CategoryApologetics

I Simply Believe in One Fewer God than You

A common argument against belief in God–does it stand up?

Actually, that’s not all there is to it.  I mean, it’s not quite so simple.  Affirmed atheist, Ricky Gervais used this argument when he was a guest on Stephen Colbert.  The YouTube clip has received over 4 million views.  In the interview he said that there are about 3000 deities that people have worshiped at one time or another and Christians don’t believe in 2,999 of them, the atheist simply goes one god further.  Gervais’ exact words are:

I don’t believe in just one more.

Colbert didn’t respond–perhaps he was just being polite, but what is the Christian response to Gervais’ argument?

“I don’t believe in just one more”

This argument needs to be unpacked a little.  Gervais is suggesting that that there is a logical, and therefore necessary, step that Christians (and other monotheists) fail to make.  His use of the term “just” suggests that this step is insignificant.  This is far from the case–the step is neither a logically necessary nor is it insignificant.

His argument is that the rejection of the final god is the same as, and in line with, the rejection of all preceding gods.  But this is wrong.  It does not follow that if one rejects 1 god, one must reject the remaining 2999.  Nor does it follow that if you reject 2999, you must logically reject the last. 

This has only been taken by very few, and these only recently.  Of all the millions of people that ever lived in all of the remote corners of the world, all of them came to the same conclusion.  They concluded that there is more.  Belief in any one of the 3000 gods is an acknowledgment of some form of transcendence–that there is something beyond or above the range of ordinary or merely physical human experience.  The belief in any deity is a claim that there is some external standard to which we must all align our lives.

Gervais’ leap of faith

Rather than making a small step in line with the rejection of the first 2,999 gods, Gervais is making giant leap in the opposite direction.  He doesn’t go one itty-bitty step beyond Christianity, as the “just” implies, he and those like him are breaking with conclusions arrived at by the rest of humanity arrived at independently.

That all of humanity has arrived at the same conclusion, isn’t irrefutable proof that their conclusion is true.  People who believe in God certainly take a leap of faith.

Gervais points this out as he explains atheism in a nutshell:

You say, “There is a God.”

I say, “Can you prove that.”

You say, “No.”

I say, “I don’t believe you then.”

Perhaps many in Colbert’s audience feel that Gervais has scored a point against believers, but he hasn’t.   A theist can illustrate the atheist leap of faith similarly:

You say, “There no spiritual reality beyond the material.”

I say, “Can you prove that.”

You say, “No.”

I say, “I don’t believe you then.”

I think Gervais would acknowledge his leap of faith.  Who takes the greater leap?  The person who says that everything that we see in the cosmos and through our experiences in life are the result of material processes or the person that says there is something more than matter and its movements and modifications.

Who takes the greater leap of faith, the theist or the atheist?

The conversation can start here, not where Gervais thinks he ended it in the Stephen Colbert interview.

Are All Other Religions Wrong?

Christians are not as intolerant as you might think.

Are atheists more tolerant than religious people?  Are Christians intolerant of other faiths?

On a site called Hubpages, a person that calls themselves “kittythedreamer” asked the following question:

Why is it that Christians believe that Buddhists, Hindus, Pagans, Native Americans, etc. are all wrong in their beliefs?

It generated quite a bit of discussion.

This question makes a lot of sense in our culture.  We find Christians, indeed all those who take their faith seriously, as judgmental.  When we accept that there is no God, as many in our culture have; tend to also abandon the idea that there is a universal purpose and meaning–we are uncomfortable with, or reject, the idea of objective truth.  We’d rather create our own truth.

That’s why Christians baffle people like kittythedreamer (“kitty”).  Christians have this old fashioned idea that truth is objective, rather than subjective.  We believe that some things are true, or moral, or good, or just, whether we like it or not.  It follows then that some things are false, immoral, evil, unjust.

In our culture, saying someone’s views are wrong is the same as telling them that they have the wrong favourite ice cream.

“kitty” is right; Christians do say others are wrong. They do so because when they claim that some things are true, they can’t also accept the opposing idea as also true.   To do so requires a mental dexterity possessed only by those who don’t believe in objective truth–those who create their own meaning.

