Is disunity a disproof of Christianity? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
It’s always interesting to me the arguments skeptics of Christianity will present. I prefer to always go back to the case of the resurrection to show Christianity is true, but too many skeptics go everywhere else. It could be something such as “Well geez, in the OT it looks like slavery was allowed and I don’t like that so Christianity is false”, though this doesn’t show how Jesus rose from the dead. Some think that if they can show an error in the Bible, then this means all of the Bible is thrown out and Christianity is false. Some think that if we can’t explain starving children in Africa, then Christianity is false, though this does not show Jesus did not rise from the dead.
Now I’m not saying that those are unimportant questions and objections. They are and we should be ready to answer them, but if you want to prove that Christianity is false, you have to go for the main point. You have to demonstrate Jesus did not rise from the dead. Unfortunately, Neil Carter did not get that memo.
Carter starts off his argument by saying that Christians love to move matters of faith from objective matters to subjective ones. For too many Christians, I sadly agree this is true. There are too many Christians that look at their lives and their emotions and experiences as proof that Christianity is true. Unfortunately, Mormons are also very good at saying the exact same things and Mormonism and Christianity are directly opposed to one another. Christians must move their arguments to objective matters. After that, it is fine to show what a difference Christianity has made in your life, but Christianity is not true because it produces good results for you. It produces good results because it is true. It’s quite revealing also that Carter says he himself was one of these people. (Think you see the problem showing up already?)
Carter then goes on to say that
These folks always seem to want to attribute our skepticism to ulterior motives because that fits what they were taught from the pulpit. This interpretation also reassures them that our reasons for disbelieving cannot be truly rational ones. If they are rational, then they themselves might have to do a major overhaul of how they see the world, and let me tell you that’s no cake walk. I guess I can’t say I blame them. The social repercussions alone can be devastating, depending on where you live.
I find this quite amusing. Carter wants to accuse other people of knowing other peoples’ motives for disbelieving. He could be right or wrong, but the point is in the very next sentence, Carter does this himself! He says that Christians do this because they want to believe they are the truly rational ones. What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t bring up a motive unless someone paints a very vested interest in something. Are there improper motives for being an atheist? Yes. Are there improper motives for being a Christian? Yes. What matters is the data.
Let’s go on.
Christian apologists insist that, strictly speaking, one cannot prove that God does not exist. But that depends on which God we’re discussing, doesn’t it? They rarely seem to understand why that detail matters so much. See, if we’re arguing whether or not a generic Supreme Being exists, devoid of any attributes whatsoever (is it a person? is it male? does it want things? does it tell us what they are?), then there’s not really much to debate. Generic Supreme Beings don’t make any testable claims.
At the start of his article, Carter had spoken of a claim as being unfalsifiable and here he is speaking of it not being testable. In this, Carter is likely turning the question into a scientific question when it is not. It is a metaphysical question. Could we do any scientific testing to demonstrate that the square root of 4,096 is 64? Could we do scientific testing to determine if a husband and wife love each other? Could we do it to determine that it is wrong to torture babies for fun? Could we even do scientific testing to demonstrate that the material world exists? None of these are questions answerable by science, but all of them are answerable.
I also find it odd that Carter says we insist that God’s existence cannot be disproven. I know many apologists who would disagree, including myself. What Carter would need to do is to show a disproof of all of the arguments, including the classical ones, and then a disproof, such as in showing a necessary contradiction in the nature of God. Thus, this is something that could hypothetically be doable. It just hasn’t been done yet.
As Carter goes on, he is right to say that the God of Christianity does make claims, but unfortunately, it looks like he uses the same kind of fundamentalist reading as the Christians he critiques. We will see this more as we go on, but he speaks about messages shared on Facebook walls. Now I have no problem with someone sharing inspirational messages and such, but there are many of these that Carter should also realize we think are just horribly ripped out of context or misunderstood. You can see examples of that with Jeremiah 29:11 both here and here. That’s just a start.
So we go on.
If the Christian faith were true, we shouldn’t have to endlessly debate the historical reliability of religious texts written centuries ago. If the Christian faith were true, there would be evidence of it everywhere, here and now, not just buried under thousands of years of sediment, or between the pages of an onion skin book.
