Note: The views and opinions expressed here do not necessarily represent The K.I.N.G. Movement or its supporters. They are the views of the author alone.
Well folks. I think it’s about time we got down to business. In my last article I talked a lot about worldview and Worldview Seekers. We used our puzzle analogy to illustrate how, within a person’s worldview, there can be beliefs a person holds that don’t fit well with each other. When a person’s worldview includes beliefs that don’t fit together, it is an indicator that one or more of those beliefs need to be reconsidered. I want to expand that idea a little.
When you have two puzzle pieces that don’t fit one another, what do you do? You sift through the other pieces until you find a match. If we are trying to make a case to a Worldview Seeker that Christianity is true and that person is under the impression that our “Christianity puzzle piece” doesn’t fit with their “Ethnic Identity puzzle piece” then there is a good chance that person will bypass Christianity and search for another belief system that they consider to be a better fit. What we want to do is provide evidence to show that the Christianity puzzle piece and Ethnic Identity puzzle piece are not a bad fit and therefore there is no good reason to reject Christianity on those grounds. We can accomplish this in a number of ways. In this article, we will be using a little philosophy to take aim at what I believe to be the most common error the Conscious Community makes when attacking Christianity—the Genetic Fallacy.
Break it Down
What are people really saying when they allege that Christianity is the white man’s religion? Most of the time what they are getting at is the idea that because Christianity was imposed upon Africans during slavery by “the white man”, Christianity among black folks today traces back to that forced indoctrination, and as descendants of those African slaves we ought to reject Christianity on that basis. Some people accuse Christianity of being the white man’s religion in a more broad sense and simply say Christianity is European so as African people we shouldn’t fool with it; case closed.
When someone makes an objection to Christianity, in our case “Christianity is the white man’s religion”, we can look at that objection as being like a house. Just like houses, every objection to Christianity you come across has a foundation; some concept or supposed fact the objection is built upon. If the foundation of a house is weak then the house will eventually crumble under its own weight. Likewise, if we can identify cracks in the foundation of someone’s objection, we can help that person to see how their objection fails. There are two main ways we can attack the foundation of an argument. First, we can provide evidence to show that the argument is based on something that is factually untrue. A second option would be to demonstrate that the foundation of the argument is logically flawed. For the remainder of this article I will focus on that second approach in showing how rejecting Christianity, on the basis of manipulation and indoctrination practices during slavery, is completely illogical as it is a classic example of the genetic fallacy.
Now, in order to understand what the genetic fallacy is and how we can use it to slice through "white man's religion" arguments, we first need to get a handle on what a “fallacy” is. In using the term fallacy, I’m talking about something along the lines of faulty reasoning, a mistaken conclusion, or error in one’s thinking. When it comes to logic, debate, or making a case for what someone claims to be true--fallacies are like guidelines that philosophers and professional thinker folks use to weed out bad arguments from good ones. If you can identify a fallacy in the foundation of a person’s objection then you have logical grounds to dismiss that objection.
So what is the genetic fallacy? As a working definition, the genetic fallacy means to accept or reject a claim based on its origins rather than on the actual merits of that claim. I am using the word “claim” here to refer to something that a person affirms to be true. Notice, this a sort of two-sided fallacy. It can apply to a person’s reasoning whether they are making an argument for or against something. In either case, the reason it is illogical to draw a conclusion solely based on the origins of a claim is this: the truth or falsity of a claim does not completely hinge upon how someone came to believe it. Let’s take a look at this scenario in order to get a better grasp of this point.
So what’s, So what’s, So what’s the Scenario
Back in 2000, the popular adult cartoon series, The Simpsons, had an episode in which Donald Trump was elected President. Who would have thought that over a decade later this cartoon prophecy would actually come true? Now, let’s say I had a cousin who has been in a coma since 1995 and I go to visit him every Sunday. Suppose I were to visit him on the Sunday after Donald Trump’s inauguration and as I enter my cousin’s room a nurse informs me that my cousin has awakened from his coma about 5 minutes before I arrived. As I excitedly rush into my cousin’s room, the first thing my cousin says to me is, “Wow, Donald Trump is the President.” At this point, I ask my cousin how he just came out of a coma and yet knows Donald Trump is President. Let’s say my cousin responds to me by pointing to the television in his room which just happens to be playing a rerun of the Simpsons episode in which Donald Trump was made president. My cousin then says, “I was watching this cartoon in which Donald Trump is President so I figured it must be true.” Now let’s ask ourselves 3 questions about this scenario.
1. Are cartoons reliable sources of information concerning politics or real events?
2. Was my cousin correct when he stated, “Donald Trump is the President”?
3. Which of these statements would be the more logical response for me to make to my cousin?
- “The only reason you believe Donald Trump is president is because you saw it on a cartoon, therefore your statement about Donald Trump being president is false.”
