The other day I mentioned the "Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven" bumper stickers and how they are really an implicit admission that the moral function of religion is to allow bad people to feel good about themselves. Today, I want to point out another theme in these bumper stickers. (There are also T-shirts and other merchandise with this slogan.)
This is classic example of a strawman argument. Rarely, if ever, has a non-believer accused a religious person of "not being perfect". Instead, what usually happens is that non-believers get tired of listening to the religious continually spouting their bigoted lies about their alleged moral superiority and point out that the claims are not true. Usually non-believers point to anecdotal evidence but sometimes, especially in recent years, they point to statistical evidence that the claim is false.
As so often happens, the religious don't actually notice the point the non-believers are making. All they hear is the emotional message that they are being criticized. Their response shows clearly that their primary concern is the threat to their ego. They respond with the slogan from the bumper sticker in an effort to re-assert their alleged moral superiority.
The issue isn't whether or not the religious are perfect; the issue is whether they are more moral than non-believers. By claiming that the issue is whether or not they are perfect, they are not only avoiding the real issue. They are avoiding it in a way that makes it seem like the non-believer's criticism is invalid as hyperbolic or excessive. More important to their way of thinking, the response implicitly assumes that they are still better than us even if not perfect--thus re-asserting their status in the monkey troop and protecting their fragile egos.
As with all strawman arguments, don't follow them to the new battleground they are trying to shift to. Pull them up short and force them to focus on your point--the very point they are trying to avoid because they know they can't win:
"The issue isn't whether you are perfect. The issue is whether you are more moral than non-believers. The evidence shows you are less moral, and your little slogan explains why. You think your imaginary friend either condones your immorality or will forgive it simply because you asked."