The Criterion of Embarrassment


Christian apologists will frequently argue that the Criterion of Embarrassment adds credence to the Bible. The argument is essentially claiming that any stories which cast a protagonist in any sort of unfavorable light, are less likely to be fabrications. A couple of commonly cited examples include Peter’s denial of Jesus and the fact that the first reported witnesses to the resurrection were women (who were considered less credible than men).

The former example is a poor one for the simple reason that Christian theology is built on the teaching that humans are imperfect and weak. If Peter was portrayed in a consistently flawless manner, it would undermine the entire theology.

The latter example might be valid if it weren’t for the addition of other supposed resurrection confirmations by men.

The Problem

What apologists ignore is the fact that their beloved criterion is a double edged sword. If the embarrassment criterion lends credibility to certain passages, its reverse should likewise induce considerable skepticism. By definition, if supposedly embarrassing stories somehow add credibility, positive stories (especially ones that are fantastic in nature) written by members of the early Jesus cult should be inherently and significantly suspect. So the flip-side corollary to the Criterion of Embarrassment, is the Criterion of Embellishment. In today’s vernacular, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Hence the claims of miracles, and the resurrection itself SHOULD engender significant skepticism among Christians.

Christianity is certainly not the only religion whose sacred text tells some truly tall tales. And commonly, adherents of each religion will argue that THEIR fantastic tales are credible, while those of other religions are fabrications. Everyone believes that:

  • My religion is logical and true.
  • Every other religion is false, if not downright silly.

So for EVERY world religion, a small minority of the world population believes it’s logical and true, while a strong majority of the world’s population believes it’s false, if not downright silly. What they all have in common is a healthy skepticism and critical thinking regarding other religions. They instinctively apply the criterion of embellishment to other religions, while holding their own religion to an entirely different standard, with a VERY low bar for standards of credibility.

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