The Reason For God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism – A critique (Chapter Four: The Church Is Responsible for So Much Injustice)Posted: September 10, 2013
Chapter 4 The Church is Responsible for so Much Injustice
Skeptics Assertion: “I have to doubt an religion that has so many fanatics and hypocrites… There are so many people who are not religious at all who are more kind and even more moral than many of the Christians I know.” “The church has a history of supporting injustice, of destroying culture… If Christianity is the true religion, how can this be?” (P. 51)
Keller begins this chapter by correctly pointing out the Christian faith does not say that it is better or more likely to be better, but rather it is dependent on forgiveness for failure from their god. The grace received is contingent on God‘s mercy. If anything Christians believe humans are more evil by nature than the humanist does.
He also admits, “Church officials seem to be at least (if not more) corrupt than leaders in the world at large.” (P. 53) He successfully argues if you are at a character disadvantage from nurture even if you come to faith later in life, you are less likely to be of a higher character than a secularist who had a better roll of the dice. I agree with everything Pastor Keller starts out with as stand alone points, and think many secularists are unable to put themselves in the mindset of Christianity particularly regarding the sin nature issue causing them to make assumptions which negate their arguments and reasonings. I encourage all skeptics to look into dogma as much as the actual text; understanding religion from a personal standpoint and not just a sociopolitical/academic one. However, I do not feel the skeptic is asking why a person from a bad or disadvantaged back-round isn’t magically made perfect by Christianity. In fact it is more often Christians speak of miracle conversions which cause for absolute and immediate moral and social 180s.
The question stems from a basic difference in morality. The secularist and believers see tolerance, empathy, love, compassion, etc. fundamentally different. The secularist is compelled to make distinctions about homosexuals, unwed mothers and ones who have abortions, women’s place in the house and work force, so on based on the help or harm done to society. For them tolerance, love, compassion… etc. can evolve in real time. The secularist adapts their moral code as new verified and tested information comes in. The person of faith must adhere to the Bible, or whatever text they hold as holy. These texts cannot change or be adapted. Now, it is clear most Christians are not orthodox Jews, and cherry pick their way through the Bible as to what is “contextually important” in our day and age and while this cherry picking has been pivotal to keep Christianity current and relevant, there are two troubling questions religious adaptions begs.
First: If the Bible is God’s true word and he has not told anyone to amend it, what gives the believer the right to decide which of the laws God still cares about and doesn’t? What is the point of saying you have a pipeline to a deity but acknowledging only the bits which you agree with? Aren’t you doing the same as the skeptic but with one important difference: The believer must constantly weigh what’s more important along side their faith. What is culturally beneficial against what their holy text says which brings me to point two.
Holy texts universally retard progress both morally and scientifically. For instance, if Abolitionist Christians hadn’t cast off all the proslavery verses in the Bible to fight what is clearly an injustice where would we be? They saw an injustice and fought it despite their holy text. The South was clearly on the right side of slavery Biblically (Genesis 9:25, Leviticus 25:44-46, Exodus 21:20-21, Joel 3:8, Luke 12:46-47, 1 Timothy 6:1-2, and Colossians 3:22) and very successfully justified their way of life as good and Christian. They systematically used Christianity to control their slaves as well. We see this over and over in history from Galileo to woman’s lib. What’s worse, religion doesn’t admit being wrong, but rather says times are different and God must have had a reason for these laws before. There is no reason that a “man after god’s own heart” should ever collect 200 foreskins to by a wife (1 Samuel 18:27) or kill ever living thing (e.g. the flood). This is the issue secularists have with Christianity. Not that they should be more moral, but they claim to have a guide that is morally superior when it clearly is not morally superior even to some other texts of the time.
In this section Keller takes on the idea orthodox inevitably leads to violence as proposed by Christopher Hitchens in his book God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Keller admits Hitch’s point, “Religion is not unlike racism,” “One version of it inspires and provokes the other. Religion has been an enormous multiplier of tribal suspicion and hatred…” Pastor Keller continues on with a laundry list of violence perpetrated by various religions from different times all over the world.
