Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Is Christianity false or is it just mean and judgmental?

Have you noticed lately that there is a decided lack of atheists who argue against Christianity on factual grounds? Instead of constructing arguments against Christian theism, what I am seeing more and more of is that people try to say that Christianity makes some group feel bad, and therefore Christianity is not worthy of pursuit and engagement.

Here’s how it works. You have a person who has some sinful habit or other that they don’t want to give up, and they notice that people are judging them and saying that what they are doing is wrong. And they feel bad. And they decide to attack Christianity to make the Christians stop judging them. So how do they do it? Do they argue that the concept of God is logically incoherent? No… Do they argue that some instances of evil and suffering are gratuitous? No… Do they argue that the universe is eternal so that it had no Creator? No…

What do they do?

What they do is pick on some statement by a conservative Christian that makes them feel bad, and then claim that they are victims of meanness. And apparently, making someone feel bad is some sort of disproof of Christian theism. Why is that? It’s because we have decided as a culture that the purpose of religion is to make people feel good about themselves and to be “nice” to other people. And by “nice”, we mean not making other people feel bad about the sinfulness of their behavior. So people are making Christianity irrelevant just by assuming that the purpose of life is happiness, and that any religion that makes people unhappy can be dismissed.

Before, people thought about Christianity as something that you investigated, and that was either true or false. People understood that Christianity made claims about the external world that were either true or false. For example, Christianity claims that the universe had a beginning in the finite past. And the people who disagreed with Christianity would try to produce arguments and evidence that the universe was eternal, as with the steady-state theory or the oscillating model of the universe. And people were willing to change their behavior to match what was true, even when it made them feel less happy. But not any more.

I think somehow, as a society, we have internalized the following beliefs:

  • God wants me to have happy feelings
  • the purpose of religion is to give me happy feelings
  • God’s moral will for me is that I be “nice” to others
  • being nice to others means accepting whatever they want to do as “good”
  • accepting whatever anyone does makes them like me
  • when people like me, I feel happy, which is what God wants
  • there is no need for me to study God’s existence
  • God exists when I want to be comforted, and doesn’t exist when I want to sin
  • there is no need for me to study God’s character
  • God’s character is pretty much like my character, whatever I want is fine with God
  • there are no moral rules or obligations from God that apply to me
  • religions are all the same, I choose the one that makes me feel happy

So you can see that someone who believes things like this can claim to be a Christian, but would actually attack real Christians who hold to the old view of exclusive factual claims and moral judgments. The real Christians are people who have studied these questions, who know that God exists, and what he is like, and accept the Bible’s moral teachings as authoritative. So you could have a famous pastor who defends the Bible’s prohibition on sex before marriage, and have someone feel bad about being judged, and then a bunch of these “the purpose of life is happiness” people will appear and chastise that pastor for making people feel bad. And many of them will claim to be Christians, and attend church, too.

Now notice that this mob of happy-feelings people are not going argue against the pastor using the Bible, because the Bible is pretty clearly against fornication. What they’ll do instead is they’ll pick out some piece of the Bible that seems unfair, like the slaughter of some group of child-sacrificing pagans, and they’ll rail against that Bible passage in order to discredit the Bible’s authority on moral questions. And then the good conservative pastor is made to feel bad because he has broken those unwritten laws – he made someone feel bad using this evil book.

No factual claims about God’s existence were made. No historical arguments were made. No evidence was presented. The mere fact that the Bible is mean to talk about killing the poor Canaanites is used to prove that the Bible has no moral authority at all, on any issue. “It’s mean” entails that it’s false. And you can have people who read the Bible for devotions, who sing in church, and who lead worship, who think that the Bible is false because it’s mean, and it’s mean because it can be used to judge people and make them feel bad.

An example

Now consider single motherhood, as in this case.

Excerpt:

She tells her children to do as she says and not as she does.

But the words of mother of 14 Joanne Watson – who receives more than £2,000 a month in state handouts – have fallen on deaf ears.

Her 15-year-old daughter Mariah is pregnant, the father has ‘left the scene’, and the youngster is about to start living off benefits.

Mrs Watson, 40, is raising her giant brood alone after parting from her husband John, 46, three years ago, and breaking up with subsequent partner Craig le Sauvage, 35, last year.

Despite this, she has still managed to squirrel away enough cash for a £1,600 breast enhancement and a sunbed. She claims she has always encouraged her daughters to use contraception – but, inevitably, it seems they would rather follow the family tradition.

Mariah’s pregnancy comes after Mrs Watson’s oldest daughter Natasha, 22, got pregnant with her son Branford, now six, when she was 16. Her second eldest daughter Shanice, 19, also got pregnant at 16 with her 22-month-old son Marley.

Mariah says she has no concerns about becoming a teenage mother, as it seems the most natural thing in the world. Initially, she and her child will be supported by the taxpayer.

She is expected to move into a housing complex for single mothers and will receive supplementary benefit and child allowance for her baby.

The youngster, who is due to have a boy, said: ‘I’m not nervous. I’ve been around babies my whole life so I know what to expect and that I can handle it. The father isn’t involved and I don’t want him to be either. I’m really excited and think I will be a great mum.’

Now there are two responses to this from people who profess to be Christians. The first response, my response, is to make a general argument against having sex before marriage, using the latest statistics to show the harm that fatherlessness causes to children, and more evidence besides. My response is not to pick on any one person, but to set moral boundaries, to make moral judgments against the selfishness of parents, and to not celebrate and subsidize anything that will harm innocent children. I don’t want to make anyone person feel bad, I just want to say what the evidence is. However, even a general argument using evidence does make some people feel bad, so I am judged as “mean” for giving my opinion and backing it up with evidence.

