Answering Skeptics' Challenges #4 - Don't Christians do evil?

Last week’s class was about whether God does evil like ordering genocide or approving of slavery.  Today’s class deals with the question “Don’t Christians do evil.  The rise of the New Atheists and a lot of backlash against Christians came about out of the Islamic 9/11 attacks, strangely enough.  The atheists looked at the threat of Islamic fundamentalism and jumped to the knee jerk conclusion that all religions are harmful. Hence the title of Christopher Hitchens’ book “God is Not Great – How Religion Poisons Everything.”  Christopher Hitchens lambasts Christians, Catholics, Muslims and more in his book.  He doesn’t limit his ire to Muslims at all, but how many Amish terrorists have you heard of?  Still, to his credit he has done a great deal help a fellow author, Salmon Rushdie, who has a death sentence on his head from an Islamic Fatwa placed on him because of his book, The Satanic Verses.  That book was referring to the questions Muhammed had about the Koranic verses that were being revealed to him and he wondered if they were originating from Satan.  That choice of subject earned him the Fatwa.  As a result, Hitchens has provided him sanctuary for years in England.  Despite that humanitarian gesture, Hitchens has said such horrible things about Mother Theresa and Jerry Falwell after their deaths that I have to wonder what kind of poison is inside him to come out like that.  But alas, this class is about the charges that Hitchens and others make against us, not ours against them. 

So, let’s get to our next question in the atheist’s video “10 Questions Every Intelligent Christian Must Answer.”  Unfortunately this question is not a strong challenge like Hitchens makes but it is the only remaining question on the video and I want to cover them all so we’ll cover this last question and cover a couple other common ones that come up.
My favorite word in that question was the word, “Finally”.  I’ve heard this charge many times over the years and I’ve always questioned it because of Mark Twain.  Mark Twain wisely said there were three kinds of lies, “Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics.”   I’ve heard about these studies about the divorce rate of Christians but his claim is really whether God can keep Christian marriages together.  Essentially, if God couldn’t keep every Christian marriage together then he’d claim God failed, or rather that he doesn’t exist.  There are all kinds of wrong assumptions in this question too.  
First, we don’t believe God is bound to keep marriages together no matter what despite what the marriage vows say.  We look at what the Bible has to say and there are grounds for divorce for Christians that are allowed by God.  The Christian is not in sin when the other spouse abandons them, commits adultery, and most theologians and pastors also hold that spousal abuse also breaks the marriage bond and it isn’t God’s fault either when this happens.  There are certainly couples who get divorced for many other reasons but the allowance for divorce is proof that his accusation that God is bound to hold marriages together is false.  In fact, the Bible says that even God is divorced.   Jeremiah 3:9 says that God divorced Israel. “I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries.”  So, there are grounds for divorce that are allowed by God.

Second, not all couples that get ‘Christian’ marriages and who profess to be Christians actually are Christians.  My own parents are both twice divorced and now my sister is divorced and none of them are Christian despite their ‘Christian’ marriages. There was a recent study that said that professing Christian couples who went to church regularly, three or more times per month, still not proof they are Christians, had a much lower divorce rate than non-Christians.  One hint that dedicated Christians divorce at a much lower rate is that pastors have half the divorce rate of other Christians.  
A study by Shaunti Feldhahn found that the state of marriage is far better than most of the cynical stats we hear.  She found that even according to Census data, 72% of all married people were still married to their first spouse.  The remaining 28% also included those who were widowed.  She also looked again at Barna polling data and found that Christians who actually go to church have a 27% lower divorce rate.  So the oft-quoted stats are far too cynical.

Also, the whole problem with looking at these divorce rates also is that it takes two to keep a marriage together.  How many solid Christians had unbelieving spouses or they were false converts?  We can’t know but as I mentioned abandonment is a scriptural reason for divorce and many unbelievers will leave their spouses when they come to faith.  Even Lee Strobel said he was heading towards divorce when his wife became a Christian until he came to faith too. 

Third, I’ve also always wondered whether our divorce rate in this country was so high because we have much higher expectations out of marriage because of the Christian ideal and when peoples’ expectations aren’t met they get angry.  For example, Europeans are unfortunately much more casual about adultery.  Even the president of France was at a state funeral with his wife once and his mistress was sitting behind him.  Our Christian ideals set us up for disappointment when we aren’t equally committed to living them out and pursuing holiness in our daily lives. 
So, in conclusion.  Christians should have a negligible rate of divorce and we don’t, to our shame, but the failure of some marriages isn’t a proof that God doesn’t exist.  On the other hand, we see strong evidence that the Christians who are walking the talk have more fulfilling marriages and lower divorce rates.  

Christians did evil in the Crusades.
A challenge that you’ll often hear is that Christians did evil in the Crusades.  It seems the ones that bring up this charge a lot are the Muslims, who ironically were the ones that started it all.  Christian sociologist and historian Rodney Stark wrote a controversial book called “God’s Battalions: A Case for the Crusades”.  He wrote a detailed defense for the countries of Western Europe having to respond to the advance of Islam taking over Christian held lands for two centuries before Europe could mount a stiff response in the Crusades.  I highly recommend reading the works of Rodney Stark because he is a kind of myth buster and he sometimes busts the myths of Christians as well.  You can also find talks he’s given by searching his name on iTunes. 

Myth 1: The Crusaders were Christian.
There are many myths surrounding the Crusades. The first myth is that the Crusaders were Christian.   It would be pretty easy to dispense with this charge if we can just show that the Crusades weren’t done by Christians.   Think of even today, in 2005 a Barna poll said that 80% of Americans self-identified as Christian.  We know that isn’t even close to being right, don’t we?  I think it is closer to one-tenth that much who are truly Christian, actually.  What about in the Middle Ages?  Rodney Stark provided this observation in his book “For the Glory of God”:
“By overlaying pagan festivals and sacred places with Christian interpretations the Church made it easy to become a Christian, so easy that actual conversion seldom occurred.”  
A Christian is someone who is following Christ’s commands not just claiming to be one.
Anyone who was committing atrocities in the Crusades was not acting as a Christian.  Some true Christians may have been involved in doing bad things but the vast majority of those acts were not done by Christians. There were certainly many who joined the fight for religious reasons but I don’t think it would be accurate to call them Christian reasons. Consider the preaching of Saint Bernard of Clairveaux who rallied people to join the second crusade.  This is how he preached to the men he wanted to enlist in the crusade. He said,
“For how long will your men continue to shed Christian blood?  For how long will they continue to fight amongst themselves?  You attack one another.  You slay one another, and by one another you are slain.  What is this savage craving of yours?  Put a stop to it now, for it is not fighting but foolery.  So, to risk both soul and body is not brave but shocking,  It is not strength, but folly.  But now oh mighty soldiers, men of war, you have a cause for which you can fight without dangers to your souls, a cause in which to conquer is glorious, and for which to die is gain.” 
Does this sound like he was talking to devout Christians?  Does promising them that they would gain salvation if they died in battle sound like Christian doctrine?  That is not the gospel at all.  That actually sounds more like Muslim doctrine.  

There were many crusades over the middle ages and there was an attempt to start another crusade in 1517 by Pope Leo X (the Tenth), the same year that Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the Wittenburg Door.  As a response, Martin Luther wrote a tract called “On War Against the Turk” and Luther would have known a thing or two about Crusades, don’t you think?  He knew what a crusade was so we should listen to what he had to say:
He wrote in part:
“But what motivated me most of all was this:  They undertook to fight against the Turk in the name of Christ, and taught and incited men to do this, as though our people were an army of Christians against the Turks who were enemies of Christ.  This is absolutely contrary to Christ’s doctrine and name.  It is against his doctrine because he says that Christians shall not resist evil, fight, or quarrel, nor take revenge or insist on rights (Matt 5:39).  It is against his name because there are scarcely five Christians in such an army, and perhaps there are worse people in the eyes of God in that army than are the Turks; and yet they all want to bear the name of Christ.  This is the greatest of all sins and is one that no Turk commits, for Christ’s name is used for sin and shame and thus dishonored.  This would be especially so it the pope and the bishops were involved in the war, for they would bring the greatest shame and dishonor to Christ’s name because they are called to fight against the devil with the word of God and with prayer, and they would be deserting their calling and office to fight with the sword against flesh and blood.  They are not commanded to do this; it is forbidden.”

