Friday, August 3, 2012

Should Religion be Subject to Criticism?

Atheist Greta Christina writes:

  • Why should religion be treated differently from all other kinds of ideas? Why shouldn’t we criticize it, and make fun of it, and try to persuade people out of it, the way we do with every other kind of idea? (, 4/29/2012)
Christina asks a good question. I think that religion should be open to criticism, especially in our pluralistic society. To not be open to criticism is to be marginalized. If we are willing to be criticized, then we have no right to criticize others and their beliefs. If we try to maintain this imbalance, we will inevitably self-segregate, and I fear that we have done this to some degree.

However, I am struck though that Christina would even ask such a question. The Bible has been the object of intense criticism for almost 300 years, and, somehow, we’ve survived it – and I trust that we will continue to survive.

The Judeo-Christian tradition has always been open to rationality and, therefore, criticism. Our God has always been willing to enter into dialogue with His critics. He states through Isaiah the Prophet:

  • "Come now, let us reason together," says the Lord. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. (Isaiah 1:18)
Perhaps He might not enter into dialogue according to our schedules, but He does promise answers to those who are seeking (James 1:5-8; Matthew 7:7-8). Job had demanded an audience with his Maker, and he finally was granted it (Job 40-42). Even “doubting Thomas” finally received the confirmation he had demanded.

However, not all religions are as open to reason and criticism. The Koran warns:

  • [Surah 33:59-61] If the hypocrites, the sick of heart, and those who spread lies in the city [Medina] do not desist, We [Allah] shall arouse you [the Prophet Mohammad] against them, and then they will only be your neighbors in this city for a short while. They will be rejected wherever they are found, and then seized and killed.
I was a bit provoked by Christina’s phrase, “shouldn’t we criticize it, and make fun of it.” Certainly, she has that right. However, she later asserted:

  • We need to draw a careful line between criticizing ideas and marginalizing people. We need to remember that people who disagree with us are still people, deserving of basic compassion and respect.
As Christians, we certainly agree with Christina. However, I began to wonder what Christina meant by the term “people.” Some are highly educated, while others aren’t. Some say wise things, while others are willfully malicious and cause great pain. Why should they all be treated with “basic compassion and respect?” From a pragmatic point of view, some should be assigned a negative value, and if they have negative worth, then there can be no basis for “compassion and respect.”

However, according to Biblical revelation, we are all created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27), and therefore are greatly valued and beloved by our Creator (John 3:16). This makes indiscriminate “compassion and respect” for all a Biblical virtue. However, I wondered if Christina realized that her “faith” had a Biblical basis and also that it couldn’t be supported by her materialistic thinking.

Christina then insists that religious belief is more dangerous than other kinds of beliefs:

  • But if religious differences really are more likely to lead to bigotry, tribalism, violence, etc., doesn’t that show what a bad idea it is? If the ideas of religion are so poorly rooted in reality that there’s no way to resolve differences other than forming battle lines and screaming or shooting across them, doesn’t that strongly suggest that this is a truly crappy idea, and humanity should let go of it? Doesn’t that suggest that persuading people out of it is a really good thing to do?
Of course, if religion always breeds warfare, then Christina is correct, and we should “persuade people out of it.” However, she commits several fallacies:

  1. She claims that religion is a “truly crappy idea.” However, there are many different religions. Christina doesn’t refer to “crappy ideas” but a “crappy idea,” as if they are all one and all “will lead to bigotry, tribalism, violence.”
  1. She also fails to see that we all have our religions. Even the atheists have their religions. If we define religious belief as those beliefs that can’t be proved by science – and many use this definition – then we are all religious. We all have values/morals, which science can’t prove. We all have standards we use to place a value on people and things. In fact, some atheists are willing to acknowledge that they too have their religion. The First Humanist [Atheist] Manifesto (Paul Kurtz, 1933) reads, “Humanism is a philosophical, religious, and moral point of view.”
  1. Christina also erroneously assumes that all religion lacks an evidential basis. She claims that they are “so poorly rooted in reality that there’s no way to resolve differences.” However, are the moral claims of secular humanism any more “rooted in reality than the claims of other religions? Hardly!
Sadly, out of defensiveness, we have been prone to fight. However, this should serve as a call to better acquaint ourselves with the evidential basis of Christianity – the reasons to believe – rather than to fight or abandon our faith, as Christina would like to see happen.
Besides, it is remarkable that she hasn’t acknowledged the very obvious fact that the atheistic religions have a worse track-record. Atheistic Communists have murdered a hundred million according to many estimates.

We don’t ask for different treatment - we should be prepared for criticism and even welcome it. We just ask for fair treatment.  As secular humanism has gained control of the media and universities, we have seen the Christian faith marginalized, Christians routinely portrayed as idiots, and Christianity construed as a “crappy idea” at best and the source of “bigotry, tribalism, violence, etc,” at the worst. And this is all happening without meaningful access to the media to rebut these unfair characterizations.

It is therefore astonishing that Christina needs to make a case for the right to criticize religion. It’s like as Eskimo pleading for more snow.

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