1. Loftus: “The history of the Christian Church undermines the veracity of Christianity. Consider the examples below.”
After writing this Loftus then goes on to mention some of the historical atrocities done in the name of Christianity by professing Christians such as the Crusades, the Inquisition, Witch Hunts, and slavery in the American south. However, like much else Loftus has written this is entirely irrelevant to a discussion on truth. How a worldview has been applied or abused by its followers says absolutely nothing about the truth claims of that worldview.
Let’s turn this challenge on its head for the moment. Atheism has perhaps been the worldview that has caused the most suffering in this world (1). It was the outpouring of atheistic worldview that Stalin, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot and hence forth that caused so much suffering. These atheists, according to Paul Copan, “are not constrained by any moral principles except those of their own devising, they find themselves free to pursue their heart’s desires, unhampered by any constraints. This is moral anarchy, and it is a direct result of Atheism as a worldview” (2). Copan then goes on to explain that “I think the reason it’s difficult, if not impossible, for these New Atheists to acknowledge immorality in the name of atheism is because it would take much wind out of their sails when criticizing religion” (3). Just as the Christian worldview has been abused by adherents so has atheism, and each party ought to take responsibility for such actions in order to avoid such ever happening again.
However, when have I ever used this as an argument against the truth claims of the atheistic worldview? I have never for the simple reason that the abuse committed by the adherents of a worldview says absolutely nothing about the truth claims of the worldview. It’s a very simple concept to grasp, and once grasped it should be avoided in an argument.
Nonetheless, I have saved Loftus’ words on these atrocities in this section for a separate treatment altogether as I strongly intend to return to them. I am absolutely certain when I review what Loftus has said on these matters I will find misrepresentation after misrepresentation. However, since Loftus’ entire section is irrelevant as a result, there are still some nuggets I wish to extract from it, as we shall briefly do here.
2. The emancipation of slaves.
Loftus has let his railing against the history of the church blind him for although he argues much from American slavery against Christianity he fails to mention a person who is well worth mentioning: William Wilberforce. Loftus asks “What possible justification could there be for God to have allowed his followers to think they were pleasing him by acting in such terrible ways? The revelation of a perfectly good God would have clearly prohibited” such atrocities. However, the irony is that it was the revelation of this “perfectly good God” in the person of Jesus that prompted Wilberforce (who was the force behind the abolishment of the slave trade in America) to write that “[it is] the glory of Christianity, to extinguish the malignant passions; to curb the violence, to control the appetites, and to smooth the asperities of man; to make us compassionate and kind, and forgiving one to another; to make us good husbands, good fathers, good friends; and to render us active and useful in the discharge of the relative social and civil duties…” (4). Wilberforce would go on to write that it is the “maintenance of that sobriety of spirit and tenderness of conscience, which are eminently characteristic of the true Christian.” But why does Loftus fail to mention Wilberforce? Simple: because it goes strongly against the claim that Loftus makes in order to undermine Christianity (since Wilberforce, a Christian, fought against and eventually defeated American slavery). But to omit this is simply ridiculous, for no matter how much I disliked the Nazis, or disagreed with them, I don’t fail to mention Adolf Hitler or Heinrich Himmler when I write German history of the topic of WW2. Nor should I fail to mention Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor, who stood against Hitler and lost his life as a result. They all play an instrumental role in the story and they should, independent of what I think of them, be mentioned. Loftus is sadly very uncharitable here.
3. Loftus: “Even if we grant that human beings are “wicked,” God would know this about us, so why wouldn’t God be crystal clear about what he wants believers to do?”
Human beings aren’t “wicked,” rather it is the human beings actions, often a product of their fallen sinful nature, that is wicked and sinful. Then Loftus asks “why wouldn’t’ God be crystal clear about what he wants believers to do?” to which I’d answer that he has. The 10 Commandments stand in as a moral guideline of what believers (and all people) should not do, likewise Jesus has given instructions to save people by taking his message to them in order to “make disciples of all nations” (Mat. 28:18–20, also see: Luke 24:44–49, Acts 1:4–8, John 20:19–23). This goes way, way deeper especially if we study some of Jesus’ other pedagogics, but other than that I think God has been clear on what he wants believers to do.
4. Loftus: “If the Christian God exists, surely he bears some degree of responsibility for the misery and suffering brought about by Christians who failed to understand his directives.”
This is simply false. Why would God be responsible for mans wicked decisions especially since God has given man freewill? Freewill allows for Christians, and others, to make decisions that would go contrary to what God would desire. That is a corollary of what it means to be created as free agents capable of making decisions and choices that actually matter. On the other hand Loftus’ accusation here seems a little bit illogical. It would be akin to saying that because a student refuses to listen to her teacher on a class outing, and then something untoward happens to the student as a result (she gets bumped over by a car and injured, for example), then the teacher is to blame. The teacher gave the students a directive to keep clear of the oncoming traffic but this student disobediently went against the warning (or the directive). Would the teacher be to blame? No, for the teacher gave the student a warning of which she deliberately disobeyed. It would be the same case with God, God is not responsible for those who fail to “understand his directives” and willingly disobey him.
5. Loftus: “And the Holy Spirit, which is supposed to guide Christians by illumination,” seems to have failed to do so in the history of the Church. This is one of the reasons why I reject Christianity.”
This is a total misunderstanding of the concept of freewill as well as how the Holy Spirit actually works. God, via the Holy Spirit, will not force people to adhere to his guidelines should they not wish to. The Holy Spirit, as a guide, is not some spiritual force that will slap you over the head should you not submit to his guidance. More often than not it is diligence in the studying of God’s word that also bears strongly on this issue – it takes effort, its not as if one simply sits back and invites the Holy Spirit to do his work. However, on the other hand there are millions upon millions of convinced, devout Christians who have let the Holy Spirit lead their lives, and these Christians have made the world a much better place by adding their little bit into the bigger picture. In short, I strongly suggest to Loftus that this is a very bad reason to reject Christianity, and that it needn’t be an obstacle for belief.
6. Loftus: “How would Christians feel if they were the ones being burned at the stake for heresy, or beaten within an inch of their lives by a slave master? Arguments that previous generations of Christians simply misunderstood what God wanted them to do would fly away in the wind with the smoke of their flesh, and with the drops of their blood.”
To answer Loftus’ question (although clearly a rhetorical one), I would imagine that it would not be very pleasant experience to be burnt at a stake, nor is it something any Christ follower should ever commit in the name of Jesus. However, this would bring us to the initial point I made at the very beginning: it is fallacious to judge a philosophy by its abuse. That is the fallacy behind Loftus’ entire argument.
To be continued…
1. For an honest analysis of this visit atheist John Steinrucken’s article: Secularism’s Ongoing Debt to Christianity. Available.
In the article Steinrucken writes that those secular attempts for utopia, “when actually put to the test, have not merely come to naught. Attempts during those two centuries to put into practice utopian visions have caused huge sufferings.”
2. Copan, P. 2011. Is God a Moral Monster? p. 19 (Scribd ebook format).
3. Copan, P. 2011. ibid.
4. Wilberforce, W. 1871. Real Christianity. p. 195.