Mar 9, 2014

In Defense of the Courtier's Reply

I've recently become a fan of The Secular Outpost over on Patheos, where this post brings up a bit of poo-pooing over The Courtier's Reply--an unsophisticated tack by unsophisticated people, as they would have it.
Except that ... it's not.
I was raised Christian and spent most of my twenties desperately trying to stay one. Then when I left (both the religion as a whole and individual doctrines within it), tons of people told me, often in so many words, that they won't take my rejection seriously until I read 'X', where 'X' is derived by marching down a list of apologetical works/arguments/authors until they reach one I haven't encountered. Then invariably when I do, it's the same old nonsense as before, and now 'X' has become the next such item on the list. No Christian has EVER admitted to me that I know enough to reject either their religion or even their pet doctrine--in fact, many have told me to my face that this is impossible. This despite the fact that 1) I almost always know more than they do and 2) I know exponentially more about this particular claim that I reject than they do about the thousand claims that they reject, and I've had it with their crap. The Courtier's Reply quite fits the bill.
The sophisticated theologians (who everyone assures me exist and further assures me are not represented by whatever awful codswallop I just got done with) are just the same thing with bigger words (occasionally used correctly, I'll admit), but they use their sophisticated arguments in defense of sophisticated beliefs that bear precisely zero resemblance to Christianity as it was conveyed to me in a thousand sermons, Sunday School lessons, AWANAs, RAs, MK Retreats, Mission Meetings, dumbass books well-meaning relatives give you when you go off to college, EBC conferences, hymns, small-group meetings, family prayer time, BCM gatherings, and a lifetime of conversations with actual believers.
Whatever bit of my childhood indoctrination I reject or criticize, I'm met with "Ahahahahaha that's not what Christians believe you should go read Aquinas! Oh you've read Aquinas? Erm ... uh ... Craig! Oh him too eh ... uh ... well ... I bet you haven't read ... uhm ... Origen!"
They were nowhere to be found when their 'unsophisticated' counterparts fucked with my head all through childhood, but boy-howdy they like to get in my face now that I'm fighting back.  Tell ya' what: if you sniggering fluff-and-rufflers want my unsophisticated self to take you seriously, then start by getting in the collective face of everyone who lied to me about the cowboy boots.
The Courtier's Reply is a PERFECT encapsulation of that frustration. They defend the tribe against legitimate criticisms of things large swaths of the tribe not only believe but teach their children while doing sod-all to correct them. I've never yet encountered a theologian or apologist who didn't pull some version of this crap, despite how everyone likes to assert they exist. Hell, look at the very first entry in that debate that the poo-pooer mentions as transcending such unsophisticated things:
"[He] dismisses as a “fraud” an entire academic field to which many thinkers of universally acknowledged genius have contributed." Feser then follows up with endless name-checking. Then comes comment #3: " Do you think he has actually read S.C.G. 3:65 or S.T. 1.104.1 ? I doubt it."
Does anyone want to tell me that's not the Courtier's Reply, through and through? Would anyone who wants to tell me 'no' also like to explain just what the difference is? 
I hear and I hear and I hear that it doesn't work. But it just keeps right on working, because they just keep right on doing it. Let them stop doing it, and I'll stop saying that they do it--let them specify in advance how much I have to know to reject their position, then let them deal with that level of haute couture for every rival court, then let them not move the goalposts, and then I shall retire my beloved Courtier's Reply.
Now let's be frank: it doesn't prove I'm right. What it demonstrates is that I can be confidently right without exhausting the musings of every crank who ever opined on the subject, just as I can reject astrology without having first familiarized myself with the mathematical computations--whose complexity puts apologetics to shame!--that underlie it.

1 comment:

  1. I am guilty of The Courtier's Reply. I routinely flog Dawkins for ignoring Biblical scholarship and scholarship in religious studies. I flog him for it because it undermines the seriousness of his position. I find your atheism to be a good deal more serious precisely because you've engaged theism on its own turf. Moreover, Dawkins doesn't just want to defend atheism, which is a perfectly justifiable position to take. He wants to make the claim that anybody who disagrees is a mental prepubescent. That takes rather more than a swipe of the hand.