On Sunday, I returned home from another Berkeley Mission trip, where I intentionally exposed high school students to some of my atheist friends in the Bay Area. For the last six months, we’ve taught apologetics to these high schoolers from Upland Christian Academy. Now it was time for them to “get off the sidelines and into the game” and engage non-Christians with the truth. Of course, my atheist friends are more than happy to oblige, so they meet with our missions teams, challenge them with a short lecture, and then dive into some rigorous dialogue.
Without fail, a couple of our atheist guests will contend, “Religion is the cause of most wars.” This cultural mantra has been uttered so often and with so much force, it has come to be accepted as an undeniable declaration. Prominent atheists like Sam Harris contribute to the chorus of voices, arguing religion is “the most prolific source of violence in our history” (The End of Faith, page 27). Richard Dawkins claims, “There’s no doubt that throughout history religious faith has been a major motivator for war and for destruction.”
But as we trained students for this trip, we equipped them with a simple question to expose such claims: “How did you come to that conclusion?” (also known as Columbo Question #2). We simply taught students to recognize when someone makes a claim and then to request their supporting reasons. When our atheist presenters were challenged to provide justification, they could only offer up the Crusades, the Inquisition, 9-11, or vague references to Islamic terrorism. Certainly we recognize religion’s role in these examples, but three or four references cannot support the claim that most wars are caused by religion.
Not only were students able to demonstrate the paucity of evidence for this claim, but we helped them discover that the facts of history show the opposite: religion is the cause of a very small minority of wars. Phillips and Axelrod’s three-volume Encyclopedia of Wars lays out the simple facts. In 5 millennia worth of wars—1,763 total—only 123 (or about 7%) were religious in nature (according to author Vox Day in the book The Irrational Atheist). If you remove the 66 wars waged in the name of Islam, it cuts the number down to a little more than 3%. A second scholarly source, The Encyclopedia of War edited by Gordon Martel, confirms this data, concluding that only 6% of the wars listed in its pages can be labelled religious wars. Thirdly, William Cavanaugh’s book, The Myth of Religious Violence, exposes the “wars of religion” claim. And finally, a recent report (2014) from the Institute for Economics and Peace further debunks this myth.
We didn’t stop there. We showed students it gets worse for the atheists’ claim. A strong case can be made that atheism, not religion, and certainly not Christianity, is responsible for a far greater degree of bloodshed. Indeed, R.J. Rummel’s work in Lethal PoliticsandDeath by Government has the secular body count at more than 100 million...in the 20th century alone.
Our students were able to see that a simple examination of the facts relieves religion from blame for most of the world’s wars. In addition, we were able to help cultivate in students a healthy skepticism of atheistic claims. If the skeptic will shout such an unsubstantiated claim so loudly and with so much force, what other skeptical claims might quickly fall apart under rational scrutiny?
This July, I’ll be leading a group of high school students and leaders from Grace Fellowship Church on a brand new experience. We’re calling it the Worldview Road Trip, and it’s designed to equip students to think Christianly about every single area of life. One topic we plan to cover is economics. We want students to know the central components of a Christian worldview and how they inform our views on poverty, money, the economy, free markets, and more. As we’ve been creating an outline for this training session, I’ve identified several key theological issues that are especially relevant to this topic:
The Image of God
Fallen Human Nature
The Nature of Marriage and Family
Self-governance and Personal Responsibility
The Role of the Family
The Role of the Church
And here are the key questions regarding economics that emerge from our theological reflections:
How does the Imago Dei inform our view of human activity? Why is man a creator, not merely consumer?
How does fallen human nature inform our views about economics, markets, and human interaction in these arenas? How do various economic systems take into account, or ignore, our sinful and selfish nature? How might a free-market economy hold human nature in check and create accountability?
What is “sphere sovereignty,” and how does this idea emerge in Scripture (e.g., Paul telling us that “if a man will not work, he shall not eat” in 2 Thess. 3:10)? Who is primarily responsible for taking care of us?
Is there a distinction between self-interest and selfishness? How does appropriate self-interest inform our economic views?
What should our approach be to the poor? How does our view of human nature inform our approach? How are free markets effective tools in fighting poverty in the world?
How does God’s design for the family protect people from poverty (e.g., looking at how single parenting greatly increases chances of poverty and how married men with children are the most productive members of society)?
What is man’s fundamental problem and need according to Scripture? How do we prioritize issues like poverty in light of the primacy of the Gospel (e.g., do people need wealth or Jesus more? Are we focusing more on social justice issues or the cross of Christ?)
How would you answer these questions? We will equip students to see how the Christian worldview has tremendous insight into these topics. If you haven’t given this much thought, let me pass along some of the great resources we’re using to prepare this training session. You may find them helpful as you too think Christianly about all of life.