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The weekend after the Trade Center hijacking attacks, I received the following email.
Hopefully, this answer will help more people understand the differences between Christians
and religious fanatics.
In today's world since the [World Trade Center Terrorist] attack,
I find it impossible to trust
religious people. Any religion. I'd like to ask you, How can we trust
any one who does what they do in the name of their God rather than
reason? How can anybody who is not reasonable be trusted?
I want people I can trust because I can predict what they will do, like
I ask you to consider;
Isn't it time for more than faith?
There are a couple of concepts which I believe will help you understand the Christian (and Islamic) mind better. For many people who are not religious make the mistake of believing that the faithful are insane because they react differently to events than the non-religious.
The first concept is WORLDVIEW. A worldview is a comprehensive understanding of how the world and universe behave. Let me give you a few sample worldviews:
- Newtonian Scientific - 350 years ago, Isaac Newton realized that gravity was a force. He also formulated the laws of motion and established the core underlying principle of this worldview: "The Universe can be understood and predicted if we are sufficiently wise and observant." Physical laws are followed ALWAYS. Miracles do not occur and cannot occur. Even people can be predicted with sufficient wisdom and observation. And man can control his environment given sufficient wisdom, knowledge, planning, and resources.
This worldview is how most engineers and scientists approach the world. I should know -- I am a physicist by training.
- Pagan worldview - In many ways, this is the opposite point of view. To a pagan, wild, somewhat random forces control the world. These forces may be known as gods, or they may be known as "The vast right-wing conspiracy", or as the "Tri-lateral Commission", or as "the company", or "the government", or simply as "them" (meaning an undefined group of powerful people/beings). It doesn't matter - they are completely outside the control of the ordinary person. If you hold to this worldview, you believe that your life is under control of those outside forces. People "get rich", or are "held down". A force called "luck" or "fate" is largely the difference between the successful and the unsuccessful. I'm sure that you've met people who like this, who believe that the world completely controls them and that they have no influence on the conditions of their life.
The Pagan believes in friendship, pull, and luck. If he sacrifices to the right god, or becomes friends with the right movie producer, his life will improve. If not, he is doomed to a miserable existence.
- The Hegelian (After the German philosopher Hegel) believes in the force of history. Hegel (and Marx) believed that there was a historical flow, like a huge and powerful river which would cause things to happen. Just as it is futile to stand before the Mississippi in flood, so it is also futile to fight "history". Marxists had a certain belief in the direction history was headed, so they took their actions so that they would be in the best position later in history.
- Although many Christians have worldviews which are as diverse as those listed above, the true Christian worldview is heavily driven by a repeated reading of the Bible. We believe that miracles occur - very, very rarely. Physical laws are inviolate except in those few, very few situations where God intervened in His Creation. (After all, that's how we know a miracle -- by definition it violates physical laws and is not reproducible.)
We believe that we are in a situation similar to the single stalk of corn growning in an immense Iowa cornfield. Occasionally, the Owner walks by and we may feel His presence. Once in a while, He removes a dead leaf or gives us fertilizer. But He basically leaves us alone. Until one day, the harvesting machine will come and then we will all feel His presence.
Do we do God's will? Yes. We try. For the overwhelming number of Christians, this means that we listen to what Jesus said were the two greatest commandments. First, we have only one Boss - God. Second, we love our neighbor as we do ourself. These are God's will.
There are always a few people who have megalomania and feel a need for destruction of "evil". But mature Christians understand that evil is best destroyed by good, in the same way that darkness is best destroyed by turning on a light. You cannot destroy evil with evil. Likewise you do not destroy darkness by turning out more lights. And this mature understanding is what Jesus meant by his command to "turn the other cheek".
Today's View of the world
History shows that our present view of the world is aberrant. Throughout history, each man had someone to whom he was responsible. Serf to manor lord, lord to earl, earl to king. And the king was subject to God. The USA was founded on a slightly different principle. The free man was not totally "free and independent". The concept was instead that each free man was directly subject to God.
Today, most people believe in "individual freedom". Not only is each man free, but his wife and children also are free. Unfortunately, this means free of any constraints upon their actions other than "I want this". In effect, our people believe that they are deities and that their every want should be satisfied. And power becomes the way of deciding whose wants should be satisfied, rather than an established set of moral and ethical guidelines.
