On Religion, Truth and Morality

This post originally started as a response to a Facebook comment.  The context is the “Why I Hate Religion but love Jesus” Youtube video as well as a response by blogger Jimmy Akin.  My friend writes:

“Being a non believer, I think that one of the biggest questions I have is who wrote the bible anyway? I think it was written by humans, just like you and me. This whole series of comments could have been written as a book in the bible. As …most of us are, I grew up with religion implanted in my life. I just assumed that it was so.

As I got older I started questioning so many things. I felt that I could not say I believed in God just because I was told to. I began to discover that not everything I was told was necessarily true. As I got stronger in my convictions that, although jesus was an amazing person who really wanted to spread the beliefs of peace and love thy neighbor, he was just a man who was raised by his parents to believe that this was how people were supposed to behave.

Our human nature shows me that we cannot live like this. The few humans who can actually do live their lives with such love to others are far and few between. Some examples are Mother Teresa and Gandhi and of course Jesus. Why do we need religion to be good people? Is believing in God the only thing that motivates everyone to be righteous? What about Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam…For me these groups, just like Christianity, have large masses of people who need to belong and have a purpose.

I raised my kids with amazing moral values without religion in their lives. I respect all religion, so I want religion to respect me. Let people believe what they want. I don’t hate religion and I don’t hate anyone who feels that they need religion. Its just something that exists and I accept it. This guy was just stating his point of view…leave him alone.”

Here is my response:

@____, Thanks for commenting on this.  I think it’s important for those of us who are Christians (of whichever variety) to remember that arguments like this are primarily internal to faith rather than an argument between people with opposing beliefs.

I thought I might try to address some of your questions

1. Who wrote the Bible?  It was written by men but we as Christians believe that that writing was guided and inspired by the Holy Spirit.  While there can be no ‘definitive’ proof of that inspiration, the consistency of the overall message from Genesis to Revelations written over a span of over a 1000 years in multiple languages is truly incredible.  The vast number of prophecies (between 200 and 400 depending on how you count them) contained in the Old Testament which Jesus fulfilled in his life on earth again are incredible as a ‘historical accident’ which is what they would have to be if Christ wasn’t the Son of God.

Jesus was a man who went willingly to his death on the cross because he believed he was the Son of God and that by his sacrifice he could redeem the world.   The whole argument rests on the reality of the resurrection.  Christ, in the flesh was seen by over 500 people after he had been killed by the Romans.  Most of those people were killed by various authorities because they wouldn’t recant their testimony.

If Jesus really did rise from the dead then not only was he a good man but he was in fact the Son of God and everything else that stems from that fact is true.  Historically, the fact that 12 fishermen from a small provincial country in the Middle East could turn the Roman Empire upside down is astonishing apart from Divine help.

2. You asked “Why do we need religion to be good people?  The short answer is we don’t, not as individuals.  They problem comes when you try to define what it means to be a good person in a way that is prescriptive for everyone’s behavior.  In other words it is perfectly possible for me to act morally and ‘good’.  The problem comes when I try to tell you how to act morally and good but can’t tell you why you should in fact act morally and good (however I’ve defined it).  Without some objective ground for morality which is true for both you and me we can’t define what is truly moral and good (apart from simple agreement which gets more difficult with the greater number of people with whom we are trying to agree).  For example, you and I may agree that it is immoral to murder a civilian in a country with whom we have no declared war (i.e. the Iranian nuclear scientist recently killed) but apparently our current President as well as most of the Republican candidates disagree with us.  How should we resolve that dispute in a way that is normative?  That applies equally to everyone everywhere?

3.  The young man in the video wasn’t just ‘stating his views’ he was making an argument (an incoherent one) that Jesus was opposed to religion and that religion is opposed to Jesus.  He’s making that argument strictly in the realm of Christian belief so questions about Buddhists, Hindus, Islam etc. don’t particularly relate to his point.  Because his argument challenges my beliefs about what religion is (or should be) I am free to engage his argument with counter-arguments which contradict and refute his thesis (which the original article that Kaitlin linked does as well as many other responses so far).

I’ll go as far as to assert that Christianity, as a religion, has been the greatest force for good, for the civilizing of western civilization and indeed for the civilizing of the whole world, popular misconceptions to the contrary.

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One Response to On Religion, Truth and Morality

  1. Dorcas Mahon says:

    Thanks Daniel! I really appreciate your response. I often feel so overwelmed when I try and state my beliefs, or non beliefs as some may accuse me of, to people who feel that they are right and there is no other opinion allowed! I think that the bible was indeed written by men and women just like you and me. They wrote about what was happening in there lives and their feelings and beliefs. It was a time when the world was in turmoil most of the time. Doesn’t the bible state that you can stone women, that slaves are part of life, that men could have more than one wife? What about the books that were written but not “chosen” to be included. Who did the chosing? Why were they hidden so they would not be destroyed? How do you explain this? WHat about the new testament versus the old? Why is it ok to change what is written in the bible to our modern lifestyle? I guess I could go on and on! I see the bible as an amazing firsthand look into a past when humans were trying to understand the world around them. Men invent religion. This is my belief.
    To me there is no right or wrong here. I think, although this young man rambled and was kind of wierd, this is where he is with his beliefs. It may contradict what you believe, but to him you are the rambler. In a way he was right about Jesus not believing in organized religion. I have read that somewhere, but this is another discussion!! Its good to be able to have good conversations about the different way people think about religion. People use the word athesist like it belonged with the list of words we never want our kids to use. Its meaning is very simple, without ( a) religion (theism). Its hard explaining to people how not believing in god is ok for me.
    As far as the morality issue, to me being moral is to respect each other and to treat others like you want to be treated. Its pretty simple. Our complex nature as humans makes it complicated. Our need to have a reason for everything also makes it more difficult to live that simple rule.
    I really do respect believers. I see how religion helps people cope with their lives, I see the happiness it brings to them. But I am happy without it. I do not need to have “something” to make things make sense. It is what it is. I do not want to convert anyone out of their beliefs. I do not want to force my beliefs on others, But I often feel the pressure of believers on my life. Thats when I get upset. The majority rules law does not work here. If you want to go to church go, If you want to pray in school, pray. If you don’t want an abortion don’t have one. But do not force me to behave in the same way, and do not force me to raise my family this way. People can pray anywhere they want to. Do not make others uncomfortable with it. This is when we get angry. I don’t care what anyone says, christians want to spread the word and convert people. This is when the line is crossed.
    Anyway, enough of my rambling. I really hope we can continue this conversation!! I really respect you and your reliefs. I fell in love with Kaitlyn at Krista and Tyler’s wedding. You are an amazing couple so full of life and joy!!

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