Did the belief in God arise as a way to pacify poor people?

(Holly Lynn) #1

Help, my husband is a strong skeptic and gives me lots of arguments. I have decent discussions when appropriate times arise but this is his most recent.

“I think the belief in god is more likely originated to pacify poor people when life was really hard for poor people.”

He is supportive of my Christian life (I came to Christ after we had been together for 10 years.)

But occasionally I am thrown something I struggle to articulate.

(SeanO) #2

@holly_lynn1 Thank you for this question. Where exactly did your husband get this idea? What is his the evidence for his theory? I am not aware of this being a common argument against Christianity, but I did find one book written making this accusation. I provided a link to an article that critiques it below.

Book by Atwill

Atwill basically says that Jesus was invented by the Romans to pacify the poor Jews by offering them a peaceful rather than a warlike Messiah. Atwill is not a scholar or historian and his book has received harsh criticism from atheist and Christian scholars alike because there is simply no evidence to back up his claims. Here is just one article showing some of the weaknesses in his approach.


May God give you grace and wisdom as you interact with your husband and may the eyes of His heart be enlightened to know the glory of God in the Gospel of Jesus.

(Jimmy Sellers) #3

@holly_lynn1, great question and I am sure you will get some great answers here but I had two thoughts, the first, historically when would your husband date this difficult time for poor people?
Second, how would he explain Ancient Near Eastern religions. Religions that demanded
the creation to serve the god’s. In Christianty Jesus came to serve us. Just a few thoughts.

(Renee Yetter) #4

Holly, what an interesting point of discussion! First, that your husband suggests faith/religion is a way to pacify poor people sounds very much to me that he sees it as offering (false) support or hope to people who would not have it otherwise. It isn’t unlike seeing it as a “crutch” in many ways, though I do not mean that in a derogatory way at all.

At the same time, his support of your Christian life, though he does not share it at this moment, is an indicator of love and respect for you. I wonder how he might respond if you asked him to explain how that squares with some very affluent and/or educated people having a vibrant religious life?

You’ve certainly asked that, I imagine, but it would be interesting to hear how he reconciles those things. Many people who are poor do have strong faith, but that is also shared by many who do not have that struggle.

(Carson Weitnauer) #5

Hi @holly_lynn1,

I really appreciate this question. I think you’ve already received some very good answers. Here’s another way you could respond - obviously in a natural, respectful, and conversational way!

Yes, perhaps religion did originate as a way to pacify poor people when life was really hard. I don’t think we should value poor people and their belief systems less than rich people and what they believe. It would be strange to me if rich people were more likely than the poor to believe what is true about God.

I think poor people have a dignity that comes from being made in the image of God - when I see them, the most important reality is that we are both lovingly created by God. Our economic circumstances are not relevant to my valuing of them. The Bible says that, “Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.”

So it makes sense to me that God, who is so incredibly loving, would provide knowledge of himself to poor people so they could have comfort, peace, and purpose in their lives. Even if the brokenness of this world prevented them from having better material circumstances, at least they knew that their Creator loved them and would provide for their needs - in this life, and eternally. As Jesus taught us to pray, “give us this day our daily bread.”

The truth is, if a religion only appealed to the interests of the rich and the powerful, I would be more likely to think that it was invented by the rich and powerful as a way to control the poor. And it isn’t just “religions” that get invented to justify ‘the rich and powerful’ being rich and powerful - there are political ideologies that do this too. But a religion like Christianity, that consistently speaks about the dignity and the rights of the poor, is far more likely to have a divine origin. Only Christianity teaches that the way into the kingdom of God is not through your good deeds, your social status, or your wealth - the only way “in” is to humble yourself and say, “God, I really, absolutely, definitely need you.”

(Holly Lynn) #6

Thank you for the additional thinking on this. I have faith my responses are planting seeds, but unfortunately I have noticed a recent bombardment of extreme skepticism. I’m doing my best to work through these questions with him when he responds, while also realizing I am a constant learner of the Christian faith as well. It seems almost as if he has gone to every skeptic website site imaginable to defend his lack of belief.

As I mentioned before he is supportive of my Christian faith…but believes “Some people need that” — and not everyone does, suggesting it’s more of a mental weakness vs. intelligent logical thought out belief.

He also claims the Bible was written to be interpreted vaguely. So anyone can pull anything out of the text to fulfill whatever message they would like - good and bad alike.

Lastly, there are no “true scientists” today who are convinced of Christianity if they truly follow the evidence. He claims only religious scientists may go into the field to try to further their beliefs.

Not trying to bombard everyone here with ridiculousness, just a few of the numerous rebuttals my husband is giving me. Some are much easier to unpack than others.

It’s hard to give responses to him without me saying “let me read a little more of what Christian scientists have to say about that” to try to articulate my discussions.

Prayers for the Holy Spirit to guide me and allow me to kindly and thoroughly respond to his disagreements are very welcomed.

(SeanO) #7

@holly_lynn1 May the Lord bless you with patience and wisdom so that you can answer with respect, love and truth. Would he be willing to sit down with a local pastor or attend an Alpha course where there may be people willing to answer his long list of questions? Or even attend an RZIM event? Is he willing to read books that you offer him? Books like ‘Mere Christianity’ and Tim Keller’s books ‘Reason for God’ would be great if he is willing to read.

(Holly Lynn) #8

I’m not certain, I certainly pray we eventually will come to the point where he may. My youngest brother actually just attended the Refresh Conference at RZIM (we are located in GA) which is how I even discovered this wonderful resource. Thank you for the read suggestions, Mere Christianity has been on my list. I may have to just buy them and pray he decides to dig a little deeper at some point, I’ll certainly need to have the resources there to help him do that. THANK YOU for all you do!

