Monthly Archives: October 2016
“I find it fascinating how relativists who say they love the idea of tolerance ultimately reveal themselves to be among the most bigoted”
I must say, I can confirm the veracity of this assertion many times over in my own personal life.
It’s for this reason that Ravi Zacharias gives a blood earnest response to the intolerant vitriol of popular atheist Sam Harris.
The inconsistency of new atheism.
Atheists, Voltaire, Sartre, Nietsche and even Russel were honest and consistent in their views, they wanted liberation from God and a certain form of morality but they understood the bleak horizon that their world view presented them. Voltaire put it well:
What is the verdict of the vastest mind?
Silence: the book of fate is closed to us.
Man is a stranger to his own research;
He knows not whence he comes, nor whither goes.
Tormented atoms in a bed of mud,
Devoured by death, a mockery of fate.
They knew what they were getting into, the new atheist doesn’t want to think about this. He wants to make absolute moral claims and create meaning and hope on a grand scale, but that’s incompatible with atheism’s framework. Foucault lived the atheist dream, and as he lay dying, his body ravaged by AIDS he said, “there are no solutions, there are no answers, only that it is forbidden to forbid.” at least he was honest.
If your going to belly-ache about evil remember where it leads
It seems to me that most Christian apologists these days are zeroing in on how morality is not compatible with atheism in any meaningful way. Ravi is on to this like a bull dog on a bone! For example Harris comes unglued on Christianity, blaming Christians for everything from slavery to the holocaust leaving just enough room to toss people like Mother Teresa under the bus for their contributions to evil.
Ravi gives no quarter to this talk. He masterfully deconstructs the historical fantasy Harris is engaged in but more than that he evaluates the inconsistency of Atheisms’ moral rant. “I can see no moral frame-work operating in the world” says Harris, we are all just neutrons and protons, just stuff and then he turns around an says “what I see in Christianity is morally condemnable” Well you can’t have it both ways and remain consistent. Noted atheist Bertrand Russell in his day, was pressed with how to distinguish between good and evil. He said that he distinguished the difference between blue and yellow by seeing, and the difference between good and evil by feeling — for Russell it came down to preference. The interviewer then asked him
“Mr. Russell, in some cultures they love their neighbours; in other cultures they eat them. Do you have a personal preference, and if so, what is it?
Russell was unsettled, his inability to proclaim a moral absolute was a troubling reality to him, at least he was honest. Modern atheists like Harris and Epstein will usually retort to this with some sort of comment about morality being a matter of common sense, or self-evident truth. Is it? I’m not convinced history gives any support to that view. For Ravi, to assert evil you must assume actual good. if good and evil truly exist, than you must assume moral law and if moral law is true than there must be a moral law giver. In framework where matter alone exists its impossible for there to be objective morality. Objective moral values exist only if God exists. Objective moral values do exist. — a point every atheist concedes when they reject God because of all the evil they see in the world. Therefore God exists.
Problems that don’t go away
The more books I read on apologetics the more I see that there are the same basic arguments that just don’t seem to go away, in addition to the problem of morality, atheist’s struggle to find convincing answers for the following:
- The problem of origins. Science teaches that something doesn’t come from nothing. The Christian concludes that there must be a self existing non-physical state that got everything going. But that’s unreasonable for the atheist so the fruitless hunt for an explanation continues.
- The problem of chance. So what are the odds that life is the random product of time plus matter plus chance? With the full use of science we are told that the probability is beyond measuring.
- The the absence of ultimate meaning and hope — they don’t exist in the atheist framework. But yet we are wired for them.
- Evolution is not a deal breaker — Belief in a creator does not hinge on how he created.
A better story
Christianity has a better explanation for origins, meaning, morality and hope. That is not in question. The question is could Christianity actually be true? Yes, there are countless reasons to support that conclusion. The problem however, is that when Christianity is embraced one is no longer able to be the centre of their own universe and that is infinitely undesirable for some and so they reject the better story for reasons that will have to suffice.
A look into the future
Zacharias is utterly convinced that “secularism simply does not have the sustaining or moral power to stop Islam” He believes that in the not to distant future America’s choice will have to be between Islam and Christianity! What can be said about this? Is it true? Who knows, I guess we will find out.
What’s this book about?
