What are we to make of good and evil or love and indifference? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
By far, this is the longest chapter we have come across yet in David Pye’s book. I will not cover everything, but I will cover the main points. There’s a lot here, but sadly, it’s not really substantial.
Pye is right that good and evil are central to Christianity, but they are indeed as well, something I think he acknowledges, something every worldview has to explain. That there are a number of atheist philosophers out there who think objective moral truths do not exist should be cause for concern. These are people who could not agree that rape is evil for instance. They don’t support it, but they can’t make an objective statement about it.
Pye then goes on to ask, sadly predictably, does God say murder is wrong because it is, or is it wrong because God says it is? This is the Euthyphro dilemma. I keep wondering how long it’s going to be before people realize that Aristotle himself answered the dilemma. Aristotle did so by giving a definition of goodness and then we see if something fits that definition.
Note that if we go the route Pye goes, atheists have just as much a problem. Does X lead to human progress because it is good or is it good because it leads to human progress? Is X wrong because society says it is or does society says X is wrong because it is?
The solution then is to define what the good is first, which Aristotle gave a basic definition of that at which all things aim, and went on from there. Now some might say “So is God unnecessary to know good and evil?” In a sense, yes. One can know what good and evil are without having knowledge of God. The question to ask though is that if these are real metaphysical realities, what is the grounding for them. That is what requires God. One does not need to know about the builder of Washington D.C. to follow a map to get there, but there had better be a builder before the map works.
Pye also says many of us will live with a fear of no arbiter of good and evil without God. In a sense, that is wellfounded. Pye strangely in this chapter leaves out anything about 20th century regimes that were atheistic massacring millions of their own people. For these people, they were the highest authority and there was no judge after them so why fear?
Pye gives an analogy of being on a park bench next to a woman who is blind and her purse is open right there. Do you take it? Some people could be tempted to. Now imagine there’s a camera there watching it all. It suddenly changes. Pye says many people he thinks treat God like the camera.
But let’s face it. In reality, fewer people will steal because of the camera. We might prefer a better starting point for doing good than “I want rewards” or “I don’t want to be punished”, but that is where most of us start. Most of us start with parents disciplining us or rewarding us for our behavior.
He gives Weinberg’s quote that for good people to be really bad, that takes religion. One wonders what religion was being followed in the atheistic regimes that massacred so many. One could say the leaders were the villains, but they had to rely on ordinary citizens to carry out their orders.
As we move on, Pye gets to events in history that show the evil that Christianity has done. First is the Crusades. No recognition is paid to the fact that the Crusades started out as defensive wars. We suspect that Pye appreciates that Charles, The Hammer, Martel defeated the Muslims in battle centuries before or else he’d likely be Muslim today. The first Crusades were the people of Jerusalem asking for help to be freed from their Muslim captors and the West went at great expense to them.
Does that justify everything done in every crusade? Not at all. Unfortunately, few people will ever pick up a real history of the Crusades and read it. They instead will read popular ideas about them not realizing how many myths they are taking in.
Predictably, next is the Inquisition. Again, you will not find a real historian like Henry Kamen cited. It will not be pointed out that the worst Inquisition was the Spanish one that lasted 300 years and killed 3,000 people. 3,000 too many sure, but nothing like what is described in popular literature. It is also ignored that the Inquisition was also a secular program with the State behind it as well. The churhc was involved, but they were not the only ones involved.
Next is the witch trials. Absent is that in Salem, immediately afterward reparations were made to the family when possible and they were provided for. This does not justify what happened, but the church owned up to its mistake. The trials ended also because of more level-headed people in the church.
We could go on, but these are the main ones I know the most about. Those interested in the rest of his list can go elsewhere. Let’s also consider something. When people act like this, they are acting in contradiction to the teachings of Christ. Now let’s take an atheist regime that murders its people. What tenet of atheism are they violating? Nothing in atheism necessitates that one must see human life as good and valuable. Many atheists do, thank God, but they don’t have to.
From there, he goes to more recent history with the Holocaust and how so many people involved were Christian. There is no mention of how the Germans so ripped up the New Testament to remove Jewish influences that even Marcion would have been stunned. There’s nothing about how German Christianity was not so much about Christianity as it was about Germany and nationalism for Germany. Hitler saw this as a way to vindicate his own desires and Christians were not present in the top offices he had.
From there, he goes to Bush and Blair invading Iraq. Much is made of the idea that these were Christians doing what they thought God was leading them to do. I say at this that this is the problem with pop Christianity. Bush and Blair might in general be good Christian men and seeking to be faithful, but that does not mean they are the greatest authorities on what Christianity teaches. I do not take seriously the majority of these claims about what God tells people to do in that still small voice kind of way. It’s not anything I see in Scripture.
