The term “apologist” is often used derisively like the terms “lawyer,” “statistician,” or “telemarketer.” Why are apologists so derided? Is it warranted or just a bum rap?
An apologist is “a person who makes a defense in speech or writing of a belief, idea, etc.” Usually, the term is used in a religious or philosophical context. Wikipedia adds: Apologists are authors, writers, editors of scientific logs or academic journals, and leaders known for taking on the points in arguments, conflicts or positions that are either placed under popular scrutinies or viewed under persecutory examinations. The term comes from the Greek word apologia (απολογία), meaning a speaking in defense. Apologists have been around for a long time. The Apostle Paul was essentially a Christian apologist. Mormon apologists can be found at places like FARMS and FAIRWiki.
Why Are Apologists Reviled?
Let me illustrate with a simple joke:
- Q: How many apologists does it take to screw in a light bulb?
- A: Since there is light, we know that the number of apologists involved was sufficient to complete the operation of lightbulb-screwing-in to connect the lightbulb to a power source which could then create the light. Or if there were no apologists involved in the lightbulb-screwing-in, somehow or other it got screwed in. Look, a butterfly!
- IOW: We don’t know how, but we know there is light.
From Wikipedia: Apologists have been characterized as being deceptive, or “whitewashing” their cause, primarily through omission of negative facts (selective perception) and exaggeration of positive ones, techniques of classical rhetoric. When used in this context, the term often has a pejorative meaning.
Here are some common criticisms of apologists:
- They are not objective; they approach a problem backwards, beginning with the conclusion (like reverse engineering). IOW, their methods are not exploratory (e.g. scientific method), but are in fact merely confirming a belief already held (hmmm, sound a lot like the detractors’ arguments). In their defense: The detractors are generally equally biased.
- They are defensive. This is true in the same sense that a defense attorney is defensive. When an idea is attacked or criticized, an apologist comes forward to answer that criticism. So, apologists are defensive in the way an NBA team is defensive of their basket when the opposing team has the ball. In their defense: An offensive attack calls for a defensive response.
- They require “mental gymnastics.” The most prevalent criticism of apologists is that their arguments are more complex and sometimes less convincing than the criticism they are refuting. The simple fact is that this is a necessary byproduct of a defensive posture. You are not arguing “for” something, asserting its validity; you are responding to a criticism, which means, you review its merits on the basis of all facets of the criticism. In their defense: Apologists don’t have the home court advantage.
- They degenerate into bickering. When someone leaves a flaming bag of poop on your doorstep, and you respond by leaving a bigger flaming bag of poop on their doorstep, be prepared to wash your hands afterward. And if someone leaves a flaming bag of poop on your doorstep, ignoring it might narrow the number of visitors to only the really diligent. In their defense: The detractors started it!
- They are irrelevant; faith cannot be proven or disproven as it is not based on logic, but rather subjective personal spiritual experience. So, deigning to refute the critics of faith using the tools of logic is not likely to be very convincing to those who rely on faith. Nor is a faith-based argument likely to convince a staunch logician. In their defense: You can’t beat a football team with baseball skills. Also, even if the arguments are ultimately irrelevant, someone has to respond. Perhaps apologists and critics are like Rock-em Sock-em robots; they just engage each other in the circle of debate, but it’s really just a game.
Maybe apologists are like Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men (paraphrased):
Every morning I eat breakfast 400 yards from evangelical ministers, the disaffected, and anti-Mormons trained to destroy testimonies. We live in a world that has religious beliefs, and those religious beliefs have to be guarded by men (and women) with facts and theories. Who’s gonna do it? You? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for the disaffected, and you curse the apologists. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know — that apologetics, while requiring mental gymnastics, probably saves testimonies; and my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves eternal lives. You don’t want the truth because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on FAIRWiki — you need me on FAIRWiki. We use words like “historical evidence,” “account,” and “source.” We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punch line. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a person who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very religious freedom that I provide and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather that you just said “thank you” and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you get on the internet and stand the post. Either way, I don’t give a $@?!# what you think you’re entitled to!
So, what do you think? Are apologists performing a necessary service by defending the faith? Or do you think they miss the point? If so, what alternative do you suggest? And where are these “places we don’t talk about at parties”? Discuss.