The “Whatever” Objection and the Passivity Problem
by Dan Grossenbach
Armed with a master’s degree in apologetics I felt like I could conquer the world. Bring on the most ardent atheist and I’d be ready. My training prepared me to launch informed arguments and counter the toughest objections. To my surprise, the biggest challenger however wasn’t the outspoken critic but the one who spoke the least – the passive skeptic who just didn’t care. I quickly learned that the word no passionate apologist wants to hear is “Whatever.”
Hearing my friend utter that word, I thought, “How could you not care?!” Salvation from sin, eternal life, reunited with saints, and reigning with God as kings is too good to pass up. I kept noticing other friends and colleagues voicing much of the same though not always using the “W” word verbatim. I realized my God-given fascination for apologetics and passion to share what I’ve learned wasn’t something I had in common with people around me. I’ve come to see that listening to a debate on my iPod while running the Manhattan Beach 10-K wasn’t normal.
The goal of this post is not to teach the reader how to convince someone that spiritual decisions matter. That task I leave with other writers and ultimately in the working of the Holy Spirit on the hearts of men. My goal is a more humble one; to explain this passivity towards religious ideas and what drives it. It’s my hope that a greater understanding of this will better prepare apologists for encountering passive skeptics.
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Perhaps passivity’s greatest appeal is its simplicity and apparently neutral stance. It’s easy to be passive and comes quite naturally to us. Since Adam sat idle while Eve took the forbidden fruit in Eden, many have followed suit by failing to act appropriately when our very lives depend on how we respond. It takes effort to investigate and decide on religious questions. It’s easier to dismiss religious truth altogether than to live consistently with a position and defend it. The appeal of taking a passive stance towards religion is amplified by at least three other aspects of modern culture :
1) Church/State Separation
The establishment clause and litmus test of the constitution prohibits the government from endorsing a particular religion through legislation or public employment. Children raised in public schools are taught that religious ideas are not appropriate topics in classroom discussions. Apart from parental and church influences, there’s nothing stopping this religious silence from continuing into adulthood. Confusion of the law leads teachers to err on the side of eliminating all religious ideas from the classroom (except for the view that religious ideas aren’t to be discussed). It also has been misconstrued to mean all religion is to be relegated to the personal realm as irrelevant to important world issues. If religious ideas are important, why are children unable to ask, share or inquire about them in public schools? The implication taught to kids is that religion isn’t important. Kids are taught religion is personal and not for public discussion. While the intent may have been to prevent government from limiting religious expression, interpretation by the courts and the media have made the opposite effect of teaching generations of school kids to keep religion to themselves.
2) View of Knowledge
The two most common alternative worldviews to theism today are postmodernism and naturalism. While the impact of these minority views is sometimes overstated, the prevalence of scholarship from both views has influenced how popular culture constitutes knowledge. Theists have traditionally maintained that the supernatural can be investigated and counted as knowledge. Proponents of scientism or empiricism insist knowledge is only that which can be tested methodologically. Postmodernists remain skeptical about both and suggest we can’t know anything for sure. The mix of epistemological choices inevitably fosters doubt when it comes to religious knowledge. Accordingly, religious ideas are relegated to the subjective realm where truth doesn’t matter…
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