Before I began doubting my faith, the only logical fallacy I had ever heard of was the slippery slope fallacy since it is so often used when passing out dire predictions concerning everything from politics to education to bathrooms. Of course, once I understood them, I was a bit shocked by their frequency in the church. This may not come as a surprise to someone who has been a non-believer their whole life, but within the church I was taught that all of our arguments made sense and the more you knew about theology and apologetics, the more you would see this. So I would like to break down these 10 Common Fallacies according to how the church uses them in my experience.
Ad Hominem: Atheists are very familiar with this one because Christians use it all the time. There you are, talking about the morality of the Old Testament god and early Judaism when, from out of nowhere, the believer says, "Well you just don't want to believe it because you want to sin." If they know you well, they may add some personal insults in here like, "Well you are living with your girlfriend and the Old Testament god says that is wrong, so that is why you have a problem with it." The dumber of the Christians will just straight up tell you what an idiot they think you are ("Only a fool says there is no god") and how you are going to hell because you are a whore/slut/sinner/heathen. Suddenly, instead of talking about this deep philosophical concept, you now find yourself defending yourself. To be fair, although I was certainly taught this technique, my parents strongly discouraged this. Personal attacks are not appropriate when having a debate. Obviously, this was something for just my family though because I certainly didn't see this respect reflected in my fellow churchgoers.
Appeal to Authority: Growing up I was part of a large denomination where it was required of the pastors to attend seminary. They spent years studying the Bible, learning Greek and Hebrew, reading books about theology, studying under renowned theologians, learning how to counsel people. Then they had to work as interns and associate pastors before being allowed to move into a senior pastor role. They were the authority. What they said was taken as gospel truth. If you ever questioned anything or had an issue it was always recommended that you go talk to the pastor because, well, he knew everything right? This also meant that any sermon that was preached was considered truth as well. The problems with this lie in the fact that there are thousands upon thousands of churches, each with their own authority and truth, some of which are highly unqualified. I attended one church for a few months run by a charistmatic pastor who had clearly never attended any kind of pastoral training or education. The man had not read the entire Bible, took things out of context (through ignorance), yet passionately preached from a place of "authority". So which authority are we supposed to listen to? Christians will say God, but from there things get ambiguous because we return right back to the question of whose speaks on God's authority? And so we have this twisted logic in which pastors/priests/bishops speak with "divine authority" yet they can't all agree which means that God is clearly not speaking to all of them. Who do you listen to then? I also know that this can be used by Christians in other ways too. For instance, if you are discussing the efficacy of Biblical morality perhaps they would say that they are actually an expert on this subject because they took two classes in Bible college on Biblical morality and apologetics. Or if you complain about the bad Christian music out there they will say (true story) that because they have led worship for years and write some music of their own, they know that this music is actually very good and is pleasing to the Lord. As if this fact should now suddenly change your mind as to whether that song is well-written or not.
Appeal to Ignorance: In my mind, this is the most common fallacy that Christians use. I saw an angel. You can't prove that I didn't therefore you must believe me. There is no proof that God doesn't exist, therefore he does. (Atheists fall into this trap too if they state that because there is no proof, therefore no gods exist. Both statements are illogical.) This is used on every level of Christianity though. You can't prove that my stomach ache wasn't miraculously healed, therefore it was. You don't know what existed before the big bang therefore it didn't happen. Basically, if you can't prove something false then it must be true. Of course, now I think this is absolutely ridiculous, but when I was a Christian it felt like logic and quickly devolved into a 'god of the gaps' fallacy as well. We don't know the answer therefore--God.
Bandwagon Fallacy: Do you know how many Christians there are in the world? Do you know how many people are converting to Christianity in countries where it is illegal? Why would they risk their lives converting to Christianity if it weren't true? So why wouldn't you be a Christian in a country where it is easy? This many people can't possibly wrong. This was the everyday rhetoric within the churches I grew up in and beyond. Back in the mid-90s there was something called the Brownsville Revival. Christians, particularly of the Assemblies of God ilk, where driving from all over the country to Pensacola, Florida to be part of a revival that lasted for nearly five years. People would leave and come back newly invigorated for God. Thousands of people were led to Christ. So many people were affected that it must be right. Right? In truth a whole bunch of sad people with little purpose drove to Florida to be told that a god had a plan for them and this renewed them to start living life again. Here's the thing, there are 6-10,000 people in FLDS and I don't think they are right. During World War II there were 8 million card-carrying Nazis in Germany (about 10% of the population) and I don't think they were right either. Just because everyone else is jumping on the bandwagon doesn't make it right or true. If everyone was jumping off a bridge and said God will catch you, are you still going to jump off the bridge?
