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Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Is It Our Doctrine Or Our Behavior, Only Our Critics Know For Sure

Carl Trueman just wrote a response to an attack on Christianity on whether the faith itself was childish. (click here). We shouldn't be surprised by the charges Trueman is having to answer in the wake of the same-sex marriage controversy, Christianity is under attack. It has been under attack over the abortion issue as well. Even earlier than that, Christianity was under attack during the emergence of Marxism. In fact, Christianity has been under attack since it began.  The concerns we Christians should have here is why is our faith under attack.

Following Marx, Vladimir Lenin wrote the following about religion in general and including Christianity speicifically (click here for reference):
Impotence of the exploited classes in their struggle against the exploiters just as inevitably gives rise to the belief in a better life after death as impotence of the savage in his battle with nature gives rise to belief in gods, devils, miracles, and the like. Those who toil and live in want all their lives are taught by religion to be submissive and patient while here on earth, and to take comfort in the hope of a heavenly reward. But those who live by the labour of others are taught by religion to practise charity while on earth, thus offering them a very cheap way of justifying their entire existence as exploiters and selling them at a moderate price tickets to well-being in heaven. Religion is opium for the people. Religion is a sort of spiritual booze,   in which the slaves of capital drown their human image, their demand for a life more or less worthy of man.

The immediate reaction that many of us Christians have to an attack on our faith is to presume that it is an attack on the doctrine behind our faith. Thus, with Bible as the sword in our hands, we are all too eager jump up and do battle with whatever dragon that would insult our faith.

But the problem here is that we get ready to do battle while harboring a questionable assumption. That assumption would be that the impetus for any current attack on our faith arises from reactions to the doctrines that define our faith. We rarely consider whether an attack first proceeds from what they have observed in us.

Regarding Lenin's attack on religion in general, it is not difficult to tell the reasons for his attacks. It is because of how Christians had responded to the exploitation of labor either as laborers or as employers. As laborers, Lenin observed that we were too ready to take abuse and too reluctant to work for our own justice. And what extinguished any potential fire in us to work for change was the comfort we get from our belief in the afterlife. 

The story for employers was both different and the same. Employers could numb any pangs of conscience for exploiting labor by compensating for the abuse by practicing charity. The more one gives, the better one feels. And the better one feels, the less inclined one becomes to repent of taking advantage of others.

So if you are a Christian, what is your immediate response to hearing criticism of our faith?

Understanding the reason why people criticize our faith is important. That is because if they merely don't believe or they feel offended by what we say, there is not much we can do other than to try to answer objections. But if a person is telling us that our faith is absurd because of what they see in us, then it is time to dedicate some serious time to standing in front of  the mirror that the Scriptures provide.

We should note that Lenin's criticisms of religion were due to observation. And it seemed that, according to the model of thought he was using, the religious people of his time, the majority of which were Orthodox Christians, were using faith purely as an anesthetic. These Christians, according to Lenin, were more interested in feeling good than doing good. Now here, we should question Lenin's criteria for what is good for the laborer more than the employer. But we should do that without losing sight of the general principle involved. Do we Christians use the forgiveness of sins primarily as a drug to make us feel good about ourselves and the future?

Of course there is an alternative to using the forgiveness of sins as an anesthetic. Instead of using our faith as a drug, our faith could be the catalyst to changing our lives. No doubt, that as laborers, our faith could be the start of a changed life and Lenin would not recognize it because his ultimate standard for how labor should behave back then was to join the revolution--such was an opportunistic belief on his part.

In contrast, how he judged employers should at least partially disturb us. Do we say nothing to the abuses going on around us because we have a secured future especially when we show charity to some around us/ Because if that is the case, then we are more interested in using the forgiveness of sins promised in our faith as a drug to numb our consciences so we can play and sleep well at night despite how we neglect those in need. To use Francis Schaeffer's model of thought, and he was hardly a Marxist, if our faith robs us of the incentive to stand up to the injustices around us, personal peace has become an idol to us.

The more our faith acts as an anesthetic than as a catalyst, the more our passivity to injustice  or attempts to compensate for that passivity will bring dishonor to the Gospel. Yes, our critics will be wrong about Christianity, but they will be telling us something vital to us about ourselves. They will be telling us that we need to repent. And wouldn't that an ironic kick in the head when the people we are trying to preach to are telling us what we should do or believe.




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