But “kitty” is wrong in another way.   Christians do not believe that other religions are wrong, at least not entirely so.  We believe other religions are right in some very important ways.  Here’s a list of some of the ways that other religions are right:

Christians do not believe that other religions are wrong, They are are right in some very important ways. Here's a list of some of the ways that other religions are right:
  1. We’ve already covered the first one.  All, or very nearly all, of the world’s religions believe that truth resides outside of the individual.  They don’t entirely agree on what that truth is, but it’s external.  External often means universal–that means it’s true for everyone, everywhere, for all time.  One of the things that humans are supposed to do is conform themselves to that external truth.  So rather than thinking everybody is wrong, Christians believe that, in this respect, that these religions are right.
  2. Another thing that nearly all religions believe is that behind the natural world there is a mystical and/or spiritual reality.
  3. Most of the religions of the world, past and present, believe in transcendent gods or a God. Christians believe that, in this respect, all those religions are right.
  4. Most religions believe that God or the gods is/are occasionally active in the lives of humans. Christians believe that, in this respect, all those religions are right.
  5. Many religions believe that God is interested in human flourishing. Christians believe it and any other religion that believes it too are considered to be right.
  6. All religions believe that human beings must contend with evil in their lives. Christians believe this and they agree with any religion that believes it too.
  7.  Many religions believe that other religions possess truth.  Some are closer to “The Truth” than others.

Obviously, Christians don’t believe that other religions are wrong. There is tremendous agreement among religious adherents.  This is not to say that the differences aren’t significant, but the points at which all, or most, religions agree might give one pause.

So who is more open-minded?  Does the atheist say, “You are all correct”?

Atheists usually say of religious believers, “You are all wrong!”

I know it feels like there is a lot of conflict between Christians and others in our society.  Not all of it can be reduced to closed mindedness and bigotry–some of it has to do with the fact that people of faith look to a source of truth outside themselves.  Their claims might not be true, but it must be admitted that the idea that all meaning is necessarily internal also has some significant drawbacks that make it hard to believe.

This is where the dialogue should begin, not with kitty’s question.

Perhaps the Overwhelming Majority Is Right

In his article called “Only A Minority Is Right,” J. H. McKenna Ph.D. argues against religious truth.

His argument is based on the diversity of religious belief.  First there was polytheism, then their was monotheism along with “several sects and denominations of monotheism,” then there came “other new religions” and “several thousand denominations and new religions.”  This story tells, according to McKenna, that “there is no uniformity in religion and no majority religious opinion” (italics mine).   His point is that, “In religion, your view is inevitably a minority view.”

McKenna concludes: everybody, or almost everybody, is wrong. You can’t, therefore, look to religion for truth.

But what if there were uniformity in religion? Would that be a source of truth?  What if there is a majority religious opinion?

There is.

Billions and billions of people for millennia, regardless of other more particular religious claims, have held to a single belief.

That belief: There is something and/or someone beyond the physical world, something bigger than we are–the transcendent.

Until recently, all religions have held that, out there somewhere, there are gods or a spiritual force or God.

Now, in Western societies, we have floated the idea that we–that is, human beings–are god or that nothing is.

It is only recently that this alternative has been proposed, and it’s been catching on because the conditions are currently just right for us to believe such a thing.  Growth in the belief of human autonomy may or may not continue.  Right now, the number of atheists and agnostics numbers in the low, very low, hundreds of millions.  This up against the billions and billions of human beings in a wide variety of circumstances and conditions that have all  believed in a transcendent reality.

Perhaps this much agreement across so may centuries and cultures might be, at least considered, a source of truth.  I thought I picked up in the article, that McKenna suggests that this sort of unity in religious belief might carry some weight.

McKenna has missed this unity in human thought, present since humans started thinking, but he’s not wrong in his call for dialogue and respect between the more particular beliefs about the transcendent reality.  Not because most of us are wrong, but because we all look at reality through very particular cultural lenses.  It’s always a good thing to try to reduce the tint a little.  We have much to gain from meaningful dialogue with other places and with other times.

Is Atheism a Religion?

alikeI recently read an article in which the author insisted that public funds not go to support religious schools. The rhetoric in this article was very much in the “us” versus “them” vein. In essence, “their” views, that is those of the religious, are tainted with the irrational and divisive forces of faith or belief common to all religions, unlike “our” rational and unifying position which is free from dangerous subjectivity.

In the comment section someone agreed saying:

Religious indoctrination of children is nothing less than abuse, and ought not to be allowed let alone publicly funded.

