A Secular Defense of REAL Faith

 

Beware – I would say to believers – the patronage of unbelievers

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This author rails against the notion that because faith has social benefits, believers shouldn’t worry about the truth of what they believe. While I disagree on many points, I appreciate his candor. He warns us against unbelievers speaking glibly about the social benefits of religion without addressing the truth of the claims. And even though this may feel good, believers should beware of it as well. Useful lies are still lies. And truth is truth even if it doesn’t appear victorious in the moment.

“One of the reasons we can be pretty sure Jesus actually existed is that if He had not, the Church would never have invented Him. He stands so passionately, resolutely and inconveniently against everything an established church stands for. Continuity? Tradition? Christ had nothing to do with stability. He came to break up families, to smash routines, to cast aside the human superstructures, to teach abandonment of earthly concerns and a throwing of ourselves upon God’s mercy.”

And again

“As I get older the sharpness of my faculties begins to dull. But what I will not do is sink into a mellow blur of acceptance of the things I railed against in my youth. ‘Familiar’ be damned. ‘Comforting’ be damned. ‘Useful’ be damned. Is it true? — that is the question. It was the question when I was 12 and the question when I was 22. Forty years later it is still the question. It is the only question.”

 

Source: Beware – I would say to believers – the patronage of unbelievers | The Spectator

That Annoying Rattle- What A Snare Drum Can Illustrate About The Heart

Snare Drum
This is the bottom of a snare drum. Notice the beads stretched across the bottom drum head. 

I have two teenage sons that are both involved in high school percussion. They are in the marching band and play with several other ensembles at school and church. Prior to this high school music experience it would be safe to say that I was almost completely ignorant of the world of rhythm and percussion. I carefully maintained this state in spite of drumming on the steering wheel for most of my adult life. Anyway, I have learned a lot from their passion for drums. And I have learned that the world of rhythm is a delicate (yes “delicate”) blend of tones and instruments. Good drummers are serious about the smallest details.

One important instrument is the snare drum. The ones I have seen include a set of “snares”– very small beads strung across the bottom of the drum (see the picture above). When the drum is played the beads on the snare gently rattle against the surface of the drum adding a unique sound. This rattling is very sensitive to any action on the drum, even delicate strokes from a brush. Many snare drums have an off/on lever that can pull the snare away from the drumhead to keep it from rattling. The drum can still be played, but it makes a different sound. No rattling.  I hope you are impressed a little, and now slightly informed.

I mention this because a few nights ago I went to see one of my boys play in a concert where the snare drum featured prominently. This was unfortunate because it was NOT supposed to feature prominently. The high orchestra played first and then a visiting university symphony followed them. The music was beautiful, but because they were sharing the same space, some of the percussion instruments were left on the stage and moved to the side. As the university ensemble was playing, it was obvious that something wasn’t quite right. There was a strange noise overlaying the beautiful music. I am sure my face was wrinkled with irritation because there was something incongruent between the music I knew they were trying to play the sound I was hearing. Their group was larger and louder than the high school band. The increased volume caused a nearby, unused snare drum to vibrate. In response, the snares on the bottom of the drum began to rattle. It was NOT pleasant. After a while one of the band members walked over and switched the lever to the off position, silencing the annoyance.

This made me think of the conscience. Often this  effect is what happens inside our souls when we hear the truth of God. Human beings are unshakably moral creatures. And even relativists like to take the moral high ground when they insist it is wrong to judge them. God has reserved an ambassador within the soul, and when he speaks, our conscience rattles like that snare drum. This is especially true when we step over the line into the world of evil. It happens when we hear the truth spoken by friends or enemies, echoed in stories or songs, or read in the Bible. And often it happens during our own self-talk. We know how we ought to act, and that inner voice reminds us when we are in step or when we fall short.

Speaking of people that have never heard of the God of the Bible the Apostle Paul writes, “the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.” (Romans 2:15)  I say this so that you will recognize the sound the next time you hear it. This sound is actually desirable- it was put there by the composer. Don’t try to turn it off.

Photo used by permission CC3.0 OCDP

I wrote this post several years ago, but lost track of it. It was recently discovered and I am happy to share it with you here.

 

 

 

A Happy Atheist Challenges The Angry Atheists With The Difference Between A Fact And A Value

I have read several articles by John Gray and enjoy his writing and insight.  I know when an author is connecting with something important to me because I talk out loud while I am reading it.  I mumbled pretty much the whole time I was reading this one. I had to stop and reread several paragraphs for effect, and kept interrupting my wife to read several of his more powerful points to her. Yes, I am a nerd. This essay put into words a number of things I have been thinking.