Is it because it would be easier to deal with instead of doing things like, you know, actual historical research. (Which would get us into that objective stuff instead of subjective material.) Despite this, I do think there is plenty of evidence of it everywhere. As Chesterton would say, if Christianity is true, everything is relevant to it. If it is not true, then it is of no relevance whatsoever. As I said though, Carter uses a fundamentalist reading of the text and we see that coming up now.
Hospitals and prisons should have fewer Christians in them than they have people of any other faith. Why? Because both Jesus and James said that if the church prays for its sick, they will be healed, and the apostle Paul claimed that the indwelling Holy Spirit would not let any temptation befall you without providing “a way out so that you can endure it.” If either of these things were true, there would be a statistically significant difference between the outcomes of one religion versus another. The cold, hard fact is: There isn’t.
I would like to know where Jesus said this. I suspect he is referring to the discourse in John 14-16, but even there we do not really see a blank check. This is a common misunderstanding of people who live in a modern individualistic society instead of interacting with the culture Jesus lived in. In Jesus’s time, if you wanted to get a blessing, it was up to the generosity of the patron and if it furthered his honor overall, he would be likely to give. To ask in His name would mean in accordance with the will of Jesus. Sometimes what we want is not really along those lines. I suspect one such passage he has in mind is this one from John 14:
13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.
If this was to be a blank check, how do we explain these?
John 16:33“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
John 16:2 They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God.
John 15:20 Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.
Unfortunately, many lazy skeptics will look and just say “Contradiction!” and then conclude Jesus did not rise from the dead. The researcher though tries to understand what is being said. Could it be Jesus is using terminology that is understandable in His day and not as much in ours? Indeed. Removed from the system of Jesus, the message makes far less sense to us. (Unfortunately at this point, the same lazy skeptics will say Jesus should have been clearer and spoken in Ancient Israel with a modern 21st century American audience in mind.)
The James quote no doubt refers to this:
14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
This prayer however is more connected with sickness. After all, the same James who said that also said in James 1:2 to
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.
Forgiveness and sin are however tied together in this passage which refers to a sickness due to sin in the life of the believer. Why go to the church? One good reason is doctors were expensive. You might as well go to a church. Oil was a medicine that was more available and nothing wrong with prayer.
Naturally of course, we have repeated the myth about more Christians being in prison. Carter also says that when we are tempted, there will be a way out. Indeed, there will be. Does that mean we will always take it? It’s as if in Carter’s world if everyone is not living a perfect Christian life, then Jesus did not rise. Maybe it’s just me, but it looks like this is a subjective disproof. I say the same about his main disproof in John 17:20-23.
I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you…that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me… (emphasis his)
Now this raises a number of questions, but first can we establish that this wish has most certainly not been granted? The church has done many things down through the centuries, but maintaining unity has not been one them. Jesus here likens the unity he wishes for the church to the unity of the triune God (a concept you won’t see so clearly in any other gospel, which is a problem in itself). But to date the Christian church has splintered into thousands (some would say tens of thousands) of non-cooperating traditions. Oh sure, they still read the same Bible (mostly), but they have proven incapable of worshiping under the same roof with anyone who believes or practices the Christian faith “the wrong way.”
We’ll ignore the thing about the Trinity for now since that will take us off course, though we could say Carter has not done any of the reading necessary in NT scholarship to realize that there are other ways to state something other than explicitly and Jesus’s actions would be definitely showing who He was in the other Gospels. As for the splintering into tens of thousands, this also is an internet myth. I would contend there is in fact more unity than Carter realizes. I happen to attend a Lutheran church and do the writing of the curriculum for them. Do I identify as a Lutheran? Nope. I don’t identify with any denomination honestly. I do ministry quite often alongside Catholics and people in the Orthodox traditions. I have zero problem whatsoever with this. I am happily married to a woman who I disagree with on some doctrinal issues. Are there always going to be people who major on the minors? Sadly yes, and such people need to look at Jesus’s prayer more.
Of course, this unity would be a way of showing the world that Jesus came from the Father, but that does not mean that if the unity is not reached that Jesus did not come from the Father. The ultimate establishment of that was in the resurrection of Jesus. What Carter would need to show is Jesus saying “If they are not in unity, then I am not the one you sent.” That is not what was said. (Let’s also not forget that Jesus had hoped for any way also to avoid the cross and yet He didn’t.) Carter goes on to say
That was a really, really bad move. Maybe even worse than the time when he promised that the people standing there in front of him would witness the Second Coming and the Judgment Day before the end of their lifetimes (see Matt. 16:27-28 and 24:34). Whoops. Lots of theologians have worked hard to explain that one away, and they can manage to cover some of it by referencing stuff that happened around the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. But some of the events Jesus foretold there most certainly did not happen within the lifetimes of his original listeners. It doesn’t matter how much you try to chalk up to apocalyptic language and metaphor.
