Thursday, February 22, 2007

Objections 13–17

Some time ago I started a series of posts in response to the pamphlet by Chaz Bufe called 20 Reasons to Abandon Christianity (the first post in this series).

(The text in blue is from Mr. Bufe’s pamphlet. I have used ellipses to show where I have condensed the original.)

13. Christianity depreciates the natural world. In addition to its morbid preoccupation with sex, Christianity creates social myopia through its emphasis on the supposed afterlife—encouraging Christians not to be concerned with "the things of this world" (except, of course, their neighbors’ sexual practices). In the conventional Christian view, life in this "vale of tears" is not important—what matters is preparing for the next life…. This focus on the afterlife often leads to a distinct lack of concern for the natural world, and sometimes to outright anti-ecological attitudes.

There are certainly some Christians who fit this description. The Left Behind eschatology seems to reinforce an “otherworldly” mindset. But in its essence, Christianity is the foundation for a high view of creation.

However, if Christianity is true, then this world is not the ultimate reality. The Bible teaches that there is a deeper reality “behind” what is commonly called the real world. According to Christianity, what we do in this life is important because it has eternal consequences.

If this universe is just a cosmic accident, then upon what basis can an atheist complain that humans are neglecting their responsibility to care for the “natural world”? Where does that responsibility come from? If this world is just an accident, then how can we be held accountable for the way we treat it? And to whom must we answer?

14. Christianity models hierarchical, authoritarian organization. Christianity is perhaps the ultimate top-down enterprise. In its simplest form, it consists of God on top, its "servants," the clergy, next down, and the great unwashed masses at the bottom, with those above issuing, in turn, thou-shalts and thou-shalt-nots backed by the threat of eternal damnation.

This complaint is based upon the assumption that Christianity is not rooted in any objective truth. If there is such an objective truth at the heart of Christianity, this objection falls away.

Could we not say the same thing about medicine? The medical establishment is the “ultimate top-down enterprise.” At the top we have medical schools. Next come physicians and nurses. At the bottom are the “great unwashed masses.” The people in power issue authoritative proclamations about what is healthy and what is not, backed by the threat of sickness and death.

At the same time, we must admit that many Christian leaders and organizations seem to have removed John 13:1–17 from their Bibles. Even Jesus said that he did not come to be served but to serve others (Mark 10:45).

15. Christianity sanctions slavery. The African slave trade was almost entirely conducted by Christians. They transported their victims to the New World in slave ships with names such as "Mercy" and "Jesus," where they were bought by Christians, both Catholic and Protestant. Organized Christianity was not silent on this horror: it actively encouraged it and engaged in it…. While many abolitionists were Christians, they were a very small group, well hated by most of their fellow Christians.

This objection is filled with false assumptions and misleading statements. To say that “Christianity sanctions slavery” is blatantly dishonest. Christianity is firmly opposed to slavery and other institutions that demean human beings.

The institution of slavery was not invented by Christianity or even by people who falsely identified themselves as Christians. It is an institution that has been around almost as long as there have been human beings.

Slave traders bought African slaves from other Africans. This is not an evil that was created by the “white man.” Sure, these traders exploited the existing custom and provided the financial impetus for it to expand. And much blame must be born by western society for the part it played in this tragedy. But it grew out of human depravity, not any particular religion.

Mr. Bufe overstates the involvement of the church in the perpetuation of slavery and understates its involvement in the abolition of slavery. It was precisely because of their Christian beliefs that a growing number of westerners openly opposed slavery, eventually putting an end to the institution in “Christian” countries.

Today there are white-supremacist groups who claim that their teachings are supported by the Bible. But no honest observer would argue that there is anything inherent in Christianity that supports this hateful doctrine.

At the same time, the church must acknowledge its lack of courage to oppose many social evils. It should have spoken out much sooner against slavery. In Germany, much of the church stood by while millions of innocent people were killed. In the United States, the church took much too long to stand up against racism.

