By Paul Chamberlain, Director of ACTS Seminaries’ Institute of Christian Apologetics (and guest author on this site. Ed.).
Headliner: Those who desire the eradication of Christianity should think carefully about what they wish for. The beneficial impact of Christianity upon the world is nothing short of breath taking.
Is religion dangerous? Should it, along with Christianity, be eradicated in order to ensure the very survival of the human race? A number of influential thinkers today believe so and this is the challenge Dr. Paul Chamberlain, director of the Institute of Christian Apologetics at ACTS seminaries, addresses in his newly released book, Why People Don’t Believe: Confronting Seven Challenges to Christian Faith, (Baker Books, 2011).
Everyone has heard of the 9/11 attacks, suicide bombings around the world done in the name of religion, and acts of violence done against abortion clinics or providers. Certain critics of religion, commonly dubbed The New Atheists, have been disturbed by these events and have capitalized on them to develop a passionate case against religion complete with arguments and supporting data. Their contention is that religion, in its very nature, is the problem. It allegedly breeds violence, is irrational and anti-scientific, it teaches a dreadful morality, and encourages intolerance. To make matters worse, thanks to advances in technology in the past fifty years, especially in the art of war, our religious “neighbours” are now armed with chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. As far as American atheist Sam Harris, a key proponent of this line of reasoning is concerned, anyone who is not afraid of the potential harm this represents, simply has not given the matter due attention. Words like “God” and “Allah” must go the way of “Apollo” and “Baal” lest they destroy us all.
This case has been carried to a very concerned public throughout western culture by means of best-selling books and a host of other media, and it has molded people’s thinking about religion and faith. Books by British evolutionist Richard Dawkins, Harris, journalist Christopher Hitchens, philosopher Daniel Dennett, and others have sold widely and, due to their authors’ personal standings from past works, many have come to see religion not as the solution to humanity’s problems but as the problem itself.
Many Christians are simply shocked and bewildered when they hear these allegations laid out in sufficient detail, and plenty have had their confidence shaken by what they hear. Chamberlain became convinced this will be the mother of all apologetic issues for the next decade and, thus, thus felt compelled to research deeply into the issue, target the key questions and challenges, and respond.
This book does three things. First, it sets out the challenges raised against religious faith, particularly Christianity, in an honest and compelling fashion . Secondly, it provides responses to each of the main challenges issued by the new critics of religion, and thirdly, it goes the next exciting step and examines the many good and humane contributions Christianity has made to the world throughout the past 2,000 years. Chamberlain’s contention is that not only is Christianity, properly understood, free of the main allegations leveled against religion by its twenty-first century critics, but it is the source of great good in the world. In fact, the impact of Christianity for good upon human civilization is nothing short of breath-taking and unless readers have previously inquired into this question, he predicts they will be surprised and deeply encouraged by what they read. Many of the good things in our world that we, in the west, simply take for granted and could hardly imagine the world without, exist as a direct result of Christian dedication and sacrifice. He has come to see this as an integral part of replying to the charge that Christianity is a dangerous force for evil and we would be better off without it.
In the end, Chamberlain draws seven conclusions:
1) Both religious and irreligious people commit many acts of violence.
2) When they occur the vast majority of religious people around the world are outraged by them whether they are committed in the name of religion or not.
3) These acts are often driven by deep political and cultural motivations which would remain whether or not religion played a part.
4) Religion is sometimes turned into a tool to help recruit soldiers to fight these political and cultural battles.
5) While this is a horrific abuse of religion, virtually any ideal, including secular ones such as liberty, equality, nationalism and patriotism can and have been abused.
6) Humans will always divide into communities resulting in divisions and binary oppositions which lie at the heart of human conflict. Some of these divisions are religious in nature (e.g., Protestant vs. Catholic, Shiite vs. Sunni) but most are not (e.g., Tutsi vs. Hutu, Conservative vs. Liberal) and would remain even if religion were eradicated.
7) Christianity, understood as following the teachings of Jesus, is not only free of the main allegations leveled against religion by its twenty-first century critics, but it is the source of great good in the world. If we demand it be eradicated, we may not know what we are asking for.
This book is intended to operate as a public response to the challenges to religious faith mentioned above and also as a guide for concerned Christians seeking to interact with their friends and neighbors who harbor deep suspicions toward their faith. Our hope is that not only will those who make the case against religion be given the chance to rethink their position, but also that Christians who read these pages will see how they could engage others around them who launch these charges against their faith.