Responding to a Critic

the top score at a dart game

Missing the bull's eye—something critics are often guilty of. ... (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Criticism is a tricky thing: most people like to give it, but few like to receive it. I’ve often been a visitor to each of those camps, and I find myself there again now.

In response to my recent post Mormons Refuse to Give Straight Answers, I received several comments in opposition, but one of them stands out as a good example of a bad critique, featuring two common mistakes: making claims without providing supporting evidence, and entering a discussion without having a good working knowledge of the subject matter.

I won’t reproduce the entire critique here, because it’s quite long, but you can view it at the end of the above-referenced column. I will, however, be sure to point out specific portions to back up my claims.

My critic, who referred to himself only as Jared, began his comments by complimenting me on some of my less controversial writings before getting to the harsher stuff. Here’s an early example:

Chief of my concerns, is the apparent lack of sensitivity and respect you have for those who have differing beliefs. You come across not as confident in your beliefs but as arrogant and condescending.

He then, of course, goes on to give a grand total of zero examples of how I come across as insensitive, disrespectful, arrogant and condescending. I’m sure he views me in these ways, but his failure to back up his assertions doesn’t help me to correct any wrongs I may have committed, and leaves him looking like nothing more than someone who disagrees with me on a purely visceral level and has nothing legitimate to add to the conversation.

Shortly after that comment, Jared wrote this:

The way you speak of Mormons, Atheist, Muslims, Liberals etc. does not encourage real intellectual conversation (except perhaps from more people like yourself) but rather it marginalizes and constricts open, free thought. Telling your reader what you don’t like about a particular belief system, religion, or religious leader doesn’t prove to me any premises based on the questioning truth of any of these things.

On the contrary, Jared, I used the above-referenced post to pose a series of related questions that my wife was asking Mormons but couldn’t get a straight answer to: Don’t Mormons believe that God was once just a man like you or I? Isn’t it correct that Mormons believe the doctrine “As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become”? And how can you believe that? These are honest, legitimate questions that go to the heart of the Mormon faith—how is that stifling of real intellectual conversation? or marginalizing? or constricting open thought? Furthermore, in my Mormonism columns collectively, I didn’t just tell the reader what I didn’t like about Mormonism and Joseph Smith; I also told them why I don’t like Mormonism and Joseph Smith, basing my case on what the Bible says, as well as on historical fact. You may not like my arguments, but they’re there, and they constitute “real intellectual conversation.”

Further on in Jared’s comments, he had this to say about me:

For as many valid points as you bring up, you commit at least twice as many logical fallacies, usually in the form of faulty generalizations, appeal to ridicule, straw manning and poisoning the well. Perhaps you are trying to save some of the readers of your blog from damnation through your smug, self-righteous, and sarcastic rhetoric.

First of all, sarcasm sometimes gets a bad rap—it’s not an “always bad” thing. Secondly, more accusations are made of me—”twice as many logical fallacies,” “faulty generalizations,” “appeal to ridicule,” “straw manning,” “poisoning the well,” “smug” and “self-righteous”—without giving examples to back them up.

Jared’s second major mistake was in approaching the conversation without having a solid grasp of the pertinent basics. He presumed correctly that I’m an evangelical protestant attending a Presbyterian church, but he assumed most incorrectly that I’m a follower of John Calvin. As a Christian, I follow only one man: the God-man Jesus Christ. Whatever faults Calvin had (and I’m no Calvin expert, so I don’t know what they are), I’ve never claimed to follow him, nor any other sinful, imperfect man. I follow Jesus, the only perfect person who ever lived; this is basic Christian doctrine, and Jared would’ve done well to know that before he waded into the conversation. John Calvin’s actions, good or bad, don’t change the facts about Christ, and they have no bearing on how I live and believe.

Of course, this is a common tactic among skeptics: attack the imperfect followers of Christianity while ignoring its perfect leader. Sort of like politicians dodging the question. This is one reason I emphasize that when investigating any belief system (or philosophy or worldview, or whatever you want to call it), it’s crucial you scrutinize the system’s founder. That’s exactly what I’ve done with Mormonism and its founder, Joseph Smith. As to Jared’s claim that I don’t apply my standards for others to myself, and fail to scrutinize my own belief system, I’ve already stated that I don’t follow Calvin, so what he did or didn’t do has no real bearing on me, and Jared should be pleased to know that I’ve spent plenty of time evaluating Christ and His claims—and as should be obvious, I’ve found no reason to doubt Him.

Jared concluded his remarks by asking me, “Would it not be better to lead by example? So I ask you, when will you show us the love of Christ?”

Ah, yes. Opponents of Christianity absolutely LOVE to accuse Christians of being unloving, and they so often think they’ve got Christians trapped by pointing out what they consider to be an unloving comment coming from one (such as myself) who professes to follow the God of Love. Not that I’m never unloving, but what this usually boils down to is that the criticiser simply (but vehemently) disagrees with the criticisee, but has no legitimate counterargument and so resorts to name-calling and/or casting aspersions—How dare you fail to live up to your religion, which I know little about?!?

Well, let me say, Jared, that I do, in fact, do my best to lead by example, and also that you, in your current state of being, probably wouldn’t be able to recognize the love of Christ, no matter how “loving” I come across. And what is the love of Christ? The main point of Christ’s coming to earth, as Paul states in 1 Timothy 3:15, was to save sinners; so by writing about the truth of Christianity and the falsehoods of all other belief systems, I’m taking direct part in Christ’s mission to save sinners—I’m showing His love.

P.S.: For the record, I attend a Presbyterian church because that’s where God led me. That may seem like an unsatisfying answer to some, but it’s true: After I moved to California to get married, my wife and I decided to attend her home church, which is Presbyterian, and we’ve come to view this particular church as home for us. Before marriage I was a lifelong American Baptist, but I have no problem attending a church of any Christian denomination so long as it is authentically Christian and it’s where God wants us to be.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. thefrontwindow
    Apr 16, 2012 @ 17:56:17

    Criticism can cripple us if we aren’t careful. You might like to read my article on criticism.


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