Gray is not a believer, and so he has a very different outlook than I do (as a Christian), yet his awareness of the history of philosophy allows him to see the naked spots in the emperors wardrobe. He is disenchanted by the vocal tribe of evangelistic atheists that seem to be known for their pulpit-pounding-religion-hating self righteousness. (Dawkins, Harris, etc.) And he takes them to task, not because of their unbelief but because of their inconsistencies in applying what they believe.  He is willing to explore the assumptions beneath their beliefs, and finds them to be often unreasonable.

In this essay, Gray very briefly chronicles the racist behavior of 19th and 20th century evolutionary atheists.  Then he freely acknowledges that while modern atheists disavow these beliefs, they have repeated some of the same intellectual mistakes as their forbears. They have failed to acknowledge the difference between facts and values.  And this is a dialogue-ender if you happen to disagree with them because you will be talking about your values while they dismiss you as unscientific. They believe that their values are scientific, and therefore as unassailable as discussing gravity.  And sadly, too often this leads them to view their opponents with patronizing contempt.

By the way, this was the same problem with the communism of Russian and China. Marx’s writings insisted that his view of economics was “scientific.”

I paused to read several parts of this essay more than once, not only to understand his observations, but also to enjoy them.   I disagree with his view of the world, but enjoy his intellectual honesty and clear view of the logical problems in the foundation of the new atheism.

“It has often been observed that Christianity follows changing moral fashions, all the while believing that it stands apart from the world. The same might be said, with more justice, of the prevalent version of atheism. If an earlier generation of unbelievers shared the racial prejudices of their time and elevated them to the status of scientific truths, evangelical atheists do the same with the liberal values to which western societies subscribe today – while looking with contempt upon “backward” cultures that have not abandoned religion. The racial theories promoted by atheists in the past have been consigned to the memory hole – and today’s most influential atheists would no more endorse racist biology than they would be seen following the guidance of an astrologer. But they have not renounced the conviction that human values must be based in science; now it is liberal values which receive that accolade. There are disputes, sometimes bitter, over how to define and interpret those values, but their supremacy is hardly ever questioned. For 21st century atheist missionaries, being liberal and scientific in outlook are one and the same.”

“For 21st Century atheist missionaries, being liberal and scientific in outlook are one and the same.”

Some other big ideas from this essay:

  • Atheism is not monolithic, and most of the values (and fact claims) advocated by modern skeptics are not self evident, and are not agreed on by everyone in their camp. This alone should challenge their confusion of facts and values.  I have some atheist friends that like to point out how hard it is to find Christians to agree on any matter of doctrine. Well, evidently they live in the same world.
  • Many of the new atheists are ignorant of the nature of their own beliefs. They take their own view of the world for granted and are unwilling to subject it to the same intellectual scrutiny that they demand from others.
  • New Atheists have largely ignored the writings of Nietzsche. Why? Gray writes, “The reason Nietzsche has been excluded from the mainstream of contemporary atheist thinking is that he exposed the problem atheism has with morality. It’s not that atheists can’t be moral – the subject of so many mawkish debates. The question is which morality an atheist should serve.”  Which is to say that Scientific atheism does NOT lead to a self evident view of the moral world. It cannot answer the most basic questions about how we should live without departing from its limiting scientific commitments. Further, many of the tenets of humanism advocated by atheists actually derive from Judeo-Christian religious tradition.
  • The hostility to religion that has been on display from the evangelistic atheists doesn’t make any rational sense.  After mentioning several influential atheists from the past that were NOT hostile to religion, Gray writes, “Above all, these unevangelical atheists accepted that religion is definitively human. Though not all human beings may attach great importance to them, every society contains practices that are recognisably religious. Why should religion be universal in this way? For atheist missionaries this is a decidedly awkward question. Invariably they claim to be followers of Darwin. Yet they never ask what evolutionary function this species-wide phenomenon serves. There is an irresolvable contradiction between viewing religion naturalistically – as a human adaptation to living in the world – and condemning it as a tissue of error and illusion. What if the upshot of scientific inquiry is that a need for illusion is built into in the human mind? If religions are natural for humans and give value to their lives, why spend your life trying to persuade others to give them up?”

