New Atheists and Fundamentalists appear to agree that they are able to reliably discern “true” Christians from those who are merely posing as Christians. “Progressive Christians”, to these folks, are prime examples of such poseurs.

From the standpoint of a New Atheist, the logic goes something like this:

  1. Christianity is a very bad thing, because
  2. Christians believe in false things such as the miracles described in the Bible
  3. Believing false things is bad
  4. Anybody who claims to be a Christian but has no identifiably false beliefs is not a “true” Christian because
  5. See 2, above.
  • In a nutshell: No “true” Christian doesn’t have any beliefs at all that can’t be easily refuted by reason and science.

The Fundamentalist version of this idea goes something like this:

  • No “true” Christian doesn’t have any beliefs at all that don’t contradict plain common sense (because “religious belief” is supposed to be hard, apparently).

Admirers of the philosopher Anthony Flew will immediately recognize this as the infamous and easily disparaged “No True Scotsman” fallacy 1. For example:

  1. Claim: All Scotsmen love single malt whiskey
  2. Counter-claim: My grandfather in Glasgow hates single malt whiskey
  3. Counter-counter-claim: All true Scotsman love single malt whiskey, and your Glaswegian grandfather apparently doesn’t qualify as one of these.

Applying this kind of reasoning to specific examples of Christian doctrine, we sail off immediately into strange waters:

  1. Claim: No true Christian doesn’t believe that Jesus had a virgin mother
  2. Counter-claim: Saint Paul never mentions the Virgin Birth, and if he isn’t a “true Christian” then nobody is
  3. Counter-counter-claim: Paul doesn’t mention the Virgin Birth because he didn’t think it was essential to Christian belief
  4. Counter-counter-counter-question: Then why should I!?

We weave tangled webs when we claim to know who the “true believers” are, and this is true regardless of whether or not we claim to be true believers ourselves, it seems…

  1. See this Wikipedia Entry