Friday, July 9, 2010

Review of "The Reason for God" Chapter 4 on Injustice

Keller addresses 3 questions regarding injustice and the church: Why are so many non-Christians living better lives than the Christians? Why has the institutional church supported war, injustice, and violence? Why would we want to associate with religious fanatics?

Keller responds to the charge that Christians are no better than non-Christians by pointing out that broken people are often the ones drawn to Christianity. He asserts that we should evaluate the progress of individuals over time instead of comparing
one group to another. While I understand where he is coming from, I am not certain he can support with facts his statement that overall Christians come from worse backgrounds than non-believers. I wonder what we would find if we compared only believers from stable backgrounds with non-believers with stable backgrounds. Or believers with bad backgrounds from non-believers with bad backgrounds. I think there is more support for his belief at the beginning of Christianity when perhaps a more disproportionate number of Christians were poor and uneducated. If the Holy Spirit is at work within us and our faith is producing good works and fruit of the Spirit, shouldn't there be a difference between the groups? Didn't Jesus say something like, they'll know you're my disciples if you love one another?

Keller addresses the support of violence by the church by pointing out violence caused by non theistic belief systems (Communist Russia, Nazis, Cambodia and Chinese regimes). He frames the problem as not stemming from Christianity but from the human tendency to be violent. I agree that people use any belief system to support their need for power, control, superiority, etc. It is interesting to me the way atheists and Christians toss Hitler back and forth like a hot potato. No one wants him landing on their side! I don't know what primarily fueled his violence and psychopathy. I do think it's unfair to blame Christianity for every perverse practice that is carried out in its name. However, we do need to examine whether any violent and unjust practices are natural extensions of living out the religion. It's also important to examine what just and loving practices are natural extensions as well. He references a book, For the Glory of God, by Rodney Stark that does the latter. The Old Testament would appear to command and support many violent practices, for example, genocide. The New Testament is much more palatable in this regard. I am personally interested in the treatment of women and the role the church has played in it. Keller's book asserts that Christianity improved the role of women in the early days, but I haven't examined this myself. I do believe women are oppressed within fundamentalist churches today compared with women outside fundamentalist churches in America. The NT no longer improves the lot of women in our modern culture.

Finally, Keller addresses the issue of fanatics. Keller dismisses them as being "not Christian enough" in that they behave in overbearing, harsh and self righteous ways. I do agree that there is a sense in which they obey the letter but not the spirit
of the law. However, we again need to read scripture and examine whether any fanatical behavior is a direct extension of it. There are passages where Jesus says we need to "hate" our family for Jesus. We are commanded to put people outside of our fellowship and not associate with them. In the OT, people were stoned for any number of sins. We are to avoid sin at all costs, even cutting off our hand and plucking out our eye if necessary. For people serious about avoiding hell and working out their salvation "with fear and trembling", drastic measures may be what is required.

2 comments:

  1. "Keller responds to the charge that Christians are no better than non-Christians by pointing out that broken people are often the ones drawn to Christianity. "

    That argument always makes me feel like someone is opportunistically using whatever argument will work. If surrounded by a bunch of exceptionally honorable Christians, the debater would point to that as evidence that Christianity is true.

    "The NT no longer improves the lot of women in our modern culture.

    I saw you have Enns' "Inspiration and Incarnation in your book list. One think I learned from it was what Keller mentions here, that the NT may have improved the lot of women in that day, even if it seems oppressive today, that the biblical writers' message was shaped for the time they lived in. Fundamentalism/conservative evangelicalism have a big problem there, because they ignore that and try to fit the literal message of the bible into today's world. So I agree with Keller there, and I think if making a theistic argument, it promotes something more consistent with liberal Christianity.

    At the same time, it can come across as another convenient argument to defend the divine nature of the bible. If the bible sounds like it was written by men, speaking to the people of their time, saying things people of their time would say, how is God evident in its authorship?

    I always wanted to blog about this book but never did, I'm enjoying your observations. It was the first book I read to, hmmm, maybe not to try to bolster my crumbling faith, but rather to be able to say I did due diligence in reading what people in my church would respect as fine apologetics. So I would be able to say I gave it a shot and didn't just throw in the towel based on evil, deluded, Satanic sources, you know, those who don't endorse a fundamentalist reading of the bible. :^)

    One other review I read and appreciated for the book is here:
    http://saganist.blogspot.com/2009/08/crappy-review-of-reason-for-god.html

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  2. atimetorend, I'll check out that book review you referenced, thanks. I've been trying to maintain balance in the perspectives I read. I don't read as many conservative authors since I've already read so many, but I throw them in intermittantly to prevent myself from becoming indoctrinated in any one way of thinking. I try to be a reasonably critical thinker.

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