Perhaps this is the single most important difference between the Christian worldview and many people in today's society. Christians believe that there is an absolute set of moral and ethical standards which apply to all people in all nations at all times. That's not to say that we believe that moral decisions are simple. Our society has an entire set of circumstances which are new to us. But the standards are the same. It's just difficult to determine how the standards apply.
Faith through Reason
The second concept I'd like you to understand is "Faith through Reason".
When I was an atheist, I did not believe in God and the deity of Christ because I was told repeatedly that these require "faith". Since I had a solid Newtonian worldview, I could not accept this. I also understood, however, that the Newtonian worldview does not have a set of answers to the great questions of metaphysics. And it also simply dismisses all religion as false by definition (Miracles can't happen in the Newtonian system, therefore they haven't happened. Yet many people claim that they have.) Finally, I did believe, and here are some of the facts which underlie my belief.
- I required that Christianity be internally consistent AND consistent with observed facts about the world. I held it up to a high standard.
- Mature Christians stated that the core of Christianity is found in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Christianity does not live and die over issues such as whether the Earth circles the Sun (or vice versa), or over the age of fossils. Minor differences in translation and traditional ways of speaking ("the sun set") mean that these are very minor issues. (I have a whole essay on this point. See our website).
- The core of Christianity is whether there lived a man named Jesus of Nazareth and whether or not he rose from the dead, for if He did, the only explanation that works is that He was Deity.
- Did Jesus live? Yes. First evidence is the New Testament, which is a compilation of many different documents written by many different writers over a period of about 50 years and collected within 150 years of the death of Jesus. Another group of writings (the Apocrypha) were rejected because of doubts about the accuracy of them.
- Second point: Josephus, who was a Jewish historian who worked for the Romans, mentions Jesus in his works which date from the period of 70 A.D.
- Pontius Pilate and Herod were contemporaries of Jesus and did exist according to Roman writings. Romans also document Christians sirring up troubles (and being defended by Pliny the Younger) before 70 A.D.
- Jewish writings document the early years of Christianity. Jesus is mentioned in Talmudic writings.
- The Koran considers Jesus to be a prophet -- an important one.
- In summary, there is much evidence that the man Jesus existed.
- Was He killed and did He arise from the dead? Please look at the following evidence.
- We have three eyewitness accounts in the New Testament. Matthew wrote from a Jewish perspective. Mark wrote from a Roman perspective and was a teenager at the time. John wrote from the perspective of the best friend. We also have the perspective of the Greek Luke, who writes as a historian and contains much information that could only have come from extensive interviews with Mary, Peter, and other key witnesses. If you have an understanding of the Jewish Torah and Prophets, start reading with Matthew. If not, start with Mark. Follow up with Luke, John, and then Acts.
- The manner of crucifiction and the events surrounding the death are completely in agreement with what we know of Roman and Jewish practice at the time. Bodies have been found with large nails driven through feet and wrists with the wood from the cross still attached. Archaeological evidence fully supports the descriptions of the place and historical Jewish evidence supports the political situation as described. Few periods of ancient history have been examined with as much detail as this period, for it coincides with the establishment of the Roman Empire by Augustus Ceasar following his uncle Julius' death. This dramatic period continued through the reign of Nero and the burning of Rome, as well as the destruction of the Jewish temple in 70 A.D.
- We can conclude that the scenario described in the New Testament is highly plausible. But could it be fiction? There are a couple of problems with this idea.
- At one point in the Gospels, Jesus is asked a question. He bends to the ground and draws on the ground for a minute or two before responding. What is significant about this is that nothing further is said about his drawing and there is no theological point made by this description of events. It appears to be a totally irrelevant detail. Why was it included?
But, you may say, we see this all the time in fictional narratives. Yes, but this use of detail to enhance the realism of a story was not used in fiction until after 1800! We are left with the conclusion that the writers of the Gospels were telling the truth as they knew it and simply were reporting what they had seen!
- Another problem with the fiction theory is that all but one of the original 12 Apostles died a violent death. People will not go to their death to defend something which they know is a lie! We saw with Watergate that conspirators quickly break down when faced with jail time. Therefore, the Apostles believed what they said, and were executed because of it.