It’s worth pointing out that neither of those passages are about the return of Christ. One is about seeing the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom. That does not say return. It is a fundamentalist reading Carter has thrown onto the text. The same with Matthew 24:34. Jesus hadn’t even left and His disciples would have thought He was becoming king. They had no concept of Him leaving so why would they ask about a return? No. This is also talking about the same thing and I would contend that both of those happened in 70 A.D. Carter says it doesn’t matter how much you try to chalk it up to apocalyptic language or metaphor. Yes. Because obviously Jesus should have spoken for modern 21st century Americans and if He didn’t, then we can just throw it out. Sounds again like a subjective criteria….
Now we get to what Carter says the excuses are. (None of them speak of reading good scholarship on the material of course.)
One could perhaps argue that this prayer of Jesus shouldn’t count as a “testable promise” in the same vein as the other things I mentioned above. But then why was it recorded for us in the first place, if not to be communicated to the world along with the rest of their message? Clearly we were meant to know of this request, so recalling it here is completely appropriate. Often the Bible says that Jesus went off alone to pray, and presumably we shouldn’t know the content of those prayers since no one would have been around to record them (and yet we still are privy to some of them even though Jesus didn’t write any of this stuff himself). But in this case we are told what he prayed because he did it out loud in front of his followers.
Again, I question the testable claim, but how about saying this is shown because we are to know how Jesus handled the most important week of His life, the passion week. We are also to know Jesus’s prayer so we as good followers of His can do what we can to fulfill His desires. Carter assumes a modern scientific understanding of testing the claim, which again puts us in a bizarre world. It could be that there is sufficient evidence that God raised Jesus from the dead vindicating His claims and yet somehow Christianity is false? Huh?
What about the second one?
One could also argue that there’s still time for God to answer this prayer in the affirmative. After all, doesn’t the Good Book say that “with him a thousand years is like a day?” Isn’t that the very rationalization used by Peter after decades had gone by with none of the apocalyptic predictions coming to pass (see 2 Peter 3:3-9)? He argues there that God is holding off on incinerating the earth out of a patient desire to allow as many to change their minds as possible. Isn’t that gracious of him?
Never mind that Carter’s literalism is coming in again, but I also don’t take this passage in that way. Do some things take time? Yes. No need to jump to 2 Peter 3 for that. Carter will contend as he does that that means that people for 20 centuries had no reason to not buy into Christianity, but this assumes that Carter’s idea is true that this is the clinching proof of Christianity, and it is not. The clinching proof is the resurrection. (Again, Carter seems to like to use subjective criteria. Looks like not much has changed in his thinking. It’s only his loyalty that’s different.)
Perhaps the saddest part of all to me is how the more self-aware Christians will take a post like this and just use it as yet another tool for beating themselves up. If the Christian message teaches people anything, it’s to be responsive to guilting. But beating up the church for its inability to maintain unity down through the centuries doesn’t make sense, either, because aren’t prayers supposed to be asking God to make things happen that only he can do? If this is something miraculous, something which requires divine provision, then why are you guilting yourselves for the failure of this prayer? Which one of you is God, now?
No. This is not said to be something miraculous. If anything, for the time of Jesus, everything was thought to come from God or the gods. You were to give thanks in all things and there was no divide between the natural and the supernatural for them, which is another reason I don’t accept the distinction. The divine was involved in everything. The same would go with obedience. You were to pray to be faithful, to not be led into temptation, etc. This does not involve God shooting you with a magic power to make you do His will. This is just your prayers become a way of actively subjugating yourself to God and thus changing your will to work with His.
Does this mean there is no grounds by which the church should speak to itself? Of course not. We are to motivate one another to good works and this prayer should raise a desire for all of us to try to come together. Will we agree on everything? No. Can we agree on the essentials? Yes.
Now let’s hope internet skeptics up their game and try to go after the resurrection instead of, you know, this subjective stuff.