The Positive Impact of Religion (Tolle Lege)

9780801016226In chapter 20 of their recent book Did God Really Command Genocide? Coming to Terms with the Justice of God, Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan take up the question, “Does Religion Cause Violence?”  This is by now a well-worn trope of new atheist accusation, typically stated without explaining what “religion” is, or how it is uniquely violence-producing in comparison to any other sphere of human activity (politics, sports, business, living in neighboring countries, etc.).  Christopher Hitchens famously claimed that “religion poisons everything,” and Richard Dawkins asserts that religion is “one of the world’s great evils.”  Other authors have made similar claims, but with more scholarly effort (e.g., Charles Kimball and Regina Schwartz).(1)  At the same time, these critics (apparently willfully) overlook the overwhelmingly positive influences of religion (especially Christianity) in modern society, as well as Western civilization as a whole.  Even honest non-Christians–at least those not driven by a hatred of religion–freely admit these influences, as Copan and Flannagan illustrate.


Consider what Europe’s most prominent philosopher, Jürgen Habermas–an atheist–says about the influence of the biblical worldview in the West:

“Christianity has functioned for the normative self-understanding of modernity as more than a mere precursor or a catalyst. Egalitarian universalism, from which sprang the ideas of freedom and social solidarity, of an autonomous conduct of life and emancipation, of the individual morality of conscience, human rights, and democracy, is the direct heir to the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love. This legacy, substantially unchanged, has been the object of continual critical appropriation and reinterpretation. To this day, there is no alternative to it. And in the light of the current challenges of a postnational constellation, we continue to draw on the substance of this heritage. Everything else is just idle postmodern talk.”(2)

Another atheist intellectual–the postmodern thinker Jacques Derrida–acknowledges the powerful and positive influence of the biblical faith:

“Today the cornerstone of international law is the sacred, what is sacred in humanity. You should not kill. You should not be responsible for a crime against the sacredness, the sacredness of man as your neighbor . . . made by God or by God made man. . . . In that sense, the concept of crime against humanity is a Christian concept and I think there would be no such thing in the law today without the Christian heritage, the Abrahamic heritage, the biblical heritage.”(3)

Time magazine’s well-respected correspondent David Aikman reported the summary of one Chinese scholar’s lecture to a group of foreigners:

“One of the things we were asked to look into was what accounted for the success, in fact, the pre-eminence of the West all over the world,” he said. “We studied everything we could from the historical, political, economic, and cultural perspective. At first, we thought it was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next, we focused on your economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. That is why the West has been so powerful. The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics. We don’t have any doubt about this.”(4)

The speaker was a representative of one of China’s premier academic research organizations–the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.


(1) See Copan’s and Flannagan’s responses in chapter 20.

(2) Jürgen Habermas, Time of Transitions, ed. and trans. Ciaran Cronin and Max Pensky (Cambridge: Polity, 2006), 150-151.

(3) Jacques Derrida, “To Forgive: The Unforgivable and Imprescriptable,” in Questioning God, ed. John D. Caputo et al. (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2001), 70.

(4) David Aikman, Jesus in Beijing: How Christianity is Transforming China and Changing the Global Balance of Power (Washington, DC: Regnery, 2003), 5.

The Tolle Lege (“Take up and read”) series focuses on excerpts from notable books in philosophy, theology, apologetics, and related areas.

Annihilation versus Eternal Torment: What Does the Bible Really Teach?

hell_forever_and_everEntire books on this subject have been written, as well as innumerable articles, with both sides claiming Bible verses to support their interpretation. And while this topic will likely be debated until Jesus returns, it is one that I feel I cannot be silent on as the very character of God is at stake. Please note that my goal was to succinctly expound on why I believe what I believe in as few words as possible, thus I have not covered every bit of evidence that exists, nor addressed every verse in the Bible that touches on this sensitive subject. Rather, I wanted to focus on the history of the doctrines and how they developed. [Read more…]



A Facebook friend of mine (an old acquaintance from Bible College) commented on one of my posts the other day expressing the idea that Christianity was originally gnostic, that Paul was its only apostle, and that all his writings were rewritten by “literalists” during the time of Irenaeus (late 2nd Century). His original comments are below and my response follows. I would appreciate your input into all of this. Please critique my response if I have overstepped somewhere or if I am lacking somewhere. And please give me any additional arguments that might be helpful for this:

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The Persistence of Gnosticism (Tolle Lege)

null.jpg_3759Gnosticism in its various forms has been remarkably persistent in the history of the church.  Both the apostles Paul and John dealt with early forms of it in their epistles, and Irenaeus of Lyons critiqued it in Against Heresies.  A number of surviving “Gnostic Gospels” date from the second through fourth centuries.  As Justin Holcomb points out in his recent book Know the Heretics, the influence of Gnosticism continues to this day and has filtered down into popular culture. [Read more…]

The Imperfections of the Quran – 2

 In  the last post we saw three quranic imperfections. In this second part we will conclude this series with a final discrepancy which also shows the case we have been making all along, that the Quran is imperfect, and therefore, not a revelation from God.


Sahih Bukhari Volume 4: 393 Narrated Said bin Jubair: That he heard Ibn ‘Abbas saying, “Thursday! And you know not what Thursday is? After that Ibn ‘Abbas wept till the stones on the ground were soaked with his tears. On that I asked Ibn ‘Abbas, “What is (about) Thursday?” He said, “When the condition (i.e. health) of Allah’s Apostle deteriorated, he said, ‘Bring me a bone of scapula, so that I may write something for you after which you will never go astray. ‘The people differed in their opinions although it was improper to differ in front of a prophet, They said, ‘What is wrong with him? Do you think he is delirious? Ask him (to understand). The Prophet replied, ‘Leave me as I am in a better state than what you are asking me to do.’ Then the Prophet ordered them to do three things saying, ‘Turn out all the pagans from the Arabian Peninsula, show respect to all foreign delegates by giving them gifts as I used to do.’ ” The sub-narrator added, “The third order was something beneficial which either Ibn ‘Abbas did not mention or he mentioned but I forgot.’


Sahih Muslim Book 13: 4014 Sa’id b. Jubair reported that Ibn ‘Abbas said: Thursday, (and then said): What is this Thursday? He then wept so much that his tears moistened the pebbles. I said: Ibn ‘Abbas, what is (significant) about Thursday? He (Ibn ‘Abbas) said: The illness of Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) took a serious turn (on this day), and he said: Come to me, so that I should write for you a document that you may not go astray after me. They (the Companions around him) disputed, and it is not meet to dispute in the presence of the Apostle. They said: How is lie (Allah’s Apostle)? Has he lost his consciousness? Try to learn from him (this point). He (the Holy Prophet) said: Leave me. I am better in the state (than the one in which you are engaged). I make a will about three things: Turn out the polytheists from the territory of Arabia; show hospitality to the (foreign) delegations as I used to show them hospitality. He (the narrator) said: He (Ibn Abbas) kept silent on the third point, or he (the narrator) said: But I forgot that.


Sahih Muslim Book 13: 4015 Sa’id b. Jubair reported from Ibn Abbas that he said: Thursday, and what about Thursday? Then tears began to flow until I saw them on his cheeks as it they were the strings of pearls. He (the narrator) said that Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) said: Bring me a shoulder blade and ink-pot (or tablet and inkpot), so that I write for you a document (by following which) you would never go astray. They said: Allah’s Messenger (may peace upon him) is in THE STATE OF UNCONSCIOUSNESS.


Sahih Muslim Book 13: 4016Ibn Abbas reported: When Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) was about to leave this world, there were persons (around him) in his house, ‘Umar b. al-Kbattab being one of them. Allah’s Apostle (may peace be upon him) said: Come, I may write for you a document; you would not go astray after that. Thereupon Umar said: Verily Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) is deeply afflicted with pain. You have the Qur’an with you. The Book of Allah is sufficient for us. Those who were present in the house differed. Some of them said: Bring him (the writing material) so that Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) may write a document for you and you would never go astray after him And some among them said what ‘Umar had (already) said. When they indulged in nonsense and began to dispute in the presence of Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him), he said: Get up (and go away) ‘Ubaidullah said: Ibn Abbas used to say: THERE WAS A HEAVY LOSS, INDEED A HEAVY LOSS, that, due to their dispute and noise. Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) could not write (or dictate) the document for them.

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