Reductio ad ridiculum

One of the logical fallacies that really tend to characterize the the New Atheists is the one called “reductio ad ridiculum”. (There’s really no reason to call it by its Latin name except it sounds awesome and gains respect.) You’ll recognize one of the words as the parent of the English ridicule and ridiculous. New Atheists fail to describe faith in a way which does not look overtly ridiculous. The Old Atheists of the past might have been able to, but not these new ones – to them, it’s the most significant part of their opposition.

Most of Christopher Hitchens’ arguments rest on this falacy, and I’m reminded of that in every single one of his debates. He succeeds in describing theological ideas in ways that would make any sane person laugh and say, ‘O God almighty, what a ridiculous thing to believe!’ In the debate with his brother quite a few years ago, he made believing listeners among the audience admit that they are “sheep”, and in every debate he has a go at the doctrine of atonement, making it appear as if God is a madman who felt like torturing his son to death rather than just forgive.

Of course, no sane Christian would say such a thing. The objections would come quite naturally because these are the thing that are preached in all churches: “Jesus was more than willing to give his life! God didn’t bluntly decide that sacrifice was necessary, that’s just how the universe works! Hitchens’ understanding of the term “son” is way too literal, every Bible scholar would agree that “son” is perhaps one of the least significant of Jesus’ titles – and it’s worthwile considering that he is just as much God as the Father is, and the whole idea of the atonement can be said to be just as much his as the Father’s. And God the Father suffered with him right there!” These details would all have to be included in the Christian understanding of the matter, and it changes the whole nature of the phenomenon.

Of course, an apologist would never bother to explain this theology to Christopher Hitchens. Because, frankly, it’s not the point. His portrayal only goes to show that he doesn’t care how Christians would define their faith. His concern is not to argue against the beliefs as they are defined by the believers, but to make it look ridiculous to push his own anti-theistic agenda among the seekers. And so likewise, his friend Dawkins doesn’t really care if anyone actually believes there’s a tea cup flying in orbit around the earth or any other planet. (Of course, nobody ever would believe that.) And a lot of Atheists don’t care if anyone actually believes in the “big spaghetti monster”; they’ll happily reduce any kind of supernatural intelligence to a mixture of food with eyes.

Their concern is not with what people believe at all, despite all their efforts to make false claims about it. They’re distorting theology only to push their own beliefs on the listeners. They’re distracting people, confusing them and making them laugh only to win sympathy – but most significantly, they’re doing it to avoid people from realizing that they can’t argue against the actual beliefs held by Christians.

When grace is rightly explained and the gospel is proclaimed the way Christians would proclaim it, that’s when Atheists feel threatened. After all, it’s much easier to argue against the fairies and the unicorns than the unconditional love of Christ.


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