Are All Religions True?

One of the things modern people often say about different religions is that ‘they are all basically the same’: they teach about being a good person, about a higher being of some sort, but all lead to the same place – just different paths to the same thing. While this position sounds good, we must understand that it turns out to not even be close to true, and that’s important because we should be seeking out not what is easy to live with as human beings but what is ultimately true, and lines up with reality.

University of California, Berkley, professor Huston Smith explains, “As soon as the notion of sameness, between the religions, moves beyond vague generalities, that every religion has some version of the Golden Rule, it falls apart on the fact that the religions differ in what they consider essential and nonnegotiable.”[1] Smith is saying that when we dig into any religion we will find contradictory ideas when compared to other religions. This is true about a number of foundational beliefs around which religions are shaped. Here are a couple of examples:

1 – God

Religions differ on their views of who or what God is. Christianity says God is one God in three persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), eternally one but eternally distinct. An eternal community, which is why there was love and humility and servanthood, before there was a universe, or people. This is by definition how John can say things like “God is love” (1 John 4:8). You can’t have love without community of some sort, which this view of God allows for. This description of God is known as ‘Trinitarianism’.

Islam and Judaism on the other hand have a Unitarian view of God, wherein there is a strict oneness to God that does not consist of this plurality, or trinity, at all. In fact, both religions see this concept as a heresy. In contrast to Islam and Judaism, Buddhism and atheism says there is no God, while Hinduism says there are hundreds of millions of gods. Which religion is right? Modern western culture says ‘they all are’ and ‘they all teach the same thing’. Clearly we are ignoring the facts, and being irrational, which is the one thing an informed skeptic does not want to be.

 2 – Jesus

Consider also the question of Jesus Christ himself. Christianity says it’s essential that Jesus died to pay the sacrifice for sin, taking on the wrath of God and then rose again from the dead. If these things did not happen, belief in Christianity is “vain”, and useless, and Christians are “still in our sins,” and the most “pitied among men” (1 Cor. 15:13-18). Their view of God, and salvation, is not just different, it is wrong. Islam is vastly different than Christianity in that it says that Jesus didn’t die on the cross at all, and thus, that he did not rise from the dead either.

The reality is: Jesus died or he didn’t die. Islam and Christianity can’t both be true at the same time. There are massive implications on every level of life and civilization to the claims of these faiths and it’s the height of laziness to claim them both somehow true at the same time, even if it is in the name of civility. Someone once said, ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions’ and it is nowhere more clear than in this postmodern effort.

Pluralism in India

When I was in India, we were sitting at the top of a mountain. The team I was leading, and I, were praying together and talking around the campfire and off to the side there was a Hindu man worshipping and praying to Shiva and Vishnu and what he called “the monkey god.” He came and joined us by the fire and told us all about his beliefs and then we told him about Jesus. None of us around the fire that night said, “Hey, both versions of reality are true and reliable at the same time.” That would have been a mockery to our beliefs and to his.

The reality is that our options are that one view is right, or at least more right than the others, or that all religious views that have been developed so far in civilization are possibly wrong, but not that they are all right. That is not only the most irrational position but the laziest.

Steve Turner wrote a poem about the absurdity of this postmodern approach to life:

We believe that all religions are basically the same. They all believe in love and goodness. They only differ on matters of creation, sin, heaven, hell, God, and salvation. We believe that each man must find the truth that is right for him. Reality will adapt accordingly. The universe will readjust. History will alter. We believe that there is no absolute truth except the truth that there is no absolute truth.[2]

Turner’s tongue is firmly planted in cheek as he satirizes the modern approach to truth.

And it should be.

Q & A Monday: Why do we lose our faith because of suffering?

“I’m having a very hard time. There is this pain I’m struggling with regarding how logical my brain is and the pain I see around me… It literally keeps me up at night struggling to hold onto my own faith.”

-Ian

Preamble

Thanks for the honest question Ian. These are some of the deepest waters we wade into as human beings, and I must admit it is my biggest struggle as a Christian most days, so I get it. The first thing I’d like to say is that I won’t attempt a detailed response here to the larger question of ‘suffering and evil’ itself, though I am of course tempted because I want to help as much as I can, but that would be a very long response (for example, I just submitted a 35+ page chapter on this question in a recent manuscript for a book to be published in Fall 2017).

