Here is my response to this week's challenge, "God Doesn't Teach Children to Be Good."
Here is my response to this week's challenge, "God Doesn't Teach Children to Be Good."
One of the most offensive claims of Christianity to modern people is that Jesus is the only way to be reconciled to God. We're encouraged within the church and without to update the Gospel to a contemporary world. Drop this offensive element because we have to make it more palatable to modern people.
I heard Timothy Keller make a great point. It's rather obvious, but I've never heard anyone make it plainly before. Christianity was born in a pluralistic society. This is nothing modern. And if it began in a pluralist society with that narrow claim, there's nothing about contemporary circumstances that should motivate us to change it.
First century Judea was a Roman colony. The Romans told Christians they could worship their Jesus as long as they also called Caesar Lord. They didn't do it and paid with their lives. Paul preached on Mars Hill to people who believed in a variety of gods, and He told them who the one true God was. Even ancient Israel lived in a pluralistic society with Canaanites deities and Egyptian gods, but they were people of the One True God.
There's nothing new about religious pluralism. And there's nothing new about the pressures from culture to compromise the central truth of Christianity that there is one God and Jesus, His Son, is the only one who can reconcile us with Himself.
And what is the modern pluralist appeal based on? The fact-faith divide, which is a European Enlightenment idea, which pretty much only western white people believe. How narrow and imperialist is that!
In an article on Slate, pro-choicer Mary Elizabeth Williams argues that the unborn are living human beings:
I know women who have been relieved at their abortions and grieved over their miscarriages. Why can’t we agree that how they felt about their pregnancies was vastly different, but that it’s pretty silly to pretend that what was growing inside of them wasn’t the same? Fetuses aren’t selective like that. They don’t qualify as human life only if they’re intended to be born.
When we try to act like a pregnancy doesn’t involve human life, we wind up drawing stupid semantic lines in the sand: first trimester abortion vs. second trimester vs. late term, dancing around the issue trying to decide if there’s a single magic moment when a fetus becomes a person. Are you human only when you’re born? Only when you’re viable outside of the womb? Are you less of a human life when you look like a tadpole than when you can suck on your thumb?
But then she says, “So what?”
Here’s the complicated reality in which we live: All life is not equal. That’s a difficult thing for liberals like me to talk about, lest we wind up looking like death-panel-loving, kill-your-grandma-and-your-precious-baby storm troopers. Yet a fetus can be a human life without having the same rights as the woman in whose body it resides. She’s the boss. Her life and what is right for her circumstances and her health should automatically trump the rights of the non-autonomous entity inside of her. Always.
Yesterday I wrote about how our worldview affects our view of human beings, which affects the way we treat human beings. For Williams, the live, unborn human being is, as she says, “a life worth sacrificing”—worth sacrificing if “the boss” wants to get rid of him for the sake of the life she would rather have.
How is this complete power of one human being over another not slavery? For Williams, this isn’t a problem, because in her view, “all life is not equal.” She’s bought the idea of instrumental human value—that is, the idea that human beings are on a scale of worth, according to their characteristics and abilities. And apparently, if you’re higher up on that scale, then your desires trump the natural rights of someone who is lower.
Abraham Lincoln commented on the absurdity and danger of citing instrumental value to justify the use of power to impose one’s will on other human beings (thanks to Scott Klusendorf for pointing to this):
You say A. is white, and B. is black. It is color, then; the lighter, having the right to enslave the darker? Take care. By this rule, you are to be slave to the first man you meet, with a fairer skin than your own.
You do not mean color exactly? You mean the whites are intellectually the superiors of the blacks, and, therefore have the right to enslave them? Take care again. By this rule, you are to be slave to the first man you meet, with an intellect superior to your own.
But, say you, it is a question of interest; and, if you can make it your interest; you have the right to enslave another. Very well. And if he can make it his interest, he has the right to enslave you.
The arguments for slavery were the same as the arguments now for abortion: Human beings are only instrumentally valuable. Some people are worth less than others because they lack particular qualities that I have. Therefore, my desires trump their rights.
The arguments against slavery were the same as the arguments now against abortion: All human beings are intrinsically valuable and have equal natural rights, regardless of their characteristics.
The arguments are the same then and now because the two options presenting themselves to us haven’t changed and won’t ever change. Slavery and abortion aren’t just random, unconnected controversial issues, they’re rooted in our view of human beings, and they illustrate the two possible directions in which our country can go as we move forward. Will we embrace intrinsic human value or instrumental human value?
Whatever we decide as a nation, don’t think for a moment that the principle we settle on will only be applied to abortion.
