Quotable Quotes-The Reason for God

3 Apr

The Reason for God-Tim Keller
Chapter 4: The Church is Responsible for So Much Injustice
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There is the issue of Christians’ glaring character flaws. If Christianity is the truth, why are so many non-Christians living better lives than the Christians? Second, there is the issue of war and violence. If Christianity’s is the truth, why has the institutional church supported war, injustice, and violence over the years? Third, there is the issue of fanaticism. Even if Christian teaching has much to offer, why would we want to be together with so many smug, self-righteous, dangerous fanatics?p52

Character Flaws

Christian theology also speaks of the seriously flawed character of real Christians. A central message of the Bible is that we can only have a relationship with God by sheer grace…The mistaken belief that a person must “clean up” his or her own life in order to merit God’s presence is not Christianity. This means, though, that the church will be filled with immature and broken people who still have a long way to go emotionally, morally, and spiritually.”p53…”The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.”p54

Imagine that someone with a very broken past becomes a Christian and her character improves significantly over what it was. Nevertheless, she still may be less secure and self-disciplined than someone who is so well adjusted that she feels no particular need for religious affiliation at all. Suppose you meet both of these women the same week. Unless you know the starting points and life journeys of each woman, you could easily conclude that Christianity isn’t worth much, and that Christians are inconsistent with their own high standards.p54

It is often the case that people whose lives have been harder and who are “lower on the character scale” are more likely to recognize their need for God and turn to Christianity. So we should expect that many Christians’ lives would not compare well to those of the nonreligious (just as the health of people in the hospital is comparatively worse than people visiting museums).

Religion and Violence

In his chapter “Religion Kills,” in God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything says, “Religion is not unlike racism…One version of it inspires and provokes the other. Religion has been an enormous multiplier of tribal suspicion and hatred.”p54-5

So it would seem. Christian nations institutionalized imperialism, violence, and oppression through the Inquisition and the African slave trade. The totalitarian and militaristic Japanese empire of the mid-twentieth century grew out of a culture deeply influenced by Buddhism and Shintoism. Islam is the soil for much of today’s terrorism, while Israeli forces have often been ruthless too. Hindu nationalists, in the name of their religion, carry out bloody strikes on both Christian churches and Muslim mosques. All of this evidence seems to indicate that religion aggravates human differences until they boil over into war, violence, and the oppression of minorities.p55

There are problems with this view, however. The Communist Russian, Chinese, and Cambodian regimes of the twentieth century rejected all organized religion and belief in God. A forerunner of all these was the French Revolution, which rejected traditional religion for human reason. These societies were all rational and secular, yet each produced massive violence against its own people without the influence of religion.p55

Societies that have rid themselves of all religion have been just as oppressive as those steeped in it.p56

Fanaticism

Think of the people you consider fanatical. They’re overbearing, self-righteous, opinionated, insensitive, and harsh. Why? It’s not because they are too Christian but because they are not Christian enough. They are fanatically zealous and courageous, but they are not fanatically humble, sensitive, loving, empathetic, forgiving, or understanding – as Christ was.p57

The Biblical Critique or Religion

Extremism and fanaticism, which leads to injustice and oppression, are a constant danger within any body of religion believers. For Christians, however, the antidote is not to tone down and moderate their faith, but rather to grasp a fuller and truer faith in Christ. The Biblical prophets understood this well…Marx…was unoriginal in his critique of religion – the Bible beat him to it!p58

Jesus conducts a major critique or religion. His famous sermon on the Mount does not criticize irreligious people, but rather religions ones. In his famous discourse the people he criticizes pray, give to the poor, and seek to live according to the Bible, but they do so in order to get acclaim and power for themselves.p58

cf. Matthew 25; Isaiah 58:2-7

In Jesus’ and the prophet’s critique, self-righteous religion is always marked by insensitivity to issues of social justice, while true faith is marked by profound concern for the poor and marginalized. The Swiss theologian John Calvin, in his commentaries on the Hebrew prophets, says that God so identifies with the poor that their cries express divine pain. The Bible teaches us that our treatment of them equals our treatment of God.p60

Keller has a very helpful page on honor-shame cultures on p61. The thought is worth the book alone.

What is the answer, then, to the very fair and devastating criticisms of the record of the Christian church? The answer is not to abandon the Christian faith, because that would leave us with neither the standards nor the resources to make correction. Instead we should move to a fuller and deeper grasp of what Christianity is. The Bible itself has taught us to expect the abuses of religion and it has also told us what to do about them.p62

Justice in Jesus’ Name

A deep stain on Christian history is the African slave trade. Since Christianity was dominant in the nations that bought and sold slaves during that time, the churches must bear responsibility along with their societies for what happened.p62

“Although it has been fashionable to deny it, anti-slavery doctrines began to appear in Christian theology soon after the decline of Rome and were accompanied by the eventual disappearance of slavery in all but the fringes of Christian Europe. When Europeans subsequently instituted slavery in the New World, they did so over strenuous papal opposition, a fact that was conveniently “lost” from history until recently. Finally, the abolition of the New World slaver was initiated and achieved by Christian activists.”-Rodney Stark

Older forms of indentured servanthood and the bond-service of Biblical times had often been harsh, but Christian abolitionists concluded that race-based, life-long chattel slavery, established through kidnapping, could not be squared with Biblical teaching either in the Old Testament or the New. Christian activists such as William Wilberforce in Great Britain, John Woolman in America, and many, many others devoted their entire lives, in the name of Christ, to ending slavery.p63

Yet despite the fact that hundreds of scholars over the last fifty years have looked for ways to explain it, Temperley says, “no one has succeeded in showing that those who campaigned for the end of the slave trade…stood to gain in any tangible way…or that these measures were other than economically costly to the country.” Slavery was abolished because it was wrong, and Christians were the leaders in saying so.p64

Another classic case of this is the Civil Rights movement in the United States in the mid-twentieth centry. In an important history of the movement, David L. Chappell demonstrates that it was not a political but primarily a religious and spiritual movement…Chappell also shows how it was the vibrant faith of rank-and-file African-Americans that empowered them to insist on justice despite the violent opposition to their demands. Thus Chapell syas there is no way to understand what happened until you see the Civil Rights movement as a religious revival.

When Martin Luther King, Jr., confronted racism in the white church in the South, he did not call on the Southern churches to become more secular..He invoked God’s moral law and the Scriptures. He called white Christians to be more true to their own beliefs and to realize what the Bible really teaches. He did not say “Truth is relative and everyone is free to determine what is right or wrong for them.” If everything is relative, there would hae been no incentive for white people in the South to give up their power. Rather, Dr. King invoked the prophet Amos, who said, “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness as a might stream” (Amos 5:24). pp65-6

After apartheid was abolished in South Africa, everyone expected a bloodbath in which former oppressors would defend themselves with force. Instead, Christian leaders like Desmond Tutu set up the remarkable South African Commission for Truth and Reconciliation in the mid-1990s. Its name expressed its principle and mission. It invited victims to come forward to tell their stories publicly. It also invited former perpetrators of oppression and violence to come forward, tell the truth, and ask for amnesty.p65

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