Secondly, I do think Christianity offers not detailed answers to every suffering event we go through in life, but it does offer the best answers, and the best hope, among the marketplace of idea, including atheism (which is what we are tempted to slip into during times of trial). Christianity offers the God who brings comfort in the midst of suffering, it says God came and suffered himself, God himself wept, God himself was scared, God himself was beaten and killed. God himself didn’t always get to walk on the water, but actually drown like the rest of us, and won’t always protect us from drowning, but offers us life on the other side of it. He died, but he rose again – and now lives in a state of glory that all the suffering in the world can’t compare to if we trust him and hold on to him as we live and as we die (Rom. 8:18).

All of that comfort and peace are where the true answers to your question lies. But for now I would rather hone in on just one idea which you are asking about, namely, your logic on this issue. So, in a sense, this is not an answer to the problem of suffering as a whole, but is a first step toward a fuller answer to what you have focused in on here: the inability for your logic to comprehend the suffering if a loving God really exists. And I think that point by itself is extremely important.

A Unique Doubt

The Bible is very honest with the question you are asking. One of the earliest stories the Bible records is the book of Job – an entire treatise on this topic, but, you will notice that it does not present the question of suffering as an objection to the existence of God. Which in and of itself is the point I want to make. That in a book that examines suffering and it’s relationship to us and God for forty-two chapters should not conclude that God doesn’t exist, but the opposite – that he is completely sovereign over everything that happens in the world – should cause us to pause and consider. Beyond that, the fact is that even though ancient people were arguably exposed to more suffering, grief, loss and evil than we are in the modern western world, and their writings are filled with laments and mournings of these experiences, they do not conclude that evil and suffering equals the absence of gods/God.

“There is virtually no ancient thinker who reasoned from such evil that, therefore there couldn’t be a God” (Timothy Keller, Making Sense of God, 37).

So, we must ask why we in our day make this jump.

Philosopher Charles Taylor connects our ‘logic,’ as you rightly call it, to our belief and confidence in the power of our own intellect as modern, post-Enlightenment people. He says that ancient people didn’t assume they could understand the exact ways of the complex universe as we do. They did not assume they had enough wisdom and knowledge to judge how an infinite God maintains every aspect of the working world and how it unfolds. It is only with the certainty and confidence of the modern person that we have developed such a doubt that connects evil/suffering with the possibility that God may not exist. But,”the reality is, it is assumed, not proven, that a God beyond our reason could not exist” (Ibid).

In this way, the problem of suffering is a unique kind of doubt to us as modern people.

Being Aware of Our Own Background Beliefs

This is an encouragement to simply be self-aware of our own pre-suppositions, and our own process of thinking about things, and to recognize that we are a product of our times and geography, and to be careful to not let those factors be the primary framework through which we experience the world and make decisions about the most important things. To slow down and say ‘Okay, how is my environment and even the time in which I was born, and the ideas I have come to adopt, influencing me right now in making me have these doubts versus these ones, etc.,’  How are your background beliefs (as a modern, Canadian person living in 2016) setting up your conscious reasoning to fail to be able to hold the idea of suffering and the idea of God together at the same time?

The answer lies in the fact that you are not abandoning faith altogether, but are simply trading one kind of faith for another – “a new kind of faith, one in the power of human reason and the ability to comprehend the depths of things,” and this new faith position is displacing the “older, more self-effacing kind of faith” (Ibid).

Conclusion

Like I said, this is not a detailed answer to the question of evil and suffering itself which I will post about in the future (and which you can watch some thoughts I have offered in the past if they are helpful here), but more of a clearing away the deck for future thinking, a preliminary step in the midst of the crisis, and one which I think is important for all of us to consider as we then take the next step to humbly come before the world and its evil and its pain and connect it to the question of God. A connection which is wholly natural, but when we conclude that the one means the other can’t exist we must tread carefully, and recognize that in that moment we may have simply slipped into a doubt/new faith position which is simply a product of modern thinking and experience – and not an objective view to build our life on at all.

Debunking myths: the church is against science!

If you go back through history, the church and science were at times at odds with one another; those disagreements, however, have been gravely exaggerated. When atheists speak of the church’s persecution of scientists, we hear stories of people being burned at the stake for scientific theories; we hear about Galileo, Copernicus and Giordano Bruno being persecuted by the church for a ‘heliocentric’ view of the universe – the idea that the earth revolved around the sun rather than the other way around – and other such stories. Thrilling dramas, however, they are not true.

