Saturday, September 26, 2015

Debates on Religion

Every few weeks I happen upon an interesting article and then waste a few minutes looking through the comments to see what people have to say about the content. Sometimes this is slightly enlightening but it often just reinforces my belief that people have a long way to go in their ability to understand truth and communicate that truth in a graceful and convincing manner. And so, once again, I decide to not comment there but to consider people's arguments for myself and develop my own response...

Anyway, an Australian publication, ABC, published an article "If you want kids to be happy, try religion". First, I have a few problems with the title, but the idea was that studies seem to indicate that both young and old can benefit from contemplating and subscribing to a meta-narrative that instills a sense of purpose and hope in their lives.

But the comments of course turn very quickly to the debate between those who claim that religion is a detriment to society and those who don't. I think you are familiar with many of the arguments:
  1. The Bible cannot be trusted because of its dubious authorship and myriad errors and contradictions.
  2. If there is a god, he cannot be good because of what he allows now and because of the horror he promoted through the Mosaic Law and through the activity of the O.T. nation of Israel.
  3. Religion and especially Christianity has no connection with reality and scientific data and certainly cannot prove the existence of a god.
  4. There are many people who are good and kind and generous in the world without any commitment to a religion or a deity.
Then, there was a comment near the end which caught my attention:
Yes, you can argue that the teaching of religion might present some of worthwhile values, and hence wellbeing, to students, but so too should ethics classes. I think that this whole debate is missing the most important issue about the teaching of religion in schools. I firmly believe that the ability to think critically and rationally (or, indeed, just think) is the greatest benefit a student can gain from an education. Religion, by its very nature, is the antithesis of this and for that reason alone should not be taught in schools, unless in a course on critical thinking.

So, how can we respond to these claims and, in particular, the comment? Let me deal with the comment, because this calls into question the source of our ability to reason. It is also the great lie of secular society which purposefully ignores the foundation of education and critical thinking. Without the Bible and the worldview that it promoted, it would be hard to imagine what our society would look like. Certainly there would be very little cause to read or to question the decisions of our kings and tyrants or to help others through humanitarian efforts or technology or health care. There would be no respect for the individual or his ideas or desires or feelings. There would be little accountability as nations or people groups for the harm done to others and no retribution for wrong doing except in the most brutal fashion and by the people with the bigger army or most powerful weapons. We must remember that the very ability to question the intentions, actions or beliefs of others comes from an appeal to a higher authority. In some cases this is our own reasoning, which is entirely fallible and incomplete. In other cases, it is the authority of the Scripture, which has never been proven false either in authorship or in content. So our friend's comment above is true in that "the ability to think critically and rationally is the greatest benefit a student can gain from an education". But it is the Christian worldview, and the Bible in particular, that encourages this approach to life and even provides the foundation for what we call "critical thinking" in our society and in the scientific method.

But, there is a bigger concern which is almost never addressed in these debates, the concern of the heart. It is more difficult to put into a rational argument but it is unavoidable if we want to be honest. Am I loved, do I deserve the love of others and is it worth loving others? God has answered this question not in arguments but in the Word made flesh, God with us, Emmanuel. What is buried beneath the foundation of the Universe? The love of God for us. Jesus' death on the cross demonstrates His desire for us to be with him, our value to Him and our purpose in and through Him. Without this foundation, we have nothing and are less than nothing. Praise be to Him who has loved us with an everlasting love, not because of who we are or what we might do, but because He has made us to be His own, the recipients of His love and grace. That is the only real source of JOY and it has very little to do with 'religion' and everything to do with Jesus!