In the last article we covered the Genetic Fallacy in some detail so I would refer the reader back to that article for a more in depth explanation of it rather than spend time rehashing it here. For those who have been following along, you will recall that I mentioned that as we encounter the Genetic Fallacy we can approach it either defensively or offensively when dealing with the notion of Christianity being the white man’s religion. In that article we primarily discussed the defensive way in which understanding the Genetic Fallacy can be helpful. I now want to shift the discussion to how we can apply the Genetic Fallacy—within the context of a conversation—to pull the rug from under someone who is alleging that Christianity in the white man’s religion.
As a reminder, our goal here is not to win debates or make people look stupid. Rather, what we want to do is help people confront the barriers that stand between them and the true gospel. One of the ways we can do that is engaging people on these topics and demonstrating how their objections don’t stand up to scrutiny when we think through these things logically. So, I want to take a look at three approaches to responding to the Genetic Fallacy when facing the “white man’s religion”objection. Each of these approaches may be useful in slightly different ways. The approach you choose will likely depend on the person you’re dealing with and which direction you want the conversation to go.
The first two approaches to responding to the Genetic Fallacy rely upon a bit of historical knowledge that you will need to have in your back pocket in order to deal with the objector. I’ll briefly cover that information with an excerpt from one of my previous articles and then we will dig into how to apply it.
“Prior to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, people groups on the African continent appealed to a variety of factors in the development of personal and ethno–cultural identity. These factors would have included family lineage, clan affiliation, tribe, markings on the skin, physical build, language, traditions, religious practices, etc. This network of factors provided a basis for differentiating between people groups in Africa and afforded individuals a context for their self-concept. Unlike the modern Westernized concept of “race,” skin color was less central as a means of differentiating between people groups. The notion of being “black” or being “African” as a unifying characteristic would have been foreign to those who found themselves in chains on their way to the “New World.”
Among Europeans during the Transatlantic slave era there were new ideas coming to the forefront related to the re-categorizing and ranking of people groups. Scientists and other academics advanced a number of theories wherein phenotypical traits such as skin color, bone structure, and size of the head were used as a means of elevating one people group over another; the pinnacle of which were European. With Africans seen as being at the lowest end of the human totem pole, Europeans used this concept of ranking people by “race” as justification for the continued subjugation of “black” people. With this over-arching narrative affixed in the West, African slaves were socialized into adopting a unified identity (i.e. blackness) with shared history crystalizing this notion of “black” identity over time.” With these things in mind, let’s get to our four approaches to responding to the Genetic Fallacy.
The first of our three approaches is all about logical consistency. The idea that Christianity is the white man’s religion has become so imbedded in segments of the black community that it is taken to be almost self-evidently true. Usually people making this objection will then say something about white slave-owners forcing Christianity upon Africans during slavery to support their statement about Christianity being the white man’s religion. When someone raises this objection, I know that it is a classic example of the Genetic Fallacy and there is no good reason for me to be swayed from Christianity on the basis of a fallacious argument. However, when dialoguing with others on this topic I can’t just blurt out “Genetic Fallacy” and walk away from the conversation thinking that I have adequately responded to the person’s objection or concern. As a matter of fact, even defining the Genetic Fallacy for the person may not be quite enough if my goal is to help move the person a step closer to being receptive to the gospel. Therefore, what I want to do is take something that hits close to home for them and use it to illustrate how their objection is illogical.
So, when someone brings up Christianity being imposed upon African slaves as a basis for rejecting Christianity, the first thing I do is give them a brief history lesson. I review the information that I provided above concerning how the modern concept of “race” as a central identifier for people groups was developed amongst Europeans during the modern West’s slavery era, used as a justification for slavery, and through that collective ordeal became the way in which “black” people identify themselves rather than the network of factors Africans used to form their self-concept prior to being enslaved.
The next step I take is to help the person understand their own objection. What the objector is saying is this, “Christianity was forced upon ‘black’ people by ‘white’ people. I am ‘black’. Therefore, as a ‘black’ person I will have nothing to do with Christianity.”
What I want the objector to notice at this point is how the idea of them being “black” is a foundational part of their objection against Christianity. I would then reiterate that the race concept by which we identify ourselves as “black” was not how Africans viewed themselves prior to being enslaved; It originated from Europe, was used as a justification for slavery, and became adopted by people of African descent through the Transatlantic Slave trade in the same manner that the objector believes black people became Christians.
Here comes the punchline. If the objector rejects Christianity because “white” people forced it upon our “black” ancestors during slavery, and the idea of “blackness” being a basis for their identity is also a product of slavery, then in order for them to be logically consistent they ought to reject “blackness” as being a primary means by which they identify themselves and associate themselves with others.