Historian David Lindberg speaking about the medieval era, writes, “There was no warfare between science and the church.”[1] Historians are virtually unanimous that there never has been a conflict, and that the science versus religion story is a nineteenth-century fabrication (by such writers as John William Draper and Andrew Dickson White).[2] The mythology of the church vs. science is more informed by famous plays – such as Bertolt Brecht’s Life of Galilio, which present the man as a martyr for the cause of science, than actual history. The church did not persecute Copernicus or Bruno or Galileo for scientific theories. Don’t get me wrong, Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake; but he “was not executed for Copernicanism but for a series of theological heresies centering on his view of the trinity.”[3] A gruesome reality indeed, but not one based on fear of scientific discovery.

Another modern example of this historical revisionism is the story of the medieval church believing that the Bible taught a flat earth, and then reacting in outrage when science came along and corrected it. Again, this is simply not true. From the time of the ancient Greeks, people knew the earth was round. They observed that the hull of a ship sailing from shore disappears before the top of the mast, and would see the reflection of the earth on the moon during an eclipse.[4] They knew the earth was round. The so-called flat-earth conflict is simply part of nineteenth century propaganda.

And so, Oxford professor Alister McGrath concludes, “The idea that science and religion are in perpetual conflict is no longer taken seriously by any major historian of science…. One of the last remaining bastions of atheism survives only at the popular level – namely, the myth that an atheistic, fact-based science is permanently at war with a faith-based religion.”[5]


 

[1] David Lindberg, “Medieval Science and Religion,” in Gary Ferngren, ed., Science and Religion (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002). 70.

[2] Alister McGrath, The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World (New York: Doubleday, 2004), 85-86.

[3] Quoted in Dinesh D’Souza, What’s So Great About Christianity? (Washington: Regnery, Inc., 2007), 104. Italics added.

[4] Ibid., 103.

[5] Alister McGrath, The Twilight of Atheism, 87.

The Uniqueness of the Christian Answer – Pain & Suffering (Part 3)

2015 was a year of a number of tragedies both globally and personally (I lost people I love dearly, and people I know suffered tragedy). How do we understand the meaning of these events, if there is meaning to them? This is part 3 of a few reflections on the question of pain and suffering to end off 2015.

Not a Christian Problem

The challenge of suffering is not a uniquely Christian problem. Every worldview has to deal with it whether you are an atheist or a Hindu. We don’t have space to deal with each and every worldview and how it answers this challenge, except to say I think the Christian answer is the best. The western world struggles with interpreting suffering. There are a number of reasons for this: we see the point of life differently than a large portion of the world. Our lives focus primarily around the pursuit of happiness. In contrast to that, as social theorist Max Scheler writes, an “essential part of the teaching and directives of the great religious and philosophical thinkers the world over has been on the meaning of pain and suffering.”[1]

Every society and worldview seeks to give instructions to its people on how to deal with suffering. Sociologists have compared the various ways different cultures deal with suffering. They have noted that western culture is one of the weakest and ill prepared in history when it comes to dealing with pain. Whether it’s a terrorist attack, a hurricane, or a shooting in a movie theatre – whenever a tragedy hits the western world, we seem unprepared philosophically for it. The most fundamental reason is that our worldview does not offer us an explanation for suffering or show us how to deal with it. In a secular or atheistic worldview, the material world is all there is.

Pain, therefore, has little to no meaningful part to play in our lives. It is always an enemy to be avoided. So, when it hits us, we end up borrowing concepts from others faiths and religions. When the Boston Marathon bombing took place, my Facebook news feed filled up with people offering their ‘prayers’ and ‘thoughts’ to the victims and families. Atheists and agnostics had to borrow language and hope from religious categories because their own story offers little comfort in these times.