So, in Martin Luther’s opinion, there would be scarcely five Christians in a crusader army and most would be worse than the Turks.  He also judged it was blasphemous to call the crusade a “Christian” war and carried out by Christians.  It may have been judged as a ‘just’ war as defined Augustine’s just war theory, but not a ‘holy’ war, or ‘Christian’ war.  These kind of sources should take the legs out from under the charge that Christians did evil in the Crusades.  Still there are other things to know about the crusades that we’ll cover in brief.

Myth 2: The Crusades were against the Jews also.
One myth of the Crusades is that a lot of Jews were massacred.  Not one crusade was ordered against the Jews and usually the crusader armies were ordered to not molest the Jews.  Unfortunately, though, quite often the Jews were fighting on the sides of the Muslims so they were killed when that happened and there were other incidents but nothing widespread.

Myth 3: They fought to get wealthy.
Another myth is that they went on the Crusades to get wealthy.  Uh, well, these people mostly walked to Jerusalem.  How much wealth could they actually carry back with them to make it worth years and years of effort and risk of life and limb?  That wasn’t a viable reason to join the crusades.

Myth 4: The crusades were launched against peaceful Muslims to conquer them.
Some people actually claim that the crusaders went to fight against the peaceful Muslims in order to conquer their lands and take their wealth.  Oh, please.  That is completely ignorant of history.  The Muslims had been sweeping through Christian lands in North Africa, Turkey, and Eastern Europe for several centuries before Western Europe was able to come to the aid of the Christians in the East.  The Muslims first had to be pushed out of Austria, France and Spain.  They had also attempted to conquer Italy and even threatened Germany.  The crusades were a very belated response to all the conquest that the Muslims had done previously.  Not everything done in the Crusades were justified or right, certainly not, but to ignore what Muslims did and only hurl stones at Christians is either ignorant or dishonest or both.

Christians did evil in the Spanish Inquisition
Christians are also challenged with the evil of the Spanish Inquisition.  Every time I hear a complaint against Christians about the Spanish Inquisition I kind of roll my eyes and ask, “Can’t you come up with something more recent than five hundred years ago?”  I also don’t want to be put into a position where I have to defend that Roman Catholic system in order to defend Christianity since it had very little to do with Christianity.  It would help to know a few facts nevertheless. 
1.It was a government controlled inquisition.  The King and Queen of Spain got a Papal bull from the Pope to have the authority to do the inquisition but after that it was completely under their control.
2.It was partly in response to the number of Muslims still in Spain after they had been pushed out of the country.  The Moors had been in Spain for a long time and the inquisitions were kind of a loyalty test of Muslims and Jews.
3.It was not following orthodox Christian doctrine in any recognizable way. 
1.Forced conversions.
2.Forced baptisms.
Any attack on the Christian faith by appeals to atrocities by those claiming to be Christian has to be challenged.  Can they point to how that act was caused by any teaching of Jesus or contained in any accepted creed?  Someone claiming to be a Christian who would bomb an abortion clinic, massacre or torture people or whatever is not a Christian, just like a person claiming to be an atheist who says grace before his meals is not really an atheist.  The mass murderer in Norway was protrayed as a Christian Fundamentalist but those who actually read his 1,500 page manifesto found that he was not one at all.  Ben Stevens, who spoke here at E-Free about his plans to be a missionary in Germany, wrote an article for the Huffington Post about this killer.  Ben actually read the manifesto and concluded that, at best, this guy was a cultural Christian and not devoted to Christ at all, but devoted to his Norwegian Christian culture. This man’s favorite authors were atheists.  Ben said he was a Cultural fundamentalist, not a Christian. 
Christians are homophobic. 
This is the newest, and at least freshest, challenge to Christianity that has come along.  It is one we do need to take seriously and we could take four weeks on this alone since this is the sharpest line of attack on Christianity in Western countries.  When a Christian is called a homophobe it is not exactly a challenge, it is designed to be a conversation ender.  Saying this is meant to shut us up and put up the barricades.  In fact, it isn’t just homosexuals that make this challenge.  It is just a convenient weapon for any skeptic or atheist to use and they will use it.  Still there are ways to open up the dialog again and give a witness for Christ. 
Some years ago we had a Sunday School class on Relativism using the video “Relativism – Feet firmly Planted in Mid-Air” with Greg Koukl and Francis Beckwith.  Beckwith said he was speaking at a college campus once and a student yelled out at him, “Homophobe!”  He addressed the comment in a humorous way.  He said he didn’t know why he was being called a homophobe because he wasn’t afraid of or hate homosexuals that he knew of.  And if he did actually have a phobia about homosexuals then you should realize that any phobia is actually a disability and how politically incorrect it would be for you to make fun of a disabled person.”  He received roaring laughter from that and got the crowd on his side.  We don’t need to respond like he did but we can make the challenge back in a gentle way to ask them to justify this accusation.