Begging the Question: People often use this one wrong. I know I have. Begging the question or circular reasoning was so easy when I was a Christian. God exists because the Bible says he does and he wrote the Bible and I know this because the Bible says God wrote the Bible. Believe it or not, I really thought this made sense at one point. Evolution can't be true because the Bible says that it happened a different way and we know this is true because the Bible says it is true. A belief in God is universal because the Bible says that everyone believes in their heart that there is a god. Atheists can certainly be guilty of using this one too but since atheists use evidence to back up their claims and all Christians have is the Bible, there is definitely a disparity when presenting evidence for your claim. If the only reason for doing or believing something is "because the Bible tells me so" then you will never be able to have a valid logical argument on that topic.
Loaded Question: Why do you hate god so much? What sins are you hiding from god? When did you stop being a moral person? This one is difficult to discuss without acknowledging the role original sin has on thought processes and theology of Christians. I was taught growing up that everyone was a sinner from the moment they were born into this world. There is not a soul alive who is good or deserves the salvation gift. Their Bible tells them straight up that people who don't believe in god are moral reprobates. They are absolutely assuming that you hate god, are hiding sin, and aren't moral because this is what the Bible says of unbelievers. They don't question that you are, they just want to know how to get through to you so that you will see the light. Obviously this is a problem when trying to have a logical argument though. How can you have a discussion about morality for instance if the person you are talking about just assumes that you have no morals? Atheists are not immune to this one either though. It's all over the atheism Reddit threads. Why have so many Christians not read their Bible? Ummm...many of them have. Being able to reason away the problematic areas of the Bible does not mean they haven't read it. It's an assumption of guilt and often puts the person between a rock and a hard place. If they say they agree that they haven't read the whole Bible then you chastise them for being a bad Christian and if they say they have, you chastise them for still believing it.
Non Sequitur: You know, juvenile delinquency is getting worse. We need to put prayer back into schools. Christianity has helped so many people around the world, obviously it is true. This one is rather common in internet memes concerning school prayer or the Ten Commandments, followed by the 'Share if You Agree' or 'Type Amen if You Agree' at the end. They rarely make sense, but there are idiots out there who just keep sharing because to them, these two things do go together. The reason bad things happen is because there is sin in the world and the answer is always Jesus, even when it's not.
Red Herring: Changing the subject, turning the conversation into something that has nothing to do with the actual point, diverting attention. It's an endless parade of a hat tricks. Often, if takes a minute to realize that you have been sidetracked. Again. Why are we talking about the definition of morality? The point is that you don't want to help the poor and advocate for getting rid of programs. This isn't one I saw in every day life, but it certainly reared its ugly head anytime there was a "debate", whether formal or informal. Talking with Christians who use this tactic, is a constant game of redirecting the conversation back to the fucking point.
Slippery Slope: Everything is a slippery slope in the Christian world. Everything is going to lead to death and destruction on a Satanic scale. Legalizing gay marriage will illegitimize "real" marriage and before you know it, people are going to start marrying their dogs and this will make bestiality okay, and bestiality is why God destroyed Sodom & Gomorrah, so God is going to destroy us if we legalize gay marriage. And it's crazy. Especially since the evidence usually doesn't stand up to it. And I get it, some things really are slippery slopes and I think it is human nature to think about the worst outcomes to situations, but that must be reigned in by logic. Is there already a precedence for gay marriage in other countries? Yes. What has been the outcome of the legalization? Have they descended into chaos? Are they marrying animals and fucking them in the streets? Did heterosexual marriages become illegal? And if you want to go down the religious road, doesn't the death of Christ on a cross atone for sins to the point where God no longer needs to strike down people with anger? Isn't Jesus the mediator now? Didn't God say he would save Sodom & Gomorrah if there was at least one righteous man? Don't you count as one righteous person? This is a tactic I use often now, turning their own slippery slope illogical arguments against them using their own holy book against them.