Keller unfortunately does what most Christian apologists do and plays the, “Well non-believers do it too!” card. He cites Communist Russia, Chinese, Cambodia, and Nazi’s and the atrocities each committed. Agreed, horrible things happened in the name of state and race. In point of fact religion never left these areas. After Nazi Germany’s attack on the Soviet Union in 1941, Joseph Stalin revived the Russian Orthodox Church to intensify patriotic support for the war effort. To quote Hitler, “We were convinced that the people need and require this faith. We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out.” Saying you are no worse than Stalinists or Nazis is a horrible defense. Really, really, really bad.
Keller argues since violence persists with religion or devoid of it, the violence must be in us. I agree to some extent, however the amount of violence in the name of religion still severely outweighs the amount of violence done in the name of atheism. Stalinists did not do what they did “in the name of no God ’cause there isn’t one and we need to make the world see!” Atheists don’t blow up religious buildings but abortionists must wear bullet proof vests and have security around their clinics. In point of fact Hitler based his Aryan ideals on his Christian faith:
“What we must fight for is to safeguard the existence and reproduction of our race and our people, the sustenance of our children and the purity of our blood, the freedom and independence of the fatherland, so that our people may mature for the fulfillment of the mission allotted it by the creator of the universe.”
-Adolf Hitler (Mein Kampf)
To quote God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Hitchens,
Those who invoke “Secular” tyranny in contrast to religion are hoping that we will forget two things: the connection between the Christian churches and fascism, and the capitulation of the churches to National Socialism. (p. 242)
Yes, violence is inherent in the human condition to some extent but faith in God seems to give credibility to taking action on the insanely evil sides of it with vindication.
Keller makes excellent points in section say the new believer may often become fanatical in their new found faith raging against a litany of things particularly “movies and television”. These people “often appear intolerant and self-righteous”
He argues the truth of Christianity, that is saved by grace, is humbling and not an instigation of arrogance. I agree with Keller the Gospel does have a message of humility, meekness, love, and so forth. I also agree people who are fanatical in faith, like The Westboro Baptists, are very far from what Jesus Christ taught. I do have a very important caveat however.
There is absolutely no way for a Christian to present their faith to a non-believer without saying in some way, “I have knowledge you do not and am better for having this knowledge.” Now this may not seem fanatical, but consider the origin of this knowledge. If you look the faith summarily as I did in the Critique of chapter one, it is on its face insane and the amount of faith required to believe it is at a fanatical level. That fanaticism of confidence in something no one can know comes off as condescending to boot. Christians refer to non-believers as “lost”, which by transitive property puts the believer in a better, you could say, superior position. So even if the believer doesn’t say, “God hates fags.” or “Harry Potter is the work of witchcraft and the Devil.” Having the mindset of being in a superior position by a postulation no one can reach without a fanatical level of faith lays Pastor Keller’s argument good Christians are not fanatical to waste.
The Merriam Webster Dictionary Defines fanatic as: marked by excessive enthusiasm and often intense uncritical devotion. Even more telling the origin of the word fanatic is Latin, fanaticus, inspired by a deity, frenzied, from fanum temple. The very word originated with religion.
“The Biblical Critique Of Religion”
Pastor Keller says the Prophets and Jesus were the first to critique legalism. The failure of the Church is because of poor application of the Gospels. From a purely gospel stand point this is more or less true, although the New Testament is clear we are to keep the Old Testament law,
John 14:15 If you love me, keep my commandments,
Matthew 5:18 For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law.
Revelation 14:12 Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.
and as I have pointed out several times, Keller seems to forget about the rest of the Bible. If Christians considered Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John to be the Word of God and the rest cast aside in the Council of Nicaea there would be less for the skeptic to be concerned about. This is not the case. If all the Bible is Holy and God Breathed, then to be Christian is to follow all of it.
