I’m sure most have you have heard of the No True Scotsman fallacy. If you’re a former believer you’ve almost certainly been confronted with it at some point. I’ve had it pop up in my interactions with theists twice recently, which prompted me to discuss the topic here.
To summarize, the No True Scotsman fallacy is when someone wants to deflect criticism when confronted with an argument they don’t like. They insist their group (nationality, religion, philosophy, etc) should include only those that fit into their very specific, arbitrary and flattering definition.
Person 1: “All astronauts have walked on the moon.”
Person 2: “Some astronauts have only orbited the earth.”
Person 1: “All true astronauts have walked on the moon.”
If I’ve utterly confused you, check out this quick video. He explains it well:
Fallacy #1: Christians Are All Kind, Loving People
I recently came out as an atheist to close Christian friend. I wrote about her before on this blog. She’s planning on moving to New Mexico to be closer to me and I thought she should know where I stand on religion before taking that step. I’ve had some extreme reactions from Christian friends in the past. To her credit, she didn’t have a problem with my atheism at all. I was relieved.
During the conversation, I told her about the Bold Atheism website and Facebook page. I told her about some of the hate and death threats I’ve received since becoming a vocal atheist. I sent her a screenshot of some of the worst threats from Christians. Her shocked response was, “Well, obviously those people aren’t true Christians.”
This springs from her (specific and arbitrary) idea that all Christians are kind, loving people. Perhaps, in her experience, she’s only ever encountered believers who fit that definition. However, that is not a universal truth. There are approximately 2.2 billion Christians worldwide. In any group, especially one so huge, you’ll find your fair share of good people, bad people, and every shade of gray in-between. The thing they have in common is that they all identify as Christian – they just have different interpretations of what constitutes a true Christian.
It’s an oft-repeated statistic that atheists make up only 0.1% of the prison population. The other 99.9% is made up of various religions, and those who answered no preference, other or unknown. The largest majority of prisoners in the U.S. are Christians. The statistics lead me to believe that Christians can’t possibly all be kind, loving people.
Fallacy #2: True Christians Are Tolerant of Unbelief (and Other Religions)
I posted the meme below on Twitter. It’s an edited version of a meme my Christian friends were sharing on Facebook. I wasn’t making a serious accusation, it was just posted for laughs.
I immediately received a response saying, “How to act like a FAKE Christian”. The implication being, no true Christian would use force, fear, abuse or threats to attempt to convert an atheist.
Once again, I have to cite the death threats I’ve received since starting this website. The people who send those threats almost certainly believe they are acting in a manner consistent with their faith. I’m sure they feel like they’re boldly defending their religion against the evil internet atheist.
Do they have a point? Are these angry Christian soldiers fake Christians? Let’s look at their own holy book:
Unbelievers should be shunned; don’t marry them, don’t be friends with them.
“Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? … Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord.” – 2 Corinthians 6:14-17
“If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers; Namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you … Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him: But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. And thou shalt stone him with stones, that he die.” –Deuteronomy 13:6-10
Straight from the horse’s mouth – unbelievers and followers of other religions are wicked, dark, unrighteous, and deserving of death. If the holy book commands it, then I’d have to say those who follow the book must be included in the true Christian category.
We can also look at history to see if only fake Christians convert unbelievers by force. The Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition would seem to refute this ridiculous notion of an all-loving, tolerant religion.
You Shall Know Them By Their Fruits
Christians use the verses in Matthew 7:15-21 to justify their rejection of embarrassing Christians. It’s easier to dismiss undesirables as being fake than to face the problems rooted in their religion.
“Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.” – Matthew 7:16-17
The problem here is that no one can what these fruits are for sure. We don’t find an accompanying list of good Christian qualities and fake Christian qualities. We’re left to fill in the blanks ourselves, leading to confusion and discord.
Something I hear often as a former Christian is “If you’re an atheist, then you were never a true Christian.” I think most former Christians have heard the same thing. I know Dan Barker, Co-President of the FFRF and former evangelical pastor has addressed this before, saying if he wasn’t a Christian, then no one is a Christian. He believed with all his heart, he travelled the country preaching the Bible, led many people to Jesus, and wrote Christian music. He was absolutely devoted to his faith before eventually becoming an atheist.
My story is similar. I’m a pastor’s son, I grew up in church, believed with all my heart, said the sinner’s prayer and truly meant it, taught children’s church and Sunday School and even considered becoming a pastor. I know my own heart and mind. Like Dan Barker, if I wasn’t a real Christian, then no one is a real Christian.
Yet, when believers learn that we’ve abandoned our faith, they immediately jump to the No True Scotsman defense. Every Christian knows, once a Christian, always a Christian. If you’re an atheist now, then you were never a true believer at all. It’s insulting. It’s condescending. And I find it to be very annoying.
Christians also happily invoke No True Scotsman when it comes to other believers with ideologies they find distasteful. Homosexuals, liberals, feminists, scientists; no one is safe.
Believers should be careful when making such misguided judgment calls. According to the Bible, they may think they’re true believers, only to find that God doesn’t agree. It would seem even the authors of the Bible can’t agree on what constitutes a true Christian.
Romans 10:13 says “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” That sounds good, until you read Matthew 7:21 (supposedly Jesus’s own words) “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Ambiguity is a bitch.