What is the best way to explain that Christianity is not a logical source of violence?

Hello! This is perfect timing. I am currently discussing worldview questions with a couple of atheists, and have plenty of questions to ask Mr. Murray! Can we ask our questions directly in this thread? If so, my first question to begin with is this:
When I pointed out that the atheist worldview does not prevent violence (because there isn’t a moral foundation in the atheist worldview), they claimed that Christianity does not prevent violence either, in practice (citing European colonization/subjugation of other countries and events like the Crusades). I pointed out that colonization and the Crusades aren’t representative of true Christianity, because that’s not what Jesus told his followers to do. But I’m not sure they were convinced. Is there a better way to explain this?

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Hi Sarah,

Thanks for the question; it’s a really good one because it highlights the importance of carefully used language. When you express that atheism doesn’t “prevent” violence, I’m sure what you mean is that, given atheism, there is no philosophical foundation for being morally outraged at unjustified violence.

However, by saying atheism is bad or false because it doesn’t “prevent violence,” you send the message that atheism is false because it isn’t pragmatic or useful at curbing bad human behavior. So an atheist could respond, “well, Christianity hasn’t been all that pragmatic in curbing bad behavior either, so it must be just as false.” Of course, that’s not what you’re arguing (it’s also false - when Christianity has been taken seriously, there have been massive positive social reforms such as abolition and the establishment of hospitals for the poor). What you really mean is that atheism is not true because of philosophical deficiencies. On atheism, there are no beings higher than human beings. And so our opinions about what’s right and wrong are all there is. That means that morality is subjective and therefore subject to change as our opinions change. In fact, atheist philosopher Michael Ruse would go further and say that on atheism, morality isn’t subjective, it’s altogether illusory.

For morality to be “objective”, it has to be founded on something beyond human opinion. It has to be grounded in something transcendent. That’s why God is a better explanation of objective morality. That’s why Christianity offers philosophical reasons to morally abhor unjustified violence. Christianity tells us that there is an objective moral law giver to whom we owe moral obligations. Atheism simply cannot provide that.

For example, if there is no God and we are just animals like all others, then there is no moral difference between one human killing another and a chimp killing another chimp. After all, lion’s don’t “murder” gazelles.

But if there is a God, and specifically the Christian God who tells us that every human being bears the Imago Dei, then we are actually committing an immoral act when we do violence to another human being without justification. Basically what you’re trying to communicate is this: God is the best explanation of objective moral values and obligations. Atheism either doesn’t explain the existence of objective moral values and obligations or it does a very poor job of it. Yes, atheists can act morally. But when they do, they have no foundation for doing so. The difference is subtle, but it is quite meaningful.

The cross is God’s ultimate statement that we our lives are fundamentally moral. The objective Law Giver gives dignity to our actions by taking the moral consequences seriously.

Thanks for your question.

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Dear Mr. Murray,

Thank you so much for your detailed answer. You said it exactly right, “there is no philosophical foundation for being morally outraged at unjustified violence…atheism is not true because of philosophical deficiencies” (I just sometimes have trouble putting things into words. So thank you for explaining it much more clearly than I can :slight_smile: )

I just heard back from my atheist friend (we are writing back and forth), and to be honest, some of the things she says are confusing…I recognized a few logical fallacies and some misunderstood terms, but I wonder if perhaps sometimes people deliberately misunderstand things because, as Nabeel Qureshi wrote “people who want to avoid the truth usually succeed.”

I probably can’t (and probably shouldn’t) answer all of her points because it may not be helpful, ultimately, but I have a couple questions about this process:

  1. How do you address people who have lots of questions, but sometimes write confusingly/seem confused, and also seem very adamant about their beliefs? I try to be kind/respectful/clear, but I wonder how to be more effective and not heavy-handed.

  2. Specifically, this person has lots of issues with the Bible, claiming that God advocates genocide and evil (Lot + daughters incest, Old Testament stories about Canaan, Elisha and the youths/bear attack, etc).

For the Lot/incest story, I pointed out that just because something happened in history doesn’t mean God approves of it, far from, in fact.

For the others, I want to point out that her interpretation of those events are not accurate (the way I understand it, Elisha was mobbed by dangerous youths, they weren’t innocent little boys; and Canaan wasn’t destroyed for no reason–the Canaanites were committing atrocities and hurting themselves and others), but I’m afraid she might not get it or pointing these things out will not be useful.

Should I actually point out incorrect thinking regarding those stories, or leave it be?

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Hi @SarahC:

This is really at the heart of evangelism. I actually wrote an entire chapter in my second book, [Grand Central Question,](Grand Central Question: Answering the Critical Concerns of the Major Worldviews https://www.amazon.com/dp/0830836659/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_tai_z0QFBbV6M0BAX) on the ways we can go about seeing if someone is actually interested in the truth or just winning an argument. But more than that, I offer some ways to get the other person to see that they are actually trying to avoid the truth for the sake of comfort. I’ve asked open-ended questions about motivations to see if someone is truly sincere (like “what if Christianity were actually true? Would you believe it? What would happen next in your life if you decided to follow Jesus?). Most people will say that they will go where the truth leads, but the reality is that deep inside, they might suddenly realize that they aren’t after truth, but comfort. Take a look at the prologue of Grand Central Question. That may help.

