As logic & reason move closer to joining the giant panda and Bengal tiger on the endangered species list in the West, the feral species informally known as the “mic drop strawman” argument continues to devour the newly available space. That’s not an academic term, but I think you know exactly what I mean. It typically rears its ugly head as a rebuttal in an argument and is often preceded by something along the lines of, “Oh yeah? Well…
…my friend/relative is a [race, gender, or religion in question], and he/she doesn’t [action] so you’re clearly wrong.”
…[amount of time] ago, [race, gender, or religion in question] committed [atrocious act] so you’re just an idiot.”
…[political party] is the reason [event] happened so they’re obviously all just stupid.”
Y’know, those arguments. They’re used with the intent of going for the jugular and ending an argument, and when used in a public setting, they typically do because sometimes thinking is hard. However, when people with at least half of a functioning logic operator in their head encounters this statement, sirens go off in their head. They may not know why, but essentially their logic detector in whatever part of the brain it exists is alerting its host that as it was running the claim through its filter, it had a complete kernel failure, overloaded, and exploded into a million tiny pieces, like when you force a TI calculator to divide by zero and it essentially yells at you in its all-caps format, “HEY STUPID, THAT’S NOT EVEN POSSIBLE.”
These sorts of arguments are rampant in religious arguments. I wanted to call them religious discussions, but the word “discussion” implies an interaction between two people speaking in a cordial, tempered tone with the goal of coming to a better understanding of each’s respective viewpoint. Most religious interactions are not so civil. Typically, the goal is to “win” the interaction by whatever means necessary, and if the interaction is a war, then the “mic drop strawman” is the guerilla warfare tactic that tries to squash the opposition as quickly as possible with no regard for the by-standing civilians who have no stake in the game and are just trying to feed their families.
This brings me to the topic of this post, one of my all-time favorite of these knock-out blow strawmen that’s really just a flail at the air. And by “favorite” I mean it makes me want to test out the whole string theory thing to see if there’s another reality in which such a thing does not exist:
“Oh yeah? Well [subject] isn’t in the Bible, so I can do/not do [subject] if I want.”
The Bible: Remastered Special Addition
Who doesn’t love a good remake? Who doesn’t want to see their favorite video game/movie/TV show from 20 years ago get a reboot with modern technology, effects, characters, and plot elements? Sure it’d be impossible for the remake to live up to your astronomically high expectations, but you still want it to happen.
Now, who wouldn’t love the same for the Bible? I mean, what the heck, God, you give us a book that we’re supposed to use verbatim as the thing that structures our lives and even our societies, but the one you wrote is, like, 2000 years old now. I NEED TO KNOW WHETHER OR NOT YOU’RE COOL WITH BAPTIZING INFANTS OR THE MODERN DATING STRUCTURE!!!!
Unless….unless that’s not what the Bible is for. Hmmm, perhaps that’s an uncomfortable thought. See, here in the West, we want, nay, demand that we have a monopoly on information. If there’s something to be known, we have to know it, master it, and find a way to monetize it, and if we can’t, then we grab some duct tape and try to force it to make sense. We deserve to know everything, and it has to be possible to know everything because if it isn’t, is the information even useful?
Take the Bible for example. What it is literally is an ancient book written over an extremely long period of time by ancient people, some educated and some not, attempting to understand a chaotic world that didn’t make any sense. Be the prophet Isaiah for a moment:
“How do I even describe God here? Any attempt to verbalize how truly awesome and inconceivable He is would be doing Him a staunch injustice, but I have to at least try. Hopefully He’ll forgive me for it. Hmmm, what else is inconceivable? Ahhh, the ocean! No one knows where it ends, how deep it is, or what terrifying things are even in it. It’s the essence of complete chaos. But surely something controls it, right? There’s always order to counterbalance chaos. Let’s just say there a giant sea dragon to represent this concept.”
*10,000 years later*
“THERE USED TO BE/MIGHT STILL BE A REAL SEA MONSTER IN THE OCEAN, IT SAYS SO IN THE BIBLE, SEE?! ISAIAH SAID IT AND IT ENDED UP IN THE BIBLE SO IT HAS TO BE TRUE!”
Yes, it’s a silly example, but that same logic is applied by many Christians and non-Christians in less silly situations. For example, imagine going back in time and talking Paul the Apostle:
You: “Hey, so remember that whole thing you did where you wrote letters to some tiny churches about how slaves should be submissive to their masters because you didn’t want Christians to be known for violent uprisings against authority since God is their ultimate authority anyways? Well, in 1,500 years, a bunch of civilizations are going to use those letters as an excuse to involuntarily enslave millions of people and tell those slaves that they can’t rebel because the Bible says so.”
