Monday, July 19, 2010

Is religion a force for evil?

We cannot skip over the fact that there have been many injustices done by the church in the name of Christ. Dawkins and his ilk are correct in saying that religion has been one of the major threats to world peace, yet the contribution of societies that deny the existence of God to war and terror is also undeniable. Soviet Russia, Communist China and the Cambodia of the Khmer Rouge are all examples of societies that tried to stamp out religion yet committed unbelievable atrocities. This tends to make me think that it is not religion, but something inherent in mankind that makes him behave so.

It is also true that individual Christians are more badly behaved than some non-Christians. A church is more like a hospital than a museum - it is there to rescue the morally lost rather than to preserve the saints. Many religions have as their aim to follow a set of rules; they always aspire to do better. True Christians are people who have realized that the rules cannot be kept and instead throw themselves on the mercy of the court. We are saved by grace (undeserved mercy) not by deeds.

Nevertheless, Christians have been responsible for many of the social improvements that the world has seen. In the highly stratified Graeco-Roman world, Christians mixed people from different races, classes and backgrounds, though in society the poor were despised, Christians gave generously to the poor of their own and of other faiths. Women had very low status in society; it was very different among Christians, not for them the high levels of female infanticide, forced marriages and poverty that were common among Roman women. During the urban plagues off the first two centuries it was the Christians who stayed and cared for the sick at great risk to themselves while the high and mighty fled the city. I need not say more about the evangelical revival of the nineteenth century, when great reform movements ended slavery, got children out of coal mines, improved conditions in factories and started orphanages. Let it be agreed that for all that the church has much to be ashamed of, when it was closest to its masters intentions it was a force for good.


Burke said...

I have a question, Doc?

How does the Christian morality of altruism, selflessness, self-sacrifice, and duty differ from the morality of the communists?

Christians say that we exist for God and that on Earth He wants us to be selfless and sacrifice for others.

Communists (all collectivists, really) say that we exist for the collective (i.e. others) and that we must be selfless and sacrifice for it.

Aren't both essentially the same, and don't they lead to statist-collectivist societies? With the welfare state, socialized medicine, etc.?

Terry Hamblin said...

Interestingly, I asked that question of a returning missionary from China in 1958. He replied that Communism was like Christianity without God.

He was of course profoundly wrong. Karl Marx was the son of Jewish parents who had converted to Lutherism and in some senses Marxism is a Christian heresy. Love the Lord your God with all your heart mind and strength and your neighbor as yourself is the whole of the Law, said Jesus. For Karl Marx it was only the second part of the equation. But the New Testament tells us in Paul's letter to the Romans that the Law is only there to demonstrate how impossible it is to keep. That is why Paul writes, "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God".

The experiment with communism has shown us that even the second half of the injunction is impossible to keep.

The essential message of Christianity is not that we have to keep the Law - we are incapable - but that God loves us despite our failure and that he, in the person of Jesus, took the punishment that our sins deserved on our behalf. Thus he regards us as righteous not for our good works, but because of Jesus who stands in our stead.

No economic system can claim to be Christian. Capitalism at least recognizes that men will act in their own best interests while socialism proceeds on teh falsehood that men are basically good.

Burke said...

"Thus he regards us as righteous not for our good works, but because of Jesus who stands in our stead."

I take it then that you agree with the deterministic view that salvation is the grace of God and that good works will bring you nothing?

If so, why should you care how people behave or what kind of political system we have? Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin can go to Heaven, and Mother Theresa, to hell.

Terry Hamblin said...

Possible, but unlikely. By their fruit shall ye know them.