Should we use ridicule as a tool of persuasion? Atheist John Loftus says yes.
Christopher Hitchens famously used to ask Christians to “name one moral action performed by a believer that could not have been done by a nonbeliever.” One of the problems with answering Hitchens’s challenge (see a more detailed discussion here) is that a person who has a naturalistic worldview is unlikely to have exactly the same understanding of right and wrong as that of a Christian. Of course an atheist can act within his moral framework and do what he considers to be good, but if his ideas about what is moral are incorrect, then his actions will follow. And there are too many questions about who we are as human beings, the purpose of life, the diagnosis of what’s gone wrong and the prescription for fixing it, etc., etc. that we answer differently for us to come to the exact same conclusions about what is right and what is wrong.
For this reason, Hitchens’s charge is logically unanswerable. It’s simply the case that if there truly exists something moral a believer can do that a nonbeliever can’t, it’s because the believer sees it as moral because he’s a believer while the nonbeliever fails to see it as moral because he’s a nonbeliever (worshiping God would be one example of this). And if the atheist fails to see that action as moral, he won’t accept it as an example of a moral action he can’t (or won’t) perform. Therefore, no answer will ever satisfy him, even if it’s true.
So I don’t expect atheists to see this post as a challenge to their morality either. They reject the idea that we’re made in the image of God, so they reject the morality that flows from that idea. That’s to be expected. Proving to atheists that their morality is faulty is not my purpose in writing this (though I’d be happy for their moral intuition to be stirred). Instead, what I hope this will do is shed some light on how our different worldviews affect our understanding of what is moral. We live in a society that’s been soaked in the Christian worldview for centuries, and we’ve come to think that what we believe to be moral is just “obvious.” People haven’t thought about how their understanding of morality has been shaped by Christianity, nor have they considered the consequences of stripping it away (though a look through past cultures would reveal that not everything is obvious).
Atheists don’t need to believe in God to do good—that is, they can follow moral precepts, informed by their moral intuition, which is capable of apprehending real moral truths. But what happens when their moral precepts (and malleable consciences) are wrongly shaped by their idea that there is no God?
Consider how John Loftus of Debunking Christianity reasons to the conclusion that one ought to use ridicule as a method of persuasion:
The use of ridicule can be justified pragmatically. It works well under the right circumstances, depending on the issue and the potential effectiveness of using it. It is best used when the arguments are there to back it up, and when more people agree against the ideas that are being ridiculed…. That is, because we know Christianity is a delusion, and since deluded people cannot usually be argued out of their faith because they were never argued into it in the first place, the use of persuasion techniques like ridicule are rationally justifiable. So satire, ridicule and mockery are weapons that should be in our arsenal in this important cultural war of ideas.
He explains how ridicule works:
These people cannot be convinced by satire, so satire is not written to change their minds. It's written to marginalize them by laughing at them. It persuades people who don't yet have a settled opinion on the issue, in part by using social pressure. No one wants to be a laughingstock. No one wants to be the butt of a joke. If people are laughing at a particular view it pressures the undecided to distance themselves from it. It draws a line in the sand, so to speak. It can also silence people who think otherwise, for they won't want to speak up in a class on behalf of something most others will laugh at….
When something cannot be taken seriously it deserves our laughter…. It's a way to "come out of the closet," so to speak, to let others know they will be laughed at if they espouse certain ideas with a straight face. There is power in social pressure. There is power in numbers.
Ridicule is an effective tool, so why not use it? Why not use power to move people over to your side, if it “works”? There’s only one reason, and it’s a reason from the Christian worldview: human dignity.
For Loftus and others who do not believe in the sacred intrinsic value of every individual, the greater goal outweighs the damage to individual human persons—the simple moral precept of maintaining another’s dignity crumbles before a lofty cause. The morality of Christianity, on the other hand, offers no such exemption, as Jordan Ballor explains in his excellent post “The Mundane Morality of Les Misérables.” In Christianity, because of who God is and who we are as human beings under God, no one is excused from the everyday morality of treating people well, regardless of his goal, or his power, or whether or not doing otherwise would “work”:
We find that the obligations of the moral order fall equally upon all human beings; we are all, regardless of our wealth, power, or fame, moral agents responsible for our actions before God and toward others….
It is tempting to think sometimes that the basic rules of morality do not apply to us, that we are somehow above or beyond the law. But the reality is that there is no special morality for those who exercise greater responsibilities, whether in familial, economic, ecclesiastical, or political contexts. It is true that there is often in such cases greater moral complexity, but there is no dispensation for those in places of authority [or influence] from mundane moral obligations.
