The Goodness of Christianity

In the fall of 2012, I compiled a research paper entitled, “The Consistent God: Refutations Against New Atheism.” You can read that essay here. The following piece of argumentation was originally composed for “The Consistent God” paper, but I was encouraged by my professor to narrow my research down into lesser categories in order to be more particular on my argumentation and thesis. Therefore, if you are interested in reading about “The Goodness of Christianity,” I would encourage you to read “The Consistent God” first and then ponder over these “bonus thoughts” on a rather important subject.

Claim of New Atheists: Religion is Harmful

While science is New Atheism’s favorite choice of armor for defending its views, publicly promoting the alleged horrors and dangers of religion is one of its favorite weapons in attacking Theism. Though every New Atheist may pick and choose different instances which “prove” religion to be dangerous, essentially there are arguments in which they select from the Old Testament, New Testament, and church history that are found to be disturbing and evil. Sam Harris, in his book Letters to a Christian Nation, turns from atheist philosopher to secular Bible commentator. In an excurses of multiple texts, Harris’s main point is to prove the alleged wrongdoings of both Israelites and Christians. In the Old Testament, he lays forth material from Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy, begrudging the apparently harsh laws that God wanted His people to follow. To spark even more sensitivity in his audience, Harris also reveals how slavery is permitted in the Old Testament, and even in the New Testament both Jesus and the Apostle Paul are not forbidding it.[1] Finally, into the era of church history, there is much warning made concerning the actions of religious men and women. With so many acts done in the name of Christ that are contrary to morality and decency, New Atheists attempt to convince their audiences that the world would be a better place without religion. And so, they continue their attempts to free the world from such problems.

Response to New New Atheists: Religion is Culturally Beneficial

Identifying the areas in which religion, particularly Christianity, has benefited the world cannot in itself prove the existence of God. However, such evidence does add to the previously submitted information [see “The Consistent God”]. Likewise, New Atheists are constantly attacking religion regarding its societal danger. There are four major issues that require an address. First, the arguments compiled by New Atheists are almost always out of context, incorrectly explained, or not understood in light of the rest of the Bible. Ironically, Sam Harris is guilty of the very same assumptions made about Christians, “People have been cherry-picking the Bible for millennia to justify their every impulse, moral and otherwise.”[1] After all, he cherry-picks his passages such as Deuteronomy 13:6, 8-15, Leviticus 25:44-46, and Exodus 21:7-11 and develops an argument regarding morality and how Christians live. While every question about the Old Testament law cannot be answered in this paragraph, this major theological premise is missed: “You are not under the law, but under grace.”[2] To be clear, the Old Testament law is good, but “the law was our guardian [tutor] until Christ came.”[3] Second, when the Bible speaks of slavery, it is historically fallacious to compare it to the slavery formerly existent in the United States. Timothy Keller informs:

In the first-century Roman empire, when the New Testament was written, there was not a great difference between slaves and the average free person. Slaves were not distinguishable from others by race, speech, or clothing. They looked and lived like most everyone else, and were not segregate from the rest of society in any way. From a financial standpoint, slaves made the same wages as free laborers, and therefore were not usually poor. Also, slaves could accrue enough personal capital to buy themselves out. Most important of all, very few slaves were slaves for life. Most could reasonably hope to be manumitted within ten or fifteen years, or by their late thirties at the latest.[4]

Third, Christian groups have done much good for the health and well being of people all around the world. The Salvation Army, city “Rescue Missions,” Compassion International, Habitat for Humanity, World Vision, and thousands of local churches have consistently been a beacon of help for the impoverished, abused, underprivileged, and abandoned. From a survey in 2007, reports found, “Born again Christians were somewhat more likely than non-Christians to donate money to organizations addressing global poverty and slightly more likely to give food directly to poor people… Atheists and agnostics emerged as the segment of people least likely to do anything in response to poverty.”[5] Such evidence does not disclose the possibility of an atheist giving to the poor, nor does it mean that every Christian will always give to those in need. Nevertheless, to make an argument that groups all Christians to a standard of wrongdoing committed by a select few Christians is simply not true of a majority of Christians. Four, New Atheists do not have a strong history of social benefit in observing previous atheists. Alister McGrath reminds his audience, “The twentieth century gave rise to one of the greatest and most distressing paradoxes of human history: that the greatest intolerance and violence of that century were practiced by those who believed that religion caused intolerance and violence.”[6] Certainly, while the evidence for the existence of God is better found in other arguments, it should be a reminder for the Church that one of the greatest apologetics is to be a culturally beneficial people, different from the generalized overstatements of New Atheists.

Conclusion

To be sure, the arguments listed within this rather brief essay are not the greatest defenses for the Christian faith. However, to say that all religion is poisonous and evil is simply not true. Why is it that so many Christians are doing so much good for the society? Are they the delusional ones? Now, there are also plenty of very nice Atheists, Agnostics, Deists, and non-religious people in this world. But to lump all of Christianity together with the sins of our fathers is simply not very reasonable. It can’t be that one’s faith in Christ is what corrupts himself and causes him to be a threat to society. It cannot be scientifically or sociologically proven. The goodness of Christianity is that followers are instructed to love God and love their neighbors. Surely, we fail. But the good news of Christianity is that we worship a God whom we believe hasn’t failed, but has triumphed over sin and death. And it’s because of that good news that we are empowered to do good to others.


[1] Sam Harris, Letters to a Christian Nation (New York, NY: Vintage Books, 2008), 18.

[2] Romans 6:14

[3] Galatians 3:24

[4] Timothy Keller, The Reason for God (Hudson Street, NY: Penguin Group, 2008), 110.

[5] The Barna Group, Americans Are Misinformed About Poverty, but Widely Involved in Helping the Poor.” http://www.barna.org. http://www.barna.org/culture-articles/101-americans-are-misinformed-about-poverty-but-widely-involved-in-helping-the-poor (accessed September 25, 2012).

[6] Alister McGrath, The Twilight of Atheism (New York, NY: Doubleday Publishing, 2006), 230.

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