Faith And Reason Are Not Enemies

When Atheists Believe

The confounding attraction of the Christian worldview.
By Chuck Colson with Catherine Larson
Christianity Today

"While we can't reason our way to God, I've long believed that Christianity is the most rational explanation of reality."

In recent years Great Britain's chief export to the U.S. has been a payload of books by atheist authors such as evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins and literary critic Christopher Hitchens. They contend that faith is irrational in the face of modern science. Other prominent British atheists seem to be having second thoughts. Is there some revival sweeping England? No; they are examining the rationality of Christianity, the very beliefs Dawkins and others are so profitably engaging, but are coming to opposite conclusions.

Well-known scholar Antony Flew was the first, saying he had to go "where the evidence [led]." Evolutionary theory, he concluded, has no reasonable explanation for the origin of life. When I met with Flew in Oxford, he told me that while he had not come to believe in the biblical God, he had concluded that atheism is not logically sustainable.

More recently, A. N. Wilson, once thought to be the next C. S. Lewis who then renounced his faith and spent years mocking Christianity, returned to faith. The reason, he said in an interview with New Statesman, was that atheists "are missing out on some very basic experiences of life." Listening to Bach and reading the works of religious authors, he realized that their worldview or "perception of life was deeper, wiser, and more rounded than my own."

He noticed that the people who insist we are "simply anthropoid apes" cannot account for things as basic as language, love, and music. That, along with the "even stronger argument" of how the "Christian faith transforms individual lives," convinced Wilson that "the religion of the incarnation … is simply true."

Likewise, Matthew Parris, another well-known British atheist, made the mistake of visiting Christian aid workers in Malawi, where he saw the power of the gospel transforming them and others. Concerned with what he saw, he wrote that it "confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my worldview, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God." While Parris is unwilling to follow where his observations lead, he is obviously wrestling with how Christianity makes better sense of the world than other worldviews.

Could this signal a trend? Well, not yet. But it does illustrate something I have been teaching for years: Faith and reason are not enemies. We are given reason as a gift. And while we can't reason our way to God (only the power of God can transform fallen men—I've seen that in prisons for over 32 years), I have long believed that Christianity is the most rational explanation of reality. And that fact, winsomely explained, can powerfully influence thinking people to consider Christ's claims.

A strong empirical case can be made to show that Christianity is the only rational explanation of life. For the past six years, I've been teaching students in the Centurions Program to draw a grid listing the four basic questions that most people ask about life: Where did I come from? What's my purpose? Why is there sin and suffering? Is redemption possible? Then, on the other side of the matrix, we list the various philosophies and prominent world religions. By examining how each view answers the four questions, we can determine which worldviews conform to the way things really are. This is the correspondence theory of truth—a thoroughly rational test.

Students quickly see that only Christianity teaches that humans are created in the image of God, thus protecting their dignity. It's no coincidence that Christians have waged most of the great human rights campaigns.

Or take the question of sin. If people are good, as French political philosopher Rousseau argued, problems can be solved by creating a utopian state. Yet all of history's utopian schemes have ended in tyranny. Meanwhile, Eastern religions see life as an endless cycle of suffering. There's no way for sin to be forgiven. And grace is an unknown concept in Islam.

This is nothing particularly novel. A long history of prominent atheists, interestingly concentrated in Britain, have traveled back to faith. These doubters began to examine the rationality of Christianity's claims. Whether in the Victorian era, with Thomas Cooper, George Sexton, and Joseph Barker, or in the 20th century, with T. S. Eliot, Graham Greene, and C. S. Lewis, all of them concluded that the Bible speaks most accurately to the human condition—the very definition of a rational choice. It is rational to choose the worldview that provides the best choice for living, consistent with the way life works.

What does this tell us? People today have a caricatured view of Christians, seeing us as followers, often hypocritical and judgmental, of an outdated book of mere illusions. But if we can explain why Christianity is so reasonable, our faith becomes a very winsome proposition, which will at least open the mind, if not the heart, of many a doubter.

“Come now, and let us reason together,” says the Lord... (Isaiah 1:18)


"Certain Fundamental Truths": On the Place and Temptations of Politics

By Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
Ignatius Insight

"Remember that the proclamation of the Gospel and adherence to the Christian values... is not merely useful but essential for building a good society....'" — Benedict XVI to Brazilian Bishops, Ad Limina Visit of Brazilian Prelates from West Region, L'Osservatore Romano, (September 16, 2009. Citation from Caritats in veritate, #4.)

A good society ought to be possible to man's natural reason. We wonder why it is so rare that any even passable society comes about in human history. The answer to this question has to do with our ability to locate and define what human life as such is about. It is not primarily about building a good society, though that is of importance.

