vanity and pornography and insecurity and fear and addiction the thought that our dirty pasts are insurmountable and we're not rescued by our god because he's warding off crows from crops. Misrepresentations of God are being attacked because misrepresentations of God are being followed.

So what are those of us who wish to counter unbelief to do? We must figure out what we stand for and then stand for it. We cannot be told answers, we must search them out. We can't be handed faith, we must work it out for ourselves with fear and trembling. We can't forget that something obtainable can be taken away, so we must grasp it ever tighter when the threat of its removal comes upon us.

We must stand with the confidence that we lack, because monsters won't shy from uncertainty. Confidence comes through preparation, and somebody who tells you that God will give it to you just because you asked for it is lying to you. God will do His part - He's told you that.

But the ability to fight a war doesn't come from lying in bed. We must take up arms and learn to use them, study the opposition's tactics to be able to counter them, and face the beasties in our closets atop their black horses and say, "I'm not afraid of you because I know you. You can't say something to dissuade me because I know what you will say. You can't take away my God because He gave you the Reason you think refutes Him."

Salvation is not through works - do not think that I'm trying to say anything of the sort. But it is true that the children of God will be known by their fruit. Take a step back and look at yourself. All aspects of it. Look at who you are at school, at home, on the internet, and tell me what is being glorified: you, your Straw Man, or God? It's one of the three, I promise.

An Army of Apologists

I am incredibly far behind in my posting schedule, something which I could promise will be made up to you with bi-weekly posts or a string of witty aphorisms or free ice cream for everybody who didn't complain about it, but I honestly cannot make any guarantees. I graduate from College in a month and it feels as though the entirety of my existence is caught in a whirlwind and I have not even a trace of ruby red slippers with magical heels to tap together. I am not going to chronicle out the happenings of the past three weeks during which I exercised a bit of blog-silence, for such a journal would be incredibly lengthy and speculative and far more narcissistic an endeavour than I care to admit that I am capable of. So let it suffice that there are times, I feel, where it is necessary to take your brain out of the ten-thousand different vats you've placed it in, regroup, and redistribute it in those vats that need the most immediate attention.

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I have posted a version of a paper I turned in a week or so ago pertaining to this subject, and though it is far from perfect, I plan on revisiting it, replacing things that I had to cut to fit it within the word restriction, and adding to it to form a more formal critique. You can read a draft of it at this link.

What I want to get out there today is something of a more heavy nature than the quaint little aphorisms I attempted to produce when last we talked. Something of a struggle I am undergoing, for which criticism, advice, and general opinion would be appreciated.

I do not attempt to hide my admiration for Frederich Nietzsche, even though there is a strikingly small area of material on which we agree. On the one hand he is the self-proclaimed champion against the rise of Christianity, a vehement and angry opponent of all things humble or Divine. He roars in defiance of anything which dares threaten a living being's climb to the height of its species potential, mocks the rampant herd mentality of modern religion, and cheers with a fuming pen the constant, infinite re-consideration and questioning and throwing out of value. Indeed, it seems as though the famous nihilist, in his own little ironic way, places extraordinary value on re-valuing everything people hold dear.

But I said before that I admire him, and that hasn't changed. All that he opposes is all that I hold dear, and the monumental force of his unparalleled thinking power and rough polemic stand in gritty contradiction to a Christ-follower's frame of mind, so what is it that I can learn from him? After all, it is a tidal wave like Nietzsche which often causes those on the fence about the Big, Important things to be tossed into the realm of radical skepticism and pure, unabashed nihilism. But for me, he seems to do the complete opposite. Though I am at this point no match for his towering intellect or his hurricane-force rhetoric, he has demonstrated to me a height to aim for - not to rise up beside him, but to rise up in opposition against him. Chesterton I am not. Lewis I am not. I do not presume to be on par with any of these men, nor do I pretend to be capable of their respective feats of enormous intelligent significance, but it fills my heart with the drive to overcome, to firmly establish where I stand and to defend it against those who wish to see it destroyed.

It sometimes takes the heavy fabric of the darkness to understand the beauty of a candle.