Andy Bannister attempts to use good natured humour to point out the logical fallacies and poor reasoning of modern atheist superstars like Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens. In a way as I read this book I felt a striking parallel to the Donald Trump political saga that we are enduring. The popular atheists of our day are functioning like the Donald Trumps of philosophy. Man handling, bullying, and belittling anyone who might disagree with the obvious conclusion that matter is all there is, and the the idea of God is on par with the idea Santa Claus. But like the political Trump, when searching for content amidst all the bluster, you find that there is not much there to back up these supremely confident conclusions.
Atheism is actually a belief system like all the rest. It doesn’t work to say “Our belief is not a belief” Not all God’s are the same, Atheists can’t simply dismiss all by “saying same crap different pile”. Religion doesn’t poison everything. When Dawkins suggested that he thought getting a Catholic education is actually worse than sexual abuse, I wonder if he would be willing to put that assertion to the test with his own daughter, not likely. Science can’t explain everything. Scientism is a dead end street that kills ones ability to reason. In all Bannister looks at 11 really bad arguments put forth by atheists to debunk God.
How does he do? Pretty well I think, but of course I am a Christian. What I appreciated about the book was it’s decidedly jolly tone, too many of these types of books just read angry. We need less angry.
What did I learn?
Is evil a greater problem for theism or atheism? If I’m a theist than I have to ask the question why does God allow evil? It is a question thats tough to answer. Of course if I am an atheist, I have to ask myself an equally difficult question. Why do I even care about evil in the first place? There is no such thing as evil if the material world is all there is, but yet evil feels real and it bugs us all. Where does the presence of evil point? To something beyond the material world I think.
Without God how to we determine what is good? pragmatism? government? majority rule? whatever gives us pleasure? All of these answers create huge cracks in which people fall and suffer. How do we value human life? Is our value based on our body parts, our ability to produce, our popularity? Science I suppose can tease out answers like this. But they all lead humanity into dark places. Goodness, value, meaning purpose all are answered on the strength of faith alone, science is a tool, and on the big questions of life it’s the wrong tool to use! If we try to squeeze ethics from science we all lose. We cannot live by facts alone!
Truth seems to matter to everyone, but if atheism is true, why should it matter then what someone believes? Why is Dawkins so irate that people might be embracing a comfortable lie instead of a hard truth? In the whole scheme of things if we are just matter dancing to our DNA, why should Dawkins care a lick about truth, it amounts to nothing anyway? His shouting is a subtle tipping of the hat to God the giver of truth.
What you believe matters
For Rodney Stark the reason for the unprecedented success of Western civilization over others comes down to belief. The west had a better system of beliefs that facilitated the development of freedom, reason, and dignity more than any other culture/society/religion hence the success.
Is Rodney on to something? I think so. Here is what I found.
Belief in the individual value of a soul loved by a personal God
From early on, Christianity taught the individual value of a soul loved by a personal God. (contrary to other faiths) This put Christian faith into contradiction with slavery which was everywhere practiced in the world when Christianity began. Interestingly in Europe slavery was stamped out by early by 1000’s. “Surfs” made up the work force, not slaves. Serfdom was no picnic, by today’s working standards, but it was infinitely better than slavery, which carried on in the world over for nearly another millennium. Even as far back as the 7th century we find the story of Balthild a slave girl who married Clovis II — she worked tirelessly to free slaves based on her belief in the individual value of a soul loved by a personal God.
It’s important to realize that by the time the African slave trade became popular in the West, it had already been going on with incredible brutality for centuries in East Africa through muslims and their predecessors. Human trade from Africa was old business and powerful African tribes were more than happy to continue the trade as new opportunities presented themselves in Western Africa. Popes regularly condemned the practice of slavery, but their voice’s were largely blunted by ambitious businessmen and their rulers who stood to benefit from free labour. In the end, it was Christian people who put an end to slavery, it was them getting back to their beliefs.
Belief in the value of hard work
Christianity celebrated hard work. In China the rich grew their fingernails as long as possible, and practiced foot-binding on their women all to display the belief that common labour was beneath a valuable persons station. Eastern monks, refused work, so they could meditate, leaving them entirely dependent upon others generosity for survival. Meanwhile Europes monks worked hard. They had this belief that working with their hands honoured God. Many of the early towns and cities in Europe grew up around the hustle and bustle of these early monasteries.
