The Reason For God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism – A critique (Chapter Three: Christianity Is a Straitjacket)Posted: August 30, 2013
Chapter 3 Christianity Is a Straitjacket
Skeptics assertion: “Christians believe they have the absolute truth that everyone else has to believe – or else. That attitude endangers everyone’s freedom.” and “A one-Truth-fits-all is too confining. …each individual must determine truth for him or herself. ” (P. 35)
Pastor Keller begins this chapter espousing skeptic’s ideology that belief in absolute truth is the enemy of
freedom going on to define what freedom is using quotes from I, Robot (2004 film), Prof. Gould, and the US Supreme Court seemingly to say freedom is: defining one’s own concept of existence and the meaning of the universe. (P.36) The idea “Christianity looks like the enemy of social cohesion, cultural adaptability, and even authentic personhood.” is “based on mistakes about the nature of truth, community, Christianity, and liberty itself.” (P. 37)
“Truth is Unavoidable”
Keller makes excellent points in this section regarding the skeptics reaction to truth claims essentially saying bucking one truth claims to know another truth. Essentially he is driving at all people hold absolute and limiting truths as a way of dealing with reality. Seems true to me, but some absolutely are more easily backed than others.
“Community Can’t Be Completely Inclusive”
Keller says “Christianity requires particular beliefs in order to be a member of a community.” Therefore making it “social divisive critics argue.” Proponents of liberal democracy, where residents of different races and religious beliefs work together as a community, say all that is needed “is that each person respects the privacy and the rights of others and the works for equal access to education, jobs, and political decision-making for all.”
He goes on making the point this is an oversimplification and all communities are based on “very particular beliefs”. He says: “Every human community holds in common some beliefs that necessarily create boundaries, including some people and excluding others from its circle.”
Of course this is true. Could you imagine a society who decided in the interest of inclusion and acceptance they would not cast out robbers, rapists, and pedophiles from their midst? That community would implode or at the very least not a particular pleasant place to live. Liberal democracies do not propone the only thing intolerable is intolerance. Rather, they try to serve the common interest in allowing non-harmful diversity to flourish. If it doesn’t cause measurable harm to accommodate the minority, then do it.
Keller continues with the illustration of a board member of a LGBT Community Center announces he had a religious experience and now believes homosexuality is a sin. He persists in this assertion for weeks. On the other side a board member of the Alliance Against Same-Sex Marriage finds out he has a gay son and changes his position claiming his son has the right to get married. Both board members would eventually be asked to step down and even though one is based “inclusive and the second …exclusive” both operate in the same way, operating common beliefs that act as boundaries.
All this is true and fair. The problem comes that these examples are not representative of communities, but rather governing bodies of communities. A leader must sacrifice some personal beliefs to serve the whole of community, this is why in a democracy the are called “public servants” not “public dictators”. If you are a member of a community you can hold dissenting opinions in your own home and mind because it doesn’t directly affect your community. If you are a governing member, you relinquish some of your freedom. That is your choice, however once made you must stand by it or step down for the sake of community. You can’t have power in democracy and get all your personal beliefs supported too.
Keller defines whether a community is open and caring or narrow and oppressive expertly saying “community has beliefs that lead its members to treat persons in other communities with love and respect.” How true this is. He says we should condemn churches who are condemning and ungracious to unbelievers but allow them to maintain standards for membership in accord with their beliefs since every community must do the same. Here in lies the rub. I agree with Keller, the problem comes that by definition Christians must evangelize the unbeliever and tell the world it is doomed unless it comes to agreeance with them. To not do so would be unloving in their world view.
If you believe anyone who you love will be lost to hell for eternity unless they believe as you do, to not assert they have made a life error is incredibly unloving. To use Keller’s example, LGBT don’t generally have issue with straight people’s sexual preference. They do not preach, teach, evangelize everyone should be LGBT and that those straight people, while they love them, are lost and it is their duty to save them from eternal condemnation. See the difference? Christianity by definition must judge all other communities to be loving and carry out what they define as The Great Commission:
“19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Matthew 28:19-20 (NIV)
Their own text is very clear about how tolerant of other beliefs they should be.
” Christianity Isn’t Culturally Rigid”
Keller argues Christianity’s spread is different from many other faiths since other beliefs tend to stay close to point of origin (Islam in the Middle East, Hinduism in Indian, Confucianism in Asia). He attempts to make this an argument for cultural adaptability.
The insult this is to the victims of Alexandrian Revolt in the 3rd Century (namely Hypatia), The Dark Ages (6th to 13th centuries) namely The Crusades in the 11th-13th centuries, The Inquisition (13th through the 17th centuries), abusive and cultural destruction of the native populace of the Americas from its introduction in 14th century persisting to this day, is unbelievable. Keller seems to have no knowledge of how, why, and the methods Christianity spread and how it attempted to erase/absorb all other beliefs it encountered. The history of how Christianity came to much of the world is rife with coercion, torture, false accusations and imprisonment, eradication of opposing teachers and texts, keeping the masses ignorant, and war.
He makes the example of how Christianity spread to Africa by means of commonality in tribal belief in supernatural good and evil viewing Christ as a final solution (P. 41)
I simply cannot believe he felt confident writing a book to skeptics and making such a flimsy argument against at least 1500 years of some of the greatest atrocities of history in the name of making the world Christian. Damn.
On the heels of ignoring the vast majority of Christian history (something he said he wouldn’t “skip lightly over” P. 21) he seeks to villianize secularism for its anti-supernaturalism and individualism “is much more destructive of local cultures”. (P. 41) The very important difference between a secular organization in an impoverished region of Africa and a religious one is: Secular groups go for humanitarian reasons first and if science over supernatural explanations take hold through education, wonderful. The religious group goes with the primary intention of spreading their theology. No honest mission group would disagree.
