In an earlier post I had argued there is no such thing as "theism" or "Christianity" or "Mere Christianity." Link. In a post where Jeffery Jay Lowder says he doesn't know whether religion causes more harm than good I brought this up, saying religion like theism or Christan theism or mere Christianity does not exist in the abstract. Bradley Bowen, who writes for Lowder for the Secular Outpost responded. Here is what he wrote and my subsequent response:
There are lumpers and there are splitters. Lumpers say things like: "All religions are basically the same. We all worship the same God." Splitters, on the other hand, say things like: "No two people have the same concept of 'God'. Everyone has their own unique beliefs about God and life after death."
John and I both tend more towards being splitters as opposed to being lumpers.
However, the statement "there is no such thing as Christian theism" seems too extreme to me.
As a splitter, I agree that there is a wide diversity of belief and practice encompassed by the terms 'Christianity' and 'Christian'. One must be cautious in using such terms, not to confuse one particular brand or variety of Christianity with the whole thing.
Furthermore, I would be inclined to agree that there is no "essence" or set of beliefs and practices that are held in common by all Christians (or if there are one or two such beliefs and practices, they constitute only a tiny portion of the actual religion of any actual Christian believer).
Nevertheless, there is such a thing as 'Christianity' and there is such a thing as a 'Christian'. But these should be taken as family resemblance concepts.
In other words, these concepts should be defined by the use of criteria rather than by a set of necessary conditions that jointly constitute a sufficient condition for the application of the term. There is no set of basic requirements to be a 'Christian'; there is only a list of relevant criteria that one can satisfy to a greater or lesser degree.
'Christianity' is a broad concept that encompasses a wide diversity of beliefs and practices, so although one can criticize Christianity, it is generally better to criticize something more specific, like Conservative Evangelical Christianity, which encompasses a significantly narrower range of beliefs and practices.
But even such a seemingly specific category like 'Conservative Evangelical Christianity' encompasses a fair range of different beliefs and practices. There is still the danger of stereotypes and of overgeneralization in using this concept. But it would be wrong to say that "There is no such thing as Conservative Evangelical Christianity" just because this category encompasses a range of different beliefs and practices.
There is some truth to the splitter claim that "No two Conservative Evangelical Christians share exactly the same beliefs about God, Jesus, and the Bible." Give me two Conservative Evangelical Christians and an hour to talk with them, and I will find a theological issue or two about which they disagree.
There is no end to splitting. One can always call for and work out finer distinctions than what are currently in use. But the fact that it is always possible to divide a category into smaller and smaller subsets does not imply that nothing corresponds to the broader more encompassing categories further up the hierarchy.
Thanks Bradley, we splitters rule! It's what intellectuals do. Lumpers are uniformed.LINK.
I admit using the very terms that I say don't exist in the abstract. I even speak of debunking Christianity. However, I don't claim to know what that is for any given Christian. I say "if the shoe fits wear it" when Christians say I'm not arguing against their particular idiosyncratic faith. I don't come between believers and say which Christianity is true Christianity. Anyone who claims to be a Christian counts as a Christian in my book, the so-called "cults" included. From time to time though, I try to debunk Christianity in all of its forms.
So, do I know what mere Christianity is? No. I usually think of C.S. Lewis because most Christians do. He arbitrarily abstracts a few key doctrines that most Christians agree upon for apologetical purposes. But I still can legitimately ask why those selected doctrines are key rather than other ones, and I do. What I do is to ascertain what kind of theism, or Christian theism, or Christianity is represented by the ones I'm talking to. I let them tell me rather than tell them what those belief systems mean. After all, I am an outsider. I no more should define those terms than a non-smoker should say which cigar is the best tasting one.
Do I know what theism or Christian theism is? Again, no. Many of those using these terms think of Anslem's perfect being theology. But why should you or I adopt that as a definition when emergent Christian theism is saying something different, as are the modern day Arians represented by the Jehovah's Witnesses? And let's never forget polytheism and panentheism are both theisms.
So, rather than saying something "corresponds to the broader more encompassing categories further up the hierarchy," all you need to do is define these terms for me, right here and now. Define them in a way that all adherents would agree.