[I came across some written discussion I had with an agnostic friend of mine, we had some fairly lengthy discussions, many of which contained some very valuable content. I have recorded my responses, and think it may be an interesting series to post on my blog, for the benefit of others – this is not quite what I typically would minister to people, but more along the lines of apologetics, yet it ranges through a series of of interesting questions (the gentleman I was writing to is nothing if not thoughtful – he’s also somewhat cantankerous and abrupt sometimes, thus my occasional sharpness). I will endeavor to leave these as little-edited as possible, I hope they will be beneficial to believers and serious inquirers into Christianity. Feel free to comment or share thoughts. (Part 1)
In this response my friend, whom I’m calling ‘Stan’ has made points to try to convince me that the biblical worldview is anti-humanitarian. He asserts (which I later in the post specifically address) that humanities’ real moral compass is merely virtues that he sees within himself, and subsequently, that by which he defines God; the bible’s notion of morality is therefore outdated as the book merely describes one of histories many cultures. Christianity, therefore, as based upon the bible is outdated, and we need to take for our perspective the current cultural trends of human virtue for our morality (rather than those laid forth in an archaic book) or else we are impeding society.
I respond, first, with a basic defense of the bible – reasons why I believe it to be true, then begin on the thoughts pertaining to humanism:]
One of your points (nothing that you seem to have deemed to relevant to discuss with me directly, but that you have several times alluded to) which you seem to base much of your thought on is that the bible is archaic. You spoke in one message a point that I hadn’t had time to address that when looking at Christianity, and the Christian worldview as it were ‘mythology,’ and in this last message referred to the bible as ‘an old nationalistic book.’
I’m certainly not offended at your take, I only bring it up because you are talking to someone who takes said book as the ultimate authority on Truth and relevance. Thus before proceeding much further I’d like to make just a couple of points which clarify why that is (though not in full detail, as that would doubtless take copious amounts of time), before addressing some of the specific points you’ve made.
First it should be established that everything written in the bible in terms of historical events are absolutely true so far as even contemporary historians can validate historical facts and occurrences (in fact a point you may at some time have heard is that there is greater historical validation (in terms of written record testimonial) for the resurrection of Jesus than for the life of Napoleon). In fact most points of biblical history which are disputed are disputed mainly because of their ‘mythological’ tendencies (i.e. supernatural occurrences). Yet if the spiritual aspect of the bible is true, then that accounts for those impossible miraculous things which are said to have happened, which would then cancel the argument against said occurrences (though this is difficult for those who have never experienced the miraculous to accept).
The second point of apologises I’ll make just here, is the subtly supernatural tendencies of the book itself. The bible says of itself: ‘The word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.‘ (Heb 4:12) Many would call this a self-propelling argument, however, I – and many others I might add – have found this to be true. Perhaps the most tangible thing I can share on this (that you MAY be willing to accept anyway) to shed light on just what I mean is the prophetic.
The more I meditate on God’s word (the bible) the more definitively I am able to hear God’s voice in a practical, or tangible way. I have several times been warned of future events in this way before they occurred, I have also been able to discern (often unwittingly) certain events in the lives of others or know things about their lives that I should in no way know.
As the above generally would seem somewhat ambiguous without some more tangible description I will supply two examples of what I’m talking about (I could share many others, but for time and space only brief, and non-complex ones will do):
On point 1 (knowing of events before they occur): About a year ago I had a dream in which a tire on my car blew out without warning. The next day upon inspection of my car tires I found that one was literally about to blow out, being worn in a very strange pattern down to the tire-threads. When I took it in to have the tire replaced, the mechanics who were going to replace the tire were surprised that I had been able to make it there without the tire blowing on me. Prior to the dream I hadn’t been paying attention to my tires, and took for granted their tact.
On point 2: At one point in a church down in Florida (early in my experience with the prophetic) I began praying for a woman I had never met before. The Lord began to reveal some things to me about her son. I was almost too timid to address it as I had no idea whether this lady even had a son. When I began to describe what He had revealed, the Woman asked me: “Do you mean my son?” As apparently she DID have a son and I had correctly discerned something she recognized.
Now this not to discuss in detail the merits of these experiences, but to disclose that (1) the Bible is not only factually true (to the best of human research), (2) it also does what it says it will do in even supernatural ways.
A further point is that even though there are over fifty different authors there are no actual contradictions in scripture (this is a point which is largely disputed, though its generally based on false assumptions concerning certain passages or pre-established ideologies).
You mentioned (at one point) that your viewpoint was based on experience of humanity, while the Christian worldview seems largely based on this ‘archaic book.’ In the light of our discussion concerning the devil (and many other things) I have found the bible to be proved true both in a temporal way, and also supernaturally (though I cringe to share certain things I’ve experienced as you would probably believe me to be either crazy or lying). And as this message is longer than I intended, I shall form another concerning your latest message and the points, and thoughts you brought up.