But there is another response. This response comes from someone who professes to be a Christian, but they are actually a “God wants me to be happy and to be nice to people so they will like me and then we’ll all be happy” person. They would never dream of judging anyone for anything they do. And they are very angry with me for getting my moral rules out of that horrible Bible, and for using facts and evidence to make people feel bad. They believe in compassion, which is the idea that says that the moral boundaries of the Bible are false, and that we have to celebrate and subsidize any and every variation on the traditional family, regardless of the harm caused, so that the selfish adults don’t feel bad about their destructive choices.

And what do we make of a person who feels that saying “it’s wrong” is mean, because it makes a guilty person feel bad? Well, here is the truth. A person who argues against the Bible based on the happy-feelings model is no friend of God, and no friend of the victims of selfish actions. They may think that they are being a good person by affirming people who make bad decisions, but really it just encourages people to get into trouble.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

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4 Responses

  1. John Moore says:

    If someone commits fornication, should we shun them and publicly shame them? If so, why? What good does it do? Certainly we don’t want to reward people for sinning, but our punishment is also no substitute for God’s ultimate punishment.

    Sinning is its own punishment. Sinners don’t need society to keep telling them over and over what they already know deep down. The really bad thing is not the sinning but the lack of contrition. Or the lack of hope. How can society help the sinner find hope?

    • Erik says:

      John,

      Did you get out of his article that he supports publicly shunning someone who commits a sin? I don’t see that in what he’s written. That said, I have a little trouble with the logic of your statements.

      “Sin is its own punishment”? How so? I have known plenty of people that sin and feel absolutely no remorse for having done so. For that matter, what is sin? It’s disobedience to God’s commands. Following your logic, if we should just leave the sinner to their own personal inner punishment then:

      * Moses was wrong in chastising Israel publicly for disobedience to God
      * Every prophet and judge in the OT that corrected and rebuked the people of Israel publicly was wrong
      * Every writer in the New Testament that publicly condemned sin was wrong
      * Jesus was wrong for publicly condemning sin

      The point isn’t that we’re being callous or uncaring, rather it’s the opposite. By pointing out what sin is, we call people’s attention to what is wrong, not only with themselves, but with society. By putting sin in the light, we reveal to people that they have a need to do something about that sin, and that there is a solution – Jesus Christ. Galatians 3 tells us that the law was originally given to show us our sinfulness, to guide us to Christ. If people aren’t aware of their sins, then how can they know they need a savior?

      I don’t agree with calling an individual out publicly for their sin, save for those who commit actions that need to be accounted for by our laws, such as murderers, etc. The ‘day to day’ sinner, while not needing public display of their sins, does need to be made aware of what things are sinful, in the hopes of leading them to a realization that they need Christ.

      With moral relativism gaining more and more support, the basis of objective moral values is vanishing from many people’s beliefs. If you don’t have objective moral values, you can’t have sin. If you can’t have sin, you can’t have sin as “its own punishment”. God has given us direction to be agents of change in this world, not to sit quietly on the sidelines.

      Lastly, I’m not looking to ‘society’ to either tell me what’s right or wrong and I’m certainly not looking to ‘society’ to provide me with hope. Society is not an objective moral agent. Only God can claim to be such. As His disciples, our job is to make the light of that hope known to those who suffer in darkness. The only way to make certain people seek that hope is to first reveal the need by exposing sinful actions for what they really are. If you haven’t already done so, read the book of Acts, I think you’ll find a clear case being made for publicly rebuking acts of sin as a way to get people to turn to Christ. You’ll also find no mention of just letting people go on with their lives and hoping that their inward punishment for their sins will be sufficient to bring them to Christ.

    • There’s a huge difference between saying that a person should not fornicate (and backing up that view with evidence of why it is wrong) and shunning those who fornicate. Those are not the only two options.

      I’m not sure what you mean by “Sinning is its own punishment.” Yes, sin does have natural consequences (some temporal and some eternal). However, that doesn’t mean we should just ignore sin because people have already been “punished” for it. To fail to point out the immorality and natural consequences of sin is to allow people to walk into it blindly. While pointing out the problems with sin may make some people feel bad, it may help others avoid those mistakes.

      And, by the way, people SHOULD feel bad about their wrong choices. It’s called guilt, which often leads to contrition, which can lead to repentance. People act like guilt is a horrible thing, to be avoided at all costs, but guilt is a necessary step toward repentance. People won’t repent if they don’t see that they have done wrong. If we avoid making anyone feel guilty at any time, we prevent the Holy Spirit from working through that guilt to bring them to repentance. The Bible tells us not to quench the Spirit. At least one application of that is that we should not undermine the work the Holy Spirit is doing to convict others by minimizing and excusing their sin.

      At the same time, we should recognize that we are sinners as well. We should be bold to proclaim truth without excusing ourselves or self-righteously pretending that we are better than others. Though we are imperfect, we can still uphold God’s perfect standards. Also, we can show real compassion by leading others to the God who can wipe away their sin and guilt, not simply hide or ignore it.

      Thus, the proper response to a person who has committed fornication is to say that it was wrong, but that it can be forgiven by God and that He can work good in their lives in spite of their sin (just as He has in our lives). Giving help where help is needed is also a good and compassionate gesture as long as we are not simply enabling sin to continue unchecked. It is not compassionate or right to enable others to continue in sin.

  2. I agree, Wintery Knight! The latest debates I’ve had with a person on Facebook result in him reading into something I say and getting inordinately offended when I’m trying to stick to the claims being made rather than attacking him as a person. It’s very frustrating.

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