Posts Tagged ‘religion’

Hanging By a Thread

This past weekend our church hosted our second annual SWAT Seminar. SWAT stands for Spiritual Warfare and Apologetics Training. This year we were fortunate enough to be able to bring out Craig Hazen and JP Moreland to speak to our group. These guys are two heavyweights in the apologetics world. They travel all over the country and the world, going into both hostile and friendly environments giving arguments in favor of the truth of Christianity.

In his introductory talk on Friday night, Hazen laid the foundation for his talk the next day on “Christianity Among the World’s Religions” by making a very interesting point. He said that Christianity is weird. Why? Because it is the only religion that is testable. Think about it. Most religions in the world are about inward experience and a personal journey toward some form of enlightenment. It doesn’t matter about what happens in the external world, because the religion is inward-focused and no one can prove you’re not having the experience you claim to have.

In stark contrast, the apostle Paul hangs Christianity by a thread that, if able to be snipped, would cause all of Christianity to come crashing to the ground. What is that thread? 1 Corinthians 15:12-17 tells us:

“But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”

If Jesus was not resurrected from the dead, Christianity is useless. This makes Christianity testable, because we can look at the evidence to determine whether or not Christ really was raised from the dead. We can create hypotheses that we can weigh against each other. Hazen did so on Saturday, giving 12 minimal facts that even secular historians agree are true by a large majority. We can then pit these hypotheses against each other using the inference to the best explanation and arrive at a reasonable conclusion. Perhaps I’ll post those later, but it’s easy to see why Christianity is so targeted among the world religions: because it can be objectively tested, and therefore Christians have sufficient belief that it can be defended. No wonder Peter told us to always be ready to give an answer (1 Peter 3:15). We need not have an answer if there isn’t a reasonable one available.

So Christians, we’re a bit strange. I think we already know this, but Paul’s distinction makes that more evident than ever. And yet we have strong reasons to believe that Christianity is true, and that we do not hope in vain. Your faith is hanging by a thread, but I have confidence it is one that can and will never be snipped, until Christ returns and makes plain the truth found in His Word.

Could Religion Really Not Exist?

I was discussing with an atheist friend on his blog the idea of supernaturalism vs. naturalism, and one of the arguments he brought up was surprising to me. His claim was that if you were to erase all memory of anything having to do with science, we would still get science roughly as we see it today. However, if you were to erase all memory of anything religious, it would be reasonable to expect that religion would be very different than we see it today, and quite possibly not even exist. Is this reasonable?

I would disagree for two reasons:

1) As an atheist, my friend would have to assume that there was initially a time period where neither science nor religion existed, because under atheism man was not present at the beginning, but later evolved over time. And yet under these conditions, both science and religion still arose in their current formats. So based on the evidence we have of a time where there was no presence of science or religion, we can safely assume that a similar state would produce both, since it has been done before.

2) General revelation seems to point men to an outside source for the creation of our world. As Aristotle said in his work “On Philosophy”:

When thus they would suddenly gain sight of the earth, seas, and the sky; when they should come to know the grandeur of the clouds and the might of the winds; when they should behold the sun and should learn its grandeur and beauty as well as its power to cause the day by shedding light over the sky; and again, when the night had darkened the lands and they should behold the whole of the sky spangled and adorned with stars; and when they should see the changing lights of the moon as it waxes and wanes, and the risings and settings of all these celestial bodies, their courses fixed and changeless throughout all eternity–when they should behold all these things, most certainly they would have judged both that there exist gods and that all these marvelous works are the handiwork of the gods.

This is a man who shaped much of medieval scholarship in areas like physics, logic, poetry, rhetoric, linguistics and biology. He also predated the coming of Jesus and the writings of the New Testament. And yet Aristotle did not see it possible to explain science without the supernatural. The things he could see in creation pointed him to the gods.

Is it any wonder that Paul would testify to this revelation in Romans? “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” — Romans 1:20

I think these are two powerful pieces of evidence that would lead us reasonably to assume that if memories of both science and religion were erased, science and religion would both be born anew.

It’s just one minor but still relevant argument pointing in the favor of God’s existence as more probable than improbable.

Guns Don’t Kill People. Religions Don’t Either.

Perusing blogs I came upon a comment that someone posted to the blog titled “Why I am not an Agnostic.” While I can’t vouch for the validity of any of the examples this commenter used (and I also don’t own the material or the statement), he/she certainly seems well-informed. The part of one response to which the commenter is responding is in italic quotes below. The comment is all of the text that follows.

“… it is a historical fact that religion is dangerous and has killed more people than any other cause in nature combined.”

This is a fairly strong statement, and a common theme in the modern atheist movement. However, what is the basis of this claim? For example, what constitutes ‘death by religion’? As an abstract concept it is incapable of directly damaging a living being, so the definition must be ‘death motivated by religion’. But even this is fairly nebulous. Using the early Catholic Church as an example, some of the more conniving Popes (and some were surprisingly conniving! see The Corpse Synod) may not have been religious in the least. There was a period wherein the role of Pope was a political position sought after by politicians and used for political means. During their reign, some of these Popes murdered, engaged in warfare, etc. This was facilitated by the infrastructure in place within the church – but could those caught up in the crossfire be called casualties of religion?

The common factor in most deaths attributed to religion is politics. Religions are political entities, and therefore they are often caught up in ideological disputes that can result in bloodshed. The only difference is that at the end of the day, a ‘political figure’ will appeal to political ideals as a means of encouraging his constituents to engaged in whatever act they desire whereas a ‘religious figure’ will appeal to religious ideals. Often the underlying motivation between these two figures is negligible – speaking cynically, they both want to improve their grasp on power and (perhaps) improve their overall quality of life. Even so, I imagine any deaths resulting from the latter would be attributed to religion, likely because these acts are always coached in religious terminology (e.g., see the persecution of the Knights Templar – a probable political maneuver to claim their wealth and consolidate power).

Jim Jones (of Jonestown) is another possible example: According to his son (who survived the massacre) it is quite possible that Jones did not believe any of the religion he preached and was instead using religion as a means of controlling the population. Reading historical accounts of Jonestown seems very congruent with this interpretation – near the end it was far more political than it was religious. Also look to Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology.

Even if political/ideological involvement were responsible for many of the deaths attributed to religion I suppose one could argue that whereas political influence is unavoidable, religious influence is unnecessary; and as something that is unnecessary that has the potential to encourage harm, why not abolish it? The same argument could be made for alcohol (which directly and indirectly kills an impressive number each year), fast cars (why even make a vehicle that travels faster than legally permitted?), and rap music (the misogyny found in some rap lyrics is comparable to ancient Biblical texts). The reason we do not abolish these things (besides the fact that abolition only begets illegal trade) is because it is not the alcohol, car or music that commits any wrong. People kill people, not objects and certainly not abstract notions.