Clearly your main points, as you’ve said, are on humanitarianism. I don’t actually see that Christianity, and/or the bible conflicts with humanitarianism, in fact it could be argued that Christianity is the most humanistically motivated viewpoint there can be, as its sole endeavor is the REDEMPTION of man.
If humanism is in any way about bettering ourselves then Christianity is just that. Even in the historical context Christianity has shaped our worldview as a culture to humanitarian ends.
The Christian worldview has, in fact, been the leading belief system FOR humanitarianism (I understand that humanism, and humanitarianism are two different things; yet my point is that Christianity has done much more for humanity than any other religion or worldview I’m aware of – but is often mis-supposed upon because its foundational thought on humanity is that man needs improvement, rather than the idea that man is intrinsically good.)
For example, while slavery is not anywhere directly attacked by the authors of scripture, it was the Christian faith which eventually got slavery in our Western culture abolished. It was Christian ministers, and believers like John Newton (who wrote the hymn ‘Amazing Grace’), and his (somewhat) protege’ William Wilberforce who began taking steps to bring slavery to an end politically, their concept being based on the belief that all men are created equal – which belief is biblical in origin.
In ancient Athens if a child was caught stealing they would be beaten for it. However, they were not beaten because they were stealing, they were beaten because they had been caught. Their emphasis was: if you are going to be a thief, you had better be a good one. The culture prized thievery, and other immoral behavior; but they were not prized if one wasn’t good at it. So excellency, or mastery was greater than moral right to them.
There are many other points of humanistic morality which our culture values (though we can see many also degenerating simultaneously) which are based on the bible. Many of the other points of humanistic morality which are in dispute in our day – homosexuality being a perfect (though not the sole) example; the common current thought process is: ‘I am a free individual and should be able to do as I please provided I’m not hurting anyone else.’ Yet, such a lifestyle is self-destructive. The human body was not designed for such a purpose: even the athiest evolutionary logic (if followed rigidly) would perish it for it leads to no reproduction of genes. Bear in mind I say all this not to be unkind, nor to rail on said certain topic, but only because it serves as a singular illustration of an area in which Christianity is perceived as being anti-humanitarian.
God’s will and law (the bible) is designed for our CONSTRUCTION, to release us from the degradation of sin. If someone is forcing their body to do something it wasn’t designed to do, and which is further destructive to their body, how is it considered a humanist right? Wouldn’t the true humanist right actually be GOOD for the human, and add to society, rather than destructive and sterile?
On the point of human morals: (1) Are virtues that we see in ourselves our true compass? and (2) are they that by which we define God? No, I don’t believe that they are for a couple of reasons.
Biblically because God does not change; and because God has made man in HIS image. IF the bible is true, then we can easily discern how man has changed by looking at our beliefs about God. Modern seculars like to say that man made God in HIS image (essentially the same thought you used about whether intrinsic human virtues are our compass/ definition of God), but this is far from true (at least regarding the God of Christianity) because of His tendencies vs. our own.
Just because people know that certain traits are morally good does not mean that they exhibit them. The coward is often envious of the brave for example; why would he see that trait as valuable, which he does not possess himself? Ah, but there must have been an in-set ideology about said trait that the coward, himself, failed to meet. This ideology was either impressed upon him by his culture, or he was born with it, either way ‘God’ [some higher moral standard] is the reason, not ones intrinsic virtue.
History, and the study of religion reveals a good many things about how people CHOOSE to view God (or gods), and the beliefs and concepts which evolve from such beliefs. Let us take the ancient Greeks for an example, as the stories of their gods are readily available. If we look at the objects of Greek worship it is easy to assess that the Greek gods were made in man’s image, not man in theirs.
I say this because the gods, and goddesses of the Greeks were prone to the same immoral tendencies as those of humanity. Greek gods (and goddesses) were often drunkards, and perverts who would take the form of humans in order to fornicate, rape, and exercise control over humans. They would steal, commit adultery and murder, and every other immoral act one could conceive. (No wonder the Athenians valued thievery, with these gods!)
Many other religions do likewise portray their deities (I’ll not go into the tendencies of other pagan gods though easily I could), why? Because those gods are all made in the image of man who has fallen into a sinful nature. You see, even our best imaginings of what God is like are evil (ironically this, too, is biblical Isa 64:6 ‘All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;‘), but the bible defines a God who is impeccably holy, and unattainably righteous.
While other religions define gods who are like man, the God of Christianity is fully superior to man, thus He is not only worthy of man’s adoration AS God (unlike many the Greek gods who would demand adoration, but be unworthy of it), but also holds all characteristics worth striving for.
Which, then, is better to worship? Is it better for the human condition, and society to strive for something immoral, or for us to strive for something better than our current condition?
And now I’m out of time though I’ve not quite hit all the points I intended to; though I think I’ve laid out quite enough for discussion for now…