- Could the Romans or Jews have stolen His body? Not likely. It is clear from the writing of the Gospels and in Jewish talmudic tradition that the Jews and Romans were aware of the possiblity that the Apostles might steal the body and say that Jesus had arisen. And so Pilate put his wax seal on the tomb and put squad of soldiers to guard the tomb. Besides, both Romans and Jews had a lot to lose if a Messianic figure rose from the dead and challenged their authority.
- Could the Apostles have stolen the body? See 15 above.
- Could Jesus have not really died, but merely gone into a faint or coma and revived later? Still, there are some problems with this theory.
- According to the Gospels, Jesus dies on the cross. Friday evening is fast approaching and Jewish law says that you can't leave a body hanging on the Sabbath which starts at sundown. The Romans plan to break the legs of Jesus to speed his death. But Jesus has apparently died already. So the Roman guard takes his spear and pokes into the side of Jesus. Blood and water gush out.
One of the aspects of death by crucifiction is that you die by slow suffocation. When you weaken, you cannot raise yourself up to breath. Jesus had been beaten severely, and lashed with a cat-o-nine-tails, which strips your back of the skin. It is likely that He was in a severely weakened condition before being crucified.
The likely source of the blood and water is that the spear penetrated into the underside of the lungs. Could He have recovered by Himself in the tomb? It would be difficult even with modern trama center care. Under the conditions of Palestine 2000 years ago, it would have been -- a miracle.
Besides, it would have been very difficult for Him to have had the strength remaining to then roll away a huge stone which was blocking the entrance and overpower the Roman squad (which would be executed by Roman law if He escaped).
- So you see, the rational, reasonable thing to do is to believe in the miraculous resurrection of Jesus. Then, the logical thing to do is ask Him how He did it. And His followers wrote down many times where He predicted the event and told why the event would happen.
How He did it
Jesus was actually the Son of God, sent to earth to pay the fines for all of our crimes against God. God, being incapable of breaking His Word, requires a fine to be paid for every time we break His laws. And His standard of behavior is very high - perfection. If you even think about committing adultery, that is the same as adultery. If you think about murder, it is the same as murder. And Jesus was sent to pay the fines.
Since the fines had been established in the law of Moses as sacrifices of various sorts, only the sacrifice of something of infinite value could pay for the fines of all the crimes of all men. And thus, the sacrifice of God to Himself was necessary to restore our relationship with Him.
When a man sees a cat around his house, he knows that the cat will cause problems - because all cats cause problems. It may scratch furniture, urinate on the carpet, or leave fur on the pillow. To many men, any one of these crimes is sufficient cause to put the cat outside in the cold. No cat can behave well enough to be allowed in the house. Cats, by their very nature, cannot abide by the rules which the man has for his house.
But if the man's daughter says, "That's my pet!", the man suddenly tolerates the cat. He tolerates it not because it is a good cat, but because he loves his daughter.
We are the cat. Jesus is the daughter. We are allowed to come into the mansion in the next life only because we are acknowledged by Jesus as one of His. Our behavior cannot be good enough to win entrance to Heaven, because we have a nature which is imperfect.
And this is the difference between Christianity and other religions. Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and the pagan worship of many other gods all claim that a man who is good enough will achieve greatness and spiritual success, such as entrance to Heaven, becoming a god himself, or achieving Nirvana. Men do great things (both good and evil) in attempting to win the attention of God.
But Christians don't make that claim. We understand that we are crea(ted)-tures, and we will always be subject to the commands of the Creator. We understand that we are subjects and not peers.
So, you may see that reason is strong in Christianity. Christianity makes logical sense when explained in depth. And the will of God is easy to find. The Bible is available in every book store and even for free on the Internet. And that is where the will of God is found.
Don't take Christianity for what you see on TV, the movies, or in most books. The man who blows up an abortion clinic is immature. He is trying to defeat darkness by shooting out the lights.
Also, don't listen to just any friend who is Christian for a desciption of Christianity. After all, would you try to understand special relativity by asking a friend who had taken high school physics, or would you ask a physics professor? In the same way, many Christians understand Christianity for themselves, but can't explain it clearly to others. Talk to an older minister or older priest. They are the experts.
Christians have their excellent textbook writers, also. Look for a book -- Mere Christianity -- by C.S.Lewis. It should answer many questions about the relation between reason and Christianity. The style is friendly, witty, and conversational.
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Copyright © 2001 by Brian L. Boley.
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