I disagree with Gray on much of this, but his point is a good one. If atheism and evolution is true, then it follows that religion is a survival adaptation.  If that is true, why so much angst over gene expression?

Source: What scares the new atheists | John Gray | World news | The Guardian

Absolute Goodness

Beware

“God is the only comfort, He is also the supreme terror: the thing we most need and the thing we most want to hide from. He is our only possible ally, and we have made ourselves His enemies. Some people talk as if meeting the gaze of absolute goodness would be fun. They need to think again. They are still only playing with religion. Goodness is either the great safety or the great danger—according to the way you react to it. And we have reacted the wrong way.”

CS Lewis, Mere Christianity

 

Photo Courtesy of James Quinn. Some rights reserved.

Religion Is Not to Blame for All the Bloodiest Wars | The New Republic

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Religion Is Not to Blame for All the Bloodiest Wars | The New Republic.

At the New Republic John Gray reviews “Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence” by Karen Armstrong

In this write up there is not so much a defense of religion per se but an attempt to challenge a common notion. It has been spoken as incontrovertible fact that “religion is responsible for more wars than anything else.”  To question this “truth” you must be a moron. And the current violence brought about by radical Islam adds to our suspicions. This sometimes leads secular atheists to lump all religions together.  Some have even compared Christians to radical jihadists.  The answer? If we could just use reason and get rid of religious superstition, the world would finally be a safe place.

Gray takes this notion to task. The whole article is worth reading. But here are a few paragraphs worth quoting.

Some have offered that humanistic rationalists are the champions of equality, while religious folks are the source of imperialist oppression. Gray writes:

“The Renaissance is just one of several secular icons that Armstrong demolishes. Nothing is more commonplace than to read that Renaissance thinkers introduced a novel understanding of universal humanity. But Renaissance humanists were actually less sympathetic to the plight of indigenous peoples such as the Mesoamericans who had been violently subjugated than churchmen such as the Dominicans, who condemned the predatory behavior of the conquistadores. “The philosophy of human rights,” Armstrong notes, “did not apply to all human beings.” In some ways, modern conceptions of rights were more inhuman than medieval religion. One of the founders of liberalism, John Locke, found it intolerable that the “wild woods and uncultivated waste of America be left to nature, without any improvement, tillage and husbandry.” Involved in his own right in the colonization of the Carolinas, Locke “argued that the native ‘kings’ of America had no legal jurisdiction or right of ownership of their land.”

People often highlight several points in the history of the Christian church as events which reveal its true colors.  The Salem witch trials, the Inquisition, bombed-out abortion clinics, etc.  While I agree these things are horrible, and really no defense can be made to try to justify or dismiss them, two things can be said about these kinds of events. First,  It is not accurate to say that these represent either the mainstream of the Christian faith, or an accurate representation of the teaching of the New Testament.

But Gray (quoting Armstrong) brings up another point.  If we are just doing a body count, we should be far more worried about secularism than we are about religion when it comes to violence and oppression.  He says:

“The Spanish Inquisition is a notorious example of the violence of religion. There can be no doubt that it entailed hideous cruelty, not least to Jews who had converted to Christianity, often in order to save their lives, but who were suspected of secretly practising their faith and consequently, in some cases, burnt. Yet in strictly quantitative terms, the Inquisition pales in comparison to later frenzies of secular violence. Recent estimates of the numbers who were executed during the first 20 years of the Inquisition—“the most violent period in its long history,” according to Armstrong—range from 1,500 to 2,000 people. By contrast, about a quarter of a million people were killed in the Vendée (out of a population of roughly 800,000) when a peasant rebellion against the French Revolution was put down by republican armies in 1794. And some 17,000 men, women, and children were guillotined in the purge that ended in July that year, including the man who had designed the new revolutionary calendar. It is indisputable that this mass slaughter had a religious dimension. In 1793 a Goddess of Reason was enthroned on the high altar at Notre Dame Cathedral; revolutionary leaders made great use of terms such as “credo,” “sacrament,” and “sermon” in their speeches. As Armstrong puts it, “No sooner had the revolutionaries rid themselves of one religion than they invented another.”

Read the whole thing here.

Of course, this doesn’t even begin to touch on the 262 million people killed by their own governments- which were mostly acting on their politicized atheist beliefs. Read more on “democide” from the university of Hawaii site here.

Photo used by permission Andrew Kitzmiller.  Some rights reserved

 

C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis is the author of many famous books, including The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.


“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” – Mere Christianity, pages 40-41.