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…]

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…]

Godbuster: A Debate With Elliot George

This week I engaged in a radio debate with an atheist on Unbelievable on Premier Christian Radio (which you can listen to here). My interlocutor was a British atheist, a retired biology teacher who goes by the pseudonym Elliot George. In his book, Godbuster, George attempts to dismantle theistic belief. I knew when I saw the front cover that the book was unlikely to be particularly professional or intellectually challenging. After all, who writes “Dare you read this?” on the front cover of an intellectually serious piece of work? This initial impression was further compounded when I noticed that the book contains no citations or references, except for the occasional in-text citation to YouTube or Wikipedia. Apparently Elliot George was even reliant upon Wikipedia as his source for the ten commandments (p. 125).

The intellectual content of the book is also confronted with severe problems. The book showed little, if any, engagement or interaction with high-level Christian argumentation. No serious Christian arguments were addressed by the book. Instead, George throughout the book persists in attacking strawmen, even redefining terminology to comport with his position. [Read more…]

“Doth God Care For The Oxen?” – The Biblical View

John W. Loftus, in his recent book, attempted to make the case that the Bible does not value animals, and that the Bible and its authors would condone animal cruelty. The opposite is true. As I demonstrated in my recent debate with him, the Bible is very much concerned for the welfare of the animals, and Loftus’ view otherwise is founded in various misunderstandings regarding scripture.file000302142745

[Read more…]