For a person who considers being black to be at the core of their identity, I want them to see how that Genetic Fallacy cuts both ways. What I’ve done is turned their objection to Christianity against them by demonstrating how applying their own reasoning in a logically consistent way would actually result in pulling the rug from under the aspect of their identity that they hold so dear. In the best case scenario the objector will claim that I’m being ridiculous and say something like:
“Bruh, you’re talking crazy. I can look in the mirror and see I’m black. My family members and ancestors are black. I have a shared history with so-called black people and am dealing with the same oppressive conditions that other people who look like me are dealing with.”
In other words, the objector’s response to me may be a list of reasons why he or she is justified for embracing being “black” as a basis/component of their identity and that it has nothing to do with that concept having been adopted by Africans through slavery. I then want to affirm that there are legitimate reasons for people of African descent to have a shared sense of identity as “black” people as opposed to merely having to do with that race concept being imposed upon us during slavery. Likewise, I have legitimate reasons for being a Christian and those reasons are independent of what our ancestors experienced during slavery. When dealing with an open-minded individual this might be a point in the conversation where you can shift to giving specific reasons as to why you affirm that Christianity is true. When dealing with a not so open-minded person, you will have taken that particular objection off the table for them. Every time they try to go back to it you can remind them of how they are not being logically consistent. If they want to be taken seriously they’re going to have to abandon that objection and find another one.
In some cases you might come across people who do not self-identify based upon the modern race concept and yet still reject Christianity for being associated with the enslavement of African people. Rather than make it a strictly white and black thing they may center their argument around notions of forced indoctrination and oppression of their ancestors. Individuals who subscribe to Moorish teaching or the Hebrew Israelite movement would be examples of groups who are in some way a part of or associate with the conscious community but do not hold the modern race concept to be the centerpiece of their identity. With these kinds of folks our first approach wouldn’t work because they don’t hold “blackness” as being a core piece of their identity.
A slightly different way to respond to the slavery indoctrination objection is to show how that argument actually shoots itself in the foot. When the objector raises the point about African slaves being forced into Christianity, once again, I’m going to go into my brief history lesson on how African people came to adopt the modern concept of color/race being a central identifier. However, in this case, instead of making the point that the Genetic Fallacy goes against the identity concept the objector holds to, I’m going to show how by identifying the Genetic Fallacy in their argument we can clearly see how that argument works against itself.
So again I’m going to take time to help the person understand their own objection. To even make the claim that: “Christianity is the White Man’s Religion because Africans were indoctrinated into it through slavery”, the objector has to presuppose that “whiteness” describes a specific category of people. But, once again this notion of “whiteness” as a racial category (along with other racial categories) which came to be a way that us modern folks identify others was developed and established in society by the same Europeans the objector believes is responsible for the acceptance of Christianity among descendants of African slaves. So, the person making such a claim is actually employing a concept (i.e. race) that came from the white man, in order to reject Christianity for supposedly being given to us by the white man. This is what you call a self-defeating argument. If the underlying idea of the white man’s religion claim is that we should dismiss something on the basis that it came from white folks, particularly during slavery, then we should dismiss their argument since it is grounded on a race concept that came from white folks. To put it differently we can frame it this way. In order to even consider their argument we would have to adopt a race concept that white folks came up with. However, according to the objector we shouldn’t do that so we’ll have to cast aside the race based identity framework by which they identify folks as “white man”. But if you take out the notion “whiteness” or of there being a “white man” out of their “white man’s religion” argument then what is left of their claim?… Nothing. As I’ve said to many of these kinds of objectors before, how can you criticize me for following the white man’s religion while utilizing the white man’s race concept to do so?
For this sort of objection we can also take what I call the timeline approach. Christianity is not just some set of ideas and moral demands that we are trying to force onto others; it is much more than a religious philosophy. The Christian worldview maintains it is a matter of real history that Jesus existed, taught, claimed to be God, died by Roman crucifixion, and rose from the grave all in the 1st century AD. Now, if we can provide evidence to demonstrate that we have rational grounds to affirm these things took place then it would be irrational to say that none of the historical claims we have evidence for occurred just because of what slave–masters did 1500 years after the fact. Our goal is not to get the objector to give his or her approval of how we have come to affirm Christianity. Our goal is to point the objector to the claims and evidence for Christianity so they can look into it for themselves and receive the gospel. So, for the sake of argument I could grant that every single black Christian in the Western world is a Christian because slave–masters beat it into our ancestors. That’s clearly false but for the moment let’s say it is correct. Even if that were true, how we came to adopt Christianity is a separate question from whether or not there is evidence to suggest that Jesus existed, taught, claimed to be God, died by Roman crucifixion, and rose from the grave about 2000 years ago. At that point i would want to invite the objector to consider the evidence for Christianity for themselves. In later articles I will be digging into evidence for the Christian worldview including defending Christian claims about the reliability of scripture, the existence of Jesus, and the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. For now I have included links below for anyone interested in diving into those topics.In our next article, I will finish out our discussion on the Genetic Fallacy by addressing it from an angle that many may not have considered and begin to transition into what I believe to be the most crucial part of this series on Ethnic Epistemology.
Evidence for Christianity Links: