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Christianity & Its Critics

F. Earle Fox

This piece came from an email on 12/16/08, part of a vigorous discussion on religion, politics, etc. 

Dear D, et al,
 
        I am not sure I understand some of what you say below, D.  But I am concerned that there is often a confusion between Christianity and what people do who call themselves Christians.  That is true, of course, of all religions and philosophies and political parties. There are always some who, for political or other reasons, are just pretending, and not serious about their religion or politics.  So one must, as much as possible, go back to the core of the religion, not the unfaithful diversions, etc, to make the comparisons, and look at the long range effects of that religion. 
 
        Other religions will have to speak for themselves, but as for Christianity, the crimes of which Christians have been guilty are not attributable to Christ.  And the Church is not God and not infallible, as the Church well knows. 
        Yes, Christian nations did tax other religions.  Everyone was doing that, often with a lot more violence than the Christians did.  Is anyone aware how long it took even for Christian culture to get used to the idea that there can be more than one religion in a nation?  One religion was standard practice for the whole world. 
 
        It was not til people like T Jefferson began to say that -- the force of civil government does not extend to belief, but only to action and behavior, which got written into our Constitution that, so far as I know, anywhere in the world was religious freedom fully respected by civil government.  That is part of the heritage of Biblical faith.  No one before then thought that religious freedom would be anything but chaotic for a nation.  They were right, but the solution is not the coercive force of government, it is the freemarket of ideas.  That IS the Biblical way, with the roots of that going back into Old Testament religion.  
 
        As for the Crusades, that was a defensive war.   The Muslims had conquered the Near East and swept across North Africa, into Spain on the West, and were half way up into France before being turned back.  And they were coming from the East, in a pincer movement, across the Bosporus into Macedonia, Greece, and up into Eastern Europe, getting right to the gates of Vienna.  Europe was under siege. 
 
        Yes, Christians often did terrible things.  But to point to the Crusades as a black mark on Christianity as a faith (as distinct from on Christendom as a society), without even a mention of what the Muslims had been doing, not by reason or honest persuasion, but by the scimitar, bloody and merciless, is bad history (to say the least).  The Muslims were openly intent on conquering the whole of Europe, and then the rest of the world.  That is the mandate they hear from Allah.  Christians are called by God to make disciples of all nations, but by honest and reasonable persuasion, laying down their lives for their enemies as well as friends.  That is a big difference. 
 
        And, an honest reading of the Americas will include a description of the horrendous aspects of the culture which the Aztecs and Incas founded, based on slavery and on monumental (into the thousands) sacrifices of human beings at a given "festival". 
 
        What would you have done with maybe 100 soldiers armed with muskets -- as you watched a primitive tribe line up human beings more than a mile long, marching them up the pyramids, their chests cut open, hearts drawn out still alive and held up to their gods, and then the bodies rolled down the pyramids, and whose sculls became the bricks for some buildings, with others piled in masses in the public square for a memorial?  What would you recommend?   Would you include this within your allowable pluralism?  Or might you put your muskets to work? 
 
        The North and South American Indians (as every society) no doubt had many admirable qualities.  But they warred against each other and enslaved each other (just as the African natives enslaved each other, and brought their slaves to the ports to sell them to the Whites).  Pagan slavery had nothing to do with race, which, I think, was the American (or maybe Western invention), it had to do with conqueror enslaving conquered.  This is true just about anywhere you go in the world.   

        I do not know of single pagan society which did not believe that the strong should rule the weak.  And I go  looking for these kinds of things.  That does not mean that one will not turn up.  But as the evidence stands, that seems to be it.  Once you see the
distinction between the Biblical and the pagan worldviews, the reasons become quite clear as to why that is so.  It could hardly be otherwise. 
 
        And it is a fact of history that the only group ever to challenge slavery was the Christians (the Hebrews had done things to make slavery less horrendous).  No one, so far as I know, even thought of challenging it.  It was just a given of life.  It came to be challenged (yes, after long centuries) only because Christians carried into the world the brazen notion that every human being is made in the image of God, and that our freedoms and our rights come from God, and are thus inalienable -- so that no human government can take them away. 

        No one on the face of the earth was saying any such thing.  That took centuries even among Christians and was still working itself out with the American revolution and the
Declaration of Independence.  Christian culture had, and has, it faults, not because it is Christian, rather because it is still catching up with being Christian -- with the constant temptations to slide back into the old pagan ways of power-struggle.    
 
        Please, somebody tell me who else set the slaves free, or who else set women free to be equals in the home and the market place?  Where?  What is there in the Christian worldview and law and Gospel which is not human-friendly?  And where else is that to be found?    
 
        I grew up having to unlearn and relearn just about everything I learned as a Christian, so I can sympathize with those who are having a hard time with the Church, Bible, and faith in general.  Perhaps you have not successfully challenged the misinterpretations of Biblical faith which we have inherited.   But I had had an experience when I was seven which set me on my course (I will share that another time...)   As I grew up, I rejected intuitively what seemed to me to be so many hucksters often preaching at the Youth for Christ meetings which I went to when in high school. 
 
        But I knew then that God was real, even though I did not have the courage or the vocabulary to talk much out loud about it.  I majored in philosophy at Trinity College, in Hartford, to find out why so many of the philosophers were saying that God was unreal.  I never did find out -- in the sense that I never did find any good reason for coming to that conclusion.  One of my profs was Paul Kurtz, an atheist who taught good courses on Plato and Aristotle, etc.  He was very gracious to us "pre-theologs" (pre-seminary students) and encouraged our thinking.  He went on to be the militant editor of an atheist magazine (Free Thinking, or something like that), convinced that religious people could not think freely. 
 
        But it was at Trinity that I discovered that indeed the Biblical worldview held the intellectual high ground, and knew that my passion in life would be to develop that case and to proclaim it abroad.  I was getting my vocabulary, and beginning to get my courage.  I admit that it has taken a bit longer to get my gracefulness.
 
        At any rate, the evidence so far as I could see did not support atheism. 
 
        Another good and graceful atheist, was one of the most well known in the '50's and '60's and even recently, Anthony Flew, with whom I crossed swords (so to speak) at Oxford, not personally, but in my own mind via his writings.  Just a few years ago he became a believer in some sort of Intelligent Designer because he could not imagine the astonishing amount of information which gets crammed into every single cell of our bodies (more info than in the whole of the Encyclopedia Britannica) getting there by random, accidental evolution.  He wrote a book about his conversion (not yet to a personal faith in God), in which the last sentence reads something like:  "And maybe I will come to the point where I hear, 'Do you hear Me now?'"   There, I think, was a great and humble man with a teachable spirit.    And I think he will say, "Yes!" 
 
Love, Uncle/Earle/Dad/Grampa
 

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Date Posted -  12/16/2008   -   Date Last Edited - 09/15/2012