A Catholic Responds to Rhett and Link’s Christian Deconstruction (Part 3)

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This is Part 3 of a 3-part article. In Part 1, I introduced the YouTube phenomena known as Rhett and Link’s Christian deconstruction. In Part 2, I discussed their reasons for leaving the faith. Here, I will offer my response. I also have a video posted on my YouTube Channel.


What I Am Not Going to Do

Before I get to what I want to do here, I want to state what I do not want to do.

Antagonize

I am not mad at Rhett or Link for leaving the faith.  I believe they are following their hearts and heads to the best of their ability, and that is commendable. Having been through a “deconstruction” of my own some years back that not only negatively affected my family, but also my career, social network, and academic aspirations – I can relate. I also resonate with several of their experiences / arguments. Finally, although I wouldn’t call myself a fan (OK, I admit that Red House is one of my favorite things on the internet), they seem like decent fellows and I am not trying to attack them personally. Their positions and the reasons for them, however, need to be addressed.

Apologize

You might expect that a Christian apologist would have a field day with a couple guys known for pouring chocolate all over themselves or rapping kid’s songs, but I am not going to do any point-by-point refutations of Rhett/Link’s specific arguments. Apologetic material exists in abundance that answers the issues the pair listed in their series of “Deconstruction” videos, and I won’t bore you (or them, if they ever read this) by repeating it. If the guys and I were sitting around in a coffee shop, I might engage their particular arguments, but this is not the place for that.

{NOTE: at the end of this article I have linked to the resources Rhett and Link mentioned in their videos as well as provided a list of my own recommendations.}

Psychologize

Rhett and Link’s stories are their stories, and I will take them at their word. I am not going to try to “get in their heads” or try to explain away their arguments with personal analysis. I don’t know Rhett or Link, and although we share a lot of background similarities, I won’t pretend that I can speak for them. (I mean, how arrogant would it be to think you could judge other people’s motives just because you once identified as part of their group?) #OhSnap

Theologize

Similar to the above point, I am not going to try to give a theological account for How This Happened. History demonstrates that people considered faithful Christians sometimes become non-Christians, and every theological system has a way to explain that phenomena. None of these explanations are necessary or even helpful for my purpose here, which is . . .

What I Am Going to Do

Rhett and Link told their personal stories and, as one would expect, they are replete with subjective assertions (i.e., statements about themselves). Without judging someone’s veracity or motives, there’s really no response to subjective statements except, “OK, that’s your experience.”

However, the pair also made a number of objective claims about Christianity, science, history, morality, etc. Due to the nature of objective assertions (i.e., non-self-referential statements about reality), these are fair game for criticism. Although I am not going to argue against evolution, old earth science, or historical criticism, I am going to show that even if these things are true, Rhett and Link have not earned the right to dismiss Christianity.

TLDR

My first contention is that because Rhett and Link never got outside their Fundamentalist/Baptist/Evangelical (pick your term, in the south they’re practically synonymous) understanding of Scripture, they confused it with the fullness of historic Christianity. They equated their beliefs – which are in the minority both historically and presently even though they are popular with a vocal American Christian sub-group – with the whole of Christianity. Thus, while they rightly should have taken their personal beliefs to task given their new ones, they were in no position to criticize historic Christianity itself (whichever sides are correct).

Second, when it came to issues that actually threatened historic Christianity, they simply dropped the ball from a due diligence standpoint. They hand wave away positions that have massive scholarly support and indeed show no awareness of such sources.

Finally, they hold themselves up as moral standards against which they judge Christianity.

Evolution in Thought & An Age-Old Debate

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Several things stood out to me during Rhett’s discussion of his disavowal of Genesis.

First, the main source he mentioned that convinced him that evolution was true was by a Christian writer. Second, the the main source he mentioned that convinced him that the Earth was not “young” was a Christian writer. Now, it obviously does not make sense to be convinced that Christianity is false based on the beliefs of other Christians – and it was not at this stage in Rhett’s deconstruction process that he gave up on Christianity. However, it did lead to Rhett’s rejection of Genesis.

What an Evolutionary and an Old Earth interpretation of Genesis actually did was convince Rhett that what he had been taught was false. This is an important distinction that will come up again. The majority of Christians accept that Evolution might be how God made the first humans (physically if not spiritually). So while Evolution might spoil Rhett and Link’s interpretation of Genesis, it’s not really a problem for most Christians.

As to the age of the Earth, this has been debated since the days of the early church. So it’s hardly a deal killer for Christianity either. Interestingly, though, Rhett and Link ended up fulfilling St. Augustine’s prediction about Genesis made nearly 1,600 years ago (I won’t quote it here, but read it – it’s amazing).

History and HIS-Story (see what I did there?!?!?!)

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The lion’s share of Rhett’s arguments concerned problems with his understanding of Genesis. These contributed to his rejection of the entire Old Testament. (He also doubted certain historical events due to a lack of archeological evidence – which he wisely admitted was not definitive.) That still left Jesus and the New Testament.

Rhett’s treatment of the New Testament was very brief and focused almost exclusively on difficulties in the Gospels that he got from the skeptical scholar Bart Ehrman. After mentioning none of these difficulties, Rhett presented his conclusion that the resurrection probably did not happen and the stories surrounding Jesus were mostly rhetoric.

Despite giving so little attention to these weighty matters, Rhett did manage to cite a few Christian sources he consulted against Ehrman: namely, Christian apologists Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel.

Now, this is a problem.

Bart Ehrman is an ex-fundamentalist New Testament scholar. Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel, on the other hand, are apologetic popularizers – non-academic writers who merely repackage scholarly material. Pitting a legitimate academic against a guy who outlined a bunch of apologetic arguments 40 years ago or a journalist with an admittedly cool backstory simply isn’t fighting fair no matter how popular their resulting books were.