Moreover, it would seem that even if we want a good society, something else is in fact necessary, something that is not necessarily or primarily political. This position does not contradict Aristotle's notion that a good society is what the polis is for, that man is by nature a political animal which is not complete simply by itself.

"Proclamation of the Gospel and adherence to Christian values" are said by Benedict, speaking to some Brazilian bishops, to be more than "useful." They are "necessary." Does this view undermine the relative autonomy or secularity of politics? The fact is that it makes this relative autonomy possible. All political societies are natural institutions whose end as such is also natural. Yet man is more than a "natural" being. He is created from his personal beginning to achieve the vision of God, something beyond his nature.

If we treat man as only natural, he will no doubt end up being less than natural. This is the record of human history. This consequence must mean there is more to ourselves than ourselves. This is what revelation is about. The principle is not, get man's natural end right and you will be happy, but get man's supernatural end right or you will not be able to get his natural or this worldly end right. Politics is not only the highest of the practical sciences, but it is also the main temptation of man. It is the most logical enthusiasm to replace God when we refuse his invitation to the end for which he is created.

The Holy Father's short address to the Brazilian bishops contains some remarkable lines. "God," he tells them, "does not see as human beings see! The urgent need of the good Lord is dictated by his wish that 'all men be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth'" (Tim. 2:4). Thus, it would appear that God is not particularly concerned about the rise and fall of nations or the structures of polities except in so far as they foster or impede a purpose that is not itself political.

The pope describes our contemporaries, ourselves included. Many folks pass their "whole life in an instant and others wander in tedium and inertia or who abandon themselves to every sort of violence." He sees these lives as "desperate" for hope. They look for meaning in life.

The pope returns to the theme of what happened to the Church after Vatican II in order to alert bishops to the real issues. "Some have interpreted openness to the world (after the Council) not as a requirement of the missionary zeal of the Heart of Christ, but rather as a passage to secularization, seeing in it several values of great Christian depth, such as equality, freedom and solidarity, and showing that they were ready to make concessions and to discover areas of co-operation." These thinkers, however, in analyzing such common ends did not always understand them in a Christian manner.

Thus, the pope is blunt here, "certain leading clerics"—no names given!—"took part in ethical debates in response to the expectations of public opinion." They talked about equality, freedom, and solidarity often enough but were silent on other matters in which the whole Christian mission to the world also consists. "But [these same] people stopped speaking of certain fundamental truths of faith, such as sin, grace, theological life and the last things." And it was in these latter doctrines that the problems arose. Spe Salvi had to write a complete reorientation of eschatology because those who only spoke of "equality, freedom, and solidarity" followed the ideologies into making these goals the principal purpose of man in the world.

Sin, grace, the theological virtues, and the four last things look beyond the future in this world. They intimate that the main purpose of man in the world is not the construction of some inner-worldly political order down the ages. It is true that a correct understanding of these notions, all of them, might result in some adequate or good worldly society as an indirect effect of living well and knowing the transcendent end of each human person.

Such Catholic thinkers and "ecclesial communities" were caught up in what Benedict calls a "self-secularization." What was the result? They found their appeal to these limited interpretations was leaving the pews empty. People in great numbers began to leave the Church in which they were "deprived and disappointed" at not finding the essentials of Catholicism preached and deepened.

"When they meet us," Benedict writes in a happy phrase, "our contemporaries want to see what they see nowhere else, that is, the joy and hope that come from being with the Risen Lord." It is the Risen Lord who grounds the particular destiny of each actual human being in history. It is not the movements of history or some future bliss down the ages.

When people look at the Church today, what do they see? "They see the abyss of differences and opposition to the Magisterium of the Church growing ever wider, especially in the field of ethics." We all know what this means, of course.

What is the result? "In this desert without God, the new generation feels a deep thirst for transcendence." The pope, with his predecessor, meets a new youth who have not known unity in the public face of the Church. "It is the youth of this generation who knock at the doors of the seminary and need formation teachers who are real men of God." These young men coming into seminaries, the Holy Father thinks, "participate in the Eucharist" daily. They love silence and prayer. What they seek, almost in the literal words of St. Ignatius of Loyola, is "the glory of God and the salvation of souls," including no doubt their own.

So, this short conference with a few Brazilian bishops (the photo in L'Osservatore Romano shows nine bishops), is rich in Benedict's analysis of what has gone wrong. It is a penetrating mind at work of keeping the essentials before us. The Gospel does need to be proclaimed for what it is. Christian doctrines need to be lived. When they were not, it was not just the Church that was in trouble, but society itself, so intimately is the Gospel associated with how we live our lives.

If we never hear "sin, grace, the theological virtues, and the last things" preached and explained, we are missing what we need to hear. Paradoxically, only when we hear and live these things can we also find the "joy and hope that come from being with the Risen Lord..."

Fr. James V. Schall, S.J., is Professor of Political Philosophy at Georgetown University.