Belief that science was good for the glory of God
The west progressed because Christianity allowed for freedom and the pursuit of knowledge. Only Christianity taught that the earth was created by a personal rational God. Eastern religions believed in impersonal force(s) — meditation was for the mysteries not science and discovery. Islam believed that the will of Allah made everything, and to question the way things were was tantamount to blasphemy. Ancient Greece was convinced ideas prevailed over observation (Idealism) The big idea of that day was that all matter had emotion & personality. For example the Sun came up because it had a will to do so. Ideas like these naturally blunted discovery.
Christians however, were convinced that God had made things with order and design, hence to discover that order and design was a great way in which to glorify the God who created it. So Christian launched themselves wholeheartedly into natural science. Indeed, 51 out of 52 of the first notable scientists of the middle age era were devoted Christians — 16 of them were even members of the clergy. Reason and free inquiry prevailed — thanks to Christianity. The great irony is that today science is used as a means to escape God when originally it was the principal means used to discover him.
Belief in Free Will
“Free Will” was a game changing belief. Before Christianity and even in early Christianity people largely understood God in terms of “fate”. What will be, will be, accept it as the will of God. As belief in free will developed and grew in the west, people began to questions things and make choices for themselves. Caste systems of the east, and Islamic “will of Allah” mentalities made a “free will” approach to life impossible for those peoples.
The Dark is not so dark
Stark is sharply critical of the moniker “Dark Ages” for post Roman Empire Europe. For Stark the Roman Empire with it’s command economy and it’s slave labour is the dark place. Both of those realities prevented innovation and invention. Opposite to this the “blessing of disunity” that made up post empire Europe forced creativity and trade. Stark contests the notion that the Vikings and Normans were simple barbarians, rather they were impressive civilizations. Their inventions of the iron plow, superior blades, and unrivalled boats attest to this fact. The absence of trade in the so called dark ages doesn’t mean it wasn’t there. It shifted to river trade more then on the Mediterranean. Also tastes and needs changed. Home made butter surpassed olive oil as preferred for cooking, and furs became more desirable then silk.
The Evolution of Theology
For the first 600 years of Christianity the idea of charging someone interest for borrowing something was strongly frowned upon, it was just wrong. Theologians started to change their tune around ideas of banking, making interest, earning money, market value, & prophet margins especially when the monks discovered that they were becoming very profitable — they led the way inventing money, appreciating hard labour, figuring out compensation, and all of the core principles that go into capitalism. It is a bit disconcerting, sometimes because it seems like truth about economics shifted with the times. Rodney is not afraid of pointing this out, to him Christianity is the religion of reason which allows for the freedom to think and adapt as situations change, No such freedom is allowed in Islam. Islam is not able to shift with changing times nearly as well because of their fixed position looking backward to the time of Muhammed which was the perfect time. It’s why they resisted the printing press for some 300 years after it’s development, since Muhammed didn’t use one, they didn’t need to either, was the thinking. It’s why they refused to embrace fire arms until their armies were completely obsolete. These are just two examples of many. The Christian faith had a decidedly forward look.
What was the reformation all about anyway?
The protestant reformation happened primarily as an opportunity for nobility to seize power. In France and Spain there was already a good working relationship between the nobility and Catholicism — essentially the nobles had lots of power so there was no need to dump the church. However in Germany, Netherlands, England & the Scandinavian countries there was mandatory tithes and power was held primarily with the church. Nobles used the reformation as an opportunity — it was a “pocketbook” reformation.
Luther himself lamented that after all their work no one attended church. If they did they were drunk, insolent, or fast asleep.
Islam never was great
Stark believes the idea that Muslims were advanced with science and technology until the west somehow swept by them is a myth. His version of history goes like this: The Arabs conquered groups — the Persians, Nestorian Christians, & Jews, these subjugated cultures had advancements that Muslims co-opted, however, Islam’s “grudging toleration” of these cultures gradually turned into out right persecution of them (probably in part due to the crusades) — Essentially by the 1300’s the prevailing thought was all who live in the muslim world need to be muslim — As Muslim rule moved increasingly towards a zero toleration of others religions these cultural enclaves that were more open to such things as innovation and discovery were eradicated, in this so to disappeared these so called “Muslim advancements”
Black death destroyed European populations by as many as 50%. Creating a massive labour shortage. The mini Ice age and it’s attendant famines also destroyed massive populations groups. (the entire population of Iceland for example) — This allowed the peasantry more freedom of choice in labour. Managers now had to make offers. These great tragedies became the jump start for the necessary competitive market that must exist in free economies.