There’s also the Catholic priest sex scandal. It’s a hope then that Pye will go after the public school system since they have an even worse track record. It would also help him to read something like Jenkins’s The New Anti-Catholicism which I reviewed here.
From there, he goes on to talk about the lack of transformation in Christians today. A few things need to be said. First, Pye lives in a U.K. that has a thoroughly Christian background. Christian values have so steeped the culture that they seem commonplace. What he thinks is an obvious moral truth today would not have been before Christianity. Let Pye go talk to a first century Roman about the evils of slavery and see how far he gets. Today, it would be just as bizarre to try to convince a Westerner that slavery is good. (And to be clear, it isn’t.)
Second, for individuals, we need to see what they were often like before Christianity. Some changes might be more drastic. My wife and I attend Celebrate Recovery here and I can say I have met some people who have done some awful things and as a result the change Jesus has made in them is radical. Some people have not done such awful things and so you might not see as much of a change.
There is no doubt we need more. Any words from Pye that we need to be more Christlike and more showing the fruit of the Spirit should be heeded as should anything on the importance of evangelism. None of this shows that Christianity is not true. It shows that people are not true to Christianity.
Pye also gives something about people receiving words of knowledge and ask “Why doesn’t God give words of knowledge about X?” In this case, a woman who had been in her place of residence dead for two years is the example. Pye here is going after a very Westernized modern form of Christianity where such things are thought to be commonplace. It is nothing I see in Scripture and even when things happen, it is not to satisfy personal curiosity but to improve our holiness. Would Pye want to live in a world where God answered our scientific questions instead of having us work for the answers?
Pye also thinks that if we were noting a religion by its successes, Christianity would be at the bottom. Obviously, reaching about 2 billion people in the world isn’t a success. Being an utterly shameful religion at the start and yet dominating isn’t a success. The spread of literacy, medicine, education, economic improvement, and science is not a success.
Let’s have some quotes from Bruce Sheiman in An Atheist Defends Religion.
“Religion’s misdeeds may make for provocative history, but the everyday good works of billions of people is the real history of religion, one that parallels the growth and prosperity of humankind. There are countless examples of individuals lifting themselves out of personal misery through faith. In the lives of these individuals, God is not a delusion, God is not a spell that must be broken—God is indeed great.” — Bruce Sheiman, An Athiest Defends Religion
“Militant atheists seek to discredit religion based on a highly selective reading of history. There was a time not long ago—just a couple of centuries—when the Western world was saturated by religion. Militant atheists are quick to attribute many of the most unfortunate aspects of history to religion, yet rarely concede the immense debt that civilization owes to various monotheist religions, which created some of the world’s greatest literature, art, and architecture; led the movement to abolish slavery; and fostered the development of science and technology. One should not invalidate these achievements merely because they were developed for religious purposes. If much of science was originally a religious endeavor, does that mean science is not valuable? Is religiously motivated charity not genuine? Is art any less beautiful because it was created to express devotion to God? To regret religion is to regret our civilization and its achievements.” —An Atheist Defends Religion
“Recent research cited by Cass Sunstein, for example, has shown that people with a particular political orientation who join a like-minded group emerge from that group with stronger political leanings than they started with. “In almost every group,” Sunstein writes, “people ended up with more extreme positions …. The result is group polarization, which occurs when like-minded people interact and end up in a more extreme position in line with their original inclinations.” And with the Internet added to the fundamentalist equation, it is now easier than ever for extremists of all types to find their ideological soul mates and reinforce their radical thinking.”
― Bruce Sheiman, An Athiest Defends Religion
“The militant atheists lament that religion is the foremost source of the world’s violence is contradicted by three realities: Most religious organizations do not foster violence; many nonreligious groups do engage in violence; and many religious moral precepts encourage nonvio lence. Indeed, we can confidently assert that if religion was the sole or primary force behind wars, then secular ideologies should be relatively benign by comparison, which history teaches us has not been the case. Revealingly, in his Encyclopedia of Wars, Charles Phillips chronicled a total of 1,763 conflicts throughout history, of which just 123 were categorized as religious. And it is important to note further that over the last century the most brutality has been perpetrated by nonreligious cult figures (Hitler, Stalin, Kim Jong-Il, Mao Zedong, Saddam Hussein, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Fidel Castro, Slobodan Milosevic, Robert Mugabe—you get the picture). Thus to attribute the impetus behind violence mainly to religious sentiments is a highly simplistic interpretation of history.”
― Bruce Sheiman, An Athiest Defends Religion
Another worthy read is this piece by Brian Stewart.
Much of what else is said is about how we need to take evangelism seriously and change the culture. There will be no argument here against that. I will say that I consider myself a conservative because I am interested in conserving many of the Christian values we have now in America.
We’ll continue later on.