At that point, which faith to borrow from becomes important. Many of my friends use Karma language to explain life and events (“what goes around comes around”, etc). On the day of the Boston Marathon bombing and the shootings in Paris, that Karma theology didn’t work – as it would have to blame the victims for their fate – so people borrowed the Christian worldview for the day. “Christianity teaches that, contra fatalism, suffering is overwhelming; contra Buddhism, suffering is real; contra karma, suffering is often unfair; but contra secularism, suffering is meaningful.”[2]

The Suffering God

In Christian theology, the moment of greatest good and glory and love is also the moment of greatest suffering – the cross of Christ. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten son, so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). This is where God is seen loving the world most potently – dying for humanity. The Bible says this was the greatest moment of sacrifice, courage, and love ever to exist. The resource Christianity offers us to deal with suffering in our lives – one that is unique from other worldviews – is a God who Himself suffered. In every other religion, God remains aloof and distant, removed from suffering. Christianity, however, says that God entered in. He suffered. He was tortured. He died. Theologian John Stott tells of a time he was visiting a Buddhist temple. He was staring at a statue of Buddha sitting cross-legged with a philosopher’s grin on his face.

“I wanted to look away and look to see a cross – the bloody, mangled God in the flesh, who became a human being because that is not a removed esoteric philosophy of life, but a self-giving, selfless sacrifice that says ‘I’m with you. I entered into your evil. I took and absorbed the evil onto myself. I suffered for you, so that you wouldn’t have to. I’m not aloof. I’m not distant. I’m in the pain. I’m in the suffering. I took it all on myself so that one day I can redeem it.’”

Christianity says that, while there won’t always be detailed answers as to why evil and suffering befalls us, there is an actual answer to the reality of it: the life and work of Jesus. When we look at Him, we see that the answer can’t be that God doesn’t care. He came and he died an awful death for us. This shows care.

Why did He do this? The answer, Christianity says, is so much deeper than we think. Many say ‘to save us from our sins,’ and, of course, that is true. Christianity goes even further than that however. It says something else which is very unique in the marketplace of ideas. It says that the suffering of the cross was not only about God’s will or plan, but about His very nature. Have you ever wondered why Paul explains the cross of Christ so closely to his discussions about the nature of who God is – His identity (Colossians 1:15-20; Philippians 2:5-11)? It’s because suffering is part and parcel of the very identity of who God is, not just what He does. “If the incarnation of the Son,” Jurgen Moltmann says, “is viewed merely as the functional presupposition of the atoning sacrifice made necessary by sin, then it is only an expression of the saving will of God. It only affects God’s relationship with the world,”[3] and has little to do with who He himself is in his nature.

However, the cross of Christ in the New Testament is more than an atoning sacrifice to save sinners or a response to humanity’s sinful choice. It is also about who God is. Paul is saying: our need was the occasion for the suffering but not it’s only reason.[4] We must grasp the powerful uniqueness of the Christian view: a God who sacrifices and suffers with, for, and because of humanity. He does this, not in spite of His identity, but because of it. He will therefore be “with us” through all our own pain and re-make it in eternity into something we could never imagine (Romans 8:18).

This is the precise point Samwise Gamgee makes to Frodo in the film version of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers when trying to convince him to keep pressing on to Mount Doom after all the pain and suffering they have seen:

Sam: It’s like in the great stories Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing this shadow, even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines, it’ll shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something even if you were too small to understand why. But I think Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going because they were holding on to something.

 

Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?

 

Sam: That there’s some good in the world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.

Indeed.

 


[1] Max Scheler, “The Meaning of Suffering,” in On Feeling, Knowing and Valuing: Selected Writings, ed. H.J. Bershady (University of Chicago Press, 1992), 98.

[2] Ibid., 31.

[3] Jurgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1993), 115.

[4] Ibid.

What about Evolution? – Pain & Suffering (Part 2)

2015 was a year of a number of tragedies both personally (I lost people I love dearly, and people I know suffered tragedy) and globally. How do we understand the meaning of these events, if there is meaning to them? This is part 1 of a few reflections on the question of pain and suffering to end off 2015.

What about Evolution?

In Part 1, I argued the fact that we have categories called ‘evil’ and ‘suffering’. Each act as pointers to God: we wouldn’t have absolute and objective categories called ‘evil’ and ‘suffering’ without an absolute standard (God Himself). The atheist response to this argument is such that, as a species, we got our values and ideas of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ from our evolutionary development. Our moral compass developed in our brain circuitry over hundreds of thousands of years based on what was best for our tribe and our family, and what helped us survive in a particular environment with the goal of passing on our genes, etc. There are detailed reasons why this explanation doesn’t work. For now, a few quick thoughts.