Free Government Rests Upon Public & Private Morality

Christians And Politics
By Andrew Wommack

The word myth is defined by Webster’s Dictionary this way: “A real or fictional story that appeals to the consciousness of a people by embodying its cultural ideals or by giving expression to commonly felt emotions.” That definition expresses exactly what has happened to the American church in regards to politics.

An emotional, heartfelt desire to see our Christian ideals represented in government has led to the creation of a myth. That myth says this: Christians will lose their religious freedoms unless they become actively involved in the political system. But is that true?

In the 1970s and 80s, this philosophy caused the largest grassroots movement of evangelical Christians into the political process that we have ever seen. That movement helped elect a conservative president to the White House twenty of the last twenty-eight years, and it subsequently changed the makeup of the Supreme Court.

While these are good results, it is easy to see that politics have not solved our real problems. At best, many social ills were stayed off a little longer. Abortion still claims the lives of millions of innocent children every year, and the moral fabric of America appears to be unraveling at an alarming rate.

Does this mean we are doomed? It does if we believe the government can do what only the church has been called to do. Our form of government was never intended to change society; it is incapable of producing morality through legislation. It may help restrain immorality, but only if the church has established a moral foundation in the hearts of the men and women who govern.

As we have seen through judicial activism, judges with great legal power and no moral character are making judgments contrary to any reasonable interpretation of the law. They are calling good evil and evil good (Is. 5:20), often making the victims feel guilty while creating sympathy for the perpetrators.

John Adams, the second president of the United States, wrote in 1789, “Our Constitution was designed only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other…Free government rests upon public and private morality.” It is not our government that has failed; it’s the church that has failed to be the salt of the earth (Matt. 5:13).

Read what Dr. Jedediah Morse said in 1799: “In proportion as the genuine effects of Christianity are diminished in any nation, either through unbelief, or the corruption of its doctrines, or the neglect of its institutions; in the same proportion will the people of that nation recede from the blessings of genuine freedom…Whenever the pillars of Christianity shall be overthrown, our present republican forms of government, and the blessings which flow from them, must fall with them.” He was saying that Christianity, not government, is the driving force behind true freedom.

When World War II brought America back to her knees, a revival broke out that is still referred to as the era of the highest church attendance in recent history. A time of repentance and seeking God brought peace and a period of great prosperity. The result of those good times was a church that was lulled to sleep. And while it was sleeping, a new generation, the “baby boomer,” became obsessed with materialism and freedom from moral constraint.

How did the church react? In variety of ways, some of which were very good. People began seeking the Lord, and the Lord answered through what is often called “The Jesus People Movement,” “The Charismatic Movement,” “The Word of Faith Movement,” “The Lay Witness Renewal,” etc. These revivals were not spearheaded by any individual, yet they had worldwide impact. Truly, these were mighty moves of God’s Spirit.

Yet, as a whole, the church responded by promoting political involvement as the answer to society’s woes. Make no mistake—Christians who live in a country that provides them the freedom to govern through voting or holding political office have a responsibility to participate. However, for many, politics has not been a weapon against the moral decline; it has been the only weapon.

Calvin Coolidge, the thirtieth president of the United States, declared, “The foundations of our society and our government rest so much on the teachings of the Bible that it would be difficult to support them [the foundations of society] if faith in these teachings would cease to be practically universal in our country” (brackets mine).

Our society isn’t sick because of the government; it’s sick because the church has not made faith in the teaching of the Bible “practically universal in our country.”

Once we cease to win the hearts of men, it is inevitable that ungodly men will make their way into leadership and take the country with them.

If we change people’s hearts with the Gospel, the people will change government with their votes. Government merely reflects what people believe in their hearts; it does nothing to form those beliefs. William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, wrote in the early 1700s, “Government seems to me to be a part of religion itself…Let men be good, and the government cannot be bad.”

It’s good to pursue legal action and political means to right wrongs. But the power of the Gospel has more power to change the hearts of men than all the military might and legislative bodies of any government. Billy Graham understands this. When asked to run for president in the 1950s, he responded by saying he would not lower himself to that position. He was not attempting to diminish the office of the president; he was elevating the office of a minister of the Gospel.

The Apostle Paul lived in one of the most immoral and politically corrupt societies that the world has ever known. Yet he advocated no political action. Instead he told the Christians to submit to government (Rom. 13) and pray for those in authority (1 Tim. 2:1-4). He effected change in society one heart at a time. In a short period of time, Christianity became the official religion of the empire that once threw its followers to the lions.

Elias Boudinot, president of the Continental Congress in 1783, and later a congressman from New Jersey who served as president of the American Bible Society, said, “The moral character of a people once degenerate, their political character must soon follow.”

