Apologists have earned a reputation for being obnoxious know-it-alls.
I should know. I am an apologist.
Apologetics can easily become the Christian sport where you watch your team fight and hopefully smear the rival.
So why would women aspire to become apologists? Female apologists are curiosities, somewhat like female wrestlers.
What the what?
What is Apologetics?
For the record, an apologist is a person who defends something. I’ve sat next to Vegan apologists and rode horseback with fashion apologists. You probably sleep with someone who is an apologist over an issue you’ve privately vowed to never believe. My husband has been a faithful apologist of the beneficial pleasures of video gaming. Bless his heart.
My son, age two, in an apologist for putting all iPhones into “Pocket!” as he instructed me at the park this morning.
We all have things we want to defend, ideas we think are better for all people, for all times, in all places. And we can all defend our beliefs humility or like WWF wrestlers.
But apologetics is about more than defending God’s existence or the Trinity.
Apologetics questions, all of them.
Culturally speaking I think a female apologist is geared for more potency in this polarized world.
Female apologists can twine the virtues of humility and love in ways many male apologists are missing. We see the need of knowing an atheist before we blast their ideas out of the water.
One example: A woman who has faced, or experienced an abortion is much more persuasive, apologetically, to talk about abortion’s unique issues, to argue for the enormous cost and value of a fetus.
The Hook that Pulled Me In
I didn’t grow up wanting to be an apologist. I grew up longing to be a librarian (the thought of all those books still makes my heart skip). I’m sure my gender played a role in keeping me from apologetics, or pastoring for that matter.
But I got sucked in senior year of high school, when I left my private high school of 500 to become a missionary to the big bad public high school of 2000. I was sort of crazy for Jesus. But I was not crazy about the confrontations I faced: with the atheist guy in my AP English class or the girl who partied all weekend while making God look outdated.
I remembered them mocking the Bible together.
What did Jesus have to do with them?
That’s when I met Frank Pastore and J.P. Moreland (they were teaching local classes) and I learned that a whole branch of knowledge was devoted to understanding and defending Christianity. I learned of Dorothy L. Sayers and heard Dr. Eleanor Stump. I decided to get my Masters in Philosophy of Religion and Ethics. I learned that it was a religious philosopher, Elizabeth Anscombe, who gave C.S. Lewis a run for his money. I realized Biblical woman defended the God of Israel and paved the way for women like me, women like the daughters of Zelophedad, reluctant apologists like Naomi in the book of Ruth, Esther convincing the King of the Persian empire to spare the Jews, the Samaritan woman at the well convincing her entire village to come hear Jesus (John 4:39-42).
Women: Naturally Faithful?
I also learned that, as a female, my concerns were sometimes different than my profs and colleagues. I attended seminary where women made up less than 2% of the graduating class. Not only did I never wait in line for the bathroom, but when I brought up apologetic issues that interested me (e.g. Are women’s souls different from men’s souls?) I got raised eyebrows, but no distinct guidance. I felt like no one else was studying gendered souls or comparing the way Jesus, Buddha and Mohammad treated women.*
I found a major reason: people assume Christian apologists are like WWF wrestlers–they’re mostly male.
There’s a pesky rumor circulating among religions folks, a myth that women are more spiritually sensitive and therefore don’t really want or need intellectual reasons for the Christian faith. “Women are just naturally full of faith, they’ll naturally believe in God.”
Even though I’m itching to delve into this myth, let me merely give two examples.
First, the majority of the churchgoers, Bible study attenders and church volunteers are women (Barna Group, 2010). But, as Jim Henderson has pointed out in The Resignation of Eve: What if Adams’s Rib is No Longer Willing to be the Church’s Backbone? if women do not hear compelling, culturally relevant, valid reasons to attend church, they will stop attending.
Second, there as just as many atheistic women as there are atheistic men. Why?
Women find doubts with the Christian story as much as men. Want proof? Check out WhyiLeftChristianity‘s post “Female Atheist Bloggers Who Rock My World” or cruise through the female bloggers at the Religious Portals, Patheos.com.
Wanted: Female Apologists
Since 1982, females have outpaced males in college graduation (Better Grades and Greater Incentives Explain why Women Outpace Men in College Degrees). While women’s academic achievements have not translated into equal wages or obliterating the glass ceiling, women are graduating from college in higher numbers and with better grades than men (New York Times, 2006). Women are using their newfound power in socially and morally significant ways (Women over 50 initiate divorce in higher numbers than men Wall Street Journal, 2012).