What this commenter does not understand is that there is no way to raise a child without “religious” indoctrination.  Modern rationalism or postmodern relativism, which dominate much of western education are inherently “religious.” Even atheism are in a sense “religious.” So public schools are, in essence, are engaged in religious education.

I said as much in my own comment. Another commenter objected saying:

Atheism is not a religion for the same reason that bald is not a hair colour.

He is right, baldness is not a hair color, but it is a hair style.

There are two ways in which one might use the term “religious.” In one sense, atheism is not a religion–if religion is defined by religious rituals and believing in spiritual beings. In this sense, atheism is not a religion for the same reason baldness is not a hair colour. But in another very important sense, atheism is religious. The term can also refer to the guiding principles that one accepts by faith that shape ones reality and around which one organizes ones life.

These guiding principles revealed in how one might answer fundamental questions about reality. Not everyone is aware of their own answers to these questions, but their lives testify to having answered them one way or another.

Does life have meaning? If so, what is it?

Does human life have value? If so, why?

Do we have a purpose? If so why?

Does the universe have a purpose?

Is the universe friendly, hostile or indifferent?

What’s wrong with the world?

What is the solution to what is wrong with the world?

Is there a God or gods?

Every human being lives out their answer to these questions. Interestingly, many people proclaim an answer to a question, but live out another answer. The answers, stated or lived, are religious. They are religious in that they cannot be proven; they are accepted by faith.

The atheist believes that there is no God on the same, some would argue less, grounds that theists believes that there is.  Both do so by faith; neither can know it to be so.

One may chose not to use the term religion to describe this category, but it doesn’t get atheism out of the category, whatever you call it.

Baldness is not a hair colour, but it is a hair style. Atheism does not engage in religious activities that arise out of a belief in a God, but they do make unverifiable claims about reality based on faith.

There is no way we can have an a-religious education, so the government will always be funding religious education. The question now remains, which religions will they fund.

Ghetto and Good

WP_20160804_16_59_26_RawBecause I dabble in philosophical questions, I sometimes make comments that don’t go down very well at parties: I suggested that I thought human beings are naturally evil.  There was some disagreement, and then all conversation, as it always does, turned to Donald Trump.

There’s quite a bit of evidence that human beings are naturally evil–watch the evening news or read the comments on pretty much any post where someone offers an opinion.  But there’s also quite a bit of evidence that people are basically good. Everyone knows lots of people who are good and not too many who are bad–bank robbers and such.  I know lots of people who are good too.

I picked up a book in Warsaw at the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews.  The book contains excerpts from The Ringelblum Archive, a collection of documents and testimonies collected by Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum and his team of researchers between September 1939 and January 1943.  Dr. Ringelblum did not survive, but his collection did.

In one interview a man named Aron Einhorn says,

It is difficult to say whether this moral swamp which we see around us nowadays is the result of the abnormal conditions prevailing in the ghetto, or whether the ghetto uncovered that which had previously been covered up, masked.

He goes on to describe this “moral swamp” of thefts, looting, cheating, cruelty, indifference, oppression, and corruptionWP_20160804_16_57_37_Raw.

The ghetto was filled with a large proportion of people who used to be good.  They were good because they had homes, clothing, food, and hope.  Many had money, respect, freedom, and safety.  It’s easy to be “good” when you have these things.  When these things were taken from them, or at least became scarce, their true nature came out to the surface.

When I look around my community, I see a lot of good people.  I also see a lot of people who have homes, clothing, food, safety, and hope.  Many have money, respect, and freedom.  But are they really good?

We are so individualistic that we actually think we will be judged only for the sins we commit.

Am I really good?  If I’m honest, there’s some self-centeredness slithering around inside me, but I’m not too bad.  As I walked around the area that was once the Warsaw Ghetto and stood at the site where the residents of the ghetto were put on trains bound for Treblinka, I wondered what I would have done if I had lived there in 1942.  I’d like to think I would have been good, but there’s a very good chance I would not have impressed Aron Einhorn.

WP_20160807_12_53_10_Raw

The only remnant of the wall that surrounded the Warsaw Ghetto.

If the Bible is right, we are naturally evil, and we will be judged accordingly.  What people don’t realize is that we will not be judged by what we’ve done.  It’s not what we do that is the issue, it’s who we are.  What I would have done had I lived in the Warsaw Ghetto is a much better indicator of who I really am, than living in my townhouse near a lovely golf course.  I will be judged for who I am.