One of those mundane moral obligations is the obligation to respect the dignity of human beings because they are made in the image of God. God values individuals, not movements, so our actions had better reflect that. We’re commanded to reflect God—His undeserved grace and love—through the means of our persuasion as well as the ends (as I wrote about here).
Why does Loftus reach such a different conclusion about how to treat his ideological enemies? Why is his determining question, “What works to achieve the desired goal?” rather than, “What would be in keeping with the dignity of human persons?” In an article titled “Why I Raise My Children Without God,” another atheist gives us a clue:
When we raise kids without God, we tell them the truth—we are no more special than the next creature. We are just a very, very small part of a big, big machine….
And Loftus’s approach is the result of that “truth.”
Defending The Faith: Apologetics in Women’s Ministry
Mary Jo Sharp, Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids Michigan 2012
Why Do You Believe That? A Faith Conversation
Mary Jo Sharp, Lifeway Press, Nashville Tennessee 2012
When Greg first interviewed Mary Jo Sharp on the Stand To Reason radio show, he described her as a “strange bird”. Doesn’t sound like much of an introduction for a Christian Case Maker, does it? But Greg was trying to make a point about the rarity of women apologists on the Christian landscape. If you’re interested in apologetics, you’ve probably already noticed the conspicuous lack of women in this field. Why is this the case? Is it a lack of interest or understanding on the part of women’s ministries? Maybe. Is it a lack of resources that are specifically designed for women? Could be. Enter Mary Jo Sharp.
Mary Jo burst onto the case-making scene several years ago when she grew her Two Chix Apologetics Facebook page into ConfidentChristianity.com and began speaking around the country. After a few key debates and conference appearances, Mary Jo is now channeling her energy with a directed effort to encourage and train women to become Christian Case Makers. Mary Jo has two new books, Defending The Faith: Apologetics in Women’s Ministry and Why Do You Believe That? A Faith Conversation; together they form a powerful set of resources that will help train and integrate apologetics into women’s ministry.
Defending The Faith: Apologetics in Women’s Ministry is a succinct, readable six-chapter book that seeks a new model for women’s ministry “that addresses the basic need of women to know the truth about God and thus to trust Him: the study of apologetics specifically for women so that they can learn the truth about God, believe in Him, and live out their faith through their actions.” Mary Jo follows this outline carefully, utilizing personal stories (her background as an atheist growing up in a “Portland, Oregon, where there is not a church on every corner,” was particularly interesting to me) and illustrations from her adventures as a speaker to help readers understand the importance of Christian case making and the impact it can have on our behavior as Christians. Mary Jo then does something even more important (in my view) as she provides her readers with two chapters, “What You Can Do Right Now” and “What You Can Do In Women’s Ministry”. More than just a general encouragement, Defending The Faith, provides readers with a plan of action.
Why Do You Believe That? A Faith Conversation then seeks to continue this effort by providing a comprehensive introductory apologetics Bible study that is a perfect “first step” for any women’s group that wants to take Mary Jo up on her call to action. Mary Jo’s curriculum is detailed and robust; it would be valuable to any group within the Church. Drawing upon Mary Jo’s years of experience in Women’s Ministry, the curriculum engages the reader in an interactive conversation even as it teaches students how to engage the world around them in “faith conversations” of their own. Mary Jo begins by examining the definition and nature of “apologetics” and defining key beliefs related to the nature of Jesus. She then spends the next four weeks examining and teaching key principles of communication, from important listening and questioning skills, to valuable tactical response skills. The curriculum includes several unique features. Each week begins with a group lesson (video introductions are available for online download to assist each presentation), followed by a daily self-directed study that explores key concepts in detail. Additional terms and concepts are explored in breakout boxes throughout the text and each weekly set of lessons also includes a “Confidence Builder” suggestion that will encourage students to stretch out of their comfort zone. The book includes plenty of room for student responses and note taking and Mary Jo also included the leader guide within the text as an appendix.
Mary Jo has been speaking around the country for several years now, often in Women’s ministries, encouraging women to engage Christian Case Making as a way of life. She’s now provided the Christian community with two valuable resources that will demonstrate the importance of apologetics in Women’s ministry and provide a path forward for those who want to accept the challenge to become effective Christian Case Makers.
Mary Jo will be our guest on Stand to Reason radio on Sunday, February 3rd, 2013.
