I have previously written about some of the problems I see with Dan Story’s overall apologetic approach. As I stated in my first post on this subject:
…while I appreciate Story’s sincerity and faith, I have been disappointed with some of his specific arguments/claims made in regard to 1) the exclusivity of Christian truth and 2) criticism of other religions and/or philosophies.
In this post I hope to expand on some of my earlier criticisms and also highlight several areas in which I think Story’s lack of engagement with non-Christian religions is apparent.
All book quotations are taken from:
Story, Dan. Christianity on the Offense: Responding to the Beliefs and Assumptions of Spiritual Seekers. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1998.
Early in his book Story makes the following statement:
The Christian worldview, like any other worldview, stands or falls according to its own internal and external consistency—not on the fallacious nature of other worldviews. Consequently, the ideal way to defeat conflicting worldviews is not to strike them down one by one but to show the veracity of Christianity with regard to how it corresponds to reality and passes the truth-tests outlined in the previous (sic) chapters.
Here then, Story tells us that the way to establish the truth of Christian faith is not to demonstrate the “fallacious nature” of other worldviews. He follows this up with several chapters attempting to demonstrate the “fallacious nature” of other worldviews.
Also, I believe Story does his Christian readers a disservice by stating:
In the following chapters, I will compare Christianity with its chief competitors, not just to show the bogus nature of the non-Christian views, but to verify the Christian position by demonstrating that it alone is internally and externally consistent and corresponds to reality as universally understood and lived out.
Story insults his readers twice in this paragraph. First, he sets up the absurd idea that he, Story, is capable of showing that Christian faith “alone is internally and externally consistent and corresponds to reality as universally understood and lived out.” This statement is pure nonsense. If what Story claims were true, then there would be no need for faith in Christianity. As Kierkegaard argued, we maintain our Christian faith because it is absurd and certainly not because it is a demonstrable representation of reality.
Second, is his dismissive and arrogant statement about the “bogus nature of the non-Christian views.” I imagine that readers of Story are faithful Christians seeking to grow in their faith and understanding of not only their own religion, but opposing views as well. But rather than engage in a useful and productive examination of competing — but often very similar – views, Story denies his readers the opportunity for real understanding. He leaves them unprepared for any realistic engagement with competing views.
The errors in this book are so voluminous that it would be impossible to list them all. Story condemns:
- Jehovah’s Witnesses
- Secular Humanism
In each case Story clearly shows his surface understanding of these faiths/philosophies and proceeds to present caricatures of each. For purposes here I will briefly discuss Story’s misrepresentation of Pantheism.
Pantheism is the view that God and the Universe are one and the same and that any differentiation made between two objects is subjective and arbitrary. In relation to humankind, Pantheism asserts that there is no distinction made between an individual and the universe itself. The individual is, as Carl Sagan once observed, the Universe becoming conscious of itself.
Very few would claim Pantheism explicitly. Rather, pantheistic ideas underly many schools of Buddhist thought, Chinese philosophy, and is at the root of the oldest religious literature we possess, the Hindu Upanishads. (Although it should be noted that Spinoza offers up a compelling Western argument for a pantheistic view in his Ethics.)
To this, Story claims:
One of the significance results of this view, and one that forever separates pantheism from Christianity, is that God is not sovereign over the lives of people. He does not intervene in human affairs through miracles and answered prayer. We are left alone to deal with the struggles of life and to work out our own salvation.
First off, to discuss Pantheism while employing the Christian “He” to describe God, Story has already gone off the rails. If you approached a Japanese Zen Buddhist in 1250 AD and started talking about 1) God and 2) how “He” is sovereign, you would very likely receive a reply akin to: “What the hell are you talking about?”
Story makes no effort here to discuss Pantheism on its own terms. No attempt to establish understanding before launching into an incoherent critique. How can God “intervene in human affairs” when the pantheistic view is that there is no differentiation between, well, anything? These ideas are generally — and widely — discussed in terms of “dual” or “non-dual” and the various religions underpinned by some form of pantheistic outlook have discussed these ideas for centuries. The terms “dualism”, “non-dual” or similar variants are not to be found in Story’s book. Odd, given that even the most basic and introductory literature on pantheistic religions discuss these ideas early and often.
Of course, Story is also incorrect in claiming that pantheists “are left alone to deal with the struggles of life and to work out our own salvation.” Not only do pantheistic religions have no concept of “salvation” in the Christian sense but also, pantheistic religions do NOT believe we are “left alone” to go through this life without divine help and compassion. This claim is patently false. I am left to wonder what primary sources Story relied on in writing his book. It seems that he must have only used secondary sources; and bad ones at that.
The goal of humanity is to recognize this. Our lives should be spent focusing on becoming united with God, not on the joys of living and serving God in the here and now. This is done by meditation and purging the body of all earthly cravings. We do not need to be concerned about our own welfare or, for that matter, the welfare of other people. After all, pain and suffering and material things are maya.
I would like to know what pantheistic religion teaches anything that even remotely resembles this statement. By using the phrase “becoming united with God” Story demonstrates his ignorance of the difference between Pantheism and Panenthism. In Pantheism, there is no ultimate differentiation; the Universe is God. Panentheism is the belief that God exists within everything in the Universe. This is an incredibly important distinction — with massive implications in Eastern thought — and for Story to make such an elementary mistake is simply another demonstration of the contempt he has for his readers.
I also have to wonder if Story has ever met a Buddhist or a Hindu. By writing: “we do not need to be concerned about our own welfare or, for that matter, the welfare of other people” — Story once again demonstrates his understanding of pantheistic religions is hopelessly faulty. Does Story really expect other Christians to take his work seriously when he shows such little regard for accuracy? Story is too busy showing Pantheism to be “bogus” that he can’t be bothered by how it is actually understood and practiced by those who accept the view.
And of course we can’t ignore the fact that Story uses the term maya. This is very much a Hindu-specific term and idea (although it is accepted by some Buddhists) and so to apply it Pantheism generally — and without serious qualification — the term simply doesn’t make any sense.
There is much more that could be said about Story’s presentation of Pantheism but we’ll conclude with:
Pantheism offers no verification for its truth-claims other than philosophical subjectivism—personal opinion.
As Pantheism could be termed as materialistic idealism it is, perhaps, one spiritual outlook that is in harmony with demonstrable science. Can the same be said of some Biblical truth claims or even the very existence of a transcendent personal God?
And lest we forget, Story expects us to accept the following claim as demonstrable and self-evident:
The evidence for the authenticity, reliability, and authority of the Bible is overwhelming. In fact, the Bible alone among the world’s religious documents can verify its truth-claims with concrete, verifiable evidence.
This is absolute nonsense. The central metaphysical truth-claims of the Bible are non-demonstrable. If Christianity were self-evident faith wouldn’t be required. And yet, faith is the very essence of Christianity.
Christians deserve better than this. Story’s brand of apologetics is 1) overconfident, 2) poorly researched, 3) disingenuous and 4) more likely to harm Christian faith than to help it.
Anything short of real engagement with non-Christian views isn’t apologetics. It is simply rhetorical word games.