First, we have morals that are contrary to evolutionary development as human beings. Loving our enemies, for instance, makes little sense from a purely naturalistic point of view, as does secretly giving to charities, and a host of other selfless acts. Second, and more interesting, if evolutionary theory is true, then, as many philosopher’s have pointed out, we can’t actually trust any of our convictions around what is ‘evil’ and what is ‘suffering’. Why? Because we only hold these ideas as remnants from past generations and what they were forced to believe in order to survive and flourish at any given moment, not because they are necessarily ‘right’ or ‘true’. Charles Darwin admitted this himself, in a haunting confession, saying that he couldn’t trust his own conclusions about the world because he couldn’t trust the way he came to those conclusions. He says:

“Within me the horrid doubt always arises, whether the convictions of a man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would anyone trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?”[1]

The answer, if naturalistic evolution were true, would be a resounding no. We couldn’t trust these convictions. So then, just because a person says something is ‘evil’ doesn’t make it true; it may just be a misfiring of their cognitive faculties. Were the actions of that child abuser, that political leader, or that murderer ‘wrong’? Who is to say really? My convictions may just be saying that for the sake of my own survival, being driven by my selfish gene.

Furthermore, and even more fascinating, is this (and we are about to go deeper down the rabbit hole, so hold on): if all reason is a product of natural selection, then how much confidence can we have in a rational argument for natural selection itself? To suggest that the only reason our belief-forming faculties help us form ideas about the world – for the purpose of survival and to give comfort – is to suggest that there is no actual truth to these beliefs at all. Philosopher Alvin Plantinga agrees, and concludes that “[it] is improbable, given naturalism and evolution, that our cognitive faculties are reliable. It is improbable that they provide us with…true beliefs over false.” [2] The problem, of course, is that the same distrust has to include all beliefs, including all conclusions of evolutionary theory and Darwinism itself.

The same cognitive faculties that we can’t trust in regard to our thoughts about ‘God’, ‘evil’ or ‘right and wrong’ are the same ones that cause us to conclude that evolution is true, so we can’t trust those convictions either. In other words, if evolutionary theory is right, we can’t actually trust evolutionary theory! “Evolutionary biology cannot invoke the power of reason [i.e. to prove evolution] even as it destroys it.”[3]


[1] Charles Darwin to W. Graham, July 3, 1881, in The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, ed. Francis Darwin (1897; repr., Boston: Elibron, 2005), 1:285.

[2] Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism, xiv.

[3] Ibid.

Does Pain & Suffering Point to God?

2015 was a year of a number of tragedies both personally (I lost people I love dearly, and people I know suffered tragedy) and globally. How do we understand the meaning of these events, if there is meaning to them? This is part 1 of a few reflections on the question of pain and suffering to end off 2015.

Suffering as Proof of God?

Most people say that the existence of evil and suffering in the world and in our lives is evidence against the existence of God, but the reality is, that in many ways it is a powerful evidence for his existence. The skeptic’s position assumes that there’s such a thing as categorical ‘evil’ (that killing innocent people by flying planes into buildings is categorically wrong for instance). It assumes that abusing children, and destroying the environment for corporate gain is ‘evil.’ That having cancer, or being the victim of a tsunami, should be called ‘suffering.’ But the very fact that we have these convictions and these categories (‘evil’ and ‘suffering’) is part of the problem for the atheist, because where did we get them from?

Where did we all come to agree on these objective moral categories with which we then put God on trial? Where did we get the idea that human beings are important and they should be loved and not excluded? That the Holocaust was ‘evil’, that cancer is a ‘bad’ thing? It’s because we sense in ourselves that there’s a way the universe is supposed to be. Atheism has failed to realize that if we take God out of the picture, the problem becomes bigger than it was before. We can’t even talk of ‘evil’ and ‘suffering’ at all because we lose the categories themselves.

