A-alethic A-theistic Rhetoric

*Posted by Barry Creamer

Here’s a bumper sticker I saw on the road recently:


It is sold at evolvefish.com. Don’t buy it.

Presumably it “uses” the point that parents should not psychologically pummel their children with threats of mythical torture in the afterlife. I say “uses” rather than “makes” because the point it makes, considering the products sold at that particular merchant, is rather that Christianity is an intellectually dishonest means of manipulating inferior and vulnerable minds.

The problem with the content of the sticker is that it makes rhetorical hay by combining two presumptions, neither of which is a valid: first, that Christian parents regularly threaten their children with hell, and second, that it is terrible to tell vulnerable people about something so awful.

Now I’ll just grant up front that showing children Rosemary’s Baby before bedtime in order to get them to be obedient is a bad idea. I’ve been a believer since I was nine. I raised four children and pastored one church for seventeen years. I’ve never known even one believer to threaten his or her children with hell in order to get any kind of obedience…. I’ve paused a bit after that sentence so I can reflect to make sure it’s true…. Wait just a moment…. Yup. It’s true. Not one.

So the bumper sticker is attacking not a real believer (at least none I know of), but a caricature of believers generated in who knows how many media outlets and minds. Rather than analyze all the errors, and the basic fallacy of the bumper sticker logically, allow me to duplicate its error in my own (non-existent) bumper sticker by presuming that those who reject the idea of any eternal judgment and who believe children should not be burdened by the weight of negative thoughts would in some way prefer daily to keep their children in oblivious bliss than let them find out the truth: that there is evil in the world which needs eternal judgment. It would be something like this:

I repeat: This WOULD BE the bumper sticker I’d write IF I were to commit the rhetorical abuses of the original sticker above.

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13 Responses to A-alethic A-theistic Rhetoric

  1. jrigler says:

    I am not a fan of bumper stickers. FSM (the flying spaghetti monster) may be an exception, but I don’t have any. I won’t question your experiences, but I can tell you mine. I know many many many people who are now in their forties and have an incredible number of ticks, issues, and afflictions which they attribute directly to the way that they were raised and what they were told as truth which they no longer believe. I am a bit of a trouble-maker in any group and as you know have no issue visiting any sort of church. They will not. It is as if they just stop processing the words that I am saying when I suggest talking to a Christian who believes what you believe. So there are a few possibilities: 1. I am making this up or am confused about what I am seeing. 2. They are unfairly blaming the pain of childhood on a religious experience which they had no control over. 3. Somewhere along the way, hard Christianity causes pain. One of my Christian friends just suggested that I read a book: “Soul Survivor: How Thirteen Unlikely Mentors Helped My Faith Survive the Church,” by Philip Yancey. What do you suppose this apparently popular evangelical writer experienced that would have destroyed his faith? I would disregard the atheists and focus on the sprawling legions of folks who are simply ‘non-religious’. They are just as angry as we are, but their anger is a slow burn that goes all the way to their core. They will also, above all, completely shut you out because of what they experienced. And don’t think for a second that those nasty little Chick Tracks (which I see almost like vapid Jesus porn) didn’t make their way to a generation of kids raised Baptist. I know I saw my fair share and was told a number of times that the fires of hell would lick my skin if I didn’t believe. You can wrap whatever logic you want around showing that bumper-stickers are simplistic, but I suggest that you think hard about what inspired someone to buy it in the first place.

  2. Barry Creamer says:

    Your comment is well taken. Thanks. And you are dead right, unfortunately, about the chick tracts. I did see those as well. I didn’t exaggerate, though. I never saw a parent use one on their children. However, I get your point, that exposure to that material would be sufficient for the claim of psychological trauma. That’s a fair point.
    But I think the driving issue of my post, the reason I wrote it, still stands. Pain is only a problem if it is imposed artificially or unnecessarily. If there is no hell, of course it is a terrible idea to expose people to its frightening possibility. My point is that it would be silly for me, a person who believes in hell, not to speak the truth about it. Speaking the truth about it does not mean beating my kids over the head with it every day. But it does mean not deceiving them into believing that there is no eternal consequence for the evil which fills the world.
    My rhetoric was supposed to get at something like this:
    If a person doesn’t believe in hell, then he thinks it’s a bad idea to tell children about hell.
    The amount of evil in this world (such as the holocaust) implies to me (through a sense of justice) that there is going to be a day of reckoning (a day I believe includes eternal damnation for some).
    To deny that there is a hell or even to say children should not be told anything that will make them uncomfortable is misguided.
    If a person does believe in hell, then he thinks it’s a bad idea to pretend (even for the sake of children) that it doesn’t exist.
    Again, your point is well-taken. I hope this comment clarifies a bit what I intended to communicate.

  3. Pat says:

    Further, I would say, that just because your child likes to wander off in a department store or wherever they might wander off to, doesn’t mean that you should not tell them that is not a good idea because there are people out there who could do rather evil things to them . When I was a child, my Grandmother used to very graphically describe various scenarios of torture that could happen to little girls who talked to strangers. It always made my Mother mad that she would set me up for “fear,” but I can honestly recall that those stories are what kept me from ever going somewhere I shouldn’t as a child. Was my Grandmother right to fill me with fear about strangers and not paying attention to my surroundings, or was my Mother right to think I should live in ignorance and possibly be harmed? I am sure they both had my best interest in mind, but frankly, I’m glad my Grandmother was wise enough to know that the harm that could come to me if I was abducted could be much greater than worryng about how “fear” might damage me.