Straw Man: In this fallacy Christians will present an altered version of your argument in order to make it appear absurd. Then they tear apart this weaker argument and declare themselves the victor. I saw this one a lot when it came to evolution. Throughout my youth I was taught that evolution says we are descended from monkeys and isn't that ridiculous because otherwise how do we still have monkeys? I was even taught a song about it as a child. What I wasn't told is that this is ridiculous and no evolutionary biologist has ever said that we are descended from monkeys. It sounds ridiculous because it is. I become guarded whenever I am having a conversation and they say something like, "Well ALL liberals..." or "Atheists think..." and "ALL those people believe". Lumping all groups together, generalizing based on anecdotal experiences, and sometimes just making shit up. It's a logical fallacy that many people can fall into. I know I have had to catch myself. And I admit that this may be one of my favorite fallacy's because it is usually pretty easy to derail. "Well you know they say we are all descended from monkeys..." "What? No they don't. The evidence points to home sapiens and primates having a similar ancestor eons ago. We are not descended from monkeys. We have a common ancestor." Because most young earth creationists only know enough about evolution to sound stupid (as I once did), they rarely have a comeback. Mostly because that was all they knew about the subject.
I am quickly approaching my two year anniversary in which I was listening to a sermon on-line, looked up from my computer and said, "I don't think I'm a Christian anymore." It was a statement that had come after nearly six months of intense Bible study, reading, praying, and thought. It would be another six months before I told my husband, a mistake I realize now. At the time this idea of no longer believing in the possibility of a god or at the very least admitting I didn't know, seemed so radical that I dared not tell a soul. I was still convinced that perhaps, just perhaps, one of my pious family members or friends would get a direct message from heaven letting them know that I had gone astray. I expected every phone call to be them asking if I was okay or to tell me that God revealed something to them. After all, these are people who claim a direct phone line with a creator and spoke often of their conversations. In fact, in the beginning of my deconversion, I prayed for it. "Dear God, if you are out there. If you are real. Please let one of your followers know that I need some confirmation. Let them know I am doubting." In the beginning, that's really all it would have taken. Not so much now, not after everything I have studied and learned, but at the time that would have been all I needed. And yet they remained conspicuously silent.
Approaching the two year mark they continue to remain as clueless as ever. Although I haven't told most of my super religious friends about my deconversion, I have also not been secretive in my thoughts regarding the church, inconsistincies in the Bible, the religious right, etc. My friends and family know that I haven't gone to church in over a year. I curse now and don't apologize for it. I have confronted people on ideas like slavery in the Bible, Christian Shariah law, indoctrination of children, homosexuality, and more. So far, the only assumption that these people have come to is that I am now more liberal. I would consider myself a fairly solid moderate, but I guess compared to a young earth creationist fundamentalist Christian, I must seem extrememyl left-wing. Obviously, at this point, I think these people are full of shit. I think the only voice they are hearing when they pray is their own. When they seem to have a miraculous word from god, it is actually their own intuition. They are picking up on people's (usually) not-so-subtle clues and then tell them what they "need" to hear. And their intuition is rather faulty because it rarely works.
The best part is, once these people do find out they will treat me differently. They'll claim I changed even though nothing about me as a person has changed. They'll claim they knew even though years went by and they never did. I've seen this happen a few times now, so I know this is how it will go down. My friend *Martin announced that he was an atheist and suddenly people were saying things like "I knew something was wrong when he moved in with his girlfiend" and "He seemed kind of sad lately, so I knew he wasn't happy" and "God told me months ago to pray for him, but I didn't know what for." Yeah-fucking-right. They didn't know. Sure they were a bit judgmental when he moved in with his girlfriend, but they didn't have a fucking clue until he told them. And then, and only then, did they find these magical changes that they hadn't managed to see before. (and God didn't tell them about) I know all of this, but I continue to be amazed by some of my friends' absolute cluelessness. And I will probably be hurt and amazed by their reactions once they find out.