A CNN iReport titled "Why I Raise My Children Without God" has been making some waves, so I thought I'd choose a portion of it for this week's challenge. We've already covered some of the objections in the article about evil (most of the objections in the article come down to the problem of evil) and prayer, so I went with the one on morality:
God Does Not Teach Children to Be Good: A child should make moral choices for the right reasons. Telling him that he must behave because God is watching means that his morality will be externally focused rather than internally structured. It’s like telling a child to behave or Santa won’t bring presents. When we take God out of the picture, we place responsibility of doing the right thing onto the shoulders of our children. No, they won’t go to heaven or rule their own planets when they die, but they can sleep better at night. They will make their family proud. They will feel better about who they are. They will be decent people.
Does an "internally focused" morality create better people than one that's enforced by God? What do you think? Respond to this objection in the comments below, and then we'll hear Brett's response on Thursday.
[View Brett's video response.]
The following are links that were either mentioned on this week's show or inspired by it, as posted live on the @STRtweets Twitter feed:
A recent podcast listener offered the following objection: Couldn’t the disciples have been wrong about the death of Jesus? After all, when Paul was stoned by the Jews from Antioch and Iconium (in Acts 14) they drug him out of the city and left him for dead. “While the disciples stood around him, he got up and entered the city” (verse 20). If the disciples were wrong about Paul, couldn’t they also have been wrong about Jesus? As I always say, anything and everything is possible, but not everything is reasonable. There are good reasons to believe that the disciples were not wrong about the death of Jesus:
1. Extended Contact
Unlike the their contact with Paul after his stoning, the disciples were in intimate and extended contact with the body of Jesus. We have a tendency to read over the following verses very quickly:
“So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council... …bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock.”
But stop and think about it for a minute. The disciples had to remove the nails, collect the body, carry it some distance to the tomb, treat the body thoroughly with the customary ointments and spices used in such situations, wrap the body and then place it in the tomb. While we can read through this process in minutes, it takes a lot longer to actually complete. Surely the disciples were also deeply grieved by the death of Jesus. In all this extended contact with his body, do we really think they wouldn’t do everything possible to prove to themselves that he wasn’t really dead? In all of this time, is it reasonable to believe that they wouldn’t have noticed the three inconvenient properties of dead bodies? I’ve been around enough dead people to recognize that properties that appear when a heart stops beating:
Loss of Temperature
When the heart stops pumping, the body begins to cool. In the time it would take to prepare Jesus for the tomb, the disciples would certainly have observed this feature of death.
When blood is not circulating, the body begins to stiffen. Dead bodies begin to feel and behave differently than unconscious bodies with a beating heart.
Gravity begins to act on un-circulating blood. As blood settles in those extremities that are closest to the ground, discoloration is notable.
In all the time it took to prepare Jesus’ body, with all the extended contact the disciples had, is it really reasonable to think they would not have repeatedly checked to see if he was still breathing and that they would not have noticed the three inconvenient properties of dead people?
2. Un-Expected Corroboration
John, a disciple of Jesus, was raised as a fisherman. I doubt that he had any medical training. Yet look at what he reports in his gospel:
“The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.”
John seems to record an aspect of Jesus’ body that is common when people are fatally wounded. Critical injuries typically cause people to enter Circulatory Shock, a condition I often see at assault or accident scenes. When people die of their injuries, their death is often accompanied with Pericardial or Pleural Effusion, a condition that causes water to accumulate around the heart or within the lungs. It appears that the uneducated fisherman is reporting this condition in his gospel. Think he might have done this intentionally in an effort to deceive us, or is it more reasonable to attribute this description to a true observation?
3. External Confirmation
History tells us that there was a tremendous penalty to be paid by Roman soldiers if they allowed a capital criminal to either escape or avoid the penalty for which they were sentenced. For this reason, Roman soldiers were brutal and meticulous, executing their orders with precision. Look again at how the Bible describes the death of Jesus:
Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jews did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.
According to the non-Christians at the scene, Jesus was dead on the cross.
4. Eyewitness Connection
Take a look at the description of the burial of Jesus offered in the Gospel of Mark. Notice the description of Joseph of Arimathea:
It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock.
Mark appears to be describing the same scene as John, but Mark includes a character that John omits. Why would Mark writing many years prior to John, include Joseph? It’s reasonable that Joseph was still alive when Mark wrote his account; Mark may be including Joseph so that the early readers could contact Joseph as an living eyewitness who not only saw the crucifixion, but also touched and wrapped the dead body of Jesus.
The experience the disciples had with Jesus was very different than the experience the disciples had with Paul at his point of his stoning. The disciples simply “stood around” Paul after the stoning; they did far more with the body of Jesus following his crucifixion.