From time to time, I make a comment in my public lectures that I believe that a lot of what atheists are saying is true. When I was an atheist myself, there were a great many things about religion that I thought were wrong, and I have not changed my mind about most of them. Too many times, we assume a defensive stance in debating the existence of God and do not really consider some of the valid points atheists make. This journal and the entire Does God Exist? program is designed to show that God is and that the Bible is His Word--but that does not mean that all that is done in the name of religion is valid. We would like to challenge our readers to think about a couple of areas where atheists have made a point that those of us who believe in God need to listen to.
The Confusion of God with Secular Religion. One of the areas where atheists raise valid concerns is the secularism of religion. What we mean by that statement is that we mesh secular holidays and biblical or religious activities so that religious significance is attached to things that have no religious implications. I have a dear friend who is a doctor. He and his wife, who is a nurse, have given up a lucrative practice and used their own money to run a medical outreach in Tanzania. He recently told a story about having a little Santa Claus decoration which was a small head of Santa Claus about four inches high sitting on the table. When one of the local people visited their house, they wanted to know if the Santa Claus head was Mungu--or God. We smile at that confusion, and yet a major series of battles continues to be waged over whether manger scenes should be on public property. We can say that these things have no religious significance, but if we have not clearly separated those things which are germane to Christianity from those things that are secular props, we are bound to confuse people about the real essence of the Bible's teachings.
When atheists complain that religious structures and holidays should not be forced upon all people no matter what they believe, they are right. Christianity involves being Christ-like, not building edifices. It involves a personal response to God, not the establishment of a human political system. It involves personal obedience to the commands of God, not a pecking order of humans who struggle for control over other humans.
The Confusion of Using Any Means to Justify a Religious End. Our society is increasingly drifting toward becoming an atheist state. Those who identify themselves as Christians are finding it increasingly difficult to live without persecution. This is especially true if one has the courage to take a position on any moral issue. With the rapid increase of abortion in this country, there has been an equally rapid increase in the attempts of believers to oppose abortion. All of us have seen the pickets at abortion clinics. We have seen people being picked up bodily and put into trucks to be carted off to prison for obstructing the entrance of the clinics.
While we all admire the courage of these folks, and we respect and agree with their view that life is valuable and that abortion is the taking of life, we need to be thoughtful about what our response should be. Breaking the law by trespassing on private property is not the way to solve the abortion crisis. Physically abusing women seeking abortions is not the road to follow. It is true that we are told that, if our choice is to obey man or to obey God, that we are to obey God. In this kind of issue, we are not talking about choosing whom to obey. The question is how do we accomplish the task of influencing morality in a positive way.
When Jesus dealt with moral issues, he did so by teaching. There was much to protest in Jesus' day. The government was corrupt, barbaric, and insensitive to real needs. People were engaging in all kinds of moral turpitude. There were places such as the Temple of Diana where immoral acts were carried on as a part of worship. In spite of all this, we do not see violence or lawlessness being carried on by the followers of Jesus. The Church taught, led by example, helped the people who needed help, and positively motivated people to do the right thing. The shooting of an abortion clinic doctor by a person who professed to be a follower of Jesus is an example of how far afield we can get when we fail to restore the approaches and methods of the First Century Church.
The Danger of Following without Thinking. I started writing this article a few years ago when nearly 100 people were living in an isolated compound near Waco, Texas. These people had been victimized by a popular religious notion. That notion is that, if a person wants to be pleasing to God, they need to submit themselves to a powerful religious leader. Not everyone who makes this error is willing to do so to the extent of the people of the Guyana incident with Jim Jones in which they willingly drank cyanide. The fact remains, however, that a huge percentage of religious error and tragedy takes place because people are not doing their own thinking.
In the New Testament, you do not see the emphasis on charismatic leaders. Paul's classic statement in I Corinthians 3:3-4 demonstrates this.
For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?
The message of the Bible is stated over and over again, "choose you this day whom ye shall serve" (Joshua 24:15 ). No where is there a justification for one person telling others what to believe or what to do. The Bible lays out what it claims to be the best way to live and what God's way to salvation is, but it never forces man to comply. Jesus talked about turning the other cheek, loving your enemies, living at peace with all men (Matthew 5:43-46).
In a lectureship I gave recently, I had a little girl who must have been about ten years old come up to me with a notebook in her hand. It was Sunday afternoon and I had been speaking about God's existence for three days. "You know what?" she said. I confessed I did not know much of anything. "You hollered ÔThink!' 136 times this weekend," she said. I believe that, if we can get people to think, we can eliminate much of what is wrong with religion.
It is strange that atheist writers seem to be the leaders in encouraging thinking because, in reality, it is Christianity that will benefit the most from open, honest, seeking, fair-minded inquiry after Truth. The whole premise of this journal is that, if you will examine the evidence openly and honestly and if you will THINK, you will become convinced about the reality of God and about the validity of the Bible. In spite of that prediction, it is not our expectation or desire that you do so because of us or that you attach any significance or dependence upon us.
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said, Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me. --Job 38:1-3
--John N. Clayton
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