For the record, I have absolutely no plans to tell any of these people about my deconversion. At this point, they will only be told if they ask. That said, I am not interested in developing new friendships with fundamentalist Christians unless they know up front that I am not a believer. There are enough secrets in my life.
Husband and I went to a going away party last Friday for some good friends who are moving to Prague in order to be missionaries and plant a new chuch. Neither me nor my husband hold missionary work in much esteem, particularly this kind and for the reasons they are giving, but we console ourselves with the knowledge that at least these people aren't going to a country where it is illegal to prosthelytize. We support them as friends. The plan is for them to go for two years, help out with the church plant, and if they manage to learn the language fluently, they might be allowed to stay longer. Neither of us can imagine the husband being very happy with this life for any extended length of time and we both agree that they are probably doing this in order to boost their "righteousness" cred. Oh and they have two young children as well. We're both pretty sure they will either be back in two years or divorced.
Most of the people at this party attend church with the couple and are in their small group. The overarching theme to this party should have been "Extroverts United". Seriously, these people were an introverts nightmare. SUPER peppy, happy, talkative, ready to become best friends tomorrow. Nothing wrong with these things in small doses, but there were nearly two dozen people and every single one of them was in-your-face. Of course, my introverted husband who hates sports ended up sitting at a table by himself attempting to avoid carbs (he's on a low carb, hight protein diet) and people. His friend came over to talk to him once or twice, but was drawn away by basketballs and frisbees. I, who can present as an extrovery by just talking a lot ended up meeting several women who all wanted to invite me to small groups, game nights, girl nights, or the movies. They all thought I was super awesome because super-extroverts seem to think everyone is super awesome and I found myself completely repulsed by it all. Not just because of the extrovert stuff although that was certainly exhausting. No, what really annoyed me and made me think no way was the god-talk. "I can tell God has really blessed your family" and "God has been preparing you for this your whole life" and "I just can't believe the Lord led you to one another". Remember, these people literally had just met me.
And my first thought when one of the girls said we should come to their game night or they could come to ours was, hell no. No, I do not want to be friends with another super peppy Christian who I will have to hide my atheism from because I don't want word to get back to the actual friends we have here. Nor am I interested in a shallow friendship based purely off the fact that they believe we are the same religion. I have had far too many of those "friendships" and I don't have time for it. Afterward my husband said that he doesn't understand what those people even get out of it. They say they want to come to game night so we invite them and they never come. It's all lip service in the heat of the moment. I'm really not willing to make new friends at this point who I have to hide my true self from or who I think will try to convert me to religion.
My husband and I also talked a bit about how we came across as people who are supportive of what they are doing. Is it okay to pretend like we think this okay? Is [husband] being a bad friend by not saying something? Aren't they good enough friends to be honest about something like that? In the end we both think that this is not our lives nor our busines. If this is what they have convinced themselves is the thing to do and it isn't harming anyone and isn't illegal, then let them go. Prague isn't Iran here. My husband is also not against missionaries, only that he thinks that a person who decides to do such work in another country should devote themselves wholy to it. These friends should have sold everything, not put it into storage, and moved there. Permanently. There should be no plans to come back. They should fully assimilate themselves into the culture. They should already be studying the language. They should be prepared to raise their children there. Anything less is short-term missions work and does nothing for the people. It becomes a purely selfish endevour.
As an atheist, I am fully against missions work of any kind. I find it exceptionally short-sighted to bring religion into a place with no understanding of the culture. That's how you end up with that child-witch bullshit in certain African countries. Believe i or not, I actually have a Christian friend who agrees with this. She, like me, did numerous short-term missions trips and learned the damage done by them. The damage done my missionaries too, no matter how altruistic they are. So she has moved to Uganda. Permanately. Not to prosthelytize, but to help reunite children in orphanages with their biological families and to set up micro-loans for those families so that they have the ability to support themselves and their childre. All of this in hopes of shutting down orphanages that are being used to adopt out kids who are not orphans. Now that is something I can get behind.
This is a personal, but secret, blog archiving my deconversion from a Christian to a non-believer.