This is a problem for the atheist because if he agrees to objective moral laws than he has to have an objective moral-law Giver. In your heart you know what is evil. Not only that, but you know what is good. You know that sharing, loving your neighbor, and laying down your life for the weak are good and noble things. Why? Where does that come from? C.S. Lewis pondered the question this way:

When I was an atheist, my argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? Of course I could have just given up my idea of justice by saying that it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too, for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not just simply that it did not happen to please my fancies.[1]

When I stood over my father’s casket when I was 15 years old, there was something in me that felt the reality I was experiencing was disjointed. Staring at my dead father felt out of whack, because in my mind, there was a way that the universe was supposed to be. But with what was I comparing the state of my universe? If we are all just a product of natural processes, as Evolutionary theory suggests, with only our own experiences, and those of our ancestors, to inform what we know and feel about the world, then why would I have ever come to deduce as a teenager that losing my father felt somehow wrong? Or for that matter why the Holocaust, or 9/11 were?

We feel there is a way things ought to be don’t we? And that daily notion, I think, is a clue to the reality of God in the universe, not his absence. As Timothy Keller points out, “The evolutionary mechanism of natural selection depends on death, destruction, and violence of the strong against the weak – these things are perfectly natural. On what basis then, does the atheist judge the natural world to be horrifyingly wrong, unfair, and unjust?”

The fact that you believe in evil and suffering is a pointer not away from the existence of God but toward it.


[1] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Harper San Francisco, Zondervan Publishing House, 2001), 38-39.

[2] Timothy Keller, The Reason for God (New York: Dutton, 2008), 26.

The Female Brain – a sneak peak at Radical Sex

This is a sneak peak from my e-book Radical Sex which releases later this month. It is a small selection from chapter 2, entitled Married Sex & Orgasms.

unnamedThe Female Brain

…for many men, the context of life is irrelevant when it comes to sexual desire. We can be driving in a car with kids screaming and yelling at each other and simultaneously be in the mood for sex. For women, however, context matters. Just ask a mother in that same scenario with kids screaming in the back seat if she’s in the mood. Likely not. This is because sexual pleasure for a woman is tied very closely with her emotional life.

In her fascinating book, The Female Brain, Dr. Louann Brizendine, says that, “Female sexual turn-on begins, ironically, with a brain turn-off. The impulses can rush to the pleasure centers only if the amygdala—the fear and anxiety center of the brain—has been deactivated. Any worry—about work, the kids, schedules, dinner—can interrupt the march toward pleasure.”[1] This is one of the most profound differences between men and women. Women often live with fear or anxiety about a variety of things in life, and if these things are active it is hard for their pleasure centers to begin firing.

A husband, therefore, has to work on relieving fear and anxiety in his wife’s life to better connect with her sexually. He must take the kids out, cook dinner, and make sure the bills are getting paid.

Shut her brain off, and she gets turned on.

Connected to this is why, contrary to popular opinion, married couples statistically don’t have worse sex than singles, but better. Much better. Why?…

________________________________

Sign up for my free e-book Radical Sex (here), which will be available very soon and emailed directly to you.
[1] Louann Brizendine. The Female Brain (New York: Morgan Road Books, 2006.), 77.

The Plantinga Effect

The Plantinga Effect
The story that is not being told to us by the institutions (educational, media-driven, etc.) is that reason, not ‘blind faith,’ is giving birth to Christian faith all over the world, including in the most industrialized and sophisticated cultures on the planet. The question is: why?

The rise of Christianity is not just found in villages and tribes in the third world, but in the highest levels of academia, and across every discipline – science, philosophy, history, and the arts (the former two more than the latter two, which is an interesting story in and of itself).

In her book, Total Truth, Nancy Pearcey points out one important example of this movement. Philo – the philosophical journal – carried an article deploring the way Christians are taking over philosophy departments in universities across America. As an aggressive supporter of philosophical naturalism (the doctrine that there is nothing apart from the physical order, and nothing supernatural) – the writer of the article, Quentin Smith, warned his colleagues “that the field of philosophy is being ‘de-secularized,’” and that across Universities in America one-quarter to one-third of the philosophy departments “now consist of theists [people who believe in God], generally Christians.”

Pearcey points out that this movement is largely because of the work of one philosopher: Alvin Plantinga – who is a Christian, and at the same time, is seen by many as the greatest living philosopher today. In the past, Christians working in the field of philosophy tended to keep their belief in God restricted to their private lives. Everything changed, however, when Plantinga published his influential works, God and Other Minds in 1967 and The Nature of Necessity in 1974, wherein he argued for the existence of God on such a high philosophical level that they became definitive 20th century philosophical works.