Paul: “What’s the Bible?”
You, clearly frustrated by such a ridiculous question: “As time passes, the early church is going to slowly compile all the verified documents they’ve got into one single book.”
Paul: “Hmmm, that’s pretty smart. That’ll be really helpful if people ever learn to read. But obviously future people will understand that I can’t predict the future and I’m really just writing some of these things for a specific group of people in a specific situation, right?”
Well, if the Bible isn’t supposed to be the face-value thing that tells us what to do in specific situations, then what IS it supposed to be?
“How” Rather Than “What”
Let’s look at a list of things that the Bible doesn’t directly comment on but we all intrinsically know God doesn’t want us to do:
- Develop a heroin/cocaine/prescription drug addiction
- Shoot someone with a gun
- Embezzle money through a shaky investment deal
- Kill humans who haven’t been born yet (we do know that’s bad, right?)
- Become a Muslim/Hindu/Buddhist
So why is it that Christians don’t do these things? Well, biblically speaking, there’s an endless amount of verses that would suggest God isn’t a fan of murdering people He made or following other gods. So while He doesn’t say, “Don’t shoot people with automatic rifles,” He does say, “Don’t murder.” But those are some easy ones. What about ones that are less clear on how we should act today?
- What does “modesty” literally mean for us today?
- Who should we vote for? Should we even vote at all? Is it bad to vote or is it bad to not vote?
- Should we own guns?
- Should we believe in global warming?
- Do we have to believe the Earth was created in six literal days?
- Which economic system is best?
- Do we have a right to self-preservation?
The point is that there is obviously some difficulty in directly applying texts from 10,000-2,000 years ago to today, and perhaps the problem is that we’ve been trying to do exactly that here in the West for way too long. We have to refocus our approach.
We have to use the Bible as something that directs HOW we should live rather than WHAT we should do.
For example, one of the classic modern (I know that’s an oxymoron, I’m not a…moron) strawmen made by Christians & non-Christians alike is something like this: “Jesus never said, ‘Homosexuality is wrong’, so you can’t say the Bible says it’s wrong therefore I win and you lose and you’re dumb and I’m brilliant.”
Voddie Baucham dismantles that statement in full in this short video. Aside from this statement being false, he explains why it doesn’t matter even it was true:
If our new Christian ethic is, “[It’s only wrong] if Jesus mentioned it specifically, the homosexuality is the least of our problems…In doing this, we divorce Jesus from the rest of the Bible. When people do this, I just look at them and say, “…so??”…You can’t divorce Jesus from the left side of the [Bible] because He’s IN left side of the [Bible].
This does not mean biblical interpretations should be treated with a postmodern, “whatever seems right to you” mentality. As I touched on earlier, Jesus said that He is THE Truth; not one of the truths, not a truth, but the logos. If someone were to tell you, “Hey, I just saw your best friend walk up to someone on the street, brandish a large battleaxe, and slice the person’s head off,” the first thought in your head would be one of two questions:
- Why did my friend have a large battleaxe? Or more likely…
- Is the reported action congruent with my friend’s past words & actions?
You would think back to what you know about your friend, discuss with other people who know your friend, or perhaps check for textual primary sources involving your friend. Biblically speaking, Peter states quite clearly:
This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. –Acts 2:32
(Yup, the Bible did it wayyyyy before Nike & Lebron James did. It’s kinda blasphemous if you think about it.)
Thus, because the disciples claimed to be direct eyewitnesses of the words & actions of Jesus, they speak with credibility as to His character. THIS is how the Bible has its authority. Thus, when we see someone make a statement regarding what Christ would have us do, we should ask ourselves, “Is this congruent with what the primary source says He was like?”
Imagine for a moment that a particular religion regarded poems by Robert Frost to be its holy scripture. Now, look at perhaps one of his most famous verses:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
There would be two possible responses to this:
- When we approach a fork in the road, we must always take the road that appears to be less traveled, regardless of what our destination may be.
- Frost is using allegory to illustrate a grander point, which in this case is that there’s a beauty to taking a lesser known option in the world.
It may seem silly, but many people go for #1 all the time because it represents something that complements their ideal way of life more. I’m sure you’re thinking of one particular group of Christians or even non-Christians that do this, but it’s everyone. We’re not consistent enough in our approach to the Bible.
Though I feel the need to explain my position further, I’ll end my examination here. If you’re curious about this subject, I highly recommend checking out The Bible Project podcast & YouTube videos as they do about as good of a job one can do in teaching modern people how the ancient people thought when the Bible was written.
As always, thanks for reading. I love hearing from folks how my writing is able to teach them just as it teaches me.