    I feel the same way about having sat through many many sermons hearing graphic descriptions of hell and brimstone in the Baptist church…I might never have been open to accepting God’s redemption had I not been tortured with the consequences of hell. Whether we like it or not, the heart is deceitful, and if there were no consequences for our actions, do you think anyone would “consider” a life that demands sacrifices; although, as a Christian, we find that the sacrifices are replaced with a joy that does not come outside of the relationship with Christ. Obviously, the “knowledge” of hell is not enough to bring everyone to accept the resurection of Christ, nor do I think, it is what causes people to not believe; that is just simply a choice and hell is the pivot for some that makes us think about that choice.

  4. I don’t see these being equivalent at all, may of the ‘sins’ that are supposed to send you to hell are actions that are socially acceptable and often have no victim (homosexuality, blasphemy, avarice, coveting etc…), whearas genocide is clearly not acceptable and has (in the above example) millions of victims.

    Also, the belief that the holocaust didn’t happen is not widespread, even the perpetrators have admitted liability. There are mountains of documents to show it happened. What documentary evidence do we have that one will go to hell for having sex with a loving partner before marriage?

    My Christian faith caused me a lot of problems as a teenager, it was only by teaching myself more about the bible that I was able to free myself from its yoke. There is nothing wrong with teaching children facts that they do not want to know but to teach as facts that which we know not is wrong. They should be taught as beliefs, with alternatives and reasons for the beliefs being given at the same time.

    If a child grows up knowing nothing other than the Christian way of life and knows nothing of any other, how can he or she have made a choice to be Christian?

    • “There is nothing wrong with teaching children facts that they do not want to know but to teach as facts that which we know not is wrong.”

      Rowan, thanks for the input. But what qualifies as a fact? Do any moral judgments meet the criteria?

      • Yes they do, but only if the morality in question is about the effects of an action upon others. It is easy to explain why stealing is wrong because of the effect on the victim, people are naturally empathetic and can put themselves in the position of the victim. When it comes to lifestyle choices that only affect those involved in the choices I do not think it is right to teach that these are wrong.

        I may believe that certain views are right or wrong but I always make a point of teaching my step-daughter to see things from the other point of view, even when I disagree with those views.

    • Pat says:

      In the world we live in now, especially in the US, children get plenty of exposure to choices. Sometimes, as was in my case, the desire to have our own way, is usually what causes us problems. Either you believe the Bible or you don’t. For some the faith grows and for some it is discarded. God wants the best for us and we can choose to proceed in that direction the best way we know how or not. That is one of the differences in Christianity than some of the other world religions as well as having the Word of God so that we can develop a relationship with Him. But, we don’t have the option of pulling out our spiritual scissors and extracting what we don’t like; although, I have not read that we will got to hell for premarital sex, I do see where the statistics say that sex without a commitment more often than not brings mistrust. Basically, we just have to accept the Word of God on “faith” which is what it is all about anyway.
      Hebrews 11:1-3
      11 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
      2 For by it the elders obtained a good report.
      3 Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.

  5. Barry Creamer says:

    Rowan, I appreciate your comment. I think the original point of using the word “holocaust” in the post itself has been lost–my fault. Your point that basically everyone agrees the holocaust took place is the reason I used the word for my pseudo-sticker. The original sticker seems to say: “you shouldn’t tell children about something as terrible as hell.” But for people who believe in hell to the same degree they believe in the holocaust, that statement is equivalent to: “you shouldn’t tell children about something as terrible as the holocaust”
    So my point really does not differ from Pat’s comment above, which I also appreciate.

  6. GDL says:

    While listening to the radio broadcast, I couldn’t help but be re-reminded of something which seems to be coming up a lot lately. Not sure exactly where they are coming from but it seems that some Christians now believe that one would be wrong to share the Gospel with an unbeliever, if in fact the they are “offended” by your words. Instead, you should ask for their permission prior to stating your beliefs regarding Jesus, Sin, Heaven & Hell.

    • Pat says:

      Hmmm—not sure I know any “Christians” that believe it is wrong to share the gospel. Maybe the method used to share it has been wrong at times, but I like to leave that up to the Holy Spirit.

      • GDL says:

        Hi Pat! Thanks for your reply and I am with you on the Holy Spirit thing. However, I believe my original comment was not about methodology but rather hinting towards the unfortunate creeping in of liberalism, relativism and political correctness. It is a given that the Gospel is an offense to a certain portion of the unbelieving world.

      • Pat says:

        Oh, I an sorry, I misunderstood. I do agree that the Gospel is definitely an offense to the world and we are being asked by our government, workplace, schools to back down from sharing it. I pray everyday that God with give me the strength to overcome the fears that come with the creeping in of liberalism, relativism and political correctness.

  7. Pat says:

    Ooops…a few typos in my comment, but hopefully, you get the gist.

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