16. Christianity is misogynistic. Misogyny is fundamental to the basic writings of Christianity. In passage after passage, women are encouraged—no, commanded—to accept an inferior role, and to be ashamed of themselves for the simple fact that they are women…. Throughout almost the entire time that Christianity had Europe and America in its lock grip, women were treated as chattel—they had essentially no political rights, and their right to own property was severely restricted…. As for the improvements in the status of women over the last two centuries, the Christian churches either did nothing to support them or actively opposed them. This is most obvious as regards women’s control over their own bodies. Organized Christianity has opposed this from the start, and as late as the 1960s the Catholic Church was still putting its energies into the imposition of laws prohibiting access to contraceptives. Having lost that battle, Christianity has more recently put its energies into attempts to outlaw the right of women to abortion.

The truth is that Christianity has been an innovator in valuing women. From its inception, Christianity gave women significant roles that were in opposition to the prevailing culture. As God explains in Genesis, the exploitation of women is a result of the fall, man’s rebellion against God.

The very idea of “personal rights” grew out of the teachings of Christianity. Without the foundation established by Christianity, it is most unlikely that the values of western democracy would ever have taken root.

Yes, tyranny has often been imposed in the name of Christianity. But without Christianity, one tyranny could only be deposed by another tyranny. Without an appeal to an objective authority, humanity would be condemned to living according to the “law of the jungle.”

Mr. Bufe brings up the issue of abortion. This is not some insignificant religious dispute. Nor is it an attempt to oppress women. The key issue regarding abortion is when the fetus should be considered a human being. Some of the arguments claiming that the fetus is not human sound shockingly similar to the arguments made that slaves were less than full human beings.

This is a difficult issue without a simple solution. Those who claim that this is a black-and-white issue (on both sides) are being irresponsible and dishonest.

17. Christianity is homophobic. Christianity from its beginnings has been markedly homophobic…. Thus the current wave of gay bashings and murders of gay people should come as no surprise. Christians can find justification for such violence in the Bible and also in the hate-filled sermons issuing from all too many pulpits in this country. If history is any indication, the homophobic messages in those sermons will continue to be issued for many years to come.

If Mr. Bufe really believes what he says in this paragraph, I question his intellectual abilities. If he doesn’t believe what he says, then I question his moral standing to make any objection against Christianity.

There is no foundation in Christianity for violence against gay people.

What does Mr. Bufe mean by homophobic?

  • Does he mean that Christianity teaches that homosexual individuals are irredeemable sinners?

  • Does he mean that Christianity singles out homosexual behavior as the ultimate sin?

  • Does he mean that Christianity believes that homosexual individuals should be stripped of any personal rights?
If so, then he is completely wrong.

Christianity does teach that sex belongs within marriage and that any sexual practice in any other context is a sin.

Christianity does teach that people are responsible for their actions, regardless of their “natural inclinations.”

Christianity does teach that there is no such thing as a victimless or harmless sin.

Christianity also teaches that all people must be treated with respect as bearers of the image of God. It also teaches that all humans are sinners in desperate need of redemption. It also teaches that every one of us is flawed at the level of our inclinations and surface desires.

Pastor Rod

“Helping you become the person God created you to be”


daniel the smith said...

These are good answers.

I'm curious, though, about the statement, "Christianity does teach that there is no such thing as a victimless or harmless sin." How would one go about supporting the first bit of that? (other than by redefining "victim"?)

Pastor Rod said...


The quick answer is to "redefine victim" to include the one committing the sin.

There is a more complex argument that every moral action (that would be every action by a moral agent) sets in motion a series of secondary effects much like a ripple left by a rock dropping into a pond.


daniel the smith said...

Oh, ok. I don't think I would disagree with an argument like that (though I wouldn't be eager to defend it in a courtroom, either).

For #13, you make a great point, but I think an atheist would say that since this was the only world we get, we'd better make it as good as possible. I don't know that anyone or thing could "hold them responsible", but it makes sense from that view that they should leave the world a better place for their offspring.

Of course, atheists tend not to have very many offspring, but that's a different issue...

#14 is very humorous. By that logic we should abandon the military, too-- in fact the whole government now that I think about it. And just about every corporation... Maybe he was trying to say that it was an *abusive* hierarchy?