Smith points out that Christians like Plantinga, are capable of “writing at the highest level of analytic philosophy,” resulting – to his chagrin – in a stranger phenomena: that “in philosophy, it became, almost overnight, academically respectable to argue for theism.” This is one of a plethora of examples, including many occurring in fields of science, history and psychology in which the walls between faith and reason are crumbling.

Belief in God is being taken seriously at the highest levels of academia – not just as a private experience, or naïve belief in something irrational, but as the product of reason. Theism is becoming so much the accepted philosophical norm and atheism so much a philosophical problem, that attitudes are almost being reversed in the realm of the academy from those of twenty or thirty years ago.

Trivial Objections

Trivial Objections
There are many reasons people choose to reject Christianity. They don’t have enough evidence. They don’t trust the Bible, etc., But there is one reason people cite that I hear often which according to the laws of logic don’t hold as much water as one might think at first blush. Objections that revolve around the actions of Christians. People often say, “I don’t believe in Christianity because Christians are hypocrites,” or “because of the bad things Christians have done throughout history,” etc., and fair enough, Christian’s have done awful things in the name of Christianity throughout time which must be apologized for humbly. But what is actually happening when a person refuses to believe in God based on the actions of another person or group?

What is happening is what scholars call a ‘trivial objection.’ In the study of logic, a trivial objection is when one focuses “critical attention on a point less significant than the main point or basic thrust of an argument.”[1] In other words, inconsequential data is brought to bear on a given question or issue. In this case, one’s opinion of past Christian actions is brought to bear on the truth of Christianity.

Evaluating whether Christianity, or any other religion, is true must be based on its theological and historical claims, not whether particular adherents succeed or fail at living it out. What one needs to ask is if Christianity holds up historically, theologically, and practically. Does it answer the questions of Origins, Destiny, Meaning and Morality with coherence? Was Jesus a real person? Did he really claim to be God? Did he actually rise from the dead?

These speak directly to the validity of Christianity. Millions of people in the world however walk away from Christianity, or never believe it in the first place, for experiential reasons: ‘Christians are too judgmental.’ ‘I was wronged by my church.’ ‘My parents shoved faith down my throat, so I rejected it.’ Decisions being based on the mistakes of others. These are real and raw experiences that we must never discount or gloss over, but this is to base the legitimacy of Christianity not on philosophical or historical reasons, but on how one was treated by a particular person or a group. We must realize the two things have very little to do with one another.

Einstein is a Klepto?
Let’s say next month in some science journal, it is revealed that Albert Einstein was a kleptomaniac. Every time he went out about town, he stole things. Coats, shoes, bread, etc., Not only that, but he was mean to his neighbors, his co-workers, and his family. Would any of this impact the truth of his discoveries and work? Would anyone decide to throw out Einstein’s mathematics because he was a jerk? No. That would be a category mistake – a trivial objection. We must be sure not to do the same with Christianity.

C.S. Lewis put it this way: “If there is a God, you are, in a sense, alone with him. You cannot put him off with speculations about your next door neighbors or memories of what you’ve read in books.”[2] In the end, when you are standing before God, the question will be, What did you do about the offer of salvation in and through the finished work of Jesus? The question will not be, What did other people do with it?

Trivial objections. They can be costly.

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[1] T. Edward Damer, Attacking faulty Reasoning, 3rd ed. (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1995), 159-161.

[2] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 170.

The Irony of Atheism

The problem with blind spots is that we can’t see them. Atheists and agnostics often critique religious people for being ‘narrow-minded,’ and ‘dogmatic’ about things, while failing to realize that in criticizing people for these things, they are themselves being dogmatic (about not being dogmatic!). The problem is that these critics often don’t see the contradiction – some going as far to say that “Atheism is not a philosophy…not even a view of the world; it is simply an admission of the obvious.”[1]

I became a Christian when I was a teenager. When I would talk to my friends about Christianity, they would often say that they ‘didn’t want to make a final decision about God or the afterlife.’ They insisted that they didn’t know the answer to the question of God for sure. They knew this life was real, and they were simply going to make the best of that and worry about the rest later. In other words, as people say n the modern western world all the time: ‘I choose not to commit to any one belief about spiritual or ultimate things.’ People do not catch the irony: to choose not to commit to any belief about spiritual matters is itself a choice to commit to a belief about spiritual matters. To choose not to make a choice is itself the choice.[2]

