The Padded Cell Of Apologetics
An Analysis of Rationalizing Irrationality
A friend of mine recently brought up his increasing frustration with how easily the religious swallow ridiculous doctrine and unhesitatingly apply it to everyday life. He cannot stand how easy it is to live with a mind so warped that even the word 'the' might mean that the End of Days will happen by noon after lunch time.
He isn't the only one who is flabbergasted at how easy it is for believers to accept that God doesn't do any one-on-one counseling anymore. Or, that they are oblivious to the fishy way a prophecy is changed to fit a prediction after an unexpected earthquake shatters a small mountain community in the world somewhere. He wasn't sure how to put his thoughts on the subject into words. Luckily, I agree with his line of thinking and also believe a bigger discussion on the pointlessness of arguing apologetics is more important. I apologize ahead of time how semi-analytical this might sound, but after a few re-reads of this article, I just don't see an easy way to make it conversational.
It's apologetics. They suck.
So first of all, compartmentalized thinking, especially within religion, protects one from the difficult concepts of life. Concepts such as failing in becoming successful, or accepting the process of death and its permanency. Instead, compartmentalized thinking allows one to latch on to certain ideas about life and death with whatever fanciful ideology one chooses to solve the dilemma with. It doesn't matter how irrational the thinking is. These notions are completely protected against scrutiny and enforce ridiculous concepts of what creates success or defines death. Notions like faith, everlasting life, and supernatural punishment for immorality are hallmarks of many Judeo-Christian faiths.
Now, much like algebra, what you do to one side you must do to the other. For every compartmentalized idea or belief, there has to be a real answer that can shatter the carefully bricked up wall one puts around it. So how do you rationalize the truth of what you believe to actually equate into a result that you want? You have to use a handy little evangelical tactic known as dispensationalism.
Dispensationalism provides a proposed historical timeline on an evangelical level, to reinforce the aforementioned compartmentalized religious thinking process. It provides a cushy, soft barrier of excuses and rationalizations to bolster one's aspirations to achieve the untouchable understanding of how life works. Again, reality is not required, instead just targeted interpretations of biblical events that are neatly divided up into chapters that cover certain time periods in scripture and prophecy. These sections might blanket a time period of Tribulation, and an earlier one might cover the covenant with man after the Great Flood. As you can see, this system is not overly neat. It's actually pretty stinking complicated.
While there were many influences behind this line of thinking, the real genius was John Darby, a British bible thumper from the early 1830's. He traveled with his message of dispensationalism and futurism all over the world and helped found the Plymouth Brotherhood which eventually carnivored one another and split. This found him creating his own branch of the tribe because there was quite a p***ing match over how congregation protocols should be run so he formed his own... Like we haven't seen that happen before in the name of God. His influential trip to America led to the creation of the famous Scofield Reference Bible here in the States, and the rest is dispensationalist history.
For those who aren't familiar with the term dispensationalism and what it involves, all you really need to know is that there are different types of it and it is a form of apologetics. It tries to form a basis of proof for biblical prophecy by neatly dividing up certain events in the Bible, and then show how it corresponds with history, present time, as well as the future. As far as the different types of its application, it depends on your particular brand of theology. Do you prefer it to be classically styled where it is more simplified and not overly complicated? Maybe you prefer your prophecy-laced rationale to be a bit strongly brewed? Or are you in full on zealot mode and willing to grasp at every biblically mentioned blade of grass as a potential event?
Because we are talking about apologetic tactics, it doesn't matter which version you go for. Ultimately, it is still grasping at very short straws in order to escape from the realities of life and death as a possibility in the mind of the believer. This purposeful sectioning of the Bible is a frequent issue many observe within their religious groups simply because this practice leads to abject acceptance of discrimination. Discrimination against the faithless, women, homosexuals, and more. All of which is completely padded and supported by whatever brand of dispensationalism is being used to prove and enforce it by that community. Thanks to an unwavering belief in a religious text's particular interpretation of the issues of homosexuality or feminism, it's hardly an effort to justify the hate and bigotry as examples of 'tough love'. A magical little twist of a scripture, or maybe even choosing a different example altogether if effectively challenged, and a believer can easily maintain their padded cell of religious belief that has been created in his or her mind.
A great example of a common unassailable belief in religion is the necessity of prayer. I don't think there is a Christian or Muslim out there who would disagree that many prayers go unanswered. Yet, most will tell you that prayer is essential in your relationship with God. When a prayer request fails, what do we often hear as the reason for the failure of the prayer request?
"God had his own plan for your Aunt Martha." Or my favorite, "God doesn't help those until they help themselves." That last one really, really chaps my a** because it is essentially laying fault at the sufferer. Tell that to a child who has been raped in India sometime and let me know how it works out. You see, there is a plethora of scripture that, along with different uses of God for particular time periods in biblical history and prophecy, that helps account why prayer requests don't come through. Either you need to get off your a** and help yourself first, or we are at a point where God doesn't step in because of End Times and stuff.
It's unassailable. Everything is neatly packed up inside a mental closet within a religious person's mind. They have all of the interpretations of the Bible to back up their understanding of what prayer is all about in their life. Those of us on the outside already know prayer is useless, but by a theist's own logic we can't just bury the concept of prayer because we simply can't comprehend their god's awesomeness.
The issue of compartmentalization and dispensationalism is why I avoid apologetics like the plague. It is truly a waste of time to engage in a discussion of religious belief's merit within the realm of apologetics. There's a pseudo-philosophy for everything in that realm, and what happens once you think you've pinned them all down so there is nowhere to turn but your view? The typical 'God is beyond our realm' and we mere mortals can't understand the full extent of His being because He is - say it together: beyond our understanding. This phrase flows out of the mouths of challenged believers like a quick dose of NyQuil for a nasty head cold.
It treats the discomfort of your rational argument and allows them to move on as if you'd never even had valid points, to begin with. There's nowhere to go with that, and that is why apologetics are a waste of time. You can't get believers to question or doubt themselves when padded up so neatly in their religious cells. What reconsideration can happen to irrational faith if you enter their realm of reasoning and do the questioning there? It's a skewed playing field with different rules with every kick of the ball.
Now I'm not saying abandon all hope ye who enter the mattress covered closet of a religious believer. There are a number of them out there who are not apologetics bound. Still, if you're tangling with a believer who relies on puddle theory, banana-shaped divine design, or William Lame Craig's diarrheal flow of pseudo-science claims, you might want to back away slowly and put the lock back on that cell door. A different line of approach is definitely in order if it were even possible to get them to swallow the proverbial red pill of skeptical thought.