Apologetics is a field with a longstanding tradition in any platform of belief. The idea is simple: you believe something, so you must be able to defend your point of view against issues that may prove problematic if you are unable to deal with them. While I am an advocate that a Believer is, necessarily, an Apologist ("provide a defense for the hope that is in you" and whatnot), I think that each person's defense must be suited to that person's field of specialty. The premise is, after all, a simple one: know where you stand and know how to defend it.

And Heaven forbid we should live and not just speak our convictions.

Hence my qualm with the enormous amount of people, especially in this Bible-saturated Southern culture, who claim the same Christ that I do. Because a lot of the time that I spend (as sometimes the only non-professing Atheist in certain situations) defending a Christian worldview is wasted dealing with the mess Christians have made of it, which people like Nietzsche are entirely too giddy to point out. It is time used attempting to override the errant belief that there remain no intellectual Christ-followers, that the only Christian defense to tough questions is "Faith, brother," that the correct response to those struggling with things of the world from one who has been delivered from it is judgment and hatred. It is arguing that the Christ who inhabits me does not encourage cardboard signs outside of music festivals condemning the goers to Hell, but rather the man beside them holding an arrow pointing at their signs saying "Jesus is much more beautiful than this." He would not advocate the bombing of an abortion clinic but rather the holding of a shaking, scared teenage girl and saying "I'll love you no matter what." It is asserting that "standing for God" is not merely posting inflammatory, ill-formed "religious" drivel and retorts on Facebook statuses and YouTube videos that not only prove you an incompetent wielder of rhetorical power but a bumbling imbecile waving a plastic cross around. It is proving that the Prince of Peace cannot reside in a heart of one harboring bitter animosity towards someone who believes differently from them.

I often wonder if we began living as the One who lets us bear His name did how necessary Christian Apologetics would be... but alas, the supposed attempted emulation of perfection is imperfect, so Apologetics unfortunately must exist. A tiring, taxing thing it is, for it finds formidable enemies in those like Nietzsche as well as in prosperity gospels and in portions of the Church itself. But take heart in adversaries such as these! For only through struggle comes strength; sound footing perhaps from the knowledge of where not to stand.

Though I do not believe I am fit to do such a thing (at this point in time, at least), creating a body of work in response to one like Nietzsche's would bring me enormous joy. There is a dialogue that has gone largely untouched between the Nietzschians and who I will call the Chestertonians which would be an honor one day to contribute to, but until then I will hover just behind the line of "publication," whetting my sword for the day I am called into battle. Perhaps I can at least try to rally the troops, no?

What if we could escape the culture of Christianity, embrace the person of Christ, and meet the beast of Doubt, of Apathy, of Lies, on his own ground together? What if we were so rooted as a group that no "Hurricane Nietzsche" stood a chance at dismantling the anchor tethering us to Truth? What if, as the Prince of the Power of the Air rose each morning to breathe the despair of empty, infinite rhetoric into our ears, we were ready to meet him and conquer his darkness with light? What if those who were called by Christ's name realized what sort of responsibility such a claim entails, and began acting like representatives to the King?

What if we rid ourselves of this rampant spiritual apathy, the cuddly images we grew up with plastered on flannel graphs in Sunday School, the nonsense of self-help spirituality and the battle between denominations and instead tuned our wits towards oncoming attacks, loved even those not deserving of love and recognized that we children of imperfection all need complete Perfection equally? Our fight is not of life and death, it is of creeping doubt and insecurity and of that tiny twist of Truth into lies. So anchor yourself to Truth once you find Him, friends, and soon your Nietzsche will fall.

Hamilton Barber

The subject of this page is an introverted writer/musician/lunatic from Chattanooga, TN who dabbles in lexical dexterity, unorthodox thoughts on prosperity, and being overwhelmingly undeserving of the privilege of waking up every day. He hopes that everybody who reads these words takes them to heart and leaps higher than he ever could. He reads, thinks, and speaks too much; he listens, works, and loves too little; and he says “I” entirely too often. The words on these pages are not his: they are the words that were given to him.