A common claim made by many atheists is that religion causes evil, suffering, division and war. For example, at the Munk Debate in Toronto last November, Christopher Hitchens argued this very point against Tony Blair. Religion, Hitchens claimed, causes sectarianism, division, strife, disagreement, war, poverty and a host of societal evils. In his best-selling book, God is Not Great, Hitchens even wrote that “religion poisons everything”.
In Mere Apologetics, Alister McGrath points out that “one of the most familiar criticisms of Christianity is that it offers consolation to life’s losers.”(1) Believers are often caricatured as being somewhat weak and naïve—the kind of people who need their faith as a “crutch” just to get them through life. In new atheist literature, this depiction is often contrasted with the image of a hardier intellectual atheist who has no need for such infantile, yet comforting, nonsense. This type of portrayal may resonate with some, but does it really make sense?(2)
A common accusation thrown at Christians is that they are anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-contraception. Many people have a perception that the church is negative — anti-everything — and Christians utterly prejudiced. How might we respond?
We live in a context of spiritual longing. Many people are searching for that which will satisfy an inner craving for meaning and significance. The artist Damian Hirst recently said this: “Why do I feel so important when I’m not? Nothing is important and everything is important. I do not know why I am here but I am glad that I am. I’d rather be here than not. I am going to die and I want to live forever, I can’t escape that fact, and I can’t let go of that desire.”
People regularly ask that question when a massive catastrophe like the Japanese earthquake happens, but also in cases of individual tragedy, such as the young Mum dying of cancer and leaving her children motherless.
I found myself watching the Channel 4 programme One Born Every Minute this week. Over the course of an hour I laughed cried and winced as we watched an incredibly diverse selection of women giving birth to their babies in NHS hospitals. While the church in China sees someone become a Christian every 30 seconds and the hospitals in our own country see a baby born every minute I started to wonder how often new birth is occurring here in Britain.
There is an immense difference between a worldview that is not able to answer every question to complete satisfaction and one whose answers are consistently contradictory. There is an even greater difference between answers that contain paradoxes and those that are systemically irreconcilable.
Once again, the Christian faith stands out as unique in this test, both as a system of thought and in the answers it gives. Christianity does not promise that you will have every question fully answered to your satisfaction before you die, but the answers it gives are consistently consistent. There may be paradoxes within Christian teaching and belief, but they are not irreconcilable. To those who feel that Christianity has failed them because of prayers that went unanswered, it is important to realize what I am saying here.
Every thinking reader of the Bible is bound to ask at some point in time, “Does this book actually condone slavery?”. To be sure, slavery is not the only issue the Bible causes us to question. The Old Testament is rife with palace intrigues, polygamy, divorce, violence and the like, and godly people are very often part of the problem. Although the New Testament is decidedly improved, it still seems to fall far short of that which twenty-first century human rights would expect. There are no women among the twelve disciples of Jesus and Christian masters do have slaves working for them.