There is a civil war going on in America today, but it is not political. Sure, the courtrooms and congressional halls are the battlegrounds, but the war itself is between light and dark, the truth of the Gospel and the lies of the devil. It’s between the people of God and the children of the devil.

In this war, the enemy tries to hide his true objectives behind the mask of individual rights and personal liberties. But make no mistake—the real goal is the elimination of God and His influence from our society so that people can indulge in their carnal lifestyles without conviction or guilt.

The way to win this war and save the political character of this nation is to use the Gospel to change the moral character of its people. Our founding fathers understood that. The quotation below shows that they weren’t looking to government to change their society, but to safeguard the values that already existed.

“Nothing can be politically right, that is morally wrong.” - Benjamin Rush, 1786

The church needs to refocus its energies back to the great commission that our Lord Jesus Christ gave us:

“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matt. 28:19-20).

Approximately 30 percent of Americans say they are born again. If each one, in the next four years, would lead just one other person to the true faith, over 60 percent of the population would be born again by the time we once again face a presidential election. If that happened, then there really would be change.

To help you change someone’s heart, Don Krow, a CBC instructor and Bible teacher, and I have created a course called Discipleship Evangelism: Condensed Version. It is a spiral-bound book with forty-eight easy-to-understand-and-use lessons on the basics of Christianity.

It makes the discipleship of a friend or loved one easy. If you can read, you can use this tool to help change someone’s life. Included with the book is a CD-ROM that allows you to reproduce and distribute copies of the material contained in the book to those you are discipling. We are seeing this used to change lives around the world.

In Uganda last year, a graduate of CBC used this very tool to disciple over 800 pastors. He read it word for word from the text and then followed the teacher’s study guide. After hearing the lesson, the pastors went back to their churches and taught their congregations the same lesson. This year, over 2,000 native pastors are participating. They are being taught by last year’s graduates, and all together they represent over 200,000 people in their congregations.

It’s being used effectively in America as well. Many use it for their Bible studies, home groups, Sunday schools, and one-on-one with friends and family. No matter whom God places on your heart to reach, this tool will help you change their life. Jesus never told us to make converts; He told us to make disciples.


The Nobel "Hope" Prize: A Peacock Or An Eagle?

Premature Adulation
Editorial - Philippine Daily Inquirer

The decision of the Norwegian Nobel Committee to award the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize to US President Barack Obama is a reward for promise, rather than performance. Audacious, tantalizingly ambitious promise, to be sure, but promise just the same. We do not know whether the committee’s unusual but not altogether rare excursion into realpolitik will help Obama turn that promise into political reality, or hinder it.

The decision is certainly controversial (“sensational,” some news reports called it, immediately after it was announced last week). Obama took office only last January, and while he has not shirked from taking on the biggest challenges confronting the United States in a post-George W. Bush world, success or irreversible progress has not yet crowned his work. The prize, then, is a case of too much, too soon.

Indeed, the phrasing of the announcement hints as much. “The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 is to be awarded to President Barack Obama for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The Committee has attached special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.”

“Efforts,” “vision,” “work for”: these are indices of intent, not parameters of performance. In other words, the 2009 Prize seems to have been awarded for the audacity of hope its recipient inspires. Call it the Nobel Hope Prize.

Obama is certainly to be lauded, as the announcement from the committee read, for having “created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts.”

This “new climate” happens to be the complete opposite of the fundamentalist positioning of the White House under Bush, in which, infamously, one was either with him or against him. The prize reflects the international community’s profound gratitude that the presidency of Obama has redirected American policy, made it more responsible, more grown-up, less shoot-from-the-hip and more come-let-us-reason-together.

But a Nobel Peace Prize? The Norwegian Nobel Committee, which administers the only Nobel prize that is not awarded in Sweden, has notoriously passed over several high-profile peacemakers. Foreign Policy magazine notes that seven age-defining individuals should have been awarded the prize, beginning with Mahatma Gandhi. (The six others include Eleanor Roosevelt and our own Cory Aquino: “Aquino’s supporters took to the streets in what became known as the People Power Revolution, a nonviolent protest that installed Aquino as the first female president of the Philippines. During her presidency, Aquino presided over the Philippines’ successful transition to democracy, retiring to private life in 1992.”) [...]

Click here to read full text.

Read also: The Nobel Committee Dishonors Itself

The peacock is not like the eagle. A peacock has a magnificent long tail feathers and beautifully colored wings for attraction and proud display. An eagle has strong tail feathers and large powerful wings built for high altitude flight. The eagle is a high-soaring expert raptor while the peacock is a land-walking fancy strutter.

Be like an eagle rather than a peacock. There are real big tasks ahead whose entire scopes can only be fully comprehended when viewed from the high altitude where only eagles can reach.

So big and challenging are these tasks that to believe in the myth called "Eagle's Rebirth" is nothing but a crippling waste of limited time and resources.