Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Forcing My Religion?

STR's Steve Wagner recently pointed readers to a compelling response to the frequently-raised accusation that those who contend for a particular moral position in the public square are seeking to impose their morality on others. Follow the link and check it out. I concur with Steve that it's a thing of beauty.

A related charge is that Christians, in trying to persuade others of the gospel, are guilty of forcing our religious beliefs on our hearers. In addition to having answers to such criticisms, it's equally important to be prepared to ask the right questions of those who level that charge. Questions are wonderful teaching tools whose power, I fear, we don't appreciate nearly enough. Just look at how deftly Jesus used interrogatives to instruct as well as to expose the false assumptions and impure motives that laid behind his detractors' arguments.

The following is a transcript of an online exchange in which I posed some questions to someone claiming that it is wrong for religionists to "force" their beliefs on others.

KP: So you believe that people shouldn't force their views on others?

Chaotic: Yes, I BELIEVE that, though I still don't consider it a BELIEF

KP: Then what do you consider it?

Chaotic: I also believe you shouldn't talk with your mouth full, but its not a belief, sorry, I don't have a word handy for what I would call it.....courtesy perhaps

KP: Both cases are prescriptions as to how people should conduct themselves, no?

Chaotic: In my opinion, yes.

KP: Then they have to do with ethics in some sense, don't they? They are beliefs as to how people should act. They are components of your ethical system.

Chaotic: I suppose they are. Let me rephrase myself: Since it is my belief that attempting to force your belief on others is wrong, attempting to force your beliefs on me is an infringement of my ethical system.

KP: Are you saying I shouldn't infringe on your ethical system?

Chaotic: I can't control your actions

KP: Can I control yours?

Chaotic: No.

KP: Then how can I force my beliefs on you?

Chaotic: It is your RIGHT to force your belief on me but that doesn't mean I have to listen.

KP: So you're saying both that I shouldn't force my beliefs on you AND I have the right to do so?

Chaotic: Yes. A bit of paradox, eh?

KP: So, in other words, I shouldn't exercise my rights?

Chaotic: I have the right to do a lot of things I shouldn't (at least, shouldn't in my opinion).

KP: So really, you're trying to limit my freedom. Who are you to force your beliefs on me?

Chaotic: Nice try. Actually that's not what I said at all. I'm merely saying if you wish to force your beliefs on me, I am obliged to ignore you because I don't believe you should. But you can talk to yourself all day if you like.

KP: You're telling me that I have the right to do something but that I shouldn't exercise it. How is that not a limitation of my freedom? And why shouldn't I use it? What is the basis of that "shouldn't"?

Chaotic: I am telling you, according to my beliefs, you shouldn't. But that doesn't mean you can't.

KP: But how can I force my beliefs on you when you've already said that I can't control what you do? What exactly does it mean to "force my beliefs on you"?

Chaotic: You can ATTEMPT to force them on me.

KP: But I never can, right?

Chaotic: No, I suppose not.

KP: So really, what you were saying is that people shouldn't do what they can't do.

Chaotic: Semantically speaking, yes. Since we are being so technical, I should say that I meant "attempt to force beliefs" from the start.

KP: But if I think people should try to force their beliefs on others (whatever that means) then it's OK for me to do so, right? After all, there's no standard outside ourselves to which we must conform and by which we can judge each others' actions, right?

Chaotic: Right. It's ok for you to do that, though I disagree with it.

KP: So really, within the framework of your system, "People shouldn't...." translates into "I don't like it when people.....," right?

Chaotic: Crudely.

KP: Didn't mean to be crude. Just wanted to get down to the brass tacks.

Chaotic: Well, we're all brassed out

KP: So, why do you use the language of moral imperative to express your personal likes and dislikes?

Chaotic: I made an error in semantics earlier. That is the bare bones of it. I wasn't expecting to have it surgically analyzed. I was just trying to say " I don't like it when people try to force their beliefs on me." But it came out, "People shouldn't force their beliefs on me."

KP: I think it came out that way because that's what you truly believe although it's inconsistent with your professed relativism. No one lives consistently with relativism nor can they. Our actions, and at times our speech, betray us. I think you're more of an absolutist than you think.

Chaotic: Thanks for the character evaluation

KP: Am I wrong?

Chaotic: Couldn't tell you exactly. You say I'm more of an absolutist than I might think. I obviously can't give you an objective analysis of what I am compared to what I think I am.

KP: That's a good point. Do you think you're a consistent relativist, then?

Chaotic: I don't think I am a consistent anything. Tell me why you think I am or am not a relativist.

KP: Well, I think you espouse relativism based on your presentation of your ethical beliefs. I know that you're not a consistent one, however, because you are created in the image of God and He has revealed Himself in part through the workings of your conscience as well as by the standards by which you judge others. No matter how you try, you can't be other than what you are as an image-bearer of God living in His world.

Chaotic: Of course, that is simply your belief. I consider myself Humanist, though I know I do not live up to that every day.

KP: When you make statements about what people should or should not do, as though appealing to some objective standard of ethics, you're leaving your worldview and borrowing from another. There is no basis for such assertions on your presuppositions. At most, your philosophy allows you to say what you don't like people to do. You can't say anything about anything but your own inner world.

Chaotic: Agreed. Alas, I am not perfect, I needed you to point that out too.

KP: I just wanted to show you that your worldview reduces to relativism and subjectivism. Ultimately it ends in skepticism.

Chaotic: Probably.


YnottonY said...

Excellent online interaction Keith. This was a funny line:

"I wasn't expecting to have it surgically analyzed."

It reminds me of your interview with Dr. Alan Wolfe. You put a spotlight on the very point where he is suppressing the truth, i.e. in his relativistic assumptions due to the pursuit of autonomy.

For those interested, there are other worthwile online exchanges by Keith at Radio Apologia. You will have to search them out in the logs, but they are there :-)

David said...

Brilliant Keith. One of the knocks on presuppositional apologetics is that it isn't practical. This is one of the best practical demonstrations of the presuppositional approach I have seen.

YnottonY said...

I forgot to add that Keith's chat name in those logs will be "captwade," so look for that name.

johnMark said...


Great dialogue!


Gun Of Sod said...

You are free to espouse any beliefs you have to me at any time. I may choose to listen or not, although, I will never refuse to listen simply because It challenges my beliefs. I also expect that if you are trying to persuade me to your viewpoint you will offer proofs or overwhelming evidence to support your beliefs, if you cannot then I assume that your beliefs are false. If you can support your beliefs with evidence then I will seriously consider altering my beliefs to accomodate your evidence.

Can you say the same?