He cites his own Church as an example of “cultural adaptation” pointing out how it thousands of people attending in the liberal Manhattan region despite its traditional doctrines.
It is not terribly impressive to say thousands agree with your specific supernatural beliefs in a region covering 33 or so miles containing 1,619,090 people. It’s not even that much geographical space to cover to get your message out. Frankly it seemed more like a plug for his church than a useful stat.
He finishes this section referencing Isaiah 60 and Revelation 21-22 prophecy depicting a “renewed, perfect, future world in which we maintain our cultural differences.” (P. 45) First, Isaiah 60 is the prophecy Zionism partially stems from. Yes, all the killing over Jordan and the war between Israel and its surrounding countries can be linked directly to the Biblical chapter Pastor Keller has chosen to site specifically to show Christianity isn’t culturally rigid.
As for Revelation, ignoring these chapters come after the apocalypse where about 1/4 of the world population dies from plagues and wars unleashed by God and describing Jesus the meek and mild “eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns” (Rev 19:12 NIV) with a “blood dipped robe” (vs. 13) , These are the chapter’s denoting God’s judgement.
“7 Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. 8 But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” Rev. 21:8-7 (NIV) and
14 “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. 15 Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. Rev 22:14-15 (NIV)
Now, some of these practices should be kept out of communities obviously. However: those who practice magic arts: ever get your palm read, played with a ouija board, or read a horoscope. Burn. Sexually immoral Biblically including masturbation (Leviticus 15:16), ejaculating in a way to avoid pregnancy (Genesis 38:9-10), of course premarital sex, adultery (that includes you who divorce and remarry except in very special circumstances), and homosexuality. Burn. Lastly idolaters. Ever have one of those fat buddha’s (in point of fact they are Budai) or value something, say a house, more than you did the service of the Trinity? BURN.
Different veins of Christianity differ on what God really thinks about these things, but these are clearly very poor examples of inclusion and tolerance.
As to what Christ said regarding inclusivity: 30 “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Matthew 12:30
Frankly I really question Pastor Keller’s understanding of both his faith’s history and its Holy text after reading this section. He can paint Christianity as the model of inclusion for the rest of his life. It will not blot out the smallest “nth” of the tapestry of intolerance and cruelty the history of Christianity has.
“Freedom Isn’t Simple”
He begins by arguing against the idea Christianity limits personal growth and potential because it constrains the believer’s ability to choose our own beliefs and practices. He cites Immanual Kant’s definition of an enlightened human being as “one who trusts in his or her own thinking, rather than in authority or tradition” as an oversimplification.
He uses the example of musical aptitude may cause a person to “give” themselves to practice, thus limiting their freedom to do other things. He goes on to say a small young man shouldn’t hope to be a NFL lineman because he will be both figuratively and literally crushed.
Firstly the choice to excel at something is not a “straitjacket”, not only because you have to choose it of free will and with no threat of punishment, but more importantly there is a tangible and measurable pay off. Christianity may be daily choice, but as I pointed out before there is no good thing a person of faith can do that a person devoid of it cannot, and the payoff is in the after life which no one can make tangible or measurable as of yet (not to mention you are putting all your metaphysical chips on black when religious history says there are thousands of other choices).
As to doing something you are not built for, while there are plenty of failures to note, history is rife with underdog stories, overcoming the impossible, and against all odds outcomes. To choose something you are not meant or suited, that is the beauty of being free. If every African american/woman/LGBTQ/etc. decided they weren’t able or suited to be equals due to what society said, all civil rights movements wouldn’t happen.
He says freedom is not the absence of restrictions, but finding the right ones to suit you, “liberating
restrictions”. (P.46) I agree with Keller. We all need to find where our comfort and happiness lies, and left to our own devices we do that. What he is talking about is engaging in belief in the Supernatural and an all-encompassing moral code. Christianity is clearly not a universal one-size-fits-all even within the Church. In 2,000 years the Christian church has gone from built on a rock to schisming into about 41,000 denominations. The faithful disagree so often and intensely about the Word of God they have split that many times. If everything else is so unclear, why does Keller feel so strongly calling the Supernatural by the “correct” name is going to bring liberating restrictions?
“Love, the Ultimate Freedom, Is More Constraining Than We Might Think”
Keller starts this off with the wonderfully insightful statement: “Love is the most liberating freedom-loss of all.” He expounds on this idea well saying to enter into a deep relationship with another requires you to limit yourself and anytime you love you also risk having your heart broken. To have a successful relationship there must be a mutual loss of independence. Essentially to love is to relinquish control and put what you hold most dear in the hands of another.
He loses the plot after this. He argues God has adjusted to us through the incarnation and atonement. His elation of Christ’s sacrifice once again blinds him to the history of his faith and how inflexible the admission to Heaven is. Yes, YWHW changed from caring only for the Hebrews with a few exceptions here and there requiring them to follow a strict cultural and moral code, but with the addition of gentiles and easement of the code, the punishment increased exponentially.
I found myself angered and frustrated for the majority of this chapter. It is as if Pastor Keller is hoping the skeptic is ignorant both of Christianity’s Holy text and history. If omission is lying Keller has some serious repenting to do. His arguments are flimsy, unsatisfying, and hope to prey on ignorance to gain believers. If he was intending to deceive he is malicious. If he wasn’t, he is too blinded by his faith to effectively argue with the skeptic.
If you would like to read more about what the Bible actually teaches about inclusiveness (we’ll stay in the New Testament for time’s sake):
“Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole…Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.”
“But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils.”
2 Corinthians 6:14:
“Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?”
1 Thessalonians 2:14-16:
“…ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews: Who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men: Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins always: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.”
“Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”
“As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.”
Drive fast. Take Chances. Thanks for reading.