This is pretty scary,  but if the Bible is right, there’s also some good news–the best news.  It’s been arranged that, if you want, you can be judged as if your very nature were perfect and someone else will take the judgment that your actual nature deserves.  You need only ask him to take your place.

 

Moral Lessons from Traffic Lights

We had some pretty big winds in my corner of Canada this past weekend. It really messed up the traffic lights.

My daughter suggested that the various scenarios we experienced this past weekend were instructive.

I went through intersections where all the lights were black. People dealt with the absence of direction in two ways. The more thoughtful treated it as a 4-way stop, but others blasted right through, either oblivious to the situation or in reckless celebration of this unusual freedom.

In some places they had the opposite problem: I heard that when power was restored to some intersection, all the lights showed green. Apparently, in the absence of any restriction, there were numerous fender benders.

I went through an intersection where the lights in all directions were red, except a green left turn arrow. The 4-way stop procedure worked well until a vehicle drove down the left turn lane with the arrow. This confused the working order of the whole intersection.

“If atheism is a religion then not collecting stamps is a hobby.”

Someone commented on a blog post, “If atheism is a religion then not collecting stamps is a hobby.”

To this another commenter replied,

That only applies if you don’t go to stamp collecting sites and explain why stamp collecting is stupid, produce podcasts about why stamp collecting is stupid, write books on why stamp collecting is stupid, sue because someone want to promote stamp collecting, or hold rallies to celebrate non-stamp collecting.

What the original commenter doesn’t understand is that atheism is a religion in the sense that it makes fundamental, and unprovable truth claims.  Religion generally arise out of the search for meaning and truth.  An agnostic avoids making a religious claim when she says that she doesn’t know if there is or is not a god. The atheist, on the other hand, makes a fundamental and unprovable truth claim that there is no God. This, in the sense that it is a belief about truth and meaning around which one orients one’s life, is a religious claim.

So you can see, the original commenter is making a categorical error. Not collecting stamps does not fall into the same category as not believing here is a transcendent being.

 

“A personal relationship with reality”?

Billboard 1This billboard communicates an important truth: it’s good to have a relationship, personal or otherwise, with reality.  It is, however, contestable that atheism brings us into this relationship.  It does so only if there isn’t a God.   If there is a God, then this is false advertising.

 

 

 

The Bible Supports Slavery?

Slavery and ChristianityI don’t care who does it; it makes me crazy.

The sacrifice of truth for the sake of argument.

This billboard is a case in point.

In an attempt to discredit the Bible, the makers of this billboard equate first century slavery with its 16th – 18th century version.  Further, this billboard illustrates the hermeneutical crime of “proof texting,” and therefore missing the entire point of Colossians 3:22.

The device presented on the billboard was used in the Americas a few hundred years ago.  The hooks protruding from the collar “are placed to prevent an escapee when pursued in the woods, and to hinder them from laying down the head to procure rest” (reference).  This is one of the ugliest faces of one of the ugliest periods of human history.

Many centuries separate this slavery from  that of the first century slavery:

 In the first century, slaves were not distinguishable from free persons by race, by speech or by clothing; they were sometimes more highly educated than their owners and held responsible professional positions; some persons sold themselves into slavery for economic or social advantage; they could reasonably hope to be emancipated after ten to twenty years of service or by their thirties at the latest; they were not denied the right of public assembly and were not socially segregated (at least in the cities); they could accumulate savings to buy their freedom; their natural inferiority was not assumed.          —Murray Harris, Slave of Christ: A New Testament Metaphor for Total Devotion to Christ, NSBT (IVP, 2001), 44.

I am not saying that slavery in the Roman world was equivalent to staying at an all inclusive resort, but it is irresponsible to evoke all the repugnance of post-Enlightenment slavery when talking about the ancient practice of bond-servanthood.

Although this comparison is unfair, it really isn’t the point, because Paul is not advocating slavery even of the Roman variety.

When I was in grade school and I felt that the teacher had treated me unfairly , my parents weren’t nearly as concerned with the unfairness of the teacher as with my response to it.  They made it clear to me that the general principles regarding my relationship with those in authority were still in play.  Like my parents, Paul has other priorities and they are not really all that obscure for those who which to find them.

