The Straw Man of Christianity

     When I take a hard look at Christian theological teachings, it all converges upon the need for salvation. Through Christ, we are each saved and thus gain acceptance in to heaven. There are the teachings of what one must do to be moral and how a moral life is itself a good and worthwhile endeavor, yet on the topic of specifically theological foundation, everything comes down to the goal of salvation. The entire bedrock of Christian faith stands upon this topic; our need to be saved by Christ. If we need to be saved, then there must be something we are being saved from. To this question, the answer comes resoundingly: “Sin”. Sin is the separation of our will from the divine will. Sin is the only thing strong enough to separate us from our ever-loving creator.

     What exactly is included in the spectrum of sins is a topic of great debate, having fed some of the schisms between protestant sects within Christianity. However, there is one which is nearly uniformly agreed upon which I take interest in today; “Original Sin”. Original sin is the sin of Adam and Eve having eaten fruit of the forbidden tree of knowledge in the garden of eden. This act is what created the opening for sin within the realm of humanity; it gave us the comprehension to choose sinful acts over those in alignment with divine will. This sin was so grave, it followed every generation of humanity down through the bloodlines; it is genetically acquired sin. Every human is born with the taint of original sin and we are unable to cleanse ourselves of it. This is the core of sin which Christ’s sacrifice provides freedom from.

     In philosophy, there is a term called a “straw man argument”. This is when someone creates their own argument to then refute. You aren’t approaching the argument posited by your debater or any other; you have independently built a problem which then you define the answer to. This doesn’t seem too difficult, as you made the problem in the first place. Straw man arguments are seen as a damning flaw within philosophical debate, as you have “stood up a straw man” to then knock it down instead of approaching pre-existing troubles or topics.

     The struggle I am having with my faith lately is the question of how is the Christian stance of original sin, and then the rectification of it by the sacrifice of Christ, not a straw man argument? This seems to me to be the core foundation of the faith; the necessity of salvation. Yet is such a foundation one made of straw? How can a house stand if built on such a foundation? If we remove Christianity, we not only remove the solution of salvation yet also the problem of original sin simultaneously.

     The viability of a specified faith should be graded upon its capacity to approach and provide responses to troubles and/or questions outside itself. If a religion handles only internal topics, then it becomes stagnant, ineffectual. As far as the development of a moral code based upon a religion for either an individual or a society, the religion is a sort of existential bridge. It can provide a constructive path to cross the ravine of moral quandaries, yet once one has successfully crossed the bridge, it comes time to continue down the chosen path, not cling to the bridge itself. It is a difficult step to recognize the end of the bridge has come, and I’m not sure I am certain as to how, yet I presume it comes with the recognition of diminishing returns in seeking after the moral teachings of the religion. Once we achieve internalizing the moral teachings of a religious tradition and those teachings have become self-supportive within ourselves, this is the end of the existential bridge. At such a time, the theological teachings must be such to be held on to independent of the moral teachings. In the case of Christianity, are those theological teachings independently viable, or are they built of straw? If I have reached the end of the moral bridge, as I think I have, do I cling to straw, or is there something more substantial I hold in my hands?

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One thought on “The Straw Man of Christianity

  1. What do you mean when you say theological teachings have to be “independently viable”? Can you define those terms a little more clearly?

    I think something you may want to consider is the explanatory power of a religion or “worldview.” In my opinion, but I think have reasons to support it, sin isn’t a straw man argument because it explains better than anything else the current state of the world. If sin did not make any sense outside of Christianity, then maybe it is just a construct of Christianity, but sin – the active rebellion of man against God – appears to me to be visible all around (and within) all the time, and also seems to me to be the primary cause of suffering, brokenness, etc. in the world. It seems to me, that the question of something wrong in the world is posed by our own experiences. Christianity labels it and presents the solution. One could debate whether Christianity correctly diagnoses the problem or not, but in that case, the problem of sin (or at least of evil and suffering in the world) would still not be a straw man argument.

    Some of the stuff I’ve been reading lately has addressed this issue somewhat. These are some titles you may want to look into: “How Then Shall We Live” by Charles Coulson and “Total Truth” by Nancy Pearcy. Both of these talk about Christianity as a worldview and how its explanatory power is one of the most convincing reasons for it.

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