When someone is writing something confusing or maybe even deliberately trying to be that way, it’s often a good idea to ask follow up questions like “what did you mean by…?”. That gives the other person the respect of acknowledging that they may have something important to contribute to the conversation and that you want to actually address their true concern.

Also, when someone lodges objections to the Bible or Christianity, it is incumbent upon them to actually prove what they are saying (just as it is incumbent on you to prove any claims you make). In other words, the person who makes the claim bears the burden of proof. Don’t rush to try to defend against an objection until the objection has actually been fully made and substantiated.

Finally, there are some great resources addressing the issues your friends is raising. I would recommend that both of you read through Paul Copan’s [Is God a Moral Monster](Is God a Moral Monster? Publisher: Baker Books https://www.amazon.com/dp/B004TF91KC/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_tai_b2QFBb0AA00EJ)? If your friend isn’t willing to read through it and then discuss it, then perhaps you will be an answer as to whether your friend wants to sincerely seek the truth.

May the Holy Spirit Guide you as you share the Truth!

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Thank you Mr. Murray!

Yes, I’ve been trying to see if people are truly interested in seeking the truth or if they’re just wasting time…mostly they have been very polite and engaged, which makes me think they are interested, but sometimes it’s hard to tell. Some of their questions make me think, too–I also want to know some answers to the more tricky-to-understand parts of the Bible.

To clarify my above question regarding the Bible, I’ve actually discussed with multiple atheists/non-believers this question of the Bible. None of them acknowledge the veracity or authority of the Bible, yet they use it by reinterpreting it and twisting it to serve their claim that God (who they say they don’t even believe exists) is cruel, evil, etc.

I know some basics about the Bible and why it’s reliable (thousands of copies, dated to less than a century after Jesus’ death/resurrection), but they seem to ignore these points when I bring them up.

Then there’s the other problem of seeming discrepancies in the way different denominations interpret the Bible. There are so many things theologically that are beyond me, so I don’t know how to answer when people ask questions like “Why does Denomination A claim X while Denomination B claim Y, though they’re using the same Bible?”

Sometimes I feel like arguing points from the Bible isn’t helpful when people bring it up, because they are predisposed to distrust the Bible. I once listened to an RZIM debate/speech where Nabeel, I believe, stated that his faith’s foundation is not so much the Bible but on Jesus. That if all the facts around Jesus (death, resurrection, claim to be God) is true, then we can take it on his authority (in addition to the historical evidence, of course) that the Bible is true. What do you think about this statement?

I don’t know if I should ignore their Bible-related attacks entirely, or is there something I should say about the Bible when people question it or use it in the wrong way?

(A bit sad this opportunity to ask questions only lasts for one week. Discussions with atheist friends create so many questions!)

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Oh dear, I tried to edit my former post, but I’m not sure it will let me do that. I wanted to add a question:

If I were to ask a person to read something, like the book you recommended, and they declined, indicating that they’re not really interested in finding the truth, should I stop the conversation entirely? Or should I try to engage the person in trying to find out WHY they don’t want to know? And if the latter, how would you go about doing that?

Reading this thread–questions and answers–has been fascinating.

I have so many questions, my own and others, and after many debates, I am starting to wonder about another aspect of apologetics: the emotional side.

You mentioned earlier that some people don’t want to know the truth–they want comfort, and I definitely have seen that in other people and even in myself.

Is there a way to read/study and then speak/share that can help overcome this hurdle? I feel like emotional resistance, not bad logic is the real biggest barrier to God.

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I was recently speaking to another (Christian, this time) friend who had suffered through some tragedies in life, and spoke about the difficulty in trusting God in the hard times…then I was reading a book by another Christian writer (who also suffered physically from a permanent condition) who talked about how praising God in the hard times is not just a suggestion, but more like a command. I was wondering: when people are suffering, it is…not surprising that sometimes they get angry at God, (although there are some who turn even more faithful, I know)…is it sinful to be angry at God? To say even hopeless/bitter things? But if someone pretends that they are not angry when they really are, is that not being honest? What would you say to someone who is undergoing long-term pain (physical, mental, and/or relational)?

Hi Sarah,

I think you’re right, it is often the case that emotional barriers or personal issues are the real obstacles and intellectual challenges are merely the facade or smokescreen to hide them. That’s not always the case but it can be. If you offer a resource to someone and they don’t want to read it, I think it’s a great idea to ask them why not. You’ll get more insight into their barriers.

This is really an area for deep and heartfelt prayer because logic, facts, and truth won’t always break through. The Holy Spirit can break through, though, and that’s when logic, facts, and truth suddenly matter. That happened in my own life. It took quite some time and a lot of people praying for me, but it did happen.

A verse I often meditate on to get me attuned to what God would have me say or do in reaching out to someone is Col. 4:5-6. In fact, it’s the verse by which I guide my entire ministry. Paul writes:

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

He is teaching us to talk about what someone else cares about and see how the gospel might answer the longings of the heart as well as the questions of the mind. But most importantly, Paul tells us to answer people, not questions. Questions don’t need answers, people do. Never answer a question. Always answer a person. And sometimes, the best way to answer a person who you suspect might be dealing with an emotional barrier is to ask them questions about why the issue is important, what it might mean for them if the gospel were in fact true, and so on.

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