Now look – if you’re going to attack the Gospels, Jesus, or the resurrection using Bart Ehrman – you better have read Gary Habermas, Michael Licona, or N. T. Wright. Rhett shows no familiarity with these scholars although Ehrman and Licona have been on the debate circuit together for years, and Habermas and Wright are the two leading scholars on the resurrection today. Unfortunately, Rhett seems to have spent most of his energy on issues that hardly matter to Christianity and failed to give due diligence to the crowning issue of the faith.

As one might expect at this point in his talk, Rhett then asks the rhetorical questions I mentioned in Part 2 regarding the Bible and history. No, wait, they were about God and morality.

Heathen and Hell

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Rhett reveals here that he takes issue with a number of [his interpretations of] biblical teachings. Specifically, God’s doctrine of war, non-Christian religious experience, and the propriety of Hell. He asks why he would believe in these things if he didn’t have to.

Again, Rhett’s conclusions regarding his beliefs are not at issue here. The problem is not that he rejected the idea that God is an immoral murderer, or that non-Christian religious experience is false, or that Hell awaits anyone who isn’t an avowed Christian. The problem is, these things are not affirmed by historical Christianity either. They may reflect the Fundamentalist/Baptist/Evangelical interpretations of the Bible that Rhett and Link grew up with (and taught themselves for many years), but the two are not equivalent.

The result is that even if these arguments are sound, all they would disprove is Rhett and Link’s personal brand of Christianity (which is in the minority, historically speaking). But the arguments are used to call Christianity itself into question. This is a serious confusion.

What is worse, Rhett’s next move was to become an “angry atheist” for a time. WHOA! Where did that come from? It’s bad enough that his interpretations of the Bible are confused with the Bible itself, now apparently God could only exist in his  Fundamentalist/Baptist/Evangelical version of Christianity! Fortunately, Rhett bounced back somewhat, decided belief in God isn’t unreasonable, and settled for agnosticism.

Although Rhett and Link remain unsure about God, though, they’re quite assured about other subjects.

Women’s Rights and LGBTQ+

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Throughout Rhett’s talk, he mentions that before his “deconstruction” began, he already had doubts concerning the canon of Scripture because it was “messy.” He also thought the resurrection was “difficult.” (Both of these actually point to the divine guidance of the historic Christian Church, which causes problems for Fundamentalist/Baptist/Evangelical ecclesiology – but I digress.)

Rhett and Link also believed that women were not treated fairly with regard to leadership roles in the church (I mean it is the 21st century – Helloooo?), and both have made it abundantly clear that they are 100% pro-homosexuality, and take serious issue with Christianity because of it (I mean it is the 21st century – Helloooo?).

Personal moral attitudes aside, here is why this is important: Unlike Evolution or the Old Earth, Rhett and Link did not study and conclude that they (and, in their minds, Christianity) had been wrong on these issues all along. Rather, they simply judged Christian morality (which is based in natural law, solid philosophy, and tracks with human history) by the standard of their own morality (which they deem superior because it’s….current…I guess). Regardless of which side is actually correct, this is poor form.

Summary

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When it comes to their investigation of Christianity, Rhett and Link have made several serious (if subtle) mistakes:

  • They equate the whole of Christianity with their offshoot version of it.
  • They equate their interpretation of the Bible with the Bible itself.
  • They call Christianity into question over conclusions that most Christians accept.
  • They pit academic scholars against popular apologists concerning important issues.
  • They treat their own moral code as a universal standard of judgment.

Any one of these is a serious blow to their case against Christianity.

Details, Details . . .

Now of course there may be more to their story than what they said in the half dozen or so hour-and-a-half-long videos they’ve already put out on the topic. However, in my defense, they’ve put out half dozen or so hour-and-a-half-long videos on the topic! Rhett and Link have had ample time to cite more respectable sources, make better arguments, or simply show more awareness of the historic faith. (Their two deconstruction videos alone contained the word count equivalent of a 50-page, single-spaced paper!)

I’ve got these detailed notes that I’ve literally been making for months at this point in preparation for telling this story And so I just don’t wanna get things wrong, I wanna be able to move through this It gets very detailed . . .  it kind of gets into the nitty-gritty of you know Christian belief and Christian doubt, about those things and my particular, what we call “a deconstruction story” of how I no longer consider myself an evangelical Christian It’s very detailed . . .

Further, Rhett was adamant that he wanted to get the story right and had a lot of details to present. He even used notes! (Unusual for their podcast.) So if there is some important part of the story I haven’t heard yet, I can hardly be blamed for thinking there isn’t.

Conclusion

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In this three-part series I have sketched out my contentions with Rhett and Link’s deconstruction odyssey. I could have gone after the evidence for evolution or old earth science – but these do not really matter to historic Christianity (and, for the record, neither do they matter very much to me!).

I could have defended Old Testament archeology or attacked New Testament criticism (which are more important to historic Christianity) – but there was no direct support given for the claims which were made.

Finally, I could have argued for the resurrection – the most important topic of all to Christianity (1 Cor. 15:1-5) – but there was no support of any kind given for Rhett and Link’s rejection of it or any of Jesus’ other miracles.

Instead, what I have shown is that at most Rhett and Link have merely shown that they are justified in rejecting their Fundamentalist/Baptist/Evangelical interpretations of the Bible. That’s literally it. For all their years of study and suffering, they have massively overreacted and overreached in rejecting Christianity as a whole.

Sadly, most of their millions of fans will probably not notice.


dbyt

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RHETT & LINK‘S RESOURCES:

MY RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

(N.B.: I recommend these for the purpose of familiarizing the reader with both sides on the above topics – not necessarily because I agree with these positions, nor disagree with Rhett and Link’s.)