In my experience, the best cultural apologists are women. (The reasons are worth another post entirely, but you can just look at Ruby Slippers, Chapter 5 for some researched ideas on women’s uniqueness). And since many female apologists for other religions were once Christians I cannot overstate the need for women to consider Peter’s beckoning to defend the faith (1 Peter 3:15).
My life as a devoted fundamentalist Believer had become a living hell of physical, mental and spiritual abuse. For all our efforts to know God, to love Him, discern His will and live out His precepts for a Godly home according to the Holy Bible, our family was going crazy. We hated ourselves and we hated each other and we all wanted to die . . . I have met dozens of women who have left, or are in the process of leaving, the Quiverfull lifestyle. Not all become atheists, but none escape without serious modification of their faith.
Ms. Garrison is a powerful atheist who tweets to 13,000 followers @NoQuivering and writes extensively with a team of women at NoLongerQuivering.com (250,000 views per month). Her conclusions about the place of Christian teachings have found her more convinced that God does not exist than he does and is good.
Thousands of intelligent females argue daily for everything from atheism to Islam without hearing an articulate reason to believe otherwise. We need more women on the cultural laywoman level (check out the hopeful list of women in philosophy of religion) dedicating their minds to understanding the cultural persuasiveness of non-Christian arguments so we can “always be ready to give an answer (Greek apologia) for the hope that is in us” (1 Peter 3:15).
We need women who can understand and articulate what Jesus thinks about N.O.W., about Buddhist mums who seem to offer more compassion that Christians, about Fifty Shades of Gray (which I will be blogging about soon). We need women to speak about a better way to educate youth groups about sexuality than “men are animals about sex and women need to be modest.” We need women to weigh in on why and what to do about Christianity’s tendency to both rip families apart and mend them together (Are You Teaching Her About Jesus?)
As female apologist Mary Jo Sharp explained in my recent interview, “We need philosophically and theologically sound women to debate and challenge organizations that seem to presuppose all women should naturally be in agreement with their philosophy and actions.”
In 2010 Sharp debated a Muslim women in a Toronto mosque where both men and women were allowed to attend. This was a rare opportunity. Muslim women are often prohibited from dialog with men outside their family or mosque. “Christian apologetics,” Sharp explained, “will need women skilled in Islamic apologetics to speak with Muslim women, to go where Christian men cannot.”
The best way I’ve built my faith is to face some of the best arguments non-Christians can offer. Anyone can face the opposing ideas if they go in prepared. I suggest reading one Christian apologetic book (suggestions below). Keep a trained apologist site at your fingertips to look up your questions and begin finding how God really does want us to love him with all our minds (Matt 22:37), that God wants childlike humility (not childlike faith) but grown-up minds.
Ingredients of an Apologist
What are the questions you have? Most often the things that bug you are bugging a lot of people.
Consider that someone may have made your question their reason for abandoning the Christian faith. We need your particular curiosity to find the answer that satisfies you. You may find in your asking that some answers do not come with a swift answer. As Rachel Held Evans gently explains, “I was pretty confident that I knew exactly what atheists and humanists and Buddhist believed… without ever having met any atheists or humanists or Buddhists in person.”
Women have this wonderful apologetic edge because we tend to more willingly launch into relationship with someone we may not agree with, if only to walk in their shoes, to see how their worldview helps them answer their heart’s cry.
Women, we need you in this work!
Living with Questions by Dale Fincher (yes, my husband) a most accessible, conversational approach to apologetics I’ve read.
Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis a practical, philosophical guide to talking about from objective morality, God’s existence, Jesus’ resurrection.
Coffee Shop Conversations: Making the Most of Spiritual Small Talk by Dale Fincher and Jonalyn Fincher. I know, another plug, but in this book you’ll find the masculine and feminine, the apologetic and the counselor come together to offer tools to talk about faith.
Want to ask a hard question? Begin with me tonight as Ask LIVE! a one-one-one chatroom where you can ask any question you like.
Or begin in the comments below
Or click into My Faith Hurdle a compassionate, theologically sound, safe place to begin asking any faith question.
The invisibility of female apologists in the culture at large needs to end. And we can change that right here.
* I’ve since written about them formally (Ruby Slippers: How the Soul of a Woman Brings Her Home) and informally (www.rubyslippers.org).
Photo credit: www.sodahead.com