First, you can ask them to define the term.  They may say it means you hate homosexuals. Your conversation may go like this:  "That’s not true.  We don’t hate homosexuals. So, try again, what does it really mean?  You have a fear of homosexuals? A phobia.  Really?  How have I possibly demonstrated a phobia?  I have a fear of heights and it can get pretty obvious when I’m up high somewhere.  I’m not afraid of homosexuals.  I actually like most of the ones I’ve met.  I don’t have a fear of homosexuals so why did you call me a name?  Is it because you have a fear of Christians?  Christophobe?  Now, doesn’t that sound ridiculous?  Can we talk about real issues instead of name calling?"

Second, if you get a chance to explain your position then there are few things you can point out.  You aren’t really concerned at all about their homosexuality if they aren’t a Christian, you want them to come to salvation and then God can deal with them on that.  The Bible does say that we don’t hold non-Christians to the same standards as we do Christians so to focus on any individual sin of a non-believer gets in the way of bringing them to a knowledge of the judgment of God on ALL of their sin, their lying, their theft, their blasphemy, their lusts.  It would be best if you don’t even bring up homosexuality since it just brings up the walls, go to their conscience on all their other sins and show them they have a lot more to worry about than just this one area.  If you are concerned about their homosexuality then it is simply because of the harm it causes to them spiritually but also in their lives now.

Homosexuals have a dramatically shortened lifespan on average according to the Center for Disease Control.  Homosexual couples are twice as likely to involve physical domestic abuse.  A woman is more likely to suffer violence in a Lesbian relationship than in any other situation, single, married, or living together with a boyfriend.  They won’t like to hear these stats but if any other behavior, like smoking, sky diving, or whatever, had the horrible effects on human life as did homosexuality then it would be banned everywhere.  You can tell them you don’t want them to suffer.

Third, we’ve had to respond to homosexuals in the area of public policy and politics as a response to being pushed.  We’re not being asked to just tolerate homosexuality but being forced to approve of it.  Homosexuals appear to be so insecure that they can’t just live and let live but have been acting out sometimes violently against those who disagree, quite the opposite of tolerance.  We’re getting our simple opinions becoming labeled and punished as hate crimes.  A teacher in Florida, the Teacher of the Year last year, was suspended from teaching after he posted opposition to same-sex marriage on his Facebook page, on his own computer, at his own home, on his own time.  That’s not tolerance.

Fourth, you want to offer hope.  Science has absolutely not shown any genetic cause of homosexuality so you believe the evidence that they are not born that way but that sexual identity is formed very early and you realize that most homosexuals have had something happen to cause their current state.  The hope you are offering is that their lives can be changed through Christ.  Just as an alcoholic can have his desire for alcohol change and become sober, though it may always be a struggle, likewise a homosexual can have their lives changed into one pleasing to God, though they may always struggle with temptations like the alcoholic.

Unfortunately, we’re losing the battle on homosexuality in the public arena and we’re being silenced by challenges like this one on one.  The reaction we often get is like we hit a raw nerve and frankly it could be a raw nerve since the wounds that brought on this homosexuality can be very deep. We need to start being winsome and caring and changing hearts and minds on this issue one on one. 

Is Skepticism a valid position to hold?   
Doubting and questioning is not a neutral position in response to an argument presented with reason and evidence, though it may be proper response to a plain assertion unsupported by reason and evidence.  This is Missouri, after all, and we’re the Show Me State, so asking ‘Show Me’ is fine in that case.  If someone does present that reasonable evidence then doubting and just asking ‘What if?” questions doesn’t constitute counter evidence.   

A mouth closes when it finds food to fill it.  A mind closes when it find sufficient answers.  A mind that is always open is one that is indecisive and can’t determine when it has found truth.  It reminds me of the person who was looking for something and said, “Can you believe it?  It was in the last place I looked.”  Of course, when you find what you are looking for then you stop looking don’t you?  To keep looking after that is irrational.  If you are given a sufficient reason to explain something then you should believe it.   The key word here is sufficient.

Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence?  No, they demand sufficient proof.

Atheists love to say that extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof.  No they don’t.  Every claim only demands sufficient proof.  Also, extraordinary is a value judgment that is completely subjective so it is unlikely there would ever be extraordinary proof to meet that person’s standard.  Sufficient proof is the real standard.  If a co-worker comes into the office saying they just witnessed a car accident you’ll likely believe them without question.  If he came in saying he saw a UFO then you’d likely be skeptical but if a hundred co-workers came in claiming to all have seen the same Unidentified Flying Object then you’ll likely have sufficient reason to believe that they did see something that can’t be explained, hence the term ‘unidentified’.  

Certainly your level of confidence in any belief will vary.  Some beliefs you’ll hold like in a open hand and held lightly.  Others you’ll close your hand around it and others you clutch to your chest and you’ll die to defend that belief.  I think many areas of belief are like that and we can see it in others by their reactions to counter evidence.  Consider the atheist.  Some atheists now try to claim that atheism is just simply a lack of belief in God or that they believe in just one less god than you do.  That may sound cute but it doesn’t work.  Greg Koukl, of Stand to Reason, points out that the response to any proposition is either to believe it, deny it, or withhold judgment until you get more information.  If I was told that a certain soccer team in South Africa was the best team of the year then I would definitely be an agnostic on that.  But if I denied they were the best and had a reason why then I wouldn’t be an agnostic.

So, if the proposition is that God exists, the person who believes it is a theist.  The one who doesn’t have enough information and withholds judgment is what we call an agnostic.  The one who denies that God exists is an atheist.  To say that atheism is just a lack of belief in God is a cop out.  My cat is an atheist by that standard.  The toad in my yard is then an atheist.  On the contrary, if you present an argument for the existence of God to most atheists they’ll immediately deny it and challenge it.  That response shows it isn’t just a lack of belief in God.  Picture this, this atheist has an open empty hand and says that is simply his lack of belief in God.  Another has a closed empty hand and another has that closed empty hand to his chest and will die defending that lack of belief in God.  That’s an absurd claim to make that atheism is just lack of belief in God.  Atheism makes its own truth claim and can’t hide behind this irrational position.

Sometimes the skeptic has similar levels of doubt.  The open handed doubt is understandable and most Christians have that same position on many issues as they grow in their faith in and knowledge of Christ.  Some skeptics have a closed hand that is resistant to reasoned evidence and the hand is often completely empty of any counter evidence, or holding only previously discredited evidence.  Others will fight to the death and they will cling to whatever evidence they believe is sound counter evidence.  Let me give you an example.
Many scientists have realized that evolution cannot explain the origins of life in this universe because the odds against it are so stacked against having an un-designed, random cause. Instead of bowing to the evidence they recognize and admitting there is a designer to the universe, they came up with an ad hoc, un-provable, un-testable, and therefore unscientific theory to try to get out of the corner they are in.  That would be the Multi-verse theory that there are an infinite number of universes out there and ours just happens to work out the way it did out of chance because with an infinite number of chances you’d certainly get success eventually.

The Multi-verse theory is the ultimate example of skepticism and materialism leading to lunacy.  It is an ‘anything but God’ theory for most adherents.  Even Stephen Hawking fell for this kind of thinking, as shown in his latest book The Grand Design, because of the unacceptability of the contrary, God.  Hawking said in his first paragraph that philosophy is dead and physics killed it.  Is that a scientific statement or a philosophical statement.  It is clearly a philosophical position so his statement was a suicidal argument from the outset.  His own argument proved him wrong in step one.  He was sawing off the tree limb he was sitting on.  Scientists are usually the worst at philosophy.  

Now, I’ve spared you from a few more minutes that were left in the YouTube video but it was all the same thing.  He went through all ten questions like this:  “Why doesn’t God heal amputees?  Because he doesn’t exist!  Doesn’t that make better sense?”  It was like that for all ten questions.  His weak questions and doubts were not counter evidence and don’t support his view at all because he made no positive case for atheism.  There are arguments for God that are weak and have flaws and even Christians should discard those and an atheist may easily defeat those arguments but let’s then hear his argument.  Those arguments are very rare indeed.   

Resources:  “Who’s Afraid of the Multiverse?”  by Dr. Jeff Zweerink

  “God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades”  by Rodney Stark


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