(Jimmy Sellers) #9

I don’t want to bury you in books but based on some of the questions your husband is asking this might be a good read for you and your son as you lovingly nudge him to the cross.

A Son Wrestles with His Father’s
Questions about Christianity

@SeanO has referanced some of Greg Boyd’s videos. I have yet read this but I have skimmed enough to sense it’s relevences to your situation.

(Jamie Hobbs) #10

Just as affirmation, Mere Christianity takes you into the mind of a genius. I’m reading it right now, and I didn’t get through 15 pages before I told my wife, “Where was this book when I was younger?” Lewis lays it all out plain and simple. I don’t like using the term, because it’s so overused, but it’s definitely a “must-read”.

(Holly Lynn) #11

Thank you! I will add it to my list. I already have the 3 mentions above on reserve at Lifeway for pickup this evening. I can not say enough about how valuable everyone’s responses have been.

(SeanO) #12

@holly_lynn1 Hope they are helpful. I have read all three and they have all had a huge impact on my own thinking. I read Mere Christianity when I was 15 and it transformed my understanding of God in such a way that I was never the same afterward. Keller’s books have been a tremendous resource when interacting with skeptics. Many blessings!

(Renee Yetter) #13

I am praying now for you for grace and patience, Holly. That appeal to what “true scientists” would believe is probably common among skeptics. A skeptic will assume many scientists are smart and educated. One way to dismiss their faith is to suggest their pursuit of science has been compromised by ulterior motives, they have weaknesses as scientists, etc… Alister McGrath, who has ties to RZIM, received his Ph.D. in molecular biochemistry (or something related to that). He started his studies an atheist and came out a Christian. He is an excellent speaker (see Youtube videos) and is only one example.

My heart goes out to you! Neither of our children are believers at this point, and our first-born is, in many respects, also a skeptic. This may or may not be true of your husband, but when someone is committed to rejecting the faith at a particular time in their lives, I’m not sure there is any argument we can marshal that will help. Stay the course! I hope you have loving, believing friends in your life who can support you in prayer and encourage you!

Blessings to you.

(Holly Lynn) #14

Renee, your words speak so much truth to me about “ when someone is committed to rejecting the faith at a particular time in their lives, I’m not sure there is any argument we can marshal that will help”. It is absolutely where I am right now. I will never stop praying for my husband to come to Christ. I am constantly straddling the line of “sharing the good news” regularly with him and treading lightly to not come across as “preachy”. Gods timing is not my own and it is something I do good to remind myself of when I am frustrated.

It is tremendously comforting to know what there are others who struggle so much internally for the salvation of their loved ones. Prayer for you and your situation as well. Navigating the waters are not easy, but it has strengthened my faith in ways I would’ve never thought simply by researching possible answers for things he “possibly” could mention as a “reason to doubt”.

(Ethan Thomas) #15

I picked up a copy of MC ages ago and never got around to reading it. I’ll have to dive in now!

(Renee Yetter) #16

I am adding your husband to my prayer list for people needing salvation. Please feel free to message me if you have a very specific request!

(Carson Weitnauer) #17

Hi @holly_lynn1,

You wrote, “It is tremendously comforting to know what there are others who struggle so much internally for the salvation of their loved ones.” I wanted to let you know of another resource from this perspective:

It is written by my friend Lee Strobel and his wife Leslie. Leslie came to faith two years before Lee did. Now, of course, their joint service to Christ has led to millions of people hearing the gospel. I hope their experience and advice might offer you some additional encouragement.

(Holly Lynn) #18

Thank you so much for this! I love his Case for Christ book. I didn’t know this one existed. I will be sure to add this.

(Joel Vaughn) #19

@holly_lynn1 Holly, that is an interesting thing to consider. I would wonder why specifically this explanation of theistic belief seems credible to him in particular–even though this sort of materialistic thinking has been popular since Karl Marx.

That said, this question reminds me of Proverbs 30:8-9; is it just as rational to suppose that atheism (which has a long history before Marx) was invented by powerful people to absolve them from being answerable to a higher moral authority than themselves? It is, after all, not a new idea that rebellion against an ultimate moral authority goes with material prosperity.

It is sometimes said about the Old Testament that, before atheism became popular alternative, the people of Israel were seduced by prosperity into leaving the covenantal relationship with YHWH for more transactional relationships with multiple deities–something the prophets called “whoring after other gods.” In a New Testament sense, one might say that the atheist lives in a vacuum that less supernatural gods must fill. For those occupied by political religions, the State and/or humanity itself assumes an ultimate status. Material comfort and/or status can be worshiped. Immediate gratification can be a god. Or any combination of these and other gods.

Christianity is based on the idea that, whatever our material prosperity may be, without God we are in a dire kind of poverty. What is it about material prosperity that convinces people that they are less in need of rescue, and how sound is that thinking?

(Robert Anderson) #20

Addressing your initial question, your husbands argument suggests that a religious sentiment was at one point inactive and was then implanted and activated by the rich. I find it far more likely that if the idea of God was implanted and took root the way it did, it was implanted into a people with an already vibrant and active religious sentiment. How else could the idea of God last throughout the millennia and not just die off along with the other mythologies?

Second, i think it needs to be noted that if the intention was to pacify the poor, they made a grave mistake, so much so in fact that all oppressive regimes after them learned from their mistake and went to great strides to suppress religion, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, North Korea, etc.