Noble Savage? —No Way.
Stark is no fan of Rouseau theory, the romantic notion that non western cultures drifted along in peaceful serenity and joy until Western gunboats showed up and ruined everything is an absolute falsehood in Starks mind. Caribbean is a derivative of word cannibal. The Spanish conquered the Aztecs and the Inca’s because of superior weaponry and trickery, but also because of indigenous allies. The Aztec’s were brutal colonizers in their own right. They sacrificed to their gods thousands upon thousands of humans and ate them. The Spanish quickly found lesser tribes who were willing to help in their overthrow. Yes, the Spanish created a lot of problems but the human sacrifices stopped.
The ruining of indigenous culture by Western cultural imperialism?
The common belief is that when the West showed up they were controlled by greed and racism. As a result they emptied their colonies of wealth, and corrupted wonderful indigenous cultures. Stark doesn’t deny that happened. He gives the Belgian Congo as one example of such brutality. However he is quick to point out that many of the missionaries and civil servants that went abroad were motivated by idealism and charity more than anything else. The development of countless schools, hospitals, orphanages, farms, clinics were all the result of western influences. To curse the imposition of the west upon the world one would have to be comfortable with the continued practices of foot binding, Sati (Women immolating themselves upon their husband funeral pyre) FGM, the stoning of rape victims, the killing of twins, the dismembering of people with Albinism, the continuation of slavery, forced castration, tyranny and a host of other culturally accepted practices that the west insisted upon stopping.
Fascinating book, gave me a hunger to keep reading. Feels a bit tilted, it’s a pro-west book for sure and I am not convinced about all of his findings, but this book definitely provokes thought.
25 Sisera asked for water,
and she gave him milk. In a bowl fit for nobles, she brought him yogurt.
26 Then with her left hand she reached for a tent peg,
and with her right hand for the workman’s hammer. She struck Sisera with the hammer, crushing his head. With a shattering blow, she pierced his temples.
27 He sank, he fell,
he lay still at her feet. And where he sank, there he died.” (Judges 5:24-27)
Why is she blessed? She betrayed Middle Eastern hospitality, she went against the peace treaty that her husband had with King Jabin. She used deception and more than likely her sex appeal to gain his trust all so she could end his life. Why is she blessed? The writer blesses her because she was an administer of God’s Justice.
In the brutality of tribal conflict, where there was no real “system” of governance, in a world that was less about law and more about dominance, aggression & control, she fought back fear, summoned up her courage & did what she had to do to end the “ruthless oppression”. In her mind the plundering, the rape and the murder, had to stop and God had given Jael the opportunity to stop it. In todays western world with the rule of law firmly in place and with my Christian perspective colouring my view of everything, does this passage have any bearing on me? Is there anything to be learned?
Well, I’m pretty sure the lesson is not “grab a tent peg and violently stamp out injustice.” But it is right for us to hate injustice, it is right for us to become active to try to do what we can to put an end to abuse, to fight against “ruthless oppression” where ever we find it. To sit back and do nothing brings a curse from God. (See Bonhoeffer, Cost of Discipleship, p 117-118)
The bad news is that I’m in prison, not a nice comfortable prison either and there are many people that would like to kill me and there are even other Christians who hurt me with their words and motivations.
, the good news is:
- The entire palace guard now knows about Jesus
- The gospel is spreading like wildfire
- Christians all over the place are becoming emboldened to share their faith because of my situation
I won’t get angry at the opposition because it’s actually helping accomplish the mission
I won’t get angry at other Christians who have been less charitable to me, they too are preaching the good news.
God I really want this attitude in my life.
Please give me the clear vision to see that difficulty presents a greater opportunity for you to work.
Please help me not to get bitter at other Christians who might say and do foolish things against me. In many respects in the west Christianity is on the ropes and we don’t have time to hold grudges against one another.
If other Christian groups are proclaiming good news even though in my estimation they stink in a lot of areas then I should praise the Lord for them and not complain about the stench.