The billboard suggests that if Paul were against slavery, he would have said done something about it.  But Paul’s purpose in Colossians is to explore the implications of a life in Christ, not to reform society.  Paul knew that once a person experiences the love and grace of God in Jesus, everything changes.  One is no longer a slave to sin, but received as a child adopted into the family of the King.  We move from slaves to sons and daughters (even if we remain slaves in society).

This message was such a big deal to Paul that he endured treatment worse that most slave would have.  He was beaten and imprisoned and eventually executed.  Obviously, Paul had other priorities than simply being free.

The makers of the billboard are proof texting: taking isolated passages of the Bible and use them to justify one’s own views .  In Christian circles, proof-texting is considered lazy and irresponsible.  When Christians use the Bible in this way they can come up with some of the worst forms of religious evil possible.  A case in point, the Christian slave owners in the American south (We’ve seen this recently in the film, 12 Years a Slavemy comments here).  Ironically, just like the slave owners, the makers of the billboard are proof-texting; they are taking a verse completely out of context to justify their views.

The “Christian” slave owners are an example of the great evil that can be done when the Bible is used irresponsibly.  This type of Biblical misreading results in reprehensible behavior that held justifiably condemned, but also results in charges leveled against Christianity by the critics of religion.  I don’t see how it helps the conversation when the American Atheists and the Pennsylvania Non-Believers engage in the same behavior as the worst of their religious opponents.

Does Religion Divide us?

Religion dividesJohn Lennon asked us to imagine a world with no religion.  I think the reason he wanted a world of no religion was because religion divides us.

 Debate.org asked the question: Does religion divide the world?

73% of those responding said yes.

Why does religion divide?  One of the respondents (AbdulRaufw4lr6s) nailed it explaining that “Religion is another form of categorizing” :

Religion . . . tries to divide between good and evil . . . ; accordingly, people who belong into that particular definition of ‘good’ is called the ‘believers’ and likewise, those who belong into the definition of evil is termed ‘sinners.’ From there, the whole process of giving definition and categorization escalates . . .

It is true that religion divides humanity in exactly this way.  Whenever someone claims and exclusive truth there is a great danger of division.  The thing is, everyone makes truth claims

–even “non-religious” people:

“All religions lead to God”

“There is no God”

“Truth requires evidence”

“The ends justify the means”

So the issue is not whether or not one will hold a exclusive belief; the issue is to which exclusive set of beliefs will one hold.

In the spirit of unity, why not the one that will most likely lead to unity?  Let this be our standard.

In a sermon entitled, “Exclusivity: How can there be just one true religion?” Tim Keller identify three key differences between Christianity and every other religious beliefs.  Keller contends that it is in these differences that we find the basis for unity.

The differences:

  1. The central figure of all other religious beliefs is a human being, but in Christianity it is God himself.
  2. This God became flesh–he became a human being.
  3. In all other religions the central figure tells us what we need to do in order to be blessed, but in Christianity, God blessed us because we could never      deserve it.

These very things, if they are embodied, are the very things that will bring peace on earth.

  1. Because we aren’t saved by our performance, we can’t even begin “the whole process of giving definition and categorization” described by           AbdulRaufw4lr6s.  Keller points out that both the secularists and moralists look down their noses at others, but people who live the Gospel believe that they are no better than any one else, probably worse.  If you’ve run into Christians who think they are better than everyone else, you’ve either misunderstood them, or they’ve misunderstood the gospel.
  1. All other religions, (according to Keller) point to a life to come as the true destination for humanity.  Christianity, on the other hand, is very interested in THIS life.  By becoming flesh, God himself is affirming this world–this physical world.  He wants all of humanity to work together to make this world a good world–he wants us to serve the world, as he did when he died for it and us.  If you’ve run into Christians who don’t care about the environment, for instance, then you have either misunderstood them, or they have  misunderstood the gospel.
  1. Jesus is God.  Keller admits this sounds a little arrogant.  But Jesus came into the Jewish/Roman world which was very divided.   There were      tremendous divisions between Greeks and Jews and the rich and poor. The early Church gives testimony to the inclusive nature of the gospel.  Christians mixed races and socioeconomic classes.  This unity was created because people understood Jesus to be God, not just a man, who came to earth and died for people who hated him so that they might live, both now and forever.  How can a person who follows this God, look down on others for any reason?

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