- “I wouldn’t recommend relying on cartoons for information but you are correct about Donald Trump being president and, Simpsons aside, there are good reasons for holding that belief.” (Correct)
In this scenario, my cousin has a correct belief about Donald Trump even though how he came to hold that belief was based on an unreliable source. This illustrates the point that the fact of whether or not a claim is true is independent of how someone comes to believe it is true. With that in mind, let’s bring this point home by applying it to some of the main objections made by the Conscious Community against Christianity.
Make it Plain
Consider the following statements:
A. The only reason you believe Christianity is true (our claim) is because white slave-masters forced it upon our ancestors to keep them mentally enslaved (source/origin).
B. Why is the Bible (our claim) the only book the slave-masters (origin) allowed our ancestors to read?
C. You only believe Christianity is true (our claim) because you were raised in a country that beat Christianity into your ancestors (origins). If you had been born in Iraq you would be a Muslim. If you were born in India you would be a Hindu.
D. How can you believe Christianity is true (our claim) when the Bible was given to us by the same people who beat, raped, and enslaved our ancestors (origin)?
E. You pray to the same God your oppressors prayed to when they stripped us of our religion and forced us to be Christians (origin).
Notice how in each case the person making the objection commits the genetic fallacy by implying that because of how Christianity in the black community supposedly originated (slave-masters, Europeans), we ought to reject Christianity. Any time we come across objections to Christianity like these, we know that we have logical grounds to dismiss them because they are built upon a foundation of faulty reasoning. Here are two quick points that drive home the fact that rejecting Christianity based upon what happened during slavery is illogical.
- TIMING: We all know that the past is the past and there is nothing we can do to change it. Christians affirm that Jesus lived, was crucified for our sins, rose from the grave, and commissioned His disciples to spread His message of the kingdom all in the First century AD. If it is actually true that Jesus did the things that are spoken of Him in the gospels, did these first century events all of a sudden not happen because of what some slave-owners did over 1500 years after the fact? Of course not.
- EVIDENCE: Later down the road we will discuss a variety of reasons by which we can rationally affirm that Christianity is true. We will take a look at the evidence of Jesus’ existence, historical evidence for the resurrection, and even how slavery itself points to the existence of God. My point here is that if a person surveys the evidence for Christianity and is convinced of the gospel, why should they ignore the evidence because white professing Christians twisted and misused the gospel? No logical person would do that.
How can I apply this?
I want my readers to be able to digest this information and put it to good use whether it be resolving doubts concerning Christianity and ethnicity for themselves or in helping others to see there is no logical reason to believe there is discord between the two. I would say shedding light on the genetic fallacy is one of the most powerful tools we have when it comes to cutting down arguments regarding slavery and Christianity. However, I also realize that philosophy is foreign to most people. Those who make the type of objections I've covered in this article may not grasp the weight of our counterpoint when we point out they've killed their own argument by committing a logical fallacy—But that's okay. Just because a person we're dialoguing with doesn't understand the reasoning behind our response doesn't mean we're wrong. It just means they don't understand. In a battle, a soldier will take all sorts of gear. Some of that gear is to inflict damage on their opponent (i.e. sword, spear, etc.). Some gear is carried for defensive purposes (i.e. shield, body armor). What I have explained so far about the genetic fallacy will probably be most helpful if used defensively. From now on, when a person says something to you like, "You're only a Christian because slave-masters beat Christianity into our ancestors", you now know that such a statement is logically bankrupt. Knowing that these sorts of objections are based upon a foundation of fallacy takes the logical fangs out of them. That being said I think arguments like these get thrown around because of their emotional force rather than logic; we will address that in articles to come. I often tell people, if they want to build their worldview on a foundation of illogical reasoning, be my guest. As for me, if their "white man's religion" argument is based on a fallacy then I have no logical grounds to take their objection seriously as a wedge between the Christianity puzzle piece and ethnicity puzzle piece in my worldview. If you are dealing with a Worldview Seeker who is willing to be rational and not just looking to hurl Conscious Community slogans at you, taking time to help them think this through can certainly be worthwhile. In other instances there are quick and easy ways to go on the offensive with the genetic fallacy. In our next article we will take a look at how we can use the genetic fallacy to our advantage when encountering Conscious Community objections.
Adam Coleman is passionate about equipping Christians with evidences for the faith and engaging the culture. He is a husband, father of two busy toddlers, social worker, writer, and public speaker. Upon graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University with a Master's in Social Work Adam Coleman began a career of community development, mentoring youth, and service to our nation's veterans. Currently, Adam is primarily focused on using his "Tru-ID Podcast", writing, and public speaking to promote the gospel of Christ through Christian apologetics.