“Justice In Jesus’s Name”
In this section Keller tries to argue slavery was abolished by Christians “not because of some general understanding of human rights, but because they saw as violating the will of God.” He attempts to paint the picture of the church rising up in Christ’s name to end slavery by showing examples of different church bodies and leaders, like Dr. King and Bonhoeffer at the forefront of the civil rights movement, and while I am confident these men did truly believe God opposed the injustice they fought against, this is a poor argument for two reasons. First, I can find far more Christian organizations and leaders who were patently for slavery. Episcopal Bishop Stephen Elliott, James Henley Thornwell, Calvin Henderson Wiley, Josiah Priest, and Frederick Ross all were Christian Pro-slavery speakers and writers. Papal bulls such as Dum Diversas, Romanus Pontifex and their derivatives, sanctioned slavery and were used to justify enslavement of natives and the appropriation of their lands during the Age of Discovery. The Transatlantic slave trade, was initiated at the request of Bishop Las Casas and authorised by Charles V in 1517. The Ku Klux Klan to this day is a deeply Christian Organization. Their website has this on the opening page: “Stay firm in your convictions. Keep loving your heritage and keep witnessing to others that there is a better way than a war torn, violent, wicked, socialist, new world order. That way is the Christian way – law and order – love of family – love of nation. These are the principles of western Christian civilization.” -National Director of The Knights, Pastor Thomas Robb.
Keller doesn’t use the Bible once in this section to show how the Trinity views slavery so I’ll do this for him.
“Thy bond-men and thy bond-maids which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you: of them shall ye buy bond-men and bond-maids. Moreover, of the children of the strangers that do sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, and of their families that are with you, which they begat in your land. And they shall be your possession. And ye shall take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them for a possession, they shall be your bond-man forever.”
“When a man strikes his slave, male or female, with a rod and the slave dies under his hand, he shall be punished. But if the slave survives a day or two, he is not to be punished; for the slave is his money.”
“The lord of that servant will come in a day when he looketh not for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in sunder, and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers. And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.”
“Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their masters worthy of all honor, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed. And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but rather do them service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit.”
—1 Timothy 6:1-2
If you buy a Hebrew slave, he is to serve for only six years. Set him free in the seventh year, and he will owe you nothing for his freedom. If he was single when he became your slave and then married afterward, only he will go free in the seventh year. But if he was married before he became a slave, then his wife will be freed with him. If his master gave him a wife while he was a slave, and they had sons or daughters, then the man will be free in the seventh year, but his wife and children will still belong to his master. But the slave may plainly declare, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children. I would rather not go free.’ If he does this, his master must present him before God. Then his master must take him to the door and publicly pierce his ear with an awl. After that, the slave will belong to his master forever.
When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she will not be freed at the end of six years as the men are. If she does not please the man who bought her, he may allow her to be bought back again. But he is not allowed to sell her to foreigners, since he is the one who broke the contract with her. And if the slave girl’s owner arranges for her to marry his son, he may no longer treat her as a slave girl, but he must treat her as his daughter. If he himself marries her and then takes another wife, he may not reduce her food or clothing or fail to sleep with her as his wife. If he fails in any of these three ways, she may leave as a free woman without making any payment.
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ.
Christians who are slaves should give their masters full respect so that the name of God and his teaching will not be shamed. If your master is a Christian, that is no excuse for being disrespectful. You should work all the harder because you are helping another believer by your efforts. Teach these truths, Timothy, and encourage everyone to obey them.
-1 Timothy 6:1-2
The servant will be severely punished, for though he knew his duty, he refused to do it. “But people who are not aware that they are doing wrong will be punished only lightly. Much is required from those to whom much is given, and much more is required from those to whom much more is given.” -Luke 12:47-48
Clearly both the Bible and Church leaders have fought for and proliferated slavery as much (if not more) as they attempted to end it. Just to put this in today’s perspective the Church and its leaders are still trying to keep basic human rights from groups of people, namely LGBTQ. Some day the Pastor Kellers of the future will be trying to argue “Justice in Jesus’s Name” citing all the Christians who fought so tirelessly to get rights to LGBTQers.
At best Pastor Keller can say the Church comes out even on the Social Justice issue, but that seems like a stretch given the Word of God.
Pastor Keller commits the same crimes he does in every other chapter. He has good insight into his own faith but truly does not understand how the skeptic views his faith.
Drive fast. Take Chances. Thanks for reading.