Christians are often called bigots in today’s “progressive” political climate. They are called intolerant, ignorant, exclusive, and even hateful. The Bible is seen as archaic, outdated, and outmoded. A fellow student at my university recently told me, “Confidence in a bronze age book I think is really dangerous for society.” Popular atheist apologists like Sam Harris call Christianity a cult and an illogical myth. But this should surprise nobody, for even in the time when the gospel was first preached it was lambasted as a fiction.
The apostle Peter defended his ministry from such opposition: “For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16). Distortion of the gospel – the good news about Jesus Christ – continues today.
Contemporary media tends to distort the gospel by reinforcing the negative stereotypes of Christianity. Take a look at this short clip from the popular American political drama The West Wing. How does it make you feel about Christianity?
Does this brief clip adequately represent the Old and New Testaments of the Bible? What kind of impression about Christianity does this scene leave with a casual viewer?
I was shown this clip because I was sharing my beliefs about Biblical baptism and evangelism. Baptism is an integral part of a Christian’s salvation, but some people disagree and say that immersion baptism can be substituted with a sprinkling of water or a “sinner’s prayer.” Evangelism refers to Christians sharing their beliefs in grace and truth with nonChristians, being respectful yet assertive. I took a decisive, clear-cut stance on each issue, but I was called legalistic and obstinate. Christians face persecution when they oppose cultural norms.
Dr. Jacobs opposes the cultural norm of homosexuality, and consequently President Bartlet persecutes her. The person who showed me this video compared me to the pearl-clad Dr. Jacobs. She also wears a ridiculous chartreuse jacket that sticks out like a sore thumb among the practically monochromatic landscape of blazers and suits. An equally unattractive crustacean brooch adorns her collar. Immediately, Dr. Jacobs is singled out as a freak, a clown – someone disconnected with reality and desperate for attention. Even before the dialogue begins, the odds are stacked against Dr. Jacobs.
The composers of this scene also weakened the character of Dr. Jacobs in another way: They arbitrarily assign to Dr. Jacobs a PhD in English literature. At first, her education may seem inconsequential, but in reality the puppeteers behind the scene attempt to ruthlessly kick her credibility out from under her. The fact of the matter is that no formal education beyond the gospel itself is required to become a Christian, an ambassador of Christ. The apostles themselves were unschooled, ordinary men (Acts 4:13). However, by drawing attention to the fact that Dr. Jacobs is neither a medical doctor nor an academic theologian, they attempt to portray her as unqualified, ignorant and pretentious. President Bartlet even calls her an “ignorant [expletive]” at 2:00.
The point I am driving at is that the whole scene is a straw man argument that misconstrues the Bible and Christianity! A straw man argument is one type of logical fallacy. Basically, a straw man fallacy involves one arguing person who attempts to construct the opponent’s perspective, but constructs the perspective in a severely attenuated manner. So instead of boxing the actual Muhammed Ali, the debater tries to seem strong by fighting something that merely resembles Muhammed Ali – just like a scarecrow resembles a person but does not actually live. The directors of this scene create something that appears like Christianity, but in reality it is a gross misrepresentation.
“And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their actions.” (2 Corinthians 11:14-15). This scripture is not taken out of context. It applies to this scene because Paul is talking about people who deceitfully misrepresent Christianity for their own advantage. Commonly Christianity is deceitfully misrepresented for fame and publicity, such as higher TV ratings.
Furthermore, this scene contains another type of fallacy called ad hominem. Ad hominem occurs when an interlocutor attempts to win an argument by making personal insults that do not connect to the logic of the argument. The way that Dr. Jacobs is dressed and the education assigned to her are both subtle examples of ad hominem. Neither her style nor her education pertain to the substance of the Bible. But Dr. Jacob’s personal oddity is intentionally associated with Christianity. Bartlet also accuses her of being deceptive because she calls herself a doctor but only has a PhD in English. Irrefragably, ad hominem pervades this scene.
How else does ad hominem occur in contemporary media and politics? (Think presidential debates.)
But this scene cannot truly be considered an argument in the first place because there is no point that president Bartlet makes besides the fact that Dr. Jacobs does not give him proper respect. Dr. Jacobs does in fact demonstrate a lack of deserved respect because the Bible says that Christians should revere their earthly governments and give respect where it is due. Romans 13 fantastically explains a Christian’s relationship with the government. Here is a sample from this chapter: “Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor” (Romans 13:7). Jesus himself honored his government by paying taxes (Matthew 17:24-27). He respected Pontus Pilate when He was on trial; Jesus did not resist the authorities who put him to death (Isaiah 53:7 cf. Mark 15:5; Matthew 26:63). Jesus even miraculously healed the servant of a Roman centurion (a high-ranking governmental soldier) after He publicly lauded the centurions great faith (Luke 7:1-10). Clearly, Dr. Jacobs is not an adequate representation of Christianity because she does not honor her governing officials. Again, we see that the directors try to analogize Christianity with the extremely flawed character of Dr. Jacobs. This is a faulty analogy! A faulty analogy is a third type of logical fallacy!
Again, there are at least three formal logical fallacies present in this scene: straw man, ad hominem, and faulty analogy.
Moreover, President Bartlet begins his attack against Dr. Jacobs by referring to her stance on homosexuality. The Bible says that homosexuality is a sin. Homosexuality is an abomination in both the Old and New Testaments. Christians should not be afraid to make this known; however, we should not harshly condemn those who are homosexuals to hell because “[t]here is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you – who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 4:12). The grace of God is meant to bring every sinful human being to repentance. Christians should not act hatefully towards homosexuals, but they should tell them what the Bible says about homosexuality and then help the struggling person through prayer, instruction, and love.
In addition, Dr. Jacobs is given no chance to respond to the Old Testament scriptures with which President Bartlet barrages her. He perverts the scriptures to make the Bible seem utterly repugnant. He mentions several specific Old Testament laws without a hermeneutic perspective; that is, he takes the laws out of context and does not juxtapose them with passages like Romans 7, which is titled, Released From the Law, Bound to Christ.
In Romans 7, the apostle Paul explains that the Old Testament law does not apply to Christians like it did to Jews. He says, Christians “have been released from the law so that [Christians] serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code” (Romans 7:6). For this reason, Christians are allowed to wear garments made of different materials; they are allowed to play football; they do not make animal sacrifices; they are not required to observe the Sabbath as Jews did; and they are allowed to plant crops of different varieties side by side. The directors of this scene who speak through President Bartlet fail to bring a New Testament perspective to the Old Testament.
I proffer this article as a rebuttal to the West Wing’s caricature of Christianity.
Has your perception of Jesus Christ and the Bible been perniciously influenced by the media?