Many people admit that they hold a belief system, but quickly add that such beliefs are not based on ‘faith’ (a God they can’t see, etc.) but rather based on ‘evidence’. The reality is, however, that there are aspects to every person’s worldview, including the most ardent atheist’s that rely on faith. For instance (to take a classic philosopher’s example) no one can prove that we’re not all butterflies dreaming that we’re human beings. We can believe that about ourselves, and follow particular evidences that we aren’t, but we can’t give conclusive proof for it. At the end of the day it is a position of faith. Not to mention the added complexity for atheists that if our minds and cognitive faculties really are just a product of evolutionary development, we can’t trust them anyway (about what they tell us about being human or butterflies!) because they are wired not for what is true but only for what works – to keep us alive and reproducing. Which is why Darwin asked the haunting question: “Can anyone really trust the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there is any convictions in such a mind?” (Charles Darwin to W. Graham, July 3, 1881, in The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, ed. Francis Darwin, 1897; repr., Boston: Elibron, 2005, 1:285).

There are of course a thousand examples of this but at the end of the day, as Timothy Keller points out in his book The Reason for God, all doubts that we have are simply a set of alternate beliefs. “You cannot doubt un-provable Christian Belief A,” he says, “except from a position of faith in un-provable non-Christian Belief B.”[3] Take for instance your possible doubt that Jesus Christ really rose from the dead. Why don’t you believe this happened? Likely because you already hold the belief that when people die there is no coming back – that there is no such thing as a miracle which defies scientific conclusions and the natural order of things (that death cannot be reversed). This is the position of ‘New Atheism’ of course, and the position of the science and philosophy of the 17th and 18th century Enlightenment (of which we are all products) most popularly, the conclusions of the Scottish skeptic David Hume.

But we must understand that this belief (in the finality of death, and the fact that things that defy nature are impossible) is itself un-provable and more a product of an Enlightenment worldview, which deduced that there are only natural causes to the universe, than anything else. In fact many non-Christian scholars believe that miracles like the resurrection are completely possible given the scientific discoveries of the modern era, which have over turned those of the Enlightenment again and again, even in the last few decades (for instance, Quantum Mechanics has re-drawn some aspects of Newtonian physics, showing them to be misguided at best, and some wrong).

The flat objection to miracles has now been shown to have flowed “from a rigid application of the modern worldview’s definition of reality…[which] is but one of a large number of humanly constructed maps of reality…impressive because of the degree of control it has given us; but it is no more an absolute map of reality than any of the previous maps.”[4] All the maps humankind has come up with over time are simply products of particular histories and cultures, and “the modern one,” which we are most heavily influence by, “like its predecessors, will be superseded.”[5] That is what Marcus Borg argued back in 1991, and today the old map has been superseded because of new developments in science, which show the old constructs as misguided and ill informed. A fact that should cause any modern skeptic to be careful when making dogmatic statements about the impossibility of miracles, or anything else that assumes a construct of reality wherein God doesn’t exist based on observational evidences.

Suffice it to say for now when we conclude that miracles can’t happen, or God doesn’t exist, it is not a neutral point of view, or an innocent conclusion by objective ‘evidence,’ but the result of a larger framework of thought informed by the western institutions we live in (school, media, family) and their conclusions about the world. This is why Craig Keener goes as far to say that “To rule out even asking questions about divine activity is not neutral, but…an act of cultural hegemony.”[6] A ploy by the dominant cultural narrative we live within to tell a secular story wherein science, the state, the enlightened self, and even sexuality, are the savior of humankind, not God. Not anything outside of ourselves, which is of course the ultimate offense to western, democratic, self-made, capitalist human beings.

Alternate, un-provable Belief B indeed.

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[1] Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation (New York: Vintage Books, 2008), 51.
[2] Greg A. Boyd, Benefit of the Doubt: Breaking the idol of Certainty (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2013), 47.
[3] Timothy Keller, The Reason for God (New York: Penguin Group, 2008), xvii.
[4] Marcus Borg, Jesus: A New Vision (Canada: Harper Collins, 1991), 33-34.
[5] Marcus Borg, Jesus: A New Vision, 34.
[6] Craig Keener, Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts, 194-195.