In responding to authors like Mark Juergensmeyer, Regina Schwartz and Sam Harris, atheists who believe virtually every religion tends to violence as a result of their single-minded insistence on ultimate truth – and their possession of it – Paul Copan writes that that claim is simplistic, irresponsible and unjust.1
Their claim that monotheism – or the belief in one god – and exclusive truth creates an us vs. them mentality can at times be seen in the actions of some radical, unthinking, ill-advised individuals; such as the atrocities of the Inquisition, the terroristic actions of radicalized Muslims today, and the dual claims – and consequent violence – of Palestinians and Israelis over the “Promised Land.” But to state that embracing the One True God automatically promotes division, hate and the attempted removal of all “outsiders” is absurd. Those accusations being an attempt at coercion and exclusion themselves, all while promoting a pluralism and multiculturalism never dreamed of by our founding fathers who believed in integration through education, freedom through submission and success through obedience to the law. (Not to mention the ideology of salvation through substitution and acceptance through repentance held by many founders who were Christians.)
The problem being religion, as defined by its practitioners, not faith as dictated by scripture. And yes, there are exclusive aspects to Christianity; Jesus claiming to be “…the way… the truth… and the life.” Going so far as to claim that, “No one comes to the father except through me.” John 4:6 Scripture further insisting that, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to man by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12 This is an unalterable, founding principle of our faith, but rather than hindering our outreach, it promotes our embrace of, “Anyone who trusts in Him… For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him (Jesus), for “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Rom. 10:11-13Paul’s letter to the Galatians expanding on this point, saying “(We) are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus,… There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female,” Galatians 3;26-28
A primary complaint against Christianity is its “qualifications.” Not that you have to reach a certain level of goodness to be allowed into the brotherhood, but that you must accept the fact that you can’t make it on your own, that you are a sinner in need of grace, and that only Jesus is the arbiter of that grace even as he yearns to be merciful to all. He having done everything possible and necessary to save everyone, but not automatically doing so. Therein lays the rub, God being God – with the right to set his own parameters on what he does and doesn’t do. Philosopher Paul Moser writing, “It would be a strange, defective God who didn’t pose a serious cosmic authority problem for humans. Part of the status of being God, after all, is that God has a unique authority or lordship over humans. Since we humans aren’t God, the true God would have authority over us and would seek to correct our profoundly selfish ways.”2 People being generally ok with a benign, loving, forgiving, easy-going, all-inclusive deity. Not so much for one who claims Lordship over us, who corrects and even rebukes us when we do wrong, who has absolutely made salvation free by his substitutionary sacrifice on the cross – but who none-the-less expects something of us in return. (See Romans 1:5 & Ephesians 2:8-10)
At issue is finding a religion that’s “true” and authentic, one that squares with reality – one that consistently seeks to relieve mankind of his burden of sin, after identifying it as such – promoting an other’s first outlook to life. The Old Testament of our bible often used to characterize God as well as Israel and even Christianity – as insensitive and even cruel. And God did indeed condemn Israel repeatedly for refusing to fulfill her part of the Covenant while punishing those who then abused the people he called His own, but He just as consistently expressed patience, compassion and extended grace and mercy to all – even those outside Israel. (See Genesis 12:3 & 28:13. 14; Exodus 34:6; Joshua 6:17; Ruth, Jonah 4:2 & 2 Peter 3:8,9) The devastation dealt out to Israel’s enemies for their rampant sin and obscene behavior was episodic, specific, and limited in scope. The total destruction of some cities now thought to have been primarily military installations with a limited civilian population did occur, which to our “enlightened” eyes and ears still seems harsh; but He was necessarily cleansing a land filled with obstinately rebellious, cruel, lewd, idolatrous – unrepentant people – setting the stage for a society of people governed by a law based on love of God and others that included, at times, their enemies.
God’s real nature expressed by his long-suffering forbearance in his dealings with Israel as well as her neighbors and ultimately the world; that love expressed in his willingness to “mingle” with us at all, to the extent of sacrificing his son – and in a mysterious way – himself, to close the gap that sin had created between himself and the rest of mankind. A central feature of God’s call on our lives being for us all to love not only our families, friends and neighbors, but even our enemies. (Matthew 5:43-48 God never intending for any of his creation to be relegated to hell, which was originally meant for the Devil and his misguided followers. But it is the same expression of self-assertion and self-centeredness, if indulged in by us, that can and will ultimately doom us; exiling us from God’s loving provision – against his will and desire. Hell not meant so much as a place of torture inflicted by God on unbelievers but a place of perpetual separation from His eternal presence. Is there an aspect of “punishment” in that? Absolutely. But it’s a self-inflicted punishment on those who insist on lawlessness and nonconformity to God’s will. (See 2 Thessalonians 1:8-10 & John 3:17)) God sending his Son into the world to save it, not condemn it, a plan that originated with the family of Israel; culminating in Jesus Christ – their Messiah and ours.
The final question being: Does the violence practiced by some in Israel or by those claiming to represent the church reflect the essence of Judaism or Christianity? Or put another way: Is violence embedded in religion or does it crop up as fallible men live out their ideals inconsistently?
Check back next week as we seek some answers to those questions.
1In Is God a Moral Monster? Published by Baker Books
2Philosophy of Religion: Classic and Contemporary Issues, Blackwell Publishing
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